On Anger, Action, and Discussion

I am a proud Nerdfighter and generally agree with the musings of both great leaders and brothers, John and Hank Green. Frankly, they are intriguing individuals who tend to be far more eloquent and intelligent in their presentation and thought than I seem capable of. Accordingly, whenever any major issue comes up, I go to their various channels and social media feeds for a quick informative recap and jumping off point for future research and inquiry. Doing so a few days ago, I came across some of Hank’s posts on responding to ongoing events and how he chooses which to engage with and why. You can find the initial post here and Hank’s response clarifying his original post.

Now, I respect and understand where Hank Green is coming from, but, in this case, I sincerely believe it is a large pile of bullshit. Here’s the thing: Hank admits that he does not want to speak on particular issues (Ferguson, GamerGate, gun violence, etc.) as he has a personal stake and considers himself a member of some of the groups involved in the confrontations. While Hank might be considered to be as members of some of the groups he mentions in his post, he is not affected in any meaningful way by the harassment and violence that those involved in the issues he mentions are. In a sense, he has a certain level of privilege (I just threw up a little in my mouth writing that but there really is no better term available) because he can speak on these issues without accusations of self-interest or bias that accompany POC and female activists, protesters, writers, etc. It is one of the major reasons why allies, particularly cis, white, male allies, have been so important in the past as they are seen as somehow authorities or worthy of attention. (Sometimes people really piss me off)

Beyond this, Green mentions how he and his group try to research and show both sides in an equally reasonable manner. I applaud Mr. Green’s efforts, but there is not always multiple sides to an issue. Hell, many times there are not even two sides to an issue. It is possible for their to be reasonable ideas on two sides that have nothing to do with each other hence you have people arguing over two completely different things, but that is a rare exception. Just because you cannot find reasonable oppositions to an issue or position does not mean you should address it. After all, it’s completely possible that there is just nothing of value in the opposition.

When you have created a career off of having a platform and bullhorn to discuss major events and issues, current and historical, you pretty much have an obligation to use that bullhorn even when you believe there might be some unfair criticism thrown your way. Others have done it and have faced the consequences because it was the right thing to do. I can only hope that others can follow their brave lead.

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Lessons From…The Kings of Summer

Kings of Summer is a fantastic film and coming of age story; a bildungsroman if you will. (Yeah for finally using unnecessary terminology learned from graduate school. It was useful…) It follows the traditions of other great films like Stand By Me, 16 Candles, Breakfast Club, and pretty much every other movie heavily involving teenagers that aren’t killed by psychopaths, monsters, and demons. Basically, these are all narratives of youths growing up and discovering something about themselves and/or the world around them. While this may seem like the least possible stories to tell, their commonality of experience of characters and audience is what makes them classic films. I can say without hesitation that this has been one of my favorite films of the past year and if you get a chance to, watch it. Now on to the lessons and as always SPOILERS ahead.

Believe it or not, these are all great actors and characters.

Believe it or not, these are all great actors and characters.

The film follows a rather standard story line. Joe, the intrepid leader, is at odds with his father, played by the indomitable Nick Offerman, and his life. He is a teenager looking for his place in the world and feeling trapped by his circumstances. Fed up with the restrictions and limitations placed on him, Joe decides to leave the comfort of the culdesac along with his friend Patrick, who has long suffered under his own “helicopter” parents, and latcher-on Biaggio.

Together these three move out into a special place in the woods and build their own home. The fact that they have to steal their supplies and food is of no concern to them as they are now independent and out of the tyrannical rule of their homes. They also stop at their local library to pick up books on how to actually survive in the wilderness since they have no idea how to do so being city boys and wifi to look stuff up is not an option. So with supplies in hand, shelter built, they begin to live their lives and enjoy the summer in earnest, all according to their own code and rules.

Not the worst code to live by.

Not the worst code to live by.

This works for the trio until the past catches up with them. One of the other major reasons for Joe wanting to depart is to have a space to meet with Kelly, the girl he is infatuated with. It’s the classic tale of first love, or more accurately first crush, with a twist. Joe wants nothing more than to be with Kelly, but Kelly is far more interested in Patrick, a feeling he reciprocates. Joe learns of this one night when Kelly stays over in their summer home. He is understandably crushed by this realization which brings us to the first lesson: You don’t always get the girl and you have to make your peace with that.

In this case, the girl actually happens to be a girl, but really it can be anything. It is the first lesson we all have to learn about the world and growing up. We are owed nothing and for all the hard work, desire, and effort we put into something, we still might end up with nothing to show for it. The sooner we understand this, the better off we will be in the long run. It is an unpleasant but necessary lesson. Joe learns it when Kelly chooses someone else even after he took the initiative and made this whole other life for himself and his friends. He is understandably upset, but that is not the problem. After all, being upset and hurts would be a natural reaction. No, his problem occurred when he retaliated and became an ass to his friend and the girl. First rule of being a decent guy, when a girl, or guy, tells you no, don’t be a dick about it.

This is the new face of adolescent independence.

This is the new face of adolescent independence.

After this event, a rift occurs among the friends with Patrick and Biaggio leaving the sacred homestead to Joe for himself. Utterly alone, Joe is forced to actually become self reliant. The books full of survival skills like hunting, gathering, and cooking are of legitimate use now. We see Joe struggle to keep his shelter sustainable and see the eventual fruits of his labors in the form of a single, fully prepared meal of rabbit. However, we also see the change and pain he goes through in obtaining and preparing that meal. This is the second lesson of the film: We only truly grow and become who we are apart from others. Of course, society has much to teach us and we can learn an immense amount from peers, teachers, and others. Even so, the only way we truly know if those lessons took is to apply them outside of the comfort of having our teachers there to correct us.

Joe, ultimately, returns to his home, friends, and family in order to save Biaggio who fell to a poisonous snake bite. Once again, Joe’s acquired knowledge from his books saves the day. So I could say that read more is the intended lesson of the film (and really you should) but in actuality the final lesson to take is one of the key components of a bildungsroman. It is not enough to simply learn and grow, but you have to return and reconcile your past. I know it sounds like some new-age bullshit, but it is one of the elements of a bildungsroman and the Hero’s Journey. It is the only way to move forward. It is the reason we study history and ourselves. We desire to understand our past in the hopes of improving our future. Sometimes it is a simple measure of reuniting with our fathers or going back and forgiving those who have wronged us. Whatever our pasts, we must make our peace with them.

Thus endeth today’s lessons.

A Father’s Love

Not sure it competes with Bryan or Stru but a ‘horror’ story nonetheless, I think. Enjoy and leave some criticism!

I can perfectly recall my daughter’s beautiful, blue eyes staring up at me as I held her as a babe.

There has never been a more blissful moment in my entire life which is why I still felt so much love as she plunged the knife deep into my chest.

On Learning

Do you recall when you first learned how to read? Can you remember how you how letters began to mean something or when they became more than just a series of sounds into something more? I don’t. I cannot for the life of me remember when or how I first began to read. Or when I obtained the capacity to learn. I cannot recollect when that spark of understanding went off in my head and my lifelong passion for books, art, science, and learning began.

I remember the joy of reading a book. Not the simple single sentence stories found in Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss (though those are enjoyable even now), but an honest to God actual book with developed characters and a full story. I wasn’t reading Shakespeare by any means (unless you count the Wishbone adaptations), but I was beginning to explore the offerings of my school and local libraries beyond the children’s sections.

Of course, this early instance led to development of math skills, scientific inquiry, and basic overall academic interest. However, I do not know the original impetus for this evolution and for some reason that bugs me. Considering I am currently a teacher, I am fascinated by the process of learning exhibited by my students. As well, in my former life as a graduate student, the methods in which my peers consumed, debated, and eventually internalized information was astounding in its diversity, efficacy, and, at times, sheer lunacy.

Look at that smug bastard with his books.

Look at that smug bastard with his books.

I try to remember if and how I struggled with learning. I try to remember what feelings were going  on during the process. Was I frustrated? Overburdened? Angry? What tricks did I use to overcome any obstacles or difficulties? I ponder this in the vain hope that drilling into my past will provide some insight into my current students’ struggle.

Unfortunately, I feel this is proving fruitless. How can I engage and teach someone when I do not really know how I myself learn or was taught? Not really a rhetorical question. I am genuinely unsure as to how to accomplish such a thing.

How do we learn? How are we taught? Is it the responsibility of the teacher to educate? The student to learn? Or some unclear alchemic mixture of both? For something we seem to value so much in society and tout as a major component of a successful life, very little information, outside of a few specific fields, exists on how to learn and teach successfully.

Maybe it’s not so much the process we consider significant, but simply the final product of education that society desires. You know, the whole good, productive citizens part, but what does it take to get there? And how can we ensure that said criteria is met while still giving a capacity for ingenuity, creativity, and something beyond rote learning?

I suppose at the core of my query is how can we dispense a desire to learn and not just basic instruction of material? Because one is far better than the other and ultimately more useful.

Lessons From…Legend of Korra

Somehow I have managed to write for several months on this thing without mentioning Avatar: The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra. I don’t know how this travesty was able to happen, and I deeply apologize for my failings. Both these show are some of the best television your minds could ever handle, and that they happen to be cartoons makes that fact that much sweeter. Seriously, go now and watch these shows. I mean, first read this and then go, but still make sure your eyeballs see the glory of the bending.

"There is no element. You  are simply bending yourself."

“There is no element. You are simply bending yourself.”

Honestly, I could write several dissertations and teach a nearly infinite number of classes from what can be gleamed from this series, but I don’t have that kind of time and I assume you do not have that level of patience. So, instead I will focus on the first episodes of the newest season/arc (sadly the last one) of Legend of Korra. As always, SPOILERS ahead.

Might start using this as a warning for all "thpoilerss."

Might start using this as a warning for all “thpoilerth.”

Each season of Legend of Korra is presented as a book in a series with each one having its own theme. It is similar to the break up of season in Avatar: The Last Airbender with each of its own season being called books and focusing on one of the elements Aang had to learn. This is no accident and is rather clever on the part of the writers.

Aang never really wanted to be the Avatar, the bridge between the spirit and physical world and the one person who can bend and master all the elements of the given universe. He was content to be a child but destiny had other plans for him, and the world needed him to become its savior and protector. There is a hundred years of war and oppression without the Avatar’s guidance, power, and ability to administer balance. Every Avatar before Aang accomplished this in different ways, but ultimately that was what the Avatar provided. Accordingly, The Last Airbender is Aang’s journey in both learning to become the Avatar and accepting what this means. He must learn how to wield the elements and abilities of the Avatar while deriving the lessons each nation and bending art has to bestow. Thus, each season/book is named after the element he masters during that period.

Korra, on the other hand, has no qualms about being the Avatar. Since childhood, she has had an affinity and talent for bending all the elements, save for air which is the name of the first book/season. It acts as a transition for the audience and show. However, once Korra masters air bending, the focus is not on her progression as the Avatar but on what the Avatar is supposed to do in the rapidly changing world. Essentially, Aang’s story was about becoming the Avatar while Korra’s is about what it means to be the Avatar.

Not the only noticeable difference between the two.

Not the only noticeable difference between the two.

Which brings us to Season 4, aptly titled “Balance”: Episodes 1 and 2. Last season ended with Korra severely injured from mercury poisoning and unable to walk. However, there was also a vein of hope as the Air Nation, and Air Benders, which had been wiped off the world for over a century was restored through Korra’s intervention. As well, the spirit and physical world have been rejoined, so you have spirits freely roaming and occupying the physical (human) world. Perhaps, even bigger than this is that the leader of the Earth Nation, one of the two largest nations on the planet and the main provider of metals and ores to every other nation, has been assassinated leaving the Earth Nation in utter chaos. The world seemingly has never needed its Avatar more, and she is out of commission for roughly three years. This absence and the events that transpire during bring up certain questions for both Korra and the world she inhabits: What does the world do without its Avatar? Is the Avatar even necessary anymore in this new world? What does the Avatar do without the purpose of saving the world? And perhaps most importantly, who is the Avatar if they are no longer the “Avatar?” While Book 4 explores these concepts and questions, they are established in the ending of Book 3.

The perfect dichotomy in this scene just adds to the heart breaking nature of it. Forget being a good cartoon, this is just incredible television. Anyhow, in this scene Jinora is a force of nature. She is the heart and soul of the Air Nation rising like a phoenix, or in this case a bison. She has just saved the Avatar, managed to defeat the evil Zaheer, and unified the Air benders. On the opposite spectrum is Korra at her weakest and most vulnerable. She has barely survived her encounter with an assassin and has been paralyzed due to mercury poisoning. To add to all this, she has just heard her former mentor, Tenzin, basically say that the Air Nomads will fulfill the Avatar’s duties while she is recuperating.

No! You're crying. Shut up!

No! You’re crying. Shut up!

So, what does this mean for Korra? Does this mean that her entire way of life, purpose, and destiny are no longer correct or necessary? Basically her entire identity has been completely turned around and inside out. Of course most of us will never have such a burden or fate of being responsible for the well being of the world, but the uncertainty and fear of losing who we believe ourselves to be and no longer knowing what we are meant to do is surely a common concern.

Like all good stories, Legend of Korra does not provide any easy answers and that does not seem to likely change for its final season. Considering the likely “villain” that is being propped up, Kuvira, there seems to be several conversations/discussions around inherited versus obtained, fate versus work, nature versus technology, and the people versus authority. These juxtaposed dichotomies are the very arguments and debates we are still having and they are perfectly represented in a children’s cartoon.

Like I said, there are no simple answers provided by the show as it wants, and respects, the audience to have a dialogue. However, the show provides a guide in one of Korra’s developments and differences from her previous Avatar incarnations. She is the first Avatar to no longer have a connection to her past lives. She can no longer ask them for advice or depend on their experience. Instead, Korra must decide things completely on her own based solely on her experience, intelligence, and what she has learned. That is the core of today’s lesson: Only you can truly decide what the answers to life’s difficult questions are. You may be wrong, right, or neither, but you must choose and live with the consequences. Your identity may change, your role in life might disappear, your entire idea of who and what you are may disappear, but only you can decide what that means and what to do with it. It is not easy and probably won’t be pretty, but it is one of the few undeniable rules of the universe.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

P.S. WATCH LEGEND OF KORRA!

On…Perfection

I have always been baffled by the ideal of perfection. After all, everyone seems to be in agreement that it is impossible to achieve, yet we also ardently strive to obtain this ideal we have in our heads. Why? Why do we continue to pursue quite literally the impossible? Is there some inane desire to achieve it? Or perhaps we are in some way pursuing the diving and a method of accessing it again?

In most martial arts, there are specific forms and techniques one learns and develops. In Chinese and Japanese martial arts, these are called kata. In Taekwondo, they are known as taegeuk, In boxing, simply punches and stances. The point is that each form has a function and it is only once you have learned each form and are able to execute it perfectly that you can advance. However, even if you achieve the highest possible knowledge and skill in your martial art, you are technically not done because by simply fighting you are constantly learning, evolving, and improving. Thus, perfection is impossible in martial arts. The pursuit of it is simply the act of practicing.

Of course, knowing the forms is only half the skill since you must still be able to execute them in an actual match or fight. So does losing a fight or match completely undue all your previously gained perfection? Or does it mean that your past was never actually perfect since you lost? Is there such a thing as a perfect loss?

Obviously, this is merely the perfection in the physical form which try as we may will be utterly out of our grasp, but is a mental or spiritual perfection possible? Can there be a perfect melody, song, or piece of art? I mean could someone write the perfect story? I suppose a better question would be what would come after?

Screw you, arrogant sign!

Screw you, arrogant sign!

For example, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that someone wrote a story that was considered by everyone to be utter perfection. No critic could find fault in it. No academic could ruin it with deep, often unfounded view and interpretations. In fact, no one has anything negative to say about it at all. Would story telling/writing just stop? No, people would still want to tell stories if only to perhaps reach the same peak that the “perfect” story achieved.

I recall reading Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett freshman year of college and thinking that this was quite possibly the perfect story. At first I believed my dreams of being an author were pointless. I would never be able to achieve this level of writing so why should I even bother putting pen to paper. After some time though, I wanted to do better than him. I don’t know if I ever really will (frankly it sounds like a pipe dream) but reading his work pushes me to try. Perhaps that is really all we want; a goal. We want something to strive for and hope for, even if we know it is ultimately a futile pursuit. Or maybe we are all inherently broken and just don’t quite want to admit it. I don’t really have any solid answers on this one.

What do you think? Is perfection achievable? Should we try to obtain or is the pursuit of it enough? Look forward to any answers you all might hold.

Lessons From…Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations

I have never been a big fan of reality television. The caricatures of people dealing with what can at best be described as “first world” or “white people” problems was always farcical to me without the ability to produce actual laughs. Travel or competition (legitimate ones) are a little better since then there are people with some sort of skill or talent than the insipid waste of programming usually found in such shows.

I suppose this is what led me to watch Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on Netflix. I had always heard about the show through friends and referenced on other television programs. I decided to give it a try and I gotta say I was hooked. I don’t know if it is the open mindedness and willingness to go off the tourist path in the visited cities of Bourdain. Maybe, it’s his acerbic and sarcastic demeanor, certainly doesn’t hurt. Or perhaps it is just a good show, but whatever it may be I highly recommend its viewing.

Wouldn't you want this man to guide you on a culinary adventure?

Wouldn’t you want this man to guide you on a culinary adventure?

As with most media I consume, I found a few worthwhile nuggets of wisdom to further ponder on. Obviously, there are some SPOILERS, but it’s a television show, so not too much would be ruined anyhow. There is no story for me to destroy, thus just enjoy.

I am not going to discuss the entire series because there is just way too damn much to go over. Nor am I even examining the totality of episodes I watched over the weekend. Instead, I am focusing on two specific episodes: Season 4, Episode 11 “Laos” and Season 4, Episode 16 “Tokyo.”

In the “Laos” episode, Bourdain visits the landlocked country examining the nation’s culture, cuisine, and past. This last part becomes of particular interest since Laos was the victim of our ammunition during the Vietnam War.

Honestly, I had to Google to figure out where it was.

Honestly, I had to Google to figure out where it was.

During his travel, Bourdain eats a meal with a man, and his family, who was the victim of one of these bombings. At the age of nine, he lost a leg and most of his arms to an American bombing. Understandably, Bourdain is not his usual sarcastic self as he tries to converse with this man. At one point, the gentleman asks Bourdain why he is having so much trouble speaking plainly or at all. Bourdain responds that he has nothing to say to this man and that he just wants to listen and learn about what happened as that is the least he can do.

I honestly believe this was the moment that Anthony Bourdain won me over. He was not some host or tourist figuring out how to sell or package an experience but someone willing to understand his limits and willing to allow the life around him to influence and teach. It is a lesson we should all take to heart: Sometimes all we can do, and all we should do, is listen with an open mind and honestly hear the other person. Forget giving advice or preparing your counter argument. Just shut up and allow the other person their dignity and voice. Not always, but you’ll recognize the moments when you should.

Later in the episode, Bourdain witnesses a ritual of Buddhist monks collecting rice from villagers in the morning in a long procession. This is an everyday occurrence for the people of this village and for the monks it is most likely their only meal of the day. While this is going on, Bourdain notices a significant number of tourists clicking away photographs and videos to shout to the world evidence of this sighting to the masses of the world. He begins to worry that perhaps his choice of showing these beautiful places, delicious food, and intriguing rituals has a dark side. After all, exposure always changes what is exposed and by doing so aren’t we all slowly killing the things we love?

I get the slight hypocrisy of using this image. No need to tell me.

I get the slight hypocrisy of using this image. No need to tell me.

Technically speaking, he is not wrong. However, Bourdain’s worries are assuaged by one of the local villagers. The villager tells him that although people may take pictures and videos of their ritual it is still theirs. It is what they do everyday and that will not stop just because people see it. In essence, people are not science experiments and the change to themselves, their culture, and their land should be of their choice and not outside observation and influence. The history of the world is marked by the interference of a few major countries. However, try as the may, the cultures, ideas, and lives of the oppressed nations have continued on. We may think we affect these, for lack of a better term, ‘exotic” locales and we do to some extent, but for the most part, they will continue on regardless of our thoughts of them.

(Should be noted, this is not carte blanche to simply observe and appropriate other cultures, ideologies, and lands. In fact, you should respect them even more because of your ignorance and allow the “other” to dictate the conversation and discussion for once)

The “Tokyo” episode acts as an interesting companion to the “Laos” episode. Whereas Laos seemed like a land unvarnished by time, Tokyo completely embraces, and in many ways goes beyond, the modern. However, even amid this revolutionary future, lies an unshakeable foundation built upon tradition and ceremony. Chef Masaharu Morimoto says it best in this episode when he states how even when innovating you need to have a good foundation of tradition, history, and basics because otherwise who knows what you are trying to do or build. Essentially, Innovation, growth, and change should be built upon healthy, stable traditions and practice.

Been there before. Desperate to go again.

Been there before. Desperate to go again.

Like with all his journeys, Bourdain also experiences several of the area’s practices and customs. One of the activities he tries is the art of Kendo. During his observation of this martial art, Bourdain speaks with the sensei (teacher), a 70 something man who has studied Kendo for decades. The teacher says how every day is a new lesson and experience studying Kendo. At this point, curious and still reeling from his other adventures Bourdain asks the sensei if he believes that perfection can be achieved in Kendo.

Not perfection but damn near close.

Not perfection but damn near close.

The sensei’s response is simply that just because perfection is unattainable does not mean you should not strive to achieve it. This is why he trains every day in Kendo and why he continues to fight because every single one teaches him something new and makes perfection just a little bit closer. It might be the most any of us gets, but it is a worthy endeavor.

Thus endeth today’s lessons.