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.

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On Totems (Or Lasting Impressions)

Recently, I have been exchanging letters with a few friends. (To the younger readers in the audience, a letter is like an email that you would write by hand onto a sheet of paper. Then you would put it into an envelope to be mailed by the Postal service to the appropriate recipient. The Postal Service is like Amazon shipping but paid for with taxes and far slower and less efficient) We all caught up, now? Anyhow…

I have been writing to two friends, whom you may be somewhat familiar with, Brandon Strubberg and Bryan Honeycutt. In all honesty, it began with a suggestion from Bryan to begin this odd letter writing campaign. Admittedly, I did not fully understand why he had this idea, but as I have learned, it is usually better to just go along with his plans as long as nothing illegal is going on. 

I had been exchanging letters with Bryan primarily, so I was pleasantly surprised when I received a letter from Brandon. I wanted to respond immediately, however, Honeycutt told me to hold off until I had acquired decent stationary. See, my compatriots had been writing on fancy paper while I had been using simple College Ruled loose leaf. Why should I use fancy paper if what really matters are the words on it? Once again I acquiesced to Bryan’s suggestions and he was right…this time. (Don’t let it go to your head!)

Obviously, the content of the letters matter more than the material they are written on, but at the same time there is a purpose and reason behind this act of writing. We could easily call, text, or email one another to converse, but those would be casual, fleeting conversations. On the other hand, these letters are meant to last longer and be as totems that mark memories and the passage of time. 

Why do you keep movie stubs, concert tickets, or even pieces of nature from trips and hikes? Do these things matter? Will you honestly forget the experience or memory if you lost these things? Probably not, but they help jog the mind and act as keepsakes to hold onto. This was Bryan’s intent with the letter writing, which he neglected to mention when beginning this project…but whatever. 

I like to imagine that someday in the distant future I’ll be drinking a smooth scotch on a porch reading over some of the letters we exchanged remembering good friends who helped make good times. I suppose on that far off day, I’ll be glad to have used higher quality paper. 

So, what are some of your special objects or totems that hold significance or memories? 

Since we are on the subject anyway, Honeycutt, it lives!

May he never be turned to red.

May he never be turned to red.

The Sentry Gathers…

Cosmos, Science, and Perpetual Learning

I feel bad posting that title considering this will be a comparatively short post. It feels like it should hold more gravitas.

Anyhow, my cousin came down to visit this week and I had the opportunity to talk with him. Conversations with him tend to make me feel a bit simpleminded. See, he is a semester away from graduating from MIT with a degree in some sort of applied computing, smart person degree. Before him, I was considered the intelligent one in the family and am now securely tied for second with another cousin. Suffice to say the boy has an understanding of the universe that I can barely comprehend.

Yet, this is what I enjoy about conversing with him and other such individuals. Every time I do engage with him, I come away a tad smarter and far more curious. With this new found inquisitiveness, I devour as much information and read as many new articles and books as I can find. I don’t always understand what I am reading or what my cousin is saying, but I listen, engage, and eventually am able to learn and have at least some understanding.

It is these moments that force me out of my comfort zone and push me to continue to learn and engage with as much as possible. Which brings me to the show “Cosmos” (from the title). I never saw the first “Cosmos with Carl Sagan” but am thoroughly enjoying the new incarnation with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Like the talks with my cousin, “Cosmos” makes me want to learn more and as much as I can. Whatever else I may or may not accomplish, I pray that my pursuit of learning never ends and will do everything to ensure that it doesn’t. And it should be an endeavor that we all share and strive to achieve.

Sorry, I swear I tried to make it short.

TL;DR: Learning is good. Keep doing it regardless your age. Also, maybe watch Cosmos

Lessons From…HIMYM

So, it’s been awhile with this whole blogging thing and am still experimenting with the genre and what it is I am trying to do with it. The following post is such an experiment. As much as I love reading and writing, I have always been an observer and student of media and have equated television, film, comics, etc. to a new form of dispersing the myths and narratives of old. With this in mind, I decided to try some posts on the lessons that can be derived from contemporary (and maybe not so contemporary) media and see how that goes. I will be calling these “Lessons From…” and hopefully they will be both entertaining and slightly educational. Alright, the inaugural post of this series will be on one of my favorite television series, How I Met Your Mother. Quick note, you can expect this show to come up again from time to time. It is awesome, full of intentional/unintentional wisdom, and, like I said, one of my favorite shows.

The preceding clip is from the Season 3 Episode 5 titled “How I Met Everyone Else”. Now, let me get this out of the way: Yes, the clip, as well as the Barney character, can be seen as sexist in it/his explanation. Trust me, it isn’t. Watch the whole episode, really the whole show, and you’ll see why such a simple characterization of Barney doesn’t really work. Also, the show is just good and you should watch it. Anyhow, I will take your choice to read this far as an assumption that you are giving me the benefit of the doubt and will continue to read…alright, moving on.

So, what can this clip from HIMYM teach us besides the often touted and stereotypical message that men are shallow and will put up with quite a bit of “crazy” to be with a “hot” woman? Well, big reveal time…that is the takeaway lesson from this clip. No, seriously, that is the lesson. Men will put up with a certain level of crazy to be with hot and yes it does function on a scale.

To be fair, every individual man’s definition of hot and crazy will differ, but each one has their limits and set ideas of what each constitutes. Essentially, what I consider to be hot (red hair, freckles, etc.) and crazy (liking 1D and Justin Beiber, mostly kidding) might be slightly different than your definitions, but they are present and functional; as well, we will both adhere to our scales based on our preferences. The scale might not even be “hot/crazy”. It could just as easily be “hot/dumb”, “hot/boring”, or “hot” and any other undesirable characteristic.

HIMYM, through Barney, eloquently put this notion into actual words and presented it in a comprehensible and, more importantly, non-judgmental way. Let’s be honest, we all have, at the very least, had a crush on, an individual simply because of how they looked in spite of other traits. It is not something to be ashamed of, but instead a fact that should be acknowledged and even perhaps embraced.

HIMYM also acknowledged that this was not simply a male performance; women also adhered to such a scale, though theirs might function a bit differently. I prefer to call the female version of the “hot/crazy” scale the “cute/creepy” scale. It works in the same way as the male version, but this video might best articulate it:

Apparently, women can be just as shallow as men and that is the real takeaway lesson from How I Met Your Mother. What?! Surprise moment? Oh Yeah! For all the literature, films, television, and music that tries to create these weird diverse boundaries between men and women, ultimately, we are really just the same and sometimes those similarities are found in the level of shallowness both sexes can have.

So, in conclusion or TL;DR, men and women can both be a bit shallow and selfish at times and that isn’t always a bad thing. It just depends on the circumstances and that is a Lesson From…How I Met Your Mother.

 

 

St. Patrick’s Day

For the last few years, I have enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day mainly because of the company and not quite the day. I know that there is an actual history and meaning to the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, but like most holidays appropriated by America it is now, essentially, another excuse to get insanely drunk without too much of a social stigma (looking at you Cinco de Mayo and Mardi Gras).

I never cared about that, though, because if I wanted to drink to a stupid amount, I would without reservation. Thankfully, I  have outgrown that phase, for now. What I looked forward to was spending a free night with friends. Somehow during my time in college, recent graduate, St. Patrick’s Day fell on a day that I had a vacation or a weekend.

There as much drinking involved, but there was also the sublime pleasure of having the nearby area of the town pretty much to ourselves. Instead of dealing with a plethora of undergrads, we freely roamed from venue to venue and enjoyed the local music, art scenes, and brew joints to our heart’s content. We also made sure to have at least one Depth Charge and do one embarrassing dance for the memories.

And that is what I cherish most of all, the memories that will stay with me long after I may part ways with friends. I’ll remember the stories we created that will inspire and entertain me and those lucky enough I eventually share them with for years to come. There are some pretty good ones that I look forward to reminiscing on over a cold, or room temperature I am not picky, Guinness. Till then, to all Sláinte!

Connecting with Creators

Have you ever seen the animated show Metalocalypse? Short synopsis; it’s an animated show about the biggest metal band ever, Dethklok, and the fictional world in which they are essentially a world power unto themselves. I used to watch it and believe I have seen the first two seasons in their entirety, but did not view it beyond that. There is really no specific reason why I stopped watching this show, as I remember it to be rather humorous, other than I simply stopped. Honestly, I had not even thought about this program for years until I heard an interview with the original creator of the show.

I was listening to the Nerdist podcast (it’s very entertaining and free) with Brendon Small, the mind who came up with Metalocalypse and many other oddball projects. As I previously mentioned, the cartoon had not been in my thoughts for years, but listening to Brendon discuss his work and the process it took to make his project into a reality was, for lack of better terms, breath taking and inspiring. Frankly, it was so interesting that it made me want to go and find the series to view it completely, currently on season one and considering buying the full show.

Admittedly, the program is interesting and does a pretty good job of holding up even after a few years, but none of that really mattered since I had stopped watching the show anyhow. What brought me back was the connection I felt with Small as he spoke about his creation. It shouldn’t be so surprising, after all, this was the original intent of interviews that used to be done by magazines, television, radio, and most forms of media. The major difference between then and now is the lack of an established system and paradigm.

What I mean is that before there would be publicists, agents, publishers, and studio representatives that would set up an agenda and regulations for how the interviews should go and what could be discussed for how long and in what manner; one of the many reasons why production costs and salaries were so immensely large. These systems made for basically adoration but not much more. However, now there is more ability for creators and artists to interact with people and make some sort of connection and community.

Now, I am not saying that this type of arrangement is always great or even useful, but it is the odd circumstances we have created. Artists now can speak directly to their public without the use of a system in place. It gives a chance for them to reach people that would have been considered outside the right “demographic” by some studio exec. More importantly, it makes the audience actually connect and care about the artist and the work.

I knew this in theory as an abstract in my head, but it did not really materialize until this week, partially because of the Brendon Small podcast and because of another artist interaction. Lynette Noni is a YA author who recently obtained a publishing deal for her first book. Before last week, I had never heard of her or her work and the only reason I learned anything about either is through stumbling upon a post on another blog about her. To make a long story short, I had some questions about her work and process and she responded almost immediately. That kind of concern, response, and interaction makes me have a bit more investment and interest than I previously held and makes me want to buy and read her work.

So, I suppose this long winded almost rant (sometimes I get wordy) is really discussing this new avenue that artists have for engagement. Artists, professional and aspiring of all mediums, now can take more control of their fan base and audience interaction, if they want to. Will this system be abused? Of course, what isn’t. However, I, in my foolish optimism that creeps up every once in awhile, like to think that genuine communities can and will rise to the top and create better art and opportunity. Who knows? It could all still be meaningless (there is my stark pessimism/realism coming back. How I’ve missed/tolerated you).

One last note: apologies for the various links, but I like to promote good stuff so they are there to be clicked, if you so desire.

When did YA Fiction Get so Good?

Seriously? Did I miss a memo or something?

I finished the final books of the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins and the Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth over the weekend. The ending of Mockingjay had mostly been revealed to me by others, but it was still intriguing to see how Collins lead both the characters and audience toward the conclusion. Allegiant‘s finale was surprising but not completely out of left field and, more importantly, fully satisfying. My enjoyment of these two series lead me to a simple quandary: when did Young Adult fiction get so damn good?

Both these series, and many others that fall under the wide umbrella of YA fiction, are just well written and compelling stories. They tell the narratives of characters and worlds that could, and really should, be read by anyone regardless of age. For the most part, these texts carry the label of YA simply because of the age and description of the primary characters and not the significance and value of the content. However, the story is the real star of these books. In reality, the protagonist could be any age, gender, or ethnicity and it would still work as an incredible tale worthy of interest.

Of course, there have always been great writing and writers, so I don’t know if merely I am now paying more attention to this particular genre or there actually has been a significant rise in quality. Either way, I look forward to seeing what comes from the YA section and these two authors.

As an aside, correlation does not equal causation but it is interesting to note that both the authors are women and have a female lead. Obviously, good storytelling happens regardless of gender and age, but I wonder why it seems that female authors seem to have a slight leg up when it comes to YA fiction that deals with sci fi and supernatural elements. Who knows? Maybe I am just mistaking windmills for giants. Thoughts?