Course Corrections (On choosing what our missteps and detours mean)

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The day came for posting a new entry to the VO Review, and it passed by while I balked on my weekly commitment. Though it’s not too late, as this now posted just a few days following. I had my original concept prepared and basically written out, but while doing the edits, my enthusiasm slowly and depressingly waned. I chose not to use it; not now anyway. I was still determined to get something posted in an effort to remain true to my new habits and goals

Good creative decisions require knowing when an idea or project must be shelved, or axed completely; and finding the thin lines between procrastination, lost causes, misguided perseverance, and giving up too soon. In this situation I knew that the original article just wasn’t ready yet. It had not reached the level of desired cohesion. But publishing and sharing is vital to growth as a writer. For this entry, I want to describe the course correction I made with the hope of illustrating an overlooked element of the creative process.

As creators, writers, and artists, we make choices that determine what our efforts or lack thereof will eventually mean to us. If we aren’t making these choices with awareness, external or subconscious forces will take up the slack, and before long what we intended originally with our efforts is mired in a narrative of doubt or inauthenticity. It’s the way our minds work. We imbue past actions and choices with post-hoc interpretations and rationalizations for why we did things and in describing the bigger picture we hope we’re apart of. Without diligent awareness, it’s easy to take on a self serving bias or a victim mindset. A narrative starts forming that excuses or construes the meaning of our inevitable mistakes and detours. By deciding that the post I was working on wasn’t where I wanted it to be, I consciously determined to write something else and to decide what that meant about for my developing goals and writing habit. But these decisions did not come without doubt and dissonance.

It’s difficult not to allow self doubt, insecurities, or outside pressures color what it is we believe about our actions and decision. Sometimes we unconsciously surrender the freedom to shape the story ourselves. “I’m a quitter, a procrastinator, a model of inconsistency”…this could easily be what I said about my first post not coming together quite right. In fact, I did say these things to myself, and believed them momentarily. The question I had to ask myself about how to label my creative decision, action, or lack thereof, is this: are these labels and interpretations my choice or are they the identity I’ve allowed uncertainty and external forces to impress upon me?

There were both subtle and simple reasons behind my decision to write this post, in an effort to keep me on a disciplined creative track. I had doubts when I felt that my other write-up hadn’t taken on the desired shape. I started telling myself, “nobody cares if I post this week anyway” or, “how can you feel so good about something one day and find it to be utter nonsense the next?” However, I chose a different train of thought. I consciously discarded this old habit of fixating on my inadequacies. Something that could easily derail me in the past.

I’m not faking it ‘til I make it, or making excuses for giving up, or browbeating myself for being a few days late on posting. I made the willful decision to take action in a different direction, rather than hold myself to the impossible standard where every action must result in brilliance, and that it must go according to the plan or I’ve failed. And with this willful decision, I’ve written another blog entry for the VO Review. Here she be!

 

Quick hits

Thoughts on the Marvel film universe (after viewing Guardians of the G): the more bloated the installments get, the less I care about the paper thin plots and any impetus for the conflicts. They’re basically visual roller coaster rides. I enjoy them and move on.

Things I’d forgotten: how cold the winters get, how hard habits are to form and how easy they are to break, how smart people still do plenty of dumb things (mostly speaking for myself).

Rediscovering for the first time: the value of lists and keeping notes

Awesomeness of the week: seeing our cat use the stuff we’ve packed in boxes as her personal jungle gym and sleeping perch.

New shows for me: Broad City, Hell on Wheels

Books I’m enjoying or enjoyed: No Country for Old Men, Founding Brothers, Dataclysm

Albums to give a listen: Divisionary by Ages and Ages, Room 93 by Halsey, Wildewoman by Lucius

New irrational appreciation: Vintage sodas in glass bottles (chiefly Root Beer and Cream Soda)

Is Nolan Who We Think He Is? (A VO Review of Interstellar and its director)

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Spoilers are VERY minor with story elements and devices only hinted at.

Often after seeing a major release from the likes of Christopher Nolan, my first inclination is to defend the work. Without question, when it comes to Nolan, my critical sense is in what I would term ‘High Art’ mode. His films have their various flaws and his technique is at times clunky, but I have my theories for why this is the case and why these are insufficient for disputing his greatness as a director. Chris Nolan, often with his brother Jonathan Nolan in the writer’s seat, makes ambitious and praiseworthy overtures towards bridging the gap between mainstream, big budget fodder and a more sophisticated artistic vision. Naturally, this brings out the trolls, contrarians, and the hyper-critical.

Soon after The Dark Knight was exalted by critics and audiences alike, there were detractors who felt a special need to temper the conversation with a “hey now, folks, hold your horses.” Some did it tastefully and brought appropriate realism to the consensus of what Nolan’s work means in the public conscience and consciousness. Others were in full on take-Nolan down-a-notch mode, and invariably their go-to zinger went something like, “Nolan is no Kubrick”; delivered as though they’d been personally insulted. It’s easy enough to respond to such contempt by saying, “well no shit.” Neither are The Black Keys any sort of Led Zeppelin, but they are still pretty damn great. It seemed to be a commonplace demonstration of intellectual grandstanding following Inception for someone to write or tweet “Inception wasn’t THAT mind blowing, I understood the WHOLE thing” or “the reason your mind was blown was because of the Earth sized plot holes you didn’t catch onto, so you FELT like it was deep and epic! But if you were smart enough, you’d know better.”

So before delving into my own critical breakdown of Interstellar, I’d like to address the issue of minds being blown and glaring logic loopholes. Firstly, spotting plot holes doesn’t always entail that you were the smarter viewer. On repeat viewing of Nolan’s films, which are often packed like puzzles, it becomes clear that he and his brother are very particular and most questions are answerable or purposefully left ambiguous. I will admit that his pacing and degree of explanation is sporadically suspect; an issue of editing and cutting down to digestible size I imagine. But simply because I’m unsure exactly what transpired in a scene, or because I didn’t gather why so and so did such and such in scene ‘A’ or ‘B’, doesn’t give me free rein to accuse a director or writer of laziness or speak of those who enjoyed viewing it scornfully.

Secondly, when it comes to Nolan’s work, viewers run a high risk of becoming prisoners of the moment. I know this was true of me when it came to The Dark Knight Rises; which in retrospect I now see as being Nolan’s most flawed effort, paling as compared to TDK. However, when I first saw it I was convinced it was superior; that he’d taken his TDK template to that next epic level. I was a POM to the IMAX experience and the mythic/epic Chris Nolan overtones. TDKR had a certain level of hubris, the auteur attempting to elevate the pulpy comic book action movie to the plain of legendary. To Nolan’s credit, this vision was mostly realized. But, on additional sit downs with TDKR, I started noticing its glaring blemishes. Nolan’s shortcomings became more readily apparent: a telegraphed twist, clunky and disengaging action sequences, Shakespearean and dramatic flare occasionally drifting into silliness, pacing issues, and distracting editing. But let’s remember why the susceptibility for being caught up in Nolan’s magic exists in the first place; he indeed makes magic on the screen and often evokes transcendent and sublime emotionality.

So, I went into Interstellar with my bias detectors as fully in check as I could muster. But I still possessed the sort of giddiness that a youthful me had whilst attending Jurassic Park or Return of the King for the first time. I was stoked. So as I hunkered down for the feature presentation, I was of two minds. Despite Nolan’s flaws, he still creates awe inspiring movies that equate to what I would only describe as ‘spiritual’. With Interstellar, some of his directorial tics show through again, yet, in the IMAX setting is wholly engaging in the ways that Nolan is known for. This is why I go to the theater. These are the kinds of movies I hope for and rarely ever see.

Most movies are just that, movies (crude and entertaining). Christopher Nolan still adheres to this ambition of making FILMS; not simply moving pictures that assist the popcorn going down more smoothly. He often manages to deliver on both fronts. Interstellar, however, might alienate the more casual tenants of weekend features. More than any of his other projects, the Nolan brothers are firmly in the driver’s seat and were given ample amounts of leeway to try the patience of standard movie goers; not only in its mood but with its near 3 hour length. Movie goers that are likely more accustomed to the Marvel comic freneticism, hokey one-liners, and a predictable cadence of rising conflict, climax, and clean resolution. This isn’t a criticism of movie going audiences as much as it is an acknowledgement that a certain style of filmmaking is going extinct, and Nolan refuses to let it die. Of this I am grateful, because that style is a beautiful thing.

From the get go, another brilliant score from Hans Zimmer sets the tone for a journey that is grand in scale. The aesthetic of the film is clean and noticeably free of obvious digital doctoring and clutter. The setup for the premise does require patience, but I didn’t feel any annoyance watching it unfold. A number of plot devices are left unclear, and at times might frustrate. Here, I’d suggest, is a known problem for Nolan in general. In an effort to save some of the big reveals, we are kept in the dark maybe too much. Conversely, he is prone to expositive info dumps that are unusual for wide audience releases. I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks felt that they were sitting through a science lesson that, even though laden with dialogue, left them scratching their head for having not brushed up on their cosmology and astrophysics. I didn’t have a problem here, but I’ve taken an interest in these subjects most of my life . This isn’t a tooting of my horn, I readily admit that Nolan could have done better explaining some stuff.

As Interstellar takes off into space, Nolan’s nods to Kubrick’s 2001 are so obvious that it can hardly be levied as a criticism. He is PURPOSEFULLY paying tribute to particular aesthetic touches from one the greatest sci fi films of all time. He has said himself that “you can’t pretend 2001 doesn’t exist when you’re making Interstellar.” But these are mostly visual and not tonal or thematic similarities. The storytelling and manner of how the plot unfolds is almost entirely unique to Nolan with the exception of what I would term Interstellar’s ‘monolith moment’. Thankfully, Christopher Nolan felt the need to inject humanity into this epic space opera and also grants the audience a sleek resolution, rather than leaving them like a quivering fetus in space contemplating their existential insignificance.

I anticipate that some will say the resolution was predictable, cheesy or too tidy. Without giving it away I can still express understanding of where these criticisms would come from. I had my moments of skepticism and I wasn’t in love with the ‘monolith moment’ myself, but the epilogue of the film largely erased my doubts. I left feeling respectful of how Christopher Nolan chose to solve his little puzzle. He’s one of those artists that seems deliberate and calculated enough that I trust his choices without over thinking whether I completely agree with it. This allowance of artistic latitude when it comes to exacting scrutiny is a conscious choice, and honestly it has made most movies and shows more enjoyable for me. I have spent too many days being prudish and pretentious in pursuit of something searing to say as a demonstration of my intellect. I think it doubtful that anyone else could have managed a better denouement without just leaving the end ambiguous, which is often the typical route taken by art house or more idiosyncratic filmmakers of the Lars Von Trier variety. There is a reason those movies often don’t get wider releases. They might be cool and interesting, but they’re weird, even awkward, and they often conceal their intentions and message to a maddening extent.

Interstellar is not for everyone and that doesn’t mean it’s not still great and admirable in most respects of these words. Lovers of the Dark-Knight-Nolan are going to get something worlds apart from those installments. The Inception crowd will have its patience tried as Interstellar is light in the action department. Where it tries to create tension with action, the movie slips considerably. A middle act devolves into an awkward astronaut fight that felt forced while also attempting to overlay poetic flourishes that frankly didn’t work. But this was brief and the film then moved onto its epic finale. This is mostly a character drama set in space that saves the bombast for the key moments. The meanwhile-on-earth plot gets significantly more screen time towards the latter end of the picture, and the editing choices with that were at times clunky, frustrating, and less engaging.

I would suggest this film be witnessed in the full IMAX glory, but I imagine it’s still great in other formats. Chris Nolan is one of the few filmmakers actually choosing to utilize the IMAX cameras during principle photography, so the entire geography of the screen is covered for most of the running time — no doubt looking spectacular. The non-IMAX intercuts are in a narrower aspect ratio, noticeably darker and less vivid; perhaps bothersome to purists or perfectionists. I await the day that the IMAX cameras and film are more affordable and versatile so Nolan can just have the entire experience be properly wide and tall, as the ambitions of his films demand it. But I’m also hearing that the format might altogether be retired, and this could very well be some of the last times we can witness this preferred Nolan medium.

Some will go in expecting life altering and world changing cinematics. Many of these folks will probably prisoner-of-the-moment their way right to that desired conclusion. And more power to them, it’s awesome to feel like your life was altered and your world was shattered and reformed in a 3 hour span. Others will go into it expecting epic action and coolness, and I imagine some of these cravings might be left unsatisfied. There are also those who will attend looking to depreciate Nolan’s stock with a how-dare-anyone-compare-him-to-Stanley chip on their critical shoulder. Admittedly, there are poetic and romantic touches that Nolan paints with that sometimes come across more silly than intriguing; but he hits far more often than he misses. I’m not going to let one badly delivered Matt Damon pontification spoil the experience. And yes, Matt Damon is in this movie…I’m not getting my Matt’s mixed up.

Let haters hate and allow some people to have a fleck of bitter taste ruin an entire heaping pile of delectable, satisfying, intellectual and creative desserts. This is the way of the modern movie goer and hyper-critic: to feel like they are owed what they want or expected. Those who don’t get it will haughtily levy labels like “overrated” and “pop sci-fi” against Insterstellar more as an expression of their dislike for Nolan and people who revere him. There are relevant criticisms of this and his other work; that they are “pop” or “silly” are not some of them. I also anticipate that the media narrative will paint the response as more polarized than it actually is. But there will be yay-sayers and naysayers, as immutable a fact as time itself…wait, is time immutable??…

I for one was satisfied to a large extent. There were a handful of moments that created that undeniable upswell indicating that I was witnessing greatness. I wouldn’t want to belittle that with minor grievances. Christopher Nolan has done for the medium in its early 21sty century form what is otherwise not granted by major studios to most other filmmakers. This sort of freedom and ambition should be applauded, even when it doesn’t match all of our expectations. Otherwise, we’ll be condemned to a smattering of Michael Bayesque CGI orgies, Judd Apatow knockoffs, and overextended franchise money pits; with the occasional bright glimmers like Edge of Tomorrow or the Hungers Game series. Even those often lack the same ‘high art’ aspirations that Nolan and his team clearly hold themselves to. Color me fooled or hoodwinked by the magic, but I see the sophistication present in his craft as being real and achieved, not some hallucinatory mindtrick of cinema. Go forth and enjoy, and do not over think all the over thinking I just did with regards to Christopher Nolan’s Insterstellar. PEACE

Fuzzy Boundaries (The merits of intentionally getting lost)

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I recently started reading a gem of a book entitled ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost’ by Rebecca Solnit. Sometimes I get lucky enough to stumble on a book like this; the sort of book which defies any solid genre distinction. Solnit’s work here reads as a collection of biographical essays but is more a philosophical contemplation on the concept of ‘being and getting lost’. It’s rife with existential fodder…and I am loving it, because I’m apparently psychologically masochistic like that. Other books that land in this fuzzy, challenging category are Colin Wilson’s ‘The Outsider’, John Gray’s ‘Straw Dogs’ among others — these kinds of books often end up in the favorites column. I’ll likely also recommend them insistently to my friends; both those who read and those who don’t.

I have a hankering for getting lost in reading and more generally in the experience of discovery. I typically delve through art and information that cannot be readily categorized or otherwise covers a swath of stimulating subjects (psychology, philosophy, physics, social criticism, etc). The Pacific Standard (website and magazine) is particularly notable for this kind of content; the Brain Pickings blog being another. I encourage myself in this sort of thorough, even scattered, approach despite being somewhat anarchic and occasionally without direction.

My music listening habits follow this form of ‘looking to be lost’. In building an extensive playlist of new music from 2014, I’ve been aiming for the deep end hoping to find the unexpected. It’s an ongoing project of perusing the web for albums I can add regardless of whether I have heard the artists/bands before; then later, semi-randomly picking a release, often unsure of what I’m about to get myself into. With these efforts, I’ve almost exclusively listened to new music and new artists this year. I can say that its been largely worthwhile. Some of the best music I’ve heard in several years I found via this process — the process of intentionally looking to get lost.

I’m an enthusiast for taking walks. This interest unfortunately eluded me for decades. But now circumstances are such that I have little choice but to take part in this simplest of activities. I was please, however, in finding out that I truly enjoy walking. And even more so, wandering. The A and B of my treks would often be determined, but there were always alternative paths to take and strange corners to behold. Where I currently reside, there is a strange patchwork of Pacific Northwest greenery, suburban homes, retail strip malls, semi-urban apartment complexes, as well a few historic and longer established fixtures. I wouldn’t qualify it as mind blowing by any stretch, but it is unpredictable. Once again falling into that not so neat category of defying distinction.

A key point that Solnit establishes early in ‘Field Guide’ is that being lost is OKAY if that is our desire and if we are equipped for it. Because people crave certainty, and seemingly require the formation of narratives and memories that bolster this sense of certainty, getting lost becomes of particular importance for self awareness and spiritual/emotional well being. There is too much in life that we will never know or be able to fully understand. An appropriate means for exploring the fuzzy boundaries of reality is essential. Without a healthy methodology for ‘getting lost’, people are prone to drift into madness, despair, or rigid and dogmatic thinking.

“Touching the edge of the unknown…sharpens the senses,” she suggests. The wording here could be interpreted several ways. Are we touching the edge of the ‘unknown’ as we stand still within our personal area of the “known”? Or are we always within the ‘unknown’ and we discover its edge where we manage brief glimpses of the realm of knowledge? Is putting knowledge and understanding into geographical terms utterly facile? I could easily be over thinking this simple quote, but it felt relevant to explore the paradoxical ways it could be read — which highlights the paradoxical nature of knowledge altogether.

Could it be that we are better served assuming that we are already, and always will be, lost? And knowing how to be lost well, accepting this fundamental characteristic of being in existence, is how we can stay sane while also finding joy in the uncertainty. Awe and wonder are undeniably some of the most sublime of emotions that anyone can experience, and they both seem intrinsic in this act of discovering — or ‘being lost — when we are going about it with the appropriate reverence for the elusiveness of reality.

I once wrote in a poem/meditation “let go of what I cannot control / embrace and have reverence for mystery / always aware of that uncertainty / but inviting towards the possibilities of each new day.” Personally, I have long felt that much of life was beyond my control. I easily could and have used this as an excuse to put little effort towards having control in my life — to eternally “go with the flow”. Those who drive their sanity into the ground seeking control in every aspect of their life are equally misguided. As is true with most things in life, balance and moderation are critical to emotional well being. And key to our balance is knowing that nothing is ever completely balanced, or rather, such harmonious states are never known or felt by us as individuals. If ever they are permitted to us, they’re gone before we can fully comprehend the purity of such moments.

For awhile I assumed that it was not up to me what my moods were going to be from day to day or where my motivation would be at. I left it up to chance. Or, I was so convinced that chance was in charge, that I took more drastic measures in trying to “feel” how I wanted to feel. The reality was, I could DO a lot more than I realized in helping myself wander through this inexplicable conscious experience, but it required work, willingness and discipline. Maybe extra work for someone with a mind and disposition such that I have. Regardless, it takes time for that work to demonstrate its benefits, and that’s where I struggled mightily. I didn’t want to wait, I didn’t want to believe in the process of self mastery and discipline. I wanted to believe these were a fiction, or at least wholly beyond my grasp.

These were just ways in which I chose to crumble in the face of perceived futility. I’m now beginning to see the journey for what it is. A journey that is inevitable but rife with possibility for joy and satisfaction. It’s an active process learning how to ‘be lost’. Part of that process is continuing to seek out the unknown and uncomfortable so that my mind avoids the lull of complacence. Always watchful for that fallacious sense of thinking I know the nature of things. A habit of thought that led me to assuming all was futile was in fact that exact fallacy — thinking I had the universe figured out. I had forgotten how to be lost.

When I listen to music with a concerted effort towards keeping it fresh, and when I take a walk with the intention of wandering, these are small measures for reminding me how to be lost. They may seem mundane or even trivial when it comes to contemplating the existential nature of my very being. But, in fact, they are essential to being at peace with the strangeness and inexplicability of it. What better way is there to face challenges then to always be uprooting our perceptions of art, society, self, and reality itself? So watch a movie you maybe wouldn’t have ever thought to, start a journal if you’ve never recorded your thoughts, play a video game if you’ve never tried. Is this getting self helpish? Meh… whatever, it’s sound encouragement. We spend too much time convincing ourselves that we don’t believe the good advice and ideas that we are often freely given. I meditate and jog now even though I never used to and thought I’d never be able to make a habit of it. Let’s continue surprising ourselves.

Quick Hits:

A fitting dialogue exchange, given this blog entry, from the film ‘Boyhood’ between Mason (the boy in Boyhood) and his father Mason Sr. (played by Ethan Hawke)
After discussing graduation, breakups, and other ‘normal’ things Mason inquires: So what’s the point?
Mason Sr: Of what?
Mason Jr: I don’t know, any of this…everything?””
Strange stare from Mason Sr, unsure if the question is a joke: everything?! Befuddled chuckle. What’s the point? I mean I sure as shit don’t know…
Mason Jr smiles and roles eyes in a ‘aww geez Dad’.
Father continues: neither does anybody else, okay, we’re all just wingin’ it, you know. Shrugging and look around, looks back at Mason Jr: I mean the good news is your feelin’ stuff, you know, and you gotta hold onto that.

By the way, watch ‘Boyhood’, easily one of the years best.

Currently in excited anticipation of: Viewing of Insterstellar in IMAX on Saturday No. 8th
Thing I’m cutting it close on: my 40 book goal for 2014, currently at 23 with 2 months to go
Simple pleasure I appreciate: Having the perfect pen around that glides well and writes dark and makes me feel like a boss when I write with it.
Activity that makes me feel surprisingly awesome: Running in brisk autumn weather while wearing dorky wool socks and listening to my ‘Get Pumped’ playlist.

The Antipathy Prone Millennial (A critical review of labeling something as “overrated”)

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I would like to propose a thesis, and it might just be pure conjecture. But it’s something that seems to crop up online with relative frequency, especially in the age of linkbait. I’m speaking of a common trend in blogging, journalism, and opinion writing; that trend being “overrated” lists and articles. I would imagine they are easy to write and stir up a good amount of traffic. I see this driven by 2 major factors: millennials (people my age) enjoy saying stuff is overrated — it makes us feel like iconoclasts — and websites exploiting this fixation. They are easy to write because basically all that needs to be done is finding something that has often been considered “classic” or held in high regard and proceed to suggest that the praise is unwarranted. Pepper it with snark, smugness, and a properly contrived sense of contrarianism.

My conjecture is that this particular phenomenon has become increasingly common as the social media generation flowers into adulthood. Something about seeing the “overrated” tag in a headline seems to spike an emotional response one way or the other, and we must click and find out what sacred cow is being desecrated. The manifestation of this trend in music writing and journalism is particularly insufferable. And I use strong words here because I have been just as prone towards this fixation of wanting to come across as iconoclastic. But often times it’s more demonstrative of an ‘overwrought’ and antagonistic disposition.

One particular example of this was a “most overrated bands” list I found during past inter-web perusals. These are often written under the guise of “hipster hating” or some other nefarious form of high-mindedness, and oddly, the most hipster sounding articles now are the ones hating on hipsters. Anti-hipsters are the new hipsters. Back to the example; what this fellow chose to do was dig up 20 or so of the most respected or appreciated indie bands of the last decade (The Black Keys, TV On the Radio, Death Cab for Cutie, Arcade Fire, etc) and contrive the most facile ways to insult them, or more so insult the listeners and their fashion choices. It was almost admirable in its troll-like nature. But if a reader had never listened to these bands, they might actually think this guy knew what he was talking about. And that’s why this trend of internet monologuing and entertainment can’t just simply be dismissed. Nor should we seek it out. However, it would behoove us to understand the generational and cultural context behind this sort of rhetoric; hoping that we gain a greater understanding of why we like to basically make fun of things.

Parody and trolling are too often looking exactly the same nowadays, which is ruining the art and utility of parody. These “overrated” articles apparently work, but they’re lazy and serve no higher purpose but to generate clicks and frustration. The frustration is key as often people will turn to their social media outlets, even sharing the link, voicing how appalled they are (I’ve done this). Or the reverse, posting smugly and declaring “HA, I’ve always told everyone those flannel wearing neckbeards listening to Arcade Fire ARE out of their mind” as though one article confirms this theory in their mind; a theory which is largely based on the individual’s insecurity. I am being critically harsh here, and I feel warranted in doing so as I have done both these things — being smug or feigning outrage. It’s emotionally satisfying…word of advice: RESIST!

What are the motivations behind what we post or what we choose to click on and subsequently share? I find it useful to ask myself this question with frequency and have avoided considerable consternation as a result. The purpose of this kind of writing was often just about riling people up. It’s the nature of the linkbait beast.

I can only hope we are starting to move on from this hijacking of our reactionary natures and seeing it for what it is — shallow distraction serving as a veiled form of status seeking. If I can say such and such is overrated, I demonstrate my superiority…right? On the contrary, I’ve made it obvious that my identity felt threatened.

So I’ll end by simply suggesting that millennials have much to offer, but their fixation on what is “overrated” seems very clearly overrated. The larger attitude being one of rebellion and iconoclasm; which can be wholly healthy and necessary. Just not so much on Buzzfeed threads or a Tubmlr blog while aimed at suspect and trivial targets. Its become an unfortunate distraction that co-opts the passions driving individuality, jettisoning them off in a dubious scatter shot of forced big words so it still has the veneer of clever individualism. We feed the beast this way. Self awareness is called for. I continue to try, and I hope we all do.

PEACE

Quick Hits

Album that surprised me greatly: Goddess by Banks

Album of the year watch: Run the Jewels ‘RTJ2’, Kate Tempest ‘Everybody Down’, alt-J ‘This is All Yours’, Sylvan Esso ‘self-titled’, EMA ‘The Future’s Void’, among others and much more to listen to.

Observation from rewatching Lost: Season 3 has been better than I originally recall, stuff actually starts happening! The fact that it is often ambiguous or inexplicable, I’ve better understood this time around, is key to the themes that run through the entirety of the show.

Observation about the Pac Northwest: Wow! You easily forget how rainy the rainy season is. Lakes in the parking lot, that about describes it.

Random Quote:  “Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them…Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer.” (there were a variety of different translations of this, quite interesting to see how many different ways it is presented)

-Rainer Maria Rilke

Quality of Life With Other Non-Humans (A VO Review of Living with a Cat)

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Pet owners — or fellow folks who live with a species that is accustomed to domestic life — may be familiar with this scene: a visitor comes over, cozies up on the couch, and your domesticated animal friend approaches the visitor. But they recoil or are at least display hesitance towards the level of affection and contact the animal entreaties. In the past, I have been the type who could have this sort of uneasiness around house broken animals. I wouldn’t say it’s a disgust reaction, but that a foreign and unusual feeling is evinced. What is this furry thing? Why is their so much hair coming off of it? What does it want from me, it doesn’t know me? Likely, there is an evolutionarily ingrained response, a subconscious concern that an unknown creature might carry disease or pose some other threat.

My family had cats when I was younger, and I don’t recall being pet averse back then, but our cats were outside most of the time. I didn’t think about them very much. We had a brief stint with a cocker spaniel named Adam, of which I was not prepared for even though it was my idea. In my youth, I recall a pet dog requiring more of an adjustment when it came to issues of cleanliness. That experiment was short lived, but there was a grateful family willing to give Adam a home.

The cats we had while I was growing up basically kept to themselves. We called them all “pooty” as in “I tawt I taw a pooty tat”. They had real names — Powder, Mittens, Autumn, and Spice — but we didn’t use those names much. For a good stretch of my adult life, however, I’ve lived in petless homes. Living with Caitlin now, I’ve had to reacclimate to pet proximity with her lovely cat Raelyn. It’s been an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

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That’s not to say there wasn’t an adjustment period. I think more for her than me. I was the foreign and strange thing. I stomped around the apartment helter skelter like. I banged the pots, dishes and pans around…and I was the apocalyptic agent of the monstrous vacuum. I would sing made up songs or shout things randomly in weird voices, the frequencies of which caused her ears to flip back in an effort to block out the sonic disturbance. I’ve learned to resist the urge to wrestle and scoop her up in my arms in hopes of squeezing out all the cuteness. Slowly I’ve adapted and become more gentle; increasingly mellow in my various commotions. Raelyn has basically trained me.

She is often now my reading buddy. She will knead the lap blanket and cozy up. She also likes towels. I’m usually first up in the morning and she awaits the slightest stir, following which she announces her presence to be sure I know it’s time for breakfast. I head out to the cabinet under the sink, scoop up some dry food as she follows, does a loop around my ankles, and goes back into the room en route to her food bowl. This is the morning ritual.

I didn’t think I had it in me to be a pet/animal lover. But I truly see her as a part of a small family in this little studio apartment that we inhabit. I believe it’s made me more patient and considerate, certainly less spastic. Her little yowls and meows to me have a twinge of existential angst, as if like me she’s also wondering “what does it all mean”…these vocalizations probably just mean “pay attention” or “I’m bored”.

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Cat’s sleep most the time so I wonder if they think their waking life is actually the dream. So asides from assuaging loneliness and refining my temperament, Raelyn in unexpected ways enriches my intellectual and philosophical thinking — even if all I’m really doing is irrationally projecting my emotions onto her via anthropomorphism. Caitlin and I are constantly snapping photos of her with our phones. There seems to be no end to her funny poses and at times it seems Raelyn is willing to ham it up for the lens. With these photos, I occasionally post to Instagram with captions of kitty contemplations on life.

I understand now the claim that pets help relieve depression. It’s rather subtle, but humans have a tendency to associate living and human qualities to a variety of things (both animate and inanimate). While Raelyn might not actually know what I’m thinking or saying, my brain is wired to respond and assume there is some level of communication occurring. This is by its nature healthy for human beings. Even seeing her slink along the ground from the corner of my eye is probably enough for me to subconsciously feel like I am less alone. When she reacts to the opening of a can, scurries across and perches on the edge of the couch by the countertop, an understanding has been reached. It’s not always something she’ll be inclined to taste, but if it’s tuna, or if I’m cutting chicken breast, she’s in for a tiny treat that I know she appreciates.

“Breeeowwwww.”

“I know it!”

“Grreeeowwwww.”

“It’s a tragedy.”

“Mrreeeaawwwww.”

“I agree, babe.”

“Preeowww.”

“I feel exactly the same.”

“Meow.” Flops on side, rolls onto back…exposes belly.

All around, living with a cat gets a perfect 5 * out of 5 from me!

Quick Hits:

Observation so far from rewatching Lost: A decade later, writers seem now to do better not only using female characters as a means for making the leading men more interesting and complicated. Kate in season 2 is poorly written and merely used as a device to create tension between Sawyer and Jack…and that’s basically her purpose. Lame!

Current reading: Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other

Random Occurrence for the Week: Bullet hole being shot through our building 10-15 below where I was reading the other night

Thing to be bummed about: The waning of autumn colors

Gone Girl (A VO Review of the film and Fincher coolness)

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Warning: Minor Spoilers

I no longer have doubts walking into a David Fincher flick. I have a fanboy trust in his skill as a movie director. I recognize that someday he might let me down, but for now, I’ll ride the wave and admit to my unabashed admiration for his craft and style. When it comes to the early 21st century internet/tech age, when we look back 30 years from now, we should point to Fincher films as statements for the time. Paired now with the creeping dread coolness of Trent Reznor scores, it’s basically blissful.

Gone Girl continues the legacy of coolness. Sometimes while enraptured by the said coolness, there is a dissonance, as though a great film shouldn’t excite or thill this much, as though I should be taking it more seriously. Gone Girl, however, can easily be viewed with a wry smile throughout. It’s Fincher’s most comedic and satirical work since Fight Club. To be sure, the comedic tone is black. It’s a critical rumination of marital superficiality, suburban and small town life, and the 24/7 news cycle. At times the players involved feel like caricatures. When this occurs, however, it’s in the service of getting the point across. When the film drifts into this hyper-real storytelling, the experience is hypnotic rather than disengaging.

Ben Affleck plays the glib but likable white man with fleeting and mediocre ambitions. We’ve all met this sort of guy, the one whose style we dig while maintaining the feeling that we wouldn’t mind smacking him. So, Affleck basically plays himself…and it works. Rosamund Pike’s role as the leading Amy-Elliott-Dunne borders the closest to cartoonish. Eventually, though, it’s understood that this is a part of the trick. She can play any character at the flip of a switch if it advances her twisted machinations. The interplay between the leads is witty, fascinating, and when appropriate, chilling.

Gone Girl could be a lot of different things for a lot of different people; a thriller, a mystery, black comedy, small town drama, mildly soap operatic. For me, it was a contemplation on the duplicity inherent in human nature (I guess that would make it a mystery) but it’s more about the psychology and mind tricks than purely being about ‘whodunnit’. The film is masterful at arousing discomfort as viewers consider the competing and contradictory narratives.

I came away unsettled, but completely satisfied. There was definitely a psychological hangover lingering for the rest of the day. That’s often when I know a movie made an impression. It will be interesting on repeat viewings to better pick apart how Fincher pulled off this clever ruse.

Random appearances from Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris worked to great effect. They reminded me of other bold choices like the casting of Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, or the recent trend in television of comedians in small dramatic roles. You wouldn’t have thought of it yourself, but when seeing it on screen, it’s an unexpected stroke of casting genius. It’s these subtle strokes that elevate Gone Girl from pulpy thriller to biting and brilliant social commentary.

From a social and philosophical perspective, Gone Girl I think is asking to what extent the gawking and voyeuristic media has cheapened or made real human connections feel stilted, awkward, or trivial. Also, toying with the audience, challenging them to consider which relationships in their lives might be built on dishonesty or half truths. The more cynical moral of the story might be that many people are living outright lies, perfectly willing to maintain the facade as an act of self preservation.

David Fincher is easy to take for a misanthropic auteur. But, there is a lightness to his touch that allows us to glimpse these darker human impulses without recoiling. Seeing this darkness can serve simple entertainment purposes or allow us to better recognize darkness in ourselves and in others. In doing so, we might prevent slow destruction via self deception. It might not be for everyone to look into the dark heart of humanity, but for those willing to explore and understand it, a self aware artistic examination from an artist like David Fincher can be a powerful tool. It doesn’t have to be taken too seriously though, as Gone Girl on the mere surface is wildly compelling.

VO Review Score: 4 ½ * out of 5 *

Quick hits

Great Album That Came Out of Nowhere: Unravelling by We Were Promised Jetpacks

New Effort to Keep Myself Sane: Turn my smart phone off and hand it over to Caitlin

Bad Habit to Break: Laying in my bed to read books…less effective

Stuff to Be On the Look Out For In Self and Others: Narcissistic self righteousness

New Focus (A 3 out of 5 Star Review of Being a Critic)

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The name I gave to this blog some years back was ‘The VO Review (…of life and whatever)’. I’m not sure what prompted that exact wording along with the parenthetical and triple dot; but I went with it and if I recall it came to me quite quickly. I was eager to get into this blogging thing. I’ve never really been prompted to change the name, although I don’t know if I’ve ever been very clear what the VO Review is supposed to be. I’ve later added in the header “feeling free to think too much” which, granted, is sort of cheesy. But it describes quite well how I am and what I feel like I’m doing when I write.

So today while on on my daily jog I started getting some inspiration. I felt a desire to more clearly detail what this ‘Review of Life’ is and what it means to me to be a critic. There are all sorts of opinions out there about critics and what worth criticism has. Many people associate the concept with unpleasantness and labored justifications for judging an artist, person, or public figure, and their works, persona, or impact on society. You may have heard before that, “those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, criticize.” The quote is reductive and nearly useless unless someone were to elaborate on what they thought the words meant.

For me critique is more often associated with the literary notion of it. I took a course ‘Academic Writing on Literature’ and learned about various approaches and theory with regards to intellectual critique. I myself am quite fond of giving more than a thumbs up or thumbs down opinion of movies or saying more than whether I liked or disliked an album, artist, band, or song. This particular college course and my own opinions about art and the world have made it clear that I am intrinsically motivated to intellectually analyze and criticize “stuff”.

Some critics can twist themselves into all sorts of knots trying to see what isn’t present in a text or a film or whatever they are being critically observant of. So I understand some of the unease that critics create within our judgemental internet/information culture. I’ve recognized how many critics can take up an authoritative tone such that they assume people should listen to what they are saying; that they themselves were making a definitive statement on whether a band was the next big thing or why it was almost imperative that we agree with them that something was objectively bad. Criticism can easily devolve into very wordy and convoluted contrarianism. Perusers of a Pitchfork Media review might understand what I’m talking about.

So back when I named this blog the ‘Review of Life’, I had the intention of observing and analyzing just about anything in life, and ruminating on the worthwhileness and intrigue provoked by my various experiences. I also planned on doing far more media (music, film) reviews than I’ve actually done. The content, however, has drifted more in the direction of social criticism and philosophy. But, so be it.

With that in mind, and after that inspirational jog, I now feel motivated to take a more committed approach to this angle of intellectual criticism. Criticism is rewarding and useful when it acknowledges the nature of its subjectivity and presents ideas for improvement while acknowledging what is impactful about the subject matter. How did something make me feel? Did I learn something? And how will others possibly think or feel about it?

Consuming content, watching movies, listening to music, is more than being about the mere enjoyment of it. I do understand the draw towards simple escapism, but I still find it absurd that, for example, the Twilight films are some of the highest grossing films of all time. There are some things that I cannot help but notice and consequently feel like they are objectively bad, uninteresting — or even worse — a blight upon society. That’s still my opinion. But there will be times that I feel the need to declare such things — such as, the world may have been a better place had Twilight never existed. Nevertheless, maybe we just had to learn our lesson as a society with regards to that. I want to be self aware and authentic when I make these sort of statements, but also don’t want to be the rain on a parade or the poop on the party.

So with that in mind, I wish to begin this now more focused review of life by levying a 3 out of 5 star score on the practice of ‘being a critic’. Being a critic can be rewarding in that you challenge yourself to understand an artist/person’s intent, explore what might be there for improving one’s life or society, or simply acknowledge how it impacts you on a basic human level. However, criticism leads to discontentment — and if not done with a relative amount of self awareness — critics will soon become the cynics and naysayers and tastemakers of life and all art. This modest rating of 3 out of 5 is a demonstration that it’s good to constructively be critical of things, but that it’s probably a good idea not to be critical of all things; most often being reserved for either artistic or educational purposes.

Now just wait for when I give a critical review and levy a sore upon life itself!

Quick Hits

Show that earns its greatness merely from its pilot: Community

New approach to knowledge: Love knowledge for what it teaches me, not because it helps me prove that other people are wrong or ill informed.

New approach to my moods: Understand how they may be a pattern and habit of thinking that can be improved and redirected in an effort to foster greater well being.

Shameless admission: These quick hits most certainly sound like self improvement platitudes

Relevant quote: “Self Improvement is Masturbation” -Tyler Durden…Fight Clube (5/5 Stars)

Why that’s okay: It’s perfectly normal and healthy…to improve oneself

Movie that can be identified as freedom and war porn: 300 Rise of An Empire (I watched it recently) 2/5 stars

If I had to yell out my favorite movie while being dangled over a pool of piranhas: Unforgiven (5/5 Uber Stars)

Would I feel restless and unsure about it later even if it saved my life: Yes

PEACE

On the Forming of a Habit (The Sorcery of Delayed Gratification)

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The other night Caitlin brought to my attention that I had been jogging daily going on a month now. Initially that fact seemed inexplicable to me. Not because I didn’t believe I’d done it, but I couldn’t account for more than 30 days of jogging in my head. Well, also because it was hard to believe I’d established the habit. I’m no couch bum, but building routine in my life has been a nagging and sometimes debilitating struggle. I might even suggest that I’m a professional and skilled half-asser.

The concept of delayed gratification in many ways does not compute in my head. It feels like faith to me, and I possess very little faith. This might come across as depressing or color my character in some other negative light; but I do not mention this as if I am at confessional or admitting to my deepest character flaws. Whether I’ve established this bad habit of not building habits through my own volition, or if it is more a function of my predispositions is mostly irrelevant. What is important is that my brain has internalized and recognized the goodness of a new habit without me even really having thought about it. That is habituation.

I am not a reformed man, I did not wake up one morning and decide that things would be different. I just started jogging one day. Slowly, the jogs got longer. I recognized that podcasts and audiobooks weren’t enough to keep me out of my head, and when in my head I become more keenly aware of my boredom and discomfort. So I started listening to music instead, along with running different routes every few days. This seemed to keep a certain freshness to it, and the rhythm of tunes kept me in my body and out my thoughts.

I quietly noticed I was feeling better mood wise and that my days were becoming more evenly structured. Things were just sort of happening and now a month has past.To my conscious and often scattered mind, this almost feels like magic. I don’t even know how to fully describe it, but the best way I can think of would be to say that my mind works in bursts of frenetic thoughts and observations, what most people seem to possess in the way of “motivation” and sustained commitment has at times in my life felt utterly foreign and otherwise fleeting. I’m aware that this may be some narrative I’ve constructed to excuse the manner in which I’ve skillfully half-assed my way through life. Either way, it is what it is. I have a relative non-judgement in recognizing this about myself. But the unassuming way in which I tricked myself into jogging daily while hardly even thinking about it is a significant breakthrough. It might be good for me to accept it as some sort of sorcery so that I might put faith in the doctrine of habit and delayed gratification. It’s a small thing, but I’ve been encouraging myself to celebrate “wins” when they come along.

As I said earlier, however, this is not a rebirth or reformation. Too many times in my life I had it in my head that I had turned some kind of corner. I prefer to think of this right now as a revision of a script that I had been playing out in repeat for much of my life. A very minor revision, as I will reexamine some of this progress months down the line and see if further magic has been cast upon my person.

Let’s see if I can trick myself into writing that book I always talk about. But I’ve been told it’s kind of insulting to writers to just nonchalantly talk as though you want to write a book. It is no easy task, and is certainly more involved than forming a month long jogging habit. But, I REALLY don’t consider myself a dreamer, so I’ll allow myself to have this ambition even if that irks a more seasoned and accomplished writer out there somewhere. The next task is to use the mysticism of habit forming in an effort to build a daily routine of writing.

<<<<Quick Hits>>>>

Habit I encourage others to form in full recognition of the hypocrisy I posses in asking others to do what I am bad at:

-Read daily and begin saying of art (music, film, etc) that it is more than merely GOOD or BAD.

Albums that must be listened to:

-Alt-J ‘This is All Yours’

-Sylvan Esso ‘self titled’

-Kate Tempest ‘Everybody Down’

-FKA twige ‘LP1’

-Sharon Van Etten ‘Are We There’

-Killer be Killed ‘self titled’ <<<<<side project supergroup w/ Max Cavalera and dudes from Mastodon and Dillinger Escape Plan…nuff said

Deep thinking books that can be read on the crapper:

-The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman

-You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney

-Straw Dogs by John N Gray

Pseudo-events that serve to distract and not to enlighten:

-IPhone 6 bendgate

-Whether or not Roger Goodell gets fired

-Underpants that make your flatulence smell like mint <<<<like seriously, #DYSTOPIA, stop this nonsense

Words and concepts to know for maintaining your status as a quasi-intellectual:

-Predicate

-Quasi-intellectual

-Concern troll

-Difference between correlation and causation

-Loss aversion and sunk cost (you don’t even have to understand these completely, just throw it in your comment and you’ll sound smart)


PEACE!

Thoughts on Personal Narratives (The self truths found in our little life fictions)

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Lately I have been fixating on the idea of personal narratives; the necessary psychological mechanisms that keep our sense of self apart of some overarching life story. Most of us hope this story is one of success, contentment, and perhaps doing some good in the world. Our minds do not deal well with seeing life as the isolated and disjointed moments and events that it is. We crave, or rather, literally have as part of our machinery of thought the need to make all these dots connect into a bigger picture.

A contemplative might say that getting to a place of non-narrative interaction with life is where the things we are seeking actually are; that we are essentially looking in the wrong places. A certain presence and fulfillment is attainable when narratives are shed. It’s probably impossible to achieve such an inner nakedness completely.

I told myself some sort of story to be alive, still breathing, and at this keyboard, today, in this moment. No matter how uneventful the story was, it still led me here and I told it to myself without even knowing it. This seems almost inescapable. But taking the time for existing just to exist can be immensely rewarding. I’ve been sometimes good at it, and at others times woefully misguided. I’m not suggesting I’m any sort of monk or guru on this topic but it interests me greatly

I do not necessarily think the goal of life should be to rid oneself of all personal narratives. This is impossible. Thus, it would seem prudent to find ways of making our narratives work together or at least coexist without chaos. And this might be exactly where my obsessing on this topic comes from. I’ve been making an attempt at comprehending the tangled web of narratives and considering how these become the forces that shape history. From the micro to the macro, butterfly wings flap, etc.

Are we reaching a critical mass amount of narratives? Is the world ultimately too small for all of our stories? Are there any pragmatic ways for our narratives to interact and not lead to devastating conflicts? Has there ever been? Narratives quickly solidify and become the rigid and reckless ideologies of bureaucrats, businessmen, the disaffected mobs, and tyrants. And here I go with visions of dystopia…par for the course.

A bunch of bottomless deep queries and thoughts have been entertained in this blogging exercise, and not much has been provided in the way of answers. The existential gravity surrounding these thoughts are often too uncomfortable for most people to bare and with good reason. But as I’ve over thought issues about society, people and their narratives, I’ve started recognizing and pulling apart the stories that I’ve told and still tell myself. There are many slight and grand fictions that I have persisted in throughout my life; both profound and mundane, yet fabricated nonetheless.

What are some of the things that I tell myself that allow me to feel at ease being me, doing whatever it is I’m doing, right now? At ease being me? That’s a silly notion. Maybe this is where a contemplative might chime in again and say that it is okay to be me right now and I don’t need to justify that with a narrative.

I’ve caught myself following conflicting narratives in the same day; even in the same moment. Which is the voice of reason? Likely neither. But I think one seems to have more sense than the other. So without providing a moral to this story I will go on being my skeptical self about all the narratives human beings weave to give themselves meaning, with the understanding that my self proclaimed “wise skepticism” is also..just a narrative.

Who’s the GOAT?! (Philosophical Ideas Argued Using Hip-Hop and Basketball)

Originally posted on The VO Review (of life and... whatever):

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It’s probably one of the most tiring and old debates in a variety of areas.  Music, literature, sports, art, history.  We are always asking who the greatest of all time is (Who is the GOAT?).  Where I land on the debate is that really there is no greatest ever at anything.  There are far too many subjective elements involved in deciding and bestowing such a title.  Where I can say I am rather opinionated though is in the area of people overemphasizing cultural/historical impact and not actually considering the actual quality of a certain individuals body of work as much as they should.  I believe there are certain talents or great minds that came along with a perfect storm of cultural events that lend to an inflated and distorted view of how great they actually were.  I could drop a few names and I’m almost positive people would think me…

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