Thursday, January 29, 2009

You Must be This High To Watch This


So the Oscars are coming up. I haven't talked too much about them, but in the upcoming weeks I'm going to try to be catching up on films, so I thought I'd start doing some movie blogging. While there are plenty of good films in the theatres these days, I thought I'd start with a less then great movie, Super High Me.

You've probably heard of the documentary Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock. Well just imagine that, except a guy gets high for thirty days straight. Upon hearing the synopsis I thought this film could go two ways - either be very interesting, or incredibly stupid. Sadly, it was the later. 

The saddest part was that the film touched upon interesting topics. The film had him perform tests before and after smoking. It observed him during therapy sessions, and it even attempted to tackle heavier political issues revolving around medical marijuana. Yet the film sadly failed to address any of these topics with anything smaller than a broad-view. 

I believe Super Size Me worked because its protagonist was interesting. He diagnosed the effects his experiment were having on him, and addressed them in serious light. In Super High Me the protagonist was a stoner, and as a result offered no great insight to his experiences. Of course this didn't fully surprise me, but it was sad to see a film with some kind of potential flail about on the screen and turn itself into a mock-up of its own premise. 

One word review: meh. You're not missing anything on this one. I think we all know what smoking does to people. And watching a stoner get high for thirty days straight is about as exciting as it sounds. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Times Flies LIke the Wind. Fruit Flies Like Bananas

“Who is this?”

“It’s Chris. Your Grandson!”

He smiles. “I don’t know what the hell is going on.”

The statement would have been humorous. Well, it was slightly humorous the first two times. But the third time it became clear it was nothing more than a forlorn act of dementia. Worse than the muddling of his brain was the sad irony of his blindness. He had once made a living as a filmmaking and photographer, and now could hardly make out lights or shapes. At that moment, despite being a naturalist, I couldn’t help but detest Mother Nature for her cruel treatment of the old.

But I’m not so na├»ve as to believe that all instances in the passing of time are negative. Earlier this year I wrote how much I was enjoying getting older. As I get older I’ve become wiser, I’ve become closer to my friends and family, and while my career is still figuring itself out I’ve relished the journey thus far. I read a great quote the other day by Jonathan Swift, “No wise man ever wished to be younger.” But why to we become so attached to the past, and why do we become sad at the prospect of time passing? It’s the attachment to nostalgia. It’s the desire to keep things as they are, even though the only constant in life is change.

When we visit a place, see a friend, or take part in an activity we create a snapshot of that moment if incident in our mind. Whenever we recall that memory we will always go back to that impression. Being back in Taos reminded me of this fact more than anything (The one wonderful thing about having a paparazzi mother is having more than enough photographs to aid your memory). When I was home in December I had the chance to riffle through some old family albums. On the pages were old pictures of me ski racing down an icy hill, holding up my baby brother, and my old cat and dog snuggling together - clearly not aware of the age-old cat and dog feud. I could transport myself to that place and time. Recalling those moments and emotions, while simultaneously aware of the great change that had occurred. When we leave a place we don’t expect time to change. All we know is those snapshots we create, like those photos in the album. When we return we come to the sudden realization that time doesn’t stand still when we leave, and we’re forced to update those snap shots. But this is life.

Before the snow melted into the damp ground I took my dog for a walk in the woods. When I was a boy I knew our forest like the back of my hand. The slope of the hill, a patch of moss, or tree’s particular branch pattern were all I needed to orient myself. But this time its face was different. Between the ice storm damage and my father’s work clearing the woods my forest had completely changed. It saddened me to see old branches that I used to swing from as an infant broken from the tree and lying on the ground, waiting to fulfill their place in the circle of life. Yet at the same time it was reaffirming in a peculiar sense. If something as primordial as the forest is victim to change, then becomes clear that one has not other choice than to open their arms to father time and embrace him. For good or bad.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

One Fine Day

Ladies and Gentlemen, the first black president of the United States of America. 

As wonderful as this sounds, I like this version better...

Ladies and Gentlemen, the 44th President of the United States of America. 

I think it's a wonderful thing that we have come so far in so few years. I also think it's quite apropos that it was Martin Luther King Jr. day yesterday. And were he alive I'm sure he would be beaming. To think only fifty-some years ago racial segregation existed, and some hundred years before that slavery. And now today, the most powerful office in the world is held by the son of an immigrant from Africa. Today I am very proud to call myself American. This is change. This is progress. This is the future. 

Yet while I am elated for this change I look forward to the day when we no longer are celebrating a racial first. The first Asian to record a Billboard top ten. The first Native American to become a CEO. The first Latino to become a Coach in the Super Bowl. While these are all minuscule parts of the bigger picture of change, to me true change will come when we look past race and sex as a defining features. In the Benediction by Reverend Lowery he recited some very stirring words.
Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around. When yellow will be mellow. When the red man can get ahead, man. And when white will embrace what is right.
I hope for that day. And I hope we're all working for that day. But more importantly I hope for the day when we don't need to rhyme race and rationale. The day when we're not white, yellow, red, or black; nor male or female. When we are all just human beings who will morally treat each other as complete equals. Or as the man himself once said, "Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” That will be a fine day indeed.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"I've always depended on the kindness of strangers..."

Here is a post I wrote over break, but never quite posted. Now as I pack for Philly and have no time to do a real update, I thought I would share this story...
* * *
Driving on my way back from New Hampshire today I felt a feeling I don't often feel. It was one of those things you've never experienced before, yet the instant it occurs you know exactly what it is. 

Driving West on the Mass-turnpike my foot pushed through the pedal as the speedometer slowly sputtered towards zero. I had noticed that my gas gauge was low during my drive. But it was not until just then that I realized my father had put black tape over the gas light (why, I have no idea). So I turned on my hazards, lowered my speed to 40mph, and coasted between neutral and drive, hoping to find a gas station nearby. Sadly I was out of luck. No ramps seemed to be in sight. But lucky I did spot a frozen lake with some houses nearby. And if living in upstate New York has taught me anything, it's that eighty-percent of people who live on frozen lakes own snow-mobiles. And snow-mobiles mean gas. 

So I pulled over to the side of the road, and began to walk through the snow towards the houses. I found my way around an empty house, and headed towards a more occupied looking hotel/lodge. Luckily there was an occupant, and he was happy to give me a small amount of gas. So I trekked back to my car, and filled it with about a gallon of gas. 

On my way back I thought how nice it was that a complete stranger was willing to help me out. And I was thinking about how many places on earth this type of neighborliness could still be found. In a book I've recently finished there was a line claiming something along the lines of, "... as soon as m'am and sir go out the door the world's in a whole lotta trouble." Which I do believe in. I think it starts with kindness, and it starts with manners. People should treat people as equals, and with the same compassion they would want to be treated with as well. And it worries me that the type of warmth that was shown to me by the young boy by the lake is getting harder and harder to find these days. 

Maybe it's all just me getting older. But something else tells me it's just me getting wiser. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"To err is human and to forgive is divine" or "Ignorance is bliss"?

Driving home from work today I was listening to an interview of the director Stephen Daldry of the film The Reader, based on the book by Bernhard Schlink (which coincidentally sounds like an excellent film, wining a golden globe for Kate Winslet). In the interview Stephen said something very interesting. He claims that as humans, "... it's impossible for us to forgive." I thought this was a very interesting argument, and reminded me of an article I read last year. 

In the article, Mary Seery ran a study that viewed how victims of traumatic incidents coped with the events, and how that affected them. The study showed that those who did not talk about the incident actually faired better in the long run. This runs parallel with another article that surveys how the brains of the elderly. The study shows that in old age people tend to be older, and for a particular reason. In the study photographs were shown to various people ages 20-70 while they were hooked up to monitors which studied brain activity. The study shows that younger people were able to recall negative pictures better than the older cases. The test runners hypothesize that the elderly "dilute the emotional punch" so that they can live out the last few years in a happier state. 

But this brings me back to the original question, can we forgive? Can we truly forgive? It seems biologically we are better suited to forget the incident altogether than to try to rationalize the situation. Perhaps this is a semantical argument. In the strictest sense forgiveness implies the cessation of feeling angry or resentful for an action or event. And in a way this implies that we accept the action or event to be ok. But how can we ever accept the killing of another or the infidelity of a loved one to be ok? It seems like the core of forgiveness implies forgetting. Moving on the from the incident, and taking only the good from it. Instead of scorning the terrorists of 9/11 we forget them, for there is no greater punishment then to be wiped from the history books. Instead of obsessing over a unfaithful significant other we look past their mistakes and instead embrace the love that we feel towards them.

Perhaps Coldplay had it right when Chris Martin sings:
Oh, what good is it to live with nothing left to give
Forget but not forgive, not loving all you see

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Back from Vacation

Or I was. It certainly seems that way at least from the lack of activity in my blog. Sorry. Not that anyone is reading this, but sorry. I'm back. 

Yes, back from vacation. I have a few entries I want to throw in from my holiday times, but I'm going to put a bit more thought into those. One problem I seem to have blogging is that I sometimes work on pieces off-site, or save them as drafts. I then worry too much about them being well thought out, or well written. But that's not really the point of a blog is it? Blogs are "push-button-publishing". They're supposed to be that stream of thought you pour out in a single sitting. I suppose something to work on. I'll still have my long thought out posts, but I should make more effort to put ink on the page so to speak. But I digress...

So I'm back from the holidays. I had a wonderful time back home. I spent a lot of time with my family. Spent time with my friends, and saw a whole bunch of old alumni (which was very interesting, and maybe a topic for another post). But now I am back. And I actually feel pretty good about it. It's a new year. And I'm hoping to make it a good one. It's certainly started on a good note, cause I came back directly to working for my old boss and old company, and I couldn't be happier. 

It's always nice working for someone you enjoy working for again. This time around we're gearing up for a concert in Philadelphia for the Academy of Music. It'll be nice to travel, and see a bit more of a historic city I hardly know. On that note I'm off to bed. It's been a long week... what? It's only Wednesday?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

No Country For Old Men

One nice thing about traveling is that I have much more time to read. It's a habit I need to get more into, because it has always brought me happiness and inspiration. 

Anyhow, I finished a book by one of my favorite authors Cormac McCarthy, and I highly recommend it. I actually had a wonderful chat about him with a house guest/friend recently. He pointed out that Cormac very rarely gives any physical description of his characters or surroundings. His stories instead are fleshed out through dialogue and basic narration. The reader very rarely gets access to the inner workings of his characters thoughts or feelings. What this does is universalizes his stories. The concepts we relate to as a reader aren't ones of race, culture, or geographic proximity. Instead we relate to the characters through fundamentally human similarities. Through their suffering, through their loneliness, through their desire, and as my friend pointed out, through starvation. 

One thing that was interesting to me was that as I read No Country For Old Men I couldn't help but picture the film preview in my head. Even though I have not seen the film yet, I couldn't help but put Javier Bardem in Chigurh's shoes. I love film, and I love literature. But I think the two are completely different mediums of expression. Apples and oranges. And if you ever need an example consider Cormac's books to the filmic adaptations. Completely different. 

Bottom line: Great book. Highly recommend it.