Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Oblivious

I did a good thing today. I really want to tell someone about what I did, because it's a really good thing. I don't often do altruistic things. Not this altruistic. The good things I do usually benefit me somehow.

Some of the hows, because who doesn't like a numbered list? (Don't answer that.)

1. They make me seem more cool and/or awesome.

2. They make people like me more.

3. They make my superiors think I'm more cool and/or awesome, and therefore like me more, and therefore I am more successful.

4. It would be super-awkward not to do the good thing. (An example: I'm going somewhere with friends, and I'm the only one with a car, and all of a sudden the question "Wait, how are we getting there?" drops into the conversation like a stone thrown into a still pond, and nobody looks at me, but I know they're all thinking at me, so I offer.)

5. I have an image to maintain, a helpful, good-thing-doing image, and it's getting kind of rusty and disrepaired.

6. I feel sorry for someone, so in order to stop feeling sorry for them I do a good thing for them. It seems like it's altruism, but it's actually just selfish, because I'm doing it to make myself feel better.

See? Not really good. These all help Ian the Pontificator.

But today...today I did something good, and I can't tell anyone what it was, or it'll stop being good.

"Why?" you ask in an inexplicable Polish accent.

"Because, dear Olaf, the only real reason I'd tell you would be to make me look better, and that would just be a strange sad mess of failure," I reply.

If I say what I did, and if I spread it around, it won't be a good thing any more. Which is indeed bothersome.

More bothersome, though, is the thought that perhaps even this blog post, vague though it be, divests my good thing of goodness. That would be an unhappy birthday.

Long live sneaky goodness.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why Is He Wearing That?

The last day of the semester, I wore ratty clothes to teach. I usually dress pretty well, so the fact that I wore jeans and a t-shirt to class was peculiar. As a "fun" "cool" "awesome" end-of-the-semester activity, I asked my students to come up with creative reasons for my change of garb. Their responses, as they were written, are below.

…because it’s Friday. Not only is it Friday, but it’s the last Friday of class and comfort was in order to tackle it.

…because he was running late after returning from his secret life of fighting crime. He and his nemesis Fierce Frosty were engaged in a viscious battle and lasted a little too long.

…he wanted to demonstrate the importance of appearance, or he wanted to be casual, or he wanted to show us what we looked like when the class began.

…because he is letting us know that relaxation is nearing quickly. Christmas break will be very relaxing, which is reflected by Ian’s clothing.

…college. -_-

…because he ran out of clean “teacher” clothes and his laundry machines are broken.

…he either forgot about laundry Tuesdays or he has given up more than his students have.

…because he is conducting an experiment testing the psychological effect of unprofessional clothing.

…he’s feeling like relaxing on the last lecture of the semester. He dressed up almost every day during the semester, therefore he wants to wear some non-fancy clothes. It also is the last lecture so it really does not matter, the semester is basically over.

…he wants to camp out for the men’s basketball game tomorrow night. He wants good seats so he’s leaving right after class to go get a good spot in line.

...because his closet full of suits was taken by the dry clean workers and thereby putting a halt to his undercover spy business attire.

…it all boils down to the occurrence at Ian’s favorite drycleaners on 12th and State St. He often takes the large van of his there weekly to dry clean and press his impressive array of dress clothes. This morning, however, when he went to pick up the laundry, he was very disappointed because…

…either you’re too busy working on grad school things or you got beat up by a hobo on your way to class and you don’t have any more nice clothes.

…this morning Professor Dejong got attacked by a pack of wild dogs while walking to his car outside of his house. He began to run and eventually found a tree that he could climb. Turns out the dogs were more interested in his clothes than him. He took off his suit and threw it to the dogs. They took his clothes and ran off with them. He ended up taking his clothes from the next guy he saw.

…because it’s the end of the semester and it’s a Friday. There is no need to provide any further explanation.  

…because he can not only dress as a classy gentleman everyday of the week, but he also has a down to earth look. Casual Friday allows him to dress like a humble barista. Even professors need to let their hair down and kick off their dress shoes for a bit. They work harder than the students do in some instances.

…because it is the last day of class he wanted to dress more casually. Or, last night Ian was preparing to go to bed, but he realized he had no toothpaste. He threw on his current outfit and ran out the door. On the way to the store he passed the nurse’s dummies. They chased him all night and he fought for his life, then came to class.

…because he decided, “What the heck, it’s Friday!” Or maybe his dress clothes decided to wage a battle against each other, trying to figure out which were warmer in this approaching winter. I like option 2—battling clothes.

…because all of the rest of his clothes randomly burst into flames when he looked at them. He may have super powers that he doesn’t even know he has where he can suddenly make things burst into flames when he’s bored. OR he just didn’t want to wear a suit because jeans and a t-shirt are more comfortable. Personally, I think it’s the super power reason.

…because he can. Because it’s comfortable and it’s pretty much the last day of school. And the shoes aren’t that holey…I have a much older junkie pair of shoes. Maybe he’s dressed like this because he’s going to work at the “Roastery” and has to wear it. Or…he’s painting…who knows…

…because he wants to dress how he feels.

…because it’s the last day of the semester and he wants to be comfortable knowing the end (finals) is near. I mean I would do the same thing.

…I believe there is a secret society in Marquette University, that the last day of class is national jeans day for teachers because my physics teacher, along with Ian DeJong. They are all probably going to party and celebrate that they don’t have to be with us any longer.

…I have no idea why Ian is wearing such an outfit today rather than his usual apparel. As much as I wish I could think of a significant reason I can not rationalize any cause for this. Instead I shall impart upon thee the knowledge of chemistry jokes. Wanna hear a joke about nitric oxide? NO

…because Fridays are chill days. Plus he ran out of time do to his laundry while grading our Unit 4 papers. He only had dress socks that were clean. No button-ups or nice pants.

…It is clearly casual Friday or it may be due to his knowledge of the bring back courts. If that’s the case, then Daniels better watch his back. Ian is already ahead in the count based on his position to the scoring of his shoes with the holes. This creates a water that brings up the question of how is Daniels still around. This will all conclude at the bring back courts later tonight during the first time for slime!

Creativity at work. What a fine source of joy.

Long live the end.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Gotye Is A Pig

For the record, I don't consider myself a feminist critic, but this was just too great to pass up.

Truth is...over the past eight months I've become familiar, too familiar, more familiar than I ever wanted to be, with Gotye's ubiquitous single Somebody That I Used To Know. And, unfortunately, over that period of time, I've become fairly conversant with the song's lyrics. But they're just lyrics, ya know? Lyrics don't mean anything. They're just words that happen to fit with the music.

Somewhere in the last month I actually started thinking about the lyrics. What I've decided is kind of shocking and kind of hilarious: the "I" in the song is at best emotionally abusive, at worst some kind of chauvinist pig.

Evidence.

Now and then I think of when we were together
Like when you said you felt so happy you could die
Told myself that you were right for me

First, almost too obviously, note the different attitudes toward this relationship. She feels happy, and She is willing to say that out loud. She talks about the relationship, expresses Herself, interacts. By contrast, He talks to Himself, does not engage with Her. His discourse is negative, too; He only sees Her relative to himself, as an item to improve His situation. She is open, positive; He hides His misgivings about the relationship behind a cloud of angst and terrible music.

Not only that, but...
But felt so lonely in your company
But that was love and it's an ache I still remember

He feels lonely when She's around. Once more, He denies Her personhood, consciously or unconsciously. She is physically there; He can tell that--but emotionally He is detached. Why? Because "that was love". He misleads Her about His feelings because of some misguided application of an arbitrary emotion-construct He's seemingly plucked out of thin air.

You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness 
Like resignation to the end, always the end

He focuses on the end of their relationship obsessively, addictively. What kind of healthy relationship has one person planning an exit strategy?

So when we found that we could not make sense 
Well you said that we would still be friends 
But I'll admit that I was glad it was over

Once again, the dialogue between the principals in this relationship is a model for how NOT to do relationships. After the breakup, She attempts to retain some level of civility, some measure of maturity, by trying to avoid bitterness and finger-pointing. He does not respond to Her--again--rather acknowledging to himself that He's glad that the whole mess is over. But He says "admit"! Isn't that a step in the right direction?

It would be, if the song were written as communication. If this were ostensibly a letter from Him to Her, such an admission would be responsible, though hardly pleasant. But this is an introspection, a journal entry rather than an email. The format of this song is private, personal, not communicative.

But you didn't have to cut me off

Well, She did. You were emotionally withdrawn and obsessed with "the end".

Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing

It's called "moving on". Try it.

And I don't even need your love

Yeah, see, that's why She cut you off. Because YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT HER.

But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough

Quick counting exercise. How many times has He mentioned His feelings of pain? Six times. Six times in 2 stanzas and this chorus. He obviously cares about how He feels; it doesn't occur to him that possibly, just possibly, She might have feelings too. Feelings that might bring forth these "moving on" and "getting past Him" actions.

No you didn't have to stoop so low

It's true. She didn't. But do you blame Her for "stooping so low" when you were doing things like not talking to her and building up your exit strategy?

Have your friends collect your records and then change your number

Hmmm, now this is interesting. For the first time we get hints of major, significant problems. Why does She change Her number? Could it be that He keeps calling Her, contacting Her, trying to get things going again? Is She actively trying to defend against someone who won't take "no" for an answer? Is He an obsessive ex?

Perhaps not. Perhaps this is Her way of emphasizing to Herself that She is done with Him. Perhaps She's even trying to hurt Him by emphasizing their separation. But changing one's number is a significant process. It's a lot of work. It's far more likely that She's changing Her number because He won't stop bothering her.

I guess that I don't need that though 
Now you're just somebody that I used to know 

Again, He refers to Her relative to Himself. He defines Her by Her interaction with Him, by Her impact on Him. In His mind, She exists because of Him.

Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over

The voice of Her: and She begins by mirroring Him. But there is an important difference between their two voices: as we might expect of Her, She points to specific reasons their relationship did not last. No, She doesn't specify how exactly He screwed Her over, but we do glean that She felt betrayed, frequently, within their relationship. This is another important difference between the two of them: Her negative feelings spring from problems within the relationship, and He seems bothered by how She responded to the breakup.

But had me believing it was always something that I'd done

I'm no psychologist or counselor or anything, but I'm pretty sure this is abusive behavior. Convincing someone that what you're doing to them is their fault? Manipulative at best, abusive at worst.

But I don't wanna live that way 
Reading into every word you say

So She tries to move on. She has grown tired of His uncommunicative, angsty stupor, and she's done with it. So She tries to move on (which eventually sparks His unreasoning wrath).

You said that you could let it go 
And I wouldn't catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know

And that's the trifecta: He's uncommunicative, He's abusive, and He cheats on Her. This is a bit more oblique, but it's pretty clear for a' that: She did catch Him messing around with a former ex.

A disclaimer--this stanza is from Her point of view, and therefore subject to Her bias. That being said, Her ethos is much more acceptable than His; She uses examples and simple language, and makes Her priorities clear.

There are multiple repeats after this section, things we've already discussed. What seems clear is that He, the primary speaker in the song, is emotionally abusive, does not communicate his feelings, does not approach relationships correctly, views Her as less than a person, and cheats on her.

She, on the other hand, has her faults, but seems to be a well-adjusted human being, for the most part. She copes well with the breakup, apparently. She clearly enunciates her problems with Him, and She has a plan to move forward without Him.

And now we come to the really serious point of this blog. Because Gotye has made it clear that the male voice in the song represents his voice. He draws on previous experiences, emotions he's felt, pain he's endured. While art must not be assumed to be 1:1, documentary-style representations of aspects of the creator's mind, this piece of art has particularly been linked, by the creator himself, to his mind.

Hence, Gotye is a pig.

Long live wild overexaminations.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

You're My Only Hope

Violence pervades art from its earliest iterations. Cave drawings? DEERS GET STABBED. Seminal literature? Let's go kill Humbaba. Even the Bible gets after it pretty quickly: the second generation of humans get all fratricidal on each other.

I'm in a graduate school class discussing the representation of violence in literature. Our final project involves looking at two films depicting violence in America. (There are more guidelines, but those are the bare bones.) Now, I've got some ideas for films to examine. Films like The Departed, There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men, Heat, Zodiac, Terminator 2, Road to Perdition, Miller's Crossing, The Silence of the Lambs, The Boondock Saints (just kidding)...

My problem is that those are the stock films. Those are the easy ones. Those are the simple answers. Of those nine films, 6 got Academy Award nominations. All of them have been recognized as important and vital. So I won't be saying anything new when I point how awesome these films are at representing violence.

That's where I need you, friends, neighbors, enemies, and conscripts. I need your input. When you think about "violence in America", what films come to mind?

I covet your responses. Tweet me @thepontificator. Email me. Leave a comment here. Contact me on Facebook.

You don't have to say WHY your film represents violence in America. I just want to know WHAT film comes to mind when you think of violence in America.

Long live collaborative inspiration!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Let's Get Into Small Groups Now

Today I taught: today they learned.

A strange feeling of warmth...

A novelty? No. I have heard the click of understanding locking into place, multiple times, before.

What dazzled me today was that they enjoyed it. They interacted not because they had to, but because they wanted to.

I have prepared for sullenness. When I need to, I will pull out my sheaf of cards with their names and call on them.

I have yet to pull out the cards.

They know more than I expected! And they make connections I did not expect! And they care, which I expected least of all!

This is special. The joy I feel now may ebb, come October or Thanksgiving or even next week. It may last all semester, only to vanish next spring.

It may last until I die. It may crescendo and never stop crescending.

I will grip the joy I feel tightly, with both hands of my mind. I am good at this. I am fit for this. I am called to this.

I was born to this.

Long live euphoria.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What Hath Ian Wrought

It's strange to sit here and realize that my life is not fiction.

My life is a tiny hot dilapidated office, and a tiny hot cluttered studio apartment, and elderly feces-smelling men rooting in the dumpsters, and new friends who are actually part of my discourse community because they want to be, and getting official student/teacher emails--except I'm the teacher now--and looking at the online course management system and being scared stiff by the assigned readings for graduate classes, and texting colleagues (colleagues!) to ask if I can use their powerpoints for my classes.

Fiction is an essential part of who I am: I read it obsessively, I critique it obtusely, I write it poorly. I watch fictional films. I play fictional video games. I even performed fiction, theatrical fiction onstage, before I got busy and old and cetera. I imagine; I create; I dream.

I know the fictional tricks. All that schlock about escapism and whatnot is only partially true. We enter (read, watch, write, play) fictional worlds because they are fresh and new and different. We escape Real Life, yes, but our enjoyment of fiction is not spurred by its non-Real Life-ness. Rather, fiction enthralls positively, because it forces us to re-evaluate how we look at our Real Life world. By changing the rules, it reinforces the rules.

But all that's a sidebar; my point is that I'm conversant with fictional construction.

And my life right now seems like a story. It seems like something I'd come up with on an especially dreary coffee-shop day, some fanciful fable to make java-slinging more livable. No, let me correct that: it is something I have dreamed about. The story I'm living is a story I wrote in my mind over and over and over as I sold scones and steamed soy milk.

Except--it's not a story any more. It's real.

I enjoy making fictions. I just never thought anything I crafted in my imagination would actually, y'know, come true.

Creation is an intimidating tool.

Long live contemplation!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Look Around

The following are unconnected, rambling observations: proceed at your own risk, dear reader.

I am quickly coming to believe that one of my favorite aesthetic experiences at Marquette will be driving past the Al McGuire Center at night, when it's empty. There's low light in the building, and the championship banners hang like two-tone textile idols in a deserted temple.

In the apartment complex north of mine--just up the street--there lives a man who likes peanut butter. He has a huge jar of JIF sitting in his windowsill. His obvious poverty makes him my brother. Perhaps I will high-five him when next I see him.

Cedarburg, where I lived for the last 15 months, diminishes in my rearview mirror. The leaving has been hard, I believe, because for the first time I felt native to a place, rather than merely resident in it. I've lived throughout the Midwest, but no place felt as comfortable as Cedarburg did.

I went to the State Fair tonight, and I saw more than my fair share of the following:


  • overweight people
  • people in motorized wheelchairs
  • tattoos, but not, like, cool tattoos, more like gross, stupid tattoos
  • families
  • livestock, especially sheep
  • quilts
I also ate a cream puff.

One of the classes I'm teaching is full. No more people can register for it. I'm officially In Demand. I am exhilarated.

Where is Captain Hammer when you need him?

Long live re-establishment!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Taking The Plunge

Briefly, then:

My apartment complex has a pool. I have written elsewhere of the Pod of elderly, obese, Speedo-wearing men that infest it, of their whuffling and spouting. I have written of the small children that never seem to be in the pool, but exist in a constant state of I-AM-ABOUT-TO-CANNONBALL-THEREFORE-I-SQUEAL. I have written of my unwillingness to expose my pasty midsection to the withering glare of my esteemed neighbors.

Today is my last day in this apartment. Tomorrow I move.

I swam today.

The pleasure of finally conquering my self-consciousness contrasted finely with the distaste I felt for Shamu, who very pointedly ceased walking laps when I entered the pool. The exhilaration of not caring how many people see my torso was tempered by the fact that six-and-a-half-foot-tall people must struggle to submerge themselves in pools whose deepest point is 5'. The overwhelming delight I felt in splashing balanced precariously against regret that I hadn't done this sooner.

Carpe diem: for one never knows if the next apartment will have a pool.

It doesn't. And my trunk will be pastier than ever.

Long live the moment!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

As Far As I'm Concerned, They're Just Doing Their Job

I promised myself I wouldn't reference Reservoir Dogs, and I didn't even get past the title. Disappointing.

I work at a coffee shop. We have a tip jar. People put tips in the jar.

Some customers don't tip. They might be paying with gift cards, they might be making a small transaction, they might be out of singles. They might be trying to save money. They might be cheapskates. I don't care. I really don't care when a customer doesn't tip me.

Some customers do tip, in a sort of off-hand fashion. They tip because they feel they should. Or because they don't want to carry the change around with them. Or because they believe tipping is part of the transaction. ("Tip" is slang. "Gratuity" imposes, intimidates, legitimizes.) Some people tip as a matter of course.

Some people TIP. TIPping is where they hold up the dollar and drop it in the jar, very conspicuously. Or they put the coins in one at a time. They call attention to the fact that they're TIPping.

I am grateful for every gratuity that comes my way, but something about the TIPping, the overtness of it, rubs me the wrong way. When a customer TIPs, it's reflexive. To me, TIPping says "look at me, aren't I great? I'm giving you free money! I'm a better person because of that!"

Giving as a means of feeling better about oneself isn't giving at all. It's a transaction: I'll put a dollar in your jar, then I'll feel generous. It's buying self-esteem. When a customer TIPs, it's not altruistic--it's selfish. It's not giving anymore; it's trading.

Before I sign off, let me reiterate that I am in no way ungrateful to customers who tip, or even customers who TIP. A tipped dollar spends the same as a TIPped dollar. I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Long live convolution. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Collage

UPDATE: If you're here to read A Collage, my latest nonfiction piece--well, time's up. To minimize the chance of plagiarism (or perhaps merely to soothe my own suspicious heart), I decided to leave it up for about a week.

In that time, I've gotten significant and constructive feedback from multiple and various people. To everyone who's commented, I thank you. To everyone who's given me their input through other channels, I thank you. To everyone who put up with my incessant promotion of this piece on Facebook and Twitter, I thank you.

I'll stop now. But one last point: if you really want to read A Collage, contact me on Facebook, on Twitter (@ThePontificator), or by leaving a comment here on the blog.

Long live The End!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Look Left, Look Right

Back in April, I did something pretty special right here in the Uninformed Opinion. I posted a piece of my creative writing here, in my blog, for anyone to read and critique. It was called Exit Ramp. It was a thundering success, and a powerful learning experience for me.

Now it's summer. And I'm moving. Moving means packing, and packing means I need distraction. Now, over the past 13 months I've kept a haphazard log of my life--my life in this apartment building, my life at the coffee shop, my life in Cedarburg. To call it a diary is disrespectful to diaries everywhere. It's more of a collection of experiences, of impressions, of mental snapshots written down.

I've been working for the past few weeks to wrangle these snapshots into something cohesive--a collage, if you will, a larger image of the last year of my life. It's nonfiction, which is strange; I don't often write nonfiction. It's coming together well. I'm proud of what it's becoming.

Maybe it won't matter to people who aren't me. Maybe it'll be something only I find interesting, or meaningful, or powerful. Maybe not. I don't know. I do know that when I published Exit Ramp, I grew. I like growing. I want to grow again.

So, in ten days' time, I will publish my collage here, in the Uninformed Opinion. As with Exit Ramp, it will only be available for a limited time, to minimize the chance of plagiarism. It'll be published at noon on Sunday, July 15, and it will be removed at midnight on Saturday, July 21.

Start anticipating! Eagerly!

Long live taking not-very-risky risks!

Save Sydney Hih

Every time a building is razed, a tiny chunk of history crumbles to dust. Architectural identity...cultural impact...social significance...it vanishes in a cloud of diesel fumes and rubble. Sure, the building lives on in the memories of those who experienced it. But memory is a poor substitute for reality.

In Milwaukee, there's a complex of buildings called the Sydney Hih complex. The Sydney Hih buildings have seen it all--from showcasing the Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam in the Unicorn to housing Prophet William Blackmon's Revival Center Shoe Repair and Shine Parlor. And now Sydney Hih is on death row: the bulldozers' blades gleam menacingly, the wrecking balls swing like ominous pendulums, ticking away the hours until Sydney Hih will be no more.

A group of preservationists is trying to save the complex, as it has been saved multiple times in the past. They've been fighting to get Sydney Hih designated as historic--and therefore undemolishable. The city of Milwaukee has overturned the historic designation, and unless some savior were to come forward, there will be nothing in the way of the encroaching bulldozers.

I've blogged before about America's illogical approach to political problem-solving. We seem to think that the process has two steps, when in fact it should have three. The popular approach is as follows:


  • Identify the problem.
  • Remove the problem.
  • The third step is nothing. There is no third step.

The correct approach goes like this.

  • Identify the problem.
  • Remove the problem.
  • Provide a positive solution.

There is a solution. John Raettig and his group Raettig Redevelopment have come forward with a positive solution, a way to remedy the concerns about safety and economic impact raised by the city. The process is complete.

There's a petition you can sign (of course there is) requesting the Milwaukee Common Council to have pity on Sydney Hih. This isn't just about history, this isn't just about cultural heritage; it's about rewarding entrepreneurship. It's about using common sense. It's about not missing opportunities.

Sign here, so Sydney Hih can be saved.

Long live citizenship!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dynamic Exposition: Or, Whedon's Universes Annoy Me

Whenever somebody writes fiction, they create a new world, a new universe in which the events of their fiction take place. Sometimes the world is nigh-indistinguishable from ours (the novels of John Grisham spring to mind), and sometimes it's not (Discworld, I'm lookin' at you). Either way, the created universe of any work of fiction is, at some level, distinct from our own.

I recently finished The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi. It's near-future science fiction, and it won some awards. What attracted me to it was the completeness of its universe; Bacigalupi weaves together issues of race, politics, religion, industry, sexuality, substance abuse, and more, to create a whole, believable universe. There seems to be no detail left unvarnished. Air travel? Handled. Disease? Discussed. A genetically engineered breed of elephant? Megadonts.

In contrast is what I call Whedon Syndrome. Joss Whedon has a different approach to the concept of universe-creating. He seems to be more concerned about what happens in his universe rather than how it can happen. He creates his universe by discovery from the narrative.

Whedon's famously short-lived TV show Firefly provides an example. We get a glimpse into the technology the Serenity's crew uses; we even get some jargon from Kaylee; but do we ever really see the inner workings of the 'Verse? Mal uses a Moses Brothers Self-Defense Engine Frontier Model B; but Moses Brothers is nothing more than a name. In the 'Verse, there is no Moses Brothers Armaments. Whedon doesn't need it. For all Whedon cares, Mal's gun could be the only gun Moses Brothers Armaments ever produced.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer doesn't need exposition as such; whatever exposition is necessary arises organically from the narrative. We gradually come to learn more about the Buffyverse as the series progresses, but again, the information comes indirectly, at a slant. And the knowledge we gain is never because Whedon wants to fill us in on his universe. Rather, exposition serves to justify narrative hijinks.

Part of my problem with this backhanded exposition is that I feel shortchanged. I feel that the universe being created does not actually exist the same way ours does. When a creator is allowed to tack on a scientific law here, a bit of history there, racial tension over in that corner--how can I feel comfortable? How can I accept that I have comprehended this universe? Why should I care about these new rules? They might be negated or made moot in a few months because of another, larger, manufactured scientific law.

Whenever I encounter a creator who is satisfied with this organic, haphazard exposition, it raises doubts in my mind about the completeness of the universe in the mind of the creator. Does the creator have a strong mental image of the universe being created? Or is the creator doing his work of creation as he constructs the narrative?

Part of the reason The Lord of the Rings is so compelling is that J. R. R. Tolkien seems to have had a fairly concrete conception of the universe he was creating, before he created it. Middle-Earth was by no means complete in his mind, but his creation of The Hobbit and, more importantly, The Silmarillion, meant that he was writing about a place that already existed, in his mind. Rather than creating as he wrote, he created first, then set characters into that creation.

Universe-creating is a tricky business. It varies across medium and genre--I'm sure part of Whedon's aversion to flat-out exposition is necessitated by the time constraints imposed by television. And there's something to be said for the dynamic nature of indirect exposition: it's intriguing, it draws viewers in. Me, I like seeing the bones of an universe. I like taking the cover off of the watch and seeing gears and springs interacting. I like knowing how things work, not just knowing that they work.

Long live nine lives!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Adventure of the Janeist Horror

Warning: this post might alienate some of you gender-neutral nouns.

I have a friend who recently discovered Jane Austen. I respect this friend very much, so when she began to express her heartfelt adoration for Ms. Austen's works, I grimaced mentally. I was hearing Janeist words coming out of her mouth. I don't like Janeism one bit. To my mind, my friend's enthusiasm for Ms. Austen's works was hurting her credibility.

(We talked it out. She's not a Janeist. Our friendship is intact.)

For some reason, I really don't like Fans as a demographic subset. You know--the ones who find a way to turn every literary conversation back to the Brontë sisters. The ones who can recite Timon of Athens in Klingon. The ones who can and do fill you in on the socio-evolutionary history of the Tusken Raiders. The ones who can tell you the batting average of the Mets' third baseman in 1977. The ones who hotly debate the quality of David Bowie's later material compared to his earlier years.

I have friends who are Fans. Some of my closest friends are Fans, in fact. Just because I hate Fandom doesn't mean I hate individual fans. I dislike the adjective, not the noun.

Maybe it's the Fan's narrowness of focus. I used to be a Lord of the Rings Fan. I could sort of write Khuzdul. I had firm and well-developed opinions on the spiritual-symbolic nature of the mallyrn trees in Laurelindórenan. I could recite most of the Hobbitic poetry from Fellowship.

Somewhere along the line, that went away, and I began to see myself as having more eclectic tastes. Maybe I got lazy (because being a Fan does require quite a bit of hard work and dedication), or maybe I actually did find out that there's a lot of cool stuff out there. My point is this: I began to see myself as the anti-Fan. Someone with opinions on everything, rather than on only one thing. Broad-minded, that's what I was. A man of the world. Conversant in many different arenas.

Truth is, though, I'm not. I'm still a Fan. Want proof? Look here. If that's not a Fan's post, I'll eat my hat. That's not the post of a Cinema Fan, or an Avengers Fan, or a Criticism Fan. It's...

Well, first, another example. A shorter one, this time. Again: that's not a Bond Fan talking, or a History Fan talking...it's something else.

Oh, wait, I already blogged about this. I am a Words Fan. I like them broken into codey little shards. I like them re-assembled from those shards, humming with latent potency. I like them swimming into schools of organized poetic flash. I like them making worlds and galaxies and universes and gods and sins and death, and I like them making me cry.

So I guess I can't really look down on the Janeists. I can't despise the Trekkies or the Browncoats or the Ringers, because even though their Fandom is more focused, more limited, they're still the same as me. We're all Fans. Somewhere deep in every human heart there is a spark. Something that, given the right fuel, will kindle such a blaze of devotion and dedication and Fandom that other people stop to say, "Look at that weird dude who grew his mustache specifically to look like Rollie Fingers'!"

I'm a Fan. And I'm sorry, my gender-neutral nouns, if I ever ridiculed your Fandom.

(Except for Nickelback Fans. I am entirely prepared to burn them with flamethrowers next time I see them.)

Long live restitution.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Debt-Free

Three times in the last four days, I've heard the following, give or take phrasing:

"Thanks so much! I owe you..."

And every time it's been said, I've mentally writhed a little bit. Because that's not how I operate. I don't like the thought of owing. I owe money to the US Department of Education for helping me pay for my education; it's terrible, it's annoying, it's nasty. I am not friends with the DoE. I am business partners with the DoE. They provided a service and now I'm reimbursing them for that service.

That's not how friendship works. At least, in my mind--that's not how friendship works. One of my favorite Calvin&Hobbes mini-arcs is the Contract Arc. These:




The last one is relevant to our discussion, but I wanted to include the whole arc just because it's awesome. "People are friends because they WANT to be." There shouldn't be some sort of bookkeeping on friendship.

I Corinthians 13 is Paul's famous discourse on love, and it contains one of my personal favorite verses-to-live-by, 5d: "[love] keeps no record of wrongs." How much better would our world be if more people didn't keep record of wrongs? But that's not the focus of this blog post.

See, I believe the flip-side too. Something along the lines of "love keeps no record of rights." Something to the effect that true friendship accepts kindness/help/pampering/love/whatever without immediately thinking "omigosh, what can i do to reciprocate?"

Friendship isn't business. We don't do transactions. I don't bring you Jimmy Johns and then you have to give me a foot massage and then I have to paint you a picture and then you have to send me your secret recipe for delicious puttanesca sauce. Now, we may choose to have that exchange--it can be voluntary. But the "it's my turn" mindset is against the tenets of friendship.

I am a friend because I want to be. I serve because I want to. Owing has no place in my philosophy.

(Except for the Department of Education. I do owe them.)

Long live indignation!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tasteful

I'm moving, you know.

Moving necessitates packing one's belongings into boxes, bags, crates, or boxes. I like moving, but I hate packing, in part because packing requires me to actually look at all of my belongings and ask myself, "Why do I still own this thing?"

I'm doing a lot of throwing-away. A lot. Black trash bags are my good friend right now.

One genre of item that I am NOT throwing away is books. Oddly enough, I own a lot of books. Too many? Probably. But I'm not throwing any of them away.

I am looking at them, though, and I'm realizing just how dependent I am on others for my reading habits.

I read authors, you see, and the authors most frequently represented on my shelves are all recommendations. Friends have said, "oh, you ever read this guy? He's great! Checkim out!" And then I do. And a lot of times I get hooked.

Of the ten or so in my Favorite Authors List (yes I have one, no you may not see it), I discovered only two for myself: Gregory Maguire and Neil Gaiman.

Am I, then, a sheep? Do I have critical preferences of my own, or do I just consume, vacuum-like, whatever is recommended at me?

I'd appreciate your ethereal input, imaginary readers. How many of your Favorite Authors (or, if you read by series or some other commonality, that thing) are yours--and how many are hand-me-downs?

Long live consideration!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Knocking At Your Door

This past week has been a whirlwind of responsibility for me, thus:

I went alone to the DMV all by myself and I, Ian the Pontificator, registered my car, personally. And got new license plates, on my own initiative and under my own power. (I'm celebrating my individuality.)

Then I took a required training course, mandatory before I begin TAing in fall. It was about FERPA. I got it done well before the deadline.

And over the past week, at my coffee shop, I shouldered a chunk of the burden of work resulting from the owners being on vacation.

All of my life, I've yearned for responsibility, because it denotes respect. If people respect you, they'll rely on you. Right? I want to be relied on; I want to be leaned on; I want the respect implied by responsibility.

What I discovered this week is that responsibility is not a privilege; it is a necessity.

Responsibility, both the act of being responsible and the act of fulfilling the expectations of those who rely upon one, is nothing special. It's part of adult life. Fulfilling expectations is duty, not some sort of special awesome success story yayz. It's what you do. There were no congratulatory parades as I walked out of the DMV with my new license plates, no Extry Bonus Cash for remembering to pay my bills every month. I just do these things, and I continue living without being arrested or fined or pulled over.

In a way, this is disappointing. Responsibility doesn't seem to get me ahead; hard work and reliability just reinforce the status quo. All the swimming in the world won't get me farther upstream.

Well, that's not true. I am certainly farther upstream than I was when I graduated college. Perhaps I should yearn for patience rather than responsibility.

Also, I'm hungry for fish now.

Long live the ramble.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Electing An Idea

Unless you live a) under a rock or b) somewhere other than Wisconsin (which, seriously, are pretty much the same thing, lol, amirite? Okay, I'll stop that now.)--

Unless you satisfy one of those two criteria, you'll know, dear reader, that tomorrow is a special election for Wisconsin's governor. The sitting governor, Scott Walker, is contending with the man he defeated to win last time, Tom Barrett.

It's funny, because this race hasn't really been about Mr. Barrett at all. In fact, it's my belief that Mr. Barrett is a placeholder, an avatar, a blank; because Gov. Walker is running against an idea. This is a clash of ideologies.

Now, that hyperbole gets thrown around a lot any time there's a particularly vicious political campaign. But I think it's true this time, for one reason.



How many I SUPPORT TOM BARRETT signs have you seen, dear reader? There are some out there, sure, but not many. But here, there, and everywhere one sees RECALL WALKER. Why?

Because what matters to those who voted to recall Gov. Walker--and those who will be voting for Mr. Barrett--is not electing Mr. Barrett. What matters to them is ousting Gov. Walker. Their votes are not votes cast for a candidate: they're votes cast for an ideal.

That ideal, of course, is Not-Walker.

And on the other side, you have the Standers, those stalwarts who seem somehow to be a collective consciousness of conservatism. Superficially, they may be casting their votes for Walker, but not as an official: they vote for Walker as an ideal, as Yes-Walker. 

What those ideals are--what Not-Walker and Yes-Walker entail, specifically--is not within the purview of this blog: and not really that interesting to me, either. What does interest me is that in tomorrow's recall election, Gov. Walker's opponent is not Tom Barrett, Mayor of Milwaukee; Gov. Walker's opponent is a concept, an idea: Not-Walker.

I don't think that's how it's supposed to work. This idea, this mindset that problem-solving doesn't involve providing a solution, is flawed, I think. There are three steps to fixing a problem: IDENTIFY the problem, REMOVE the problem, IMPLEMENT the solution. The Wisconsin recall election seems to have ignored the third step (as is common in politics). That being said, I understand the Recallers' conviction (even if I disagree with it) that Gov. Walker is a significant threat to Wisconsin's future; they think they have to remove him as fast as possible to stop the damage.

That's all, then.

Long live GO VOTE TOMORROW.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

UNSPOOLING: The Artist

Caution: here be some spoilers, probably.

To say I was disappointed in The Artist is disingenuous. I knew the end couldn't be as dark as the plot seemed to be forecasting. Because The Artist mimics, strenuously, the style of its subject matter: not merely technically, but narratively.

Let's run down the list:

Sometimes-deft, sometimes ham-handed comedy: Check.

Set-piece characters: Check. (Note: also known as "stereotypes" or "cliches".)

Artful but obvious symbolism: Check.

Deus ex machina: Check.

Beautiful, orchestral, manipulative-to-the-point-of-cheesy music: Check.

Moralizing: Check.

The truth is that about two-thirds of the way through the film, I dared hope (foolishly, I know) that I was seeing a true Aristotelian tragedy. You know, a man in a high place is brought low by his own doing, and then realizes it. But I had forgotten one vital point: that's not how movies were made in 1927. They had cheerful, ambiguous, slightly bittersweet but mostly saccharine resolutions.

I praise The Artist for its stylistic adherence to its subject. But part of me wants to finally see a tragedy be successful.

Oh well. It's one heck of a movie, and well worth a time-investment. I give The Artist Four Point Five Reels in Ian's Totally Subjective Film Rating System.






Long live devotion!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Continuity Triumphs

This is NOT just another review of Marvel's The Avengers. Don't get your hopes up, dear readers--or, conversely, don't click away. This is a systematic deconstruction of one specific line in the film. When Agent Coulson tries to hand Tony Stark a file containing intel on the various superheroes slated to join the Avengers, Stark refuses:

I don't like being handed things.

On the surface, of course, this is a funny little allusion to Iron Man 2. LOL! Remember the strawberries! Ha ha ha. Classic moment. That's all there is to it, right?

As I made a sugar-free vanilla latte this morning, I realized that there's actually a lot more to this line than meets the eye.

For starters, this line reinforces Stark's individualism. His clout--economic, innovative, etc.--has made him used to getting his own way. This isn't a request; it's not a "hey bro, could you give that to my secretary plz?" The request, which is more like a command than anything else, is implied. He's stating his preference, and he expects others to accommodate that preference. Even the sentence structure emphasizes Stark's self-prioritization. He is the subject of the sentence, and the action of the hander is nothing more than a gerundial direct object.

But wait, there's more! In his previous appearances in the Marvel Film Universe, Stark has been established as a hard worker, unwilling to rely on others' inspiration or handiwork. He saves his own life in terrorist-controlled caves. He adapts the arc reactor technology to fit his vision. He figures out the secret code in his father's expo design by himself, after transporting the layout boards in his convertible. The line in question can be interpreted to re-emphasize this almost-paranoid reliance on his own brainchildren. Stark does not take. He gives. He creates, and hands (the benefits of his miniaturized arc-reactor technology, his company, strawberries) off to people who need. Tony Stark is a fountain, not a drain, and "not being handed things" is part of being a fountain.

This could be linked to Stark's subtle quest for respect in The Avengers. A close viewing of the film reveals that Tony Stark wants to be more than just an Avenger. Stark's first appearance suited, as an Avenger, is Stuttgart, where he makes a grand entrance by co-opting the transport's PA system, and then proceeds to save the day. Later, when Thor takes Loki, Stark storms in to try to win the battlez all by himself. On the helicarrier, he stands at Nick Fury's post on the bridge, a probably-unconscious attempt to establish himself as In Charge. As tensions rise between the Avengers, Stark's subconscious need for attention and accolade lead him to (literally) try to prod the Hulk out of Bruce Banner.

Steve Rogers' sermon to Stark about laying down on the wire shows Stark what Iron Man has to do, to win the respect of these people. It's no longer good enough for him to be a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, because among the Avengers, he's just another freak. He has to do something special. So he does, but he waits for the right moment. He defers to Rogers' tactical expertise, consenting temporarily to be a pawn, a tool, part of the team. But, when the moment is right--when death by nuke approaches--Stark sees the opportunity. In one move he can win the battle, distinguish himself from the rest of the group, and capture their attention and respect. So he does. It's a risky move, but it pays off: when he comes to, the entire team is grouped around him, anxiously awaiting signs of life. He has earned their respect, and their loyalty. Consciously or not, he is in charge.

Because that's who he is. Working with the Avengers is too much like being handed something. Leading them, though--taking charge, molding them into his own creation--that's more Tony Stark's style.

Long live not being handed things!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

In Apology for my Passion

When I tell people that I have a degree in English--that I love to read--that my artistic output (such as it is) is verbal--I am ridiculed. The following is my apology for my love of the English language:

Few and far between are those who both love and own language. Some cherish a healthy regard for the power of words; some have an innate knack for text-based communication or art. But those who are one with language, emotionally and technically--they are truly rare.

I know both. I know a man who has a deep, heartfelt love for rhythmic poetry, for the pulse and beat and drive of performed verse, agile in technique and meaning. He sits in awe of it: but he can not create it. He is forever an audience member, never a performer on the literary stage.

I know, too, a woman with the opposite credentials. She is one of the most creative souls I have ever met, a quadruple-threat: but she hides her light under a bushel. She creates for herself alone, and she has no desire to join the creative, critical conversation. She could perform on that hypothetical literary stage, but she does not want to.

This is where you, dear reader, expect me to say "I am the total package." I don't know that I am. I do know that I'm passionate about books and stories and chapters and pages and paragraphs and sentences and words, and yes, even letters--

(Time out. Check it: there used to be a letter for the TH-sound, both soft and hard [as in them or thick]. That letter was called the thorn. It looks like this:

Legit!
It survived the shift from Old English to Middle English, and it's actually the source of that annoying thing where people think that adding ye to a business name makes the business sound authentic, or something. Okay, digression over.)

My point is that I love this bastard language of ours. As far as I can tell, I'm pretty good at using it, too. That's a judgement call, of course, but circumstances seem to indicate that I know a little bit about what I'm doing. And I'm moving ahead, too. I'm actively pursuing opportunities to achieve a closer communion with the English language.

I believe the popular perception of "the English major" is a strange blend of lazy and stupid. I've read the (suspect) scientific studies that "show" that English degrees are easy to earn, academically speaking. I've met the stereotypes who don't know what to major in, so they choose English because they think it gives them some sort of justification for being intellectual slobs. I've heard the gossip, seen the memes.
Okay, that is pretty funny.

The truth is--that's not me.

I am neither stupid nor lazy.

I did not choose English as a major of last resort. I didn't decide to switch to English because I disapproved of the way the School of Business did things and my math grades were too low for engineering and my application to the School of Waste Management was rejected. I chose English as my major because I love it. Because I believe English is my future. Because I believe English is my calling.

Changing one's major is a fact of life. Different schools have different statistics, but from those scattered data points a simple trend is clear: changing one's major is hardly a major event any more. I, on the other hand, went into the Office of the Registrar only twice on field-related business: once to add a German minor, and once to add a Writing minor. I chose English as my field before I enrolled in college, and I stuck with it. Four years, and I was done.

And now, I work at a coffee shop. People ask me for venti cappuccinos all the time. They also ask me how much the bagels are, and is cream cheese extra, and could you clean up my son's vomit from the floor? And I smile, and I nod, and I go home and I add another ten pages to the novel I'm writing. Or I go to a library sale and buy a grocery bag full of used books for $7, and then I eat pizza and read T. H. White's The Once and Future King. Or I text my light-under-a-bushel friend and ask her to read my latest short story, because she liked the last one and honestly, she's a better writer than I am, so I value her input. Or I open the mailbox and find a letter of acceptance to graduate school.

I am not the stereotypical English major--let's call him Hugh. I'm not Hugh. I do some of the things Hugh does--I read books a lot, and I wear glasses, and my fashion sense is pretty atrocious, and yes, I do know my way around a poetry slam. I do share some superficial qualities with Hugh. But I differ from Hugh in one important aspect: my English degree is a means to an end, rather than a halfheartedly-accepted end in itself. My bachelor's degree in English is step one in a four-step process. Step two is a master's degree in English. Step three is a doctorate in English. Step four...

Step four is guardianship.

See, language is more valuable than most people think. Like it or not, our culture is still largely dependent on text for memory. An argument might be made that the importance of visual representation is increasing, but for now, memory is communicated through words. Not music, not dance, not sophisticated patterns of bioluminescence. Words. "Talk is cheap," proclaims the proverb, and that's the truth. Words are accessible, flexible, glorious in their potential for impact. And words are fragile.

I'm not going to lament the preponderance of neologisms, agglutinations, conversions, or the like. Language evolves, and I'm coming to grips with that. My complaint is that our language is taken for granted, to the point that a degree awarded for four years of studying our language has become a punchline. When something is taken for granted, less attention is paid to it--less effort is expended on its upkeep--less interest is taken in its history.

Language needs guardians, champions, people who can say "ya know what? I think it's pretty darn awesome that the word 'set' has 464 definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary!" Language needs people who can reinforce that "villain" is spelled "villain", not "villian", as often as is necessary. Language needs people who are willing to take risks, make unsolicited submissions to literary journals, cope with 686 rejection letters, and then finally crack the champagne when some poor overworked editor sends an acceptance.

Language needs its disciples.

I know for a fact that my passion for the English language is ambitious. And maybe--maybe I'm wrong. I could be wrong! I might end up just like our stereotypical friend Hugh, working a job in advertising ten years from now, hating about 55% of it but not minding the other 45%, happily married with 2.5 kids and the half-edited manuscript of ONE NOVEL upstairs in the attic, collecting dust with the other castoffs of my foolish youth.

Or I might attain that goal of mine.

I might squeak through my first year of master's work, do better the second year, earn my MA in English, get into a nationally-known school for my doctoral work, almost have a nervous breakdown, eat a lot of ramen noodles, procrastinate forever on my thesis, eventually get my act together, and earn a Ph.D.

I might be a guardian.

Typing that sentence sends shivers up and down my spine...

I've always hated being pigeonholed. I hate being judged by what group I belong to, rather than who I am and what I accomplish. I am not Hugh, the cardigan-wearing Beats-loving-but-only-because-the-Beats-are-in incomprehensible-and-unnecessarily-offensive-poetry-writing stereotype. I am Ian DeJong, author, audience, teacher, student, passionately in love with all of these words, every one!

And I, Ian DeJong, I will one day be a guardian.

Here ends my apology for my love of the English language.

Long live belly-fires!

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Bad Old Days

Today, I thought about the Bad Old Days. Bad Old Days are part of life, I think--everyone I know has the horror stories, the memories of time that seemed to stand still as misery flooded in upon misery. If you, dear reader, have avoided Bad Old Days, good for you.

As I considered just how Bad those Old Days were, I had to question my perception of them. I remember what happened, of course, but less easy to remember is the intensity, the extent, of my emotional reaction to the negative events. Three possibilities presented themselves to me:

-the passage of time has leached from my memory the minor positives I was able to mine from the Bad Days.

-the passage of time has preserved, in perfect detail, the negative experiences and my negative reactions, without distortion whatsoever.

-the passage of time has dulled the edge of the pain I felt.

I tend to think it's the latter: but I can't tell for sure. For that matter, can we say that emotion is something rememberable?

An example. "Ah, Ian, remember the Bad Old Days when you didn't have a car? You felt so helpless then."

Well, yes, I do remember those Bad Old Days, and I think I can remember the feeling of helplessness. But am I remembering that emotion? Or am I re-feeling an emotion based on those negative experiences I remembered?

My question is this: are emotions purely ephemeral? Once a feeling has been felt, is it gone, or can it be remembered? In fact, is every instance of emotion absolutely fresh?

I think so. Sound off in the comments, bitte.

Long live re-evaluating perceptions!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"A Massive Man"

Don't worry, dear readers, I have decided to pontificate, for a change.

I think Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond universe, had an inferiority complex about his height.

Fact: many of James Bond's nemeses are described as large--either tall, or bulky, or both. (CF: Blofeld, Dr. No, Hugo Drax.)

Fact: Fleming was 5'8".

Fact: many of Bond's experiences, characteristics, and habits are lifted from Fleming's own.

Fact: Bond's triumphs over his larger-than-life enemies are usually victories of mind over matter. James Bond outwits rather than overpowers.

My speculative conclusion: Fleming was, to a certain extent, self-conscious about his height, so he repeatedly gave his avatar-character an opportunity to defeat larger, more physically-powerful adversaries.

Maybe I'm full of it.

Long live speculation!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Upon Reflection...

Some of the feedback I got from Exit Ramp prompted these questions. I don't have answers for them. I'm not trying to make a point with them. They are in my mind, and perhaps one of you, my dearly beloved readers, can supply one of those answers I so desperately seek.

-Does a story need to have a point?

-Does a story need to have a message?

-Does a story need to do something to the reader?

-Is it okay if a story affects the author more than the reader?

-Or is that selfish?

-In fact, if the author writes a story that is primarily reflexive, does the author have any business publishing the story?

-If the author is trying to communicate a message, is it bad if the reader picks up on a different message?

-Does that mean the author has failed?

-Or does it mean the reader has failed?

-Should the author eschew conscious message-sending?

-Should the reader avoid message-searching? (N.b.--this might be an exercise in futility.)

-What happens if the author does not intend to send a message, but the reader comes up with one anyway?

-Can the reader take credit for that?

-Should the author be given credit?

-Is such a message, organic and unintended as it might be, a valid message?

FOR THE RECORD:

I keep saying "message". I suppose I should translate that.

I refer to anything from a moral ("one good turn deserves another") 
to a theme ("the futility of silent love")
to a call to arms ("don't tase me, bro").

"Message" is the thrust of the art. Whatever that thrust may be.

-If the author intends to send a message, and readers are unclear on what exactly that message is, should the author clarify?

-Is the message what's important?

-Or is it the process of discovering the message?

-Should art entertain?

-Or should art educate?

I don't know. Seriously, honestly, I don't know.

What do you think?

(Long live reflection.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Exit Ramp

UPDATE: If you're here to read Exit Ramp, my latest short story--well, time's up. To minimize the chance of plagiarism (or perhaps merely to soothe my own suspicious heart), I decided to leave the story up for only a few days. In those few days, I've gotten significant and constructive feedback.

To everyone who's commented, I thank you. To everyone who's given me their input through other channels, I thank you. To everyone who put up with my incessant promotion of this story on Facebook and Twitter, I thank you. I'll stop now.

One last point: if you really want to read Exit Ramp, contact me on Facebook, on Twitter (@ThePontificator), or by leaving a comment here on the blog.

Long live The End.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Boon

Friends--faithful readers--yea, even you unfaithful readers--I'm doing something special. I've written a brand-spankin'-new short story, Exit Ramp, and I'm going to make it available here, on my blog, for a very limited time.

Why is this cool?

Unless you know me well (or had class with me) you've never read any of my fiction. I don't share my fiction with a lot of people, unless I have to. I think it has something to do with my fear of being told that I'm mediocre.

More specifically, I don't usually post fiction here in the Uninformed Opinion. I tend to confine myself more to, you know, uninformed opinions. Nonfiction, of a sort. As far as I know, I've only ever posted one other short story here, and that was a throwaway story anyhow. Exit Ramp is going to be the first bit of serious fiction I've ever posted here.

Most importantly (to me, at least), Exit Ramp is of the same cloth of which my novel is written. It's drawn from the same universe. It doesn't share narrative elements or characters, but it does share themes and what I call "universe details". All three of you who are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to read the novel may whet your appetites here: it's a small foretaste.

Details:

Because I don't like the thought of my creativity out there for anyone to potentially copy/paste, Exit Ramp will only be available for a few days. It will be posted Wednesday, April 11, at 3 pm. I will remove it on Friday, April 13, at 12 pm. In that time, feel free to share it and comment on it. But, y'know, please respect my intellectual property and all that.

Long live the experiment!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Why Not Rather Be Wronged?

I was teaching Sunday School last week, discussing Paul's exhortation about suing fellow believers in secular court (from I Corinthians). And a certain verse popped out at me. I Corinthians 6:7.

"Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?"

Those who know me well are familiar with my distaste for philosophical arguments that devolve into hairpulling, caterwauling ad hominem-storms. This verse sums up my position perfectly.

Sometimes, it's okay to be wronged. For the sake of peace, it's all right to lay down, turn the other cheek, let people walk on you. Should that be a habit? No. Should it be our first reaction to opposition? Absolutely not! But in some circumstances, it is perfectly fine to "be defrauded" for the sake of peace.

My problem with human argument is not the argument side, it's the human side. People, living breathing prideful people, are the ones doing the arguing. And without a massive dose of self-control, which is a rarity in today's self-indulgent culture, those people will let themselves, their human flaws, seep into the discussion. "Your argument is incorrect" is heard as "You are incorrect". And BOOM goes the insecurity.

My proposed solution to these repeated breakdowns, turning the other cheek, doesn't happen very much. Why? Because nobody wants to lay down. Nobody wants to be wronged. It's that ever-present human flaw, pride. People, in general, are proud, and the thought of giving up and actually letting the other guy win, well, that's just unthinkable.

Give it a try, dear readers. Just once, see what happens if you turn the other cheek. Not on something big--don't shoot yourself in the foot here. Wait for a small dispute, then lay down. See what happens.

Long live peace!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Failure of Mindset

I think I had an epiphany tonight. I was practicing piano, for the first time in a long time, and I was flubbing rather badly. I stopped, and I looked at my hands, and I realized two points.

1. I failed as a student of piano.

2. That failure is due to my philosophical approach to piano.

The reason has to do with technique. Learning how to play piano is all about mastering the technique. There is a list of "musts" that every piano instructor will probably agree on:

You MUST have good posture. You MUST hold your hands correctly. You MUST understand the art of correct fingering. You MUST learn how to read music, and you MUST learn how to sight-read music. You MUST understand how to practice. You MUST accept the discipline of daily, intensive practice.

I got two of those MUSTs down. Why? Because I wasn't focused on learning the technique. I was focused on results, rather than process. I tried to learn how to play piano pieces, rather than learning how to play piano.

Good piano players can be given a sheet of music they've never seen or heard before, sit down at a piano, and play it. Eventually, and perhaps not brilliantly. But they play it. Good piano players have learned the technique. They have learned empirical skills that can be theoretically applied to any piece of music. (I say theoretically because there's some music that defies empirical ability. See: Liszt's Rondo Fantastique. It's said to be unplayable.)

I never focused on learning how to warm up correctly, or how to cross over during trills, or anything about good pedal work. I only tried to learn the pieces I was assigned at that time. I never even thought to myself, "Ian, you need to learn how to play the piano, not just how to play a few piano pieces."

And now I pay the penalty for my mistake. For when I sit down to play piano, after an absence of several months, I struggle. I flub. I flop. I falter. My technique is imperfect, in the archaic sense of that word: it is incomplete, and therefore it is unusable.

In an interesting aside, one might compare the technique required for Playing The Piano to the technique required for Reading A Literature. And one might compare my inability to grasp the technique for Playing The Piano to my inability to grasp the popularly accepted technique for Reading A Literature. My hope is in the fact that Reading A Literature is a science rather than an art, and therefore results are more important than technique.

Long live depressing epiphanies!

A Window In

It's been hard for me to blog meaningfully of late, because in addition to work I've been trying to get back on track with my novel. I have only so much creativity to expend every day, you see. Anyway, here's a rare bit of cross-promotion, in celebration of the fact that in my editing of my novel, I recently passed a significant milestone: 60,000 words.

A word of explanation. I won NaNoWriMo with this novel, 57,000 words. Of course, many of those words were of questionable quality, so I've been doing quite a bit of cutting. The fact that I've been cutting so much, but have still been able to add 3,000 important--dare I say essential--words, is an accomplishment. So here's a screencap, which incidentally includes a glimpse of one of the pivotal early scenes in the novel. Just a glimpse. Nothing more.

Click on the image to see a wider screencap.

Long live tortoises!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I, Contemptible Archetype

What is the thing that I am?

I am Barista.

I have long hair. (The length varies.)

I do not always shave. Sometimes I neglect shaving accidentally; sometimes I am unshaven on purpose.

I look down on you as you order your drink. No matter what your order, I subtly and nonverbally communicate to you that you're an idiot for drinking slop like that.

I follow Stephen Fry on Twitter.

I know why Stephen Fry's nose is crooked.

No, I won't tell you. Google it.

I wear t-shirts and other clothing with slogans that are incomprehensible to you, but deeply meaningful to me.

I have volunteered in at least thirteen other countries, all of which are infinitely superior to this one.

I am fluent in Espresso Italian. That is to say, I do not know Italian, but I am convinced that I do.

I have a beautiful Espresso Italian accent. That is to say, I have the accent of an American speaking Italian, but I am convinced that my Italian accent would put an Italian to shame.

I despise the letter x, simply because so many people see fit to insert it into the word espresso.

I have a quirky blog.

I write self-referential blog posts. Also, I write self-self-referential blog posts.

I understand the importance of offering iced drinks to customers, but that doesn't mean I approve of it.

I speak demeaningly and snidely of Charbucks.

I long to travel one day to that holiest of Meccas, Seattle.

I do love sports, thank you very much! Every year I choose the most obscure team I can find and learn everything I can about it, then drop it abruptly when it becomes mainstream.

I can recite Jack White's ode to Detroit word-for-word.

I smoke a pipe.

I try other coffee shops and inevitably end up "setting them straight on a few things".

I Yelp! Oh, how I Yelp!

I have built a roaster from hand tools and kitchen implements, and I roast coffee in my parent's garage.

I used to have a tumblr, but it became way too commercialized, way too fast.

I am going to see the Black Keys in May, it's true, but I'm going ironically.

I pluck my eyebrows.

I have written a novel. It has not been published. It probably will not be published.

I was one of the first to disbelieve the Kony 2012 scam.

I am experimenting with my signature. Its latest iteration is pointillist.

I have never, ever used a trending hashtag, and I never, ever will.

I shudder when people refer to coffee as "java".

I shudder when people refer to coffee as "joe".

I shudder when people refer to caffeine as "that extra jolt, ya know?"

I shudder a lot, come to think of it.

I used to have a beard, but I couldn't find organic beard shampoo, so I shaved my beard off.

I named my beard. It's name was Wilgus.

I used the incorrect form of its just now. I know that. I did it to annoy you.

I created my own personal blend of coffee. I import the beans in small amounts at ridiculous prices. It tastes like heaven in a cup.

I will never share the recipe for Ian's Blend. It accompanies me to my grave.

I do not plan on being buried. I want to be cremated and have my ashes sprinkled on my garden, which I have set aside in my will as open to the public for foraging.

I have seen Patton Oswalt's stand-up live four times. His best was the third time I saw him. His material is a little tired now; it needs to breathe.

I am convinced that people care deeply about my opinion. In my mind, that's why they look so attentive when I'm talking to them.

I can't tell the difference between an attentive look and a glassy-eyed look of absolute boredom.

I am far too self-aware.

I am nowhere near self-aware enough.

I used to like Bukowski, but then Modest Mouse had to go and ruin him for me.

I am infinitely outraged that Kurt Cobain is a playable character in Guitar Hero 5, since his personal philosophy was diametrically opposite to the commercialism of the video game industry.

I have to go do some yoga. I suppose I must end this post.

I end my quirky blog posts on my quirky blog with a quirky yet reliable signoff. It's often a non sequitur. Something like this:

Long live deprecation!




Monday, March 19, 2012

"Ooooh, What's That?"


Gender-neutral nouns, I'm a barista. I work at a coffee shop, and I make people drinks, and it's an okay job, I guess. My biggest problem with it is that I don't have much opportunity to be creative in it. Perhaps that should be rephrased: I'm too lazy to be creative in it.

I can be creative, I suppose. I can pay attention to my banter at the counter, for instance. I can figure out if the "LOL @ THIS WETHER" gambit works better than "HOWZ UR DAY GOIN?" gambit by comparing tip totals on different days. I can keep struggling fruitlessly at creating even halfway-decent latte art. I can try to come up with more labor- or cost-saving methods to run the shop.

Or I can try to create new drinks.

I've tried, you know. I've tried coming up with new flavor combinations. I even tried steaming espresso shots in milk. (It turned out to be terrible.) I've tried this, and that, and the other, and then I've forgotten that I tried this already, so I try it again, and then I remember that I already tried it and it wasn't that great.

I think my problem is that I'm infatuated with newness rather than quality. The quality I'm aiming for is not deliciousness but newness. I want to come up with something nobody's ever tried before.

And if it tastes bad...well, that just pushes me more precipitously toward my next essay.

I've become addicted to the open-ended question "ooooh, what's that?"

Maybe I should try writing sonnets on paper cups. That should exhaust some of this excess creativity roiling about inside of me.

Long live juices, creative or otherwise.

EDIT: Speaking of creative juices, check this out. 


GAWSH I love independence.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Writing The Pain Down

I can't write pain.

Why?

I think it's because I don't really feel pain.

Let me explain. I am a person who hasn't ever experienced real pain. Muscle soreness? Yes. Toothache? Yes. Bee stings? Yes. Fingernail crushed in a closing car door? Yes.

Broken bones? No.

Serious lacerations? No.

Ruptured organs? No.

I've never been in a serious car accident. I've never even experienced whiplash from getting rear-ended. I have lived a remarkably pain-free life.

So when I try to write about pain, I can't. I'm currently trying to edit/clean up my first novel. There are scenes of vicious physical aggression in this embryonic novel (they'd be called "fight scenes", but this is Literature, and Literature doesn't have "fight scenes". It has "scenes of vicious physical aggression".) The most significant problem I'm confronting in this Augean stable of fiction is making the scenes of vicious physical aggression...believable.

I think the problem is that I can't communicate the weight of the fights. I can't say how it would feel to be punched in the jaw by a strong man, because I have only been punched in the face once, and that was not by a strong man. I haven't really had my head smacked in punching fashion--by a door, say. I can't feel my characters' pain, because I have no point of reference. So when I write down my characters' pain, my readers (probably; there haven't been any yet) don't feel the characters' pain. And the scenes of vicious physical aggression lack weight. The reader might even say, subconsciously, "so what?"

And that's never a question an author wants to hear.

To lend weight to this conjecture, there is the matter of loneliness. I don't think I'm being melodramatic when I say that I know what being alone is. I'm a naturally solitary person; I cultivate a few close friendships, and that's it. And if those few close friends are unavailable, well then, I am alone. I'm fine with being alone; I have  come to know being alone.

I write loneliness well, I think. One of my earliest short stories is microfiction about an old man walking up a hill, pursuing memories. There are all sorts of tangled strands of interrelated theme that squirrel about in the story, but running beneath all of them is a heavy line of loneliness. I still love reading that story. I go back to it, and I say "I wish all of my stories were like this."

My point is this: I know loneliness, and I write it well. I don't know physical pain, and I write it poorly. Coincidence?

...perhaps...

Long live loneliness.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Most Of You Are Welcome, Except That Guy

I was driving my automobile today in the small town in which I live. I drove past a church. It had a sign. I read it. Then I drove past a different church, about a block away. It had a sign too. I read that sign as well.

Then I went home and thought about the signs I had read.

The first church I saw was an Established Church. It had all the hallmarks: membership in a large, historically-rich denomination, big stone building, advantageous location. Its sign read, in part:

ALL ARE WELCOME.

Okay then.

The second church I saw was a Hip Church. It had all the hallmarks: denominationally-indistinct name, logo with a plant in it, building that had obviously been acquired recently. Its sign read, in part:

NO PERFECT PEOPLE ALLOWED.

Both signs communicated a point. A mindset. A tone, if you will. Both signs were in keeping with the worldview of the respective churches involved. Of course the Established Church uses the old-fashioned, literal, weather-worn way of welcome. And of course the Hip Church uses a slightly sarcastic, eye-catching, unique catchphrase.

I don't think there should be a place for sarcasm in the work of the church. I don't think that the old way of doing things is of necessity the best way of doing things. I don't think that the church should shut anyone out, even those who believe they're perfect. I don't think the church should be a shelter for self-deceived people who are unaware and unwilling to be aware of their own shortcomings.

In short, I don't know which sign I prefer.

I'd appreciate input. This topic is evolving in my mind, slowly but very certainly. Leave a comment below, and tell me what you think.

In whatever form it takes, long live welcome.

Friday, March 2, 2012

UNSPOOLING: Hugo

I'll be the first to admit that I didn't expect much out of Hugo.

I saw the trailer, and I saw that it had little kids in it, and I wasn't interested. I generally don't like child actors or actresses, because they seldom deliver convincing, layered performances. I've seen some good movies with child actors, like Let The Right One In, but those good ones are few and far between.

Fortunately, I'm fallible. So I was wrong. I went to see Hugo last night, and I was very strongly affected.

It didn't hurt that Sir Ben Kingsley and Sir Christopher Lee, two of my all-time favorite actors, had important screen time. It didn't hurt that the script was close to perfect. It didn't hurt that the score was even closer to perfection.

To be honest, though, what I appreciated most was how self-referential the film was.

Now, self-absorption and self-reference are almost always pitfalls, vices to be avoided. Even in the right circumstances, the execution of the concept must be perfect. One film that achieves this circular reference is Singin' In The Rain. Its plot simultaneously parallels and links to then-current advances in cinema AND the movie-goer's experience.

Hugo is, in essence, a fable. It sets forth a fantastical tale with magic and a happy ending, one that "only happens in the movies". And it has a moral, which I won't spoil by revealing here. As I finished the movie, I felt no sense of reality in my mind. The film had not asked me to suspend disbelief. Rather, it told me, "What you are about to see is illustrative of truth." In short, Hugo was filmed like one of the films of Georges Méliès: it is intended to prime the dream-pump.

Much may (and perhaps should) be said of Scorcese's vision of himself as Méliès, but that's a post for a different time. For now, I give Hugo Five Reels in Ian's Totally Subjective Film Rating System.






Long live rarity!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

This, That, and The Other

Briefly, then:

THIS
The blog of one of my former associates (at least six years ago, almost certainly more) has been thunderstriking me recently with its trenchant analysis of various issues assailing the universe nowadays. And no, I don't really know what "trenchant" means. I'm assuming it means "strong enough to dig a trench", which is actually pretty strong, when you think about it. The point is, this guy's smart, smarter than I am, actually. And he's a good writer--a better writer than I am, actually. And he's not frivolous, most of the time. Check him out at this link.

THAT
The Oscars are tonight, and I really only care about two aspects of the whole pageant.
1. Will the host be stoned like James Franco was last year? (I hate James Franco, FTR.)
2. Will Gary Oldman actually win an Oscar? His turn as George Smiley in the brilliant adaptation of Jean le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is his first Academy Award nomination ever, which is just stupid, because Oldman's awesome. I know a lady who sorta met him once, out in LA. And here's a picture for all of you visually-minded people.


THE OTHER
It's embarrassing to me that right now I don't have anything trenchant to say about anything, really. This blog is supposed to be your one-stop shop for figuring out what the right thing to think is. But I can't even structure a sentence without ending it with a preposition. I suppose you, Valiant Reader, will have to be content with knowing that I have never, do not now, and will never enjoy or respect Sacha Baron Cohen as a comedian, an artiste, or a person.

Ps. Here's something cool: I've been following Mark "The Shark" Titus over at ClubTrillion for many and many a year. I know he left to go work at Grantland, and that's all cool, I guess. I've been missing his trenchant wit, until just last week his name VERY randomly popped up in my local paper. Apparently his book is being released a few minutes from now. (Minutes? Doesn't sound right. Maybe more like "weeks". I don't know...I thought he played for the Brewers.)

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I liked The Shark before he was cool, and I'm probably going to buy his book.

I'm hanging up now.

Long live spontaneI'm going to walk to Ecuador RIGHT NOW.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Disgusting Spelled W-O-N-D-E-R-F-A-L-L

Golden Corral, number one destination for impossibly hungry diners, Mecca for worshipers of adequate food, definitive proof that quality, not quantity sells--Golden Corral has introduced their...hold on a second.

*gags decorously behind hand*

Once more: Golden Corral has introduced the Chocolate Wonderfall.

This.




Let's ignore the first comment viewers see after this video, the one that says "So I went to a golden corral today, and I tried this out. Right as I dipped my marshmallow into it, some little kid reached over the little metal railing and just stuck his whole hand into it...never again will I think this looks good."

You know what? Let's even ignore the typo in the reply that Golden Corral's official account posted.

(The response begins "We strive to provide the best possible customer experience for all of our guest." Talk about a Freudian slip.)

What needs to be discussed is the concept that repeating "a nonstop flowing river of chocolate decadence" makes one's borderline health-hazard, crass, step-in-the-wrong-direction "innovation" a nonstop flowing river of chocolate decadence.

I wish it could. There are a lot of things I wish I could change that way. Such as...

"Let's see, to do my NONSTOP FLOWING RIVER OF CHOCOLATE DECADENCE this year, I'll need my W-2s, income statements, pay stubs...actually, looks like I'll need a napkin more."

"Yeah, dude, I totally got my tickets to the concert! Can't wait to see the NONSTOP FLOWING RIVER OF CHOCOLATE DECADENCE live! Especially their hit new single bubbleGlorpSLOSH."

Unfortunately for anyone involved, words don't work that way. What a letdown.

And Golden Corral, just so you know, "food" ≠ "happiness". Helping oneself to food is not the same as helping oneself to happiness, even if we accept Golden Corral's presupposition that what they serve is "food" (a charitable observation if there ever was one). While food can certainly contribute to a feeling of happiness, an equation of the two is manipulatively simplistic.

/rant

Long live grumbling THE NONSTOP FLOWING RIVER OF CHOCOLATE DECADENCE.