Zero To Hero Day 21: Building Upon A Post

Hey, folks. Day 21’s assignment was all about building upon and/or explaining the post from Day 19. I chose to use quotes because…well, I’ve tried pretty much all the other formats. Rather than sticking with a specific quote, I chose a group of them that not only reflected my thoughts on this blog, but arranged them in a way that would form something resembling narrative. I’ll just give them a brief run-down:

  • Jorge Luis Borges blew my mind when I first read his work, and the quote I used seemed to capture the feeling all too well. Causality is fascinating, be it in a philosophical or religious context. Borges wasn’t sure about what his storytelling was going to do, only that there were stories. It’s the same thing when I post something here; I find it cool and interesting, but I can’t account for others’ biases or beliefs. All I can do is tell it the way I can, and hope it’s good enough.
  • The dedication page for House of Leaves always stood out for me. That book is several mind-screws all bundled up into one, and “This is not for you” is just one of the earliest ways it messes with your expectations. I want to do the same with my blog; I want to get you to wonder, to think. And much like that quote, I don’t just blog for everyone else; I blog for myself, too.
  • The third quote comes from my favorite fighting game ever. If you want a great example of video game role models, Ryu would probably be high on the list. He doesn’t just want to fight for the sake of violence; he wants to experience and learn new things. His quote is kind of my unofficial mantra.
  • The fourth one is that infamous reveal from The Shining. It serves as a counter to the previous quote; if you spend so much time focusing on objectives and improvement, you can lose sight of who you are, and the life around you. There has to be a balance somewhere, and it’s good to have a reminder of that. On an unrelated note, The Shining is one of my all-time favorite movies.
  • Solid Snake’s rant is the capstone to the infamously mind-screwy Metal Gear Solid 2 ending. The entire game is essentially one long lesson on postmodernism, and this little speech is probably the most straightforward moment you’ll ever get. Snake basically argues that we as individuals are more than just producers of the next generation. We can show them – and each other – what is important to us. We are survived by what we pass on. That’s a sentiment I want my blog to reflect.
  • Blood Meridian is one of my favorite novels. Not because of the setting or the brutality – Judge Holden is such an amazing character – but how the story is told. The imagery is so vivid, and…I better stop now before I start ranting. The quote I used reinforces my curiosity; I want to be the one who pulls the tapestry and takes life on his own terms. And I want you to try, too; you can’t fully live if you don’t ask questions.
  • Moving The River by Prefab Sprout is one of many, many one-hit wonders I have on my playlist. I prefer the acoustic to the regular version, though. It’s about a guy who’s disappointed with life, and must comes to terms with his parents – and his own – expectations. I’m very much the same. As the title implies, living takes Herculean strength; the song even ends with “but it takes such an effort/to stay where I am…” The lyrics I chose reflect my doubt over the subject matter I choose to post. A few of my interests and hobbies aren’t exactly…mainstream, and I worry about alienation and abandonment over them.
  • …Like depression, for example. Out Of My Head is a late 90’s hit about personal reflection, regret, and doubt. Despite its simplicity, the song manages to be tear-jerking and introspective. I quoted it to reflect my issues with depression (and mental health in general) and how it’s one of those taboo subjects. How are we as a society supposed to combat such illnesses if we don’t talk about them?
  • The next quote is just a continuation of same idea. It’s worth noting that Gotta Knock A Little Harder is all about someone overcoming their fears and doubts, even if they have to bust through their own emotional barriers to do it. I’m working on that part. This song is part of Cowboy Bebop’s tremendous soundtrack, and I highly recommend that you give it all a listen sometime.
  • Stardust Melody is an old, amazing song. It’s not about love, but idealizing love. After time and lives have past, all you have are the memories. I worry about that; maybe I’m doing this all in vain, but I still do it. It’s an incredibly lonely, but peaceful song. I listen to it sometimes before going to bed. I wanted to link to my favorite version – Mel Torme with just a piano – but I couldn’t find a video for it.
  • The Late Lament is a poem that comes after the ending of the Moody Blues’ Nights In White Satin. It depicts a somber, lonely evening in which people settle in for the night. The part at the end struck me because of its defiant tone. Despite all the sadness and doubt, we are the ones who decide how to live. It’s a reminder to never give up.
  • The last quote is actually a quote of a quote. “You’re gonna carry that weight” comes from the Beatles song, but the line is also featured at the final screen of Cowboy Bebop. There’s a very good reason why it shows up, and I’m not going to spoil it for you. Basically, you have to live with the decisions and actions you take. Be it guilt, sadness, desire, pleasure…you carry those moments and memories around for the rest of your life. I want my blog to not only share such things, but to help me going into the future.
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Zero To Hero Day 19: And Now For Something Completely Different

Quote

I have no way of knowing whether the events that I am about to narrate are effects or causes. – Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions

This is not for you. – Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

Every moment gives us a chance to become more than what we are. – Ryu, Street Fighter III: Third Strike

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. – Jack Torrance, The Shining

Life isn’t just about passing on your genes. We can leave behind much more than just DNA. Through speech, music, literature and movies…what we’ve seen, heard, felt…anger, joy and sorrow…these are the things I will pass on. That’s what I live for. We need to pass the torch, and let our children read our messy and sad history by its light.We have all the magic of the digital age to do that with. The human race will probably come to an end some time, and new species may rule over this planet. Earth may not be forever, but we still have the responsibility to leave what traces of life we can. Building the future and keeping the past alive are one and the same thing. – Solid Snake, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty

The man who believes that the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate. – Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

And do you think that they’ll like me
When they learn what I do? – Prefab Sprout, Moving The River

If you’re sad, then it’s time you spoke up too. – Fastball, Out Of My Head

Happiness is just a word to me, and it might have meant a thing or two if I’d known the difference. The Seatbelts, Gotta Knock A Little Harder

Though I dream in vain, in my heart it always will remain
My stardust melody, the memory of love’s refrain – Stardust Melody

Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colours from our sight.
Red is grey and yellow white.
But we decide which is right.
And which is an illusion. – Moody Blues, Nights In White Satin/Late Lament

You’re gonna carry that weight. – Cowboy Bebop

What I Learned From Lawrence of Arabia

So, I watched Lawrence of Arabia last Saturday night.

For the first time.

No, seriously. I lived nearly three decades without seeing one of the greatest films ever. Yeah, yeah, feel free to laugh. I don’t blame you. That’s like not seeing Star Wars or The Shining. But I’ve always been more into literature than movies, and until a few days ago, I’d never had the time or enough interest to watch it. And man, I didn’t know what I was missing. I could wax poetic about the acting, cinematography, score…everything. It’s impossible to not get swept up in it. The image of a burning match and a desert sunrise is still etched in my mind. After 222 minutes of epic storytelling, I went to bed knowing that I had seen something special.

The next morning, Peter O’Toole died.

I was stunned. Not twelve hours before, I’d seen him willingly ride back into the desert to save his comrade. Nothing is written, he had shouted defiantly. I’d been drawn in by those piercing blue eyes, and those iconic white robes. I cheered at his victories, and saddened at his losses.  And now this man – someone who managed to bring to life a character larger than life itself – is gone. However, the lessons of that story are not. Lawrence of Arabia may be over 50 years old, but its messages are timeless.

What makes the movie so fascinating is just how little it seems like one. Compared to modern films, anyway. Hey, quick question: What’s your favorite epic adventure and/or action flick? Is it Raiders of the Lost Ark? The Matrix? The Lord of the Rings Trilogy? They’re all great, but why are they loved so much? It’s because they give us just the right amount of escapism and entertainment we need. We revel in violence and explosions, and stare in slack-jawed wonder at the style and majesty of the exotic settings. They’re great distractions from the lacking character development. Think about it. Why do you like Indiana Jones? It’s because you like seeing him traveling the world and punching bad guys, isn’t it?  Come on, be honest. Do you actually care about Indy as a character? Probably not. The same goes for every Neo, John McClane, and Terminator out there. They’re phenomenal action heroes, but their character depth is sacrificed for the sake of pacing and appeal.

***SPOILERS FOR A 50+ YEAR OLD MOVIE JUST IN CASE***

Lawrence of Arabia averts this by examining what would really happen to such a heroic figure. I’m not sure if it’s a ridiculous amount of foreshadowing, or just common sense. If you’re reasonably-versed in the real T.E. Lawrence’s exploits, you know how things end up. But even if you’re going into the film blind, it’s pretty obvious how things are going to play out once the realistic tone is set. Lawrence seems like an eccentric, but undeniably brave and charismatic leader. He gets various desert tribes to work together, goes native, forms a small army, and proceeds to wreak epic havoc all over the Turks. Lawrence seems like a typical action hero…until the first time he has to kill someone. He doesn’t say a badass one-liner; he hesitates, his hands and voice tremble, and he throws the gun away afterwards. It’s not just because he feels horrified about committing murder, but because he knows he enjoys it. Compare that scene with the massacre at Tafas; Lawrence goes on a killing spree, and the manic look on his face is chilling. Not only does he willingly shoot a gun, but he quickly runs out of bullets and pulls out his dagger. By the end of the battle, his arms – and his once-white robes – are drenched in blood. Dozens of bodies are left to rot in the sun. No one applauds, there is no victory fanfare. Only horror and disgust. Sherif Ali stares at Lawrence and says with a broken, bitter voice:

“Does it surprise you, Mr. Bentley? Surely, you know the Arabs are a barbarous people. Barbarous and cruel. Who but they! Who but they!

At its core, Lawrence’s story is nothing new. It’s of the oldest Aesops around: pride and vanity can be dangerous. Basically, he buys too much into his own hype. It’s easy to understand why; for the first half of the movie, he seems unstoppable. He willingly went back alone into one of the deadliest places on Earth just to save someone, and survived! Who wouldn’t want to follow him? However, it becomes clear that he doesn’t fully consider the consequences of his actions. The two comic relief servants die because of his needlessly risky planning. While he’s enjoying a private moment of victory at the shores of the Red Sea, his army is plundering Aqaba and destroying his only method of long-range communication with the British. Lawrence believes himself to be untouchable, yet is shot during a raid. He tries to brush the injury off with some boasting, but is left scarred. Not only does it further demonstrate Lawrence’s carelessness, but hints that he’s still vulnerable beneath the bold exterior.

His scouting expedition into Daraa results with more blatant and damaging consequences. Lawrence – a blond, blue-eyed Brit – thinks he can pass for an Arab tribesman. Sherif Ali knows what a stupid idea it is, but accompanies his friend anyway. Reality ensues; Lawrence is immediately caught by the guards, and sent to be interrogated by the Turkish Bey. That scene isn’t visually graphic in its violence, but its subtext and implications are. The Bey doesn’t just hit Lawrence; he takes the time to strip him down, examine his body, and creepily fondle his chest. Then the torture and implied off-screen rape commences. It’s in this scene that we – and Lawrence himself – realize that he isn’t untouchable. It’s hard to watch. Unlike other action heroes who survive that kind of punishment and get their revenge, he is left a shattered, defeated remnant of his former self. He finally understands that he is just a man, and not a prophet.

The British authorities have to shamelessly appeal to his vanity to get him back into the fray. He is essential to their plan for Damascus, after all. The Tafas massacre aside, it’s obvious that something’s gone wrong with Lawrence of Arabia. He’s not smiling anymore. The twinkle in his eye has given way to a stone-cold stare. He naively assumes the Arabs will come for his sake rather than money, yet hires mercenaries that don’t care about his cause. It’s clear he understands the difference – Sherif Ali calls him on it point-blank – but doesn’t seem too concerned. For Lawrence, the conquest of Damascus is his chance to heal his wounded pride and regain any semblance of dignity. And for a second, it looks like he succeeds;  his forces take the city and set up the Arab National Council. But in typical fashion, he overlooks the obvious:

They don’t know how to run a modern city.

The tribes represent a culture steeped in centuries of tradition…in the desert. That doesn’t change overnight; there’s just a mountain of new problems. When the fighting is over, a civil engineer is way more useful than a swordsman. The image of Lawrence desperately trying to get water out a disconnected faucet is sad and pathetic; for all his charisma and bravado, he can’t save the thousands of injured and dying in the streets. We even get to see our hero slapped by a disgusted army medical officer! With no options, he relinquishes control to the British, the only players left in this scenario with resources and practical skills. What’s most telling is the return of Prince Faisal, the real leader of the Arabs; while Lawrence was gallivanting all over the desert, Faisal was preparing for his inevitable negotiations with the British. Not only is he much savvier, but it’s clear he kept Lawrence around for only as long as necessary:

“Aurens is a sword with two edges. We are equally glad to be rid of him, are we not?”

Thus, Lawrence is given an appropriate end: He’s sent home. That’s it. The job is done. He did amazing, death-defying things and helped change the course of a nation. The adventure was incredible, but it broke him physically, mentally, and spiritually. In the beginning, he rode confidently into the desert on a camel and connected with people. In the end, he’s lost all connections and is despondently driven out of the desert in a jeep. There’s nothing epic or romantic left. Once he’s completed his role, no one has any more use for his heroics; all he gets to look forward to is a lack of purpose and the legions of fans who know nothing about him on as a person.

That’s what really happens to an action hero.

So, what can we learn from Lawrence of Arabia? It’s not just about the epic adventure or the political intrigue. It’s a moral about not letting yourself be consumed by your flaws. Your idols and role models are people, too. Pride and vanity are powerful things, and they can be used creatively and destructively. It’s great to be brave and ambitious, but you have to think things through to be effective. You need heroism and common sense. If you define yourself by just your fame and exploits, you risk not only your identity, but the lives and happiness of the people you care about. Never forget why and for whom you do something. Your choices have consequences, and irresponsibility leads to suffering. For better or worse, your actions are your only legacy. Make it a good one.

So it is written.

Daily Prompt: Fear Factor, Or: Rejection VS Individuality

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about fear. Namely, what do you fear. Don’t be fooled by anyone who claims to be fearless. They’re either covering up insecurity, a computer, or an alien. Maybe all three. Everyone has a fear; it’s one of the defining aspects of your humanity. It’s a natural, instinctual response your body has to perceived threats. It’s just a matter of exactly what it is. For me, it’s nothing tangible. I don’t fear death, the dark, insects, etc. I mentioned recently that my fear is living a meaningless existence. Life is inherently meaningless; it’s up to each individual to find their own meaning. Putting that into practice is not only hard, but scary as well. What do you do when the whole world is out there, and you don’t have a dream? The scope of it is downright terrifying.

While this kind of fear works well for philosophical discussion, this particular prompt calls for something a little less…overarching. So, how about something a bit more intimate: Rejection. I’m not talking about the romantic kind; given the amount of barely-averted looks and flirts directed toward me, I wouldn’t have any problems…if I actually tried going with it. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a textbook introvert. I’m really shy and I try to avoid being in large groups of people. Not because I necessarily despise them, but because interactions are tiring, and I never know what to say. Hey, let’s see you bring up the psychologically manipulative set designs of The Shining or the recurring themes in Haruki Murakami’s novels the next time you’re chatting a party. By all means, go ahead. All I get those confused stares, a request to speak up, or a lingering sense that I never should have opened my mouth in the first place. I get through it with a (hopefully) charming smile and heavy doses of sarcasm. A lot of people find it endearing. Others ask me what planet I’m from. I scramble for the quietest corner, take out the book I smuggled along with me, and leave my horribly awkward real world behind.

But why?

It’s a lot easier to close yourself off from what you fear. Since I dread rejection so much, then why bother interacting with people at all? Oh wait, that’s right! Social interaction is the core tenet of human civilization. Can’t get around that one, can I? Well, technically I can, but it’d cost me my sanity. Pretty sure that’s something you want to hang on to. So since shutting everyone out isn’t feasible, that means dealing with the fear in question. How exactly am I supposed to do that? That’s not a rhetorical question; I really don’t know. It’s been a part of me for as far back as I can remember. A lot of my elders were – and still are – religiously conservative. Look, I’m not going to start a debate about this. I have no problem with religion; some folks need something to believe in. But when you use religion to oppress and slaughter people who don’t share your views? Yeah, humanity doesn’t exactly have a spotless record. Now, imagine trying to be the model son raised by conservative, often absent parents. Sound difficult? Try doing that with an independent streak as big and deep as mine. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not very fun. I was the kind of kid who’d always ask the difficult questions, the one who wanted everything explained in non-sugarcoated detail. The phrase “Because I said so!” was never good enough for me, and I refused to accept excuses. Many adults found it irritating, and it hasn’t won me many fans in my adult life. There are some at my church who still won’t even look at me.

Well shucks, I’m so sorry that I can’t just play along. That must be such an inconvenience.

I’m not trying to be rebellious. I’m really not. I just need to experience the world on my own terms. New ideas and concepts are fascinating, but not necessarily feasible for me. My concern isn’t so much about religious beliefs, laws, structure, etc. The only thing that matters is if it works. And a lot of what does work for me doesn’t do so for the people in my personal and professional life. I’d been rejected, bullied, and dismissed so many times growing up that I learned to expect it. Trying to conform to others’ expectations left me an emotional wreck. I’ve let myself become less restrictive, though. My contempt for gender roles is probably the most noticeable result. I’ve got enough long, curly hair to resemble a young Robert Plant or Dustin Hoffman’s Captain Hook. I rock the androgynous look. A lot of women find it fascinating and ask me about it, but others just frown disapprovingly or assume I’m transgendered. I stopped caring years ago. If I’m in a suit, I’ll occasionally get asked if I moonlight in a heavy metal band. I’m one of the few people on either side of my family that actively reads and writes. People think I’m weird because I don’t spend my free time on Facebook, clinging to my phone, watching sports, or going bar-hopping. I don’t know anyone else my age that doesn’t drink. You try being the only sober person in at a party. Or how about hearing the phrase, “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?” Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because it’s hard to trust people when you’re an outcast.

Just saying.

Gah, what a mess. I need to work on the self-confidence thing. How do I get over social phobia? There’s got to be a niche for me out there somewhere. If not, I’ll just have to carve out my own. That’s got to count for a little bit of courage, right?

Daily Prompt: Playtime, Or: Work Hard, Play Hard!

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about playtime. I’m going to assume that this refers to when I’m at home, and not traveling abroad. This one’s actually kind of tricky for me because I tend to combine play and work. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a prolific amateur game reviewer. Video games have been a part of my life from the start; I learned how to play Yars’ Revenge and Kaboom! before I could run. I didn’t have many games growing up, but I started building a collection once I entered college. Between all the on-disc anthologies, ports, and stuff I’ve acquired from publishers or acquaintances, my library includes somewhere around 800 titles. Over the years my tastes have refined; I look at everything I play with a critical eye, and it’s certainly not limited to just 7-9/10. The company or gaming platform is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is if it works, and how well. I also don’t play into the politics that a lot of mainstream review sites have succumbed. Getting free swag and advertising is nice, but that has no impact on the game itself. A good product should be able to stand on its own.

Also, I always actually play the game I’m reviewing. Some reviewers play only a few hours before making their decision, which means that any important storyline twists or gameplay developments (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect 3 and God Hand!) are overlooked. A lot of reviewers are pressured into covering games as quickly as possible; I recall one holiday season in which five AAA titles (each of which was at least 20 hours long) showed up on my doorstep in a week. How is a person supposed to deal with that kind of workload in a timely manner without sacrificing quality? What’s worse, some game studios use such biased review scores as way to determine the bonuses – and livelihoods – of its designers. Review scores are not objective, so basing an entire studio on them is impractical, if not dangerous.

No wonder the game journalism world is such a mess.

Wow, rereading that was pretty depressing. For a second there, I wondered why I even bother reviewing. It’s because I don’t have to deal with the same kind of pressure as the mainstream guys. I’m not getting advertising, the swag is relatively limited, I can cover more obscure stuff, and I’m not constrained by time. That way I can approach the game at a better pace, figure things out, and come up with something that isn’t a rushed, overgeneralized excuse of a review. I don’t think it’s possible to fully quantify an experience with just a numerical score. Instead of focusing on the #/10, I focus on purely persuasive writing. That’s what reviews are, after all. If I can argue my perspective well, then a number tacked on at the end isn’t needed. I’ve conveyed my idea, and it’s up to the reader to use his/her own reasoning to agree or not. I’d like to think people have enough rational thought not to be swayed by just a number, even I am disappointed constantly.

Enough about reviews. I can go into that later. When I’m not reviewing a game, there are a few old standbys that I always fall back upon. I love puzzles, so the Professor Layton series is always a pleasant distraction. I’m practically obsessed with any game that uses nonograms as well. I fell in love with Persona 4 partly due to its adherence (and accuracy) to Jungian psychology. I start up a new game of Symphony of the Night just so I can explore the castle – which is still one of the greatest works of art in gaming history – and try to find some little detail I missed the last time. Chances are, I will. Not to mention its amazing soundtrack, which I will be posting here all too soon. While Metal Gear Solid 3 is a superior game from nearly every standpoint, I have a soft spot for MGS2 and its use of postmodernism. You could teach a course on postmodernism with that game. However, the top spot on my most-replayed list is Street Fighter III: Third Strike. I’ve been playing it frequently since its online release in 2011, so much so that I’m currently the 8th ranked Chun-Li on PSN. Seriously, look me up.

Gaming aside, I usually read and/or study. I spent this summer reading through Haruki Murakami’s bibliography. I’ve been making a lot of headway with the works of Umberto Eco, David Foster Wallace, Alice Munro, Roberto Bolaño, H.P. Lovecraft, Cormac McCarthy, and Gabriel García Márquez. I also acquired all three volumes of The Graphic Canon, which is absolutely stunning in its range and style. I’m also a fan of the annual Best American Series, particularly its short story volumes. There are far, far more examples I could post, but I’d be typing this entry all night. I’ll post a full list of my list here soon (pretty sure it’s around 600 physical books by now), but I’m open to any suggestions. That goes both ways, too; given my obsession with books and criticism, my foray into literary reviews is inevitable.

When I’m not reading, I’m typically watching movies or anime. I’ll say this right off: if you want to get someone interested in anime, have them watch Cowboy Bebop. This was my generation’s introduction to the genre, and what an introduction it was. Interstellar bounty hunters, film noir, crime drama, science fiction, mystery, action, comedy, clever writing, superb voice acting…this has it all. Even if you don’t watch it, listen to the soundtrack by the legendary Yoko Kanno. Trust me. If you like something a bit more subtle in its surreality, check out Haruhi Suzumiya. A brash and self-centered high school girl wishes her life was full of adventure. What she doesn’t know is that she can warp reality, and that her friends are aliens, time travelers, and espers. What happens when someone has the power to rewrite the universe and doesn’t know it? Things get…interesting. Same goes for Death Note, which focuses on a villainous protagonist that gains the power to kill anyone with a few pen strokes, and the famous (but eccentric) detective determined to catch him. I’ve also made a point of finding Hayao Miyazaki’s films, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. On the 3D side of films, I’ve got a huge soft spot for The Shining, so much so that I can quote pretty much any scene verbatim. Same goes with Jurassic Park, The Silence of the Lambs, Apollo 13, The Thing, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

When I’m not doing all that…well, I’m trying to learn how to draw using an digital tablet. It’s really hard, because I’m much more used to brushes and paints.  I wish I was good enough of an artist to make my own web comic, like El Goonish Shive. Or even a graphic novel adaptation, like Don Quixote. I don’t have the screen presence to become the next Nostalgia Critic, but I can snark Rifftrax-style with the best of them. Nor do I have the voice (and amount of friends) needed to copy Two Best Friends Play. Oh, and you may have noticed I have a thing for LEGOs

What do you do for fun?