Late March Freewrite

Let’s get this party started. I’m currently listening to Dntel, the name of the band that the mixer from Postal Service uses for his personal stuff. It’s moody and atmospheric and simply awesome to listen to. I’m on track two, which has the repeated lyric, “How can I love you if you don’t love yourself” followed by “How can you love me if I don’t love myself” followed by “We’re not going anywhere, the sun is bright we’re standing still and it’s alright.” And it all just fits. While I first heard the song on my computer, in my office in the apartment in Bellevue, the song has become inextricably linked to a compilation I put it on. The song automagically conjures up exact mood I feel when driving through the city late, late at night, when the traffic is non-existent, and you’re just cruising, it rained earlier in the day and the pavement still has moisture around the edges, but the road itself is dry, the rain wrung from the asphalt by countless tires rolling over it. It should be dark and you shouldn’t be able to see anything, but it’s the city, with concrete canyons towering around you eternally lit in a tungsten vigil. And that’s okay, somehow, and you just cruise, like an outsider in his little rocket ship, listening to a song that says it’s alright. And it is.

The album has continued; it took me longer to write that paragraph that the song itself continues, but that doesn’t really matter. Moods and feelings can linger for far longer than the cause of those moods or feelings. We can be bitter a year later, and then look back to a lazy summer afternoon three years past and decide that it’s alright. There’s a reason for that, and I shan’t go into it. It’s unnecessary. The more times I tread on that, the more of a rut I get into, and ruts are only good for getting you mired in the muck and

It’s raining outside, with a strong wind dictating the direction each droplet falls with surprising similarity. The trees, leaves open to the air in spring green ferocity sway in the gusts, as the rain falls abruptly from the sky, then stops. From a steady, soul soothing rainfall, giant drops plummeting from clouds above, it just stops, completely. Just the wind is left, and across the road out my office window (Federal Way, this time), some of the larger leaves have flipped over to show their silver bellies to the sky, something I used to always delight in seeing as a child, because it meant a big storm was coming and soon, not more than a few hours away. The storm would bring rain and wind and sometimes lightning and thunder and would sweep everything away. Giant rivulets of rainwater would gush down the driveway, pulling the gravel with it, leaving giant ravines in the road that we would have to avoid when driving. And now it’s raining
again. A finer rain this time, more gentle.

I remember when I was seven, a huge windstorm came through town during the summer evening, and we all rushed outside. It was only 5 or 6 in the evening, but it was dark, the clouds like a ceiling blocking out sunlight. The wind was everywhere, and we scrambled to pick up various outdoor implements and put them away before the rains came, or before they were blown away. Leaves were ripped from the trees, and spun around in swirls of whirlygigs, and one got in my eye, which put me out of commission for the evening. I spent the next hour inside, blinking and running water over my eye to get the dirt out of it, but I can’t help but wonder if there was something more outside then that if I’d only stayed, would have happened. Pretentious, perhaps, but I never said I wasn’t.

There is something in those woods, the woods I grew up in. The hill is old, very old, and was at one point nearly clearcut to make way for sheep farmers. A few trees remained, however, and naturally they are the largest in the forest. They are also the most gnarled and twisted trees in the forest, and there is an absolute silence that exists near them. There is a perfect space for deer to sleep beneath one, but I’ve never seen any deersign there, in 18 years of exploring those woods. There is a cave on the edge of the property that we were told to stay away from, because my parents suspected a skunk lived inside. I’ve never approached the cave, even now, years and years later: some places are meant to be left alone. The thought of going inside that hill unnerves me. Mind you, I’ve explored caves before, gone into mines and caverns and quarries, without qualm. It’s that place, that hill that unsettles. The hill cries in several places, water oozing from exposed bedrock in the middle of the forest, even in the middle of droughts and the heat of summer, even when the frog pond at the top of the hill is nothing but clay and a puddle.

The trees grow tall by that pond, plenty of water and nutrients to nourish, obviously, but I can’t help but feel that there is something more to it than that. I’ve walked through old growth forests that felt younger than those woods. It’s like the land itself trends towards the ancient, no matter what happens on the surface. I remember walking through the woods with a walking stick, and planting it in the ground as you do with walking sticks, and hearing a hollow sound, an echoing deep hollow sound, like the entire hill was hollow. I went home and collected a shovel, but I could never find that place again. I wonder what would have happened if I had. When I was in my early teens, 12 or 13, I stayed up late to watch a concert on television, the inauguration of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a concert that started out somewhat disappointingly, but became much better as it went along and the musicians and technicians got more comfortable. It finished around 4:30 in the morning, and I crept up to bed, stopping to go pee, but not bothering to turn on a light. As I stood there, I looked out the window towards the backyard, and there in the middle of it, maybe a dozen feet from the swingset, was something. Like a woman but not. She glowed phosphorescently, and the image of her wafted, like a piece of cloth in front of a fan, except it was the entire image, the entire person who shifted so. I went to my room and looked out my bedroom window, but there was nothing there. It was already gone, in the 10 seconds it took me to walk from the bathroom to my bed, and I still wonder some evenings what would have happened if I’d walked out to it. Yes, there is definitely something in those woods. As for whether it is good, or evil, both completely useless terms in their binary exclusionism, is anyone’s guess. My father, is inclined to feel that it is evil, or at the very least “ungood”, but I lean more towards neutral or at least moderately benevolent. We agree completely, however that it is ancient, and is beyond mankind’s current idea of reality. Shakespeare had it right: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

As for why I think it’s benevolent or neutral, the simple matter of it is that I have done some incredibly stupid things in those woods, jumping off ledges, sprinting through dense thickets of trees with no idea what was coming up, barefoot, just things that probably should have had repercussions, but didn’t. The extent of injuries I ever received in those woods were grime in the eyes and a goose egg on my forehead from breaking branches with a metal pipe and having the pipe rebound on me one time. I mean hell, I used to push dead trees over, and then run out of the way in case they started to fall in a different direction. My brother and I used to hide under the ledge that the snowplow would push the snowbanks over, and then struggle to climb out. These are not things that smart people do. But we were kids, and thus immortal in our own minds. All the same, I do think there was something watching out for us.

Returning to the rain, there are flecks of sunlight hitting the trees across the road, and I see flecks of blue among the clouds. All the same, I suspect it will be raining again before too long. This is fine with me. There is something really rewarding about these days, the days where it rains and yet is sunny, and the wind blows and it’s 50 degrees and that’s okay because you’re in a jacket or sweater and simply appreciate the wind and the rain and the sun and the visceral experience of weather. The sudden glowing radiance of light when the sun peeks between the clouds and illuminates the tree whose leaves were barely buds a week prior, glowing this lime emerald green.

I just got back inside from puppy wrangling and eating some goldfish (cheddar flavor, we buy it in a vast carton that lasts for weeks). Freya peed outside, and came trotting inside, so I fed her, then fixed myself the snack of goldfish, and ate them while chatting with my brother and both of my parents. Dad sent me a link to a humorous 404 File Not Found page, which treats the Apache server as a variant of Marvin from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Definitely cute. With mom, I chatted about getting distracted by looking up a court case for someone, involving a lawsuit between Sony and Immersion. You see back in 1998-1999, Sony came out with their “Dual Shock” controllers, which have two analog control sticks and a force feedback system using tiny motors inside the controller. The problem here is that Immersion patented that exact technology back in 1995. They sued, and the case has finally completed, in favor of Immersion. Sony has to pay 86 million to Immersion in damages, and will be hard pressed to convince Immersion to let them use the technology for the upcoming Playstation 3. ($14 million in legal fees will do that.) The forums and geek sites are of course in an uproar, mostly involving blithering idiots screaming “I’m gonna burn Immersion’s offices down if I can’t use dualshock on the PS3!!!!111!!1” followed by a smaller minority of at least moderately intelligent responders saying “Dude, it’s called Intellectual Property. They were well within their rights. Read the fucking documents.” I err on the side of the IP people. Big companies are not inherently evil, but they’re big enough that the little evil shit people do adds up. Even if they get called on it, they’ll tie up the court case in an attempt to drain the legal funds of the opposition dry: not hard when your a multinational multibillion dollar company. Winning through outlasting instead of through being right. And that’s just plain WRONG. So, fuck Sony. For that matter, fuck Nintendo and Microsoft too, for their bullshit new next-generation systems that by their own admission is going to completely strangle any sort of innovation in video games that is left. As recently as 5 years ago, a high end AAA game cost roughly $200,000 to make. Currently, the average budget is over a million dollars, and some are creeping into the 10s and 20s. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all stated at the 2005 GDC proceedings that their new systems will likely require teams and budgets triple OR MORE than what they are now. The only people with the money to develop in that arena are the publishers, but is simultaneously a large enough amount of money that they will maintain strict control over what is made, leaving the developers themselves as essentially automatons, drones doing what the masters say. Which is an absurd situation for the industry to be in, if you think about it. The gaming industry more than any other that immediately comes to mind is populated by people who do it for a genuine love of games. It’s virtually a requirement to get into the industry; if you’re in it for the money, you won’t last long, statistically speaking. Suddenly, we are no longer able to exert any creative control over what we create, we’re no longer truly creating games. Love of games no longer enters into it, and the only way to survive in that sort of situation is to hide yourself in the paycheck. Anything else is simply heartbreaking. And yet, a paycheck isn’t enough for the hours the game industry currently demands. You don’t work a 70 hour week for a 40 hour a week paycheck without any compensation if you don’t LOVE WHAT YOU DO. The industry is shooting itself in the foot, and several designers are abundantly aware of it. We need a new distribution model, and we need to start thinking of methods to continue to push things forward without breaking the budget. There are some good ideas being tossed around, but there’s no real solution yet.

We need to rethink the gaming paradigm. The design principles of the first computer game (Spacewar, on a PDP1 back in the 60s) were threefold:
1) It should demonstrate as many of the computer’s resources as possible, and tax those resources to the limit;
2) Within a consistent framework, it should be interesting, which means every run should be different;
3) It should involve the onlooker in a pleasurable and active way — it short, it should be a game.
If you think about these basic design principles, they are the basis for the entire game industry to date. It is an automatic assumption that the game must continue to evolve visually, to push the limits of the system it is placed on. This first principle has become so much a part of the game design philosophy that it has reversed the development cycle: hardware now plays catchup to the games. We talk about the need for innovation in games lest we stagnate and die, and but I think the problem is much larger and more fundamental than the way we PLAY games. We need to innovate the way that we THINK about games. We need to examine whether that first design principle is truly necessary, or perhaps even detrimental to the advancement of the industry. We’ve grown exponentially, we’ve become bloated, and now it is time to go back and get fit. There are more ways to enhance and advance than just the content. We need easier methods to create that content, and we need to spend less time worrying about maximizing the hardware capabilities. Does it really matter? Will anyone really care if an RPG on the PS3 looks no better than Tekken Tag Tournament on the PS2? That’s well within reasonable expectations, and frankly, it’s enough. With movies and music successfully presenting a minimalist presentation (hand-held camerawork, less polished and more raw work, ala White Stripes, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), is it really that alien a concept to apply those principles to games? How is it that so many companies are putting out collections of their “classics” in order to cash in on the retro gaming movement, and yet they completely miss the point that there is more to the interest in retro gaming than just wanting to play games from their childhood? While that certainly is an element, there is a whole other aspect to this: games were simpler then, in every way. That does not mean they were easier (far from it, many older games are harder than their modern counterparts). It means there was a fundamental simplicity to the interface (both visual interface and game interface), regardless of the reasons for it (limited technology for instance). How novel it would be to have a minimalist interface in a modern game! A situation where everything is easily readable and abundantly clear, and where within 30 seconds of picking up a controller and trying out buttons, you know what everything does. This is feasible: modern systems have MORE functionality than the older systems, not less, and as such, it stands to reason that what worked before could work now. Advancement does not equal complication, damnit.

Listening to the Eels at the moment. “Write ‘I am okay’ one hundred times, the doctors say. I am okay. I am okay. I am okay. I’m not okay.” It’s a great album, a great band for that matter, but kind of depressing. They’re what Emo would be if the fuckers were ACTUALLY depressed, and not just angsting. Even their upbeat songs (“Last Stop this Town”, “Goddamn Right it’s a beautiful day”) are fucking depressing if you actually listen to the lyrics. But that’s okay. It’s kind of nice to deposit your depression into a song and sing along with it and appreciate it. It lets you grok the depression, and yourself, and come out of it all in a sort of catharsis, a connection (real or imaginary) with someone else, the person who wrote it, the people who performed it, the other people who listen to it and appreciate and grok it. Shared pain is lessened, after all. (And shared joy is increased.)

I just watched the new Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trailer, the third trailer for it if you include the original teaser trailer. It was delightful fun, done in a style as if the trailer was in fact an entry in the Guide, under “movie trailers”. It was very tongue in cheek, and I’m actually beginning to really look forward to seeing the movie. I’d previously been dreading it a bit, especially after the complete lack of actual footage for so long. It didn’t bode well, to say the least. But now that I’ve seen actual footage, I think it really could be a good deal of fun.

Listening to Fatboy Slim at the moment. I dunno why I decided to go with Fatboy Slim, it’s quite a bit unlike what I’ve been listening to up to now, but whatever. Fatboy Slim is good. It’s currently playing “Better Living Through Chemistry” (the album), which I picked up from Pelsor when he was living with us in Bellevue. From there, it will be migrating to Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars, followed by You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, despite the fact that those two should probably be reversed if I wanted to get a feel for the evolution of the music. Honestly, I don’t really care. They’re both good albums, and I actually picked up Halfway well before I picked up You’ve Come. His style is very mainstream/tradition techno, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it is interesting to return to after listening to mostly trance, ambient, and triphop. I think of the styles I just listed, I’d say I prefer triphop. Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack, stuff like that. I also enjoy tossing in Moby every once in a while. I used to listen to Moby far more often before my music collection really grew… I guess I just don’t get to the Ms very often anymore. It’s kind of too bad, I have a lot of good memories of listening to Play while driving across the country (I bought Play when it first came out, so we’re talking 1998-99), and a lot of the good times with Alison (I’ll admit it, there were good times), because we both liked it. And then when 18 came out, I picked that up, and met Mickey shortly after. 18 was playing in my Legacy as I was driving around in Pennsylvania with her at Ethan and Cortney’s wedding. So I suppose there is an emotional connection with these albums in addition to simple appreciation. All the more curious that I haven’t listened to either in so long.

What have I been listening to instead? Compilations, almost entirely. ADP volume 1, Uri volume 3, both excellent compilations in my opinion, with a good breadth of music on them that I’m glad I selected. But there is so much more in my music collection that I haven’t listened to in ages. When was the last time I listened to Smashing Pumpkins? Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is a fucking brilliant album, and I don’t think I’ve listened to it more than once in the past year, possibly longer. As I said before, Moby. Portishead. Oysterhead I lost two moves ago. Even my massive collection of King Crimson doesn’t get listened to all that often, and I think they’re the cat’s meow. I don’t even know what I have anymore; I think I would be honestly surprised to browse through my music collection at this point. The physical one, the shelves of CDs downstairs in the den, beneath the DVDs. So much I just don’t listen to not because I don’t like it, but because I don’t remember that I have it. It has passed outside the purview of my attention so much that even if it’s precisely the music I may be craving, it doesn’t occur to me. That sucks. And just listening through my iTunes library doesn’t do it. 37 days of music simply takes too long, that’s 3 months listening 8 hours a day to get through the collection, and covers too many styles and songs to have any cohesive feeling for what song is which, or even which artist is which.

I think it’s time to start repopulating my cd case with albums, and listening to complete albums again when driving around. I drive north to Seattle often enough (usually twice a week, sometimes more, sometimes less) that I have time to get through a complete 40-60 minute album in the course of the drive. Assuming it’s just an errand, there and back, that’s two full listens to an album in any given day, and that’s not even including any driving I might do while up there. I really am starting to realize that I miss hearing full albums, and my older music. There’s a lot to be said for it, as much as I appreciate and enjoy the newer additions to my collection. But just the simple meditation of me, my car, and an album for extended periods is something I really really enjoy, it’s like a spiritual recharge, and I end up appreciating what I’m listening to more that way than simply listening to it at home or on the computer. It becomes peripheral there instead of the central role it plays in the car, like another person. That may be something I picked up when I started going on long drives, driving 4 hours to Rhode Island, driving 2 hours to visit my cousins, driving an hour and a quarter to Squam for the hell of it and then back, driving an hour and a half to visit Uri and Eli and Dave and the frat up in Burlington, spending 3 months alone, driving across the country with no goal other than to explore and appreciate the world around me (and thus, explore and appreciate myself). 6 to 12 hours a day with nothing but myself and my music, in a late 80s minivan. You do a hell of a lot of thinking in that situation, for better or worse. I drove to the Florida Keys, twice, in about two days each time. You just sort of GO. The first time, we didn’t even have music; Uri and Eli and myself, in that same van, whose radio/tape player had broken in such a fashion that we couldn’t listen to anything. We talked for part of it, and after a while, Uri just started breaking into song and dancing around in his seat, and we realized that we were all going a little starkers, and prayed to god that we’d get the radio working in time for the return trip. Eli got a speeding ticket that trip, in Pennsylvania, after we stopped and stayed with Tim in western Virginia (Eastern Mennonite University), coming back north after camping in Bahia Honda Key just north of Key West (and just south of Marathon). The second trip included Dave, and we took two cars, since both Eli and I had upgraded our vehicles in the intervening year to Subarus. It was also a good trip, though a bit more disjointed than before, and included possibly the fastest trip through North Carolina I’d ever done. Eli decided to pace this tricked out Camero that was doing 120 up the interstate, and I sped up to around 110 to follow suit (this isn’t fear of tickets, this is knowing your limits as a driver. I don’t feel comfortable driving over 100mph). I think we did the entire state in about an hour. It’s not something I would do again, nor do I think Eli would be quite so insane to do that again either; we’ve both matured and stabilized at least a little bit.

So, believe it or not, the rain appears to have cleared out for now. It will probably be back tomorrow, but for now, there’s just a few tufts of cloud in the sky, and the trees out the window are bathed in golden afternoon sun. It’s quite lovely and vibrant and alive, and that’s a great experience. I’ve wrangled the puppy several times since I started writing this, which has definitely eaten into my time. Also, I’ve done a load of dishes and brought in the trash and recycling bins, along with the mail. I need to unload the dishwasher and start another load (it’s been a while) shortly, but we’ll see how much more writing I get done before that happens. For the record, I started writing around noon, and it is currently 5:25pm, same day. I’ve also taken an hour and a half to eat, and many many 15 minute breaks to take the dog out or get chores done. So that in mind, despite this really just being a running commentary of my mind and my thoughts on things both esoteric and scattered, I’m feeling pretty good for being on page 16. I have no idea what I’ll be writing about the next few days, though. It’s quite a hurdle to write 20 pages A DAY, if you think about it. It’s a workout, and that’s good. It’s something that needs to happen if I ever plan to write professionally, I need to get the writing muscles, mostly mental, ready for that process. And fast. I’m sick of feeling like I’m up against a wall, and in six short months, I have to enter the working world and all the bullshit that accompanies it. I’m sick of feeling like if I don’t get my act together in the next six months, I’m going to end up in a shit job and be miserable for the rest of my life. It’s all true, mind you, but it’s still a pretty shitty and counterproductive feeling to have. I should instead focus on enjoying these six months and really diving into my subject wholeheartedly. Stop worrying about the future and start living in the present, damnit.

Which brings about the question of what I want to do. I’m so scattered that I’m not sure if I can honestly answer that question. I love games, and want to create games. MY games. Story driven turn based games. To do this, I need to get a smattering of understanding of design principles, art, writing, and probably some programming. I then need to likely start my own development company, which involves capital I don’t have, which means getting a job elsewhere and doing something else for a while until I’m in a position I can do that. Take two: I love writing, and want to write stories and articles. I want to write comics and movies and novels and short stories, and be published and do that as my full time job. To do this, I need to start writing at least 10 if not these 20 pages every day, and SIGNIFICANTLY refine my writing ability, because right now I still write in sketches rather than full images. This involves finding a different job and working there while writing in the evenings for several years, until my abilities are at a point I can get published consistently. Take three: I love art, and would love to create art in various forms, paintings, sculpture, photography, fine art work. To do this I need to find a different job and start drawing for several hours a day, every day, plus possibly extra coursework, until I’m at a point that I can adequately depict what I want to depict, in an aesthetically pleasing and salable fashion.

So, the top three things I want to do for a living are all outside my reach. It’s a pretty upsetting realization, partly because it makes me feel like I just wasted 5 years and $150,000 of my life. At the end of it all, I’ll have a piece of paper that won’t mean squat to the jobs I’m trying to get. Unless I really bust some shit out in the next six months, it won’t mean anything to ME, either, and that’s a pretty shitty feeling.

I’m on the last song of Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars by Fatboy Slim at the moment, which is called Song for Shelter. It’s a great song. I really really dig it, and have since I first heard it. It’s a raver anthem. It talks about things like: “How on earth are you supposed to vibe around the fake ones, the ones who say they know what is what, but don’t know what is what, what the fuck” “I just get deeper and deeper and deeper into this vibe and pretend that they’re not there.” I think the reason I like the song so much is the pure passion in it. This isn’t the most well spoken person, far from it, but they are PASSIONATE about what they’re doing. They love to dance, they love house parties, and the experience redeems any negatives that might occur. It’s a beautiful thing. There’s this purity there, no bullshit. It’s you and the music and others and the music, and this glorious universal sharing, this communication on a cosmic physical level, the whole room jumping at once and smiling and laughing and it’s just beautiful. I’ve been to two raves in my life, and while the second one had some politics, the first one was just that, a beautiful thing, dancing the entire night through, until 6am, your feet sore and loving every fucking second of that pain, and at the end, the end of dancing until your lungs are on fire and your legs are coated in acid and cheering when that song you love comes on and you dance again even when you thought you had nothing left to give, when that’s all over, and the morning air hits your lungs for the first time, you go to some diner, or Denny’s, or hell, even McDonalds, and you order food and take a bite into it and nothing has tasted so good in your whole life. THAT is beautiful. That’s why I like Song for Shelter.

And now it’s a new album. Well, an old album, older in fact than the album I just listened to, but newer to me, and occurring in the immediacy of this moment and thus, new. Reborn every second of our lives.

On the subject of beauty. There’s a lot to it, a lot more than traditional or nontraditional beauty, there’s more to it than simply aesthetics and traits, visual or internal. There is the pure visceral EXPERIENCE of beauty. The first day in fall when the sun is shining and the leaves are falling and the wind blows steadily from the west, sending wind elementals skittering across the street, tossing dried leaves between them, an elaborate game of catch. The scene is beautiful, but can just as easily be seen as a blustery windy day in autumn, best be careful on the interstate, wind gusts are supposed to get up to 50. It’s not the scene, it’s the experience of the scene that is beautiful. It is the act of existing within the universe and appreciating that specific moment, grokking the connection between the viewer and the viewed, appreciating your role with every fiber of your being. The experience of beauty. Plucking an apple from a tree in the morning, and climbing a mountain, pulling it out of your knapsack at the summit, the world spreading out in every direction and taking a bite, the juices inside exploding in your mouth. The flavors are richer, the nuances more subtle, there is nothing that tastes quite like it. It’s all in your head, of course; the change in elevation is not significant enough to actually have a measurable impact on the apple’s composition, but that doesn’t matter. The experience of bringing that apple to what is, in essence, the top of the world, and taking that first bite, it’s beautiful. Made up of many worthwhile parts, nothing is as beautiful as the experience. Sitting on the dock at Squam, eating extra rich blueberry pie as a light breeze wafts across the water. It’s noon, and you’ve already been swimming once that day, and will be swimming again shortly after finishing that slice of pie, and the day is just about as idyllic as is possible, and you remember browsing over the point for blueberries, and collecting enough to make that pie, and when it’s done, it’s rich and delicious and exactly what a blueberry pie should be. It is a quintessential blueberry pie, unrepeatable and enjoyed with every bite. The components are beautiful, but the experience outstrips it easily.

It was a sobering and depressing realization when I was younger that others don’t feel that way. I would feel so endeared to people when I was able to share these beautiful moments with them, these treasures. I was so quick to love, through sharing these moments, and that love was never returned, and that was isolating. No one “got it”. Shel Silverstein got it though. He wrote a poem called Hector the Collector, about a boy who collected little doodads and bits of trash and called out to people to share his treasure and they looked it and called it junk. That pretty much sums up how I felt and feel about my younger years, and to a lesser extent now. The difference now is 3 years old, on a summer afternoon, a cousin playing banjo in the background and sharing the beauty of an experience with a girl, and having her share that experience. I can’t quantify how important that is to me, I can’t explain that connection, and frankly I don’t want to. It simply IS, and that’s that. Things get rough, and trust is broken and rebuilt, over time, and we’re still going strong. I suppose that’s what love is, to some extent: the willingness to share the experience with someone else. Hah, getting all mushy, in my final few lines. Ah well, page 20, I’ll pick up again tomorrow.

I was going to write about other things, but at the moment, I’m listening to a conversation on the other side of the coffee house about how we’ve fucked over Mexicans and the complete stupidity of people. It’s interesting, because they’re hardcore urbanite liberals. Nothing wrong with that; I’m pretty liberal myself. It’s just funny, because they speaking liberally, their opinions are generally attached to the liberal viewpoint, but they’re acting just as judgemental as the conservative assholes they decry. I suppose I should expect it, people are people after all, but it’s just sort of disappointing.

Uri is reading about witchcraft next to me, and the conversation on the other end has just wound down, one guy finally heading out and a new person now standing at the counter, simply ordering, no extra conversation. The sky outside is a mosaic of blue and clouds, and the sun blurs the edges between the two in glowing light. There’s a tree outside that has white blossoms hanging heavily from the branches, mixed with green leaves. I don’t know what kind of tree it actually is, and I don’t care. It’s beautiful and shimmers as the light shines through it and the leaves blow in the breeze. It’s a lotus tree, even if it isn’t really. The essence is there, the idea of sitting beneath it in a bucolic other world, reading a book as sheep graze in the fields further down the hill. Achievement of nirvana (though that would be a Boddah Tree, technically; the tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment). If you really think about it, nirvana and enlightenment is, ultimately, learning to truly let go and be at peace with yourself and the universe.

Cafe Coccinella, which is the name of this coffee house that I tend to come to and am at now, is an interesting space. It was originally much smaller (well before I began coming), and has expanded into a sideways ‘h’ of sorts; Uri and I are sitting at the top of the h, on a leather couch that faces the bottom of the h, where the counter is. If I stood up and walked towards the counter and then took a right, it would open out into the “leg” of the h, where there are more chairs and tables and couches. The coffee house is an afterthought to the building, the pet project of the dentist office next door, from what I understand (I may be wrong). It’s run by Baha’is, which doesn’t really have any relation to why I come here, at least consciously. I’m just comfortable here, moreso than other places I’ve gone which tend to have a more commercial feel to them. Those other places are less welcoming. Here, they honestly don’t mind if I sit and order a coffee and nurse it for hours while I write and take up space. I’ve spoken with the owner, and know this is true, not just an assumption. They have free wireless access, and want to encourage the atmosphere of it being a place you can hang out or get work done. He started it because he and his friends realized that there weren’t really any “cool” coffee houses like it on the Eastside, which I can corroborate from my time living here. That’s all, that’s the reason for it: to be a cool place to hang out without having to haul ass to Seattle. That’s a pretty awesome reason, in my opinion, and I hope that sentiment proves to be successful. It’s the sort of thing that needs to be successful. Any example of business being successful without succumbing to corporate mentality is good, and worth supporting. That’s still not why I come here with the regularity I do, even now that I live an hour away. It’s all about comfort. It’s all about the lack of presumption and pretension, you do what you do and no one is going to give you shit about it.

Soul sickness. I don’t really know why I wrote that, but I felt it was important, those two words. We keep on looking at physical or mental illness, we look at the physical effects of disease and disorder. It’s Lyme Disease. It’s a bad heart. It’s depression. These are quantifiable things, these are observable and declarative, definable. But there’s more to it than that. There’s a sickness that isn’t definable, that doesn’t declare itself in the observable world, but it’s there. The soul, the spirit that defines us as individuals, that is what gets sick in this case. It hinders our energy, our motivation, our imagination, our self worth. It manifests itself in the real world as other problems, which can be treated, but it doesn’t treat the soul. Science brushes it off as the purview of religion, and yet we are disillusioned with religion. The soul remains sick. That’s what needs fixing. That is what needs help. By we, of course, I mean I. My soul isn’t lost, it’s just not well.

What happens when a God’s soul becomes ill? Are we not like Gods ourselves? I talked about that with Uri over AIM a while ago, that I genuinely feel that we have within ourselves a Godlike self, one that has become trapped and blocked by our bodies and the world around us. We have untapped and untold potential within us, and every once in a while it exerts itself and the truth becomes apparent, and then our self image and our confidence and our fears re-exert themselves, and we become locked away again. This needs to change. We need to reconnect with the world, and our inner selves, our inner Gods, and become who we should be. Face our destiny, our fate, and become our true selves. Bounding through the forest, leaping up mountainsides, these are things that we CAN do, if we just allow ourselves to do so.

Essay: Realistic Art versus Fantasy

Over the course of the past semester, I have been attempting to learn to draw, with the longer-term goal of character design. This dual intent (learning the elements of figure drawing in general, and learning to create unique imaginary characters) has created an interesting juxtaposition of styles, namely that of the fantasy character, and realistic figure drawing. They are distinctly different in nature, while retaining many similarties. In fact, one (fantasy) builds upon the other (realism).

Because we dwell within the world, the world is inherently subjective in nature. There is a certain amount of distortion to what we see that is dictated by our vision, our mood, and our perspective of a given situation. To draw or paint realistically is to objectively draw a subjective world. There is a lot to be said for this stylistic choice, not the least of which is that it allows for an understanding of shape, form, and proportion that can be applied to any form.

Conversely, fantasy art is a bit more amorphous, it is not itself strictly a style so much as a parent genre which contains multiple styles. The shared definition of all these styles, however, is that they acknowledge the subjective nature of what we see, and consciously work to extend that subjectivity. From there, the definitions fragment, some choosing to create an idealized version of the world (traditional comic book style, proportionally slightly larger than “realistic proportions”, perfect body types), others choosing to modify or enhance basic structure (anime or manga style comes immediately to mind, characterized by big eyes, small mouth, proportionally smaller than “realistic proportions”).

When you consider these two working definitions, it becomes readily apparent that fantasy art has grown out of realism. What it comes down to is that the most effective way to break any rule is to have a firm grasp of the rule in the first place. While it is certainly not the only way to learn, there is a great deal to be said for learning the rules of human proportion and form if only so you know how to break them, while keeping the figure reasonable. That is to say nothing of universal aspects of figure drawing (realistic or fantasy), such as foreshortening, shading, and perspective.

I say these are universal, because regardless of style, the goal of creating a character is to make it believable and “real” in the eyes of the viewer. The human mind is happily willing to accept a fantasy creation, as long as there is nothing jarring it from what it normally expects from the eye: depth, and perspective. If the drawing lacks appropriate shading or foreshortening, the image will lack texture, it will lack depth, instead appearing flat. Perspective sets the stage for the viewer, gives the image a sense of place (even if that place is nothing more than the paper it sits on), and without it, again the image is flat and unbelievable.

In Non-Photorealistic Computer Graphics, the author briefly discusses this concept, and why realistic graphics have advanced so much more quickly and completely than non-photorealistic graphics (stippling, for example). Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that because of the nature of realistic graphics, we are able to quantify the process in such a way that is easily understandable to a computer. Non-photorealistic graphics lag behind in this because beyond these key concepts, it is extremely hard to quantify what elements are needed to generate an image using a computer that is believable to the eye. Interestingly, the mind retains more data looking at abstracted (non-photorealistic) images than it does looking at realistic images, which is indicative of the willingness of the mind to accept an idea that is not necessarily realistic.

Of course, discussing the mind’s willingness to accept a fantastic creature or environment is not to say that the mind is immersed in the world to the point of being unable to distinguish it from the real world. More the opposite: the mind is able to acknowledge the fantasy while allowing for an emotional distancing not available in realism. A perfect example of this would be Looney Tunes. Bugs bunny is by no means mistakable for a real rabbit, or a real person for that matter. He does dastardly things to Elmer Fudd, things that we would never condone in the real world. Cartoons are able to be blown up, shot, crushed, flung through the air, mangled, and in some cases killed, without impacting us in the way that such events happening in a realistic painting would. Yet, we still are able to laugh and cry with the antics of these fantasy creatures. This fantasy world, this abstraction, allows us to distance ourselves from these acts, while still allowing us to identify and emotionally respond to the “art”. Even small children are able to make this abstraction — even if they don’t realize that Bugs and Daffy don’t really exist, they are still aware that they are “different”, and able to do things normal people can’t.

The more real the style, the less the mind will abstract the art. Anime is moderately realistic, and is often accused of being too violent for minors. Gainax Productions created an anime television series called Neon Genesis Evangelion back in the 1990s, which ends in a fashion that still makes me feel uneasy and ill in a way that even live footage of atrocities don’t make me feel. They spent the entire series putting the characters in situations that test them physically and psychologically, showing their frailties and humanity, endearing them to you… and then systematically kill each one in a brutal manner. In some ways it is made more disturbing by the fact that it IS animated in a near-realistic style, because it keeps it from being truly abstracted, yet still separate enough to keep you from thinking they are real. You would think that would make it less disturbing when they die, but in fact it’s the opposite: as each is killed, you can’t help but think in the back of your head, “but they’re not real, and why bother killing them if they aren’t real? It’s a fantasy world, they did their job, they should be able to at least live, even if not necessarily happily ever after!”

Moving on from the psychology of fantasy art versus realistic art, lets look at a few different examples of fantasy art, and how they are influenced by realistic art. A good example of taking the principles of realistic drawing and applying it to a fantasy setting is the work by Yoshitaka Amano, such as his work in The Dream Hunters. His work is a combination of anime and realistic proportions placed in fantastic situations, plus a sketchy, flowing, personal style that gives a unique flavor to his work. His sense of proportion is clearly drawn out of traditional realistic figure drawing, with the hands, and bodies being well formed and realistic. The eyes and face is more akin to an anime style (small mouth, larger eyes), and the hair, clothing, and environments are wildly varied. If I were to simplify his style into some generalizations, bodies (human or otherwise) tend to be more concrete, with strong definition. The environment varies on the piece, depending on whether the environment could be considered an entity in the piece or not. Everything else, including the clothing on the figures, is secondary and drawn in a wispy, ethereal manner. The nature of it being a piece of fantasy is established with every stroke.

As a juxtaposition, Alex Ross also does comic illustration, but in a photorealistic style. His work is exquisitely detailed, and gives a sense of reality to comic book heroes like Superman (Kingdom Come), or Captain America (Earth X). In the graphic novel Kingdom Come, Ross documented his process at the end of the book, which was fascinating to learn about. What is particularly interesting about this style given the medium is that you are talking about perfect beings given realistic flesh, which establishes fantasy through the idea of perfect beings. A particularly striking image introduces chapter 2 of Kingdom Come, involving row upon row of superbeings, and standing amongst them is a comparatively frail old man, a simple preacher who is the central point of view of the story. (Coincidentally, the preacher is modeled after Alex’s father, also a preacher.) This contrast establishes the fantasy, even in a realistic style.

This does pose the question of where, exactly, the line between fantasy and realism occurs, if artists can use realism to create fantasy? It has been argued that Albert Bierstadt, who painted a variety of gorgeous landscapes in the west, had distorted reality to make the landscape even more grandiose. If so, would that qualify as fantasy art? And if that is the case, then really any painting becomes circumspect as not being truly “realistic”. Ultimately, I think it comes down to two things: the medium, and the creation. The medium (the style and materials) serves as an initial (and most obvious) method to determine the nature of whether it is meant as a realistic depiction of a person, place, object, or event. The secondary assessment comes from the content of the painting itself. Alex Ross draws in a realistic style, but it is fantasy art because he is drawing beings flying through the air, lifting cars over their heads, and shooting rays out of their eyes. (If these events ever do start happening in real life, I suppose we will have to reassess this.) Bierstadt, on the other hand, painted realistically, but used “objective” means to reach his slightly exaggerated conclusions, such as shifted viewpoints and skewed perspectives.

Bierstadt is by no means the only one. In John Updike’s collection of critiques, Just Looking: Essays on Art, he discusses the same use of shifted viewpoints in Vermeer’s work, View of Delft: “Many of the buildings still stand, and it can be seen that Vermeer moved them about for aesthetic effect.” (Updike 24) That Vermeer, an artist widely considered to be one of the most precise and talented painters of his day, would perform these shifts and exaggerations, and no one argues his work as a “fantasy” reinforces the belief that exaggeration or alteration can still be a part of realism, so long as it is applied as an objective view.

Given what I’ve brought up thus far, namely that fantasy versus realism is objectivity versus subjectivity, and that the line between fantasy and realism can be blurred or even broken in both directions, really there is one more key distinction to discuss: the role of imagination and creativity in realistic and fantastic art.

There is a great deal more to art than just technique, even in situations where you are simply “recording what you see.” The act of seeing is what makes the world subjective, no matter how objectively you may try to view it. It is our creativity and our imagination that allows us to choose the viewpoint, the pose, and the focus of the piece. Our personality, our creative impulses, contributes to the mood and atmosphere of the piece. For example, in John Singer Sargent’s piece, The Daughters of Edward D. Boit, the expressions on each child’s face is clearly influenced by both the act of having to pose for a painting, as well as the actions of the painter.

This creative influence is magnified in fantasy works. Where the realist might draw a stump in a forest, a fantasy artist might extrapolate on that stump, letting their imagination run wild. Perhaps the stump is home to a gnome, or faeries? Perhaps this stump is all that is left of a mighty forest that once towered into the clouds? We have no way of knowing, which frees the artist to create their own fantasy, without a single concern about whether it is objectively feasible. (The trees and towns and creatures of Dr. Seuss immediately come to mind.)

Ultimately, the only true separation of fantasy and reality is in the eye of the beholder. The artist can have every intent for his work to be treated in a particular fashion, but if the people who view his art disagree, who is to say that one is more correct than the other? If the artist intended it to be a mystical fantasy realm, and someone comes along and says “Hey, you really managed to capture the feel of Morocco quite well. Were you out in a boat to get that perspective?” Who is to say that one is any less true than the other? More often, the reverse is true, where an artist objectively and realistic depicts a location, person, or event, and is then accused of having made it up. As has been said in the past, “One man’s fantasy is another man’s reality.” Both are equally valid when it comes to art.

Sources Cited:
Gaiman, Neil; Amano, Yoshitaka. The Sandman: The Dream Hunters. New York: DC Comics, 1999.
Krueger, Jim; Ross, Alex; et al. Earth X. New York: Marvel Comics, 2002.
Strothotte, Thomas; Schlechtweg, Stefan. Non-Photorealistic Computer Graphics. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufman, 2002.
Updike, John. Just Looking: Essays on Art. Boston: MFA Publications, 2000.
Waid, Mark; Ross, Alex. Kingdom Come. New York: DC Comics, 1997.

Essay: Faith vs Religion: My Personal Exploration of Spirituality and the Baha’i Faith.

During my recent residency at Vermont College, a friend told me a metaphor for religion that bears repeating: “Religion is like a supermarket. We enter with needs and wants, and we go through filling our basket with these things. But we do not have to buy everything in the store.” I found this anecdote particularly relevant to my own search for spirituality. It sums up my philosophy on organized religion remarkably well.

I was born and raised as a Baha’i. In fact, my namesake was a writer who chronicled the early days of the Baha’i Faith (a hefty tome called The Dawnbreakers). The basis of the religion is that Baha’u’llah is the most recent messenger of God, one of a long line that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ, and Muhammad. The Baha’i Faith’s core beliefs revolve around the concept of world unity and equality.

All in all, those seem to be a pretty solid groundwork to base a religion on. It stands to reason that since humanity continues to grow and mature, the Word of God must be updated from time to time. This is further obviated by man’s fallible nature: considering the known level of corruption that has existed in the seat of power of various religions in the past, it is not outside the realm of possibility that the original message is not nearly as pure as it once was. And as for the principles for a religion to teach, compassion and equality are really rather high on the list of ideals I’d like to see encouraged.

I was one of four Baha’i children in my school district (two families: my brother and I, and the other family had two girls). Growing up, I always looked forward to Baha’i holy days, because it meant that I had an excused absence from school on those days, which our community would often do interesting things for (one holy day that happens in October, we would hike a mountain each year and say prayers at the top, things like that). Really, it was a rather nice religion to be raised a part of. That said, at this point in my life, I am really more of a “lapsed Baha’i” than anything else.

There are reasons for this. At the surface, there is the frustration in being part of a minority, and regularly having to explain what the religion is about. Also, there was the frustration of school functions which were largely christian in nature (and let’s not forget the mandatory “non-denominational” services with the Boy Scouts). These frustrations weren’t exactly conducive to following your own beliefs.

On a more personal level, the religion itself pushed me away. While I like what the Faith teaches, the great majority of Baha’is I’ve met were well meaning, very nice, intelligent, and FLUFFY, for lack of a better term. When I say “fluffy”, I mean that it feels like they are “born-again”, and are trying to be EXTRA loving and religious in order to make up for lost time. I don’t think this make them bad people, but it does make me uncomfortable at some fundamental level. I feel that while we should always strive for excellence, we must also balance that with moderation: anything taken to an extreme, including religion, isn’t healthy. Please also note that I am making a distinction between religion, and faith. It is an important distinction, and really the crux of what I’m talking about.

I believe in Baha’u’llah. I believe in God or at least some sort of higher power that may as well be called such. Also, I like what the Baha’i Faith teaches as a basis for religion, but it is the religion (and really all others I’ve run into) that I am bothered with. I am an introvert and a generally private individual (this paper, itself, has taken a great deal of tooth-pulling to even write), and find myself somewhat irritated that others try to foist their take on what is at its core a personal relationship with one’s connection to the universe, for the sake of organization. We as a society busy ourselves by meddling in the personal lives of our neighbors rather than realizing that it is not our place to judge the actions of others. This is the difference between faith and religion: faith is by its nature private, it is the communion between god and yourself. Faith is the contemplation and belief in certain things (whether it is the nature of the universe, or guidelines for better living in the here and now). Religion is taking faith and making it a spectacle. It compartmentalizes and socializes belief, so that instead of gleaning your own conclusions (going back to the supermarket metaphor, buying the things on YOUR list), you are told what you should believe (everyone receives the same “rations”).

And instead of realizing this and doing my own thing and not worrying about the rest, thus living a fuller, richer spiritual life, I get worked up about it. I spend my energy railing about how frustrating and disillusioning organized religion is in an age of distributed communication and knowledge, where it is easy to find the holes and flaws in any religion. Of course there are flaws in religion. They’re made by man. We’re not perfect. That doesn’t mean the principles of and the basis for the religion is wrong.

What I’m saying is that there should be more effort made to separate the religion (the structure) from the faith (the content). Let people make decisions for themselves, give them the material to make educated choices, and see what happens. If someone decides that they want to combine aspects of Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Baha’i, then so be it, more power to them. That doesn’t mean that the next person won’t decide that a combination of Judaism and Hinduism is a better fit for themselves. Let us as a race awaken into a Collective Conscious (vs unconscious), and bring it all back to what really matters: the individual’s relationship with God.

Essay: The Motive to Create

For many people (myself included), there are few things quite so difficult as the act of starting something. No matter how much passion for a given subject that I might have, taking the necessary steps to begin the act of creation is always difficult, stressful, and time consuming. Even now, as I write this, my attention is vying for anything other than this essay, ranging from traffic nearby to lint underneath the keys of my laptop keyboard (how frustrating in an innocuous way). I redact my writing as I am writing it, constantly going back and deleting, correcting, amending, which disturbs the flow of getting the intial thought OUT, so I can then move on with the rest of the essay. In so many ways, attempting to write out my thoughts is a waste of time, even before we delve into the psychological censor we impose on ourselves, making it sometimes (often times) emotionally wearing or even painful to write. So why do we write? Why do we draw, or paint, or sculpt, photograph, sing, compose, why do we go through so much trouble to create, go through the growing pains where no part of it even feels rewarding?

We build houses because we need a place to live. So what essential need is satisfied by building a sculpture? Julia Cameron, in The Artist’s Way, said that “The creator made us creative. Our creativity is our gift from God. Our use of it is our gift to God. Accepting this bargain is the beginning of true self-acceptance.” I think that very well might be a major part of it. At the risk of expanding in a possibly pedantic way, we create, even (and sometimes especially) when it is painful to do so, because it our way of communicating spiritually. There is a lot of talk nowadays about different types of intelligence, such as emotional intelligence. There has been at least a few remarks of artists being more emotionally intelligent than, say, a scientist or engineer. But that isn’t necessarily always true, and really doesn’t satisfy the particular way that artists are able to communicate. I think, perhaps, artists of various types (writers, painters, et cetera) have developed a spiritual intelligence. Those individuals who exhibit a natural predisposition towards art have a higher natural spiritual intelligence. I think emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence are closely related, but the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that they really aren’t the same thing. There is a rampant misconception that artists are automatically more “in tune” with their emotions which, knowing and being related to a variety of artists of varying caliber, I can comfortably say is completely erroneous.

Essay: An Examination of “The Tablet of the Holy Mariner”

Written by Baha’u’llah in 1863, The Tablet of the Holy Mariner is considered one of the few pieces that directly deals with the mystical side of the Baha’i Faith. Most of it is building upon pre-established concepts gathered from Gnosticism and Sufism in particular (the sea of light, the ark of belief, a multitiered heaven of which the higher levels are unattainable, the maiden of heaven, et cetera). This is actually somewhat comforting, since it indicates that the latest manifestation truly is just an update to the prior manifestations, whose Word had become muddied over time.

To give a quick summation of the story, it begins by explaining a bit of our past: namely that the faithful had been brought before heaven, where the believers had been cleansed of self and passion, and given entrance to God’s holy realm. These believers sought higher into the heavens than God had decreed for them, and he punished them with a flaming meteor, and sent them back into the mortal world, where they were ordered to abide until such a time that they were ready for that higher level. Someone called the maiden of heaven, whom had never been known to speak (“no ear through all eternity hath ever heard,” line 61), came before the Celestial Concourse and stated that only those who had achieved true faithfulness in the Arabian Youth could enter the highest heaven. She sent one of her handmaidens down into the world to look for people who had achieved this. The handmaiden returned in such despair at the lack of true faith that she released her spirit and was sent into the presence of God. The story ends with the other handmaidens grieving violently for their dead sister.

While the story itself is interesting, what is far more intriguing is the particular phrasing and specific details of the story. These details tend to leap out due to the format of the story, broken into lines separated by the phrase “Glorified be our Lord, the All-Glorious!” Because the flow of the story is broken up like this, it becomes easier to focus on each line separately. (The counterpoint to this is that it is harder to capture the piece as a whole, without writing down the lines yourself.)

Personally, I view this tablet as an interpretive story, a history-through-parable. In particular, extrapolative history, dealing with what we call “prehistory” (the period between when homo sapiens first appear and when our first recorded civilization appears). This tablet serves as a remarkable collection of information available for interpretation. Given my predisposition towards science fiction, my personal interpretation of the tablet deals primarily with the thought of Man having a prior advanced civilization, possibly space-faring. The opening line deals with an “ark of eternity” and a “Celestial Concourse,” which could be interpreted as a space-faring ship. This ship is then “launched upon the ancient sea” (again, a “sea of stars” is a common literary metaphor, and would not seem out of place in this situation), and is filled with dwellers of “divine attributes” (most religions have ties between wisdom/knowledge and a divine source). They are told not to “tarry in the snow-white spot” which could possibly be some form of faster than light travel such as “hyperspace”, and that they are free to “wing through space even as the favored birds in the realm of eternal reunion,” at which point a “burning meteor cast them out” (a meteor destroys our access to “hyperspace”, or possibly impacts our planet and decimates all life on it, destroying whatever civilization there was). Man is returned to dwell in the mortal, mundane world. After a period of time, the “maid of heaven” (another advanced race? A surviving remnant of our own species?) sends her “maidservant” (an scouting expedition?) to search out signs of the “Youth that hath been hidden within the tabernacle of light” (our prior advanced civilization?). This maidservant finds none, and dies in despair.

While this interpretation is simplified and clearly science-fiction, the basic concepts are not outside the realm of possibility. Archaeologists have been able to place the origin of homo sapiens at roughly 140,000 BC (possibly earlier), and a fairly broad dispersal of man as long ago as 40,000 BC. But the first signs of civilization we have is 7000-5000 BC (depending on who you talk to). We have very little clue what happened during the intervening millennia. There is evidence of several worldwide catastrophes, including significant volcanic activity, global flooding, possibly meteor impacts, and recent evidence to suggest that the earth’s poles shifted at least once during that time. That is all in addition to at least one massive ice age that could have quite easily blotted out any sign of prior civilization that may have otherwise survived the other disasters. Considering how much of our past has been lost purely of our own accord (book burnings, holy wars, censorship, vandalism, cities getting sacked, plagues, et cetera) this is all well within the realm of possibility. Further suggesting prior civilization is the amount of unaccounted-for time compared to how quickly we’ve built our current civilization. It somehow doesn’t ring true that given around 140,000 years, no civilization was created.

That is of course just one interpretation; there are many possibilities as to what exactly it means. Regardless of its true meaning, the Tablet of the Holy Mariner is a fascinating piece of writing, and well worth the effort to read it, if only for the marvelous ideas it presents.

Essay: The World Wobbled: A Search for Spiritual Philosophy

I strongly believe that it is necessary to maintain a positive outlook on life, to treat other individuals compassionately, and to appreciate the little things in life just as much (if not more so) than the big things. I disagree with the frenetic pace our current society is trying to thrive upon, and for the longest time had “Festina Lente” (Make Haste Slowly) as my catch phrase for life. I believe all these things, and yet somewhere along the way, I seem to have lost sight of that, swept up in the currents of everyday life, and I’m not even sure when or where it happened.

So, let’s go back. Perhaps not to the beginning, but certainly to a point when I had solidly come to these conclusions on living a peaceful, happy life, and had not yet let myself become caught up in the rushing mentality. After all, it is only through identifying your problems that you can ever truly hope to combat them.

Seventh grade was a very, very good year for me. After hitting the proverbial “bottom rung” on the social ladder in sixth grade, I simply stopped caring about that, and instead dove into a broad spectrum of books (though primarily science fiction), reading about 90% of Robert A. Heinlein’s works, the entire Dune saga, and a wealth of pulp fiction by masters such as Robert Silverberg and Isaac Asimov. This reading trend continued into eighth grade, when I also read the Dragonriders of Pern series, and Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany (I’ll come back to this book in a moment). In addition to reading, I began pursuing my own education, studying statistics and basic chemistry on my own time. I’d begun to adopt the philosophy of “Never Hurry” from Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, a concept that appealed to me right from the start. After all, what is the point in rushing? That is not to say to not move quickly, but why rush? Why stress about the little things? Be aware of them, acknowledge them, and at the same time acknowledge what you are capable of affecting, and let the rest go. If we try to shoulder the burden of the world, all we end up with is a broken back.

Contrary to what it may seem like, that was NOT a recipe for laziness. I am not now, nor was I then saying you shouldn’t do anything. Rather, I’m saying take responsibility for yourself, do what YOU are capable of, and don’t worry about the rest. That worry is a little death that eats you away at your foundation until you finally just crumble.

This philosophy continued to grow and solidify as I read more, and experienced more situations which proved the validity of my budding outlook. A particularly influential book for me was Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany. The book explores the concept of amorality (vs morality or immorality) in a backdrop of a semi-post-apocalyptic city, a place choked with smoke and an erratic, shifting geography. I first read it in eighth grade, and I’ve continued to read it once a year ever since. I’ve never been able to fully explain why I read it every year, merely that it generates a certain mood that I find appealing. Not through any specific action that any character takes, nor any event in the story, so much as just the general demeanor of the book: there is a sense of presence and self awareness and letting go that is ultimately appealing, and generally succeeds in crossing over into my every day life.

It is worth noting that I haven’t had a chance to reread Dhalgren in the past two years, or really much recreational entertainment at all. Not for lack of desire, mind you, but through lack of finding the time necessary to get through the 800 page book. Thinking about it, I’ve felt burdened by a weight of “responsibility” (real or perceived), even when I’m consciously making the choice to go play a game, or read a book, or watch a movie. I can’t relax. So is my not having made time for my annual tradition a cause, or an effect of this? Perhaps a bit more digging is in order.

High school left me frustrated by my peers and in a state of depression. I would talk passionately and intensely about a wide variety of topics, but never with any luck in finding like-minded individuals. It left me disillusioned until I started to do theater, where at least they were passionate about SOMETHING (namely, melodrama, but that is unfortunately part and parcel with high school drama programs). I continued to work steadily with the theater program through the rest of school, which did a lot in terms of keeping me sane. The actors’ antics and melodramatic politics kept me distinctly aware of just how much those things really didn’t matter in the long run. Thinking about it, though, I avoided supervisory roles whenever possible while there (and later). Not because I couldn’t have done it, but because I didn’t want the additional responsibility.

Thinking about it, that may well be it. In the past two or three years, I have taken on additional responsibilities, perhaps some that I wasn’t necessarily ready for, but felt I had to do. Somewhere in the back of my head, something is screaming that I’m on the right track, so let’s continue. If I’ve been taking on new responsibilities over the past few years, and it is over the past few years that I have been feeling more and more rushed and restricted and otherwise not myself or who I want to be.

So I suppose the question to ask myself is, what do I want to do about it? It isn’t like I can just ignore my responsibilities, nor is saying “Well, I guess this is just going to have to be my new outlook,” an acceptable answer. I think identifying that I need to learn to cope with responsibility is a good first step. Now I need to act on it. I need to start doing what I can and genuinely letting go of the rest. I need to start affirming to myself that my passions ARE in fact a worthwhile pursuit of their own accord, and that now is a perfect time to work on those passions. I need to start thinking about what I want out of life, and stop worrying about what others want from me or think of me. I need find a new sanctuary that I can find my own pace in. I need to LET GO.

But mostly, I think I need to go reread Dhalgren.

Essay: Digital Photography: A Different Media

This will hardly be an essay that most people at this point and time will agree with. Nevertheless, it is how I feel, based on what I’ve seen and done over the past few months. There is an underlying animosity towards digital media and computers in a great deal of the traditional artistic community (photographers included), much in a similar fashion as there was when photography was introduced. This is further exacerbated by the unwillingness of the photographic community to accept digital photography in the same fashion that it did with film. They consider it to be “modified” from the original print, meddled with and thus relegated in general to digital awards. My hypothesis is that perhaps they are not entirely incorrect. Digital photography in many ways is a different medium altogether from film.

Digital Photography is a multistep process. Like film, it involves a camera. Like film, it involves exposing a sensor (film being the sensor in film’s case). They both record an image. But really, they start to diverge at the point of recording the image. In one case, it involves an emulsion, light sensitive chemicals recording the image displayed. In the other case, however, it records it as data, collecting the color information for a particular point. While the image may look the same in the end, the process itself is the beginning of divergence. For instance, because of the difference in recording method, it is possible to counteract the reciprocity factor of film to do multiple or extended exposures on the same piece of film, to great effect. With digital media, that just isn’t possible: once a sensor is saturated with data, all that is added from an extended exposure is noise. It is VERY difficult to get an extended exposure digital image that is not noisy to the point of making the image unusable. Because of this, you simply cannot do multiple exposures in the same shot with a digital camera. At least yet — I’m sure a method at some point will be discovered.

We persist in treating digital photography as the same as traditional photography, because of the similarity in output. But technically, there is a great deal that can be done with digital photography that is unique to the medium, that doesn’t get touched upon, because of this mindset. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that there is a difference between a cyanoprint and a photograph, and likewise, there is a difference (albeit more subtle) between a digital image and a photograph. There is data within a digital print that could be used to great effect, if the appropriate tools were created. Instead, though, we restrict ourselves to trying to get it to look as much like a traditional photograph as possible. What about applying ourselves to finding ways of getting the images to look like various painterly techniques? The information is there to do so, we simply have to elect to do it.

I suppose what I am trying to say, is that I would like to see digital media not put in the corner in the art community. If people would stop being so arrogant and close-minded about it, they would see that it has as much validity as an artistic medium as any other. It is what is DONE with the medium that matters, not the medium itself.