No Oscars for the Simpsons 

Alas, The Simpsons I normally watch on Sunday night is replaced by the movie Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. And why might they be replaced by that movie? Fear from losing big ratings to the Oscars, that's why. I'm disappointed. I wanted to really like that particular Star Wars movie when it came out, but the awful thing had none of the grace of the original Star Wars series, and thus I condemn it. It also reinforces my cynicism of those who makes these decisions about television, specifically because they think that to compete with the snore-a-thon banality of Oscars they must counter with the craptacular disaster known as Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Liam Neeson as Jedi notwithstanding.

Oh well, I suppose I'm the minority in this regard as I'm sure there are plenty of people who prefer the Oscars to The Simpsons. I'm simply not one of them. I know The Simpsons can be cloying, cliched, and sometimes tired, but does the entire television schedule have to be thrown into disarray by a three-hour self-congratulatory what-is-she-wearing parade of boredom? I'd say I hope not, but I know better. Maybe next week will be better.

29 February 2004

Remembering to be Grateful  

My girlfriend, who may be the only reader of this blog, a genre that she is quickly losing her taste for, will not likely believe this, but I like listening to some of the songs by the Grateful Dead. And of course, it has nothing to do with their legendary reputation for consuming substances for recreational purposes. Instead, part of it comes from the half memories I have of the eighties when I was a kid who lived in a east coast college town. When I was about eight, most of the adults I knew were in the early twenties, and a majority of them (with the significant exception of my immediate family) were laid back, idealistic, people who'd rather spend all of their time listening to Donovan, building log cabins on the few small acres they owned in the woods, and figuring out how keep on keepin' on. Of course, as I was eight, this is significantly colored with the innocence and naivete of a child, so I couldn't have known about all of the context that I later found out on my own.

The music of the Grateful Dead brings some of this back. All of the associations I made between these laid back people and the idealism they had, combined with the childhood illusion that life was somehow simpler then. None of this probably makes sense to anyone but me. Therefore, all I can do is present this link, invite people to listen, and hope that maybe they feel a little something of what I feel when I listen. It's got more to do with nostalgia than anything else.

19 February 2004

Feeling Great 

If I could feel as great as this guy, I'd never have to worry about falling behind deadlines, earning money for the future, or even getting out of bed in the morning. In fact, I'm now nearly 100% certain that the line "I feel great" is probably going to annoy the heck out of my friends and family as it has recently become my official motto. Corn-ball as I may be for saying so, this guy has just become my personal hero.

Seriously, I'm always surprised at how feeling great has more to do with attitude and perspective than most routine physical circumstances. For instance, if I've got the "blahs," or happen to be a bit discouraged about something, usually because of work, a concerted effort and the decision to feel good is sometimes all it takes. Bob Marley's song about three little birds helped me out for awhile, but time and repetition has caused it to lose some of its luster for me. Now, I'm going to try to fix the aforementioned nutrigrain guy permanently into my subconscious as an object lesson for feeling good. Normally, I'm not one for commercials, but this thing really cracked me up.

10 February 2004

Reading Darkness 

Way back when, during my community college days, I took a literature class that changed my life. Yet, like most life changes, it wasn't something that I was aware of at the time. My primary motivation to go through college was to one: challenge myself intellectually in a way that I hadn't been challenged before, and two: get out of a job that I had hated. However, I discovered through the reading, and the writing, that not only did I enjoy reading literature and discovering what the stories had to say, but that I also enjoyed writing about them. Yes, this may be putting me squarely into nerd territory, but that's what happened.

The one story that I distinctly remember was Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. At the time, I was enchanted with the description of a man (Marlow) slowly encountering something mysterious, and maybe a little evil, and coming out of the experience somewhat changed--perhaps not drastically changed, but a little different nonetheless. Now several years later, in grad. school, it is once again an assigned text. This time, with a new perspective on my reading, I am seeing new things in the story. The evil I see Marlow encountering now is that of the Empire seeking after riches, but couching that desire within the supposedly noble mission of "civilizing" the natives. It is something that Marlow can barely confront. While I haven't finished this reading yet, and am better aware of the inherent problems viewing the story as a critique of imperialism, I am struck by how much I still enjoy this story. It's nice to see how my love of reading is still intact, even though my attitudes towards certain stories have changed.

08 February 2004

Janet Frame 

During my movie watching phase, I came across Jane Campion's film An Angel at my Table at my local video store, and struck by the fact that the box for the movie was more than usually slathered in the breathless praise of film critics, I rented it, watched it, and correspondingly enjoyed it. Not because it was recommended, mind you. There have been plenty of movies which critics have nearly drowned in seas of frenzied hyperbole that I thought were beyond the limits of boring. Yet, this movie was different.

Shot before Campion's more famous film, The Piano, Angel at my Table told the story of Janet Frame. Based on her autobiographies about growing up New Zealand, the film portrayed Frame's life as an impoverished child, her early work as a young adult writer, and her trip to the "mirrored city" in Spain. While most people remember the horror of her unjust hospitalization for schizophrenia (she wasn't schizophrenic), I will always remember her mirrored city. Describing a physical place from where she could look out over the dark bay at night and see the glowing lights of the buildings on the other shore reflected into the inky ocean, Frame observed that the city in the water was the mirror of the city above. Yet, she also indicates that the mirrored city is also a symbol for the imagination. It would difficult to describe more without taking away from my experience of that metaphor in movie, therefore I stop here.

Except to say that I, for one, am sad to learn of Janet Frame's death. I sincerely hope her old age was as sweet and pleasant as she wished, and that her memories of poverty, loss, and pain were not very sharp.

03 February 2004

Mel Gibson's Vietnam 

While studying the other night, as I don't have much time for anything else, I came across the movie We Were Soldiers. I half-watched it while I was really engaged in reading my textbook. Mel Gibson plays an army colonel fighting the war in Vietnam, a portrayal that I find is not too much unlike the "crazy" cop he plays in the Lethal Weapon series. If you're watching a Mel Gibson movie, the story is likely one about a hero pushed to the limits of sanity and breakdown, righteously fighting against all odds, and who, by the way, is somehow being tragically involved a bloodbath (The Patriot, Braveheart, Mad Max--and, of course--the archetype: Hamlet). The blood is how you know it's a Mel Gibson movie. And while I'm not against the tragic portrayal of blood when appropriate a story about some kind of trauma--after all, there are some legitimate realistic, symbolic, and folkloric uses for it--I'm beginning to have the sense that Gibson exploits blood to sell his product and support the theme of insanity.

Yet, even though the American war in Vietnam has been popularized in movies, stories, memoirs, and, yes, college classes--I'm beginning to feel that: a) those of us who were not alive when it happened will never know what it was really like, what kind of changes it forced on our parents generation, or what it really means now. And b), the way people have of currently describing the war is based more on the fictional portrayals and the necessarily biased accounts of it by the people involved, rather than being rooted in the real experience of it.

Within the last year, as I have encountered more of these types of portrayals of the war in Vietnam, I find I am asking myself about the nature of war in general and the impact that it has on the larger society, a generation, and how the effects of it is transmitted to other generations through time. I don't much care about the politics as I do on the personal experiences. The closest thing I can come to what war is like is through the current portrayals of the war on terrorism and in Iraq. And as far as that goes, I follow Kevin Sites blog fairly often. I know that his site is only a small segment of the whole thing; but maybe through the accumulation of segments like this one combined with my own experience of historical events, I maybe better able to understand the experience (and trauma) of my parents generation. And as the reporter character in Gibson's Vietnam movie says, I hope to be able to better "understand" war. But only, insofar, as anyone ever can

01 February 2004