Monday, April 28, 2008

Reality, it's your dime

A bizarre coincidence has led me on this voyage that I may take in full someday, or at least in bits and pieces.

Yesterday, I was talking with a friend about movies and he mentioned the movie Brazil, which he couldn't really remember (he saw it over 20 years ago), except that it had left a profound and troubling impression on him. (He didn't say this, but it seemed to me like the feeling you get when you wake up from a nightmare that quickly falls out of your grasp as wakefullness takes over, leaving only the emotional afterglow.) I was intrigued, but pretty much left it at that.

Today, I left work and didn't feel like going right home (where more work was waiting) so I stopped off for dinner. This morning, thinking that I might be in that kind of mood, I had tossed a book in my bag. I have been reading Imaginary Homelands off and on for quite awhile. It is my favorite author, Salman Rushdie, but, as a series of essays (and criticism, to be exact), it's best in small doses, both to think through and to prolong the experience. Anyway, as I was waiting for my dinner, I pulled out the book and opened it to the next essay, a movie critique of, you guessed it, Brazil.

Brazil, as it turns out, is a dystopian totalitarian fantasy in the tradition (but uniquely its own) of Orwell's 1984. In Rushdie's essay, "The Location of Brazil," he explores the themes of the movie in his own unique way. Rushdie compares Terry Gilliam (the director) to Lewis Carroll and James Joyce (at least in Finnegan's Wake) as all being able to create an alternate reality, a place in the imagination (or of the imagination) or fantasy, or dreams with its own rules and logic. And we believe.

Rushdie explores other reasons to be affected by this film, one of them being the idea of being transplanted from one's homeland and looking at it from afar, a circumstance that he shares with Gilliam (for Rushdie it's India, for Gilliam it's America). And how that colors how one looks at one's homeland.

Rushdie talks about Brazil as a triumph of the imagination over reality. It turns out there are two endings to the film, an English one and an American one. The American one has the happy ending, or as happy as it gets. Happiness aside, as Rushdie writes, it is a battle between imagination and reality. "[It] is of great importance, because it reminds us that we are not helpless; that to dream is to have power....Unreality is the only weapon with which reality can be smashed, so that it may subsequently be reconstructed."

So I am intrigued by this connection. It's been said there are no accidental coincidences. So I want to explore this. I want to see this film, ideally with my friend, as I am as much intrigued by his reaction to what is, granted, a powerful and dark, but ultimately hopeful, film. (I assume he saw the American version.) He did say he wasn't sure he would feel the same way as he did back then, so I'm not being sadistic about this, just curious.

I also did a quick Google search of the essay and find that people have had a lot to say about this film and essay, so I have plenty of places to go to explore this further. The most intriguing site, and probably a branch to a whole different discussion, is the idea, "Reality is what you can get away with."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Nothing so much enhances a good as to make sacrifices for it."
~~George Santayana

Starbucks Blues

Starbucks annoys me. Yes, I go there, probably more often than I should. Given a choice, I'd go to a locally owned cafe, but they're getting harder and harder to find. But while I may drink there, I don't play their silly name game.

It started out as an issue of privacy. Granted, on the face of it, giving a name at Starbucks is not a major breach of privacy. But when we casually give up private information (or consent to be taped everywhere) in the little ways, we become inured to it. It becomes no big deal. Then, when it matters, we just accept privacy violations without question. So, since there's no need to give a name at Starbucks (they will manage to get my drink to me), I don't.

Refusing to give a name at Starbucks has become an interesting social experiment. Most baristas don't notice or care. Some think it's funny. They'll put "X" or "anonomous" (that person couldn't spell). Some, though, are confused and even offended. When I say no, they repeat the question and don't know what to do. Or they argue with me about it. One almost cried (I did feel bad about that, but c'mon). Again, I point out, they don't need it. It's a false, corporate ploy to make it seem like a friendly local place. But it's not. It's a corporate chain that's everywhere.

Everywhere. This Starbucks is on Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. This island doesn't allow cars, so everyone rides bicycles or horses (the local taxi is a horsedrawn carriage). A quaint, nostalgic and beautiful place. Starbucks is even there.

Monday, April 21, 2008

What's the Deal?

I've never seen the show Deal or No Deal and have never felt a real loss. But I was tempted to tune it in tonight because of a random promo I saw the other day.

They played a taped message from Pres. Bush to cheer on a contestant. Granted, the contestant was a marine who had served three tours in Iraq, but if Bush really wanted to honor him there are other ways (and that's not the point of this post). Instead of feeling the love, I felt something else altogether. Honestly, I thought my respect for the man was at its absolute lowest and, at the same time, that he couldn't denigrate the office of president any further. I was wrong on both counts.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

The last few days I've been following the articles in the Chicago Tribune about the cougar that was shot and killed by city police. It was the first time in the history of the city that a cougar had been shot. (Or at least in the history of the archives.) DNA tests proved that the cougar was originally from the Black Hills of South Dakota.

(This isn't the actual cougar, obviously, but there wasn't much dignity in the photos from the Tribune.)

I do admit that a cougar in the city poses a problem or two. But it still seemed a shame that it traveled all that distance to end up wrapped in a tarp. At the risk of anthropomorphizing, maybe all it needed was to find its way home.

While following this story, I came across a similar item in the international news briefs in the Boston Globe. A two-year-old brown bear was killed in Switzerland. It was killed after government authorities decided that it had lost its fear of humans so had posed a risk. (Shouldn't it be the opposite way around?) It met the same fate as its older brother who was killed in 2006. Both were part of a plan to reintroduce the brown bear that is extinct in that part of Europe. Sometimes good intentions aren't enough.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My First Post

This is my first post for this blog, for any blog. I feel it should be something momentous, to drive this thing forward. Before you get too excited, rest assured it will be anything but.

It will get better. Hopefully. At least less painful, for all concerned.

I was on the train to New York a week or so ago and someone asked me that dreaded question, "What do you do?" I never know how to answer. If I say I'm a writer, the follow up questions are what have you written? And then I feel compelled to explain all the other things I do to be a writer, as an excuse for why I don't write a lot. I feel like that late-night commercial for technical school with the struggle between experience and a job. By the time I'm done explaining, we're all looking for another drink. This time, though, the person who asked knew exactly what I was talking about. He said he was a composer and even though he ran a software consulting company to pay the bills, he still felt like he was a composer, and that was enough for him.

It's not enough for me.