Tag Archives: philosophy

Randomness

This post is mostly about the idea of community, but also here is very enjoyable coverage of London Comic Con by Flickering Myth. Seems like a nice bunch, and I do wish that Blade the best of luck. Though the whole thing is worth watching, it’s timestamped to Rila Fukushima making faces in the background as Willa Holland is interviewed.

So anyway, these days a typical “good” community is a bit more tenuous and subjective, but society’s prototypical ideal remains the same and that was generally about a community of one kind of people, largely part of a design in which those who are poor or too ethnic aren’t welcome. Things that are prototypical are somewhat static because they’re the privileged status quo.

The form of community where people come together for the good of more than just some privileged people is less static, as is simple camaraderie — which is mostly a thing people have with over devotees of their chosen or non-chosen religion or pop culture. Camaraderie for people who don’t particularly care about wielding or being next to power, even in the form of a “good” community, sometimes seems like the rarest thing in the world.

 

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Amazing, in a one-sided kind of way

Even with the way that “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” phones in an attempt at deep characterization with its antagonists (Electro and Harry Osborne), it’s hard for me to see the movie as a failure.   Its being chalked up to that is more about it not being exponentially profitable, rather than its critical reception. But as much as I appreciate a big screen version of Spider-Man so close to the one in the comics, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” just isn’t as cohesive and thematically sound as its predecessor.

What shines through in the sequel is the buoyancy of a character whose life could easily be defined by tragedy. The Andrew Garfield iteration of Spider-Man has that in an extroverted way that’s thrilling to see in a live-action format. And between him and Emma Stone playing Gwen Stacy, they form the movie’s most successful dynamic — one that’s particularly refreshing in the framework of what Spider-Man movies have been, as Gwen is this amazing young woman who would have fallen in love with Peter Parker even if he had never become Spider-Man. It’s hard to the say the same for Mary Jane as written in the first “Spider-Man” film.

There’ve been a few great versions of Peter Parker outside of film (mostly animated), and a hallmark has been that Spider-Man, for all of his joking, is a character who genuinely tries to reason with any villain he can see some good in — or at least this is where some of his more interesting, endearing moments have come into play. Comics can feature a pretty black and white kind of world, and if all there is for Spider-Man to do is web indistinguishable thieves and beat nefariously one-dimensional super villains, that’s just not a solid platform for storytelling that speaks to the human condition.

The scene in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” where Spidey saves the life of Max Dillon (the future Electro as played by Jamie Foxx) is a solid attempt at making Spidey likeable, but after Max’s transformation — when Spider-Man is getting through to a pre-rampaging Electro until an overzealous cop sends him reeling — that’s it. Spider-Man doesn’t try to reason with him ever again, which isn’t the case with how he relates to the Lizard (who was the villain in the first film). Of course, Max is (a bit) more of a stranger than Dr. Curt Conners was to Peter, and there’s less of the Jekyll and Hyde dynamic.   But Max all too quickly becomes an embodiment of bitterness, with the reasons for this having been set up as minimally as possible: a balding black man with a comb-over (though that much was supposedly Jamie Foxx’s decision), someone with self-image issues who is obviously partly defined by frequently being ignored and powerless. Harry Osbourne (the movie’s other underdeveloped antagonist) can make an appeal to Max-as-Electro’s humanity, but Spidey can’t? After Max becomes Electro, Gwen is the only character who keeps cares the tiniest bit about who he was before that.

More than in any other Spider-Man movie, this Peter Parker has a chasm between his world and those of his antagonists. As affecting as the Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy storyline is, it would have been even more so if more time had gone into developing both the antagonists and the idea that, as hard as he might try, Spider-Man can’t juggle everything. The movie’s script isn’t deep enough to show him trying.

Even coupled with that, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is still enjoyable thanks to Garfield, Stone and company. There’ve been rumors that Garfield will be replaced in whatever the next Spider-Man would be, and that’d be unfortunate. He’s already done a thoroughly great job with whatever material he was given. And as much as he’s a fan of the comics character, he’s a fan of the idea of Spider-Man, whom he said “maybe … represents the underdog and those marginalized, those who come up against great prejudice…”

(The source of that one quote:  http://collider.com/andrew-garfield-jamie-foxx-interview/ )

emotional support

© pinero and me

While I was in this store that sold a few supposedly natural remedies for various ailments, there was a bald woman wearing a hat — likely undergoing cancer treatment — browsing with a friend of hers.   Even for the few seconds that we passed each other, it was hard not to notice the look of optimism and lightness the woman had. I just simply hoped she got better and didn’t think much more of it. But they could have easily been erroneous, is the thing — the woman likely having cancer and any sort of positivity. The emotional support she had, even just in the friend that was with her, had to have been a vital part of that.

 In the ad-driven world of media, emotional support seems like something of a commodity. But I think the kind that helps us the most doesn’t care if we’re coveted consumers or not. Having someone trying to relate directly to the way you’re feeling in a positive way (and no, “whatever you do rocks” doesn’t quite count) can simply be quite a boon. It may not make the world any more fair, but maybe it can make it just that much more livable.

Veronica Williams on writing poetry, being twentysomething, and Buddhist perspectives

Veronica Williams is a poet whose collection of work, FOUR YEARS (Part One), explores an existence that sometimes feels defined by limitations. She doesn’t pretend like it’s not often a shallow world. Her occasionally mature poetry is lyrical and contemplative. Veronica discusses her approach to writing and her particular underdog perspective in the following interview — right after a bit of her poetry:

If I play the damsel,
I am weak
The women will scorn me.
If I play the iron flower,
The men sorely resent me.
I am too much
If I go myself.
Excerpt from Veronica William’s “# 4

How would you describe your approach to writing?

My approach is all over the place. Over the years, my regimen has evolved from a prim, proper, streamline affair to “eh, whenever the wind blows me in that direction.” I’m very last minute for things like blog entries and school work. I’m spur of the moment with my poetry. That’s the only part of me that isn’t programmed on a schedule. It’s more like “I’m feeling these words,” and there’s a pressure in my fingers to get it off my chest. My muse is pretty cruel about this, getting at me when I’m far away from my computer, or I can’t quickly open up NotePad or Word.

I pretty much stopped trying to approach creation like a tactical process. Rushed pieces are always the ones I regret. Although I end up being strapped for time with items that have a due date, I feel like “Veronica has spoken” when I approach the task at hand. My approach depends on my mood. I always ask myself what (if anything) I want to work on to exercise my brain, my craft, and my dusty writing folder. (There’s a lot of old material in there that needs to be finished!)

When I’m in the writing zone, I approach it based on emotions. Even reports have some emotional drive. Poetry becomes all those jumbled thoughts I’ve never dared to say to people. In some cases, myself. I admit things about long-lost lovers, family, and fears in my head. I reassure myself, I examine myself, sometimes I get mad at myself through the stanzas. I also think of other people. I’ve learned so much about the 20’s stage that has changed everything I THOUGHT I knew. I spend a lot of time on Tumblr, and I absorb the things my friends talk about. That inspiration helped me find a new approach–exiting from self-centered creations to “messages for everyone.”

In FOUR YEARS, there’s an ongoing exploration of where your persona fits into the world. You write about ‘fate,’ a little bit, which seems to mean established hierarchies. Do you think that’s a part of life that’s too often disregarded?

I think that it’s something that most people are very aware of. Some, more than others. I think we all have our moments where we wonder where we fit in, IF we fit in, and how we can maintain that establishment. I personally have never felt like I fit in anywhere. So, during that time period (pre-poetry book), there were things I got tired of writing about over and over in online blogs.

I was very unhappy with how my early to mid 20s were panning out! Oh goodness! I had all these ideas of what it meant to be in my 20s, and when none of these things were happening, I started to question myself heavily through my work. I began to feel like fate was really playing a trick on me, keeping me at the “underling” level on purpose.

I don’t think it’s a part of life that’s disregarded. Probably not constantly discussed. I especially think that there’s turning points in one’s life where people–even those who are established–ask themselves where and how they fit in the world. It’s a moment that may spark movement to change! It becomes especially true once you’re officially out of the teen years, and you’re out in the world establishing who you are as a person. It’s not always a smooth transition.

Can people really know how they fit into the world if they don’t know about their relative privileges or lack thereof? Neither of these things are natural so much as they’re crafted, and letting either define one’s life seems to be the only kind of fate I can think of.

OOOH! Such a deep question! So many layers to unpack! For the most part, I think people have a general idea. Once we become “established,” sometimes it might feel so strong that one would say “this is it.” When life happens, sometimes people are taken out of where they’ve been fitting in for years…sometimes decades! So, it’s probably knowing how to fit in that moment, which isn’t always promised. Indeed, neither of the circumstances of fitting in are natural.

This reminds me of how my religion sees karma! As it stands, there’s the non-Nichrien Buddhist way, which considers karma to be a bad thing. Aka “karma is a b!” It’s seen as something coming to “get” you. In Nichiren Buddhism, I learned not so long ago (like, literally a month ago at a meeting!) karma works in terms of “good outcome,” “bad outcome,” and “neutral.” The thing is, it goes either way and pretty much “just is,” but in our lives, we have the power to work around human suffering and become better people. We can learn from the bad things and keep the train moving.

For some of us underdogs, I think that we may stare at greener pastures, thinking all is well. Sometimes, it is. However, it doesn’t mean it is for us. There are things that person has done to get in that place. There are things we can do, but it doesn’t mean we’ll get the same result. When I looked back at the earlier poems, I began to realize this. My path was different from all my friends and classmates. My path was my very own, and I had journeys to make before I could have the love, the family, or the career I wanted. But I was frustrated! So back then, I wasn’t considering the fact that “fitting in” didn’t work in the perfect way it seemed to be for everyone else. There was one thing missing: I wasn’t putting myself out there. Or, when I did and got hurt or rejected, I decided NOT to dip a toe for a long time.

For some of us underdogs, I think that we may stare at greener pastures, thinking all is well. Sometimes, it is. However, it doesn’t mean it is for us. There are things that person has done to get in that place. There are things we can do, but it doesn’t mean we’ll get the same result.

Some things we will lack. Some things we are blessed to the rim with and do not even know it. It’s about as unnatural as the day is long, and it takes a long time of living, learning, and re-learning. Even my 61 year-old father is realizing this!

As someone who thinks FOUR YEARS is largely a quality collection of poems, I have to ask if you thought there were any other venues for it besides self-publishing.

I have to be 100% honest; I was not ready for the rejection of the traditional route. My goal was to get the first half of my poetry book I’d been carrying for years out into the open. This was a writing challenge. I wanted to prove to myself I could devote some time to what I loved. Despite all the “nay, nay” opinions, I did it anyway. I think that I let the work of other writers get to me. Rejection is a part of the process. So is critique! I made the mistake of comparing myself to other writers. So, as I doubted myself, I didn’t feel like I was ready to submit. I had a moment, made a choice, but gained confidence in the process!

I wanted to prove to myself I could devote some time to what I loved. Despite all the “nay, nay” opinions, I did it anyway.

Once I’m done with part two of the collection, I will bite the bullet and submit my next collection of poems to a non-self-publishing venue. Self-publishing was an interesting experience, but it fried my brain a little bit. I did a LOT of blind clicking in the beginning, constantly going back and revising all on my own. Once I got the preview copy in my hands, things changed. I was very, very proud of myself for completing part of a major project. It was, in fact, the very first piece of work that was technically published outside a digital form. It was a great feeling. I’d LOVE to re-live that moment with a publishing team, however!

You mentioned Buddhism earlier.   Why do you think it’s appealed to you?

Nichiren Buddhism was something my next door neighbor introduced me to after seeing me in the yard, burying my parakeet Ganymede. From then on, I attended meetings and went to the SGI Center here in Chicago, where I just learned and absorbed SO SO MUCH. It appealed to me because it spoke directly to the issues I’d been writing about in my book. Existing, improvement, finding myself. It also spoke on how having faith and being active in changing your life (as well as those around you) was an important part of being human.

The themes of finding courage, looking within–they hit home. I even had a chance to share my poetry at one of the meetings, which made a few members cry! It was really something. It introduced me to a new way of thinking and seeing life. While things aren’t perfect, solved, and healed, I feel like they’ve got the great potential to keep changing day by day. Buddhism opened my eyes to the fact that I’m here for a reason. My existence in this world means something!

I think it appealed to me most because it spoke to my questions about fate. I began (still learning) to learn and understand that while suffering is indeed a part of life, making changes and having faith are very important. Also, having love and concern for others’ happiness. To make a long story short, it just opened floodgates of understanding on all the questions I’d been asking myself since I was a teenager.

 Thanks to Veronica for her time.  You can follow her on twitter @MzWilliams08 and find out more about her work here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BI2QPLC

and here:

https://www.createspace.com/4116440

and last (but not least), Veronica’s poetry blog:

http://peridotlyrics.blogspot.com/

double-edged sword

Thinking too much is a double-edged sword.  Wait, aren’t all swords double-edged?  I’m no expert, but … never mind.  You see, thinking too much.

Understanding the world is vital, but thinking too much about its unfairness and myriad of hardships  — not a great time.  And yet, if you think awareness is the point of being conscious, that’s just par for the course.  A double-edged sword — though qualities do seem to have more depth the thoughtful way.  Maybe that’s a silver lining.

Difranco as human ‘hipster’ paradigm?

Beyond what’s already been said about Ani Difranco’s reaction to finding out that a former plantation was the planned locale for her company’s retreat, I think there’s something to discern from it about so called “hipsters” — a quality of which seems to be priding one’s self as being enlightened when it comes to issues surrounding race and class, though one’s background frequently leads to a life separate from the majority of those who have historically lacked much in the way of privilege.

Criticism about hipsters is, of course, rife throughout all of blogdom — but it’s often frivolous stuff about the way they dress (I would not include the wearing of clothes that mock someone else’s culture in this arena).  Also, people seem to pick up on a self-righteousness that comes with defining one’s self as thoroughly counter-culture while being obsessed with culture-as-a-lifestyle.  But most of the people doing the criticizing — and certainly the ones whose criticisms are on the noteworthy venues that, inherently, cater to the at least somewhat privileged  — are perhaps finding fault with those trying to live a romanticized version of their own upwardly mobile lives.  In short, they’re a scapegoat for people who don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that they systematically have more stock than others.

These others are people that hipsters and the upwardly mobile can’t generally seem to connect with — sure, they can do so with people of color whom are associated with the coolness that acts as cultural currency among hipsters, and also occasionally people of color whom they can be self-righteous about (an idea of) equality with.  With the upwardly mobile more generally, they seem to connect more easily with people of color who’d prefer to disassociate with that color — with with what can make you less than not so old-fashioned notions of what a normal guy or gal looks like.  So there you have a fine melting pot,  just not with anyone who really challenges people’s notions of themselves in hierarchies.

Away from that, there’s criticism about hipster re-emergence into the urban world where they frequently define areas in the cultural zeitgeist that had been defined as being “bad (but culturally rich) neighborhoods.” You know — all of those cities, with all of their scary people of color; these were the places fine upstanding people didn’t have to live — not when there’s a perfectly good suburb you can drive comfortably to.

Difranco wrote a song about an element of this.  It’s called “Subdivision,” and it starts with the line, “White people are so scared of black people . . .”   It’s a good song, and much more in the vein of Bob Dylan’s song about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter than “Ebony and Ivory.”  I learned from a documentary that Dylan’s song is one that the great Sam Cooke respected on one level, but on another Cooke seemed to lament that someone who hadn’t experienced racism firsthand hadn’t come out with that song first.   I empathize with the feeling because the simple politics of the music business — certainly even more so during Cooke’s heyday — was such that a black artist couldn’t speak his or her truth forthrightly.

Difranco’s initial response to finding out about the plantation as a setting for a retreat noted that she didn’t pick it as a venue, but, once she she knew, it seems she thought it could be an opportunity for healing.  I have a lot of respect for Difranco as a writer and musician, but I could never listen to her sing about race at length without feeling like it was nice enough — and not hollow, but just on some other planet where people leave their suburbs, or mini-suburbs, to go on things like retreats.

You see, frequently hipsters may live in urban areas, but they’re areas that have been turned into mini-suburbs that cater to them — this is the general downside of a place becoming what we generally think of as being livable.  You can live in a place that’s associated with being some great urban place where people of color managed to get by in hard times, but really it’s separate from the heart of that — the part that knows about what the pain of being in the “less than” part of town added up to.

I’m not someone who thinks Difranco should be demonized (there’s a component of her detractors who salivate over this sort of thing and have no personal regard for black pain otherwise), but it’s worth noting that maybe knowing about subdivisions doesn’t make one as aware of the pain of being “less than” as some people might like to think.

Alan Moore and the maybe slightly narrow mind

Alan Moore

Alan Moore, via Wikipedia

Alan Moore, widely considered the preeminent living writer of comics, recently suggested that devotees of superheroes beyond adolescence are ’emotionally subnormal.’   Moore may be right to an extent, but the kind of emotional emptiness filled by superheroes as escapism is probably one of the most common things in society — and it goes well beyond superhero geeks.  The antithesis of what Moore is describing — let’s call it emotional maturity — is hardly constant in the first place.

Picture in your mind someone who is supposed to be emotionally mature.  Unfortunately, people likely subconsciously look to men (primarily white) as examples of emotional maturity because that’s been the template for so long (see superheroes, also).   So, anyhow, for this emotionally mature person did you imagine the dad from The Wonder Years again?  Decent enough guy that he was, that character was a simmering pot of frustration and anger.  Life had needled him into practicality to the point where that was all he wanted to see reflected in his own family.  For such a person your average comic book is a frivolous waste of time, and so is fiction in general — and art, especially modern art … unless he was one of the many emotionally secure modern artists …

Yesterday’s standard of the emotionally secure person was probably a bit more social than the dad from The Wonder Years, but who needs social when you’ve got social networks.  The modern equivalent of emotionally secure certainly has an extremely tight grip on some kind of smart phone … but a smart phone, my friend, is no superhero. (It is a little?  Hmph.)  It’s mostly a lifestyle thing.  When someone who has gainful employment spends it on ways to enhance his or her lifestyle, that’s hardly emotionally mature.  Who needs hobbies or escapism when you’ve got a lifestyle, an obsession with up and coming neighborhoods, with the right this or that, the idea of the most spiritually meaningful way to stay healthy, etc.?  All of these measures of success — success, of course, hardly requiring that people be emotionally secure — can often easily be ascribed to, if not toys, then fixing up a really big room with lots of cool stuff and posters.

And what about an obsession with sports?  A friend of mine would say that being a fan of any actor or actress is the same as rooting for a player on some team.  Most of the time, it’s just as frivolous.

I don’t have anything against fashion, per se, but following it as intensely as some people do — even as a job — is hardly emotionally whole.  Trying to always have some look that’s in or ahead of some imaginary curve is like trying to constantly replicate immaturity .

Alan Moore doesn’t think superheroes stand for anything good, and well, few things do — though there is something to be said for the particular emptiness of something that is supposed to stand for something extremely good really being entirely one-dimensional.  But nothing I’ve mentioned here is inherently bad — far from it.  It’s just, none of it is inherently meaningful or emotionally sound.  Like any genre of fiction, superhero tales can add up to something positive.  Maybe their being part of the pop culture machine that Moore hates so much has limited that.

And beyond them, to comics that have nothing to do with superheroes — but instead usually feature upwardly mobile people grasping with feeling emotionally subnormal.  Even those can add up to something more positive than self-aggrandizing .  Really.

——————-

The interview where Moore expressed his disdain for superheroes:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/22/alan-moore-comic-books-interview