Goofs and Gadflies

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Getting Your Ducks in a Line

As Jews all over the world once again start packing for their week long exodus from Egypt (and bagels, for that matter), my thoughts fall esoterically towards the nature of progress. We all have that friend, the one who's day-timer is more rigidly structured than the Eiffel Tower, right? "I'm going to be at this place until this time with these people, then I am going to meet so-and-so for a drink at this place..." People who overschedule their lives are the unluckiest sorts of all. Do you really envy that person who over books themselves worse than a doctor with two ex-wives? I have a chronically under used day-timer. A neglected keeper of the comings and goings of my days. If the truth be known, I am not an organized person. My life contains enough un-filed paper to build a small paper city. The real question them becomes this: Am I risking future success and happiness by not being an organized and super productive person? Is progress achieved through the taking of steps, or through the measuring of those steps?

I think about those Dilbert strips where Wally jokes about having to fill out time cards and say something pithy like "never has so little been measured so much". I'm not a nine to five guy and I don't punch a clock. So I don't know what it would be like to arbitrarily measure the time I spend on an account, or to quantify how much money it is worth to the company. Like Dilbert says, "the hour I spent in bed and in the shower thinking about how to solve the problem don't count. But the 15 minutes I spent waiting to photocopy my time sheet at work does count?" - I'm paraphrasing here, but the point is clear. Monitoring productivity is hit and miss at best. Who really knows if measuring something as transcendental as thought is possible?

It's all about getting your ducks in a line. The ducks are metaphors for the responsibilities and notions of progress one should conceivably want for themselves. This is the plotline for the movie "A Lot Like Love" with Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet. Which I went to see with my best friend (who happens to be female), when it opened in Toronto this Friday. The movie is *not* an update on Say Anything or When Harry met Sally. This movie is about two people who find out that life is like that Swiss yodelling mountain game on The Price is Right. You dance to the tune, move up the line, and through no fault of your own you sometimes crash over the side of a mountain. No fear, just soldier on and start over. Find a new passion. Find new ducks.

Well, I don't think I want my ducks in a line. I'd rather have them in a circle. A daisy chain of Quail. Of course that is the justification of someone who is chronically disorganized. One who likes to fuck the duck if you will. At least I am not chronologically disorganized. I have a friend that has *never* been on time for anything, ever. This friend misses wedding ceremonies, workout sessions, dinners, you name it and she was late for it. So while I am personally disorganized, this realm of mess does not affect anyone other than me. I take my responsibilities as a friend very seriously. I keep my time commitments with friends and associates because I respect their relationship to the clock.

On the other hand, we have those people who fly by the seat of their pants. Making plans with them is like playing Plinko with Bob Barker. Even when you think plans are set, at the last minute you go from $10,000 to holding a giant cow-chip in your hands. And we are not talking purely about dating situations here. Ken pretty much has that covered, and I heartily encourage everyone to read the entire series "The Non-Dating Life". It's bad enough getting stood up by a date, as Ken discusses, but what about getting stood up by a friend? What about the friends who are just sketchy when it comes to making plans with them? Not that they act out of casual disorganization but out of a innate discourtesy, waiting for a better plan to appear at the last minute. We all have a friend who has treated us as a "back-up" plan. Those are the people who like to get their ducks in a line, take ten steps back with a BB Gun and have at it.

So, there be the ducks. Work, friends, love, family, they comprise the ducks that we surround ourselves with. I see examples of people who curried favor with the work duck while leaving the love and families ducks to trail behind. I've also known people who lived for their families and held any kind of conspicuous consumption in disdain. The truth is that life is a series of impulses, a connection of motivations. We like the bright and flashing lights of Baby Einstein as a child. We want to drive the big red truck as toddlers, and we all want to be astronauts or Indiana Jones when we are twelve. There are no ducks in a child's life. We create the ducks as we get older because we need to find our own answers. The perspective of our parents ceased to be the end all and be all of the topic. We became adults and we needed some order. That's the nature of progress. Going over the mountain and starting over with a new pair of boots. We either pick up the adventures our parents started (like Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker) or we go off on our own, to begin the neverending story of our life. Then we spend the rest of our lives wondering if we did good.

Measuring the notion of progress by looking at the ducks in a line. Not by how many smiles we created on the faces of other people. Not by measuring the lessons we've learned. We measure progress in volume. I'm not a half-empty cup kind of guy. I'm not a half-full cup kind of guy either.

I'm just a thirsty guy.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Emotional Compass and Moral Relativity

I have a question that has been eating at me for a few days (moments really, I am prone to exaggeration). Does music shape our feelings? Or do we choose to listen to music that reflects and echoes our sentiments? Do I listen to Smashing Pumpkins because I am listless, or because I want to attain feelings of listlessness? Do I put on emotions like t-shirts? Or do they emanate from the toxic stew of stress that is my existence? My good friend The Comrade made me a mixed CD that has taken up permanent residence in my car player. Postal Service, Bright Eyes, The Dears, and The Arcade Fire, along with countless other songs that meditate on the directions of life. Here's a little taste of what I have been listening to.

lately i've been wishing i had one desire
something that would make me never want another
something that would make it so that nothing matters
all would be clear then
but i guess i'll have to settle for a for a few brief moments
and watch all dissolve into a single second
and try to write it down into a perfect sonnet
or one foolish line
- Bright Eyes, A perfect sonnet

I think about the compass in my car and how it tells me which direction I am heading in. I think about the compass inside my head and it's not as clear. For the first time in my life I am questioning myself about what I want. Why do I not want anything for myself? Why am I happy? I have stress and anxiety and yet I remain happy. It doesn't make sense. I think I set my standards for what makes me happy too low. Or maybe I was just wired for happiness. I wake up happy every morning. Which is nice, but now I yearn for that compass to kick in and help me find a direction. I need to know what I want. I need to want things, and not fear failing to get these things. I find it ironic that my struggles to find direction should reach an apex while I was visiting the airport today.

Airports are a real interesting place to observe the depth of human emotion. Confusion, relief, desire, indigestion, and most importantly incredulity at having to pay ten dollars for a slice of pizza and a pop. People saying hello and saying goodbye, people lost and people found. Long halls and long haul flights. Lovers languishing in limited moments before liquidity. If you ever need a recalibrating of your emotional compass, try sitting down in an airport lounge and taking your life to task. For some it may take a few minutes. Everything might make sense and you get up and take your luggage and live with it. Some might never leave. The grip of the past can be tenuous and cold. We store memories with the chemistry in our body. That's why the perfume a loved one wore will always stay with us. We store our successes and our failures hidden in our cellular structures. We rely up on our memories to get us through the rough times. I sat in the airport lounge today paralyzed by the decisions that forged my path. Luckily for me my cell phone rang, it was a customer, because I might have been stuck in a parabola of questioning and self-justification. The type of circuitous logic that befalls most raccoons moments before becoming road-kill.

We use our memories to relate to other people. Moral Relativity is something that has been on my mind of late. It's defined thusly:

"The term ‘moral relativism’ is understood in a variety of ways. Most often it is associated with an empirical thesis that there are deep and widespread moral disagreements and a metaethical thesis that the truth or justification of moral judgments is not absolute, but relative to some group of persons."

I know that I don't dance to the same tune as most people. I don't wreak vengeance upon the dammed. I've been treated pretty well in life and I try and pay it forward when I can. I have to exist with people who are very different than me. They chew on the bitter rind of unfulfilled aspirations and they live on the pain of others. They have given up on trust, and they revel in the pointlessness of life. The giant cosmic joke is on me because I choose to believe in the power of positive thought. There is so much in this world we cannot control. But the one thing we can choose is to take a positive view of any situation. To eschew the conflict and focus on the harmony of life. To sit in that airport, watch the world hustle by as you sit still, with the only movement in your growing shadow. Tremble with the maelstrom of doubt as it thrashes in your head. Then be done with it when the bell (or cell phone) rings. When the fight is over, dust yourself off and smile proudly. I've badly needed to recalibrate my compass and redefine my sense of moral relativity. I was starting to believe in others and their judgments and suggestions. The best piece of advice that anybody has yet to give me is to "believe in yourself".

To end this blog I wanted to share another snip of lyrics from the aforementioned CD. The first song spoke to me about the definition of emotional compass, and this speaks to me about moral relativity. Both lyrics use the word dissolve, and I think that it speaks to the universal truth of the impermanence of life. Changing nature of states, eh?

You think your days are uneventful
And no one ever thinks about you
She goes her own way
She goes her own way
You think your days are ordinary
And no one ever thinks about you
But we're all the same
And she can hardly breathe without you

She says she has no time
For you now
She says she has no time

Think about the lonely people
Then think about the day she found you
Or lie to yourself
And see it all dissolve around you

Friday, April 08, 2005

Karaoke Sex Addicts and Reality Television

Everybody knows somebody who loves karaoke. I mean, really *LOVES* it. The same could be said about Reality TV. Seinfeld joked for years about having created a show about nothing, and now we have a plethora of programs all with the premise that: If you follow interesting people around long enough, something interesting will happen. As for karaoke, is there anyone who *hasn't* wanted to stick their head in a gas oven as someone truly awful gets up on stage to sing? Or have to sit through attempts to blast a touching ballad with the deft precision of a Parkinson's sufferer playing Operation? What then brings these two topics together today? Karaoke and Reality TV both tap into our human nature to observe and be observed on a basic level. We are a world consumed with knowing that we are all watching and being watched.

It bothers me that American Idol exists, but it bothers me more that millions of people drop a few coins each week to exercise their democratic rights to listen to bad music. At this point I am tempted to just call it American Karaoke and dismiss it entirely as the result of a nation suffering from artistic rejection. If creativity was an organ, like say the liver, the American public is Larry Hagman with a raised middle finger and a martini. But the hordes of fans voting and discussing the losers each week, makes me think perhaps I am the one who missed the boat. Granted, I don't watch TV. Which makes me hard pressed to compare American Karaoke, to another Reality TV show like the Apprentice or Super Queer Nanny for the Straight Guy who wants to marry a millionaire. I come from a more simple time. Law and Order was, well, Law and Order. There was nothing after the name, just solid drama every week. I hear next year they are coming out with Law and Order:CSI and Law and Order:OC This is the one where the force investigates crimes committed in Orange County.

On the other hand, it doesn't bother me that karaoke exists. It's the karaoke culture that has me mystified. Like Ultimate Frisbee, Amway, and Death Cab for Cutie, karaoke inspires an almost cultlike devotion from its followers. I can see why people could like any one of the above. I've seen Ultimate being played (Did you know there's no referee in Ultimate?) I've tried the dish detergent from Amway. And I have seen the Livejournals of many angst filled young women who claim that DCFC just gets them so emo they could cry me a rivers cuomo. I went to a karaoke bar on Sunday and had a drink and belted out a tune myself. It reaffirmed my suspicion that being good at karaoke can get you laid. The only caveat is that you are getting laid by a fellow karaoke enthusiast. Which means the validation must be constant and plentiful. (That was good, right?) Plus, if you hang out at the same bar for more than a year, chances are you will have slept with a few of your fellow patrons. Why else would you sing karaoke on a regular basis, if not to get with the fellow karaoke singers? Well, why do we do anything for that matter? If not just for the pleasure of curling up with a stranger in the back seat of a Volkswagen? The motivations of life amuse me. As my mom always told me: "Life's a bitch, and then you die."

We like to watch people struggle. The difference between life and American Karaoke is that people want to see failure. They want to be able to have conclusive opinions on the suckitude of others. They want to judge because that means they have power. It's an escape from the 9-5 where the boss is riding your ass for the monthly discrepancy reports to be completed in alphabetical triplicate. More than a water cooler chat topic, Reality TV allows us to feel better about ourselves. No longer is the idiot box the exclusive bastion of the photogenic and lithe. The new reality is that people like Ryan Seacrest and Ben Mulroney pretend to have affection for people they under normal circumstances would be telling how to prepare their capuccino. Just like Karaoke allows dental assistants and real teachers to be transformed into Instant Stars for three minutes and forty seconds, Reality TV is letting the aesthetically challenged have their Warholian moment. In essence, Reality TV is like the Special Olympics; Where EVERYONE is a winner.

It says here that Reality TV and karaoke are fads that will dance with the ebb and flow of the cultural shifts. Eventually art bars and coffee house poetry readings will flourish again like they did in the 1970s'. Right now we are in a time of cultural extroversion. We are so busy watching others and imitating people we have forgotten the importance of content. When we once again have a unifying issue to struggle against, we will resume the culture of introspection. This critical introspective thinking leads to more interpretation, which is released in the form of artistic impression. Or perhaps if my paranoid suspicions are correct and that we are suffering from a lack of thought, we could be in for a long spate of lethargic and untaxing media art displays. Either way, I'll be fine. I've got enough books to sit out 10 seasons of The Bachellorette, Making the Band, and Pimping Her Ride.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Commitments and the People Who Commit to Them

*This post is not about commitment specifically. Originally it was intended to be, but the author got hungry for something more tangential during the process. You know how it is, right?*

I am sometimes left awash in the turbulent waters known as my mind, and the debris occasionally clogs in the sink. Times like these you want to run and hide, or stand and fight, but with spring there comes a reckoning. The winter worn mental roads fall away washed out by the spring of new possibilities. Change, renewal, and progress is brought forth with the freshest of the seasons. My mind wanders to thoughts of commitments, the mortar blocks of life which keep mortals aware of how flimsy and yet constricting our commitments can be. I was reading the blog of a friend who is taking a new job. Starting a new life with her fiance and moving forward. She has committed to herself, and committed to another person. I was engaged once, but it didn't hold. I am no Adam Smith, but I like my freedom George Michael style. Yes, cavorting with a bunch of half naked supermodels is how I spend my days. Hey, a guy has to have his options open.

"If you want to die in bed forget about your karma. When your life hangs by a thread, don't cry about the fates. Grab a stash of cash and plan a rest'rant in the States" - The Engineer in Miss Saigon

Options imply choice. Choice implies power. The implication is a veneer. We are a puppeteer's society, our marionnette figures dance to the tune played on from above. The author thinks of Moses Znaimer, or Marshall Mcluhan, dynamic thinkers who constructed forms of communication. These models of mass dissemination assist the education of society and bring innovation to marketing ideas. It makes me ruminate on the idea of social engineering. That bringing supply to need has existed since man could establish a fair trade. That is, trade without the threat of Og clobbering you with his mallet should your peaches be less than spring fresh. I was reading a Globe and Mail supplement on the nature of bureaucracy in Japan. Starting a business or engaging in capitalistic enterprise is fraught with enough "Red Tape" to make one think they were in Beijing. The Japanese economy is social capitalistic in nature. The advanced state of their technology blinds us to their socialistic underpinnings. We look at a nation's output more carefully than the structures that produce their Gross Domestic Product. Again, I blame television for that ;P

Options, everyone has them. Stockbrokers hawking pieces of paper on the trading floor. Pretty girls looking over a list of potential Saturday night dinner invitations. You can get any one of six different options with your extra value meal at Wendy's. You can't buy a car without any options. They would just look at you kinda funny like that. Options are about ceding control. Control is power. Where a power vacuum exists, a political entity forms. The politics of change and power, control and choice. I love how those words are Inextricably linked. Change, power, control and choice; These are the forces humanity must struggle with as we organize the world market.

"We'll Pack Up All Our Junk And Fly So Far Away Devote Ourselves To Projects That Sell. We'll Open Up A Restaurant In Santa Fe. Forget This Cold Bohemian Hell"-Collins,Mark, and Angel from RENT

Seriously, what is it about musicals and glorifying the food service industry? It's not an easy way to make a living. Transient, LOUD, and horny staff; more wasted food than dinner at Courtney Cox Arquette's house; add long hours and shrinking profits and you see my point. A Restauranteur is a noble profession. Whether slinging hash browns or proffering profiteroles, the food industry has a fast moving beat you can dance or screw to if you like. You don't necessarily commit to a restaurant, but you commit to the brotherhood of the industry. I've met a few professional wait and bar staff, and you can see the difference making a commitment to the industry has made to them. You can see it in their eyes. It's a sense of duty, of professionalism, a call to hors d'oeuvres as it seems. They make it look so effortless and rational. The abundance of choice in the menu, the multiplicity of experiences, the tapas of it all. Menu, I can't take my eyes off of you... I can't take my eyes off of you.

Much like the coming of spring, this is the time when I wipe my mind of these inconsequential notions. I once wrote "She will never feel for you like you feel for her." on a piece of paper and stuffed it in my chest pocket. A mental tourniquet of sorts, a staple in a heart that was breaking daily. Of course this was in winter time, where the long dark nights with cold breezes freeze tears to your cheek. I had committed to a lifetime of heartbreak, little did I know that spring would wash these notions away. Into the arms of another lover, into a garden of whistling dixies and a bandshell blasting away at the night. We commit to feelings because its the only thing keeping them real. When we waver in our commitment to hurt, to laugh, to cry or what have you, the dreams fade and the day breaks a new.

I can't take my mind off you. I can't take my mind...
My mind...'Til I find somebody new - Damien Rice