Swashbuckling Dreams

The music is still playing in my head.

Its the normal mark of an auditory learner, I think, to have permanently lodged in our short-term memory the most recent song that was playing before we parked the car, or got off the bus. You know what I mean…you’ll be humming it to yourself all day until you’re finally leaving the office, or until you have the chance to listen to something else while you plow through your paperwork. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that…it just means that music’s staying power and beauty isn’t lost on you.

The music in question has been playing in my head since last night. Its not the last thing I listened to on the flight home from the family’s Thanksgiving celebration, its not the jazz I played while reading last night. It the theme song to the DVD I finished watching last night in order to return it to Netflix this morning, and it was (cough)…it was an (looking down, shuffling feet)…it was sort of an…a 1980’s superhero cartoon theme song.

Okay, I said it. I’m out of the closet now. Last night’s bedtime entertainment for me was a DVD of the top five episodes of the first season of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I remarked to Karen that something about the sounds of the opening credits and theme song/voiceover took me back to my elementary school days, back to a simpler and innocent time. Maybe I was just justifying it to myself…maybe. More likely, I was justifying my viewing choice to her…but that’s okay, she loves me and accepts me. What was profoundly of interest to me last night, though, was watching an animated fantasy series from my elementary school years through the lens of education and sensibilities that come with me in life currently…sort of a metaphysical inspection, if you will. All good science fiction (and all good stories of any genre) have a meta-message of some variety, and animated series are no different. I’m not aware of scholarly discussion about He-Man, although that’s not to say that it isn’t out there, but I remember the series being of intense interest to me in my young impressionable years. I remember talking on the playground to another guy one morning, the morning of the day that He-Man’s premiere was due to air. He asked me if I was going to watch it. I responded with an enthusiastic “yes!” A girl was there. She shook her head and turned to friends to discuss how incredibly immature this was.

He-Man was controversial in the animation world because of its previously un-matched violence in American animation. I can see overtly masculine images and appeal in the show now…it was, and is, all about connecting to a young male audience. He-Man was, simply, the hero we all hoped to be, the other identity that I knew lay somewhere underneath my nerd’s exterior, that would surface and run to the rescue should the need ever arise in one of my peers…preferably an attractive one of the opposite gender.

I remember having a dream about a beautiful girl that needed help. I ran to her aid, leading the others in my elementary school class behind me. I was the heroic leader, charging forward to save her honor. Very He-Man-like. I always liked that dream.

You see, every boy…every man…everyone…dreams of being a hero in some regard. We long to leave a legacy, to depart this realm with the knowledge that we’ve accomplished something, that our lives stood for something and will leave something positive in their wake. Deep down, I always wanted to save the damsel in distress. I always wanted to be a hero to those in crisis. I always wanted to save the day.

Not long after I was out of college, I was driving somewhere after work one afternoon. I remember that my mother was in the car with me. I was  navigating out of a parking lot, when an elderly woman mis-judged a turn and hopped a concrete barrier that stood in the way of a large, ravine-style ditch. Her car slammed down on the concrete barrier rather violently as her tire slipped off the edge. Liquid immediately began flowing from underneath. I got out of our vehicle to smell that it was fuel. She had ruptured her fuel tank, and was attempting to rock the car back over the barrier, creating  the risk of potentially making a spark. While someone else called the police, I convinced the woman to place her vehicle in park, and assisted her away from the car until emergency crews arrived. I felt like a superhero. I felt like I had saved the day.

Maybe I’m making too much of a relatively minor incident, but I like to recall that moment sometimes in the belief that I helped someone. Perhaps I entered the field I’m in with a sort of superhero complex, wanting to save the world, one client at a time. Perhaps that is the alter-ego of the writer…perhaps I write as Clark Kent, while convincing myself that I can leap tall buildings in a single bound as I go to work each morning.

Perhaps that’s pretty sad, but I take comfort in the fact that I can at least know that I’m trying to make a difference to others, even if I don’t succeed. And I’m not alone, because, if I were, fantasies like the world of He-Man and countless other superhero adventures wouldn’t resonate with humanity like they do, existing cross-culturally in genres of literature around the world.

If the only person I’ve ever helped was the elderly woman that day, then I feel like I counted for something. Even if there was no theme music playing or light flashing of magical swordplay.
That, I think, is why He-Man takes me back to a time of innocence, when I dreamed of what I wanted to accomplish, of the difference I wanted to make. And, that is likely why these stories appeal so heavily to me today, because I hope that I’m not through making a difference quite yet.

That’s what I’m thinking, anyway. I may even have more to say later this week, because Inhumanoids is next in the cue.

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The Pressure is in the Process

Continuing the train of thought from last week’s post, I was having a conversation with a friend this week about language and its reduction to a utilitarian value…that Western culture, specifically in the U.S., views language only as a means to an end, valuing succinct bullet points and brevity as supreme qualities because of the manner in which they enhance production value. The conversation led us to a similar conclusion about our culture’s view of humanity, and perhaps the conclusion that the degradation of the English language is due (at least in part) to the humiliation and de-humanized perception of men and women as lacking inherent self-worth.

At the end of the day, social improvement and reformation accounted for, any industrialized culture will always fight a losing battle to maintain the view that a human being is inherently valuable. The reason is because progress and production are supreme, and thus the things that an individual can make and build take priority over that person’s well-being…are seen as being more important to the whole than the person is himself. Individuality is one of the first casualties of this war, and self-esteem quickly follows, because that is simply a luxury one cannot afford when one is trying to make a living.

Certainly, history shows us that we’ve made progress since the industrial revolution. However, materialism and morality remain mutually exclusive, and thus progress will always be the enemy of personhood, at least at some level.

Lewis spoke of the danger that accompanies the power of art. We are created as creators, and thus are engaging in our supreme life-giving capacity when we engage in creativity. There is danger in idolizing and worshipping what we’ve created, however, in permitting it to become something that its not. When our creation…be it a painting, a novel, a city, a new computer, whatever…assumes a perceived supremacy over the life of the person who is creating it (or facilitating its creation) then we’ve degraded that person. Creating is life-giving, unless we, in doing so, take life. I fear that’s what may have occurred as we’ve began to value the product over those involved in the process.

Perhaps to regain a recognition that each person we pass on the street and pay for our lunch and drive past in traffic is, in fact, a person and possessor of hopes and dreams and creativity just like our own, is to regain a passion and a love for our language. Sadly, as long as we continue to treat each other barbarously, then we will treat our words barbarously, as well.

A Language of a Love Unrequited

As you already know if you’ve read this blog for very long, I’m hopelessly in love with science fiction. More of an insatiable, passionate lust, really. Nothing makes my night after a long day of doing whatever like sitting down and streaming a well-written, imaginative science fiction adventure that takes me out of my daily grind, causes me to ponder life and spirituality, to question, to ask “what if?”

Now, there’s a lot of bad sci-fi out there, and a lot of good sci-fi, and sometimes you think you’re in for the latter only to painfully discover that its the former you’re viewing or reading, and that’s always a bummer. Whatever quality it is, though, really isn’t the question I want to ponder in this post, because its still sci-fi.

As opposed to “SyFy.”

For all of you English teachers, writers, and those basically literate who are reading this and just cringed, I’m afraid its true. This isn’t news, exactly, as the change occurred this summer for the Sci-Fi Channel’s…umm, I mean, SyFy’s, logo, but after being forced to stare at the offending thing in the lower right corner of the computer screen for the past 4 months as I enjoy the network’s offerings on Hulu, I’ve finally snapped and am unable to keep my mouth shut about it any longer. Apparently, creating artistically excellent, visually stunning, compelling, and well-written programming wasn’t enough to satisfy the network as they examined their marketing strategy. They felt that they had to make their logo illiterate in order to appeal to mass audiences more. After all, networks rely on viewers, and if the viewers are unable to spell and clueless about intelligent use of the English language, then said network must cater to cultural ineptness so that said viewers will continue to view. Long live the business model.

This leaves me so exasperated I don’t even know where to begin.

The crux of that with which I take issue is stupidity, I think. Not the stupidity of all viewers (see the above link’s reference to pissed off nerds), but the stupidity of our culture in general, and the furtherance of this stupidity by the attitude that it is easier (not to mention more financially lucrative) to cater to this stupidity than to do something about it. Why spend all that time and energy actually teaching people to read and write in correct English, after all, when we can spend that time marketing our products to the third grade spelling in which their minds already think so that we can make more money? I mean, money is more important, right?

I imagine that if our text-messaging, 160-character, SMS programmed generation of college (no, I didn’t say high school, I said college) students were able to see a problem here they’d say something to the effect of, “wtf??”

Then again, that’s part of the problem. We’ve become so used to shortening our language in the interest of expedient communication that abbreviations which were created so as to be able to tap out thoughts more quickly on a cell phone keypad have now become the grammatical status quo in emails, tweets, blog posts, and even (I imagine my professor friends would concur) research papers.

“Seriously?”, you ask. “UG2BK!!!”

Alas, no, my friends, this is the result of teaching our language as only a technical means of communication and of understanding “more important” concepts (advanced Calculus, for example), of reducing our language to nothing more than a means to an end, without loving the beauty of it, not to mention the beauty of any other language. Appreciation for poetry? No time for that…there’s industrialization to occur and money to be made! Enjoying a beautiful prose description of a sunset over a beach through the eyes of a compelling fictional character that could lead us to ponder something deep within our own psyches? Again, sorry, but there’s no time…we have to make sure our students achieve satisfactory scores on standardized tests so that we can regain our image in the eyes of the world, and produce more goods. To make more money. You know…the important things.

Except that, in doing so, we’ve reduced our educational system to even more of a laughing stock for the rest of the world, as we continue to destroy a language that has treated us well and furthered the development of our culture for centuries.

My prediction? We are 20 years away from the death of the English language. Gone. Relegated to memory of yesteryear. Or, perhaps more likely, altered and morphed into some sort of unrecognizable computer-speak with all of the succinctness and brevity of mass production, and barely a memory of a poetic and delicate language that once existed, erased as completely as Rome erased the histories of the nations it conquered. And when those speakers of the future who spend too much time working instead of thinking take a moment to wonder what it would be like if our language were to communicate something other than digitized facts, or to be crafted with a care and love for the language itself, everyone would chuckle.

“Wouldn’t that be funny?” they would ask.


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Unexpectedly Traditional

I’ve finally slept off the time change well enough to have the capacity to write again, so here is a slightly late reflection on All Saints Day, which I celebrated on Sunday night at a Celtic Evensong service at an Episcopal church.

If you’ve read my posts for very long, you’ll know that I’m not a huge fan of tradition. I don’t engage in traditional practices of spirituality with any regularity, I don’t like to observe holidays the same way from year to year, and I actually don’t even necessarily observe the same holidays from year to year, at least as far as the liturgical church calendar is concerned. This year, however, as I’m not really into Halloween, I decided to observe All Saints Day. A dose of liturgy is a nice way to break things up every now and again.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with All Saints Day, it is a holiday on the church calendar that commemorates, at least in Western observance, the Believers who have passed before us, both the “saints” that everyone knows, as well as family and loved ones, with whom many believe we have a mystic communion. The Evensong service involved a candle-lighting opportunity, during which every participant could go forward during music to light a candle in memory of someone that has passed away.

Now, as you might imagine, I generally take no interest in these sorts of ceremonial exercises. Its not that I dislike them in any way, its just that they have no meaning for me as a rule. For some reason, however, I chose to light a candle Sunday night, because both the liturgy and the priest’s reading of Buechner during the meditation guided my recollection to my grandmother, who passed earlier this year. I recall thinking as I lit the candle, “because you were a saint to me.”

To say that I was moved by the experience would be a slight understatement. Enter unscheduled mini-meltdown.

We can debate the theology of my statement later, but what struck me about Sunday night was the fact that a simple, ceremonial act assisted me in entering into the mourning process that has been sporadic at best since my grandmother’s death…a process with which I have experienced significant difficulty engaging in any sort of healthy manner. I didn’t predict that an observance of All Saints Day would take me there, would assist me in the spiritual healing from the loss of my grandmother. Briefly, however, there was a catharsis, a release of emotion that has been episodic at best since last winter. I think that’s part of what spiritual exercises are for, and I may just attend a liturgical observance of All Saint’s Day again next year, especially if I still am only managing unhealthy bursts of emotional release from my grandmother’s passing.

At the risk of engaging in ritual, that is.