Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Needles, Blood, and Wide Screen TVs

Once a year, when my prescriptions run out, I have to make a pilgrimage to the neighboring town to beg for refills. I have to go in, sit in a chair while some nurse uses a manual blood pressure device to take my blood pressure. All the while someone is sticking a thermometer in my mouth and then not telling me at all what the results are. My mom tells me that she can reduce her blood pressure by just relaxing. Yeah... right...

Let's take a look at my doctor's office, shall we? First off, coming in, you see bright white walls, not the calming green hues that one sees in a Chiropractor or a funeral home. I'm gonna have my next doctor check up at a funeral home... at least I can relax there. And in the middle of the waiting room is a large screen flat LCD TV projecting, loudly, a medicine centered rotating version of CNN. Filled with the information that you just have to know about obesity and heart disease and cancer and DEATH!! Such a relaxing atmosphere. I want classical music or something that says, "You're in a safe place." Air Supply or something....

Then you go to the little room with the not big enough bed (If I wanna sleep during my wait for the doctors, I should be able to put my feet someplace.), and you see posters of the inside of your intestines, or the clots of a blood artery that leads up to a cardiowhatchamacallit, or the colors of a malignant skin tumor. Again, with peeling wallpaper, white, and not a single poster that's not paid for by some drug manufacturer. There's not a single relaxing thing in the whole place.

Then, they stick me with a needle, a couple of times, cause they can't find an artery (I told them I didn't have any blood. Should have told them Dr. Pepper runs through my veins.), and they send it off to Quest Diagnostics, all to tell me information I already know. Yes, my liver enzymes are high, and I pee just fine. Then Quest bills me for $50 dollars and I pay for it for about 6 months until I get stuck again.

Doctors should use common sense, should provide a safe, relaxing environment, and should pay more attention to the customers then the drug manufacturers. My mom goes to a doctor that does that, but my insurance won't pay for it. Oh well...

So this is a blog rant, to make me feel better. And maybe it'll lower my blood pressure.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Afterlife

The songs that buzz over our heads in the grocery stores or the malls, do we ever actually listen to them?  Sure, the idiots that put in commercials always seem to interrupt the best songs.  Cut off a Crosby Stills and Nash song, but let Michael Bolton go by unscathed. Honestly, I've always listened to the music while I worked, as it made the day go by quicker.  A song can take up 3 minutes of time, or more, and while working, it makes those minutes seem less stressful.  You tend to forget about the ticking of your watch and forget about what you want to be doing.  That, of course, is the reason, as it provides pleasure into an otherwise silent room.  Allan Bloom compared music to instant ecstasy, orgasm if you will (and that's for a later blog), and there have been studies that make disciplined decisions harder to make while in a sexual mood. See the book Predictably Irrational, Chapter 3, I think, for that study.  So people, hopefully, buy more because the music is on.  But I have digressed from the intent of this post.


Recently, we have been playing Paul Simon's So Beautiful, So What and k.d. lang's newest album.  Both have songs on them that describe Heaven. I found it odd that two recent albums would have such descriptions of the Afterlife, given that these are not Gospel albums at all.  Further, the depictions of the hereafter are much different than that of conventional Christian belief.  Paul Simon's take turns out to be a long line where you wait to see God, after filling out a form, much as you would at a voting station. In the song, the main character starts hitting on a woman in line, who, knowing that she was dead, just shakes her head.  Reminds me (as a sidebar) of the lines in Bob Dylan's "Talking World War III Blues," where the man fins a woman, suggests they go play "Adam and Eve," and the response is "You saw what happened last time that started."  Anyway, life is mirrored in the line that Paul Simon has us wait.  And yet when we get to God, someplace high in space, we have lost the words we were going to say, as if we had any to begin with.  Instead, we have a snippet of a song.

In k.d. lang's track, Heaven is a bar. A bar everyone wants to get to. One where everyone knows your name.  Now, as much as we want Heaven to be like Cheers, Lang states in the chorus that "Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens." Heaven is then compared to a party, where, after everyone gets there, the same thing happens over and over, and when the "party is over, it starts again / exactly the same."  This doesn't sound like a Heaven I would want to go to, and both images are frighteningly familiar.  They have created Heaven in the image of man's world, just as the images of Mount Olympus and the jealousies and tantrums of the Greek Gods parallel the actions of man.  What Paul Simon and k.d. lang forget is that God created us in His own image, not the other way around. 

Take Stargate SG-1, for instance. The place where the Ancients go as they are ascending looks a lot like a restaurant, where the papers report on the goings on of Anubis and other bad guys.  In Star Trek: Voyager,, the Q Continuum looks like a shack on some road in a western state.  Again, nothing ever happens in these places, and it all repeats itself for all eternity. 

A couple of other examples.  In Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief,, the underworld, guarded by Cerberus, is basically a long line in which people wait in to get into the world of Hades.  How pleasant. In Pullman's The Amber Spyglass , the afterlife is a bog full of dead zombie like people, colorless, lifeless.  Of course, for Pullman, God is the bad guy, and Heaven is another dimension which is working on controlling the rest (see the episodes of South Park in which Heaven starts a war, and Kenny is the hero.

These are not the Heavens of the Christian faith, although there are other ideas that are positive.  Look at the afterlife talked about in Final Fantasy VII, where all life joins the undercurrents of power and song that flow through the Earth, giving it beauty and life.

While this has no comparison to Heaven, I believe it could be compared, given the harmonies and music that are discovered in the strings of molecular particles such as Quarks.  I talked about this before, in my blog post here

There are so many other images of the Afterlife that are used in modern day works of culture.  Take the waiting room in Beetlejuice, or Heaven in the movie Defending your Life. In these depictions of what comes after, it is a mirror of today's world, where waiting and defending are all that is done.  There is no enjoyment of the passage of time, which is of the utmost importance since time is eternal.  In fact, that is the main point of this blog.  When we look at Heaven, we think of eternity as a linear time model.  But the Bible depicts God as being outside of time, the Alpha and Omega, so we surely cannot expect Heaven to be in a linear time frame.  Thus the idea of a waiting line doesn't work. We would exist in a time aspect that is far different from the model we understand today.  It would be more like the Prophet's universe on Star Trek: DS9.  Past, present, and future mean nothing in this time frame, but song and vibrating emotions do. 

People spend so much time thinking about what happens after you die.  I think more time needs to be spent living.  Even for Christians, there's a whole lot of livin' goin' on (Ernie Haase song) between the Cross and Heaven.  If we accept death, which we must, then life is so much easier to deal with.  And if we see the afterlife as some gloomy bog or an endless line, then there's no point in dying, no point in living. What would living morally, toward the virtues of some loving God, what would that matter?  We should try and live by our own beliefs, our own morals, those that we have adapted from our faith, from the lessons our parents and other elders have taught us, and then, believing in what we do, when we die, whatever happens, will happen.  Jesus was assuring us life after death, but was also assuring us life before that death.  Let's not worry about what it looks like, and make this life the best we can.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Where the Wild Pixels Are.

It constantly amazes me how people identify with the Maurice Sendak book  
Where the Wild Things Are. I always keep copies behind the register for the times we are holding book drives for charitable organizations. Time and again people will come up, point at the book, say, "I remember that book!" and immediately add it to their order for donation. All this for a book in which nothing happens! The kid misbehaves, is sent to his room, in which, ostensibly as a dream, it turns into a forest, with a boat, with an island, with Wild Things on it. He plays, jumps, hangs from vines (on pages with no words) and then gets unhappy for whatever reason, and goes home.  With his supper still hot.  And yet so many people love this book. It's odd, because I don't remember ever reading the book as a child, and when I read the book, it really didn't stick with me as something major, like, say, Harold and the Purple Crayon, which is an amazing book and speaks volumes about the children's imagination. And yet something has connected in the psyche of the people reading it, for it won the Caldecott Medal for picture books. It must be something special.

So I go see the movie in the theatre, walk into the cinema room, and I'm the only one there. I loved it!!  I sang with the songs, howled with the Wild Things, cried at the end. It was an utterly spectacular movie, my favorite now, and it comes from a book that is empty of most literary devices. See here for a review of the movie.

To round out the multimedia trilogy, I finished the video game for the PS3. And I (big shock here) loved it, too. I loved it for the same reason that everyone hated it.  The platform game is simplistic, with few weapons or items to use. It is offline only, for one player, and the enemies consist of bugs and shadow gunk things. But it's a return to the Island where the Wild Things live. And the programmers make the Wild Things just like those in the movies, with the exact same personality, but they further them into the archetypes that they have been built around (on that later). It is escaping into a world where you (as Max) are completely alone with these giant furry thingees, and you get to experience the wonderment of this world without having to worry about PKers or other crap from the outside world. Every time KW or Carol gets stuck, I was emotionally drawn to freeing them from the gunk and the monsters, and achieving the "trophy" that had me not save them hurt. I had to turn off the sound while they sank into oblivion.  Because the Wild Things are, as an entire set, part of Max's total psyche.  That's what makes them archetypes.  So let's look at who the Wild Things actually are.

I will freely admit that I did not come up with the idea of the Wild Things as Archetypes, although I respect greatly those that did, and will give credit where I can.  It is not the first time that characters can be identified with the universal types of people in this world.  A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, with the characters involved, are similar in behavior to Carol, Alexander, DW, and the rest. They are analyzed in Benjamin Hoff's The Tao of Pooh (see here for a look into that book.Jacob Kreuger talked about WTWTA and the Wild Things being archetypes in his review of the screenplay. He does a great job of reviewing the uniqueness of the plot, of the characters, and what makes the movie so different from any other movie made currently.  He also explains why people either love the movie or passionately hate it. Personally, I think those that hate the movie don't understand the underlying ideas, that namely, the movie is not supposed to be a "kid's" movie, nor is it supposed to have a nice warm, fuzzy ending.  Max's life goes on, much as the hero archetype would in Joseph Campbell's Hero books, and we leave the theatre having watched him grow up, at least a little. 

The Wild Things, then, are personifications (or archetypes) of the inner self of Max (and therefore, of all of us). Kreuger goes into a little of this, but he doesn't personify all of the Wild Things.  I found another source that does this, although I don't have a name or a link for it, I thank him for sharing his thoughts on the matter. 

These descriptions fit the video game as well as the movie.  Carol is raw emotion, the ADD version of Max. Quick to love, quick to anger and react, with no thought as to the consequences. K.W. is the caring, feminine influence, which according to Krueger, also represents his mom and sister, who have developed new friends (the owls/or the sister's friends and mom's new boyfriend), and have left Carol/Max behind. Douglas is Jimmy Cricket, or the conscious that helps Carol/Max along. Alexander is the insecure, victimized Max, who is sure that he's being ignored and overlooked, who acts up sometimes just to get attention (ADD again). Then there's the couple. Ira who is the teddy bear, and Judith, who is jealous, confrontational, and represents the immature Max, who wants his mother to make him feel better and play, even when she doesn't want to.

Then there is the Bull.  You never see him in the movie, except for grunts and growls inside huts. And for being on the front cover of the book, you'd think that he would be an important character. He is the one on the beach at the end of the movie, and he says one line, "Hey, Max. When you go home, will you say good things about us?" Bull is transformed here, from the Eeyore type mopey figure to the wise voice of omniscience. In the movie (and the game), the Bull peeks around corners, on the periphery of the scene, and when you look in his eyes, he's a little scary. In how this was explained to me, the Bull represents the future Max, his masculinity, calmness, wisdom, Max as a man.  He is saying to Max, "How will you remember your childhood? What will you say about it?" But I think, most importantly, he is telling Max, "Remember."  It is so vitally important to remember the island in times when the adult world becomes overbearing.  I think that's why, above all the other Wild Things, the Bull is my favorite.  He is the guardian (at the end of the video game, he most certainly is), the watcher over Max's childhood. And he says, when necessary, "Remember." I know I will.