Archive for December, 2011
My family and I have a holiday tradition, every Christmas we all sit down and watch movies together. We do the same thing everyday of the week, but since it’s Christmas and the movies we watch are “Christmas Movies”, it technically counts as a holiday tradition. Anyway, like every self-respecting TV Station, we put on “It’s a Wonderful Life” and watch the adventures of George Bailey and his guardian angel Clarence battle the diabolical Mr. Potter. Or something like that. Every year that we watch this movie, however, I’m confronted the cold, bitter truth of the movie: Mr. Potter isn’t the true villain.
It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t about thwarting Potter, of course, but about taking the time to look around and enjoy the life you have, even if on the surface, it doesn’t look that great. I’ve watched this movie so many times that this message has become part of my subconscious, and yet there is a more important lesson that we can learn from this movie. It’s a lesson that humanity has been learning for centuries, and when we finally do learn this lesson, it will change the world. To illustrate my point, and make myself look witty and sophisticated in the process, I offer you the following quote by Edmund Burke:
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
You see, Potter isn’t really the worst character in the story, he’s an evil caricature of a man, like Scrooge McDuck or, perhaps more appropriately, Donald Trump. His evil, twisted nature, makes it easy to fixate on him as the main bad guy, but in reality Mr. Potter is simply slave to his nature. To be angry at him is like being angry at the scorpion that stung you, sure you can hate the scorpion all you want and introduce it to the heel of your boot, but the scorpion was simply acting instinctively. Potter is the same way. He cannot change what he is, and while we can and should vilify him for that, he’s not the true cause of George Bailey’s suffering in the final act of the film. The true villain, the one upon who we should heap blame on, and cast stones at as he walks down the street, is this asshole right here:
Oh yes, the guy that pushes Potter’s wheelchair, he doesn’t even have a name, but he’s the most important character in the entire story because he illustrates the most dangerous characteristic we, as a people, possess: the ability to feel indifference towards the suffering of others. To turn a blind eye to the crimes of others, because “Hey, it’s not my problem.”
In the final act of It’s a Wonderful Life Uncle Billy (who is so badass he has a Raven for a pet) accidentally hands an envelope filled with $8000 to Mr. Potter while taunting him with a newspaper. The evil Mr. Potter cackles, and practically rubs his hands together with gleeful malice, as he watches a now frantic Uncle Billy search for the missing money. Now let’s rewind a bit, to when Mr. Potter discovers the money in the newspaper. He’s not alone in the room. Mr. Potter’s wheelchair is essentially a god damn throne on wheels, which would be pretty heavy to roll around, and a man of Mr. Potter’s arrogance would never stoop to pushing himself around. So he has his handy Wheel-Chair Pusher, as he will now be called, with him at all times. Now the Wheel Chair Pusher saw the money, he knew it wasn’t Potter’s, and if he has any deductive reasoning skills, probably can guess the money belongs to Uncle Billy. So what does he do: Simply grab the money from Mr. Potter’s arthritic hands, and return it? Perhaps call the police? Publically humiliate Potter by telling the reporters the truth?
No: he does absolutely nothing.
And therein lies the true rump of this story. Once again, Potter can’t help being evil anymore than the Scorpion can keep from stinging, but Mr. Wheel Chair Pusher is making a conscious choice to allow this to continue. Wheel Chair Pusher keeps on pushing, even as Mr. Potter calls reporters, and police, and lawyers to dismantle a beneficial organization and send an honest, innocent man to jail. Even when George Bailey comes in, obviously distraught, and performing another selfless act by taking the blame for his Uncle’s mistake, our Wheel Chair Pusher stands silent. Now of course this is a movie, and Wheel Chair Pusher outing his boss for stealing the money would have made for a damn boring conclusion, but this kind of thing happens all the time. Right now as your reading this, someone, somewhere, is turning a blind eye to someone else’s suffering because it’s not their problem. So yeah, it’s a movie, but it brings up an interesting human dilemma that is worth discussing, so shut up and keep reading.
Now I’m going to be stomping on this boot with the mighty boot of Godwin’s Law, because Hitler and the Holocaust are incredibly relevant to this discussion. Eli Wiesel, author of Night, once said:
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
He said this because it was silence and indifference that led to the Holocaust. Hitler started it, and the Nazi’s perpetrated it, but it was average, ordinary people that allowed it to happen. Just imagine the amount of people that were required to carry out such a systematic extermination process: the soldiers who guarded the ghettos, the civilians in the city that saw them being rounded up, the engineers on the trains that brought new victims to the death camps, the SS soldiers who guarded the camps and looked into the eyes of suffering people everyday. Not everyone was content to sit back and watch this unfold: Oskar Schindler used his ammunition factory to help Jews escape from Germany (while simultaneously never actually producing a single shell for the Nazis), Raoul Wallenberg blatantly abused his diplomatic immunity to help get Jews safely out of Hungary. Most impressively Herman Goering’s own brother, Albert, used his family’s influence to actively fight the Nazis and free countless Jews from concentration camps.
Now imagine if everyone were willing to put themselves at risk in order to save someone else? Hitler’s Nazi regime would have disintegrated years before Russia had a chance to curb stomp it, and tens of millions of lives would have been saved. Humanity is slow to learn, and even slower to change, but I believe we’re getting there, even if the finish line is still a long way off.
So let’s all take a lesson from It’s a Wonderful Life and not be the Wheel Chair Pusher. Don’t turn a blind eye to injustice simply because that injustice hasn’t been visited upon you, and never remain silent when you witness suffering because you aren’t suffering. I don’t care if it’s a kid being bullied on a playground, a woman being mugged in an alley, or genocide being committed in a far away country, none of these are acceptable and we should not remain silent when we witness them.
So it’s week 8 of my campaign to lessen the gravitational pull from my stomach. Oh it wasn’t my idea, NASA was getting tired of having their satellites pulled out of orbit, and after some men in black suits insinuated that I might be making the first manned exploration of deep space, I decided to start up at the gym again.
Oh yes, this isn’t my first experience with the black crucibles of pain known as gym. The past couple of years I’ve gotten into a habit of going to the gym 3 times a week, losing about ten pounds, and then relapsing into laziness. The most recent setback I’ve had came about last April when my sleep apnea finally got the better of me, and left me bedridden and exhausted for four months for some reason it took 4 god damn months to fill out the proper forms and get the damn machine I needed. If ever I needed proof of the inefficiency of our healthcare system, trying to get my sleep apnea treated provided me with so much proof that it nearly killed me. But that’s a story for another day.
While that is my most recent setback with my continuing efforts to get in shape, it was hardly my biggest setback. Picture it: The year is 2007, and I’m on top of the world. My depression has been in remission for over a year, I graduate highschool only a year later than usual despite being behind nearly 3 years in credits, I have a girlfriend, and a wonderful job. My mother and I are eating healthy, and going for walks daily, and the results are outstanding. I was down to 300 pounds, and while that is still overweight, I could no longer be mistaken for one of Jupiter’s moons like I could at 350.
I had life by the reigns, and was ready to charge to the finish line. I had already written my acceptance speeches for the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize that were inevitably going to fall into my lap at some point. I was riding high on a wave of success and happiness.
In the movies this is where the character riding that same wave of success would crash into the jagged rocky shoals of failure and despair. For me, however, the wave just sort of dispersed, without my even noticing. It wasn’t until I was left on the desolate fossilized seabed of a long since extinct ocean that I realized what had happened. And how badly I’ve beaten this surfing analogy into the ground.
It started slowly. I felt lost in the local community college. Whereas in Sequoia the teachers and staff were committed to helping out the students, at colleges they just don’t give a damn. As long as the tuition is paid on time, the college was perfectly content to watch students flounder around helplessly. Then a couple of bad months at my job caused me to look for another one, rather than sticking it out like I should have. I found a new one that allowed me to work overnight, which allow me to attend classes at the new school I had just chosen. I was feeling so good at the time that I felt like working overnight wouldn’t be a problem, and for a while it wasn’t. But working on 4-5 hours of sleep over the course of three months does start to wear on you. And after nearly six months you start to suffer from hallucinations.
And those were just the pebbles that fall before an avalanche starts.
What followed would take an entire book to explain, but the main points were that over the course of a few weeks I had both lost my job and been kicked out of school. The housing market had crashed a couple months earlier taking with it most of the economy, which made finding another job nearly impossible. And by the time life was finished exploding in my face, I had swollen up to my original 350 pounds again, and was once again pulling GPS satellites out of orbit.
And I’ve spent the last two years trying to figure out what to do about it. Which brings us back, in a roundabout way, to the gym.
You see, having been going to the gym for the past two months or so, I think I finally understand where I was going wrong all those other times I’ve started at the gym. Previously I’d been trying to get back to where I was in 2007, staying for 90 minutes, and not quitting until my muscles have seized up. Unfortunately after a couple weeks of that, my body would refuse to suffer any more, and I’d quit going. What I’ve done instead this time, is start slow. I started off only going twice a week, and doing about 20 minutes of cardio and 10 minutes of weightlifting. I know it doesn’t sound like much right? And that’s what always bugged me, it felt like if I wasn’t in a state nearing complete physical exhaustion by the end of it, it wasn’t worth it.
But you gotta build up to it, and now after 2 months, I’m starting to see improvement. I’m now going a full half hour on the elliptical, and a half hour of weightlifting. And after hovering around 350 again for six months, I’m down to 330. Exercise isn’t an all or nothing game, and neither is life.
I’d been trying all this time to get my life back in order by getting a job, getting a girlfriend, or getting into a good school. Feeling as if I didn’t have all the things that I had back in 2007, it wasn’t worth trying to do anything else. Just like the all-or-nothing mentality of my gym workouts. And yet look what I got out a seemingly small decision I made back in August: Deciding to go to Aeterno Elementum. Four short months later and I have a new set of friends, had some wonderful times working with the people at Ara’Kus Productions and even have a job writing for their website and newsletter.
Life isn’t a race, it’s a marathon. You got to climb that sheer cliff wall one foot hold at a time.
So if you wondering why last week’s post was missing, there’s a simple explanation: I’m a moron.
You see, when I wrote the article on Irony a few weeks ago, I didn’t quite like how it turned out and set it to “Pending Review” so that I could fix it up later and not be embarrassed about people reading a messy article. So I fixed it up. And then I wrote last week’s article.
I’ve been sitting around here for days waiting for someone to comment on one of them. Even my own mother wasn’t talking about it.
As I was preparing to flee into the wilds of Alaska, armed only with a knife and utter terror, I rechecked the website. It seems I never bothered to uncheck the “pending review” button. So, while the posts showed up for me, to everyone else it looks like nothing has changed.
My bad. You can click the above links to read the articles you may have missed (and you know you want to) or just scroll down.
So, November has come and gone, and my grand total for words written was 3,427. Not even enough to put into the NaNoWriMo engine.
So what happened?
Well, since I never take my responsibility for my own actions if I can help it, I’m going to be blaming it all on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. My 50,000 word opus vanished into Skyrim’s massive open-ended world like women vanish the moment I mention I’m single. It was gone in a puff of smoke, though luckily without the sucker punch to the stomach that the ladies usually leave me.
I went to the midnight launch at the local Fred Meyer, and let me tell you, that was a thoroughly depressing affair. First of all the poor employees had clearly not been allowed any rest before this launch, and were practically taking Red Bull intravenously in order to stay awake. I can now see why so many store workers are against the Black Friday sales, which require them to either stay up all night or get up so early even the dead would balk at it. For someone who routinely wakes up at noon, and requires a mid-afternoon nap, that sounds like hell on earth.
Embarrassing thing #2 was that I was a grown man surrounded by fiendish teenagers, with their weird hair, weird clothes and strange dialect. They were playing Skyrim on the PS3 that was setup for the midnight launch, and complaining that the graphics weren’t all that great. Not great!? NOT GREAT!? These young whippersnappers had walked in here and complained about the graphics of all things? It was then, as I looking around for my cane and preparing to start a “Back in My Day” speech that I realized something horrible. I’m old! It’s a terrible realization, and my god, I nearly had to chase them off my goddamn lawn. DARN KIDS!
Okay, so I’m not actually all that old (23). I’m far from the calcified husks that my parents have turned into, but still, I’d never really considered that I was no longer a teenager. I looked around and said to myself “When the hell did I grow beyond this?” obviously it wasn’t just the comment on graphics, but the way they acted and spoke. We really need to start handing out official “You are now an adult” cards to people, because when it sneaks up on you like that, it’s really quite shocking. But anyway, back to Skyrim.
I got home, carefully balancing on my walker, and installed the game. Then everything goes blurry, like a fever dream.
I remember hiking across a vast ice tundra.
I remember fighting a Dragon atop a towering mountain.
I remember giggling like a little girl when a giant smacked me in the face and sent me flying into orbit.
I came to several weeks later an emaciated ghost of my former self, my eyes were gaunt, my hands were rigid with fatigue, and I could have carried a cat in each of the huge bags that hung under my eyes. My mouse now has permanent indentations where my fingers had clenched during particularly difficult fights, and I’d fought so many dragons that their image was practically burned into the computer screen. Some of the keys on the keyboard are missing from where my head would crash into it after lapsing into unconsciousness.
Okay, there might be some slight exaggeration. Still, Skyrim sucked me in like a black hole made of Dragons and Magic, crushing me in a perfect singularity of awesomeness.
Yet, I must face the truth. Even had Skyrim not come out this November, I still don’t think I could have completed NaNoWriMo.
Why, you ask? How could I, the world’s greatest living writer possibly fail such a mundane task? How much time will I have to spend in hell for the massive lie in that last sentence?
Well I’ll tell you, (except the last one, I’ve got a fiddle competition with the Devil over that one).
The first, and biggest problem, is that I no longer have a routine. There was a time when I was writing every day for at least a couple of hours, but that’s no longer the case. Due to my laziness I’ve taken to writing whenever the mood strikes me, rather than making it a ritual. Well that’s not acceptable, at least not to me. Being unemployed and living with my parents should leave me with plenty of time to write, and yet I’m just not doing it. And the reason why brings me to my second problem.
I don’t have a quite place to just sit and write. Now I don’t necessarily mean I need a place to write that’s quiet, like a library. I mean peaceful quiet, where I can reach an almost zen state of utter eloquence (or at least crank out a half-decent sentence). I get on my home computer and video games, youtube, and Porn (oh so much porn) beckon me like the Sirens beckoned Odysseus. Distraction is just too readily available. My room is also unsuitable, mostly due to the fact that it has all the roominess of a prison cell. I need a place where I can get up and pace, or run around screaming wildly when my mind finally snaps under the pressure, but in my room I’m just as likely to go take a nap and not write at all.
So my new objectives in my continuing Self-Improvement Campaign are set: Find a Place to Write and Make it a Routine. Tune in next week when I’ll tell you about my continuing self-flagellation at the gym.