Jason Porath

has a website, i guess

Category: bitch bitch bitch (page 1 of 3)

The rise of the hashgag

If you’ve seen Big Hero Six, chances are that one of the things that stuck with you was Baymax’s “balalala” fist bump. You can see the exact moment in the YouTube clip above. Most people saw that and just laughed at the silliness of it.

Me, I set my watch.

Upon first seeing it, I guessed (correctly) that exact gag would be repeated 2-3 more times in the movie, depending on how well the test audiences had enjoyed it. They would be spaced out for maximum effect, at 20 minute intervals.  And that it would be seized upon by the marketing department, either in the trailers themselves, the TV ads, or a twitter campaign (it was, as you can tell by the above video). I even guessed that it was inserted fairly late in production (which, best I can tell from what my Disney friends have said, is also true). I would not be surprised if it was one of many such moments that were tested out.

(yes, I’m a total killjoy. I have a degree in film criticism and I worked in animation for many years. I can’t watch movies like a normal person anymore.)

I don’t have a good word to describe this phenomenon, so I’m going to term it “hashgags.” This is a joke in an animated movie, usually input at the behest of marketing forces, that is used to sell the movie. It’s usually inserted late into production and test screened to within an inch of its life.  Some are used repeatedly, some are one-offs that do well with trailers. And it is crippling the entire industry.

Here’s some other examples. First, we have Madagascar 3’s earworm/minstrel show/violation of the Geneva Convention, Afro Circus:

Next, Rise of the Guardians’ Goofy Christmas Elves, who barely feature into the movie:

There’s the progenitor of the current generation, Scrat from Ice Age  – who consistently exists in almost a totally different movie from the rest of the characters:

Tossing it in here, because I find it hysterically baffling, Free Birds’ creepy laughing hazmat guys (this one didn’t work, but I can see what they were trying to do):

…but everyone is just chasing the guys who perfected the hashgag — Despicable Me’s Minions:

If you’ve been near a child within the past five years, you’ve probably heard them running around singing “banana” or echoing the “bee-doo, bee-doo” firetruck sounds they make in Despicable Me 2.

So, pop quiz: who made Despicable Me? Not Universal, they were the distribution and financiers. Not Illumination either, they’re basically a shell production company owned by Universal. It’s certainly not Pixar, DreamWorks, Disney, Blue Sky, Sony, or Laika. Give up?

It was MacGuff.

Who?

Exactly.

MacGuff is a French film company whose animation division was acquired by Illumination in 2011. They conspicuously don’t appear in any of the advertising for the film. They’re hardly a household name. Even most people working in the industry don’t know about them. They also, as far as I’m aware (it may have changed since being bought by Illumination), unlike almost every other animation studio in existence, receive none of the profits from the success of the Despicable Me movies. They are (were?) guns for hire.

The Minions themselves are basically the epitome of hashgag. They are cute nonsensical character designs that make zero sense, bolted onto the rest of the movie in ridiculous vignettes. These vignettes can be mass-produced across the globe without concern for continuity  or artistry. To me, they reek of the cynical influence of marketing. They are far more popular than any other character in the movie (can you name any of Gru’s daughters? the villain? his wife?), to the point where they are the primary focus of the advertising and merchandising.  They’re not even voiced by people who can get voice actor royalties: they’re voiced by the directors.

This is a different phenomenon than the comic relief sidekick we saw in the 90s. Characters like Abu or Flounder were not the focus of the movie’s charm and advertising. Characters like Scrat and the Minions are.

I hate the Minions. I hate them violently, passionately, personally. Their rise to prominence makes sense — their humor is very basic, slipping-on-a-banana-peel nonsense, and it translates well to both young children and people in other countries — but it is tremendously regressive filmmaking, on the order of “Steamboat Willie.” When I approached the animation industry, it was riding high on surprisingly mature moments like the “When She Loved Me” sequence from Toy Story 2:

…but moments like this are harder and harder to get into movies nowadays. Take Po’s recovery of his childhood memories in Kung Fu Panda 2 (spoilers ahead!):

This is a poignant moment, culminated with the somber reclamation of his identity: “I am Po.” It is also immediately thereafter robbed of its entire narrative impact when he continues on to say, in the same breath, “and I’m gonna need a hat.” (this moment is mercifully edited out by the YouTube uploader)

This is timid filmmaking that, in my mind, intermingles with the rise of the hashgag. The character of Po, at the end of Panda 1, was poised for real character growth, beyond his “fat doofus” persona. But as most of the recurring gags in the movie (and the trailers) show, he’s not allowed to outgrow this, despite everything in the narrative pushing him to do so. Somber character moments are kneecapped by cheap laughs, and the movie is polished up to be sold on these merits.

And if what I just said isn’t convincing enough of the marketing department’s timidity consider that none of the trailers are bold enough to mention that the movie features Gary Oldman playing AN ALBINO FUCKING PEACOCK THAT KNOWS KUNG FU.

Ahem.

To be clear: I’m not saying kids’ movies should become a weepfest like the first 15 minutes of Up (no matter how amazing they were). I’m not advocating for gratuitous pathos-mashing like (mild spoiler!) Toy Story 3’s completely unnecessary incinerator scene.  I don’t think Baymax’s fist bump ruined Big Hero Six by any stretch of the imagination (I actually liked it). What I’m saying is that the hashgag has turned into a “pull in case of emergency” lever. When, six months out from release, the people behind the movie aren’t confident in how it’s turned out, they pull  it, because it’s safe and simple. Problem is, it cheapens the movie. It leads to a homogenization of the genre, where one movie chases the success of another by resorting to panicky, lowest-common-denominator filmmaking.

Lest you think I protest too much, take the example of the most successful animated film in a generation, Frozen. When it was first introduced to the public, what did it lead with? Not “Let It Go,” not “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman,” not even “In Summer.” It led with this:

This is just a trailer of no-dialogue-required gags. It’s not even in the movie. It doesn’t feature any of the main characters. To my eye, it communicates two things clearly: Disney following after the Despicable Me hashgag model, and a total lack of confidence in its own movie. The theory of a lack of confidence is validated by the worldwide shortage of toys following the movie’s release. It seems clear that Disney didn’t think Frozen was going to be a hit. Thankfully they had enough money to be able to construct entire hashgag moments for the marketing department (like the minute and a half teaser above) without inserting them into the core movie itself, but many other companies don’t have that kind of money to blow. They end up inserting it into the core of their movies.

This certainly doesn’t affect every animated movie out there. I can point to any number of movies — most of the Pixar lot, Wreck It Ralph, BoxTrolls, Book of Life — and find those that don’t fall prey to this trend. But the hashgag is a steady trend in moviemaking, and it’s only growing more prominent. As the push for a more vignette-based, story-free mode of moviemaking takes hold, I worry that the hard-fought gains of films like Toy Story 2, Prince of Egypt, and the Ghibli oeuvre will give way, and we’ll backslide into a world where even the big budget movies, the ones supposed to be pushing forward the art, are basically Tom and Jerry Despicable Me.

Animated movies should be able to stand on their own merits and be their own entities. But if Frozen, of all movies, cannot be sold on its own merits, what chance does any other movie have?

My Japanese Name

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On Future Adventures

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How Was India?

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Continuity

The last couple months have been extremely difficult, throwing new challenge after new challenge at me. The underlying difficulty of these problems has been that they’ve been inscrutable. How do you make sense of dementia? Of cancer? Of loved ones suddenly cutting off ties, without explanation? How do you make sense out of the chaos of daily life?

This has been on my mind a lot lately. And this is what I’ve got:

Making order of chaos — out of the non-understood — is the fundamental challenge of being human. Think to the evolution of human civilizations, and how we’ve established explanations for what our experiences. Sometimes it’s as ridiculous as “the sun is pulled across the sky by 4 horses and a guy in a chariot” or “winter happens because mother nature misses her daughter when she goes away for several months out of the year.” But they break down the unfamiliar into something relatable, something comfortable. Otherwise we are perpetually in fight-or-flight mode, constantly on edge.

To this end, we’ve established rule systems to pass down across generations. The most obvious ones are religion and science, but if you think of the task of rule systems as “give a series of explanations that make life as easy and survivable as possible,” you’ll find even more systems: nationality, ethnicity, even just local communities. Don’t leave the village, don’t eat pork, don’t talk to strangers. The “why” of each rule is different from system to system, but ultimately, they answer questions. The fewer questions in one’s life, the less stress, the easier life. These systems rewire your brain for comfort: you don’t just believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, you know it. Things continue, as they did before you and will after you. The rules persist. In a word, what we’ve created, to tame the chaos of an disorderly world, is a sense of continuity.

What’s interesting to me is the idea of broken continuity. After all, many, many rule systems have risen and fallen across human history. People are adaptable enough to rewire their brains from one rule system to another across their lifetimes. One can go from knowing there is no God to knowing that God exists and loves them in a matter of days. How do we deal with exceptions to the rules — how do our brains adapt to inconsistent rules, to broken continuity?

In thinking about this, I’ve found it’s helpful to think of rule systems as organisms in a process of natural selection. I’ll use Judaism as an example. Judaism was born out of a polytheistic religion, with its central god, Yahweh, declaring war on others like Ba’al Hadad and Dagon by making “I am the only God, there are no others before me” the central tenet of Judaism. By not allowing its followers to even accept the possibility of other gods — in fact, encouraging them to destroy other religions’ priests — Judaism locked its followers into its belief system. It then evolved various laws that kept its followers alive, like “don’t eat pork,” as food preparation was not advanced enough to make it safe.

And what of the cast-off gods? They were remixed, recontextualized, re-explained. Ba’al Hadad and all other gods in that pantheon were recast in Abrahamanic religions as Ba’al Zebub, or Beelzebub, lord of the flies — a demon in later Christian mythology. Dagon’s temples were subject to Jewish vandalism, with followers breaking statues’ legs into fish tail formations, as “dag” is Hebrew for “fish.” Gradually, the image of Dagon became so corrupted that he ended up being envisioned more as a Lovecraftian fish-demon than his original godlike state.

Then Christianity came along and took a different tack than old Judaism’s kill-em-all tendencies: recast them into the fold. Hadad, for example, was variously linked with the storm-god Teshub, the Egyptian god Set, and the Zeus. The nature goddess Eostre (and her associated rabbit-rich fertility holiday), was gradually folded into the larger tradition of Jesus’ resurrection, and Easter was born. Christianity’s very existence is arguably due to such inclusions — how else was it differentiated from Judaism than by its adoption of the idea of a resurrecting god? An idea that was echoed in many other religions. The ranks of saints swelled up with each new religion that Christianity would embrace, with old religions transformed into new states, and continuity was maintained.

(you can extend this idea easily to the concept of comic books as modern-day gods, and the relationship of comic book fans to continuity, but that’s a blog post for another time)

So, what does this all have to do with coping with a couple difficult months?

It’s been about establishing a path to walk. As commonplace as it is for people to live with passed-down rule systems, I find myself without such an inheritance. Although I was raised Jewish, by Jewish law I was Christian (and by Christian law, Jewish). What with the preponderance of alternative religions in my childhood, accepting any of them as a real truth didn’t make much sense. Throughout my childhood, neither parent was on great terms with their families, and so I did not grow up with great sense of genetic heritage. Ethnically, I’m an indeterminate blank slate. Nationally, I don’t identify much as Kentuckian, and only reluctantly as American.

In short, I’m in many senses a series of broken continuities. Many are born with comfortable paths to walk down, roads more traveled. I feel that in many ways I was born out in the weeds, weaving wildly across all paths traveled in my journeys. It’s not that I’m entirely without direction, or that my life is unduly difficult, it’s that I can’t quite subscribe fully to any rule system, or commit myself to an established way of living. That’s not uncommon for anyone, especially in this day and age – I just feel it particularly acutely of late.

I’m weird. And I want to know what that means.

In this case, it means I can’t fall back on a pre-compiled set of wisdom. It means I get to pick and choose, compiling my own collection of answers and parables for my daily life. That’s exciting, although difficult when times themselves, as they have been recently, are difficult.

Of Lizardmen and Indecent Proposals

So, you’re a Johnny-come-lately to this whole organizin’ business, and you want to know what it’s all about? Well, you are in luck – both good and bad – for I am here for you! Good because a plethora of information awaits! Bad because, well… it’s from me.

Onward!

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Be A Man

Lately, every time I log on to Facebook, I see something like this:
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Or this:
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Or this:
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Without fail, these are posted by (intelligent! progressive! amazing!) women. Now, these are not bitter, hardened man-haters by any stretch of the imagination. Each has legitimately and honestly entered into relationships (or tried to) and been disappointed. Yes, it takes two to tango, but if you’ll put some faith in my judgements and their representations of their situations, the fault has almost uniformly laid with the men.

And again, a disclaimer – not all men are immature jerks! I don’t think I am one, although maybe that’s a sign I’m deluding myself. In any event, there are certainly enough jerks out there that nobody would argue the premise that it’s a real problem.

Each of my aforementioned female friends is expressing what I’ve come to think of as the “Ugh, Men” mentality. Such expressions are hardly uncommon. Wade onto an online dating site and read a couple womens’ profiles: inevitably, you will come across a long list of “don’t message me if”s that point to the root issues: narcissism; materialism; preoccupation with sex; obsession with their own bodies; a general lack of substance; inability to read (or write).

And many times, when I’m out with these friends, they turn to me, and ask, why? What’s the deal? What the fuck happened?

It’s always been a difficult question to answer. For one thing, having a penis does not make me an expert on the history of masculinity. For another: I’m not a good representative sample. I’ve never been comfortable with my gender’s roles and expectations, and have always been sensitive to the frustrations of women. The “Ugh, Men” mentality has hung around my neck like an albatross knotted to a noose.

And so I wouldn’t really answer, and I’d suffer the prevailing wisdom – which is to blame it on genetics. “Men are just wired that way.” “They can’t help it.” “That’s how they are.” Despite how reductionist, patronizing, and patently wrong that argument is, I’d accept it. Nobody ever seemed to give the matter any more thought.

Until recently, when a gathering of events conspired to give me a new perspective: not the least of which was the publishing of an article entitled All The Single Ladies, which explored the modern-day crisis of unmarried women. However, buried in the article (a scant few paragraphs in an otherwise exhaustively long piece) was a brief discussion of the twin crisis of “unmarriageable” men. How men are on the decline, economically, sociologically, and politically.

So I got to thinking. What the fuck happened? A couple things came to mind:

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1) Male Gender Roles Have Not Been Updated Since The 50s
Over the past several decades, women have seen an explosion of possibilities. While not every door is as open as it could or should be, many more are open than in years past. The same isn’t as true of men – while there’s been a small amount of movement, we’re stuck in a weird in-between place. It’s peppered throughout daily life in small ways:

– Careers. How many male cheerleaders have you met? Housekeepers? Househusbands? Kindergarten teachers? It is only a matter of time until someone accuses them of being a pedophile.
– Tastes. Not allowed: ‘chick flicks’, romance novels, anything related to fashion, or dancing in any way that engages your hips.
– Clothing. Dress well, but not too well – then you’re metro. Nothing too girly, or you’re gay. And if you need to carry around anything, it better be in a backpack or a valise. Purse? Fannypack? Forget it.

Now, how hard is it to imagine a female truck driver? Or a woman who likes action movies? A girl who wears button-up shirts and pants? Nobody bats an eye.

At the same time, the 1950s cultural expectations remain: for men to be breadwinners, to open doors, to pay for meals, to buy flowers and pop questions, to pursue and to woo. Understand: I can see no other cultural definition of what it is to be a man. Everyone seems expected to step up to the one-size-fits-all role of provider – a role that is increasingly difficult to fulfill.

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2) Male Prospects Are Dwindling
As the afore-linked article points out, men are, statistically speaking, on the decline. We’re less educated at a time where you need a college degree even to work at McDonalds. We’re competing for jobs at an increasing disadvantage against women. More men than ever are in prison. Fulfilling the gender role of provider is that much harder when you can’t afford your own place, when you make less than your partner, when you’re falling behind.

Yes, a certain amount of this is due to a societal shift to push things later in life. We’re living longer than we ever have before. Whereas one might get married at age 13 in agrarian times, and age 18 in the days when you could get a good job out of high school, nowadays it’s 22 before you’re out of college, and often upwards of 30 before you have a well-paying job. But even taking this into account, women are (at least massively anecdotally, as in, practically everyone I know) more ready to settle down at 30 than men are. One could simply attribute this to the biological clock, but humor me for a second, and assume there’s reasons beyond genetics.

My take? When a modern-day guy is staring down the huge expectation of providing for a family, with no ability to carry through on it, what does he do? Some tackle it head-on and lose themselves in work. Some get depressed and stop trying. Some decide the whole game’s rigged and try to get around it. Some get thrown in jail. And many wait it out, with the understanding that they’ll be able to provide when they’re older, better situated in better jobs. These guys often enter a prolonged adolescence, where they focus on themselves and the things they can control (their bodies) rather than those they can’t (providing for a family).

To me, the poster child for all of this is the comedian Louis CK. A recently-posted and oft-reposted blog entry posited that the surging popularity of Louis CK’s comedy is due to his striking a nerve with today’s society, and that nerve is shame. I tend to agree. Louis’s comedy is usually about his own perceived inadequacy and incompetence. He’s a well-meaning man who’s lost and confused in a rapidly-changing world, unsure how to satisfy the needs of those around him.

The world changed and he didn’t.

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3) Male Role Models Are Virtually Non-Existent
Watch primetime network TV and count the commercials and programs that portray adult men as morons or children. You will quickly run out of fingers upon which to count. In most circumstances, but nowhere more than in sitcoms, these men are paired with a wise girlfriend/wife/love interest, to temper their seemingly-inborn idiocy. In mere decades we’ve gone from father knows best to father knows nothing. Homer the Greek to Homer Simpson.

In all seriousness, who are men to emulate nowadays? Don Draper of Mad Men, serial adulterer alcoholic from fifty years ago? Walter White from Breaking Bad, a teacher who turns to dealing meth after proving unable to provide for his family? Barack Obama, a man so drowned in political and moral compromises that he’s disappointed nearly everyone in the country? Chris Brown, who beat his girlfriend to a pulp? Jack Bauer? Justin Bieber?

The only man who seems to address this is Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club. Obviously, Tyler Durden is not a role model, but he did capture the frustration of a “generation of men raised by women.” Palahniuk is the best thing we have to a mainstream Susan Faludi. And best thing? This ostensible forefather of the future Men’s Liberation movement, author of one of the most macho books in modern history, is an openly gay man.

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(apologies to Jean, whose forced repeat viewings of Mulan may make this image intensely painful)

4) There’s No Instruction Manual
Here’s where it gets personal.

During the heyday of the Women’s Liberation movement, many of the most vociferous feminists laid the groundwork for decades of confusion. Common courtesies like holding doors were painted by many as assaults on the strength of women everywhere. As ludicrous as that sort of hyperbolic vitriol may seem, its effects linger to the present day.

When I started dating, everything was a mystery. Do I pay? Go dutch? Offer to pay? Hold doors? Hold bags? Hold my tongue? Then and now dating often felt like walking through a field of invisible tripwires; playing a game whose rules I do not know, but whose punishments I soon would. Looking back at my parents’ marriage, I feel that my father was just as lost as me. The rules he learned growing up didn’t apply anymore. We are generations of men without direction. Chivalry is dead, and its replacement is late.

It quickly became evident that every person I encountered had their own, wholly different set of rules (duh). With each woman I met, I was never sure what I was up against, what preconceived notions she might bring to the table, how our base assumptions about gender might differ. Common sense wasn’t such a commonality.

Everyone reacts to this realization differently. Some stick rigidly to their worldview and find only people that fit neatly with that. Others date around in order to see what they like. Others still develop chameleon-like personas to ingratiate themselves. The accepted wisdom from movies seems to just ‘be yourself’ (although perhaps a more pliable, open-minded version of yourself), and love will find you.

Well, I was not content with simply ‘being myself’. I wanted to be more. Better. I was hellbent on being an ambassador for my entire gender.

I know how ridiculous that sounds. But realize that I grew up surrounded by women who, almost uniformly, were frustrated and disappointed by men, and that weighed on me heavily. As a self-defense mechanism if nothing else, I needed to show that not all men are monsters. I poured decades into proving that men come in many shapes and sizes, that we are not unfeeling cretins, that friendship and worthwhile relationships are indeed possible.

It was not honest with myself but it was not a lie. I genuinely was, and continue to be, completely platonic friends with a large number of women. Their well-being and feelings were, and continue to be, of paramount importance to me. I never hid any wolven ambitions, nor did I conceal some sort of bare-chested, narcissistic “true” personality. My interactions were, and continue to be, honest. They just were not as honest as they could have been.

As you could guess and my closest friends could attest, my ambassadorship sometimes made me miserable, usually in the context of my relationships. It was not a daily misery by any stretch. 99 minutes out of 100, I was happy with who I was and how I was acting. And yet, I found myself avoiding relationship situations where I would have to be the jerk, because I could never bring myself to be the jerk. I had to make sure that my partner was provided for in every possible situation, and take the blame for every problem to which I could conceivably tie myself.

I couldn’t usually communicate my unhappiness. Sometimes this was because I couldn’t be honest with myself, like being upset about being treated in patronizing manner – an ambassador would see that she meant well. Sometimes this was because men simply are never taught good tools for communication – we have to wing it. Sometimes it was simply because I am a man. And men are supposed to be able to take it. And take it. And take it.

And then one day, I woke up, and found I couldn’t take it anymore. From men who give the entire gender a bad name. From women who roll their eyes and say, “ugh, men.” From society’s expectations of me. And most of all, from my expectations of myself.

So I sat. And I thought. And I wrote this blog entry.

So what the fuck happened? I couldn’t tell you, exactly. But I’m glad it did. Feels like a step forward.

Edit: After re-reading the post, I worry that some might think I was saying that I had been some kind of perfect boyfriend, a paragon of virtue – no. I had a large share of failures, many of them abject and terrible, and many due to my inability and unwillingness to communicate. Just making that clear.

City within a city

The first thing you notice is the sound. It’s the air hundreds of feet up being chopped and diced to pieces, as surveillance helicopters endlessly circle the camp. It sets the tone – a soundtrack that never goes away, just gets drowned out momentarily.

That sound is the filler for in the gaps between events at Occupy LA. Even tonight, when the city is supposed to evict the camp, the happenings of note are few and far between. A chant here, a march there. A lot of waiting and wondering. There’s a lot of down time. Everywhere people are milling about, relaxing, shooting the shit. It could be a block party, except for that sound.

The police keep the pace slow. It’s not until 1am that the riot gear shows. They take 30 minutes to walk halfway down a city block. 6 hours of standing and staring later, they leave. It feels like a message.

But for those long hours in the middle of the night, traffic cut off for blocks around city hall, this tent city is a modern-day Brigadoon: an island in another world. Traffic lights continue endlessly cycling, disconnected from their raison d’etre, from the city in which they have a function. Trees become forts. Bus awnings become lookout points. Even just standing in the emptied street of this car-choked metropolis has an intense psychological effect. Everything transformed to a different purpose than its design. You question the why of things. Another world seems possible.

A human fence of black and kevlar keeps this alternate reality from spilling out to the rest of the world. It idly stands there, murmuring amongst itself, wordlessly denying passage. There is a psychological weight to its presence. While the occupiers organically form and reform into new disorganized shapes, everything about this man-fence screams order. Each link is spread out at even intervals. Outfits, posture, expressions identical. It’s a man-made thing. Built for what purpose exactly? No one knows for sure. For now, for hours, it merely watches.

The not knowing claws at your mind. Beats into it like the steady chopping sound of helicopter blades. I’ve faced down masses of police in many countries and many continents, but the situation is never so real as when it’s in your back yard; when it’s transforming your home into an alien landscape, and your neighbors into combatants. It’s easy to be brave for an hour at a time, but eventually you get tired and you need your family, your bed, your security. Holding your ground for days, weeks, months, forever? I don’t know the right word for it.

Tomorrow the papers and blogs will write the story of tonight. Catch it, box it, categorize it. All throughout the tent city, reporters roam, picking out their pictures and words with the discrimination of a trained chef choosing ingredients. To tell the story they want to tell.

This is the story I want to tell:

Once there was a city within a city. It was filled with vigor, and hope, and life, and disappointment, and despair, and the entire range of human existence. The people who lived there wanted desperately to make a better world. Though no man could know the way, though they had no power, though naysayers belittled them, they kept trying their best. Their words made them powerful enemies, who sought to end their new world. And then, one day, the walls closed in on the city, swallowing it whole.

One day. But not tonight.

Breather

Yesterday, I started taking a storyboarding class with the animation guild. Midway through the lesson, the instructor, a tough old master with decades of hard-earned experience, opined about the primacy of storyboarding. How it tells a story, how it’s the intersection of all arts, all human expression. Writers? They didn’t have to do the heavy lifting of sitting with the material and bringing it to life. Directors? They get to pick and choose. Accountants? Meddle with the end product out of jealousy. Creation, after all, is the most important thing in life.

This Tuesday, I was having dinner with a friend who’s training to be a librarian. During the dinner, my friend, an opinionated, smart girl who is like a real-life incarnation of Daria, talked about the art of archiving, and how important it is. How we are at risk of losing so much of our history, how we simply aren’t good at passing down information. How much we waste our time going off half-cocked, never learning from the lessons of the past. Knowledge, after all, is the most important thing in life.

Some months ago, I was taking a yoga class at a weekend retreat. During the class, the instructor, a nice young woman who’d been teaching yoga for years, talked about the evils of the modern-day junk food world and the importance of yoga. How it heals your body, purifies the toxins, straightens out your mind. How, if you don’t have clarity of purpose and an able body, nothing else will click. Your health, after all, is the most important thing in life.

It feels like I hear some variation of this every day.

I hear it from engineers, from dentists, from financial analysts, from politicians, from programmers, from believers, from atheists, from volunteers, from health nuts, from film nuts, from comic nuts, from people who are just plain nuts.

Everyone wants to be able to sleep at night. To believe one’s doing the best thing one can with one’s life. To believe in one’s own significance. To be able to keep moving as far as one can without the hounds of doubt nipping at one’s heels, burying teeth into calves, and bringing the whole march forward crashing to a messy, bloody halt.

But hey, sometimes they do catch up with you. And you need to take a breather to regroup.

And in unrelated news, I may be going to China for a week fairly soon.

Time capsule

To me, when I next look backwards:

Things start and end in their own ways at their own times.

You do not control this. You do not control other people. You barely have any control over yourself.

You have not done good. You have not done bad. You have simply done what you would do.

No matter what, the universe rolls forward on its own path.

It is not so cruel to deny you a place in it.

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