Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On Bunnies and Sith Lords

Bugs Bunny is the foundation for our ideas about Saturday-morning cartoons--he's laid-back and doesn't appear to have a care in the world, but when he's in danger he defeats his enemies immediately and in the most humorous way possible. The ease with which he does things is inspiring, even if it's completely impossible. Bugs imparts the lesson that we can shape reality however we want if we need to solve problems. He does things his own way and without relying on anyone, which also makes him memorable.

Darth Vader is quite the opposite of Bugs Bunny in most ways, being a moody Sith lord who rules the galaxy with an iron fist. It first appears that Vader represents the ultimate evil force who is bent on domination, but as the Star Wars movies progress it becomes clear that he's a conflicted character who is only in his current role as the result of a long personal struggle with himself and manipulation by an evil emperor. This is why people remember Darth Vader--he is complex and human underneath his unforgiving dark mask. That, and he's pretty cool as an evil lord.

Mario's brother Luigi (from the games, yeah) is in my opinion one of the most memorable characters in the video gaming world. At first glance he's just the sidekick of Mario, the tag-along, tall awkward guy who nobody knows. But underneath Mario's fame Luigi has developed a closet personality and lots of fans. He does everything in unorthodox ways (play as him in Super Smash Bros. to see what I mean), probably in order to differentiate himself from his brother. While Mario's adventures are all standard, rescue-the-princess fare, Luigi gets himself into much more interesting quests (like winning haunted mansions in contests). Luigi, I think, is representative of the importance of being different.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stories and stuff

Part 1--
I think that stories are the best way for little children to learn about the world. Small kids haven't had time to go explore other countries or experience nature outside of their immediate surroundings, so stories are the only means by which they can branch out and discover things to which they don't have direct access. Stories can help put a kid to sleep or make him/her stop crying, so it's in the interest of parents to read stories to their children, too...

Part 2--
Stories are helpful to older people once they realize that it's impossible to do everything in the world. Try as we might, we can't be an astronaut and a firefighter and a doctor at the same time. We can fill the gaps and discover even more things if we read about them. Stories are also helpful as safeguards against the loss of imagination as people get older. If we read about worlds that are not our own, we can put our own world into perspective and avoid rigid thinking. Also, since we are unavoidably trapped in the present day and can't relive history, stories can help us "experience" past events for ourselves.

Part 3--
Stories are so important to our nation because, I think, people crave variety and like to escape reality every now and then. Many people who have unsatisfactory jobs (in cubicles, etc.) can use stories to discover interesting people and places that they otherwise couldn't. Short of quitting a job and actually exploring the world, reading stories presents the best alternative.

Part 3 Again--
The very first story I actually read was about a mouse who lived in a teapot. Her home was leaky and falling apart, and she became distressed, but eventually she found a nice glass bottle to live in. This story sticks with me because, by reading it, I felt I took a large step forward by doing something by myself. (I'm sure I could also engineer a metaphor here to connect myself to the story's protagonist, but I'm sure that wasn't my thinking at the time)

Part 4-- Good stories should:
1. Above all, be interesting to read. A story can be as insightful as it wants and still fail if people put it down out of boredom.
2. Create characters that people will care about. This is the only real reason people like books like Harry Potter--they can relate to the characters and are interested in their struggles.
3. Make characters interact in ways are unusual/interesting but still believable. Most stories won't just relate events that happen to people every day, but if they get too outlandish then readers will be annoyed.
4. Generally make things funny or ironic. This is one of the best ways to get a point across without being preachy.
5. Throw in pretty pictures if necessary. A lot of children's books would be nothing if not for the fancy illustrations.
6. Be unpredictable, since a completely formulaic story will give the reader nothing new. The rules need to be broken now and then.
7. Sparkle!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Stream of Thoughts that would make Faulkner Jealous

Today seems a good day to ramble about nothing in particular, so I'm going to do that. To start out, I'd like to note that the spacebar on this keyboard is really noisy. Pressing it gives me a feeling analogous to putting my hand on the old rope swing in my backyard--lots of annoying tingles. I think I might endeavor to utilize unnecessarily elongated words, to minimize the sensation. That being said, that rope swing in my yard has lots of positive memories associated with it--it wasn't always such a nasty, spiny thing. I remember when it was brand new, when I looked out the window and realized that my backyard had been taken over by a gigantic playset. My excitement was such that I went outside and spent the whole day swinging. The rope swing was unique in that it could go in any direction, not just back and forth. I see that as a metaphor for thinking; you can think in straight lines or you can think all over the place. Unfortunately, I would like to think in all directions, but the text on the screen can only go one way at a time. I'm trapped by the format. The only solution, from what I can see, is to make my writing as disjointed as possible, in order to escape from linearity. Cats are cool. My dad brought home a catnip mouse for my cat Gandalf yesterday, and he (the cat, not my dad) spent all evening ripping it to pieces. Such devotion, and for no apparent reason. Chemicals, I suppose. But it was really entertaining to watch, and was probably the most fun my cat has had in a while. Sometimes it's fun to just put all your effort into something, illogically and for no reason. It can be a great learning experience. When I got a Lord of the Rings computer game and discovered that one of its features was too demanding and crashed my computer, I set out to fix the problem. I fiddled with every graphics setting my computer possessed, messing with shortcut properties and virtual memory, until finally I reduced my graphics low enough to play the game. It took several hours, and after that evening I never really put much use into the feature I'd enabled, but it gave me a much better sense of how that computer of mine actually works. Computers in general are fun to learn about and understand, but sometimes it seems as if they do completely illogical things just to mess with you. My brothers are like that too. Probably more so, except with a computer you expect it to do just what you tell it to. My brothers, meanwhile, are human beings, and they make human decisions that you can't predict. This is debatable by science--I was reading something about determinism last night, and it's quite thought-provoking. The idea is that, although quantum mechanics only allows you to find the probability that something happens, the probabilities evolve over time according to a precise formula, so you can still extrapolate events as far into the future as you want. No, I don't get it either, but it's fun to read about. Know what else I don't get? Squirrels. For the last five years or so, my dad has been implementing every hare-brained scheme he can think of to try and keep the squirrels off our front-yard birdfeeder. But the little critters thwart him every time and eat all the birdseed. They seem like geniuses. Maybe we could use quantum-mechanical wave functions to predict whether my dad will ever stop the squirrels. Or we could not, and say we did. Actually, those squirrels seem so smart that they could probably figure out quantum mechanics themselves. And if this is the case, then we probably have no hope of keeping them off the birdfeeder, and we're better off putting our energy into something more important. Like configuring computer graphics options, for example. I think it really doesn't matter what random activities you put your time into, as long as they're enjoyable. That should really be the point of life in general. If our fate is to be conquered by scientifically elite squirrels, then we might as well have fun until it happens. Yahoo.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"Fast Rode the Knight", by Stephen Crane

Fast rode the knight
With spurs, hot and reeking,
Ever waving an eager sword,
"To save my lady!"
Fast rode the knight,
And leaped from saddle to war.
Men of steel flickered and gleamed
Like riot of silver lights,
And the gold of the knight's good banner
Still waved on a castle wall..
. . . .
A horse,
Blowing, staggering, bloody thing,
Forgotten at foot of castle wall.
A horse
Dead at foot of castle wall.
I first linked to this poem because the imagery in the title caught my eye (it stood out among the masses of gushy love poems out there, at least). I enjoyed reading it because it was concise and had a clear yet deep message. The two contrasting stanzas of the poem served to create a powerful metaphor, which I'll talk about below.

The title in this poem refers, rather obviously, to its central image of a bold knight riding into battle. It evokes thoughts of glory and courage, and sounds kind of cliched (purposefully, to heighten the contrast later).

The knight in this poem is symbolic of boldness, ambition, and seeking of personal glory. Imagery is created in the first few lines, which depict the knight nobly riding across the plains, sword waving. Though he succeeds in his quest to rescue the maiden (or so I guess), he leaves his horse, dying and forgotten, by the castle wall. The whole poem is a metaphor for the oft-ignored negative effects that one person's quest for glory can have on others. This is established by the contrasting images of knight and horse, which show the reader how the horse is miserable despite the knight's personal success. Feeling is created by the connotations of words--the knight's stanza is filled with positive connotations, while the description of the horse evokes anguish, loneliness, and sorrow.

The tone in the first stanza is that of a medieval storyteller--the knight is glorified as he charges into the castle to save the damsel in distress. In the second stanza, the tone shifts completely, showing the horse's miserable perspective on things. The tone is created by the connotations of words.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Question that Needs to be Asked

Before I get into writing too many super-creative pieces, there's a groundwork philosophical question that I need to get out of the way. It is, simply: Why is there anything? Honestly. We can debate all we want over the finer points of corporate income taxes, or why the sky is blue, or whether Batman could beat Spider-Man in a fight. But underlying these fun little arguments, we always take for granted that we're here to argue about them -- we are humans rather than amorphous patches of empty space. This doesn't seem to bother most people, but to me it seems a gaping void in our knowledge. The philosophy of civilization itself is a castle built upon a black murky nothingness that may or may not be stable enough to hold it up. The truth behind reality will be what determines "good" and "bad," so we shouldn't purport to know right from wrong until we can figure out what in the world decides such things anyway.

Somebody religious will tell you, simply and self-righteously, that things exist because God made them. But that doesn't really answer the question -- because where's God come from? Not to sound atheist, but not even God can postulate himself from nothing. Therein lies the problem: the only way to create an unshakable foundation for reality is to define something, and to define it without using anything else in the definition. That seems kinda hard.

But now I'm just rambling philosophy, which will soon get caught up in itself and get us nowhere. Physics, meanwhile, is just as confused as I am. By all accounts, and even if particle physics can be proven to be true without any underlying assumptions, the universe should create equal amounts of matter and anti-matter, and this should all cancel itself out and result in nothing. Yahoo.

Anyway, I'll keep pondering that, although I doubt I'll get anywhere with it. In the meantime I'll write about some other stuff -- there's plenty of interesting topics in the world, even if we can't figure out why...

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Bunch of Writing about Writing

As a reader, I tend to shy away from reading actual fiction novels. Every once in a while I'll find a novel that looks really fascinating, but usually I tend to pick up nonfiction books about random topics I'm interested in. I have a stack of books by my bed right now, waiting to be read, but I don't manage more than a few pages per night. I read Time magazine and Scientific American when I get around to it, too.

As far as writing, I tend to avoid all-out narrative stories, since I know I won't have the patience to finish one. When I get the urge to just sit down and write something, it usually comes out as either a poem or a generic philosophical rant. Sometimes I'll imagine up a world (fantasy, sci-fi, that kind of thing) and just write whatever comes into my head about it. If I have thoughts that bottle up in my head over a long period of time, I might link them together into a story of some kind, but as I said, I never finish them. I only write things on my own if I haven't been assigned any writing for school, which means I write about the same amount whether or not I'm in school.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Advice to little children, and why my writing will live forever

1. Writing a play was an interesting experience that got me thinking a lot about how to express ideas through the words of my characters. The dialogue-based nature of the play allowed me to cut straight to characterization, plot, and theme, without worrying about the tone of narration or elaborate sentence structure. This makes it more concise and direct than most things I write, and it was easier to spill out onto a page than a formal essay. I certainly felt the limitations of the stage as I was writing, however, and I had to keep resisting the urge to make my setup really complicated. It turned out well, I think, but sometimes it felt like I was battling against the format rather than embracing it. I really enjoyed being able to speak through my characters, and I've learned some things about dialogue that I can apply to other forms of writing.

2. My advice to a child (at whatever age he/she could first appreciate good advice) is to always question your assumptions. Whenever I'm wrong about something, it's because I'm assuming the wrong things and making bad conclusions based on it. If you realize what you're taking for granted, you can get a much better perspective on things. I can especially see this with respect to politics (though that's not something that the advice-receiving kid should worry his little head about). When I first started thinking about political stuff, I had automatic assumptions about what is "good" and what's "bad," and this made me wonder why politics was so controversial--the answers seemed so obvious. And they're really not. Half of my political views have been completely reversed since then. So when forming a philosophy about life, it's important that you don't make too many assumptions about what you want or don't want, and that you think about the way you're thinking.

3. The longevity of literary works is something I've been wondering about, actually. I think the works that last are the ones whose messages are powerful enough to be applied to any time period, not just the one they are written in. Les Mis doesn't only speak to revolutionary France, for example, and 1984's message applies equally well to 1985 or 2020. This brings up the question of which of today's literature is going to survive as long as these other works. Nowadays, when a book is popular, it's because of a flashy advertising campaign (cough eragon cough), or because it gains a pop culture fan base (like Harry Potter), and neither of these things last more than ten years or so. Lots of great things are being written, but they're usually focused on the modern era and play off of hype from current events, so it's uncertain whether their messages can last. That said, my writing will live forever--as long as I write it on stone tablets and bury it for a future civilization to dig up. I'll be famous, it'll just take thousands of years for the fame to sink in.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Three More Questions

1. All of the "great" literature I've read in my classes is built mostly or totally around expressing themes. It seems to be the defining characteristic of what's considered great. Lots of books (like Harry Potter, Eragon, etc.) achieve wild popularity just by creating interesting characters and situations, but they don't go into history as "classics." The reality thus seems to be that my writing should have a thematic message in order to be considered good writing, since otherwise it lacks insight into life. On the other hand, language-arts classes have convinced me that themes can be inferred from absolutely any piece of writing, even if the author didn't intend it. So it might be a good idea to just write something imaginative and then weave the theme in as I go.

2. I'd enjoy writing a play about social norms and how they got the way they are. The people who break such norms are usually the most interesting, but society is entirely structured around those who follow them. It would also be interesting to examine how government tries to incorporate every person into its (usually narrow-minded) systems and doesn't trust anything that it doesn't explicitly authorize. Both of these topics revolve around the concepts of freedom and control, and the ideas behind each, which I think would make for very thought-provoking play.

3. The main conflict in my play would most likely be fought between individuals and society, with the law taking the side of society as a whole. I'd probably create a fictional society with norms very different from ours, so that I can put them in perspective properly. The protagonist would probably get into trouble for doing socially unusual things, and would then have to convince people that his/her weirdness isn't putting anybody in danger. Those are just random thoughts, but I think there's some potential work of literature in there...

Friday, February 1, 2008

Reading, Writing, and some other stuff

1. I see reading as a way to subconsciously ingrain in my mind what good writing is. When I reread something I've written, I either think "oh, that sounds good," or "yuck, I'm changing that." I judge this mainly based on intuition, but it also helps to imagine myself reading my writing in someone else's book. If I saw my sentences in my everyday reading, would I think it was good or bad? Being able to visualize this means I have to have lots of reading experience to draw on.
In addition, the goodness of writing ends up being determined largely by how people respond to it (there's no objective judge, after all). So you can look at what people consider "good" (by reading), and adopt these traits into your own writing.

2. Whenever I'm really concerned about something in the world, the root cause of it always seems to be some kind of brainwashing of people. When I see elementary-school teachers indoctrinating innocent little children, for example, or advertisements using subliminal messaging rather than telling you anything about their products, I feel that the nature of truth is being warped beyond repair. If "good" and "bad" are forced upon everyone from devious outside sources looking to obtain money or political support, then every person's mind becomes a function of what those devious outside sources want them to think. And then our humanity goes out the window, because no one can make good judgements. This is why I get worried when I hear "It takes a village to raise a child" --if the community raises everyone, then the result is a village full of zombie clones. Hoorah.

3. I once saw a piece of "modern art" that consisted of nothing more than a blank canvas on a wall. This inspired me to try and figure out why in the world anybody could consider it to be art. I can look over at the white wall behind my computer and see a similar picture (and there are even some stains and cracks to liven up the image). I'm all in favor of simplicity in art, but it gets completely ridiculous if artists take it to this extreme. Anyone whose sense of beauty is inspired by this piece would probably collapse from sensory overload if they walked outside. This kind of art does succeed, however, in blurring the line between art and not-art. And it inspired me to write an entire paragraph about it, which I guess is an accomplishment.