Métro, Boulot, Dodo

Freedom in Routine

Sometimes life gets a little crazy. Metaphors abound: roller coaster, whirlwind, upheaval. But all these words pretty much mean the same thing; sometimes the way things happen isn’t the way you expected them to happen. And more often than not, those things happening can get in the way of other things happening, namely important things like work.

Whee! Now let me off.

Whee! Now let me off.

The past four months or so have been a little bit like that for me. We moved halfway around the world, back to the good ol’ US of A after spending 2+ years abroad. Reverse culture shock, anyone? Then there was traveling to visit family and friends. And when we finally got “home” we had to set up our new apartment from scratch. And I mean that literally. No furniture, no pots or pans, not even salt and pepper to season our sad frozen pizzas. Husband started his new job and promptly left town for three weeks, and he had hardly returned when I left town for another three weeks to help with some family stuff in Florida.

You get the picture.

Unfortunately, this kind of whirlwind lifestyle doesn’t suit me. Or rather, it doesn’t suit my work schedule. I used to abhor the very idea of routine, but the past few years have taught me that routine is not only my friend, but my primary ally in the fight against all things anti-work: procrastination, distraction, and more procrastination, to name a few. In fact, the only way I ever get anything done is through following a fairly strenuous routine. And when that routine is taken out back and shot? Well, let’s just say I don’t get much work done.

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Sum of All Parts

Boy, you're gonna carry that weight.

Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight.

A few days ago my mom sent me a link to a version of The Beatles’ Abbey Road with the vocal tracks completely isolated. Being a lifelong Beatles enthusiast, I was excited and curious to hear what the band’s final album sounded like sans musical instruments. I put it on this morning as I was making my coffee, and allowed the three part harmonies to wash over me. It’s definitely an interesting experience to hear very familiar songs sung without the usual accompaniment of guitar and bass and keyboard. I found myself focusing on the way the harmonies built on each other, and how the different tenors of the singers’ voices blended and complemented each other. But as the final song ended, I couldn’t help thinking to myself how much better I liked the original version, instruments included.

There’s a very, very famous quote that, although commonly attributed to Aristotle, actually originated with Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka. I’m sure you’ve heard it many times before: “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” This is an integral concept to Gestalt psychology, in that our perception of any whole exists as an independent entity from all of its parts perceived individually. The sum is not necessarily greater, or better, but it does exist as other than the sum of its parts. A house is more than the bricks, mortar, timber and metal that went into its construction. A year is more than all of its days added together.

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Me with a new project. Image belongs to icanhazcheezburger

Me with a new project. Image belongs to icanhazcheezburger

Here’s the thing about me: a new project is always–always, always–more exciting than a project I’ve been working on for a while, or worse yet, a project that I’m revising. If you read my blog regularly you’ll know that I’m currently completing revisions for my novel after putting it through beta, and hoping to have it ready for querying in the next few weeks. But revisions suck. They’re boring and tedious and frustrating. A new project, on the other hand, is shiny and new and fun!

I’ve been trying to be good, to put this new project on the back burner until I’m finished with revisions, but I can’t stop thinking about it, and it’s been giving me insomnia. I’ll turn off the light, and ideas immediately flood into my brain, settings and characters and names and plot points crowding together and shouting to be heard. And because it’s so new and exciting, it’s hard not to humor my uncooperative writer’s mind, and before I know it it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I haven’t slept a wink, nor am I any closer to sleep than when I got under the covers.

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Music to Live To

“If music be the food of love, play on!”  –Duke Orsino, from Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare

Soundtrack of my childhood.

Soundtrack of my childhood.

I grew up with music. My mom and my dad are both musical people; my mom is a singer and both a pianist and a piano teacher, and my dad also sings as well as plays the guitar and the Irish bodhrán. Music was a constant in my house: classical music on NPR with breakfast, The Who on the way to school, piano lessons in the afternoon, lullabies before bed. I think I knew all the words to every Beatles song in existence before I even knew how to read. My mom teaches the Suzuki method, so the Suzuki tapes were on constant repeat at home and in the car (to this day, I hear can hear certain classical music pieces and know what song comes next in the Suzuki method). Music was like air, all around and impossible to not consume.

I’m grown up now, and although music may not be as integral to my life as it was when I was younger, I still enjoy music on so many levels. A gorgeous song or a certain vocalist or an impressive guitar riff can take my breath away. When I find an album that I adore I will literally listen to it on repeat because I can feel the songs in my bones and in my blood. Music still inspires and uplifts me.

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I, Robot?

I wouldn't mind teaching this robot to love.

I wouldn’t mind teaching this robot to love.

Last night I watched Ridley Scott’s latest science fiction film Prometheus, unsure what to expect considering the fact that I’ve never seen any of the Alien films. While I enjoyed the film for the most part, I was mostly intrigued and fascinated by one character: David, the cold and calculating yet charismatic android. I’m not sure whether it was Michael Fassbender’s excellent acting (and handsome face) or the premise of a humanoid robot living and serving humans, but David’s complicated characterization and motivations carried the film for me. And it got me started thinking about the intersection between man and machine.

Every day human technology expands further into our everyday lives. Newer tech like Google Glass and Oculus Rift promise a future of immersive virtual reality while advances in artificial intelligence and robotics presage a future in which machines walk among us. Slowly but surely, the gap is narrowing between where our bodies end and technology begins. So it makes sense that anxiety about the consequences of this synthesis between man and machine manifests in our media.

Matt Damon, part machine in Elysium

Matt Damon, part machine in Elysium

The last time I saw a movie in theaters (I think it was Man of Steel) I was amazed by this common thread running through many of the previews: Pacific Rim, in which humans join minds with massive robot warriors to battle an alien invasion; Ender’s Game, where a young boy interacts with a virtual game interface in order to wage a war for mankind; Elysium, in which Matt Damon’s character becomes fused with a robotic exoskeleton that gives him superhuman strength. In each preview, the theme was clear–can humans maintain their humanity when their bodies and minds become fused with machines?

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By Anonymous

In the summer before my senior year of high school I got a series of emails from someone who was, quite literally, my secret admirer. The anonymous author had gone to great pains to conceal his or her identity, to the extent of setting up a dummy email account and keeping secret any personal details that might have given me any hints or clues as to who he actually was. The notes were, besides being flattering, very well written and polite, and we corresponded for a short while before the emails abruptly stopped. Years later, I still have no idea who the secret admirer was. And the thing that bothers me the most isn’t that I may have missed out on a chance to get to know someone who purportedly cared for me, but that I never knew who he was. It still drives me a little bit crazy that this person was, simply put, Anonymous.

"Girl, why'd you have to pour hot wax on my shoulder?"

“Girl, why’d you have to pour hot wax on my shoulder?”

Fatal curiosity is nothing new for humanity as a whole. I trust that we all know the saying about the cat by now. So many myths, legends, and folk stories tell of the dangers of excessive inquisitiveness. The fall of man in Genesis is a great example of the dangers befalling men and women who allow their curiosity to overcome them. Pandora and her box. In the Greek myth Eros and Psyche and the Norwegian tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, young women who have married mysterious men are tempted into spying on them at night, betraying their lovers trusts and setting them upon difficult and harrowing quests. The legend of Bluebeard. The theme is repeated over and over again: secrets are better left untold, and anonymity is best preserved.

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To Judge a Book

Have you ever wandered through a bookstore or library, your fingers trailing lightly along the spines of all the quiet books waiting to be read, only to pull one out, take a quick look at the cover, and shove it back onto the shelf without bothering to even read the inside flap? Making a snap judgment based solely on the series of images emblazoning the jacket? I know I have. Judging a book by its cover is a fairly trite idiom in the English language, but I think that as an idea it stands up well under examination, both literally and metaphorically.

Bet you wouldn't even watch the HBO adaptation of the girly one.

Bet you wouldn’t even watch the HBO adaptation
of the girly one.

A few months ago, author Maureen Johnson posed an interesting question to her readers and followers. After receiving numerous letters from male readers asking her to please change the covers of her books so that they wouldn’t feel embarrassed to read them in public, Ms. Johnson came to the conclusion that while men and women “can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, the woman is simply more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it.” To subvert this notion, she asked her Twitter followers to participate in an experiment called Coverflip–first, take a well-known book, then imagine the author of that book was of the opposite gender, and imagine what that cover might look like.

You can read about the full experiment here, and I recommend looking at the slideshow of the resulting images. I found them both hilarious and upsetting, for a variety of reasons. Maybe some other day I’ll rant about gender inequality, but today I think I’d like to talk about something even more basic: people judging people by the covers of the books they read.

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Dancing Queen

Courtesy of the Birmingham Royal Ballet

Courtesy of the Birmingham Royal Ballet

I’ve always loved dance. All kinds of dance. Like most little girls, I adored ballerinas, with their sparkling tiaras and fluffy tutus and elegant buns. I saw The Nutcracker for the first time in kindergarden, and was entranced by everything about the ballet; from the wind-up doll ballerina to the horrible rat soldiers to the dashing Nutcracker Prince. But most of all, I admired the Sugar Plum Fairy, gliding effortlessly across the stage en pointe, barely seeming to touch the ground as she performed pliés and pirouettes and arabesques.

Soon after, I discovered the great old classic musicals and fell in love with tap dance and ballroom. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. I would rewind videos again and again to rewatch my favorite dance sequences, trying and failing to replicate the gloriously complicated and utterly romantic routines in my own living room.

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Dream a Little Dream

If you know me well, or have been reading my blog long enough, you have probably realized by now that I’m a leeetle bit obsessed with dreams. Not in a “Oh, dreams are pretty cool I guess” way, but in a “Why can’t I eschew the real world and live perpetually in the nonsense realm of my sleeping brain” manner. You may think this is strange, and that’s okay. It is. I’m generally a fairly strange person.

Yeah, a Nazi AND a wizard. Trust me, it's scary.

Yeah, a Nazi AND a wizard. Trust me, it’s scary.

My dreams are nearly always vivid, but they run the gamut in terms of subject matter. Complex. Silly. Terrifying. Trippy. Occasionally, I’ll even have dreams with recurring themes. Anxiety dreams are the most common of these themes; it’s finals week and I’ve just realized I haven’t been to calculus all semester. Harrison Ford weirdly appears in many of my dreams; more often than not he’s a Nazi-wizard and he’s chasing me. But recently, I’ve started having a new recurring dream. Nearly once a week for the past two months, I’ve dreamed that there’s a tall black stallion, wild and untamed, and I’m the only one who can ride him.

Whatever could it mean?

Before I continue, I’d like to say that while I’m not sure what purpose dreams truly serve, I do think they have the capacity to be symbolic. Jung hypothesized that our dreams contained universal archetypes derived from a collective unconscious; I think this may be going a bit far. Our minds are, however, bombarded with culturally significant symbols and images from a very young age, and it seems entirely plausible that these patterns would find meaningful expression in our dreams. It also seems likely that our own individual experiences could lead our unconscious minds to assign meaning to otherwise meaningless minutiae.

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The Cape Conundrum

"And what's your superpower, young man?" "I can...throw my shield. Really, really hard." Image belongs to Marvel Comics

“And what’s your superpower, young man?”
“I can…throw my shield. Really, really hard.”
Image belongs to Marvel Comics

I watched The Avengers last night for the first time (I know, I showed up really late to that party) and as I watched I was struck by how none of the superheroes were really very super. In fact, in terms of inborn or created abilities, there weren’t many superpowers to speak of. Among the Avengers, objects are the name of the game. Tony Stark flies around in a technologically advanced suit of armor–the only thing really special about him is his intellect. Hawkeye has a bow and arrow; Thor has a giant hammer; Captain America has a fancy shield.

Hulk…well, Hulk smash.

Superheroes have been central to the cultural iconography of America for most of the 20th century, and have undergone a marked renaissance in the 21st. Nearly every major superhero has enjoyed a movie (if not an entire franchise) dedicated to them in the past decade. Even superheroes who are considered “old-fashioned” (Superman) or less popular (Green Lantern) than heroes like Spiderman and Batman have been recently rebooted to suit modern times. And the Avengers, despite being more technologically reliant than many of their brethren, easily share the stage with more classically gifted superheroes like Superman, Spiderman, and the X-Men. So why the shift in modern times to a more technologically-reliant superhero? And what does it say about our culture’s fascination with superheroes in general?

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