Sunday, September 25, 2011

Travelling Through Time

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Everyone has a time machine. Everyone is a time machine. It’s just that most people’s machines are broken. The strangest and hardest kind of time travel is the unaided kind. People get stuck, people get looped. People get trapped. But we are all time machines. We are perfectly engineered time machines, technologically equipped to allow the inside user, the traveler riding inside each of us, to experience time travel, and loss, and understanding. We are universal time machines manufactured to the most exacting specifications possible. Every single one of us.” - Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
This is my new favourite quote. I've even dedicated a space for it on my Facebook profile page under "quotations". (So you know I am very serious). I'm not exactly sure why I have taken such a strong liking to it. I suppose it is because of the grand scale of nostalgia and loss that it represents metaphorically.

We have all experienced the unusual wave of nostalgia from time to time. Sometimes it's pleasant; sometimes it overwhelms us with a terrible sadness. And sometimes it takes us to the point where we are convinced the past is infinitely better than the now. But whatever reasons we have for holding onto the past, the underlying rationale is clear. The past is comforting; is uncomplicated; is familiar. Sadly, some of us get stuck in our time machines, constantly looped in way that is dangerous to our well-being...

Time machines weren't created simply for the purpose of staying in one place and they don't get stuck on their own. We all have the relevant mechanisms built within us to move forward. That's the glorious thing about time travel. There are buttons and formulas to take us to the present. And all it takes for us is to push them.  Not technically into the future (although, as I hold many questions about mine that would be a completely fantastic trait for the machine to have!), but away from the past and into better times.

*Speaking of machines that allows one to travel, I'm about to hop on a plane to Melbourne! I have my fingers and toes crossed that this city will bring with it delicious food, fantastic shopping, and hopefully... a great future! Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Say Something Nice

Following another semi-productive day at university. I've hunted down yet another great video - this time created by Improv Everywhere (an American-based comedy group). The premise behind this wondeful performance is simple and sweet. Stick a podium with a megaphone attached to it, in a middle of a busy New York intersection, instruct a passerby to "Say Something Nice" and watch what happens.

And in saying that, have you said something nice today?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

As A Twenty-Something Year Old

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"In your twenties you’re becoming who you’re going to be and so you might as well not be an asshole. You’re generally less humble in that decade than you’ll ever be and this lack of humility is oddly mixed with insecurity and uncertainty and fear. You will learn a lot from yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love." - Dear Sugar (June 2010) on The 
Here's a truth. Trying to be a nice, kind-hearted and sincere person takes effort. I am nice, and I try to be this person in all facets of my day-to-day life. The downside to this is that there are personal frustrations that have to be aired every now and again. As a few people have discovered, I am capable of being intolerant, rude and brash - an asshole. It is never my intention to be that way but in some circumstances, I think they can be justified. But putting that aside, I choose to be a nice person simply because being mean-spirited and apathetic to others is 'easy'. And who ever heard of good things happening to people because they took the easy way out?

And I think it is truthful to say that 20 year olds are less humble  - I've certainly come across a number of dickheads around this age bracket (pardon the language). It's hard living in a world where young people are are taught to fight for what is theirs and in doing so, compassion and sincerity has to fall by the wayside. We are taught only to think and look out for ourselves. Because no one else will. So why should we care about anyone else?

Your twenties is all about 'yourself' - in the sense of finding who you are and what you want to lead a happy life, or at the very least a content one. As young adults, we have the whole world at our fingertips. And, not to sound cliche (but I'm going to regardless), we have the ability to change it. I am certainly not suggesting that everyone should quit their day job and become a champion of humanity... but let us start with ourselves and those around us. With our family, with love and with friends - even if it means acknowledging and opening oneself to insecurity, uncertainty and fear.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Strangers, Books and Morning Commutes

Source of picture: taufidius

In my various attempts to stay positive in the mornings, I've taken a shine to the ways I travel to work. So much so, that it has come to the point where the best part of my day is getting a seat on the train (if luck permits), taking out a book and reading for the next 15-20 minutes until I reach my destination. 80% of the time, I narrowly miss the crowds associated with the peak hour traffic and am left alone to enjoy my peace and personal space.

Of course, there are always downsides to catching the train to work: the feeling of being pushed up against another person's body during peak hours, the screaming kids that can be heard 2 carriages down the train, the volume of music that can be heard being blasted on a pitiful teenager's headphones... and the list goes on.

I owe it to the books I carry with me for some of the most interesting and insightful conversations that I've had with complete strangers. As I've noted in a previous post. I was happily reading One Day on a train in Singapore and struck a conversation with an older man sitting next to me. He asked me what book I was reading so I proceeded to tell him. The conversation then turned to how we could all spend our time in more economical ways. (For me, it was reading books. For him, it was the newspaper or striking up conversations with strangers!) 

It is highly likely I may never see him again, but I appreciate the curiousness and time taken to get to know me better. And before this elderly man left, he shook hands with me and mentioned what a pleasure it was to talk. I suppose, in a way, I am curious when speaking to strangers too. Curious to know what their interests are, how they think, and essentially, discovering glimpses as to who they are. There are always stories that are amazing, beautiful and interesting. And, if one has the chance to come across lovely folk, appreciate their kindness and sincerity - take the time to get to know them better as they have to you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Decade of Magical Thinking

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Here is an article I wish to share with you about 9/11. This piece is bold, thought-provoking and brave for an American writer to put into print. It also puts into perspective what we have learnt about humanity since the events 10 years ago. Warning: Highly political and may offend some readers.
"A Rumpus Lamentation on What We Lost

Say you took the long view of September 11, 2001, the view from the heavens, the view of a compassionate celestial being. From up there, you’d see that approximately 150,000 earthlings died that day. Most of these deaths were caused by malnutrition and age-related illnesses, roughly 1500 were murders, hundreds more were due to civil wars. Also, 2,977 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington.

A lot of human beings died, that’s my point. They all left behind mourners.
Imagine the mother who watched her child die of hunger. Here’s this tiny person, a daughter. She has a name, a face. She doesn’t explode or fall from a skyscraper. She simply stops breathing. No cameras record her final moment, the lamentation of that mother. These images are not replayed on the television over and over and over. What would be the point of that?

I recently went on a radio program to discuss the literature of 9/11. The host spent most of the hour chatting with people about their memories. They all talked about watching television. They were telling personal stories about watching television.

One of the duties of the artist – not the only duty, but a central one – is to impel people to imagine the complexity of thought and feeling inside another person. Art complicates moral action, because we have to accept that other people matter, that their hardship and suffering, even their rage and sorrow, are, to some extent, our responsibility.
Propaganda has the opposite aim: it is intended to simplify moral action. People get to disregard the humanity of others. This makes them easier to ignore, deport, imprison, torture, enslave, and kill.
At one point on this radio show, a TV producer discussed his decision to stop showing footage of the attacks. The host said she wanted to see those images; that she wanted to remember what had happened and how she’d felt. She was glad networks were going to re-broadcast that footage in the next few days. She added that didn’t want to see people jumping to their deaths, just the towers falling.

If one of my relatives had died that day …
But, you see, none of them did. It felt fraudulent to me to appropriate the emotional life of those in mourning, to pretend those atrocities were something personal, to rhapsodize about national unity. What I felt was dread, a sense that my country was going to respond precisely as the terrorists intended: by becoming less human.
I visited a friend a week after the attacks, a good-hearted fellow who spent a lot of his time and money establishing a school for at-risk kids. He told me that he didn’t know exactly who’d done this to us, but that he wouldn’t mind seeing Uncle Sam drop a few hundred bombs on them. He looked down as he said this, because he knew, I think, that it was a shameful thing to say, that he was calling for other human beings to be killed, not because they had harmed him, or his family, but because they had harmed his sense of omnipotence.
Nobody stood up – in Congress, in the bright studios of our corporate media, in city hall – to make the obvious point that millions of people in other parts of the world live in a state of perpetual danger. And that the events of 9/11 might therefore require of us a greater empathy for those suffering elsewhere, might even nudge us toward a more serious consideration of our own imperial luxuries and abuses, and how these might relate to the deprivations suffered in less fortunate precincts.
That’s not what we talked about. No, we talked about our feelings. Americans were bloated with empathy in the weeks after 9/11. But something fatal was happening: as a nation, we were consenting to pursue vengeance over mercy. We were deciding – with the help of all that deeply feeling propaganda on our television sets – that the only human suffering that mattered was American.

The tragedy of 9/11, then, wasn’t that 2,977 people died. It was that 2,977 Americans died.
Freud and others were fascinated by the concept of “infantile omnipotence.” This is what a child feels early in his life, and what he must eventually surrender, when he realizes he does not, and cannot, control the world.

There are some people, though, who can never quite accept this truth. They don’t have a strong enough sense of self to sustain the psychic injury. And thus, they resort to magical thinking, delusions of grandeur, angry projections, wild superstitions. They become, in this sense, more closely aligned with primitive cultures.
It is my belief that the enduring legacy of 9/11 resides in a permanent regression of the body politic, a narcissistic injury that we return to as a talisman of self-victimization, and which allows us to frame our sadistic urges as moral duties.
The attacks stunted our capacity to accept the awful truth of the world. This is most obvious in the ravings of demagogues. But in the end, the demagogues merely provide cover for our own quieter, more subtle abdications.

Let us return to the long view, to the benevolent celestial being who may (or may not) be looking down upon us, and ask: Has the mass murder that transpired a decade ago made us a more compassionate people? More united? Less fearful? Less paranoid?
And if not, why not?
I believe the transmission of stories has something to do with this. Watching a building collapse on television is not a story. It engages the viewer in a spectacle, not an act of moral imagination.
What of the stories we tell ourselves, and our children? What do we, as artists, as parents, as citizens and activists, ask of our leaders? What do we ask of ourselves? That we gaze backwards at a misty image of our own bruised nobility? That we look ahead to some childish rapture? What of the horrors and holocausts of our present? What of the girl, her mother? Can the heart still feel what the heart must feel?"

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Discovering Lady Antebellum

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My last week has been filled with study and learning new ways to resolve conflicts. But as I found out, keeping the peace is much better said than done. University woes aside, I've come across a great band that has kept my sanity (somewhat) at bay during times of frustration. I am always pleased when coming across a band I am unfamiliar with. Discovering new music by myself is, for me, equivalent to a child getting a toy as a present. I will discover, download, and play until I am sick with it and ready for another. 

As much as I'd like to think I have a wide taste in music and am open to listening to anything*, I've never been an avid fan of country music. It is a prejudice I hold very strongly. Maybe it's the southern accents that I don't acquaint myself with on a regular basis, or maybe it is the images of 'boot-scootin', and fiddles and violins that I associate with this genre. But Lady Antebellum has crossed that threshold of checkered shirts and cowboy hats, and into the elusive 'country-pop' territory. They've wormed their way into my musical soul and made some elements of country okay. Haha. (I've still yet to be completely sold on this genre.)

Yes, some of their songs are quite cheesy and have the potential to be played over the credits at the end of a romantic-comedy movie. But the majority of their music is awfully sweet, endearing and heartbreaking - the foundations of any good piece of music. And it doesn't hurt to have brilliant vocals to add that extra emotion to any given song. I suppose the most attractive part of their music is their story-telling. Admittedly, I believe that country singers do this quite well. It is in their nature to do so.

And if Adele has a soft spot for them, I'm sure I can make room for their music as well. Speaking of who, I must make mention of a great cover of Lady A's "Need You Now" sung by Adele and Darius Rucker. You can watch it here.

*Although, 'death metal' will never be found on my iPod.