YoaHTs: “Thing” #70 – “Buddy Movies”

Ever wonder why we LOVE buddy movies? I didn’t, until today. I mean, I knew that I was one of billions that will rush to see a good buddy movie. I’ve always known that they’re a gold mine for Hollywood. But I never really thought about why they draw the public over and over. However, today, while watching a promo for the new Dwayne Johnson/Kevin Hart film, Central Intelligence, it occurred to me that something important has been lost on us. 

Buddy movies are entirely formulaic, requiring very little intellectual investment. They are predictable, and generally full of sophomoric, slapstick humor. Yet, we go in droves and Holywood keeps churning them out, year after year. Full disclosure: I can’t wait to see this one. 

Obviously, our need for humor is an important factor, but I believe it is more profound than that. In fact, I believe the answer is so deeply rooted in our DNA that we should truly understand it. 

Every day life should be a buddy movie

The core theme in every single buddy movie is that opposites can learn to be friends, and in the face of a challenge, even teammates. It’s that simple. Two people, who approach a problem from completely different perspectives, still have the same goal: to solve the damned problem. In the beginning, they don’t understand one another. Hell, most of the time, they really don’t like each other. But by the end of the film, they have struggled together and that recognition, that common experience, destroys the bar that keeps them apart. 

It seems like such a simple thing, doesn’t it? But the one thing that complicates it is that many don’t seem to recognize what the common goal is. It doesn’t matter where you begin. It matters where you choose to go. 

I was in Dallas last week. From the safety of my hotel room, I watched news casts as the events unfolded. I saw solidarity as the police protected and supported the protestors. I saw people of every race protecting children together. I saw a sudden, innate, collective  reaction to keep people safe in the face of a terrifying experience. 

People became buddies. All of a sudden, people forgot they had differences. They shared the same need to be safe. Hundreds of different people became buddies.

It can be done, but in order to do it, we have to be honest about the problems that have brought us here, to this place in history. Everyone has to be intellectually honest. Neither side of every conflict can remain intractable. Neither can dig their heels in and say “we don’t have to understand,” because that is patently not true. The “other side” means the middle is at arm’s length. If everyone simply reached out, think of how much stronger the bonds could be. 

YoaHTs – Thing #71 – “Summers on the Beach”

I have a love/hate relationship with fireworks. I love the color, the noise, the spectacle of fireworks. But every year, I get more and more annoyed the morning of July 5th when I see the ridiculous mess left behind by amateur pyrotechnicians. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg that is “Summers on the Beach” in Florida. 

I wonder, as I stroll down the long stretch that is Central Florida’s gulf beaches, why people come to the beach year after year. I think about why I enjoy it, and then I look around at the miles and miles dotted by tents and umbrellas and think, no, it’s not the same

Somewhere in my DNA is a chain of chromosomes that are part sea water. According to ancestry.com my genome circles the Mediterranean, island hopping from Sicily to Egypt to Menorca in Spain. I find peace in the waves crashing. I am a human solar panel, recharging my psyche in the sun. To me, the beach has a soul, as do all of Earth’s great designs. 

So, imagine how utterly disgusted I am when, the morning after we celebrate how amazing our country is, I see how little its citizens care about their responsibility to her shores. I cannot fathom why, if you enjoy coming to the beach, you don’t feel compelled to keep it clean and safe. (See Figure 1)

Post-fireworks debris on Reddington Beach

Plastic toys, for example, become brittle over time and break into brightly-colored, sharp shards which the birds mistake for food. Necropsies on birds reveal that plastics fill their bellies, causing the birds to starve. Cigarette butts (my favorite pet peeve) are so numerous, that is gives the appearance that the beach is a giant ashtray. I pick up hundreds of them in a week, and it’s worse every year. Styrofoam from cheap coolers break into a million tiny pieces, which look a great deal like shells. My favorite this morning was a squeezed Bud Light cap which was so sharp, that it would do major damage to soft tissue. (See image 2)

Bud Light bottle cap found on Reddington Beach

The beaches here are highly commercialized, with miles and miles of hotels, and little to no flora and fauna remains. It has been replaced by thousands of people with seemingly little regard for the damage they do. Perhaps it’s ignorance. Maybe they don’t realize how, when those water balloons explode, little tiny blue pieces of latex end up in the sand where turtles and birds used to nest. Or maybe they think that one cigarette butt won’t hurt, ignoring the fact that it’s one of thousands buried by others. 

I hate to be THAT person. I prefer to be cheerful, and complimentary. But the human infection has reached a zenith and fixing it wouldn’t take much. In fact, if every person who visited just took five square feet and scanned the sand for plastic, cigarette butts, and styrofoam, we could easily keep it clean. In fact, get your kids involved. They love to hunt for things. There are organizations that help. IS Foundation (Ian Somerhalder of Vampire Diaries) has leveraged social media to keep kids interested in being good stewards. Just five minutes and five yards. I promise, it won’t hurt, and imagine that five minutes can do. 

YoaHTs: “Thing” 72 – “Sex Pt. 1”

Sex is, above all, entertainment. Yes, it perpetuates a species. Yes, it can be an expression of affection and intimacy, an addiction, a tool, and a weapon. But the bottom line is, after all the fireworks, in a healthy sexual relationship, you’re supposed to feel really, really, ridiculously good.

For reasons I cannot explain, I have discussed sex lately with an amazing variety of people, in entirely unrelated circumstances and from every perspective I could have imagined. I have no professional training in psychology, or sex therapy, but I have no issues discussing sex and, for reasons I’ve stated below, I’m fairly knowledgeable about it, so people tend to feel comfortable talking to me about it. The one thing that stood out – and yes, I am keenly aware of the comedy in that phrase – was that people STILL just don’t know how to talk about it to one another. One would think that such a simple problem is easily solved, but with everyone boiling in their own tea kettle, it’s a problem that seems to require an interpreter in nearly every case. As I listened intently in every conversation, I began to see patterns.*

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Year of a Hundred Things – Thing #73 – “Need”

I saw a meme on Facebook today – a lot of my posts seem to be born of that lately – that said “Any women wanting a husband obviously hasn’t had one before.” There are just so many things wrong with that that I felt compelled to really analyze it through the sieve of my personal history, and the experiences of my friends and family.

A couple of years ago, I sat in Central Park and had a conversation with a friend about why we thought political debates were essentially useless, especially within the confines of social media. We agreed readily that the problem was psychology. When one considers a problem, and its solution, one has to first understand the psychology of the affected individuals. One has to understand their “need.” The same logic has to be applied to relationships, and most especially to marriages.

Even the best marriages require work. Both people have to show up every day, and for extended periods, have to put their own need aside. Balance is what makes that process work. Recognition is what gives balance. “Today, I recognize that your need is stronger than mine, so I will show up for you.” Seems rather simple, doesn’t it?

In my analysis, I categorized both the failed and the successful relationships. Over and over, I found that need was the strongest theme and in those that failed, need had become a monstrous, all-consuming organism that stood in the middle of the relationship. It seems obvious to me, and maybe to you, my reader, that a balance of needs is the answer to this conundrum. I thought so, too. 

But it starts long before need becomes a problem that has gone unsatisfied. We humans don’t seem to realize that relationships have seasons, and some relationships can only last for a single season because it was a product of a single need. This is why, I believe, many marriages fail after the children have left the nest. I’ve heard people say “we’ve grown apart” when what actually happened was that while raising their children, they were not fulfilling their individual needs. They let the season pass. 

However, even before that, we fail to recognize the need that fanned the fire of that relationship. I’ve seen many a teenage girl tolerate deplorable behavior from a boy because for the first time in her life, she felt seen and heard. The need is to feel attractive and desired, and biologically, boys are happy to accommodate. I’ve also seen teenage boys tolerate the most entitled, spoiled girls for exactly the same reasons. The needs in those relationships overwhelm the individual’s own power. Those relationships are doomed long before the “I do”s. 

I have determined to teach every young person I love (and maybe those reading this), that successful relationships – and this applies to friendships, too – are based on the individuals’ abilities to recognize their own needs first. It is vital, as well, that we recognize which needs are unreasonable and invest the time in healing those first. THEN we can determine who is the best possible mate for us. It’s cliche to say that two half people can’t sustain a relationship, but it’s true. 

It is not the husband that is the problem. It is picking the wrong husband (or wife, or partner) because he or she fulfills a current need instead of creating a balance of all of them. Figuring this out for oneself requires some profoundly emotional heavy-lifting and some people just don’t want to invest the time. Those people won’t make good mates. People who cannot at least recognize their own needs will never be able to create balance in a relationship. 

So, before you go criticizing the institution of marriage – or simply relationships – look inside yourself and determine if the fault lies in your ability to choose at the time. It took me a long time to discern that I what I was looking for in my previous relationships was far from what I actually needed. I let them proceed past their seasons. It even took me a while to determine what makes the current one work. Keeping my hands on the wheel is now much easier having drawn a map of seas. 

The bottom line is, we have to figure ourselves out first. Then we have to really communicate our needs AND lastly, when those needs are not being met, be honest about whether it is fair to require THAT person in front of you to continue to try. Outside of abuse, we have to ask ourselves; Did you pick the wrong person? Is that person really capable of meeting YOUR individual needs? Is that his or her fault? Does it make him or her a “bad” mate simply because he or she is a bad mate for YOU? Yes, it’s a lot of soul-searching, but in the end, when you wake up every day relatively happy (because there are always bumps), it’s entirely worth the effort. 

Year of a Hundred Things: “Thing #74 – Gypsy Heart

“You’re a gypsy. You know that?” He said.

“Yep. But you love me that way.” I am confident in that. It’s not as though he has a choice, really. 

I can’t be without something to do, so I carry with me, at all times, at least three things to do. I am never without a book, my pencils and sketchbook, and some kind of camera. There are times when I wished my OCD expressed itself in my household, in keeping everything in its place. But alas, it does not. 

I can laugh at myself, hauling a good 10lbs in art supplies and books in my backpack. Occasionally, I look like a hermit crab adapting every spot I visit into my own little creative space.  It makes my gypsy heart happy.

3x5s

“Didn’t have a camera by my side this time,
Hopin’ I would see the world through both my eyes,
Maybe I will tell you all about it
When I’m in the mood to lose my way with words.”
(John Mayer)

I’ll have to beg your forgiveness for beginning this piece with song lyrics, but it is among my favorites songs, and every time I hear it, it takes me down the same path.

A few years ago, I officially retired from IT and decided that I’d pursue photography as a profession rather than the hobby it had been. While I have enjoyed the work most of the time, I now find myself having learned an unexpected lesson. The business of photography sucked the joy out of the art of photography, for me. I wanted to capture a story in every frame. That is not what happened. It became rote. It made me very depressed. Most inquiries wanted cheap, quick, painless and Photoshop. I wanted to create. More and more of my friends are leaving the “business,” as well, for the same reason. In an effort to love the art again, I cut jobs down to only a few a month. It has been a relief.

I have had several heart-to-hearts about this with a friend. He is my creative conscience, and he gives my fears no quarter. Stop taking your gear, he said. Just use your phone. See things. And this weekend, on a trip to Minnesota, I did as he said. The process was, at first, frustrating as hell. I know my gear, intimately. I know the buttons and dials. I can control depth of field, and ambient light, and compression. With my phone, I could only control composition and focal point. It was a bit like someone had cut off my hand. I forged on, nonetheless. And I did, in fact, see small things I might have missed. As usual, my friend was right about what it takes to get out of my head space.

All of these images were shot using my iPhone. It is proof of two things: (1) seeing requires your eyes first, (2) the camera is only the tool.

I’m slowly getting my mojo back, and for that I have to thank my friend. I don’t enjoy looking inward, because that’s where the heavy lifting is. But I’ll do it every time for the payoff. It’s priceless.

More on these images individually, in later posts. Some warrant their own.

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The Kraken

I lost my mind, yesterday. I admit it. I could feel it happening, too, and I was nearly powerless to stop it. My voice grew louder. My face twisted into ugly rage.

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Pinus Contora 

Ouch, I thought, a splinter?  As my hands caressed the weather-worn, greying plank, turning it, examining it for weaknesses that might eventually compromise the finished piece, a tiny prick made me drop it as though it had opened a vein.

It was, after all, a good excuse to walk away.

I had sat down expressly to transform it. I had had some idea of what I wanted, but no inspiration. I saw red: not in the angry, metaphorical way, but the color red filling my imagination, bursting, a clouded Holi festival in every shade from rose to sanguis. It is in that space where all the joy and wonder of a creative moment, all of the air that fills my lungs spreads to my waiting hands, only to explode from my chest in a rush of despair.

“Why” begins to interrupt. Do I have a voice? Is it worthwhile? Who will want to see this? 

The answer is an apparition.

It is often said of artists that narcissism is the first requirement. Thumbing through even the thinnest of art history books, one finds edgy, erratic, often abstruse behavior among the great masters. Art, it seems, requires a dance on the tightwire that hangs between sanity and genius.

Having grown up in a household where art had no value, I now find myself opening every creative vein I can just to find the one that flows freely. So far, none have. I push, every day, learning the tools and techniques. With each new medium I touch, with each surface I alter, I understand better and better the act of love that art truly is. Even as I write these words, I am utterly gripped by creating a melody within them that will compel you to keep reading. These are experiences I did not have at a time when painting a pig blue or a tree purple was the process in which one idea might fluidly transform into another. Occasionally, I color outside the lines, and I don’t feel the need to correct it and then, as I let go, more and more, I begin to love what I am touching and changing. It comes down to that one nebulous moment when I give myself permission to do whatever I want without needing a reason why. It is the moment when the wildfire clears the way for the new seeds.

To the many whom I’ve heard say, “I have no talent for art,” I say, expressing yourself doesn’t require “talent” in the traditional sense. It requires that you somehow package what you feel in a way that makes you happy. A year ago, I said I couldn’t draw, but I’ve changed that. I’m learning about the many mediums and tools. I’m immersing myself, and therein lies the danger.

Just as when I began to write publicly, I now study, rather than just view art. I find myself hyperfocused, deconstructing method, material, meaning. I become so lost in the detail, that I must navigate both the joy of understanding and the defeat of accepting that I will never create something so exquisite that it moves mankind century after century. And that is the moment I burn.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who is a successful artist. He spoke candidly about having an artist’s statement and an idea of the theme in his work. I realized that, fundamentally, art is a commitment to visually communicate something for which the artist has no words. Ultimately, I am compelled by an unusual tendency to assign color to emotions. I reach my roots into that fleeting moment, and that is when I grow.

Over and over, I’ll burn when I despair over how much time was lost to fear, but in between, in fleeting moments, new roots grip the ground as from my hands, something lovely comes.

 

Year of a Hundred Things – “Thing” #75 – Language

A few years ago, my family took a trip to Cozumel for a birthday celebration. Having grown up in a Spanish-speaking family, I thought it would be rather easy to communicate while in Mexico, but in the end, having had for years no one with whom to practice the bastardized Tampa Spanglish I learned, my Spanish is now spotty, at best. So, in trying to communicate in Spanish, I frequently made a mess of the truly beautiful language it is, and comically put myself in some precarious situations.

For example, I responded “¡Soy caliente!” to a lovely, “¿Como está, Señorita?” from the towel-attendant at the beach. He chuckled. “Sí, hay mucho calor, hoy,” he responded. Now, if you know any Spanish, you understand that we were discussing the weather. But it took me a moment to realize that he chuckled at my phrasing. I asked, knowing how badly I butcher Spanish these days, what I could do to be more exact. He said, in perfect English, “You meant to say ‘It is hot,’ but you said, ‘I am hot’ as though complimenting yourself on your attractiveness. While you are lovely,” – yes, he said that – “I think you meant to say you feel hot from the weather.” We laughed, heartily, and I thanked him for his kind lesson on Spanish. He didn’t make me feel small, or insulted. I took the opportunity to better learn how to communicate with the citizens whose hospitality I enjoyed for four days.

Why? Because it was the right thing to do.

I have worked in other countries, short term. On those rare, wonderful occasions, I had not the time to learn to communicate well in their native language, which I regretted for two reasons. (1) I do not expect that they should have to learn my language to accommodate me on their soil, and (2) learning many languages expands our understanding of the nuances of communication.

Now, having expressed how I feel about this, imagine how appalled I was to read that a journalist in the UK has decided that correcting grammar is both racist and a sign of “white privilege” because it inhibits the ability for “the poor” to communicate. I’m curious, because I grew up poor and bilingual, why she thinks that only the English correct grammar. My Abuela corrected my Spanish, constantly. My mother is a voracious reader. Her father, the eldest son of Sicilian immigrants, read constantly in English, Spanish and Italian. He spoke all three languages beautifully and correctly. These were my role models.

I’m a grammarphile but not because of some lofty sense of privilege. It’s because I believe in clarity, and in the power of meaning. And in a small way, I love the mechanics of the kind of sentence structure that evokes a visceral response from my reader. A good sentence is sexy.

Sunday, I had just read the article written by the aforementioned journalist, and I happened across the only five minutes of Game of Thrones that I had the opportunity to watch as I went about cleaning the kitchen. In the scene, Tyrion Lannister attempts to give charity to a woman so that she can feed her baby, but in Valerian he says “for your baby,” from which she inferred that he wanted to buy her baby. A simple error in phrasing and the meaning was entirely changed from charity to cannibalism. Note that I did not say “that I could watch” instead of “had the opportunity to watch.” Considering the regular violence on Game of Thrones, there are many scenes for which the first phrase would apply, but that is not what I MEANT in this case.

The fact is, if you don’t apply grammatical rules in ANY language, your meaning can be misinterpreted to such an extent that you could possibly insult the person to whom you speak. In fact, it happens often. I’ve seen discussions in social media decompose into vicious attacks because of misinterpretations that could easily have been solved by simple punctuation. The number of times I’ve read “that’s not what I meant” simply confounds me. The thing is, English has a lexicon of 450,000+ words. It’s not an easy language to learn. But if you genuinely want to be heard, and UNDERSTOOD, you have to accept that using proper grammar will help you achieve that end. In contrast, if you want to be genuinely innovative with meaning, you have to know the rules you are creatively breaking.

I think it’s deplorable when one attacks another publicly for improper usage, even if in response to something combative. It furthers the idea that privilege, or arrogance, is always the motive. I have been tempted, especially when I’ve read responses that have devolved into personal attacks. But even in opposition, meaning must be clear, or your argument is lost the moment your reader trips over the first missing comma.

Finally, if you do want to work on grammar and meaning, and better learn how to express yourself, I highly recommend a book called “Sin and Syntax” by Constance Hale. She takes an “out of the box” approach to illustrating how subtle changes can lead to much better communication. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing or saying, but it matters greatly whether you are understood.

YofaHT: “Thing” #76 – A Good Product

I believe it was Homer Simpson who said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” All kidding aside, and in complete deference to Plato, no adage more aptly explains the appearance of the world’s most inspiring conveniences. Convenience is an amazing thing. It immediately creates an adoption, then a reliance, then a complete dependence in the organism it benefits. I thought about convenience when I stumbled – okay, okay, honesty – when I was presented through a Facebook ad a new concept device called Kano.

I have many years experience in the informations systems business and was hardly surprised when my offspring showed an aptitude for technology and talent for the logic skills that will eventually make him as formidable a diagnostician as is his mother. (Alright, alright, I admit, I’m a bit biased.)

Now, while I’ll gladly toot my own horn at my ability to creatively unravel complex problems, I will admit with equal humility that I lack patience as a systems teacher. Anyone who has suffered that impatience (and you know who you are) will gladly throw me under the AS400. So, as I watched my child deftly manipulating Minecraft after assimilating new techniques by watching YouTube (StampyLongHead, I’m watching you), I realized he was going to come to a place soon where he’d either learn bad computing habits (read: fat, sloppy code) or he’d learn it the right way from me.

Enter Kano.

Before I write about the actual product, I want to mention why I’m writing about the actual product. Making good stuff for kids is a lost art. The volume of things that break, or don’t work as promised, could fill a good-sized airplane hangar. So, when I stumble across something that works well, I’m inclined to reward the manufacturers. I prefer to encourage good business, rather than denigrate bad ones (although, I’m frequently tempted).

Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog…

Enter Kano (again)…

It’s a cute little thing, built on the Raspberry Pi platform. As I read the web site (read more here), I quickly realized that I had a convenient solution to my teaching problem. The hip peeps at Kano had developed a tool that would help me visually teach my kid operating system commands and code logic, all while he would swear he was playing computer games. It’s his “size” and “feel.” It comes with clear, concise and visually stimulating instructions. I ordered it immediately as his big Christmas present.

At first he didn’t know what to make of the parts, but once I explained what it would allow him to do, he dug in with both hands. As my husband and I watched, he put the whole thing together, and powered it up, with very little intervention from me. A tear of pride bobbled in my eye for a moment as I realized the apple was still hanging around the roots.

My husband had a completely opposite but interesting reaction. He has little experience with technology, and noted that because our child is more likely to design a baseball video game than to actually play baseball, a good father-son relationship might require that dad learn along side mommy’s little prodigy.

In our household, this cool little device serves two important purposes. It gives me the tool to teach him the tools he’ll need in his future endeavors, and it provides an avenue for dad to relate to interests foreign to his own, but deeply rooted in his son. Granted, that’s much more than convenience. In fact, it’s a gold mine. If you have a kid who has an aptitude for technology, I highly recommend that you look at this product, especially if you yourself do not have that aptitude.

Now, 75 more “things” to go…better get back on that writing horse, eh?