The Beauty that Surrounds Me

In the next few days, I’ll be trying to start something I should have started a long, long time ago, but never did. I’m going to write about the stories that surround me (Films, Tv Shows, Games, Music, Books etc), in a form that, ideally, should be a mix of reviewing, discussion, criticism and personal experience. I want to talk about the beauty that surrounds me, what keeps me company, what makes me think, what makes me laugh, what makes me cry. I want to spend more time looking at those things, I want to tell others about them, and I want to learn more about them myself.

It will be extremely hard for me to keep it up, despite precisely because I feel so passionate about writing and the things I want to write about, but I’ve regretted not doing anything so far, and my life is already full of regrets and missed opportunities, and it shouldn’t be this way.

I will have to learn a lot of things, I will have to try to find a good style, most of all I will have to do my best to simply keep writing and not give up like I’m always tempted to do. I’m scared, for no good reason at all, and sometimes that fear tries to make me forget what I want to do, what I’m passionate about and what I want myself and my life to look like. It wants to make me numb, and I don’t want to be numb.

I’ll try my best to keep my word.

https://melodymeows.wordpress.com/

Addict

“I want to want different things from the ones I actually want”. This is a core experience for me, and yet it seems very hard to relate to for other people. I’m unsure why; while I wish I didn’t feel it, I can’t help but see it as a good reaction to a bad situation.

In trying to imagine examples of when this would apply to others, I keep thinking about addicts, addicts of any kind who want to drop their addiction. You want, say, drugs, and you don’t want to want drugs, and then you give in and you enjoy them and you feel awful that you gave in and you wish you didn’t enjoy them. It seems simple enough when explained this way.

Most importantly, the reason you don’t want to want what you’re addicted to is usually some variation of “It’s holding me back from realizing my potential”. It’s never that “it’s not enjoyable anymore”, because if it wasn’t enjoyable on some level, you wouldn’t be addicted to it in the first place.

But, from what I can tell, many of those who surround me fail to see my situation in the same way. They reject the equation. I think the piece of advice I have heard the most has been “Try to do the things you want to do and enjoy doing, without judging yourself or feeling guilty”. In terms of addiction, that would mean “Enjoy what you’re addicted to without thinking about why it’s ruining your life, why you want to get rid of your addiction in the first place”. That doesn’t sound like good advice anymore, does it?

I wonder if it all boils down to the fact that I’m “too hard on myself” – which, from my point of view, means that others generally aren’t hard enough on themselves, they don’t expect enough from themselves. And yet, while I can’t say that I’m in fact any better than the mass (I’m possibly worse, and I could spend days describing all that is wrong with me), my being hard on myself, my trying to change for the better is my only (minuscule) source of pride.

Why should I change the only thing that I like about myself?

The Sound of Perdition

Sometimes it feels as if the world is just made to make me lose my way. There’s so much around, too much. There is content everywhere. But content is not the right word: entertainment. Things made with the sole purpose of being addicting, of catching my attention, while they are, in fact, empty of any meaningful content.

Perhaps I shouldn’t complain. It’s my weakness after all.

All those books, films, games, music albums, TV shows, videos, Social Network feeds, Sports and ESports, with nothing to say, and yet they make you hold on to them. They’re attractive. They’re so undeniably attractive, and I hate them. Even if you try and refine your taste, even if you specialize in just a small niche of things, they keep trying to suck all your time, all your energies. Actually, the more you specialize, the more time they take.

Most of the times, I believe that, quite apart from my actual taste, I can usually identify when something has a heart and when it is simply a pleasurable, hollow distraction, and yet, I wish I could be more resolute at saying no. I wish I could more readily listen to my soul’s melody rather than the hypnotizing sirens’ tune. All your superficial needs seems satisfied, while your deepest aspirations drown in a sea of wasted time, and your joy, your creativity, your curiosity, your vitality, they all rot and die, forgotten.

The sound of perdition is simply the one that cancels any notes of your own. It seduces you: how exhausted you must be, well, rest your heavy limbs here for a while, shut yourself down and come to sleep in this most comfortable of beds. I can guarantee you’ll never want to get up anymore.

Perhaps I shouldn’t complain. It’s my weakness after all.

Loneliness, Functioning and Human Warmth

For all the effort I put into escaping escapism, from time to time I suddenly realize how it has made its way back into my life in subtler forms, as a sort of survival instinct that is so hard to eradicate. Augustine was one of the first to realize that, the more you are self-conscious, the more your rationalizations become subtler, evil becomes thinner, hides deeper, but it never really stops.

Apathy still takes me all too easily, instead of letting me suffer like I should. Maybe that is the reason for my inability to act, to express myself.

I feel lonely. I could have said that at any time during the last several years, but these days it strikes me harder than usual. I realized I spend about 6 and a half days alone every week. Which then leads me to wonder how anyone is supposed to feel ok, how anyone is supposed to ‘work’ within circumstances like my own. At this point I turn to my Nietzschean “Higher men vs. the Herd” line of thought, and realize that I should, I should endure it, I should ‘work’ (function) despite it, I should shine through it. Not to mention those thoughts that reflect on how some truly despicable and stupid human beings have friends, which mean that I somehow don’t deserve them, either because I’m more despicable than them or because I’m clearly missing something that lets them have friends and prevents me from the same.

And so I’m left with two, almost opposite feelings: a profound wish, a crave even, to feel loved, to cuddle with someone, to have sex with someone, to share human warmth not just with words but with the body; and on the other side a mix of stoicism and self-deprecation – stuff like “I clearly don’t deserve it, so I have to earn it first”, “Maybe I don’t have it in me”, “I have to endure and make do without it, shine through it” and maybe someday, in that future that never comes and never will. And when I can’t negate either, that turns into profound dissatisfaction and a bleak outlook on the future, and inaction.

Perhaps it will always be a mystery to me, how some people tell me they struggle to understand certain things that seem so clear to me, and yet I fail to understand such a supposedly simple thing as how people get to know other people and make friends. Here’s another not-quite-contradiction: I hate and despise the vast majority of people just as I crave their company, their touch and their warmth – not of everyone, admittedly, just enough, just 2 or 3, to keep the loneliness away.

There’s one thing I know for sure: in these years characterized by failure to reach one’s goals, dissatisfaction, depression, self-hate and “not-enoughness”, my best friend – the owner of that o.5 day per week of my life – is the only thing that keeps me alive, sane, and sometimes happy and thankful. She makes me feel loved, and yes, I still think I don’t deserve it, but somehow she sees through that and she still does make me feel that way. She’s the only one who does.

But the feeling leaves soon, about a day after her, and I go back to normal. Still, those few hours that she gives me, they feel like freedom. They feel like hope. And I wonder whether, if I had a bit more of that, I couldn’t then overcome so many of the difficulties that keep me down, that keep me from going from though to action, that keep me listening to that voice that says “You’re not good enough, you don’t deserve anything”. I wonder…

Disappointments Of Specialized Intelligence

After watching Interstella 555 and enjoying it, despite its many defects, I’ve decided to try and listen to Daft Punk, a band I had always been sceptical about. And I chose to start from Discovery, their most famous album, the same one that backs up the story of Interstella, to see if it would be just as enjoyable without visual accompaniment, or if it would lose its appeal like many soundtracks do.

Possibly because it wasn’t exactly a soundtrack in the first place, I’ve greatly enjoyed the album, maybe more than the film itself, even though the second half tends to be less interesting compared to the first energetic handful of songs. (Let’s be honest: without the film, Veridis Quo becomes boring after about 30 seconds of its almost 6 minutes) But overall, I was just surprised that I had let such a unique band slip past my ears (except for the viral videos of various anatomical interpretations of Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger). The melodies are ok, but the sounds with which they are produced are simply unique, and the rhythms on which they are laid are great, (varied, interesting, never banal) in a way that reminded me, despite all their differences, of 65daysofstatic. How can you remain indifferent to the tapping of Aerodynamic? They managed to distract me from my reading material, rather than becoming background noise to the page in front of me: my mind was captivated and positively surprised.

For a while. That is, before I started paying closer attention to the lyrics.

My disappointment was gradual. The first song that made me turn to the lyrics was, for obvious reasons, “Something about us”. As a ballad, the sung part calls for closer attention. When I’ve heard the part starting with I need you more than anything in my life/I want you more than anything in my life/… I was still ready to give them credit. I thought it was a piece of brutal honesty, more simple and direct than many artists dare do, but poetic just because of its simplicity. Actually, it’s the kind of song it’d probably blush hearing side to side with anyone, whether I’d actually want to say those words or not (Usually it’s the latter case, and then I tend to blush harder… I’ve had the same effect serving at the till of a shop:  James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” in the background, you look at a customer, embarrassment ensues, and the only thing you can do is try to pretend it’s not there, to avoid further awkwardness) But the fact that I was prepared to give them credit didn’t mean I wasn’t going to look for confirmation, that that trust was justified.

In Discovery, only 6 out of 14 songs have something I can reasonably call lyrics. Which is totally fine for me, I enjoy lots of instrumental music that either has nothing to say lyrics-wise, or simply decides to let the music express everything, or whatever reason they have. In other words, it’s ok if you don’t do something and still deliver a work that feels complete. What is not ok, for me, is that you put something in your art work that feels superficial or uncared-for. The perfect piece of art makes me want to say “I wouldn’t change a thing”. Well, Daft Punk’s songs with lyrics, with one notable exception, make me wish either that they were instrumentals or that someone else had written the lyrics. The melody of the voice is fine, the voice itself is technically good. What I have a problem with are just the raw words that are sung, with an interpretation that is frankly appalling, an interpretation that I can only assimilate to the figure of an actor/professional singer, rather than an artist believing in her work; because I can’t possibly think Daft Punk can be proud of that bit of their work.

“Something about Us” as I’ve said, is a simple (or simple-minded?) love song. What are the other songs about? Well, let’s take “One More Time”: a song about partying and dancing. And “Digital Love”: it tells of a dream about seducing someone at a party, while dancing (very simple-minded, definitely masculine, totally not erotic, and romantic only through stereotypes: barely, barely passable). “Face to Face”: guess what? A supposedly romantic encounter on a dance-floor. And it seems that dancing is solving all the pent-up problems this couple has. But I’m not summarizing: this is all there is in these songs.

“Too Long” is a peculiar example: a song about ‘that feeling’. Can you feel it?, the song asks repeteadly. Feel what? It’s never specified, or hinted at, or talked about. It reminds me of this line by Steven Wilson The Curse of There Must Be More in “Anesthetize”. The whole first part of “Anesthetize” is about the common practice of dressing nothingness up as something deep and meaningful.

When I come back to the exception, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”, I don’t even know what to think anymore. I’m still talking lyrics-wise: the song seems a masterpiece in many ways, with the sentences broken down and repeated ad infinitum like it’s some kind of compartmentalised work, the musical equivalent of the division of labour in a factory, where each man has to do the same, small piece over and over again without ever seeing the final result. It’s a post-modern interpretation of the opening of Modern Times by Chaplin, in which that way of working has contaminated even what is supposed to be art, creativity, uniqueness; it’s a parody and a critique of it… or is it? I would like to say it is, but all the other songs are telling me that Daft Punk couldn’t possibly have put so much depth into their lyrics. Maybe it really is an exception, the masterpiece of an otherwise bad or careless lyricist. At this point I’d be more inclined to say that the fact that I could read it that way is purely a coincidence, that the merit is mine for seeing those things in it, rather than in the artist for putting them there; maybe, even, that the song is that very thing that I thought it was parodying, because I find it so despicable I wanted it to be a parody rather than the real thing.

Tom Bissell said that art is “comprehensively intelligent”. These 6 songs in discovery have tried to engage me on many levels. Musically, they succeeded. Lyrically, they didn’t. And the result is that the bad half of the album has ruined my enjoyment of the other half, and of the whole, and now I feel ashamed when I listen to it again.

It’s a very common issue, one that I’m also sometimes guilty of in my own works. I guess it’s normal, when one is learning, or finding one’s way, that one focuses more on one thing rather than the other. In literature, it’s often content without style, or, even worse, style without content. (I’ve seen billions of words of fascinating style and little to no content in my days in the tumblr writing community – which is now dead as far as I’m concerned). In films, it’s the same: production value with no plot. In music, it comes about in a number of ways: music without lyrics (I mean, of course, music with lyrics that are stupid and meaningless), technical ability without passion, sounds without rhythm, outstanding mastery of one instrument and banality in the use of another. In videogames, the plague is fine-tuned, addicting gameplay without any plot or other meaningful content to give it substance.

I like to call this the problem of specialized intelligence. It is what we are more and more used to: knowing one small thing in the universe, and being totally ignorant of its place in the world, of its ramifications, of its causes and consequences. It is, again, like Modern Times, and like the Daft Punk song, knowing your small bit without ever seeing the finished product. (One of the things I love about philosophy is that it’s so inherently interdisciplinary and interconnected that it’s almost impossible for it to make this mistake.)

Specialized intelligence is being a rhythmical genius and not knowing how to use that genius, that power that your music has, in order to convey something meaningful, to do something good. Specialized intelligence is studying economy without giving any serious thought to what you think a good life is, for the world as a whole as well as for individuals, so that you end up knowing all those difficult numbers and names, but you let them take you where they taught you they should take you, rather than towards your idea of good. It’s like knowing medicine, but having no idea of your own about what state is “healthy” and what isn’t. (Luckily I haven’t seen that yet) Specialized intelligence is precisely the Orwellian “Smart enough to do the job, dumb enough to not ask questions”.

Possibly the biggest case of specialized intelligence is living without ever seriously thinking about what a good life is. In the most general sense (I really don’t think that “I just want to be happy” refrain would hold under serious questioning for many of those who profess it) as well as in more particular ways. Especially when it comes to computers, tablets, smartphones, internet, consumism as a whole, how many people actually asked themselves “is this good for my life?” before using something, before opening their Facebook account, spending hours hooked to some stupid game? I don’t even think that it makes them happier.

I will not even go into the issue of acting according to what one thinks. That’s a complicated process, and a harder thing to do than it seems at first. But I would like to see more people asking themselves more often: “Is this good? Is it at least good for me, for my life?”

Steven 1: Distractions

I am going to start this study by describing the most eye-catching feature of Steven’s life: the way he spends his time. This will also allow me to mention most of the themes that I will come back to, in time.

So, how does Steven spend his time? Mainly playing videogames. And this is valid both for the summer vacation and term time (Steven is a university student): Steven spends at least about 30 hours a week (unless something prevents him from doing so) playing videogames. When he is not disturbed by many commitments and chores, or when he finds a game he is particularly interested in, that value can easily reach the 50, even 60 hours a week, with peaks of more than 20 hours of gaming in 2 days. It’s safe to say he plays videogames at least as much as he sleeps, if not more. Besides the other obvious activities, like eating, Steven’s life beside videogames consists of watching tv series and films; he reads at night, before sleeping, but almost never during the day. Sometimes he listens to music, and occasionally he plays the guitar (he has an acoustic and an electric, but doesn’t touch them more than once every 2 weeks). Every day he checks Amazon for free music and kindle books, or cheap CDs. Studying doesn’t come to more than a couple of hours a day even during exam time. In separate, appropriate sections I will focus on the kind of videogames he plays and how he relates to them; the same will be done, in brief, for films and books. An entire section will be devoted in particular to Guitar Hero, and its relationship to the real guitar. In the meantime, I would like to note the absence of any “active” or “productive” activity: no writing of any kind, no diary or journal, no form of art, no volunteer work, in short nothing brought into the world by him, or affected by his existence. He even dropped out of the gaming clan he belonged to, for lack of will to be part of something more than his little world. When this individual will die, what will remain of him will be the save files from his games.

On his desk we find his computer (with which he plays most videogames), a DVD player and a small television. There’s little place to write or read an actual book on his desk. Beside a mug full of pens and a pair of iPod speakers, there are just a lot of knick-knacks: a lava lamp, a small Newton’s cradle, a mug-holder, and other smaller things that clutter the desk, although with a vague sense of order. Sometimes, his Kindle and his Nintendo DS find their place there as well. The posters on the wall are ordinary, and sometimes generic: an optic illusion poster, a Pink Floyd one, a “suicide bunny” one, a poster with funny street signs, one with the Rolling Stone’s mouth and one with some famous rock artists’ guitars. In the kitchen, another television connected to a VHS player, an Xbox 360 (his secondary source of gaming) and a PS2.

Another important thing Steven likes to do is getting reduced stuff at supermarkets. Not only he always looks at the reduced section when he actually goes shopping, but he often goes there for the only purpose of finding items that are reduced for clearance and freezing them. He finds some kind of joy in the very act of getting things for a very low price, for, although not rich, Steven would easily be able to afford shopping normally without great concerns. Moreover, he doesn’t need them: his cupboards and freezers, both in the house we share and at his own house, are always full, but if he finds something cheap, even if he already has it, he will buy more. And, what shocked me the most, he, together with a couple of members of his family, often do the so-called “reduced runs” on Sunday; that is, they go to every supermarket and shop in the area in order of closing time to get reduced items from all of them.

Some observations that I would like to do immediately, before getting in depth in each theme: the life of this individual, it seems to me, is utterly empty. He is, of course, one of the persons that said that he may get a part-time job because he doesn’t have anything to do anyway. (Cf.: This Post) To me, that sounds like an admission that his life is empty, that he has nothing to do with the time he has been given. (Cf.: Gandalf in The Lord of The Rings: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”) He is a “bored” individual in constant, almost physiological need of entertainment, of distractions. (It will be even clearer, further on, that his fruition of books, music, films, videogames etc. is only and purely a source of entertainment, never of art or of personal enrichment) Distractions from what, I cannot be sure. To me they look like distractions from living. From thinking and realizing and feeling the huge lack of value and meaning in his actions.

Frankly, I find it a desolate life, and even, to some extent, offensive to the dignity of human beings (to borrow Kantian terms) insofar as he has a need to anesthetize all that makes him human (his rationality, as well as his emotions) for they find themselves restless, so unused and without purpose. He doesn’t keep up with the news, and doesn’t vote, and I strongly suspect he doesn’t watch television only because, in its passivity, it’s not anesthetizing enough, it’s not as effective a drug as gaming is (or rather can be) through its active engagement of a person’s attention. (Note: Actively engaging a person’s attention is no way related to a meaningful, intelligent task; surely intelligent activities require attention, but crosswords or puzzles do so as well, and they are not meaningful tasks.)

I asked him if he ever asks himself: “After being entertained for hours on end, then what?” He answered no, and by the tone I suspect he may not even have really understood the question. Distraction has developed to the point that it is not a means to forgetting something, but an end in itself. Distraction has succeeded in distracting him from why he wanted to be distracted in the first place. Frankly, hearing him deny any kind of thought about himself, his life, purpose or meaning, scared me, for I felt as if my housemate was something different than human, maybe less than human.

PS.: As for my point of view in judging (so as to answer some possible objections concerning the fact that I may be prejudiced) I myself practice, to some extent, most of those activities as well. I read, I watch films and tv series, I play the guitar, I listen to music and I play videogames. I almost never criticize the activities themselves, but rather how they are carried out, the attitude, the thought (or lack thereof) behind them.

Reflections on “The L Word” Finale

So, I’ve just finished watching the entire 6 seasons of “The L Word”, faithfully, one episode a day. Except for today, when the last disc offered me the last episode right there and I couldn’t wait for tomorrow, so I watched two. And I have to say, it’s been a wonderful show, and I’m happy to have spent the time I’ve spent watching it, as it became my mourning routine, to watch one episode every day, over breakfast.

The finale (I wouldn’t call it an ending) was perplexing at first. I mean, who killed Jenny Schecter? After the end of the last episode, that didn’t make me cry as I was expecting it to (I cried for some seasons finale, especially the ending scene of Season 1, with Bette cheating on Tina with Candace and the beautiful “Roads” by Portishead playing in the background – that scene changed the way I listen to that song now) I spent a few minutes seeing what a google search would come up with regarding people’s thoughts and reactions to it, and I’ve seen that many try to forget an ending that doesn’t end anything, and instead focus on how “the other 69 episodes have been so great”.

“But years from now, will it even matter how the show went out in its final hour? It was really the other 69 episodes that made The L Word a TV milestone. As the retrospective that aired beforehand reminded us, its impact expands far beyond its barrier-busting stories: TV’s first deaf lesbian, its first regularly occurring transsexual character, bisexuals of both genders, drag kings, the US military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, biracial identity, gay parenting, sex/drug/alcohol/gambling addiction, sexual abuse, midlife sexual awakenings, breast cancer…this show took on a lot. Judging by the frequent erraticism of its storytelling, it probably took on too much. In the end, I say, thank goodness it had the guts to take them on at all.” (Source)

While I couldn’t agree more on the deep significance of the themes presented by the show,  I’ve decided to offer a more positive viewpoint about the finale of the series. Continue reading