Friday, February 3, 2012

Bubble Pop -- Writer's Poke #362

Students like classes that don’t have finals; everyday people, however, like to believe in something final. I suppose that makes sense. No one wants to wake up in the morning, not knowing what’s right and what’s wrong for that day. We like consistency, and some of us will fight for our version of what is right, if for no other reason than for the sake of consistency.

New ideas aren’t always welcome. Pressure to conform is strong. Even when alternatives exist, most of us don’t pay much attention to them. We live in our own bubble reality. That bubble can be family, culture, philosophy, religion, etc. What does it take to pop the bubble of perception? Generally, something dramatic, or traumatic.

In shows like Jericho and Lost, people are thrust into new worlds, and not surprisingly, perhaps, they try to maintain continuity between the world they “knew” and the world they now occupy. At least in Lost, the only way for the characters to triumph is to submit. The desire to return to the old ways is strong, but over time the survivors learn that they can never return.

Acquiring new knowledge is like that. When you learn something new, you should become something new yourself. Knowledge isn’t something separate from the knower, and the ultimate test is not taken with pen and paper. The ultimate test is your willingness to let new knowledge drive you forward in your life. Otherwise, you risk standing still, trapped in your bubble.

Joseph Campbell writes that people need to keep the power of myth’s story, but they need to discard the literalness people have generally attached to myths. What is he driving at, and do you agree with him?

“The world’s a bubble.” – St. Augustine

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jesus Died for You -- Writer's Poke #361

It all started out so innocently. I was 22 and on one last vacation with my parents. Not surprisingly, then, we were in Salt Lake City, and we were at the LDS Tabernacle Visitor’s Center. My goal: avoid eye contact. If I didn’t look interested, and if I kept to myself, perhaps no missionaries would bother me. My singular goal was to survive the morning unmolested. Little did I realize that the LDS had a secret weapon to foil my carefully scripted disinterest: Female missionaries.

Did I mention that I was 22 years old? When I saw her, I had this strong desire to convert on the spot. It didn’t much matter if I believed in Jesus Christ or not. I made God a simple offer; give me this one, I prayed, and I will accept that as a sign of your existence.

I remember that her top button was unbuttoned. She saw that I was interested. What did it matter if I was interested in her rather than her religion? She told me that she was from California, and that, like me, she was an English major. Upon later reflection, I understood that her duty was to get all chummy with anyone in her range of vision, but in the moment, I pretended that her interest was solely for me, and not for my soul. I imagined that we were two lost spirits reunited, and that somehow my mission to capture her heart was predetermined. Somewhere I just knew that Joseph Smith must be smiling down on us.

She gave me her card. A woman had never given me her card before. Perhaps I could call her and… and what? Tell her that if she gave me her life I would give her my soul in return? How silly. Did I mention I was 22? But even at that young age, I recognized my feelings for her were not genuine. She had an unmistakable beauty, and her beauty was more than physical, but her beliefs were not compatible with mine.

Today, I’m sure she is married to a good church Elder and has a mess-load of children, but that’s not the life I’ve ever wanted for myself. Nevertheless, perhaps her presence that morning served its purpose. If nothing else, she made an otherwise dismal morning relatively bearable. And for that, I will always be grateful.

Describe a chance encounter that sticks with you for whatever reason. What value does it merit in your life story?

“Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Watching You -- Writer's Poke #360

In Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue, one of the recurring characters, “the Observer” (my unofficial name for him), never says a word. He’s just there, watching. Tomek, it might be argued, momentarily takes the Observer’s place in Decalogue VI. He’s an observer, too, but perhaps he crosses the line by becoming involved with the person he observes.

One interesting question to consider is: What role does (or should) the Observer play? In Decalogue I, he spends the movie sitting by his lakeside bonfire, but when Pawel drowns, he is markedly absent. In Decalogue II, he is the medical attendant who watches as Dorota tells her unconscious husband that she loves him; he is also there when the Consultant reviews the husband’s medical slides. In Decalogue V, he is there right before Jacek carries out the murder of the taxi cab driver. This scene may be the one where he almost becomes involved; he shakes his head slightly, as if to communicate to Jacek that he shouldn’t carry out his plan. It’s enough to get Jacek’s attention, but not enough to stop him.

Finally, in Decalogue VI the Observer has apparently packed his bags. Tomek has asked out Magda for ice cream, and she has accepted. As Tomek wildly pulls his milk cart through the apartment’s courtyard celebrating, he accidently splashes mud on the Observer. The Observer simply looks at Tomek in astonishment, but doesn’t his look also contain a sense of approval? Perhaps the Observer’s presence here is no longer needed? But the Observer’s trip is cut short, for when Tomek later flees Magda’s apartment in sexual humiliation, the Observer has returned to witness the moment. He doesn’t make another appearance in the movie, but we know he is there.

Meanwhile, Magda, once the one being watched, is now the one doing the watching. Now she is the one using her opera glasses to watch for any sign of Tomek in his apartment. Her attempts are not successful, however, as his window either remains dark or has its curtain drawn.

Nevertheless, Tomek has taught Magda a valuable lesson -- how to look at herself, and this is what makes the ending of extended version, A Short Film about Love, so much more fulfilling than the original ending to Decalogue VI. At the ending of Decalogue VI, Tomek simply tells Magda that he is no longer watching, which is ironically a rather sad ending to a story about voyeurism. In A Short Film about Love, however, Kieslowski alters the ending to allow Magda one last look through Tomek’s telescope so that she can imagine how Tomek saw her when he was watching. From this perspective, she sees that he was her protector. While an Observer should not become directly involved, the scene illustrations that the Observer offers a comforting presence nevertheless. In essence, Magda's view through Tomek's telescope teaches us that we are not alone.

Do you agree that Kieslowski’s “Observer” has metaphoric or symbolic value? For example, is the Observer “God” or a guardian angel? Or, do you think that the Observer is simply a person that lives in the apartment complex. Explore your thoughts about the Observer, as well as your thoughts about Kieslowski’s intentions for including him as a recurring character in the Decalogue films.

“The observer, when he seems to himself to be observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the effects of the stone upon himself.” – Bertrand Russell

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Love Curious -- Writer's Poke #359

When one of Tomek’s plans backfires, he sacrifices himself. He makes sure that the humiliation falls on him and not on the woman he loves.

Tomek works at the post office, and he develops a plan. He sends a note to the woman he watches, Magda, informing her that she has a money order waiting for pick-up at the post office. The idea works the first time, but the second time she goes to the post office only to find no money order, she asks to speak with Tomek’s manager. The manager assumes that Magda is trying to commit fraud, and Tomek chases after her to explain that he had been responsible for the whole money-order scheme.

Although Magda is not happy to learn that Tomek has been stalking her for the past year, stealing her mail, and generally harassing her, she nevertheless feels drawn to him. She agrees to go out with him for a drink, and when he tells her that he loves her, she not surprisingly questions his use of the word. At the same time, she takes pity on poor Tomek; she claims not to be a “nice woman,” but at the same time, she must be attracted to his innocence. She understands that he never intended to hurt her, and although she is directly responsible for one of her lovers punching him in the face, she never wanted to hurt him. Teach him a lesson? Maybe. Hurt him? No.

Tomek claims that he wants nothing from her. He doesn’t want to kiss her; he doesn’t want to make love to her. But what does Magda want? She claims not to believe in love, but her pull to Tomek indicates that she believes in something. Or is at least curious about something. What?

“Are you stalking me? Because that would be super.” – Ryan Reynolds

Monday, January 30, 2012

Stalking Love -- Writer's Poke #358

Tomek likes to watch. Sort of.

For the past year, Tomek has watched an older woman who lives across the courtyard in his apartment complex. He has her schedule down to the minute, and he sets his alarm to correspond to when she arrives home.

She entertains different “gentleman callers,” but Tomek isn’t interested in watching her sexual exploits. His brand of voyeurism is much more pure than that. In fact, when he can figure out a way to kill the mood, so to speak, he’ll do so. His masterpiece: calling the gas company to report a leak in her apartment. That kills the mood, for sure, and Tomek smiles at his cleverness.

His landlady is his absent-friend’s mother. She worries about his love life, but she recognizes that he’s shy, or as she describes him, “gentle.” Does she know that Tomek has a telescope in his room and has been watching a woman with it? Yes, she probably knows, but she doesn’t confront Tomek about it. Rather, she simply encourages him not to be ashamed to bring a girl over. Her not-so-subtle hints indicate that she believes that his becoming involved with a girl his own age would cure him of his nightly observations.

What exactly does Tomek gain by watching the woman across the courtyard? Would it be too much to suggest that what he’s experiencing is actually love, that he actually can “love” this woman from the distance decreased by telescope’s aid?

“There’s a fine line between serendipity and stalking.” – David Coleman