Journal – 5/9/15: Gratitude, Skin and Ultron

Me_IconHow my day starts: first thing I check is if I’m still breathing, if yes – everything else is gravy. Because it’s challenging, the act of living delights me, knowing it’ll end just adds a zesty element of mystery.  Which has got me thinking, and when I think, I do it here!

I began writing this on an overcast Saturday morning, a cool breeze reaching me past the pollen coated windowsill (which I’ve since scrubbed clean) – I immediately got distracted. I did some chores, talked with friends, ran some errands, ran to the rescue of an old four-footed friend, and now it’s a sunny Saturday early evening. Not the day I had planned, but a good one.

It was a good week, I actually lifted weights for the first time in memory (and it was only mildly crippling), switched to a bicycle commute for work, drank my first beet shake, saw “Age of Ultron” and pondered my place in the universe. And I’ve got a couple of things on my mind – to wit:

The Language of Gratitude

ChristinaPChristina Pazsitzky on her “That’s Deep Bro” podcast ranted on the topic of how weird the language around self-help and spirituality is, and she’s dead on. And I think the reason all the woo-woo spouted by the woo-peddlers is so annoying is that the message gets wrapped up with the messengers. They somehow manage to make the words “abundance”, “the universe”, “intention”, “gratitude” etc. sound like flaky gibberish. There was a phenomenon called “The Secret” a few years ago, that somehow was able to pimp the idea of positive thinking then stripping out the human effort component, leaving a hollow shell of woo-woo wishful thinking. The violence of this kind of snake-oil is that it hooks in people who could benefit from the discipline of positive thought, who then become disillusioned when the “magic” doesn’t happen, and walk away thinking the ideas are all bunk.

But I don’t have a solution for this language pollution, not yet. I know what the problem is – it’s grafting certainty (i.e. if you think hard you will get a house) to concepts designed to manage uncertainty.  The power of positive thinking isn’t that it rids you of negative thinking – it’s that you’re mindful that every thought has the potential to be positive or negative and choosing positive is simply healthier. It opens you to possibility. Loading it (positive thinking) with the burden of also being a genie that will grant you wishes misses the point.

CrystalBallThe same goes with gratitude, to me it’s one of the most important things for me to remain mindful of – but when I hear it from the wrong messenger I just want to punch ’em. I think for me it all goes back to being comfortable with paradox, tools like mindfulness, positive thinking, gratitude, intention are like arrows in our quiver to keep us strong in the face of mystery. When they become tools of certainty, their power is lost.

Anybody who says they “know” what’s going to happen in the future is lying, they may not know it, you may not want to believe it, but there it is. I think it was George Washington that said (something like) “I don’t choose to be good to avoid damnation, I choose it because I can.” And that’s what I’m thinking when I think of gratitude, I’m not grateful because I should be (and might be punished if I’m not) I’m grateful because when I’m not it feels wrong. Look, I can’t “solve” this here, just wanted to get these thoughts down for future reference.

Comfortable in My Skin

SweatingThe old humidity Gods are slowly gathering their forces, my bike rides to work have been rather blissful, but soon the hot-wet-wool swamp air of Virginia will wrap me like  python. Why is this on my mind? I’m a sweater – not the cardigan kind, the projectile liquid kind. I long ago accepted this physical trait as the trade-off for properly functioning skin. I may sweat like a bovine, but I’ve always had zit-free flesh so I figure it’s a wash.

The only time this makes me self-conscious is as it relates to dress shirts on a work day. During the summer months, I’m forbidden to wear blue or purple shirts, by the time I reach the subway (maybe five minutes) my collar and cuffs are stained dark. Strangers look at me with concern, like I’m seconds from a stroke. Some just turn their backs, feeling my shame for me. For me, the biggest issue is I paid a buck-fifty to have this stupid thing cleaned and pressed and I look like I’ve been wrestling wolverines.

But, this week I’ve discovered the answer: bike to work! I can sweat to my hearts content, and on a hot, humid day that’s saying something. By the time I don shirt and tie, I’m dry as a cinnamon-challenge throat.  So my skin can continue to be a paragon of functionality, I won’t have to bear the sympathetic looks of dry subway passengers, and I’ll get a little exercise in. Win/win!

Avengers: Age of Ultron

AvengersI saw “Age of Ultron” on Saturday, and loved it. In the beginning I wasn’t sold, it all felt kind of familiar, but then it hit me – it wasn’t familiar because it was a movie it was familiar because it was a comic book.

Let me step back, sequential story telling permeates western culture. Daytime soap operas, nighttime soap operas, teen soap operas, telenovellas, reality TV – get people hooked on the characters, create a sturdy story format, then see how long it goes. The Marvel comic books of my youth (and they are the blueprints for much of what we see in the films today) were all interconnected, they referenced one another, it was a bald ploy to get you to buy more comics. It was also kind of annoying, but also kind of addicting, it validated every comic you bought because, well, you had to know!

And during my viewing of “Ultron” Saturday, it all started to sink in. These films aren’t “sequels”, they’re “issues”. Sequels are things like “The Godfather I and II”, “Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back” – films that beget films. The references are limited to the context created by the first film. The Marvel films are an utterly new beast, first and foremost they are absolutely good films, but secondarily their context spreads back 70+ years, and the films creators pull liberally from that expanded context. A non-comic fan watches and sees a big spectacle, the comic fan watches and sees splash-pages come to life.

One of the realities of comic books is a continuously rotating roster of editors, writers, artists, inkers, colorists. Some stuck on books for long runs, other just jumped in and out. This same ethic seems to be working very well for Marvel, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston, Shane Black, James Gunn, Russo Brothers – all very different directors, all delivering coherent but distinct “issues” of movies.

As someone who’s always believed in the storytelling power and potential of the sequential art medium, I’m seriously stoked to see how long this period can be sustained. The comic book business has always been feast or famine, either making huge bank or teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and I’m sure the same will go for the films. And as long as they keep producing quality stuff, I’ll keep buying the next issue.

Okay, enough gibberish, hope you create an excellent week for yourself and those around you – be kind, be excellent!