Samurai Jack, Trump, and Porn

This evening, at the ripe age of 24, I began my first television binge. My poison of choice was an animated series on Cartoon Network called Samurai Jack. Although I do not usually watch television shows, I was drawn to this one show by the same timeless trick that draw everyone to TV – advertising. Whenever I bike down Washington Street in Sommerville, I pass by the same promotional poster hanging in a bus-stop window. The poster is simple yet tantalizing – a single image of the series’ villain Aku on a plain black background; however, seeing this image once was enough to plant the seed of a childhood memory in my head, and seeing it a second time as we drove to dinner last night produced the intended reaction. So after an evening out with friends, I returned to my lonely computer life and began watching season 5, episode 1 of Samurai Jack.

akuMy first reaction was a mixture of repulsion and horror. During the opening scene, I cringed and nearly closed the window. What I saw was a shocking scene of carnage, gun-violence, and masochism. A man riding a motorcycle, strapped with a gun and knives, throwing himself upon an army of robot spiders who were menacing a defenseless pair of alien women. With each gun shot, spiked wheel piercing, and spear stab at the robots, limbs flew off and oily blood gushed out onto the battlefield.

Despite my strong initial aversion, though, I was hooked. I even leaned in two or three times in an attempt to shut off the senseless bloodshed, violence that I knew was a terrible influence; nevertheless, I couldn’t overcome the draw of the animation and story.

And so I watched the entire set of released episodes in series 5, all 7 episodes back-to-back, totaling well over 3 hours. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

If you haven’t experienced Samurai Jack before, it would be hard to describe how magical it is. Maybe it’s the brilliantly artistic animation, in which every scene is a work of art fit to be displayed in a gallery. Or maybe it’s the ingenious plot line, the mixes the hero myth with a clever half -sci-fi half-fantasy world. Perhaps it’s the cinematography, which dazzles us with widescreen shots, creative uses of darkness and light, and a phenomenal interplay of contrasting emotions. And maybe its the underlying human culture that permeates the world, with an emphasis on stereotypical Japanese traditional culture (tea ceremonies, samurai codes, etc…) but also extending into other mythologies, religions (Buddha-like figures, Jesus imagery), and world cultures (from Scottish warriors to Cambodian temple ruins).

Indeed, these reasons alone would all seem to point to the show’s inevitable success. But there is still one thing missing, the one reason I believe this show is so popular – validation. Validation of the things that are wrong with our American society.

However, the real kicker is that the messages that this show conveys, and undoubtedly one that is devoured by countless masses of our nation’s youth, are the same ones espoused by president Donald Trump and the Pornographic underworld of the internet.

Message 1 – women are objects

In the 7 episodes of Samurai Jack that I watched, there are two main roles for women.
1. Evil, brainwashed members of a cult of evil.
2. Women that have been saved by, and now idolize, a main male character. It’s no coincidence that all women are crafted with slim, unnaturally sexy physiques – the two outfit options are skin-tight black body suits or skimpy outfits that reveal much more cleavage and leg space than would ever be acceptable in any school.

In addition to these pornographicly-aligned images, there are two situations that girl figures are subjected to: killed violently or chained up and toted around by the main male character like a backpack. There is one entire episode in which Jack hauls around one girl while she is bound in chains. And you can only guess which character speaks in philosophic monologues and witty quips and which character is stuck with minimalistic, dumbed-down speech.
After hearing both Michelle Obama and Barack Obama in person denouncing our current president’s sexism and misogynistic views towards women, it is no wonder that Hillary was not elected – she didn’t provide enough validation.

Message 2 – desensitization to violence and killing

The most exciting part of Samurai Jack is the action – explosions, sword fights, punches, kicks, bombs, guns, tanks, missiles, arrows, chains, maces, axes, and general gravity-defying flips and leaps. However, this excitement also comes with carnage, bloodshed, and merciless murder. Lots of murder, from animals to aliens and people.

To be fair, the storyline begins to stigmatize murder as an “un-samurai thing to do”, but this is quickly deus-ex-machined by showing how the “good out-ways the bad”. So as long as you play your numbers right, murder can pay off in the long run.

The scariest part of desensitization to violence is that it can happen over just a few TV episodes. After seeing just one dramatic death of one of the 7 assassin sisters, the others could be dealt with with a quick spear or neck cracking, and it was all over with.

Now think about the largest recipients of funding after our recent election – Military, Military, Military. There is an undeniable connection between the acceptance of murder of “evil ones” for “the greater good” and the US military industrial complex. A further connection that may be less straightforward is that between cartoon violence and pornographic tendancies. According to the TedX talk by Ran Gavrieli, the pornographic industry can alter what arouses viewers by presenting images of violence (especially towards women). This kind of onscreen violence desensitizes the voyeristic viewer and helps promote the real-life sexual abuse and violence that are perpetrated around the world.

Message 3 – racial hegemony

For anyone who has ever seen a Hollywood movie, you know that the US is afraid of casting Asian leads. It’s called whitewashing, and you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever seen Avatar the Last Airbender, Dragonball Evolution, 47 Ronin, The Great Wall, or any of the other countless Hollywood stories set in Asian contexts but with a white male lead. Sticking to this precedent, we see Samurai Jack as a scruffy, shirtless white dude for much of season 5.

 Although there are a handful of US minority races in minor roles in episode 6, the whitewashing is quite noticable.

Noting needs to be said about the anti-minority xenophobic policies of the current head of the U.S. government.

Message 4 – a world of black and white

Finally, there is something disconcerting in the stark “good and evil” worldview presented in the series. Rather than trying to question, discuss, or debate, everyone in the Samurai Jack world seems polarized between the evil Aku side and the holy benevolance of Samurai Jack. It seems that the last assasain sister’s shift from Aku to Jack is simply swapping one blind-ideology for another. Rather than ever explaining why it is evil to build factories, to cut down trees, or to evict locals, the only explanation for wrong is that “Aku does it, so it must be stopped.”

So will I continue watching Samurai Jack? Probably not. But that’s not nearly as important as whether or not I can ever reclaim my mind from the violent, white-male dominated worldview that US media has been ingraining in me, and the nation’s youth, for years.

 

Sources:

Image 1 Aku – Pinterest

Image 2 – Breaking Canon

Image 3 – TVweb

Image 4- IGN.com

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Haiku Maxim

Almost 90% of the mistakes I make, the things I miss, and the regrets I have all stem from one problem.  However, I’ve decided to change my ways, with this haiku as my new guiding mantra.

Just get it done NOW!
Don’t say “I’ll do it later”
Do it NOW.  RIGHT NOW!

February 14th, 2017

First, I want to say thanks to Finn and the HUB.  You are courageous in the way you open up to each other, and that has inspired me to share these thoughts.

If you’ve ever seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you’ll know why I’m writing this post.  It’s one of those movies that you can’t help but feel touched by, and you certainly can’t watch and just go straight to bed.   It’s a movie about memory.   It’s a movie about love.

The film asks us a simple question:  What would it be like to have a loved one erased from our memories?

Think of someone close to you.

Your parent.  Your sister.  Your partner.  Your friend.

What memories do you have together?  Who would you be today if you had never met?

For many, these memories are fading every day.  People drift apart and lose contact.   But there are people we could never forget, no matter how many miles or years separate us.

Now I’m going to ask you to do something crazy.

Take that one person in mind, that one deep connection.   Imagine that what you feel for this one person is not unique.  In fact, you have felt the same intense love for others before; it’s just that you’ve forgotten.  Been brainwashed by a sci-fi company with a tiny office in Boston.  And not just one or two others, but EVERYONE.  You were at one point deeply connected, in LOVE, with every individual soul on this planet earth.

This may sound a little strange, and I felt just that way the first time I heard it as well. But in my case, it wasn’t explained as love – it was explained as knowledge.

A professor at MIT once told us a story about Socrates.   Socrates was thinking (as he often did) about learning.  When we are trying to learn something new, how do we know when we reach the right answer?  For instance, if you didn’t know what Spanish sounds like, how would you know if heard a new language that it was Spanish?  This tricky problem came to be known as the “Learning Problem”.

Socrates carried this question into an argument with a friend and finally arrived at an answer.  Aristotle’s solution was both simple and surprising; he proposed that everyone begins life knowing all knowledge, but that we have forgotten everything.  Thus, learning is simply the act of remembering.  When we remember something, we feel certain that it is correct because we knew it before*.  (See Socrates’ proof by example).

So back to my challenge to you.  Imagine that we already know and love everyone.  We’ve just been brainwashed and need to be reminded.  We need to recreate our memories together.

How would you treat that waiter differently if you know that you two share the closest of memories?  Or how would you greet a stranger if you know that you two have shared your deepest secrets, it’s just that you’ve forgotten the moment.

What if you loved, and I mean true kinship and romance and camaraderie and closeness, every single person you encounter- and they loved you back!  All you have to do is remember.

With love,

Matt

* The educational spin:

What if Socrates was right?  How would a teacher treat their students differently if a child was not “learning” but “remembering”?   As professor Uccelli explained, teachers can gain a lot by viewing their job as “expanding background knowledge” rather than “filling an empty cup”.   This kind of teaching and learning is motivational because it reminds students of their enormous potential.

Girl professors vs. Guy professors

4 out of 4:  The number of female professors* in my first semester of HGSE.  100%.

2 out of 4: The number of my professors this semester who are men.  So I’m naturally inclined to make comparisons.

These observations are also “supported”by experiences by a few classes that I sat in on with other professors (one male and one female).  Which brings my sample size to a modestly pathetic 10 professors.   Begin the (potentially founded, but mainly foundering) tentative hypothesizing:

FOUR MAIN DIFFERENCES:

  1. References to dead, classical dudes

For some reason, every male professor made a reference to Plato or Socrates or Aristotle or some other Greek philosopher DURING THE FIRST CLASS!   Why is this? Here are some ideas:

  • Academic guys just think that classical dudes are cool.  Why not?
  • There is an underlying belief that mentioning these “great thinkers” will somehow justify or validate the lesson / professor.
  • Conversely – female professors are sick of males blabbing on about ancient history and are glad of the opportunity to move on to the 21st Century…

2. Ego

While both male and female professors at Harvard are guilty of this, it seemed way more flagrant for males.  I’m talking about professors who assigned readings that they wrote. For example, if you’re in professor Smoot’s class, almost every reading seems to include Smoot’s name in the citation.  However, this perceived male/female difference may also be due in part to:

3.  To-do lists

It seemed like female professors gave more assignments than male professors.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about length or difficulty or duration of assignments, I mean how many “things” a student needs to check off before the next class.  For example, one female teacher may assign readings A, B, C, and D as well as discussion post X and working on project Y.  However, male teacher may just assign reading A and reading supplement B.   Although, I did find several counter examples… Definitely the least solid of these points, so feel free to contest it…

4. Taking Turns

From my humble perspective, female professors allotted more class time for discussions and group and partner activities.  Men seemed to prefer solo lecturing.

This doesn’t mean that female teachers were necessarily better at discussion leading or that male teachers did not include any, but it seemed like female professors planned for specific student-centered activities more than their Y-chromosomed counterparts.

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So what do you think about guy vs. girl professors?  Do you agree or disagree with these observations?  Drop a post in the comments with your opinion!

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* male, female, guy, girl, woman, man – ok, so these terms are not black and white.  I’m using them as the professor appeared to me.   I never asked for clarification, nor was I ever corrected for using he and she where I saw appropriate.

my winter break, told by 7 reptiles

Any Caribbean traveler will soon make friends with the locals – including the reptiles!   Here are 7 stories from my travels in Mexico and Puerto Rico, recounted by crocodiles, snakes, iguanas, and other cold-blooded friends I met along the way.

1.  Uxmal Iguanas

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As soon as we entered the Uxmal archaeological park, we were caught spell-bound by the Pyramid of the Magician.  This enormous pyramid towers over the landscape and ignites the imagination: Why was the temple built?  What’s inside?  After the requisite photo frenzy, I noticed some other tourists inspecting the right side of the temple.  A large male iguana was (unsuccessfully) courting a female iguana, and we soon realized that the temple was covered in iguanas popping in and out of rocky crevices.   As we made our way through the impressive ancient city ruins, it became clear that reptiles were the current guardians of these Mayan ruins.

2. Chichen Itza mooch

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They all told us one thing, one simple piece of advice: get there early.

“Avoid the crowds!” they all said.  “It get’s packed after 10” they warned us.   Go early, go early, go early.

Well, we didn’t.

We arrived around 11am, and the entrance line was already snaking far down the alley of vendors.  The wait was long, the sun was sweltering, and the obnoxiously loud Jaguar growl whistles blown every minute by the vendors didn’t improve the situation.

However, were were graced by one reprieve from the line’s monotony.  On the other side of one merchandise stall, we spotted a beautiful iguana.  On closer inspection, we saw that the iguana had one thing on mind – lunch!  A vendor had left an unguarded bean and cheese panucho sitting by the stall.

The iguana was slowly inching towards the midday snack, keeping one eye on us inquisitive tourists.  When the iguana finally reached the panucho, he took dove in for a bite. Unfortunately, the panucho crust was too hard for him to bite, and the whole panucho slid down the slope.    We all expressed our sympathy with sighs and exclamations; however, this iguana was not giving up.  He slid down the slope and began chowing down at the only reasonably priced meal in the entire park.

3.  Kukulkan

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Kulkulkan is the plumed serpent god of the Mayans.  Similar to how the Greek gods and goddesses were adopted into Roman religion, Kulkulkan was also a major player in Aztec (as Quetzalcoatl) and Toltec myths.  There were many snake carvings and statues scattered all over the Chichen Itza complex, but this snake on the El Castillo temple stands out from the rest.  The Mayans built their temples and other buildings with the alignment of the heavenly bodies (sun, moon, stars, planets – not celebrities on beach week) in mind, and on the spring and fall equinoxes, the setting sun brings this snake to life.   The temple steps align with the setting sun to cast a shadow that looks like a weaving snake body coming off of the Kulkulkan head.   It’s pretty awesome!

 

3.  Free Entertainment in Cancun

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After returning the rental car in Cancun, my sister and I realized that our pesos were down to nada.   So what do you do in Cancun without money?   Well, you sneak onto the hotel beaches.  But what else can you do in Cancun when you’re broke?  Visit the park!

The Parque Urbano Kabah is a nice little escape from the city (and trust me, you’ll need one) that’s located within walking distance of downtown.  The park had walking trails, historical village reconstructions, a nature center, workout areas, and … crocodiles!

We were going to ask what was in the marsh, but when we saw the dude tossing raw meat into the water, we got a pretty good hunch.  He told us that he fed the crocodilio yesterday, and that was why she wasn’t hungry today.  It made me feel a little safer to be around the animal, but we still kept our distance!

4. Ponce Japanese Garden

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When we arrived in the the southern Puerto Rican city of Ponce, we were given two hours to explore.   I wanted to make the most of that time, but I frankly had no idea where to go.  Fortunately, the city was gorgeous.  I wandered around, taking in the distinct architecture, the beautiful parks, and the rainbow collections of houses and churches.   Strolling was pleasant, but when I looked up at the hills, I knew exactly what I needed to do.  Way up on the hills, a giant windowed cross towered over the city like Cristo-Redentor watching over Rio.    Equally persuasive, there was also a cool looking castle next to the cross.  The only question was how to get up there.

After grabbing a map in a hotel lobby, I headed up the steep and winding roads to the cross.  Upon arriving, I realized two things:

One, there was an entire complex that included the giant cross, the castle, and a Japanese garden.

and two, it had taken much longer than I had planned to hike up, and if I wanted time to see the sites, I would need to hitchhike back down.

Nevertheless, I was already there, so I purchased a ticket and enjoyed the time I had.  The park was nearly empty, and I was completely alone to witness the beautiful view from the cross’s viewing deck.   The Japanese garden was even more serene, and my only company was a lizard, some koi, and a couple of backpackers who had fallen asleep underneath a pagoda.

5.  Ponce Art Museum

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After running back down the mountain, I managed to arrive at our bus just in time.  We drove around the block to the Museo de Arte de Ponce, a wonderful modern museum with a mixture of Puerto Rican and European art.   The museum had several outdoor areas to explore, and I sighted my second reptile of the day hanging out on the fence.

6.  Lousy day Iguana

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Have you ever had a truly horrible day?  I’m talking about a day where you mess one thing up and everything after that topples down like a giant set of misfortune dominos. A day where the only picture you could bring yourself to take was of some scaly, old iguana lounging on the end of a dirty pier.

7. Taino Coquí OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Okay so a coqui is not technically a reptile, but amphibians are close enough , right?  Before I arrived at Puerto Rico, I had read about the indigenous Taino people who once inhabited the island.  However, while staying on the island, the only time I ever heard about them was in gift shops, which sold jewelery and trinkets with “Taino symbols”.  The most common symbol was a four legged animal that I mistook for a lizard; however, it turns out that is animal is the coqui, a unique species of tropical frog that is only found in Puerto Rico.   Besides their interesting reproductive characteristics, the coqui was used as a symbol in Taino art.

To be fair, I spent most of my time in urban centers, where indigenous history is often near impossible to find. This is what I found in Taiwan, where  indigenous culture is much more visible and prevalent in rural and less densely populated areas such as the mountains and on the East coast.  However, the only information I found about theTainos came from an incredibly informative coloring book in a San Juan tourist shop and Taino artifacts in a remote museum on the island of Vieques.   The indigenous local culture of Puerto Rico is a fascinating subject, and I definitely hope to learn more in the future.  But for now, I’m stuck with this enchanting frog symbol from la isla del encanto.

 

 

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I hope you enjoyed these reptiles and the stories they tell.  Happy travels!

Failure Stories

“If at first you don’t succeed… you’ll probably fail the second time too.”

Negativity.  It’s generally frowned upon, but we all have those moments where unhappiness is duly warranted.  I’m talking about those times when “look on the bright side” just doesn’t cut it.  When there is no “silver lining”, no matter how hard you look.

Recently, I encountered two of these terribly unsuccessful events.  True failures, in every sense of the word.  These are the stories:

  1. “Ferry to Failure”

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Some people like to say “Cheer up, it wasn’t that bad!”

It was that bad.

After our winter academic program in Puerto Rico, we had 5 days free days to explore the island before classes started again in Boston.  Since Puerto Rico isn’t known for its intercity public transportation (it doesn’t exist), I decided to rent a car.  I had one main destination in mind – visiting Aguadilla to see my father’s birthplace.  I found a friend who wanted to join, and I happily agreed to drive to the Fajardo Port the next day so we could go to Vieques.  In short, we each had one place that we HAD to visit – mine was Aguadilla for family reasons, hers was Vieques for research and personal reasons.

We all took the day trip to Aguadilla and had a blast.  A local had warned us that we needed to leave early to catch the ferry the next day, but it was only an hour away on the map, so we felt confident that we could catch the 9am ferry.

We parted ways and headed back to our hostels feeling quite jolly.

If only we had known that the next day would be one of the MOST UNFORTUNATE days of our lives.

It was so bad, that I have no choice but to look back on it as a crime.  However, before a man can be judged guilty, the jury needs to examine the evidence. First, some facts:

– We were staying in different hostels, hers in Santurce and mine in Old San Juan.  By parking the car in OSJ, this meant that I would have to walk 10 minutes to get from my hostel to the car and then pick up my friend before we could go to the ferry.

– I had an “emergency” tutoring lesson (I tutor over Skype) that went until 2:30am that night.

– As a result, I set my alarm to 7:00am

– I was supposed to pick up my friend at 7:30am so we could get to the dock, one hour away, by 9am

When I woke up, I was, naturally, quite tired.  But I gathered my belongings, checked out of the hostel, and drudged 10 minutes to my car.   I arrived at my car at 7:20.  This was later than I had wanted, but Google maps said it was an easy 15 minute drive to pick up my friend.

FAUX!

If you’ve ever driven in San Juan, then you know that the roads around the Santurce – San Juan island border are incredibly complicated.  What had seemed like a simple turn on the map ended up shooting me down a highway with no exits for miles.  Since I had no wifi for my data-free smart phone (possibly a fault in this day and age???), I had to rely on a paper map that I picked up at the rental car counter.   However, it wasn’t much help when the speed on the road was too fast to see the road signs.  After zigzagging back and forth like a forelorn lunatic, I finally managed to get back on track.

Too late.

I pulled up at my friend’s hostel at 8:10am.  I felt miserable, as if I had betrayed a sacred oath to my friend.  Fortunately, for all of my depression, my friend held onto hope like a cowboy on a bucking bronco.  “We can still make the 2pm ferry, ” she cheerfully told me.

We headed to the ferry, and naturally, missed the 9am departure.  The next four hours consisted of me bumbling about like a dodo, forgetting my bag in a shop, paying for the parking lot and then leaving again, etc, etc…  The highlight was waiting in line behind students on a class trip at Burger King.

Finally, the 2pm ferry arrived, and we got on.  I felt worse than a novel by Victor Hugo.  Now my friend would only get 2+ hours of daylight on the island (it was an hour ride), AND she felt bad because we were supposed to meet someone earlier that day.  Since I was exhausted from staying up late (my fault), I fell asleep across some seats.

When I woke up, I realized two things.  One, it was 2:45pm.  Two, the ferry still hadn’t moved.   As we soon learned, the ferry was experiencing “technical difficulties”, which, according to a local, happened all the time.  By 3pm, we decided to abandon the ferry.  “Why couldn’t this have happened this morning!” my friend asked.  She was angry now, and rightfully so.

As we drove back, my friend gave an incredible effort to try to look on the positive side – we were still in the tropics, we were listening to a fire Reggeton radio station – but at the end of the day we couldn’t escape our sour moods.  We decided to head straight back to our hostels and try to forget this horrible, rotten, no good day.

However, there were other repercussions.  First, I had to extend my car rental.  This meant an additional $60 AND a terrible hassle because I could no longer park in Old San Juan due to the enormous Festival that had begun.  Second, by losing a full day, I had to cancel my trip to El Yunque, which I was (am) pretty bummed about. And third, I now felt incredibly guilty for ruining my friend’s trip.  It was almost as if I had fallen short on my end of the deal – she had accompanied me on my dream trip, and now I had tossed hers to the wind.

We did end up going to Vieqies on the 9am ferry the next day, and we did have an awesome time.  And in the long run, $60 sure isn’t something to cry over.  But there’s no denying how terrible we felt that day.

No matter how you look at it, that day was a failure, and a painful one too.

 

  1. “Impossible Interview”

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Last December, I applied for a part-time job at Harvard.  After sending in my applicaton, I received an email scheduling an appointment at 3pm on Monday.  I marked my calendar, and when the day of the interview arrived, I got ready (clothes, responses, position refresher) and made sure to arrive early.

When I arrived, a receptionist checked me in, took my coat, and asked me to please wait in one of the chairs.  I sat down and began waiting.  People came in, people left.  I read the flyers on the desk.  I checked my watch.  3:10.  I sat in the hard wooden chair, fingers twiddling up a storm.  Finally, the receptionist called me over.

“Hmmm, it seems you’re not in our schedule.”

What?!

In times like these, the dreaded B word always jumps out, craving for attention.

Blame.

Did I misread the email, or was it a fault on Harvard’s side?

After checking the schedule, the receptionist informed me that the interviewer I was going to see was booked all day.   Fortunately, she was able to reschedule for one hour later, at 4pm, with another interviewer.

I agreed, and headed back out into the chilling wintry mix to mail a package.  After checking a computer, I relieved my conscience by discovering that I was not mistaken (curse you B word!).  The original appointment was at 3.  However, I’m not one to hold a grudge against another, and I resigned myself to the fact that the interview would just have to be at 4.

Not wanting to be late, I hurried back and arrived at 3:54 for my 4:00 appointment.

To my surprise, I found another receptionist.  “Can I help you?” she asked.

I explained my situation and that I had returned for my interview.  When I told her my name, a look of utter confusion spread across her face.

“There are no open slots now,” she slowly replied.  “But I think there are two Matthew Bakers here.”

After checking with multiple other people on the phone and in person, we discovered that minutes before I arrived, another Matthew had come in looking to meet with the EXACT SAME INTERVIEWER AT 4PM!  Naturally, after confirming that the visitor was Matthew, the new receptionist let him go by.

WHAT!?!?!?!?!?

So long story short, I had to reschedule. Again.  Really?

As I walked away, I considered the following:

In terms of fault, I was completely blameless.  However, I was beginning to believe more and more in signs.  What if this was all a sign, be it from some higher being or elemental force or whatever, that this job was not for me?

Amidst the confusion, there was one thing that I could be 100% sure of: this trip was a total failure!

 

* Mr. Chan image from memegenerator.net

poems you write underground

Sitting on the metro/subway/underground/T/whateveryoucallit is a mundane activity for most – a necessity for the commute or just an economical way to get from point A to B.  However, what if the metro became a studio for creativity?  That’s exactly what happens with metro poems.

The metro poem is an awesome writing challenge created by Jacques Jouet of the French Oulipo writing group.  Oulipo is a French acronym (?) for Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle – Workshop for Potential Literature.  If you haven’t heard about them, I’d recommend checking them out – they rock!

TL;DR – this is how it works:

Hop on the metro.  When the train starts moving, begin to compose one line of poetry in your head. Keep composing until the train stops.  While it is stopped, frantically write down the line you just composed, because when the train begins again you will begin composing line 2.  Continue until you reach your destination, where you hop off and pen the final line.

Easy, right?  Just remember: train moving = compose in your head.  Train stopped = write down line.  No cheating now! And also, no going back to correct your work.  This means don’t worry about perfection, just production.  This is similar to Casey Neistat’s rationale for daily vlogging – it provided him with constant motivation (deadlines) to produce content.

The added challenge of the metro poem is riding the entire metro system in one go.  That’s right, passing by every stop and writing one large poem.  It’s exhausting but a rewarding experience.  However, I often write metro poems whenever I ride the metro.  Without further ado, here are two poems I wrote last week while riding home from BWI – one silly, one serious.  Enjoy!

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L’Enfant Plaza-East Falls Church 16.12.16

Shoelaces

spaghetti on your feet
sign your coming loose
tripline for your strut
hairdoo for your shoes

bane of toddler moms
mark of hipsters style
swap for teeny friends
support for many miles

but tying mine’s a pain
they’re longer than the Nile
and so I must confess
they’ve been knotted for a while!

— — —

Greenbelt-L’Enfant Plaza 16.12.16

He called on us not to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary tasks in an extraordinary way.
This kernel of wisdom, unshelled from the mind of a peanut farmer, is more crunchy than smooth, difficult to palate for those accustomed to the mundane.
What would it take to reimagine every micro-moment of the day as an attempt at greatness,
Herculean ideals our tongues no longer remember how to pronounce.
Honor, valor, perfection.  Faster, stronger, higher.
Every step firm, every gaze intentional, every word carefully chosen for refinement.
Imagine the texts you would send when literature and oratory were in mind.
Instead of jotting down a grocery list, you would pen a decisive plan of attack on the supermarket battlefield,
and when you pulled in the mall, you would park to impress.
The ordinary made extraordinary.
How will you carve your life?

— — —

So next time you find yourself stepping on the metro, don’t just be a commuter, become a poet!

 

 

Duality

Day after day, I waver between these two extremes:

“Within the vast sea of humanity, I sit on this lonely island, petrified by my own inadequacies.” – anonymous

“No, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, feast on thee.” – Gerard M. Hopkins

No one will read this.  No one will care.

But at least, it is written.

Exit Poll for Girls Who Dump Me

When you fail a test, you can see what answers you got wrong.  When you lose a race, you know that you need to run faster next time.  However, when you get dumped, there’s often no telling what you did wrong.

Usually, all you will get is a “Sorry, this won’t work out.”  And if you press further, an “It’s not you, it’s me.”   How does this help?  It doesn’t, and you’ll probably make the same mistake the next time, and the next time, and ad inifinitum until you either get incredibly lucky or just give up.  So that’s why I devised a simple survey to help out guys like me who just don’t have a clue.

EXIT POLL FOR GIRLS WHO DUMP ME

(aka Confession of Insecurities)

I’m sorry to see you go!  Please take a moment to tell me why you’re leaving.

1. Why are you leaving?

A.  Boring/Lack of Personality.

B.  Egomaniac.

C. Too short.

D.  I would be settling too low.

E.  I’m not looking for a relationship now, you read the signs wrong.

F.  You were into me?  I never noticed.

Thanks for this helpful information!

 

*I’m sure all the romantics in the world will have beef with this.  It’s about compatibility, it takes time, bla bla bla.  Well, doctor, if that’s your only diagnosis, I’m looking for a second opinion.

 

¥ouTub€ Arti$t

When I first realized that I could monetize my YouTube channel, I was ecstatic. Here it was! The dream of every YouTuber – making money simply doing what we love most. However, that initial rush soon gave way to a feeling of dread. How would my audience react? Would I be seen as selling out, giving way to corporate interests over the comfort and trust of my faithful viewers?

monetize
After a moment of reflection, I arrived at the following rationale. First, YouTube has been around for a long time. It is true that there was once a time without those pesky advertisements, but that time is long gone. Anyone who watches internet videos today already understands that watching ads is simply a part of the process.

Second, monetizing can help motivate me to make more videos. The prospect of actually earning money from posting videos can provide motivation (albeit extrinsic) for uploading even more interesting content.

Finally, monetization is not a one-time, end-all-be-all decision. I can easily remove the ads from my videos if I change my mind and I can submit new videos without any ads whenever I choose. Monetization may seem like “selling out”, but the truth is that it is just another step in the evolution of this wonderful video sharing platform that we all love.

After mentioning this to some o my students, I was surprised (and delighted) to find that they supported different sides of the debate.    One student, sided with me and offered the idea of empathizing with the artist.  She said “So let`s not be nervous while waiting for the end of  advertising just imagine that you will make someone [the artist] a little happier.”

monetize-2

Another student, took the opposite position that monetization ruined the experience.  This student cited how famous YouTubers are also role models to children and that we turn to YouTube as a relaxing experience, not an innundation of advertising.  However, she struck at the heart of the matter when she explained that “Useful and entertaining content should be separated.”

This division between the commercial world and the artistic world is a powerful theme that has existed ever since the invention of commerce.   In Ancient Greece, this profane and sacred division manifested itself in the division between the agora (market) and the temple of cities.  Modern day parallels include the debate over the use of commercial products in schools and the debate in Italy over the mixture of advertising and historical sites.   And now, here we are in the 21st century with a single platform struggling to maintain both commercial advancement and the integrity of the artistic creator.    To further complicate matters, this year YouTube outraged many YouTubers by revealing that some videos was “non-monetizable” due to graphic content that advertisers did not approve of.  However, the increasing influence of advertisers on YouTube is just another part of this revolutionary platform’s evolution, and there’s no telling what YouTube will look like in five years.

For more on the art vs. $$$ debate, check out my next post (Coming soon!)