Archive for July, 2009

Initiate

I remember a conversation I had with my mom about college classes. She said something very approving of making the effort to audit as many classes as possible, or at least sit in occasionally to learn some things.

As post from Seth Godin titled “The Initiator” made me think about this pretty closely:

” ‘I’m just here to learn.’

Learning is fine. Listening is good. Consensus is natural.

But initiating is rare and valuable and essential.

How often do you or your brand initiate rather than react? How often do you tweet instead of retweet? Invent rather than exploit?”

That last comment makes me feel a little guilty about content on this blog (since it’s pretty much all merely passive responses to interesting things I find), but that’s really beside the point I want to make. Godin is speaking about initiation as a quality of good business and marketing practices, and it’s certainly an idea that can be applied to “life” in general. But my thoughts were more geared to what I mentioned my mom said to me about auditing classes:

It’s easy to sit in a classroom and listen to the professor lecture about things, or read about great research in published papers and books. I like absorbing knowledge, and that’s why auditing classes or sitting in on lectures are so great – because you get to expose yourself to all this rich information. But sometimes I wonder what use this absorption and accumulation of textbook knowledge is, aside from a source of happiness, and being able to comment that you find something “interesting,” which is kind of a vague word. Unless you’re going to take these things a step further, is it worth the time?

I actually think this is one of the things about the Chinese attitude toward education that is a little bit inhibitory (this is a gross, gross generalization, and I don’t mean to be culturally insensitive at all). I think we’re taught pretty early on the listen to what teachers tell us, what professors lecture at us, and what we read from books; hardly are we ever really encouraged to think about things on our own or to ask those really good questions that hit the soft spot of what we know. Books and other sources of current knowledge are a sense of security for students who have been brought up this way, educationally. I think that’s why certain people really cling to studying textbook-style and feeling accomplishment in having a giant resevoir of information. And certainly, you need that in order to have a solid foundation on whatever it is you study or do.

But I would argue – and I’m just stating something that will sound blatantly obvious, but I know that I definitely take this for granted – that the other significant part (maybe even the majority) of being accomplished, and certainly the more difficult, is learning how to do something that no one else has ever done before. Most definitely, all of the influential people in this world have been the initiators and innovators, rather than those who merely show their abilities ot do what everyone else is already capable of. “Leadership,” in essence, is just that, right? There are people who follow well, who can do what they are told and be very diligent and meticulous about it, which is a great skill to have – I don’t underrate it in any way. But on the other hand, there are those who lead well, in that they have the ability to go far beyond that. My dad has always said to me, “I’m a good soldier…but I’m not as a good a thinker.”

In the science classes I took junior year, the peers I’ve been most impressed by asked the really good questions – the questions that the lecturer or researcher, and the scholarly field in general, didn’t have an answer to yet. And I don’t think I’ve ever been brought up to think about how best to ask those kinds of questions. Maybe my mental capacities just don’t allow me to think fast enough to keep up, but I think we can train ourselves to become those kinds of thinkers.

Back to my original context: while I definitely enjoy collecting information and knowledge, we obviously need to evaluate and prioritize our use of time and attention. Maybe it’s not worth the time and effort of merely superficially absorbing or going through the motions. While there are things that we could participate in just as “soldiers,” it’s much more remarkable – and fulfilling, I would argue – to be an initiator.

Some words of Thomas H. Huxley to muse upon:

Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.

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Red Hot

Considering doing the home hair-coloring deal.

Options:

I want to keep the reddish brown bolor, but with less of the brown and a more dark red/purplish tone (that actually sounds kind  of gross but I can picture the color I want in my head, it’s just hard to describe…)

In the End, the Only Steps That Matter Are the Ones You Take All By Yourself

I don’t mean to be emo, but these are the lyrics to the song “Can’t Go Back Now” by The Weepies. It was played during which the closing credits of “Adam.”

It coincidentally fits pretty perfectly with this story because of Adam’s loneliness, his fascination with stars and space, the fact that he is very much a “child” in an “adult” world.

“Yesterday when you were young
Everything you needed done was done for you
Now you do it on your own
But you find you’re all alone, what can you do?

You and me walk on, walk on, walk on
‘Cause you can’t go back now

You know there will be days
When you’re so tired
That you can’t take another step
The night will have no stars
And you’ll think you’ve gone as far
As you will ever get

You and me walk on, walk on, walk on
‘Cause you can’t go back now

And yeah, yeah, you go where you want to go
Yeah, yeah, be what you want to be
If you ever turn around, you’ll see me

I can’t really say
Why everybody wishes they were somewhere else
But in the end, the only steps that matter
Are the ones you take all by yourself

You and me walk on, walk on, walk on
Yeah, you and me walk on, walk on, walk on
‘Cause you can’t go back now
Walk on, walk on, walk on
You can’t go back now”

They Didn’t Really Belong There. But There They Were.

Fox Searchlight’s “Adam.”

The premise: Adam is 29 years old, recently bereaved, and living all alone in NYC for the first time in his life. This is only made more difficult by the fact that he has Asperger Syndrome, a disease along the spectrum of autism, but without the same impairment of linguistic and cognitive abilities. He meets Beth, his new neighbor who has just moved in, away from past boyfriend troubles and family issues on the horizon. They connect, if a little awkwardly at first, and Beth begins to become the first person in Adam’s life who seems to understand him for all that he is.

Below are my thoughts (not as spoilery, but if you’re really into seeing this movie for yourself, you should probably wait…). The movie’s about a lot of wonderfully thought provoking ideas: belonging (to somewhere and someone, whereever and whoever that might be), honesty in how we express ourselves, and childhood. Feel free to read, even if just for the content.

Adammovie

The beginning of the movie sets up Adam’s character and nature. His house is spotless; his fridge and cupboards lined with microwavable Mac and Cheese dinners and cereal boxes in an OCD like fashion; his collection of space paraphenalia includes books, pictures, slides that he can project onto the wall of his apartment. You get the sense that his life is awfully lonely, orderly, and monotonous.

Beth is the exact opposite of Adam – spontaneous, quirky, sheltered by loving parents, one of whom (her father) is going on trial for illegal business transactions. I got frustrated with her initial inability to understand Adam, and her initially romantic interests in him seemed very superficial.

I’m slightly embarassed to say this, but I actually gasped, pretty loudly in the theater, when Adam first kissed her. I was NOT expecting that haha. The context is during their first “date,” I guess you could call it, when she gives him a gift: a book for Asperger patients on how to conduct themselves in job interviews. He’s silent for a long time, and like Beth, I was afraid that he was angry at her for insulting him. Nope. Not in the least. Very early in the film we know that he’s capable of feeling the way he does about her. The development of their relationship actually takes up very minimal screen time. Despite his awkward social exterior, there’s something completely endearing and consuming about the way he is with Beth, and the way he looks at her.

After painful family issues that I won’t spoil, their relationship starts to fall apart. Adam gets a new job involving telescopes and space study, but it’s out in California, so he boldly asks Beth to leave her family behind and come with him. And while he’s deathly afraid of leaving this safety net that Beth has become for him, there’s a sense of getting to something bigger out there.

A few themes to think about:

Belonging. There is a very important phrase that comes up twice in the movie. It happens first in the beginning of their relationship, when Adam brings Beth in the middle of the night to see a family of raccoons secretly residing in Central Park. She asks what they’re doing here (I didn’t know that you couldn’t find raccoons in Central Park…haha) and Adam replies: “They don’t really belong here. But here they are.” This phrase comes back again in the very last moments of the movie, when Beth mails Adam a copy of the children’s book she’s published, about a family of raccoons. And on the first page of the story, she recalls these words he told her.

Adam’s entire life is defined by the fact that he doesn’t belong. And his attachment to Beth is formed on the basis that she makes him feel like he does, at least with her. In the end, I think Adam comes to realize the extent to which belonging might not necessarily be with a particular person, or even in this particular society. I think he ultimately leaves for California without Beth because he realizes that she does not belong with him; and nothing will change that. And as hard as he tries to fit into this world, maybe he’s not meant to. Accepting that – accepting your place – is not always easy, and can oftentimes be disillusioning.

Honesty. Part of Adam’s problem is his inability to fit in socially. While he has an amazing memory and is a brilliant electrical engineer , he can’t carry on a comfortable conversation with the average person. Part of this is due to the fact that, as he explains it, he has trouble understanding what people mean when they don’t really say what they mean. The movie does a great job of showing the implications of this, both in relationships and the working world.

If you think about this trouble that Adam has with communication, it brings to light how so much of what we say to people (verbally) is masked. Conversation, in general, is very constructed: there’s a pace, there are assumptions, there are expectations in the rhythm and flow in speaking with someone else, all things that Adam doesn’t necessarily grasp. Even within one language, certain words or inflections or tones are interpreted a certain way, and there’s a lot of underlying conversation that happens.

There are also many socially constructed concepts of normal, sort of like going through the motions just for the sake of it. For example, as Adam is practicing with Beth for his job interview, we see that there are so many things that people are supposed to do, just because. The demeanor, the handshake, the confident tone of voice in the introduction. These are all completely constructed ways of behaving. I’m not saying that we should fight them, but this movie definitely puts them into perspective. Language and interaction come with so many little nuances that we take for granted.

One line from the movie that I just noticed again after re-watching the trailer takes place after Adam and Beth share an encounter while she’s worrying about her family troubles. Adam says to her, very straight-forward-ly: “I can see that you’re upset….but I don’t know what to do.” (The delivery is great – a little bit oddly paced and uncertain.) How much more sincere can you get than that? It’s his ability to say things to people that everyone else in the audience would be afraid of admitting outright that makes Adam so likeable and endearing.

Childhood. Beth is a children’s book writer and there are several references in the movie to Adam being a “child.” Mostly because of his simplification of everything and ability to take things for their face-value. Interestingly, this simplicity is countered by the complexity of his knowledge of engineering and space and all things technical. Having witnessed my own sister grow into her currently 9-year-old skin, I can attest to the seemingly brilliant moments of youngters when they just kind of admit or say something that’s so utterly uncomplicated. I’m not saying that becoming an adult is a bad thing, but it comes with unavoidable tangles – a little simplicity can be refreshing every once in a while.

I know there have been many works of literature and media that have dealt with individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The movie I Am Sam (I will admit: that is the first movie I’ve EVER cried in. Literally, just burst into tears in front of my parents…they thought I was crazy.), the novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night,” and others I have not yet discovered. The questions asked at the end were all similar; are Adam’s “disabilities,” including his inability to mask his words/actions and his childlike simplification of “complicated” adult matters really disabilities, after all? Or are we, the “normal” people, somehow disabled? Why can’t we be more honest and exposed and transparent? Why have we developed this protective exterior – what good does is ultimately do us?

All these stories have left me with a heavy sense of sadness about the unfairness of things, the insensitivity of people who don’t understand, and the desperation of trying to make people like Adam fit in. But there’s also a sense, particularly in the this movie, that there’s a way to cope with things that are the way they are. It’s summed up very nicely by a note that Beth tucks inside the children’s book that she sends Adam at the end of the story. It reads: “Look how far we’ve come.”

Aaadam

Thanks to friends at the Summer School Activities Office, I got to see a prescreening of the movie Adam, another Fox Searchlight film (same venue in which I got to see 500 Days of Summer before it started showing in theaters).

First of all: who knew Hugh Dancy was such a hottie…his name is familiar, but I guess I just never paid attention much to his movies. The girl, Rose Byrne, is also absolutely gorgeous.

No spoilers in this post (I have a lot to share soon), but please listen to this song:

Can’t Go Back Now, by the Weepies.

Shhh…Will You Marry Me?

Another video link from the Huffington Post for today, this one titled “Whisper Chain Proposal.”

Jake sets the record for longest whisper chain (passed across 59 people), with a proposal to his girlfriend, Kristina. My first reaction was that this is kind of lame (“will you marry me” is  not exactly the most challenging phrase to play telephone with…) but the girl’s reaction is awesome. (If you’re impatient, you can scroll to 3:10 on the video.)

The best part? It actually takes the girl a few moments to realize what’s going on – at first she shakes her head in response to the random stranger passing along the proposal…haha.

For the sake of attempting a psuedo-discussion thread: What’s the best proposal you’ve ever witnessed/heard about?

World Domination, One Hot Chick at a Time

Courtesy of a Guy Kawasaki tweet and the Huffington Post.

No hard data presented, but this one news program clip reports that women are evolving to be more beautiful than men. Prettier women on average have more children. They’re also more likely to have more girls,  who are subsequently more pretty, and so on. Attractiveness is not a petty quality…from the perspective of evolution, of course :P. Men, however, have remained….the same.

Don’t know if I believe it, necessarily, but I find this video highly entertaining. First, they flash pictures of gorgeously toned beach models. And then there’s a picture of a scruffy man sporting a beer belly.

I quote: “…it’s like world domination…”

Hell yeah.

Summer Mix

Such an interesting concept: a forum of summer music mixes that you can upload and download.

They all have different themes and titles. Some include: The Summer Will Break Your Heart, Heat of the Beat, Memories (from a) Distorted (Youth). Most of the music is very indie – style.

If I were to make a summer mix for that website, it would have the songs listed below. You can listen to the Youtube version of the playlist here.

1. Sweet Disposition, by The Temper Trap
2. Shake It, by Metrostation
3. Absolutely (Story of a Girl), by Nine Days
4. Run, by Leona Lewis
5. One, by U2 featuring Mary J. Blige
6. I’m In, by Keith Urban
7. Fix You, by Coldplay
8. Much Better, by the Jonas Brothers
9. City, by Sara Bareilles
10. Comptine d’une Autre Ete, Amelie Soundtrack
11. Grounds for Divorce, by Elbow
12. Down With the Ship, by the Damnwells
13. The Show, by Lenka
14. Forever, by Chris Brown
15. Home Sweet Home, by Carrie Underwood
16. Open Your Eyes, by Snow Patrol

Jam away!

Grounds for Divorce, by Elbow

Featured in the House Season 6 promo. They have a very non-mainstream sound (they’re also a British band), but i love this song!

Brothers

New movie, “coming soon.” Featuring some very pretty people. (Jake Gylenhaal >>>>> Tobey Maguire.)

Music: Never Say Never, by the Fray; Bad, by U2.

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