Monday, February 28, 2011

Popping the speech bubble

"I type quickly - 90 words a minute, when I am happy, care free and in a good mood. I don't believe in fancy stuff. In my writing, there is no poetry, no complexity, no literary frills. Therefore, I need only to barrel along, saying whatever comes to mind, and waving cheerfully at people who happen to pass my type writer."
(Asimov Roving Mind 337)

This somewhat reminds me of my father, though what doesn't these days? He always said that when he had an essay to write, he would do it concisely and to the point. No frills or unnecessary artificialities (don't ask me what that word means; it's self-explanatory). The teacher would set the essay for two pages and for him and another classmate who wrote in the same way - one page.

Maybe that is what made me understand and assimilate most of his beliefs. He had a strong common-sense and was able to talk to me in a way that would reach out to me.

Now, I find myself in a strange situation. My writing varies wildly, depending on style, context and theme. My poetry is blurry, with a lot of visual and other sensory imagery. Years later, I sometimes read it again and marvel at it. There are never two alike and the moment is never the same after the poem was written.

In prose, things become clearer. There is a certain order and words have their proper meaning. There is little going on behind the curtains. Does that make it any less interesting?

Communication, in any form, is an art; it is the very essence of our society. I feel sad when only paintings are considered art. Literature is a valuable art - all writing is in a way. Discourse used to be a highly-appreciated form of art itself. It was taught in schools in the antiquity. Nowadays, all we get from school is empty information.

We learn to talk, but do we also learn how to communicate? How to say something worthwhile to a listening ear?

This has always been one of the most valued lessons I have learned from my father. At times, it is not what you say, but also how you say it, that matters.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A cup o' tea

I'm holding a cup of tea in my hand, looking at its steamy surface. I made it too sweet today and can barely taste the linden. If you live in our crazy coffee-driven, beer-cheerful and additive-filled times, you'll probably quirk an eyebrow. "Who still drinks tea nowadays, except for old people or when they have a cold?"

No, don't get me wrong. Not instant tea, not the popular ice tea, nor even flavoured black tea. Plain old linden tea with honey. It's ridiculously out of style, that sound of the teaspoon clinking against the porcelain cup.

There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

My parents and I used to go to the mountains almost every year and pick plants for tea. They were always fresher and cleaner deep in the mountains, away from the busy dusty roads and towns. We picked all kinds of plants, from yarrow to St. John's wort, dried them and kept them in CD boxes.

And, during cold winter evenings, we would make a full kettle, a cup for each of us and a little to spare. It was a kind of family bonding event and it warmed us up and calmed us down. I knew exactly how to make tea and how long to keep the plants in before they became too bitter. We always had tea with honey, another odd quirk that I don't think is still popular today.

Today, I'm not as careful anymore. I don't pick plants myself, I use tea bags. I don't time the infusion anymore, because tea bags aren't effective flavour dispensers. I don't always have honey, not good honey anyway.

I don't really have anyone to drink tea with anymore, since my dad is gone and I'm not home anymore. But I'm still going to try to enjoy a good cup of tea, full of memories and stories.

"I don't drink coffee, I take tea, my dear..."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"The measure of a man"

I will begin by saying that I really enjoy science-fiction, in part because of the broad possibilities it explores, but also because of some of the more metaphysical aspects. If we encounter an alien race, what will our relation with it be? How would we consider a sentient machine?

Science-fiction forgets about the "it's impossible" and wonders "is it probable?". So, let's wonder for a while about the likelihood of things that seem impossible now, but which bring out some of the fundamental issues of humanity.

I've seen movies and read stories about robots that become self-aware and aspire to be human. Most of these stories have a happy ending, but that is really not relevant here. The problem at hand is when can the status of a disposable object change to that of a being with the right to live and to choose. Does it sound familiar?

The problem is no longer about machines in the distant future, it is something we have been and will still be confronted with for many more years. What is the value of one being compared to another?

Remember all the wars, the slavery and the discrimination. The reasons aren't even as hard to accept as in the case of a robot. They are about customs, religion, skin colour and resources. What about abortion? When does a human being begin to have rights and when is it ok to kill it?

And it doesn't end here. I can't even begin to talk about the dilemma about the rights and status of animals and plants. Some people refuse to eat animals, saying that even animals should have the right to live.

Is it survival of the fittest? Is it ok to give rights to some and none to others, be them humans, animals, plants or machines?

This isn't meant to accuse anyone. The answer still eludes me. We can't care for everyone in the same way, but something within us tells us we should.

What is the right dose of hypocrisy we must use? What is the measure of a man?

From Star Trek, a poem written by Data for his cat Spot.

Monday, February 14, 2011

1+1=2, not 11

Oh, shit! It's Valentine's day.
You see red and pink everywhere, hearts and roses, cards, "I love you"s, ribbons and balloons. And somewhere in the whole commotion, love was hushed quietly in a corner, to be admired and praised, while at the front of the store, the smell of money wafted gently. Is it really that bad?

It's a bit like Christmas, I can't help buy say. It's good for business. That's for sure. And what about the rest?

A quick glance, a shy smile, rosy cheeks and a note slipped unnoticed in shaking hands. Yes, it sounds cheesy enough, but you probably know the feeling. Of million stings in your cheeks and words not wanting to come out properly.

We have the "anti-Valentine" here and yes, there are reasons for that. One of them is that we also have our own Dragobete here in Romania. Do we need an excuse to be cheesy and loving? Do we need two excuses?

Life rushes everywhere, money is made, hurry hurry hurry. Do take a break, look at the person next to you and thank them for being in your life. Now you have the excuse...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

No, you're doing it wrong!

Sometimes I'm surprised by people. I shouldn't be. We're all playing charades, trying to guess what the others are miming and try to mime back a bit of what we feel about it all. It's almost funny when you think about it.

Don't let yourself get caught unaware... Don't let them understand more than you'd like. It's really very funny. But oh, so complicated.

That's probably why society doesn't like me much. "Why aren't you more like this? Or like that? Look at the way you dress! Try to talk more. You play darts like a fish on a hook." and other well-intended advice. I do try. For the sake of a few people who really matter to me. For the sake of my peace and quiet. It tends to be very annoying when they start giving advice.

Mummy always said "Be more egotistic." She should know what she's saying, she barely has any friends. And the only two people she cares about most are herself and me (in a smothering sort of way). But I digress...

Is conformity really necessary? If you want to live a nice, normal and peaceful life, yes. You can be yourself all you want when you're alone. But when you're with others, you must be a little mirror for each of them to reflect their expectations in.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"I'll try anything once." "Except sex!"

I'm at a loss... At a big loss because I realise sometimes that all the things I'm putting so much effort into are useless and silly and - most important of all - not vital.

Let's take it from the "dark ages". Watching the same cartoons over and over on tv, reading stories written in a horrible way and a number of other "entertaining activities" that have done almost nothing for me.

Then, there were computer games, which ate a good many years of my time. But hey, they were fun.

Normally, fun is good. Generally, we need fun to relax, not lose our mind or other general useful things. I'd like to add just one thing: moderation is the key. Hold the key like it's going to unlock the room where the princess is kept. That's when you can win the game.

If I sound irrational or too mad-hatterish for your taste, fine, there's a door over there, it's always open. You're free to go. If you want to stay and explore the matrix, welcome. Would you like some wine?

Running to catch that train of thought, we get to the "moderation is better than excess" sign. Think about it a little. But don't become too concentrated. If you experience everything in a non-obsessive, calm way, you will actually enjoy it. If you gobble down too much of something for too long (such as tv, computer games or the infamous chocolate), you'll realise it's eventually tasteless. And you've got a tummy ache.

Remember the "I'm never drinking again" hangover resolution? That's the other extreme. Of course you'll be drinking again. But the only stupid thing you can do is overdoing it.

So, what is the other extreme and why is it bad? An interesting medical concept is that "a little evil can do a lot of good". There are a whole bunch of cases when people kill themselves by taking too many painkillers. A hell lot of painkillers can kill you along with the pain. But just one or two can make that excruciating pain go away.

I might have made my point clear. You might forget about it when clicking the next link. They say the internet is addictive too...

So, hey, enjoy in moderation.
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