April 4th, 2008

Break Of Dawn

(The end of Impromptu Michael Jackson Week – five posts equals one blog week, as we all know.)

When I leave for work in the morning, it’s generally still dark. As summer goes on, it gets light before I’m out the door, so either way I miss the sunrise. There’s something about the beginning of the day, whether it’s cold and grey or warm and sunny or raining, it’s a beautiful time and I’m sorry I don’t see more of them.

I love this song by Cat Stevens, “Morning Has Broken” I actually fell in love with it hearing Ellen Greene sing it on “Pushing Daisies,” but his is the original version (you can hear it here). Here are the lyrics:

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the word

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day

I love the pictures the song paints, and I don’t really have much else to add to it.

March 31st, 2008

The Way You Make Me Feel

(Impromptu Michael Jackson Week continues apace!)

I’d be surprised to learn that there was someone out there who has never thought “I wonder if other people see/feel things the way I do?” Some things are easier than others to come to a conclusion on. I mean, we can all look at a chicken and agree on its inherent chickenness (chickenity?): the beak, the beady eyes, the feathers, the sharp talons – yep, it’s a chicken! We can even take into account the different varieties of chickens and know that a Rhode Island Red is just as much a chicken as an Appenzell Pointed Hood Hen (which also doubles as a member of an 80s glam rock group).

But what about colors? Sure, there’s a hexadecimal notation for every color – #6e7b67 is one of the greens that makes up the background to this site, for instance – but there’s no guarantee that the way I see #6e7b67 is the same way you see #6e7b67.

And then there’s taste. Some people profess to like broccoli. I do not. I like black licorice, while Connor does not. Are we tasting the same thing? Chemical breakdown would tell us that, yes, it’s producing the same tastes for different people, so the difference is elsewhere. Broccoli’s taste mixture of grass and nastiness to me is to other people a … well, I don’t know exactly what. No one’s ever really explained to me why they like broccoli. “Because it’s good for you” is not a description of taste.

So our brains are wired differently. Is it any wonder, then, that we might think that we don’t feel things the same way as others? I get struck with this one the most when someone relates an experience they had and another listener tears up while I’m thinking, “What’s the big deal?” I realize that life experiences up to that point may cause one person to react differently than another person to a particular instance, but aren’t there universal situations that we can all agree on, an emotional chicken, as it were?

From there it’s a pretty short jump to “Do I feel everything differently from other people? Am I a psychopath, able to function in society but not really responding to it, or responding correctly?” I’ve expressed this “I don’t think I feel things like other people” to a couple of different friends and got this surprising answer from them both: “I’ve wondered the same thing about myself.” Strangely enough, that’s both an answer and a non-answer at the same time. They haven’t really addressed my fear, but in saying that they’ve had the same thoughts, it tells me that I do have the same thoughts as others.

We’re not Borg, nor are we telepathic. There is no way for us to know what another person is thinking or feeling unless they tell us. Even trying to read another person through body language or actions gets filtered by what’s going on in our own heads and is therefore also unreliable. Muddying the waters further is the fact that what we learn about one person’s emotions and feelings doesn’t apply to another person. There’s no emotional template and people can’t be described by neat little checklists, no matter how much we wish they could be.

I firmly believe that I am in charge of how I feel. My thoughts, whether out of habit or out of instinct or whatever else, make me feel certain ways about certain events. Why am I stressed? Because of a belief system in my head that tells me I’ll be in trouble if I don’t get everything done or someone will be unhappy with me or that I just won’t be able to do things I want to do until the list of things I have to do gets done. But just because I’m in charge of how I feel doesn’t mean I understand it. Why do I tear up at seeing a Ninja Turtle awaken from a semi-coma but my main thought when faced with real-life tragedies in the lives of others is “I’m not sure what to do here”?

There’s an application on Facebook called “My Personality” that lets you rate yourself by answering questions and then lets you ask your friends to rate you anonymously. It’s an interesting look at the discrepancy between how I see me and how others see me. Currently it has this to say:

You think you have antisocial personality disorder
Everyone else is a tool for your pleasure. They have no rights, and you disregard their laws. You are aggressive when it suits you, you lie when it suits you, and your promises mean nothing. You have no remorse.

Your friends think you have avoidant personality disorder
You have an extreme fear of the potential negative opinions of other people and that leads you to avoid social situations altogether. You feel inferior to other people and expect them to reject you. The worst thing that could possibly happen is being embarrassed in front of all of your friends.

The disclaimer, of course, says “Please note: It is extremely unlikely that a personality disorder is actually present, this is just for fun!” Some fun, eh? I sound like the worst sort of person! And the fact that my friends don’t see me as quite as bad just tells me that I’ve somehow fooled them all.

Yes, I know enough to not put a whole lot of faith into a Facebook app. My point is that difference between self-perception and public perception. If we’re not even displaying to others what we feel we are, how can we know that others are? In fact, shouldn’t that pretty much guarantee that they aren’t?

Humanity is some kind of deal, isn’t it? Infinitely interesting and scary and boggling. It’s a good thing we’ve got some things we know we can agree on, and maybe that’s why chickens were created alongside us.

March 27th, 2008

Beat It

Last year there was a documentary released entitled The King of King: A Fistful of Quarters (Tagline: “Don’t get chumpatized”) about the world of competitive videogaming. Many of you, I suspect, weren’t aware there was a world of competitive videogaming until just this moment. Not only is there, but it’s a booming business and full of drama and intrigue, apparently.

The documentary follows Steve Wiebe as he attempts to break the official worldwide high score in Donkey Kong. The score he was attempting to break was 874,300, set in 1982 by Billy Mitchell , who also held records in Pac-Man and Centipede. I won’t give away the rest of the movie, as it is strangely fascinating, even if you don’t play videogames yourself. (Note: if you live near me and would like to borrow it at some time, just let me know!)

Donkey Kong is a particularly hard classic game, and anyone who has even gotten to the elevator-filled third screen is even now shaking their head at the remembrance of it. Games have changed significantly since then, and many modern games don’t even have a point system. In the early days of videogames, though, the points were the thing – indicators of skill, bragging points, and goals to be reached. Twin Galaxies has, since 1981, been the “official” keeper of gaming records, and as the documentary revealed, the process of submitting a score is quite rigorous. One referee talked about the eight hours of videotape he was needing to watch to verify someone’s attempt a breaking the record for Nibbler, a game I was only just barely aware of.

While I loved videogames from the first time I ever saw one, I’ve never been all that good at them. The idea of breaking any sort of record for Q*Bert or Defender is so foreign to me that it passes into the realm of the laughable. I found out somewhere along the way that there’s always someone you’re better than… but there is also always someone else who’s better than you. My ability to finish Guitar Hero in Medium might be impressive to someone who struggles with Easy, but someone who can play a song flawlessly in Expert puts me to shame.

That mindset has filtered into the rest of my life, for better or for worse. I don’t have a desire to compete for the most part because of it – I know the chances of me ever being the best at something are so ridiculously slim that I’ve learned to get to a “happiness level,” a place where I enjoy what I’m doing but am not stretched to push myself further. It doesn’t take a very sharp eye to see where the problem lies in that outlook. While it has, for the most part, removed certain stress causers, it has made me complacent and even stagnant.

These days I play through videogames for the stories. I want to enjoy them like I enjoy movies, and even fighting games have a layer of storytelling to them. I want to beat a level so I can see the next part of the story. A really engaging game can be a 10-, 25-, 0r 100-hour movie, and I want to see what happens next. That’s carried over into other areas, too. I enjoy what’s going on right now, and I’m curious to see what happens next.

I’m just hoping against hope that I don’t get chumpatized.