Monday, July 28, 2014

the Man Who Might Have Disappeared

As I was sitting at a red light, I saw him across the street, standing at the bus stop. Only he wasn't standing. He was dancing. He had a guitar strapped to his back, the neck pointing downwards and to the left. It would be impossible to say what he was listening to through his oversized, white headphones. Clearly it was something worth dancing to, worth getting excited about.

I watched him for the length of the red light—watched as another man walked up to the bus stop from the far side, watched as the two men started talking. For a moment, I thought they could be getting into a fight. But no, seconds later the dancer was jovial again, the other man placid.

The man with white headphones and dreadlocks spun the guitar over his hip and began to play. A variety of cars passed, and each time, he leaned into the street just a bit, playing for the drivers. This lasted only a few moments—certainly no more than a chord or two for each car—before the guitar was returned to his back, his dancing recommencing.

I did not know how long he had been there, nor how long it would be until the next bus pulled up to the stop.

Since I was at a red light, cars continued to pass perpendicularly to me, causing the entire scene to unfold in quick flashes. He was there, he was not there. He was there, he was not there. The dancer in sight, a car, the dancer, a car...

I thought, I would not be surprised if this man suddenly disappeared as one of these cars passed by my field of vision. Just like in the movies.

Are you watching closely?

Soon the light was green. I drove forward, passing the man who might have disappeared while waiting for his bus.

He didn't disappear. I was the one who came and went, not this dancer with white headphones and a guitar and dreadlocks.

Or maybe he simply hadn't disappeared yet. Maybe his disappearing act was meant for someone else.

He was there, he was not there.

I was there, I was not there.

Monday, July 21, 2014


First of all, a tiny preface:

Yes, I like playing video games. Despite this, I’ve tried to avoid the topic of video games in my blog here. I know they simply don’t interest everyone, and, anyway, I have plenty of other things to talk about besides nerding it up and talking about whatever cool new game I played recently.


Thomas Was Alone is a masterpiece.

The narrative structure presented in the game Thomas Was Alone is truly exceptional, easily on par with some great post-modern pieces of literature.

The plot is extremely simplistic: some lines of computer code become self-aware, including the little red rectangle Thomas, who finds himself inside a set of geometric cells. There is portal which leads him out of one cell and into another, and along the way he meets several friends—other quadrilaterals of various sizes and colors—all of whom have distinct personalities.

Yes, rectangles.

The official website for the game describes it as “a minimalist game about friendship and jumping and floating and bouncing and anti-gravity.” This sums up the gameplay, sure. But the characterizations are brilliant, evoking personalities that go deeper than many popular movies and books out there.

If a game can make you care about sentient rectangles—make you anxious about if they’ll achieve their goals and learn to work together and overcome their self-esteem issues—then it must be doing something very right.

Thomas Was Alone could have easily been a children’s picture book (except, perhaps, for a single use of the word “damn,” a few minor pop-culture references, and the highly-conceptual nature of various ideas here and there). On the printed page, however, we would have lost the British narrator, Danny Wallace. A word on Danny Wallace: I’d even consider listening to Twilight if Danny Wallace narrated it; he was that good.*

Throughout the 100 levels of the game, each includes 1-4 sentences/lines of story, many of which include the thoughts of the various quadrilaterals—let’s average it to about 250 narrated lines.

All this to say:

Utilizing only about 250 lines of text (in other words, about 4-6 Microsoft Word pages) and a few variously-colored rectangles, Thomas Was Alone achieves more with its structure and its characterizations than many feature films or full-length novels out there. It is a brilliantly told story that any writer should take seriously, regardless of his/her impressions of video games.

Really, it’s nothing to me if you play it. But it might be something to you if you do.

*Actually, this probably isn’t exactly true. I don’t think anything could make me want to listen to the Twilight audio book. But Danny Wallace is as good as they come.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Thought on Romeo and Juliet

I think that one of the problems with our society is that we have this intense focus on romance. We have thousands and thousands of books and movies and songs all about romance, its ups and downs and inspirations and shortcomings. It doesn’t help that we’re barraged with the Romeo and Juliet story—or allusions to it—every which direction we turn, in our English classes and in the movies and by approximately half of all Taylor Swift’s songs and in books about vampires and their pedophilic, forbidden love with human girls.

This single-mindedness when it comes to romantic love, however, causes us to lose sight of any other sort of love that is out there. Love has many faces. There is not only one type of love, one highest type, one most fulfilling type. And the longer we continue to look at only the once face of love, the more we allow the others to slip away from us.

And so it is that the loss of a romantic love is considered and felt to be such a tragedy. If you have boiled your entire love experience down into only this one type of love, then of course it feels like a tragedy; you have not allowed yourself to become familiar with any other face of love.

The real tragedy with Romeo and Juliet is not that they couldn’t be together, or that their love was forbidden, or even that they died. No, the real tragedy is that they willingly closed their eyes to anything but each other. Romeo mistook Juliet’s face as the face of love—as if love couldn’t look like or be anything else. And Juliet did the same of Romeo—as if love could only come from him and from nowhere else.

This isn’t sweet or heart-melting, and it certainly isn’t a good example of what love can and should be.

Rather, this intense focus on romance is much more harmful than anything else. We feel unfulfilled if a romantic love is not in our life or in our present circumstances, because it is the only type of love that we fully accept, the only type that we choose to let in, to make us feel satisfied. And so we don’t allow ourselves to see or to feel all of the other loves that are out there, pressing in on us. We feel as though we are no longer loved once our boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse leaves us or dies or disappears or betrays us, even though there are a great many other faces of love ready to show us how important we are, and how much of a light we bring into the darkness of the world. Surely all love is a light, a sun. But we only allow ourselves to see the small flicker that is romantic love.

Please, forget about Romeo and Juliet. Their tragedy is their own; it does not need to be yours and mine.

Know that you are loved. Every moment of every day you are surrounded by love. Of course it might not always be romance. But it is love, of one sort or another, and it is enough. At least, it should be—we are the ones who choose to not let it be enough.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Piano Men

I’d never had the chance to play the piano in the middle of a street before. So when I was walking up 16th Street Mall this past weekend and saw an upright piano just sitting there, how could I refuse?

—just some simple blues improv, and then into a rendition of Hotel California by the Eagles. Nothing fancy, nothing groundbreaking or difficult. Mostly I chose Hotel California because I knew Randy didn’t like it; we had just been talking about it in the car the day before.

There was something very surreal in the scene. I think I’ve probably had this dream before, in fact: there I was in a foreign city, a piano with cracked ivory just sitting there silently, boasting a miniature mural of blue flowers and other non-geometric swirls, waiting to be played by any random passerby. The middle ‘E’ was broken, but all the other keys held their own surprisingly well.

Emily and Michelle and Randy sat behind me on the curb, resting their feet from all our walking, listening, watching me play, chatting idly amongst themselves. A couple of people stopped to listen for a moment, went on their way. Michelle came up to me and took a few pictures—or possibly a video of me playing; I’m not sure which—and then Randy came over for his turn at the piano.

Once upon a time, Randy used to play the guitar in a Johnny Cash tribute band; we’ve all heard him play the guitar and all knew he loves music. He had just given us a fun, interesting discourse on music the day before, in fact. But the piano?—I’ve known him for years and never knew that he played.

You think you know someone…

He sat down, played a bit of Tom Waits (or was it Tom Jones?), and then onto the main hook from some blues piece or another—maybe Swanee River(?) I’m not sure. I leaned into Michelle, whispered, “I didn’t know your husband knew anything about the piano.”

Michelle whispered back, “I didn’t either.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Life is a series of surprises, and would not be worth taking or keeping, if it were not. God delights to isolate us every day, and hide from us the past and the future. We would look about us, but with grand politeness he draws down before us an impenetrable screen of purest sky, and another behind us of purest sky. ‘You will not remember,’ he seems to say, ‘and you will not expect.’” (from his essay, Experience)

Sometimes life catches us off guard—even when we think we’ve got it all figured out. Sometimes people surprise us—even the people we’re closest to.

Plans, knowledge…sure, these are helpful. But surprises?—now those are much more interesting, aren’t they? More interesting, and altogether more worthwhile.

So then, a tip, if you don’t mind:

Let yourself be surprised. 

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