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The Emperor’s Game of Clothes

July 24, 2014

In some strange fluke of fate, I have managed to convince some people that I am rather intelligent. Sometimes I even believe it myself. Even so, often I feel like society is playing a huge joke that I’m not in on. As if there is some kind of required cultural reading I didn’t know about.

You see, I’m one of those terrible boors who wrinkles her nose at modern art, who doesn’t know anything about wine, and who gets bored watching slow-paced, “artistic” films. Sometimes I’m sad about that, because it makes me feel like I’m not smart enough or “cool” enough. Then I get annoyed, because what difference does it make and whose business is it, anyway?

Joy and I compared this social tendency to the Emperor’s New Clothes. We wondered if everyone else is just as clueless about what this movie or that song was trying to say, but are afraid to admit their ignorance.

This seemed to start when I saw Lost in Translation in college, and was so bored. It’s a beautiful film, technically, but that’s not enough for me—I need plot and story, I need at least one character to connect with. The movie was a big hit, and I was left wondering what I had missed.

This wondering recently resurfaced in a discussion of my favorite actors and some of their quirkier roles. Being mostly British, they all seem to make small, artistic films when they’re not filming action/sci-fi-movie franchises or performing in yet another classic-literature adaptation. As much as I want to support their work, I often cannot make heads or tails of it. (I did love Third Star, partly because it touched on a topic close to my heart, and also because I love movies about dudes being dudes, which is a whole other blog post in itself.)

Pictured: Professional British thespians taking their craft very seriously

When discussing a more artsy, less “commercial” film, I hear people say stuff like, “It is so profound, all about love and time and the decay of society and ennui and the burden of existence.” (Granted, the people saying these types of things are usually the filmmakers and the critics.) I end up in an imaginary conversation like this:

Me: But nothing is happening.

Them: Yes, well, it’s all subtext.

Me: I’m pretty sure this is just a dysfunctional relationship, only with vampires.

Them: One man’s dysfunction is another man’s existential crisis.

Me: If I wanted to watch people mope around and be angsty, I could go to any coffee shop within a mile of a college campus.

Them: But this film is a great work that speaks to us as a society!

Me: I’m gonna go see Guardians of the Galaxy. That one has a speaking raccoon.

Coming Soon: My next obsession, probably

This phenomenon isn’t just related to art and other luxuries. Last week, AirBNB unveiled a “rebranding,” with a new website design and a new logo that symbolizes “belonging” because evidently that’s what AirBNB is “about.”

I’m reading articles full of marketing jargon and BS and emotional nonsense and people falling over themselves to weigh in on the changes, and I’m going, “But you’re still just getting people to rent rooms, right? That’s what the company is about.” I saw the new logo and went, “It’s just a squiggle.” Again–was I missing something?

I can understand a company wanting to spiff up and try to develop a plan for what it does and what it’s all about. What annoys me is when they get so feelsy. AirBNB talks about people wanting to “belong” in the most saccharine way possible. Get to the point. We know you’re trying to make money by competing with hotels. Find me a cheap, safe place to stay—I don’t care about your squiggly logo.

I’m wondering if people who aren’t marketing execs really care about this sort of thing. Are people actually touched in their deepest hearts by AirBNB’s blatant efforts to cater to their emotions? Or is it something that, much like with artsy films, is primarily of interest to critics and the people who made it?

Based on a quote from C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, I think he would say that it is just the insiders—the filmmakers, the artists, the critics, the marketing executives—who really care. We peasants are the ones left desperate to feign interest and expertise, or shrugging and saying “I don’t get it,” and buying tickets for blockbuster action films and $5 bottles of wine at the grocery store.

“Why you fool, it’s the educated reader who CAN be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they’re all propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the little paragraphs about girls falling out of windows and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the high-brow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything.”

(So who’s really the dumb one here?)

I’m still insecure about it, and about anything that makes me feel unsophisticated or unintelligent. I wonder if that’s just the human desire to be part of a group, to not be an outsider. In a way, AirBNB is correct to say that people want to belong. That’s a major theme of That Hideous Strength—young aspiring academic Mark Studdock takes a wrong turning because he desperately wants the approval and inclusion of his superiors. Eventually he joins the circle he had been seeking.

You would never have guessed from the tone of Studdock’s reply what intense pleasure he derived from Curry’s use of the pronoun ‘we’. So very recently he had been an outsider, watching the proceedings of what he then called ‘Curry and his gang’ with awe and with little understanding … Now he was inside and ‘Curry and his gang’ had become ‘we’ or ‘the Progressive Element in College’. It had all happened quite suddenly and was still sweet in the mouth.…He did not like things which reminded him that he had once been not only outside the Progressive Element but even outside the College. He did not always like Curry either. His pleasure in being with him was not that sort of pleasure.

Then I go, “Well, Em, what would dear Jack say to all your angst about being cool and artsy?” He probably wouldn’t go see Guardians of the Galaxy with me, but he would say that it is a matter of taste and not morality, and therefore it doesn’t matter a jot whether or not I actually enjoy a film that Society or a critic says I “ought to” enjoy.

Lewis actually gave a lecture, called “The Inner Ring,” about the human desire to “belong” and the fear of being an outsider, in 1944. In purely secular terms, his solution to the desire was essentially to do one’s work, or duty, to the best of one’s ability, without trying too hard to “belong,” to keep company with the people you like, and do the things you genuinely enjoy, and you will realize that belonging, that “inner ring,” has found you.

 

At that point, you are untouchable by many burdensome concerns and distractions, and can simply live your life. In his letters, the demon Screwtape advises his nephew Wormwood,

The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring two-pence what other people say about it, is by that very fact fore-armed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the ‘best’ people, the ‘right’ food, the ‘important’ books. I have known a human defended from strong social temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.

In the end, Joy was kind enough to point out that if someone looks down on another for not liking artsy films, “then they are rendering an objective judgment over something subjective and that would be dumb of THEM.”

…And Neither Does This One

July 23, 2014

I can definitely promise fun pictures in the next blog post, though (just not of my trip, yet).

I certainly did not expect to start posting again mere days after my last post, but yay, here I am. Before I publish the next “real” post, though, I want to thank those of you who have been praying for me and/or took a moment to write very kind comments. They were most welcome and appreciated.

Just as it was a big woven mass of things that dragged me down into a dark and discouraging place, it’s been a mix of things pulling me back up. God spoke to me this week (I know there’s no way to make that sound not-creepy, so there it is) and encouraged me to really focus on taking things one day at a time, instead of putting too much faith in, or taking too much anxiety out of, the future. This has been massively helpful for my attitude. I’m not saying it’s a big cure-all, since there are a lot of things in my life that remain unresolved (like what I’m doing for my birthday in a fortnight, or where I’m going to be living in three months). But right now, everything feels a little less overwhelming and hopeless, and I have some renewed inspiration.

A few blog posts have been in the works for a while, and a clearer head and calmer heart has given me the energy and enthusiasm to work on them, and finish at least one. I’ll be posting it later, but for now, thanks again, and I will see you again very soon.

This Post Does Not Contain Fun Pictures

July 19, 2014

I don’t know if anyone reading this has been concerned about my safety or anything, since I’m still technically on my road trip and I haven’t updated in a week, but just in case, I am here, I am safe, and I am physically fine.

This isn’t a usual trip update, but more of a life/state-of-the-blog update.

Right now, I’m in Milwaukee, a city I have never been before this trip and, frankly, I am not impressed. Well, OK, I kind of hate it–not the company, just the environment–partly because I miss the West and want to go back (so many mountains and pine trees…).

The last few weeks have been really, really tough. I’m in a spiritual slump that has been ongoing and fueled by a lot of things (and not helped by the fact that I just can’t summon the energy to open my Bible and that sometimes prayers feel like “posting letters to a nonexistent address” as Jack C.S. Lewis described it). Some of the hopes I had for this trip have fizzled out. Some are small, like this or that museum was closed, or the weather wasn’t good for hiking in Seattle. Other losses are bigger, like the hope that I would get some kind of clarity about my life. I still have no idea what hell I’m doing, where I want to move, and so on. There’s been a lot more loneliness than I expected, especially at this point. Shortly before I got to Wisconsin, my depression began to flare up. Right now it’s like playing Whack-a-Mole with my feelings, where I have one trigger smacked down and something else pops up to tell me something else horrible about myself. All this has drained into my work. I’ve already been struggling with a change to my workload and schedule, and depression/anxiety/sleepiness kind of made things worse to the point that I think I made more mistakes in a week than in the last three years. Mentally, emotionally, and physically, I am just exhausted, and every little thing feels like a Herculean effort.

I was expecting a grand, epic, joyous, heart-bursting, spiritually refreshing adventure, and although it definitely has had its moments, now I just feel like I’m desperately fighting to keep my head above water. I keep thinking, “I want to go home,” but I don’t know what “home” is right now. I can’t tell you how many people say how “brave” I am for taking this trip, and how “blessed” I am to have the opportunity, but I’d be lying if I said I felt at all brave or blessed right now.

All that being said, I want to apologize for the slow, scanty blog posts lately, but it may be another week before I post anything more. It may be two weeks. It may be two months. Or I may be suddenly inspired and post something tomorrow. I will definitely be back, I just don’t know when. Right now I need to relieve some of the pressure I’ve put on myself, and one way is to release myself from a sense of obligation to this blog.

I will hopefully see you sooner rather than later, though.

Day Seven of the Oregon Trail: Oregon at Last!

July 11, 2014

I guess I don’t need to apologize for how far behind I’ve gotten on these Oregon Trail posts, because it should just be taken for granted at this point. Argh. In the last week, I have been absolutely exhausted, mentally and physically, and work has been awful and stressful, and I just haven’t had it in me to blog. But I need to do something, so blogging it is.

Day Seven saw your plucky traveling blogger arrive in Oregon, the Promised Land!

It would be a few days before I reached Oregon City and the end of the Trail, but I was coming closer.

As I had traveled from landmark to landmark, seeing different museums and learning more about what kinds of hardships the emigrants endured on their journey, I started to think that these people must have been not only brave and hardy, but dumb as a sack of buffalo chips. “Those people are ridiculous,” I thought. “Nothing could be worth that.”

But when I passed into Oregon and got a good look around me, I had to say, “All right…I get it now.”

The first major stop in Oregon was Farewell Bend, where the Trail finally left the Snake River that it had been following for many miles.

Sorry for the spottiness of this photo, but I took it from my car, through the windshield

My final look at the gorgeous Snake River

“I LOOK ONCE MOOOOOOOOOOORE JUST AROUND THE RIVERBEEEEEEEEND…”

Then I traveled through the gorgeous landscape…

…to Baker City, where they had one of the better Oregon Trail-centered museums.

What a surprise, another model wagon

The museum (sorry, “interpretive center”) had a lot of displays of things that I took pictures of and now I can’t remember what they were. Because it was inside, I took pictures with my iPod, but the quality was so bad I can’t even read the signage.

Clearly this was a map…of…something…

There were a lot of interactive exhibits to make you think about what the pioneers had to take or leave behind, what was essential or not

I dunno, if it’s leather-bound, it probably tastes like jerky

They had some very detailed and lifelike, if slightly creepy, displays of what trail life might look like

Loki and Thor came along for the experience

I did have to keep them from being trampled by the wagon master

The interpretive center itself was on a high hill in view of the Blue Mountains. Not so shabby a vista, I have to say.

And Baker City was a decent little place with a cute downtown area, but I didn’t think to get my own photos of it. I tried to do a Google Image search for a picture or two to “borrow” but I didn’t find anything good enough there, either. Oh, well.

Oregon Trail Day Six/Seven: More of Idaho

July 6, 2014

After I wrote and published the previous post, I looked through my photos and realized that there were other cool things in Idaho that I saw on days Six and Seven (June 16-17) that I kind of accidentally skipped. So here is what basically amounts to the rest of my Idaho experience…

More of the Snake River

Three Island Crossing, on the Snake River

Idaho loves their pioneers

Near the Three Island Crossing

The islands, again

Bonneville Point, another Oregon Trail landmark, is a little out of the way now, but well worth it. As you will see, it was a beautiful area.

I wasn’t impressed with the location or the exterior, so I didn’t go inside, but I figured it was worth a stop and a photo, at least.

Beautiful Idaho: Shoshone Falls Park

July 2, 2014

I know that I’m getting further and further behind on these road trip/Oregon Trail posts. I have been tired–physically tired, busy, and also a little sick of being on the road. Well, I’ve only been on the road the last two days. I just spent a week in Seattle with my bff Kara, and it was so fun and refreshing, an antidote to both my loneliness and my road-weariness. But my plans took me away before I was all that ready, so traveling alone again isn’t as much fun as it was before I got to Seattle. But I’m headed back east, to Milwaukee, where I’ll be staying with my high-school friend Laurel for the rest of July, so hopefully that will be another cure for what ails me.

(If any of you live in the general Milwaukee area–like within an hour of the city–we could totally meet up!)

To help myself catch up a little, I’m going to condense Day Six On The Oregon Trail (June 16) into one location: Shoshone Falls Park. It was my favorite part of the day anyway, and where I spent the most time. I have to say that overall, I really liked Idaho. It was gorgeous, and blessedly populated after the frightening barrenness that was most of Wyoming. The only disappointment was that I didn’t see any potatoes. (In fact, I learned that the county that produces the most potatoes in the United States is in Washington.) Anyway, I think I could see myself living in the Boise area if the proper opportunity presented itself.

Shoshone Falls isn’t in Boise, though. But it’s pretty. The falls were a somewhat out-of-the-way landmark on the Oregon Trail. They are part of the Snake River, which the Trail follows for a long time. This river is the largest tributary of the Columbia River, which itself is the largest North American river that empties into the Pacific. Snake River was one of those parts of the Oregon Trail game that I always remembered and really wanted to see in real life. I don’t know why–maybe it’s just because I like both snakes and rivers. But at Shoshone Falls, I got a good look.

Hello, little marmot

The second of three rainbows I’ve seen on this road trip so far

A more peaceful part of the Snake River…although it’s upstream of the Falls, so it’s not that peaceful for long…

Adulthood & the Reverse Bucket List

July 1, 2014

EmSpeaks:

My own “Adult Reverse Bucket List”
(I have stories for many of these ‘accomplishments’ if you’d like to hear/read them.)
–drove the Oregon Trail (by myself)
–lived in the same apartment (on my own) for 3 years
–achieved financial independence
–became self-employed
–wrote a novel
–went on a mission trip
–planned & executed a vacation to England
–learned to bake bread
–learned to make crumpets
–bought a water filter
–was a bridesmaid
–was a flower girl
–tried out for a play
–sang a duet at a wedding
–joined a non-school choir
–kept the same job for almost 6 years
–taught myself piano pieces
–met one of my political heroes (Ron Paul)
–shook the hand of two presidential candidates
–been on the radio
–climbed a mountain
–ate mountain snow
–had major surgery
–stayed in a hotel (or twelve) on my own
–went canoeing
–qualified for my concealed-carry permit in Ohio
–own a gun
–was an extra in a different play
–was also on the set crew for said play
–learned to change a flat tire (sort of)
–swam in both the Atlantic and the Pacific
–completed several fanfiction stories
–went on a three-week backpacking trip in the Rockies via Outward Bound
–slept with several different guys on said backpacking trip
–(literal sleeping…in separate sleeping bags…because there were like six of us to a tarp…and oh yeah there were no proper tents…just tarps propped up on ski poles…)
–saw Horatio Nelson’s uniform
–stood on the deck of the HMS Victory
–saw the Crown Jewels (twice)
–wrote fan letters to celebrities (some more recently than others)
–got books personally autographed by famous people
–won a writing contest
–saw musicals/plays on Broadway
–walked on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
–toured a film studio
–saw the view from the Sears Tower
–had a celebrity Tweet me back (Josh Groban)
–had a letter/email read by Craig Ferguson on his late-late show
–saw Phantom of the Opera in Toronto
–slept in a hostel
–tried ‘no-shampoo’ for weeks (possibly months?)
–had fish & chips and Guinness in England
–played pub/bar trivia
–visited a mosque in London
–visited a Sikh temple, also in London
–won county-fair awards for artwork
–skipped a class in high school
–almost failed a class in high school
–avoided getting a speeding ticket
–rode a camel in Israel
–saw whales and dolphins in Hawaii
–grew cacti from seeds bought in Arizona
–got my Bachelor’s Degree

Originally posted on Egotist's Club:

One of the abiding questions of my life is “Am I grown up yet?” Not because I’m Susan Pevensie and super-eager to be An Adult, but because years have rushed by, and I don’t exactly have the best vantage for seeing how they’ve changed me. Am I really any different from myself at age 14? Surely I’m not old enough or mature enough to care about, say, insurance premiums or local construction projects?

xkcd 616

26-year-old me has a better vocabulary than 14-year-old me, that’s all.

Presumably certain people who are not me can point to their spouse, their children, or their 30-year-mortgage and stop feeling angst about this kind of thing. Some of them act like nothing you do in your life counts until you’re married with progeny. Maybe it’s unintentional, but it seeps through their words anyway, like one can’t really live without somehow being bound to or responsible for…

View original 733 more words

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