Toffler would be proud

It seems that, as we work our way through our lives, we spend equal time thinking about the past and planning the future. Various writers and thinkers have written and thought pithy remarks about dwelling on the past and living in the future.

I’m reminded of the times that I walked across the courtyard at the university, so full of hope about the future yet still feeling all of the pain of my past. Someone more wise than I suggested that I be more pragmatic, and after looking up what pragmatic meant, I tried. But I realized that “one day at a time” is really just a television show, and that the scientific process of the earth rotating and revolving around the sun really has very little to do with my happiness. What is a day beyond the sun rising and setting? Does the fact that I have to sleep in there somewhere really change anything?

Time heals all wounds. Seize the day. Live one day at a time. All the cliches are like a deity for dealing with what has happened and the anxiety of what’s to come.

Throughout my twenties, I spent a lot of time and money trying to make up for the past and I always knew that my future would make up for it. What I didn’t realize is that while the past is ever growing, the future is finite, and like all great things, it ultimately comes to an end.

Stand and watch my head

You told me once that you were told that your writing was too “flowery.” You were disappointed, frustrated, upset by this criticism. “Write with a flourish,” you said, “and people will remember what you say.” Then you brewed a pot of tea and made me a peanut butter sandwich, and we played Atari until it was time to go to bed. You watched over me when nobody else would.

We lived in a ghetto apartment that was nice by our standards. We spent time in the woods playing army with the real Army around us. We looked at rocks and tracks and we fished. You told me how to stop a charging bull. The neighborhood kids regarded you with reverence, as if you were some kind of legendary figure that would deliver them from their strifes. There were many.

You said, “This is Syd Barrett.” You said, “This is a Ouija board.” You said, “This is Otis Redding.” You said, “This is Doctor Faustus, and this is Faust.” You said, “This is tone, this is theme, and this is style.” You said, “This is Roy Orbison.” You said, “This is classical music.” You said, “This is poetry.” You said many things. I listened.

You told me I was smart. You told me when I was being dumb. You told me to stay out of your stuff, but I never did: you were full of wonder. You grew up too fast. You lost your way for a while. You started a new life, and I followed you. You taught me everything. You never said that nothing was too good.

You are my brother, and I still write with a flourish because of it.

Excerption

I don’t live in three dimensions, like you do. I can’t see things the way you see them. My world is flat, not in the pre-Magellan way, but in a more figurative sense. I am blind in my right eye, and I am thus unable to judge distance in the manner to which you are accustomed, which is to say that I can’t really do it at all. A foot is two feet is three yards to me.

You would not believe the things I see that you don’t.

There’s an entire universe that exists only in two dimensions, a universe in which everything must be extracted and investigated to determine its veracity. This is where artists’ ideas come from, where creativity is born, that odd place between “what was that?” and “it was nothing.” I’d really like it if you could come here but the thing is, unless you’re willing to poke out one of your eyes and live that way for twenty years or more, well, you’re out of luck. And even then, I can’t promise you could experience it, as I am not sure if it’s a place only unlocked for those of us who are here by no matter of choice.

It’s a series of lines and angles, curves and transforms, waves and parabolas, all that stuff you really want to understand but can only experience in pictures or math. The closest you’re going to get is a cubist painting; those are very imaginative representations of the less-than-three world. It’s all very technical, you see. Intersections and parallels may lack the beauty of your seascapes and sunsets, but they form the basis for everything.

Perhaps someday, someone who is more innovative than I, more creative than us, will find a way to represent this to you. Until then, close one of your eyes and turn your head to the side, and maybe you too will see the construction of all things.

Is the cinema more important than life?

J’ai toujours préféré le reflet de la vie à la vie elle-même.

That is, I have always preferred the reflection of the life to life itself. So much of our experiences are influenced by those of others, especially the fictional characters in movies. With no other guide to how to live life, we look to what others do, and with a shortage of role models in the real world to serve as examples, we depend on the representations available to us through the mass distribution of film.

All existentialist thoughts aside, let’s be real: movies are awesome. While the ways in which we enjoy movies have expanded over the years, from 16mm projectors showing silent home movies to Betamax and VHS and Video Disc and LaserDisc and DVD and BitTorrent and Netflix and Redbox, the cinema—the movie theater, if you will—has always been there and the first choice for cinephiles.

For those of us lucky enough to have been sentient in the 20th century, we got to experience the golden age of cinemas: The Rialtos on main street, the first two-screen movie theaters emerging at the malls in the 1970s, the rise and fall of the dollar movie theater in the 1980s and 1990s, the first multiplexes, and those rare theaters featuring a single digital projector. I have seen movies at rinky-dink dumps in dying towns. I have seen movies in brand-new testaments to excess. I have seen movies in opulent show palaces that were desperately grasping to life. And everything in between. I have stood in long lines for blockbusters on opening nights, and other times I’ve been the only soul sitting in any seat of my choice as the projectionist fulfills his somber duty.

My favorite movie theaters are the ones where I enjoy seeing the movie there, not because of the crisp picture or the deafening sound, but because of the care and deliberate touch put into the design. One of my favorite theaters had a different theme in each auditorium; gargoyles in one, Egyptian theme in another. That theater played weird art student-produced slides before each movie. “Green jello.” A lot of my favorite theaters aren’t actually very good movie theaters, in terms of comfort or quality. They’re just full of my memories. Seeing The Goonies at the Rialto on main street in Denison, TX. Seeing Friday the 13th Part IV when I was 9 years old at an old single-screen dump in Copperas Cove, TX. Star Trek III, Gremlins, and, much later, Bram Stoker’s Dracula at the strip mall theater in that same town. In fact, Copperas Cove had three movie theaters within short walking distance of each other. Only one, the original one, remains.

But let’s be honest: memories from our youth are always shiny, buffed further by the years that are added on. As an adult now, I am able to more critically evaluate a theater. As the owners have homogenized, all the theaters have digital picture and sound, and the gimmicks have been ratcheted up (XD and 3D and Real-D and so on). When I try to find that special place to call home to my cinema-going experience, I look for more than comfort and quality. I look for that special something that only the waning few cinema-lovers find. Usually I find it in theaters that most people would say are dying. They have flat floors and small concession stands. The parking lot is never full, even on opening nights. And if you’re really lucky, the tickets aren’t printed by computers.

Even though the cinemas of my youth are gone forever, I still love movie theaters, even the ones that have destroyed the charm and character of the family-owned cinemas that, tragically, you only see in movies. As Jean-Luc Godard said, ““The cinema is not an art which films life: the cinema is something between art and life. Unlike painting and literature, the cinema both gives to life and takes from it.”

The revolution is televised

Back in the 1990s, Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe made a movie called Virtuosity. It was terrible.

But it was a little prescient, as it foretold of an age when people would get lost inside of virtual worlds and our virtual creations would come to the real world and destroy us. Granted, it’s a bit of a reach to say that Facebook has unleashed Cthulu on our civilization, but not everything that destroys us comes in one giant flood.

As an aging yuppie-turned-hipster that appreciated irony long before the word was misappropriated, I remember the early days of the World Wide Web. Many people in my generation, the X one, can sit around the soft glow of a flatscreen and regale you with stories about how we used to have to type http:// for every web address. Those were the days when Netscape included an HTML editor with their browser so YOU TOO could make a crummy gray background with pictures of your dog and host it on Geocities. We all did.

My first email address was fractal@comland.com. Well, my first commercial email address was fractal@comland.com. My actual first email address was IFEK646@mail.utexas.edu. I spent many hours at the University of Texas Undergraduate Microcomputer Facility exploring what the Internet had to offer. First it was via Gopher, then later, Mosaic. That was sixteen years ago, one year before Virtuosity. That was the time when virtual reality was the Next Big Thing. Screw the Internet.

We all know how that turned out.

I refuse to be the curmudgeonly fellow that complains about kids these days and how they don’t appreciate what they have, because not too long ago, I was one of those kids. Yet, my generation was lucky in that we saw a tremendous amount of innovation in a short period of time and we were of the age where we had the income to purchase those things. Cell phones, flat screen television, TiVo, laptops, high speed internet. In a manner of speaking, I’m thankful for being able to experience all those things, but at the same time, I’m sad that it came at the cost of the idyllic life in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine.

Bradbury became famous through years of hard work writing exceptional stories and books. Even he couldn’t foresee a time when people could become instantly famous via YouTube or 4chan. I bet it’s because he had higher hopes for the human race.

Tachisme

And just like that, I’m taken back to the time when it rained frogs and I looked at the stars, threw a cell phone in the trash and wondered aloud in a parking lot. I had the same sense of wonder that I’ve had since before and ever after. They were the days of one long drive after another, a different route every day in a desperate attempt to shave minutes off a commute, only to get home a few minutes faster so I’d have a few extra minutes to hate life and search for something better.

Yes, those were the days.

I went to the same places over and over, and over and over I yearned for something different, yet I spent more time yearning for the same. So many times I’d drive home from my favorite places, and each time I’d tell a different story, a different version of a longer story, and I’d think about the end. Yes, the end, the great ending that every writer wants for his own whole life, the kind of end that only exists as endings.

And just like that, it fades.