Monthly Archives: August 2008

Thoughts on the Trampoline

I like to think that trampoline gymnasts are really just people who were ridiculously good at flipping on the trampoline as kids. I like to think that they all got there via situations like this:

So one day this kid is doing her normal flips and somebody comes by and says, You know that that is a real sport? Then she says, No way! Then he says, Way! Then she says, No Way! Then he says, Just watch the Olympics, they have all kinds of crazy stuff they call sports. Just think, you could win a gold medal! Then she says, No way! Then he says Way! So she goes and watches the TV and sure enough, it is a “real sport,” so she decides to keep practicing. Four years later she is flipping for America.

Yes. I like to think that this is how all trampoline gymnasts have come to be.

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On the Creation of Worlds

When we read stories of far away lands like Middle Earth or Narnia I hope that we never take for granted the minds from which these worlds came. Even when we see the worlds in movie form, I hope that we always take a moment to appreciate the creativity, ingenuity, risk and time put into their details. It is easy, I think, with such blockbuster examples like Harry Potter coming out every year, to overlook what it must have been for the writer to build these worlds. Now, I realize that few worlds are concocted entirely from scratch. I also think that writers writing about writing can be extremely noisome. Nevertheless, I like to wonder what the writing process was for, say, the creation of the Shire. How did Lewis really see the dancing Narnian trees? How tall are the tallest towers of Hogwarts? How did these images evolve in the writers’ heads?

C.S. Lewis says in an essay that all of Narnia branched out of the single image of a fawn carrying an umbrella. This amazes me. How can something as lush as Narnia grow out of a single image? Lewis actually has quite a bit to say on the writing of fantasy. The reason why he chose fantasy as a medium was because he believed we learn more about reality from fantasy than we do from stories set in reality. When we realize that the world is fantasy, we learn not to expect the things that occur in that world to happen to us. We therefore can concentrate on the meaning of the moral rather than bother critiquing the “realism” of the story. He also says that writing a good story is like being in love: sleeping and eating habits change, you are constantly distracted because you can’t stop thinking about the story, etc.

Like a good little Evangelical, I admire Lewis greatly for his work. I recently started reading The Space Trilogy, which consists of Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. I started Perelandra yesterday. In The Space Trilogy, Lewis essentially creates the battlegrounds of universal spiritual warfare—no trivial undertaking. In the first book, the main character, Ransom, is kidnapped and taken to Malacandra, or Mars, by two scientists who mean to appease the Martians, or Sorns, by handing Ransom over to them. Ransom escapes and discovers that the three Martian species, namely Sorns, Hrossa, and Pfillitriggi, all are extremely kind and wise in their own ways, and that they all live in peace with each other and the ruling spirits called the Eldila. The head Eldila, or Oyarsa, explains to ransom that Earth, or Thulcundra, is also known as the silent planet, for the Oyarsa of that world fell away from Maleldil, or the ruler of the Universe. Having learned the celestial language in the first book, Ransom is called back into space to go to Perelandra, or Venus, to begin the second story.

The most impressive feature of these books so far is the stunning displays of imagination and description of both Malacandra and Perelandra. To describe an entirely different planet seems to me to be simultaneously daunting and exciting, like when a painter eying a blank canvas. What tools do you use, what barriers do you create, what natural laws govern these new natures? Where do you even begin? Lewis boldly answers these questions, being careful to say that some things on other planets are so different from Earth that we can draw no comparison to help us describe the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of such places. Malacandra is a cold place, warmed by the hot springs. The plants are pink and feather-like. The land is fairly stark in places. The sea waves are not like ours: they do not billow and roll but rather are choppier, almost spiky. Perelandra, by what I can see this far into the book, is entirely different. The land flows with the ebb of the water, like foam on the waves. Land, therefore, rises and falls with the waves, and walking is difficult. The foliage is golden, the colors dazzle. The air is warm and comforting.

Though I could go on and on about the eloquence and creativity of the descriptions of these worlds, I would much rather let the descriptions speak for themselves. Here is an excerpt taken from the end of chapter three in Perelandra:

“Once more, a phenomenon which reason might have anticipated took him by surprise. To be naked yet warm, to wander among summer fruits and lie in sweet heather—all this had led him to count on a twilit night, a mild midsummer grayness. But before the great apocalyptic colors had died out in the west, the eastern heaven was black. A few moments, and the blackness had reached the western horizon. A little reddish light lingered at the zenith for a time, during which he crawled back to the woods. It was already, in common parlance, “too dark to see your way.” But before he had lain down among the trees the real night had come—seamless darkness, not like night but like being in a coal cellar, darkness in which his own hand held before his face was totally invisible. Absolute blackness, the undimensioned, the impenetrable, pressed on his eyeballs. There is no moon in that land, no star pierces the golden roof. But the darkness was warm. Sweet new scents came stealing out of it. The world had no size now. Its boundaries were the length and breadth of his own body and the little patch of soft fragrance which made his hammock, swaying ever more and more gently. Night covered him like a blanket and kept all loneliness from him. The blackness might have been his own room. Sleep came like a fruit which falls into the hand almost before you have touched the stem.”

Yes sir. The human mind, though frequently divinely guided, is capable of wondrous things. Hallelujah!

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Glued to the Olympics

It completely eludes me how sports commentators can take things like ribbon dancing seriously. I am sure there is plenty of technique involved. I bet I couldn’t do it quite as well. But still, how can a sports commentator take badminton seriously? Is there anyone in the world, or at least the world of SNL fans, who does not giggle when they see synchronized swimming?

Turning off the TV is no easy feat in general, but when the Olympics are on channels 4, 50, 99, 103 and 464 it makes it even harder. In the course of sixty seconds you can see gymnastics, water polo, beach volleyball and badminton. Whether giggling or awestruck, the Olympics never fail to entertain.

I feel it’s important to remember that The Olympics are not just about catching the big names doing their thing. Though the coverage may not make you think this, but the Olympics is just as much about the badminton as it is about Track. It is about the magnificent displays of athleticism manifested in hundreds of different ways. Michael Phelps and Shawn Johnson impress crowds, to be sure, but there is so much more to watch. The Olympics represent the best of the best in every sport, meaning that by turning on the TV you can watch the best games, races, and matches the world has yet seen. In this sense The Olympics are educational. You get to see talent, technique, speed, endurance. Though it may be cliché, the Olympics can’t help but to inspire.

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Why Sex and the City Makes Me Vomit

It occurred to me that I should write a little preamble to this rant. Prepare yourselves: it is a rant. It is an expression of my opinion and will likely be hostile at some points. I say this because I know of many people, whom I love and admire, who watch Sex and the City, and I mean no offense, for everyone is entitled to their opinions.

Anyone who has seen the comedian Lewis Black do a standup comic routine has seen him react violently to anything in society that strays too far from common sense. In his skit about Starbucks, for example, he recounts an experience walking out of a Starbucks, coffee cup in hand and admiring the beauty of the day. “Now, I say to myself, when I look across the street, there couldn’t POSSIBLY be another Starbucks—that would be too stupid, Oh no, surely, there couldn’t be! So, putting my faith in the common sense I slowly look up the street to the other corner, AND THERE IS ANOTHER STARBUCKS!” At this point, Black’s face contorts ferociously and his hands wave emphatically in the air. He yells rapid fire, cursing occasionally at the absurdity of the oh-so-frequent occasion of seeing two Starbucks on the same block. He calms down only when he decides that the only possible people on earth to whom such a situation would appeal are people with Alzheimer’s.

I recently had a Lewis Black reaction while reading an argument on why Sex and the City is so popular. According to this article, Sex and the City appeals to audiences because it is the story of four sexually liberated women, unconstrained by the bonds of society and free from its sexist stereotypes. In this sense, Sex and the City is a feminist push towards redefining female roles. As Feminism is popular with the modern woman, or something like that, we can assume that Sex and the City’s demographic is pleased with the show on this count.

(Insert Lewis Black reaction) WHAT KIND OF A HELLISH ARGUMENT IS THIS? WHERE DID THESE PEOPLE GO TO SCHOOL? THE NEW YORK TIMES CENTER FOR BRAINWASHED RETARDS? YOU THINK YOU CAN JUST STRING WORDS LIKE FEMINISM AND SEXUAL LIBERATION TOGETHER AND EXPECT TO MAKE SENSE?

(Crick of the neck and a sigh) Ok, ok, let’s get down to business. Though it is hard in this day and age to have escaped the sitcom entirely, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and provide a quick synopsis. Carrie, a New York columnist, writes what she learns about life in the city: dealing with men, bargain-hunting, getting along with friends, finding great hangout spots, etc. She gets most of her content by observing her three best friends: Samantha, a sexually promiscuous babe who is quick to turn every conversation into something kinky; Charlotte, the stuck-up, Old Rich of Connecticut, barretted brunette and nauseating optimist; and Miranda, the “Harvard” lawyer whose neurotic tendencies would make anyone nervous. The show is almost entirely about their sex lives, and very little about the city. The furthest outside of the bedroom the writers dare to send the characters is either to some swanky bar or a Madison Avenue shoe store. That sums it up, I think.

The mere idea that Sex and the City strikes a blow for feminism is utterly preposterous. Worse than this, it is an insult to feminists. Granted, feminism, like other isms, is difficult to define and usually spans a range of meanings, varying from helping women get out of the kitchen to cannibalism. There is a chance, I suppose, that Sex and the City could be found in this range, but I doubt it. I believe Sex and the City is truly offensive to female endeavors—this so called “Sexual liberation” is no liberation at all: it is merely the exchange of slavery to sex inside the marriage and home to slavery to sex outside of these institutions. Promiscuity should NEVER be a marker for social progress. Do I really need to warrant this? It saddens me greatly that others of my sex can be so wretchedly taken in by the idea that reform accompanies infidelity.

Now, you may say that the idea of sexual liberation preceding change is not new, that Sex and the City merely builds on ideas long ago established in works like Kate Chopin’s Great Awakening or Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Each of these works created a scandal by showing a repressed female character who decides for herself to break free beyond the confines of marriage. Many readers have felt over time that these works contribute to overall feminist progress. But aren’t we forgetting a minor detail? I will remind these literary geniuses that each of the main characters in these works committed suicide. The message of these works? Sexual liberation brings death.

If you look for sexual liberation working in a feminist’s favor, then look to Aristophanes’ Lysistrada. Here the women take upon themselves to refuse their husbands’ beds in protest of war. But notice the difference in this kind of sexual liberation: Sex is not the weapon—it is abstinence that provokes the desired response.

Unfortunately, the criticism of Sex and the City’s purported feminism does not stop with the promiscuity. The writing is atrociously offensive. Frankly, it is not hard to string together words to make a euphemism. This is proven by the improve comedy game, “If you know what I mean.” In this game, players compete by turning every sentence into a euphemism by following each by the phrase, “Do you know what I mean?” The first person to laugh is out. Here is a demonstration; it shall prove the ease of the game: Hey, going shopping today, if you know what I mean? For big shoes, if you know what I mean. Ick.

And what of the characters themselves? How often in the course of the show do they actually deal with real life issues that extend beyond their materialistic bubbles? I suppose they dealt briefly with death when Samantha’s character was diagnosed with cancer. But what of joy? Do any of them really experience pure joy caused by something other than an orgasm? These characters have little depth! They are merely shadows of real people, caricatured and reduced to superficial stock females.

I realize more and more that I agree with Malcolm Muggeridge’s assessment that television is the root of many evils in today’s society. Sex and the City warrants no exception to this criticism.

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