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Look ‘em in the Eye

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New York City is one of those places that captures the imaginations of people the world over.  Featured in a plethora of movies, television shows, literature, music, etc.; it possesses a certain allure that incites those from lands distant to experience it for themselves.  Volumes have been written about what makes New York City so appealing.  That appeal is part of the reason, I believe, that an old friend of mine from New Zealand has decided to make the trip and visit New York City for two months, with me as her host and impromptu tour guide.  Now I serve the double role of both her friend and foreign liaison.

            I’ve discovered something curious about her visit.  No, not her mannerisms and social behaviors, which are different from the average New Yorker in small ways, but rather the curiosity lies in my instructions to her concerning how she should act in public.  My friend doesn’t come from a very large city – it certainly doesn’t measure up to New York in terms of scope and density – and so she inquired about any customs she should observe.  I found myself telling her to avoid eye contact, especially on the subway.  I told her to ignore most people who try to talk to her in the street.  I told her to walk quickly and to avoid standing in the middle of the sidewalk.  Now, this is advice that not only any New Yorker knows, but people from major urban centers in general.  It’s nothing new.  What makes me wonder is why am I telling her these things?  Does it benefit her in any way?  Will she be safer because of it?  In all honesty I don’t believe that there is any good reason she should abide by those guidelines. 

            The Stereotip has written on the topic of proxemics before.  Common knowledge dictates that people in big cities are far less friendly than their counterparts in small towns, and several studies have proven this to be true.  Reasons have varied from a greater fear of strangers to sensory overload, but there is no general consensus as to the reason why city-goers are so keen to avoid interpersonal contact.  If evidence for greater social aversion in cities exists, but the evidence why is lacking, then how can I justify telling my companion from New Zealand to accept these social behaviors?  Am I propagating a useless and socially detrimental behavior? 

            Cultural relativism comes into play when I begin to ask those questions.  From my friend’s point of view, it must seem so strange that we adhere to these customs such as avoiding eye contact.  It’s hard to say whether the “right” way to behave is to accept or avoid this sort of interaction.  What I can say with certainty is that I feel discomforted by the fact that I give that sort of advice; why are big cities doomed to be places of icy demeanors and mutual distrust?  For a city with so many people who share similar experiences and fears, it seems that New Yorkers should be more prone to easily relating with each other.  Instead, hostile attitudes abound.  I can only hope that my friend’s cheerful and pleasant demeanor isn’t sullied by the oppressive atmosphere that New York burdens its inhabitants with, or rather that they burden themselves with.   

September Eleventh

Today marked the tenth anniversary of the religiously and politically motivated September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.  Along with the majority of sentiments that mourn and remember this day as one of grieving, there have been a rising number of opinions that go against the grain.  More and more people - mostly due to the time that has passed - are comfortable with openly questioning just how much is too much when it comes to grieving over September 11th.  It’s unquestionable that the attacks were a tragedy.  A large loss of life, irreversible damage to the country, and a war that has spanned ten years now at an immense cost are just small examples of the lasting effects.  Today there were numerous ceremonies and memorials in several nations across the world in remembrance of the attacks.  But those that debate just how tragic September 11th was may have a small point.

Approximately 3,000 deaths resulted due to 9/11.  Compare that with the 20,000 who died in the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan this year, 25,000 in the bombing of Dresden, 230,000 who died in the Indian Ocean earthquake, 315,000 in the war in Darfur, 800,000 in the Rwandan genocide, 1.3 million in the Armenian genocide, 5 million in Holodomor, etc. etc.  When put against these numbers, the death toll on 9/11 doesn’t seem so drastic.  It of course all boils down to context.  Americans are not used to attacks and destruction on American soil.  Pearl Harbor, which was the last major attack by an enemy on America since 9/11, was over fifty years ago.  The realities of violence on a large scale are somewhat vague to the typical American citizen, so when it does happen it carries a proportionately much larger impact.  This, among other factors such as America’s superpower status and high position in global society and culture, makes for even the slightest devastation to carry a heavy significance.  

What does this mean when it comes to the reality of the situation?  I cannot truthfully say; I’m too biased as a proud American and New Yorker with a distaste for violence against civilians.  What I do know is that one may be able to see the disparity in numbers when comparing September 11th to other catastrophic events of a similar nature, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the results are any less important or emotionally heavy-hitting.  One person’s evening news is another person’s tragedy, and what is felt after a particular even is relative.  For anyone to say that we’ve had “enough” when it comes to mourning and remembering what happened in 2001 is wildly ignorant and close-minded.  The deep rooted changes that have taken place in America and the world following 9/11/01 speaks for itself when it comes to the question of “how much of an impact did September 11th have?”  Sure, there have been other devastating incidents throughout the world, some “worse” and some less so, but to measure the emotional influence is a task impossible to accomplish.  


The damage done to Brooklyn by Tropical Storm Irene is nearly incomprehensible:

Imagine We Could

As anyone with a television, radio, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Google+, LinkedIn, MySpace, Bebo, newspaper, magazine, or ability to comprehend the world around them already knows, there was an earthquake today in Virginia that could be felt up the East Coast as far north as Canada.  Literally seconds after this minuscule 5.8 quake hit (and thanks to the power of social media, digital information moving faster than the seismic waves, seconds before in some places), the internet was abuzz with people mentioning this earthquake.  Soon after major news networks and small-time blogs alike were trickling with information regarding the quake.  On the East Coast, all you could hear out of anyone’s mouth was earthquake related, whether it be a bad joke or a retelling of events that happened just today as though it was twenty years after the fact.  

Is this non-news really what’s important to us?  The nation is in a financial shitstorm, the Libyans are struggling for their rights as human beings in a brutal and daring crux to a six-month rebellion, war still consumes major regions in the Middle East, etc. etc.  There’s a laundry list of social and political happenings that are transpiring right now all over the world that truly deserve our attention more than this little irritation of an earthquake, which by the way can not even be compared to some of the destructive natural disasters that have occurred this year alone.  Yeah, of course some people see the absurdity in calling this an earthquake versus what an actual earthquake can do, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are still on the Virginia earthquake topic, ironically or not.  It’s still what they have devoted time and global awareness to, and sadly in most cases it’s far more than they have devoted to any of the numerous topics which are more deserving.  Granted, it’s uncommon, but certainly not more important.  


Maybe that’s what a lot of Americans, or perhaps the general population of the Western world, really need.  We need to be shook up a little bit, to feel some direct physical impact in order to actually take our collective heads out of our collective asses and really take a look at the world which we call our home.  How wonderful it would be if we could do this without first having to experience it ourselves.  Imagine we could understand the plight of the rebels in Libya without having to go through a rebellion of our own (ironic, America), imagine we could feel sympathy for all parties involved in the conflicts in the Middle East without having to suffer through war, death, and misery here on our own front porch, imagine we could know what it means to be hungry without a famine to utterly shatter our way of life.  But the more complacent America grows, the less likely becoming suddenly aware seems, and the more likely it looks like it’ll take a swift kick in the ass to wake everyone up.

Imperfect inspiration

When I first saw the film poster for Hanna, I couldn’t help but be intrigued.  There was something appealing to me about the striking image of a young girl, her face hidden by rags and her bow string pulled back to the anchor point, arrow ready to be released.  Unfortunately, the entropic qualities of day-to-day life had caused me to forget entirely about the film.  Thanks to a stroke of luck, though, I was given the opportunity to watch Hanna today.  Having just finished viewing it, I can use the film as an example of drawing inspiration from imperfections; something I tend to do occasionally with various forms of media.  Hanna is a decent film, not bad by any stretch of the imagination.  However I think that because I came with such high hopes for the film, and because it had such a strong beginning but such a weak ending, I was sorely disappointed.  There was such an abundance of potential for this film, in my mind at least, but the weak plot and poor execution let it go to waste.  This is not to say that I squandered two hours watching Hanna.  Rather, I think I am better off for it as a fiction writer.  I don’t mean that I “learned what not to do” or some hackneyed phrase like that, I mean that Hanna was just good enough in the right places that I found inspiration not in what was literally happening on the screen, but in the satisfying feeling I had when parts of the film actually worked.  It wasn’t what happened in the scene itself that lent me inspiration, as is often the case.  The inspiration came from the appreciation of things coming together in the right way.  This “coming together” - which results in immense gratification - is what I aim to reproduce in my own work.  And because Hanna is imperfect these moments within the film are amplified when juxtaposed with all the scenes that left something to be desired.  It’s not everyday that you can watch or read a masterpiece, and so I would argue that these small “coming together” moments are nearly as powerful, or maybe I mean to say useful, when it comes to writing my own work.  

Ridley Scott set to direct a new Blade Runner film.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Blade Runner, but like most who’ve seen it I distinctly remember enjoying it.  That’s why set to be released in June 2012 has piqued my interest.  In the same way that Scott is revisiting his Alien franchise with the upcoming Prometheus, Blade Runner is receiving a similar treatment.  

Entry into the blogging fray.

Not to entirely discount my oft-forgotten Tumblr, this is my first step into the proper world of blogging.  Whatever that is.  I’ll be updating this with personal insights, random web findings, and anything else I can bring myself to write about.  My final year of undergrad is going to kick off in less than two weeks, and seeing as how I’m a Creative Writing major, if I’m going to jump into the real world with an English degree I should probably make the best of it.  Like the majority of college seniors, I’ve been asking myself what I’m going to do to prepare for post-graduate life.  Now that I’m out of the Marine Corps and ready to invest my talents into society, I plan on taking bigger approaches to my impending commencement.  So, if you’re in a position similar to the one I’m in, a sinking feeling in your gut that you’re not doing enough to prepare, that time is quickly running out before you need to get your career or whatever going, know that you’re not alone.  Embrace that feeling; understand that you’re by no means helpless.  Take a little (or a lot, if you’re industrious) of time out of your day and direct it toward abating that sinking feeling of “am I doing enough?”  To those of you who are beyond that, kudos.  I envy you.  





Well-done animated short.