Monday, April 29, 2013

The Difference of a Decade

There is a saying from the Tao Te Ching:

The farther you go, the less you know.

When I first read that line, I thought it meant that all you needed to know was at home. The most important truths are right here; they require no adventure or education to appreciate. Love and inner peace are the best goals of all, so we should stay close to home and value what we have.

But as I spent a decade in multiple states, getting my degree and seeing the world, I encountered new things and, being open-minded, new ideas. I realized how finite I am, how difficult it is for a little creature like me to know everything.

And so the line changed. It meant that travel throws you into chaos and uncertainty, demonstrating that you can't know anything at all; knowledge itself is an illusion. We should seek out new experiences in order to challenge ourselves. Uncertainty is the price of wisdom.

I've never read any critical analysis on this line and in a way, I don't want to. I suspect that Lao Tzu, wily old rascal that he was, would just smile if I asked for clarification.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Acting and Writing

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to act in a play.

The school hired a new drama guy and he wanted to start the program with something big and splashy, so he chose everybody's favorite: A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was perfect for a Hawaiian college, with its playful nature and lush setting.

Naturally, I wanted to be Puck. I got Demetrius instead.

Which was fun. Even if it wasn't my favorite part, it was a major role and I got to work with an awesome group of folks.

So why does this matter to the Rumba?

Believe it or not, acting and writing have a lot in common. One of the most important things in theater is to think about what the character would have said if someone else weren't talking. In many instances, you have to have a "fake" line prepared in your mind that you're about to say before another character cuts you off.

It helps you understand your character better and makes dialogues more believable. Nothing shuts down suspension of disbelief like awkward silences. It also creates a fun scenario where the actor who is supposed to speak must shout over the other actor, making things much more dramatic.

Writing first person narratives is a bit like acting. You jump into a character's shoes and try to imagine the world from their point of view. The story becomes a mental play as you consider how the main character will react to situations, what they will say and think and feel.

My advice to is to take part in a play sometime. You'll get lessons you weren't even looking for.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Johnny Rode Shotgun

I had to do a bit of driving this weekend, some it through areas with less-than-ideal radio stations to listen to. I won't call out any counties by name--I'm sure they're lovely places off the interstate--but let's just say the sermons were heavier than the metal.

This time, though, I came prepared. With a CD. A Johnny Cash CD. I grew up hearing 'Ring of Fire.' And my older brother made me sit through a few of his ballads, like a 'Boy Named Sue' (which, if you didn't know, was written by Shel Silverstein). I liked everything I'd from him so far and it was time to expand my musical repertoire a little.

Turns out, Johnny Cash is great road trip material. As I drove alone down that dark highway, the trip came alive with ballads about miners, auto workers, murderers and yes, unfortunate men named Sue. It was less like listening to a CD and more like getting tall tales from a friendly passenger trying hard to keep me from falling asleep.

It worked. It's easy to stay awake when you're laughing or cringing or wondering what on Earth is going to happen next. That's the beauty of a good ballad--it's more than just a catchy tune, it tells a story. And as you can imagine, I love stories.

The only problem now, of course, is that I know all the endings. I guess I may just have to go out and find other albums I haven't heard yet...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Perchance to Dream

~Another True Dialogue~
Enter ME and THREE YEAR OLD. We look up at the morning sky.

3 YR OLD: Look! The moon!

ME: Yes. Isn't it pretty?

3 YR OLD: Yeaaaah! We went there last night.

ME: You did? What was it like?

3 YR OLD: Blue.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Sentimental Journey, Part II

When last we left our hero, he'd succumbed to the siren's call of Madison Avenue, finding himself obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Rather than wait for the Michael Bay movie, though, he decided to plunge into the past and look at where this franchise started...

The Palladium role playing game was good. Despite the fact I had no intention of playing it, the book was fun to read and had neat illustrations (no surprise, since Laird and Eastman did most of them).

But I wanted more. This was an early version of the Turtles, a version that wasn't sanitized for young eyes. But it still wasn't the original vision.

While I was probing the internet for a copy of the RPG (out of print, so I had to get it used), I stumbled on Volume I of the comic. Apparently, they'd put all the original run into a hardcover. Rather than hunt down individual out of print comics, I could just grab this.

I hesitated. It was thirty bucks. I hadn't purchased a comic in twelve years, not since my brief fling with Moon Knight. (Well, except for Serenity. As a dedicated browncoat, I bought those comics to try and assuage the pain of its untimely demise.)

Suffice to say I'm not a hardcore comic book guy. It's not that I have anything against them--I think they're a perfectly legitimate form of expression. But the problem is that their cost-to-entertainment is a bit high. I'd buy a Serenity comic for over ten bucks and then burn through it in twenty minutes. Novels, by contrast, cost slightly less and entertain me for days.

I realize I should've stopped with each page and taken in the beauty, read those comics with Zen-like attention. But I'm impatient, like an old time photographer, I stand breathless over the chemical bath, waiting for the plot to develop before my eyes. I want to know what the character is going to say next. I want it now, now now. I am the guy who spent an entire Christmas with my nose stuck in a book. Because I just had to read Eyes of the Dragon in a single day.

Enough about my hang-ups. Long story short: I bought it.

It came promptly, though I didn't even order express delivery (it's unpopular to say so, but the United States Postal Service kicks ass, doesn't it?). When I opened the parcel something magical happened. The past wafted out of the package and blew me back through the corridors of time, to the game stores where I frittered away my youth.

The hardcover edition positively reeked of glue and ink and wood pulp. It smelled like more than just a comic book--it smelled like those luxurious RPG books I'd devoured as a child. It smelled like afternoons spent ambling through strange stores with even stranger books on their shelves.

After that little introduction, I could not help but love this book.

And it didn't let me down. The straight forward black and white art is perfect. It's gritty and imaginative and makes me feel less guilty about reading quickly. I was told there were some major differences between the cartoon and the comics but they weren't as big as I expected. The comic is definitely more violent. But the comic book Turtles aren't psychopaths--they still capture muggers alive. The hacking and dismembering is reserved for life-and-death struggles with their assassin-enemies, the Foot.

The most interesting difference, I thought, was in April O'Neil. In the cartoon I saw she's a journalist. In the comic she's a computer technician, which explains a lot. Really, why would a television reporter wear coveralls?

Overall, the main characters are actually pretty similar. I may get pilloried for saying that, but I can see what I liked about the show paralleled in the comics. That said, I haven't seen any of the later TV shows and, for that matter, have only a spotty memory of the 1987 series.

Splinter, by the way, is absolutely awesome in the comics. He's got a good sense of humor and is drawn in an almost creepy way, which I appreciate, since he's an enormous rat that skulks in a sewer. I've always had a fondness for Splinter. I remember his toy quite vividly: he was bent over and had a cane-sword. That little surprise was magical--I honestly thought the TMNT creators had invented it.

I have a favorite Turtle but truthfully, Splinter is my favorite character in the series. That insight was interesting when combined with my reaction to Star Wars: Yoda was my favorite character in that franchise. I've even been known to argue about who Yoda could beat in a fight, which was a lot easier before those new movies came out and settled the question (without my input, I might add).

If I'm allowed a bit of groundless psychoanalytic narcissism, I'd say that even as a child I was drawn to the mentor archetypes, that I've been interested in teaching and learning from the get-go. One time when I was at a college campus with my mother she told me that out of all her children, she knew I'd end up there.

So the next time I teach Freshman World Civ, I'll know I'm channeling my inner Splinter.