Archive for the ‘Rants’ category

The Cathedrals of the World.

June 14, 2009

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I’m not a particularly religious person. It’s simply not something I dwell upon and as such I find myself drifting into the ‘agnostic’ category of religious beliefs rather than towards any one religion or another. However it does not take a man of god to be impressed by the feats accomplished in his name. The sheer majesty of some of the structures built in a gods name and the amazing effort and work that must have gone into creating these massive behemoth structure is simply mind-boggling. I do not exaggerate when I state cannot even comprehend the magnitude of effort that must have at some point gone into many of these places.

Now I say Cathedrals because while I have been in mosque and temple for various religions from around the world, I don’t have nearly the same amount of experience with those ‘style’ of religious artifact as I do those of the more Catholic persuasion. Something which I aim to change with an upcoming trip I’m planning, but which remains true till then. And so keep that in mind as I continue; I care not for the ‘who’ in particular these buildings were built for, neither do I praise these structures for any particularly divine reason. These are simply the most impressive building I have ever seen and perhaps will ever see, perhaps, we’ll see…

Have you ever stood at the base of a structure and stared upward in awe, your mouth gaping as your eyes seem to drill into your brain from the sheer effort of trying to take in the mass of detail which has been put into this structure before you? And as your feet carry your forward you mind only continues to reel as passing beneath a monumental archway, statues of kings and heroes past staring down at you from every conceivable corner, you find yourself feeling weak from the impossibility of it all as you stare wide-eyed down a seemingly never-ending hallway, massive stone pillar supporting an arching roof so high that it seems as though it were touching the sky. Beams of light shinning inward through tall multicoloured windows wasting the world before you in a surreal haze even as the unearthly sound of pounding organ music invites you to transcend from simple awe and fall to your knees instead as you embrace whatever divine creator must have descended from the heavens to craft such a marvel of this world, for surely you think, no human hands could have crafted such artwork…

I ask because that is the ‘purpose’ of these cathedrals. That is the desired effect! And for thousands of years of human history it has worked perfectly, tempting these simplistic people who’s days consist of endless tedium and dreary despair to see the wondrous and fall to their knees in rapture as they soak up the ambiance around them and dream of a land beyond their own they might visit, one like this, grand and beautiful. Cathedral are symbols, and as such they interest me greatly. Not just because they are symbols of a particular divinity, but because almost unconsciously these massive structure are also statements of the time they were built, the ways of life for the people where the building was constructed and sometimes even stark reminders of when dreams fell.

If this all sounds a little obscure let me to explain further. One needs to remember when they look at any sort of church or cathedral that although they may stand as symbols the the divine, they are inevitably crafted by the hands of men, and men are fickle creatures that tend to leave imprints of themselves whenever they tread and work. As such each church and cathedral in the world is unique and will have been twisted and changed to suit the location where it was built. Not only that but these buildings have continued to grow and evolve as time passed, changing to suit the needs of future generations long after the original builders have long since passed on themselves. So if you look closely and you pay attention you can ‘see’ the outlines of the people who built these places, if you look at the details and pay attention you can ‘understand’ them even and ‘why’ they built what they did. They stand not just as symbols of their divinity but of the people around them.

Allow me to recount one of the most dramatic examples. In Germany many church and Cathedral lay bare in the middle of cities, the roof long ago collapsed and the ground swept clean of debris but otherwise left bare. There are rarely any signs or plaque to explain the reason for this, but an astute person will quickly pick up on just what these barren structures represent. It was while wandering once such ruin in the middle of busy downtown Hamburg that I got caught in the heavy rain and ran beneath the remains of a stone arch for shelter. To my left stood a statue of a figure hunched as though crying atop a pile of bricks. Reading the small plaque there read that people must remember the truth and learn from it, and although I’d picked up the concept earlier in my travels, it was only then that it struck me that these ruins were a sad monument, a reminder of the past atrocities and conflicts of World War 2. The roof no doubt destroyed in the allied bombings, the walls collapsed from the thunder of conflict and the walls blackened by flame. Just like that is has evolved, its purpose has changed from that of a symbol of the divine to a stark monument to the terrors of the past, pleading and begging future generations to heed by its example and to not repeat the mistakes of the past. It tells alot of the culture of the people who live there.

Dramatics aside Cathedral also tend to be some of the most beautiful buildings architecturally in the world. The style varies from country to country, but as mentioned, these are buildings built from the ground up to impress. In Britain you’ve got Westminster Abbey and the Yorkminster, both of which are amazing to behold whether it’s the plethora of history at Westminster or the sheer awe one feels while staring upward into the Yorkminsters central tower while choir sing in the background. Then there are the smaller places which I also enjoyed. Bristol’s St. Mary Radcliffe I found to be a particularly memorable experience. The Amiens Cathedral in France is just as grand as nearly other cathedral in France and yet not nearly as crowded nor busy. Italy has a neat meditterenean style to its cathedral and church with a much higher focus on painted artwork rather than stonework, and so on.

In North America, Canada specifically since I’ve never really seen that much of the US, I can only think of one cathedral that can even begin to compare to its European counterparts; The Basilica Notre Dame in Montreal Quebec. Although not nearly as big on the outside as many others its interior is an amazing display of wood-carved artistry that easily compares and even beats the best I’ve seen elsewhere in the world. Highlighted with multi-coloured spotlights and other more modern touches while still maintaining the classical design of the original cathedral, it’s an amazing sight to behold.

Hmm… you know, I’ve run out of things to say. There never really was a point to me typing this, just an entertaining rant I thought up while looking over pictures. I have alot of those; rants that is. I remember once being compared to Louis Black and his rant-themed comedy, but I’m getting sidetracked, best to end this now before my mind wanders elsewhere.

Looking forward to being able to compare the buildings mentioned above to the more Asian specific shrines and such. I’ll be travelling to Japan within a month, should be interesting.

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Great European Train Experience.

May 23, 2009

(Long delay between updates this time, just got back from some camping among other things. Hope to finish up a few half-written memories I’ve got saved before the next time I vanish.)

So you’re a backpacker, making your way across the world saving every last penny you can in the hopes of squeezing just a few more days travel outta the money you’ve got sitting in the bank. Plus there’s the entire ordeal of being able to afford to get home at some point. Now sure, you *could* in theory walk (or swim) everywhere you want to go. There was a neat video circulating around the Internet only days ago of a man who crossed China and I presume much of Australia or some-such on foot. Impressive! But me? I’m too lazy to walk that far! Do you realize how much walking that is? It’s insane. Plus I really don’t have the face for one of those ‘grizzled traveller’ beards that inevitably spread across the faces of wanderer’s everywhere, I’ve tried it and honestly think I look ridiculous. However I’m also far too cheap and, let’s face it, poor to fly everywhere, so what options do I have left?

The train, that’s what. Whether it be Eurorail or Britrail or any other ___rail, it’s the backpackers transportation method of choice. I’ve spent more time sitting on my ass bored outta my mind on trains than I dare to contemplate. Hell, during one particularly long trip I practically took root at one point and spent hours drifting too and fro between the dreary reality of this trains interior and the fantastical world that exists only within my mind (It’s awesome there, you should visit!). And in France I had the particularly entertaining experience of getting kicked off a train into the middle of nowhere all because the train I was *supposed* to take had been canceled and the only other train running that morning to my destination was of a particular brand which didn’t allow the pass I used and blah blah etc. The point it is was not fun. I can recall numerous unpleasant experience involving trains.

However not all is bad, indeed some of the most amazing moments you’ll ever enjoy, the most incredible sights and the most surreal experience are often on those amazing massive machines we call trains. And so in the spirit of adventure, allow me to recall a few of the most memorable experience I’ve had while riding upon the good ol’ train system, regardless of where or when.

-Scotland, Edinburgh-Inverness.

The Britrail train system is rather expensive but makes up for that in quality and comfort when compared to mtos other rail system. The problem however is that most of England honestly isn’t that grand to look at and what portions do sport a grand view, well, the locals also thought the view was fantastic and didn’t want a railway botching the view and so often planted trees and shrubs to obscure that unpleasant train from sight. Wonderful for the locals but miserable for those within the trains who’s view is obscured by layers of foliage. The exception to this is Scotland where the hills are free and stunningly beautiful to behold and the view is rarely obscured, leaving the trip a wonderful experience where you sit and relax in comfort and watch the Scottish Highlands as they pass by your window. Even now the lands look wild and untamed, the grass lush and the sky a mesmerizing shade of blue that leaves you breathless and wide-eyed. It’s a long train-ride and not all of it is so stunning, but what sections are more than make up for any restless boredom you might have built up. There’s just a certain rugged beauty to the landscape in Scotland that I can’t help but be impressed by and recommend for everyone to experience and see for themselves.

-Switzerland, Brig-Zurich.

This is one of the most well known ‘scenic’ train routes to such an extent that the trains themselves you’ll ride on this trip are specially designed for sight-seeing. So famous really that I was amazed to discover my Eurorail pass worked for the trip with no additional fees, something I was quick to take advantage of. At first I feared the typical crowds that come with any major attraction, but with a little patience I waited till a train arrived at such a time few other passengers boarded with me, most having crowded aboard the earlier train. So with the train all but abandoned and the weather wonderful that day, was the trip all it is hyped up to be? Yes! Absolutely yes! From the beginning to the end this is one train ride which will leave you in wide-eyed wonder with barely a seconds pause between one stunning vista and another. The Swiss alps are truly gorgeous to behold and this particular train ride grants its passengers an unobstructed and unrestricted view. Whether you stare in wonder at the massive mountains or the pristine lakes, the perfectly cut green lawns or the picturesque cottage villages that dot the mountaintops, you WILL be amazed.

-Italy, Pompei-Foggia-Termoli.

From the comfortable confines of the British rail and the famed views of the Swiss trains, we now go in a different direction to a less well known and less sumptuous experience. Riding in a beat-up single-car train among a few surly locals this train rout twists and turn amidst the Italian alps exposing view after view which will leave you amazed. This is a long stretch and likely to take an entire day, but will give you an unparalleled view of Italy as few travellers will ever see, from vast verdant farms to the wild mountainous alps and even Italian grasslands with massive hills of wheat all swaying soothingly in the pleasant Italian breeze. As wonderful as the view is however, the experience itself is what sealed this particular stretch into my mind. The rickety train, the small town train-stops you’ll encounter along the way, the locals as they ride alongside you. It all adds up to one memorable experience you’re unlikely to ever forget.

-Memorable experience in Termoli, Italy.

This is one of those stories which at the time left me endlessly frustrated but which even at the time I remarked ‘this will make for one helluva story when I get home’. Allow me to set the scenario; it’s early morning and I’ve just arrived at the train station to board a train to Ravenna. The weather is nice and although the train I board seems beat-up, this doesn’t surprise me. Italy in general has terrible trains and just as terrible service really. This morning would be the one to cement that idea within my mind as first minutes and then nearly an hour passes without the train moving an inch. No announcements are made, and even if there were they’d be unlikely to translate anything for the poor pair of Canadian backpackers aboard. Finally, impatient, I set off myself to try and find out what the blazes is going on… and that’s when I see it! A portly Italian man with a bristling beard and a pissed look on his red-flushed face push-starting the train with a long stick. Oh, you think I’m lying? Surely, you say, it is both impossible and silly. But I do not lie! You see, although the train was diesel or somesuch, it used an overhead power line in order to get that initial burst of power needed to no doubt start the engines proper. Problem was one of the connectors was failing to rise and so the train could not start. Naturally, you surmise, they’d call in a proper engineer to get that fixed, perhaps call in another train seeing as this one clearly is broken in a very fundamental way? But no, oh-no, the Italian solution? A portly sweating Italian man and a long stick. Seems like a decent idea even until you realize that power line he’s poking at is buzzing with more than enough electricity to reduce one large Italian man to a large Italian corpse. And then you are witness to the fascinating and terrifying image of one, by this point extremely pissed, Italian man pushing upwards and flinching away at the last second in a dance of electric poke-death, all to try and get the connector atop the train to touch that wire and give the engine a nice starting buzz. And yes, frustrated Italians do say ‘mama-mia’ all the time! It’d be a bit more comical were it not for the death-defying nature of the scene before me and the fact by this point boredom has seethed within me to such a point I’d be lying if I weren’t secretly hoping to see a little zap, just a little one, just enough to set the man a dancin and me laughing. But no, eventually the connection was made and the train was sent off to its destination where I’ve little doubt the next day it had to be poke-started all over again. Absolutely miserable at the time, but I was right, it’s a fun story to tell!

-Austria & Germany, Innsbruck-Munich.

There are a couple places in the world left that just seem to even now evoke thoughts of wonder and chivalry. Of armoured knights charging through mist-strewn forests and grand battles fought in ages past. One early morning departing from Innsbruck I got to see some of those places as my train twisted and turned through the mountains towards southern Germany. The mist was a perfect white that seethed as though alive amidst the forests, of magical vast mountain vistas being exposed to my view for a few brief, amazing moments before the sight is swallowed once again by that mystical white cloud. Small wood-built cottages still lingering as though sent from a time passed among the rocks and trees, glimpsed only for brief flashes before lost to sight. For a a brief stretch of time, riding along within that train, I could truly believe I were staring out from my window into a strange and distant land of wonder and beauty, mystery and glory! Truly that mornings train ride was for a stretch one of the most inspiring moments of my life, and although I cannot guarantee anyone else travelling that same route would experience the same thing, I can only say ‘go, go yourself and hope you too will get to see something akin to how I saw it that one misty mornings ride’.

-Memorable experience entering Germany via train.

Short one this, but entertaining. Everyone knows the German stereotype of big burly men with handlebar moustache and black leather caps, all but bursting forth in hairy power like some sort of terrifying bear/man hybrid no doubt designed from birth to appear in a certain type of film which I shall not mention. For the most part it’s not really true, but there was this one time… picture two men fitting the exact description above sauntering into your train cabin and staring at you with a look that seems to physically shove you back against your seat. Now picture them coming up to you, massive shadows of squeaking leather and exposed hair (So. Much. Hair! Gah!) and staring down towards you. And as you wonder if you’re about to be beaten up for some unknown crime one pulls out a badge and demands to see your passport. I’m a decent size guy, taller than most others so I’m not used to feeling intimidated through sheer size, but that was one such experience. I’d never before been asked for my passport while travelling along the euro train-line, but I was hardly in a position to say no and so I showed it to them. They hummed and stared over it, grunting then as they handed it back to me and in an anti-climactic finish simply walked away. I know, being asked for your passport by a pair of officers isn’t really that grand an experience, but still, it was one helluva thing at the time and really, why the blazes were they dressed for a cheap German porn flick anyway? Damn, I said it! They never did ask anyone else in the train car for their passports either I might add. I hope I don’t look like the criminal type, do I?

-Germany, Munich-Füssen/Neuschwanstein

Another southern-Germany thing, Bavaria, but this one a different sort of experience. I’m not really sure how to describe this one really, so I’ll let some pictures do the talking for me as the sheer majesty of the view on that train ride is of nearly indescribable beauty. These are all taken from the moving train, luckily my camera is well suited to snapping moving scenery.

Breathtaking!Stunning! –  Scenic!

Really, I can barely believe it now looking at those pictures that that was something I saw and enjoyed. That I was really there and that such places really exist outside of fantastical tales and movie magic.

-Germany, Frankfurt-Koblenz, along the Rhine River.

Germany again, what gives? Well for one the German train system is easily the best in Europe. Second, it’s a big place! This time rather than Southern Germany and Bavaria we’re talking the Rhine River. What’s so special about it? Not only are the natural vistas beautiful on their own, but… how can I put this? There are so damn many castles, palace and monuments along the Rhine that it’s almost silly. I can just picture these wealthy nobles staring out their windows from one hilltop to another yelling ‘We must build our castle bigger, more twisty towers and spiral staircase or our neighbors will outdo us!’. Even the sheer magnitude of castles and monument aside, there’s also the small picture-perfect towns you’ll pass and the pleasant ambiance to take in. It really is a fantastic trip.

That’s all I can think of for now, but perhaps later I’ll add another. There’s a particular stretch along the Italian coast that was postcard-perfect with jagged dramatic cliff strewn with wildflower and numerous small cottage dangling close to the coastal brink, but for the life of me I can’t remember where exactly this was and didn’t manage to snap any pictures to remember it by later.

What makes a truly great video-game?

February 16, 2009

It was inevitable that I’d start writing about video-games on this little journal of mine eventually. They’re simply too big a part of my life to be pushed aside, forgotten or ignored but for a side comment in my About info. By writing this I’m more or less abandoning the idea of this being a purely travel site, no, I suppose I’m going to grow it into something a bit more personal. More general. And I’m glad of it! I think I’ll be posting here much more often from now on.

But to the topic at hand; what makes a truly great video game?

Now anyone who plays video-games is going to have a different opinion on the matter and almost all gamers will have their own private list of ‘best games of all time’ and a laundry list of reasons why. But my goal here isn’t to list my personal favorite games so much as to simply try and nail down what it is… what it is that really makes a game not simply good or even fun, but legendary in a way few games are. The instant classics and the games released years ago which continue to have a following to this day! The games which define what games do!

So what makes a game not simply good, but great? Ambition for one. Most of the ‘best’ games out there, the most polished and highly rated are in truth re-treads of an established idea. A limited scope that’s been polished to such perfection that the player can find little to no fault and whether the game is good or not becomes less a matter of real debate and more simple taste. You look at the highest rated games and you’ll find sequels and spiritual successors to other games, games which take an established concept and stick to it. Just look at the latest gaming trends! Right now the popular genre is shooters and as such there’s a steady stream of unambitious but excellent shooters on store shelves and in development as I type this. Lots and lots of em! Now to be clear there’s nothing wrong with the games that do this, they’re fantastic, but they’re just not ambitious in any adventurous sense. There’s no risk or drama in the games creation. Oh sure, there may be a neat new ‘innovative’ gameplay idea or one feature which stands out (Our game has destructible environments! Ours has fantastic visuals! Ours has an amazing sidekick character! Ours lets you toss fireballs out yer bum!) but that’s all.

No, the ambitious games are those which try something entirely new or those which wander down a rarely tread path. Those which take an established idea and throw em out the window in favor of something different, does not even need to be a change in gameplay but perhaps a plot or overall concept! This doesn’t always end well, in-fact more often than not these are complete failures (There’s a reason so many games follow the same beaten paths: It’s safe and rewarding!) but for those few that succeed, those very few that manage to accomplish even just a little of what they sought to achieve, the rewards can be great as they truly stand apart from the rest.

What else? Immersion. This can be a tricky subject as what’s immersive can be quite subjective depending on the person so let’s look at the basics for a moment. What is immersion? It’s that draw, the lure and intensity when something becomes more than simply a moving picture on a screen or a scrawl of words across a page. It’s that moment when you realize you’ve become so absorbed into a fiction that you’re leaning forward, muscles strained and brow dotted with sweat, because the real world, even for just a matter of seconds, faded entierly from your mind and for those few moments that fiction was your reality.  It’s something movie directors have learned to use and books strive to create. It’s also something which games above all other mediums have the potential to create, being interactive as they are… And those few, those noble few games that have really mastered the immersive factor are among the most memorable experiences you’ll ever have. Game or not!

Which brings me to another thing I’d say makes a game great, this time a feature specific to games and games alone. Interactivity. Again, a tricky thing to really nail down as games can be interactive in many different ways. But in this case I mean more in an in-game sense. Interactivity in the way that you genuinely ‘feel’ like you have an impact on this virtual setting regardless of whether you truly do or not. Why do I say interactivity is one of the major features? Because this is what sets video-games apart from any other creative entertainment medium out there. This is the video-games defining attribute! You cannot interact with the story in a book nor the actors in a movie. In a game, you can! And *any* great game needs to exploit this in some way. Whether it’s making a virtual world that reacts to your every whim or one which you can control and enjoy in some strange or quirky way, it’s an absolute must.

I will add this however; Many games today and in the past have not been truly interactive in any real way. Look at a typical shooter, what is interactive about it? You control what you shoot, but in order to advance you MUST shoot exactly what the game has given you. There’s no real impact with anything you do nor do you have any real choice. You shoot, something likely dies, you advance. Being able to ‘interact’ with the environment by knocking over objects or even shooting a hole in a wall is little more than a flourish, the equivalent of those cheesy 3D glasses in theaters. A purely cosmetic touch that ultimately changes little beyond perhaps the immediate conflict. There’s no genuine sense that you have an impact, that the world is responding. It’s digital LEGO!

By this point if you’re reading this and you’re familiar with games you might be thinking “But not every game can be role-playing game or the like if that’s what you’re asking!”, and I can understand that, but it isn’t what I’m asking. No. What I ask is the idea that we can have an impact. That we are given at least the illusion of choice, that we’re not simply walking down a pre-ordained path but instead stepping into a world of our choosing. Interacting with a pre-determined fiction rather than simply guided through it. You follow?

So that makes three things: Ambition, Immersion, and Interactivity. It may sound extremely general or vague, but given the parameters I’ve given, what games meet those three requirements? Really think about it, toss favoritism aside and think. I’ll admit right now that the game I’d easily call my all time favorite, well, it doesn’t really pass those. It meets ambition and interactivity, but lacks immersion. So my all time favorite is out. Games that do make those three requirements are surprisingly few in truth, and I’m hard-pressed to come up with more than a handful, which is exactly how it should be.

The reason I write this is because despite the childish themes for many games, the over-the-top violence and the downright stupidity that pervades many aspects of the gaming industry, games as a medium have more potential than any before to not only tell stories but to entertain and expand our horizons and knowledge. You laugh, sure. They’re just games! But think about it; The stereotype that many games are childish is true enough, but at the same time the potential as another story-telling medium is incredible. Not only can you enjoy a story, but you can now interact with it in a way none before have allowed, and that’s amazing! The possibilities are endless.

Which is not to demean those games out there which focus entirely on being fun or entertaining. That’s what the industry is founded on! I just believe that those few games which truly stand out and expand our definitions of what games can do should be appreciated for what they’ve done. I think it’s an absolute shame so many classic gaming experience are simply tossed aside, where under any other medium a project of that sort of ambition would be remembered and held high as deserved.

So to that end I made this article. I’m not going to list any games which I believe meet the requirements because the instant I do this becomes a topic not so much about promoting the genre as praising my own personal favorites. If someone asks I’d be happy to name a few in the comments, I’m not one to deny curiosity, but the article itself shall remain without. Nevertheless I thank you for reading my latest rant and the first in what will undoubtedly be the first in a long chain of video-game related babblings. Thank you!

Our amazing world! Of Art, Love and simple Joy!

December 25, 2008

The tips of my fingers have gone numb and I’m flexing my hand almost reflexively to keep them warm as the thick black leathers gloves I wear just aren’t enough to keep back the cold Canadian chill. My legs have that strange ‘tingling’ sensation and I can barely feel the tugging of my clothing as it’s blown wildly in the frozen winds. And my face has long ago seemingly frozen against the harsh climes, my cheeks feel stiff, my lips cracked and bleeding, and I’m forced to blink constantly from the dry cold wing. By all rights I should feel miserable and cold, I should curse this world I live it, where each step is a tiny adventure of ice and snow and the weather so miserable. But I don’t, I can’t explain it, I’m not sure if anyone can. But for some reason despite the weather, or perhaps even because of it, those cold numb lips are smiling and I feel alive.

It’s a mystery to me, these tiny moments of clarity and pure joy. Have you ever felt them, these fragments of clarity where you swear the world has revealed itself to you in all its glory and you continue onward amazed, or perhaps simply stand there, stunned, as you mind reels with the sheer magnificence of it all? Those fractions of a second where every tiny facet of the world around you stands still and clear and a single breath takes an eternity to breath. When the most tiny details or actions seem to suddenly occupy the whole of your thoughts and dreams; The simple shade of green on a leaf above your head, and the way the light shines down upon it and illuminates it with a rich glow. Or a stunning sunset, the sky turning a bright shade of pink that highlights the black streaks that run through it like ripples in the water. Maybe even an action, the feel of blood pumping through your legs spreading warmth against the cold and the bite of the cold against your cheek, the wisps of cloud that billow forth from your mouth with every breath and the way it drifts away in the winds. Snowflakes, each one unique, flying past in the legion, so much so that you can barely see but a few mere meters in front of you and the world itself seems to be frozen in a state where it’s simply you, you and the cold of winter! And it is glorious!

I have felt this. Many times. I hope you do too because for those few moments, that little slice of time, everything is perfect and beautiful and not the worries of daily life nor the sins of our past can deter that simple, childish joy that overcomes cynicism and melancholy. It’s a tiny little moment in the grand bustle of our lives, and yet those mere seconds that it lasts can mean everything, be everything.

It’s those little fragments of my life that make it so great. I’m not rich, I’m not particularly productive or smart. I own little worth mentioning and still have so very, very much of the world to see before I can even call myself truly experienced. And yet though I often feel I’ve done so very little to deserve it, I love my life. I love it for those moments of clarity and wonder, that sense of grand amazement over the smallest and most inconsequential of details. I stand in awe and when the feeling has passed I wonder ‘What have I done to deserve such a thing?’.

Some amazing people can draw these moments out, memorize them, and express them again as art! You hear them sometimes, the songs that often without words seem to draw upon some deep bit of our souls and twist them, drawing forth and manipulating our emotions in such a way we can’t fully explain. Or paintings that pull you in, demand your attention, and for a brief moment encompass all we know and once we’ve looked away, leave a deep impression upon our very selves. Words that stir you heart, speeches that change the very fiber of who we are, plays and movies that teach us about a bit of ourselves we didn’t even know we had.

This you have experienced, in one way or another. Everyone has. Some people try to define that feeling, to label it and use it as some sort of parameter towards the meaning of art. Others calculate it, examine it, try to determine the exact angles of the artwork that stir our souls, the subtle variations of the song which moves our heart. And others, like myself, simply enjoy the moment. Revel in the feeling, the sensation of perfection. It drives us onward in our lives, ever hoping for another one of these moments where time is frozen and everything, everything is right!

For this I live. I breath with the hope that each breath might draw closer another seconds moment of beauty. That every time I step forward is another step towards understanding.

Perhaps the message I’m trying to say is simply that; Life is beautiful, full of amazement and wonders the likes of which we cannot even understand. It may only be a figment of our minds, a peculiarity of the human brain, a wisp of a dream that survives into waking. But in the end does it matter, the whats and the whys? Sometimes, only sometimes, it’s best to not question but instead to simply enjoy the moment. Enjoy the moment and keep on living in the hopes that you might experience more!

Where’s the fairness of it all, the justice or balance?

November 10, 2008

Sometimes you just have to believe, sometimes that’s all you can do. Believe. Believe that in the end there really is a balance to it all, that there is an ultimate fairness to the world, that everyone receives what they deserve. Sometimes we have to close our eyes, cover our ears and blot out the reality, because what else is there to do?

We live in a dark and cruel world full of beauty and wonder blended with the darkest intentions and most malicious will. A world that people joking say ‘is a dog eat dog world’ all while knowing, deep down, that it’s sadly true. That nice guys do finish last, and that unlike a Disney movie, the villains usually win in the end one way or another. Sure, there are stories and examples of nice things happening to nice people, but they’re memorable not because they’re such nice little tales, but because they’re the exceptions to the rules. Movies are made where everything ends happily ever after and we all sigh and smile and say ‘that was nice’ while secretly whispering to ourselves ‘now why can’t that happen to me?’ and we pretend to think that maybe, just maybe, it will. But it wont. You know it, I know it, we all know that life doesn’t get happily ever afters or neat tidy endings.

But then why continue, why bother? If I’m so cynical, why do I take it?

Because I choose to believe in an ideal. This sounds suspiciously religious, and perhaps in some ways it is, but not in the sense of grey bearded old men sitting in clouds who judge us for our deeds. I’m afraid I don’t really believe in that sort of religion, I try to stay rational and tinge my dreamy thoughts with a dose of logic. But I do choose believe that justice, that fairness and righteousness arn’t just silly words used to scare children into being good, and that in some small way they’re real. I’m not sure if it’s religion or not, but it’s what I follow.

I’ve led a good life so far and although I’ve done a few things I regret, had a few occasions where I wish I’d acted differently or done something when I could or should have, I think I’ve done as well as can be expected. I live a pleasant life, I have family that cares, friends I can rely on. I’ve seen more of the world already than many people ever will, and smiled while enjoying some of the most beautiful sights you will ever see. And perhaps, I think quietly to myself, that’s why it hurts so much sometimes. I saw an old man the other day, wheelchair bound wearing an old, musty jacket. To his right was a sign covered in clippings and writing about the conflict he’d participated in, and below that a small donation cup, empty but for a few pennies. My brain says ‘He’s some homeless bum out to leech off your money to get a stiff drink, piss in the flowers and spend the morning sobering up in the police drunk-tank.’ and my heart replies ‘Does it matter if he is? He’s old, and he looks so very tired and sad. Who am I to deny him?’. I gave him a dollar, and he said thank you, and I walked away quietly regretting that I hadn’t given more even though five dollars was all I had.

In Germany I saw a beggar with no legs and only one arm, and on that arm he only had three fingers. He was laying in a corner wearing a filthy jacket and clothing with a small plastic cup in his lap and the most glazed, hopeless expression I’ve ever seen. What did he do to deserve that? What could anyone do to deserve that? Once I saw an old man, very old, dressed in an undersized joke cowboy outfit complete with silly pseudo-western hat, playing badly at a bent banjo whose battered old case lay at the mans feet, nearly empty. It was a terribly sad sight, and the man himself wore an expression that looked on the verge of tears and complete despair. Another time a middle aged man with some sort of obvious mental disability being laughed at by a group of teenagers. The child who wears threadbare old clothing because their family can afford little else. The druggie in the streets, the beggars, the tales of massacre and butchery in foreign lands, robbery, murder, oppression….

There has to be SOME sense to it all, I have to believe that. And although again and again my mind tells me it’s futile and pointless, live by those dreams. At least that way, at the end of the day, I can look in the mirror and smile knowing that at the least I follow those ideals. I *can’t* change the world, not in the grand and dramatic way portrayed in books or movies, or in those stupid army commercials or charity adds. But I *can* make it a slightly nicer place, if only a little, for myself and the few who know me. I’ll try to help those who need it when I can, even if they only intend to take advantage of it. I’ll support my family and be there for them when they need it. Be friendly to strangers, try and be polite even when I’m in a foul mood. Hold the door open for someone, offer to help carry a heavy load, and give a little when I can to charities even if it’s only a bit. It wont change the world, but it will let me live with myself, and perhaps that’s enough really.

I’m not naive, although there are people who undoubtedly think I am. I read more than is probably healthy for me and have an eye for history, I’ve traveled, talked to people, most importantly I’ve listened. I’m far from the only person to think like this, nor will I be the last. It’s a phase I’m led to understand, youthful vigor and all that, and I’ll grow out of it with experience and time and learn to live with reality. Well you know what? Fuck reality, screw the world, and to hell with expectations. “Ooo, rebellion!” The world answers “That’s also to be expected.” to which I can’t think of any clever reply, all I know for sure is that at least I can live with myself and feel some pride. Maybe someday I will grow out of it, become a world wearied worker and live my little pedestrian life, but that’s later, and for now I choose to believe.