Friday 21 March 2008

Watching Children Play, One of Them in the Mirror

Dedicated to those who get the joke.

Knowing Jack
We all know that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. But how much play is too much? As an adult, how much of each day should be devoted to play? Is it really possible to have a job where your work is your play, or is that just a bit too much to hope for?

Standing at the Crossroads
Perhaps I've been hanging out with my kids too much, but sometimes I wish the two weren't so separate, and I try to bring them together. For example my last post was both work and play for me. You could say it the was a roadmap for my efforts to reconcile the two. Maybe that doesn't make me too smart, but I'm pretty sure I'm not dull.

Punch Lines
In any case, now that I've freaked out everyone in my world with that last post, which I am going to refer to hereafter as that post due to its presumed ability to make people roll their eyes, it is time to start getting back to the play side. In other words, I can get back to communicating just for the sake of it, rather than for an actual purpose as banal as personal gain or notoriety. If you're already in my world, and you're back after that last post, congratulations, and thank you! You'd be surprised how much effort it takes to go from showing everyone how smart you are to showing everyone how stupid you are. Of course, if you know me, you know that my promise of the dual millions of readers and users with a public tattooing as collateral was my idea of something somewhere between a joke, a publicity stunt, and one of my many utterly mad proclamations; I'm pretty sure most of you got the joke, but there are always bound to be some who don't. If you're back here, I'm assuming you did, and we are obviously on the same wavelength. As it happens, no media outlets picked up the press release, at least not as far as I know, so it looks as though not everyone is affected by the way I organize my thoughts and my words as I am. Imagine that. In any event, it looks like I can toil away in safe obscurity for another little while at least, which is fine because obscurity is actually a condition I would prefer, if it paid better.

Hiding in Plain Sight
My challenge was, is, actually a kind of logic trap for anyone who seriously considers taking me up on it. To get me to tattoo myself, the person would have to read every single word of my blog, a feat which alone is an accomplishment in itself. Anyone who managed to get through that would then have to marshall the intellectual bandwidth to produce an argument against me about my life about something that could happen in the future. For anyone so ambitious as to get even that far, they would realize long before completion that the post to which they have spent so long replying contains a very strong and very thought-out argument about how to accomplish the goals I set, which would make the whole effort rather a waste of time. And finally, if I have managed to convince even one person to go to such lengths, that person would know me an awful lot better and would have either been won over to my argument or just think I was a complete idiot worthy of no more of their time. Either way, it appears from the lack of response that this trap may have been too visible, and so people just stepped around it. Besides, who has that kind of time these days?

Much Obliged
With all that about the media and the masses, I do not mean at all to suggest that your attention, my dearly beloved early reader, is anything to sneeze at. I view this space the way musicologists view The Velvet Underground. The official line on them is that very few people bought their records, but many of those who did went on to do wonderful things. Navigating this space with any level of direction requires your full attention, but I am pleased to report that those who currently manage that are already wonderful people doing wonderful things. I have always felt that the full attention of any one person for any length of time longer than a few seconds is, in fact, a wondrous thing. Noone who has had the privilege of being truly listened to by even one person is ever obscure. It can take an enormous amount of effort just to listen to one person properly, and certainly there are those in your life who deserve your attention, indeed who need your attention, so much more than I do. This applies in my own life as well; I asked my lovely wife the other day why she doesn't read my blog, and her reply was perfectly appropriate and absolutely relevant to the point at hand. "Because I know you", she said, "and I'd end up spending whole days going through it on the computer and not getting anything done." Wise words indeed, which serve to make me more deeply grateful that you have somehow found the time to lend me your ear.

Up All Night
Indeed, the one consistent question to have arisen from my peers around this whole online endeavor of mine is about where I actually find the time to make a living, shovel the snow, spend a whole lot of meaningful time with my family, try to contribute something to the community, sing for a band, develop the "next big thing", and still have room left to spin "long and tiresome" prose. I must either be an insomniac workaholic prone to momentous exaggeration, or just have inordinately good time management skills. Aside from the fact that this sentence is being typed at 4:09am, I'm not actually sure if it's either of those. All I really know for sure is that life is too short not to attempt to look deeply at everyone I meet and throw myself wildly into everything I do.

The Source
People where I make my living know that I am an idea person, not a logistics person, and it seems that, at least occasionally, my ideas have enough merit that I am asked where I get them. The same question is also extended to me sometimes about writing this journal, although the term used for "serious writers", which some people seem to want me to be, is usually not ideas but inspiration. Of course, like any idea person, I get inspiration from just about everything around me, but I would attribute most of the force pushing out my fountain (trickle?) of ideas to a source that might surprise the uninitiated. Many of my best ideas come from my kids.

Father Knows Best
There's a commonly held view, especially among parents, that children would do well to listen to their parents. Having three kids of my own, I dare not dispute the wisdom of that here, especially given that my kids will read this, but I think that parents would do well to consume a kernel of corresponding wisdom as they consider their own authority -- parents would do well to listen to their children. Of course, parents do listen to their children regarding anything that is taken to benefit the welfare of the child; they listen to them cry when they are hurt, they listen to them talk about their school day, and they nod sympathetically at being on the wrong end of the latest episode of sibling rivalry. This is not the kind of listening I mean. The kind of listening to which I refer is not the kind that is concerned with the child's welfare, it is the kind concerned with the parent's.

Good Listeners
You can tell a lot about someone by knowing who they listen to. Children are no exception, which is quite interesting because children will listen to everyone who has anything interesting to say. That can be bad, because some very bad people have very interesting things to say, but if the one doing the talking is one who loves them, someone to whom they should be listening, it can be very good. Whatever their age, from infant to teenager, who they listen to directs their play, and play is the most important time of all to a child. If you have children, and you want to know who your children listen to, try watching them play. If you don't recognize any of yourself in there, and their play is influenced exclusively by others, you may have reason to be concerned.

No 'We' in Wii?
It can certainly be difficult for a parent to be more interesting than some of the competition. For example, I watched my son progress the other day through the levels of his Super Mario Galaxy video game, and I saw nothing less than the virtual landscape of a child's imagination. A giant half-cute half-scary flower creature with a dragon's tail and an eggshell covering its head, a planet with a clear shell through which you could see what was happening inside, and, in Mario, a character with which any imagination could identify, who starts as a simple man but gains the ability to spring-leap, spin, skate, go through solid objects, turn into fire, and fly. What's great about video games, of course, is that they allow you to do so much more than you could ever do in your own body or your own life. You get to put yourself into another body and make decisions just like any hero or superhuman would make. Who wouldn't want to be invincible, with the ability to take any form, have unlimited intellectual and physical weaponry, and be drop-dead gorgeous to boot? I don't know if that's what your life is like, but mine ain't.

No 'Us' in Newspaper?
Even as I battle Super Mario with my rapier-like wit and my stories of great adventures, I have my middle child whose idea of a good time on a weekend morning is to spend a few hours reading the newspaper. As a result, my wife and I will be in the middle of a suitably adult discussion and our news junkie will interject with an insight so penetrating that we are virtually forced into dumfounded silence.

No 'End' in Edge?
And then there is my Harry Potter-loving pre-teen, for whom nothing but fantasy will do. The other night, we read together a passage from The Edge Chronicles, dripping with such creativity and storytelling prowess that it made me shiver. We jumped together into an imagination so vast that it would be not only conceivable but perhaps even desirable never to emerge on the other end. Certainly, after a minimum of five reads through each of the Harry Potter books, my daughter hasn't yet emerged from the imagination of the divine Ms. Rowling.

No 'Kid' in Kinz?
I think the grand champion at the moment though, has to be Webkinz. For those who don't know about Webkinz, which I would think is practically noone among those with a child between six and twelve, Webkinz is a virtual world web site for children that is tied into stuffed toys that are now sold practically everywhere. The child receives the very cute toy and then must officially go into the virtual world and adopt and then raise it as one would a child. In no particular order, children and their 'kinz' in this virtual world can then earn a sandwich table that you can choose to use or eat, be a bartender or chef and make drinks and food for your animal, make movies of your animals with silly dialogue, find a job for them at the employment office, get them a medical check-up when they are sick, and conduct an online auction for their stuff in the W Shop. I mean, how cool is that? Not surprising that just about any kid that my kids know has at least one Webkinz. Depending on how you look at it, the legions of children on Webkinz are either learning valuable life skills, or are being lured into a gigantic trap whose prize when the jaws snap shut is their time, which means less time with their parents or others responsible for their welfare.

Okay, I'll Stop Forcing the Subtitles
Of course, I'm sure you realize by now that I wouldn't be telling you all this if I thought it applied only to children. I can't speak for you, but I know that all of my best ideas come from my play time. When I am at play, I am doing just what I want to do, and I am therefore closest to my natural self. So I want to be careful who influences my play time. In fact, if I were not me, I would not want someone like me influencing my play time. When I said in that post that I wanted to do precisely what I wanted, I was just saying in another way that I just wanted to be left alone to play. And what you're reading right now, for me this is play. Like any kid, I just wish I could do it all the time.

Measurable Value
I suppose that makes me a little irresponsible, but what if I can manage to do it in such a way that it will serve to make me happy, help those I love, and even contribute something to the community at large? To that end, some of you who actually read through the whole of that post have asked me (though not in my Comments section, where I would have liked a bit more feedback!) exactly what it is that this fancy new "billion-dollar" tool does. What is it about this plaything that makes me think I'm going to be a multi-godzillionaire and spend the rest of my days at play? I will answer that question in due time -- I can't now or I'd have to kill you -- but let me get something straight. I don't care about being a multi-godzillionaire; it means as little to me as what I'm going to have for lunch tomorrow. In fact, it means even less because, unlike tomorrow's lunch, it actually has no measurable value to my well-being. There are only six things I can think of that have significant positive value to me; to be able to take care of my loved ones, to be financially obligated to nobody, to go where I want to go, to do what I want to do, to give to the world more than I take, and for you to feel that what you find in my creative space is interesting enough and good enough to recommend to someone else. Anything else is completely worthless to me. Well, everything except tomorrow's lunch, but only because I have already assigned it worth.

Venting Frustration
So, tool or no tool, the next step in this awfully enjoyable game I'm playing, which I hope is not too excrutiating for you if you have chosen to play it with me, is to integrate my music collection, assembled over thirty years of physical, experiential and cerebral globetrotting, more fully with the contents of this space. The thing is, I really want this space to be a place where it's easy and hopefully even enjoyable to spend time, like a really cool living room. To that end, I'll be playing you the music I'd play you if you came over to my house and sat in my living room. Put another way, in the next little while, I'll be getting into audio broadasting on this blog, my own radio program if you will, to exercise (exorcise?) the frustrated DJ in myself. And you, my play friend, are invited to join me.

Mood Genre
Each show will have a musical theme. My collection of music may be good partly because it has been accumulated over many years from many different people from many different backgrounds from many different countries, or because I have a great system for organizing it, but I think it is primarily good because of how intently I listen. I suspect lots of people do as I do and organize by mood/theme/impression/feeling rather than genre, especially in a time when all genres are slowly disappearing, and I also do it in a particularly fastidious manner and have been doing so for quite some time, but I can say with some degree of certainty that the genre of a piece of music means absolutely nothing to me. I don't even hear a genre when I hear a piece of music, at least I try not to. So my music has been classified and categorized using an index that I have not seen used. The index is how it makes me feel.

Just A Little Taste
In fact, I have been quite content for periods over the last thirty years to let other important aspects of my life fall away into a disarray resembling leaves on the ground surrounding an autumn maple, but one thing I have never let slip in my lifelong love affair with Euterpe is a devotion to the sound arrangement of sounds. For just a small sampling, you can use the blue MediaMaster button in the left column of this blog to play a stream of selected music from my collection. I recommend that you let it play for a while (you don't have to be on my blog once the stream has started -- it will just keep playing until you stop it) to get a reasonable idea of the variety. You can also get a sampling of my "moodgenres" on my Radio Orange page.

Where Did They Find That?
You know those songs on tv commercials that you hear and think are so good and you wonder where they got them? Or the ones that seep into your conversations at your favourite coffee shop, or soundtrack the best scenes in your favourite movies or programs? I have a whole collection full of those songs, music that, in many cases, nobody knows, but that, in all cases, everybody should know. It is the kind of music that deserves to be the soundtrack for a life well lived, whether yours or mine, paying particular attention to the ups and downs but filling the spaces in between with an invigorating blend of discovery and familiarity. I'm not saying you'll like all of it -- the themes are such that you can skip what you won't like -- but I will go so far as to say that all of it will be good, because the care that I will put into every music selection on my radio shows will be the same care that I put into every word on this blog. If you've been reading, you'll know that that is quite a lot.

What's In a Name?
If I can figure out the technical part, I hope that most shows will also have a guest. The idea is to have a guest who more or less fits the musical theme. So, for example, I have a musical theme called Story, so I would want a guest for that show who could tell us all some really great stories. Certainly, I wouldn't mind getting some known "names" as guests for my broadcasts (if you are one, you know one, or can suggest one, I'm all ears), but I'm not actually looking at only the "stars", or even mostly at them. I learned in my greatest failed business venture that, from the purely utilitarian point of view that I understand but disdain, people with widely recognized names are valuable to various enterprises primarily because they attract attention, as surely as flesh attracts eyes and dung attracts flies. And I'm sure you know by now, being the great listener that you are, that attention is something in which I am quite interested.

Putting the Ordinary in Extraordinary
But if I am unable to draw any widely recognizable figures for my first few shows, I will choose to see that as a blessing in disguise, a message from the universe that my actual intention is worth more than any attempt to promote it. You see, the essence of my whole mission with this is to show that 'ordinary folk' are just as interesting, if not more, and that celebrity worship, in any form other than that which elevates the celebrities in our own lives, has much too big a place in the lives of most of us. The way I see it, everyone in my life is a celebrity. The people in my world deserve the spotlight as much as anyone in People Magazine or IMDB. It's all about asking the right questions, and I just can't seem to shake the crazy notion that I know what some of those questions are. So, to that end, if you feel that you are both ordinary and in any conceivable way extraordinary, just let me know, and you may well be one of my guests.

What's That Sucking Sound?
Technical issues aside, I'm also trying to pin down a regularly scheduled block in this already busy life that will work both for me and for any potential listeners, so I'm not fully in control of when the inaugural show will be hitting the webwaves. It may even be quite a long time. What I can promise is that I will let you know when I have the date of the first show confirmed, and I hope you will tune in. In case you can't, all archived shows will be available as podcasts for your mp3 player or car stereo. I'll also be making all the posts on this blog available as podcasts, read by me with a selection of theme-appropriate background music. Yes, that's what I said, more of me sucking away your valuable time in another medium. Just what you need, right?

Non Sequitur
Wrong -- entirely, completely wrong. So, for the sake of someone or something important in your life, stop reading, turn your computer off, and go play with someone else.

Whoever it is will surely be glad you did.

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