Potterheads Rejoice! (But Maybe Not so Much)

Check out my thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:

http://web.emerson.edu/undergrad-students-publishing/2016/03/25/alumni-author-spotlight-frank-gao-2/

I would prefer not to.

“I would prefer not to.”

The famous words of the resistant Bartleby Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby the Scrivener,” are a quiet rebellion against society. It is not an outright refusal, it’s a preference. His words mark Bartleby as an individual who has his own ideas, exactly the sort of person the capitalist lawyer cannot understand nor control.

Bartleby is a scrivener—a low-tech copy machine.  He does nothing all day except copy papers, until he chooses to do nothing at all. He even refuses to quit, or leave the building.

I take this as an Office Space lesson in what the workforce does to people. When there’s no outlet for individuality or creativity, it bursts out of the seams in a destructive mess. If people can’t use their minds, their minds will use them.

If there’s no way to do anything fun, or engaging, or individual, one will eventually “prefer” not to do anything at all.

Bartleby’s job could be done by a 6 year old with good penmanship. A lot of jobs could be done with 6 year olds with good penmanship, or 6 year olds who can use a phone, or 6 year olds who can figure out a cash register. No wonder a lot of us feel useless.

Perhaps if Bartleby went for a nature walk after work, or took up playing guitar, or tried art lessons, or cooking, he would not have felt the need to rebel. Maybe if he unleashed his creative individuality in a healthy way it would not be fighting him from the inside for release. If Bartleby felt respected and important and alive, perhaps he actually would have preferred to work during work time as long as he could be himself during his off time.

Perhaps not. Perhaps I am looking at an old story with new values, with the knowledge of the severity of mental illness and a 21st century appreciation for creativity. But I do know that if Bartleby were alive today, the lawyer would have more tools at his disposal for dealing with who is likely a man dealing with depression. Then again, Bartleby would have more tools to express himself with. So if today’s world is easier for both parties…why do I and many like me relate to Bartleby?

Is it because we all feel useless and unappreciated? Is it because we are all individuals, ready to burst out of our skins? Is it because no one is ever satisfied, and everyone would prefer to just sit on a couch doing nothing? Is it because we’re all depressed? All caught under the thumb of a unforgiving world?

I suppose I understand Bartleby’s preference not to. I understand, but do not agree.

I prefer not to be like Bartleby. I prefer not to prefer not to.

I prefer to live.

Ten things to do when you’re so lazy you don’t even want to sit up in bed

Sometimes it’s good to spend the day horizontally. Often, during a Spring Break when the beach is not an option, it’s what people most like to do. However, after a few hours of Netflix your mind may feel the need to be productive—even if your body doesn’t want to. Thankfully, modern technology allows us to do amazing things…without moving an inch.

Here I present ten things to do to feel productive, all without lifting your head off the pillow. An internet-enabled device is necessary for some of these, but since you’re presumably reading this online, that shouldn’t be a problem.

  1. Watch an important movie. Are you that one guy who’s never seen Indiana Jones? Always meant to see Slumdog Millionaire but never did? Well, you’re in luck! Watching these sorts of movies will allow you to tune into cultural conversations easier. You’ll be able to understand the hype, and have a good time, all while feeling productive. “Read an important book” could also fall under this category, but I’m trying to make these as lazy as possible.
  2. Meditate. It’s good for the soul! Let yourself think about nothing for awhile. Relax your body and your mind. You’ll feel a lot better afterward, and maybe even want to sit up—but let’s not jump that far yet.
  3. Make a list of movies to watch, books to read, etc. Had a hard time thinking of a movie for #1? That’s an activity right there! Think of every “important” movie you haven’t seen. Look up a wiki page of classics, if you need to. Ever see Casablanca? Porgy and Bess? Make a list! Then do the same for books, television shows, etc. And after you’re done, see #1. If you’re feeling ambitious…ish, you could write a general bucket list as well, but that might make you feel even less productive than you already are.
  4. Fall into the wiki-hole. Look up any random person on Wikipedia, and let yourself fall. Oh, they were in that movie? Oh, that movie was directed by her? Oh, she met President Johnson? Oh, Johnson did WHAT?! That was normal back then?! You never know where you’ll end up, but no matter what, you’re learning. And learning is never a waste of time.
  5. Call grandma. Or any relative, really. No one ever calls enough, and this will earn you some brownie points. And, if your grandma is like mine, perhaps literal brownies next time you see her. Ask her if she knew the thing about President Johnson. She might have met President Johnson. Grandmas are cool people.
  6. Find new music. Spend an hour browsing iTunes or YouTube for new artists you haven’t heard before, and then Google “other artists who are similar to…” you can build up your library, share with friends, and even be “that indie music guy,” if you aspire to be so. Plus, new music.
  7. Order food from a new restaurant. Trying new things always feels productive, and trying new food you order from your phone is about the laziest way to try a new thing on the planet. Your mouth can travel the world from your pillow—just don’t spill anything, or you’ll have to wash the sheets, and nobody wants that. Warning: you may have to leave your bed to pay the delivery guy, but I promise it won’t be for too long.
  8. Shop online. Similar to #7, you can buy clothes, furniture, even groceries online now-a-days. Don’t feel like spending money? Browse for tattoo ideas, there are millions of pictures out there. Aren’t into tattoos? Change up your desktop background. Browsing doesn’t have to be mindless.
  9. Memorize a difficult rap. Rapping is always impressive. You don’t need to know a ton of rap to seem cool, though, just one really good one. Find a semi-popular rap with either a good beat or extremely fast lyrics, and practice until you both have the rhythm down and don’t sound ridiculous. Next step, whip it out at parties! You can rap without background music, by tapping out the beat on a table, or with the music playing in the background. Either way, an afternoon well spent.
  10. Nap! Hey, maybe your body is trying to tell you you’re just plum tired. Napping now can make you feel more awake later, so it might be a good idea to catch some Zs. Just try not to do this if you order food before the delivery guy comes…or during meditation…or when you’re on the phone with grandma.

A Thoreau Pilgrimage

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” Henry David Thoreau.

My friends tend to be a bit cynical. Nothing is sacred—when I brought up that I was reading Thoreau in class, they immediately took to calling him nothing but an over-read hippie living in his parent’s backyard, who didn’t even live off the land like people think he did. He was a Ralph Waldo Emerson-wannabe whose 200-page-long rambling was somehow called a masterpiece.

Well…sure, yeah. But the thing to remember with Thoreau was that while he appreciated nature deeply, it was never his mantra to leave civilization altogether. After all, a lot of his work is quite political. He did love Emerson, and actually lived on land owned by Emerson (not his parents). However, beyond the cynical retaliation my generation sometimes tends to have, Thoreau is a pioneer of minimalism and the positives of solitude.

“Simplify, Simplify.”

My grandfather once gave me a shirt two sizes too big with that quote on it. He’s also given me about three different copies of Walden, and once mailed me a copy of Civil Disobedience, with his own highlights and notes in the margins. He’d often sketch trees, birds, lakes and mountains in the corners of the pages before giving them to me.

I think he saw introversion in me from a very young age. He too is an introvert, and spends quite a lot of time walking alone in the woods, fishing, reading, and sketching. He once sent me a letter with the only “I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude,” written in it, another Thoreau quote.

It’s nice to have someone like that to look up to. Someone who won’t call you anti-social for wanting to be alone, but who will actually encourage it—in healthy doses, of course. I do think he was smart to tie nature to my ideas of solitude, though. Being alone in nature allows for all the positives of being alone without any of the negatives. You don’t feel lonely or unproductive when in nature.

While I think I have the “solitude” part down, I still have to work on “simplifying” things. That’s alright. Perhaps this summer I’ll go back to Walden Pond. Maybe being in that sacred place will help me understand, just as it helped Thoreau so long ago, and my Grandfather when he was my age. Perhaps this is our version of a pilgrimage.

Teaching my sister Gatsby

My sister, a junior in high school, is reading The Great Gatsby and writing a paper on Huckleberry Finn. Could there be a more perfect duo of high school books? I read the two of them in one year as well.

It’s important because this was the first time she’s asked me for help on something, I think, ever. I’m sure she’s asked me to help her open a jar or something (though, she’s always been better at opening jars), but this is the first time for something like this. And, more surprisingly, she listened.

For about an hour I went over her paper with her, explained how she could make it more coherent and in better support of her thesis. Then I walked her through the first few chapters of Gatsby, explaining why yellow is important and who Daisy’s married to anyway, and what, exactly, even happens? It was a lot of fun rediscovering these two great works of literature that are too-often disregarded as high school stuff.

I don’t get to spend a lot of time with my sister anymore. I live away from home, and when I am home we’re both usually too busy. Even when we are in the same place, she likes television shows I don’t and I like peace and quiet more than she does and so we usually end up in separate rooms.

It was great helping her understand. She said her teacher isn’t doing much teaching, which I think is horrible. People lose their passion very easily…though, if her class is anything like some of my high school classes, I can see why the teacher wouldn’t be super excited to get up in the morning.

I guess why it stuck out to me so much is that it was the first time it seemed that my sister didn’t think I was stupid. I don’t know what it is—even though I’m older and in a good school and maintained good grades and etc., she always seemed to think I was just plain stupid. She never listened to my recommendations, always shrugged off my ideas, and never, ever asked me for help. It was really nice to bond with her, even if it was over something so silly. After all, even if we don’t always get along, I do miss her. And I do hope she understands Gatsby a little better now.

I’m in Love with Paper

Mmmm…I love smelling new books almost as much as I love smelling old books. Ink and paper, binding glue…it’s relaxing. I love feeling the paper in my fingers, the thickness of the paper, the color of the page from bright white to aged yellow, orange, gold. The font, the size, the page numbers. Water damage. Ripped and dog-eared pages. Coffee stains, forgotten bookmarks, underlined phrases and paperback covers that stick up in the air like a half pipe.

I love new chapters, tables of contents, logues of the pro- and epi- variety. I even love author dedications, bios, praises from prestigious magazines.

I also love notebooks. The width of margins, the color blue and red outlining where to write, the thickness of the page. And pens, how gracefully they slide, how rich their color, how thick their lines, how deeply they seep into the page, how firm they feel in your hand.

I love typing, but it will never feel as good as writing, as reading. It’s not tangible. I can’t press a wet thumb to my computer screen and make the ink bleed. I can’t dog ear a Kindle. I’m not a purist, I’m just in love with paper.

I’ve been feeling really sad lately, but these are the things that are making me feel better.

Romance, with Kurt Vonnegut and Pulp Fiction

I love Kurt Vonnegut. I just bought Breakfast of Champions today, and it’s all I can do to stop myself from diving into it right now. The most recent of his books I’ve read was Cats Cradle, which is a fantastic book I think you should all read. This will contain spoilers, minor spoilers, so if that bugs you, skip this one. Or skip down two paragraphs, when I start to get all philosophical about it.

The most interesting part of Cats Cradle for me is how people are, according to Bokonism, connected in otherworldly ways. I like the diplomat and his wife, who were a group of two and died within the same second. I love that they have that sort of love, that ties them tightly together.

I like that the main character falls in love with the young princess, after having been married a few times, and yet she dies and he’s left with no women of child-bearing age left on Earth. He can eat, and talk with his friends, and live until he dies, but he can’t have a lover. And he doesn’t feel like he misses sex at all.

Here’s where the philosophy comes in. Get ready. Buckle your seat belts.

We both portray romantic relationships as too important and not important enough in our stories.

Let me explain.

Romance is either the plot of the story, such as in romcoms, or something tacked on to make the women in the audience smile, such as in action movies. It’s rarely portrayed realistically.

Also recently I watched Pulp Fiction for the first time–if this post seems disjointed, bear with me, I’ve had a lot of thoughts running through my head–and they portray all three, overemotional, underemotional, and realistic.

The over-emotional is with Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace in the restaurant. They’re over-sexualized, speaking in riddles and winks. The under-emotional is with Mia Wallace and Marcellus Wallace. They barely speak, they’re tacked together as a plot point. The couple right on point? Pumpkin and Honeybunny.

I mean, of course the names are silly, but couples do that. I love the first scene, where you’re not sure if they’re even a couple at all. They’re bickering, then talking about various things, then kiss over the table and work as partners in a big crime. I love it. THAT’S a good couple…minus the crime. They leave hugging each other, they protect and love each other, and work together as a team.

They are like the diplomat and his wife in Cat’s Cradle, and they are what every couple should aspire to be. Not roses and dances, or sidelong glances, but a partnership. A kiss over the table before going off and being badasses together.

Please don’t rob restaurants after reading this. But please do watch Pulp Fiction and Cat’s Cradle, and pay attention in life to how love is seen. It’s interesting, inspiring, thought provoking.

So is everything, if you take long enough to think about it.

The Egg, by Andy Weir, and My Theories on the Mind

This is a revelation I imagine many people have had. I have it multiple times a year, and it is this: everyone has a mind.

It’s a very Matrix-y, Sci-Fi sort of thing to think about. On one hand, you could say everyone has a mind, everyone thinks, everyone talks to themselves and wonders about things. The problem is there’s no proof of that, and this is where the conspiracies come in, the ones saying the whole world is a computer program, or we’re all just brains in jars, basically every possible way of thinking that means the world is fake except for your mind.

I think that’s a very selfish way of viewing things. Why on earth would I be the chosen mind to be the real mind? And if I were making up the world I live in, wouldn’t I make it better? Eliminate the suffering? If I made up the universe and all that is in it, that must mean I’m a very cruel person.

There is a short story called The Egg by Andy Weir. It’s found free online, if you want to read it. The basic concept, spoiler alert, is that when you die you reincarnate as another person. You have done this many times, and will continue to do this until you have learned enough to become a god. You have to learn so much that you have had to reincarnate billions of times. Overall, every single person on earth, both alive today and throughout history, is a reincarnation of you.

I like this concept best, because it says a lot about nature versus nurture, the human spirit, and adaptability. It speaks of how we’re all the same deep down. I hate when people blame the badness in the world on monsters, curses, or the will of god, or search for something inhuman in our Hitlers. The scariest thing about Hitler was that he was human. We should not try to separate people like him from humanity. We have to realize they are part of us, and if we were in the same circumstances we very well may have grown up to be just like them.

So, while I like what The Egg teaches us, I don’t particularly think it’s true. I think each person has a mind and thinks complex thoughts. I think they’re all separate people, and I don’t think they’re all one reincarnated soul. But I also think if you look deeply enough you can find bits of yourself in everyone else.

Whenever I have the revelation that everyone thinks, that everyone is alive, I feel myself grow kinder, more patient, more forgiving. The fact that other people are alive is a fact we forget far too often. It’s such a simple fact, but hard to remember that others feel pain, and think, and feel, and love, just like we do.

The Egg, by Andy Weir

Thoughts on The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye is a polarizing book–people either loved it or hated it, either thought Holden Caulfield was a genius or a crybaby.

I was one in the group who loved it. I felt like I was reading a transcript of my thoughts.

It has been a few years since my last re-reading, but Holden’s misanthropic musings seemed to describe things pretty well for little ol’ pessimistic me. While this isn’t so much about being an introvert, I do think the two connect.

Ignorance is bliss, and it’s a flaw in introverts to perceive many extroverts as ignorant. Because extroverts would rather small talk than have deep conversations (as with all my posts, these are broad generalizations) introverts often see them as shallow.

In cities like New York, where TCITR takes place, people are rushing, and rushing people don’t have time to think deeply. It’s not a bad thing. Even introverts find themselves pushing people to get in doors, getting frustrated at slow cars, etc. From an onlooker’s point of view, cities are a dismal place.

In my English class when we read this, a popular idea was that he was going crazy. Going crazy…I didn’t get that at all. When my teacher revealed that he was supposed to be in a mental hospital the whole time, it confused me. Sure, I got that he was depressed, but surely not crazy. But that was the phrase they kept throwing around…going crazy.

It’s hard not to go crazy if you think deeply about everything you see. If we thought deeply about all the bad things going on in the world, none of us would leave our bedsheets.