Saturday 31 January 2009

The End of an Era

Goodbye, structured running. While I'm thrilled to be free from the confines of the high school hallways, of horrible speed workouts on bad days, of two hours of practice everyday... I'm also every so slightly sad to say goodbye to everything track (and xc) has given me.

Without track, I would not be friends with about 40% of those I hold dear... or maybe more. Jack and Jake have been there since I started, and the thought of never stretching out with them again, as miniscule as it sounds, is really hard for me to comprehend. When I started xc, I didn't even like running; I hated it. Obviously this has changed, and that chance I took back in 9th grade has grown into something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Coach L has taught me so much about running and health, but also about working hard and helping the team. I've spent practically every afternoon for the last four years with him, whether I wanted to or not. Simply put, I'll miss Coach and his life lessons.

This certainly isn't an end to running, though. As cliche as it sounds, this is the beginning. Track and XC have taught me how to run smart, while loving the sport for all it is. Now I get to run independently - on my own schedule and my own judgement. I'll still race - St. Paddy's Day race is coming up soon! - but definitely not too often and not very seriously. I've paid so much to this sport, and now I've graduated, and I get to enjoy all the great things about it. Never again will I be locked up in the high school halls. The world is my track.

Friday 30 January 2009

Nevermind the Plunge

I didn't even get past the prologe.

I'm just going to watch the movies. Actually, why even watch the movies? I do not feel a real gap in my life without being a LOTR fan. I'm doing pretty well without it.

I do, however, need to find another novel to read. One that does not force me to refer to the extremely complex map in the beginning after every sentance.

Maybe MTV should be MADE

Conference Day equals no school equals wasting life and watching Psych all day long.
Psych did come to an end however, and my brother and I switched to MADE, an MTV reality show that takes teens who are unhappy with themselves and their lifestyles and magically transforms them into something more socially acceptable. Most kids wish to be made into rockstars, homecoming queens, skateboarders, class presidents, and the like. They are assigned strict, tyrant "coaches" who often force kids to give up their normal, healthy lifestyles, and devote all their time and energy into becoming something else.

This particular episode was about a very smart boy who wanted to become a break dancer. That's all fine and good, until it began to conflict with his schooling. One night, his coach demanded that he go see a dance-off from 8-11; the boy was hesitant, because he had the SATs the next morning. To my surprise, the coach didn't care at all about this and actually criticized the boy for not being dedicated or motivated. I was appauled when his father actually urged him to go to this dance-off, setting him up for failure on this extremely important test. It didn't even stop there; his coach informed him that he would be going on a trip out of state, leaving immediately - days before his final exams. The boy was overwhelmed, but couldn't do much to stop it; how do you say no to MTV?

Not only was this endeavor taking away from his studies. Another man was hired to come in and teach the kid "how to talk", in the style of most breakdancers. In other words, he was taught to use horrible grammar in order to be more "fly".

I began to wonder what would happen if MTV used its overwhelming power over the teens of America for good. What if someone wanted to be "MADE" into a good student, and score well on their final exams? Or perhaps "MADE" into a college student, and asked for help gaining acceptance? What if they had a reality show about applying to and paying for college, something that all teens could use a little help in? What if, during commercial breaks, they illustrated SAT words by using video or TV clips, improving their viewer's vocabulary in a casual, entertaining way?

Occasionally on MTV, I catch bits of their News breaks, which are usually about 30 seconds long - probably the amount of news the average teen is thought to be capable of absorbing at once. What if they had a daily news broadcast that was geared towards teens, in style but not in content: showing the important news in the world today, without watering it down? This could be somewhat like the Colbert Report or The Daily Show without the comedic bias. What if they aired teen-approved documentaries on social issues or the economy? With the right production and angle, any teen could get interested into these things.

MTV holds the same erroneous notion that the rest of the nation seems carry: that teens don't care. By telling us that what we should be concerned with is music videos, pop culture, and becoming rockstars, we might start to believe it, and start to think that real-world issues are not for us. MTV would not have to drastically change to make itself more intelligent; it could still air the brain-numbing shows like A Shot At Love or Next, and play the same music videos over and over each day. By adding small bursts of political awareness or helpful study hints, it could hugely help in making my generation - and those to come - less apathetic to the world we live in, and better prepared for the "Real World" (much unlike the one portrayed on the network).

Thursday 22 January 2009

Taking the Plunge

As an avid, arguably obsessive, Harry Potter fan, I often come into contact with fans of Lord of the Rings. For years I've been avoiding the movies, fearing that they would ruin the great experience of reading the novels, and I've been avoiding the novels, fearing that they would quickly take up my life.

People are often surprised when they find out I've never seen the movies (which should probably say something about how I am socially percieved). Apparently I seem like the type that would enjoy losing myself in middle-earth. This inference (maybe stereotype) probably has some truth to it, though, and I think I would really get into this series.

After reading Lady MacBeth at a personally impressive speed (350 pages over 6 days, which is gigantic for me), I'm feeling rather ambitious, and possibly cocky. I greatly fear that Tolkien's tendancy to describe everything in obnoxiously specific detail will defeat me in my endeavor (as it has about three times before). I believe I am more mature now, perhaps a more capable reader, and maybe I will actually finish it this time.

So I am off to middle earth, to run with Elijah Wood and whatever other creatures might dwell there. Let's hope that I don't become too obsessed with this, because my Harry Potter fandom has already cost me quite enough money with costumes and the like.

Historical Novel Heartbreak

Was it worth it?

The question I silently asked myself, over and over, late last night. Tears staining the copy of Lady MacBeth that I borrowed from Mr. Crowe, Celtic Women singing a sad Irish lullaby, my heart broke into a thousand pieces.
Were the joys, the romance, the adventure in this novel worth the tragic ending?
Was the bit of time I spent getting to know MacBeth, the wonderful man that he was, worth the agony of seeing his death, like a movie in my mind?
If I could do it over again, knowing that this book would break my heart... would I?
What's more, if Lady Graudh could do it again, would she fall in love with MacBeth, only to be widowed 18 years later?

Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Today, I read a piece by Arthur Miller, describing the appeal and greatness of the Tragedy. He argued that tragedies were not at all pessimistic, that they were actually quite optimistic. In a nutshell, he said a tragedy is when a character feels he is not in his rightful place in life, and struggles against society and it's rules, to gain his dignity. Only an individual with true passion and desire for a more meaningful life would choose this fatal path. In short, the passive live while the rebels die. Only a tragedy, with someone passionate enough to lose their life for their dignity, can be this powerful.

Saturday 17 January 2009

"A falcon, towering in her pride of place..."

Mr. Crowe lent me the book Lady MacBeth for my outside reading this quarter. I've actually been told by a number of people that I would love this book, probably because it's about ancient Scotland, and I'm into that. I'm only about 100 pages in, but I'm shocked on how great a match this book is for me.

I've never read MacBeth, but I've always heard about the scheming, evil character of Lady MacBeth. In English this year, about every book we've read has an outrageously wretched female character, yet Mr. Crowe always says "she is almost as evil as Lady MacBeth", or "the most wicked female character since Lady MacBeth". So, she has certainly been set up in my mind as something pretty awful.

It both surprises me and worries me, however, that I identify so much with Gruadh (Lady MacBeth) in this novel, which is from her point of view. While probably a little more wild than me, she is outrageously stubborn, and often neglects orders for the sake of not taking them. It's not that she's selfish, or chiefly concerned with her own well-being, but her pride and honor. She has a tremendous amount of self respect, and even pleads for fighting lessons, that she might defend herself. She's extremely proud of her ancestry and heritage, the pagan beliefs of which go against the newly Catholicized beliefs of Scotland.

The more startling similarity is her loyalty to St. Brigid, or just the pagan goddess "Bhrighe", as she sometimes thinks of her. St. Brigid is my patron saint, although her actual existence is sometimes disputed. She's more of a legend that began in Celtic paganism and flowed into Irish Catholicism. According to Catholicism, she was a leader in developing the Church in Ireland and even worked closely with St. Patrick. She was supposedly ordained a Bishop on accident by St. Mel, and she had all the privileges of a Bishop. In this way she always seemed pretty rebellious to me.

Maybe I'm just desperately trying to find a connection to something from the past, like Gruadh seems to do with her mother. But she also reminds me a bit of my late Grandma Mary... strong as hell. This book is great, because it's great to read about a strong Scottish woman, whom I wouldn't mind following in character. (At least at this point in the novel. She might get crazy, I don't know yet.)

Why American Kids Are Lazy

American kids are not needed.

Other, poorer countries need their youth to become people who drive their society forward. They might encourage kids to become well-educated, that they might become doctors in a country of poor health technology, or politicians in a struggling, unpowerful country. Kids might be trained by their families to become the farmers to provide the crops that their town needs, or that their country needs to export. People have niches, and thus kids have planned futures. They are needed, their countries and families call them to their vocation.

American kids, however, are told from a young age "you can be anything you want to be". This is true - we have an unimaginable number of paths to choose from. We create our own destiny. The reverse, however, is also true. "You don't need to be anything you don't want to be." We don't need to be anything. Our country doesn't desperately need me, personally, to be anything. We've pretty much got all of our bases covered. So, why study if we don't necessarily have to be well-educated? Why work hard if we have another option? Why do anything if we are not obligated?

This is why we waste our lives on Facebook and in front of the TV and on blogger. We are not necessary. We are not being called by our society or our families or anyone. If I don't become a contributing citizen, the nation won't be horribly worse off for it. We don't feel that pull to succeed. Instead, we have the task of finding that perfect, worthwhile career. With a choice like this, it would be horrible to make the wrong one.

I'm not saying that we are too well-off to believe in work ethic. But from what I've observed, my generation doesn't know what to do, because we're supposed to do whatever we want to. I would never take any freedom for granted, but this complete free will can have its cons.

Thursday 15 January 2009

Wonder Why You Haven't Before

While surfing on Rhapsody today, I discovered that I am apparently a fan of Baroque-Pop. As if my musical tastes didn't already label me a freak (the worlds "Celtic rock" confuse most people). Rhapsody's Baroque-pop page tells me that many of my favorite artists, like Feist, the Shins, Fiona Apple, Sufjan Stevens, Belle & Sebastian, are in fact "baroque pop".

It's funny how something so obvious can go undetected. Baroque pop is really just anything that has a rich orchestral sound, or uses unconventional instruments - strings, brass, even woodwinds. Obviously I would like this... practically any song I've ever heard that involves a large strings section blows me away. Yet I've sat here for years wondering what exactly it is about R.E.M. that I loved so much. Factor out the "strings" from these bands and the equation reads: orchestral = happiness.

Now that I know this, I can purposely look for bands that utilize strings and orchestras, and I'll probably find more that I like.

So, acknowledging the obvious can do a whole lot of good. Maybe it's just me, but I think people develop the notion that the obvious cannot hold truth or significance. For years I've always thought it was obvious that the fiddle was the coolest instrument in the world, so why didn't I play it? I just didn't think I could. Not everyone can play the coolest instrument in the world... until I realized, well, yeah I can. Why not.

When I was younger, everyone told me I should be a journalist, and I thought it would be wicked cool. I just kind of thought it was above me. I didn't think I could. Then this year I realized there really isn't anything stopping me, I don't really lack anything needed to pursue that career.

So if something seems like the obvious choice, it's probably the right one. Life is not a NYS Regents Exam, designed by malicious teachers who are out to fool you with their multiple choice answers. There aren't really trick questions.

Sunday 11 January 2009

You Shall See We... Four?

Casually stalking the Boondock Saints II page on imdb.coom today, I spotted a new character by the name of Jacob McManus. If you are a BDS fan, you probably just threw up a little. Yes, they are adding a third brother.

It makes sense, I mean, if the guys didn't know their father was the most skilled hitman the Mafia has ever known, they probably wouldn't know about a long-lost brother either. Although I wish his name was something more Irish than Jacob, I think this will be pretty cool.

However, I'm kind of scared that they've tried too hard to switch it up. There are loads of new additions to this film. Julie Benz, from Dexter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, will be joining as Willem Dafoe's replacement, Special Agent Eunice Bloom. Billy Connolly, Il Duce, Noah McManus, was only in a few scenes in the original, and will probably be more involved in this one. It's my prediction that he will die, but that's just my gut feeling. It appears that Judd Nealson (you know him as the punk from The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire) will be the main mobster of the film as another member of the Yakavetta family. Peter Fonda (yes, Jane's brother) will be "The Roman", whatever that is going to mean. Also listed in the cast list on IMDb is a Father Sibeal MacManus. This looks like it could be quite the family reunion! I don't see any mention of mom, though.

One surprising thing that will not be changing is Rocco. There's been talk of a "dream sequence" to explain this confusion. Detective Greenley, played by Bob Marley (ha.) will be back, as well as Detective Dolly and Duffy, and the gun dealer. There is a new director of photography, but I'm sooooo glad to see that the Danna brothers will be composing the score again.

There's my update! Can't wait to see this.