Saturday, June 22, 2002

Today was the longest day of the year: the summer solstice. It seems like most people remember the solstice the day after it happens, or a week before it happens. Some of them might think, “I should do something to celebrate the first day of summer.” Then the day actually rolls around, and they forget or they find themselves without any ideas of how to celebrate this significant day.

I used to be one of those people. When I stopped to think about it, solstices are a really important occasion. They are an incredibly sincere and sensible holiday. They do not celebrate a religion I don’t agree with, or perpetuate an incorrect and damaging revision of history.

Solstices mark an incontrovertible fact that the earth has reached an apex. In summer, the days stop getting longer and start becoming shorter. Seasons come and go, and change is inevitable.

The earth measures it’s time on a longer scale than people do. Maybe summer solstice is like noon on the earth’s watch.

You can’t argue with solstice. It is bigger than you. Every person from every civilization over the whole history of time has recognized the solstice; that is awesome.

Maybe some of them were like us, thinking, “This is an important day. I ought to celebrate it”

The Egyptians made pyramids that marked the solstice season, capturing the special angle of light that happens only on that day. Stonehenge in Britain and NewGrange in Ireland mark the special days.

Perhaps these lasting and impressive structures were the product of those people decided to do something to mark the day.

In my hometown, there is a solstice marker. Sunnyvale chose to put some municipal art on the corner near city hall. The artist decided to create a marker that would commemorate the summer and winter solstices.

My friend and her niece decided to come with me and watch the sun rise. The lawn was beautiful, and the sky was dark. Unfortunately, the clouds were so thick that we did not get to see the light phenomenon.

Too bad. Maybe the winter solstice will be more spectacular. The niece swore she would be back to see it in the winter.

posted by Murphy 6/22/2002

Thursday, June 20, 2002

One of the other things I had an opportunity to see while in SoCal this last weekend was the symptoms of THE INDUSTRY.

Here is Silicon Valley, THE INDUSTRY is high tech. Poor high tech. But in the LA area, THE INDUSTRY is entertainment. I met a screenwriter. He was quite a nice guy. Perhaps he had more personality than the rest of the world knew how to deal with, but I quite enjoyed talking with him.

I asked him about the format of screenplay writing. He grew even more animated, and gave me a book called “Screenplay” all about how to write a script.

As it turns out, there is pretty much only one way to organize the events in a movie. In the first thirty minutes, you have to introduce all the major characters, and create a dilemma for the characters to work on. Then the next 60 minutes is everyone working on the dilemma, and then creates a second plot twist or problem. The last 30 minutes resolves and wraps up the story.

Pretty much, that’s it. Almost all the movies in the world, and they all have the same structure.

I find that astounding. As I think about it, I can recognize the pattern in movies I’ve seen.

Perhaps I should be disgusted that “the masses” are so easily satisfied, so easily entertained. Maybe if I were feeling more cynical, I would feel that way.

But I don’t. I am amazed and in awe of the creative power humans possess. I have often been astounded, as I play my piano, how the same notes, and the same structures in music can create such fabulous variety. I love all the songs I play, and yet they are so similar. They all have the same kinds of chords and patterns in their structure.

So movies, which seem as different as snowflakes, can follow the same pattern. But that structure gives a container to the creative minds. A writer or a director can know where to place the pieces and give thousands, millions of people a scary, hilarious, or profound experience.

posted by Murphy 6/20/2002

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

For the last year or so, I have been interested in the causes and effects of the First World War. Really, it seems to encapsulate so much of what went before and to set the stage for everything that came after.

The whole war seemed to be fought on poorly understood, or at least poorly tested, ideals. The Victorian English came to the battlefield with a great “sense of duty.” This duty had become the replacement for the faith they had lost (or cast off, depending on your point of view) during the 1800s.

The Germans, and I admit I am hazier on this point, seemed to fight the war based on their ideals of how the world should become. They felt themselves to be far advanced in the area of ideals and philosophies; they wanted to be the leaders of the new modern age.

So, my reading and studying of the previous eras seem to lead inevitably to the enactment of WWI.

But then the Second World War seems to arise inevitably out of the aftermath of the first war.

The modern age, the age of the flapper and Jazz, the age of disaffection and disillusionment rose out of the failure that WWI turned into. What was the point of the war? What was the point of all those who were killed?

And what was the point of all those that survived?

The loss of faith, then the loss of the sense of duty, which replaced the lost faith, left a tremendous void. What was left? Eat, drink, and be merry. Right?

Maybe. That was part of what World War I taught us, the taste left in people’s mouths.

As for WWII, for me, it has always been about the Holocaust. The terrifying nearness of the “almost’; the genocide attempt on the Jewish people is soul-chilling.

How could so many people have been involved in such wholesale murder? And not even the murders, but also the horrifying conditions of the concentration camps? How do people allow such suffering of fellow humans beings to occur without being aroused to compassion? How could this be?

So my concept of WWII has centered around the idea of “Never Again!” The message of that war was about resisting the kind of acquiescent evil illustrated by the Nazi atrocities.

But I was listening to a novel on tape, Mr. Sammler’s Planet by Saul Bellows. Sammler, the main character, has an opportunity to speak with a Punjabi Indian professor about his experiences as a Polish Jew during the war.

It occurred to me that other cultures might have a completely different image of the war. I know for certain that Chinese survivors of WWII have resentments towards the Japanese. I wondered what Indians would have thought about the war. What would be the general conception of WWII and its results in other countries than the US?

I suppose the idea is not terribly original, but it was original to me. I imagine that the interpretation of the results of WWII and how it affected each individual’s homeland would be very important for understanding the world climate of the 20th century.

I wish I could take a peek into the history books of different nations to know how other peoples saw the events.

posted by Murphy 6/18/2002

Monday, June 17, 2002

I had the opportunity to visit Southern California this weekend. I expect I may be down there more often as time goes by...Anyway, my funny boyfriend and I were looking at the different neighborhoods in LA.

As a northern Californian, LA is known as nothing else. Subtle distinctions such as "Orange County" or "San Bernadino" are seen as a sign of denial--a way for LA residents to distance themselves from the horror that is LA. After all, they are all just a bunch of uncultured, conformist, republican suburbanites, aren't they? And the fact that LA has spread into several counties is startling to Bay Area residents, but not surprising once you consider their water-consuming, smog-producing habits.

With a sniff, we turn away and feel that someone ought to pass a law curbing the environmental hazard that IS Los Angeles.

So when my LA native boyfriend decided to show me around the area, I was astonished to discover that there were neighborhoods.

Traffic was awful; smog was incredibly awful, even leaving white buildings permanently smudged.
But through the air-muck, I could see mountains. There is nature there!
And there were places where the desert flora was untouched.

There are neighborhoods there, and cities. Here, I live in Sunnyvale, which butts up against Mountain View, Santa Clara and Los Altos. I couldn't tell you exactly where the borders are, but I have a general idea. There are signs placed in discreet and ambiguous spots, to let you know that somewhere nearby, the next city begins.

In So Cal, you KNOW. There is some sort of edifice marking the entry into the next city. A stone concoction, or a large wooden sign saying "City Of Orange" or "WELCOME TO RANCHO CUCAMONGA" or "WELCOME TO CLAREMONT."

I find this disorienting. I mean, I am pleased to know what city I am in, but I feel like it is too sudden! I haven't had time to say goodbye to the city I am leaving. I was only beginning to enjoy the welcome of Upland, and appreciate the trees and flowers, when I am whiplashed into the welcome of Claremont. It's terribly abrupt. It seems like there should be a buffer between the cities, a margin, or a no-man's land to allow for some differentiation.

As with everything, there is a trick to the names of cities, too. I had learned some of this here, already. When cities were first settled, most of the time they were formed in the fertile valleys. All the people would go to the valleys, and make their houses and businesses there, and before you knew it, you had a city! Marvelous. But then all the people who had done especially well in the fertile valleys began to feel crowded and common, so they had to find a way to look down on the rest of the not-so-successful city-dwellers. They moved up the hill a little bit. Therefore, neighborhoods with “Hills” after the name are ritzy neighborhoods: Los Altos Hills, Oakland Hills. This holds true in So Cal, too. I got to go visit the very ritzy neighborhood of Claremont Hills, where the rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg lives.

But there are more! In So Cal, if “Beach” comes after a name, it’s expensive. Long Beach, Huntington Beach. That one is not so hard to figure out, even though there aren’t any beach neighborhoods in my neck of the woods. The one that surprised me was “Ranch.” If you have “Ranch” at the end of a name, it is also ritzy.

So I asked my boyfriend and anthropological guide for the day, “Does that include ‘Rancho’?”

“No,” he said. “Rancho is different.”

Hmm….These people are surprisingly subtle. They bear watching. Pay attention!

posted by Murphy 6/17/2002

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Musings about art and the meaning of life