Saturday, 29 January 2011

List'en

Listening to what we say
It's the hardest part of talking.
Talking without thought
Is an evil wrought
On all humanity.
Sometimes you listen
To someone else
But even then you're missing
Listening to yourself.

You're definitely right -
Nothing else matters
You're in the clear -
And we're all mad as hatters.
You can prove it all,
It's in the Bible
Mark it with your finger.

Trouble is, no one's ever right
Even when they are.
And no one ever has everything wrong
Unless it's everyone.
Even if you think it's true
We, no less than you,
Don't quite agree
With your reality
And pretty soon we're fighting.

Fight club starts,
It falls apart,
And truth goes out the window
It's about who wins, even when it's not
And long after you should have stopped
You're still panting, giving blows.
Does it ever matter? No
Except to all of us
Who ever live, or breathe, or die (not yet).

Don't cliché the situation
With your "it's the war, not the battles"
Or "be happy don't be right";
That's not really what I'm saying
Well, maybe, kind of sort of
But in a different way.
Otherwise minds run and hide
Cause it just sounds the same.

This is only half a poem,
And I don't mean incomplete.
More than that it's a bird-like thought,
Quite tiny and en route
To somewhere else, you see.

I've prob'ly said enough,
It seems that way to me.
But it doesn't make me happy
When we're not listening.
Sure, it's my fault too, I guess,
Wait, what did I just say?
Never mind, I'll think on it not
It's better to move on.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Health and Food

"Studies have recently shown that all foods grown in America are bad for you. Stop eating if you want to live!"

This is a short post, but I want to say a couple of things. First: honestly, while it's fine to watch your health, to a point, the studies that seem to come out all the time for foods we all eat and have eaten for thousands of years (dairy products, certain vegetables) claiming we've suddenly realised are bad for us - what exactly is that even supposed to mean?

(Above sentence structure intended.)

I'm waiting for them to release some study that says well water contains poisonous nutrients in it and you'll die if you eat it. If certain foods really were deadly, we'd know about it because a lot more people would be dying from it. If milk or gluten or sugar were that dangerous, why haven't we died out?

Purposefully, I'm making this a far-reaching post, and many things that are more recent food introductions (maize, for instance, in its many forms) or modern medicine are definitely terrible for you. Like smoking is. But seriously. Get a grip.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Picking up the slack

So, despite my somewhat satirical last post, this deals with a more serious question.

The role of government in the life of the people it governs is a hotly debated topic. Most conservatives argue for limited government, including things like dropping welfare, government medication/socialised medicine, etc.

The argument is not that poor people should be left on their own, but that it is the responsibility of the church to help those in need, Christians and non Christians. The trouble with the argument is not so much one of principle, but that of practicality and reality: the church is not doing its bit. Partly because the church isn't big enough to help the people who need help. You might say most of the people who need help aren't doing their part to help themselves. That might be true, but you're left with a huge question:

When the church, Christians, conservatives, or anyone else doesn't fulfill their role, what do you do? Does someone else step in to dam the dike? Do you leave it alone?

Welfare is mishandled in many countries. All, if I'm not mistaken. In no countries is the church responsible for caring for the poor. While some churches take care of some poor and needy, even if those churches did all they could, the numbers of the uncared for would be staggering. Hundreds of thousands; millions, even, just in this country. That's a number too big to ignore.

Whatever you think of welfare, and the people who began it, and the fact that it's taking from us and giving to people who often are less deserving, you have to understand: if there had been no people in need of it, it would not have been started. If there were no people in need, no poor people, no people ailing alone lacking friends, money, and family, even the government of this country wouldn't have invented welfare to stop a problem they invented. The church isn't strong enough or godly enough to deal with this problem. Does that mean it should be untended? Should the government step in?

What do you do?

There's a problem here, lots of problems; it might have bigger issues at the root of it, but what are you going to do? The medical system is a for-profit industry, unless you're Catholic. Doesn't mean it's wrong, of course; doesn't make it cheap. If people don't have money, should they die? If they can't afford insurance, what do you want to do? Millions of people, for whatever reason, are in situations those of us reading this can't imagine. A lot of those people are in this country. Their lives are considerably better than they might be in other, oppressed place. They are considerably worse off than we are. The church isn't helping them. Because the church wasn't helping them, we got stuck with welfare. Is it a problem that feeds itself? Does welfare need reform? Of course. Do people need reform? Of course.

But despite the fact that some of you will always raise your hand and say, "Teacher, the problem is sin and until people stop sinning or try to follow Jesus, there will be problems," you have to realise that that will never happen. You know that, of course. We still have a responsibility to make things better, on small and big scales. The government's job is to protect us, even libertarians agree with that. If the people who ought to be helping people aren't helping people, should other people who have the resources (even borrowed or "stolen" resources) step in? Or should we leave them be, and let them lie often in filth that they may or may not deserve? You can argue all day about who should be helping people; you can argue that they not only should but they can. Truth is, the government is the only institution outside the church wide enough and broad enough to create a programme to help those in need. Yes, it's a bad system we have; no one denies that in their right mind. It's enabling, it's wasteful, yes, yes, yes. The principle might be flawed, but you can't fault the government, in the end.

Of course it's a hard question. I said that from the start. I think it's one that deserves more consideration from conservatives. You have to understand, ideals are okay; but they never fixed anyone's problems. And they never will.

Whose job is it to pick up the slack, then?


Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Living Lonely

Are there moral implications to living "alone" vs. socially?

For thousands of years, it has been the practise of those known as the most godly of men to seek seclusion, either in monasteries, or hermitages (the one being less-secluded from society than the other). It reached its height in the Middle Ages, wherein Christian piety (some real, some put-on) was valued above much else.

The question is: were they sacrificing themselves for the sake of pursuing God, or simply getting away from a life burdened by humanity? Was it escape, or confinement? Does it matter?

Instinctively, most of us would say that if they were seeking an out from humanity, it's a less noble thing to be a hermit than for the socialite to sacrifice the company of society for a higher call. Here's the thing:

Some societies I wouldn't have the slightest qualm about leaving. Today's society comes close. Early centuries AD might fall in that category. But there is something you need to understand about the Middle Ages.

Everyone who left society in the Middle Ages had a resolve of steel. Think of it this way. If you could be in heaven, but it were possible to be more spiritual by going back to earth (obviously, hypothetical; run with me here) would you do it? And how much would it hurt?

The society of the Middle Ages fell a step beyond perfect. For any single human being to actually get the nerve to leave it, a spirituality above and beyond Paul the Apostle is required. It takes something like the spiritual nerves of steel that Simon Peter and his brother Andrew (patron saint of Scotland, Greece, and several other European nations) had, like woven titanium, or rope twenty miles long, a mile in diameter.

Living a life of solitude was nothing but self-suicide in those days.

But today, things have changed. The sacrifice is living with and around and among people; it's dealing with all the loo you take from them day in and day out. Piety is easy on your own these days. If staying on earth keeps you spiritual, it's like taking the chance to spring for Heaven and taking it. Cowardly, disgusting, but understandable.

Thus, purity as it relates to solitude must be recognised as a relative thing: sacrifice of self is the true source of life-altering piety.

Friday, 21 January 2011

On Grammar, Punctuation, and Spelling

I'm guilty of doing this myself; most of us who consider ourselves to be good with spelling, grammar, punctuation are.

There's a billboard going up for Circle K marts and petrol stations all over Charlotte. It reads: Wake Up People! and has an advert for some deal on coffee. Now, those of you who know how to use a comma know that rather than encouraging people to wake up by drinking their coffee, Circle K is actually encouraging us (or someone) to wake people up, rather than, say, animals? I don't know, something.

The error "Happy Birthday Josiah!" (one of the most common) turns Happy Birthday into part of my name; or, conversely, uses my name as part of a greeting or salutation.

"wat r u doing tmro?" "nto to muchhhh. Uuuu?" Before I give a shudder of...something...let me say that this isn't necessarily the best example; it does, however, fit into the principle of what I am about to bring up.

This relates to my writing habits, in that during my study and practise of writing, I've had several revelations concerning this. And the principle is this: however much we may dislike, or like to make fun of, or look down on spelling like that above, or punctuation, or grammar errors, there is one fact that cannot be changed: Punctuation, like Grammar, and Spelling, are tools to help us communicate, to regulate our use of language so that others know what we are talking about, and know what others are saying; it is a TOOL and nothing more.

The "rules" of grammar, however much they should be adhered to as a means of reducing chaos in the communicatory world, should, I say, be changed to the Tools of Grammar.

It is understandable to become uptight about the way people speak, or, especially, write. To a certain extent. But take the first example: a billboard, the authors of which should know better, write a sign that should say, Wake Up, People! and they leave out a comma. What? Now it says something entirely different! Idiots!

Well, yes, something of that sort might apply; but what about the fact that we all know what they mean, and are only upset because they should know better, not because it affects the way we read the sign? Suddenly, it's not about Grammar and Punctuation being a tool, it's become the rule and the rule is what matters, not punctuation.

You are given a hoe. The task before you is simple: hoe the garden. Instead of using the tool, however, you ditch it, and use your hands. Your overseer approaches you, enraged: not because you aren't doing your job properly; in fact, no one could ask for better work. But you didn't use the tool! Idiot!

As soon as we stop using Grammar (Grammar serving as a stand in for itself, Punctuation, and Spelling) as a tool and start using it because that's what "proper" English is and for no other reason save that "proper" is best, it's lost its function. It's no mortal sin; in fact, it's probably no sin either way, using it for its own sake, or ditching it completely. Most of the time we need structure; without it, our conversations would fall apart. Especially written ones. Spelling is important, as without it we could end up over our head in faux pas; punctuation determines who we're talking to, how we're talking, and the way we want it said. Grammar, of course, makes it all make sense.

But what about those times when ditching the rule still gets the job done? Are we getting angry because the garden isn't hoed, or because we didn't like the way it was done?

In writing, I, and every writer, follow certain rules, most of the time. It's good writing, usually; it's the standard, accepted method for essays, or novels, or poems, etc. But as a writer, the unexpected becomes commonplace; a bump in the road means I'll have to go over it, or move it out of the way. As soon as the tools of communication stop being tools, or become unnecessary, there are times when these "rules" must be abandoned.

Because I know good punctuation, and because spelling is natural to me, and grammar, for my faults, is only a small one, it's faster, easier, and smarter for me to use it when I write. Most the mistakes I make don't make it just as easy to understand for them either. (Though that sentence, purposely awkward, still probably gives you the gist.) Some people need to work on their spelling; sometimes it does create a difficulty. There are times when I don't have any idea as to what I'm being told, because it's been misspelled, or mis-written. There are roots and rocks in the garden, and the hoe sure comes in useful. If you can use it, and you know how, you'd be foolish to cut your hands and waste your time when for less effort you could use the tool provided.

But remember. It's just a tool. It's not the rule of life; communication is what we're trying to accomplish. Does that one comma really, actually, matter?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Cinematic Discussions 4

I've changed the title, as this won't be dealing specifically with objections, but tying in what I've talked about with other thoughts.

I've said a bit about what should and occasionally should not be allowed or embraced in our stories, and specifically, our films. So, now what?

What are the implications of what's been said? What are the kinds of movies we should be watching? What kind of movies should we be making?

The obvious first answer is we should be making the sort of movies we should be watching, and vice versa. Beyond that, things get stickier.

Fundamentally, every art medium is the same; that is, serves the same function. Music and writing and painting and cinema and sculpting and landscaping, and every other imaginable art form lives to create Beautiful Truth. Though you may not have seen it referred to as such, and some may disagree, even some experts, however you put it, it comes to this: art is art only when it speaks the truth; even the ugly truths and ugly "art" like the grit in our stories like our lives is beautiful when it tells the truth, because art's very nature, when telling the truth, causes it to become beautiful in some way.

This matters because when we go to the subject of cinema, we need a visualised goal we can compare and contrast both other films to, and our ideas of what belongs and does not belong.

Films serve several purposes. The first is entertainment; first because it is most popular, and perhaps because it was the first purpose they had, before it became an art, when it was simply a way to impress an audience. It mattered very little what was happening at all in those days; so long as it was moving, the audience was amused.

But the second and third purposes, directly linked, grew as the ability to create films and the science, if you will, of cinematography developed. They are: film as an art; and film as a teaching tool. By teach, I do not mean a maths DVD programme for the computer, or a conference lecture on an old VHS. Art, in its existence as beautiful truth, teaches us something, even things we thought we already knew. In that way, art serves us not only as art, but something more.

When it comes down to it, everything in our lives is or has the potential to be, a tool. Meaning, a useful device for the furthering of ourselves and others in matters spiritual, physical, emotional, and rational. An entertaining story has the potential to be much more; but though entertainment can become art in an artist's hands, art is not always entertaining.

Truth relates what is in accordance with fact and reality. It is a large word that encompasses everything about who we are and are made to be. When art makes a statement about that, it asks that we open our eyes to something we experience, know, or live in (knowingly or unknowingly) and view it differently, or for the first time.

But in order to give us truth, depth - both in the art form itself, and in the depravity of certain truths - is required. Which means, some of the time at least, that foul language, violence, and sexual content is going to end up in the mix.

Why should we tell that sort of truth, though, if it includes harsh, uncomfortable things like that? What is the point?

There are several points, of course. One point is the mere and simple fact that on a face level, truth is worth telling because it is truth. Another is that truth, another word in this case for "life", tells us things about other realities outside our own. I don't watch movies to learn about different mindsets. But I don't mind if I end up learning to put myself in other pairs of shoes while I'm at it.

To a degree, a certain amount of the uncomfortableness we feel in our own life scenes and film scenes is something to get past. To let the uncomfortableness of foul language overcome you makes you powerless to look past the surface of speech when trying to minister to people who have been brought up in such a way to be filled with foul oaths. It doesn't make profanity acceptable; but it shouldn't be the point on which we judge other men's souls.

That may be a tangent; and we certainly don't need films to desensitise us to foul language, as there's myriad opportunities here, there, and everywhere around us. But keeping our minds in a small world in which only things we are morally "okay" with are let in, to the exclusion of all else, renders us blind and weak against anyone with a stronger understanding of people, the world, and Truth as a whole.

More, perhaps, later.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Cinematic Objections: Discussion 3

We come to number three in the series. I'm afraid I haven't had the time to work on these that I would like, to flesh them out in a better-written, more thoughtful way. However, this last big No before we cover some other things going back and not included in these three, is the most important, and is also the one I've spent most of my time on.

I know a few people who argue that only films rated R can be truly great. Before you jump the gun on that statement, let me explain what they mean: it has to do with the fact that great films reflect great truth, and because truth is what is real in our world, then that truth, portrayed accurately, is very dirty, very gritty, and less than noble. So only a film that is willing to get down to the dirty facts of life can be great, and in order to do that you have to show things, violent things, crude things - things that earn it an R-rating.

I don't personally take this stance. I know a lot of good movies of all ratings. I would, however, say that I disagree with the fact that every great film portrays life the way it is; I do not disagree with the fact that in order to really portray "life" (not bits and pieces, but life as a whole) you have to include things that will probably earn you an R-rating.

So, on the subject of sexual content in cinema: where is its place, if any, and how far is it morally acceptable to go?

This is a difficult question. It involves not only what we viewers see on the screen, but the moral choices of directors, actors, and producers of the films. What can be morally unacceptable for us to watch is at least as unacceptable for actors to portray.

The trouble is, there are no clean-cut rules for what we should and should not see, or do on screen. There are, of course, guidelines in the Bible; these do not specify what content, used in a certain way, is "all right".

A lot of conservatives draw the line quickly and closely: if it earns you an PG-13 (sometimes even a PG) rating, it's unacceptable. Under no circumstances is it all right to include sexual content in films.

Once again, the trouble with making a statement like that is that it is often based on what makes you uncomfortable, less on why exactly the content is not permissible. The other side of the spectrum, of course, doesn't care how much - or cries "never enough", for those brazen enough to voice their darker impulses.

There are a couple of reasons or ways that what the MPAA terms as "sexual content" is, and should be, acceptable. As a qualifier, it should never be "comfortable", and it's not to be used with any sort of crude, voyeuristic idea in mind.

Tact is the word to use when discussing this subject. I don't mean "me stepping around the issue", though I'll try not to be graphic. What I mean is that film producers and directors and script-writers should be minimalists when it comes to this department, and that there are a great many ways of showing something without showing it, to salve the consciences of viewers and actors.

Occasionally, in a film there are scenes that do not involve any moral compromise on our part as viewers; these films should, however, be boycotted as much as possible, as they are films that promote conduct by actors that should be reserved for the spouses of such individuals, and even then should remain off-camera. I'm not talking about kissing here, though I certainly could say a bit on that subject. As it does not have to be immoral (just unwise, and unfair, and more than a little perverted), kissing - depending, occasionally on how it's done, to be quite uncomfortably honest about it - isn't something I want to delve into. Perhaps on another post.

Sex in films should be used the same way foul language is. To make the story more powerful. The trouble with putting it this way is that it immediately sounds not just edgy, but over-the-edgy.

As we discussed first, the use of God's name is to be reserved for only the extremely necessary. I find it very, very, very rarely necessary; perhaps never. So nudity, graphic images of any kind, and titillating scenes of every sort are to be used: only when necessary. As such things are hardly, if ever, necessary, it's almost equivalent of "never", though that's a word I try to stay away from. Tribal nudity in films such as The Mission or Through Gates of Splendor are examples when it is acceptable. I will make one "Never" very clear: material in films designed to arouse, provoke, or tantalise are Never acceptable. Morally, or otherwise.

In writing, there is a Never that applies to the world of any story: never compromise said story for the reader. Likewise, never compromise said story for the film-viewer. Presenting titillating material in a film or a book is a compromise of story to give something to the reader. This aphorism, if I may call it thus, has far-reaching effects, in many areas, but we will limit it to our subject.

A story requires certain elements. While the inventor of the story has ultimate control, he must abide by the rules he has created while writing the story. While we cannot compromise our viewers by presenting arousing images just for their sake, conversely, neither can we compromise the story to "tone it down" to an "acceptable" level. I use quotes not to mock those who hold a stricter view, but point out what the writer is actually doing.

You see, if you wish only to view films that have stories that are acceptable, that is fine. There are many stories that do not require grittier content. But those stories that do, should contain such content. The needless ripping off of clothing in our films should not be replaced with throat-collar, floor-length dresses on the women and twenty-seven piece suits on the men any more than the language in R-rated pictures be replaced with phrases like, "You monkey-headed banana-booger!"

There is a good example of a recent film that takes things to the edge, for a reason. Some of you may have seen Taken, starring Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace. It's a 2008 picture, and the story is a rough one: Neeson plays a former CIA agent whose daughter (Grace) is kidnapped while in Europe by sex traders. He goes after them to get her back. It's rated PG-13 for the violence incurred during the rescue (and the violence is very awesome in this film), but also for the sexual content involved in the subject of the sex trade. Tact, as I've said, is the keyword; and the director used it well. For the viewer, there was plenty to make you uncomfortable; there was very little that I would want changed. For the actresses involved, there is perhaps a little more in an ideal world, but comparatively speaking, a better alternative.

Not that comparatively speaking really means anything, and as such it's a phrase I dislike intensely, but it has small uses. This example is not one of them: Comparatively speaking, a film where the main characters jump into bed together less than four times and get married at the end is better than a lot of the stuff that's circulated these days. That, of course, means nothing, except that after finishing a film like that you don't feel quite as bad liking the characters as you do with some others.

This is a bit disjointed; partly because it's a complex issue and I've too many thoughts going on in my head, partly because I haven't gone over this much and don't have time to. But I hope it gets you thinking. The portrayal, up to a point, of sex in a film doesn't have to be wrong; it requires a story that requires it for some particular reason, and it requires a great deal of tact by the film producer. But even films that earn an R-rating for it can sometimes be permissible, depending, of course, on how it's done.

I won't be stupid and say that it's just a sin like murder, so if violence is acceptable then sex is; murder can't be performed with the eyes, nor is murder actually committed by actors or viewers. I'll let you finish that thought process yourself.

In none of these have I delved deeply enough past some logical thoughts and conclusions, in order to stimulate thought; perhaps I've done a decent job of it. More likely, there's too much missing for it to be very useful. I'd like to think it helps you analyse things differently. Being uncomfortable is normal; but uncomfortableness doesn't equate immorality. I think films that push the edge of the envelope on any or all three of these Nos, when they do it well, open our eyes to some things we would otherwise be happy to ignore.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Cinematic Objections: Discussion 2

There's more to be said on language, the nos and yesses, the dos and don'ts, to be quite cliché. However, I'll write a bit on the other two subjects, before coming back to readdress some on all three. Sound like an odd way of doing it? Don't worry. There's method...somewhere.

Violence. In some ways, it's the easiest to write on, and in other ways, the hardest. Of course, violence is the least offensive, to everyone. There's no one I've met or heard of that would rather watch a laid-back, nonviolent film full of sex and language vs. Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Saving Private Ryan (granted, that's not just violence).

So first of all, I have to wonder if it even matters what I say about violence, as it's much less a matter of principle than it is gag reflex, or taste. (Probably not a good idea to put "gag reflex" and "taste" in such close proximity. Makes me almost taste my gag reflex.)

On the other hand, I've asked the question in my life, why is there ever a need or a justification for a film that is rated R?

First of all, there can be no justification for a film that is rated NC-17. There are only a couple ways to get such a rating; none of them are helpful to a film. An X-rating goes more than a few steps too far, whatever it's being rated for.

But on the subject of, "Why must there be a justification for an R-rated film? Why can't they just be PG-13?" there are a few things to be said, relating in this particular case, to violence.

It puzzles me that the easiest of the three Nos to get an R-rating from is violence. I have seen a great many R-rated films where violence was the only "objectionable" content. To be honest, I didn't notice the difference between Gladiator and The Lord of the Rings.

I'm not interested in discussing the merits and demerits of a nationalised film-rating system, but since we have it, and since there are, more or less, standards for what can and cannot be in PG-13, PG, G, and R-rated films that's what we have to work with. Being candid here, violence makes me rather queasy, though it doesn't have to be the R-rated sort. Medical dramas, cutting people open, I don't care for; morally, there's no problem with an actor exposing his arm to be sliced open, nor for the makeup team to be involved in making it look real. Morally, there's not even a problem with it happening in the story or real life (in the case of medical drama, anyway).

But if you do find a problem with it, or simply find it unnecessary, is that objection justified? More broadly, and once again, can we possibly say there is a reason to allow things on screen we must censor from those under 17 (or unaccompanied by an adult)?

Yes. Yes there is a reason; and yes we can certainly say so.

It's probably obvious, if you think about it. Violence, and language, and sexual content, all of which are the three basic categories for what we call "objectionable content", belong in our stories, as they belong in our lives. No story removed from all violence, the crude talk of the common man, and the desires of the flesh is a story about a place without sin, which is a story that has little to do with us. Such stories have their place; many stories are written to include such things, without crossing certain boundary lines.

But as we grow older, not only does it take more than the minimum to get through our thick heads, because we're somewhat calloused, but equally valid is the fact that as we grow, we experience harder, cruder, lewder things, and our stories should reflect the reality of the world we live in. A moving story is only moving if it is relatable. The word relatable has become trite and cliché, in my opinion; I'm reluctant to use it. But there is no other word as appropriate.

The fact of the matter is we have violence in our films because there is violence in our world. Most of the time it's for the thrill of it, the excitement of the stunt, the mind-blowing SPFX; but there's no need to look at it the way the maker does. This isn't a call to search out stories full of blood and gore. For a great many reasons, I can't think of a single moment in the future in which I would actually want to watch Saw.

Before I go, I will say that equally valid is the fact that ours is a violence-desensitized culture, because of its exposure in film, and in life. We tune out; we don't care. This can go too far. Don't let it.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Cinematic Objections: Discussion 1

I want to discuss the three big Nos in Conservative Family Film-Viewers. They are, in order of importance: Sex, Language, and Violence.

Today, I will take up the middle of the three, that of swearing, which includes the MPAA definition, along with any and all taking of the Lord's Name in Vain. F-bombs, S-words, milder vulgarities, everything. This, to explain what I mean when I say "Language".

To break it all into as simple distinctions as possible, I have chosen 4 camps or categories in which to place all people. There will be overlap, there will be imperfections. Understand these are camps people more or less fall mostly into; if you know of another, feel free to suggest it. None of this is taken from a distinctly conservative position, as I am not a distinct conservative. Rather, I'm a liberal with more conservative views that would like but no less than I can get away with.

The first camp is that of the liberal-minded viewer, liberal referring to rather broad in interest, and rather uncaring when it comes to content. Not only do the liberal-minded viewers reside in this camp, but non-religious people from "experienced" backgrounds, some Christians quite desensitised from the workplace or prior cinematic experiences, etc, etc. These viewers give no thought to how many or in what way these taboo words in our language are used in film or elsewhere. They may not notice it; they may not care. Maybe both. Sometimes they enjoy it; whatever the reason, it doesn't matter how much or why.

The other extreme are those parents (usually parents; sometimes teenagers; younger kids don't usually have their own mind made up as there is no need) who watch only G- or PG-rated films. Nothing wrong with this of course, but their sensitivity to swearing goes to a heightened degree with God's name, all vulgarities, and rude name-calling strictly off-limits. Besides the parents in this camp are any and all very conservative people from a Christian background, whatever their current affiliation.

The third and fourth camps are probably more similar than I would like, but different enough that I felt it necessary to divide them. The third camp, less broad-minded than the first, does not mind the swearing, but finds it either annoying, or mildly offensive, but not enough to put off viewing. They may not be religious but simply civil persons, respectable who don't enjoy being in the company of vulgar individuals. It doesn't turn them away, but the swearing is noticeable, and they would prefer it not to be. Probably the best way to describe it is a simple putting up with it. Ho-humming Deference, if you will.

And the fourth camp: This is occupied by a great many conservatives who have lived in vulgar workplaces, or have a broader view of the world for any other reason. They do not sanction language, they do not encourage it; they do not enjoy it, but if it is necessary in a film, they do not mind it. They wish there to be a reason for it, though they do not feel a moral pang for having seen a film rated R for language.

Here we come to the main point of this discussion. While the idea of "necessary" language is not always carried out to the extreme, it is, I think, the wrong way of looking at things. Some things, in and of themselves, should not be on screen. That will come in a later discussion. Some things should be used in moderation. Some things only when necessary. Some things only when they add to the story.

The distinction between something that is necessary and something that adds to something is an important one. Whether this differs practically from what people do is unimportant; what is more pressing in my mind is the fact that the perspective of one over the other is somewhat skewed. When it boils down to it, no film could ever sanction the usage of language as a "necessity". I'm not just being belligerent. Every scene in every film could use foul-less or less-foul language, and retain the same basic story, with the same ultimate meaning, however less of an impact it created. The question much more to the point that we should spend time thinking over is, I think, this one: Does the language in this film add to it, or take away? Because it's going to do one or the other.

With the taking of God's name in vain, it changes. Language as the MPAA sees it, vulgarities, are crude and perverted. But they are not, in and of themselves, bad except because we've decided they are. God's name isn't up to us. We may have the word in our English; but he's the one who said it shouldn't be taken lightly. If there is anything in film in regards to language that should be used only if necessary, it is this. Even then, however, how can you determine what is necessary and what is not?

Impact can be created or broken down by the words used. In film, by the speech of the characters; in literature, by the speech and narrative of the author. When a film uses foul language to no purpose but to be foul, or uses foul words in vain striving for dumb comedy, there is nothing added to our experience; that is, there is nothing pleasant or good or positive or helpful added. Our time, should we have consciences soft to that sort of thing, is unpleasant, pad, negative, and cringe-filled.

What does this mean? What does it mean that language should add to a film?

What I find objectionable in a film often depends on whether I think it was an intentional piece of material, or simply thrown in with very little thought. If that thought happens to disagree with mine entirely, I still object, but even in such an instance, I respect the thought for its own sake. When a script-writer, a director, an actor put work into making the dialogue—including the crude references and vulgar swearing—seem either true-to-life, full of impact, or awakening, I respect the reasoning, and take it with the purpose it was given. I cannot explain how language can be used to add to a film in general, because every story asks something different. No story is necessary to it (any story that is centered on foul language is worthless anyway), but a great many can be added to it.

The tenderness of any conscience can be worn away, and quickly too; if you're up for the wearing, it only takes a few films. But it's all on what you want out of a film. If you watch films to be entertained, and read books to learn, then stay away from the vulgar cinematic pictures. They're either poorly done, or they're given to add insight to those who view them. But cinema is more than entertainment: as much as any other art medium it tells even the most powerful stories; especially the most powerful stories. As close as art can come to representing life, cinema does. Foul language isn't about representing who somebody is if there's no purpose in our discovering that person. But when there is thought behind the writing of it, it can become a useful, even a good addition to our experience.

Cleaning Up

Been doing some organising, on my computer, in my room, other parts of my life, etc. Basement, too, there's been some work done on; a bit of remodelling, sheetrock and so forth. Amazing how much dust you stir up; no sooner is everything settled then so is the dust and you've got a whole pile of it loading everything you've just cleaned.

Every time you do reorganise, though, you end up finding something you'd quite forgotten about, or simply never knew existed. There's only one time in my life I feel like writing poems, and there's only one time in my life I possibly can. Thankfully, both those stipulations are fulfilled with one requirement: a horribly tragedy, or life-alteringly painful situation arises in which my soul is thrown into torment and turmoil until to stop myself from suffocating, I write poetry.

Such it was that I found an old folder hidden away by some obscure name (I always disguise important folders with obsolete or ridiculous monikers, which cuts down on possible prying eyes, but also on my ability to locate said material) on my desktop. In it were a series of things I'd written years ago, but still found to be quite good, and definitely intact. I don't think I'll post them here; not yet anyway. But it's funny what things such as that bring to mind. A poem written years ago, well-written, puts me directly in the position I was, gives me a rare ability to stand in a pair of old, too-small shoes.

Not that there's any direct advantage to doing so; it's just an experience. It's all an experience.

To welcome in a new piece of furniture, I rearranged my room yesterday. Though my aim is always to create a setup more and more efficient for an aura, or practicality, I confess just as much it's a habit of mine to rearrange my furniture simply so I can vacuum underneath and keep the carpet in good, clean order.

My room is a curious place; it is perhaps quite unlike a great many rooms, or any rooms, I've ever seen. Bedroom, of course, though that's perhaps the least important of all its functions. I have six lamps, plus an overhead, and each one performs a separate and necessary duty for its portion of the room. A standard pull-string lamp with two bulbs occupies the place beside my computer, where I'm sitting now. When in need of extra light, or warmth, I have only to turn it on and warming can commence. Other side of the desk, in the centre of the room on one wall, is a tall lamp that gives the room a golden ambiance at night, in order to create an artsy atmosphere. A gooseneck lamp resides clipped to my bed, so I may have easy access to a reading light. On the nightstand on the other side of the bed there is a stained-glass lamp that gives extra reading light if I need it, or an alternate source of light if the bed-side lamp is too hot. A decorative lava lamp is on the tea and DVD stand, where can be found a tea kettle, sugar, tea bags of various sorts, a great many tea spoons, Irish Cream, my DVD collection, and other treats in the cupboard down below. A final lamp clips to my bookshelf and provides light for my wood-burning or reading when in my LA-Z-Boy chair. The overhead is, of course, the least attractive and most practical - designed to give light for vacuuming, a general lighting experience, and other odds- and ends-worth of needs.

Were my internet running properly, I should stop here and post this. As I am waiting for it to come back up so that I might, I will think a moment longer and see if there is, perhaps reason to write more. That failing, I'll be done and you can have a moment longer (were you to read what I might have written) to continue about your less-important and -necessary doings.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Swiss Diaries - XI

Bendern, Liechtenstein Bus Stop
7 Dec '10

Today is good day. Wandering up a mountain to see a Prince's Castle - singing made-up songs. Doing crazy things, making memories, spending too much money; all that good stuff.

Chur was good. Could have been better; it was a little dead. I did get a shot glass though. Got some berry gelato at a street café; quite tasty. It did have some hard bits of something or other, though. Like red plastic chopped up in pieces.

I wandered the streets for a couple hours and jumped back on the train. It took me to Sargans, where I caught a bus to Vaduz - double decker. At first I had the view to myself until a bunt of annoying, noisy school kids took over. Blasted things... That put a damper on the ride and I went to the bottom level. When I found a good place to get off, I wandered into an old church, and that was quite nice. It was very hot, so I changed in the bell tower, climbed the winding staircase, and had a dekko at the old place. Very nice.

Following a good walk around Vaduz, where I collected shot glasses, spoons, mugs, and one t-shirt, I did some wandering: through a vineyard, around the old town, and all the way up to the Schloss. I do love Liechtenstein, even if I can't spell it.

Now I'm waiting at a bus stop to get to Switzerland, when I'll take the train to somewhere closer to Zürich, get warm, and do a whole lot of walking. Should be good. More when I've started, or finished. Here comes the bus.

Zürich
8 Dec 2010

I guess I'll start with what happened last night. It's been an eventful evening to be sure. Sun is rising over the Lake Zürich. Amazing - everyday it happens; only sometimes do we take the time to view it and think on it. It's so bright I can't see anything out that way. Currently sitting in a small park waiting while my legs rest. And now, last night.

It took me more than one train and bus to reach Sargans. There, I bought my last beer, drank it, and waiting at the station for the St. Gallen train. A fellow there noticed my highlighted map and asked me about it. We got to talking. He looks very rugged, has a grey ponytail, and a funny laugh. He speaks halfway decent English, though occasionally needs to search for a word. We talked about the best placed in Switzerland to go see, and where I'd been, etc. When I got on the train he asked if he could sit across from me. His name is Peter, and he had never heard of my name before. Peter offered me a beer, which I accepted gladly, and we drank whilst we talked. He was very troubled he said because his father died three days ago. There was more but I didn't understand it.

Peter lives in Austria, with his "lovely woman" - girlfriend - and commutes a total of 4 hours to work and back. Intense. He said farewell when we got to his station and I hopped off a little later in St. Gallen.

I wasn't sure how far I wanted to walk, or how late I wanted to start, so I took a train to Romanshorn. There I decided to hoof it to Zürich. The distance is nearly 100km - 60 miles almost. Daunting, but it was only 9:30, so I set off. Twice I went the wrong way and had to go back but at long last I was on 14 toward Zürich.

I walked for 2-3 hours. Once, I stopped at a bus stop to drink and rest, and there were two girls there who spoke no English talking to each other. After I started to freeze from ice-cold sweat, i started off again. All told, I had gone 12km or so when it happened.

The walk was fairly well lit, and paved most of the way so far. I was making good pace and the pack wasn't too heavy. Then a police car drove past. I thought nothing of it at first - but then, it turned around and came back, stopping on my side. They wanted to see my passport, and asked where I was going. They said to walk was not safe, and I needed to go somewhere else. I explained it was late, I had no money for train or hotel, and they said they would take me to the station where I could sleep and then go to Zürich by train.

Well, as rather disappointing as it was, I got in and we headed off. They thought it exceeding funny that my name is English but I am from America. Many people have asked so far. I never wondered so much about it. They dropped me at the station in some odd little place, and I got in the little room and got my blanket and sleeping bag. There I spent midnight to 5:17. It was cold, I woke often, but I did sleep. And I did get on the train for Zürich at 6:00.

Along the way somewhere I lost my glasses case, which I am not happy about, and so that's probably on some train in Genevé right now, but worse could have happened. The night is over, I saved 35 francs on a hostel, and tonight I will sleep and get to the airport at a decent time tomorrow.

As for today...

I got to Zürich at 7:00 or so and wandered. Oh! in the bus room before, I found 3 5cent coins, and 2 20 cent - the fives on the ground, the 20s in a snack machine. Then at the Bahnof, I found in a payphone Sfr1. I had to pee, so I handed it over reluctantly at the WC which costs too much. I should rather go in the street, but oh well.

I spent time wandering until it began to get light out. It rained here recently, and so all seats are wet. C'est la vie. I made my way to the river, then, and walked on the walkway down to the lake. I saw ducks, swans, huge herons of some kind, and a black sort of bird that I don't know the name of. Under a bridge a fellow was sleeping - but his sleeping bag appeared a good deal warmer than mine.

Now I am by the lake. Gulls whine on both sides, the sun is still blazingly brilliant, and the air is cold with a stiff breeze. I think about last week, on Tuesday or Wednesday - both strange, fairly sleepless nights. Much has happened. Oh! when the police turned around and headed back, an animal ran out in front of them, across the street. Not sure what it was, but it had a hugely long tail, and was grey. But wrong body shape for a squirrel. I shall look it up.

The bustle of Zürich - fewer people, but in a much smaller space than Charlotte. Incessantly the cars go by behind me; people chatter and birds scream annoyance. I think I feel for them usually, but this time I do not mind it. There is a comfort in it, the well-dressed, thin, tall Swiss going everywhere at a hurry, but always calm - if not always polite. 9:33 - 8 hours until I meet Sharolyn at Paradeplatz by the Christmas tree. It will be good to be warm and full. I have little food and no wish to spend money, so 2 granola bars - the last will be my lunch - same as breakfast.

Clouds cover the sun a brief moment. Ice grips at my fingers; mist rolls heavy and transparent in from the lake. Tourists in front of me click cameras, pictures for their loves ones at home, in China, Japan, Britain, Germany, Canada, the United States. The same pictures, the same place; but it means something different to each one of them.

To some, it is a familiar sight, the lake shore; Zürich is little different to them from any other city. To others it is the first "abroad" site of wonder they have known, and it will remain in memory as long as their minds remains intact. Still others see it, take it in in a moment, snap the photo, and move on, to bigger things. Some take pictures for themselves, or for art's sake. Others for loved ones far away - the sight taken in only to share. There are some alone, some accompanied - but everyone looks, and goes on, some to forget, others to cherish.

And I? I am all of these. Some, I forget; others - moments - I keep close. I look for myself. And not for myself. I look for another; yet not. I look because it is there to see and to do otherwise would make a mockery of the sight's existence. Cold and groping, mist mingles with clouds, sending flocks of birds our way. The bench is cold and wet, the gravel equally so. A family comes, from Korea, taking it in. But how much to keep, and how much to discard? Photos without memory are dead on a page. Memory without love is cold as ice. Love, remembrance, a sigh - a photograph - a tangible love-memory, if you will it so. And if not, then it is not for you created, nor made for you to discover. So flee, to the dark, for you live in a craven world of your own invention, and you walk as the blind - without love-sight or thirst for truth. Be gone, vermin - child of iniquity, grandchild of indignation. I will have naught of you.

J. William English

The End

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Swiss Diaries - X

Ticino - Locarno, Ascona, Chiasso, Bellinzona
6 December 2010

It should be the 6th that I am writing this. Instead it is on the way to Chur/Coira from Bellinzona on the 7th. On a bus.

With that said, I will do my best to recount all that happened yesterday. I took leave of my dear Finnish friends around 7:45 - 8:00. From there I went across the tracks and over to the water. There was a lot of very wet snow coming down so I used my umbrella for a bit. After much wandering I made my way to a Migros where I got a yogurt, a bag of rolls, and some citrus soda.

After finding a corner to sit and eat, I realised I had no spoon for my (strawberry) yogurt. I hopped on a bus to give me some time, and ate whilst I saw the town. A little before then, I almost forgot, I found a tiny souvenir shop and got a shot glass for the auld collection.

//White, glorious clouds above me, in a blue sky. Snow-capped mountains sleep like giants; silent watchers of the world.//

More wandering and I came to the Stazione, where I got on a train for Chiasso. Not surprisingly, Chiasso is very uneventful. A border-town with Italy. Halfway across there's a checkpoint. I wandered for a while, sang in a tunnel, stepped over dog poo, and missed my train by 11 seconds.

Another came in 20 minutes; whilst I waited I sang again, in the waiting room, ate a echinacea cough drop I found on the bench, and tried to avoid smokers.

Chiasso became Locarno, and I took a bus from there, hoping to get to city centre. I wound up in Ascona, a tiny town south of Locarno. After missing a bus, I got back to Locarno and got off too early. So I walked a long way; but Locarno was nice. The streets - cobbled and Italian, the shops many. I got a danish for 2.20 francs.

At 3:00 I wandered into a shop with a very friendly Italian lady, who seemed lonely, and talked in broken English non-stop. I bought a candle-holder for Fr5 and that was my Locarno item. For more, I asked the tourist office, who sent me to Ascona. So I returned - and found myself in a Labyrinth of ancient streets, houses, shops, and etc. At last I got to a shop where I purchased a shot glass of Ascona.

Then, missed another bus, caught the next, got to 16:33 train just on time, and arrived in bellinzona by 5:00. The Andreottis, at least Carlo, picked me up and we went up in the castle, spent some time in town, and went to Migros where we ate dessert. At the flat we ate very well, 2 bowls of soup, one plate of salad, one bowl ziti, and a Thai Ice popsicle. Rice flavour. After time online, and calling the Sharolyn's, I talked to Carlo and went to bed. They were a great family; I am grateful for their generosity. But I think he does not find me very spiritual. Perhaps he is right.

More soon, on today - 7 Dec.

J. William English

Monday, 3 January 2011

Swiss Diaries - IX

It is Sunday. Afternoon. On train to Lugano. Tomorrow night, Bellinzona. Tuesday, walking all night. Wednesday train station or Reynard's.

So far...

Woke at 7:30. Went downstairs after collecting my things, and ate. Left at 8:45 or before. Went to lakefront; there were ducks and gulls and other fowl so I fed them my old bread and took video and pictures. Then a woman, who was walking a dog called Ginger in the park, met me because Ginger wanted my bread. Her boyfriend is Canadian, so the dog knows English. That's all I know about her and it.

Walked along the lake, all the birds following me further. This time joined by some crows. The gulls could catch it in the air before it had a chance to fall. Fast dudes. As I walked further and stopped to feed, all at once from nowhere a female swan came right out of the water, straight for me, hissing and in high dudgeon for want of some scoff. She wouldn't take any of the pieces I would throw her - the ducks could have that. She wanted the whole loaf. No sooner did I give her a huge hunk but she strode Poseidon-like back to the water to to devour her kill. After snapping my fingers near to pieces, of course.

It's been grey out; no change since 7:30 in the sky. Makes the pictures less distinct. Oh well. There's mountains out both windows. I keep changing sides - but I still miss too much. I'll miss Switzerland, sure enough.

After feeding the birds (free though; no twopence involved) I went to church. "Lukaskirche's the name, German-speaking women preacher's the game." The choir was practising when I sat down. Funny to hear familiar tunes sung to their original words. I like it. After it was time to start, we sang and there were times of speaking - but I don't know what went on. She preached, apparently, we sang again, that was about it.

I made a big puddle from my melting shoes on the floor, for which I was very embarrassed, and I spoke to no one after, finally going out and down to the boat. It might be a decent church, I don't know. Most of the people were elderly, and there were few compared to capacity. Perhaps 100? I don't know.

Since then, I took a boat to Vitznau and back, wandered around Old Town for a while, and hopped on the train to Lugano. That's all for the moment. Early bed tonight, as I have all of Ticino to explore come Monday.

I am in Lugano now. In my room are two Fins named Tiia and Kasperi - very cool. Tiia is 25 and blonde, blue-eyed; Kasperi - darker with dark eyes. We have been discussing politics, religion, life, travels, Europe and much else. It is quite enjoyable. The Hotel Montorina - hostel part - is very High Quality.

For supper I had bread and cheese, and they shared their crepes with me. Very good. For now we are still awake - obviously, but maybe soon for bed? Tomorrow early, hopefully.

That's it for now. It was snowing when I got in. The Finns are very cool people. "G'night."

J. William English

P.S. Lugano is very, very Italian. Very fun.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Bard's War - excerpt

“It is a lord I am, Tallidwr. If I stand and do fight, it will be that perhaps I am remembered as a brave, strong lord. Yet it will cost my life. History will exalt the dead when it chooses, but it does not praise those who preserve their own lives. Must I die for courage? Is there not a better manner to end such a life?”

Tal looked vaguely out the eastern windows. “I am no lord, nor does history have its claim upon me as a wise, brave, or noble man. What men say of men is beyond us - for our bones will long have been the gnawing toys of the wolf. Yet if you are cut down, or flee - if Carnwntir stands to praise you or mock you, does that not mean there will be a Carnwntir to mock and praise? There I would look. To such an end would I choose my course.

Cawdor smiled. “You are right. What our people say lies not important as that they say. Then we will flee - cowards, who live.” There was silence and Tal bowed, preparing to make his leave. Cawdor stopped him. “I want you as my chief advisor, and commander of the army,” he said.

“My place is with my people, sir,” Tal said quietly. “I am only a broken reed, my lord. No, not broken, I was wrong when thus I spoke. Not broken, my lord, but bruised.”

“You sound like Bard, my friend,” said he.

“Perhaps,” Tal replied. “And if so, I am complete. You should know, my lord, that however it is a good and great a man you are, it cannot be you will ever be half the man Bard was. We all know it. It is my hope you also shall understand.” It was the most Tallidwr had ever said to him.

Cawdor nodded slowly. “I know it, Tallidwr.” He looked down, fingering his large ring of office. Then he looked very carefully into Tallidwr’s eyes. “A bruised reed, Tal? Bruised, not broken. You know of sorrow, of death. I confess I know much less; perhaps little. Tallidwr son of Dyllanwr...be my advisor.”

Tal inhaled slowly. He blinked twice as he stiffened. “I will think on it,” he said.