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Hollow Days

December 9, 2012

Gratitude is a rather powerful thing.

Beautiful colors, aren't they?

As I have worked this semester to fulfill my potential, I have found a regular need to “unlearn” certain false notions about productivity and good use of time.

The first is that charity only counts if you’re serving food in a soup kitchen or giving money to beggars on the street.  Perhaps participating in awareness campaigns helps a bit too.  These are things we should do when we can, but our worth is not tied to them, but rather our charitable hearts.  “I give not because I have not”.

There are people all around us that need our charity.  We don’t need to go find a faceless stranger to help.  There is someone or something already in our daily path that could use our kindness, be it a smile, a sincere question about how someone is doing, or an extra chore that needs doing.  I realized that last one myself last night.  There is no need for me to fret about finding the time to search out a good charity to help in my so-called “spare” time.  My apartment is dirty.  I know for a fact that certain roommates like it clean, as do our guests…so I cleaned it.  It didn’t take long, and it felt great.  They probably won’t ever know I did it, nor does it matter.

There will always be ways to help others around us, and they don’t require us to go and seek out every Salvation Army Santa in the city (though, again, that’s a noble thing to do).  So long as we are sincerely trying to help where we can, our intent to do good is more than enough.  We are not machines, after all.  If we work too hard or too long; if we worry too much and over focus on accomplishing things, we will stop feeling.  We need to feel.

I want to feel more.

This spark of light has also helped me to shift paradigms concerning true productivity and ways to truly express love to those I care about.  I have this great drive to be productive, so entertaining myself when not in the presence of those I care about (since it is service to help them enjoy themselves, yes? Of course.  People will always be more important than things…) can often lead to a guilt trip.  What helps me straighten out is to remember, as pointed out in a previous post, that art is healing.  There is such a thing as good, edifying recreation.  I can’t give you hard and fast guidelines.  There are none.  What I can tell you is that there are things which rejuvenate me.  They inspire me.  They help heal me.  They comfort me.  They help me figure out what the heck I am thinking sometimes.

Such was the case today.  I felt inspired from on High as I watched a particular show, and it filled me with warmth.  I remembered that there is only so much I can do, and there is no need to run faster than I have strength.  I felt that God remembers me and knows the intents of my heart.  He knows how I try to do the right thing, even though I get it wrong often.  He knows that I make misinformed choices.  He knows that I’m afraid to make terrible mistakes or hurt the ones I love.  He came and comforted me, but I had to let Him in first.  I had to open up.

I wish I had been able to do that a little earlier.  Life is so full of purpose and joy this way, and so hollow otherwise.  It is too cerebral.  Too mechanical.  Too inhuman, no matter the things accomplished in that time span.

So go watch/read/listen to something uplifting.  Then share that wonder with someone you care about.  Life is a journey, after all, and I intend to make a little heaven on earth.  With some help, of course.  I’ll make sure she has a fantastic time.

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That’s what family is for.

February 14, 2012

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about priorities.  The real ones, that is.  I’m not talking about finishing your work before you come home, or whether or not to ditch school.  I’m talking about the big ones.  Well, the big one, I suppose.

Family.

Perhaps some of the blame must fall on the show CLANNAD, which covers this theme exceptionally well, but I like to think that this has been brewing in my subconscious for a while.  Some takeaway ideas include cherishing every moment with friends and family, and that you can make it through anything with a loved one by your side.  I want to briefly touch on both of these ideas.

Sometimes it really is more important to drop your plans, give up your study time, and just give your undivided attention to someone.  A quick game of some kind, a conversation over a meal, or keeping up with their life struggles and how you can help are some of the better cases.  As important as I know school and work and everything else can be, these are special times.

As someone who has moved frequently and left many people behind, I can really attest to that.  Make the most of every moment you have with your friends and your family.  Soak them in and bask in them like the sunlight after a stormy day. Crystallize them in your heart.  When they are gone, be it from this life or just yours, those memories will be all you have to hold onto.  I’ve experienced both cases.  Trust me, I know.

We must not forget the value of these bonds that bring us together.  It’s very easy to hunker down and just focus on our day-to-day tasks as we desperately try to scrape things together and make it through another week.  Time grinds us down, bleeds away personality, and before we know it we are not as close to our loved ones as we perhaps thought. When hard times hit, they only seems to accelerate the process.

Do not forget, however, that it is almost always those caring friends, loving spouses, and thoughtful parents that arrive just when we have given up.  They are there to remind us that “the sky is darkest just before the dawn”.  We don’t have do go through this life alone.  Don’t ever forget that.  I almost did a few times.  Don’t make my mistake.

Now I try harder to make sure the people I care about know it.  I’m sure I fall short, as we all do, but it’s a start.  I feel something within me that energizes me and drives me forward.  My time spent with friends is infinitely more valuable than before.  My family is my all, past, present and future, and it directs me where I should go and is the reason why I do what I do.  I haven’t needed to make a separate mention of God because He is quite clearly included in all of this.

So this Valentine’s Day, take stock of the wonderful people that surround you.  Make the most of your relationships.  Leave nothing unsaid, and be sure that they know that your loyalty is stronger than the bonds of death.  We are, after all, a family.  Isn’t that all any of us ever really wanted?

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Explore. Dream. Discover.

January 31, 2012

There is a secret world hidden right in front of us, which we hardly note from day to day.  It’s a marvelous place, full of beauty and wonder.  Anywhere we look, we can find something breathtaking.  It is a treasury drowning in riches before us.  Yet…do we notice it?

 As we step out into the cold, feeling the bite of the wind, do we notice the majesty of the snow-capped mountains?  As we pass snow-covered fields, do we feel the tranquility they offer?  Every moment is magical.  Every life is of value.  Every canyon, edifice, and creaky wooden floor tells a story worth hearing. If we are not paying attention, then what are we taking in?

It’s quite normal for us to build our lives around routines.  Habit gives us power and can push us through tasks and challenges we could not surmount on our own.  Rhythm gives us familiarity and comfort, two all-too-precious commodities in our modern society.  When we are fatigued by our workloads, we turn to the easily-accessible entertainment we are most familiar with and let it distract us for a time.  There are plenty of options, and plenty of quality, loved friends to share these moments with.  Yet all too often our entertainment is of a shallower nature.  Our past times are just that: ways to pass the time until we must work again.

 Is it not tragic, then, that in the middle of all of this the wonderful world God has built for us is forgotten?  I asked myself something similar as I had an unplanned encounter with an exhibit by Eva Timothy entitled Lost in Learning, which, combined with an exhibit on the King James Bible, awoke within me my inner explorer.  The images conveyed moved me to appreciate more the world we live in.  It was deeply satisfying in a way only the things of God can surpass.  All the other things I was considering doing with my spare time seemed to be a waste of my energy, when i could be learning more about the universe.  It sounds silly, I suppose, but it resonated with something within me. I have a great love of learning.

 What I do know is that there is a rejuvenating power in our sense of wonder.  Let us not forget, when we see a battered door, to ponder the things it has seen over the years.  We should allow ourselves time to bathe in good, relaxing, deep music every day.  Can you imagine how different we would feel if we were all actively reading at least one good book?

Let there be light

My words fail me, but perhaps you can relate to some of this.  This planet is marvelous.  The heavens as well.  Our history is rich, and the knowledge at our fingertips is endless.  Let us delve into it.  There is greater meaning to life.  The possibilities are endless.  Save the world from losing it’s sense of wonder.  As my good friend Mark Twain says, “Explore. Dream. Discover.”

God is more than willing to teach us about it all.  His Holy Spirit is our eternal mentor…if we call upon him.  He is the author of this creation, and we are all artists in embryo.

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Back to the Future!

January 24, 2012

Hello, world.  How have things been?

There’s a lot to catch up on…which both on this blog and in my journal I state rather frequently.  I’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things.  I sincerely hope that has improved my understanding of things and to some extent the future quality of this little corner of the internet.

So yes, there’s plenty I need to say, but I’m not going to bother telling you right now.  I’m sleepy.  I’ll do it later.

Did you miss the schizophrenic ranting?  I know my English teachers don’t.

…but oh how I did. Talk to you soon.

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The Dark Knight

July 22, 2008

I’ve got some ideas in the works, but I thought you might enjoy the following.  It’s a beautiful description of the latest Batman movie, and don’t worry, it’s spoiler free.  It’s probably the best written movie review I have ever seen, and it poses some very good philosophical questions. What is your breaking point? What will you do when pushed to the limit? In any case, I thought I should share it with you.

The Dark Knight

Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Heath Ledger

Andy wanted me to write this, so for all I know he’s the only one who really cares what I have to think. If that’s not true, awesome, thanks for caring about my opinion. If it is, well, then this is a good way for me to figure out exactly what I feel about this fantastic movie.

To begin, I’m of the opinion that you can’t call a movie your “favorite movie ever” right when it comes out. It’s fresh in your mind, overshadowing everything else at that moment. To call a movie “favorite” means that it sticks with you, its individual scenes as well as its overall message. But I’m never one to shy away from hypocrisy, so I’ll go ahead and say that The Dark Knight is my favorite movie ever.

From a purely emotional standpoint The Dark Knight did something to me that hasn’t happened in years: I forgot that I was watching a movie. It sucked me in, completely. By the end my heart was pounding. I was totally immersed in what was happening, I was emotionally involved in the most intimate way. It’s a movie that’s felt, not watched. This description doesn’t due justice to how profoundly I’ve been affected by this film; I just can’t properly express my straight emotional feelings about it.

So forget that, and let’s go more analytical. The problems I have with Dark Knight are few; I’ll go over them at the end. Let’s talk about the good stuff, which is basically everything. What makes TDK so good is what makes any movie good: a well-written script with excellent acting, guided by a competent director. When this triumvirate forms, the potential for a powerful emotional connection with the audience is limitless. And that’s what we’re given in TDK.

The brothers Nolan were unafraid to take what could have been a straightforward blockbuster and instead write a script that was introspecting and action packed all at once. The theme of this film, to me, is: What are your limits? When pushed to the breaking point will you actually break, or will you find the strength to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to do the right thing? The Joker claims he’s aimless, an agent of pure chaos and anarchy. But he does have a skeleton of a plan: trying to break everyone, from Batman down to the average citizen of Gotham. He finds success and failure in surprising places.

The Dark Knight is terrifying without going for the cheesy “shock factor”; it’s suspenseful without being overdramatic; the action sequences are thrilling, but never feel improbable enough to remove you from the experience; and it’s quiet without the calm moments serving as meaningless stopgaps between set pieces. You hear about the roller coaster of emotion. TDK is a real roller coaster, every scene given equal consideration, the troughs just as important as the peaks.

That’s really a credit to Christopher Nolan’s direction. The maker of Memento and The Prestige is obviously no stranger to character drama, and it’s good to see he was willing to have quiet character moments that actually built a dramatic story, instead of making Die Hard with capes. The Dark Knight would have been a much lesser film if it had been nothing but fistfights and car chases strung together by lulls meant, not to give an insight into a character’s intimate thoughts, but to give the audience time to go pee-pee before the next explosion. Not to say that the action sequences in TDK aren’t necessary or spectacular; they are. Almost epic, in fact.

In the end though, Nolan’s willingness to give weight to the character-building scenes would have been nothing without good actors behind the characters. To say there were good actors in Dark Knight would be an understatement. Every role, no matter how small, was played earnestly and with absolute dedication. To begin on this topic, I think all of the returning actors were even better than they were in Batman Begins. Except for Cillian Murphy. Talk about a pointless cameo.

Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are as solid as expected, and since their characters were given a little more to do, their skills are even more apparent. Gary Oldman is pretty much perfect, as always. Gordon’s role is way more important in TDK, and Gary rises to the occasion, giving a very heroic and poignant performance. His two intertwining speeches at the end of the film are a credit to his acting, as well as the excellent writing.

Christian Bale does a brilliant job of juggling three different characters: the real Bruce Wayne, playboy Bruce Wayne and, of course, the Batman. Bale solidifies his status as best Wayne/Batman ever, and that’s really all I feel the need to say about him.

Now I’ll move on to the big newcomers, starting with Maggie Gyllenhaal. After watching Gyllenhaal in the film and seeing what her character had to do, I view the recasting of Rachel Dawes as something that had to be done. Recasting Katie Holmes allowed for an evolution of Rachel’s character that wouldn’t have been possible if Katie had still been in the roll. There was a strength in Maggie’s Rachel that wasn’t present in Batman Begins; recasting allowed for a bit of a break from the previous characterization that couldn’t have been explained away as “Oh, I gained a spine in between films.” The Rachel that ran away from the Scarecrow in Begins couldn’t have stood there, afraid but in control, while the Joker held a knife in her mouth. Plus I just like Gyllenhaal more.

I don’t know how anyone could call Aaron Eckhart bland in Dark Knight. He convincingly portrays the progression of a man from noble defender of the good, Harvey Dent, to tragically demented Two Face. Watching his startlingly abrupt transitions from rational to enraged is engaging, not boring. While not mind blowing, Eckhart’s performance solidly portrays the near Shakespearean tragedy of Harvey Dent.

Intense. Eerily funny. Anarchic. Frightening. Brilliant. I say to you now that the death of Heath Ledger is the greatest tragedy to hit the motion picture industry in the last several decades. The title of this note references the fact that I wasn’t a fan of Heath Ledger before this. He was just another one of those pretty boy actors to me, not to be taken seriously. His Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain didn’t really make me take notice. But when I heard he was cast as the Joker, I latched on to that nomination as a sign that Chris Nolan hadn’t suddenly become an idiot. He hadn’t.

I’m sure there are plenty of superb performances to come over the next five months, so I don’t know if he’ll win, but Heath’s turn as the Joker is definitely worthy of an Oscar nomination. If there was ever a domestic terrorist like Heath’s Joker in the real world, I would be very scared. Watching the Joker gambol across the screen, you really feel like he could do anything. And what he does do is terrifyingly realistic. I join the ranks of people who are shocked that TDK got away with a PG-13 rating. I was really scared at some points, that’s how…. possible the things the Joker was doing were. His little home movies were really frightening. There was also a lot of philosophizing the Joker had to do, which could have come off as pretentious and overbearing. Heath pulled it off brilliantly. He did everything brilliantly. No description can do justice; you won’t be able to comprehend the kind of dedication and bravery Heath Ledger had until you see it for yourself.

So that’s everything I think worked pretty well in The Dark Knight. By comparison, the problems I have seem paltry. And they are. There’s a minor plot hole involving a kidnapping that I feel is a result of ten seconds of footage being left on the cutting room floor, rather than any actual plotting issue. I’ve already mentioned the pointlessness that is Cillian Murphy’s brief appearance. A complaint that’s been raised since Batman Begins is the voice that Christian Bale’s chosen to use as Batman. While I have no problem with the voice itself, towards the end of TDK I felt like there were far too many unnecessary pauses in the middle of sentences. I understand that you would be a little winded after fighting eighty guys, but I think for the sake of the film they could have played that down a bit. And that isn’t really a problem; it’s just me being overly nitpicky.

So there’s what I think about my new favorite movie. Feel free to disagree completely; after all this is only an opinion. And maybe I have no fucking clue what I’m talking about. After all, I am the guy who’s failed to get into film school twice now. I just really love The Dark Knight, and I know that the emotional impact it’s had on me so immediately isn’t going to leave. This is a film I could watch every day and it would never get old.

P.S. Try and make comments as spoiler free as possible for the present. Some people reading may not have seen it yet.

-Sean Novicki

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Elements of Human Potential.

July 20, 2008

So I’ve been re-reading some of my blogs lately, and I’ve noticed I use some pretty strong words and concepts.  Personal searches for truth and the pursuit of one’s potential appear at first glance to be subjects on which I am an expert.  Why, then, must I continue to reaffirm such ambitions and ideas over and over?

It seems I fall into a cycle.  I work towards my goals, and as time goes by my strength is slowly sapped.  My predisposition for procrastination (say that five times fast) eats away at my resolve, until I reach an “equilibrium”.  At this stage in my life, that equilibrium is at a very slothful state.  My mind may be highly active at these times, but it is most certainly not well fed.  I’ll stay at this equilibrium for quite some time.  In fact, I will stay in this state until stumble upon some sort of profound or moving experience.  Only these sorts of things seem to shoot me right back up where I was before.

The question, then, is how to stay in such a high state; how to “raise the bar” and change my personal definition of equilibrium.  A lot of that involves habit, which I’ve written about in the not-too-distant past.  The issue however is not just breaking bad habits, but creating new ones.  Clearly, I must constantly uplift and enrich both my mind and my spirit.

This is an active state, a “sharpening of the saw” that is very different from what we usually think of as a break from our labors.  Rather than just destress, I need to be building myself up and preparing for the next metaphorical battle.

Building upon talents and reading good books are just a few of the many ways I can change my definition of equilibrium.  When it is changed, it will become easy to be driven, motivated, hard-working, and happy with my life.  I need to redefine my “comfort zone”.

How might anyone go about doing this?  Well, a good place to start is actually the season finale of Avatar.  I’ve never really watched the series that closely, but it ends in a very profound and beautiful way.  While I would recommend at least watching a handful of other episodes to understand what the heck is going on, that’s a good place to start.  It worked for me at least.  Now that I’m motivated, I must act to change my habits and my status quo.  I won’t bother with any recommendations here, there are plenty of sites and books that can tell you how to break habits and others that can show you how to set and achieve goals.

We humans have incredible potential.  We have the power to reshape the world and eveything in it.  We have the power to master the physical and overcome the instinct.  We have no glass ceiling, our possible achievements grow exponentially.  It’s incredible, when you think about it.  And it all can start with one small action, or one realization.  The gates of the fortress are not moved by incredible strength, but by the smallest movement of a lever.

So now, even with this realization, I take one step closer to achieving my dreams.  A small one?  Perhaps.  Only time will tell how successful I am this first time around, but at least I have a plan now.  I have tangible progress markers.  I have a roadmap to making a difference.  I hope I’m not getting repetitive just yet ;)

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My Lighthouse

June 22, 2008

For a long time I’ve been flipping back and forth between two things I absolutely love, trying to produce something in one medium or the other.  The first is my love of music, which I’ve had as long as I can remember.  Songwriting is a passion, understanding different types of music and what makes them enjoyable or beautiful is something I’ve spent a huge chunk of my life thinking about while listening to my latest favroite record spin.  The other is storywriting, which I have pursued through Never Ending Stories, short story competitions, and a number fictional worlds.

For the longest time I’ve been pulled back and forth like one of Dr. Doolittle’s Pushmepullyous. I’ll start writing a book, and then stumble upon a new band and get lost in the music, after which I’ll decide to compose music or play some guitar. Halfway through either, I’ll think about the connections between all of us as people or a compelling story, which will prompt me to write a short story or blog. The cycle goes round and round without me really putting enough effort into any of my projects to make it worthwhile or produce decent results. It doesn’t always change as fast as I’ve made it sound, but it’s there. I’ve got what some might call A.D.D., but it’s really just a love of too many things. Remember that kid in grade school who never knew what he wanted to be or always wanted to be something different the next time the teacher asked? Yeah, that’s me.

Fortunately, I’ve had another “eureka” moment. The conclusion is quite obvious, but in all honesty, most “a-ha!” moments are.  So often we can “get” something without really “getting” it until we look at it a different way.  The different paradigm is not explainable in any tongue, it’s not really all that different.  Yet somehow it makes all the difference in the world.  That’s how it was for me.  Stupid?  Perhaps.  Obvious?  Definitely.  Strange?  No, not at all.  Like I mentioned earlier, it’s something we all experience, we all feel at some point.

For Isaac Newton, it was an apple.  For Timone, it was a big rock.  For me, it was a song by Sonata Arctica.

Why not combine the things that I love?  After all, it’s only Common sense, Genius.

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