25 September 2018

Analog Media

Anyone who knows me (or has had the greater misfortune of actually living with me), knows I take in and use a LOT of analog media. Vinyl, cassettes, 35mm film cameras (and prints), physical books, pen and paper, journals, old PCs... entering my room is like entering a time warp (the lava lamp next to the high-end laptop doesn't help). (We should all count our blessings that I haven't yet fulfilled my dream of owning a Sega Genesis or a Pac-Man arcade console.)

On a recent trip to the city (during which I picked up my film prints from the lab, looked through some vinyl, bought a book -- it would have been two if I'd had the funds; and shot a bunch of film), I began to realise that the reason I purchase/collect/use SO MUCH physical analog media is because it will always be there for me, in ways people never are. You can pull out your favourite photograph at 3am and look at it and escape into the better world, however briefly. You can spin your favourite album at 11pm and as long as you wear headphones nobody gets upset and the poetry will still understand what your own soul struggles to comprehend. If you're alone for the tenth straight day you can sit and read your favourite book and have a companion in Lord Peter Wimsey. Analog media is there when people refuse to be or at the very least cannot be.

Yes, you can accomplish all that on an iPad (books, music, photography, writing, games) and it does take up FAR less space than a vinyl collection and eight camera lenses, but it's not real. You can't touch it, hold it, interact with it on a personal level. It's like playing a synthesizer violin versus playing a real violin. It's the same as texting someone rather than going for dinner with them. Technically, you're talking, but you're not really connecting. Connecting with someone or something is a much more full experience than I think we sometimes want to believe. We have five senses, but most of the time we try to reduce ourselves to one or two.

It's the little physical, in-person things that make analog media a companion on the lonely evenings. It's the feel of dropping the needle in the groove and hearing the soft crackle, watching the cartridge bob up and down. It's feeling the glossy edge of a photo print. It's hearing the spring as the shutter opens and feeling the tug of the film in the sprockets as you throw the advance lever. It's feeling the roughness of the pages as you turn them. It's hearing the soft scrape of the ballpoint on a fresh page in a hardcover notebook and running your fingers over the grooves of the writing on previous pages, watching how your own writing changes from day to day. It's pushing that huge 'Play' button on the cassette player, feeling the resistance of it as you push the entire playhead mechanism into motion. I haven't even talked about the smell of vinyl, and books (new and old), and the cassette booklet, and fresh ink on paper.

One of my favourite roles I've played is the Man in Chair from The Drowsy Chaperone, and that character helps me make my point here. The character is divorced, socially awkward, has some health problems, is a bit of a shut-in. He makes no reference to any friends or acquaintances or even workmates. All he has to console and intellectually stimulate himself is his vinyl collection. This is his escape and his comfort and his window into the world. He doesn't have people around him, so he turns to the next best thing -- vinyl. Vinyl is there for him when nobody in the real world knows he even exists.

How many times do you hear of people with depression or in hard times turning to music, in some form or another, in those times? How many people do you know who binge-watch Netflix? How many people with mental illnesses turn to things like painting or writing, especially during flare-ups? In all fairness I can only speak for myself, but when my depression hits the point (and it has at times) when literally everybody in my entire life gives up on me and outright refuses to interact with me because I'm 'so negative,' you know what? My Electric Eye vinyl still plays. My camera shutter still fires. The book's pages still open. None of these give me crap for not feeling the 'right' emotion at any given moment. They're just there.

I know these deep dark times will recur throughout my life. And I know that 99.9% of the people who say they're going to be there will not be. So I surround myself with analog media as a barricade against my own self-imposed demise.

22 September 2018

On Human Souls

'I wish I'd never been told that this species had souls...'
- Mark Heard (iDEoLA), 1988.

Do we realise, really truly realise, how much power we possess to wound and to heal other humans? Every time we interact with somebody -- anybody -- we hold at least a tiny piece of their soul in our hands, if only for a few seconds.  Every facial expression, every word, every inflection, every movement has the power to encourage or to devastate, even a tiny bit. But tiny bits add up quickly. And if the other person trusts you, you hold rather a large chunk of their soul in your hands -- meaning the damage you could do is rather more severe. And the joy and encouragement you could give goes more quickly to a much deeper place within them. Not only that, you have access to their soul while you're apart. With the bank teller, it doesn't matter what you do after you've left the bank. It won't affect them. With a close friend, it matters a good deal what you do and say even when you're not with them because inevitably your actions will affect them on some level because your lives are so intertwined.

Similarly, do we realise how fragile and important these souls are that our thoughts and actions brush every day of our lives? Do we know how rare they are? If we knew all this, really knew it, with every fibre of our being, would it change how we interact with them? Would we realise how crucial our words and actions are in every single interaction? Would we be more empathetic? Would we as a culture be less locked up and afraid and lonely?

I guess we'll only know if we begin to realise how much rests in our hands in even the most routine moments of running errands or cooking dinner. This is part of the weight of glory, of being made in the image of God -- the very fact that we have access, however limited, to the souls of every other human on the planet.

20 September 2018

Normal or Gifted...?

This is more of a PSA than me breaking new ground (probably), but here's the thing about gifted people -- people with special abilities, talents, or skills. (In the context of this post I'm referring to the performing arts because that's what I know, but this can apply to literally anything -- leadership skills, speaking abilities, math skills, philosophical genius, yo-yo skills...)

Have you ever wondered why the most gifted are the ones who doubt their calling the most?

We all grow up thinking that we are normal. All our abilities are the same as everybody else's. This is why children tease each other so mercilessly when one can't do something as well as the others. We all start out assuming we're the same.

From a gifted person's perspective... we assume everyone is just as good an actress as we are. We assume everyone can see the spiritual/emotional background of daily events the way we can. We assume everyone can sing beautifully. Our gifts aren't extraordinary -- they aren't even gifts. They're just normal and everyone has them... right? They're nothing special.

Meanwhile everyone outside assumes we can see we're different and special, and they get confused (or even angry) when we get discouraged. To those outside of me and my abilities and my perspective of those abilities, they assume we know that we're gifted and thus see no need to belabour the point -- to actually tell us our gift has been an encouragement to them. So they say nothing, assuming we already know. To those outside, the difference between the ones with the gift and the ones without is vast. Those who don't have it see it so clearly. But the gifted assume they're normal. We assume everyone has the same abilities we do, on a fairly equal (or perhaps higher) level than us.

In short -- we can't see our own gifts. We're too busy assuming you have them as well. We're too blinded by your gifts to see our own.

And you wonder why we are so discouraged and 'needy' all the time. You wonder why we so often give up, citing 'I'm not that great at it,' or 'there are others who are doing a much better job of this.' To you it seems SO CLEAR that we have an extraordinary ability, but to us -- we think our ability is merely normal (if not subpar). No matter how great it is -- in fact, the greater our natural ability is, the harder it feels to improve on the (perceived) baseline 'normal' and be 'actually good' at it. It feels unattainable.

And you wonder why so many of the most gifted end up listed as suicides.