Sunday, May 4, 2014

Villains-- What Makes The Antagonist?



The villain of the story is always an interesting character that captures everybody’s attention, whether in fiction or in real life. Most viewers of a one-sided story would naturally side with the protagonist because it is from his or her side that the story is being told, and thus makes the audience sympathetic toward him or her. Of course, in literature and drama things are always exaggerated, and the fact that characters are either really naive and innocent or really cruel and evil makes the choice quite apparent. However, in good and complex literature, as in the real world where neither the best men are consistent in good nor the worst men in evil-- how are we to decide who is the good one and who is the bad one? It is up to each individual to decide based on their attachments, biases, and such.

I love studying literature because it is the study of the diversity of human nature and emotion, and villains always fascinate me. As a friend of mine said, "Without a villain, there is no story." How true! But who is the villain? From which perspective do we judge? As I always say-- "Your antagonist is a protagonist in the story in which you are the antagonist."

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Contemporary Art Has Depth In Its Simplicity

Though I'm more of a classic art type of person, I really enjoyed walking through the intellectual maze of contemporary art a few weeks ago at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Downtown Los Angeles. This type of art truly leaves room for the imagination. It was fun going from painting to painting, looking at the piece first, trying to figure out what it means, then at last reading the description from the artist's perspective, the final piece to the puzzle. Like a lone plain iceberg in the middle of the ocean, modern art in its simplest form can have the deepest roots behind it.

For example, this piece by Antoni Tàpies is difficult to decipher at first sight, but it's deep after reading the description: "As I go along with my work I formulate my thought,  and from this struggle between what I want and the reality of the material-- from this tension-- is born an equilibrium." As somebody who really enjoys stream-of-consciousness in her writing, this really resonated with me. Just going along with your work represents the deepest essence of fragmented thought patterns, keys to the soul of the artist.




This next piece by Andy Warhol titled Telephone is a simple telephone with so much meaning behind the author's intent:  "The more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel." It is a universal human experience that the more we are exposed to a thing, no matter how beautiful or useful, the more desensitized we become to it, and thus begin to take it for granted. One must actively remind oneself of this or risk becoming completely numb and empty. Similarly, he says you feel "better," which I suppose it's because it gives you a break from the initial elation. For example, imagine if we were all as excited about our laptops as we were when we first got a gigantic computing apparatus as children? We are more mature in how we utilize it because we have been exposed to it. Same thing with money. When a poor person wins the lottery, it is very often the case that they spend it all in a ridiculously short amount of time. That is because they were under the influence of elation. A person who is used to having money may not feel as happy about his or her fortune, but they are much wiser when spending it, thus making it last a lifetime.



This piece by Roy Lichtenstein titled "Desk Calendar" has no description but I found it just as poignant in all its simplicity. Most of us view desk calendars as just notebooks where we jot down notes and reminders that we can thrown away as soon as the year is over. However, there is an entire life in a desk calendar as one looks back at everything a person has to do day to day-- there is art even in the most mundane of everyday duties. Something to think about every Monday morning!



Saturday, February 8, 2014

War And Peace-- From the Ballroom to the Battlefield



I just completed all 1455 pages of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace yesterday, and I absolutely loved it! Amidst a myriad other things that require my attention every day (husband, cats, freelance jobs, occasional household duties, outings), I always made time to devote to a few pages at least every other day. Not to mention all the festivities that have taken place since I began reading this-- Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and most recently, my 30th birthday-- but amidst all the bustling activity, I always looked forward to returning to my book.

War and Peace is so multilayered that one does not know where to begin! To start,  now I understand why War and Peace has remained such a beloved classic throughout the ages. It is  a comprehensive study of the human condition in society as exemplified by characters of different temperaments in different situations-- from the ballroom to the battlefield.  Leo Tolstoy is a masterful writer and his depth of insight and perception of human nature transcends social classes, gender, and age. Having had already read Anna Karenina, I find this delightfully typical of Tolstoy. 

Mr. Tolstoy does an excellent job at imparting to the reader the same feelings and experiences that the characters are having. By reading the book you experience in a convincing way the same emotions, thoughts, and epiphanies that the author describes. Many of the descriptions and characters resonated with me, which is why if you see my copy of the book you will find it folded, underlined and annotated at every other page. However, War and Peace also taught me a lot of new things about what it must be like to be a soldier in combat, as Tolstoy really goes in depth about the intricacies of daily military life, from the most complex strategy to the most mundane drudgery in the military. 




By the end of the novel you feel as if you know the characters so well that they feel like close friends from a very distant past. They start out as social acquaintances and you follow them through romances, battles, illness, debt, captivity, death, and major ideological changes in their psyches. This is just like a Bildungsroman, except that instead of one character's psychological growth, you are keeping up with entire families. You start off with the experiences of 1805, and when things gradually get worse and more intense in 1812 and beyond, you look back and wonder how you never imagined things would come to this. Through it all, I have grown along with Pierre, Princess Marya, Natasha, Andrei, Nikolai-- and learned so much even from Boris, Sonya and Helena Bezukhova.

Sonya, Nikolai, and Princess Marya

Oh, that poor Sonya! She waited faithfully for the man to whom she's been engaged since her teens, and she ends up as his house helper when he marries another a much wealthier woman who is able to save his family from ruin. If life went according to folk belief, we would expect "karma" to reward her for all her sacrifices; ah, but life doesn't work that way, and this novel does its best to imitate life as is, so we get a very realistic outcome for this love martyr. Nikolai never intended to marry for money, and it seems that he really did fall in love with Princess Marya. However, a bit of a fortune doesn't hurt any plain girl's chances, which only made Nikolai's decision much easier when determining whether to choose Sonya or Marya. One can't blame Nikolai because he was never officially engaged to Sonya. He merely flirted with her a few times and in his excitement alluded to a possible future together, which the naive Sonya took way too seriously, to her own detriment. If Sonya had been a bit more experienced, she would know that many young people do this while excited and in lust, and wouldn't have wasted her youth in fruitless waiting.  She even turned down Dolokhov's marriage proposal when there was nothing seriously going on between her and Nikolai! 


Helene, Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei

Ah, how life turned out for these pairs! I was so disappointed when Pierre married Helena because she and her father were obviously in it for Pierre's newly acquired fortune. When Pierre's father died and he acquired one of the largest fortunes in Russia, he suddenly became one of the most desired bachelors. His social awkwardness, which I talked about in this blog post, didn't matter then-- everyone loved him all of a sudden, and being awkward and socially inept, it is not surprising that he was easily manipulated into a marriage he did not want. After a long tumultuous period of little peace and much war, things turned out in such a way that he married Natasha.

This would not have been possible if Helena and Natasha's first fiance, Andrei, had not passed away. How timely, they both passed away almost at the same time, leaving the pair free. Andrei's death was as deep and philosophical as this character's existence. Had he lived, Natasha would not have been happy with him, I suspect, because she is much too physical and vivacious for this emotionally stunted intellectual who is best loved from afar through poetry. Pierre is also an intellectual, but very physically expressive, which is a much better match for Natasha.  After their engagement, Andrei left Natasha for a whole year expecting her to wait patiently for him, and still pure. Natasha is no Sonya, so the minute she was pursued by someone else who was willing to take her right then and there-- the rakish Anatole-- she dropped her engagement and planned to run away with him, confusing her lust with love as humans tend to do while under that sweet intoxication. That would've been a bad choice since Anatole is no husband material, but luckily her family interfered and she was unable to pursue this path. However, this event was necessary for her to realize her needs and that Andrei cannot fulfill them. This caused a painful rupture between them which was not repaired until Andrei was on his deathbed, realizing that he forgives Natasha after all. By then it was too late, for he soon died.

I was surprised that Natasha completely let herself go after marrying Pierre. After having four kids, she gains weight, stops caring about her appearance, even quits singing and dancing since she no longer needs to charm anyone. I did find it a bit sad that she never did any of that for her own pleasure; then again, having four children consecutively might have a tiring effect on a woman. What matters is that she and Pierre are happy in their own blissful way, and it seems that Pierre has never been happier.

Boris

Boris is an interesting character because he is the type of Machiavellian young man who adeptly climbs the social ladder using his well-rehearsed charm. Other characters like Nikolai Rostov would rather take detours and do things the hard way just to prove to themselves and others that they work hard. Boris, on the other hand, who grew up on the brink of poverty, is practical and prefers taking the easiest path from A to B."It's all very well for Rostov," thought Boris, "whose father sends him ten thousand rubles at a time, to talk about not wishing to kowtow to anyone or to be a lackey, but I, who have nothing but my own wits, have to make a career, and cannot let any opportunity without taking advantage of it" (1:3.9). Boris certainly takes advantage not only by climbing the career ladder quickly, but eventually by marrying the rich Julie Kuragin. The difference between him and Nikolai is that this was Boris's intention all along, whereas Nikolai avoided this type of marriage but somehow everything fell into place for him to end that way. Nikolai gives back to his wife by working on the land from morning 'til evening; Tolstoy doesn't talk about Boris much after marriage, but it is unlikely that he pursued anything of the sort given his views. However, no punishment befalls him either as far as we know-- he is never punished for his greed, his fake charm, his lack of hard work-- just like in real life, this type of person succeeds.






Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cat Art Show L.A. Left Me Purring!

 #catartshowla



The Cat Art Show in Los Angeles advertised itself as "both a meditation and a celebration of the feline form," promising to go "beyond heralding felines as domesticated companion, and instead explores their role as muse and inspiration." This weekend was their last on exhibit in Hollywood, so I simply couldn't let one more day go by without attending. I had a grand time! I love cats and art, and this exhibit paid proper homage to both.


Love and Allergies


This painting, "Love and Allergies" by Luke Chueh was by far one of my favorites as it truly resonates with my life experience. I have suffered from allergies my entire life, yet seem to have developed an immunity to felines due to lifelong exposure. I still struggle with allergies whether or not I have cats around, but I minimize my risk by bathing my cats frequently and keeping their areas clean. I recently had such bad allergies that the doctor suggested I get rid of my cats. I was heartbroken because I was desperate to get better but not willing to give up my children. Luckily I am getting better, which proves my theory that there is more to my allergy than just cats. Maybe it's just the overpolluted city of L.A., which I also love and which also falls under this theme of love and allergies. Sigh. Love kills sometimes! Lol.



40 Cats In 4 Directions, 2013. Rob Reger, Cosmic Debris.


This piece is cool not only because it is composed of forty sable beauties, but also because it was designed by the same people who created Emily The Strange, who has been the universal icon of empowerment for outsiders and alternative kids since I was in middle school.



Black Cat, 2013. Mattia Biagi.


 Rawr! Looks just like my kitten when he is angry.



Here are many more photos from the show! Enjoy.
















Lots of people showed up! It was a full house!




Saturday, January 18, 2014

What I've Learned So Far In My Almost 30 Years Of Living

My 30th birthday will be next week. I  have been reflecting about everything that I have learned about life so far; here are just some of the many things:


- There are followers and critics for EVERY opinion. So no matter WHAT you do, you will have supporters as well as critics.
 
- Opinions change slowly over time, as you experience more of life, and as new information emerges. That's good. It's a sign of an open mind, as opposed to a closed, dogmatic mind. So do desires. What you wanted yesterday may not be the same thing you want today. Just get what you can and adjust accordingly, no regrets. Such is the nature of life.

- Feeling right has less to do with truth and more to do with popular support from the trusted sources of the day. However, as history proves, what's popular is not always right, and every era has its own truths that the majority believes. If you are in the minority and today's culture doesn't support your beliefs, don't worry, a future one will.

- Yesterday's truth is today's joke, and the values our culture holds dear today will be laughed at tomorrow. Don't get TOO emotionally attached to your truths.

- Nobody hits the jackpot on everything, but everyone is superior at something. You win some, you lose some. It all balances out in the end.

- A photo can make anyone look like a beauty queen or an ogre, depending on the angle and lighting. Don't be deceived by a photo.

- Everyone has a cross to carry. Those who LOOK like they have it all together are either good actors or they simply know the art of making the best of what they do have.

- There is no such thing as karma. Life is a rollercoaster for everyone, and comes in cycles of highs and lows to the best and worst of people. The sun smiles upon everyone equally from the curtain of heaven; and the tears of rain do not abstain from soaking the most law-abiding citizen with the same force that it wets the depraved criminal.

- There is no secret to finding "the one," and there is no "one." I don’t believe in people being “meant to be," I believe in choice. We choose those we want to be with based on availability, compatibility, and increased attachment to the person. Then we join up with them and it is UP TO US to BE the ideal partner we always dreamt of.

- First impressions count LEAST. Most people will show their best side, naturally, during the first meeting; we unfairly base our judgment of those we meet on their acting ability and Machiavellian skills rather than their overall personality. This is why people have to be fake and wear masks in society.

- Everyone is wearing a mask (see above). They have no choice, since the entire world is based on image. "Don't hate the player, hate the game." The cliche fits here.

- When people "confess" their "faults," a lot of the time they are either trying to distract from bigger faults or they are humbly bragging about something they actually feel proud of.

- Not everyone who is nice to you at work is your friend. Most are just playing the politics game. When you leave the job, you will see how many people actually stay in touch with you.

- Even the nicest person you know has a secret dark side they show only to their closest family and loved ones.  But so do you. :)

- Every year has its highs and lows. Some years have more highs, others have more lows. In the end, it all balances out.

- Today's best of friends can be tomorrow's enemies. Keep that in mind when you share all your secrets with your best buddies. Be wary of sweet smiles! They are as deceptive as Instagram photos.

-You might think you're impressing someone with a quality you are proud of, but everyone judges from different value systems. For example, you might think that everyone should pat you on the back if you are "working hard," but if the person is a well-read, progressive person he or she might view you as just another willing minion to the slave system. The reverse is also true. If a philosophical type is proud of being able to afford leisure to enjoy the simple things in life, this won't exactly impress those who work "hard" and believe they'd be bored without work. Or you might be proud of having read many books, but when you talk about that, you realize that others are more impressed by their own "accomplishments--" whether it be popping out a bunch of babies, the ability to blindly follow directions, or outrunning everyone in their fitness club.

- Every generation exhibits different tastes from the previous one, and older people have always been shocked by "young people these days" since the dawn of time. Shockingly, most people have NOT caught on to this pattern, which is why you see people debating what is "good music," "good art," the best way to behave, etc.  Sigh. Humans are not the most intelligent after all.

- Beauty is not everything, but it gets you freebies, kindness, and a good bargaining position. Don't blame the beauty, blame the system that rewards the superficial.

- Nobody cares about how many books you've read and nobody understands your epiphanies in the same way you did. When dealing with the common crowd, play dumber than your mark and appeal to the common taste. Talk about your bookish interests only with fellow geeks.

- Life in its entirety is a learning experience. We are always learning and re-learning. There is so much more yet to learn. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

What is happiness?

Every time somebody asks me "what's wrong?" as a result of me not wearing a plastic perma-smile, it leads me to analyze how society defines happiness. (Related: Hey, baby! Smile!).  Is it exultation, joy, and a wide smile, or does it have many various expressions? The truth is, happiness comes in various forms that are often hard to measure by the size of a smile, which is so commonly and easily faked.

I believe there are two types of happiness– fleeting moments of excitement that incite wide smiles and feelings of ecstasy, and a general feeling of content and satisfaction with life which may not be so brazenly displayed. A person can be happy in general, but have a terrible day (or going through a terrible period), or vice versa– be generally unhappy, but have a good day. The show of happiness may also be cultural. In the United States people place too much emphasis on the show, but in Russia, for example, people are more quiet, reserved, not smiling all the time, but have deeper connections with those they do show their smiles to. (This is an awesome article I always remember, probably because even though I am American through and through, I relate to the Russian psyche, lol: Global Psyche: National Poker Face).

Overall life is a rollercoaster, a series of highs or lows, a glass that is perenially half-empty or half-full. Some people have the remarkable ability to turn the seemingly mundane into something wonderful, while others let such magical moments go by unperceived as they stress over the minutiae of life.

I believe that people who take the time to study and know themselves are happier, because they find their answers within, not from a friend or an online magazine. If you are wise and know yourself, you can always trust your inner compass regardless of what everyone else is doing or telling you that you should do.

Happiness is about doing what is natural to yourself. It is wrong to try to be anything. Personality and its development should take its natural course. Human beings are at their most beautiful when allowed creative and emotional freedom.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Just some observations about good and evil... what is conscience?

As I was reading War and Peace a few days ago, I came across a fascinating scene in Book II, Part 2, Chapter 11. It was a philosophical conversation between Pierre and Prince Andrei regarding the nature of good and evil. "Why is it wrong?" Prince Andrei asked. "It is not given to man to judge what is right and wrong. Men always did and always will err, and in nothing more than what they regard as right and wrong" (p. 465)

Though every culture is different in its own way, they are all identical in that they all assume that conscience is a priori knowledge of what is inherently good and inherently bad. Nothing could be further from the truth; "good" and "bad" are relative depending on the culture and upbringing. With this in mind, I argue that conscience is a collection of the things we were taught  are "good" (free from punishment) at a very early age. Since humans essentially seek pleasure and avoid pain, it is wise from this viewpoint to do what the culture considers "good" and avoid what is considered "bad" in order to maximize punishment-free pleasure within the paradigm of culture. Some of those things may be useful and promote peaceful living amongst other persons, but many of those early messages contribute to unnecessary neurosis. The ability to be molded by public opinion is  man's greatest strength and weakness.

Even the most seemingly rebellious people carry pieces of their authority figures deep in their superego. When people talk about a conscience, this is usually what they are referring to.We all have that, but few of us are able to see through our own indoctrination.  That is what makes us "human, all too human," as Nietzsche would say.