The Curious Case of Collecting

Collect them all… whiles supplies last!

The marketing teams working for our favorite kids’ cereals brands and fast food restaurants obviously had a good reason to promote collecting the whole series of toys they attached with the food they were selling: to increase profit. But what is strange is the way my actual response was often “sure, okay” or “I won’t make any promises, but I’ll try”. Because in the bottom drawer of my dresser at my parents’ house back in Alabama are several complete collections of plastic figurines.

A few months ago I gladly let a co-worker borrow my Dave Ramsey CD series on Financial Peace. Within a few weeks, she was no longer employed where I work. When I called her to say I’ll drive to her side of Nashville to get my CD’s back, she assured me that she will bring them to me when she’s finished with them. I waited two more months and called again- her phone is out of service.

The funny thing is, I don’t even need the CD’s. I’ve already listened to them and daily apply what I learned. At this point, I should consider them a gift that she needed more than I did. In fact, I didn’t even buy the CD’s myself. Someone gave them to me as a gift.

But they were MINE. And now she has them.

Why must I feel so compelled to want to possess things? Things I definitely don’t need. Things that aren’t even mine.

I am learning to convert this desire of collecting material items to collecting memories of new experiences instead. Collecting all the state quarters does me no good but travelling to random states like Rhode Island (which my wife and I did) stays with me. And I don’t even need a souvenir. As long as I have a memory, I’ll always remember when my wife and I got hot stone massages from two very strong hippie women in downtown Providence. And if one day my memory does fail me, I’ve got the pictures on facebook to remind me.

“There’s something missing in us, we long to make it whole. Though it never feels like it, I know you have it all.” -Pete Yorn (Social Development Dance)

Movie Guy, at Your Service: Inception

A captivating, culture-relevant movie that explores the mysterious capabilities of the human mind and the weirdness of our dreams.

I realized that the movie Inception would be an inescapable movie for me after at least 37% of my facebook friends had a status update praising it the moment they walked out of the theatre.  Then my sister and brother-in-law told me it reminded them a little bit of LOST; at that moment it became official that I would not only see Inception but that it would be a movie worth writing a movie review/recap about it.

In my first official Movie Guy post (click here to read it: Movie Guy, at Your Service: My Top Ten Favorites), under the “Basic Do Not Watch” criteria for movies I listed “simply by watching the trailer for the movie, you fully understand the plot and possibly the resolution”.  That definitely wasn’t the case with Inception.  When I first saw the preview several weeks ago all I knew was that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was having some trouble finding the floor while for Ellen Page accompanied by Leonardo DiCaprio the floor was becoming a wall.  Perfect.  That meant it would be worth seeing.  Though I had no idea what the plot was.  Perfect.

While the movie does have a strong plot, I see Inception as a vehicle for interesting theories which attempt to explain and explore the mysteries of the dream world and the human body (especially the mind) as it is in a dream state.  For example, the facts that often we usually wake up from dream if in the dream we are falling or if we get killed in the dream are vital to the plotline.

Surprisingly, there were two ideas about dreams in particular I have written about before (which I thought were unique) which the movie touches on:

1)     Years after the memories are made, what really is the difference between a good memory from an actual event and a good memory from a dream, as long as in that moment of the actual event or dream you were truly happy and it remains in your mind as a positive place you can return to when you remember it?  Read Adventures in Thailand: Man Cave Time Machine.

2)     A dream only last a fraction of the time that the dream seems to take place (in Inception, five minutes equaled one hour).  Therefore, if a person could be forced to be trapped in a dream, it could be a horrible type of punishment for a person.  Read Lowercase Punishment.

Aside from being a little like The Matrix (which I never really got into, even after seeing it twice) and LOST, it also reminds me of Vanilla Sky, The Butterfly Effect, and even The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  There is nothing not to enjoy about this movie: A+.

Bonus: Ethnic Backgrounds of the International Cast

Leonardo DiCaprio (as Dominic Cobb): American- 1/2 German, 1/4 Italian, 1/4 Russian

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as Arthur): Jewish-American

Ellen Page (as Ariadne): Canadian of English descent

Tom Hardy (as Eames): English of English and Irish descent

Marion Cotillard (as Mal Cobb): French

Cillian Murphy (as Robert Fischer): Irish

Ken Watanbe (as Saito): Japanese

Tom Berenger (as Peter Browning): American of Irish descent

Dileep Rao (as Yusuf): American of Indian descent

Pete Postlethwait (as Maurice Fischer): English

Luke Haas (as Nash): American- 1/2 German, 1/2 English

Michael Caine (as Miles): English

The spinning totem started to wobble before the screen cut to black. While there easily could be a sequel, I believe the totem ended up falling over.

Picking Up Where We Left Off Last Time: Going Back to the Future After “To Be Continued”

The phrase “to be continued…” is a way of life for me.

In the summer of 1988 one of the things I remember most is watching reruns of The Incredible Hulk with my mom.  So many of the episodes ended with “to be continued…” flashed up on the screen.  For some reason, that really excited me.  Even to this day, if a TV show ends with that phrase I like it more than a regular episode.

Yes, closure is an important part of life.  But in my mind, the door is never really closed just because time separates me from another person.  (Obviously, I’m not including the given exception of ex-girlfriends. Instead, I’m referring to everyone else.) Childhood classmates and guys from my college dorm.  Anyone I’ve ever met in my life- I don’t forget them.  I may not remember many details about them- but at least in the smallest of ways, I remember them.

Therefore, something I have to remind myself of is this- my way of thinking and exceptionally good memory are not necessarily the norm.  Just because I can remember specific quotes from something someone said in 5th grade, it doesn’t mean they do, or necessarily even care.  The file folder in my head for that person reads “last seen: May 1998- to be continued…”  Theirs for me reads “last seen- sometime in high school- relationship terminated/cancelled”.

When I am reacquainted with a person I haven’t heard from in years or decades, I have this habit of immediately bringing up the first positive memory I have of that person.  For me, it’s like time never passed.  Interestingly, that’s how I think it will be after we die and are reunited with people in eternity.  Since time doesn’t really exist in the afterlife, we just pick up where we left off.

Readers’ Expectations 4: False Witness Memories, Jon Lovitz in Drag, and That Urban Legend About Women on Adrenaline

It’s been over a month since the last time I took a few minutes to share the most absurd Google searches that people used to find my website (Readers’ Expectations 3 on May 7th).  Now that enough bizarre key words have washed up, it’s time to check them out.

“how to photograph the Hollywood sign”- Well, first you get a camera.  Then you go to Hollywood and stand in front of the sign.  Press the correct button on the camera.  Bam.  You’re done.

“false witness memories”- Is it easy or is it difficult to remember memories that don’t exist?

“Jon Lovitz in drag”- That’s the ticket!

“women defecating”- I don’t know which is worse: The fact that some sick guy out there wants to see a woman doing “#2” or that somehow what I’ve written about something that in some jumbled sense, comes out similar to what he was looking for.

“brian winkles fort payne”- Brian Winkles was one of my best friends growing up.  I’ve referenced him a few times in my writings.  Either he Googled his own name or… looks like somebody’s got a secret admirer… woo-ooo…

“nick shell sugar”- I feel proud of that fact my discovery that consuming one tablespoon of sugar is equal to smoking one cigarette is becoming a world renown, sought after article: healthnutshell: A Tablespoon of Sugar or a Cigarette?  Oh, and… That’s “Doctor” Nick Shell to you…

This is the best you're gonna find, Mister.

“a pickle driving car”- Yeah, that’s cool.  A lot of people out there are looking to learn about that these days.  Also popular, “a pickle directing traffic”.

 

“women on adrenaline urban legend”- Did you know that one time, there were these women, and they got all hyped on adrenaline, and oh boy,  you’ll never believe what happened…

“famous painting”- Oh… That famous painting…  Yeah! I love that famous painting!  It’s hanging up on my wall.  Interesting, sounds like we’ve got a lot in common- you and me.  And the famous painting.

Drinking Kool-Aid and Watching the Smurfs

Childhood isn’t a place too long gone for me; it’s what the attic of my head is wallpapered in.

For many of us, childhood was one of the brightest, most promising times.  Therefore, it remains today as a safe, heartwarming place in our minds.  A place where we can return to, like remembering a good dream, whenever we want.  And thanks to the people who are still alive who share those memories with us, we have access this seemingly imaginary fantasy world that we were all once a part of.  In a land called The Eighties.  Or Nineties.  Or Sixties.  (There are several to choose from.)

My literary teacher Michael Chabon explains it (he doesn’t know who I am, in reality) in a way that would make me jealous that he thought of it first, except for the fact if it weren’t for studying his style, I wouldn’t be the same writer I am today.  He refers to mutual collected memories in his book Manhood for Amateurs as “an entire network of tunnels, secret passageways, into the past”. 

We carry the exclusive memories of each other in the hard drives of our own minds, sporadically reminiscing to make sure of the validity of the events, and to glean from the enhanced emotions attached to them. 

The way my mind works, I can’t just simply open a file in my head entitled “Childhood: 1981-1993”.  Instead, these scattered gems are embedded along with all other memories and knowledge.  So when I click on one file, there’s sure to be a random childhood memory hanging on to it. 

And sometimes I just have flashes of them.  Like the Spring and Summer of 1989 (2nd grade) when I played baseball.  The pings of the aluminum bats, the crickets singing their alien songs in the moist, freshly cut baseball fields.  The sun going down as each game began. 

And when I go to that place, I remember how I had the biggest crush on Meg Guice, who never had a clue.  Yes, those were the days were drinking Kool-Aid; my favorite flavor being the short-lived “Sharkleberry Fin”, only second to Hi-C’s “Ecto Cooler”.  When Saved by the Bell hadn’t quite arrived, so The Smurfs pretty much taught me what I needed to know about society. 

Memories of being in Cub Scouts, riding the bus from school every Tuesday to the First Methodist Church, where my parents (the scout leaders) met us there with the aforementioned Kool-Aid and some adventurous craft assignment, like a bug collection (in which Matt Hall brought in a dead bat) or brainstorming about the upcoming Pinewood Derby race (which I won 1st place overall in 1991, thanks to my dad’s craftsmanship). 

I could go on, but I have a feeling by this point, some of your own childhood memories have been stirred up.  Don’t let me interrupt that for you.  Have fun.

Which Role Do You Play in Your Family?

As I a guy who doesn’t know anything about cars or building stuff, or even computers, or how to really fix anything, or sports (golf included), or politics, or business (investments and stock market crap), there aren’t seemingly many important roles left for me as a man in a family. 

Sure, I can tell you which actors from Saved by the Bell are Jewish and which songs were hits in 1983 and how tall Albert Einstein was and I can solve a Rubik’s Cube in less than five minutes every time, but how does that fill any kind of necessary void in family dynamics?

I am a walking Wikipedia with an unforgettable memory of life events, sometimes nearing borderline Asperger’s.  So by default, what is my role in my family of six?  And to see the full picture, what are the roles of each member of my family? (My parents, my sister, her husband, and my wife.)

Me: The storyteller, the writer, the historian, and the event planner.  What drives me are memories.  Good memories take place because of events.  So I enjoy planning the family’s activities. 

I tend to be the one in the family that decides what we will do with our time when we’re all together.  And if I didn’t have an agenda for everyone to follow, it’s possible we would all just sit around and do nothing.  It’s possible we wouldn’t know where to go to eat, and end up settling for something mediocre like Outback or Chili’s. 

But I take the responsibility on myself for the six of us to decide where those memories (including potential funny stories and inside jokes) will take place.  And because “life happens” around food and entertainment and going to new places, my niche is being the one to set the backdrop for those events.

My role doesn’t fall into any of the typical manly stereotypes; I am the Montgomery Moose, the Desmond Hume, the John Cusack, the Pat Sajak.  The host, the MC of the evening, the narrator, the journalist of past, present, and future.  I just can’t fix anything.

My wife: The organized one, the teacher, the nurturer, the listener.

My dad: The mechanic, the electrician, the carpenter.

My mom: The financial expert, the chef, the encourager, the conversationalist.

My sister: The interior decorator, the helper, the initiator.

Her husband: The computer whiz, the tech expert, the sports enthusiast. 

Not that anyone can limit the talents and capabilities of their own family members down to just a few roles.  Because family members are not just stereotypes or TV characters.  They’re family.

What brought all this to mind is by watching the wonderfully crafted sitcom/drama Parenthood.  I love the dynamics of the family and how they all interact.  It hit me that the members of my family all have specific roles like the characters on that show.  And also, it seems the entertainment world is oversaturated with superheroes. 

I just wanted to know what my “superpowers” are.  Now I know. 

(And in case you’re still curious, Screech and Jessie were played Jewish actors, on the show Saved by the Bell.)

Would you, the random or regular reader, be willing to share with me your role and your family members’ roles in your family by leaving a comment below?  This isn’t a clever marketing ploy to boost my numbers or make this post seem more interesting.  I am just truly interested in this topic and want to know what other random family roles are out there. 

Adventures in Thailand: Man Cave Time Machine

What’s the difference between 1) our memories of actually events and 2) our memories of old dreams?  In theory, not a lot.

The events that have taken place in real life can actually change the course of history and can produce tangible souvenirs such as photographs which can be taken to prove them in the future, whereas the events that occur in a dream do not really have the ability to do those things (though sometimes dreams do predict the future or inspire a person to “be a better person”).

Whether it’s a remembered actual event or a remembered dream, either way, it’s in the past now and it’s just a memory.

If we could take away the two exceptions, that actual events change the course of history and can produce tangible souvenirs whereas dreams don’t, how is a six year-old memory different than a six year-old dream?

In the summer of 2004, my friend Josh and I rode “motorcycles” (they were more like mopeds) 40 miles outside of the mountain city of Chiang Mai in Thailand, in order to find an ancient cave where few tourists ever bothered to visit.  There were no signs in English once we got there.  No English-speaking guides.  All we knew it that it cost non-Thai people $4 to go into the cave and another dollar for a lantern to actually see around inside the place.

As we got to the back of the cave, our guide pointed behind him to what appeared to be a bottomless pit.  I picked up a rock on the cave floor and tossed it into the abyss and finally after about ten seconds, I faintly heard it hit the bottom.  I immediately imagined that centuries ago, prisoners were thrown down to the bottom only to be met by hungry lions.

There’s no doubt, Josh and I are some of the few American people to have visited the forsaken Chiang Dao Cave in Thailand.  Let’s assume that I don’t embed pictures of that event into this post and that nothing happened that day that changed the course of history (and it in deed, didn’t).

In theory, the events I told about in that Thai cave memory only actually happened because I said they did, a theory that I brought to life in Snail Trails.  Especially if Josh forgot about us going to that cave.  No souvenirs.  No life-changing actions.

So what if I only dreamed that event happened?  What if while I stayed in Chiang Mai I only drove by the signs for Chiang Dao Cave, but never took the time to visit it?  What if all I did was just dream that Josh and I actually went there?

How would that dream be any different than it really happening?

For another related post, here’s The Interstate to Memory Lane

my roommate Josh from Liberty University

the 2004 version of me either trapped in the actual Chiang Dao Cave or in a dream