Showing posts with label Inspiration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Inspiration. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

I Have A Dream - Tuesday Tonic
























      Daffodils
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Handwritten manuscript, British Library
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

- William Wordsworth


In memory of one of the best and kindest men I have ever known: my father.  He loved to garden and his favorite flowers were "daffs", "glads" and yellow roses. Dad loved poetry and could quote many poems from memory. For this Tuesday Tonic, I am combining these two loves in one post for your enjoyment.

My father was also a great admirer of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Back in the 60's before YouTube and ITunes, Dad ordered a record of Dr King's magnificent speeches and would often spend a contemplative Sunday afternoon sitting with a cup of tea listening to Dr. Kings soaring words. Below, find his favorite, the incomparable "I Have a Dream" speech.

Rest in peace Dad. I miss you every day.



Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Starfish Are A Beautiful Thing


























While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young boy, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.

He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what you are doing?”

The boy paused, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

To this, the boy replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “Do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile. It can't possibly make a difference!”

The boy listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it back into the ocean and said, “It made a difference for that one.”


I'm not sure what this post is about, really.  The post-holiday, pre-inauguration gloom is setting in and it seems like a good time for a little more beauty in the world.

Making a difference one starfish at a time is a beautiful thing.  We can do this, America.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thorsday Tonic - The Lottery Assumption


























"Your Plan B is someone else's Plan A."

Last week, I reposted Thoughts on the Fork in the Road. Here is the follow-up post to that post, originally posted in January 2013.

There's something interesting about the way we think about our dreams and aspirations. While we believe our "dream goals" are impossibly difficult to achieve, it seems as though other people doing other things are always an "overnight success". We have a tendency to think that there are other - easier - pathways to success than the daunting uphill trek we imagine our own dreams would require. I think of it as a kind of "lottery" assumption. We figure that people who have achieved success in a creative field were mostly lucky and we conclude that even if we work hard and have talent, our odds of making it in our "dream" field are about as good as our odds of winning the lottery. We also (wrongly) conclude that success will be much easier in some other - usually more conventional - field.

Provided we have reasonable opportunities,
Gary Player's words are simply true.
This lottery assumption is frequently applied to artistic aspirations in particular. The truth is that the people who are "overnight successes" in creative fields - like people who achieve success in any field - rarely arrive at their success overnight. Of course, this is not news to anyone who has ever read the biography of a famous writer, actor or painter. Successful creative people nearly always work hard at their craft for years before their work is widely recognized and/or they achieve great financial success in their artistic endeavors. Yet the conviction persists that there is more than an element of chance to artistic success - not to mention overwhelming odds against you or me winning that particular lottery - undermining the will to work hard and the faith in ourselves that successful realization of our dreams demands.

It's true that opportunity is not equitably distributed throughout the population - and that is a topic for another post - but the lottery assumption goes beyond opportunity. Many people who actually have numerous opportunities to pursue their dreams still fail to recognize opportunity when it knocks. We continue to believe that other people - people who do recognize and answer that knock - are somehow just "luckier" than we are. Most of us turn a blind eye to our chances to do the things we say we would love to do, while telling ourselves that the opportunities we actually ignored just never came along at all. More determined people (who really intend to build a life doing the things that they love) keep an eye out for opportunities and then grab them when they present themselves.

There are lots of reasons why we fail to acknowledge opportunities to pursue our dreams: perhaps we have conflicting dreams and the opportunity means an impossible tradeoff of one cherished dream for another. It's rare that a conflict is so utterly irreconcilable, but it happens. More often, though, our reluctance to commit to a dream may tell us something about ourselves. Although if we pretend the opportunity never existed, we may never figure out what that is while we mourn a dream that we may never have really pursued anyway.

But, I think the biggest reason why we miss opportunities to do work we actually love is because we are socialized to regard enjoyable activities as strictly for leisure, while work is serious business. There is a sense that if we decide to make something we love to do our life's work, that we are somehow...well...goofing off. There is plenty of subtle and not-so subtle societal disapproval to underscore the point, too, so we dream of being able to perform or cook or paint for a living, but we feel a little bit ashamed of ourselves for wanting what essentially sounds like a lifetime of play, when we really ought to be doing more "grown-up" things. We postpone those dreams for some day, never quite formulating a Plan A to make them happen. We give up on our passions at the dreaming stage - decide they are unrealistic and probably we don't have the talent to make it anyway - and move directly on to Plan B. Our culture is more than ready to reinforce that, too.

Meryl Streep's Plan A - Acting
For example, people often say things like "What - do you imagine you'll be the next Meryl Streep?" to young people who express the dream of pursuing a career in acting (or, picking up on the general attitude that performance arts are not serious career options, young people say it to themselves). The unspoken message is loud and clear: performance art is fine for childhood and adolescence, but when it comes to a life plan, get serious! A career in acting is nothing but a pipe dream - a fantasy!

Consequently, the dream never even makes it out of the realm of fantasy to become a Plan A. Feeling naive and foolish for believing that such a childish dream could be made a reality, artistic people all too often default straight to a more acceptable Plan B.

Yet, we rarely hear anyone say things like that to kids who pursue paths that lead to what are perceived as safer, more conventionally solid, high-status careers like law, engineering, medicine or business. Let's take business, for example. No one ever says "What - do you think you're going to be the next Warren Buffet?" to the teenager who announces he is going to pursue a business degree or who hopes to open a small business someday. Unlike the liberal or performing arts, business is regarded as a very sensible course to take. Nobody insists that the only alternative to Buffet-like success is failure or that it is foolish to even consider trying. Why is that?

Out of the millions of people who work in the thousands of business-related occupations, there are very few who achieve the kind of stratospheric success of a Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, and perhaps a few hundred who "live the dream" of merely "great" corporate career success. There are many successful actors, writers and musicians among the thousands of people who work in creative occupations: actually, a person's relative odds of extraordinary success are probably greater in the arts than in business!

Warren Buffet's Plan A - Business
But even more to the point: where does the assumption come from that making it in business (or law, medicine or what have you) is easy - even a given? Have business diploma, will succeed!  Consider the huge numbers of students who flock to business schools. They can't all be passionate about business! And guess what? They're not. Many of these students love other things much more than business, but they've bought into the idea that to be successful (or, rather, to make money which we sometimes mistakenly equate with "success"), they should go into business school. They've shelved Plan A with hardly a whimper and gone to Plan B in the mistaken belief that Plan B will be easier.

They forget that their Plan B is someone else's Plan A.

The biggest pitfall of going with a Plan B is assuming that everyone else who has traveled the same path defaulted to that plan, too. This mistaken assumption is the root of the equally mistaken belief that Plan B will be easier. We see people in solid business careers and we assume: that's the ticket to success! No need to agonize over talent or possible humiliation - it's business!

But virtually every really successful person is working not on a Plan B but on their Plan A. People with no interest or passion for business do not simply walk out of college, diploma in hand and immediately start climbing the corporate ladder.  The people who seem to have effortlessly navigated a dream career have done so only after decades of working their way up through hard work, determination and a little luck. About the only thing that can sustain a person through years of striving at a demanding career is to love what you do. When you love what to do, the work energizes and invigorates you. When you don't, it can drain and depress you.

When you choose something because it seems expedient, rather than because you really want to do it, you actually choose to devote the majority of your one and only life to something you don't care about and don't particularly enjoyWhy would you choose to do that?

Advancing in a field that doesn't excite you is not easy. Aiming higher in a career you really don't love is not easy. Showing up each day at a job you neither care about nor enjoy is not easy at all. It is very hard. Without the passion and excitement we feel when we are working at something we love, it is very hard to find the energy and drive necessary to succeed. Even with a business, medical or law degree success is never easy and certainly not guaranteed.

What should this guy's Plan A have been?
For plenty of young people, these careers are a genuine dream come true, and they are fortunate to be able to convert the sincere desire to do that work into a solid Plan A. They work hard at careers they love, and whether or not they achieve the highest honors in their field, they command respect in society and live satisfying lives, too. Yet, there are doctors and lawyers and business majors who fail because their ambivalence about their work has translated into lackluster job performance. There are Plan B people languishing in dead-end jobs or who are always looking for another job - constantly searching for the right one and rarely succeeding.

It is worthwhile to give some thought to the things we really enjoy doing and try to figure out a way to incorporate those things into a career plan. A career Plan A.  Many of us avoid doing this because we fear the possibility of failure at something we really care about. Yet, by defaulting to a Plan B which ignores our dreams and passions is to guarantee that we will fail to do anything with them.  There are meaningful careers to match any interest known to humankind - if we make the effort to find them.

It is a fact of life that we won't all become CEOs, movie stars or celebrities in our respective fields. Whether or not we end up rivaling Meryl Streep or Warren Buffet, most of us will feel pretty successful if we can enjoy friendships, family, a little fun and the security of a decent job. If that job should also happen to be in a field we really enjoy - if we made a Plan A, stuck to it, worked hard and grabbed our opportunities when they presented themselves - then we will have the satisfaction of spending the best part of our lives doing stuff we love.

And that must feel a little like winning a lottery.


Steve Jobs  1955-2011

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thorsday Tonic - Thinking Again About Forks























Follow your dreams! (but have a back-up plan) 
Shoot for the stars! (but in a practical way) 
You can do anything! (but be sensible) 
Blah blah blah...


Do these phrases sound familiar, NiftyReaders? No? Call up one of your friends or a trusted family member and tell them you are at a crossroads in life. You should start hearing some version of them in 3..2..1...

We have all heard these earnestly well-intended words of encouragement wrapped up in thin - yet unintentionally soul-crushing - wet blankets of "buts". Admit it. Most of us have thrown them over loved ones, too. I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I have struggled to offer encouragement and useful advice to the nifty offspring.

Crossroads? Forget crossroads. It can be a nightmare 
of equally unappealing "paths" out there!
If this is what your "choices" look like, 
maybe the path you want and need is not there. 
Blaze your own trail!
It seems there are two main schools of thought on giving advice about making life choices. The conservative way - the way parents, in particular, have guided their offspring for thousands of years - is to lay out the life map for other people and basically tell them there are no choices; this is your path. The liberal way - the way more parents have embraced as greater respect and understanding of the psychological component of individual rights grew in society - is to encourage people to follow their bliss and pursue their dreams with little or no outside direction at all: only you can figure out your path.

There is a middle ground, but unfortunately it may be worse than both extremes. It is the mixed message contained in the phrases posted above. At least with the conservative approach, kids have a plan. At least with the liberal approach, kids are utterly free to make (or fail to make) their own plans. The middle approach gives a not-quite-convincing thumbs up to "follow your bliss" with an undercurrent of "but this is what your path should be".

I don't know how young adults stand it. They hear these conflicting messages ad nauseum as they make their way through school and the confusion chorus only intensifies when they arrive at the intersection of high school graduation and the rest of my life™. It rises to a crescendo as they enter their twenties still not quite sure what they are doing - or what they want to do - with their lives. We urge kids to dream big. We tell them they can be anything, do anything with their lives. Then, when they approach adulthood, we begin to temper the soaring reach for the top rhetoric with an endless refrain of cautions which grows louder every year. 

"Sure," we tell Jordan who dreams of becoming a cordon bleu chef, "you can do that. But make sure you have a fallback plan because restaurants fail all the time! Why don't you earn a diploma in business, first? That way you'll be able to run that restaurant successfully"

"That's an awesome dream!" we enthuse to Mary, the aspiring J K Rowling, "you can definitely make it as a writer - some day - but publishing is a tough business. How about getting a teaching degree as a back-up?"

"But you are smart enough to be a lawyer!" we exclaim to Peter, who loves history and wants to be a teacher, "why don't you go to law school and if that doesn't work out, then you can always teach!"

There is somehow a needling sliver of doubt in these encouragements. The suggestion of a back-up plan implies that the advisor lacks faith in the advisee's ability and talent for the dream plan. Sometimes the kid lacks faith in herself, thus never articulating a dream plan, so eager parents swoop in to suggest possible life paths that seem like a great idea to them.

And so, the young people study hard and earn qualifications in these sensible fields. And then, after having invested so much time and effort into those studies, naturally the kids find work in those fields (waste that expensive education? I think not! There may be loans to pay off, too) and before they know it, twenty years have flown by. Instead of becoming a chef, Jordan spends his working years bean-counting for someone else's restaurant business. Instead of writing her latest novel, Mary burns the midnight oil reading painfully bad 8th grade essays and wondering where all of her creative ideas went. Instead of settling happily into academic life, Peter miserably works filing briefs in the legal department for an insurance company. They all have great jobs. They have all succeeded. They are all miserable.

There are more than two possible
outcomes!
When did we develop the insane idea that we are encouraging our kids by advising them to shelve their most precious talents and do something else? I am not saying we don't encourage the dreams and aspirations of our loved ones - we do! - but too often that encouragement is the spoonful of honey with which we deliver the bitter little pill of our perceived reality: that life is unfair and it rarely turns out exactly as we had hoped so it is wiser to go for what conventional wisdom tells us is a safer bet. Already worrying (as everyone does) that they may be ridiculously overestimating their natural talents and fearing the humiliating possibility that they might fail if they pursue the thing that makes everyone around them suggest a back-up plan "just in case", most kids convince themselves that the back-up plan makes more sense anyway. Meanwhile, everyone ridiculously underestimates the talent and effort required to succeed at the back-up plan, too. Because our own self-worth is not hitched to the back-up plan, we think that plan will be easier and success guaranteed. 

I've got news for everybody: your plan b is someone else's plan a. 

And, here's the thing: We can go down what seems like the safer path (the so-called "back-up" plan, later known as "my one and only life") or we can go all-in on the riskier one (the one that requires us to take a chance on our talents and dreams). No matter which way we go, both good and bad stuff will still happen! Yes, life is unfair and yes, unexpected things always happen. Plans nearly always have to be modified to accommodate life events. Detours have to be taken. Sometimes we just come to a total dead end. This is true of life whether we take the "safe" route or the "risky" one. What we fail to see is that our lives will most definitely never turn out even close to what we had hoped they would when we were enthusiastic youngsters if we spend most of our productive years working on the back-up plan instead of working toward an actual dream!


"There's no reason to have a plan b
 because it distracts from plan a."


The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, who are trying to do things. Talent you have naturally; skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft. 

I've never really viewed myself as particularly talented. Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic. You know, while the other guy is sleeping - I'm working. While the other guy is eating - I'm working. There's no easy way around it; no matter how talented you are, your talent is going to fail you if you're not skilled.

What is the classic "mid-life crisis" if not the belated realisation that we have spent more than half of our lives honing our skill at something we thought was the practical, sensible, sure thing while we waited for the perfect time to present itself for us to pursue the activities that actually make us feel alive? The truth is that there is no perfect time, and if we keep waiting for that, we will die still waiting.

That perfect day never comes. We have to work with what we have to work with.

Ironically, the time is never perfect for the "safety" career either, but we don't let that stop us. We are ambivalent and unenthusiastic and yet somehow we believe it is the wiser choice so we work hard to make ourselves do it and do it well. Because we are not emotionally invested in the back-up plan as we are with the things that we actually care about, we simply forge ahead with grim determination to succeed, dammit, so we can earn a living and vacation time in which to squeeze our true passions.

Why can't we skip the safety career and just put all that persistent effort into the things we really want to do?

When we attempt to cover our bases with a "backup plan", what we wind up doing is choosing that back up plan by default, instead of choosing our real dreams. Except for the fear of finding out we stink at the thing we so dearly want to be great at, the risks of pursuing a dream are no greater than the risks of pursuing a "safer" course. The real risk is that if you choose something you don't care about, you will get exactly that - a lifetime of work at something you don't care about. 

American pastor Robert Schuller famously posed this question: What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail? I think the question should be even more urgently phrased: What would you attempt if you knew you only had one chance to try? Do that thing now. Give it all of your energy and all of your effort. Because in a very real sense, you may only get one chance to really try. One thing leads to another and life gets complicated.

Yes! Put all of your eggs in that basket. Your life probably will not turn out as you imagine it today - life just doesn't follow a script like that - but it may turn out better than you dreamed! No matter how things turn out, you will come nearer to realizing your dreams than you ever could by pouring your energy into a back-up life.




Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tuesday Tonic - Make Your One Life Extraordinary!




"I was not argued out of faith - I was inspired out of it." Brandon Fibbs 

For your Tuesday Tonic today: a special treat from Plumbline Pictures. The elegant, inspirational and beautiful message of this video is only matched by its stunning visual beauty. Bonus: After the main video there is a seven-minute montage of iconic film images.

The video (linked below this post) is in HD. Do yourself a favor: close the office door, turn off your phone, bring the video up on full screen, turn up the volume and soak up the goodness. You'll feel relaxed and restored after this rejuvenating Tuesday Tonic!

Here is a transcript* of the video:


One Life...

As a Christian, I believed, as most persons of faith do,
that this life was temporary,
a sort of proving ground, in which we made ourselves worthy, through our beliefs and our deeds,
for an eternity spent with god in paradise.

The most critical decision anyone could possibly make, was to accept god's redemption
for their broken, sinful nature,
and to love others into the Kingdom of God.
Because this mortal existence was destined to evaporate in the blink of an eye
it was critical to understand the bigger picture
and recognize that only eternity mattered.

Absolutely everything else was superfluous.

All pleasure, all happiness, all love,
even all the good you did in this life
was to be jettisoned
if it in any way distracted you from your heavenly goal.

Pain and hardship was to be endured cheerfully
because the worst of it was nothing compared to the glory that awaited.
This life was merely a foretaste of things to come,
a trial run, an existential impostor, a pale reflection of future glory.

As an atheist, however, I have a very different perspective.

When I gave up a belief in god, I also relinquished any sort of claim on an afterlife
While such a surrender is not, by definition, required by atheism,
I have found as much evidence for life beyond death as I have for the god
who supposedly awaits us in it.
As with the concept of god,
I see far more persuasive evidence that the afterlife is an human construction
meant to allow us to pretend we can cheat death
and hold our tenuous mortality at bay.

The afterlife exists only within the pages of our ancient books;
we have no true evidence for it.

We have no reason to believe human beings have eternal souls
or that anything outlives the cessation of our wondrous but constantly degrading biological machinery.

Life is not some sort of launching pad for something greater.
The human story is far simpler
and far more profound:
this is the only life you and I will ever have. Right here. Right now.

The belief in an afterlife cheapens and diminishes the value of this existence,
and dehumanizes the people in it.

It hobbles our ability to live life fully
because we imagine there's something much better waiting in the wings. It's the ultimate greener grass.

If life is eternal, then where is the sense of urgency?
We take our pleasure and our pain less seriously.
Such a belief allows us to downplay our own discomfort, biding our time for relief later.

We consent, we surrender, we settle.

Such a belief gives us the ability to overlook injustice
because an omniscient god sees all and metes out punishment even after death.
But if there is no afterlife,
much less an ultimate judge keeping tally of our sins and transgressions,
it means we are responsible for our own choices, actions and deeds.

You are not some sort of spiritual marionette,
with the forces of good and evil pulling your strings.
No one made you do anything, and no one will absolve you of it later.
You are not born monster,
you become a monster through your own choices.

We must not shirk our responsibility to see justice done in the here and now.

Knowing that this life is all there is pushes you to live well,
not because of some reward or punishment, but because this is all you have.
The truth is, our desire to love brightly,
live fiercely,
hold death at bay
and mourn our dead
shows that, whenever we may claim to believe,
it's not how we actually live.

Look around you.

What you see is all there is or ever will be.
Don't neglect it. Don't trivialize what it offers or who you shares it with you.
The great American poet Walt Whitman said:
"O Me! O life!...of the questions of these recurring What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer: That you are here, that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse."
George Bernard Shaw said:
"Life isn't about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself."
Some people are terrified at the prospect of creating their own meaning and purpose.

They prefer to have something larger and smarter than themselves in charge.
Others, like myself, find it liberating.

You are the captain of your ship.

Your fate is in your hands.
You carve your own shape from life's marble.
While religion forces you into prescribed molds,
forbidding and punishing those who leak out into other shapes,
a life without faith has no prescribed limits.

Stop allowing religion to permeate you with fear,
and trick you into believing that your life must be lived within the tiny boundaries of suffocating ideology.

Your freewill is not the false freedom religion prescribes.
Don't live as if everything is predestined.
Your steps are not ordered.
You do not have a destiny.

You are not a automaton.

Nothing is written.

This is not terrifying, it is emancipating.

It is one of the great privileges of being human.

Instead of working toward some ephemeral reward,
turn those energies to the here and now.

Seize this empowerment.

Decide for yourself.
Your world is moldable.

You can change it.

It responds to your touch.

Death could come for us at any second.

We are breathtakingly fragile.

Recognize that you are human, that you are mortal,
that your time here, in cosmic terms, is a blip of a blip.
But that is what makes us so precious.

An eternal being is not rare or special.

Instead, our lives are defined by our limitations.

We are exquisite exactly because we are rare,
because we are born, bloom and perish.

And when this life ends-
and it will end for us all, prince and pauper-
all we experienced, all we loved, all we learned, all we changed,
will vanish.

This is not a hopeless situation, as some assert.

It merely transfers importance from there to here.
It exchanges false hope for present actions.

When I die,
my body will disintegrate back into the atoms which make up its constituent parts
I will, once again, become stardust.

I will feed the cosmos,
and I find that breathtaking.

You are but an infinitesimal speck in a Cosmos that has not the agency to know or care of your existence.

And yet, you -finite, fallible you-
are able to take it in, to investigate it,
to examine it, to interrogate it, and even,
to some degree,
to comprehend it.

You possess the most special power of all:
a human brain capable of rational thought.

The ability to reason.

That is what makes you marvelous.

It is what sets you apart from all the other animals sharing this planet with us.

You can peel back mysteries and see the clockwork of the Cosmos.

That should make you feel...

massive!

You only get this one chance
this one chance to experience this exquisite planet.

The world is vast and full of wonder.
Replace judgment with curiosity and explore.
Be famished, every day, to learn something new.
Love incandescently and be loved the same in return.
Laugh as often as possible.

Instigate happiness-
for yourself and for those around you.

Aid in transforming the suffering of others whose brief flicker in this universe may be one of pain and anguish.

Stop judging others and trying to control how they live and who they love.

Stop killing time, treading water and running in place.
Stop limiting yourself.
Risk standing out.

Dare to be unique and unfettered.
Dare to dream big and live even bigger.

This is it. This is all you get.

One life.

No exceptions.

It's not for the timid,
but it rewards the bold.
How will you make your life...
extraordinary?!


- Brandon Fibbs, January 2, 2013

I can hardly believe that this video has only about 6,600 views - I hope NiftyReaders will share the link and do something about that! (This video is a feast for the eyes: the niftiest way to view it is to turn off the CC and just take it all in).




* transcript via transcriptsearch.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thorsday Tonic - Tropes vs Women in Video Games

                                                                                                                               photo via feminist frequency



























Back in March, I wrote a blog post featuring the work of feminist - and enthusiastic gamer - Anita Sarkeesian in honor of International Women's Day. Ms. Sarkeesian has faced down a veritable army of haters who have attacked her viciously for the 'crime' of criticizing the prevalence of harmful sexist tropes in video games.

In 2012, Sarkeesian made the "mistake" of launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund a series of videos examining the prevalence of sexist gendered stereotypes in video games. While the project was hailed as a great idea by many feminist gamers (both men and women), it was met with outrage by a significant subset of gamers and misogynists on the internet. The resulting firestorm of misogynistic harassment ranged from expletive-laced comments on the website to threats of rape, torture and death. Her blog, Feminist Frequency, was hacked. Enraged gamers created "games" featuring Sarkeesian as a character who is raped, beaten or killed (or all three) - one was called "Beat up Anita Sarkeesian" and featured the *fun* of punching the animated Anita until the blood-spatter turns the screen red. Furious gamers sent videos of the violence being done to her "game character", perhaps meant as a warning and a threat, but undoubtedly meant to harass, intimidate and silence her.
Yeah, this really was a thing.

The first video in the series, Tropes vs Women in Video Games, Damsel in Distress Part 1 can be found here

Yesterday, Part 2 of Damsel in Distress was released to almost instant attack by the same sort of internet trolls who have been harrassing Ms Sarkeesian from the moment she decided to challenge the status quo in the video game industry. As Jason at Lousy Canuck reported, her video was false-flagged and pulled from YouTube within an hour of its posting. 

Think about that for a moment. People are so desperate to attack Sarkeesian and any attempt at injecting feminist commentary into video games, that they’re willing to silence her by marking it as objectionable. Not because the content is incorrect, or because the content is damning of the industry, but because how daaaaaare this mere woman criticize this immature art form that we love so much? Jason Thibeault, Lousy Canuck, May 28, 2013.

The video is back up now and it is as good as, if not better than, the first one. 

Gather the teenagers 'round and take a few minutes to view. Don't forget to discuss!


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thorsday Tonic - Happy Little Clouds!

                                                                                                                                                 painting by Bob Ross via kalenart























For many NiftyReaders (not to mention, yours truly), it's been an almost endless winter. Some of us are contending with raw, wet, cold days and some are even still dealing with snow. The garden looks so sad, like it's mid-January not nearing the end of April.

I toyed with the idea of reposting the wonderful remix The Garden of Your Mind featuring wonderful classic video of Mr. (Fred) Rogers, but then I found another wonderful offering that I think makes the perfect Thorsday Tonic for the weary reader.

This is a remix that features another TV personality, Bob Ross, the beloved PBS artist who gently invited a generation of viewers to explore their inner artist.  The soft-spoken painter honed his craft of quick painting while in the Air Force. During that period in his life, Ross promised himself that if he ever got out of the military, he would never yell or scream again - and by all accounts he kept that promise.

This autotune captures the essence of a gentle man and an artist, and I think it inspires any kind of creativity. Whether you dream of painting, writing or making music - or any other creative endeavor from dreaming up new mathematical theorems to designing cool toys - I think Bob's words are meant for you:  "Believe that you can do it...'cause you can do it."



via pbsdigitalstudios                                    remix by melodysheep

Happy Little Clouds

I believe...I believe...
every day's a good day when you paint.
I believe...I believe...
it'll bring a lot of good thoughts to your heart.

Let's build a happy little cloud.
Let's build some happy little trees.
There are no limits here.
You start out by believing here.

You can almost paint with anything;
all you have to do is practice.
There are no limits here.
You start by believing here.

This is your world...you're the creator.
Find freedom on this canvas.
Believe that you can do it...'cause you can do it.

Give it a little touch; give it a little push,
make love to the canvas
give it a little touch; give it a little push,
caress it very gently,
grab it, lift it, fluff it,
you can go on and on and on,
back and forth, back and forth,
layer after layer after layer.

Relax. Let it flow.
Think like water.
Relax. Let it flow.
You can go on and on and on.

We don't make mistakes,
we just have happy accidents.
You can do anything that you want to do.
Total power.
Sing along. Have a good time.

This is your world. You're the creator.
Find freedom on this canvas.
Believe that you can do it...'cause you can do it.
I believe...I believe...
every day's a good day when you paint.
I believe...I believe...
it'll bring a lot of good thoughts to your heart.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Pwned! (An International Women's Day Feature Presentation)



























In honor of International Women's Day, may I present a great story about a remarkable woman. This story has it all: a courageous heroine, vicious enemies, conflict, cultural relevance, tension and drama. And a very satisfying conclusion. It's like the best video game ever!

Anita Sarkeesian is a young feminist. She has also been an enthusiastic video gamer since childhood. As she grew from happily video-playing child to thoughtful teen and feminist adult, Sarkeesian became increasingly disturbed by the portrayal of female characters in video games. It seemed that the vast majority of female-identified characters were either victims, trophies or wily (lying) temptresses - always, always hyper-sexualized and all too often brutalized as some part of the storyline.

Sarkeesian talked about this portrayal of women in video games on her video blog as part of the overall discussion of the issue of the negative depictions of women in all aspects of popular culture. She discussed it with other gamers, too, and while she did receive encouraging feedback from many, she also received angry blowback from some. Recognizing that this sexist portrayal of women characters was not accidental, Sarkeesian decided to try to examine the issue a little more closely.

But, it's just a game!
Why can't these b****es lighten up?
In 2012, Sarkeesian made the "mistake" of launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund a series of videos examining the prevalence of sexist gendered stereotypes in video games. While the project was hailed as a great idea by many feminist gamers (both men and women), it was met with outrage by a significant subset of gamers and misogynists on the internet. The resulting firestorm of misogynistic harassment ranged from expletive-laced comments on the website to threats of rape, torture and death. Her blog, Feminist Frequency, was hacked. Enraged gamers created "games" featuring Sarkeesian as a character who is raped, beaten or killed (or all three) - one was called "Beat up Anita Sarkeesian" and featured the *fun* of punching the animated Anita until the blood-spatter turns the screen red. Furious gamers sent videos of the violence being done to her "game character", perhaps meant as a warning and a threat, but undoubtedly meant to harass, intimidate and silence her.

Fortunately for young women everywhere - and more directly for women gamers - Anita Sarkeesian did not let the harassment silence her. She persevered in her quest. Other feminist gamers supporting her effort spread the word about the Kickstarter and the rest, as they say, is history.  Here is Anita Sarkeesian speaking at TED+Women last fall telling the story in her succinct, engaging and calmly awesome way:



Online harassment - even harassment that reaches criminal levels - is almost never successfully prosecuted. The law has not caught up to the technology yet and in any case the anonymity and enormous size of the online population makes enforcement of any laws problematic.  The internet is the perfect home for enraged cowards who lob verbal and visual attacks at their targets before scuttling away into the shadows of the interweb. While it is likely that most of these lowlifes would never risk their own hides by coming out into the open and attacking the object of their wrath in real life, the sobering fact that no one can be certain about what rage-filled people might do is often enough to frighten a victim of online harassment into silence.

What? It's just a simple beach shot!
Why do those feminazis always get
their thongs in a twist, anyway?
The goal of the anti-feminists who perpetrated the campaign against her was to silence Anita Sarkeesian through online harassment so vicious and threatening that it is actually nauseating to read about.  Instead of achieving their goal, however, they inadvertently assisted her in her goal of funding the video series. With great courage and determination, Sarkeesian not only continued to promote her project but she actually used the online campaign of terror against her as a case in point supporting the need for exactly the series her kickstarter was attempting to fund.

The TED talk linked above occurred last fall and this week, Ms. Sarkeesian released the first video in the series, Damsel in Distress: Part 1 - Tropes vs Women in Video Games.

Upcoming videos in the series will include:

The Fighting F#@k Toy - Video #2
The Sexy Sidekick - Video #3
The Sexy Villainess - Video #4
Background Decoration - Video #5
Voodoo Priestess/Tribal Sorceress - Video #6
Women as Reward - Video #7
Mrs. Male Character - Video #8
Unattractive Equals Evil - Video #9
Man with Boobs - Video #10
Positive Female Characters! - Video #11
Top 10 Most Common Defenses of Sexism in Games - Video #12

In addition to what looks to be a fantastic series of videos about this issue, Sarkeesian is developing materials for a classroom curriculum kit to help educate a future generation of gamers and internet media participants. As she pointed out in her TED+Women talk, "video games are the fastest growing form of mass media today". This is a huge communication tool, with enormous power to influence and shape our culture. As a society, we can sit back and allow it to more deeply entrench harmful tropes which dehumanize, objectify and exclude women or we can use it to help build a more just and equitable society.

Clearly, a significant, vocal and vicious subset of society wishes to enforce compliance with the first option. But feminists like Anita Sarkeesian and her supporters have fought for and achieved a small step toward ensuring that the second option has a chance to flower.

In short, Anita Sarkkeesian pwned the very people who wanted to force her to shut up and go away.

Well done, Anita Sarkeesian!

Take a few minutes to view the masterfully done video below. It is entertaining, quick-moving, and makes its points clearly and concisely. The video clips from some of my favorite games are fun, too!

Best quote:

"In the game of patriarchy, women are not the opposing team; they are the ball."

QFT.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Monday Music - New Sum



via sonicrecords

For your Monday Music fix: a thought-provoking song and a really cool video!

You're going to love this. Watch it all the way through - in full-screen if possible.

Four and a half near-perfect minutes: Enjoy!

( Nifty PSA: "Nous sommes" = "we are" (en fran├žais))

New Sum (Nous Sommes)

oh see the great citizens
with all their white sticks tapping brick
they can't see the wire strung in between them
and all that young scum reeling

but oh you do your blinded best
with all these arrows through your chest
feel em forcing through and they're forcing you
to follow through to where they want you

was it a trick of light? shook my head from side to side,
i seen a million lines, the finest thread strung spine to spine

animals run on the sidewalks
animals run in the national parks
and all the bankers and all the beggars and all the bears are brothers.

is it a trick of light? i shake my head from side to side
we rub our eyes and shake our fists at the passersby
we scare the kids but mama it's all for the best

what is the new sum, us tied up? with no thumbs?
is it a noose hung? and us tied up? with no thumbs?
yeah but in the new sum you gotta count us, we see the lines run
we see the lines run, can you see them? can you see them?
can you see them?

by Hey Rosetta!


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thorsday Tonic - Find Your Place


                      (viewing both videos - in full screen - is highly recommended)

"Finding yourself out here on the very edge of the continent; waking up to the first sunrise in North America - it's hard to believe that most people still wake up to an alarm clock."

There really are places like this in the world. They are rugged shorelines whose rocky cliffs are pounded by thundering Atlantic waves. They are wide green plains whose graceful grasses softly brush the horizon or breathtaking mountains where the cold, clean air thrills as it chills your face, your throat and your lungs. They are noisy, busy, vibrant cities whose colorful, energetic populations pulse with creativity and life. They are every place that speaks to the heart and soul of the people who live there.

You don't have to go to any one place to find the serenity and the sense of awe that this video depicts. It is the relationship between a person and a place that endows one spot on the planet with that magical source of water for the mind, body and spirit for that person. Some people are born into a place which nurtures their inner life from cradle to grave. Others choose theirs as adults; sometimes instantly with a shock of recognition - this is my place! - but more often it happens gradually. Sometimes we just grow into the place - perhaps having arrived by chance and always expecting to move on again - until one day there is a whispered realization of contentment - I belong here.

There really are places like this in the world. 
Go out and find yours!





Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday Music - Walk On The Moon

























For your Monday Music, in keeping with this week's theme (thoughts on the fork in the road), a little musical inspiration:

Walk On The Moon

Is it just me or a message from above
Bells are ringing, push has finally come to shove
The door before me now is opened just enough
I'm sick and tired of waiting
For dreams that never come
Like a game I never played in
And still wish that I had won

I'm Alive
I've got one shot and I'm taking it to you
I'm Alive
I've come to realize not a moment too soon
This is my one small step
This is my walk on the Moon

Don't you think their hands were
shaking as that rocket ship touched down
I'm sure they shivered
when they finally touched the ground
The giant leap so fragile
that it hardly made a sound
But it must have been amazing
What a world they got to see
So I don't care, my foolish fear
Won't get the best of me

Alan Doyle - Great Big Sea

Listen!

 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr



















Today, we celebrate the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta Georgia on January 15, 1929, the son and grandson of Baptist ministers. In spite of school segregation, he was a good student, graduated from Morehouse College like his father and grandfather before him and went on to study for the ministry at Crozer Theological Seminary, where he distinguished himself as a leader (winning election as president of the predominantly white class). After receiving his Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer, he was awarded a fellowship and continued on to complete a doctoral program at Boston University, where he earned the title of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in 1955. In Boston, Dr. King met his wife, the accomplished and intelligent Coretta Scott King with whom he had a family of four children.

The Kings moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where Dr. King became pastor of the Dexter Street Baptist Church and became active in the NAACP. When Rosa Parks defied the segregationist Jim Crow laws by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, Dr. King led the year-long bus boycott which led to the eventual Supreme Court ruling that the laws requiring segregation on buses were unconstitutional. The Civil Rights Movement had arrived at its moment in history at last and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr had emerged as its leader.

In spite of his determination to lead a peaceful revolution for civil rights, Dr. King was the target of unceasing attacks during his years in the public eye. He was arrested more than twenty times, was assaulted numerous times and was under constant threats of violence and verbal attacks. During the bus boycott, his house was bombed as those who resisted equal rights for people of color demonstrated their utter lack of respect for the lives of Dr. King and his wife and children. In spite of these terrible dangers, Dr. King persisted in the march toward justice, with the blessing and support of his wife and family.

Dr. King was the right leader for the right time as a movement that had been simmering - a yearning for the true liberty and dignity of full equality - finally came to a boil. Marrying his interpretation of Christian theology with the peaceful protest methods of Mahatma Ghandi, Dr. King's ideal truly represented a revolutionary new way of bringing about peaceful social change which he believed could strengthen, not unravel, the fabric of society. In 1964, at only age 35, he was recognized for his courageous and enlightened leadership with the Nobel Peace Prize. He donated the more than $50,000 prize award to the Civil Rights cause.

In early April, 1968, Dr. King was in Memphis to lend moral support to black workers who were striking to protest the egregious inequities of their treatment and compensation compared to white workers. King's arrival in Memphis had been delayed because of a bomb threat to his plane but he managed to get there, march with the sanitation workers and speak at rallies.  On the last night of his life, at a rally at the Mason Temple in Memphis, he referred to the intimidation and threats of violence that had dogged him for years. In what became known as his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, King had this to say to his listeners:

"And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

Martin Luther King, Jr. was brutally taken from this world on April 4, 1968, in Memphis Tennessee. He was shot to death by a white supremacist sniper as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel.

You can find an excellent, brief (4 minutes) biography of Dr. King here.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'


I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.


I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.


I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.


I have a dream today. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. August 28, 1963. (full text)

Recommended reading: Good and Evil in Birmingham, Diane McWhorter,The New York Times, January 20, 2013. McWhorter argues, rightly I think, that the battle of the Civil Rights movement was not between "good" and "evil", but between "good" and "normal".

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Because...Hillary























Several news sources are reporting that an opinion poll shows that Hillary Clinton enjoys the highest approval ratings of her long career and that 57% of people polled said that if the 2016 election were held tomorrow, they would support her for President!

Now that is the kind of thing that brightens this long-time supporter's day!

I am more focused on supporting President Obama's efforts right now (which is why I have turned away with steely resolve and haven't clicked on any of those Hillary Clinton 2016 posts on Facebook), but in the back of my mind a little voice is whispering, "Run, Hillary run!".

Run, Hillary, Run: Majority want a Clinton candidacy, Jon Cohen, Washington Post Politics blog, December 5, 2012.

Hillary Clinton is the peoples' choice for 2016: poll, Kristen A. Lee, New York Daily News, December 5, 2012.

Filed under "Who Gives a damn?" but what the hell, I'll include it anyway: Hillary Clinton in 2016: Celebrities who support Clinton, HuffPost Celebrity, December 5, 2012.

And yes, a thousand times yes, let's talk about this question: After Hillary Clinton, who will fight for women? Ritu Sharma, Politico Opinion contributor, December 4, 2012.



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

America Goes Forward!
























The role of citizens in our Democracy does not end with your vote.
America’s never been about what can be done for us. 
It’s about what can be done by us together 
through the hard and frustrating,
but necessary work of self-government
That’s the principle we were founded on.


I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym, or saw folks working late in a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you’ll discover something else...

The spirit of ordinary Americans moves the President.
"It's big. It's important. It's what politics can be."
You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity.

You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift.

You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse whose working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.

That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.
(Full transcript of President Barack Obama's acceptance speech, The Washington Post, November 7, 2012.)

The New York Times' contributor, Thomas L. Friedman writes eloquently about why he believes the President was re-elected in an economic environment which historically should have spelled disaster for him at the polls: the Republican party "lost an election that, given the state of the economy, it should have won because of an excess of McConnell-like cynicism, a shortage of new ideas and an abundance of really bad ideas..."

No one can know for sure what complex emotional chemistry tipped this election Obama’s way, but here’s my guess: In the end, it came down to a majority of Americans believing that whatever his faults, Obama was trying his hardest to fix what ails the country and that he had to do it with a Republican Party that, in its gut, did not want to meet him halfway but wanted him to fail — so that it could swoop in and pick up the pieces. To this day, I find McConnell’s declaration appalling. Consider all the problems we have faced in this country over the last four years — from debt to adapting to globalization to unemployment to the challenges of climate change to terrorism — and then roll over that statement: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Hope and Change: Part 2, Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, November 7, 2012.

As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path.

By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin. Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over.

And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you, and you’ve made me a better president. And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead.  

Washington Post contributor E.J. Dionne writes that he sees the election as a ruling by the people on the gridlock in Washington. A great essay, although it begs the question: if the people have spoken in the President's favor over an obstructionist Congress, then why is the balance of power essentially unchanged? The electorate did throw out some of the more extreme Senators and Congressmen, but they put a few new ones in as well. It looks like the judgement of the people on the issue of gridlock in Washington is less clear than Dionne would have his readers believe, but his article is still a good read which makes some excellent points.

 Republicans will take solace in their success in holding on to the House of Representatives. But the party as a whole will have to come to terms with its failures to expand beyond its base of older white voters and to translate right-wing slogans into a coherent agenda. Republicans need to have a serious talk with themselves, and they need to change.
 All of this strengthens Obama’s hand. It will not be so easy for Republicans to keep saying no. They can no longer use their desire to defeat Obama as a rallying cry. They cannot credibly insist that tax increases can never be part of a solution to the nation’s fiscal problems.
 And now Obama will have the strongest argument a politician can offer. Repeatedly, he asked the voters to settle Washington’s squabbles in his favor. On Tuesday, they did. And so a president who took office four years ago on a wave of emotion may now have behind him something more valuable and durable: a majority that thought hard about his stewardship and decided to let him finish the job he had begun. Obama's victory should settle a bitter argument, E.J. Dionne Jr., The Washington Post, November 7, 2012.

Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual.

You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve got more work to do.

The Philadelphia Enquirer online newsfeed (philly.com) posted an uncredited piece pointing out that this election - the most expensive in history by a huge margin - appears to have been a failure for special interests who hoped to influence the election using superPACs and corporate donations under Citizens United.

One way the 2012 election could go down in the record books is in bucking the notion that the results always follow the money, and in disproving outsized fears that corporations could buy the election outright. Super PACs, super busts? philly.com, November 7, 2012.

The final word in today's post must go to the President, whose acceptance speech on election night 2012 will, I think, go down in the annals of history as a great one. Reprising the theme he first brought to the American public in 2004, the President concluded his uplifting call for unity with these inspiring words:

America, I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.


I believe we can seize this future together 
because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. 
We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. 
We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions,
 and we remain more than a collection 
of red states and blue states. 
We are and forever will be 
the United States of America.


America goes forward!