Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dealing with Mediocrity

As you may be aware, Jim Cameron's epic blue-skinned opus has sent thousands into a depression tailspin. Honestly, just Google "Avatar depression" and look at the page of stories that comes up. Heck overexcited journos  have even dubbed it a syndrome. CNN has a more balanced account here.

 In a nutshell, people having watched the beautifully rendered colourful paradise of Avatar's Pandora for hours (anyone else spend the latter half of te duration quietly squirming in their seat?) returned to their concrete jungle existences and were upset by how drab their real lives were in comparison. Who are we to stay if it's irrationality or the sterling work of their CGI artists (I usually consider them technicians, but here I think you can forgive my variation) that has led to this? And I will only slightly judge people for this reaction. It was a pretty bloody beautiful film, one like Finding Nemo, Raging Bull and Big Fish before it where nearly every frame of that movie is aesthetically pleasing enough to hang as artwork in and of itself.

And heck, I was 'suffering' with a mild case of the life-is-mediocre/shoula-woulda-coulda/I-am-but-an-insignificant-ant thoughts today. Let me elaborate:
- I wake up to my CD alarm playing music from Mumford and Sons. Those guys are freaking geniuses: like Fleet Foxes, recalling a time of cheery folk sounds, perhaps even uber-British traditions of minstrels telling stories through the ever-beautiful medium of song.
- Completed and sent off a profile of Franz Schubert I had to submit for a media internship I have applied for (bit of a career about face but sounds amazing and there's no better time for it). Again, massive overachiever! By my age (23) the guy had already composed the whismsical Trout Quintet, 6 spectacular symphonies and literally tens of thousands of bars of amazing Romantic-period music. Melodic genius.
- Read "A Hundred Years of Solitude" on the tube in (I refuse to abandon this masterpiece for my Shakespeare quest, I will merely push it back a few weeks when I have completed it) - again, Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Deservedly garnering a high reputation, his beautiful wordsmithing ("...she found herself upset by gusts of bad humour and she tried to get rid of the shadows that were begining to wrap her in a straitjacket of cobwebs") and creation of the magical realism style of fictionwon him the Nobel Prize for literature. Literary Colombiano genius.
- In the evening, I was lucky enough to win tickets to an HD screening of "Jaws". I don't need to wax lyrical about Spielberg's tour-de-force, but needless to say, a handful of the screened shots in silhouettes most notably, the intense level of performances by the three principal actors and the expert handling of the scenes and cinematography are more than enough anyone awe-struck. Movie genius.
- Watched highlights of the Golden Globes when I got home. Now I haven't seen most of the films being awarded for Drama prizes ("Up in the Air" and "Precious" for example have just been released over here, definitely intend on watching the former, possibly even tomorrow) but from nearly all accounts and the reverence they were held in is enough to convince me that I will all but certainly love these films and definitely respect their craft. And they showed clips of Avatar, enough to give a less cynical mind a syndrome? :p Modern day geniuses.

Surrounded by proof of such brilliance in the course of literally one day, how is one to cope? During periods of inactivity (read walking home, insomnia-racked bedtime, answering the call of nature) I am prone, I suspect more than most, to rapid, anxious and bordering on frenetic wonderments on the meaning of life, life on Earth, my part in this huge cycle and most importantly personal introspection. And the cold hard truth that hit me again and again harder than the cold hard gust of the not-yet- Spring winds is that try as I might, chances are exceedingly high, all but that I will not reach those dizzy heights, or aiming lower, achieve any filmic, music or literary opus that will be revered and remembered after I'm worm food. And this realisation is an unwelcome pang in the soul that keeps returning. Now I'm not a panicky type of guy (for the most part) so I don't freak out, tear off my clothes and hair and run shrieking through the streets of the London. The other side of my constantly-in-devil's-advocate-mode-consciousness fights back and calms me down.

And it is those arguments and resolution that I will leave you with now (say whaaat? He's finally finishing up?)

- Adjust your expectations - yes, unless you're lucky enough to live in the foothills of the Alps, next to the Great Lakes or in the shadow of one of the world's great mountains, chances are the horizons of your daily life is nowhere near as beautiful, idyllic, dare I say it, perfect as Pandora. But we have to get over it. And screw it, if you know where to look, chances are your world has just as much beauty in an entirely different way. It is the great photographers and artists of the world that know where to find these types of scenes. Don't just envy them, emulate them, learn how they see the world and if you want to combat 'Avatar Depression Syndrome' get the heck out of your house and open your eyes. The screening of Jaws I went to today was held in the London Aquarium on London's South Bank (PR stunt and alos pretty surreal/freaky/childishly AWESOME to be watching the film while 2 feet away is a tank full of sharks. Little baby ones that could just about rid you of your hand) and the walk there and back reminds me as always how much I love walking along the Thames at night. London, when it's quietened down, filled with the semi-hushed and reverential people also in love with this city, even sexier when they're expressing it in accents, and lit by colourful lights is just a pleasure. With sights such as the one on the right (only prettier and NOT from a cameraphone's POV) who could say otherwise?
- Never stop striving - Yes, for most of us, in the scheme of things we will not achieve long-standing greatness. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't give it a bloody good go! To bastardise a perfectly good saying, Pandora wasn't built in a day. No, it was built in years and years, and with a team of likely hundreds of hugely talented artists, visionaries and organisers. Epic films, books and music albums often take years to write and many failed attempts to reach that book. Even Spielberg (sorry, Stevie, love your work, honestly massive fan, but I'm using you to inspire here, ok?) hit 1941 and Hook on his way to Jaws, Close Encounters and Schindler's List. Sure, on balance he was one of the greatest film directors we'll ever see, but everyone makes mistakes. And we cannot allow these setbacks to define us, to hold us back. It is how we deal with adversity, the manner in which we pick ourselves up and carry on that makes us great within ourselves. Shout out to Lance Armstrong here! Be realistic, but don't stop believing. Hold on to that fee-ee-ee-eeeeeling. (Ps, congrats, Glee!)
- Seek glory in the little things - Friends, family, the unique and heartmelting sound of a baby laughing, being someone's first kiss, being someone's last kiss, that promotion you've worked your butt off for, completing the marathon, wiping someone's tears, pulling back a friend from the brink, appreciating the achievement of others, helping someone in need, seeing something truly beautiful, witnessing/being that random act of kindness that brightens up mediocre days, teaching a child to grow, hitting that home run. Love.
- LIVE. Don't sit at home moping. Don't wonder what could have been. When you're on your deathbed (*knock on wood* YEARS and YEARS from now!) let your last thought be "I never achieved this" or heaven forbid "If only I had done that". When that white light hits you, may your final breath be "I enriched my life. I bettered lives of those I love. I improved the life of the people around me. I tried my damnedest to the best I could and I'm proud of what I've done."

(Wow. I've just been typing non-stop to the point where my knuckles are feeling abused. My knuckles, what the heck? Anyhow I hope I made some sense and said some interesting things.)

20 Response to Dealing with Mediocrity

20 January 2010 at 02:42

Hey, nice post!

I feel what you are saying about not having achieved something great and that inner desire to do something big... but remember that all those masterpieces you mentioned took years to make and some many more years on top of that for people to appreciate- so take it easy ;)

Keep taking those small steps towards what you want to accomplish and when you get there you can look back at this post and laugh at yourself :)

(BTW- found you on 20sb)

20 January 2010 at 02:57

That's exactly the point I'm trying to make. The section at the end is my view on how to adjust that inner desire to something that is more constructive! Thanks for reading :)

20 January 2010 at 03:06

Good words, Stephen. So many people (myself included) look at this world and want it to be better, but only focus on what's wrong or what needs to be fixed in order to make it perfect, that they don't see that parts of it are beautiful. Not that everything is roses and sweet tea, of course, but there's a lot of good in this world that goes unnoticed.

20 January 2010 at 03:11

"... and sweet tea" Bless your little cotton socks! :D And yes, I definitely agree.

20 January 2010 at 03:14

All I can say is that this took the words right out of my mouth. Oh right...and you MUST see Up in the Air. It's incredible.

20 January 2010 at 03:47

This was an amazing post- not because you loved Avatar (can you believe I still haven't seen it? :D) but because you encouraged us to not look for perfection, not to EXPECT perfection, because we'll never get it if that's what we're striving for. Instead, focusing on LIFE will get us to where we feel like life is perfect, because we were able to feel it and live it and experience it.

I just wanted to say how much I loved this "Friends, family, the unique and heartmelting sound of a baby laughing, being someone's first kiss, being someone's last kiss, that promotion you've worked your butt off for, completing the marathon, wiping someone's tears, pulling back a friend from the brink, appreciating the achievement of others, helping someone in need, seeing something truly beautiful, witnessing/being that random act of kindness that brightens up mediocre days, teaching a child to grow, hitting that home run. Love."

SO beautiful, Stephen. Really.

20 January 2010 at 13:45

I just stumbled on your blog... you are a lovely writer, Stephen

20 January 2010 at 13:59

I, for one, will never be content unless I have a house on a floating island. Say what you will. :)

BTW, I've recently discovered Mumford and Sons, and yes, they're geniuses.

20 January 2010 at 15:22

Mumford and Sons are brilliant.. but you already know that from me.

I'd choose Narnia over Pandora anyday... I got depressed when I realised that there wasn't a talking lion in real life but thats just the child in me talking.

Jaws is an awesome film and i love Spielberg, hopefully he does a great job on Tintin.

20 January 2010 at 15:31

I LOVED this post. I haven't seen Avatar yet but I end up feeling that way when I return back to Winnipeg after a visit to England!

Mumford and Sons are incredible and I'm seeing them in one month! (Did you read my review on Sigh No More on Frequency?)

And always, always try and see glory in little things. And appreciate the fact that you're lucky to be sharing the world that can produce such brilliance, and got to see it in this lifetime :)

20 January 2010 at 16:30

I like "seek glory in the little things," except some of the things you mentioned are far from being "little."

Sure it would be great to be a genius musician, novelist, poet, director, etc., but the things that individually give our life meaning are the "little" things you mentioned :) When you excel and have success with the 'little' things, you'll be far from mediocre in life.

21 January 2010 at 04:59

Miss Marilee - I watched this film just yesterday. Honestly one of the best films I have seen in SUCH a long while. I'm already looking forward to owning the DVD even though the film came out less than a week ago on our side of the pond :P

Allison - Avatar looked pretty, but even that pales so terribly compared to "Up in the Air". And thanks for the compliment, all we can do as bloggers is put down and thoughts and hope people like it, and it means a lot that you apparently did! :)

Sarah - Gosh. Just, thanks! :) Believe me I'll be checking your blog when it's not 5am! I love the 'fish out of water but isn't life kooky and great' style of writing!

Boots - Floating island, as opposed to? ;) Oh yes, Mumford are completely rocking my world right now.

Faker - Dude, you've got to stop attributing my thoughts to you ;) I knew about them back in early December! And I hope Tintin ends up great too, been blitzing the old cartoon series on DVD, and actually it's great as is, you know!

EJ - Haha, I'm guessing you don't live in a great part of England then? I can't say I've ever been to Stevenage though, only through it. Some parts of England are wonderful though, like the Lake District or Cornwall.

Yup, I caught your review, but after I'd come across them, so I'd already established they were brilliant! Concurred with every iota of praise you put forward!

Alex - Little in stature, massive in impact? I think that's what I was getting at - I mean, it's all really a question of whether you see yourself as a bliptime on Earth's timeline or a supernova in the small part of the world that you inhabit.

21 January 2010 at 08:03

Great post. I actually looked up 'Avatar depression' after reading your blog. Although many responses seemed quite 'out there' I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no matter how outrageous it may be. I actually saw Avatar twice and found myself to be more emotional the second time around. Suicidal? Not so much.

Love in the time of Cholera still waits for me patiently on my bookshelf. A Hundred Years of Solitude is second on my list

21 January 2010 at 16:21

Post-Avatar depression... Get a grip people!
All this Avatar craze is making me lose my sh*t. It's just a movie. A collection of computer-generated images, to be exact, 'cause from the storyline perspective it can't really be called a movie.
I loved your "Seek the glory in the little things" paragraph.
Your writing makes me happy :)

21 January 2010 at 17:46

Megan - Mmm, opinion yes. Overreaction to the psychological level of losing a loved one, not so much indeed :)

I think definitely tackle them in that order. LITTOC has LESS magical realism so is easier to tackle, plus there's a film out if you need Cliff notes :P I'm struggling a tad with AHYOS even though I've read it before and I love it. Partially because I'm not giving aside proper time to reading these days (limited to commute and bedtime) and partially because while beautiful, the level of detail is incredibly dense and at times tough to read.

Alexandra - Haha indeed the plot is entirely snore-worthy. But you must admit for a 'collection of computer-generated images' they're bloody beautiful. That's why I reckon they cross over the fine line between computer-generated and bona fide art. The images are so creatively rendered that a HUGE amount of creativity went into this, more than your standard 'make this wave look extra wet'.

And thanks :)

24 January 2010 at 23:09

Thanks for commenting on my recent post :) You are correct, I could have perhaps described the woman more, but I always worry that it would make it less relate-able if I were to do so. I always try to make my female characters 'every women' to the extent that I can because I fear describing them would be too much of a description of myself, of how I want to be or of how I don't want to be. Perhaps I should consider giving my characters more character though haha. You're constructive criticism is always so valuable!

28 January 2010 at 14:59

Hey Stephen,
Thanks for your recent comment! I love the alpha idea :) and even more, I like your idea of making lists of things that are inspiring. Way to be positive! Regarding your P.P.S, YES, I did see Up in the Air, and I did really like it. (I mean really, how could you not?!)

I'm thinking there needs to be a list of cheer-up songs, A to Z. Want to collaborate?

4 February 2010 at 15:13

This post was beautiful! I feel the same way sometimes, but I know that there is more for me out there. (At 20 years old, I shouldn't worry about not doing something "big" just yet, I suppose.)

Finding joy in the little things certainly helps! I'm so glad I came across this today.

4 February 2010 at 15:19

I don't think it matters MCM what age we are, unless we're hugely successful and/or not very ambitious and/or very secure in oueselves we will feel pangs of uncertainty about our accomplishments. We just have to deal with it in the right way is all :) Glad you enjoyed the post and hi!

28 February 2010 at 19:57

Beautiful writing...extremely inspirational!!!
Everyday i strive to seek glory in little things like you mentioned...but striving to be a perfectionist hinders that process! its so hard to be a content and happy human being in this capitalist world!