Philosophy Tuesday

Continuing our delve into Turning Red…

The second shows up full force in one of the quietest yet most pivotal scenes in the movie, when Jin speaks to Mei in her room, just before the ritual:

“People have all kinds of sides to them.  And some sides are messy.  The point isn’t to push the bad stuff away.  It’s to make room for it, live with it.”

The scene’s very understatedness highlights the profound peacefulness in what Jin is creating about recognizing, and for sure, integrating ourselves.  Our whole selves.  It isn’t about resisting our messy bits, nor, crucially, is it about yielding to them either.  It isn’t about good/bad, right/wrong, being broken, or whatever – remember that resistance equals persistence.  Instead, it is about acknowledging, being present to, and simply being with them all.

When we recognize that we all have many aspects to ourselves we gain both peace of mind and power.  This is reflected in Mei’s own quote from the start of the movie: ”If you take it too far, well, you might forget to honour yourself.”  Indeed… if we yield to the messy self then we are not honouring ourselves.  If we instead resist it and push it away and fight it and make it wrong, we still are not honouring ourselves.  Integration, and being whole, is about recognizing all our bits, engaging with them, and doing the work needed to make them part of us such that we harness them towards productive ends.  By recognizing all our sides we remove the hooks that hijack our expression.  We gain freedom to be, freedom to choose, and it allows our authentic self to shine through.

The moment in the astral realm with the mirror, Mei remembers her time with the panda.  Crucially, she does not only remember the good times but also the not so good.  And she realizes, hey, welcome to being human.  That is when Mei chooses to cease to resist it, and why Mei also doesn’t just give into it.  She embraces it (and her fluffy tail when she returns to the ritual circle) and thus learns how to control it… well enough to even enable amazing double-jump capabilities.

As Mei invites us at the end of the movie, integration has a wonderous power.  We can blend and create ourselves and grow.  We can let go of controlling others.  And we can embrace our pandas (our wonderful, fluffy, bouncy panda!) while allowing for the pandas of those around us, allowing for glorious and authentic self-expression.

 

* Just a quick note that I added another end note to last week’s post, which I’ll also repost here:  This idea and theme of synthesis also plays out beautifully in the movie when the old school chanting is joined by, and musically merges perfectly with, 4*Town’s Nobody Like U…

Philosophy Tuesday

I noted Turning Red has some good stuff going on beneath the surface.  There’s plenty of it!  And one of the biggest that underpins the story is about integration.  It’s about yin and yang.  And it shows up most prominently in the film in two ways.

The first deals with synthesis and about how we can blend.  Mei doesn’t have to follow her mother or become her mother… or follow tradition or become tradition… but she doesn’t need to entirely abandon them either.  She can engage with both and, above all, make it her own.

Life and all of us within it are not trapped within a series of binary opposites.  The idea of “You are either this, or this” is not accurate.  Nor is the idea that our tastes, interests, attentions, fandoms, and more must be in opposition to others.  We don’t need to hate something else in order to like something.*  Instead, we can embrace broadly.

Mei’s admission of “But I’m scared, it will take me away from you,” is the crux moment for this thread.  Both she and her mother realize in that moment that it needn’t take either away.  We can all explore and grow and create ourselves (whether we’re 13 or older!) not in opposition to tradition but growing from it and even remaining in dialogue with it.  And we can pour in all else we love, mixing and synthesizing and dancing with it all as it becomes our own personal, glorious, and authentic self-expression.

* Quite the contrary, and I enthusiastically invite everyone to enjoy what they enjoy without engaging in denigrating that which you don’t enjoy.

** This idea and theme of synthesis also plays out beautifully in the movie when the old school chanting is joined by, and musically merges perfectly with, 4*Town’s Nobody Like U…

Philosophy Tuesday

“Individual notes start to decay the moment they are born.

No note can escape this fate.

But together they work toward a crescendo that cannot exist in any one note alone.”

— Vihart

 

(Another wonderful, poetic, and philosophy-filled observation that becomes introspection that becomes inspiration, by the amazing Vihart.  Taken from an equally amazing video about Pi and music and more, which can be found here — check it out, it includes a musical challenge!)

Philosophy Tuesday

I want to talk tonight about the process of making art.  Because it is just that:  a process.

Rarely (if ever) does something come into our heads fully formed, gifted from the muses with perfection.  No, even in the best of circumstances we may have a vision, but it still needs to be rendered tangible so that it can be refined, then reviewed, then refined again.

More often, we begin with merely an inkling, or perhaps a smattering of them.  And then we need to, once again, render then tangible so we can see them, massage them, reflect on them and see what arises, then follow those paths, massaging and reflecting and following again, until we get to multitudinous cycles of refinement.

All to reach that ‘final’ product… which in actuality is really just the point where we stopped because if we kept going we (and others*) could see new things and we could elevate the work even more.

Fortunately, the works of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation provide excellent windows into this truth about process.  They have been remarkably generous in sharing the stories and histories of creation on a movie, from the earliest notions and sketches to the final product often five years later.  That there alone might be enough to have us grasp how much of a process it is, for five years is quite a long time to labour on something.  But it becomes even more palpable when we see just how different the early concepts and visions are to what ends up on the screen.  (Sometimes it feels like there’s no connection between the two at all!)  There’s tonnes of directions and ideas and themes that didn’t work, or didn’t work as well as another, or had their own pitfalls, or didn’t fit.  Along the way, whole scenes are discarded, whole elements excised.  At the most extreme, the entire last third of the movie, or even the whole movie, was tossed in order to rework and rewrite them towards awesomeness.  They’re not shy about this (clearly not, since they’re telling us about it).  I doubt its easy, but it’s part of the artistic process.

So why do we think this isn’t the case?  Why do we often hold a notion that true art somehow should come in a flash, perfectly formed, and if there’s even a bit of struggle there must be something wrong?  I’d postulate this: because, in the end, if the work has been refined and elevated enough then the final result feels inevitable.  Everything fits and sings and it seems like it couldn’t be any other way.

Here’s the takeaways that I wanted to create…

For one, an invitation to not be harsh or dismissive when we hear a work is taking a long time or is going through a lot of rewrites or editing or reshoots or whatever, depending on the medium.  That’s a part of the process.  The thing is not necessarily in trouble.  It’s doing what it needs to do. **

For two, a reminder to not be harsh or despondent towards ourselves and our creative endeavours.  Especially when they’re HARD.  And when they need wrangling, changes, shifts, refinement, refinement, and refinement.  It’s part of the process.

And lastly, to gather this all up and apply it to our lives and the grand art we all practice, that of the art of living.  For it is no different; it too is a process.  And as such we can be kinder and gentler with ourselves, and with others, and dance in the truth that it ongoingly requires great amounts of reflection, wrangling, changes, shifts, refinement, refinement, and forevermore refinement.

It is a neverending path towards increasing beauty.

 

* Because through this all we needn’t be alone in this – quite the contrary it’s much better to bring along a posse.  As noted before, “ya gotta pin your work up on the wall.

** I’d get more worried if there were no changes being made.  Maybe it’s the perfect conception!  But odds are not…

Philosophy Tuesday

I’ve shared before my love of the film Ratatouille, especially the bits of it that are wonderfully philosophical.  (See this post, this post, and this post.)

But there’s one bit in Ratatouille, right near the end, that I’ve come to realize that I’d been kinda ignoring to some degree, but even more so I have been willingly misinterpreting it.  Because to take it straight pretty much undermines the main theme of the whole film.

It’s this bit from Ego, during his review:

“In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”

It’s that last sentence.  For one, it seems to be at odds with the simplest readings of the motto to instead say: “Anyone can cook / but not really.  (Though hey, maybe that person can, and they don’t know it, so let them try).”  For two, it could be trying to create some strange distinction between cooking and capital-A art: “Sure, anyone can cook, but there’s cooking and then there’s Art Cooking (and most certainly not everyone can do the latter).”  Which leads to three, which is that this really seems to be trying hard to make a case that some people got it, and some (most) just don’t.  A few are blessed, while the rest are ordained to be ordinary.

This whole thing reads as though Ego is fully endorsing the Tyranny of Talent.

Which is a big NOPE! for me.  We are not squeezed out into this world being a genius or being a dunce; being a cook or being a GREAT CHEF ARTIST (or, equally, being totally food incompetent).  I do not subscribe to this kind of genetic essentialism.  We have so many influences, so many avenues, and, most of all, we can shape ourselves, grow, learn, and develop.  With enough time and patience and practice and clarity, we can elevate our skills to ridiculous levels.

Which, it turns out, is how I have been (again, willfully and intentionally) misinterpreting that line from Ego for all of these years.  I’d twisted it to be expressing this: “Not everyone _will_ become a great artist (because not everyone will have the time or choose the time or have the opportunities or the support systems or the luck or the desire or any of those), but we all have the capacity to do so, and thus anyone, from anywhere, could become a great artist, no matter where they came from or where they are right now.”

Which is much more in line with the theme and with Gusteau’s own motto.  We can all develop our craft.  We can all express ourselves and create something delicious.  And even if we never reach the idealized world of Great Art, who cares – it can still be damn good.  Let’s eat.

Philosophy Tuesday

Language is great. I mean, blogs would be pretty weird without language! Putting the bad jokes aside, though, language is so crucial to us as humans in that it frames just about everything, from our perceptions to our thinking to our experience of life and what life even is.

You know that great feeling of amazement we get when we hear a word that oh so perfectly encapsulates something that we’d been having trouble explaining or expressing? Or when the word is so illuminating that we become aware of something we had been totally blind to until that point? Language, and words, can be limiting, but it can also be amazingly empowering.

That’s why I love learning that in Japanese there are a pair of words that have the same English translation: “muzukashii” (むずかしい) and “taihen” (たい|へん). *

In English, both of these words translate to “difficult.” However, they are not the same: “muzukashii” refers to difficulty from complexity, whereas “taihen” gets its difficulty from an overwhelming scale. So, for example, for a math test a muzukashii would be a hard differential calculus problem, while a taihen would be four thousand simple addition and subtraction questions.

Which is very cool, because when we experience those kind of situations they are quite distinct. As are our reactions to them, or the efforts we may need to take to get through it, or how we might go about solving them, and a whole host of things. And when we talk about the obstacles that lie before us (both as individuals and as communities and more), it makes a difference to know what kind of difficulty it may be to take it on… or even if it may be different groups of difficulties, some relating to complexity, some relating to scope. Otherwise, it’s easy to collapse it all into a complex morass of epic proportions, leading us to dejection before we even start.

I’m keen on being mindful and taking this new distinction forward to see how it alters my perceptions of things and, from that, what new avenues of agency and empowerment it opens.

 

* I do hope I got the writing correct… I came across this distinction in a comment by glilimith on this Folding Ideas video.

Philosophy Tuesday

The word competition comes from the Latin, competere, which means (according to etymology online) to “strive in common, strive after something in company with or together,” or, in the classical Latin, “to meet or come together; agree or coincide; to be qualified.”

And… wow.  That seems so much more expansive than how that word is normally used these days.  To strive together.  It isn’t an individual thing, and the outcome isn’t intended to be just an individual thing.  It’s about us all pulling together to attain new heights.

There’s no better reminder of this, in a very literal way, than perhaps the feel-good moment of 2021 when Mutaz Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi shared the gold medal at the Olympics:

What’s even better is that they are good friends.  They’ve been competing for years.  Striving together, pushing themselves and those around them to aim high and see what they can do.  Sometimes one did better than the other, and vice versa.  They had fun with it.  They were competing to get fit together.  And you can hear in the interviews above how excited they were for how well the entire field was jumping.

All culminating to that moment where they gifted to us such unbridled expressions of joy.