Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Don't live for your dreams. EVER.

Okay, this is gonna be cynical as hell, so please forgive it. The trigger was an advertisement for a new movie, Santa Paws. I don't know what Santa Paws is, other than talking puppies and Walt Disney's ashes spinning in his urn, but one of the puppies said, at the end of the trailer, "All you have to do is dream."

I've had this backbuilding annoyance with this part of popular culture. We've marketed the living fuck out of the idea that if you work hard enough and day-dream even harder, you'll get your dreams. Disney Princesses moon over lakes and water and men (mostly men) while singing about how much they want something. Books talk about Live Your Best Life Now and The Purpose Driven Life and how "God has a plan for you", implying that this plan is not right now, and God am I going to get into the Prosperity Gospel bullshit in a couple of minutes. And every single "uplifting" movie shows someone pulling themselves into success of some form or another. TV shows never follow the losers, it's always the winners and then OMG when the winners lose it's a tear fest and a showcase of character and integrity because our self-inserts the main characters only lose when they deserve to learn a lesson. The natural tilt of the universe is that we, the centers of it, shall win eventually. I don't think our parents had this level of bullshit saturation that we do right now. The result is we have a generation that believes we'll get our fifteen minutes of fame. Usually presented on a platter, but sometimes after a shit-ton of hard work that somehow falls far short of the real work involved in being successful.

This was showcased really well in a chick flick a couple years back, Julie and Julia, about the life of Julia Childs and Julie Powell. Half that movie is good, and it's the half with Meryl Streep in it. I am not going to say that Julie Powell is a waste of skin and air, because the character is based on a real human being and I refuse to believe anyone can be that bad. Amy Adams as Julie Powell is annoying, entitled and obnoxious, and there's an undertone running through the whole movie that the success both women get is something they earned, something they're entitled to because of all the hard work they went through to get there. In the case of Julia Child, that was probably true. The Julie Powell half of the movie ... guys, if you succeed at internet anything it's not because you're good at something or bad at something. It's because the internet farted in your direction today. In her half of the movie, after she worked hard, screamed, cried and threw tantrums, she was literally handed her goal on a platter, right next to her deboned duck.

And then you have Prosperity Gospel. For those of you who haven't darkened the door of a large church, picked up a bestselling Christian book or listened to Christian radio lately, Prosperity Gospel turns God into the big Slot Machine in the sky: put in enough faith tokens and you'll get a pony. The two big headliners are Joel Olstine and Rick Warren, authors of Your Best Life Now and The Purpose-Driven Life, respectively. I have not read Best Life Now because there's only so much Olstine I can take in one sitting. Purpose Driven Life centers on the idea that if you can figure out what God wants you to do with your life, he will bless you and you will be happy, or at least happier than you are right now. That God does not want his children to live a life of sorrow and despair, and if we just work with him, he'll make everything good and beautiful and reward us for our work and suffering right now.

Guys, I'm listening to a Christian album right now, one of the best I've heard in years, by Stephen Curtis Chapman. He wrote it after his adopted daughter died in a car accident. He wrote it to deal with the sorrow and quite obviously, his difficulty reconciling a loving God with his daughter's death. If you believe in the Christian God and you believe that God is in control, than you have to believe that it was his will for that to happen. Because if He didn't want it to happen that way, it wouldn't have. And that's why I find Propserity Gospel so fucking offensive. It implies that if your life has gone to shit and things aren't happening the way you want them to, there is something wrong with you. You don't know something. You're not doing something right. You haven't figured the Great Question of Reality out yet and if you just pushed a little bit longer and held on a bit further, you'd break out into the great meadow of rainbows and unicorns and everything would be alright again.

If you're a Christian, you believe that God Himself became human -- I mean, think about that for a second. You go from being God of All to being a subsistence-level carpenter, who is also a member of one of the most despised races in human history, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius in Ancient Rome. And God's will is that we prosper? Poverty is not God's will for us, sometimes? What, did he just make an exception for himself? -- and died one of the ugliest, most brutal deaths humanity ever conceived of, shortened only because he was severely tortured the day before his crucifixion. Yes, it had a point. It had a beautiful point. The payoff never came during Jesus's life, the last years of which were spent homeless. Hell, our own homeless would be a step up. They get down filled jackets and warm concrete to sleep on. According to my belief system, God's will for his own life was horrible, with an eternal payoff.

You know, sometimes things just don't work. For every uplifting story, there are a lot that end poorly. The happy stuff is remembered, not because it's normal, but because it's so abnormal, and we humans are self-centered enough to believe that if it happened to you, surely, surely eventually it'll happen to me. Surely if I sing at Simon, I'll go on to American Idol, win and get a singing contract. Nevermind that most of the people who go are fodder for our amusement, I am different. Surely I am different. Surely God will bless me. He didn't bless himself, but he'll bless me.

The best thing a person can do for themselves, in my opinion, is not to live for your dreams. Live for your family. Friends. For the weekend when you get to go fishing, or do whatever else it is that brings you joy. Living for your dreams is about as solid as attempting to eat them.

Am I saying that you shouldn't try to get them? Hell no. I'm just saying you shouldn't expect it. I'm saying that "think positive" and "keep high self-esteem" is bullshit. "Focus on your potential" is bullshit. Think pessimistically. Attempt success and plan for failure. Keep an exit strategy in mind. Prepare for failure. Maybe don't assume that something you made sucks, but assume that it could be made better. Because the thing nobody tells you about? The dreams don't die. Even when you want them to. Having a dream will eventually feel like you've swallowed burning coals, because it's guaranteed that you will fail most of the time. And your choice is either to think that there's something wrong with you -- because they always win on American Idol -- or to think that maybe it's just not going to happen this time. Either way, the coal is not going to go out. You're not going to throw it away. You might have planned that exit strategy, but you're not going to take it. Ever.

And yeah, you can give up. That has nothing to do with "living for your dreams" ... frankly I think "living for your dreams" encourages people to give up. They're not successful, so it must be their fault. There must be something they're not doing. But if you realize that most of it is just chance and persistence, the only thing you can do if you want to succeed is to keep trying and to keep trying a lot. It's like the lottery, the more tickets you have the more likely you are to win. It's also like the lottery, in that you're not really likely to win, but dreamers are compulsive gamblers.

So expect failure. Make sure you've got a landing platform. Make sure you've got a life. Don't give up, but don't be wedded to the idea of winning, either.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Hardest Logic Puzzle Ever

I was wandering the 'net trying to find the solution to the Labyrinth puzzle (aka Knights and Knaves) and I came across this monster instead. I've embroidered it a bit to make it read better. It can easily be solved by Google, so don't use it:

You come to an island with three Gods, True, False and Random. True will answer truthfully. False will lie. Random will answer either truly or falsely, at random. The Gods understand English, but will only answer in their own language, which you do not fully understand. You know that "ja" and "da" stand for yes and no, but you don't know which word stands for which. "Ja" could be either yes or no. Random has a boat, True has a compass, False has a map. They will give these to you, but only if you petition them with the correct name. To escape the island, you must identify the Gods. You may ask three yes/no questions, and may only ask each question once, though you may ask each God more than one question.

I will probably wind up using this in my second book. Have fun!