Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Brief History of the Samurai Swords in My Bedroom, and Why They Could Not Be Any Less Cool

Have you ever been laying on your bed and tried to gaze upon your room, your most intimate sanctuary, with fresh eyes? Have you ever looked at the objects in your room and tried to figure out what kind of story each one tells? In this way, you might gain inspiration from the mundane. That's what life is all about, really - finding inspiration in the mundane.

Standing upon the dresser in my room is a set of knockoff replica samurai swords. They are placed, tastefully, in front of a small poster I received with the video game Fable and behind a rather random assortment of unsorted possessions, which at this moment includes: two glasses cases, a mug full of coins, an Xbox 360 controller, and a copy of the book Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson. These objects are sitting upon a cardboard box, the top of which reads "Fantasy Axe" and is adorned with a picture of said axe. This axe is the one item out of all others that I am most embarrassed about purchasing.

The samurai swords are arranged longest to shortest on a wooden stand. The katana is on top, then the wakizashi, and the shortest blade, the tanto, on bottom. The sheaths are dark blue with brass caps on the end of the sheath and on the pommel of the sword itself. The hilts are wrapped with blue and gold cords. The hilt, the pommel, and the guard are decorated with intricate etchings. Each sheath has a rope secured with leather fasteners which I presume are included so that the sword may be worn on the belt. The inclusion of these ropes seems absurd, since it is inconceivable to me that any of these swords will ever be worn on anyone's belt. As this lackluster description demonstrates, I am decidedly ignorant about the anatomy of a samurai sword.

These swords were purchased in Disney World. To be more specific, they were purchased in a souvenir shop in the Japan section of Epcot's World Showcase. I bought them when I was only a freshman in high school. This was during a trip I took with the Linganore High School Marching Band which to this day still holds up as possibly the most fun I have ever had as a minor. It was my first experience getting to explore a new place with friends without constant adult supervision. Being afforded the opportunity to decide what we wanted to do, where we wanted to eat, and with whom was truly magical.

It was on the second day of the trip that I walked into the store in Japan-land with my friend Paul and gazed upon the majesty arrayed before us. We gazed upon the various swords that were on display under glass and thought the same thing: for a mere $100, we too could be samurai! It almost seemed too incredible to be true. As a 14 year old, this was the most exciting discovery I had ever made. Most kids would have just looked at the swords, remarked that they were pretty cool, and moved on. But at that instant Paul and I had already determined that we had to have those swords.

There were a few obstacles on our path to becoming samurai. The first was that, as minors, we could not purchase the swords without an adult being present. In addition, we also had to get permission from our parents. Finally, we had to get permission from Mr. Lloyd, the band director. That conversation with Mr. Lloyd was probably what cemented his dislike for me, a sentiment that persisted all the way through senior year. He grudgingly acquiesced to our childish demand, but stipulated that under no circumstance were we allowed to bring the swords back with us on the band bus. This was not about to stop us; we had no qualms with shelling out a bit more cash in order to have the swords shipped home. I recall that Paul, in order to afford this, stopped paying for food for the rest of the trip and subsisted entirely off of homemade cinnamon buns that his mother had given him before we all left for Florida. I simply accepted that I would be unable to buy any other souvenirs.

A few days later, we arranged for one of the adult chaperons to accompany us to Epcot, even though it was not on the list of approved parks for that day (in order to prevent the kids from spending all their time at the Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios and completely neglecting Animal Kingdom, Lloyd decreed that we would only be able to visit certain parks on certain days). When we arrived at Epcot, the streak of perfect weather we had been enjoying was immediately broken as the sky burst open and unleashed a tremendous torrent that soaked us within seconds. Paul and I, having no protection from the rain of any sort, did the logical thing and sprinted all the way through Epcot and around the World Showcase to Japan, which is on the exact opposite end of the park. There, sodden and shivering, we waited in the air-conditioned confines of the store for our no-doubt disgruntled chaperon to catch up.

The employees of the store eyed the two of us with some indecipherable mixture of bemusement and distaste. Though surprised that we were actually going through with this ill-conceived scheme, they were still happy enough to take our money. First, though, we had to call our parents long-distance using the phone in the store and have them talk to the cashier. I'm sure our parents were exasperated at this, but they knew us well enough that this whole thing was probably not a surprise to them. Finally, the transaction was completed, the shipping forms were filled out, and all that was left was to wait to get home.

I will skip ahead now to the fated day when the swords finally arrived. They arrived in a nondescript cardboard box. In my jubilation, I tore through the packaging like the velociraptor tore through that hunter guy in Jurassic Park. I took the katana in hand and slowly - reverently, even - pulled the blade from the sheath. I held the sword in both hands in front of me and assumed my best samurai pose in front of a mirror. Then I held my breath and waited for the kick-ass samurai powers to magically manifest in my brain.

Sadly, I was not struck by divine inspiration that day. I eventually came to accept that becoming a samurai would require a real samurai sword and, more importantly, years of brutal mental and physical training. Still, I was not completely disheartened, as I firmly believed that the samurai swords were really cool to look at and would make an excellent showpiece in my future bachelor pad.

So committed did I become to this new idea of having swords for display purposes that, rather than cut my losses, I delved deeper into the realm of the absurd. I began a new tradition of buying a new sword every year at the Renaissance Faire. In doing so, I ensured that the odds of me getting a girlfriend were about as high as me becoming a real samurai. What's more, the swords I bought became increasingly more preposterous, culminating in me purchasing a claymore nearly as tall as me (which of course I could barely lift). But finally, I crossed my own line. I jumped the shark, so to speak. I bought a "Fantasy Axe."

Behold my shame.

At this point, I already had so many swords that I didn't have enough room to display them, meaning they were not even fulfilling the single justifiable purpose they had. Up until this point, I continued to delude myself into believing that all these swords would someday look bad-ass on display in a nice glass cabinet illuminated with soft white light and lined with red felt. But once I came home with that Fantasy Axe and took it out of the box, I realized that I had gone too far. This was ridiculous even for me. This had to end. I took all of my swords and placed them in storage in a special container marked "Swords;" I could not bring myself to get rid of them. Two items, however, I did not place in storage. One was the Fantasy Axe. It sits on top of my dresser as a constant reminder of what an embarrassingly huge nerd I am. The other is, of course, the set of blue and gold samurai swords, mainly because they hold a special place as the catalyst for my whole "sword phase," but also because, even to this day, they still look pretty awesome.

The unspoken truth about nerds is that, while we are pretty smart people, we spend our money on some pretty dumb shit. Swords, Warhammer 40K, Magic: The Gathering - many are the days when I wish I could get back all the money I spent on those hobbies. But I can't bring myself to get rid of any of those neglected artifacts of my high school days. There's always the chance that someday - in spite of my terrible eyesight and flabby body - I just might get to realize my dream of being a samurai.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Twilight, or More Accurately, One Thought: Shut Up About It

The following request is going to require some explanation: could we all please just stop making fun of Twilight? Now, lest you believe that I make this request out of respect for the series or its fans, let me quickly back-peddle a bit and state unequivocally that I acknowledge this series for the unholy abomination that it truly is (as this personal tragedy demonstrates).That being said, I have never actually read any of the books nor seen any of the movies (nor do I have any intention of doing either). This, of course, prevents me from offering any direct literary analysis of my own. Frankly, my ambivalence towards Twilight is such that I am not even interested in critiquing the series.

Recently, I made a Facebook status update expressing that "I could not possibly care less about the World Cup." A few wise guys commented that such a statement was contradictory since if I really was that apathetic about the World Cup I wouldn't bother to make a post about it in the first place. I concede that they have a point. Since I can already see people leveling similar criticism towards the nature of this post, let me reiterate that my purpose in writing this post is not to complain about Twilight itself; I am instead writing about the meme that bashing the series has become.

To describe the general reaction of people on the Internet to Twilight as a "backlash" would be tantamount to calling the Holocaust a "misunderstanding." Such is the enmity towards this series that entire websites exist devoted solely to the purpose of bashing it. It has reached the point where I find anti-Twilight sentiment just as aggravating as pro-Twilight sentiment - actually, more so, since while I have never actually had to endure the torturous ordeal that I imagine a conversation with a rabid Twilight fan to be, I am constantly exposed to Twilight haters all over the Internet and in real life. I get it, Internet - real vampires don't sparkle. I know this. Everyone know this. I am certain that even fans of Twilight know this. I'd even be willing to bet (though not much) that Stephanie Meyer knows this.

We need to stop the Internet from transforming into nothing more than glorified soap box from which to denounce a single book series. The main reason I implore people to cease the constant complaining about Twilight (besides how annoying it is) is that making fun of Twilight fans - like making fun of the handicapped - is both painfully easy and ultimately not very fulfilling. To paraphrase a quote by Reverend Al Sharpton, at this point Twilight fans should get our prayers more than our responses.

Look, I'm not saying that anyone needs to stop hating Twilight. I'm just saying that maybe we can tone down the rage just a bit. I don't care how many message board threads you start or how many incoherent Youtube comments you leave, Twilight and its adherents are not going to simply go away. Also, the only thing that all of this hate-spewing accomplishes is putting Twilight fans on the defensive, spurring them to protest even more vocally about how great Twilight is and how "you don't even know." I know, from personal experience, that nothing is more grating and intrusive than a nerd who feels that his favorite series has been slighted. If we just ignore Twilight fans and let them live in their little fantasy world, we'll all be happier for it.

We're just going to have to accept that Twilight is (and it physically pains me to say this) now as entrenched in popular culture as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are. The only real permanent solution I can see is for someone to invent time travel, go back in time, and takes one for the team by giving Stephanie Meyer the thorough dicking that she probably needed. Because, clearly, anyone who writes a series like Twilight is not getting any.

Mission Statement to Myself

My favorite quote has always been “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The world existed long before I came around, and it will exist long after. But it need not be the same world. Indeed, it cannot be, for by my very presence I change the world. But that is not enough for me, I’m afraid. I cannot merely be satisfied with myself, for I have the willpower and the imagination to effect great things. Sometimes I doubt this and I am frustrated. It is easy to lose sight of ourselves amidst our surroundings, to “see the forest from the tree” to use the expression. When you doubt yourself, you doubt everything.

There’s a part of me that needs to create, and it is frustrated that I just don’t seem to have many ideas lately. I think everyone is driven by something and that is what drives me. Success means adding something to this world that is uniquely yours. That is why I need to write or make music or just record myself talking. If I am not creating something then I feel like I am just wasting my time. Eventually there may come a day when getting married and having kids will seem like a sufficient culmination of all that I have lived and experienced, but right now I am young – and selfish. And so, success to me at this moment means having a body of work, to have something that bears my name and means something to someone else.

I probably think about writing ten times as much as I actually write, and yet I dare to call myself a writer. What arrogance it requires for someone to take something that virtually anyone can do and declare to the world that they deserve to get paid for doing it. You might as well call yourself a “professional breather” or a “professional walker.” Then again, writing – like thinking – is an activity that everyone can engage in and yet so few actually do on any kind of regular basis. So right here in this paragraph I have distilled what it takes to be a writer: the ability to think and a great deal of arrogance. These I possess, if nothing else.

I suppose I left out talent, but as I can neither quantify it nor qualify it, I cannot describe it. Suffice to say, it is not for me to affirm whether I have it or not. I am not fishing for compliments here, nor attempting to seem humble, but merely explaining that anything I can create will always fall short of whatever intangible ideal is swimming around in the murky sea of half-formed thoughts from which I draw forth ideas kicking and screaming. This is a complicated way of saying that I am my worst critic, a fact that my closest friends know with a certainty that can only come from listening to me ramble on over games of Peggle or Marble Madness.

And speaking of rambling let me dredge this river for a point. With the Internet as my witness, I am issuing a challenge to myself. I challenge myself to write something – anything – every single day from this point forward, for such time as it takes for me to no longer be slightly ashamed about calling myself a writer. It need not be something of great significance, and I am not requiring myself to post everything on this blog (though I will try and do so as often as possible), but it must be more substantial than a Facebook update, an email, or a text message. Writers write, and so this is my Mission Statement: put aside doubt, stop over-thinking, and simply be a writer.