Sunday, May 24, 2020

Why It's Better To Share, Instead of Borrow

Late last year I was scrolling through my Hulu queue and saw the below:

Holy shit! Is it my birthday? I thought. Guy Pearce is my jam! So of course I embarked on a binge of this very short miniseries. (3 episodes, 3 hours)

I was impressed. Before I tell you why, consider the following.

Every so-and-so has done the Christmas Carol story before. Despite the story being of English origin and set in the very specific context of industrialized England, somehow Americans has also been hooked. This is likely due to the biblical overtones of the story. The three ghosts can loosely represent Christocentric ideas like the Trinity or the three days Jesus spent in the tomb after his crucifixion. The story of redemption, of forcing a man to repent for his sins and receive salvation. The lessons taught about generosity, grace, and the worship of material wealth. Even Scrooge's first name, "Ebenezer," is derived from the Hebrew word "ebhen hā-ʽezer" (literally "stone of help"), to symbolize the divine assistance Scrooge receives from the spirits, as well as the heart of stone Scrooge possess until his redemption. It's all there and easily received by a population that is loosely familiar with biblical verbiage.

The story is so ubiquitous (over here, "across the pond") that I grew up on several iterations of Dicken's work including, but not limited to, Mickey's Christmas Carol, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Scrooged, and A Christmas Carol, featuring George C. Scott (1984). (While jogging my memory, I discovered a version with Patrick Stewart!? What have I been doing with my life?) And, even if some of these versions are unfamiliar, it's likely that at least one of these has made it into your life at some point.

I actually liked Scrooged the best growing up, seeing it as some kind of Ghostbusters spin-off.

So, yes, I was very impressed with the recent version put on my FX. The expanded format allowed for a greater level of narrative depth in areas previously unexplored, such as the politics of the afterlife and the hellish bells that toll there. There is also motivation on Marley to move Scrooge to repentance. For, if Marley fails, he will be cast into an unrelenting purgatory. The #metoo movement is invoked when Scrooge forces Mrs. Cratchit to undress in front of him so that she can take out a loan for live-saving surgery for her son Tim. The spendthrift policies of industrialized Britain and the deadly cost of unbridled capitalism are as relevant today as it was then (corporate loopholes, poor working conditions, the wage gap, the working poor, unaccountable executive, etc.). There is even a scene depicting the rationing of coal, where Cratchit is, absurdly, charged for having additional coals provided to his stove in Scrooge's office. Each of these details cement the viewer in the time period and add layers of complexity to the story that has too often been sanitized by an over-emphasis on joyful climax. (Yes, Scrooge is redeemed. But that doesn't negate the pain and neglect he caused, or the inevitable restitution implied by his change of heart.)

But why write about this in the summer? Why is this important?

I actually was hooked by a line read by Pearce in the show, and I knew that I would want to write about it eventually, but never had the time to do so. Specifically, Pearce states the following:
"A gift is but a debt, unwritten but implied."
This idea got my attention, as I languished on my mom's couch last Christmas. Specifically, I had bought my brother a 3D printer, which I wanted to give as both a celebration of his personal industry and the accommodations he made for me while we visited our father in Hawaii. It was quite an expense, something only made possible by money recently bequeathed to me from my late grandmother, but it was worth it. The above quote seemed to explain something behind the materialistic motivations inherent in gift giving. Though my brother was none-the-wiser, there was some part of me that that sought recompense.

Guy Pearce as Scrooge.
(This is all the shit that goes through my head when I write about something. After all these paragraphs, now I begin the actual article.)

I've always been fascinated by the interaction of words, specifically when people use different terms interchangeably. The language behind share and borrow is markedly different, despite their everyday use as equivalents. Both terms invoke the collaborative ownership of something (wealth, property, resources, etc). Both are primarily positive in connotation. Where the terms part ways involved the object of the sharing or borrowing, In the latter case, borrowing implies that resources gained are returned. Sharing implies extended or perpetual ownership. I would not be the first person to write about the implications behind gift giving. But what I seem to get stuck on is the liquidity of the terms.

Sharing reminds me of the early Christian Church. In the Book of Acts 2:42-47 we read the following:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The only reason I bring the bible in to this, is because Americans typically leverage biblical language, the language of A Christmas Carol, while championing the acquisition of wealth, equating divine favor and moral excellence to those who were most adept. But, clearly, in the bible we see a different idea taking place: the sharing of resources for the betterment of the collective. This is essentially a prototype of communism, where members of the community own the "means of production."

Oldie, but a goodie.

Scrooge's statement, where a gift demands reciprocity in some form, brings an argument against charity, that in giving there is an implicit motive to justify one's self. Or, we simply give to feel congratulated and compensate for a moral failing that looms over our consciousness. The moral of A Christmas Carol promotes the idea of selfless giving, specifically grace.

Borrowing, as a concept at least, implies temporary ownership. It is active on the part of the supplicant, passive on the part of the provider. One goes to an institution and asks for a resource and is given that resource, with the understanding that this resource will be repaid in some capacity over time. Obviously this practice is monetized to favor the institution. Some form of additional reciprocity is sought to justify the initial lending. This is typically done with charging interest, where a percent of the total money left to be repaid is charged in addition to the principal. I'm laboring on the minutiae of this to prove a point: of the two terms, only borrowing is inherently predatory.

When we share our resources, we are committing to mutual prosperity and strength. A community, even on the fringe, will survive indefinitely when operating under the concept of sharing resources. Likewise, when someone buys "shares" in a company, they are participating in a group effort to see something come into being. Sharing, in my mind, aligns with the concept of grace; that is, unmerited favor. Grace is a gift. There is no implied debt or language hinting at future reimbursement. It flies in the very face of modern theories like laissez-faire capitalism, where economies are advanced on the basis of self-interest and competition over limited resources. This is incompatible with the Gospel and the concept of sharing. But, even Christians seem consigned to rationalize the use of free market capitalism as a means to an end, or a necessary evil that we must all endure for the sake of general order. Verily, Jesus never said, "Blessed are the poor, that is, unless they deserve to be poor because they collect food stamps, make bad decisions, and are addicted to meth." Sharing involves two active participants, and, rather than the supplicant approaching the provider, it is the provider that approaches the supplicant.

There are several iterations of this comic that have popped up on the internet in the past few years. But all seem to point out the incongruity between the worship of market freedom over the livelihood of average workers.

At the end of the day, the nuance of this argument can be obfuscated by quick tempers and personal narratives. Objectivity flies out of the window and we typically keep to our camps, where the firelight is warm, comforting, and calming. Rarely are we forced to venture beyond the borders and confront the wilderness. That would require bravery, after all. I know that my philosophy is influenced by the teachings of Jesus, which some may find hostile for tertiary reasons. If you, reader, are not a fan of the whole Christianity thing, then consider something like the Utopian future of Star Trek, embodied by the fictional organization known as the United Federation of Planets. In this speculative timeline, resources are shared within the federation. Though there is money exchanged between the Federation and other species (ie, the Ferengi, who covet "gold plated Latinum"), the act of doing so is implicitly denigrating to both parties. And, though it seems absurd to live life based on fictional principals, just because it's not real doesn't mean it can't have an impact on how experience the world and interact with it. (In my case, I believe Jesus is reality, which I would call a "win" in my book.)

Anyways, that's what's been on my mind the past few weeks.

In other news, I finished my 3rd book this weekend. I am beyond excited to share the details with you as the book enters the design process!


Sunday, May 3, 2020

The "Meh"-of-All-Trades

I have this tendency to be good at things, but not great. It sounds like a brag, but it's the source of a lot of turmoil in my life.

Typically, the starting age for a professional [_____] is young, like too young. Usually it's a gymnast that is worked so hard at 15 that she doesn't get her period until she's in her 20s, or its a 8 year old kid who's father sneaks protein power into his breakfast cereal so he can hit the gym and get "swole." And then there's people like me who are average, with hobbies, dreams, and simple acquisitions.

Growing up I played sports, like, all the sports. I played soccer (field and arena), football (flag and tackle), basketball, baseball, and track and field (discus, shot put, 200 meter, and 100 meter). I never truly found my stride in any of them. The truth is you have to keep at something long enough to get good, appreciate the "rules," learn the minutiae of whatever it is that you do. Certain trade skills, after so long, become apparent. (Like sanding wood at different grit sandpaper, or playing baseball with performance enhancing drugs.) Actually, the only consistent experience I had with sports was the unrelenting day dreaming. I remember vividly knocking home run hits into the stratosphere and breaking the sound barrier on the 100 meter. You know, typical sport stuff. 

While all this was going on, there was guitar.

I used to air guitar, a lot. Like too much. I would pretend to be Angus Young and Bon Scott from ACDC and jump all over my room. I had this vision in my head of bending notes and melting faces. The moment I started playing acoustic guitar, I was looking at Angus and thinking, "Yeah, I want to do that."

So I kept playing, despite the hurdles and frustrations. But, while I was playing, I started to write.

I wrote my first "book" when I was in 6th grade. It was awful and done in conjunction with a writing assignment on ancient Greece for my humanities class. In 7th grade, I wrote another one. It was a steaming heap o' shit. This one was different though. I made a title page, table of contents. I printed the entire thing out on a Packard Bell inkjet printer, in color! Between the end of 8th grade and beginning of 9th grade, I continued this trend and wrote a serialized novel that I ultimately never finished. Every weekend I would post a chapter on DeviantArt using a title card I made out of clip art and papyrus in MS Paint.

But I stopped. I don't remember why.

I often pick up things and explore them with great intensity. These can be music genres, hobbies, routines, TV shows, books, etc. But the consistent experience I have always begins with a dream of meteoric greatness, followed by a sobering defeat at the hands of reality. I remember collaborating with a group of friends in 7th grade to create a team of highly sophisticated androids to serve the world and wield their awesome destructive power. I drew up sketches of the machines, told my friends to take science and math courses to beef up their mad scientist game, and I even drew the schematics for our compound where we would all live together when all was said and done. I wish I could go back and ask myself why I wanted this so bad. What was the end goal? Even at the peak of my wretched peer group failures in middle school and high school, the thought of blowing things up with these androids never crossed my mind. The fantasy was enough of a justification on its own.

Throughout my life up to this point, writing has meshed with everything I pursued. In college, I was cranking out papers, getting As in my English classes. In my final quarter, I wrote an novella that would eventually become Spirit of Orn for my science fiction class. After coming home from Santa Barbara, I volunteered for an academic journal that promoted comic books and pop-culture as high art. Yet, while I worked for Apple Retail I began laying out a three part novel that I am planning on starting after my current book is complete. 

The only thing I know, with certainty, is that I love to tell stories. And I think, in the same way that Umberto Eco tries to communicate the nuances of semiotics in his popular fiction, I also have a love for my subject and attempt to embed myself in the work to make it more real. When I started Spirit of Orn, I learned Norwegian, read about paganism (old and new), researched the Sognefjord language of Nynorske. I even went to Norway to see with my own eyes the lay of the land. (It was such a beautiful place too.) All this to say, I wanted to communicate the story I envisioned and went to great lengths to render it.

Writing gathers up odd things and meshes it all together, is what I'm saying. The act of creating a story instigates in me a discipline of research. I end up learning a lot about things, without ever mastering any topic in particular. To master the art of writing then (if such a thing can be done) is to be well rounded and willing to participate. One must become the "Meh-of-All-Trades." And this gives me hope, believe it or not.