Irrelevant Troubadour

Kate Bush, “Aerial”
November 29, 2010, 5:13 pm
Filed under: music

I’m writing this sitting on my windowsill and looking at the sun setting over gorge.  Today is one of those days that seems to be specifically engineered for beautiful sunsets: great expanses of clear sky to let the light in, but just enough cloud and haze to refract the light into a full firestorm of color.  I’m writing about “Aerial” the song, or perhaps the whole second disc of Aerial the album, perhaps because of the sunset, or perhaps because it came up on shuffle.  See how this is?  These chance events, they all fit together.

That’s sort of what the second disc of Aerial is about.  It’s, as Andy Partridge said of a completely different album, “a summer’s day baked into a cake,” but not (as Skylarking, the album Partridge was actually talking about) about the people and things of this summer’s day, or even about nature necessarily, but the sights of this day as pure, abstracted sensation.  It seems more than anything like synaesthesitic music.  The colors, the smells, the feelings of the natural setting are being converted into sounds and (to a lesser extent) words.  And the thing about all of this is that it doesn’t feel like a chaotic rush of sensory stimulus; everything is perfectly arranged, everything is in its place.  You could reject this as humans imposing their own order onto an unpredictable world, but so far what we’ve seen of nature and of the structure of the universe suggests that there mere be more patterns out there than we see.  This ties back to the birdsong samples used in much of the album; they’re something that seems chaotic and beyond human understanding, but in fact follow a strict pattern.  Also, the part in that one song where Kate imitates the bird noises is ridiculously adorable.

“Aerial” the song?  Well, that is what this entry is supposed to be about, I suppose.  By the time we get to that song (the last on the album), night has fallen, and it seems as if the sensory information we’ve been hearing for most of the album has been replaced with pure feeling and pure velocity.  It’s a song about motion, about the rush of running through fields at night, of going somewhere.  It makes sense, then, that the birdsong is replaced by Kate’s ecstatic, mellifluous, yet somewhat deranged-sounding laughter.  Perhaps (this is a thought that came to me just now, as I was writing this) this song is Kate’s dreamscape.  It’s somewhere divorced from all outside information, where all there is is the pure emotion.  That is, of course, a horrible misrepresentation of what we know about what dreams actually are nowadays (and I call myself a psychology major), but these are pop songs I’m talking about here.

The sun has set now, and I feel as if it’s best to end this blog entry before I say anything even sillier.


[S] Jade: Enter
November 28, 2010, 4:56 am
Filed under: comics (web)

This is the first of what will probably be many entries from me about the one thing I am truly fanboyishly devoted to, MS Paint Adventures.  MS Paint Adventures is the collective name for a group of webcomics (I use the term loosely–they’re so much more!) by one Andrew Hussie, the current one being Homestuck.  I may someday write a long, gushing post about how Homestuck is the greatest thing ever to exist in the history of ever, but today I’m just going to post my rambly, incoherent thoughts on today’s update, ’cause man, it’s a doozy.  Be forewarned: if you haven’t read Homestuck, not only will this post be massively spoilery, but also will make absolutely no sense.

a carefree victory this is not

Now then, [S] Jade: Enter.

Holy fuck.

So my mind was thoroughly blown.  I don’t need to say that the animation and art and music were beautiful; that’s kind of a given here.  But man.  This comic just keeps topping itself.

My initial thoughts, story-wise:

1. Vriska, what the fuck is wrong with you?? You know this is serious because I’m using two question marks here (though I suppose I really should be using eight).  But seriously, what?? I understand she probably didn’t know that putting John to sleep would cause all this to happen, but that begs the question of why she did it in the first place.  Sigh.  I suppose we’ll find out in the next pesterlog.  Maybe.  It is interesting to note that Vriska shares the same physical disability as Jack (and as the the villian from Pupa Pan, but that’s neither here nor there, unless Acts 6 and 7 turns out to be about how fairies and MiRaClEs save everyone).

2. Why, exactly, does Jack go after the trolls in the first place?  From what we know of him, he shouldn’t know the trolls exist, let alone want to kill them.   Another thing that gets me about this is that when we see Jack on Prospit he doesn’t seem to just be wantonly destroying things.  No, it appears that he’s gone directly for Karkat.   Again, this seems strange to me.  First of all, as I said before, the Jack from the kids’ session shouldn’t know who Karkat even is; second of all, the trolls’ Jack and Karkat were pretty much bros.

Now let’s take stock of what we know about Jack.  Really, three things: he’s deadly ambitious, he’s chivalrous to a fault, and he believes in settling old scores.  Now, it’s possible that his interest in Karkat is a sort of callback to his fight with Bro. Jack might blame Karkles for exiling him (even though that was Terezi, Vriska, and the Black Queen*hey, this is another cycle-of-revenge plot! Jack is Making Her Pay!—but I digress), which is why he goes after him on Prospit (waiting until he wakes up—ever the gentleman *and notice how he’s holding a bloody hand out to Karkat—blood brothers indeed.).   This is of course assuming, once again, that Jack knows about other Jack, which is a pretty big assuming, especially since, if the kids’ Jack is Lord English, this means that the kids’ and trolls’ Jacks actually end up fighting each other.   It could be a function of First Guardian omniscience, but I doubt that works between universes.  The links I can think of as plausible are the Horrorterrors (remember, the server with Lord English’s summoning code is stored in the Farthest Ring) and some extremely Weird Time Shit.

3. The last scene of this flash is what gets me the most, however.  Not going to lie, it made me tear up just a tiny bit. Why does Jade have the beatific smile on her face? And why is “Carefree Victory”*the song at the end of Jade’s strife with Bec, where he’s her GOOD DOG BEST FRIEND playing?  The thing is that everything Bec did—prototype himself, blow up the Earth—was completely to protect Jade.  I feel like Jade is the only thing Bec cares about, and he will do anything to protect her.  Now, the idea of doing anything to protect someone is a bit of a cliché, but it takes on a whole new meaning if you happen to be omnipotent.  And the tragic thing is that while Bec cares about Jade, Bec only cares about Jade; if it was a choice between destroying the universe and have her die, we all know which one he’d pick.  It makes him a wonderful dog and a shitty First Guardian.

(And although I got the “snow means death subtext on the final scene, I really don’t think Jade’s going to die here for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Hussie isn’t so much of a sadist as to do something like that to us. Please let me be right about that?)

Those were my initial reactions to the update, remember.  After consulting some of Hussie’s formspring answers about the flash and doing some thinking of my own, I revised my speculations a bit.  To wit:

The kids and trolls create the scratch because they need Jack to travel in the trolls’ universe.  Why?  Because he’s the only thing powerful enough to kill Lord English.  This came on by me thinking about why, if the scratch is what allowed Jack to travel to the trolls’ universe, the kids and trolls would try to create it.   Then I realised—this is all a big callback to the Midnight Crew intermission.  Jack Noir/Spades Slick is on a mission to kill Lord English.   They’re mortal enemies.  Now, I’m not saying that by Act 7 the kids will be able to control Jack.  This will be more of a fight-evil-with-evil (is that a trope?) situation.  They’re using their last-ditch option, but they need to take out Lord English, and Jack is the only thing that might be powerful enough to do it.

This might even explain why Vriska did what she did.   She knew somehow that creating Bec Noir was what had to be done (does she have a penpal?).

Who, then, is Lord English?  Well, we’re pretty much in the same boat as we were before.

To sum up: I suddenly understand jack shit.  But I love it.

The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead
November 26, 2010, 10:36 pm
Filed under: literature

Courtesy Wikipedia Link

This is a good book, but it falls into a trap that a lot of works do (the other big example that comes to mind is Children of Men), that being trying to do two things at once.  In this case, half of this book is a wonderful, twisting noir along the lines of The Big Sleep and half of it is a rather obvious and ham-fisted allegory for the timeless Booker T. Washington/W.E.B. DuBois debate on how to achieve racial progress.  Allegory is never my favorite way of driving home a theme–my response to an allegory is always less “Hey! This brought up some interesting points!” and more “Hey!  I solved the puzzle!”–but when it’s married to a good plot, vivid prose, and engaging characters it’s easy to forget it’s there.  Those are all things The Intuitionist has in abundance, so I really can’t complain.

Laurel Hill Follow-Up: “HaHaHaHa!!! That was unexpected! =D”
November 25, 2010, 11:58 pm
Filed under: internet nonsense, ridiculousness

This really speaks for itself.

Laurel Hill: a Semi-Serious Post Preceded by a Very Stupid Joke
November 25, 2010, 11:53 pm
Filed under: occurances

It’s a bright morning in Ms. Pasternak’s freshman homeroom class.  As she’s taking attendance, a boy runs in with his hair and clothes dishevelled.  Ms. Pasternak questions the boy.  “Young man, why are you late?”

“Miss, I was on top of Laurel Hill!”

Sighing, Ms. Pasternak returns to attendance when another boy runs in in a similar state of dress.  “Now why are you late, young man?”

“Miss, I was on top of Laurel Hill!”

Ms. Pasternak is getting quite perturbed by this point, but not wanting to make a scene she simply shakes her head and goes back to the attendance.  Then yet another boy with his hair and clothes in disarray runs in, huffing and puffing.  “And what excuse do you have for yourself, young man?”

“Miss, I was on top of Laurel Hill!”

Ms. Pasternak can barely contain her rage at this point, but manages to muster her considerable reserve of will and calm herself down a bit.  However, just as she finally gets ahold of herself, in runs a girl, her dress ripped and covered in mud, her face flushed, her hair a wild bird’s nest.  Ms. Pasternak has reached the breaking point.  “And I suppose you’re going to tell me you were on top of Laurel Hill too, young lady!”

The girl looks at her quizzically.  “Miss, I am Laurel Hill.”

Okay, that was incredibly silly.  I’m really hoping that this blog doesn’t devolve into “post jokes you thought were funny in middle school”, but this is the second post and it’s not looking good.  But it actually ties into what this post is actually about, because I actually was in Laurel Hill today.

I am of course talking about the obscure neighborhood of Queens.  It is a real place (although when visiting it you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise).  It’s one that’s almost been forgotten, eaten up by Maspeth–and believe me, there are few fates more ignominious than being eaten up by Maspeth.  Laurel Hill, like most neightborhoods of New York City, used to be small town before urban sprawl caused it to be subsumed into the greater New York behemoth.  Nowadays, it’s barely a few blocks.

The first thing one notices about Laurel Hill is its manner of entrance.  The neighborhood is situated on the border of Queens’ gigantic Calvary Cemetery and some oppressive Robert Moses highway that I don’t care to know the name of, effectively blocking out traffic through it except for one freeway offshoot.  This offshoot is bridged by an elaborate, spiralling walkway of concrete and chain link, which for pedestrians like myself is the only way into the neighborhood.  This bridge is almost ostentatiously useless; the road it bridges is barely trafficked and could have been easily served by a simple crosswalk, and furthermore the bridge meanders in such a way that it’s clear some serious graft was involved in its construction.  But political kickbacks are, I think, only part of the story; I have reason to believe that, has I simply rushed across the street at surface level, I would never been able to get Laurel Hill.  It simply would not have existed.

The most noticeable thing about Laurel Hill is how self-contained it feels.  In New York City, nowhere feels self-contained.  Everything is part of a larger grid, and everyone travels from everywhere to everywhere.  Not so in Laurel Hill.  Laurel Hill feels like a pocket dimension within New York City that can only be accessed under certain opportune conditions.  Indeed, I feel as if I tried to go back now I wouldn’t be able to find it.

Part of this impression is gained from the odd state of stasis the neighborhood seems to be in.  Most places in New York are in a constant state of revision, demolition, and regeneration, but not Laurel Hill.  I’m not sure a single new building has been built there since the 1950s.  Furthermore, while many of these old buildings were in quite a state of disrepair, some were in surprisingly good condition.

Adding to the eldritch air of the place was the lack of people on the streets, although in these industrial areas of Queens that isn’t all that unusual.  And an industrial area this was, although there was precious little industry occurring.  The main economic activity of Laurel Hill seems to be the storing of great construction machines: rusted cherrypickers, cranes like tottering ruins, piledrivers like dinosaurs slowly sinking into tar pits.  Everything in the neighborhood seemed to be slowly sinking, in fact–the sidewalks, the houses, the power lines (that last one very troublingly).

I eventually got out of Laurel Hill and walked back up to the familiar environment of Sunnyside.  I feel as though, had I stayed longer, I may have been sucked into the neighborhood’s strange world and never again emerged.

And then I would’ve been late for class!  Ba-zing!

Some Thoughts on the WordPress Process
November 25, 2010, 9:37 pm
Filed under: meta

I’ve finally been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and gotten a blog.  I’m sure in a few days I’ll be riding the waves of the information superhighway like a digital cowboy, networking my e-business solutions using the utmost synergy, and implementing the maddest of hax 2.0 upon the unsuspecting microblogged masses.  But before I do that I need to get some content up here (what an archaic notion!), so I think I’ll start by commenting on the little tutorial I read before starting this thing up.

Well, okay, one comment.  In the tutorial they had a long section on “deciding what to blog about”.  Eh?  People make WordPress accounts without knowing what they want to say?  And I know this seems hypocritical seeing all the vagueness and self-deprecation you’ll see elsewhere here, but believe me, I do have a plan.  This blog is going to be where I deposit all of the tiny flutters of thoughts about things I experience that I otherwise forget.

Looking back at that, that seems pretty vague and useless as well.  Ah well.  I guess this blog is more a typing exercise than anything else.  But hey, now I can say I’m a member of the technological illuminati or whatever, so it ain’t all bad.