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May 26, 2013 – Of Star Trek, Family, Hangover III and the Indy 500

I just started this ‘post about things from the day’ business yesterday but already it’s clear to me that this takes a LOT of time.  Encapsulating an entire day isn’t a trivial undertaking.  Clearly I need to have less interesting days to save myself the trouble of documenting anything about them.

Of Star Trek

One of yesterday’s random outings  was to wander off to a couple of movies.  The first was the new Star Trek movie and it’s worth saying as introduction that I’m not exactly a Trekkie but I do know enough to wonder at night why original series Klingons look nothing like the Klingons from every other series and movie.  The fact that I wonder this at all puts me in the category of annoying nit-pickers when it comes to movies and to sci-fi movies especially.

One of my lesser complaints about every Trek movie ever has been the rather forced nods to several decades of Trek history.  For example, given all the trouble they caused before, it seems rather contrived that there just happens to be a dead tribble laying about for Bones to experiment on.  It’s also sad that after so many centuries of progress we still have to resort to animal testing.  Progress my eye.  In general, the whole Trek series is just one big continuity failure.  It is, at times, as bad as Doctor Who in this regard but without the ability to infinitely weasel out of absolutely anything with a nearly all-powerful time machine.

Taking out my random and numerous quibbles, on the whole it was a well-executed enough movie by the standards of today’s cinema.  The effects, as always, were brilliant and I was happy to see that for once, at least some portion of the movie at least wanted to obey the laws of physics.  As the Enterprise is plummeting towards the Earth with artificial gravity failing, the contents of the ship react in a way that reminded me of old naval films.  It was refreshing to see us get back, ever so briefly, to that old standard. Sadly, the interlude of physical credibility is brief.  I still contend loudly that no spacecraft built in that configuration could withstand reentry.  There’s no material in the universe strong enough to hold a warp nacelle up against the force of gravity with that little structural support.  The Enterprise is built for space, not in-air planet-bound flight no matter how much we may think it an amusing plot-line vehicle.

Lastly, and most disturbingly, the Star Trek franchise has lost its soul.  The original series, and to an extent later ones, had a message that wasn’t just about space cowboys riding around and shooting their six-guns at one another.  While the newer movies entertain, they just don’t have any real societal content left.  Science Fiction, in its grandest tradition, was always a mirror of society.  Whether it was reflected in the half-black/half-white inhabitants of Cheron or some other fictional vehicle, there was always some kernel upon which to chew after the show was over.  It made us better by showing us just how silly we were being.  Star Trek has just become Star Wars with different characters.

On Family

I learned on this day that someone in my estranged family was diagnosed with cancer.  Of course this is sad news for anyone, but it made me ponder for quite a while why it is that I don’t go out of my way to talk to them.  It’s worth noting that I have no hard feelings about anyone involved but there’s not exactly an aura of good and happy memories surrounding anyone in my family.  My mother, of course, is a non-issue.  She asked me to stop calling her years ago and I’ve held true to that request and long gotten over the fact that my own mother told me to go the hell away and never come back.  My father’s side of the family, while more receptive to me, doesn’t really seem interested.  I’ve visited them a handful of times over the years and they’re very kind and polite it just seems like we don’t have anything to really talk about.  I come from a long line of people who aren’t exactly conversationalists and when we get together it’s just a lot of awkward silence.  This is as much my fault as anyone’s because, let’s face it, I spout more words in this blog in a day than I do aloud in a month, but the fact remains that we’re just not a well-connected family.

Then, of course, there’s the argument that “they won’t be around forever” and this is true.  Sadly though, I feel like in most meaningful ways I’ve already lost them.  My childhood was far from pleasant and whatever connectedness and sense of family I should have had just never came to flower.  I could call every day and visit twice a day on Wednesdays but the fact would remain that my connections were severed (or never created) decades ago.  On some level, I think it goes both ways.  I left my hometown 22 years ago and in that time I don’t think anyone from my family has ever seen any home I ever lived in or even asked to.  It’s unlikely they know where I work or have much inkling about what it is that I do except to the extent that Facebook or this blog tells them.  I don’t think they’ve even met my youngest daughter who teeters on the brink of being ten years old; my eldest they’ve seen once or twice.  I say none of this in spite, but merely to point out that it’s not that I’m pushing anyone away.  The disinterest seems fairly mutual.

On The Hangover III

I often tell Laura that “we need to go see more movies in the theatre.”  Sometimes when I say this we get into a brief spate of going to see lots of movies until we come upon one that makes us rather nauseated.  While Hangover III isn’t quite noxious, it’s not far off.  I anticipated a comedy, something to lighten the mood of the day.  Unfortunately, The Hangover was anything but light-hearted.  Perhaps I failed to remember the first two (or wisely ignored them) but this movie was more about death and destruction than anything else.  There were mildly amusing points but they were more than overshadowed by the crazed violence.  Not at all what my attitude needed yesterday.

On the Indy 500

The day closed with the Indy 500, watched on tape delay because it’s blacked out here in Central Indiana lest we all decide not to go.  This seems a fallacy, frankly, because I’m not sure most people go for the race, but that’s a discussion for another time.

For years now I’ve rather poo-pooed the 500.  Having been a couple of times it seems just like a lot of cars going in circles and doing so VERY loudly.  As the years have gone by, however, I’ve come to appreciate the history.  Sure the cars are just going around and around but they’ve been doing so for 100 years.  No matter how silly you may think something is, the fact that they’ve done it for that long does tend to lend validity to it.

In addition to history, I think the real joy of the race comes about from familiarity and sympathy with the drivers.  I recall with great vividness Sato’s last-lap attempt to win the 500 only to spin out.  Because of this, I root for the guy every time.  He’s got my sympathy, I remember him, and therefore he gets my vote.  For those who have watched this race for their entire lives, they’ve got decades of near misses and spectacular finishes.  Anyone who heard the words “Mario is slowing down” will always root for an Andretti forever after.

I know a lot of techy people who love the race and it’s not hard to see why.  All the technology that goes into propelling a car at over 200 miles an hour is mind-boggling and the strategy of a race is like a chess match from drafting positions to gas mileage calculations to rolling the dice to try to pit under yellow as the very last drop of gas leaks from the tank.

So after years of being non-appreciative, I get it.  I may well forget that I get it by the time next year rolls around, but today, the day after the race, I get it.  Every year before the race I make a blind know-nothing prediction about who will win.  It is, literally, just a name chosen from the air at random.  Last year my pick was Emerson Fittipaldi.  I was sad to learn that the random name I had picked hadn’t raced at Indy for over 30 years.  Needless to say, he didn’t win.  This year my random know-nothing pick was Ryan Hunter-Reay.  Clearly I’m making progress.  (He came in third)

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The Bane of Expectations

Today I left the apartment with fervor, energy and drive that I haven’t felt in a while (at least a week!).  Motivation is a costly commodity when the temperature is 38 degrees and the wind is gusting at 30 miles per hour.  I like to get out and do the photo thing but let’s face it, I’m a wimp.  If it’s a choice between taking photos or keeping all my appendages intact, I’ll just go pull something out of the big box of books and turn the heat up.  But this afternoon I poured out the door like a bucket of water over Niagra falls; I was ready to take on the day and whatever it happened to bring.

As with weather, I’m also a wimp when it comes to parking.  I’d rather park somewhere a mile or two away than bother with a parking garage.  As I got out of the car at the Indianapolis Zoo and headed across the river on foot towards Lucas Oil Stadium I could feel the wind pushing at my back like an impatient mother trying desperately to give birth to an overly plump child. I knew that the walk back was not going to be a pleasant one.  Regardless, the car was safely parked, I had camera in hand, tripod and other equipment on my back and I had a destination.  Frozen face of the future be damned.  It was now time.

Then I arrived at downtown and saw all the… stuff.  Here was the city I had photographed at least a dozen times and it was all made up for a monumental event.  It’s almost as if the place looked at me and said, “OK, Mr. Smart-guy, I’m waiting.  Take my picture already.”  And, as happens to me anytime that an entire city anthropomorphizes and mocks me, I found myself rather locked up artistically.  Rather than relaxing and just letting the photos come to me in a natural way, I ended up playing a complex three-dimensional game of “where’s Waldo” in which Waldo is that perfect shot that I just have to get and if I don’t get it then I would look back on the day a month from now and be furious with myself.

And really, I think that’s exactly the problem with such events.  If I just show up at some random spot and glide around for three hours I know with absolute certainty that I’m going to find something I really like.  I can summon something from nothing without much forethought or difficulty.  But when you go to an event wherein people EXPECT you to get good shots it’s a much different mindset.  It’s almost as if because I know there’s something to be found I end up impatiently looking for it and missing the more natural or artistic bits that are all around us at all times.  As a result, I always see the photos I come back with after an event as rather disappointing because I never feel that I found that ineffable “it” that was lurking waiting to be captured.

Despite my disappointment, I come home and post my rot online so that at the least I can say that I documented the day.  Inevitably though, somebody will come along and notice something in the album that really does have more to say than I thought.  The hangover of expectations, it seems, not only saturates the act of taking the photos but also finds its way into post-processing and would last forever except for the input of people from outside my own skull.   I’m a terrible judge of my own work in general and the issue of expecting something from a situation seems to make it much, much worse.

Clearly though I need an attitude adjustment.  If I choose a random direction and drive then I see photography as a fun recreation that can turn any locale into hours of fun and produce something I like at the end.  If I go somewhere on purpose then photography becomes a gauntlet of challenge thrown down that must be picked up and accepted at all costs.  I find myself walking faster and faster in an attempt to locate that redeeming photo op that will make the miles of walking all worthwhile.  I won’t deny that I’m often a hopelessly competitive person, but in this case I’m just competing with myself in a pointless and circular way that does more to burn calories and wear out my jeans than it does to advance my art.

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