Yesterday I Learned … VII


Yesterday I learned that some of us still don’t know how to perform drive-thru transactions properly. Some say the first drive-thru restaurant to open a side window happened in 1928, some say 1947, but whatever the case is, they’re been around for as long as most of us have been alive. Thus, those of us who didn’t grow up in a subculture that avoids technology know how to perform a drive-thru transaction. Yet, we read a decades-old menu of a decades old franchise as if it requires a Rosetta Stone to decipher its hieroglyphs. When we finally decide what we want, we search for the button to ignite the speaker device. For those who don’t know, restaurants in the 1970’s had buttons customers were required to use when they were ready to speak. When the time to perform arrives, we scream into the speaker as if we don’t understand the mechanizations behind the audio amplification a speaker can provide. What should take two minutes, often takes ten. Today, I realized that those of us who fall prey to the confusion this transaction provides are officially as old as the people they used to mock for being old.

Yesterday I realized that most artists spend most of their time skimming the core. Think about your favorite artists in any milieu. How many earth-shattering pieces did they create? The best artists, be they in literature, music, painting, etc., are extremely fortunate to develop four unique pieces that stand alone and above their peers’ creations. How many pieces did da Vinci create? Two? We have under twenty definitively proven da Vinci works, and only two are known throughout the world. How many pieces did Van Gogh, Picasso, James Joyce, and Andy Kaufman create? Some artists limited themselves to a few creations, and they spent most of their time perfecting those pieces, but others created hundreds of pieces, but most of them were not great, as we’re defining great here. Those of us who love music, fall in love with certain artists. How many great, epic, I-can’t-wait-to-listen-to-them-again albums did these artists create? I’m not limiting this discussion to sales figures here either. I’m talking about you-know-greatness-when-you-hear-it great. Three examples from my youth are King’s X Gretchen Goes to Nebraska, Queensyche’s Operation Mindcrime, and Metallica’s Master of Puppets. I was so in love with each of these albums that it didn’t matter how great their next album was, I was going to greet it as a normal person might greet their child into the world. I would listen to these new albums thirty times, before I began skipping through some songs, until I eventually tossed them into my personal dustbin. Each of these artists followed up what were for me magical, transcendent albums with admirable efforts, but the albums top-to-bottom didn’t have the same magic as their predecessors. The subsequent albums had some great singles, but the artists seemed to skim the core of their greatness for the rest of their careers. Now that we’ve achieved some distance, we can reflect back and evaluate our favorite artists more objectively. I think most music aficionados will now admit that their favorite artists probably had two albums that stand the test of time in them. Yet, it’s so exciting to see an artist come so close to their core that we buy their entire catalog without hearing any of the songs or reading critical reviews. Today, I realized that I love a great book, and I enjoy the occasional painting or two, but I never understood how someone could stare at a great painting for a half hour. There is something different about music, however, something that reached me when I was far too young to understand the connection, and something that, to quote the cliché, soothed my soul. Music is the universal art form that brings us together and drives us apart. I gave three examples of albums that inspired me in ways no other art form could, but I could probably list 100 off the top of my head that ‘set the sick ones free’. That list of 100 albums is so personal to me, but could it have been a time and place matter, or is a great album always a great album no matter when they come out, and how difficult are they to follow up?    

“I’ve got no imagination. I never dream. My so-called inventions already existed in the environment—I took them out. I’ve created nothing. Nobody does. There’s no such thing as an idea being brain-born. Everything comes from the outside. The industrious one coaxes it from the environment.” –Thomas Edison

Does art reflect life, or does life reflect art? How many of the most brilliant pieces of art are nothing more than interpretations of the world around the artist? Isn’t that the definition of art? Aren’t all artistic pieces “brain-born”? I understand that Edison was trying to be humble, but it doesn’t make much sense, if you consider Edison artistic in a universal sense. Artistic pieces are born through a complicated algorithm that arrow through influences, experiences, and individual interpretations. Whether it involves the creation of the lightbulb, the novel, and every other form of art, most of the artistic minutiae of a creation occur in the individual interpretation stage, but most artists could not arrive at that place without the first two.

Yesterday I considered most psychological tests a total waste of time. I don’t put much value in Rorschach tests, I don’t know what the spiral eye test does for anyone, other than being a little neat, and I think fill in the blank tests, insert letters into this b_ _t, are pointless. They’re all neat and fun, and they seem to say something fun and interesting about us, but what does it say about us if we answer boat? Today, I found an interesting nugget from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Talking to Strangers suggests that suggests I might be wrong that they are a complete waste of time. In one test, the examiners gave this fill in the blank test to a group A. They then gave the results of that test to group B, to have them help the examiners decipher the answers. Group B psychoanalyzed the answers. Unbeknownst to both groups, the examiners created the test for group B, with the theory that we say more about ourselves when we analyze others than we ever do when we analyze ourselves. I still don’t know if they’re valuable tests to determine our characteristics, but this little twist suggests they’re not a complete waste of time. 

Yesterday, I wondered if others might consider what I was writing funny and interesting. We all have people in mind when we write. Today, I realized that that is an utter waste of time. You do what you do, work your tail off, and the accolades might follow. The ‘you do what you do’ principle does not work, however, if you don’t know the rules. As most comedians know, this is always funnier than that. The ‘this’ in this equation is rhythm. Most of the time one needs to economize. Brevity is the soul of wit, and all that, but one can get away with extended punch lines if they’re gifted. There are those especially gifted few who can upend and redefine the rules, but if we enjoyed betting, we would probably say that you and your gimmick are not for long.

Yesterday, I realized I’m probably as far from a ‘betting man’ as one can get. Anytime we hear analysts address a situation, they say, “If I were a betting man …” When I watch game shows, and the contestant is allowed to double their money by answering a final question, I don’t understand how anyone could take that bet. “You mean to tell me that you survived the three strikes and you’re out portion of the game with ‘X’ amount of money, and you risked it on the double or nothing final question?” Today, I realized that I would be that guy who disappoints the audience at home by taking the money and running so far away that I might not think about the chance I didn’t take. I might think of my refusal to take a chance every once in a while, but even if I took that chance and answered the question correctly, I wouldn’t feel so much gratification by answering the final question correctly that it would be worth it. It would pale in comparison to the face slapping nights I would endure if I missed that final question.

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