Gazing at the night sky to make sense of the countless blinking lights is clearly a universal hobby. All the ancient civilizations loved it: the geeky Greeks, the elegant Egyptians, even the mysterious Mayans. In between farming, warring, and the other simply joys of ancient civilization, these people found time, lots of it, to just look up and imagine all sorts of pictures that could be outlined by the random positions of the stars. (They found, among others, a crab, a cup, and a hunter along with his two dogs.)
Equipped with only their eyes and inquistive minds, they left us with all sorts of fascinating explanations for the persistent wonder of the night-time sky. We have stories of gods and goddesses, huge sky domes and celestial machinery that keep the sky moving through day and night.
I learned about the 1984 movie Red Dawn while playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The first chapter of the game’s second act starts with the player’s character riding a Humvee, crashing through American suburbs as Russian paratroopers drop from the sky: surprise, surprise, it’s a full-blown Russian invasion of American soil. The chapter is titled “Wolverines!”, which as I learned later is a reference to Red Dawn, the first portrayal of the Communist-invaders-in-suburban-America scenario.
I haven’t watched the original movie, but just last year, a remake with the same title was released, this time with North Koreans as villains. Since I enjoyed playing as a soldier fighting through the middle-class neighborhoods of Virginia, I was naturally interested in seeing Red Dawn, and I grabbed the chance as soon as the movie was released in this country.
The book insists on closing itself. The pages themselves aren’t stiff, but the spine is more of a clamp than a hinge. Sometimes it feels like the book doesn’t want to be read. What would it be for then? A combustible bundle stuffed on shelves for ornamentation? Oh well. At least it’s light, it’s not tiring to hold up. Spots of sunlight fall on the pages, filtered through tree leaves. Go ahead, relax, lean a little backwards. Feel the grassy slope. This park is a nice place to be in, and few things feel as good as spending the time here just reading. The world is at peace, but another world beckons from the between the lines of the book. Now, if only cover’s a little more flexible and the book’s a little easier to keep wide open.
As far as I can tell, one thing all avid readers come to love about the act of reading is the profound calm that it brings. Of all the forms of entertainment available to the modern individual, reading is the least pompous. It is also subtle for it is, at once, the least engaging and yet the most demanding. And in this manner, it often provides readers with a deep sense of peace, an experience that few other activities can give.
In contrast to, say, a movie, which is a sustained spoon-feeding of full-color widescreen images and rich surround sound, a book is incredibly shy and will offer you only black letterforms on white pages. To transform these letters into rich mental images, a lot of creativity and experience has to be summoned. A book doesn’t call your attention out loud; it only hands out a quiet invitation to another world, with the clear disclaimer that you will have to put in a lot of work yourself.
Last summer, and over the months that followed as I finished a rather substantial book by Professor Randy David, I was introduced to the idea of life as a narrative. I’m pretty sure it’s an idea that would stick with me for many years to come. And it’s bound to come up especially during times like this, on the eve of the new year, when the sociable thing to do is to reminisce and tweet about one’s favorite moments from the past year. (The more contemplative ones like to blog the products of their ruminations as well.)
Here’s one way to think about everything that has happened to you in the past year: they were either things that you planned, or they were the things that you didn’t plan. Thanks to the things that you didn’t plan, you can tell a story of the past year that’s more exciting than if everything turned out well. For example, if you’re a student like me, tonight you can tell the story of how you planned to get your grades up, but then you got caught up in the activities of some charitable cause-oriented organization so much that your grades suffered, but it’s alright because you found that work fulfilling and there you learned things you will never learn inside the classroom. Compare that to if things turned out well: you planned to get your grades up, and, well, they shot up. End of story; you need not provide further details because no one will listen to such arrogance.
A stream of early November air coyly slips into the room, unconscious of its cold effects. It swirls onto the floor and slithers around my feet, before deciding to settle in the room for good. The interior atmosphere accommodates it with a drop of a few degrees in Celsius. The oxygen and nitrogen molecules, playful and hungry for energy even at 3 am, can only get their heat from one of two sources: the table lamp or the computer. Thank God for electricity, for the power grid—for the power plants, the distribution lines, and the operators and technicians who stay awake to keep running it all.
The bulb in the lamp has always been unhappy. It has always complained of what it sees as an oppression, an affront to its existential purpose. The problem is that much of the product of its labor—photons mainly of the yellow variety—is confiscated by the lampshade by mere virtue of being positioned above the bulb itself. The bulb wants a fair share of the lamp’s output. It wants a just compensation for the fruits of its hard labor. After years of protest, however, the power relations in the lamp has remained essentially the same. The frustrated proletariat light bulb continues to work for the smug capitalist lampshade. And in this November night, the lamp flickers. Its light falls a shade darker and the bulb is dimmer than ever.