Wednesday, March 28, 2007

In Need of Batting an Eyelid

Whew! This is turning out to be a hectic and toxic week for me. And it's just Wednesday!

I've been busy since the start of the week juggling three projects, all with tight deadlines. As far as graphic design is concerned, I'm unperturbed by clients' requirements. The more gritty the details, the more nitty the end-product I want. Come to think of it, wouldn't that be the perfect "perfectionist's creed"?

Wait a minute! Me, a perfectionist? A definite, unequivocal no to that. As the word implies, perfection is humanly unattainable. And unless I somehow become the Judeo-Christian God,* I won’t be a nut trying to achieve what is impossible.

However, I do aspire for the best. To me, this is the most positive motivation of human endeavors. At work, it indicates taking pride in your craft. In life, it signifies self-value.

So, what’s the deal with the bad rep of perfectionists? Because, it’s all pretension and/ or self-delusion, or just plain, old obsessive-compulsive disorder. This is why I will never be a perfectionist. And even if I were, knowing fully well what it means, I wouldn’t self-confess.

I often hear people justify their assessment of a work with, “Well, I’m just a perfectionist.” Hey, hoe, what d’ya know?! Crazy nut! Get some balls and review works with your brain. The humanity! What a waste of analytical juices! Don’t you just get ticked off by people like that?

So now, I have batted an eyelid! I guess it’s just the infernal weather. The temperature has tipped 35° C in Metro Manila the past 2 days. It may also be because of the heavy workload. Now, I’m rationalizing. The fact is I’m human. I feel. I react. Sometimes, I’m calm and unaffected. Sometimes, I get irked. And just now, I needed to bat an eyelid.

*I’ve singled out Judeo-Christian because of all the religious belief systems, its concept of God is perfection. Others have deities that are far from perfect but rather are capable of both good and evil with emphasis on attaining a harmonious balance.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Important Trivial Pursuits

Now, that’s an oxymoron.

I’ve got this new hobby of checking out references in pop culture. How can I not? The wiki age has made it so convenient. And I am astonished by the number of contributors. There are a lot of people who expend time and effort to compile them.

So, the question begs to be asked, “How important are trivial pursuits?” I say, in the case of culture, there are no trivial pursuits. There is trivia (read: details), and the devil is in it.

Picking up on a statement I wrote in my last post regarding the development of culture in the evolution of modern man, human activities that are not primarily rooted on survival instincts are distinctly what make us human. Without writing this blog, I will still live. However, writing gives me a sense of satisfaction. And knowing that I am being read doubles the pleasure. We, as a species, have a sense of ourselves and, collectively, we reflect this through our cultures.

Like any social construct, culture does not exist in a vacuum. What came before is associated with what is being thought and done now. Culture evolves and referencing is one process in defining its form over time. So, before this blog becomes a pedagogical discourse, let me share with you how I became interested in references to and within pop culture.

My nephews, Oweng (17 yrs. old) and Yves (12), and my niece, Justyne (16), have been fans of The Simpsons for most of their formative years. I usually watch it with them. Once, when I told them that the show was three years older than Oweng, they were amazed.

The animated show is so much a part of their lives that all three do pretty good impressions of the characters. They are able to seamlessly use them in social interactions together with their impressions of Spongebob, Patrick Star, Squidward, and a host of other movie, cartoon and anime characters.

This to me is in itself a form of referencing and, aside from being amused, I find it a very clever way of communicating. To be able to appropriately incorporate impressions in a regular conversation takes wit and a very good grasp of the dynamics in gab. A good example of someone who has somehow perfected this competence is Robin Williams, although I do find him annoying at times when he overdoes it.

Anyway, back to The Simpsons, there was this episode where Homer got loaded on medically regulated pot (“Weekend at Burnsie’s,” season 13, episode 16). In one of the scenes where he was stoned, the 2-D animation took on a 60s hippie, technicolor and psychedelic vibe while some mood music played. The tune sounded familiar. The lyrics seemed foreign except for the last line. What I heard was, “Color sky hav a na lek, Color sky ros cal methene, Alles arian crimson, Wear your love like heaven." I told Oweng that I had heard this song before. He thought it was purposely made for the scene. No, I said, it was a proper tune.

In fact, I liked the song so much that I had to search for it on the net. I knew I heard it before in a streaming video of a Monique Lhuillier runway show. I replayed the video and true enough, it was there. I still had no idea of its title, artist or lyrics. I searched for the Simpsons’ episode on wikipedia and there it was. The site listed all the cultural references in the show including the soundtracks used.

The song’s title is… surprise, surprise… “Wear Your Love Like Heaven.” It was written by Brit artist Donovan Leitch who also did “Mellow Yellow.” It was released in 1967. As for the weird lyrics, apparently Leitch was known for his whimsical songwriting. And being an artist in the 60s, who can blame him?

All the layers of references in that Simpsons’ episode now made sense to me. From the use of “Burnsie’s” in the title, to the psychedelic animation and to soundtrack choice, how clever, Matt Groening!

So, this was how I got hooked on this hobby. And here’s what I have so far on Donovan Leitch’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven."

The unintelligible lyrics I was telling you about, they are in fact legitimate English words of oil paint colors strung by Mr. Leitch, perhaps when he himself was stoned. But of course, the last point is just pure speculation. It goes, "Color sky havana lake, Color sky rose carmethene, Alizarian crimson, Wear your love like heaven..." and that plays while Homer prances in 2-D technicolor, psychedelic trance (The Simpsons S13, Ep16, “Weekend at Burnsie’s”).

“Color in sky prussian blue, Scarlet fleece changes hue, Crimson ball sinks from view…” Sarah McLachlan sings her 1992 remake of the 1967 Donovan Leitch tune, “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” (From Sarah McLachlan’s Solace album).

“Can I believe what I see, All I have wished for will be, All our race proud and free...” Donovan Leitch's "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" plays as models glide down the runway in Monique Lhuillier's Spring 2006 Bridal Collection.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Survivor: “Out of Africa” edition

Last night, I watched a National Geographic special on how some Homo erectus group may have developed into Homo sapiens somewhere in Africa (“Ultimate Survivor: Mystery of Us.” Check regional NatGeo channel sites for program listings). The show presented compelling evidence to support the idea that modern man started to evolve and develop as a distinct species in that continent.

Now, imagine this scenario: a coastline cave-dwelling Homo erectus group in Africa learning how to gather food from the sea. With a rich source of omega-fatty-acid-laced protein that is the ultimate brain food, and without expending much energy in hunts for wild game that were also hominin predators, they now had time for other pursuits. They started organizing their cave dwellings, made tools that were way more refined than necessary, and created shell trinkets which they painted with ochre.

Sounds familiar? They might as well have gathered for tribal council and voted off the weakest link in their evolution group. The shell trinkets would have done well as an immunity symbol, don’t you think? But, I digress.

The ramifications of their other pursuits, which were far removed from mere survival activities, were enormously important. These were huge steps in the evolutionary ladder of Homo sapiens. These were the seeds of culture. If the scientists' deduction holds ground, these would indeed make them forerunners of modern man.

According to the NatGeo feature, Homo sapiens coexisted and may have competed with other hominins, like the Neanderthal Man, Java Man and the recently discovered Homo floresiensis (Hobbit Man). The skills in creativity and ingenuity that Homo sapiens developed could have handily won them the competition. But there’s a twist in the story, as any Survivor episode has. The extremely low genetic diversity among modern man today suggests that we barely made the final cut.

The cause: a natural catastrophic event most likely occurred (see “Toba Volcano: Through the Bottleneck”) that brought the hominins to the brink of extinction. Homo sapiens nearly did not make it as well. In the evolutionary record of modern man, this estimated 10,000 year period brought about by the catastrophic effects of a super-volcanic eruption saw the population dwindle to only less than 3,000. This genetic bottleneck, as evidenced by the extraordinarily low levels of genetic variation within and between races among us, supports an extremely recent origin for Homo sapiens. We must definitely have come from the less than 3,000 who survived.

This also bolsters the “Out of Africa” theory and as the “Toba Volcano: Through the Bottleneck” study phrases it, “puts yet another (the last?) nail in the multiregional coffin.” “Multiregional evolution requires the existence of large populations for long periods, with isolation being rare or absent so that global species could evolve in a single direction. Palaeoanthropological and genetic studies have already done much to discredit this model.” And with the recent discovery of the Flores Island Hobbit Man, “Not only did Homo floresiensis evolve in the absence of gene exchange with other hominins, but no one can argue that LB1 (the first Homo floresiensis skeleton found) contributed to our own species' genetic make-up.”

So, when the catastrophic effects of the Toba event subsided some 63,000 years ago, the bottleneck was released and the surviving hominin population adapted and began to recover. Homo sapiens continued to coexist and most likely competed with Homo neanderthalensis until the Neanderthal Man’s extinction some 30,000 years ago; with Homo erectus javaensis until the Java Man bowed out 25-30,000 years ago; and with Homo floresiensis until the Hobbit Man likewise exited only as recent as 12-18,000 years ago.

And what was our edge over the other hominins? Yes, it was partly due to our more developed brain. But, it was largely because we employed our acquired smarts. Our advantage was our creativity to adapt and our ingenuity to survive. Our learned cultural skills were what made us the ultimate survivor. Mark Burnett can attest to that! Survivor: “Out of Africa” edition… Outwit, Outplay, Outlast!

Blogging My Life

Oh, yes. I have reservations in starting this blog. I’m overwhelmed by the thought of chronicling my life in the public domain. I have this iffy feeling in taking on the responsibility of presenting an unadulterated view of my self. My posts may be just snippets of my life, but the thought of building my own aquarium is, to me, a bit unnerving. I do have the option to edit, but I choose not to.

My idea of blogging my life is close to how Orson Scott Card characterized Ender Wiggins as the Speaker for the Dead in the sequel to Ender’s Game. This sounds morbid but as life goes, death completes it. Until humankind finds a way to genetically engineer immortals, which won't happen in my lifetime, I am confined to the pragmatic view of my own mortality.

Card’s concept arose from his experiences with death and funerals. He writes, “suffice it to say that I grew dissatisfied with the way that we use our funerals to revise the life of the dead, to give the dead a story so different from their actual life that, in effect, we kill them all over again. No, that is too strong. Let me just say that we erase them, we edit them, we make them into a person much easier to live with than the person who actually lived.”*

I do not want to be edited. I do not want to be erased. So, as I embark on this journey to chronicle my life, I want my words to reflect a person who actually lived.

*In Orson Scott Card’s Introduction to Speaker for the Dead (1991 edition)

Orson Scott Card’s official website: