Saturday, January 29, 2011

How To Really Blow Out Your Meta Moment


Ocean's Twelve was a disappointment, to put it mildly. The plot wasn't nearly as interesting, the 'caper' came out of left field, and the cast simply did not seem like it was having any fun. Ok, that last part wasn't true, but regardless, audiences definitely expected more. Perhaps the strangest moment in the entire movie was when, in order to steal some fancy jewel-encrusted egg, it is suggested that Tess - female compatriot to the team of ne'er-do-wells - pretend to be Julia Roberts, since she bears a striking resemblance to the actress. Of course, the character is played by real life actress Julia Roberts in a fictional story, so the whole concept is jarring and incredibly meta. Frankly, if they were going to go down this road, the movie should have actually played out like this:

"Hey guys - I have an idea. Tess looks JUST like Julia Roberts. We should totally use her in this heist!"
"Wow, yeah, bro, she looks EXACTLY like Julia Roberts! How did I not realize that shit before?!"
"Boys, how about we focus on how to solve our-"
"That's...amazing. You think we would have realized such a striking resemblance years ago."
"I know, it's str-holy shit, you guys! Look at Rusty for a second - who does HE look EXACTLY like?"
"Whoa! Brad Pitt! Fuck me, dude - you're like, his clone! Fucking nuts, bro!"
"Guys, stop. You all have to stop this now. There's a convoluted heist we have to get to."
"You know, it's funny, I've always kinda thought that, but no one's ever said anything to me."
"Well, I'm saying it. And while we're at it, does anyone think that I look kinda like..."
"Oh, fuck, who's that guy? He was in 'The Perfect Storm' with that douchenozzle George Clooney."
"OMG - do you mean Mark Wahlberg? Are you retarded?"
"Dude, wait a minute! YOU look just like George Clooney!"

"Hey, fuck you bro. I look nothing like that asshole."
"Guys, stop for a minute. Think about EVERYONE we know and have come into contact with, ever."

"Wahlberg's right. Fucking Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia, even that older guy who was totally Ross and Monica's dad on 'Friends'!"
"Ok, c'mon now, let's get back on track. We gotta pretend to fail at this heist, but secretly have everything under control in a secret heist we're not discussing at all. Or something."
"Shut up Tess." "Wait, what about that Asian guy? Who does he look like?" "Jackie Chan?"
"That's pretty racist, Ocean. He actually bears a striking resemblance to internationally acclaimed Peking Acrobats member turned actor Shaobo Qin."
"Wow, someone's a fucking geek."
"Ok, so uh, we're all celebrity lookalikes. Totes sweet. How do we capitalize on this shit?"
"I think it's obvious: we KILL all the actual celebrities and take over their lives, living like kings among men."
"Ye-heah! Sounds like a plan." "Next stop: Hollywood."
"Count me out of the next sequel, assholes."

-Matt

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Simple Secrets Project

Don't click to look inside. That's just a permanent reminder I stole this image from Amazon.
So I have a new, big life project that I'm throwing myself into this year. It's somewhat in the vein of Paused (side note: I've starting trying to make "Paused" a buzzword for 2011, interrupting all manner of conversations where people talk about what they're doing with their lives to find a way to shoehorn in the term, i.e.: "Oh, so you're Paused on carbs right now,", "Ah, you've decided to give smoking weed a Pause for now," and "Totes, broheim. I've been Perma-Paused on SNL since the 90's too.") but rather than giving up an old habit, its more about adopting new ones. And the inspiration comes from this book I randomly stumbled upon last year.

Back in February a friend moving out of the country donated half a bookshelf worth of books to me. Amongst the huge pile of books I've yet to even scratch the surface with was one called 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People, the contents of which are fairly self-explanatory. Everything inside of it is stuff you'd hear from almost any life coach, guidance counselor or wise old man inside an ancient temple at the top of a mountain you'd have to spend a full week climbing. Stuff like: 'You'll Get What You're Afraid Of,' 'You'll Work Harder If You Feel Wanted,' 'Always Think About What's Next,' all sound advice that most people wouldn't argue with.

Initially nothing drew me to the book other than its tiny size, which lent itself to being read in about a day. So I breezed through it, thought: "yeah, totally!" tossed it into a pile and forgot about it. But towards the end of this past year I was gearing up for what was already looking to be a busy 2011, and rather than just filling it up with all manner of things to fill my calendar, I decided I also wanted to make some active changes to my mindset, which I'd been less than diligent about. I remembered the Simple Secrets book, and I thought about how while everything in the book was useful, practical advice, there was no way I'd naturally ever make more than one or two small changes to my life after reading that or any other self help book, just by the nature of being human. I wondered how I could take it to the next level, and figure out a way to get more out of the concepts and suggestions presented inside.

I decided to incorporate something I'd done years ago almost a gag (but also, totally not at all): my Video Game 'To Play' List that I've been keeping since I took my year off from playing them in 2008. So I started a new spreadsheet, listing all 100 items from the Simple Secrets book, and broke them all down into four categories: Level, Priority, Task and Progress. I hope you're ready for the breakdown, 'cause there's no turning back now.

'Level' is a simple self-measurement that I took, trying to be as honest as possible with how much I truly believed and incorporated the item in my life. Something like 'Notice Patterns' is easy enough to agree with and assume you do well, but the reality is I mostly look out for certain specific patterns (douchey behavior, level of eye contact, whether you're laughing enough at my jokes) and miss plenty of others. So I'd rank myself on a scale of Low to High and consider the next step from there.

'Priority' is how much focus I think I need to give to the Simple Secret in question. Some of the items inside the book are useful but not as practical for my life or where I stand at the moment. 'Your Work And Home Life Must Fit Together' is something I'll worry more about when I'm not a bachelor who mostly goes home just to sleep and make a slight dent his DVR. I rate these items on a scale of 1-5, with the 5's being the ones I think more than anything can and should be applied to my life right away. In other words the 5's are the Mass Effect 2's in my life, and the 1's are the Bioshock 2's in my life. Make sense?

'Task' is what I'm actually going to do about it. A LOT of the secrets in the book are things we've all heard dozens of times in our lives but really, how do you just start believing and doing it? 'Learn From Losses' is a great example - I totally should be learning from my losses, rather than screaming at myself in the mirror for 4 hours, but how do I start doing that? I eventually decided to break down all the necessary tasks into five specific behaviors: Mantra, Practice, Journal, Seek Out, and Improve Behavior. Many items wound up getting more than one task, but these five behaviors pretty much summed up what I felt I needed to it.

Some items are just ideas that need to be ingrained in my head, perhaps rewriting another, more negative line of thinking. Those are mantras, things I just need to repeat to myself all the time, until there's no question in my mind that I believe it. Practicing and journaling as just that - Whenever possible I try to practice the behavior in question, and I've started a private journal that I'm trying to write in regularly with all my thoughts, good and bad, to try to track where I stand with things. Seeking out involves communicating or working with others to help improve this behavior, or gain some perspective. And the remaining items I felt like I had a good grasp on (as Ralph Wiggum has put it, "[Getting A Good Night's] Sleep is where I'm a Viking"), I would list aspire to improve the behavior, because hey, everything I'm doing well do I could probably be doing better.

Finally, there's 'Progress,' which has started as an empty column where I'm able to jot down notches, or notes or whatever I want to update the list as I go along. It'll take a fair amount of introspection and dedication, but I think even a quick glance at the list every day will push me in the right direction on a lot of things. I did initially write down a custom, 'Simple Secret 101', which was: "Create A Ridiculous Spreadsheet As A Way Of Tracking Life Goals," to really feel like I was crushing it right out of the gate. but it felt like a cheat so I took it off.

So that is the Simple Secrets Project. It has no end date, it's not something I'm really making a big deal out of to friends and family (I've only mentioned it to a handful of people at this point, and well, now you, dear reader) and there probably won't ever be a moment where I scan down the list and say to myself: "I did it!" but I do think it'll be a good thing for me, as someone who thinks a lot about his life, but often times isn't naturally inspired to make the necessary changes. If this happens to sound just crazy enough to work for any of you out there, hit me up, and if you'd like to try it, the book is super cheap, and I'd be happy to set you up with a blank copy of the spreadsheet I made.

-Matt

But I'm too tired to go to sleep tonight
And I'm too weak to follow dreams tonight
For the first time in a long time I can say that I wanna try
To get better and overcome each moment in my own way

I'm not saying that I'm giving up
I'm just trying to not think as much as I used to
Cause never is a lonely little messed up word
Maybe I'll get it right some day

'Even If It Kills Me'
Motion City Soundtrack

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

From The Agent Jester File: No Pants 2K11

Every January my new year kicks with a nice little routine I really enjoy: some planning/goal making (more on this in a future post), a birthday celebration (I just turned 32 last week), and the Annual No Pants Subway Ride. This year - the 10th anniversary in fact - I actually got be a General, which meant holding a megaphone and giving loose instructions to the many, many cold fans of Improv Everywhere. I even got interviewed, which was pretty cool.

I don't have too many new observations to make since last year, but I'll say this:

-Megaphones are awesome. The one I bought was incredibly large, at least with respect to my relative size. And even before I started trying to talk with it, just carrying it around with me on the subway ride over, I got a ton of looks. Just the expectation that I might be commanding attention with it at some point is enough to keeps all eyes on me, which you know, I'm personally a big fan of. I might consider bringing it with me to a bar at some point.

-The event definitely still makes feel like an old man. The 'No Pants' participants definitely skew on the younger side, and their ability at this point to stand in the cold with no pants (and sometimes apparently, just a sock on the crotch) far surpasses mine. The running (non)gag with everyone who'd been doing this since time immemorial was that "we were all getting too old for this job," "these kids today, don't know nothin' about nothin'" and that inevitably one of us would probably get killed in action just 2 days from retirement. These lines were all said in between various levels of icy breath cursing and hand-in-glove warmth adjusting.

-There's a shift I'm starting to notice with the female participants that I hadn't really thought about before, even though I suppose the writing has always been on the wall. A lot of girls see No Pants like Halloween, in other words, an excuse to dress in what would normally be considered inappropriately slutty and get away with any judgment because of the event. It's kind of brilliant, actually, though as an old-fogey, part of me does want to remind everyone that this event was always meant more to amuse rather than arouse. Of course, the fist waving stops the second I see someone like my very attractive friend Little Jenni:
Friends have permission to ogle, right?
So that's it. Another fun year with a group of people that had no idea 10 years ago that a silly idea like taking your pants off on the train would turn into a worldwide cultural phenomenon (50 other cities around the world in 24 countries!).


-Agent Jester

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Damn It Jim! I'm A Doctor, Not A Guy Who Does Non-Doctory Stuff!

I saw this poster in the city today and was instantly drawn to it. I have no idea what "Off The Map" is about (nor do I care), but the DANGLING STETHOSCOPE in this guy's left hand brought about an endless number of amusing thoughts I thought I'd share with you all today:

-First, my prediction of a typical episode:

"Dockta Mayhew, Dockta Mayhew!!" screamed the young, sickly Costa Rican child. "You bring us pills? Pills so we can [cough cough] be...better?" 

"Shh-h-h-h" replied the good doctor, as he wiped his brow and reached into his bag to pull out the single item within. He sat the boy down, and looked him straight in the eyes: "Now, let's find out how fast your heart is beating. Hmm, pretty fast. Oh wait, now it's slower. Great. My work here is done."

Mayhew pulled the stethoscope from his ears, gave the bell a careful wipe, and he looked up and grabbed onto the rope of previously unseen helicopter that had arrived just in time to ride him off into the sunset.

[SCENE]

-So, yeah, I get it. The stethoscope is symbolic for a doctor. It clues us in as audience members what this guy's all about. But clearly there are more sides to him, right? He's not wearing the usual white coat, for example. He's also outdoors, in front a waterfall, which is not a practical location to practice medicine for a number of reasons. And look at how he's standing - that is not a typical doctor pose. Doctors are totally supposed to face people! Unless they're giving bad news. The worst kind of news really - the kind that involve them describing to a patient the symptoms that will come about from him kicking their ass.

-Did Indiana Jones, noted archeologist, walk around ancient tombs with one of those little dusting brushes in his hand the entire time? Of course not! He carried a WHIP and a GUN while he was exploring dangerous areas, killing voodoo priests/nazis, and seducing women. The dusting brush only came out later. Actually, no, screw that. He just blew away all that dust...like a MAN. Just like this guy should just smack people's chests and get a heartbeat reading based on that.

Hrm. This problem is strangely un-whippable.
- Getting off the stethoscope for a minute, looking at the tagline, I kind of wish the show was just blatantly named: "Doctor Without Boundaries" or "Dr. W. O. Boundaries, MD."

-Remember how on Lost, we were so curious what Jack's occupation was until that moment when he raised his left hand from off camera to reveal a scalpel? In hindsight, I'm really thankful the show decided against making that a mystery.

-Why not a bunch of needles in his hand instead, huh? He could be like, a needle wolverine. I think even tongue depressors would be a more practical thing to be hanging from his hand. You can make shivs, poisonous darts or wooden ninja stars or something out of those things.

-Having said all of this, all this making fun of the stethoscope business would be forgiven if in the opening scene of the show he strangles a guy with it, Jack Bauer style.

Aaaaannndd I'm done. I honestly hope the show's a totally amazing, deep, engrossing, emotional work of art that captures the zeitgeist and reinvigorates water cooler discussions all over the world, which will only make my ill-informed poster-based assumptions all the more brilliant.

-Matt