Creative Thinking

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Unrelenting Nocturnal Beasts

          In the heat of her night, Natalia sat basking in the nakedness of her mind, the jaws of her beasts. She was bare and vulnerable to their monstrosity. As a defense mechanism, she usually slept early; hence avoiding the beasts all together. However, there were nights when sleep was too elusive to be caught. She dreaded nights such as those because she knew that the odds were against her. Surely, she has repeatedly defeated those monsters that were eager to feed on her, sometimes rather easily and decisively. Yet, she feared them and would rather avoid those encounters.
           Tonight is such a night; the stage seems set for another fearless battle. The sky is overcrowded with stars that are anxious to report history. Peeping behind some distant hills, the moon hangs his hat very low in anticipation of inevitability. The other nocturnal creatures dare not stick around sensing that the atmosphere was ripe with uncertainty and insecurity.
          Suspicious of the perils looming on her horizon, Natalia did not trust the crisp stillness of the night. She therefore set up several traps hoping to catch eluding sleep, which by then had become a Tarsius monkey. It would literally take some divine intervention to catch some. Caught with her guard down, the beasts would prey on Natalia mercilessly; hence, she would not have and ounce of liquor or anything that would constitute a hindrance for her. She could not allow the enemy to sense any exploitive weaknesses or anything that would signal fear. She set a campfire and does les cent pas reacting to anything that broke the still of the night. Her senses were sharp, muscles relaxed, and her veins pumping adrenaline at unbelievable rates.
         Equally prepared, her predators were not going to jump naively to their deaths. Having learned from previous defeats, they have become the roman army. They were innumerable, strategic, and ruthless; hence, they lurked in the shadows studying their prey’s every move and waiting for an opportunistic flaw, anything that would give them an advantage.  
Finally, they grew impatient and decided to attack. The first wave came from her past. The Roman archers made it rain countless pointed arrows of remorse. The aggressors knew of costly mistakes buried in her youth. Nevertheless, she countered with smiling optimism, some fiery arrows of her own designed to set the psyche of the enemy ablaze. Her guiding philosophy read, “If the past is some deadweight one carries around, cut it loose and witness life take off.” This choice of weaponry was effective as it shielded Natalia from the rain.
A second wave of attack landed huge balls of fire on the uncertainty of her future. This shock and awe strategy was intense, unrelenting, and accurate. Certainly, they thought, she could not have survived that one. However, they never noticed her late-blooming career penetrating their defense line in stealth mode and exploding right underneath them. Her determination and aspirations overwhelmed the pessimist attackers, yet they would not retreat; hence, they charged ahead. The beasts were more determined than ever to have their first victory and bring Natalia’s head to their king. What better place to set a trap than in her current status where she was most vulnerable? She was after all unhappy and dissatisfied with her current state of accomplishments and sometimes felt as though she had failed.
As a result, the Romans devised their most clever strategy yet. They would use guerrilla tactics where pockets of soldiers would sometimes attack simultaneously, at other times, in succession. Each wave of attack would target particular weaknesses by evoking a memory of something that she considered a failure. It was a brilliant ploy, but to her credit, Natalia had some cunningness of her own as she anticipated the type of viciousness they would display. As they guerillas came in their set formations, she dispelled them one after the other. Her counter measures were swift and precise. She used improvised explosive devices (IED) loaded with attitudinal ideologies. She knew that failure was an essential part of learning without which progress would never bloom. Those booby traps went off on every approach compelling the guerillas to retreat successively. They were no match for her superior resolve and virtuosity.
As the sun kicked the moon from its hiding place, the stars ran away as did all of Natalia's defeated adversaries. She was again victorious, but knew that it was far from over. Those broken monsters would regroup and wait for the right opportunity to reemerge, perhaps, even stronger. Nevertheless, this time, she did not fall victim of her own thoughts or societal pressure. Meanwhile, Natalia  vowed to work on more effective traps to help her catch sleep flat-footed and unprepared. That way, she could snooze through her troublesome nights and conserve energy that she would undoubtedly need for her future battles.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Adieu Patrick Ambroise

No sympathetic tear will diminish her agonizing grief, and no empathetic shoulder will wear her heavy head. All of her dreams are leaking; her New Jerusalem is but a dusty, arid land. A lifetime ago, she lit 35 candles: one for each pillar that made up the foundation of her promise land. However, she shockingly witnessed their violent extinctions at the hands of 35 merciless seconds. Hence, while helplessly trying to flood her sorrows and stop the carnage, she poured an Atlantic Ocean, and then she poured a Red Sea.
Friends and family pelted her sorrows with lakes and rivers of rueful emotions; still, she gradually turned into a Sahara, this desolate place where fragmented memories of an innocent life are trapped. She pleaded fervently with fate and its dark angels offering a life for a life. If only she could ride the wind, she would catch the midnight waves, and perhaps would be transported near his traveling soul. Alas, violent sand storms determined to dash any glimmer of hope engulfed all of her pleas.
She sought solace among scorpions and cobras; at long last, she feared not their venoms. They were part of her kingdom; they were part of her being. Her mind wandered endlessly around her lonesome sand castle, desperately searching for some glue or something to help her piece together fragments of his picture: memories that were too short to tell a whole story and too few to make any sense. She will however keep digging in the sands until she finds the right frame for her masterpiece. After all, she still had to protect his legacy. His incomplete tale needed new life through the naïve eyes of his two candles: one of five years, another, three months.
Neither her sun nor any of her many moons shall ever raise again fearing her choler and abominable venom. She was something other than a scorpion, something more atrocious than an angry cobra. She personified anger and her revenge was imminent. Nevertheless, she knew that nothing could unseal fate. She knew that eventually she would have to release the clouds because nothing she did would bring back her son.


Patrick Ambroise was 35 years old. As he was filing his daily report after his shift, a young man rear-ended his cruiser causing the fuel tank to ignite and trapped him inside. Sadly, he did not get out. His wife, 5-years and 3-months-old daughters, mother, and five siblings survived Patrick. Not only that he was my neighbor, but also we went to school together usually catching the same bus every morning. I am deeply saddened by his tragic death. I have no idea how a mother or a wife must feel after such a devastating lost, but this write frames how I would feel had I been in their shoes. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

City of Manikins

I see a manikin: a breathing, walking manikin. Here is another one, and now there are dozens of them. Like a colony of ants, they are rushing about in all directions, sometimes bumping into each other; however, never talking to one another. Some of them are plugged into some alternate universe through their ears. Others have their eyes glued to books, newspapers, video games, or some entertainment magazines. I must look like an outlier or novice in a bump car motion trying to protect my personal space while trying to respect others’. At this stop, a few more manikins jumps on and robs me of this precious luxury, my personal space. In fact, these ants act as if they have never heard of such a thing or maybe they just didn't care. For instance, this gray one is literally resting her head on my right arm while I am holding the handrail. She is unfazed as if it is her constitutional right. It is the falling rain, the rising sun; it is New York City. I want to say hello to this short one sharing my cocoon. It’s only the right thing to do. After all, he is blowing hot air through my shirt. However, he is off somewhere gazing into the distance unaware of my presence. One stop after another a few manikins hurry off, even more come on, and so goes the routine.
Finally, It dawned on me; I was a manikin in training. Therefore, tomorrow I will become one of them. I will bring my parallel universe with me, and simply plug away. I will not feel bad for not greeting fellow ants even when I share their cocoons. I will avoid making eye contacts while pretending that I am the only manikin on this ride. I will not expect to hear people talk about their weekends, adventures, and/or bloopers. Tomorrow I will be crowned King of Manikin City. It will be the falling rain, the rising sun; it will be New York City.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Better Half

            I robbed her this morning. I stole her pristine smile with a cleverly contrived French. I shamelessly pulled her towards me, and in a solemn moment, eased it out of her. She knew not my motive. She could not have known unless she provoked my self-centered, envious thoughts. However, looking at her while she walked to her car, suspicions engulfed me. She became a fountain with more immaculate smiles streaming out in all directions. To my surprise, she even complimented me on my stolen identity; “wow, Goof,” she uttered, “You wear your smile like Romeo today.”  Her compliment puzzled me, but I waved my smile even higher in approval. Now I’m Romeo, her “Goofball.”  She evidently found my new smile attractive, but did she know that she was only looking at a mirror reflection? Sitting at my desk, my coworkers are convinced that something is wrong. They dispute the foreign element on my face, and genuinely distrust its radiance.  However, my mind wonders in bewilderment. I stole her smile; I know I did. She bore witness to it and my workplace is disbelieving. But she had more smiles then I could ever account for.  Maybe I will steal her grace tomorrow. Perhaps I will have to steal her patience next week hoping that her goodness keeps overflowing. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Learned Helplessness part (I)

        Just think of learned helplessness as always having your thumb on a reset button while playing some video game. Every time you make a mistake, you hit that button and start over. Some Scholars, Potter in particular, argue that television is to be blamed for the lack of persistence people demonstrate in whatever they pursue in life. He continues to state that viewers learn to be helpless through the act of watching TV and not from watching particular shows or programming. He stresses how we watch television changes how we react to failure. As Potter puts it, “television causes a decrease in persistence.”  Media techs are not really helpful in developing the ability to persist. They fail to help us learn the ability to cope and learn from failures. Since real life doesn’t have a reset button, Potter feels that we need to learn how to fight for what we want, rather than pressing reset. We learn through trial and error, yet with our finger on the reset button, we don’t allow ourselves to fail. Hence, we get stuck in one place and never really get ahead. We can pause; rewind, and replay live TV. In some instances, we can even start over. This technology also applies to gaming. Sometimes we start over so many times that we never finish a game successfully. Players go as far as buying or downloading codes so that they can skip stages they don’t want to bother with.
However logical, can we really blame the reset button for our impatience? If so, how far can we go with the blame?
         Admittedly, I think that learned helplessness is a cool concept. We usually associate learning with purposeful means; however, Potter says that this particular type of learning is done subconsciously. Every time we start over without finishing first, we tend to become less persistent or impatient. While there may be some validity to that argument, it is difficult to see how the little reset button is eroding principles that are so fundamental to human growth and evolution. Experience, as the great Aristotle stressed, is the key to knowledge. This principle is the engine that propels global societies forward. Hence, if reset is so powerful as to deprive us of values so basic to humanity, we need to pay attention to it.
I have, on many occasions, heard people say that if they could start life over, they would do many things differently. However, I’m willing to bet money that with a new beginning, these people would make the same mistakes if not worse. I firmly believe that mistakes are the essence of perfection, but that’s a different argument for another time.
         Sadly, I may be a victim of learned helplessness. While attempting to win consecutive games of spider solitaire, I end up never finishing a game. I hit reset whenever the game looks impossible instead of working it out, which is the point of the game. What would I do without that little button? This behavior is not indigenous to Solitaire. I often hit the start over button when I catch an interesting show towards the end. I think the end is pointless without the beginning, and I think many people would agree that there is no context in the ending alone. 


Part 2 coming soon

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Media Consumption

Until fairly recently, I never understood why some of my friends would throw season premiere and season finale parties for TV drama hit series “Sex and the City.” They were very religious about their rituals. Some of them brought the refreshments. Others brought some chips, dips, hot wings, and even salads. Before the show would start, they would have a discussion highlighting the previous season; but the post-show analysis would generate more debates. Looking back, I wonder if buying these snacks were a conscious decision or simply the level of identification my friends felt with the show. After all, they were advertized during the show. Similarly, My friends and I would attempt Super Bowl parties and various other events that would capture our attention; however, I would never put myself in the same category as my party friends. In fact, I always claimed to be independent and not addicted to anything. After reading chapter nine, I don’t feel as confident making that claim anymore.
Potter’s sobering conclusion of  “Industry’s Perspective on Audience,” chapter four, compels me to put my media consumption patterns under the microscope and contextualize them.  He compares media effects to the weather: they are difficult to predict, constantly changing, and extremely complex.  He further argues that individuals need substantiated levels of media literacy and careful monitoring of their media exposures as it relates to their personal loci. Moreover, like the weather, he stressed, media effects are always with us. “They will be altering your tastes and needs to conform to the messages they want you to pay attention to, and then they will condition you into the habits of seeking out those messages. And ultimately, they will condition you to believe that your needs came from you and that you’re simply using the media to satisfy those needs. However, it was the media that guided you to into certain audiences, then repeatedly conditioned you to habitual membership” (Potter, 2008 p. 51). Such statements motivate me to map out my behavioral patterns in the hope of perhaps decoding the complexities of my social conditioning.
Surprisingly, when it comes to particular shows, I realize that I may have been as ritualistic as my religious friends. TV shows such as Countdown with Keith Olberman, CSI Miami, White Collar, and Burn Notice, have grabbed my attention to the point of keeping me on the edge of my seat. I have altered my schedule and/or have stayed up at odd hours of the night to either watch taped shows or reruns. If we follow Potter’s logic about immediate behavioral effects, this is called attraction. That is, the images presented to us by the media attract us and hold our attention. As a result, they sell our attention to advertisers while feeding us similar programming. Further probing into the causal relationships between media messages and my consumption patterns unveils several influential factors. Nonetheless, substantive contents, the shows’ artifacts, and their direct links to my personal locus are the most impactful.
First of all, these TV shows would carry little meaning without real substance. Granted, the cognitive appeal varies from one show to the other, but the structure of the messages and the methods of delivery share some similarities. White Collar illustrates this argument. The main characters in that show portray two individuals with radically different ideologies whose interdependencies of each other generate at unique, intriguing working relationship. Neil is a clever, knowledgeable, and resourceful thief of antique artifacts. His expertise and natural charms uniquely qualifies him to help the FBI catch thieves such as him. Casper, the only agent who has twice caught elusive Neil, becomes his partner after Neil’s conditional release from prison. This dynamic duo, however unlikely, tries to solve very complex cases that require both legal and criminal minds operating conjointly.  Their creative approach to crime solving brought them successes beyond any systematic method has; nonetheless, inherent mistrust inevitably plagued their unique relationship. When on the edge of the law, Neil’s skills are vital. On the other hand, situations requiring high-level clearance or extensive knowledge of the law select Casper’s skills.
 Not surprisingly, Burn Notice offers similar content, but with a different twist. The main character, Michael, is not a thief. He is rather an ex CIA operative who received a burn notice in the middle of an arms deal. When upper management issues such notices on an operative; it deletes his/her profile completely. Michael barely escaped using elaborate skills and has been trying to find out the source of his burn ever since. Meanwhile, he and his crew became local heroes in Dade county Miami, operating under the radar. They target unruly characters that abuse ordinary, less resourceful citizens. Their cases require the same level of creativity, cleverness, and resourcefulness than that of White Collar.  As a member of those particular niches, I find the construct for these shows entertaining. Not only because of these shows often expose hidden realities destroying global societies, but the level of sophistication with which they approach every situation keep me going back to them. For instance, they research their targets thoroughly and identify their strengths and weaknesses; they plan carefully, strategize, know exactly how both the legal and illegal systems work, and know how to provoke particular reactions from their targets. I always want to know how they plan to approach particular situations and how they improvise when their plans derail. The suspense cleverly hidden inside the content arouses my curiosity and captures my interest.
In addition to substantive contents, the artifacts provide my favorite shows with particular flares that I find most appealing. They always depict the latest fashion trends, emerging architectural designs, most popular cities, the latest inventions, theories, and technological advances et cetera. For instance, CSI Miami contrasts Miami’s natural beauty and big city lifestyle with its repugnant criminal tendencies. The cutting edge technology, the cast’s glamour, the fabulous lives of the rich and famous, and the elusiveness of the criminals attract me to that show. In White Collar, Neil charms helped him acquire a room in a fabulous Mansion for 700 dollars, the bureau’s rent allowance. That scene opened a window into the life on the rich widower who rented to him as well as Neil’s attractive personality. Everything from the furniture to the paintings on the walls in that suite was extravagant.  It is possible that his fashion consciousness and great manners made a captivating first impression on Jeanine, the landlord.
Most importantly, I like the glamour, nice cars, hot sunglasses, and the lifestyle portrayed on these shows.  I have even bought an item seem on Burn Notice once.  Admittedly, I was not conscious of the direct relationship that existed between my purchase and the show. If Potter is right, I have been conditioned to be in an automated mental state, which in turn, lead me to seek similar types of media to the point of identifying myself with characters on these shows.
Lastly, my recent enlightment concerning the media’s manipulative practices makes me doubt my motivation when seeking new media. Am I really trying to satisfy my personal locus or simply a habitual user on autopilot?  I find Keith Olberman very entertaining, stylish, clever, and objective in subjective ways. Every weekday I wait to see what he unearths about the other side and what methods he will use to deliver the messages. In contrast, I rarely listen to his counterparts such as Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and “Billo-the-Clown.” When I do, I have a strong urge to change the channel or scream out liar at my TV. All of these show hosts have extreme views and make millions presenting them to particular audience niches. Alas, I yielded defeat when I paid close attention to my liberal superhero, Keith Olberman. Most of the time he only has guest who reinforces his views, and they are essentially the same every time. I have yet to see him invite a guess that argues the opposing views or disagree with him.  These realizations forced to conclude that my addiction to the show is subjective in nature and rooted deeply in the seeds of fanaticism. Although the other factors that I deem valuable are present, if the content is biased so are my views. Satisfying my personal locus is nothing more than reinforcing deeply held value systems, rather that a search for objectivity, or even an exposure to wide variety of media to build robust knowledge structures.
Given the calculated efforts and profit-driven motivation of the media, I need a proactive approach to my consumption patterns. It is rather difficult to predict what my consumption patterns will be 5, even 10 years from now. Granted, I will admit that some of my views are purely ideological and may never change. In fact, the bias constructs of certain shows will likely reinforce my views on particular topics. As we have learned in lecture, the media has incredibly smart individuals thinking of new ways to deceive the public while increasing profitability. It only takes one sleeper effect for anyone to eventually fall into undesired routines. As long as the media and its ill-fated accomplices can research audiences to figure out their needs and desires, they will be able to invent new ways to entice them.  Potter said it best; “ A medium builds an audience by recognizing where there is a need for entertainment and information, and then provide those products and services to satisfy those needs”  (Potter, 2008 p. 127). They will succeed while making it seem like the consumer is in control of his/her choices. However, as I increase my media literacy, I hope to eventually be able to approach media consumption proactively. While exposing myself to a wide variety of media to ultimately build robust knowledge structures, I will try to filter out undesired effects and be constantly mindful of the media’s strategies and economic game. Since I am a player, I can decide who gets my valuable attention and money. To do this, I must avoid what Potter describes as default strategy. Individuals who follow that strategy, he explains, “determine value more by low cost of the exposures then by the high return” (Potter, 2008 p. 129). They settle for routines habits because they are easy and doesn’t require the time and energy that it would take to learn something new. The best way to proportionally distribute my attention and money as a player in the media’s economic game is through the media literacy strategy. Beyond minimal satisfaction from exposures, individuals who use this strategy emphasize the value of their own resources. “They want to negotiate a better exchange for those recourses” (Potter, 2008 p. 130). This process, which is based on the strength of people’s personal locus, will ensure a high return of more interesting experiences and ultimately well balance knowledge structures.