Whew, the month of July has been going by fast! I’ve been mostly staying busy with part time jobs (still don’t have a full time job yet). I’m still working on a music album, but the composing is a bit slow going. In my free time, rather than composing, I’ve been watching movies, reading books, and working on my book on the art of melody.
Movie-wise, the best movie I’ve seen in a while is Pixar’s WALL-E. It amazes me how far ahead Pixar computer animation is compared to their competitors. And they’re always very good with story. Many of the other studios seem to have pretty stupid people in charge, approving horrible scripts, who don’t seem to realize that story should come first. Michael Eisner, former head of the Walt Disney Company, even went so far as to assume audiences were no longer interested in traditional 2D animation because their animated films performed poorly in the box office. I think audiences still love traditional animation; what can make or break a film isn’t the fanciness of the graphics, it’s the story. That said, I can understand story can often be a mysterious realm that can be hard to get right; coming up with a good story is hard. Still, it’s amazing what plotless horrible stories find their way out of some major studios. Pixar seems to be one of the only studios that continues to have a very good sense of story. Even they don’t get it completely “right” all of the time (in my opinion, at least), but they’re way ahead of the game.
I also saw the film Awake not too long ago. It didn’t get very good reviews, and was certainly not as good as WALL-E, but the twists surprised me nonetheless, so it was okay. Definitely better than many of the other films I’ve been watching. 10,000 BC, Vantage Point, Into the Wild, Vacancy … I didn’t much care for any of them.
I still want to see The Dark Knight, but I’m waiting for the hype to die down.
Reading-wise, I finished Wizard’s First Rule a while ago. The story was okay, but the author’s style of writing was quite bland. I’m now reading a fantasy book called Gardens of the Moon … it’s okay, the style is not bland at all, but there are so many characters, so many motives, so much history, it’s extremely confusing. Especially after reading something as direct and non-confusing as Wizard’s First Rule.
On the non-fiction front, I read a very interesting book about the origins of Pixar called The Pixar Touch … definitely interesting for anyone who likes Pixar as they are becoming the new Disney. I’m now reading a book called How Computer Games Help Children Learn which is about how computer games help children learn. You’d think it’d be about something else, but it’s not. So far it’s pretty interesting. Here’s a quote:
Early in my career, for example, I had the pleasure of teaching in a school that was also a working organic farm in rural Vermont. The students planted and harvested all of the school’s produce. They fed and mucked the cows, sheep, and chickens, cleaned the schools buildings, repaired walls and painted fences, took in hay or collected sap for syrup, and chopped an hauled wood to heat the buildings, depending on the weather and the season.
They were willing to work so hard because they saw the work as authentic. The chickens needed to be fed. Every morning. Even when it was 10 degrees below zero. If the tables weren’t wiped down after breakfast, everyone got maple syrup on their elbows at lunch. Students saw the wood go from tree, to log, toneatly stacked cord, and, eventually, to the school’s furnace.
While I have no great desire to enroll in that school, I think it makes a very important point, and that’s that emphasized word: authentic. Is the work in school authentic? Does it really matter? Working on a farm like that, the work definitely matters. Answering questions at the end of a chapter in text-book, not so much. Unfortunately, I think a majority of the work done in middle school and onwards is not very authentic. Students aren’t working on a farm, they’re working on paper, and the ultimate punishment for an unfinished homework assignment is a low grade, again on paper. How does such work apply to the real world? How does it apply to life? It doesn’t. The basic argument is “get good grades and you’ll get a job with lots of money in it!” and that’s how it applies to the real world. But can’t we look beyond the grades? What about the actual content of the assignment? Is it important? Usually it’s not. Usually it’s pretty useless info by itself.
And I believe that’s why so many teenagers get “moody” … don’t we all want our work to be meaningful? School work certainly doesn’t seem very meaninful, and yet teenagers are pretty much forced to do it out of the prospect of getting a high-paying job years down the road, a prospect that’s pretty hard to promise, and schools certainly don’t get punished if their students are displeased with their jobs years later. Shouldn’t some other goal be in mind besides a “high-paying job”?
Okay, enough about that. Music-wise, I’ve been working on my book about the art of melody. I’m not that far into it, but I think it’s a pretty fascinating area of study, and I hope I can finish it and perhaps even get it published. However, as I said before, it will probably take years to complete. It’s exciting though, I don’t think anyone’s approached the subject like I am ever before (and I spent a fair amount of time looking), so I sort of feel like I’m breaking new ground (although maybe I’m not and I just don’t realize it). Woohoo! I only wish I had more time to work on it…
Well, that was a nice long post, hopefully it makes up for my not blogging in a while…