News, Reviews

Zone 6: Ex Machina: A Sci Fi Movie for the Literary

Read the full article here.

Two male characters spending the majority of the movie discussing human consciousness and tackling philosophical questions may not sound like an interesting hook to some, but its execution in Ex Machina is truly a work of art, and embodies the tradition of classic science fiction. Like Domnhall Gleeson, one of the movie’s main actors said: “Just because something is science fiction doesn’t make it just spaceships. In my head, they tell you more about people than they do about machines.”

Alex Garland, screenplay writer of 28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go makes his directorial debut with Ex Machina. The title of the movie alone evokes the universal question all of science fiction tries to answer: “What makes us human?” Ex Machina, or “from the machine”, immediately incites feelings of the uncanny, challenging our preconceived notions of what it means to be human.

The movie sets itself up innocently enough, in that it deceives its audience into a seemingly simple plot. A programmer of the world’s most popular internet search company, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), wins a contest to meet his hero, one he describes as the “Mozart of Computer Programming” – Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Caleb then travels to Nathan’s abode, where we are first introduced into the first lie, in a movie where the central theme is  deception and manipulation. Nathan’s hideout and laboratory is in the middle of a natural, beautiful landscape, the exterior of which is an inconspicuous cabin in he middle of the forest. Upon entering, Caleb finds himself in an immense mansion, complete with modern decoration, minimalist furniture, a vacant-looking Japanese maid, and a variety of android skins bearing creepy human expressions as decorations on the wall.

Click here to read the full article on Zone 6.

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News

Treating Bipolar Disorder: A Guide

A wonderful stranger, Laura Chapman, reached out to me about a piece of her writing, which she hopes will be a helpful resource for those who have been dealing with Bipolar Disorder.

She wrote:

"Robin Williams had always been open about his addictions and his depressions. As a freelance writer, he made me want to make use of both my personal and my previous professional experiences to contribute in some way; by writing a guide on bipolar and depression. You can read it here:http://www.psychguides.com/guides/bipolar-disorder-treatment-program-options/

I'm not saying it will cure people, but I hope it helps them to understand themselves and to reach out."
-Laura Chapman


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Epiphanies, News

The Aftermath

Women_of_DC_Wallpaper_by_JGiampietro

Women of DC Wallpaper by JGiampietro

Today, I got discharged from CAMH’s inpatient unit. What follows next is a 6 month intensive group therapy that I will be attending from home, in part because I feel as if I need some kind of transition in order to rebuild my life, and the other because I want to keep visiting the friends I have made in the ward.

I kept a detailed log of my stay, and as I look back at my initial entries, it really surprises me how, even I, came into the unit harbouring stigma towards mental illneses. I realized that I only socialized with those whom I deemed were at the same “level” of mental illness as I was, as if there was a hierachy of pain and mental illness. I also noticed the resenment I carried towards other people my age, who weren’t diagnosed with mental illness, as I constantly compared their achievements towards my own. It took me a long time to recognize when I would start judging — myself, and others — and I know that completely stopping myself from judging would be a long process, but at least I have accepted it as a valid truth, and that is always the first step.

I know that there is a lot of stigma towards mental illness, and for the most part, that’s what stops me from immersing myself back into my social life – the fear that I would be treated differently, that I would be treated as if I was a circus freak.

But I want you to know that:

We are not defeated. Being at the hospital takes immense courage and strength, because it is the first step towards changing our lives for the better.

We are not always sad. Yes, we break down every once in a while, but when we’re together, we laugh and crack jokes just like any other group of friends. And when we laugh, it’s genuine. Because laughter is golden in the ward – it doesn’t always happen, so we don’t want to waste time faking it.

We have dance parties. Even if it’s coming from laptop speakers that are barely audible, once it’s a song we know, we make sure to dance, and try to convince others around us to join in as well. (Admittedly, the nurses don’t always agree to these dance parties, they usually make a point to shut us down as soon as they get wind of it – but that’s when we start dancing in our rooms instead).

We do rebel hugs. In the ward I stayed in, we weren’t allowed to hug, nor form close relationships with each other. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Rebel hugs is what happens when you are in dire need of comfort, and you forgot to bring your stuffie with you. We usually do this away from the nursing station, in the corner of the hallway, in the entrance of the emergency room.

Just like you, we hold important roles in society – we are just on pause from our responsibilities. We are social workers, teachers, librarians, marketing specialists, activists, feminists, actresses, models, nurses, hospital administrators, students, mothers, daughters and grandmothers.

I was talking to another patient a couple of days ago, and she was telling me the heartbreaking story of her life. From a succesful career, to suddenly becoming a survivor of trauma – the world she knew shattered around her and she began to feel unsafe – and no matter how hard she tried, she could not feel safe again. After numerous suicide attempts, she finally arrived at the hospital, in risk of losing her house and her dog. I couldn’t find any words to comfort her, but in the end, I didn’t need to. Because she said, that she found consolation in the fact that there was an immense strength within the ward’s walls – that it is the combined stories of the women in the unit that keeps her going.

And then she said something that really resonated with me. She said, “If one of us makes it, then we all make it.”

It may be surprising to some of you how quickly friendships can form in a place that’s supposed to be dark and depressing. But that’s because outside of the ward, the normal is people pretending, to people laughing. It’s the Facebook mentality. Only show others your best pictures and statuses. That’s what you’re used to. But in the ward, we’re only used to seeing each other unashamed, honest and brave – and those are qualities that are hard to uphold without being exhausted or tired.

But it’s the honesty that’s liberating – it’s the honesty that keeps us from being fragmented, from being incarcerated.

And it’s the honesty that allows us to connect intimately with each other, and share in each other’s small victories and courage.

And that is why, today, I am not afraid of being discharged. I am ready to transition back into the community and rebuild my life back from zero. Because in my hand, I carry, the strength and stories of these women with me.

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Epiphanies, News

Welcome to the Uncanny

internet addiction by namirenn

internet addiction by namirenn

Something strange just happened.

In fact, I would go ahead and label this experience as downright uncanny – yes, in all its Freudian glory – I just experienced the uncanny.

I was happily scouring the internet during my lunch break when I happened to stumble upon a website my friend used to swear upon. Much like Plenty of Fish, she met a ton of men through this site and is now happily dating one of her catches.

And so, after realizing I was now on the site my friend used to meet her boyfriend — damn my curiosity, I decided to look for her profile.

BIG.

MISTAKE.

I boast to my boyfriend that he doesn’t know the internet like I know the internet, and he would retort in defiance: “Well, I don’t want to know the internet like you know the internet!” And yes, I admit, I have visited some very dark parts of the internet that I would be far too ashamed to admit, but that comes with my overly curious nature. But today, of all days, I may have touched a part of the internet I wish I had never touched.

I typed in her old high school email and got a hit instantly. It actually scared me how careless she was with these sort of things, as she didn’t even use an alternate email to register for a site I’m sure she wouldn’t want to be found in. But I confess – as soon as I saw that this profile was undeniably hers – I felt the old rush of adrenaline – as if I had just discovered something precious.

A part of being a writer, I believe, is that titillating rush you get when you discover a side to a person you would never have predicted. To us, you’re all characters — waiting to be explored, waiting to be written. So when we’re afforded little glimpses of personalities you would otherwise have preferred to remain hidden, it gives us a feeling of superiority. Superiority because as a writer, I am quite aware that people are extremely careful of the kind of persona they convey to different members of their social circle.

We all filter. We all selectively show parts of ourselves to other people, and hide parts from others.

This is why the internet is a treasure trove of secrets. People don masks in the internet thinking they would never be discovered, so they have usernames and aliases that they use on sites they don’t want to be discovered in. But most people don’t think twice — most people use the same username they have on their old high school emails, on their old xbox live membership. And yes, most people aren’t as morbidly curious as I am, but on the off chance that you do decide to sign up for a website you wouldn’t want to be discovered in? Pro-tip? Use an alias.

I guess you can tell where I’m going with this.

I did find my friend’s profile, but it didn’t afford me the same satisfaction I would usually get when I dig up some dirt from a person I don’t like to begin with. For one, she’s a very dear friend of mine so stumbling on this profile felt a lot more like a betrayal, than it did discovery. Second –  and you probably saw this one coming – she posted photos I know for a DAMN FACT she wouldn’t want any of her friends seeing — she was in provocative poses I have never seen her in and after seeing it, I immediately felt ashamed, bewildered and deeply troubled.

Obviously the next thing I did was confront her about it – and she was absolutely mortified that her profile was still up. I teased her a bit and said, “No wonder you got all those guys messaging you!” to which I received a 10 minute lecture about how I should mind my own beeswax, which made me laugh even harder. But this doesn’t mask the feeling I got when I first saw her profile — it was definitely uncanny, because she’s so familiar, but I was discovering her in an environment that was so public, and yet at the same time, was intended to be intensely private.

Which then made me wonder about the personas we create when we’re on the internet.

The internet affords us anonymity because of its great expanse. It is much like entering a foreign country and starting anew – and within its enormity, we convince ourselves that we can be lost in it, and that our identities will never be exposed amongst the countless nameless profiles. We don’t call each other by name – we call each other by numbers and aliases – lilyflower23, or hyperactive_freak44, and it somehow adds to the security of anonymity.

We distance ourselves from our identities by creating usernames, and it makes us forget how easy it is to be discovered.

With the internet we are led to believe that we are free to be whoever we want to be, and find other people with the same interests and quirks as we do. And because we find comfort in its vastness, we become careless in what we do hide.

I believe the internet has given birth to a new kind of uncanny: and that is discovering friends we have in real life, in websites they don’t tell us they visit. Whether it’s discovering them in an Irritable Bowel Syndrome forum, or a hidden Tumblr blog, our lives have been mapped in the internet in one form or another. And even if you are a decided hermit, who refuses to sign up for Facebook or any other social media platform, it’s pretty much guaranteed that there’s a trace of you somewhere — your information is still out there, from photos people have of you, to your name being mentioned in someone else’s blog.

This may seem insignificant to you – but think about the show Catfish. Catfish started out as a documentary about a photographer, Nev Schulman, who fell in love with a woman he met online. The documentary then takes an unexpected turn when it becomes about Nev trying to figure out who the woman really was – whether or not she was the woman in the pictures he had sent her, and how much of what she told him was true.

Due to its popularity, MTV decided to do a reality show based on the documentary and it now chronicles the adventures of Nev and Max as they scour America to help people in online relationships determine the truth behind the person they’ve been communicating with. More often than not, it turns out they were hiding something – and that they have comfortably donned  the masks of other beautiful people they found online and assumed their personalities. The reasons they give for doing this, varies – and its authenticity and simplicity is what makes their stories so relatable, and yet so saddening. The whole premise of the show wouldn’t have existed twenty years ago – who would’ve thought that the first instinct of humankind, upon gaining access to the world – is to pretend to be someone else entirely?

The internet has assumed multiple roles in our modern society, but the role it has become for most of us, is a means of escape. Whether or not it’s escaping from others, or escaping from ourselves,  the internet has definitely made it easier for us to alter our reality.

When George Orwell wrote “1984”, the biggest threat to our livelihood was  Big Brother eyeing our every move. Unbeknownst to Orwell, a mere 64 years later, us as a society, have created our own version of Big Brother, by voluntarily giving away our information (and those of our friends and family, albeit indirectly)  in websites like Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and Instagram.

Your privacy and identity – as you know it – is about to change in the next few years.  Welcome to the uncanny.

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News, Reviews

Defending Jon Finkel: A Response to “My Brief OkCupid Affair With a World Champion Magic: The Gathering Player”

Photo from Digital Trends

Photo from Digital Trends

First off, let me start by laying out my biases: I love Magic: The Gathering and everything related to it.

So if you have an unusual hatred of this hobby, you might want to stop reading. Don’t blame me: I started you off with a disclaimer.

And so, let the rant begin.

I’ve forgotten what I was googling when I came upon this article: “My Brief OkCupid Affair with a World Champion Magic: The Gathering Player” by Alyssa Bereznak. Nevertheless, it happened. The title aptly sums the main premise of her article: she was on OkCupid after a drunken night, encountered countless creepy messages from illiterate men, found one normal-looking one, Jon Finkel, and after two dates, (one of which involved a one-man show based on serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer), intensive googling and discovering Jon Finkel’s career, Alyssa decided to drop the romance and cautions her readers against “filtered” profiles, or the things people decide to leave out.

To give her credit, she does admit to the shallowness of the internet dating world.

She states:

“But there’s a larger point here: that judging people on shallow stuff is human nature; one person’s Magic is another person’s fingernail biting, or sports obsession, or verbal tic.

No online dating profile in the world is comprehensive enough to highlight every person’s peccadillo, or anticipate the inane biases that each of us lugs around.

There’s no snapshot in the world that can account for our snap judgments.”

But I don’t believe a single paragraph renouncing yourself of the responsibility that comes with snap judgements is enough to salvage the fact that her 3 “strikes” involved Jon Finkel continuing to play Magic, the rate at which he played, and  finding his best friends through Magic.

So first, let me tell you a little something about Jon Finkel.

According to the omniscient Wikipedia:

Jon Finkel (born May 18, 1978[4] in Brockport, New York) is an American Magic: The Gathering and poker player.[1] Finkel is one of the most decorated players in the history of professional Magic: The Gathering play and is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all-time.[5][6] During his career he has won 3 Grand Prix events and made the Top 8 of a record 14 Pro Tour events, winning three of those. In the year 2000, he became the Magic: The Gathering World Champion, as well as playing for the United States National Team, which won the team portion of the competition.”

In fact, thanks to Alyssa’s intensive googling, I discovered that he has a playing card dedicated to him: the Shadowmage Infiltrator.

I’m going to admit that I don’t know much about Magic: The Gathering. My experience with it is, at the most, casual and, in all probability, of passing interest. But I have seen what dedicated players are like, and what they have to do to stay relevant in the game.

It takes a lot of passion and hard-work to become a professional Magic Player.

It takes intense knowledge of approximately 11,665 playing cards (and that was the estimate 2 years ago), ways in which to counter each one, and constantly keeping track of the new cards that do come out.

And that’s not the end of it.

You will then have to keep track of the decks other professional players play with. I said it before and I’ll say it again: With Magic: The Gathering, you are only as good as the people you play with.

This means in order for you to excel in the game, you are constantly forced to seek other opponents, discover what their strategies are, and then meticulously calculate how you can counter each one.

Magic: The Gathering isn’t just some mindless clicking that’s so prominent with so many modern video games, where losing doesn’t seem to have any real consequences because you can always just start on your last save point. PCgamer once came out with an article with the argument that Call of Duty has destroyed a generation of first-person shooters.

Tripwire president, John Gibson was quoted saying:

“I feel like Call of Duty has almost ruined a generation of FPS players. I know that’s a bold statement, but I won’t just throw stones without backing it up. When I was developing Action Mode [for RO2], I got a group of people that I know that are pretty hardcore Call of Duty players (…).

And really, watching some of these guys play… one of the things that Call of Duty does (…) is they compress the skill gap. And the way you compress the skill gap as a designer is you add a whole bunch of randomness. A whole bunch of weaponry that doesn’t require any skill to get kills. Random spawns, massive cone fire on your weapons. Lots of devices that can get kills with zero skill at all, and you know, it’s kind of smart to compress your skill gap to a degree. You don’t want the elite players to destroy the new players so bad that new players can never get into the game and enjoy it.”

And that’s one thing that Magic: The Gathering doesn’t have–randomness. That means every card is worth something. Every creature is synergetic with an enchantment, or artifact, and with every new card released, you will need to refer back to your old collection and understand what this new card can do to your old ones: which ones are now playable? Which ones have become irrelevant?

It takes diligent and deliberate practice to excel at something and Magic: The Gathering isn’t an exemption.

It takes skill, fast-thinking and a thorough understanding of your opponent (think facial expressions, hand gestures, movements they can’t control such as twitching of their head or restless shuffling of  cards in their hand to give you an idea of how good of a hand they have). All these cues are skills you will have to develop to get an advantage in the game. 

Alina Tugend, writer for the New York Times, quoted Professor Ericsson, when describing what it takes to be the best in your field. He states, “It involves spending hours a day in a highly structured activities to improve performance and overcome weakness.”

So to close my argument: Alyssa, Jon Finkel is probably one of the most passionate and dedicated person you would ever have the pleasure to meet.

He has perfected determination and commitment to the nth degree. He has managed to turn one of his hobbies into a prolific career. He has decided that this is what he enjoyed, and went against all odds to make a living  out of it.

And not only that — he became so good at his field that he has been immortalized in a playing card. He has become part of the game he dedicated his life to.

While you were sitting next to him during a one-man show about a serial killer, unbeknownst to you, you were enjoying the company of the hero who inspired an entire generation of Magic players to continue enjoying what they do and striving to be the best person they could be. And most of all, he took the time he could be spending preparing for his tournament to get to know you, despite the fact that you had no idea, nor interest, on how to play what is conceivably the most important thing in his life.

That, in itself, wouldn’t have been enough to strike out with me.

Edit: Looks like I wasn’t the only one offended by Alyssa’s article. See the backlash and Jon Finkel’s reaction here.

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