Take your time George R. R. Martin

This started out as a facebook post in reaction to this but quickly grew into a rambling mess which I spent the next half hour editing into something coherent.

***Spoilers below for the all five books and all five seasons ***

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I started watching Game of Thrones before I even knew there was a book series it was based on. I caught up to the second season and when that ended I knew that I needed more. So I went out and bought the first two books having read online that each season of the books corresponds with the show. I loved reading the books as much as I loved watching the show, the narrative in GRRM’s novels filled in the gaps for me as I went along. Some of the major events that rocked my world on the screen hit me just as hard when I absorbed George’s prose and I eagerly awaited what was to come. Due to time constraints, a student’s budget and the enjoyment I got from watching the show with friends I decided to adopt a “watch a season – read a book routine” so that I would keep pace with (and not annoy) my friends who weren’t reading the books.

Then season 3 happened and we were left hanging after the Red Wedding.

Waiting for season four was agony. I found myself spending what little money I had on the next three books in the series and I took them home completely ready to devour them over a week. I’m not sure what stopped me (probably school obligations) but I found myself waiting for the next season of the show with more anticipation than I thought I could ever contain. I watched all of the promotional material over and over again but at the same time I avoided dreaded spoilers like a plague. I formed my own theories in my head. I was obsessed.

The fourth season began and I was not disappointed. The action and the intrigue were just as good as they had ever been but for some reason it wasn’t enough. I needed more. I turned back to the books and read them at a pace that I hadn’t been able to reach since the Harry Potter series. Reading A Feast For Crows in tandem with watching the fourth season of ‘Game of Thrones’ was an interesting experience. The level of detail in the novels far surpasses what we receive on the television screen (which is really saying something because HBO spares almost no expense in Game of Thrones‘ production values) but the basic plot is the same. So when a character was introduced in the novels but never appeared in the show, or when two characters were combined together or one character or event was never seen or mentioned you didn’t so much get the sense that something is being left out or that this is an alternate universe (as I have seen some fans use to explain the differences between the media) but rather you are truly getting an adaptation from a loving fan. Similarly, Tolkien’s novels and Jackson’s films are vastly different but tell the same story and all are excellent (I’m not counting The Hobbit ‘trilogy’).

I finished reading A Dance With Dragons well ahead of season five of Game of Thrones. Now that I was all caught up I poured myself into fan theories and speculation. I read through the lore on the Game of Thrones Wiki and I would have tracked down Martin’s other works such as The Hedge Knight and A World of Ice and Fire if I had the extra time or money. With the knowledge of the plot from all five novels and some extra background info on the world of the story I finally watched the show from the perspective of someone who knew what was coming.

And to be honest, the books are better. The foreknowledge in some ways ruined what was coming for me. Not to say that Game of Thrones is not worth watching. ‘Hardhome’ (Season Five, Episode Eight) had me holding my breath for its entirety and that was completely different from anything the novels presented. I couldn’t watch the death of Shireen Baratheon and I couldn’t even listen to it. I had to turn the volume down lest I be sick. Cersei’s walk played out on the screen exactly as I saw it in my head. The actors and showrunners continue to deserve every Emmy that they win.

game-thrones-season-5But some things were not handled particularly well. Dorne was a mess. The Greyjoys have not been heard from in almost a whole season. Why is Jaime Lannister not in the Riverlands where his redemptive arc is more satisfying and makes more sense? (although he and Bronn work almost as well together as Bronn and Tyrion. Actually everybody works well with Bronn. We need more Bronn).

This is definitely the result of the show’s budget and the minor changes which were introduced earlier in the series. And that’s okay. GRRM has said before that the show and the novel are different animals and I could not agree more. The novels were not perfect either (what was the point of sending Doran Martell to Dorne other than to fuck up, release Dany’s dragons and die?) but they are consistently good, daresay, incredible. Watching Game of Thrones and reading ‘A Song of Ice and
Fire’ are two very different yet very enjoyable experiences that complement one another.

Now George is saying that the next book, The Winds of Winter, is not going to be finished in time for Season Six. To me that’s a little disappointing but also a little exciting. Now I’m practically back to where I was when I startedmy adventure through Westeros and Essos; I know nothing about what’s next but I cannot wait to find out. And when this season has ended and I have gotten a good taste I will go back for my second portion of this feast and truly appreciate the nuances of each flavor and texture which GRRM is using to tell his story.

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Furthermore, as an aspiring author I truly understand and appreciate when GRRM says “sometimes the writing goes well and sometimes it doesn’t.” Writing is hard. Writing a good story is really hard. Writing a cohesive story incorporating hundreds of characters, spanning two continents and hundreds (or even thousands) of years of backstory and making it a best-selling page-turner is hard as shit.

Godspeed George R. R. Martin, your fans eagerly await what’s coming next. For now we will be happy with HBO’s excellent adaptation of your work.

But please, can you write just a little bit faster?

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Inside Looking In

Disclaimer: I’m an armchair philosopher and a piss-poor one at that. Some of these ideas probably exist in the writings of wise men and women long dead (or maybe even still living). Who knows, I’m too lazy to check.

Is this a hexagon or a cube? And if it's a cube then which way is it oriented?

Is this a picture hexagon or a cube? And if it’s a cube then which way is it facing?

Another day and another lively discussion with my roommate, this time with a more philosophical angle. It began with an analysis of the culture, economics and history of the characters in Nickelodeon’s Avatar series and I don’t remember how it ended but I do remember a few key points from the middle:

  • Heaven is impossible (from an economic standpoint). I would love to talk about this more but economics is not my cup of tea and really he would do way more justice to the subject. Suffice it to say, there was an analysis of the communist model and why it too would fail even in a perfect society. This lead to…
  • A discussion on subjectivity and the concept of a “soul”
  • A discussion on the nature of truth and reality

Let me explain.

Despite my best efforts I could not explain how two people could have two irreconcilable views of what heaven would be. I tried explaining that due to the fact that we all see and experience the world differently as well as due to the fact that heaven by definition is beyond the realm of reality the idea that you could apply real-world natural laws to it was ridiculous.

Let’s say in my heaven that I have unlimited access to cupcakes. And these are the best cupcakes. Ever. Period. No your grandma’s cupcakes are not better than these, these cupcakes were baked in goddamn heaven with goddamn heavenly ingredients. They are better, by definition, than any other cupcake that has ever existed or could theoretically ever exist.

Source: "Choco-Nut Bake with Meringue Top cropped" by Choco-Nut_Bake_with_Meringue_Top.jpg: rusvaplaukederivative work: Kaldari (talk) - Choco-Nut_Bake_with_Meringue_Top.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Choco-Nut_Bake_with_Meringue_Top_cropped.jpg#/media/File:Choco-Nut_Bake_with_Meringue_Top_cropped.jpg

I use food in my analogies a lot

Now let’s say that I eat one of these cupcakes. It is amazing. I eat another one. It is also amazing. Microeconomics says that I would get less utility from each subsequent cupcake eaten until the infinitieth cupcake gives me practically no utility, no joy, from its consumption. But you can’t apply that here. It’s heaven. These cupcakes only get better with each bite regardless of how many you eat.

Now let’s say that my version of heaven requires me to put in a little effort to get the next cupcake (in my heaven a little effort would be required to keep things interesting). My roommate argued that if his heaven also had the same cupcakes and in his heaven he had to put in twice as much effort to keep things interesting for himself then he would not get as much utility from the cupcake because he would know that I wasn’t working as hard to get at that tasty pastry (in his heaven he also has access to that knowledge for some reason).

Here’s where we couldn’t agree (and where I probably became a little more frustrated than I should have been). I tried my best explaining that his argument was flawed because we both valued the cupcakes different amounts and in different ways. For me, it did not matter how hard he had to work to get a cupcake in his heaven, just so long as I was getting mine. I used the argument that because of the difference in who we were, a difference which could never be reconciled despite us being best friends, there was absolutely no way that he could ever put our two heavens side by side to compare them. They were completely alien to one another.

I made a few mistakes in trying to explain this. I brought up the concept of the soul and the concept that we are more than the sum of our parts (those parts being a series of electric signals passing through a network of nervous cells supported by other tissues). The thing is, this is easily hand-waived away by centuries of science never being able to find any evidence that there is such a thing as the soul and furthermore by the fact that we probably don’t even have free will.

“But despite that,” I said (I’m paraphrasing here). “Despite knowing all of that, despite my rejection of religious explanations for why we exist and the notion that humans are more special than other creature, despite knowing that I am as susceptible to the protagonist disease as anyone else, I feel as if there is more to me than just a bunch of matter collected together. And no amount of science will ever change that.”

The problem is that it is extremely difficult to explain one’s inner self to another person. It all comes back to perspective.

“What’s true for me is not true for you,” I said, hoping that such a sentiment would explain my inability to explain myself. Didn’t work.

“What’s true for you is true for me is true for everyone,” he said (again, paraphrasing).

This is when we started getting into the nature of reality. The problem is that I entirely agree that there exists an objective truth: one plus one equals two, circles are round, red and blue make purple. There are things which can be proven and there are things which, for everybody, will always be one way.

But there is also a subjective truth. And you can call it perspective but I think it is deeper than that. It has entirely to do with how you perceive the world but it also has entirely to do with how you perceive how other people perceive the world and how you perceive yourself and how other people perceive themselves. It has entirely to do with the information available to you and the information you invent. It has to do with what can be shared with other people and with what cannot be shared with them. Some experiences can only be owned by one person, can only be tasted by one person, can only be described by one person and can only be understood by one person. Some experience are only fit in the tiny slivers where the Venn Diagrams of our collective experiences do not overlap and in my sliver, the truth will be mine and mine alone.

The way I like to think of it is that we all live in our own house.

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This house is our mind and we are each trapped in one. We can look through the windows at the world outside and we can yell across the street at our neighbors. We can describe what’s going on inside of our house and we can describe what is going on from our view of the street. We can see the outside of other people’s houses from certain angles and if we look closely we may even be able to take a peek inside. Maybe with sufficient technology we can even take pictures of the inside and send them to one another to get a better. But we can’t ever know what it is like to live in our neighbor’s house, day after day because we can never leave our own. We can listen to their description, we can compare their snapshots of their kitchen to our own right in front of us, we can tell each other which stairs creak and how hot it can get in there and what sort of bumps it makes in the night. We can take all of that shared information and compare it to our own houses to get a sense of what is going on next door. But we can never one hundred percent know what it is to live in that house. My neighbor will never understand the stories I have invented in my house, they will never no the unique smell that pervades it or the music made by its dripping faucets.

And this is because inside of my house itself there is me and inside of your house there is you. These are our inner minds, our inner selves and they experience the world on an entirely different level. Any time you try to explain how you truly feel to someone you are trying to explain to them your perspective of your perspective and they are unfortunately so far removed from that point of view that they couldn’t possibly hope to understand it n the same level as you. And that is at once extraordinarily sad because I want people to feel the same warmth as I feel when I bask in my sunbeams and if they could be just as disgusted I am by my garbage then they would be able to sympathize with me on a level where there would be virtually no walls between us. But the most I can do is tell them a story, maybe send them a few snapshots for reference and hope that they understand.

But the fact that we live in different houses is also a reason to celebrate. It pushes me to get better at storytelling. It pushes me to find common ground with people. It pushes me to look outside and yell across the street so that I can get an idea of what is going on in the other houses. And most importantly, from my point of view, it validates the idea that we ARE all special. We ALL have unique perspectives, unique stories and unique truths. We all have something new to add to the discussion, something which nobody else will have ever seen or heard of before.

This essay is titled ‘Inside Looking In’ because I spend a lot of my time looking around my own house trying to figure out how it is put together, sorting through all of the junk which it has collected, thinking of clever ways to describe the colour of the walls on any given day and exploring to see if there are any secrets which have yet to reveal themselves.

What about you? What do you find when you walk through your house?

Failure

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The most important lesson I have ever learned taught me how to fail. This was not an easy lesson to learn, in fact it is one that I successfully avoided for thirteen years.

The first time I failed it was because I had grown complacent in my success. I had let my effort slacken ever so slightly. The first semester of my second year of university was a stressful one, packed with classes which all demanded great amounts of my energy and attention. The workload, compared to the year before, was greater and steadily increased with each passing day resulting in many late nights and group work which was fundamentally frustrating to the spirit. The midterm schedule of this semester was at best hectic and at worst hellish; I still remember my roommates and I completing the last one (of the first round of midterms) and laughing hysterically with relief for a good five minutes.

Despite these challenges I felt strongly that I was on top of most of my courses and would have no problems passing all of my classes come December. I had felt the workload increase but what I did not realize was that my work ethic had declined.

In other words I did not take a big enough running start to clear the latest pit.

The pit was Engineering Systems Analysis.

I knew what my result in that course would be walking out of the exam. I felt angry and ashamed and then I felt nothing as I drank those feelings and the rest of that semester away. The holiday break started and I forgot about my troubles amongst friends and family and food. My older brother was home for the holidays and nothing could sour my mood. And then the marks for the semester were officially released and I was reminded again of my failure right before Christmas Eve.

I avoided social media for a while after that. My shame would not let me interact with friends who had passed the course, who had passed me. It took me a few days before I was able to electronically face my friends and peers and that was when I learned my first lesson:

Everybody screws up every now and then.

I was not alone amongst my classmates; the number of us who had not succeeded in passing that final was enough to fill a small lecture hall. Furthermore, none of our colleagues were laughing at us for not passing, none of them were happy that we were not advancing with them. These people were our friends and it was psychotic to think, even on a subconscious level, that failing one notoriously difficult class would change that. The same went for my parents when I broke the news to them that I would have to repeat a course and that it would therefore take me an extra year to graduate. I saw the disappointment in their eyes of course but I only then realized that the person who was most disappointed was myself.

I was disappointed in myself because I realized that I had let my effort and zeal for school diminish. This would have to change next semester and luckily I would be getting a second crack at Systems sooner than I had anticipated.

And so, in winter semester, with a new sense of resolve and some understanding of what was to come I tried again.

And I failed. Again.

The second time around I was shocked. How could I have failed this time? I worked so hard. I studied the material properly this time. I made sure I went into the exam prepared. I thought I had done everything necessary to pass.

Even worse was the fact that systems was not alone this time. Two other courses, Fluid Mechanics and Kinematics and Dynamics, decided to make a ménage a trois of failure and shame. This time I delayed speaking to my parents about the issue for almost two weeks. How could I mess up like this again? They were putting me through school so that I would graduate debt free and here I was wasting their money.

I became angry at everything and I blamed everyone for my lack of success in the course. I blamed my professors, I blamed my roommates, I blamed my family, I blamed the material but most of all I blamed myself. I had done everything to pass and yet I had let myself down. And then I realized:

I was studying to pass these courses when I should have been studying to understand the material.

Ask anybody in my program and they will tell you that engineering is hard but that there is no other subject they would rather be studying. We are putting ourselves through these torturous four plus years because it is our passion to understand how the world works and apply that knowledge to problem solving.

Not only that but we are paying an exorbitant amount of money to be given the opportunity to learn from some of the best in our field and to have access to some of the best equipment on which to investigate, develop and apply our skills. Working only to pass these courses is a disservice to ourselves only exceeded by cheating.

Summer came. I worked a full time temp position. I took two electives and did quite well in them. I spent time with family and friends and exercised and indulged in my passion for film and television. Then summer went but it left me feeling thoroughly recharged.

The next semester I buckled down and got back to work. I remembered why I enrolled in the first place. I remembered why I was able to do so well in elementary and high school. Academically it was my best semester of education since I left high school.

Today I am less afraid of making mistakes.

This is not to say that I look forward to bad grades or that I am content in the face of a poor evaluation but rather I now see these disappointing events as opportunities to learn and to climb out the pit better, stronger, smarter and more determined than ever to succeed.

This is because that is exactly what failure is. It is an opportunity to take a step back, identify your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. It is a chance to identify your life’s problems and look for solutions. Failure shows you what does and does not work and helps you evaluate what is and is not important. It is proof that we are all capable of great defeats and great victories even if we are battling different demons. It universally equalizes us and humbles us while pushing us towards self-empowerment.

I still sometimes wish that I had succeeded on my first attempt in Systems and that I had kept pace with my friends and maintained my five-year plan without any alterations but I am also glad that I learned my lesson when I did. I truly believe that it has made me a better engineer and a better student.