Yet Untitled 024 - Surprising Things Found In Unexpected Places
And what Ted Lasso can tell us about finding them more often
Dearest Yet Untitlers
The photograph you’re looking at was taken by my daughter Ananya, who has a penchant for grotesque. extreme close-ups. As you may imagine, I deleted the hell out of this photo, finding my visage too (ahem) aesthetically compromised.
Then I retrieved it.
Somehow, I had continued to think about it (emblazoned as it was on my brain). In a moment of cerebral poetry, I found it to be a metaphor for how parenthood holds a mirror to one’s face, accentuating the rough edges of impatience, irritation, exhaustion and submission that our parent-faces are functions of by the end of some days. It reminded me that being a dad to Ananya and Aahana is both wonderful and infuriating; and if I ever want to look becoming in the close-ups Ananya takes, I must keep my shit together and do better - be more patient, less irritated, catch a nap and keep the hell going.
A motivational sentence and a GIF
Ananya and Aahana are eight years old and I still have the teenage years to deal with! If I kept going the way I am, I’m going to end up looking like Darth Vader’s boss - The Emperor - in one of Ananya’s photos a few years from now!
Here’s to insight and encouragement found in unexpected places 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼
Here’s a list of surprising things you’ll find in unexpected places (some stuff discovered just this week).
1. Hope in Prayer
Yes, I’d say it’s surprising to find hope in prayer.
Even when you go in to pray precisely for this purpose - to find hope - the actual chancing upon hope through prayer is something I always find fresh and astounding. Prayer, which is about looking inwards, can take you to some unexpected places, including Hope. You go in, swimming past a whole coral forest of jagged internality, and then find this place of slanting light that illuminates your entire field of vision thereafter - this face-smacking, unexpected occurrence in the course of prayer, in my experience, is what leads to action that brings us closer to answering that very prayer.
Hope feels like the unexpected, precious harvest of prayer - just as unexpected and surprising as a flower seems, when truly considered - with a child’s mind - as the future of a seed.
This experience is nothing new. Nichiren Daishonin had a thing or two to say about how we constantly fail to see the reality of our lives as being a ‘treasure tower’. As he told his disciple Abutsu-bo:
“Abuts-bo is therefore the treasure tower itself and the treasure tower is Abutsu-bo himself. No other knowledge is purposeful.” (From On the Treasure Tower)
Commenting on this, Daisaku Ikeda explains:
"Your body, your being, is one with the fundamental Law pervading all life and the universe - that is the reality of your life"
In Buddhism, our failure to see this is the manifesting of our delusion. In this context, perhaps I have my delusion to thank for the wonderment each time prayer leads me to goodies like Wisdom, Courage and Compassion (all corollaries of Hope in Buddhism) in my life.
Wonderment is good. It’s one of my favourite feelings. I’ll keep on keeping’ on for the sake of wonderment.
2. Hamlet in Grand Theft Auto
You heard me right.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet was performed inside a video game during the lockdown. For those of you who have played Grand Theft Auto, its an extremely violent open-world game where your avatar can, very quickly, be anhiliated if you’re not careful. In the game, the whole idea is to negotiate a world where unbridled violence is the norm. In this world, YouTuber Rustic Mascara decided to use the game’s amazingly versatile interface to recruit virtual actors and stage the entire play!
The problem is: it’s all happening in the presence of so many other player-controlled avatars whose only agenda is to kill you while you’re soliloquising “To Be or Not To Be.” Just take a look at this clip, where the creator keeps getting shot down, even after trying to explain to the drone-like co-players that he’s “trying to do a play”. He gets killed in various, grotesque and imaginative ways.
The game is super intelligent - the avatars lip sync the players’ words. But GTA is also a dog-eat dog-world where everything is about a fight for survival. Still, Rustic Mascara pulls if off! Here’s a clip of the whole play staged entirely inside the video game.
There’s something to be said about this. In fact, the BBC’s cultural podcast Front Row interviewed Rustic Mascara and he shared the following insight -
He spoke about how violence forms a deep, seemingly indelible layer to our reality. Marina Ambrovic the performance artist did an art show once that demonstrated this. She sat in a space with an array of objects spread out before her, apparently for the audience to use on her person. One of these was a gun with a bullet lying next to it. In the course of the performance, someone from the audience loaded the gun and pointed it at her head.
In the Front Row interview, Rustic Mascara took this example to illustrate something unexpected in the course of his own experiment with Hamlet in GTA. In GTA’s world, which is meant to be a photo-negative of ours (though I wonder sometimes how much) - where violence is the norm rather than peace, there were those who emerged as collaborators in something as incongruous to the place as a staging of Hamlet.
And they pulled it off!
To me, that’s really surprising and hopeful!
3. Running can teach you patience
My engagement with long distance running continues to be revelatory. I used to think it was about traversing a certain distance in as little time as possible, but lately it’s become about lasting, about endurance.
In the course of a run when the body starts to tire, you want the run to get over as quickly as possible. This impatience usually makes me forget to do the things that might allow my body endure better, like slowing down, even temporarily, giving the body a moment to recover. But this doesn’t go down well in our app-controlled, extra-competitive era of fitness goals. However, one Sunday, I gave myself permission to go as slowly as I desired, with a sole intent to cover distance, and perchance to enjoy myself.
It was glorious. I heard two whole podcasts, one about Hamlet being performed inside Grand Theft Auto (!), and I covered the most enjoyable 10 kilometres I have for awhile. The only shift was the decision to be patient with myself and let my body take the lead rather than my ego.
I realised that I was fighting a fear - of growling slower and slower as the years go by. Suddenly I look forward to and see the very real possibility of going further and further as the years go by. With this kind of thinking, it feels possible!
Quite unexpected. Quite surprising. Quite hopeful!
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Let Ted have the last word:
Whether you’re a writer trying something new or a YouTuber trying to stage Hamlet inside a violent video game, one things’s for sure - you won’t take the first step without first being curious.
Ever since I watched this episode of Ted Lasso, his quoting of Walt Whitman has found a permanent place inside my head: Be Curious, Not Judgmental. Have a listen to his speech in this fantastic scene:
In her very insightful book I never Thought Of it That Way, journalist Mónica Guzmán speaks of curiosity as the very thing that can help us bridge the seemingly impossible divides our world is afflicted with today. Curiosity is more underrated than ever. But Guzmán says:
Curiosity is big and it is badass. At its weakest, it keeps our minds open so they don't shrink. At its strongest, it whips us into a frenzy of unstoppable learning.
With that, I leave you, my dears. See you again next week!
Before I leave, one question. Is there a treasure you have in your life that’s there only because you allowed yourself to be curious?
Tell me! I want to know!