bias is often called identity

I was talking to an insanely talented performer after a rehearsal for a show we’ll be working together on next month.

“The difference between professional and amateur performances is how much they’ve been perfected,” he says.

I’m pretty sure I disagree, though I haven’t thought it through or heard it out enough to commit to saying something about it one way or the other. “Mm,” I hum instead. I nod my head up gently as I make this noise. It’s enough to acknowledge “Yes, that certainly was a thing you just said and I sure did hear it” without obstructing or leading the dialogue yet.

He goes on, “In community shows like what’s standard around here, you’re always playing to the same crowds, so you constantly have to keep coming up with new material. You can’t spend months honing an act to perfection like when you’re on the road and it’s always new audiences every night.”

While that’s true, there’s such a thing as “too perfected”. Perfecting an act means calculating what actions at what times will generate the desired appropriate response from the audience. This, of course, is a vital component to any act worth seeing more than once.

If you’ll allow me to get all douchey artistic-minded (and you will, because that’s how reading other people’s words works)…

Where it gets “too perfect” is when the creativity and initial drive behind the act gets eclipsed and replaced by those calculations. And yeah, it’s not hard at all to fake enthusiasm enough to fool people when you’re already performing at such a level that would lead to that point.

Who’d want to though? At that point it becomes a crass and soulless meta-performance, doesn’t it? To me, it’s right down there with “How’s everybody feeling tonight?” or “What’s up, [town name]?”: a meaningless effort with a guaranteed reaction because there will always be at least a few people who feel obligated to respond to that sort of thing with some kind of positive noise.

Some of the best acts I’ve ever seen fly completely by the seat of their pants, rehearsing just enough to have nothing more than a general direction and they still carry the performance with their ability and personality. I’ve also shared bills with acts that have every second of the show from the song intros to the stage blocking meticulously planned out and honed months in advance that completely failed to entertain anybody.

It’s not what he meant, and so I don’t say it.

I do say “I don’t think it’s possible to standardize what’s ‘professional’ in entertainment.”

“Mm,” he hums, then “True.” I feel like I should be happy that someone I have so much respect for agrees with me, and I’m not. Instead we share an uncomfortable moment of silence because we both realize at that point that it would make our jobs so much ridiculously easier if it weren’t true.

…on the other hand, we get to do this for a living. We move on to other topics. Later I get home and finish up the audio / video pairings for the sheriff’s office scene in Targeted, a process that is so boring it won’t get mentioned again once the period ends this sentence and here it comes and here it is right here.

The next day I wake up to an intense argument going on outside my window. A man and a woman are having it out in their carport in machine gun Spanish. Thanks to the distance, the speed of the words and the twelve years it’s been since I spoke Spanish with any regularity, I can’t even catch a gist of what they’re arguing about, except that they are both throwing some righteous rage each other’s way.

I’m annoyed that I don’t remember more Spanish. If someone’s going to argue loud enough to wake me up from a house over, I want to follow the story. It’s a public performance at this point, and I can’t tell if it’s amateur or professional.

Fifteen minutes later, a car door slams and the ignition roars. I imagine her twisting the key so hard that the top snaps off. The woman’s voice fades in like someone turning up the radio from zero really fast as she starts yelling again inside the car a few seconds before she rolls the window down so he (and I) can actually hear her. There’s something very funny about that to me that I can’t even explain to myself.

They, of course, spend another couple of minutes screaming back and forth, because nobody ever just immediately drives off in these situations. She eventually volleys a sentence that satisfies her and does drive off. It feels like a song that ends on an unresolving chord. What was all of this about? Who won, if anyone? Will this pick up again when she comes back? How much Spanish can I brush up on between now and then?

I have things to do though. I’m going to busk with Remy and Thugsy on Royal so I step outside to put my guitar and ukulele in the car and there’s my neighbor, still pacing the carport.

“Hello!” he calls with a cheery wave. “How are you today?” His voice sounds sluggish and labored somehow.

“I’m fine,” I answer back. “Going to play some music for a while.” Now my voice sounds strange too, and I realize it’s because for the last half hour I’ve been listening to enraged Spanish. In comparison, English sounds like a series of yawns. “What are you up to today?”

“Rearranging the patio,” he says. His grin drops and he looks away for a moment, then back at me, smiles, looks away, frowns, smiles, and then turns away. It looks even more awkward than it sounds like it would.

“Good luck with it,” I say, not meaning the patio.

He nods and tries to mask a sigh as an “mmmmmhmm”. The shoulders give it away. The shoulders always give everything away. I feel bad for him, and just a little guilty that I get to go have fun on Royal Street.

I shouldn’t have, because four hours later I was in a pretty bad car wreck. It’s good to get the first wreck over with early. My ugly green Kia Soul is currently in the parking lot of a collision center, sitting next to other smashed-up vehicles like it’s waiting to be seen at an emergency room. Since I first bought it I’ve said it’s so ugly, it’s charming. Right now it’s so ugly, it’s ugly.

***

A clarifying moment is a point in time where every bias and subjective tint falls away, leaving only an objective truth. That sounds really deep and important, doesn’t it? It’s not. Most clarifying moments are inconsequential.

On the other hand, it can be argued that everything is inconsequential if there’s a large enough perspective applied, so I guess it depends on what’s important to you.

A while back I played through Final Fantasy V. I found it extremely hard which usually means I was playing it wrong, like when I played through Final Fantasy VII with only level 1 limit breaks because I didn’t know any better.

One of the mandatory bosses in FFV is a beast called Twin Tania, and he will absolutely wreck your shit. There’s an undisplayed time limit to the battle, at the end of which he’ll cast a spell called Gigaflare which wipes out your party even if they’re all at full HP. It’s not a long countdown at all.

The game isn’t content simply ending the battle with a Gigaflare cast though. It gives you a facade of hope by allowing you ONE MOVE between the “Gigaflare gathering power!” message and the nuclear payload. This detail is important enough that you read about it in a book a bit earlier in the dungeon.

The rub is that despite knowing about the grace period, it’s worthless knowledge. Unless you’ve spent weeks just leveling up your characters to Herculean heights, there’s nothing you can do in one move to kill Twin Tania by this point. It’s SquareSoft sticking a gun in your face outside the convenience store and saying “I’m going to kill you no matter what you do. So what are you gonna do?”

Things like that give the most valid idea of exactly what kind of RPG gamer you are, moreso than playing every RPG ever made ever will. What do YOU do with a meaningless move seconds before an inevitable Game Over?

Seeing a pair of headlights rapidly approaching brings about a clarifying moment that fits in a larger perspective. The thoughts you have besides “OH SHIT” in that sluggish space between realizing “this is inevitable” and the actual impact are a clear picture of the sort of person you truly are.

I saw a man in his 50s in the driver’s seat of the truck. There were no passengers. “I hope he doesn’t get hurt,” I thought. “Well, here it comes.” And I think I can live with being that sort of person.

As for Twin Tania, I cast Meteo on my party because I’ll be damned if I give some six-legged warthog the satisfaction more than once.

***

What else? Oh! The Jak Locke Goes Too Far EP is finished and I released it online a couple of days ago. Here, listen to it! Enjoy it while it’s still something new!

12/21/2012 ADDITION: Apparently the proper way to beat Twin Tania is that you’re actually supposed to wait until the Gigaflare is charging and then use something with an instant death effect on it. The book is supposed to be a clue to use that method. Because it’s been more than seven years since I played it, I’m going to go ahead and blame the Playstation version’s lousy translation for not making that clearer, even though I have no idea if it was the translation’s fault or not. That version’s localization was so awful that I’ll take any possible opportunity to slag it.

There’s probably a metaphor somewhere here for seemingly meaningless things actually having a function if only the proper knowledge is applied, and it’s a shame I have no interest in finding it.

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