007: Quantum of Progress (A Vignette)

14 11 2008

Quantum of Progress

Computer: target proper?  Negative.

Her eyes narrow as she scans the crowds.

I know they’re here somewhere.

She furtively flits to a better vantage point, unnoticed by the individuals around her.  Let the commotion distract them; she has an appointment to keep.

Computer—no, she already sees it is wrong.

This is harder than I thought it would be.

Her first assignment back.  Already she feels each wasted, unforgiving second dropping away, like bullets on steel.

In, execute, out.  What more is there to it? OH SH—

She leaps into the air, cursing herself for losing focus.  Away, down, regroup, now! There are foreign parties here, with the same assignment, she is harshly reminded.  If she does not find her target soon…

Safe now, she resets.  Warily reapproaches the epicentre; the target is here, she was told.  But where?

Computer: profile: global-scan:

Too old. Too loud. Too short.  Wait—no, too troubled.  Damnit!

Her ammunition begins to self-activate.  A warning sign: she should have begun her next assignment by now.  No panic, but thinking fast.  What’s missing?  One more try.

Computer: Recalibrate assignment parameters: Profile: Global-scan:

What?!  What’s going on?!!

Target proper: positive.  Target proper: positive.  Target proper: positive.  Target proper: positive.

Her eyes furiously sweep the scene.  Unlike before, no matter where they land, her orders mandate it is appropriate to take action.

They’re ALL targets?!!  Every one?!!

Then, she realizes. Not every one.  Anyone.

The data…it was corrupt.

She circumvents the crowds, darts straight towards the centre of the ring, where her assignment had been all along.

Who was it who just bought in, again?

It doesn’t matter at all.  She begins to play.





Contours: A Short Story (Blog Meme)

25 05 2008

Once Upon a Bloggy NightThis is my first real attempt in recent history at creative writing, thanks to an imaginative blog meme called “Once Upon a Bloggy Night“. What are the rules? Basically: write a short story, and incorporate into it the names of all the blogs you read. So voilà, a peek into my daily reading list (I got 85-90% of them in) and some fun fiction, wrapped up in one. 😀 I hope you enjoy it!

p.s. If you’re a blogger reading this…consider yourself tagged!

***

Contours
by Joaninha

Parana e, parana e, parana—
“IE!”

The circle froze, momentarily suspended in time as people paused and found their bearings, making the always-abrupt transition from 16th century Brazil to 21st century Canada. Raia threw a private tantrum as the roda dissolved, as her teacher dissembled the berimbau she’d been crouching towards when the roda ended.

I came here to play!, she seethed. So focused was Raia on her frustration that she succumbed to Palavra’s sneak attack and, surprised out of her mood, laughed as she jolted into retaliation.

Porra!
“The gringa strikes again!” her friend triumphed.
“You’re shameless, you know that?”
“This, from someone named ‘line’ just so she’d remember to stop crossing it?”
“Hey! It happened once—”

“OI, PALAVRA!”
“Uh-oh…uhm, salve, Mestra. Como está?”
“Don’t give me any of that skelliewag, you berimbau duties shirker. Just were where you during Mestre Angoleiro’s roda last week? And the one before that?”
“I’m sorry, Mestra. But my sister got really sick, and then our house got broken into, and…”

Now those are what I call fast fictions, Raia grinned as she packed up and left the academy. If only she knew he’d skipped because of a few unfortunately placed paper cuts. I wonder if there’s anything on The Capoeira Blog about buying into mosh pit-like rodas?

The 22-year-old news intern had a month before returning to the political grind known as Parliament Hill, where she harvested fodder for the CNN Political Ticker. With the extra time and some inspiration, she’d decided to try practicing The Art of Nonconformity. So far, this meant having her mind, body, and soul capoeira-infused, openly converting to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, enrolling in a neuroanthropology course, becoming a freelance copyblogger, and turning her bedroom into a paradise of flowers and fruit. Sophocle’s Antigone was her most recent heroine.

As she cut through the park, Raia noticed a teenage girl drifting among the flowerbeds, stooping every few feet to search absent-mindedly through the fluttering palettes of colour. She appeared to be talking to herself.

“Are you alright? Do you want any help?” Raia approached the girl.
…in the search…
“What are you searching for?”
“…currents…”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“…create a way to state…
“A way to state what? Look, I’d like to help, but I can’t if I don’t understand you.”

Suddenly, the girl turned and stared straight into Raia’s eyes. Only now did Raia notice her garments: a glittery white cutoff shirt, a thin, dark green vest, and khaki short shorts. A procession of small, jagged stones wound around her neck, and a leafy twig held up her hair. What is she, EnviroWoman?

“Create a way to State,” the girl repeated.
“To state what?” Raia asked, exasperated now.
“Not to state, a state. Your state. Here.” And she held out a tattered piece of old parchment.

Raia accepted, and the scent of pine and rainforest soil rose to greet her. She unfolded the paper to find an old-fashioned compass inked in by hand. Above it, squiggly lines had been dashed off in seemingly random order. Underneath it was written:

NxE

“North by East? I don’t understand.” Raia was getting real tired of not understanding.

“Who are you? How do you live?”

Despite the strangeness of their encounter, something about the girl compelled Raia to answer, rather than walk away. And did she hear wind chimes?

“Well…I have a pretty normal life. I work, I go out, I go to school…the daily slog. I love to write. I’m feminist, and just started, finally, a Feminism 101 blog. I want to work for Publisher’s Weekly, or be the next Andrew Coyne. I have a weakness for men with pens. I like traveling, indie music, theatre…,” Raia suddenly laughed at herself as she recalled a website her friend had forwarded the other day, adding ironically, “you know, ‘stuff white people like‘. And capoeira, of course; I can’t wait until my trip next year to see the Bahia capoeira scene firsthand. I try to live by my own values, morals, ethics, etc. I could do better, I suppose. Sometimes I feel like I could do something great, like write a series of revolutionizing broadsides for CBC Top Stories News, or uncover some amazing lifehack that would solve all our problems…”

Why am I telling her all of this?

“Because you are lost.”

Raia blanched. “Excuse me?

“Look at the paper again.”

Raia looked, and wondered if she were hallucinating. The hand-drawn compass needle had started to quiver on the page, rotating slightly towards North, and the writing underneath had changed. It now read:

NNE

Before Raia could fully process what she was seeing, the girl began to speak.

Love“Have you ever seen Arabic calligraphy? It’s breathtaking. You take ordinary words, put them on canvas, and suddenly, they’re art. The words turn and coil, twist and bloom, moving in ways they never have before. What was once ruled lines and minced strokes becomes luxurious curves, indulgent elongation, voluptuous images and shapes. They become words without borders. Yet, what gave them the sudden capability to be this way? The seductive contours, the mesmerizing patterns; where did they come from? In actual fact…nothing did, and from nowhere.

“These qualities were an inherent part of each word all along; the only difference between love stated and love STATED was a simple decision on the part of s/he who controls the brush. Will this word be passive, and match all the rest? Or will it scream, shout, get attention, be remembered, and make its mark? Once this decision is made, the rest is simple: a little less ink here, a little more pressure on the brush there. All it takes is the choice. With that, any word easily bursts into the blinding glory of its full meaning and potential—into its true State.”

Raia opened her mouth, and a squeak came out. She tried again, “Who are you?”

The girl gave a half-smile, and shrugged. “Just a girl in short shorts talking about whatever. Would you like me to continue?”

“That piece of paper you’re holding depicts an open secret, one that is so open that people have forgotten it exists. You humans (yes, you have guessed correctly), you constantly speak of direction, of going the right way, of finding your path. Your north stars, you might say. But you become distracted, oh, so easily distracted. And so you end up veering east, and west, and sometimes even turning south—all the while thinking you are still pushing due north.

“In fact, you are already doing better than most. North by East, the compass said you were going, and further north after you began talking to me, and were forced to review your own life as a whole. It is always better to review a restaurant by sampling the whole menu, rather than focusing excessively on the daily dish. You are an economic woman, so you will appreciate knowing that at this point, it will take less work for you than it would for many others.”

“Less work for what?” Raia was slowly starting to wake up again.

“Why, to find your true State, of course. To do all the great things you say you want to do. To create a way to live your life that will lead to the fulfillment of your greatest potential. For you, that’s a mere adjustment of 22.5 degrees. Of course, it’s not even a quarter-turn in direction, but when one starts at the South Pole, go far enough and that less-than-quarter-turn becomes the difference between Greenland and Africa.

“That, incidentally, is the secret: Find where north is, then simply stay the course. Your north star represents your proper State—the full, complete, best you. Those who realize that, we call postsecret—the state of knowing in all certainty that life is worth living to the best of your passions and abilities, not to the best of traps and waylaying gnomes, not to the best of peer pressure, best of familial expectations, best of personal insecurities, or the best of false obligations. Do you understand what I’m saying, Raia?”

Raia nodded, trance-like, still staring at the dark sepia tinted compass that gauged her very life’s direction. Where to go from here? When she looked up, the girl was gone.

***

Artwork: Love by Hassan Massoudy





Comic: The Capoeira Journey

1 04 2008

(Click on image for full readability; you may need to click again on next page to zoom in!)

The Capoeira Journey





Challenge: In Six Words or Fewer, What Does Capoeira Mean to You?

30 03 2008

What does capoeira, at its very stripped down essence, mean to you?

I don’t know about you, but whenever someone asks me to tell them about capoeira or why I like it, I always feel like apologizing for hijacking the next 10-15 minutes of the conversation.  We all know how easy it is to gush and elaborate and describe and go on till the end of the world about how much capoeira means to you, and what capoeira means to you.  It’s not so easy to distill all of those thoughts and sentiments and assertions down to their very essence, the very core of what capoeira means to you.

So, continuing in the vein of letting great literary masters meddle in the capoeira world, I give you: Hemingway.

He was the guy who wrote a story in six words, and called it his best work:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Similarly, Mestres Bimba and Pastinha were quite concise in describing what capoeira meant to each of them:

“Capoeira is treachery.” (-Mestre Bimba)

“Capoeira is whatever the mouth eats.” (-Mestre Pastinha)

So now, it’s your turn!  I am very curious to see what kind of stuff you guys will come up with.  Will you be the next Hemingway of capoeira?

Answer in the Comments below (I will post mine down there as soon as I finish it!):
In six words or fewer, what does capoeira mean to you?





What Oscar Wilde Can Teach You About Capoeira

12 03 2008

“A little sincerity is a dangerous thing,
and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”

I know, what does HE know about capoeira, right?  Well, read and see!Known for sayings such as the above and “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it,” Oscar Wilde is one of my favourite authors.  It occurred to me the other day that despite his Oxford schooling, 19th century dandyism, and the fact that he was gay—he might actually have made a pretty good malandro [Edit: a pretty good typical/traditional malandro].  After mining through a huge list of famous quips and witticisms, I’ve shortlisted 8 gems that hold valuable lessons for us about capoeira.  Who’d have thought?  Now read on and yield to the temptation…

 

“Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much.”

Have you ever seen someone get taken down in the roda, and then immediately go into ultra-agression mode, doing everything with the sole intent of getting the other person back?  It didn’t get much results—or look very good—did it?  If you get taken down in the roda, or find yourself playing someone with whom you have a score to settle, relax.  There’s no hurry.  Laugh it off, keep having fun, and don’t show that you’re bothered (better yet, genuinely don’t be bothered at all!).  You’ll either perplex your opponent (an advantage), or keep the game fun and above-board; then, when they’re least expecting it, you can strike!

“It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.”

This lesson is similar to the one above, but has wider context.  If you read Nestor Capoeira’s Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game, there’s a story in there about a capoeira instructor he met once, who used the word “work” in some form or another every other sentence while talking about capoeira.  That instructor proceeded to get his corda served to him on a plate in the roda, getting angrier and angrier all along for being made a fool of and for the imagined (or not-so-imagined!) insult to his pride and dignity.  Do you think people were taking him seriously then?  If you ever feel yourself getting too intense or upset about capoeira, just remember all its other names: vadiação, brincadeira, malandragem.  “Loitering”, “frolic”, and “roguery”—nothing very serious about those!

“There is no sin except stupidity.”

In his book Learning Capoeira, Greg Downey tells how the worst thing someone could be, to a capoeirista, is stupid, or naive (which is what I meant by the quote at the top of this post).  This one reminds us to always be on the alert, pay attention to what’s going on around you, don’t get cocky in the roda, know what’s going on in the roda even when you’re not in it or especially if you want to buy in, and to never let down your guard or make a rash decision.  Even if we no longer have to fear hidden razors to the throat, your pride won’t care if you end up on your butt thanks to an unexpected yet avoidable attack!

“Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.”

Whether or not you agree with this regarding religion, you can’t argue if you replace the word with “capoeira”!  How many different versions have you heard of how many different histories, origins, techniques, personalities, stories, rumors, or philosophies, just to name a few?  I carelessly got caught out the other day while chatting with Compromisso of Capoeira Espaco: “…I can’t imagine what true angola must be like.”  Well, as he pointed out, what’s “true angola”?  What’s true capoeira?  When it comes to capoeira, there is no one, universal Truth, so take everything you hear or read with a grain of salt, and never forget or be afraid to think for yourself.

“People who love only once in their lives are. . . shallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination.”

Though slightly controversial, I agree with this sentiment regarding capoeira “group loyalty”.  As I explained in my post “Think Global, Play Local: Broadening Your Capoeira Horizons“, this does not mean I advocate group jumping!  I believe in this only as far as not restricting yourself to your own group to the extent that you don’t even interact or check out other groups, for the exposure.  “Lethargy of custom”, of course, would refer to going along with what you’re told because “that’s the way it is”, at the expense of your own growth in capoeira, and “lack of imagination” could be a cause, but more importantly also a result of such “fidelity”, in the long run.  (An example is, as I’ve been told by multiple people, when capoeiristas in one group play together so often and without new blood that they begin to memorize each other’s favourite moves and combinations!)

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

Kind of a nice transition from the last quote, this one is a given!  If you find yourself doing the same moves over and over again in the roda, or end up with conversational lulls of doing ginga back and forth with your opponent, that might be a sign it’s time to get your capoeira sequence drawing board (or thinking cap, or magic eight ball—hey, to each their own!) out.  Capoeira is all about being creative and imaginative, moving unpredictably, doing the unexpected; the only thing you should be doing consistently is training! 

“A man who pays his bills on time is soon forgotten.”

Now this one I wouldn’t have picked a year or two ago, but things change. 🙂  If you play nice (and boring), following all of what you think are the rules, then—for the most part—people are going to play nice (and boring) with you.  When you play someone like that, what happens?  You play them, someone buys them out, and you move on to the next person.  What if the other person suddenly gave you a martelo to the face (just marked, of course, not actually), or attempted to take you down?  You’d suddenly be a lot more into the game, wouldn’t you, and they would definitely have caught your attention, wouldn’t they?  “Nice” and “proper” (whatever that is) is okay, but it’s also forgettable, and unremarkable.  If you push the envelope a little bit (and within reason), you get onto the radar, people won’t be afraid to do the same to you, and together that’s how you help each other grow.

“I may have said the same thing before…but my explanation, I am sure, will always be different.”

Ah, how many times have we asked for an explanation from a teacher, only to good-naturedly accept a completely contradictory version the next week?  Similar to there not being any one Truth in capoeira, there is also never just one way to do things, or one way to describe or explain things.  You can have one instructor insist on you practicing au sem mão one way, then five minutes later have that exact method derogated by another (true story)!  The key to this one is to always be mentally flexible, open-minded, and receptive of new ideas.  Being perceptive wouldn’t hurt either, in case someone is repeatedly telling you something you clearly need to know, but just in a different way each time!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this introduction to or reacquaintance with Oscar Wilde!  And hopefully you learned a couple of things, too. 😉

p.s. This was inspired while commenting on a post by the newest capoeira blogger on the block, Angoleiro! It’s all angola, all the time, and all awesome! You guys should definitely head over and check it out.

p.p.s. For those of you who have commented over the past two days or so, thank you so much for your thoughtful and extensive responses, and I’m sorry I haven’t replied yet!  I’ve been completely time-strapped by non-capoeira, non-blog things this week (I actually had to bail a couple times on my in-person friends, as well), but I promise I will get to them eventually, no matter what!  Keep checking back!

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How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

14 02 2008

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I thought just for fun I’d rework one of the most well-known love poems in English literature, for what is sadly the only love in my life right now!  Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when dancing in the fight
Of beauty, violence, music, guile, and grace.
I love thee to the level of vadiação’s
Most poignant note, by toque and ardent voice.
I love thee freely, as old malandros rejoice;
I love thee purely, as ere they had cordãos. 
I love thee with a passion put to use
In one last roda, with thirst for axé whet.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost faith, — I love thee with the sweat,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if life choose,
I shall but love thee better after yet.

Eu amo capoeira! 

Original poem here.

Picture source:
http://www.capoeiragem.com/assets
/images/special_iheartcapoeira.jpg





Excerpt: Salomão Mandou Chamar, a Parable by Mestre Acordeon

1 02 2008

Writing yesterday’s post on feminism and envy reminded me of a story I read in Mestre Acordeon’s Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form, which was possibly my favourite part of the book.  The story is too long to be all typed out here (it takes up an entire chapter), but I thought I’d excerpt the relevant part for you guys.  It still makes a great and inspiring read, but be sure to read the entire story if you ever get the chance!

 Capoeirista playing berimbau on beach

The near-full moon was spreading a silver mantle and once more the compulsion to hold my berimbau possessed me. Its smooth wood was like a silk bow sliding into my hands. The steel ring was taut and alert like a horse lined up for a race. The gourd was shining in my hands as if its soul needed a human touch to materialize. I felt the texture of its carefully painted surface. One drawing was a roda with many people. Another depicted Mestre Bimba holding his berimbau. The last one was an image of myself sitting on an old tire on a beach playing for the stars. I looked around me and the scenery was identical to the painting on my gourd. The gourd had become the real world and myself a part of the berimbau.

The berimbau’s chant spread to the four corners of the earth like a thick veil keeping all creatures warm and peaceful. The shapes around began to change, the earth was breathing. The land was moving in waves, rippling out from the epicentre of the sound to the limits of my understanding. The whole universe was contracting and expanding in a constant pulse to the cadence of the musical bow. Everything was following a perfect sense of proportion. For a moment I stopped playing and this universal harmony was shattered.

Something moved in the bushes behind me. Everybody felt it, startled out of their dreams. Mestre Pastinha gently placed his finger to his lips requesting silence. The bushes rustled again and I felt goosebumps on my flesh. The contorted demons from the dragon/volcano were about to snatch my soul. They were the blood-sucking capoeiristas, the materialization of the misunderstanding and mistrust among ourselves, the expression of my own fears in all its forms, and they were creatures of the madness of this confused world. Confronting this evil frightened me. I was almost fainting when the student who was my son brandished his berimbau like a sword, clearing the area of the demons with its cutting sound. It was a fierce fight. The demons did not give up easily. For each assault my son defended by playing a richer rhythmical variation. I was useless, completely dead with fatigue. My son was fighting Capoeira for the life of his master and for his own life too. He was sweating, totally concentrated on playing. Daylight came at last and dispersed the devilish creatures. Peace settled on the battlefield.

One of the faceless students cried frantically at my son. “I hate you, I hate you!” Mestre Pastinha asked him, “Why hate your brother? He was brave enough to protect his master against evil.” He answered, “Because I wanted the glory of fighting the demons and he took my place instead.” With these words, his face assumed its real guise and I recognized him as the one nicknamed “Envy.” He could not learn Capoeira well because he would not free himself of the craving to be recognized, always insecure and jealous.

Mestre Pastinha handed me the last day’s drink. Its sweet contents reminded me of the brew mulher barbada. We walked towards the mountains through beautiful forests and meadows with colourful flowers and birds. The scents and beauty of the place kept me going even though I never was so tired in my entire life. I frequently lost sight of the surroundings because I was envisioning another dimension of Capoeira, a spiritual side of the art that broadened my perception. My journey into this realm lasted hundreds of years, through lifetimes of many masters.

Picture source:
http://kulasports.blogspot.com/2007/11/first-capoeira-weekend-2007-gteborg.html