Thursday, August 27, 2015

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

“You can say a lot about a man by looking at what he carries in his wallet”.

This isn’t a quote by a famous person, not even a line taken from a popular movie and also, I am not trying to ask you to go searching through your friend’s wallets in order to know them better it’s just me looking at my purse trying to evaluate what gets to stay and what doesn’t.

Apart from the usual stuff i.e. money, cards and identification my wallet also contains a letter with best wishes from my friends at work, ticket stubs from all the films I’ve watched in the last 2 years, 2 tiny stones, a guitar pick, some restaurant bills (one dating back to 2008), candy bar wrappers, the label from a water bottle, boarding passes from flights I’ve taken and some bus tickets.

Each of those unusual things in my wallet have a very specific memory associated with them and since I have always considered my memories to be amongst my most precious assets I put everything back inside and ignore the fact that like George Costanza in Seinfeld with the wallet in my pocket I will probably tilt to one side when I sit down

Some things in the world are so unbelievable crazy that it is hard to resist not falling in love with them.

The movie ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ to me is an example for this, the first time I watched it I felt so lost that barely half an hour later I turned off my TV and went back to studying for my exams, I was however determined to see it, if I’m being honest it was more of desperation than determination, I had run out of my supply of DVDs and this was the only movie left that I was yet to watch completely.

The second time around the unusual narrative of the film made so much more sense to me but I won’t lie to you I still couldn’t completely wrap my head around it, the third time however I absolutely loved it and the movie made a grand entry into my top ten list and has stayed there since.

If you haven’t seen the film yet I wouldn’t recommend you watching it right away, to the uninitiated like it was in my case, the movie may seem extremely confusing and a little nonsensical but after you read this post I am confident that you will be ready.

The basis of the plot is the discovery of a technique that can erase specific targeted memories from the minds of people without causing significant brain damage and as a result you end up getting a spotless mind, free of all painful memories as though it never happened, and get to start afresh again.


Let me give you an example, say you are coming off of a really painful break up, wouldn’t you leap at the chance to get rid off of every trace of that bad experience from your mind, this procedure would give you an opportunity to wake up one morning completely free of that memory so that you can get back to life as you knew it.

The timeline of the movie shifts from the present to the recent past to the present again and to the distant past, back and forth and back and forth confusing the audience, but once you get a hang of what is going on, you sympathize so much more with the filmmaker that you discover the genius behind all that’s being shown.

To give you a little background of the film, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) is a deeply introverted single guy who leads a very quiet life. Clementine Kruczynski is exactly the opposite, wild, crazy, full of life, she believes in making the most of every single moment of her life. They meet unexpectedly and fall in love but eventually things fall apart and guess what, Clementine opts to erase Joel’s memories from her mind.

Unaware of what’s happened Joel visits Clem at the bookstore only to find her unable to recognize him, disappointed and distraught Joel begs a mutual friend of theirs to find out what is going on, when he learns that Clementine erased him from her life he too decides to do the same.

The team arrives at his home and begins the procedure, they start clearing his mind off of Clementine’s memories starting with the most recent ones, the bookstore, the arguments that led to the break up and so on.

Joel is asleep but we are taken into his mind as the process is being carried out.

Initially Joel is happy about his decision to get rid of Clem’s memories, in one scene we see him yelling out loud “I’m glad I’m erasing you from my memories”.

With all the painful recent memories erased, the device now starts working on the happy memories.

That’s when things get complicated.

Joel begins to regret his decision a little, but unable to stop the procedure because he is unconscious he allows it to go on.

But as the process probes deeper into his memories Joel suddenly realizes that he doesn’t want to remove all of Clem’s memories from his mind, he holds on to her as much as he can but he cannot outrun the process, he knows that when he wakes up everything he knew about this beautiful person who made his life seem worthwhile would be non-existent and he tries in vain to fight back the software trying to bury her memories somewhere deep in his mind where the software won’t be able to reach it and remove it.

One of my favorite scenes from the movie is Joel’s memory of the two of them staring at the starlit sky lying on a frozen lake.

Joel says – "I could die right now, I'm just … happy. I've never felt that before. I'm just exactly where I want to be".

When Joel wakes up the next morning all he can remember are the events from his last day at work, he can’t explain why his car is damaged or why pages from his journal are torn out.

He ditches work at the last minute and takes a train out to Montauk, guess whom he runs into in the train ride back home? Good ol Clementine.

But remember, at this point of time neither of them actually knows the other.

What do you think happens next?

Watch the movie to find out.

Wouldn’t it be great if such a device or service actually existed in the world today? I’m sure that the first company to come up with it will be number one on the fortune 500 list within the blink of an eye.

People would flock to avail a service that offered them a fresh chance to wipe the slate clean.

The thought of starting all over again, is too good to resist.
But I always think of how Joel begins to feel when some of the most beautiful memories of his life start to get erased, the desperation and anxiety he experiences is scary. 

This brings me back to the things in my wallet, I think of life as an continuous obstacle course with us constantly jumping from one challenge to another with happiness consisting of a few precious moments wedged in between these trials, and they don't last long, but while we are facing those obstacles and overcoming the hurdles along the way,it helps to hark back on the good times that we've had in the past, this is the reason why I carry around those things in my wallet everywhere I go.

Which brings me back again to the movie, like Joel's and Clementine's relationship not all these memories I hold onto are pleasant, some of them also remind me of things i wish didn't happen, but that's the thing in life, nothing is perfect.

I also don't ever want to forget those experiences in my life that brought me joy or gave me a chance to smile, so even though it may seem odd I try my best to keep those memories around me.

The more I think of it, I realize that even if such a procedure became a reality I would probably not opt for it, would you?

Until next time.


Friday, August 14, 2015

The Wheel

Have you ever tried writing a song?

I used to think poetry was tough, but trust me when I tell you this, songwriting is way harder, believe me, I’ve tried and failed, many times.

It doesn't come as a surprise to me that some of my favorite people in the world are actually prolific songwriters, like Jon foreman, the lead singer and guitarist of the greatest band that ever existed, switchfoot.

Jon has a tendency of writing close to a 100 songs for every switchfoot album out of which maybe 10 or 12 make the final cut.
Jon Foreman

Other musicians that fall under this category include Mat Kearney, John Mayer, Adam Young, Ed Sheeran and few others blessed with the unique gift of describing profound universal truths in a 3 or 4 minute song better than 3 hour movie or a novel with 300 pages.

I have a habit of going online every time one of these people puts out a record and watch the process of how the album was made, and yes, I have also often wondered what ends up happening to the songs that weren’t commercially released.

Some artists release these songs as B sides which are albums that contain previously unreleased music which weren’t considered to be good enough to fit in the original album, this doesn’t happen immediately though, decades can go by before a band decides to release a B sides album.

Many of these songs however remain unheard off, reserved only for the most devoted fans who attend every concert and collect recordings from all possible sources including the internet and elsewhere.

Very rarely however, some of these songs get featured on the album just to fill in the running time and accidentally end up becoming among the artists most beloved hit.

It may come as a surprise to you that legendary hits such as ‘Nothing Else Matters’ by Metallica, ‘Money for Nothing’ by ‘The Dire Straits’ and even the beloved ballad ‘Two Steps Behind’ by ‘Def Leppard’ are all songs that were never originally intended to receive a wide release.

For people who don’t listen to John Mayer, one thing you should know is that he has the uncanny ability to create a fusion between seemingly immiscible genres, like pop and the jazz, or country and the blues, once your ears get used his style of music, it’s hard not to fall in love with his songs.

This Actually Happened
The wheel is one of John Mayer’s songs that was added at the last minute to his album heavier things, this song is still less popular compared to the other award winnings tracks from the album, but to me it is the best song he has ever written.

I have every song John ever released, performed live, covered or contributed to, and yet this relatively unknown song is my favorite, why is that?

Back when I was in med school I would spend close to 4 hours each day on the commute back and forth from college, music was my God given lifeline, the long journeys seemed shorter and the fatigue never really bothered me as much thanks to the songs I tirelessly listened to day in and day out.

Internship is probably the most insane period in a doctor’s life, in addition to all the work and running around there is always an uneasy feeling deep inside.

This uneasiness is born out of a realization that big changes are on the way and that the life we knew for the last 5 years was slowly but surely coming to an end.

I’ve never been good at farewells, even when I was a kid. Our cousins would visit us in the summers and on the day of their leaving I would be a complete mess; in fact mother would allow me to wake up late so that I wouldn’t have to watch them go, maybe there was a little part of me that wanted to believe that they were still around the house somewhere and not living hundreds of miles away.

With graduation getting closer and a string on uncomfortable goodbyes waiting to be said I realized that the kid in me had refused to grow up in this regard.

It is never easy when the people we care about deeply walk out of our life, and yet it happens quite often, no matter how much we hate it or how much it hurts.

That’s where the song comes in.

As I listened to the tune over and over again, I understood a universal truth, people have a right to do what makes them happy and when push comes the shove they find a way to convince their head and their heart and they move on. 

What then about the people who get left behind.

Does the love we put out into the world get wasted?

John uses the odd, ironic and yet beautiful analogy of a balance of sorts that exists at airports, there are people coming in and leaving at the same time, the ones leaving are waving goodbye and the ones arriving are waiting impatiently to embrace the people they love, the irony to me lies in the fact that eventually the ones that we embraced may end up waving goodbye to us at the same airport after a few days, or months or years go by.

John compares life to a wheel that is constantly turning.

You may fall in love with a particular part of the wheel but since its always in a state of motion, the moment will eventually pass.

When he sings the lines “And if you never stop when you wave goodbye, You just might find if you give it time, You will wave hello again ,You just might wave hello again… I understand that goodbyes and farewells are not always definite or permanent, there is always a little hope that our paths may cross again with the ones we once cared about.

The entire song carries a lot of depth and meaning to me but perhaps the words that affected me the most and still continue to inspire me today is what John says towards the very end of the song.

I’m leaving a link to it right here so that you can listen to it yourself.

Dealing with change is not easy, whether it is relocation, or starting a new job, or making new friends, but perhaps the most difficult change to deal with is having to overcome the challenge of moving on with our lives without the support and love of the people who once cared for us.

But like all other forms of change it is real, it happens to all of us and we have to find ways to deal with it, maybe one way of doing this would be to remind ourselves that nothing lasts forever, the wheel of life keeps turning, and sooner or later hard times will pass.

The love we put out into the world is never wasted, it may go around a little or get passed around from one spoke to another, but eventually, in some form or the other it comes back us.

Until next time