Tuesday, November 12, 2013

i'm gonna stay here and finish

Continuing from yesterday, like I have done twice before, it's impromptu quotation tie-in night. I meant to do all 21 quotations from round 2 of impromptu from yesterday's tournament, but I was apparently quite tired. I actually don't usually get so exhausted from a tournament as a coach as I used to get as a competitor, but it was a long three days. I've got a few weekends off now before another 3-day tournament. In the meantime, The Groundhog Day Project continues.

"What I like in a good author is not what he says but what he whispers." - Logan Pearsall Smith.

To tie this to Groundhog Day the first step is to broaden it a bit so it isn't all about authors--our quiet actions are more genuine than our louder actions, I might say. Our best actions are not the ones about which we take the time to boast. Pre-loop Phil Connors is the kind of guy who would boast about most anything he could. Rita calls him incredible--and just did this as the movie plays tonight--and he immediately takes it not as a criticism but as a compliment. "Who told you," he asks in response. Phil in his adolescent period isn't as quick to tell everyone just what's going on re: the time loop, as original script Phil, but he can't help but say hi to Nancy, his "old fiancé" when he's on his date with Laraine. But, later he learns to be quieter. When the people he's helped come up to him at the dance, he doesn't boast and brag about what he's done for them; instead, he humbly accepts their thanks and even resists them a bit. He's the good author whispering.

"Raise your sail one foot and you get ten feet of wind." - Chinese Proverb

I don't know, well, anything about sailing, certainly not enough to know if this is literally true. But, I'd like to interpret it more broadly anyway--can't just give a speech all about sailing. I think this quotation tells us that putting effort in, despite the third law of thermodynamics, can give us back far more than we put in. I think this is especially proven true socially. Doing something for another person doesn't mean that person will reciprocate equally. One person might merely say "thanks" and leave it at that. But, another might become your friend, another might keep a special place in his heart for you, another might merely remember to smile as she passes you in the hallway at school. But, a regular smile from another person can brighten life quite a bit. Phil Connors' good deeds are not so very big--he might technically save Buster's life, but I tend to think that Buster wouldn't have died, necessarily...

Mostly, I choose to believe this because otherwise the Inner Circle Groundhog Day Festival Banquet (of which we only see the dance, by the way, not any banquet, though Rita does mention on Day 1 that there's a "groundhog dinner") would be a somber occasion every night but those when Phil saves Buster. I think this detail might have come up at some point earlier if that were the case; I mean, Rita who wants to know where to put a camera to film the end of the world wouldn't want to do a story about the President of the Inner Circle dying on Groundhog Day? I think not... or I think so... whichever one means she would definitely want to produce that story. And, that would mean she'd have no time for date night with Phil.

But, I digress (and I would have to be sure not to do that in an impromptu round). I was saying that Phil's good deeds are not actually big acts. He saves a kid from a broken leg, he changes a tire, he lights a cigarette, he talks a bride into going through with her wedding--well, maybe that one's life changing for she and her groom, but it probably wouldn't get onto some list of great acts one could commit. He does things that might not seem so important to the rest of us outside of the time loop, outside of Punxsutawney. But, that's because these things have become important to him. These people have become important to him.

Of course, I'm not trying to say that Phil raised his sail one foot, figuratively speaking, in order to get that ten feet of wind. In fact, I'm not sure I'd argue that the ten feet of wind go to Phil at all. More likely, his good deeds (that one foot of sail) give inspiration and positive energy (ten feet of wind) to the various people of Punxsutawney that directly and indirectly benefit from his actions.

"The world began without man, and it will complete itself without him." - Claude Levi-Strauss

This is the kind of thing Phil learns in that alley with O'Reilly. In that moment where Foley tells us Phil looks "plaintively heavenward" Phil knows that the world keeps turning no matter what he does (time loop or not), that people die no matter what he does. Sure, he proceeds to save other people, but he picks his battles. In Ramis' second revision of the script, Phil leaves a note on O'Reilly for the paramedics who find him in the alley, but he does not try to save the old man. He has learned which battles are worth fighting on this particular day, and he's realized not only his own limitations but also the limitations inherent in the human condition. He is not God. He is only Phil.

"Bite off more than you can chew, then chew it. Plan more than you can do, then do it." - Anonymous

Sounds like my life. And, it sounds like Phil Connor's last day in the time loop. I think the obvious way an impromptu competitor might use this would be to say that only by planning things out, even beyond the obvious, do we achieve success--hell, I think that's what a speaker said in the round I judged yesterday--but I think this is actually something a little bigger than that. Like the Joel Hawes line--"Aim at the sun, and you may not reach it; but your arrow will fly far higher than if aimed at an object on a level with yourself"--(though you really shouldn't use one quotation to explain another in an impromptu round), I think I'd interpret this to be more about dreams than plans. Only by dreaming of something big can we accomplish anything close to it. But, then again, maybe that interpretation would take beyond the scope of Phil Connors, which is fine if I've got other examples all lined up and ready to go. But, for this blog, the goal is to tie it to Groundhog Day.

So, I'll take the simpler version and say that Rita is actually the thing that is more than Phil can chew. And, on date night, as much as he tries to chew it, he just can't, because she is more than he can possibly deserve. He earns the chewing--and the metaphor is starting to seem a little weird to me--by doing more than he perhaps planned, certainly more than pre-loop Phil ever planned. So, maybe the quotation is not quite right; maybe I'd have to argue against it. The point is not in how much we plan but in how much effort we put into getting to the end of whatever that plan might be. A plan has no value without execution, after all. And, in Phil's case, his "plan" is a failure, but only because he made the wrong plan and took the wrong approach.

"Language is a living, kicking, growing, flitting, evolving reality, and the teacher should spontaneously reflect is vibrant and protean qualities." - John A. Rassias

The great timing here is that I typed this quotation just as Phil was reciting lines in French to impress Rita. His recitation is dishonest, of course--I argued a while back that Phil doesn't speak French--but I think it exemplifies something in this quotation, which I'd expand beyond teachers and maybe even beyond just language. I'd say this quotation is about how we must be able to express ourselves in any way we can, at any time. We must be open to change. Pre-loop Phil doesn't like change. Faced with being stuck for a single extra night in Punxsutawney, he desperately tries to find a way to call out of town, which makes me wonder who he was even calling. Was he so desperate to not be in Punxsutawney that he would call anyone at all back in Pittsburgh just to not feel trapped? That is the act of a man who fears change, a man who fears a situation not under his control. That is the kind of guy who maybe became a weatherman because telling people the weather, even when he's wrong, gives him power over the behavior of other people. He's got plenty of ability to express himself in terms of language, but every joke and every insult just seems like some proverbial armor he's using to hide away his true self. Post-loop Phil, on the other hand, is more open. Hell, even in-the-loop Phil finds his open, genuine moments; case in point, his speech to Rita as god day comes to a close.

"Originality is the art of concealing your source." - Franklin P. Jones

If I wanted to boil this down to a particular detail in Groundhog Day, I think maybe I'd link it to Phil's performance of Rachmaninoff. He starts it slow, makes it romantic even, then twists it into something jazzy. But, this is act could also be taken as a metaphor for what he's done to himself. He has taken his old self and twisted it into something new. In the terminology of this quotation, he has reinvented Phil Connors as a new original, concealing the pre-loop Phil, i.e. his source.

In broader terms, I take this quotation to imply the old adage from Ecclesiastes 1:9: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." Phil has no new ideas. Neither do I and neither do you. We find new applications, sure, but we're all just doing the same old stuff over and over and over again. And, some of what we do is not as satisfying in the long run as some of the alternatives, which is what Phil learns in the time loop. His "new" is in learning to appreciate what he hasn't appreciated before. His circumstance literally has not changed, but he finds new ways to look at it.

"I call a fig a fig, a spade a spade." - Menander

I saw this quotation and immediately thought of keeping it simple, making it about labels. In particular, in terms of Groundhog Day, I thought of Ned Ryerson. Not Ned's tendency to label himself--though I will get to that at some future point, I'm sure--but how Phil labels Ned. Day 1, Ned is "a giant leach." He is an inconvenience, a reminder of the past, growing up in Cleveland, a connection to the "hicks" of Punxsutawney, and just someone Phil cannot control or manipulate. Ned is Ned, and Phil can't do anything to change that. But, by the last day of the time loop, Phil has changed enough that he can appreciate Ned at least as someone he can put up with; Ned is still Ned. Phil introduces Ned to Rita as "my new insurance agent" not as "my old high school buddy" or anything like that. But, as I said, Ned is still Ned, so the idea of Phil being particularly friendly to him would play strangely, even as much as Phil has changed. We in the audience probably wouldn't find it believable if Phil and Ned were friends in the end. Phil distances himself from Ned by labeling him as his insurance agent, but he does introduce him, so that's something.

"I'm not addicted to nicotine, so why do I have to participate in your drug addiction." - Ken Faver

I don't know what this quotation is really about. I mean, originally. But, I think there's a comparison here between, say, pre-loop Phil and the people of Punxsutawney. They all take time from their daily lives to celebrate Groundhog Day--in terms of the quotation, this is their drug addiction--but Phil balks at the idea of even going to Punxsutawney for the morning news report. He doesn't feel the connection they do. To him, their customs are trite and meaningless, silly even. But, per his last Groundhog Day report, he has come to appreciate being there, being stuck in winter with these people. And, he even wants to live there when the time loop has ended. He has bought into not only the drug addiction of Groundhog Day but the drug addiction of small-town life.

"Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future." - Niels Bohr

Remarkably, Phil gets better at predicting the future when there is none. His job as weatherman was to predict the future, but it is only when the weather is definite and every day is the same that Phil really begins to care what the future might be. When he tries to save O'Reilly, when he does save Buster or Zacchaeus, Phil doesn't know that the time loop is coming to an end. He saves lives and does good deeds not because he expects a future but because it is the right thing to do, because in the present the universe is made better by good being done. And, the final lines of the film fit quite perfectly with this quotation. "Let's live here," Phil says. Then, he adds, "We'll rent to start." Even after everything he's been through, he still hedges his bets because he knows, maybe better than any of us, that you cannot predict the future.

"It's never too late to be who you might have been." - George Eliot

There's a good man in Phil Connors even pre-loop, I think. But, he's distracted by modern life, led to believe he can have what he wants when he wants it, consequences be damned. Ironically, when there are truly no consequences to his actions (except for the mark they leave in his head, of course), that is when he learns to move beyond his impulses and his baser urges.

In impromptu, you don't just run with one example to prove your point or demonstrate meaning. And, I'm working on a paper about the charioteer metaphor from Plato's Phaedrus, so this mention of baser urges makes me think of that dark horse... A quick explanation: the soul is the chariot, your rational mind the charioteer, your noble urges a light horse pulling the chariot, your baser urges a dark horse also pulling it. The light horse pulls your chariot toward Olympus (or heaven, or maybe just toward being a good person) and the dark horse pulls your chariot toward Hades (or hell, or maybe just toward being a bad person). The key, I argued in more than one of my actual impromptu rounds when I was competing is not that we give in to just one or the other but that we find a balance. Our baser urges don't have to drive us simply to bad acts. Our sexual desire is arguably a base urge, but then you have love which we at least pretend is noble, but these two things are so often twisted together and inseparable.

In Groundhog Day Phil learns to move beyond his base urges, but only after giving in to them. Sometimes that's the only way to figure out that we can move past them. And, the result is a much fuller experience of life. Plato might want us to follow only the light horse, to do only good and become gods, but, well, honestly, that seems like it would be a very boring life.

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." - Mark Twain

I've always like this quotation and it's almost a little too on-the-nose applying it to Groundhog Day. I mean, Phil literally travels to a new place and there learns to move beyond his prejudices regarding small-town people. But first, there's interpreting the quotation. But, Twain has a way of saying something well without really hiding what he's saying. He doesn't make you work for it. Traveling puts us in the vicinity of people who are different than we are. When we get to experience different cultures and different societies, we learn two things: 1) our differences make us interesting, make us worth getting to know 2) despite our differences, we are all human beings with the same foibles, the same hopes and dreams. The people of Punxsutawney are just "hicks" to Phil pre-loop. In the loop, on date night, he calls small-town people "more real, more down-to-earth." At the point he says it, it's debatable how much he believes what he's saying, but by the end of the loop, it's fairly clear that he does like these people. I wouldn't wager that he'd call them "more" real, or "more" down-to-earth though; he's probably realize that the big-city people are also real and capable of being down-to-earth, and I'm sure he knows small-town people who aren't.

"I have discovered that all human evil comes from this: man's being unable to sit still in a room." - Blaise Pascal

Contrary to what I said above about maybe needing some of the good and some of the bad in our lives, Pascal's got a point here; the stuff we call "evil" comes from our need to test all of our options because we cannot just sit around and do nothing. It's not in our nature to do nothing. Unfortunately, that means it is in our nature to do evil as well as good. As cynical as I am sometimes, I like to believe that we are more inclined to the latter.

As far as Phil Connors goes, he's definitely not too capable of sitting around and doing nothing. The only time we see him doing nothing is when he's depressed. But, his presence in the end, when people are thanking him for his good deeds, is something more like a guy who could sit around and do nothing. He's more contemplative. Before, Phil was like a child, needing to be entertained constantly. And, when he learns there are no consequences to his actions, he takes advantage, gives in to his baser urges. And, in my more cynical moments, I might suggest that he only got to the nobler urges because he'd used up the all the baser ones. Still, he did move toward the nobler urges, regardless of the reason. It makes for a good ending, either way.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to move on to nobler urges even though I have never exhausted my baser ones.

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