Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ category

The Matrix, Real Life, and Bending the Spoon

June 20, 2010

“Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there. Like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?”  – Morpheus

In the beginning of the Matrix, we are introduced to Thomas Anderson as your everyman – living a normal, albeit slightly troubled life. He works in a cubicle by day and is a hacker on the computer by night. Mr. Anderson doesn’t sleep enough and feels something missing in his life but can’t quite put his finger on it until he meets a woman named Trinity.

“It’s the question that drives us,” Trinity says.”What is the Matrix?” By answering that query, Thomas Anderson begins his journey down the rabbit hole towards ciphering the Matrix and becoming The One.

Much like Thomas Anderson, we adults in our real world also struggle to find meaning in our lives occasionally.

What are we here for? What is the meaning of all this (life)? Am I doing what I want or should I be doing something else? Am I happy? What do I need to change? How do I change?

Questions such as these become ubiquitous at various points in all our lives. We’ve even given the really defining moments names like Teenage angst; Quarter-life crisis; Mid-life crisis; College; Parenthood; etc. etc. etc.

The commonality in all these situations for us all, no matter when we experience them, is this – each of these moments point to a struggle for identity. These identity crises are periods laden with dramatic self doubt – wherein we glimpse the passing of our lives through the rearview mirror and yet don’t know the road ahead.

You question who you are. You fear facing an uncertain future. You yearn to find yourself. You feel like something is missing in your life yet you can’t quite put your finger on it….

Back to the Matrix.

In watching Thomas Anderson awaken and grow into the character known as Neo, we see that he is gradually awakened to the world of possibilities. At first, he can’t even learn kung-fu, much less fly, stop a speeding bullet, or leap a mountain in a single bound. His was a transformation that did not happen until he decided to see things from a different point of view. He had to let go of Thomas Anderson and be Neo.

“We never free a mind once it’s reached a certain age. It’s dangerous, the mind has trouble letting go.” – Morpheus

For most adults in the real world, we struggle to change because of the same reason Morpheus quotes above. We like to say we are set in our ways but what we really mean is that we are discomforted by what is unfamiliar. We fear the unknown and cling to the perceived safety of sticking to what we know. Even if this sometimes means staying at a job we hate for bosses we despise or staying in unhappy, destructive relationships, we humans would typically rather stay rooted than make a decision that would have us lose sight of shore and sail us toward the great unknown.

How did Thomas Anderson make the transformation to becoming a fully-badass Neo?

For starters, he went to the Oracle – the one who knew past, present and future. Yet once he was there, she did not tell him what he needed to do, where he needed to be, or what was ultimately going to happen. She did not shape the future for him, she merely opened the way. She simply told him what he needed to hear so he could chart his own course.

The Oracle: I’d ask you to sit down, but you’re not going to anyway. And don’t worry about the vase.
Neo: What vase?
[Neo knocks a vase to the floor]
The Oracle: That vase.
Neo: I’m sorry.
The Oracle: I said don’t worry about it. I’ll get one of my kids to fix it.
Neo: How did you know?
The Oracle: What’s really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn’t said anything.

Back to the real world.

Much like Thomas Anderson, we in the real world look for our own oracles to help give meaning to our lives in so many different ways. For some, this can be as simple as reading books on self-help and philosophy for guidance. Others go a little further and incorporate a mentor / role model into their daily lives. Many go the route of listening to gurus like Zig Ziglar or Tony Robbins for regular motivation. More utilize organized religion or the Joel Osteen’s of the world as their guiding light. Heck I’ve even had friends go to for-profit seminars that incorporate different aspects of all these aforementioned methods as a crash course on unraveling life’s purpose.

Now keep in mind I’m not knocking any of these. Sincerely, to each their own in terms of what gets them through the days. Just like Neo benefited from visiting the Oracle, everyone can derive benefit from their own personal muse as long as their guiding light isn’t to the detriment of others and doesn’t run out when the bottle is empty or when the money runs dry.

But what’s even more important than the inspiration of a muse is reaching the stage of self-awareness. This is the point where you can separate your thoughts of the moment, positive or negative, from who you actually are as a person. Without self awareness, you are a slave to these thoughts. Worse yet you are a likely candidate to be a slave to the thoughts of others – a talking head, serving no purpose of your own other than being a very good parrot repeating what you hear. Critical thinking need not apply.

Point being, Neo would never have become Neo unless he let go of Thomas Anderson. He would have never grown into the person he needed to be unless he became self aware despite the best efforts of his captors. Without freeing his mind and realizing the power of his own volition, Neo would have remained a tool, his energy used to feed the imaginary world around him.

Let me point you to the pivotal moment where Neo begins to wake up for real and see infinite possibilities for himself and what he could do.

Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

“There is no spoon.”

This was the most important lesson for Neo. It helped him realize that manipulating the Matrix wasn’t about focusing on objects or trying to force them to chance. His epiphany was seeing that the constraints on what he could accomplish (and the spoon itself) existed nowhere but his own mind. In order for him to have any measure of control on the world around him, he had to look inward. It was all in his head after all.

Eureka! That’s the solution to life’s moments of crisis and self-doubt, anxiety, and uncertainty. It’s in realizing that we must look inward to accomplish our goals. We can’t change the obstacles, people, or world around us. We shouldn’t even blame others or the world itself, for that bears no factor in moving forward. We can only exact control over that which is in our own dominion. The key to the future is all in our heads.

So the next time you find yourself in a rough situation, just remember that there is no magic red pill solution. Sometimes you have to let go of your own personal dogma, stop clinging to what is familiar in order to move forward. Also, heed that you can use the guide of oracles but they can’t ever do the life-changing for you. And most importantly, realize that there is no spoon.

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Reality Bites

September 4, 2009

Yes, reality bites. And you know what? As each day passes and I see more and more people of my and the upcoming generation taking all the riches that our American world has to offer for granted, I start to seethe.

After watching the movie, Reality Bites, I was compelled to write the below. If you haven’t seen this movie, it is basically a monument to the drowning cynicism and complete arrogance of the early nineties.

It is slacker personified.

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The last time I saw this movie I was 18 and I thought it was profound and edgy. Now, 8 years or so later, I am just watching this train wreck of my generation’s pop culture with my mouth hanging open. It is not cool to abstain from being a productive and hopeful member of society! Why did we ever subscribe to this ridiculous way of thinking?

To be fair, the movie is a parody of sorts on just this kind of thinking. It is pointing the finger at itself as much as anything else. However, in the midst of the sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek fun, a real message starts to come through. Try as they might, they weren’t able to escape the sense of entitlement and the too-cool-for-school cynicism that marked the early nineties…and only gathered strength as the years rolled on.

The characters in this film are an inherent contradiction. Through all their artistic pessimism, sharp wit and clever lines, they are still filled with hope. Hope for the future and full of ideals they try to pretend don’t exist for fear of losing their put-upon edge. Hope born from irrepressible youth and  dreams, near tangible in their clarity. To quote a different movie, they are,  “Hope dancing in stiletto heels…

The invincibility of youth is a powerful drug that rockets you to the highest highs and keeps you company through the lowest of lows. It is a beautiful ride, filled with dizzying drops and heart-stopping inclines. The comedown, however, can be a terrible thing. If you haven’t been paying attention, if you haven’t learned to look outside your self-centered bubble; it will give you a nasty, but nelife isn't fair mugeded wake-up call. It sneaks up on you around 24 or 25, give or take a few years contingent upon your personal level of maturity, and where you are in your life. The comedown is being forced to look at your future as it relates to reality. Remember when your parents repeated ad nauseam that, “Life isn’t fair.”? They were right. Again. Get used to the idea now, because it becomes a louder litany for every year you gain. Nothing is what you thought it would be and life is even harder than you knew it would be.

Let us review…

Love.

Love is not patient, easy or kind. It is usually fleeting, risky and painful. You can invest your heart over and over again, and more often than not, it is returned with a negative balance. The true love story ends with Romeo and Juliet. They were two ignorant star-crossed lovers that weren’t old enough to know anything about life. If they had actually been able to realize their dream of being together, they would’ve most likely ended up poor, ostracized, arguing about money and loathing the sound of each others chewing. Don’t get me wrong, kids, I’m not saying love it is an impossibility; I’m saying that love isn’t a certainty. It’s not a given. It can be work, like anything else. The only people that have to love you, are your parents – and even then…

Life.

Life (adulthood) isn’t just difficult because you have to work hard, pay constant bills, care about people who hurt you, let tightly clutched dreams go, or take responsibility for hurting people that you care about. Those things are just bit players on the stage of life.

It is the moments in between that shoot your hair with gray and line your face with wrinkles.

Looking in the MirrorIt is looking at yourself in the mirror every single morning and reconciling what is inside you, with what you see. It is in the fading but still visible scars that tell a story about a mistaken, drunken night. It is the very first time you fall in love with a child, protect them with all you have, then one day realize you may never see them again. It is facing your mistakes naked, with a cold and unforgiving eye. It is real cynicism, borne from life experience, that you fight with every bit of the child left inside you, because somehow you know that letting it take over would be like daily taking a little arsenic with your morning coffee. In the beginning, there are barely noticeable symptoms akin to a general unwell feeling and then, one day, you die a terribly painful death.

It is the final, full acceptance that you absolutely will die, anytime and anywhere, for no reason at all. It is the death of one or both of your parents. Learning to live in a world where the people who made you no longer exist. It is caring for your elderly at a nursing home and knowing that it could very well be you, sitting alone in a darkened room refusing to shower one day… if you’re lucky that is. That is when life is truly hard.

The heroes in this life are not the cynics, the artists and the empty, all-too-human, glittering celebrities we worship. The heroes are the people who take these harsh realities of life and turn them into a positive, even when it seems impossible. The people who find a reason to smile through adversity. The Gandhis, the Nelson Mandelas, the Martin Luther Kings of this world are the people to exemplify.

Or the everyday hero. My personal favorite.  The woman who still finds steel in her soul that allows her to smile and be gracious through the funeral of the only man she ever loved. The mom who loses her child but stays strong for the remaining ones. The fathfunny-pictures-cat-says-thank-you-to-his-fireman-rescuerer who goes to work every single day at a job he despises just to feel fulfilled when watching his children reap the rewards of all that hard work. There is such nobility in willing self-sacrifice.  The bottom line these days is so much more centered around instant gratification or the pursuit of happiness. The simple but moving stories above are becoming less and less, fewer and far in between. The people who turn their constant worries into valid causes, that look at obstacles as an exciting challenge. . . these are the people who inspire and shame us all. The heroes rise above the pain of reality and do something about it.

Not so are the people who embrace the cynicism, wearing it like a security blanket for all the world to see. Making jokes about hard working men and women struggling to feed their families, as if what they do is somehow less because they accepted the daily rat race or because they weren’t “cool” enough to get some job painting pictures for a living. You know, we can’t all be artists. Who would be there to appreciate that piece of work then? I think every self-labeled artist should profusely thank the average man and woman every day, because without them, all they’ve accomplished is putting some color on canvas or words to music that no one looks at and no one listens to. If we didn’t go to the movies, read books, drink wine, or attend museums… well, then where would the artists of this world be?

So, to abstain from the rat race, to pursue culture, to be an artist is all well and good – great even! – but don’t for a second believe that it makes you better in some way or that you are nobler somehow. We all come from the same Earth, we all will return to it and we all make a difference in some small way. And I tend to believe that the humble, rough farmer does a great deal more than the Picasso’s of the world.

I am not one of these heroes I mentioned. I am somewhere in between. I would like to say though, I do hope to be one someday…

Deeply Virtuous People Scare Me

August 17, 2009

While on my lunch break at work the other day, an article in one of our many magazines caught my eye. I had just finished a fascinating piece on Stonehenge in the National Geographic and was looking for something a little lighter to chew on. So I picked up one of the more woman geared ‘zines and began to flip idly through it, while absently sucking down mass amounts of water and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The article that snared my attention was one of a series on love. Love always catches my eye because, well for one, I am a GIRL and two, because I think the topic is such a timeless one; still surprising, full of pitfalls and naked with emotion. In this particular article, the woman writing was discussing her honest and tumultuous journey to “true love”.lolcats love ahhhh

The reason this woman stood out to me was not only the similarity of thought processes I seemed to share with her, but the unabashedly forthright tone she used to tell her story. In a way, the article was not just about her personal love story; it was advice to those of us making our own way through the humbling, sometimes heartbreaking and often terrifying journey of love. She’d found her perfect man on the third marriage (third times a charm, no?) and had learned enough along the way to know this was the one. In her own words,

“…Deeply, Determined Virtuous people scare me. As it turns out, I prefer the full boil to the long simmer and I wish I’d known it sooner.”


I couldn’t agree more.

One particular paragraph was so quotable to me, I immediately rushed to copy it down.

She said,

“Know Yourselves.

Be real and unashamed, even of your faults. I do truly know what he’s made of and vice versa. We are both people who want cutmen and foxhole buddies; we see life as wonderful and difficult and requiring energy and stamina and, occasionally, guile. We don’t mind any of that. We are both bossy and demanding and largely unrepentant. We don’t mind any of that. We yell. We apologize profusely. We are idiosyncratic in our tastes, and we are both quite confident that our taste is better than most people’s (including each other’s). We take sex and family and food seriously and organized religion not at all. We are hard to embarrass and we cry like babies. We are each what the other hoped for.”

Couldn’t possibly have said it better myself. My heart thrilled to this. Every single word rings true for me. This is what I, and perhaps many people, truly want out of a relationship. A place where your faults and your triumphs are met intensely by your lover, where the battleground is Life and your Love is there, staunchly by your side to fight the battle with you, not against you.

If you’d asked me a little over a year ago, “Could you ever love again?”- I would’ve said no. And it would’ve been an emphatic no, knowing full well every single cliché out there about broken hearts and the dramatics thereof. But this time it was my heart that was broken, my unending pain and I couldn’t see even a glimmer of light at the end of the long, lonely tunnel.

I had something tmanwomanboxinghat, on the surface, seemed very much like the above quoted paragraph. Underneath the moments of bliss, it was a horrid situation where two people were trying desperately to force a square peg into a round hole. We both wanted a foxhole buddy but I think it ended up being like two professional boxers wound up and stuck in the same ring. Although I would have to say I was boxing far outside of my weight class, in this particular case.

Finally making the decision to leave rocked my entire world. I’d been in my fair share of relationships and learned many things about myself along the way. Nothing quite like this, though. I was in unfamiliar territory. Maybe, as a friend said to me once, that had more to do with me than the actual relationship. For the first time, I’d let down my walls. I consciously did this, at his request, and opened up completely and warmly to Trust – a foreign concept for me. Although this went largely unrewarded in the end, it was an amazing feeling to invest so willingly and unreservedly into someone without a single thought of the return. I was without guile, without selfishness. Not necessarily my M.O.

So, what did I learn from all this? I have a giant capacity for love. I have a warm, generous heart and the ability for great sacrifice. I do love children (it was questionable for awhile with me) and I am never going to hide who I am again. I learned that being feisty is more than okay, to look out for “numero uno” and to never, ever let myself become completely dependent on another human being.

I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and just knowing it is there lifts my heart and mind to higher hills. So, if you ask me now, “Could you ever love again?”, I would have to say, I certainly hope so. I just know what I’m looking for now. I’m looking for my foxhole buddy, my cutman, who believes that sex, family and food should be taken seriously, and the rest of Life should be taken with a grain of salt.

A Short Instruction Manual for Living your Life

April 21, 2009

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Do you ever wish life came with an instruction manual? After all, our existence does offer up challenges regularly and oftentimes we have no clue. As an avid proponent of continuous self improvement, I’ve read a lot of “self help” type books over the years. Oh yes, everything from “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” to “Who Moved My Cheese?”  to every Guide to Life in between. What I’ve found is that there are about a million things we could do to live a little better. And it’s true. We should always be looking to do so.

Our dear friend Alaina Rivas recently posted this note on Facebook entitled: Life’s Handbook, offering up some tips in the areas of health, personality, society, and life in general. Never hurts to focus on the right things. See below.

Life’s Handbook

Health:
1. Drink plenty of water.
2. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar.
3. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants.
4. Live with the 3 E’s — Energy, Enthusiasm and Empathy.
5. Make time to reflect.
6. Play more games.
7. Read more books than you did in 2008.
8. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.
9. Sleep for 7 hours.
10. Take a 10-30 minutes’ walk daily. And while you walk, smile.

Personality:
11. Don’t compare your life to others’. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
12. Don’t have negative thoughts or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.
13. Don’t overdo. Keep your limits.
14. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does..
15. Don’t waste your precious energy on gossip.
16. Dream more while you are awake.
17. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
18. Forget issues of the past. Don’t remind your partner with his/her mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness.
19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Don’t hate others.
20. Make peace with your past so it won’t spoil the present.
21. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
22. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like
algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.
23. Smile and laugh more.
24. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

Society:
25. Call your family often.
26. Each day give something good to others.
27. Forgive everyone for everything.
28. Spend time w/ people over the age of 70 & under the age of 6
29. Try to make at least three people smile each day.
30. What other people think of you is none of your business.
31. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.

Life:
32. Do the right thing!
33. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful orjoyful.
34. FOOD heals everything.
35. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
36. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
37. The best is yet to come.
38. Resolve to start every day in a GOOD mood.
39. Your Inner most is always happy. So, be happy.

Last but not the least:
40. Tell this to everyone you care about.

ninja_avatar 
“I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from center. – Kurt Vonnegut”

Reacting to the World and Keeping the Toilet Seat Down

April 10, 2009

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people react to the world around them. Specifically, a few novels by philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand got me going on the subject. Rand’s philosophy of objectivism dictates that the best way to respond to the world is by being rational based on your own objective reality, leaving emotions out of the mix. I generally agreed with this while I read Atlas Shrugged, Fountainhead, and Anthem. And for a short period of time, I thought that I could live life by being “rational” and not having to feel too much when it came time to make decisions.

What I’ve come to realize – and life as of late more than proves my epiphany – is that the act of being rational is doesn’t mean we have to disregard emotion. Human beings are unique creatures because of our capacity to have feelings. For better or worse, these emotions play a huge role in our making decisions and reactions to the world around us. My conclusion – the path to enlightenment, rationality, and a healthy emotional well-being starts by understanding the root of our emotions.

Picture this scenarioa woman gets irritated at her spouse for not putting the toilet seat down. What is the root cause of her anger – Was it the husband’s lack of judgement or was it her past experience of falling into a toilet and having yucky, nasty butt because of it? 

The explanation is simple. The woman doesn’t like the toilet seat being up because she fell in once and her butt got all wet and nasty. Obviously she doesn’t want to be burned again. And along the same lines, she’s become guarded, even angry when subliminally reminded of the experience of having fell in the toilet in the first place. Thus, anger becomes the conditional response whenever she sees the seat up. Personally, I could care less about the toilet seat. But I know I’m the same way with different things.

By moving forward with this understanding, I’ve given myself a new mission to uncondition myself and improve my mental quality of life. Without having to touch toilet seats of course.

A Guide to Becoming a Good Judge of Character

April 2, 2009

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In all walks of life, there are certain universal “tells” that will depict the magnitude of one’s character. Usually, the positive signs are not as overt as the negative ones. Below are a few red flags that should cause you to be wary when judging others.

1. Filthy Living Space – Our homes are where we spend most of our time. If it is filthy, chances are that the person using it is too. The most telling signs are the kitchen and the bathroom. These places should be a haven for hygiene and cleanliness. It says a lot about a person when they don’t have enough consideration to themselves to maintain these places. And if they don’t have enough consideration for themselves, imagine how they are with other people.

2. Lacking Common Courtesy and Etiquette – Some people never take heed to mind their manners. Or perhaps their parents/mentors did not teach them any at a young age and they are continuing the cycle. A few examples include the person on a loud personal phone call on the bus or elevator at 7am, the guy who takes the liberty to put his feet up on your couch even if you don’t, and the person that consistently wears out their welcome everywhere they go. These are habits they carry with them wherever they go.

3. Always Flaunting Name Brands –  A person who sees the need to flaunt their material belongings is probably putting all their eggs in that basket. In my experience, truly respectable people don’t flaunt all that much, or least not so obviously.  Class is more about subtance than style. You shouldn’t buy a 85k luxury car and drive it home to your $300mo. apartment unless you are hiding from the IRS or selling drugs. And you shouldn’t flaunt your $30 Louis Vuitton bag that you bought off the back of a truck in Chinatown if you’re not 100% that it is real. A Patek Phillipe doesn’t stand out any more than a Rolex or a Tagheur. You wouldn’t recognize it unless you could afford it. In all things… “Act like you’ve been there before.”

4. Always Bragging about Every Little Thing – those who constantly seek validation from others are really seeking to validate their own lies or overcompensate for percieved inadequacies of self. Unless they are THAT passionate (you can tell the difference), be wary of those constantly shoving their selfish agendas down your throat. These types are usually full of sh•t.

5. Constantly Borrowing and Never Returning – They say you should always bring more to the table than you take away. This is true in all things and relationships, not just material goods. Most classy people hate being indebted. Those who seek to take away from you but do not give anything in return (even sincere appreciation, which is oftentimes enough) not only do not have your best interests in mind but probably not their own either.

Influencing Reality – Lessons from Pygmalion

October 13, 2008

“How we believe the world is and what we honestly think it can become have powerful effects on how things turn out.”
– James Rhem, editor of national teaching and learning forum

The Pygmalion Effect: A Brief Overview

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The Pygmalion Effect is a theory on self-fulfilling prophecies based on a George Bernard Shaw play, Pygmalion, in which a professor makes a bet that he can teach a poor flower girl to speak and act like an upper-class lady and succeeds.

Essentially, the Pygmalion Effect proposes that enhanced expectations from others can cause enhanced performance from self. Likewise, negative expectations will also produce negative outcomes.

Can Reality really be influenced by expectations of others?

On a sub-conscious level, I say absolutely.

Look at social status, for example. Some people, whether it be due to race, financial status, et cetera, never succeed simply because they are not expected to. And others do well despite having the same variables, simply because others have maintained high expections.

Just think of all the goof-offs you knew in high school. Some who did poorly in school but are now serious money-making professionals. Now compare them to those that got good grades and are now going nowhere. Accident?

On the other end of the spectrum from academia, dating also show some serious hints of pygmalion. Notice the effect of benchmarks in time within relationships. If a couple makes it to a month, they’ll likely make it to six. And most of the couples I’ve known that make it 6 months will make it to two years. Anything past that and they’re usually in it for the long haul, barring a major life change.

Now as far as Pygmalion effects in the workplace, don’t even get me started on that. Let’s just say that I’ve seen both the positive and negative consequences, as I’m sure most of you have.

Lessons from Pygmalion

  • Associate yourself with positive people that believe in you. Those that don’t will inevidably bring you down.
  • Expect a lot of others. By doing so, you are helping them grow in life. No matter how much they bitch at you for your outlandish expectations.
  • Be wary of your effect on others. Give up on someone that looks to you for guidance and they will be likely to fail. Believe in the right person and you could help them make their dreams a reality.

That’s all I have for you ninjas. Now go out into the world and make it someone’s day. 🙂