19 December 2008

New Thoughts and Thoughts on Newness

I feel like this Christmas break deserves some exposition, as it's the most unusual/different Christmas I've had so far (the prize for most depressing goes to Xmas '06, most magical goes to whatever year it was mom and dad put coconut and flour "snow" boot-and-butt-prints on the hearth and it didn't occur to me that snow would melt).

First, let's get a little context. Three-room, twelfth floor apartment. Starbucks on the ground floor. Four-foot fake tree on the mantle of the holographic fireplace. There's no chimney, so I think Santa might have a little trouble. At the very least, he doesn't have to worry about getting his rear burnt.

This is my first city-living experience. I have to use a white noise machine at night to drown out the trains and cars, but I can walk to Starbucks, Pier 1, Target, Hollywood Video, a Greek restaurant (and innumerable other eateries), BARNES AND NOBLE, and the Metro station which will take you to the most fabulous museums in the world. In fact, I can walk UNDERGROUND to the Metro station if I want, and window-shop along the way. There are two massive office buildings that hinder our view of the river. I realized yesterday that they're the EPA. There's a faint taste of irony lingering in my mouth.

This is also the closest I've come to base living. When you live on base, or very near one, things are different from normal life. For example, if you need food, you go to the commissary. If you need socks, you go to the PX (short for post-exchange). And if you're in need of a special pick-me-up, you won't find it at the commissary or the PX; for that, you'll need to go the Class-Six.

So far I've seen one-millionth of the Museum of Natural History, the national Christmas tree, Richard Avendon's Portraits of Power, and the official stables of the official horses of the official caisson for official military funerals, and stuff. The latter was a happy accident. We'd just been to the commissary, and for lunch in the basement of the officer's club (if you want to eat upstairs, you have to dress nice), and we decided to wander over to the caisson stables to see if we could see the horses.

The caisson and the honor guard pull the coffins in funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as other official funerals and memorial services. They do 8 funerals a day. The horses are the most beautiful, majestic, lovely, velvety-nosed creatures I've ever seen. Some were even a massive 2,000 lbs. Their necks and heads were bigger than all of me! We fed carrots to Sgt York, the tiny (in comparison) horse that was saddled with Ronald Reagan's cowboy boots backward in the stirrups for Reagan's funeral.

We were shown around by Private S, who I took to be no older than me, judging by the fact that he was trying unsuccessfully to grow a mustache (I've never tried, but I imagine if I did I'd fail too). Pvt. S told us this was his first assignment after enlistment and basic training. He's been there 6 months. This means Pvt. S is most likely younger than me. This struck me, and I've been thinking about it for a while. All my life, the men and women on the bases where my dad's been have been older than me. They were adults, and I was a child. I don't feel much like an adult now - I subsist mostly on daddy and mommy's money, with the few exceptions of my spending money, grocery money, and a small amount of student loans. But - I'm the same age as (or even older than!) some of the soldiers now.

I dunno. It's hard for me to wrap my head around the juxtaposition of the parent-supported college life and the self-supported life of a soldier the same age. What makes us so different? And why do I still feel like a child?

14 December 2008

The Insanely Long Christmas Break, Part I

I have 6 weeks off for Christmas.

There is a yellow jacket in the lamp next to me. Maybe if I ignore him he will ignore me and burn up on the bulb and die.

Part I is Georgia. I spent all of 30 minutes at my house today. It was cold and all the furniture was covered in sheets. Not exactly what people mean when they sing idealistically about coming home for Christmas. I promised my books and my piano I'd be back in a couple of weeks.

Grandparents are nicer about naps than parents. They just say, "Aw, poor baby needs her sleep" when I conk out on guest bed for an hour (or two). The first few days of a school break will ALWAYS be primarily sleep-oriented. The moon is full, so at night it looks like it's snowed. The wind chimes on the porch haven't been quiet since yesterday morning. Most of the time they sound like fairy music, but sometimes (mainly when I'm falling asleep) they sound eerie - maybe more like aliens-coming-to-abduct-you music?

Yellow jacket has ventured out of lamp and is now crawling on lampshade. Wait, no, he's back inside. There's a smart one.

Tomorrow Part II, DC, will begin. Perhaps I will have more things to write about than naps and bugs.

08 December 2008

Green eggs and ham

Forgive me for not freaking out about exams. I finished my papers for the semester, and exams seem like a molehill. I finished a paper on Friday that was 15 pages. At least it made the 5 page paper I turned in today look like a drop in the bucket. I think the thing most sorely lacking during exam time is (drumroll) perspective. So here's a small dose:

What's one test? In light of your entire life, pretty small. In light of eternity, pretty much nothing.
God loves you, whether or not you make an A (and guess what, whether or not you pass, too!)
Failing or doing poorly on one test is not going to divert the plans of the almighty God.
You probably know most of it anyway. Stop fretting, study what you can, do your best, and have a little perspective.

I would also like to take this moment to thank the chain smokers outside my window for the cancer and the asthma.

I can't believe the semester really is over. It feels odd to be here and not have class. Furthermore (there's the paper talk), I've been so stressed for the past month that I am practically buoyant with this freedom and burdenlessness! Strap me to the chair, I'm going to fly away!

Speaking of flying away...

I can't help but wonder if God is preparing me to never be "home," to never be comfortable. It's understandable in a couple different ways. This isn't home, this broken earth isn't our eternal resting place. That I can accept. The worse part, though, is the fear that I'm never (or hardly ever) going to get to rightly call a place on this earth "home." I am such a homebody! I love to be around the familiar, the traditional, the well-worn and memory-filled. I am going to be with my family this Christmas, but I can't call their apartment home. Home seems like a thing of the past, something of childhood. You may say, oh but Corinne! You'll grow older and settle down and have a new home! Maybe I will (but I sincerely hope settling down is quite a ways off). I've always been petrified of living and dying in the same place - funny for a homebody, right? The things I want to do with my life involve not staying in one place for very long. And furthermore, doesn't God call us out of our comfort zones? And doesn't he use us through our weaknesses?

Just some thoughts I've been mulling over. I think I found my dream job, getting paid to live overseas and write about it. Now I just have to get my dream job. Ha. We'll see.

Eternity!

28 November 2008

Annual Disillusionment

The day after Thanksgiving dawns. Actually, it dawned 3 hours ago when I was trying to sleep. Just know that the suns rises in the floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room where I was unsuccessfully trying to sleep on couch cushions. It should be known that I haven't had any turkey yet. Hopefully that will happen tonight, now that at least part of the family has been gathered from all corners of the globe (Georgia, Alabama, DC, Denmark).

Guess what?! I have no holiday spirit. For this I partially blame the annoyingly repetitive secular Christmas music that was playing on the radio all day yesterday. God help me if I ever hear "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" or "Santa Claus is coming to town" again. Give me Josh Groban's rendition of "O Holy Night" and I might be able to salvage a little Christmas spirit. Yes, it's my yearly disillusionment. While everyone else is decking the halls, buying the goods, and singing along to the cheesy songs, I am folding my arms across my chest and saying "Bah-humbug."

It's not that I don't want to have the Christmas spirit. Of course I want to get caught up in the magic of the season. Why can't I? Honestly, it beats me. Maybe when things get warm and glowy the cynical part of my personality shoots out like a gag reflex. And obviously I hate the commercialization and secularization of Christmas; if you know me at all you probably knew that already.

I'm going to make bread and maybe pumpkin pie today. I suppose we might decorate our dorm room, and in a couple weeks I'll be decking the four-foot fake tree mom got for the apartment. I'll go to some Advent services and sing a few carols. Just like the previous years, I suspect I'll "get in the Christmas spirit" at about 11:30 PM on Christmas Eve. Then morning will come and it'll all be over. Whoop-de-doo!

For give me my grinchiness. Even the Grinch came around in the end, remember?

23 November 2008

Promoting Awareness

Every week there is a different booth on the quad promoting awareness of a cause. For this I am eternally grateful, because were it not for such booths I never would have known there were such things as breast cancer, arthritis, poverty, or hunger. I would advocate a different type of awareness, though - one that an unfortunately large number of people lack - an awareness that could bring radical changes to human interaction - and that is SELF-awareness. Not sure if you're self-aware? Want to raise your level of self-awareness? I'll walk you through a few basics, but the journey is one you'll have to make largely on your own.

There are two dimensions of self-awareness: internal and external. We shall start with external. Are you aware of the ramifications of your words and actions upon the lives of others? One unfortunate symptom of a lack of self-awareness is verbal diarrhea. The unaware will often speak for long periods of time without giving a thought to what they are saying, whether or not what they are saying makes sense, or if the fact that they won't shut up about what they are saying is annoying their trapped audience, causing their audience pain, or making themselves look far less intelligent than they might be. If you're afraid you may suffer from this particular symptom, remember this: before you speak, think. If you need to speak, do so slowly, then stop and think some more. Take a look at the face of your listener. It should reflect whether or not it's safe to continue. "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt."

On a larger scale, external self-awareness concerns your impact on the world, both positive and negative. Stop and think about the effects of your consumption, your action, and your personal interaction. Do you live wastefully? Are you having a positive impact on the lives of others? To be idealistic, how can you be a positive influence on the world?

The trickier dimension of self-awareness is internal awareness. Internal awareness can be achieved through the discipline of introspective reflection. If you are already a frequent flier on Introspection Airlines, you are well on your way to internal self-awareness. If not, I encourage you to take large chunks of time, or even just a few minutes several times a day, to reflect upon your thoughts, feelings, and reactions toward the day. Journals can be very helpful with introspective reflection. If you think you don't have time for introspective reflection, consider the mundane, mechanical activities you do throughout the day, such as driving or walking somewhere, cleaning, or showering. Such times are excellent for letting the mind get lost in itself. Internal self-awareness will help you better understand yourself, your desires, your beliefs, and your interaction towards others.

Let's make December Self-Awareness month. Let's make January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, and November Self-Awareness month. You have a Self. You are a being. Be aware of it. Don't fall into dangerous the trap of self-oblivion. Know thyself!


This public service message brought to you by the Association for Awareness and the Guess What - You Exist! Campaign.

06 November 2008

A gadfly

It would seem that my scathingly witty writing skills have gotten me into an exciting bit of a rhetorical pickle. I've been asked to be a panelist in a discussion on environmentalism at the next meeting of my school's Socratic Club. I am to provide a lively opposition to the trendy tide of environmentalism in society and on campus. Here's the article that got me into this. Here's the Socratic Club website. I am particularly looking forward to the organic cookies and home-grown coffee.

04 November 2008

Do you have some spare change?

Remember the song "Chain of Fools"? Here's a shout-out for Dad: When I was about 4, I thought the words were "Change, change, change!" instead of "chain, chain, chain." Until somebody corrected me, I frequently danced around the house singing "change change change;" Dad danced with me, but I'm fairly sure he got the lyrics right. I must have been pretty darn adorable.

While I'm giving shout-outs, here's one for Mom. My sister was always tall for her age, so I'd frequently ask Mom if I was tall or short for my age. "You're average, honey," she'd tell me, "just perfect for your age." Then one bleak, overcast day when I asked her yet again, she said, "Corinne, you're short, you've always been short, and you'll always be short."

Change (change change) is the bittersweet subject of this entry.

Childhood is sweet suspension, with comforting constants of parents and grandparents and teddy bears and traditions. The biggest changes are going to a new school or rearranging your bedroom, or, at the very biggest, moving. But still the constants remain, parents and grandparents and teddy bears and traditions.

When you go off to college, your life becomes almost constant change. I'd venture to say everything will keep changing until you're retired, or dead. When you were little, things changed around you, and in the constancy of the best things you were oblivious. Suddenly, you're an "adult" and innocent oblivion is no longer an option. You may be at the same college for a few years, but what about after that? And after that? The old adage is true, you can't go home again. Sure, you can try. Freshman year I tried, and there was my room, a little cleaner than I had left it because Mom views the order of her household more important than my knowing where everything is (and I respect that), but still my room with my bed and my desk and my towering bookshelves. Dad still came home around 7 PM, Mom was still a good cook, the cat was still a presumptuous spaz, the backyard was still woody and inviting, Eileen and I still watched Nick at Nite until midnight or later. At Thanksgiving, we had turkey and shrimp and pumpkin pie. At Christmas, we had chili and French bread casserole and we went to church and we hopped from Grandparents' to Grandparents'. Everything was not the same, though. Mom got a fake tree at Christmas, and there was nothing we could do about it (except grumble and groan, which college students are very good at).

Maybe that example is a little melodramatic, but times were a-changin. This may sound backwards, but as children, we some sort of say in things around the house; as college students, we were almost guests. Our empty-nester parents were moving on, doing things the way they couldn't when they had kids.

Come summer. Eileen moved to Denmark, Dad got a job in D.C., two grandparents were trying to sell the house that I practically grew up in, one grandparent was in the hospital.

Now, the house in Georgia with the wooded backyard sits full of furniture and empty of people, waiting to be returned to or sold. Thanksgiving and Christmas will be minus a sister and minus a grandmother, celebrated in a 12th floor apartment in D.C. Will there be a tree? Will there be late-night church? All I can say is, at least there will be a holographic fire to hang our stockings over.

I will spend two weeks this Christmas as a guest in my parents' apartment. I will spend two weeks in Georgia, trying to see all the other people I love whose lives are changing as well; I'll spend two weeks in Europe with my sister, feeling sophisticated and likely confused. In the summer, I'll probably be a guest in D.C. again. If I'm lucky (and diligent), I'll get to work as an intern in the field I might like to be in. No more hellacious retail summer jobs, please. It's time to start my life in the direction I think it might maybe possibly take. As for the following year and holidays, who knows? Maybe more of D.C., maybe back to Georgia; but never back to the past. In less than a few years, I'll have to be "on my own." Me, on my own? An "adult"? Preposterous! Where will I live? What will I do? Who will be the closest people in my life?

Parents and grandparents and traditions will change; at least I still have my teddy bear.

23 October 2008

Get thee to a nunnery!

The wind is truly howling outside the window. I suppose it could be a bit romantic, in a George MacDonald book kind of way; but it's also kind of creepy, like Tell-Tale Heart or Fall of the House of Usher, as long as we're comparing life to literature.

In reality it's just a herald of a really nasty day tomorrow. Cold has finally reached the sunny South, and a cold has finally reached me. Not quite yet, but the sore throat I've had all day is a harbinger of doom (I'm sticking with a theme of gloomy metaphors and similes today. Blame the weather).

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.

If I lived in Denmark, I'd make lots of Hamlet jokes.

15 October 2008

Logic in the style of Parmenides

It is Wednesday afternoon, therefore it is practically Thursday.
Thursday is basically Friday.
Friday is the start of Fall Break.
Therefore, it is Fall Break.


Note
Parmenides' logic:
What is, is
What is not, is not
What is, is not what is not
Therefore, nothing changes

05 October 2008

Marhaba

Nothing grand happens in Alabama. Except, I did hear that some woman in New Mexico predicted that on October 14 the aliens would come and take up the fine specimens found in Alabama. I think I'd have mixed feelings about being left behind...

I did recently see some fabulous da Vinci sketches at the art museum. Birmingham continues to surprise me.

Perhaps I could get your opinion on something. I'd like to study abroad my junior year. I was planning on trying for the University of Glasgow, as they have a pretty neat looking archaeology program, and who wouldn't want to go to Scotland? But I'm currently in Arabic 101, and I need to complete the 200 level to graduate. Studying abroad junior year would throw that off. Unless - unless I went to the American University in Cairo instead, where I could study both Egyptology and Arabic. Or, I could wait until senior year to go abroad.

Suggestions? Opinions? Pointless yet humorous personal anecdotes?

Maa Al-Salaama

22 September 2008

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." - Douglas Adams

I give my school a bad rap sometimes. I still maintain my vehement disagreement about trays and funds and the like. And I'll still believe that my pet name for it, Stepford University, is pretty fitting.

I have a hard time living among lots and lots of people, where there is no place to be alone. While I don't like it, I can't deny that it's a learning experience that will be helpful throughout my life. For example, when I sat on the mostly-deserted quad on a Saturday morning to read, searching for solitude, I learned that I'm allergic to ants.

But really. Social skills and all that good junk.

I admit, I'm growing fond of this place. We have some fairly amazing professors. I have yet to have one that doesn't care about my dumb questions. Being an opinion columnist for the school paper gives a sense of place, as well. While sometimes I've regretting my choice of school, now I can't imagine being somewhere else. This is my school, for better or for worse.

Birmingham is not my favorite city, and Alabama is certainly not my favorite state (frankly, I'd rather be in the mountains), but I'm discovering its rich and varied history. I have also found a most amazing church, full of fellowship, good worship, and opportunities. Among many things, being a part of this church is helping me rediscover the purpose for love and affinity for music. It's also good for having friends outside of the Stepford bubble, which is an important thing to do. Many Stepford students go to giant churches in droves, making church merely an extension of the bubble.

But I don't get up at 8 in the morning to blog. I have to write a topic proposal. Pip pip, cheerio!

"It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems with a bag of potatoes." - Douglas Adams

15 September 2008

What about my 100 grand?

Stepford U is "going green." This is a tricky statement. "Green" in fact does not mean "green" in the sense of "eco-friendly," (I'm being quotation-mark happy today, apparently) as SU would like you to think, nor does it refer to the campus's plush million-dollar lawns. No, in fact, green refers to the inordinate amount of money that SU receives from students (more like students' parents), alumni, and random ridiculously wealthy benefactors that is going toward some overlarge nebulous future building projects. Not to fixing or rebuilding crumbling residence halls, not to serving healthy food, not to updating old educational facilities, not to free newspapers for students, not to more academic scholarships (or increasing current scholarships in proportion with the recent 7% tuition increase), and definitely not toward anything else that might benefit current students. Nor is much going toward the community in an effort to take action on the care and servitude so often preached at Christian schools.

Yes, I am irritated. SU is an incredibly rich school. I'd daresay we're rolling in the green, and once again I'm not talking about the verdant quad lawn. Yet every day I see less and less of this money being used. The recent infractions include residence halls, scholarships, newspapers, and cafeteria trays.

The latter two seem petty, right? Let's examine them for a moment, per favore. The school took away free newspapers for students, those newspapers being USA Today, some random local paper, and the New York Times. Why? Because it's not "green" to have newspapers, and this time I do mean "eco-friendly." Why would students want a newspaper when they can get the news online and from The Daily Show? is another facet of the argument. News from the Daily Show? A farce on the Comedy channel?
I read USA Today, when we had it, I really enjoyed it, and I miss it. Sure, I could go out and buy it, but then I'd be paying for gas plus the cost of the newspaper, and I wouldn't get to pay any less for school. And since when is paper not recyclable? Give us some actual recycling bins instead of taking away our window to life outside the bubble.

They've also taken away the cafeteria trays. The claim is, "They waste crazy amounts of water, crazy amounts of food, and crazy amounts of money!" You see, some guy at some expensive research institution with too little to do performed a study and decided that schools could save $40,000 by taking away the trays. Well, I did my own little study, and it was much more cost efficient and eco-friendly, as it all took place in my head.

1.) $40,000 is $10 per SU student, approximately one one-thousandth of four years' tuition.

2.) Since when is water not recyclable? More recyclable than paper, I might add! Hey, what about using the water we wash trays with as gray water for watering the lawns instead of using Lake Lanier's water? That's right, I said it.

3.) How many people get a tray, put a plate of food on it, and think, "Hm, this plate looks lonely. I should get another plate full of food, a couple bowls of food, and several cups to keep it company!" Do you? Didn't think so. Why are we wasting "crazy amounts of food," then? Maybe it's because the food isn't good. Maybe, once we get it and realize it's not good, we go get something else in hopes that it will be better. Maybe it's also because the generous and well-meaning cafeteria ladies pile our plates with too much food than we can eat.

"Banning the trays" is also being hailed as "green" ("eco-friendly"). I have yet to understand this. It seems to me that all the changes around here to save green are really to save the fiduciary type of green. Meanwhile, there's a roofless residence hall, dwindling scholarships, no newspapers, and as of today, 4,000 students struggling not to drop their multiple plates and utensils on the way to the tray return (we need to change the name now, I suppose). Someone actually did drop theirs today, actually, and the entire cafeteria erupted in cheering.

I'm just wondering if there's a landfill somewhere filled with thousands of tuition checks, blowing in the wind.

SDG

25 August 2008

Thoroughly unconsequential ruminations

I thought moving home after being at school was weird, but moving back to school after living at home after living at school is much weirder. First of all, last year seems like a different place, maybe an alternate dimension. The fact that I'm living on the other side of campus increases the gap between last year's experience and this year's. My first real venture back on campus (the residence halls where I am are tucked away to the side of campus, in woods. I'm working hard on renaming the woods in my mind. I'm thinking the Forbidden Forest, going with a Harry Potter theme for the year) was last night, which was the school paper meeting. It gave me the chance to walk across campus at a relatively uncrowded time and avoid a few people I don't like, while pleasantly running into a few that I do. I tried to view the stately brick halls and rolling tree-dotted lawn as the hallowed halls of opportunity and learning, rather than as remembrances of a thoroughly confused freshman year. I must admit, it is turning out to be quite refreshing to not be the most confused demographic on campus anymore. I was actually thrilled to show a girl how to open her mailbox today. I realized, hey, I have a little bit of knowledge - I know the ropes, I'm an old hat at this! But I must be careful not to let my mad mailbox-opening skizills get to my head and lead me into the old sophomore syndrome (big head, little brain). Back to the paper, my accidental accomplishment: turns out I'm going to be published in the first issue, but that's all in the month of September. I guess I'll have to make my column so kick-ass and ahead-of-deadline that the editors fall all over themselves to publish me twice. After the meeting, the night was so nice (albeit a little warm and humid, but hey, that's the South) that I sat on the steps of the majestic grand walkway that is the ceremonial entrance to campus and wrote a little, just because I felt like it, which was something I haven't felt like in a long time.

Today, however, was quite miserable. The weather, I mean. It has rained steadily, sometimes pouring, all day. Classes were pleasantly introductive (new word), but the walks in between have been horribly wet, which makes the air-conditioned indoors shiver-inducing. I think I'll invest in a pair of rubber boots, probably some giant ugly ones, like knee-high army green ones, because everybody (at least the girls, which is the vast majority) has cutsey polka-dotted ones, and it is my natural reflex to try not to fit in with the Stepford appearance.

I was quite a bit disappointed that we ended up in the "crappy" upperclassman residence hall, but in reality it's infinitely better than the freshman dorms, and living with my 3 favorite people at school has already been a ball. My roomie and I have similar tastes, and after a few shopping trips (in the rain) and much rearranging, our room has a cozy, world-traveler vibe, with enough floor space for a crazy dance party. We have a couch and a sink, two bookshelves, a coffeemaker and an electric kettle, dramatic dark red window curtains, and a bathroom shared with our suitemates. In our search for the perfect rug and the perfect closet curtains, I took Roomie on her first trip to World Market, which is the most beautiful store in the world, and the one I'd decorate my entire house from if possible. If I had a house.

Enough about our incredible room. Which is also on the first floor but not the ground floor, which means no stairs and no laundry room noise. I am super excited about going to Bible study for the first time since Spring tonight. I'm also looking forward to my three classes tomorrow, which will make for a long but hopefully fascinating and educating Tuesday-Thursday schedule.

Quote of the Day: "No opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible."
- W. H. Auden

Accomplishment of the Day: making coffee

Song of the Day: Samson by Regina Spektor

Book of the Week: Ender's Game

12 August 2008

Houston, we have a problem

I was flipping through late-night television, because as previously stated, I like watching TV, when I happened upon Joel Osteen preaching to his humongous audience. I don't pay much attention to JO, because I don't like him. I lingered, though, to see how long it took for him to say something I didn't agree with. I didn't have to wait long. He was saying something about having faith in what you don't see - I thought, hm, yeah, makes sense, backed up in scripture, etc. But that led to JO telling the congregation that this means they will get what they want. All their hopes and dreams will come true, because God gives good things to those who believe in him. Just pray to God everyday, he said, thanking him in advance that you'll be rewarded with what you want. This sounds really nice, doesn't it? God is going to give you everything you ask for! It would be so comfy to settle into this kind of belief; it's so close to the truth and much easier. Speaking from experience and observation, God doesn't always give what you ask for. Faith is not believing that your dreams will come true, it's believing that God is giving you the best possible life in accordance with his plan, and that even if the things you want don't come to you, the good things God has in store for you are really what you wanted all along and just didn't know it. If you keep believing God is going to give you ice cream for breakfast every morning because you ask for it, you're going to get disappointed. Your God is too small. Your God is a genie, and not a God. What cause would you have to worship someone who is just there to serve your every whim? Someone who doesn't know any better than you? You (me!) who get mad when God doesn't give you everything you ask, who are you (who am I) to know better than God? Are you (am I) the All-Knowing? The All-Seeing? The Inventor of the Universe?

I love the movie Bruce Almighty. It brilliantly illustrates what I'm talking about. Bruce is such a whiner. He feels like God has slighted him. He curses God, in a Jim Carrey way, for not giving him what he wants. So God (Morgan Freeman!) lets Bruce be God for a while - except he's still Bruce. Gaffes and laughs ensue as he plays magic tricks with his powers and gets revenge on all those he feels have wronged him. He gets what he wants, a job as an anchorman. But he loses what he had, the good things he took for granted. Bruce is just a guy, and he makes a mess of his life when he tries to be God. God (Morgan Freeman) has one of my favorite movie lines, one of my favorite truths, "Since when does anybody know what they want?"

Being a Christian is not easy. It's tough to trust in God and swallow your hissy fit when things don't go your way - and trust me, things won't always go your way, even with the Almighty on your side. Osteen didn't quite get it right. Maybe he thought he was saying what people wanted to hear. That doesn't mean it's what people need to hear.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

07 August 2008

Oh, I don't watch TV, you brainless moron

Ever asked somebody if they saw such and such the other night on TV , and gotten a reply "Oh, I don't watch TV," smelling faintly of holier-than-thou?
Why is it that we think people who don't watch TV are so disciplined and austere, while people who don't read (don't, not can't) are foolish and/or dumb and/or have no idea what they're missing out on? Frankly, I liken not watching TV to not going to the theater. After all, that's what TV is, isn't it? Theater in your living room? With lots of little tiny bathroom breaks rather than one or two long ones. I've always considered Shakespearean comedies as predecessors to the modern sitcom. Granted, there is a hell of a lot of crappy, lame, disgusting TV out there. Fake wrestling, any reality show, MTV, Reno 911, etc, you get the point. But what about the gripping dramas? The witty comedies? The Discovery Channel and the Food Network? Yeah, there's nothing beneficial about sitting around watching brainless sitcoms all day. But I see nothing wrong with enjoying really good TV, when the writers and the actors work together beautifully to bring to life a compelling story. TV can even make you smarter, or at least more knowledgeable, in the case of many shows on Discovery, the History Channel, the Travel Channel, maybe even CSI!
I guess I'm urging you, whether via tube, plasma screen, or free online TV, not to ditch television for the lofty feeling that comes with declaring you abstain from it. That lofty feeling will soon fade when you can't discuss the latest episode of House with the kids on the playground, or think that dropping a penny off the Empire State Building could kill someone because you've never seen Mythbusters, and everyone in the room realizes that you've got a bad case of don't know what you're missing and/or stick up the rear.

15 July 2008

Hector the Vector

For Caroline, because she remembered it. And for Mrs. Gray, because she made math, which = hell, fun and understandable.

The Lay of Pre-Calculus

By Corinne Dyer

© 2006

Hector the Vector was walking one day
In the land of Arctan where factorials play;

A jester he was, in the court of Pythagoras

Whose son, called Arccos, in peril great was

For Arccos the brave and courageous prince

Had gone on a quest and been captured since;

‘Twas the troll called Orthogonal who did this cruel deed

Now a friendly deliverer Arccos did need

Arccos had gone to rescue a maiden

Who with great troubles was heavily laden

Princess Cartesian was the prisoner of Scalar,

An evil math teacher who said he would fail her.

Hector marched in reduced row-echelon form

Rather than row-echelon more commonly worn

But not even a determinant could help him that day

If nefarious Orthogonal he was to make pay.

When he reached the troll’s lair under the Bridge of the Sine

A way to Arccos he just couldn’t find

He cried to the oblique, acute, and obtuse

“Hey, a little help here could I use!”

A shower of radians burst from the sky

And a lady descended as if from on high

Her raiment was golden, her marker dry-erase

Of evil in her there was not a trace

“Behold,” she said, “it is I and no other,

Please have no fear, I am your Fairy Mathmother.”

Her marker she waved and caused great permutations

That shook the rocks in the lair’s foundations

Coefficients collapsed, opened dungeons dark

Hector was so happy he could factor like a lark

For he found Arccos, whom he instantly freed

So that he could complete his most noble deed.

The Fairy Mathmother bestowed on the prince

An integer of gifts of arithmetic sequence

“Arccos,” she said, “These gifts you must use

To rescue Cartestian and Scalar’s power reduce,”

A poison she gave him, from the extract of square root

And a bow from which cofactors would shoot.

To the Castle of Cosine the three of them went

And Arccos into the fortress they sent.

He wet a cofactor with poison and killed

Nefarious Scalar, a villain skilled

He rescued the princess, his Cartesian sweet;

Outside the castle the two did greet

With Hector the Vector who stood there alone

“My lovely Fairy Mathmother has gone,”

He said with a sigh but with joy in his heart

For Arccos and Cartesian never would part

And Hector the Vector, a component man

Loved happy endings, parallelogram.

07 July 2008

What action flicks and Ayn Rand have in common

I saw Wanted on Sunday. It was the ultimate guy flick. Explosions, guns, cars, blood, and Angelina Jolie. Reality was definitely suspended, with a literal Loom of Fate and a clan of almost superhuman assassins acting surreptitiously in the gritty world of what I would assume to be Chicago. There were “cool” moments that were completely laughable and most of the movie was an attack on the senses. Oh, and I forgot to mention the F-word, which made up half the dialogue. And yet…should I even admit it?...I think I liked it. I think I know why I liked it, which turns out to be a relief, because otherwise I have the taste in movies of a fifteen-year-old boy. The plot twist was almost surprising, which was nice. But that’s not the real reason I don’t feel my six bucks were wasted. You see, as shallow and sensory-catering as Wanted seems (and somewhat is), it actually relates to Atlas Shrugged, my current obsession and albatross. Let’s take our little hero, cowardly, nervous, miserable Wesley Gibson (played by James McAvoy, minus the lovely Scottish accent. The accent would have made him at least a little cool. Removing it was a good idea.). He’s a nothing, and he knows it. He’s an accountant who suffers from acute anxiety attacks, apologizes too much, and lets everybody and their mom walk all over him. He hates his life – although not quite as much as he thinks, as he screams “I kind of care about my life” while Jolie’s character is dragging him through a car-chase shootout near the beginning of the movie. To be brief, he learns he is the son of a fabulous assassin and has the very same skills as his father. I.e., he is destined to be a great assassin. I.e. “the blood of a killer runs in your veins,” wooooOOooo (direct quote from the movie, if I remember correctly, wooos added at my discretion). “The Fraternity” (how creative), the group of assassins his father belonged to, trains him. And at first he’s still weak, sniveling little Wesley, but by the end of the movie, after a lot of blood and guns and treachery, Wesley fuflills his destiny as one of the best darn killers out there. He knows he can never go back to being an accountant, because that life is a failure to live up to his potential, and is an insult to his ability. We don’t know what Wesley does after the end of the movie (I really do wonder, and I’d kind of like to know), but at the end of the movie he takes complete control of his life and his abilities. Nobody is telling him what to do, he does what he does best, and because of this, you can tell by the smug look on his face that he’s happy with that. So what does this have to do with Atlas Shrugged?

Atlas Shrugged, Part III, Chapter VII

Productiveness is your acceptance of morality, your recognition of the fact that you choose to live – that productive work is the process by which man’s consciousness controls his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit one’s purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth in the image of one’s values – that all work is creative work if done by a thinking mind, and no work is creative work if done by a blank who repeats in uncritical stupor a routine he has learned from others – that your work is yours to choose, and the choice is as wide as your mind, that nothing is more possible to you and nothing less is human – that to cheat your way into a job bigger than your mind can handle is to become a fear-corroded ape on borrowed motions and borrowed time, and to settle down into a job that requires less than your mind’s full capacity is to cut your motor and sentence yourself to another kind of motion: decay – that your work is the process of achieving your values, and to lose your ambitions for values is to lose your ambition to live – that your body is a machine, but your mind is its driver, and you must drive as far as your mind will take you, with achievement as the goal of your road…the man who stifles his mind is a stalled machine slowly going to rust, that the man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap…your work is the purpose of your life, and you must speed past any killer who assumes the right to stop you…as a man must produce the physical values he needs to sustain his life, so he must acquire the values of character that make his life worth sustaining – that as man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul – that to live requires a sense of self-value, but man…has no automatic sense of self-esteem and must earn it by shaping his soul in the image of his moral ideal, in the image of Man.

I know. AS is hard as crap. The whole book is like that – and I even cut parts out of that passage to make it simpler and bolded the most relevant parts. But it is so, so good, and it’s almost as if the makers of Wanted read Ayn Rand when they were making the movie (I dunno, maybe they did!). Wesley, at the beginning, is not fulfilling his abilities. He’s stuck in a cubicle, filling out billing reports for his overbearing, bitchy boss. He’s miserable, he’s wasting away. To settle down into a job that requires less than your mind’s full capacity is to cut your motor and sentence yourself to another kind of motion: decay – that your work is the process of achieving your values, and to lose your ambitions for values is to lose your ambition to live” But the Fraternity teaches him that he has the ability to be so much more, and (as Ayn said) not to embrace and fulfill one’s abilities is a pathetic waste. Wesley learns how much better life is, and how much happier he is with himself and the world, when he embraces his abilities. However, it goes beyond that. Wesley’s ambitions should be his, and not the Fraternity’s; when they are not his ambitions, when he uses his talents at the whim of others and not for his own goals, heartbreak ensues (you’ll have to watch it to find out). Wesley at the end of the movie is confident, self-assured, and purposeful in his actions. He’s Wesley Succeeding In His Abilities, Wesley Serving His Purpose, Wesley Satisfied With Himself.

This is probably the longest and most overly philosophical movie review ever. Is it necessary? Not really. Can you enjoy Wanted without considering its philosophical commentary on life? Yeah, if you like blood and guts and bangs, and Angelina Jolie’s heinie.

I particularly loved the last line, though the overuse of the f-word throughout the movie diminished the kinetic ability of this line to be completely awesome. Summing up the whole theme of destiny-fulfilling, daring to escape the senseless drudge of a purposeless life, and becoming completely badass at whatever it is you’re meant to be best at, Wesley looks straight at the camera and says,

“What the F*** have you done lately?”

July 01, 2008

The world is small. It's a small world after all. You get the point. In the last century, earth has gone from massive planet with numerous, isolated civilizations to one big (un?)happy family. Blame radio, TV, telephones, and especially, most importantly, humongouslyvastly, the internet. It's all great, it really is. Don't you think it's fantastic that we can know what's happening across the world in a matter of seconds? Isn't it fabulous that now we have the opportunity to fight evils we wouldn't know about if it weren't for the knowledge of it provided by our excellent system of communication? Yes! And no... The US used to have a strict policy of isolationism. We broke it for World War I. Then we tried to reclaim it...and broke it again in World War II. Ever since then, we've been protectively sticking our noses everywhere that the business of evil might be lurking. Korea and Vietnam were in the name of Containment (containment of Communism). Desert Storm was to deliver wee little Kuwait from the hands of Sodamn Insane - I mean Saddam Hussein. Our involvement in Iraq was/is also due to Hussein and the WMDs he used on his own people (don't say there weren't any, that's a stupid argument and you know better. Don't you think after a few months of us saying "Hey, we're gonna come in there if you don't shape up!", they had the brains to destroy and/or hide what WMDs they hadn't already used? But that is not the purpose of this little spiel.). People have called us meddlers. We're like Big Brother, they say, forcing our way of life and our opinions on others. We think we're so hot, but we're just loud, annoying Americans who think we know best. Well, that comes from being the best. Just kidding! Or am I? We are, arguably, the most powerful country in the world. And, we would be completely independent and that much more powerful if we didn't rely on other countries for our fuel (Anwar, I say!). Furthermore, despite the complaints of Big Brother-ism, the impression is that we should step in for every problem, since we've "got the power." It's our duty. But we can't. We're already spread too thin. So where do we draw the line? While we struggle to keep the Middle East from blowing itself up, Africa suffers from genocide, revolutions, and corrupt governments. Rigged elections occur around the world. Communism thrives just a few hundred miles off our southern coast. Thousands of Burmese perish because their military government refuses to accept outside aid. The U.N. thinks we should comply the wishes of everybody and the "greater good," but wets themselves with anger when our president bypasses them to deliver oppressed Middle Easterners from evil governments.

Where do we draw the line, indeed? We can't help everyone. We're also too invested in this global community to retreat to our old ways of isolationism. Why the M.E. and not Africa? Maybe it's the oil - not to say that the Irag War is a war of oil acquisition, b/c if it was I doubt we'd be paying so much for gas. But we are certainly more reliant on the stability of the fuel-rich M.E. than on the stability of far-off, impoverished, even backwoods, Africa. Perhaps we should bring our roots back to our own country before we try to start fixing the problems of others. Yet, becoming energy independent - whether through drilling on our own soil or developing alternate fuels, or both - is not going to fix the world. It's just going to give us a better foundation where we are. So then who do we choose to help? Should we even help at all? Do we have a military for our own protection, or are our military the police who enforce justice and human rights where there nobody else will? Did our soldiers sign up to protect America, or to protect humanity?

06 July 2008

Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?
Polonius: By the mass, and 'tis like a camel, indeed.
Hamlet: Methinks it is like a weasel.
Polonius: It is backed like a weasel.
Hamlet: Or like a whale?
Polonius: Very like a whale.