Friday, October 10, 2014

Anniversary - Forth

I remembered that I had made an anniversary honoring post for my older sister and her husband. I told my sister that I would make an effort to make one this year as well.

I don't recall whether I have done it these past two years. Though I could easily check, I think that anything that spurs me to make an effort to write shouldn't be self-questioned. Therefore this superfluous introduction as I talk myself through this.

Four years. It doesn't seem that long ago to me. But it is wonderful and it makes me very happy to notice and know.  Truth is, that I feel like I shall always be somewhat in her shadow, but I enjoy the shadows. It makes it ever so much easier to observe proceedings as they take place.

I have always admired her, and it gives me even more joy to know that she is in excellent hands. Her husband, John, is one of the finest fellows I have had the pleasure of knowing.  When he began courting my sister, he asked my opinion on their relationship as her sibling. I replied that I had no such reservations, it baffles me that he considers me one of his best friends.

It is one of the highlights of my week whenever I get to see them, to way they interact and support one another is a beautiful thing to witness.  They both have a knack for making work fun, of using whatever tools they have available to engineer a fun solution to any creeping possibility of boredom. They both go the extra mile in their efforts to add a personal touch to their projects. To make sure that those affected by the result are pleased as punch, whether they would ever notice WHO did the little things isn't as important as the things being done.

They are active, but are not so consumed by their schedule's demands to miss the opportunity for quiet moments. Kels and John have taught me many things, in games and in life.  Whether it is a fond cribbage match, original Super Smash Bros. on the N64, or telling stories, their company puts me at ease.

I did not manage to raise a mug of coffee in salute, but was able to share bottles of IBC root beer with them earlier this week.

Traditions change as the people within them shift.

May they shift gears together for many more years, as they did in their manual Civic, until it becomes as instinctual as an automatic transmission in their current Intrigue.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Classic - Class

This Saturday did not proceed as originally scheduled, but I enjoyed it for what it was anyway. I was just happy that my friends wanted to hang out with me all day. It started with a drive to visit my sister and brother-in-law, some of the best friends in my life. Once arrived, I caught up with a third friend who I hadn't seen in a couple of weeks. We all went to breakfast at a newly opened Chick-fil-a, telling stories about our week past and my sister regaled us with tales from childhood.

I admire her ability to recreate a memory - the words she chooses are descriptive and convey emotions very effectively. As a writing tutor at the university from which I graduated, one of her exercises involves free-writing early experiences from her life. As she brought these tales to light, I prompted her with suggestions and details to learn her perspective on the shared memories.

When we returned to her home, she sat down to commit these tales to paper, while I trailed her husband around their property. It was my task to take notes on tasks that he intended to finish before pre-winter cold settled in to make such activities inconvenient. At the end of the tour, my brother-in-law took his 3-wheeler out for a joyride and offered to let me take the reins. I had never piloted one of the contraptions before and he casually explained that the shifter was under the left foot, the rear brakes on the right foot, and the throttle was a thumb press to the right. I am not a natural multi-tasker, so I started out slowly, kicking it into first gear and tapping the throttle.

Did I mention I was standing up because the seat cover was loose and the exhaust pipe was therefore exposed? Yeah. There was that concern too.

I stutter-stepped up his gravel driveway and, when I reached the concrete, managed to execute a full turn and head back. It was something that my brother-in-law enjoys doing - introducing his friends to new experiences and watching their reactions. This 3-wheeler was his new toy and "one of his greatest recreational pleasures in life at the moment."

I headed back to the house, jittery from the short ride and the two cups of coffee I had drank over breakfast. My sister offered me another cup from a freshly pressed batch, and I drank it while reading X-Men: Schism by Jason Aaron and multiple artists & Sacrifice by Sam Humphries and Dalton Rose. I enjoy Aaron's writing because the dialogue often connects with my sense of humor & there are moments in the script that lent the mutant characters touches of humanity and dimension.

Humphries' tale required a little more attention on my part to understand what was going on in the story, but I enjoyed it as well for what it was. His take on Uncanny X-Force for Marvel was what introduced me to his work, piquing my curiosity enough to follow him to this independently published graphic novel. I listened to Humphries talk about this book for his interview with Kieron Gillen's podcast "Decompressed."

My third friend rejoined my sister and I in the house after popping back to his place for a change of clothes. He and I listened to my sister's updated accounting of childhood memoirs, one of which featured humor at my younger self's expense. I didn't mind: It was a good tale and I am not that child any longer. It made me laugh and my friend did as well, relating a similar experience from his family's memories.

As my sister returned to her writing, my friend sat down to a game of cribbage, which I lost. Then a game of golf - similar to polish poker, except with nine cards instead of six - which I lost as well. I smiled and congratulated him on his uncanny luck, then rushed off to meet another friend at his campus cafeteria for dinner. As he is an RA, he is responsible for the enforcement of no alcoholic beverages in the dormitories. I brought along a 6-pack of IBC Cream Soda bottles as a friendly gift to play with the spirit of the prohibition while technically not breaking it.

He was happy to see me, thanking me for my presents of the drinks and a mix-cd featuring mid-2000's pop songs from my music library, but even more so with my presence.  He reciprocated on the second gift with a mix of his own. (As I listened to the first 6 tracks on my way home, it has a considerably more 60's-70's ballad pop aesthetic.)

As we talked over dinner, we quoted Mean Girls, G.K. Chesterton, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (mainly me as I am very fond of that movie), Princess Bride. I was taken aback when my friend mentioned he had only seen the last listed but once, and that was perhaps 9 years ago. Other friends greeted my friend as we ate, because he is a friendly sort of fellow and knows many people on campus.

As we walked back to his dormitory hall, we passed by a television... which happened to be playing the boulder scene from Princess Bride. I grinned at him and insisted that this was too coincidental an opportunity. Alas, I was that horrible person who got way too much enjoyment trying to quote every other line of dialogue, more often than not messing it up. (It had been a little while since I had last seen it as well.).  An advertisement announced that Matilda was to be shown next week. My friend and I had discussed Roald Dahl's books over dinner, and I reminded him of the horrible plot elements from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I had been reading it to my two youngest sisters before bed and had learned from writer Patrick Rothfuss's take of its being a horrifying children's tale if read and taken seriously. (Rothfuss's review features some profanity, but is quite eye-opening and accurate.)

Although I have never seen the movie Matilda, I am very fond of Mara Wilson now that I follow her on Twitter. She is a wry and well-adjusted former child star who does not suffer fools lightly. And she plays the Faceless Old Woman who Secretly Lives in Your House in the podcast Welcome To Night Vale.

During a commercial break, I learned that my friend had performed in a talent show on campus and I complimented him on his snazzy style of piano-playing. My friend was pleased with my sentiment and told me that I didn't have to be so nice. I told him that "If I am not being 'too much,' I am not being enough." That made him laugh and he insisted on writing it down. I feel that way with most of my friends. I think that they are fantastic and am happy that I get to spend time with them.

After the Princess Bride ended with the words, "As you wish," the channel started The Sandlot. The only time I had seen that movie was with this friend, and it was after a poker night held at his house. I was satisfied with that being a one-time memory and it was getting late in the evening, so I bid my farewells and started homeward.

Good night, readers, good night...

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Boxer - Endings

As I have been working these past weeks, my mind dislodges previous memories and the impressions left behind are like little vulnerabilities. Not pain, but acute feeling in those areas, so I poke about in the memory wondering why it has come to light now. One of these is the memory of Boxer, the farm horse in Animal Farm by George Orwell. I don't typically reread books once completed, but Orwell makes a compelling argument to consider it on a case-by-case basis.

A revolution takes place on a farm, the pigs mastermind a plan to overthrow the yoke of their farmer and start their own government. As the book continues, the pigs gradually succumb to power's allure and become corrupted masters of their fellow creatures to a crueler degree than their former farmer. But it is worse because the pigs call this government "freedom" while enforcing psychological fear tactics, while before, animals knew they were slaves and did their jobs but were otherwise free.

Boxer is the farm horse who patiently endured the farmer's demands, but believes in the cause when the pigs propose this new government. His faith in the cause never wavers, even as the pigs go from making hiccup mistakes in government to outright treason of the original social contract. Whenever there is difficulty, Boxer repeats his mantra. "I must work harder." Boxer is a tragic character for many reasons, but is admirable all the same to me. Yes, he is being exploited, but I guess we all are in our own ways. I have my own deceptions which pain me to acknowledge. I want to grit my teeth and redouble my efforts instead of admitting weakness.

In the end, this character really sticks out as excellent in my mind, and though he isn't human, his flaws are altogether too much so. Animal Farm is a satire, an allegory, a modern day parable. It is many things. It is a story and the readers will each take away something different from the text.  But there is a commonality of feeling and reference, though for varying reasons and amount of identification with the cast.  I enjoy stories that connect with me emotionally and make me care about what happens to the character.  Some ongoing stories I follow for the arc of one character.

To see what happens to them.

I am conflicted about endings, as they are a difficult thing to perform. They have no obligation to satisfy everyone, whether they be fictional or real life, but I can blame the writers in fiction. Perhaps they didn't give the justice I believed it should have been bestowed, but they owe nothing to their audience except to entertain their thoughts and attentions in exchange for time and money.  Real life is trickier, as often I have no one to blame but myself for my lack of peace with any endings I encounter.  Bitterness after the parting of ways with another, be they dead or dead to me. Bittersweet farewells as time was cut too short between diverging paths in life or death. But every so often, I have the grace to recognize an ending and enjoy it. The closing of a book after the final chapter (satisfying thump as I flip it over and sigh). The parting embrace of a friend as they go off to a new adventure (“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace." - Isaiah 55:12. It lies in script above my back door at home).  

And so many other smaller ones which I forget.

Until a time comes when my mind dislodges one of these memories, drifting like a fall breeze, and brings a smile to my face as it all comes full circle once more.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Walks - Bookshops

Today I used my lunch break to go for a walk in Bloomington. I was seeking out which way would lead to a Half Price Books, as I adore browsing their stores and this one is an Outlet, giving me visions of a larger storefront. (And, of course, a greater potential selection.).
However, it wasn't meant to be as I was  unable to locate it on foot. That was only an excuse though, because my job requires little physical movement. The idea of searching town for such a place stirred me to a brisker trot.

I love being around books as some people love clothes shopping. I go to used bookstores like my friends go to Goodwill locations. There is a thrill of a rescuer, finding treasure from among a previous owner's castaway items. But once home, I don't always try the books on for size right away. They tend to sit on a shelf until I decide my mind and mood suit that offered adventure or educational opportunity.

I think in terms of examples relating things to other things, the relationships in between concepts and reality. It is how I perceive and contextualize the world. Clothes and food are nice, but my mind is even more hungry for new information and stories through which they shall be remembered for a time. My brain at any time is like a piece of paper - scrawled over and over with new markings on top of old. These newer ones are fresher and easier to focus upon and understand the workings, but the faded areas can still come to light when held up in the right time and place.

I checked the time. I had an hour for this walk and I had already used half of it. I walked into Caveat Emptor: Used and Rare Books. Ever since noticing it a few weeks back, I intended to use one of these breaks to explore the interior. Now an opportunity had arisen and I seized it.
The front area of the store had a cd rack, filled with a mish mash of albums I had never heard nor was likely to pick up from an ignorance of their nostalgic pull. The store looked like setting in a novel, not a storybook. Not perfectly laid out and clean, as there were faded and printed comic strips hanging on the ends of shelves, handwritten sectional signs to side rooms. A setting where time forgot to move for a while. Where books feel like they are awaiting the arrival of their prince or princess to wake them from long slumber. An area where treasures could be found alongside rare-for-a-reasons (Never caught on because there wasn't anything distinctively hooking the reader.) and bland, dust-jacketless books. Nothing caught my eye, but I admit I might have been blind to their value from my inexperience life and fine literature. One thing which made me smile with inward delight were the ladders on rails on one side of the shelves which reached ceiling level. I had never seen one of these systems in person. It made me think of Beauty and the Beast animated Disney film with Belle in the beginning bookstore scene. I restrained myself from hopping on one of them and riding it to the end of a line. I was dressed professionally - it would dishonor the uniform, myself, and most importantly: the books. There is something sacred about the written word in my mind's estimation.

Still, I knew what I was likely to like and asked if there were any books by G.K. Chesterton. The man behind the counter recognized the name and told me it wasn't likely: The man's books didn't stay on the shelves long even though he had been in the grave for the better part of the last century.
I was torn between being pleased and disappointed. The former because I was happy to know that I was not alone in enjoying his works, that people far more intelligent and experienced than I had a desire to pick it up. The displeasure arose from the fact of the lack. I had been hoping to discover an older edition of one of his books, something that I couldn't just order online for cheaper.

Part of the fun of going to secondhand shops is the story to accompany the story. Where and when I got something and how surprised and delighted I was to prosper in gleaning behind the main purchasers. Buying things online may be practical, but it is unromantic and clinical. Part of the reason I want to accumulate wealth stems from a desire to be a patron of bookstores. To be able to afford paying full price for works without a voice whispering that I am spending on books what I could have done on food, lodging, and transportation expenses.

I don't think I will escape it forever, but I should like to be a part of making sure such institutions survive into the next age of humanity. Books make me very happy, and I want to be supportive of people discovering the pleasure of literature in their own tastes and ways. Good night, I am tired.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Rains - Oscillate

Last night I awoke to a storm outside my window. I was expecting an early start to my day, so I rolled over and checked my the time in the glow of my device and saw banner notifications from my social networks. I smiled, pleased that people responded to things I shared. Late night thoughts had an outlet at my fingertips, did I have anything I wanted to say? "Not really," I reflected as water fell against my window, lit by occasional bursts of lightning and punctuated by bass grumblings of thunder.

I am grateful to be alive and safe inside from the weather. I turn over and fall into a doze, knowing that I will need my rest or I will flag later on in the face of my day's demands. I keep on periodically checking how much time I have left before I need to dress for work. When that time comes, I stretch and stumble-hop to the door where I hung my clothes.

After I finish with that, I look up on my shelf for my bush hat. It is excellent shelter through days with heavy weather, whether it be the burning sun or chilling rain. I prefer the latter for many reasons. There is something cleansing about the rain. The sounds it makes whistling in the winds or shattering on the ground. Even the clap as it leaps back into the air in reaction to my footfalls. The earth drinks of heaven and remits back in evaporation what it cannot consume, a type of natural offering in the light of the sun's warmth.

There are cycles and I want to be on the positive wave of them, rising at their peaks and riding them to their depths. The joys in the highs and lows of life, wondering how it all rotates and returns to the start. Time changes the face of the world, the elements reshape where they contact. I am being renewed and learning what that means. Ever a new creature, dying every second and being resurrected on a microscopic level. The world is as it ever is, but my mind sorts out meanings and patterns, metaphors to better contextualize and understand how to respond to my environment and fellow organisms.

I am often slightly bothered by wondering who I am becoming exactly. It is easier not to think too hard about my future self's behavior, but to analyze my past actions and their consequences. Interpreting my patterns of habits and asking myself if I would like those attributes if they were to be found in someone else.

I pull away from my introspection in favor of focusing on the road ahead of me. Foster the People's album Torches plays softly from my stereo, the squeak of wipers sweeping the percussional beat of rain from my windshield. I flick the setting to double time, marveling in darkness at the pavement beneath, lit by the reflectors flashing past in the light of my headlamps. I know that roads were not always there, but for my lifetime they have been. I cannot quite picture a world untouched by these modern trailways connecting city to city. I wonder how long it would have taken me to get to my worksite in the absence of this conveyance method. What other means I might have used, what other work I might have taken if it had proved too arduous a trek.

Back to the task, I don't have to deal in fantasies. Reality is tricky enough without running these ghostly scenarios of what might have been, though it does reinforce appreciation for what I have when I am where I am. I am very thankful for all of these gifts I have been given in this age.

I pray for my friends and family, whispering petitions for their health, wellbeing, and growth between lyrics of the soundtrack to my commute. There are many songs I know about rain, though not as many about rainbows. One that I did not have on my playlist, but particularly springs to mind.

When the Rain Comes - Third Day.

"When the rain comes it seems that everyone has gone away.
When the night falls, you wonder if you shouldn't find someplace
To run and hide. Escape the pain. But hiding is such a lonely thing to do.

I can't stop the rain from falling down on you again.
I can't stop the rain, but I can hold you until it goes away.

When the rain comes you blame it on the things you have done.
When the storm fades, you know that rain must fall on everyone.
So rest awhile. It'll be alright: No one loves you like I do.

I can't stop the rain from falling down on you again.
I can't stop the rain, but I will hold you.
I can't stop the rain from falling down on you again.
I can't stop the rain, but I can hold you until it goes away.

When the rain comes, I will hold you."

If I had been in a different mood, a more contemplative and anxious desire would have reached for the song "Ready for the Storm." But that is another day. Right now I have the above song on my heart and a smile on my lips. The rain is a beautiful thing, sometimes terrifying in its fury and relentless in its intensity, but it is a part of my life. It would be the poorer without the blessing of a downpour. A reminder to look up at the clouds and know that there are things higher than myself.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Haste - Pacing

For the past three weeks, I have been performing temporary data entry work at a location 42 miles from my home. Each morning, I get up early to the chiming of my device's alarm. Pick up a collared shirt, slacks, and tie off the doorknob in the dark. Sit down and put on my dress socks and shoes.

I am in my uniform for the day, tying off a simple knot in my tie. After my first day, I found that the others in my position level were not expected to wear ties. But I didn't want to come back the second day looking less professional, so it has become a touchstone. Something that I do to train myself in the habit of dressing up.

But what spurred me to write this is the curious practice of driving. After exiting my hometown, I hit a state road with a speed limit of 55-60 miles per hour. In my estimation, it is a reasonably lenient expectation. I want to just coast along in the left lane, going perhaps 5-7 miles above the speed limit for a cushion. My exit is a good 37 miles down the road, I don't have much need for hurry or changing lanes.

But each day, as I turn on to this road, I see cars taking the morning emptiness and routinely going 10-15 mph over the generous speed expectation. When I am gauging my car's position against theirs, I have the feeling that my car is moving slowly in their wake, but when glancing at my speedometer I wonder just how fast they are going. There is a temptation to match the flow of traffic pacing, not to look down and see where I stand in the law's reckoning.

I wonder further how this principle applies to other areas of life. Of how I sometimes feel like I am not making progress in comparison to those around me. I might not be paying attention to others who are measuring their behavior against mine and feeling bummed. I know that I am privileged in certain areas. I am grateful for the grace that has been given me, and I frequently pray about and remind myself not to squander such a gift.

There is a drive in me that wants to be more. It notices every fault I carry and mistake I make and pressures me with the suspicion that I could improve. This voice whispers if only I would focus and concentrate my energies on an area, I could excel and be an expert of sorts. But when I put my time and effort in one area above others, the others will fade accordingly to the drain on the attention placed in that one area.

It is a tricky thing to be alive and human. To be told that you have to be an A-level student, have a steady career path, a stable relationship, be well-informed person on current events, possess a presentable style and voice. There are days when I realize that I am not living up to my expectations. It is easy to be discouraged by this. But I have to take a deep breath, calm my mind and heart, and ask Christ. "How did you deal with this? How did you manage during your time on earth? What did you do with your time? How should I spend mine in bringing glory to Your name?"

As I get older, my knowledge of what I don't know keeps me humble. The knowledge that I can learn so much from everyone around me keeps me eager to help and learn in whatever way I can contribute. Balancing my life isn't easy, but I will focus on doing what I can with the options I have from moment to moment. I hope that the tools and skills I am creating, cultivating, and sharpening will prove useful down the road.

Until then, I will continue to rise early, array myself to face the day's demands, and try to enjoy the ride. Remembering that haste is a poor man's substitute to preparation in lead time and planning.

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all." - Ecclesiastes 9:10-11

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Everything - Aw[e]ful


Everything is awful, and you do not understand.
Look around the world, the thoughts that we command
Nothing is original, & everything’s been done.
Except the things that matter: those battles have not been won.
Do you believe the news is factual? That is your opinion, right?
I cannot say it is wrong. But I can boast that mine’s more right.
Speaking of rights, do you know that you have none?
You sold away your privilege for security from smoking guns.
Not that guns are evil, but the concept of killing stands.
Who made you the judge and jury over the life of another man?
And by the way about life? Why do you make a stand
About how and who a person loves and debate about pro-choice?
If morals are not legally binding, and religion has no voice,
What good is any notion of evil? Relativists could rejoice.
All actions and decisions of individuals defined by hazy means.
If you do not know their life, no legitimate protest can be seen.
Why do anything at all? You’ll be snared at any move.
Everything is awful. No matter what you do.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Everything is aweful, and you do not understand.
Look around the world, the thoughts that we command.
We may not be original, but we do as best we can.
So many things matter to so many different people,
Their ends are not the same, but we are created equal.
There are problems, there is pain,
But such things cannot be evil.
I know that I can be as militant with words as with a gun,
I can choose to kill ambitions or
Defend others who are frozen in the sights of another one.
I must pick my battlegrounds carefully,
For I know when the fight have begun,
I am held responsible for the crossfire
Stray reports can injure by-standing daughters and sons.
I did not ask for this, but I have been given life.
I wish that others have a chance at the same
I want others to survive.
I do not know about how others will choose to live.
I am responsible for my own life, how much that I can give.
I am young today, but I know how short that will last.
I have hope that we’ll learn from the lessons of the past.
Everything is aweful and I wish you could understand.
I do all that I may become, who dares do more is a greater man.