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.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wesley - Work

I do not regret my sleeping patterns, yet I have a subconscious guilt about the hours I spend unconscious. Where is the line between slothfulness and sufficient satisfaction? It can vary from person to person. I heard of Charles Wesley's short hours of sleep, and in the selfsame article when cursorily confirming the exact hours, I uncovered this:

“A remarkable feature in Mr. Wesley's character, was his placability. Having an active, penetrating mind, his temper was naturally quick, and even tending to sharpness. The influence of religion, and the constant habit of patient thinking, had in a great measure, corrected this disposition. In general he preserved an air of sedateness and tranquility, which formed a striking contrast to the liveliness conspicuous in all his actions. Persecution, abuse, and injury, he bore from strangers, not only without anger, but without any apparent emotion; and what he said of himself was strictly true, that he had a great facility in forgiving injuries. No man was ever more free from jealousy or suspicion that Mr. Wesley, or laid himself more open to the impositions of others. Though his confidence was often abused, and circumstances sometimes took place which would have made almost any other man suspicious, yet he suspected no one; nor was it easy to convince him that any one had intentionally deceived him; and when facts had demonstrated that this was actually the case, he would allow no more than that it was so in that single instance. If the person acknowledged his fault, he believed him sincere, and would trust him again.” (Pulled from http://www.goforthall.org/articles/jw_bio.html).

Fascinating fellow, I need to learn that knack of patience and placability with people. It was a joint effort, in compliance to the service of his Savior, but I should pursue that discipline as well. To accept criticism and not aggressively defend my honest faults.
 
"Mr. Wesley was a most pertinacious adherent of the English establishment, and never dreamed of attempting the salvation of souls by preaching the gospel outside her church walls, until he was ruthlessly expelled from all her pulpits." (As above cited).

It appears that he did not seek the path that led him to where he ended up, but chose the avenue by the process of the elimination of other means. It reminds me of someone else in my life, who knew that something must be changed, but hadn't a clear vision on how, but a confidence in why they had to do it. 

But this was the reason behind my initial inquiry:
"It may be asked, how was he able to accomplish so much? He improved every moment of every day to the very best advantage.
John Fletcher, who for some time was his traveling companion, says: “His diligence is matchless. Though oppressed with the weight of seventy years, and care of more than thirty thousand souls, he shames still, by his unabated zeal and immense labors, all young ministers of England, perhaps Christendom. He has generally blown the gospel trumpet and rode twenty miles before most of the professors, who despise his labors, have left their downy pillows. As he begins the day, the week, the year, so he concludes them, still intent upon extensive services for the glory of the Redeemer and the good of souls.”
In order to save time he, in the first place, ascertained how much sleep he needed; and when once settled, he never varied from it to the end of life. He arose at four o'clock in the morning, and retired at ten in the evening, never losing at any time, he says, ten minutes by wakefulness. The first hour of each day was devoted to private devotions; then every succeeding hour and moment were employed in earnest labor. His motto was, “Always in haste, but never in a hurry.” “I have,” he says, “no time to be in a hurry. Leisure and I have taken leave of each other.” (As above cited).

This is another tack for which I need reminding. To use every second, making it work for me. Excellence is not easy to attain. I need to aspire to greater levels rather than worry about the one on which I am on now. Thank you Lord, for your many servants, for the examples that they left, the testimonies of Your children's love for you. Let me not despise rest though, for You grant us that gift as well. Let me know moderation and the joy of life in all you have to offer.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Communication - Confusing

It would be laughable if it wasn't so frustrating.
Communication within my family is difficult precisely because of the imprecise assumptions about the flow of information around the house.  It skips a few heads, we all nod and believe that we are on the same page, but are actually looking in different books.
Namely, there is the problem of my scheduling: I live my life in somewhat parallel to my family at this point. I only think to inform them of my tangentness in their plans when I expect them to intersect. Sometimes, I am surprised to discover that my participation in an activity is planned, but as my schedule is mostly free, (save the fixed points of college courses), it is usually amenable for me to be a part of those plans.

It is particularly ironic that given how available I am to communicating online, I appear to be the hardest to actually reach in the family. This paradox is not lost on my parents, and frustrates them when they do try to get in contact. I am not attempting to avoid their messages, but technology has lately failed me at key moments in the past week. They ask for solutions in which to better get through to me.  I don't necessarily have better ideas, and if I make suggestions, I feel like they will ask me what I do with my time.

Time is a curious thing. I am not good at putting an accurate measurable valuation on it, but have no wish to waste others' use of it.  The ways I choose to spend my time are sometimes frivolous and impulsive, but my madness keeps me sane for other, more important, moments. Truth is, that asking me whether something is worth my time or "of value" confuses me. Somehow, somewhere, somebody else can offer a price tag on my time. Those who do put a price tag on their time are subject to the judgment of others as to whether they would choose to pay for that person's attention to their problem.

But thoughts about how to begin down that path of evaluating my own value for services is a separate post for a separate time. When it comes down to details, it is difficult for me to justify me doing any individual action with financial or philosophical logic that it was the best choice available at the time.

(Well, except for the existential salvation that doing something creates meaning, which is absent from the choice of non-action, which is still something, but harder to quantify. Though often, there are moments in which I do wistfully wish to do nothing. It is a break and pause in which starting points in other directions can be taken. Staring into the abyss of doing nothing is enough to frighten somebody into leaving. Having to deal with pondering yourself and your life choices is akin to someone looking into the shadow they cast and trying to run faster, away from it into focusing on something else as a distraction.)

The above is why opening any philosophical door is dangerous. Once open, many unexpected guests wander through the portal and start to party in my head. It is not as easy to shut the door, be a buzzkill and tell them to shuffle off to the back of my brain until a better time comes. Perhaps in the middle of the night when I am helpless to affect anything on that cosmic scale.

Back to communication. That was the original spur to this post. Now you might have an idea of how frustrating it can be to get anything through to me. I cannot even write a blog post to my original point, get to the heart of the matter, and bow out with dignity. However, I do feel that this illustrates MY position much clearer than if I had taken the previous sentence's advice.

In the end, I want to be more conscientious about my intentions when concerning my family. I cannot assume that they know what is in my head, nor that something that I told one member of my family had been passed on to the rest. I have to pay careful heed that the people are aware of me as I am of them. To think of others rather than absently thinking that things will work out if everybody serves their own best interests. It may work in Adam Smith's idealized economic system at large, but in detail, the economics of human interaction are rife with complications and are delicately balanced.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Competition - Creation

         My father loved competitive sports as a young man. In college, he taught one of his friends to play tennis. When the person started out, my dad critiqued him for hitting the ball too hard. The person responded, “I’ll get the placement down eventually, right now I want to learn how to hit with power.” And through work and practice, he did. Soon, he was beating my father, who is a finesse player rather than power. Not overwhelmingly, but effectively - his strategy had the potential to dominate and dictate my father’s reaction.

         The point is control and proactiveness. I am studying business in my senior year as an accounting/finance major. One of my classes deals with strategy - being aware of the nature of the environment, narrowing the focus to accentuate strengths of myself and my team. Knowing what I want to do, and keeping track of the effectiveness of my actions, evaluating opportunities and choosing which fronts on which to compete.

          Everything has a cost. To excel in everything will have a personal toll on my emotions, time, and patience. Most people pare down on commitments to maintain their sanity, imposing edges and frames to enclose a pretty picture. Such limitation is not cowardice, but a coping mechanism, a worldview by which they measure themselves against internal and external expectations. You can ALWAYS do more, but should you? Diminishing returns do apply - risks which are not worth the anticipated reward.

How much is enough? What will satisfy yourself? A good, honest day’s work, a feeling that I have accomplished something, made progress. Too much leisure is taxing as well, becoming a cage of a different kind. There is a balance between them. Leisure gives my mind an intangible reward in the form of a period of no obligations, a freedom to think and dream, listen and laugh. Work gives an outlet through which to apply the knowledge, make real the dreams, fund the leisure time with productivity. The weight of responsibility exercises my mind and body, testing my ingenuity to formulate solutions to issues.

I shouldn’t worry. Anxiety is good if it is a spur to press on rather than a barb which paralyzes decision making. But worrying about things I cannot change drains time from being expended towards things I can affect. Picking my battles, and realizing my position. I can be useful, I have to maintain a level head and be alert to opportunities in which to help.