Friday, August 21, 2015

Cobwebs - Excuses

I have a few of the first because of many of the latter. By rights, I shouldn't have any of either today. My day was shortened at my job because my department had caught up with the important tasks of the week & I had reached my 40 hours.

I have been living away from my family for the past 5 months, as an opportunity opened to share a place with a friend. I have enjoyed this time to figure out how to take on responsibility for my daily decisions and upkeep of household duties. Cobwebs are one aspect of these things. The house has spiders, but also other pests. I have been of a mind to let some of them live in order to reduce the amount of mosquitos and flies that wander about the house from time to time. But some webs locations need to be discouraged, such as near my clothing, food, and books. But corners and behind the sink? If any bug is careless enough to go exploring there, it deserves to face some consequences.

But cleanliness is a consistent maintenance issue, and some jobs can be put off to be dealt with in batches, while others require more immediate address. Spiders can be pushed down on the list if they keep their heads and legs down.

Now, as for excuses. My current job can and typically does take more than 40 hours of my week depending on the workload brought in for my department to process. It becomes easier to focus on just keeping up with those demands rather than planning for personal growth and improvement. I have relatively low social requirements for satisfaction, and my family worries whether I will become an mildly-agoraphobic hermit who just leaves the house to work and get food.

It is tempting, especially when I can spend my evenings in the company of my personal library of books. They don't make demands, and patiently wait for my attention to unlock their ideas. They are predictable in their behavior and will remain in that state barring any elemental disaster or decay. But that is what makes human company that much more interesting. Unpredictability: Depending on mood, recent events, personality, and satisfaction of appetites, etc. People are entertaining and strange. Books, when doing their job properly, provide context for events and personages. People are not bound by that requirement and often take advantage of this freedom.

I tend to think that I explain myself better than I actually do. My family and friends humor me in this, but it is sometimes aggravating when I forget to do so in a timely manner. But as ever there are excuses.

I have a habit of stalling for time, of trying to gather myself to be prepared to put forth a good effort towards a yet to be determined goal. I am better with defined, external goals because then I am accountable to something outside myself for getting something done. And I like to help other people when I can figure out how to be useful.

It all comes down to the question of how to best spend the time I have. It is easier to tell myself that I have fixed obligations, because then I can take those for granted and not question them too much. Excuses are a convenience to fill space and time until I find something I strongly want or need to do. Because life is not easy, nor is it simple. But it can be made more manageable and maneuverable when I clean out the physical and mental cobwebs. Then I can make efforts to simplify my field of vision by looking outside myself and learning how to recognize tasks & people involved who could be served with my attention.

It will take time. But I am yet young and by God's grace and favor I am gifted with a sufficient amount of that at the moment.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Silencer - Report

I have put a bullet in my twitter account for the moment. I have been using it as an release valve on my thoughts for the past three and a half years. It is an outlet altogether too convenient for me, and I am wondering if I have been leaning on it too much lately.

Can I manage to keep silent for long? I still habitually check it from my mobile device, but I am seeing if I can scale back on this habit.  I want to grow as a person & I realize that using twitter as a vehicle and medium to convey my thoughts increases my impulsiveness and impatience with other things in my life.  It has immediacy in its ability to be an addictive ongoing chronicle of other peoples' thoughts and actions.

It increases my passivity while simulating the feeling of activity. It plays and preys on the idea of pithy popularity as to the interest and reaction by others to what commentary and quips are added to the social stew. I become alternately fond and frustrated by the site's limitations and flaws. What I choose to do with my time will shape who I am now, as well as build habits towards who I will be in the future.

So I will be quiet for a spell on that site, and try to explore other things with that allotted time. I can't say how successful I'll be. Right now I am scratching that itch to share my life to the limited public eye on here.  But why should you or even I particularly care to know such things.

It is a habit, a means of creating noise to avoid the silence and the questions it brings. I am reminded of the passage in Douglas Adams' five part Hitchhiker trilogy about the planet Kakrafoon Kappa, a race that was enlightened, accomplished, and silent was punished by a galactic tribunal with a societal telepathy. "Any thought, if not articulated and verbalized immediately, would thenceforward be broadcast for everyone to hear across Kakrafoon's smug neighbouring planets." This ruined the silent society as all the Kakrafoonians were forced to break their practice of silence lest everybody overhear instead of the smaller and more immediate group.

Silence isn't always comfortable to carry around. Reticence can be perceived as antisocial or rude.  I have friends who wear it better than others. Sometimes I don't talk because I have nothing to contribute and much more to learn by keeping my peace.  There is also the frustrating maxim, "Speak only if you can improve upon the silence."  Whenever I remember this saying, I become hyperaware of speaking up at all. And declaring the epigram aloud is even worse to my sensibilities because it appears a haughty and condescending judgement upon anyone else who happens to be talking.

I am reading through Richard Foster's book "Celebration of Discipline" with a group of men. There are chapters on prayer, private meditation and study of ideas, simplicity, and solitude. This respite from engaging in social networking sites might allow me to exercise in these disciplines and habits. I am grateful for the opportunity and am excited to see what I learn during this new year.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Compare - Aware

Another long day at work. Mondays are getting that way for me. Some practices are still new to me, and I wish I could have applied them retroactively. But until someone tells me, I just stick to the parameters of which I am aware. Slightly frustrating for me not to excel at things.

I engage in a consistent series of comparing and contrasting against others around me. Not competitively, but observing how others perform tasks and create systems throughout their lives. My friends have greater discipline & dedication in certain areas and I admire their handiwork. I wonder often if I could adapt to these systems if given enough time.

But time is a resource and if I spend it in study of other people, then I have little to show for it besides for theories as to how things are accomplished. I have to start with small steps on an incremental level, adding complexity as I can handle it. I get frustrated with myself more than with other people. I can directly affect my behavior, and try to be patient and excuse other people for theirs.

The girl in Eleanor Estes' book Ginger Pye had this habit of making elaborate excuses for other people's behavior. That book had a strange effect on me looking back on my course through childhood. I don't really understand how there is an overarching plot in that award winning novel, but there are memorable character traits. The other influence I had from that book was the vertical swimmer, who was not exceptional at speed, but could hold his breath underwater for an impressive period of time to the other kids. I was quite inspired by that logic, but alas, am rather landlocked and so have not pursued a career as a deep sea diver.

The fact remains that I must improve in many areas, and have the same patience with myself that I want to extend towards others when I am feeling inconvenienced. I am bothered by the notion that I am often dissatisfied with my own level of competency. But then I remember that otherwise, I am likely to grow comfortable in mediocrity & my drive to progress is through a spur applied by this aforesaid defense mechanism.

Also, I need to get better at owning the things at which I actually am pretty decent. But I don't want to be conceited, so I much prefer it when someone else arrives at the idea that I am. Thank you for your short attention to this & you're welcome for whatever you like about it.

There will probably be better content next week, but I am tired at the moment. An earlier draft of a blog post was written last week, but was a stew made of resentment & frustration, so I have decided to see if it will be better served after being put on ice another week.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Nostalgia - Molting

"I watch the proverbial sun rise over the Pacific 
And I might be losing my mind, but I will shy away from the specifics.
Cause I don't want you to know who I am.
Cause then you'll see my heart and the saddest thing its ever been
This is no way to try and live my life
Stop right there: That's exactly where I lost it
See that line, well I never should have crossed it
Stop right there: I never should have said that.
It's the very moment that I wish that I could take back.
I'm sorry for the person I became.
I'm sorry that it took so long for me to change.
I'm ready to make sure I never become that way again
Cause who I am hates who I've been."

- Relient k "Who I am hates Who I've Been"

It is a strange thing to grow up. And it feels stranger to recognize my growth as a person.
I live my life in relation to other things. Where my friends & my interests intersect &/or bounce off in different trajectories. These relationships change and decay over time, according to the velocity & energy I invest in keeping them in touch.

There are times in which I have to shed mass like a ship trying to stay afloat and maintain speed. At other times I must shoulder new responsibilities in response to a change in the wind in order to keep the pace. As I age, these weights will grow heavier as do the consequences behind the choices of what to keep and of what to let go.

It can also be akin to a juggling act of tossing away a part of my life in hopes of catching it again later once I free up space in the future. But that also means that some things which I drop so that another object can be put into rotation. My skill as a juggler will grow over time with practice as I get more accustomed to the rhythm & flow of life.

There will be some miniature glass houses among those objects. Friendships & hobbies I once held dear. If I am not careful & attentive, these can shatter into shards which can cut wounds. But I need to learn & keep moving on lest my inattention causes further future droppings.

I can't say that I live without regrets, but I am training my focus on the road ahead rather than cursing myself on the exits I missed in the rearview mirror. Life can go in so many ways & occasionally I can be wistful for what might have been or nostalgic for the way things were.  My father and his twin brother have a reoccurring conversation about how much simpler life was in the age of innocence.

Not that life was easier, but how much less complicated it was when they did not comprehend the full implications of what it means to be a man & function on an adult level. Dynamics shift & the scenery changes. Eyes open wide to the knowledge of good and evil, with the expectation of sorting black & white when society wants to paint over issues with grey areas.  Sight isn't always clear on the RIGHT way to behave and conduct myself, especially when the full implication behind how my actions can affect & influence others.

I miss all the me's of the past. Who I have been and the things I carried with me at each stage.  But I can't be them again. I don't want to regress in order to cling to the past's familiar comfort. I want to be able to draw upon it & remember with a smile. To be grateful that I can look forward to missing the me that is now on some day in the future.

Monday, January 12, 2015

HonesTea - Letters

Letters. That is the important thing.

I had it all planned out in late night inspiration. That I would try to do a creative thing each day of the week. Updating this would be one of them, such as it is.

But letters.

I wanted to write one every week. But doing so requires recipients possessing at least two of three qualities. First, a willingness to receive such a gesture, then an appreciation of the time it takes to do so, and/or the courtesy to respond in like kind.

It takes two parties for a letter to be a successful endeavor. I am fortunate to be acquainted with a few people fitting that criteria, and there are probably more if I had the courage to propose such a thing. For a while during school, I wrote letters to myself to read later. School was stressful at times, and I wanted an outlet to channel that frustrated creative energy into a medium where I could review it at a better time. They were personal in their insecurity and questioning as to what I was doing with my life if one of my main enjoyments was reading and occasionally commenting in notes my thoughts on them.

I was miffed at the notion that my college library was underutilized in proportion to its wondrously packed hallways of books. The most popular features of the university library were its computers and meeting rooms. So I set out to leave notes in certain books, as an experiment to see whether they circulated at all. I was delighted when about 8 months later, a person found my note in a Neil Gaiman graphic novel and told me that my note was appreciated.

It is the little things like that which can really make my day better. During New years, I watched a Demetri Martin special "If I" with a friend. I had seen it before, and I remembered enjoying it. (The entire program is available on Youtube). It is an autobiographical routine in which Martin explores his life through the lens of the different dictionary definitions of "If." He is too clever for himself at times and the audience sometimes needs a second or two to catch up. But the presenter is patient with them, allowing for pauses between his narration of habits and motivations which led him to where he is now. Martin loved brain puzzles as a child, then he made his own puzzles, then used everyday life as a puzzle, then himself as something to be solved. It is a progression into introspection and he admits of the dangers of treating life as an abstracted game.

My friend watching it didn't find it as funny as I did. He found it to be painfully true for where he is in his own life. And it is. I was laughing at the accuracy of his observations in application, but the internally-directed humor helps dampen the blows he takes. He doesn't blame the audience for not examining their lives better, but offers his life as a living example of the troubles he had when he did exactly that.

Little things add up. And getting a personal letter in the mail is delightful. It makes me very happy. But in order to get that feeling, I have to find someone else who also finds joy in that as well and is willing to reciprocate. I worry that I will run out of interesting things to say, but I shan't know if I don't make the attempt to exhaust whatever I have at the moment.

These days, I look forward to coming home and having a hot cup of tea. It is a seasonal habit for me in these cold days and gives me motivation to carry on during the duties of the day. It is a ritual, a closure, and a restorative all at once. What a wonderful little subculture it can be, though I know it is quite a public one elsewhere in the world, I can pretend it is a private indulgence for me alone.

Good night.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Annual - Annoyance

(The title was derived from my laptop named "Beautiful" being grumpy and refusing my efforts to reach this blog and make a post. It is about 5 years old and I probably could have taken better care of it. However, my combination of fondness for its familiarity and disinclination through a cheap streak at the cost of replacement means I am most likely going to make do with it for a while yet.)

Every year, I tell myself is a rededication. Nothing outrageous, but an opportunity to mark off milestones and make new habits. Alas, I run out of steam and get distracted by other things. Mostly, I wonder if what habits I chose really matter. Do they mean something to someone else? Is it selfish to pursue these habits at the expense of other things?

I don't know for certain, and thus get worried over nothing until I realize that time has gone by and I have accomplished nothing but vanity. Nothing will matter if there is nothing given or risked. I fear that I shall go through my life with the same mantra, the same thoughts put in different words. but it is all that I have at the moment and will likely always be.

So I read other peoples work, comforted that it is not mine. That I am a spectator, though not often a critic. I am apart from the creative process, but can get excited and point others in the same direction. "Look! Look! This person is saying something on my wavelength! If you want to understand me, only presented better, this is what you need to know. This is what entertains me. This is what thrills me. And because this other person is able to communicate this, I am obviously not alone in that interest or perspective."

It is lazy, admittedly. But it depends on what I ultimately do with the knowledge and experience I have accumulated. Mostly I do things of value when I am not noticing, when it becomes natural for me to do certain things. I want a natural life, one in which I grow. But it is a matter of perspective. Maybe you'll gain from whatever fruit I am able to produce from the sources of entertainment and interest that I find and share. That is a pleasant thought.

Consistency. That is the key. To keep persevering and building a commitment to an end.  This blog is somewhat a collection of snapshots of my mind at certain times. Like with my face, certain themes stay recognizable, but depending on the time interval between captures and the amount of sleep I've had before it, the expressions in the portraits change.

I am usually spurred to write when some external event occurs to encourage it. In this case, it is a cocktail of few ingredients. The new year and the reorienting in time and place that it brings. A vague poking about on my part towards my lethargic facebook account to see if I should awaken it. Lastly, the amount of enjoyment I am getting from reading Warren Ellis' "Orbital Operations" and the DeFractions' "Milkfed Criminal Masterminds" email newsletters.

Writing as a process is fascinating to me. Not always as the mechanics and the rules as if it were a machine, but from the operator and conductor's point of view. How does a writer process information and convert it into communication and narrative? Ellis is a grumbling gardener of a writer - his ideas sprout from a rich assorted fertilizer of environmental and economic theories of rise of declines in the modern world, ambient music seeded along other sorts of podcasts, and composted rejected ideas which collapsed on themselves before they saw the light of public purview. I love this weekly newsletter so much, with its grim humor and commentary on trends and their applications and implications.

Milkfed Criminal Masterminds' updates are fewer, so I don't have as much material with which to judge its tones, but Matt Fraction's December newsletter was amazing. It was a story told through chronological coincidences and rediscoveries, of how pain, addiction, and death were sometimes the risks and scars of his courting of the creative process. It was beautiful, heartbreaking, bitter through the hard times, and sweet through the knowledge that he has survived those demons for now.

There is hope, though in the short scenes and stories that I have crafted so far have not always been clear or hopeful. I get lost, whether in terms of where I was intending to go, or in not leaving a distinct and engaging trail for an audience to follow. A few of my attempts have strained the friendships I've had and discouraged me from trying my hand at writing short fictions.

Writing is work. Especially editing. I have heard that the first draft is for the writer (with door closed), the second is door open (with a few trusted people let in to review). I don't always have the confidence for the second go-around. It is cowardly, and I need to change that if I want to be a better writer. It is a tricky balance to be in tune with the work but not emotionally connected in a way that will cripple at the first wave of criticism. I guess that is why there are drafts. If I want something to last and stand, I need to care enough that it has a good foundation and presentation from more than one angle or perspective. That I would not be discouraged by it falling apart, but to take the pieces that stood up well and recycle them into the next attempt.

This is mostly a reminder to myself. It is not a resolution, but nor is it a passing fancy. Let's call it a consideration for now, until it gets higher than a few days off the ground to be worth a different title.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reverence - Idolatry

Today was Wednesday, which makes it special. Tuesday is typically when new music becomes available and Friday is when new films are presented in theaters. But Wednesday? That is when new comics stock the shelves of retailers.  Collecting series is one of my current hobbies, and I enjoy the ability to patronize the intersection betwixt artwork and writing in the storytelling medium.

Of course, I could just buy picture books. But the plotting tends to be better in these offerings, even though it can run more expensively in the long run. (Pun intended.).

I saw that Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie's Wicked & the Divine trade was available last week. It was beautifully designed: a white cover featuring a single feather quill aflame. Volume 1: Faust Act. Very clean and only $10 for the collection of 5 issues.  I had already bought the individual issues from the same shop, and had pre-ordered this collection online. 

However, I had not heard back from when it was being shipped. So I bought the book at the store today.

This raised many questions in my head. Why did I need the trade when I had bought it twice over already? Why haven't I even read the individual issues? Why wasn't the trade I ordered being shipped yet to me?

The answers are: Because it was there; The issues are equally as beautifully designed and I wanted the additional content featured at the backs of the issues for later reading, but not for the first go through; and Amazon is stubborn and publishers don't want to accommodate the giant online retailers' bullyish demands.

The point is, I like the creative team of Gillen & McKelvie, having followed them from other projects such as Phonogram and the Marvel:Now 15 issue run of Young Avengers.  The pair of creators are innovative in their layouts, imaginative in their plotting, and clever in their execution.

But there is a greater issue involved, apt in irony or portent. Somehow, I had a creative reverence for the idea of them scripting this series concerning a pantheon of gods who are fated to rise like shooting stars and burn out brightly.  I read the first issue over lunch and was delighted that my anticipation was met by the actuality of the content.

I wanted the issues because the covers were just wonderfully designed, but didn't want to open them.  This, I realize, is idolatry: I have taken something that was intended to be read, and denying myself that use of it.  They just sit in their protective plastic sheathes and look pretty.  I have rendered them useless to me, it is a wasteful and foolish choice of action.

I have full knowledge of this, and yet I am disinclined to change my mind. This was not originally intended as an ironic performance of an object lesson, but it could be one now that it has happened.  It is a metaphor and symptom of a greater habit of mine.  I sometimes idolize and idealize people and things external to myself.  Recognizing that I do not naturally have control over them, I categorize them within a mental box, resisting attempts for them to grow in purpose and direction.  This is a type of weak control and ownership over the object, a smaller reflection of a greater reality.

First impressions stick with me because they are easier to remember and require less energy to maintain.  As a resistance to this tendency to simplify things, I am even more delighted when people and things surprise me. This allows me to see them anew and reassess the dimensionality and potential abilities. I have to adjust my "box" and acknowledge that I have been limiting them in my mind.

Reverence is an attitude. But whether it is a healthy or a crippling one depends on how it is leveraged in relation to the object.  If the object's usefulness to me is the focus of the reverence, it is idolatry. Sooner or later, it will disappoint me and there will be an uncomfortable period of wondering whether the fault is in the object or myself for trusting it to serve that purpose for me.  It is a jealous and internal worship. If anyone else is perceived to lay claim to my use of the object's properties or claim better understanding of it, I become aggressively defensive and sensitive of my bond to it.

But there is a reverence which can be used for healthy purposes. When I focus instead on the object's relational usefulness to everything else, it converts into praise. I become an evangelist to everyone around me, seeing how much I enjoy the object, I believe everyone else's lives will be made better by acquaintance with it as well.  I am open to new opinions and perspectives, because I want to have a greater understanding of its appeal. I want be able to explain its merits to everyone, the multiple layers of perspective and enlightenment.  Every new piece of information and insight is a revelation to share.

I know that on a small scale, The Wicked & the Divine is just another comic. But it is one that I enjoy and through this enjoyment, I gain a greater goodwill that others might also find something that they will enjoy as much as I do.  On a larger scale, I want my relationship with Christ to shine through in all that I do. My conduct and enthusiasm for His love and care for me, I want others to be as blessed as I.

But there are some people who look at comics and are prejudiced. It is a low art form; lots of capes; muscled men in tights and women as eye candy; wham pow bang; it is an expensive price tag for such a small thing; comics are for the immature who never grew up; and so forth.

It is a hard proposition to convince such people that they might be hasty in such judgments. Arguing with them that they are being wrong can make these people more stubborn and set in their ways. Without a relationship upon which to leverage trust, I would become just another passionate zealot to dismiss as irrelevant or even irritating.

The same principle can hold true with the concept of Christianity. People think that they understand it well enough already or that no one in their right mind can understand it because it is so much bologna. Preconceived notions about what religions are and what they mean can close people to different perspectives or ideas explaining who we are and what we can become.

Thoughts about religion and spirituality can be as messy as a comic book series with missing issues in between. Bits and pieces of scripture, commentaries, and theologies are stitched together, patched with scientific studies, philosophies, epigrams, and cosmological theories of everything.  It is like putting Marvel and DC comics series next to each other and demanding that they make one streamlined continuity of logical plot.  It is not that they are irreconcilable: rules in one universe can help you better interpret mysteries and points of confusion in the other.  It is just that each universe has its rules and logic for how things are now and how they came to be.

Modern science is based in skepticism, that nothing is true unless it can be proven to be an accurate result for the majority of the time it is tested.  But in order for science to be effective, some assumptions of constants and trustworthiness have to be in place.  If the human mind itself is an unreliable or imperfect tool by which to measure other things, we as a race are screwed before we even had a chance.  You have to have faith in something as a starting point, as an absolute by which you can measure all other things in comparison.

This is running long. I don't want my exercise in distilling the ideal of idolatry to idle away your time.  I am grateful for you sticking around with me to the end. I hope that you encounter many things in your life that give you reverence for life and enthuse you to become an apologist in your own way. Good night.