Thursday, December 31, 2009

the morning after


Yesterday I finished the final edit of my book before I send it off to a couple of poor innocents whom I've coerced into being my readers. The function of a reader is to bring fresh eyes and tell you where, exactly, the love-child you've created is a big stinking failure. 

I'm not all that worried about it - it is what it is, after all - but I am feeling a little bit of post-Olympics let-downI hear that after Olympic athletes train and train and train their entire lives for the Olympics, after it's over and they've won (or not), they end up getting severely depressed and going all nut-bar, like old whatsis-name swimmer dude.

For the past five months I've focused a lot of myself on telling my story in internetual book form. When I wasn't writing it, I was generally on some level of consciousness mulling it over. That is the longest I have ever dedicated myself to any one creative project, ever, and now that I'm done I really don't know exactly what to do with myself.

I mean, obviously I start the next one, but emotionally I am a little discombuberated and it's definitely a bit difficult to focus on anything much at all. I'm currently learning the ukulele, trying to put together some submission letters for a couple of children's books I did with a friend, and developing a screenplay while reading books on screenplay writing. I also spend a lot of time taking care of my little human toddler-monkey, and on Monday I'll be going back to work as a teacher.

I suppose I just need some new hobby, like booze or heroin, that can help me forget that I ought to be doing something with my life. I haven't felt like writing, though, and the only cure for that particular ailment is to sit down and write. So that, dear friends of the electronic world, is what I am doing herein.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

secrets and theft

A friend of mine has a secret blog. He doesn't tell anyone about it, and tries to convince the few who know of its existence that it is actually written by his identical twin brother, who is a myth. I only found it because he foolishly left a comment on here using his own blogger account, whenupon I promptly went to his blog and wrote "Gotcha, you weasel." He says it's a secret because he's just sort of thinking things out, but I think it's because he's too lazy to edit.

Normally if I like something someone says on the interwebs I'll link to it, because it is easier. But this would annoy him for sure, so instead I'll just annoy him a little bit by re-posting it here. If it seems raw, it's because he doesn't really edit. If it seems like it obliquely references me a few times ("Canada", "Effup"), it's because it does. Because I am special.

Enjoy.





I Am An Adulterer


I am not a great man. But if by telling you that I am not a great man, that makes me a great man...well...then, I guess I must be a great man.


My friend Canada threw that quote out at me.

And so humility becomes just another tactic...to prove how great I am.

But at what point is the line crossed?

I can tell you that I am a wretch, and you place your hand between my shoulder blades and look into my innocent pale blue eyes and tell me that I am not.

I can tell you that I have lied, stolen, hurt people -- deeply and on purpose, stepped on others in order to get ahead, looked down on nearly everyone around me. For this, you would applaud me for my bravery and willingness to expose my naked soul for all to see.

But my soul is not naked. I am too smart for that. I am humble because I am cunning. It is a tactic, like every other human action. Stanislavski taught me that.

But at what point can I cross that line?

How can I convince you that I suck? When can I describe my actions in such vulgar, profane detail that you might agree with me?

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

There is a bit of a dilemma within the modern Church. Somewhere along the line, we adopted the term “Christian.” If you are unfamiliar with the etymology, the word means “Little Christ.” I recently read an article by a man who swore off the title. He suggested that it is arrogant and offensive for a person to call him or herself a “little Christ.” He vowed never to use the term to describe himself ever again.

I agree. I agreed with him on every single point. But then what shall we call ourselves?

I raised this question to my aunt. She is a wonderful woman and quite passionate about Jesus herself. She suggested perhaps we should start calling ourselves Christ followers. It has all the benefits of stating that we are trying to be like Christ without pridefully suggesting that we ARE like Christ.

AWESOME.

Only, I don’t think many people are actually trying to be like Christ. I’m pretty sure we’re all just looking for new and exciting ways to prove that we’re better than everybody else.

So maybe a handful of people can accurately label themselves “Christ-followers.” But I don’t really think I’m trying hard enough to be a part of that crowd. Sometimes, maybe, but most of the time...when I am trying hard to be Christ-like...I’m just doing it so that I can look down on all the people who aren’t trying as hard as I am.

So, what the hell do I call myself?!?!?!

I’m not a Christian. I’m not even a Christ follower! But I don’t believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster either! I believe the whole Jesus story, I’m just not willing to give him a bad name by suggesting that I’m anything even remotely like him.

What the hell do I call myself! I need a goddamn name!

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

Once, I interviewed my friend Phil about this thoughts on Christianity. Phil is a great man, whom I deeply respect and admire. He is flawed just like the rest of us -- but he knows quite a few things that I don’t, and he does a slightly better job at pretending like he’s Jesus than I do. During this interview, one little gem stood out to me.

Now bear with me, because this is probably a tired, old metaphor...but it was new to me.

It’s like my house is heaven. Now it’s all nice and clean and beautiful and wonderful. I tell my kids they can go outside and play, but don’t play in the mud. So they’re kids. What do they do? They play in the mud. Does this mean I’ll never let them back inside my house? Of course not! But it does mean that I’m gonna hose them down, first.

He then backspaced a few times on that and decided it was more like a virus with a cure than mud and a hose...and he was right. It’s the more accurate metaphor, because really...what does it matter if your house gets dirty. BUT, if there is a deadly disease running around, it makes sense for heaven to remain quarantined.

But, I like the mud metaphor better. It’s more visceral. I’m a filmmaker...viruses aren’t primal...mud and water...those resonate.

So I imagine it like this. God has a clean house. He wants everybody to have a super sweet awesome party in there, but we’re all covered in shit...literally, shit. We hate our miserable lives because every second of every day, we are covered in shit. It’s all around us. People are throwing it, but even faster than they can throw it -- we are rolling around in it, smearing it into every pore and orifice. I imagine Jesus as the the big fat guy standing at the entrance of the house, smoking a cigar, covered in tattoos and looking like a line cook at Waffle House. He is holding a hose and is more than happy to hose off anybody who comes inside.

The Christians are the ones who are out in the shit storm telling everybody about the fat guy with the hose. Only nobody’s buying what they’re selling. And I’ll tell you exactly why. Because the Christians all pretend like they’re not covered in shit; all you have to do is look at them to know it’s a big fat lie.

I walk up to you, all three of you who read this blog...I, personally walk up to you. There is a mixture of shit covering my entire body. I’m talking dog shit, horse shit, cow shit, rabbit shit, llama shit, cat shit, human shit...everything shit. It’s in my hair, all in my hair -- lathered in like shampoo. It’s caked down my face like makeup on a prom queen. When I grin, you can see it between my teeth. It’s in my ears, under my fingernails, it’s so heavy it weighs down my clothes and causes them to stick to my body.

And I’m not talking old shit, like all crusty and dried out after a few days. I’m talking new, recent, wet, stinky shit.

So...I walk up to you. And I say, “Hey, you’re covered in shit. Wouldn’t you like to be clean, like me? And totally NOT covered in shit?”

I can’t imagine you would take my solution very seriously.

See, the problem with Christianity is that it’s just one more tactic in our never-ending quest to prove that we are better that everybody else.

Hobbes said, “I put for the general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.” And he was pretty much the smartest stuffed tiger I can think of.

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

Christianity is a fairy tale. It’s stupid. Only stupid people could possibly believe in it. Stupid or else naive. It is imaginary, a religion of wishing upon stars.

But if I learned anything from Pinocchio, it’s that wishing upon stars is never a bad idea.

We “Christians” spoil that illusion. If I tell you a beautiful fairy tale about a selfless and elegant man who loves you despite the fact that he knows exactly how unlovable you are...you might just be inclined to believe that He exists somewhere out there -- because you so greatly yearn to be loved, and especially by someone who knows just how unlovable you are.

But if I tell you that I am even remotely like this man, the illusion is broken. Because you smell the bullshit that I am covered in. And if this man is anything like me, he can’t possibly be as great as all the fairy tales say he is. Because I don’t love you. (I’m pretty sure that nobody really loves anyone, to be honest. Not in the way the Bible talks about. In fact, I’d be willing to bet my life on that.)

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

I was reading through the Old Testament -- specifically the prophets. To be more specific, it was Amos, I think. I’m not certain. There was a verse in there where God likened the Israelites behavior to adultery. The prophets are DENSE with this terminology. I have a feeling, actually, that adultery may have been Jeremiah’s favorite word. Over and over and over, the prophets call the Judites and the Israelites “adulterers.” And yet, they never call anybody else adulterers. The Philestines are awful and wicked, but they’re not adulterers. The Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Egyptians -- the term is never used on them.

Why? Well, obviously, they never entered into a covenant with God. If we’re using the same metaphor, these people groups are merely fornicators. People who get into bed with idols and false gods, but have every right to do so...they never entered into a relationship with God. They never committed their lives to him. They never admitted His existence.

Which led me to the realization that I had found a new term for Christians. We are the adulterers. If we truly realize that praying that silly prayer in which we state that we believe in a fairy tale does not make us into some kind of sinless perfect person, then we are forced to admit that we are still sinners. We are still covered in shit. And if we believe in our silly little fairy tale, and we continue to sin...then we are adulterers.

You can argue semantics if you like. Or, you can ask ten people on the street which is worse: sleeping with 100 people before you married or having 1 affair. I think all ten would agree.

We “Christians” look down on those horrible fornicators, forgetting that we have committed a far more serious transgression.

Perhaps instead of wearing crosses, we should wear Scarlet letters. Only, the Scarlet letter would quickly become a symbol of pride. What we Christians need is a symbol of shame.

I am ashamed to call myself a Christian. And for the first time in my life, it is not because I don’t want to be associated with “those people.” This time, I’m pretty sure I’m the one bringing down the rest of the group.

So I’ll call myself an adulterer, for at least as long as it’s trendy for me to do so. I may even have a scarlet A tattooed across my chest just to remind myself what a massive effup I am.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I Feel Pretty

I have some bad news: the Dove people do not think you're beautiful. They don't think you are ugly, either. In fact (psssht, don't tell anyone), they don't give a rat's flatulence for you one way or another.

Oh, sure, the little Dove "Campaign for Real Beauty" plays a sharp (weaselly) game. That video most of us have seen on youtube sure seems to be mocking the beauty industry by pointing out all the photomanipulation and such that goes into fashion and marketing, and who doesn't want to be told that "beauty" as it has been marketed to us is a myth we can just give up on?

There are a couple of problems with this - first and foremost being the ulterior motives of the Dove corporation itself. Since that whole thing started, it is possible that they've helped a lot of little girls feel better about themselves with their "self-esteem workshops" - but it's absolutely positive that they've made a lot of money."Hmmm... which soap should I buy", we wonder, as a tiny little voice in the back of our heads pipes in and says, "buy Dove! They think we're beautiful no matter what." And have they let up on their photomanipulation in any of their other ads? Have they started using real women? No, of course not.

I read a news article online where the author seemed shocked to discover that Dove had doctored the pictures of the "real" women in its "Real Beauty" campaign. This sort of shock is, I think, just posturing, because we all know that the big multinational soap corporation doesn't give a hoot at an owl convention if we like ourselves or not. In fact, they know that the best way to ensure that we'll buy their product is to convince us that we are not beautiful, and that no one will like us until we buy their product.

So why all the posturing? Why are they pretending to care about us? Why do we (at first) pretend to believe them? And why are we pretending to be shocked when the mythology falls apart?

My guess is that we're all aware that our cultural conceptions of beauty are sad, stupid, silly, ugly game. We're caught in the maze of it and we don't know how to get out, because there is one thing we absolutely must have: LOVE. In our hearts, we know it's a sham, but we are afraid that no one else knows its a sham and if we stop playing the game, we'll just end up being losers. And nobody loves a loser - we learned that in kindergarten.

The Dove people want to believe that they're not evil. We want to scapegoat the evil corporations (or all the stupid people who believed them), but the truth of the matter is that we all believed them at some point, and we could all just stop. Seriously. Quit. We don't need the makeup. We don't need the clothes or the toys or any of the other garbage. We are beautiful, just by dint of being human, and we most definitely don't need some corporation to tell us so. We can love ourselves. We can see our own beauty, without an ad campaign.

Even if we did this thing, it would be a long while before we stopped finding certain types of facial features and bodies more pleasant to look at; but I've got some more bad news: all that stuff we're buying to try to mimic those pleasantries isn't working anyways. Nobody is fooled. Not even us.

So admit it. They don't love us (those faceless corporations), and other people don't love us any more when we become their slaves. We're just going to have to figure out how to love ourselves. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the answer to this puzzle is not to be found inside the doors of a shopping mall.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

man's man, manly man, manliest man about town.

I just knew there was a reason Mark Driscoll annoyed me. I mean, one that was shared by another human being with a brain. In this case, Juanito. Please read his latest post here and then go out out and kill living things (if you're a man) or hang up popcorn strings (if you're a woman). I mean, it's Christmas, after all.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Real Celebrity

I guess I have a bit of a celebrity problem.

If you've followed my writing for a while, you know that my little problem has led me to take on jobs as an extra in film and television - where I met people like Lou Diamond Phillips, Allison Mack and Jennifer Garner - and that I tend to ogle the allure of fame with far more longing than I am proud to admit. I suppose that in a culture where a show entitled "American Idol" is accepted with nary the bat of an eye, I am not alone. This doesn't stop me from feeling shallow and pathetic, and so I cope with this feeling by making a joke of it - by over-emphasizing my attitude to the point of ludicrousness.

For example, when I flew to California to visit my brother and his family for Thanksgiving a few days ago I made a point of insisting that every luxury vehicle I saw with tinted windows contained a celebrity - whom I then proceeded to name based on the gender and racial profile of the actual driver. Fifty year old Asian woman? Ah, yes, well that would be Lucy Liu. Caucasian male with a handlebar mustache? Obviously Brad Pitt, getting in character for a new role.

This endlessly annoyed my brother, who kept insisting that Orange County (where he lives) is not actually in Los Angeles and does not have any celebrities (nuts, I know). So yesterday morning as I was driving my rental car back up to the LA airport I turned to my younger brother Jason and remarked, "wouldn't it be funny if I saw an actual celebrity at LAX and I could get them to let me take a picture with them? I could email it to Jo-Ben and just say - hey, brother: here's me with another one of those celebrities I've been seeing."

We dropped off the car, took the shuttle to the airport, and then my toddler son Mateo and I said goodbye to Jason as he went to check in at his airline and we went to ours. Tickets, baggage, shoes off, moving walkways, blah-blah-blah and then, just before we got to our gate who should I see zipping towards me going the other direction but Nick Vujicic.

I am ashamed to admit that I hardly noticed him at all, but that what caught my attention was this oddly-shaped foot he had. I had heard him call it in a video his "little chicken drumstick" and when it caught my eye I thought, "hey, there's that little chicken drumstick". Then I thought, "hey, it's that guy!"

All this took place in a few split seconds as he came around the corner in a motorized wheelchair, so just before he was right up on me I yelled, "Dude!... I saw your video online. It was great." He stopped and said hello in that sweet Aussie accent of his and I said, "yeah, man. I'm a high school art teacher and I showed it to all my classes."

At that point I felt a little awkward, so I started to turn away but he stopped me with a question: "did it encourage them?"

"Yeah", I said, "it really did. Thank you." Then as he said "great" I turned and walked away, thinking immediately that that wasn't what I had meant to say at all and wondering what it must be like to be accosted by strangers all the time.

Down at our gate, which shared a cul-de-sac with about five others, Mateo decided to run round and round in big, loopy circles as I followed behind, carrying all our bags. After a dozen rounds I looked up and who should be coming back our direction but this Nick guy. He and his friends(family?entourage?) parked themselves in some seats and had a sandwich, but after a while he disengaged and headed over to the window.

I saw a second chance, so I ambushed him. "Hey, man.", I said, "Sorry to ambush you there earlier."

"No worries, bud", he replied (I know... perfect, right?).

I asked him his name and then said, "I just didn't say before what I had really wanted to, which is that I watched your video right after my wife told me she was going to leave me".

He said something sympathetic, so I launched right into the story of how his video had touched and inspired me. As I talked about my pain I started to cry, and he gave me the sort of sympathy that made it worse. So there I was, standing in a crowded corner of the Los Angeles Airport, holding a two year-old (who for some reason was totally not squirming), a ukulele, a heavy backpack and a hand-bag of baby stuff. I was crying, thinking that all those people who had been watching my adorable son go all Ritalin were now wondering why I was walking up to the uniquely-shaped stranger and sniveling like I was the little kid with the carpet burn.

When I finished, he said, "Do you mind if I pray for you?".

Despite my qualms I will never say "no" to this question. Although growing up as a missionary kid has left me wary of gung-ho, obnoxious people who may mean well but spout off all the wrong things whenever they start to pray, I said an enthusiastic "Yes!" with absolutely no hesitation. The clip I'd seen on youtube was only about five minutes long and gave no real indication that he was a man of any sort of faith whatsoever. Nonetheless, when a man such as Nick Vujicic offers to pray for you, you just instinctively know that he is not going to hit you with a bunch of trite drivel that will make you grind your teeth and pray, yourself, for a meteor shower.

I cried. He prayed. The words were nothing different than I'd heard a hundred or a thousand times before but somehow they just seemed to stick. He prayed encouragement. He prayed wisdom for me as I struggled to raise my son. He prayed and a sense of rest and purpose seemed to hover over that moment. After his "amen" we talked a bit more. He was heading to Maryland to give a talk, then to Redding for some R&R. He was flying on my same connecting flight through Houston, so we spoke in passing a couple more times. Then he was gone.

Once again, this is not a story about how awesome I am. This is a story about how awesome I am not, but how despite all that, beautiful things just seem to happen all around me. I went to LAX hoping half-heartedly to see a celebrity, and ended up brushing up, briefly, against a great man. And even then - even after that - I still caught myself thinking, "yeah, but wouldn't it have been something to see a real celebrity?"

This morning when I told this story to one of my art classes, I pointed out that not only had I gotten from the incident a moment of great encouragement and a chance to meet a great man, but I had also been forced once again to face my own pettiness and out-of-whack priorities. "I mean, that airport was just full of wonderful, intriguing people, but all I could think about was that one of my high school youth leaders had peed in an LAX urinal next to Sean Connery - so it could happen to me, too."

Immediately, about three guys in the class said, "Whoa! Sean Connery!?! Now that is off the hook!" When I pointed out the irony of their response, they said, "yeah, but c'mon! Sean Connery!" And then they all traipsed off into their best impressions of the lishping shcottish actor.

I suppose we are all in this together - heck, this story gets most of its punch from the fact that Nick Vujicic is the sort of guy who has his own Wikipedia page and motivates a lot of people to stop crying for themselves and start living. In retrospect, Nick probably played an important role in my own motivation to stop sniveling and start taking responsibility for myself and my abilities by beginning to write the memoirs that I've been serializing on this blog as my "Anatomy of an Effup".

I told my class this morning that while I get really suspicious when people start telling me they know exactly how God is monkeying around with their business, I have to admit that this sort of fortuitous, karmatic event has me just about ready to claim that God is in the business of micro-managing. That may in fact be crazy. All I can say for certain is that I am extremely grateful for the unforeseen and undeserved opportunity to meet a man who, if not a real celebrity, is most definitely a really great man.



Sunday, November 29, 2009

excuse me...

My sophomore year at University some phone company executive had the bright idea to give every student on campus a free, fifty dollar phone card. The catch was that you had to use it within the first week of school, and once you activated it you had only twenty-four hours to use the whole thing. I suppose they were thinking that it got their name in front of all of us and most people wouldn't use more than a few minutes, anyways.

Their marketing department didn't account for Six-Lower, a dorm full of ingenious troublemakers. We figured that we could use the interwebs to find the country codes for places all over the world. We also figured that a whole lot of students weren't bothering to collect the cards from their mailboxes, much less use them - so with a deft little twiggle of a kitchen knife we might or might not have relieved a few mailboxes of this extra bit of recycling.

Thus began a three-day marathon of prank calls to the friendly peoples of Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Australia, Belgium, New Zealand and Botswana.

Now, I can assure you that while calling a random local number and asking whomever picks up if their refrigerator is running is, in fact, lame - there is a whole lot of comedic gold to be mined by asking the same question of the good citizens of Sri Lanka. The accents, for one, add a lot of flavor to the joke, and it helps that it isn't really part of the cultural heritage over there to be told that you'd better hurry up and catch it.

It wasn't all just inane jokes, though. The Six-Lower prank call protocol dictated that a healthy percentage of your calls had to be purely social, so we spent many a good few minutes asking random strangers all sorts of intriguing questions about their lives and opinions - such as where to get a good cinnamon bun in Edinburgh, or whether it seemed wise for the Spice Girls to be wearing high heels and leather pants while dancing around on the uneven desert floor.

I don't know why I forgot that story completely until last week. I mean, it's a pretty funny story - the sort I tend to tell over and over until someone informs me that, yes, this is the tenth time I've repeated it to them. Perhaps it's because it has me violating federal regulations and stealing from mailboxes - perhaps I just don't want to think of myself in that way: breaking rules and bothering strangers.

If that's the case, then it could be that all the truth-telling I have been trying to do of late will be opening up vast new anecdotal comedic vistas.

Or maybe jail cells.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

studentia

One of my more gifted students has been featured in print and online in "Charlotte Parent" magazine. I am giving you the link, so that you can look at it and know that inasmuch as he is cool and talented and worthy of your admiration, I am also these things by association.

Here it is. 

You may now love me, as well.

Monday, November 16, 2009

how's it gonna be?

It is midnight, and my son wakes up crying, drenched in sweat. He snuggles in close and through his tears I hear him say "eh-mo"; so I start singing the la-la-la's of "Elmo's Song". His cries taper off and he reaches up a tiny hand, strokes my face lightly, and in a soft voice says, "that, dadu... that". We are lying side by side on a hospital bed at Carolina Medical Center in Monroe, where he was admitted two nights ago with a high fever and difficulty breathing.

My wife had called and, unable to speak through her tears, passed the phone off to the closest nurse, who explained that he seemed to have pneumonia and that they would be admitting him into the hospital. As I drove down the highway towards the pediatric center the sun, which for two days had been blocked out by torrential rainstorms, poked through the evening sky, setting the already blazing leaves of fall afire. It seemed as though the top halves of all the trees are burning, and I was tempted to start making metaphors of death right there - but the glowing beauty of it all against the deep blue sky stopped me and I thought instead of rainbows, and hope.

I cry a fair bit on this drive, thinking about death and the fragility of my toddler son's life. But then I slap myself hard a few times, insisting that I "suck it up and be a man". My wife and son need me to be strong, I insist, so I say a little prayer for strength and drive on, tears drying.

When I get to the hospital she is indeed falling apart a bit, although Mateo is bouncing off the walls in Motrin-induced good spirits. I give her a hug and then try to anchor down my son, who soon crashes and spends the rest of our two days in the hospital alternating between being a pale, sickly-looking whimper-worm and a full-throated, screaming hellion. I can't blame him - every couple of hours someone comes into the room and pokes him with something, or makes him breathe wet air from a hissing, spitting tube, or jiggles one of the multiple tubes and wires connected to his body.

At long last, the tubes come off and the boy is freed. They say he may have asthma. I drive him home and put him down for a nap while my wife goes to a pharmacy to pick up his drugs. After two hours, he wakes up sweating and screaming, so I force-feed him some more Motrin and then take him out of the "grandmother apartment" where we live and into the house where his grandmother actually lives, so he can watch TV whilst I subject him to some more moist air from the home nebulizer they gave (sold) us at the hospital.

This does not make him happy, and sets off another three-hour session of crying, screaming and coughing, with occasional blips of calm. After dinner - which he does not eat - I begin force-feeding him the four syringes of antibiotics and steroids I am required to give him. At the final squirt of the final syringe he vomits, losing all the medicine and the cup of milk he has drunk all over himself, the couch, and me. My parents have by then dropped in to help, and so I snap at mom to cuddle him while I rinse some contact-cement puke off his clothes.

As I do this, I can't help thinking, "It's not supposed to be like this." It is a phrase I hate, not just because of the "correct", non-existent reality that it presumes, but also because it implies that I, in my infinite wisdom, know what that reality ought to be. It is a phrase my wife used to say when we argued and it infuriated me because, I reasoned (in that annoying way of husbands who are oblivious to what it would take to defuse a situation), it kept us from dealing with the situation as it actually was.

Nonetheless, I say it - repeat it, in fact, over and over in my head, as I pour more of the milky-white antibiotic from its container into the small plastic cap and then knock it over as I clumsily try to fill the syringe with one hand - my other arm wrapped across Mateo's chest. I start to cry, and when mom gives me a little sympathetic one-hand back rub I snap at her again, "Not helping, mom", I say, adding, "I know you're trying to help, mom... thanks, but it just doesn't help right now". I have long been mean to my mother, and it comes out worst when I am sleep-deprived and stressed. Maybe that's why my wife is not here, I think.

She always seems to know how to calm Mateo down, and everything I am doing right now just upsets him more. As I give him the medicine a second time he struggles and cries, "Sleepy, Dadu. Sleep now. Bed." I assure him that we'll go to bed as soon as he gets all his medicine, and although he weekly says, "oh-kay", he keeps on crying.

We finish the last syringe and it stays down. At long last he quiets, nods, and begins to fall away. I put him to bed and go to apologize to mom (and, of course, to ask her to wash the puke-laundry for me. I'm not entirely a jerk, but my washing machine is broken).

Mateo sleeps nearly through the night, waking only a couple of times with a few short cries, but falling promptly away again. In the morning I hear him calling softly for milk, so I get him a sippy cup and then sit by him as he re-arranges his pillow, pulls a blanket over himself, and drinks the whole thing. His fever is gone and he is mostly happy. We make a Doctor's appointment and at nine-forty-five his mother shows up and we head back up the highway to Monroe. She is again her happy, smiling self, and I enjoy her company but cannot understand why she jokes with me and laughs when I start singing a silly song to calm Mateo. She has been gone less than two months, and the wound is still very raw and tender.

Our doctor is a black woman, an African. She is not a big woman, but fills the room with the force of her personality. She speaks loudly from only a few feet away in her somewhat thick accent, and seems to be unaware of the strength of her voice. It is a pleasant voice, though, so I am not offended by it. "Nobody in the house is smoking?", she demands, as if daring us to say otherwise. I say no and she leans in close with a friendly smile on her face, saying, "You would not lie to me, would you? Because I am watching you... I see."

Even though I have never smoked a cigarette in my life, I feel embarrassed and want to start confessing things.

My wife, feeling for me in my discomfort, interjects, "See, what happened is we're separated, and the place where I live my roommate smokes in the other room and..." the doctor doesn't even let her finish, "Whaat!", she asks, "Why you want to do something like that for? You are so young! You look like nice people - what is there so bad you cannot work through it for the good of the child!?!" As she says this she leans close to me again, and I once again feel the urge to confess. "I, um. I don't know." I say, avoiding her eyes and my wife's.

I want to tell this strange, powerful black woman that it is not my idea or my fault. That it kills me. That I would do anything to convince my wife to come back. But this is not entirely the truth. The truth is, all I can say for certain is that I do not understand what happened, and that every time I see my wife, I notice again how beautiful she is. I want to throw myself at her feet and beg her to come back to me, to change her mind. Again and again I think those ugly words: "it shouldn't be like this", and feel waves and waves of rage, sorrow, and confusion crashing against the walls of her determination.

I read something recently about strong black women, and how although they get a lot of flack for what is perceived as a domineering attitude, it is a way of operating that they have been forced into by a generation of black men who, for complicated reasons, have abdicated the place of leadership in the black community. This doctor reminds me of them and makes me think that perhaps this strength is not a forced response to an ugly reality, but a vestigial genetic heritage, handed down through generations from a wild past on a dangerous continent, where village women still carry the heaviest loads and form the backbone of deep, rooted communities.

I want to turn to this woman, to look her in the eyes and ask, "Why?"

Why does it seem so clear to her  - this woman so unaffected by our ugly, broken culture that she can speak her mind with love shining in her eyes - that we should just work it out for the good of our child? She is herself, in a sense, a child - unfettered by a culture that equates lies with maturity, and assumes that ugliness ought to be excused, apologized for, walked away from, or ignored. I want to ask her how she has done this, but she has already flown back into an explanation of Mateo's medical issues. She takes a final crack later, saying, "he is crying  because he thinks if he cries more it will force his parents to stay together. They know... they do" and then she calls a nurse to check his blood oxygen and is out the door and on to other patients.

I avoid eye contact with my wife as we leave the room. I am awkward and nervous, afraid of what she will say about this woman. I feel her memory as a beautiful, elemental force, and I do not wish to hear her maligned. We put Mateo in the car, and as I pull out of our parking spot my wife turns to me and says, "Apart from barely understanding what she was saying with that accent, I like that doctor. I think maybe we should stay with her. What do you think?" I mumble agreement as we pull into the street.

This world - this life - is a beautiful mystery. I do not understand even the smallest things. The sun shines hot in mid-November. Mateo whimpers and falls asleep in the back seat as my wife leans back to cradle his head with her hand, so he won't be jostled. I catch myself quietly singing a line from some song I don't really know, "I say a little prayer for you". I sing it over and over, so softly that I am almost humming. My wife laughs, folds some cloth to prop Mateo's head, and settles back into her seat, coughing.

She tells me of her plans to get the rest of her things moved into her new place this evening. She is smiling, and I do not understand. I sing it again, and again she laughs and adds, "you know I'm going to have that stuck in my head all night." We drive as a family in silence down the road, between rows of gold and crimson oak trees, and I catch myself thinking, "this is how it should be".

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tell Me a Story

ActorAustin asked me last night why I hadn't written yet about our little adventure at a club in Charlotte called Coyote Joe's, and said he was waiting in suspense to see what dry, witty bit of snark I learned about life via steel-guitar playin' Russians, giant singers with giant-er egos, and the oppressive, dystopic hat restrictions.

It wouldn't be that hard to come up with something, either, because the whole experience was so bizarre (from the standing, snarling grizzly bear in a glass box, to the senior citizens groping each other on the dance floor as the semi-country Rock band chanted "It's Getting Hot In Here, So Take Off All Your Clothes") that very nearly everything in the place had a story. But my heart just hasn't been in it.

What I have been wanting to write about is marriage: specifically, why I think it's freakin' awesome. I suppose this is odd, coming from a guy whose wife left him less than three months ago, but I have a bit of a bone to pick. One of the really bothersome things about the experience of being wife-dumped has been the way a number of my good friends - people whose opinions I generally respect - have just sort of shrugged their shoulders and said, "well, it's a bummer there's a kid in the equation, but I guess sometimes things just don't work out. Hope you find somebody else". I call Bull-Excrement and, shaking my fist, yearn to ascend the soapbox.

When I told ActorAustin this, he demanded that I write a narrative essay - which is to say, a story that hooks the reader into living the narrative with the characters and engaging the idea in a more holistic way, rather than just with that little bit of mind that handles reason and argument. He argued that it will last longer and be more effective than if I try to argue them into my point of view.

He's right, too. Last Wednesday I asked my third period class - the one I have just after chapel - what they thought of the speaker.  There were a whole lot of shrugs and one girl said, "he was all right, I guess."

"What did he talk about?", I asked.

This is typically a pretty chatty class, but no one volunteered an answer. With a little more prompting, one guy said, "Um, I think there was something about light". A few other students agreed - and remember that this response was coming about fifteen minutes after the guy had spoken his last word. Not exactly rousing, memorable oratory, I think you could say.

My third period class is primarily comprised of freshmen. Two weeks ago they all got out of fourth period to hear award-winning young-adult author Gary Schmidt speak over at the middle school. So I asked them what they had thought of his talk. Most of them chimed in with enthusiasm.

"I was expecting it to suck", said one typically un-involved boy, "I thought he'd talk all about how to write paragraphs or something, but it was really interesting."

"What was your favorite part?" I asked.

And at that point, the whole class jumped in, recounting parts and pieces of each of the three stories he had told over a forty-minute period. They had all been engaged. The funny thing was that although they remembered the stories distinctly, they didn't remember being taught anything. His main point had been clear, though, and when I brought it up, they all remembered and relived it. Because he had said it in a story, they had all easily absorbed what Schmidt was trying to teach them

"I guess that's the problem I have with these chapel speakers", I said. "They fail to tell good stories, so they never answer the question 'why should you trust me?' The only people who are going to get anything out of it are the people who already agree with them - and even they won't really remember anything. This is because in order to matter as a speaker to people who don't have an overwhelming pre-existing reason to trust you, you have to tell them a story."

"That was what was cool about Jesus.", I went on, "He didn't provide answers, he just sort of explored the questions with stories, so that as listeners we could place ourselves in those stories and, hopefully, buy into the truths they were meant to convey. Jesus loved people and took care of their practical needs, and therefore had probably earned enough credibility that they would have listened to some dry theological homily. Nonetheless, for the most part he did nothing but tell stories - and look at how long those stories have been remembered, and the number of people they have affected."

My class listened politely, as they usually do. I am, after all, just a teacher - telling them one more time and in one more way what to believe. Maybe some of the things I rant about will sink in, but what they will probably remember a lot more clearly is the stories I tell them - about my failed marriage, or the adventures I had in Peru, or the crazy things I did as a tree planter in Canada. The cumulative effect of those stories and the lessons I have learned from them is bound to have a greater impact on the way these young men and women (or "future slaves of corporate america", as I referred to them this morning) think and act.

ActorAustin listened politely as well as I recounted and re-ranted all this. Then he changed the subject to fear, and how I've been saying we do all sorts of destructive (and sometimes even good) things because of fear. Then I changed the subject and said that I would qualify that we do a lot less destructive things than we otherwise would because of the under-woven influence of love, and then we talked about Russians and movie-making and emotion-manipulating, and about two nights ago when we went to the crazy redneck bar with a couple of friends and sat awkwardly out of place, sanctimoniously laughing and watching the unfortunate implosion of our cultural heritage. ActorAustin and I are like that on the phone - we just blabber on about all sorts of things, weighing out ideas. We do this because we're friends, and are therefore in a story that we both find interesting enough to engage.

For my other friends - the ones I don't see any more who think it's cool to just end a marriage if it doesn't seem to be working out - perhaps I ought to just put the diatribing treatise on the back burner. Perhaps our stories have diverged too much, and they're unlikely to be swayed by any argument I make. In that case, I guess I ought to just keep on keeping on with my "Anatomy of an Effup".

Perhaps if I can share honestly the very humanness of the mistakes and failings that have brought me to this place of brokenness, they can walk with me through it and see as I do with the rose-tinted glasses of hope. If I have told a true enough story, it may be that they will experience through it a glimmer of the grace that I believe has the capacity to transcend the petty failures of all our lives and build of them a beautiful, restored mosaic of relationships.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

go to jail

Since we hate to read things that are not short, clever or entertaining, I will merely link you to an article that shows how totally messed up the American prison system is. I submit that if you still think everything is hunky-dory, you should consider reading this.

(thanks, Ben)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Elizabeth Gilbert

I went last night to Davidson College to hear Elizabeth Gilbert - the woman who wrote that book I talked about way back in April in my post "Gift-Wrapped Tapestries" - do a talk with her sister, Catherine Gilbert Murdock (also a writer). To get there I had had to weasel my friend Austin into driving the half-hour north from his house to pick up our free tickets three weeks ago. Then yesterday I had to teach a full day of classes, ride my bike home, borrow a car, pick up my son from his Uncle's house, take him home, hand him off to my dad with instructions and a meal, and finally ride my bike the one hour back up past my school to where Austin lives so I could hitch a ride with him up to the college.

This was all a horrible, grinding affront to my natural, comfortable Self. I am a homebody. I like to do homebody things like reading, writing, pulling weeds in the garden, horsing around with the kid and learning to play my ukulele. I do not like traffic, or driving, or planning ahead. I did it all anyway, though, because it was that book that overflowed my bucket and convinced me that I could and should attempt to write the truth of my life, an endeavor that has become my "Anatomy of an Effup" series. Her writing is conversational, relaxed and personal, and although I do not claim to be a great writer, I am good enough at being myself. Reading her work convinced me that that was enough, as long as I was willing to tell the truth.

The upshot is that I have been able to say, publicly, things that I have hidden even from myself for years. Things in the dark have been brought to light, and I have been freed to breathe the clean air of a well-dusted environment. The hope I held as I began this sometimes painful work was that rooting down to the bodkin of my story would help others search out the hidden truths of their own lives, and the responses I have gotten thus far - even with such a rough draft as I have been sharing - have been amazing. I wasn't going to the lecture to fawn, therefore, but to listen and then give her a little note of thanks I had written.

As Austin and I approached the building where the lecture was to occur, I turned to him and said, "Look, dude, I gotta warn you... my guess is that this thing is probably gonna be mostly middle-aged women." We walked in and got in the extraordinarily long line, which (surprise, surprise) was mostly middle-aged women, all gibbering excitedly and pointing out lines to each other in their well-thumbed copies of her book, "Eat, Pray, Love".

Eventually they let us in; and after some guy in a suit told us how prestigious this lecture series was and some woman from the English Department played some embarrassing childhood recording of the lot of them pretending to be celebrity interviewers and proving that she and the lecturers were, in fact, Best Friends Forever, Elizabeth Gilbert and her sister came out onto the stage and sat down on a pair of red and blue armchairs.

When we had come in Austin, who is a professional actor and filmmaker, had informed me that the theater's backdrop, a modernist wood-frame set for Moliere's "Tartuffe", was in his opinion odd and misguided, and as they began to talk I found myself thinking of how deeply weird the whole situation was, with a couple of guys like us at this gathering of so many women. We had marched down front and center, one row back from the four mom-aged women who'd been valiant enough to sit in the spit pit. They turned when we sat, and one of them said, "Getting in touch with your feminine side? Or... I suppose you have to be here for your class?"

To which I replied, "Nope. Read the book and liked it, and Austin here saw the TED thing* on creativity."

They seemed genuinely shocked, but I suppose that had something to do with the fact that although I am thirty, I look like an eighteen year old mallrat. It is odd that someone of that sort would read Gilbert's book, and even odder that they'd like it. Nonetheless, we sat there and enjoyed her often witty and inspiring talk as hundreds of fawning women behind and in front of us gushed their approval at every little word and mannerism.

"Woo-Hoo!" Austin said a little too loudly, with a fist pump: "Welcome to the feminist rally!"

After it was over, I waylaid her on the way to the autograph table, bypassing the line in that obnoxious, chauvinist manner of all men, everywhere, and gave her the little note I'd pre-written, thanking her for her book and what it had done for me. I walked away, then, shoulder checking to make sure she hadn't tossed it in the round filing cabinet by the desk.

Who knows? Maybe she'll read it. And maybe, out of curiosity, she'll follow the link on the card I shamelessly stapled in and read this post and feel that weird sensation you get when you live one of your own experiences through someone else's eyes. Maybe she'll write me an impassioned letter, encouraging me in my art, and maybe we'll become, as Anne of Green Gables would say, "bosom friends".

Given the hundreds of gushing women at that lecture and the millions worldwide who probably also stalk this woman it is highly unlikely - and probably not something I would even benefit all that much from. I already suffer far too much from our cultural malady of celebrititis. Elizabeth Gilbert made the distinction during her talk between "fans" and "readers", and I hope that I am more the latter. It was good to be there, though, with my sardonic friend and all those women, and to say a word of thanks to one of the many, many writers from whom I've stolen a tiny bit of inspiration.

_ _ _


*In which she was wearing the same shoes as she did last night, I'll have you know.

Monday, October 26, 2009

All Hallows Eve

In the interests of brevity (the words in my posts seem to be breeding behind my back) and of annoying people who have a problem with All Hallows Eve because it's evil, I present my pumpkin.

Monday, October 19, 2009

micro-loves

Barking Reed is, for me, a healthy alternative to trying to slam my head through a brick and mortar wall. See, I go to this thing at a place with some people, and the other thing - this "church" out of which the thing I go to has been spawned - has given our thing five hundred dollars to spend on people who need it. This week a discussion of how to use that money and something came up that made me want to smack a wall with my face.

My friend Andrew had suggested we might spend some of the money on the organization Kiva, which provides zero-interest loans to people in the developing world who have no other way to get help. It's a streamlined, well-run organization that makes it extremely easy for you to give a leg up to another human being... without treating them like a pity-object for the development of your own personal warm-fuzzies.

While you get direct interaction with the people to whom you are making these loans, you are only loaning them the money; so unless you're a real poop-stain, you don't get to think of yourself as the great white bwana bringing salvation from on high to the poor, benighted savage. It treats this person, instead, like a real live human being, a wondrous sack of person-hood worthy of your love and respect who, because of circumstances beyond your knowledge, needs some help. It is, I think, one of the best available options for trying to help those caught in the cycle of poverty.

Which is why it makes no sense to me that one of the members of our group would resist the idea with great vehemence. It costs us nothing (they have 98% repayment, which is superb for any lending institution) and helps to alleviate the horrendous rich-poor imbalance that afflicts the world today. Win-win, right? Well, not exactly. Not if you hold to the sacred-secular dichotomization idiocy of a lot of the nominally Christian population of North America.

Earlier on this blog, I linked to a Wendell Berry article that explores this idiocy in great detail, but to summate I'll just say that the idea is borrowed from Plato and suggests that there are two spheres, one spiritual and one material, with the material one being inferior, in a moral sense, to the spiritual one. The consequence of this idea is the belief that the physical world we inhabit is not very important. False and often arbitrary distinctions are made, and the "church" ends up teaching that you shouldn't really care about the physical needs of people, because those things do not really matter next to the crucial question of whether or not they say the right things and have their "heart" changed by a loving God who will otherwise burn them forever in an everlasting fire. It also leads people who hold this view (and there are a LOT of them) to think that it's okay to wreak havoc on the natural world because it, too, is of an inferior order.

I know this is why the guy at my meeting was against Kiva, because he actually came out and said it. He talked a bit about how he'd rather give the money to a Christian organization and then he said, "if we don't tell them a salvation message, we're basically just throwing our money away". So there you have it: if you help someone out in some practical way without giving them any explicit, propositional message about Jesus, you have done nothing. Or, to put it more crassly, if you give a starving man a meal without forcing him to sit through an explanation of some pamphlet, you are wasting your resources.

Um.

I didn't really know what to say to that. This is so far off-base from what I have come to think of as the core Christian message that I don't really know how to bridge the gap. In our group, this chap was in the minority. One person told him they'd rather give money to a competent organization than to give it to an inferior one just because it called itself Christian, and the point was made as well that Kiva is non-partisan and often works with regional churches and "Christian" organizations in the countries where it makes its loans. He argued a bit more, and in the interest of actually getting the money spent on Kiva, I suggested that we might pick a specific loan that was being done through a church - a proposition to which he grudgingly agreed.

He was in a minority in that group and the truth won out, but what has me wanting to bash my head against a wall is that I think our group is a bit of an exception. I was telling this story to my friend Ruteger* out in California on Monday, and he asked, "Well, isn't that just the basic premise of evangelical Christianity?" I did not have an answer, but it scared me to think that he might be right. It sort of fits my experience with the NAPEs (North American Protestant Evangelical) environment; which is weird, because it doesn't at all fit with the Christ depicted in the Bible, which these people so rabidly pretend to follow.

St. Francis of Assisi (a most excellent fellow) is quoted often as saying, "Preach the gospel at all times -- and if necessary, use words." A lot of people pay lip service to that idea, but for most churchy folk it is far too open-ended and leaves way too much up to God. To my mind, though, if you have to beat people over the head with the good news, it isn't all that good. And if you need to have control over over who gets to preach it, it can't be all that compelling a truth.

Loving other people is the good news. I think you get to share this news because God is love, but when you have to stop to scream that little nugget every ten seconds before you can proceed, it sounds to me a little bit like it is yourself you are trying to convince, which is a sign of self-obsession. Self-obsession may be a commonality in our culture, but it is certainly not something that Christ advocated. He said, rather, that you are lovely and loved; and can therefore stop doing all the silly, destructive things people tend to do when they feel unloved, and instead start spending your time loving other people.

The NAPEs cannot rule the day. The truth is bigger than their stupidity, and love will out. This is my hope and my faith. My sorrow, however, is that in their fear of what love demands they are denying it, and in the name of a sad caricature of love are bringing great destruction to this country, this people, and this world.



---

*"Ruteger" is actually "Mark" from the last "Anatomy of an Effup" post. He said he thought "Mark was kind of dumb, and that he'd always pictured himself as a Ruteger. He said this not because it was true, but because he likes making my life difficult. I asked him to think of a better name, and he's now mulling it over.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

the christian fairy tale

We are a story-telling race. But if we begin, having told our stories, to believe that in them we have created once and for all the story, then we are sadly mistaken and more than a little bit silly.

You and I are dust motes, flashing for a moment across the light beam of time. That flash is not all that is real, and I believe that we exist beyond and perhaps before that time; but the rest remains shrouded in darkness - a mystery so complex that we can only intuit a sense of the truth of it by submitting in childlike wonder to the invisible currents that move us on through and into the untold. Myths and stories, when spoken and heard with wonder, allow us to do this.

Stories are, therefore, of the utmost importance. They create our identity and our sense of self. As a result, one way to really freak people out is to tell them you think their meticulously-constructed worldview, or meta-narrative, is a myth. This is because they believe overly much in their capacity to understand the Universe, and have erroneously come to think of myths as lies.

I think this happens because they are confused about the difference between "facts" and "truth". Facts are important in everything we do. They are the bones of our lives and we need them to function. The neurosurgeon poking his finger around in our gray matter had better know what those squigglies are, just as an activist ranting about oppressive economic practices had better be able to back up those muckraking accusations with cold, hard data. Nonetheless, while facts are important, the truth is essential. It is the marrow of our bones, the blood that carries truth throughout our being and brings meaning to the madness.

Frederick Beuchner says in his book, "Wishful Thinking: a Theological ABC", that "The raw material of a myth, like the raw material of a dream, may be something that actually happened once. But myths, like dreams, do not tell us much about that kind of actuality. The creation of man, Adam and Eve, the Tower of Babel, Oedipus - they do not tell us primarily about events. They tell us about ourselves. In popular usage, a myth has come to mean a story that is not true. Historically speaking that may well be so. Humanly speaking, a myth is a story that is always true. [emphasis mine]"

This is easy enough to accept as an abstract concept, but becomes intimately painful when applied to our own, carefully-built story. We tell stories to make sense of the world, and we adopt meta-narratives in order to have a story that fills in for all our ignorance and keeps fear at bay. Perceived threats to our stories challenge the very essence of how we view ourselves - the core identity that we believe makes us lovable. So if I was to say to you, for example, that evolutionary biology is a myth, the degree to which you will react emotionally (if this is your worldview) will indicate how much of your identity is bound up in a lie, the lie of capital "K" knowledge.

To bring it closer to my own socio-cultural home, I would argue that if you claim to have worked out a meticulous and all-answering systematic theology of God, you have created a myth, a fairy tale which will have value only inasmuch as you do not stomp your feet and insist that it is entirely factual. I realize that this statement marks me as a bit of a heretic, but I am not the first. In his brilliant and seminal essay, "On Fairy-Stories", J.R.R. Tolkein argues that "Yet these things [mythology and religion] have in fact become entangled—or maybe they were sundered long ago and have since groped slowly, through a labyrinth of error, through confusion, back towards re-fusion. "

The path to re-fusion of mythology and religion is not to abandon reason. If we want to accept a mythological religion, we must abandon pride, and live instead with humble and child-like acquiescence to the grandiose mystery that is this life. An abandonment of reason, on the contrary, is what leads us to believe the idiotic proposition that finite creatures such as ourselves could ultimately explain an infinite reality and (perhaps most disturbing) an infinite God. As a result, we end up in the laughable position of arguing about whose fairy tale is the most accurate.

"The Three Little Pigs" and "Little Red Riding Hood" cannot both be true, we say, because in both of them the wolf dies. We then do logical gymnastics to show that one is false and the other true. "A wolf could never blow over a house of wood", we might argue, "it wouldn't have the lung capacity; and while it seems impossible that a wolf might wear a granny's night cap and gown, it is more likely than that he would be capable of climbing up onto a roof and squeezing down the chimney."

What this sort of argument utterly disregards is that neither story lines up all that well with fact (wolves don't generally speak English), and that that is beside the point. Fairy tales do not exist to provide factual accounts of The Way Things Are, they are there to point us to Truth - to provide meaning to an otherwise meaningless life.

As Buechner noted, one story might be more based on facts than another - as with, for example, the tale of Peter and the Wolf. I, myself, tend to think that the story the Bible tells of Christ is worth hanging my hat on. But given the finite nature of our human knowledge, it would seem to be wiser to leave our ultimate decisions in such matters to within the dominion of faith - informed by the facts, yes, but not inextricably dependent upon them. This opens us up to what Tolkien describes in his essay as joy. As he says it, "The peculiar quality of the 'joy' in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth."

That truth may be scary and very, very humbling, but it is the only thing that can set us free. If we insist on maintaining against all reason the illusion of a "factual" worldview, then we close our eyes to the timeless truth of an unlimited myth, wallowing instead in the petty indulgence of our temporal illusions. There is no recipe more sure for a life less extraordinary.

Friday, October 16, 2009

ALONE



Another in-class doodle, with a detail for good measure. The piece is graphite on 2'x3' poster paper, with the entire value pattern constructed using thousands of repetitions of the word "alone". I finished up with some light colored-ink washes.





Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What I Can't Stand About Liberals

I know, I know. If you were going to try to cram me into a shoebox, you would probably try to put me in one marked "liberal", or at least "wishy-washy"... which, to a hardline conservative-type person is probably about the same thing. As the saying goes, "You're either for us, or liable to taste the pointy end of our nuclear warheads". Nonetheless, I gotta say that to me, the term "liberal" could just as easily be defined as "people who avert their eyes and don't say 'hello' when you pass them on the sidewalk".

One of the things I like about living where I do in the quasi-south is that these supposedly obnoxious, conservative folks are generally friendlier to strangers than their more liberal counterparts in the north. It seriously wigged me out when I first lived here before, back in two thousand and one: someone would wave at me from their car and I would immediately start to think, "what's your angle?" That's because most of my time in North America has been spent in the much more liberal Pacific Northwest, where it is understood that "stranger equals danger", or at least "faceless non-entity".

There is a palpable difference here in the south. It is really, really cool to be walking on a levy and have some old dude who just oozes character ask you how you're doing, and then strike up a conversation about the history of the place. Or take one of the cute little quirks that drew me to my wife - the way she would randomly greet strangers on the street (a habit she quickly forewent after we moved to the frigid world of British Columbia). And I love that I pulled into a rural gas station this morning and a couple different people gave me warm greetings and best wishes as I ventured out into the miserable cold rain of the day on my motorcycle. It makes me smile to be treated like a human.

Charlotte has been growing like crazydogs these past years. Union County - where I now live - has been one of the fastest growing in the nation, and the influx of "them liberal yanks" has had an appreciable effect on the general level of friendliness. While I am often saddened by some of the destructive, backwards attitudes of my southern, conservative brethren and sistren, I have to admit that it pains me to see the warmth of the south overtaken by the cold, liberal winter.

I know this is a gross generalization - liberals are often friendly and kind - they just carry, on average, a difference in demeanor and a chillier attitude towards strangers. It's just part of the culture. I might get a nasty, bitter comment from someone who hates being categorized as "unfriendly" and will insist that "it's true that you can't really trust people" but instead of fixating on the irony of that, I have to say that I find it unlikely that the writer of such a comment has spent much time in the land of cornbread and grits.