Thursday, February 12, 2015

Response Blog: The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

In response to Joe Average Writer, original blog post found here.

Truth is a funny thing, and truth in the terms that you're discussing is so funny as to be hilarious, given certain considerations. My current favorite quote regarding truth goes something like "there are three sides to every story: yours, theirs and the truth."  Your story touches on some of the themes that bolster this platitude's street cred in current discussions of the topic, but I'd like to dissect what you're talking about just a little bit further before I start Frankensteining it back together again.

First, we have to establish that truth exists. Not an easy task, but for the sake of the current discussion, let's make some assumptions. I believe that there are such things as facts in the universe, and that these facts are knowable and often quantifiable. That's making a lot of philosophical leaps, but I think those assumptions, those beliefs, form the basis for a lot of the things we believe we 'know' in our lives. I know I'm hungry because I have observed the sensation from my stomach that I've come to know means I need to put food in it. I know my eyes are hazel because I've observed the culturally constructed condition known as hazel eyes, and observed that my own fit that profile. I know that the currently-accepted English plural of goose is geese because every time I've said 'gooses,' I'm understood to be exerting some kind of sense of humor people give me credit for having. I know that I wore khaki pants to work today. Etc.

So relevant to your story, there are some things that we can know. You were present in a certain place at a certain time for the purpose of watching a fireworks show. At some point in the proceedings, a rocket flew overhead and fell out of the sky. Several members of your family were present there with you. These facts appear to be uncontested. Those things under contestation are 1) whether or not a truck blew up, 2) the level of spectacle caused by said truck potentially blowing up, and 3) whether or not you were there to actually witness said spectacle, if it occurred at all.

I don't know the truth of any of these points, nor do I have a direct means of learning such a truth. I was not involved in any way with the events that you describe. What I know for certain is that you have said such and such a thing to describe the situation. All I know factually is that you gave an account that reads in a certain way. This by itself is obviously not irrefutable proof. If I were a regular listener to your stories, and had built up some trust in you as a reliable source, I might be more inclined to believe that you did in fact see what you said you saw. If I knew you for a habitual exaggerator and bender of the truth, I would be less inclined to do so, but having neither range of experience to color my opinion of your reliability, all I can say for certain is that I know you said that something happened.

Which brings me finally to your question: Does it matter which version of the truth you guard in your memories?

Yes, but possibly not in the way you might think, at least in my opinion.

Whether something matters or not means that you are asking me to place value on a certain thing. That value will be, by definition, a purely subjective concept. What matters to me could not possibly matter less to a snail crawling up the side of a building in Hong Kong. We have entirely different value sets in life. Herein, I believe, lies the fundamental disconnect with questions of the type you are posing. You are asking if the truth (objective construct) matters (subjective construct).  The answer will always be "it depends."

My personal perspective is that the degree of value which I place on the truth of a story varies broadly depending on what I expect that story to accomplish. If my child goes out one night and comes back two hours late, I place a great deal of importance on the factitive nature of the story he gives me by way of explanation for such behavior. If I read a fantasy novel about a dark wizard and a chosen little boy who's supposed to defeat him, the facts of the story take on their own internal relevance, which it is important to me be maintained, entirely apart from the context of the rest of reality to which I've become accustomed. When I read a story about a fireworks display that happened years ago in a place I've never even visited, describing events that had an impact stretching no further than the city in which said events took place, I have no stock in whether the story is factually accurate or not. I am, in all likelihood, reading to be entertained. Therefore, what matters to me is that I find the story entertaining, not that I believe it to be accurate.

Over and above these things, though, I believe that truth matters. Period. It's important whether a truck blew up that day because that means somebody probably lost a job. Or funds had to be cut buying a new vehicle. Maybe someone was injured. Or maybe it never happened and nobody who could have been hurt was actually harmed in any way. That would be important too. The show's not-happening had an effect on all those who showed up to see it, and that effect is important because of the impact it had, however minor. Every tiny piece of creation, from the snail inching its way up a Hong Kong building to the truck that may or may not have blown up that day in Vegas, is important. They all form building blocks that, cumulatively, make up the relevant facts of the reality in which we live. They all have their place, however great or small.

In this way, I believe the truth of the stories we hold onto is important because it is our way of shaping the methods by which we remember who we are. It is incredible to imagine the lengths to which the human mind will go in order to avoid dealing with certain kinds of pain and trauma, or simply inconvenient truths about our existence. Once observed by the person in question, the truth under consideration can be accepted by the mind, forming a piece, however small, of the person's identity (yes, I'm the kind of guy who eats a #8 from Jimmy John's on February 11th, 2015, at roughly six thirty in the evening, central time). They can also be denied, on a sliding scale from casual dismissal as irrelevant and unimportant all the way to vehement, psychotic denial to the point of repression and altered perceptions. On the other hand, memories can be fabricated, either in the most mild example like your potential exaggeration above, slipping in snippets of fiction to enhance or otherwise flavor the narration of events we actually observed, or in the more extreme examples of psychoses like schizophrenia, in which it becomes impossible to distinguish the constructed reality of the mind's creation and the observable reality of the person's surroundings. Where your brain falls on this spectrum is absolutely vital to the quality and character of your life, and is a consideration that should never be taken lightly.

All of this, all of these considerations should be factored in when considering the importance of what truths we pass on. How do we tell others about the world? Do we do it in facts? Do we do it in opinions based on hearsay? Do we deny parts of the reality of which we are aware because we consider them inconvenient? Do we pass off the inventions of our own mind as reality? The means by which we attempt to convince other people of the veracity of our communications says a great deal about who we are as people. You may be the kind of person who relates a story without being 100% certain of its truth. That's all well and good when the stakes are low. Would you, as the context of your entry references, tell the same story the same way on a witness stand? No, I don't believe you would. You would understand that the stakes are higher in that context, and that the importance of verifiable, observable, objective truth is much higher than the entertainment value of the story in question.

In summary, the presence and acceptance of truth in our own minds, together with the presence and acceptance of truth in our communications with others, will define us as people as we live our lives.

So yeah. It's pretty important.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Eye of the World

TL;DR – I’m reading Wheel of Time this year, just finished the first one, pretty good but also very annoying in many ways. Here’s hoping the rest are better.

One of the great advantages of having many friends on the same relative level of nerd at which I live my life is the frequency of recommendations I receive regarding various fandoms in which it is thought I would enjoy participating. Grateful as I am for the ever-growing list of sci-fi and fantasy literature/movies/television on my to-do list, it has become quite cumbersome. Like so many pins on pinterest have stated, I have a reading (and I would add viewing) list that is longer than my expected lifespan. Be that as it may, I occasionally do pull an item from the backlog of recommendations and decide to add it to my ever-growing list of familiar fandoms. Late last year was Lost, which I binge-watched from around September through November, with overall satisfying, if infuriating, results. I’m sure any of you who watched the show, especially while it was airing, can relate.

This year’s project, I feel, is quite a bit more daunting, but I also feel like I’m off to a pretty good start. It’s my goal to read the entire Wheel of Time series from start to finish during 2015, having never done so before. I’ve recently finished the first book in the series, The Eye of the World, and will be posting reviews after each one.

I will say first and foremost that my motivations for reading the WoT series are primarily obligation and secondarily morbid curiosity. As a fan of the genre and with Jordan’s opus being so ubiquitous in the fictional landscape of fantasy, I feel like it’s a prerequisite for anyone who calls themselves a fan, which I certainly do. So it is not that I walked past a bookshelf, saw the books and was instantly intrigued. Nor is it that I read a review or read a synopsis and felt a deep desire to dive into the story. I’m just aware of how pervasive it is in the general consciousness, and wanted to check it off my list.

It’s only fair, at the outset of this review process, to state my other experience reading in this genre. So far, I would place the WoT squarely in High Fantasy. I’m not comfortable calling it Epic, because that genre conforms to certain norms that I feel are lacking in WoT, but that’s more of an academic division than anything else. Other series I’ve read which I would place in the genre of High Fantasy are 1) Lord of the Rings - Tolkien (of course, it being arguably the modern foundation for the genre), 2) A Song of Ice and Fire – George Martin, 3) Several Dragonlance cycles – Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, 4) The Death Gate Cycle – Weis and Hickman, 5) The Sword of Truth – Terry Goodkind, 6) The Riftwar Saga – Raymond Feist, 7) The Belgariad – David Eddings.  In compiling this list, there were several other series that I considered including, but they didn’t have quite the over-arching punch of the above-named, even if they otherwise had the feel of the genre, which led me to try and examine some of the constraints of what makes a novel High Fantasy. (Disclaimer: I’m not sure if that’s an actual genre that’s officially designated in any way, but that’s the classification they’ve always had in my mind, to distinguish them from smaller-scope fantasy works)  The elements I include are 1) pre-modern setting, essentially any cultural context pre-industrial-revolution, 2) the existence and use of magic, 3) war, of some kind, 4) some form of quest, though I will argue later on that this is no longer an essential part of the genre, 5) a constructed world, rather than our own, 6) events that have a significant impact on the world in question for change.

In this context, The Eye of the World conformed to all of the above tenets of the genre by itself, promising lots of the same for other characters and other pieces of the world to be explored later on in the series. So it certainly met all the criteria.

My problem is that meeting criteria is not a reason for me to enjoy a book. My reasons for thinking that The Eye of the World is a good book have very little to do with actually enjoying it as a work of fiction. It did a great job at building a world, expanding it with detail upon detail upon detail until it acted on my brain more like a work of poetry is supposed to than a work of fiction, but without the consistently high tone that poetic construction requires. The aggregate of images created a vivid world that I truly enjoyed inhabiting for the space of reading the book. There are intricate mysteries and histories and realms to explore in further adventures, and the story did leave me looking forward to those adventures.

If all of that sounded like there was a huge BUT coming afterward, well, good, because here's the BUT.

My enjoyment of a book, a movie, any kind of story, is in the characters portrayed. And the characters, at least in this first book, were so flat I could have made crepes out of them. The bulk of the book was told from Rand's perspective, and that should have made him the deepest and most empathetic character, by rights. But the construction of the story was such that the reader almost always knew exactly what was going to happen twenty pages before Rand got it through his own thick skull, and that became very tedious to me very quickly. The book only became mildly interesting to me when the companions were separated after the events of Shadar Logoth, and all were forced to interact in ways that brought out individuals more strongly. Even then, though, the narrative force-fed the facts of each situation to you so often that the characters were left as nothing more than pieces of the set dressing. The wheel weaves as the wheel wills, and the attitude of Moiraine Sedai came through strongly as the will of the author. The message of the text is that you, as the reader, are not meant to experience this world through the characters, you are meant to be fed a list of names and facts about the world for your own knowledge by the use of every shoehorned narrative device available. That is not a style of storytelling that I enjoy. Most of the time, it read more like a lecture than it did a story about people.

On the whole, I will say that I do not want however many hours of my life I just spent reading the book back, and I still intend to go forward in reading the rest of the series. Partly this perseverence is based on the recommendations of some of my friends, who insist that the books get better as they go on, and partly because as OCD as I am, once I start something, I always feel a great obligation to finish it.

One down, thirteen and a half to go. Bring it on.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Latin Book of Mormon

Okay, so normally our posts are fairly ambiguous as to authorship, but for this one, yeah, it's me, Dave, doing the typing here. I'm the Classical Studies nerd, and I have no shame in being so.

With that being said, I mostly want to post this blog so that if there is anyone else out there on the internet like me who would like to put something like this together, I personally think it would be fantastic. In a nutshell, I want to build some kind of collaborative project, probably through Google Docs (because let's face it, I'm a big fan of our benevolent Google overlords and I love that they own pretty much everything in my life) to translate the Book of Mormon into Latin.

Let me first answer every piece of naysaying I've encountered elsewhere on the internet:

Ummm . . . Latin is a dead language. What would be the point? 
I'm so glad you asked. First let me say what the point ISN'T.  The point would NOT be to create a definitive version of the Book of Mormon that could be handed out while tracting, should you happen to run across an ancient Roman who lets you in for lemonade and cookies. Obviously this would have no value whatsoever in proselyting. To be fair, neither would a version of the Book of Mormon in Dothraki, Quenya or Klingon (though can you IMAGINE how epic some of the Alma chapters would sound in Klingon? Oh yeah. Somebody make that happen).  The point of the translation would actually be the translation itself. The existence of the Book of Mormon as a reference tool for those who want to learn Latin, and who want to do it by immersing themselves in scripture. Yes, you can do it with the Vulgate Bible as well, but come on, wouldn't you rather do it with the Book of Mormon?

Ummm . . . Isn't that kind of . . . just a little bit blasphemous? 
I don't personally think so. I've always found that translating anything from one language into another, just as a cognitive exercise, forces you to really examine the meaning of the words you're saying, stripping away anything formulaic or repetitive about it so you get to the bare meaning of what you're dealing with. In this way, I hope to make my attempts at translation into an exercise not just of linguistics, but prayer and contemplation. If I were translating Harry Potter (which has already been done, mad props to whoever managed that) then yeah, I would want to get the words right and I'd feel some obligation to convey the right gist of the sentences, but the scriptures? Yeah, that's pressure. You'd better make sure you get that right.  You miss an accent or a particle somewhere and suddenly you end up with sentences like Thou Shalt Kill.

So that's what I want to do. I'll make it a personal project on my own if I have to, just for fun and for my own education, but since I'm just learning the language and I know the scriptures are far from the most simplistic pieces of text even to understand, let alone translate, I'm hoping that somewhere out there, another language nerd is sitting back thinking "Wouldn't it be great if the Book of Mormon was in Latin?" And they find this post. So there we go. Translating the Book of Mormon into Latin. I want to make a go of it. Who's with me?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

1st Movie Adaptation of the 1st Book in a Series

From best to worst, here's how my list would stack up:

Fellowship of the Ring. 
          I defy any of you to show me a better first-book-adaptation than that.

The Hunger Games. 
          Okay, so the shaky-cam was a little annoying, but come on, it was pretty awesome. Nothing TOO out of place, good actors, good effects, good earnest adaptation.

~NEW~ Divergent.  
          Again, a good, earnest adaptation. Brought the events of the book to life very nicely, took itself as seriously as the book intended, just wasn't as compelling for me as The Hunger Games. I think casting was excellent, really enjoyed the music and direction, just everything about the movie production itself was excellent. What I felt was lacking in the movie was also sort of a necessary evil.  They pulled back on a lot of parts of the movie that should have been honestly more violent than they were depicted. I realize they had to do that to keep a PG-13 rating and therefore keep the audience, but I feel like that lost a lot of the feel of the book. The story hits hard, on purpose, and it felt like the movie pulled the punches a bit. Can't put my finger on specifics, but that's my assessment.

Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. 
          My wife and I disagree on this, but that's alright. I didn't like it much at the time, but it tried so hard. And it got the whole movie saga rolling, so you have to give it props for that.

Vampire Academy. 
          Now, before you get surprised that this is right after Harry Potter, look down on this list and see how bad the rest of them were. Now we'll proceed. This movie has the unique property of being the only one on this list whose book I did not read prior to seeing the movie. That being said, my overall reaction to the movie was to say "I'll bet this was a pretty good book." Not that I loved the movie. Too much emo and too many Hollywood fangs in one place for my taste, but I enjoyed the protagonist, the writing was pretty hilarious in some parts, and they did a good job of explaining what was going on in a way that didn't make you feel lost at any point, even though I hadn't read the book. But it was incredibly rushed, scenes moving too fast without any room to breathe whatsoever, and not in a Stark Trek Into Darkness kinda way. I felt like I was watching a Hank Green YouTube video the entire time, which is not what I go to the movies to see at all. All that being said, I don't want two hours of my life back, it was a fun and different vampire system to play around with, and it was fairly enjoyable for a bit of mindless YA-turned-film.

City of Bones. 
          This is where I put this one. Worse than Harry Potter, but better than the last entries on this list. The effects were pretty, the characters were more or less as I remember them from the book, the plot . . . was close enough that it was recognizable, but there were so, SO many moments when the writing just fell flat on its face. Cassandra Clare, you should've written this one yourself.

The Golden Compass. 
          Seriously, if you didn't read the book, you were probably really, really lost. Don't feel bad, everyone was. Even Ian Mckellan as a polar bear and the mere presence of Derek Jacoby (normally enough for me to like just about anything) couldn't save this one.

          All-around-fail. Just . . . bad. So bad.

Next to come on this list - The Maze Runner, August 2014

Saturday, March 15, 2014


Warning: the very first sentence of this post will immediately make you start thinking up excuses not to listen to anything else I have to say.

I’d like to talk today about service.

Now, if you’re a regular attendee of any church that regularly speaks on this subject (like mine) then that sentence immediately sets off a chain of almost physiological Pavlovian responses as soon as you hear it.  First, there’s the fight or flight conflict to resolve, or in this case, the guilt-or-get-out conflict.  If you choose to leave (as I have on a few occasions) then you avoid the guilt you know you’re about to experience if you stay, but you’re also the person who gets up and just leaves as soon as someone’s begun their talk.  (Kids are a wonderful loophole for this entire problem, since they always provide an excused absence from the chapel at any time, but that’s a topic for another blog) On the other hand, you could stay.  I normally slouch down a little in my seat and immediately become fascinated with the hymnbooks in front of me even though I’ve been looking at the same ones since I was three weeks old. 

Whatever the case is, the immediate response to being informed that you’re about to hear a talk on service is avoidance in some form.  We all know why.  We don’t do enough. No one does.  Not a single person who pays attention to a service talk walks away saying “Yup, that’s one commandment I’ve got down pat. On to the next.”  Commandments like Tithing or the Word of Wisdom or Chastity, those you can (most of the time) say that either you’re following the law or you’re not.  Not to say that those don’t include room for improvement even for the best among us, but they’re fairly cut and dry. Am I giving ten percent of my gross income in a faithful tithe? Check.  Am I keeping the counsel put forward in the Word of Wisdom pertaining to dietary and practical guidelines? Check. Do I have sexual relations only with my legally married spouse? Check.  Those are things you can pretty much know you’re doing right.  But even if you volunteer forty hours a week at a soup kitchen, mow your senior citizen neighbor’s yard and give a weekly contribution to the March of Dimes, there is still more than you could be giving. 

In short, service is not a pass/fail commandment.  Too bad, I like those. 

I admit very freely, it’s not my strong suit either.  I’m not writing this post because I think it is at all. Far from it.  I suck at giving service.  I’m terrible at giving up my time, because I want so desperately to hold onto the time that I have.  The few hours a day after work that I get to spend with Adam and my best friend, that other parent of his.  Those are precious to me. I want every minute, every moment of them that I can hang onto for myself.  When I lose them, for whatever reason, my day feels empty. It’s like I ate all my vegetables like an obedient little child and then got the main course and dessert of the day snatched away from me anyway.  I feel very much like that attitude of selfishness regarding our own time is incredibly universal.  I’m incredibly selfish with that time, and though I know that’s still a fault I possess, it’s not my worst one by a long shot, so it might be a while before I get around to working on it.

This is not a talk on service by any means, but there’s one central comment that I’d like to make about it.  I recently went over to help out two friends of ours, a couple who’d just moved into a lovely townhouse.  Tons more space than their old place, incredibly good deal, they’re very excited about heading into it and stretching out a little bit.  So they’re painting everything in the house before they move their stuff in at the end of the month, and they say they’d like some help painting.  Sure, no problem. Anyone with reasonable manual dexterity can work a paintbrush, I figure. I’m no Picasso, but I can do my best to avoid the molding when doing the little detail work around the edges.  Few hours on a Saturday.  I admit, it’s certainly not my ideal way of spending a chunk of my weekend, but they know that, I know that, anyone who’s ever had a weekend knows that.  But they’re my friends and I want to help them, so I say yes and go over there.

Now, I like these people. They’re fairly awesome.  But by no stretch of the imagination do I consider them close friends.  I, personally, just haven’t known them that long or that well to say that they’re people I have a particularly close, frequent or intimate friendship with.  So they’re more than acquaintances, but less than BFFs.  They’re friends.  Good middle ground. 

And yet I’m pretty much the only person who showed up to help them paint.

I’m sorry . . . really?

I don’t mean this as a comment on these two at all. Like I said, they’re great people, I enjoy them thoroughly.  But for people that awesome to have only a peripheral acquaintance show up to help them paint their new home? That’s . . . that’s not okay.  And it shows, I think, my point from earlier, that selfishness with our own time is a universal trait.  Yes, it was Saturday afternoon on the nicest day of the year so far.  No, no one wants to spend that kind of day inside painting.  But come on. They were doing it alone, and it was a lot to do.

Is the painted or unpainted nature of the walls of their own home ultimately the responsibility and prerogative of the couple in question? Yes. No argument there.  Are they perfectly capable of getting all of it done? Yes, I know they are. Though I’m not sure time-wise how quickly that will happen.  But are there other people around them who could look at them, realize they’re in a place of need, and pop out of their own selfishness for just a few hours and do this thing to help ease their way? Yes. There are.  I know there are.  There are people around all of us who are capable of giving, capable of helping, capable of reaching out a hand to help give you a little nudge when you’re faltering and get you back on track.  It doesn’t take much to make a person feel that you care about them and really want to help them.  I know they are surrounded by people, tons and tons of them, who have the capacity to have been there to help them paint their house and make the work go more quickly.  I just don’t know where those people were, and it broke my heart to see the stress on their faces when they realized no one else was really showing up but me. 

So the comment that I would like to make about service is not that we need to be doing more or that we need to be making sure our hearts are in it or that we give all that we possibly can to those around us.  Realist that I am, I’m aware that the second I engage in any of those platitudes that have been spouted on a weekly/daily/hourly basis from the pulpits of churches across the world, minds shut off.  Guilt sets in, and rationalization comes in to act as the antivenom of that guilt.  That doesn’t work. Never has, never will.  What I would like to say is this:

Do something.

I’m not suggesting that anyone overhaul their lives for the greater good and go looking for an unfriendly sword to fall on for anyone else. But if you keep the perspective of doing something for those around you on a regular basis, a paid meal, a helpful contact for someone in need of some assistance, tech support, putting air in a person’s tires when they need it, helping to paint, helping to move, just helping to watch a kid when a pair of parents need a night to be adults for a change, if you want to do something for someone else, you’ll find an opportunity around you.  If you don’t want to, you’ll make excuses whenever opportunities do present themselves to you.  That’s just how the brain works. Guilt-or-go-home.  If we just do SOMEthing, the world would be a much merrier place, and there would be fewer couples standing in their living rooms right now looking at a half-painted room and only a few days to get all of their stuff moved in, with just the two of them.  No one wants that. No one wants to BE that, and no one wants to force someone else to have that happen to them.

I’m glad I did something. It wasn’t a big deal to me, it wasn’t some huge sacrifice, and it doesn’t need to be. I hope it made a difference to them for the better, and that I didn’t get too much paint on the molding in the process. 

Just do something.  The world spins smoother that way.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Utopianism, Optimism, and Presentism: or “Things Will Be Alright When: Rantgush the First”

Listening to: Cat’s in the Cradle – Cat Stevens

There seems to be a utopian ideal inside of most, if not all, members of the human race.  It could be on any scale, large or small, personal or societal, economic or religious. It’s the feeling inside us all that starts with the words “things will be alright when . . .” and then proceeds to describe the necessary change that will effect a better world. 

This, I’m coming more and more to believe, is not a healthy way to start a sentence.

I don’t mean, in saying this, to insinuate that instances of optimism in life are a bad thing. Far from it. We are encouraged in most situations (and commanded in others, see Gordon B. Hinckley) to be optimistic, and I think it is absolutely right that we should do so. But the sentiment of “things will be alright when . . .” is not optimism, in the strictest sense.  Optimism is a point of view, an attitude and perspective on life that is not, or at least should not be, specific to any given situation. Optimism is the attitude that things will go well, or that they will improve over time. Optimism is having a personality that is saturated with hope, until it is not just a matter of hoping for certain things, but of truly possessing a ‘hope for all things.’ 

The thought process I’m talking about here is the one that says, “when I get out of my parents’ house, then I’ll finally be free to do what I want,” or, “when the kids are out of the house, then we’ll be able to have some free time again.”  And yes, my son is only ten months old and I’ve already had that thought. You may now go ahead and have your condescending and judgmental thoughts in my direction. I’ll wait. 

Back? Great. Let’s continue.

There are a lot of other iterations of this pattern that may be somewhat more subtle, but fall into the same general realm for the purposes of this discussion.  When I get a house, I’ll finally be an adult. When I get a new job, then I’ll be happy with life.  Once I get married, everything else will be wonderful.  When I get that credit card paid off, I’ll be able to start saving money. When I get to five o’clock, I’ll be much happier about life.  When I finally see Paris in the spring, or the pyramids, or Jerusalem, or Athens, I’ll feel like my life is complete.  When I retire, then I can be happy.  Once I get this bottle of wine open, I’ll feel better about life.

I do this a lot.  Everyone does, to some extent. We love these thought experiments because they’re essentially fantasizing about a life other than our own. In which we can save money, have more space, have more time, have fewer headaches and more fun. We love them for the same reason we love to think about getting our Hogwarts acceptance letter, because it takes us out of the world we're presently in and puts us into some other world, no matter how miniscule the differences between those two worlds are. 

But that’s just it.  The entire process removes us from the world we currently inhabit, which is where we’re located in this moment of time, and it’s the one we need to deal with.  I would love to be able to sit back and say that I’m really going to enjoy Adam when he gets old enough to talk to and play games with. I really look forward to teaching this guy to play chess and love old cartoons. I’m going to love reading Harry Potter to him and talking to him about which house he wants to belong to.  I’m going to enjoy watching him grow up and play sports and do homework and book reports and science projects, start dating the wrong girls, maybe finally start dating the right ones, whatever the kid’s going to do with his life.  I look at all those things and I think “man, it’s going to be so much more fun to be a father when he’s . . .” 

In the meantime, he’s over there in his crib asleep at the moment, and I’m sitting here realizing that I’m focusing so much on what he isn’t yet that I’m not looking at him for what he’s already become. I’m reading books to him that are so short and simple I’ve memorized them, all the while waiting on the day that I can get his opinion on The Hobbit, and I’m letting that fantasy make me utterly bored with the current version of him.  “When you comin’ home, Dad? I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, yeah.  You know we’ll have a good time then.”  I’ve always loved that song, and it’s the perfect version of this entire philosophy. 

So I’m going to try and remember, every time I look at the clock and pray for the big hand to race around to the twelve and the little hand to jump ahead to the five, to sit back and remind myself to do the best work I can while I’m at work.  I’m going to look up at my son when he’s walking around and encourage him on the level he’s currently reached instead of just looking ahead.  I’m going to look around at the life that we’ve created for ourselves as a couple and be grateful for what we’ve built already and the blessings we currently enjoy instead of focusing on the ones we hope to gain in the coming months and years.  I’m going to try very hard to watch how I begin my sentences.  And someday, when I’ve gotten really good at keeping those future fantasies out of my speech . . . ah, dang it . . .

This is your life. And not only is it ending one minute at a time, (thank you, Tyler) but it’s also progressing one minute at a time. It’s never going to be easy.  You’re never going to sit back at the end of the day and say “wow, nothing at all was difficult for me today.”  You’re never going to look at your finances and say “I have enough money for the rest of my life, guaranteed.”  You’re never going to look at your knowledge of the universe and say “I don’t need to learn anything else, I’m good.”  You’re never going to look at yourself in the mirror and say “I’m finished working on my appearance, that last sit-up did it.”  The world is never going to get cheaper to live in. The society around you is always going to have problems, no matter how well-balanced its various regulatory systems.  Even in a perfect world, I’m convinced the DMV is still going to be infuriating. Things are never going to be the fantasy we believe they’re capable of someday becoming. 

That is not to say that these various goals are not worth working toward. That’s not what I’m saying.  I’m saying that at some point, we need to accept that life will always be a work in progress.  If it is not, you are no longer alive. Knowing this, then, that we will always be somewhere on the continuum between the beginning and the theoretical end, we need to put more focus on being happy going five over the speed limit with the windows down, dealing with rush hour traffic while blaring music with a heartbeat, than we do on the destination.  

So here I am, and here I’m going. It’s a nice place to be, this moment I’m sitting in, and I’m grateful for the chance to have gotten into it at all. 

(photo quote by Terry Goodkind)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Back From the Nothing

We’ll say this right up front for all those among our readership who thought immediately, upon learning that we were going to be keeping a blog, that we would fail in our enterprise and not keep it up:  You were correct.  It has now been fourteen months since our last blog post, and no matter what has happened in the meantime, we have failed in our task of keeping this thing up to date.  For that, I will make no apologies. My sister has five kids and manages to keep hers up no matter what, so we certainly won’t make any excuses for ourselves here. 

That being said, let’s see if we can’t do a little better here going forward.

No one reading this is going to be altogether unfamiliar with the events of the past fourteen months.  Dawn and I both have Facebook pages that we keep fairly up to date with pictures of Adam and other general commentary on the state of our life as it is presently constituted. But blogs, as I understand them, are not really built to be updates or news bulletins.  Rather, they seem the natural habitats of rants or gushing of a general nature. With that being said, the next several posts will most likely be of one character or the other, but there will be several coming to bring the rantgush (Or should it be gushrant? No, I like rantgush better, even though it sounds like something one might catch if one didn't have all of one’s shots in order before one traveled to a subtropical country) quota up to the present day.  So. Stay tuned for that.

As a final comment for this blog, though, I will say this: It’s been an insane year for us here in the Brumbley household, and things have changed drastically, but when things change as completely as they have for us in the last fourteen months, it highlights those things that are still the same. It makes those points of stability more important and more valuable, because you have to rely on those things more than you ever have before.  We have each other, we have the gospel, we have our fiction, and we have some form of caffeinated soft drink close at hand. Not everyone will set their priorities in life in quite that order, I realize, but for us, that’s a pretty good baseline to work from.

Here’s to more blogging, and to the many rantgushes to follow. Cheers.