Saturday, November 7, 2015
"I believe in God, but I have no use for organized religion."
Ideologically speaking, I exist in a border-less mesh of notions that I find interesting, but cannot, at this time, commit to.
Those quotes above, they are meaningful to me, and are rough paraphrases done from memory; as I have not the inclination to look them up and do the correct attribution for this post. This post that is a leaf in a churning infinite firestorm of crap, which we also call the Internet.
The first quote is CS Lewis, and he is saying that if you are eternally cynical because you see through it all, then you are really seeing nothing. To be able to see through it all, you must have a vantage point from which to do that. But if you see through it "all," then this vantage point doesn't exist, as it is necessarily included in the all.
I tend towards cynicism, so I must remind myself of this principle, in an effort to keep myself honest.
The second quote is probably some type of bastardization of Stephen King, but it is also just a common refrain in modernity. I used to despise it with all my heart, mind and soul (good Christian that I was)--now I find myself gravitating towards it.
I am politically, religiously and socially adrift, and have been, for quite some time now. The idea of conclusion, of picking a perspective and sticking to it, seems beyond impossible. But I was always so certain. Frequently wrong, never in doubt, as the saying goes.
My ideological biography:
--Handed American Christianity by my mother via local church congregation, circa age 5.
--Limped along, wanted to please God, but was torn because also wanted to do the things that I wanted to do, which seemed to be frequently opposed to the behavioral expectations I was given.
--Teenage years, apolitical, culturally committed Christian.
--17--had done enough things to make me feel guilty enough to wash those sins away in the baptismal waters.
--18--acquired liberal girlfriend who made me Question It All. Caused epic, 18 month or so slide into serious faux-militant leftism, which included illegally posting anti-consumerist political cartoons around my community college campus to "wake the sheep-le up," a subscription to AdBusters magazine (including a straight monetary donation to their mission), and attendance of a meeting of fairly serious political anarchists, which included a very halfhearted protest march that must have petered out after three blocks, when half of the protestants, which is to say about six, dissolved into the crowd.
--But then she dumped me, which precipitated a wild swing in the opposite direction, which led to me doubling down on Christianity, and, eventually, political conservatism. I got REALLY into it. (My talk radio and my Fox News, thy strengthened me. I bought Ann Coulter books. I willingly listened to Bill O'Reilly, and even looked directly into his face on a regular basis. I made sure to find black and gay people who agreed with my political opinions. I attended a Christian straight-marriage rally with my parents. So yeah, it got dark.
--At some point in the year or two after I completed my BA, I got tired of always being contentious, people hating me at parties, etc, and cooled my political heels a bit. Theology became the thing that gunned my ideological engine, and so I plunged myself into the slightly arduous task of divining, to a certainty, the will and mind of God.
--This led to me becoming an "elder" (at the age of 25) in my church, learning well the path of the righteous . . . way of appearing and holding yourself in public, online, on your blog, at your prayer meetings, etc.
--7ish years later, a Very Messy Exit (VMS) from my lifelong church body. But my political/religious allegiances were already faltering (thank you John Updike, thank you David Dark, thank you Robert Capon, thank you, I think, Jesus?). But the VMS definitely expedited my process into the ideological wilderness.
--3ish years hence, today, the present--a man without a nation. I believe in Jesus, I hate his people. I laugh at the idea of voting (which is equal parts cynicism and basic rational math, thank you Freakonomics). I hate Republicans, I hate Democrats, I hate ideologues, I hate teams (teams being things that preclude thought, "You're on my team, I agree with you," etc). I don't have a team, I don't have a home, I don't have an easily identifiable group of people to congregate in easy, like-minded fashion. I hate that I am cynical--I look at the world and wonder how can I not be? I look at my personal religion and see how much it has changed and evolved, and I wonder, with how much it has changed, will I eventually just drop it altogether? What do I want my children to believe? What do I want to give them? What do I want them to figure out for themselves? What is the responsible thing to do? What do I owe them?
What drives away the emptiness, that empty feeling? I used to call it a God Shaped Hole, that resided in every human, that only He could fill. But after 30 some-odd years of living in the cognitive dissonance of worshiping the thing that fulfills, and not finding it ultimately satisfying, I have tentatively embraced the idea that maybe the problem is not me, my commitment, or my performance. Maybe there is something wrong with the proposition--maybe human fulfillment, by any means, is a mirage.
But that empty feeling. If there is no point, if there is nothing to fight for, then there is nothing. There is only the passage of time, which is meaningless by itself. My soul, and I insist we all have one, has been infused with a notion of transcendence. God, whatever/whoever it is, is there; that is the one metaphysical thing I am sure of. At least for now.
But what am I fighting for? Who is on my team? What am I supposed to do? Is there a hell, can we rise above our human nature, or only short-circuit it for periods of time through shame, guilt, social mores and sheer human grit?
Do we tax the rich to support the poor, thus enabling them, or do we give them tough love? Do I have the capacity to even know what the right answer is, or do I just ride the prevailing ideological winds because, in the end, there is no right answer, there is only what humans happen to be doing right now?
I'm glad I've been able to provide some closure to these questions. I would write more, but my wife says I have to get to the post office before it closes, so I have to go.
Saturday, September 19, 2015
That's not me. I sit there and gape and marvel that things should be however they are. Because humans are fundamentally broken, there are no end to the things I can stand there, slack-jawed, wide-eyed, drooling, and just...behold. "Why did he do that?" "Why would she say that?" "What did they mean?" "What were they thinking?"
So my wife and I are a good match, I think it's one reason why we ended up marrying each other. That seems to generally be the way it goes. It's been my observation that, broadly speaking, people deserve their spouse. I mean that in the good way, and the bad way. You have a coworker that is unusually kind, you finally meet his wife and quickly see why they're together; she's uncommonly kind, as well. Your other coworker is a bit of a boor, however, and at the holiday party you can't wait to get away from his wife with the annoying laugh and absurd social commentary. This is the way life usually goes.
There are rare exceptions. The exceptions? These people I truly feel bad for. You see a couple, one of them is an absolute buffoon, and the other is quite pleasant, and I just kind of sigh inwardly and think, "I'm sorry, you made a mistake, it happens." And then I sit there and wonder how aware they are of it, the spouse with the bum deal.
My wife and I essentially agree, with minimal variance, on politics, religion, parenting, social code, so, the big stuff. The important stuff. But what makes the marriage actually good is that we agree on the little things: yes, we should definitely eat out tonight; we like the same movies, we like the same books; we don't bore each other to death (too often) with whatever it is that we are on about that day. We like the same styles of humor—and there's the rub:
My wife likes Calvin & Hobbes. No she doesn't. That's wrong to say that she likes it. My wife f***ing loves Calvin & Hobbes. Sometimes I hear her tittering for minutes on end in the bathroom—and most of the time it is because she brought her Calvin & Hobbes with her. And several times over the years she has tried to introduce me to C&H. I don't bite. This confuses and frustrates her, so a few years later she will try again. I read several panels, after which I usually look up at her and slowly shake my head. The thing about C&H is that it is not funny or amusing or interesting. That's my only problem with it.
You see my problem, here? How can two people be in such sync, and be so far apart on an issue? I can't understand it. When we formed this union I brought my dozen funniest movies to the party, she hers, and we made each other watch them. They were all smashing successes. Mine became hers, vice versa, and this is how it should be in matrimony—it's at least half of why you are together; you've got a lot of time to kill.
But she seeks out C&H. She thinks it's funny. She laughs.
I sit, shaking my head. My mind can't understand it.
It's ok that lot's of people think C&H is funny—but if she and I can be so twinned on everything else, then I'm disturbed. One of us got a wire crossed somewhere. One of us received jumbled programming.
And this is just C&H so everyone can chuckle and say I'm being crazy and pat me on the head and then sleep tonight. But what's next? What if she comes to me and says she wants to take another lover, a silent German type with big hands and a menacing frame—and she just, like, expected I would be cool with it?
See? It's a dangerous thing to not be completely in sync.
Sunday, July 19, 2015
Saturday, July 18, 2015
No, Donald Trump is NOT awesome. But sometimes, when something is so flagrantly, mightily freakishly bad, you call it awesome. Or at least I do. There is a point up until which, when something is bad, it makes you mad and you feel like you have to condemn it. But then it crosses over that line, into complete unbelievability (except that it is still right there in front of you), that you just kind of chuckle--that's what I sometimes call awesome.
When created or conceived or born or willed or whatever you want to call it--I was infused with an inordinate amount of interest in the thoughts and beliefs of others. I can waste day after day reading up on belief systems that have no appeal to me, but for the pleasure I collect from learning about them.
Which brings us to Donald Trump. It just so happens that the circles I run in have me in close contact with a few people who are excited for Trump's candidacy. When they first told me this I of course assumed it was some sort of elaborate ruse...but their earnestness quickly proved my assumption wrong. Here were people in front of me, who I consider to be intelligent and reasonably well-balanced, telling me Trump is "exactly what this country needs."
I don't have to spend any time articulating an argument against Trump's candidacy. As it turns out, apparently I do, but I shall stoutly refused. I didn't argue with my friends, I just simply stated the obvious, as it seems like it's enough. And if it's not enough, then all I can say is God help us. I simply said he is clearly an arrogant jerk that has a knack for being needlessly offensive. That's my entire argument. There are other relevant attributes, such as the fact that he has an economically protectionist mindset that went extinct well over 100 years ago, and his utter disdain for diplomacy and political decorum, while perhaps refreshing for a moment, is completely unworkable in politics as they are (not as the fantasy world of what we want or prefer). But all of that is putting the cart before the horse. He's just an asshole.
I had been kicking around these thoughts over the last few weeks, and then I awake this morning to the perfect distillation of exactly what I am talking about. Donald Trump opened that unfortunate mouth of his again this morning to pick a fight that never would have otherwise occurred. His words are taking a blowtorch to a hornets nest that is a week and a half safari trip out of his way.
From the Washington Post:
AMES, Iowa -- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump slammed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a decorated Vietnam War veteran, on Saturday by saying McCain was not a war hero because he was captured by the North Vietnamese.
"He's not a war hero," Trump said. Sarcastically, Trump quipped, "He's a war hero because he was captured." Then, he added, "I like people that weren't captured."
Needlessly offensive. Like setting your car on fire because it's a little chilly, and you didn't want to walk to the woodpile.
Look, if he's your family then I understand you have to tolerate him, but we're talking about presidential politics here, and we have freedom of association at our disposal--why would Republican's want to hitch their wagon to an anchor headed straight for the deepest point in the ocean? Why pick a born political loser? Maybe it's one of those zen "you must go down to go up/winning is losing/wrong is right" type of things. If so, Republican's are much smarter than anyone ever gave them credit for--which of course can't be the case, so no, they're just temporarily insane.
Saturday, June 27, 2015
Darn it! I was going to write up an erudite treatise on yesterday's Supreme Court decision that was going to bring the house down. You would have wept from its eloquence, wisdom and undeniability.
But there's too much, I can't do it. Too much sun, too many things to do to prepare for the baby on the way, too many fireworks to buy, too many chores.
But I cannot let it pass without saying anything--so here is your Reader's Digest version: I was happy about the decision. I couldn't help myself. Let's set aside my personal religious instruction for a moment (of which my honest answer is--I just don't know what to think about sexual orientation and its proper relationship to the will of God right now; it's not that I don't have thoughts on it—I just don't know which ones are correct—if any—and I'm ok with that for the foreseeable future)—I was happy that so many were happy, I was happy because it felt like justice, happy that this stupid, horrible battle in the culture war maybe took one great leap forward in being put to rest.
A word to my Christian brothers and sisters who don't know what to think, or are unhappy, about yesterday's decision: The Constitution and the Bible are not one and the same. It is possible to support the right to same-sex marriage even if you don't agree with it personally. We have been lied to by our leaders into making sexual orientation into the winner-take-all battle/core issue that it has become. We've lost good friends/family and cultural influence because of our disproportionate war on sexual orientation—and the sooner we restore it to the complicated, little wrinkle in Scripture that it is, the better. The thing about this war is that it is make believe—if you crawl out of the trenches you'll find there were never liberal, godless cannons pointed at you in the first place—just a bunch of broken people (like you and me), trying to make their way in the world, trying to do right by the fading, weak flashlight beam we all have to light our path.
If you think that's long, brother, you have no idea the novel you were in for if this was a rainy October morning and my kids were somehow occupied.
Monday, June 8, 2015
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
So I had a thought: Who I am is the person that asks these questions. My job, it appears, at least for right now, is to just lurk on the edges of topics and ideas and just...think. Posture, position, ideate. I'm no great thinker or anything, I'm not classically trained in the art--but I happen to be quite fond of my perspective, thank you very much. I think of it as grounded and flagrantly seeking. I'm a traditional Christian who is growing to hate Christianity, as it is popularly manifested in this country, more and more by the day--no, the hour (not that that's ok or anything, but it does happen to be a fact). I'm a self-hating political conservative who doesn't really think their views are correct, it's just that I can't find any opinion on a subject that I happen to hate less. It's all garbage, in any case, as the local Kroger outlet has much more influence over my day to day operations than any politician, patriarch or patristic blowhard ever did...
When something happens, culturally, I am much more interested in watching and evaluating how others respond, rather than to offer a response, myself. It just is what it is. I've been running this blog for, I don't know, close to 10 years, and there have been so many (too many) years where I have fretted about what I would write about because no one would want to read what I actually wanted to write. Which of course was vague, introspective meanderings about the relative and utter contingency of our frightfully short existence in the face of yawning eternity that, for the most part, doesn't having the part where we are actually breathing written into the script for very long. This horrifies me--and not just because it makes me regret my real estate investments. But I was scared to write things that would "drive the reader away," which is of course a joke and a paradox, given that there is no reader. Sorry, internet denizens, but if I only have a few hundred people show up, and I'm sure I don't even have that much, then no, I don't have an audience. Even a few thousand is not really an audience.
So hear I stand (well of course it's writing, but please picture me standing), furiously dancing my jig for an audience of one, utterly petrified that I will drive off all of the non-existent audience.
That is par for the course for myself and my perspective: I don't know what I'm supposed to write about. All I end up writing about is vaguely worrying about coming up with stuff to write about; constantly evaluating and reevaluating ideas and thoughts and wondering if I have the right perspective, if there is a right perspective, if God and his son Jesus are con-men, if they exist, yes they do, but do they...you know--etc etc.
I am finding there is great freedom in simply telling the truth. I am a writer who will probably never be known, might not figure out what my Great Subject is, won't make enough money from the craft to treat the family to an evening at Denny's--but none of that contradicts the first four words of this sentence. I got bit by the writing bug when I was very young, and I find pleasure in it. I find pleasure in it, that is, when I am not writhing on the floor, rending my garments, screaming internally and externally at myself that I am not, in fact, a writer, that I am not anything, that I am a blank space with no original thought in my head. I think the truth is that when I am really hating myself for the writer that I am--maybe it's happening because I am hating myself for not being the writer that I am not.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
Many people are surprised to hear that cheese was actually invented by a very insecure cow. She felt like buckets and buckets of milk, while helpful to society, were not enough for her to feel like she had really "contributed something."
"Any cow can make milk," she would always remind herself. Many sleepless nights found her mooning before a chalk board, diagramming endless possibilities of what could be done to augment her wonderful but commonplace gift of milk production.
It would surprise no one to discover that her father was a very hard driving bull. Every blue ribbon she came home with, he found a way to sniff at it, to discover the crease in the masterpiece, as it were. Her accolades stacked up like milk crates throughout her childhood, but each achievement left her more and more empty; father preferring to joke around with his buddies and talk about meaningless nonsense (what bulls refer to as "a session"), rather than appreciate his daughter's achievements was a repeated red hot goad to the backside.
The breakthrough in fermentation that she discovered came with a heavy cost--she was driven mad by the pressure and expectation that accompanies genius. Many in her community wanted to name her creation "mad cow cream," as an ominous homage to its complicated genesis, but the wisdom of the herd asserted itself, as it often does, and "cheese" was finally agreed upon as the best moniker for the new invention.
So that is how cheese was invented--anyone who contradicts this origin story is a heartless maniac that should be avoided at all costs, even at the risk of your own safety.
Sunday, March 22, 2015
Short story idea: Guy doesn't like his dog, so he takes it to the vet and tells them it bit him, so the vet will put the dog down.
Does the dog understand the level of betrayal? Maybe it’s written from the dog’s perspective. No, that’s small time. Don’t write it from the dog’s perspective. It’s great because this is the type of thing that we are all capable of. It’s evil, but it’s in that way that everyone is kind of evil. But that gets into heavier issues, duality of man, are we basically good or basically evil, etc. I don’t know if I am ready to take those issues on in this format. It’s just a short story. You have to say a lot with a little. What type of dog should it be? My dog is a corgi mixed with a spaniel, but I don’t think I should use that, because I don’t want people thinking I am just talking about my life. Real writers make up things that have never happened to them. The dog choice is important, because if it was a Chihuahua I don’t think it would have the same emotional impact as a Golden Retriever. But Golden Retriever is much too obvious, it would be a small time choice, but I think it should definitely be a pure breed. I don’t really know what the plot is, like I don’t know how we get from one scene to the next, and how it should end, but that’s ok because short stories don’t have to make sense. Half the short stories I read I have no idea what they’re trying to say. But I’m reading them in anthologies, so somehow someone is thinking they are good. I’m not sure how much back story there should be. I mean, were they friends at one time? It would be dumb if there were some larger reason for the murder, like the dog had a bomb in his stomach, or a disease strain that would infect the entire world, and therefore the killing becomes noble. That is the type of pseudo-redeeming schlock you would find in a Hollywood thriller, but that’s not what this story is. Now, if it becomes successful and is optioned for a movie by a Hollywood type then they might want to go in that direction, but by that point I no longer have any control over the creative rights of the story, so it’s best not to worry about it.
I’m not sure how it starts, or how it ends, but I definitely know about the scene where he takes the dog to the vet and tells them the dog bit him. Can they tell he’s lying? What if they can, but they see this thing all the time—like every day—so they really don’t care that much. No, that would be a comedic spin, and it would be a copout because this is a more intellectual/philosophical piece—not a comedy hour. Maybe the veterinarian receptionist tries to talk him out of it. But she has to do it in code, because she knows what’s really going on here (because she sees the sadness in the dog’s eyes??), but she can’t call him out on it, because it would spook him and then he would just definitely do it so he could get out of there. So she’s like talking to him about not (will have to figure this out, what is the code she comes up with? Quick ideas: taking the garbage out, pouring out old coffee, putting a cow out to pasture (these are all terrible, but you’ll think of something)) murdering the dog, in the coded language…I’m not sure if this interaction between man and receptionist (sexual power politics theme??) is important to the story. But the Hollywood type might have a better idea of what to do with it, how to use it for an emotional boost, so I’ll just kind of put a few sentences in about it, nothing too heavy, and he can take it from there.
Monday, March 9, 2015
Also—now there is intro music!
I also sing. So if you were down on your luck and needed to blackmail me you could use that for bait. But that would require me having any pride or self-respect—I've always been in short supply of those.
Monday, March 2, 2015
On second thought, don't let your mind wander too far on that one, let me just tell you—as of tonight, we have all interviewed small children for cheap laughs. It's just so fun and easy, how can you not do it?
I have a talent for being vaguely insulting to kids—I don't know if you've ever heard a three-year-old evince nervous laughter, but it's kind of fun to hear.
Editors note: The interview subject switches from Russell to Nolan at about the 1:50 mark.
Monday, February 23, 2015
I was mulling over potential topics for the podcast this weekend, and I decided that I needed to begin at the beginning. Religion/spirituality is at the core of who I am. It's probably neurotic, a little nutty, over the top and disproportionate. Yes, it is all of those things, but it is also fundamentally me. If I am trying to find my voice, slay fears, unblock myself, it started to make a lot of sense to me that I should explore this thing inside of me.
No one wants to talk religion. Talking about religion in public makes me very uncomfortable. Hell, talking about religion at church makes me fairly uncomfortable. But if progress only gets made outside of your comfort zone . . .
I like to think that my worldview, my beliefs, are fairly inoffensive. That's not by conscious design (I hope), but I try to be aware of how my words and actions affect others, and one of my prime directives is kindness. Now that is strange, because I can have a bit of an edge, and I like to poke people, but paradoxically I want to be nice to people, and for them to feel validated by me. Look, I don't get it either, and I don't have enough money to pay a shrink to sort it out, so we're all going to have to deal with it.
Anyway—I hate keeping all of my thoughts on God inside, afraid to share them with people, so here they are, uncorked for you in this podcast.
Friday, February 20, 2015
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Saturday, January 10, 2015
Just saw Inherent Vice. I feel like I can't even be objective about it, because I love Paul Thomas Anderson so much. I love his movies, even if I don't necessarily totally enjoy them--is that weird or what?
But now I'm doing my typical ritual after I witness an epic film--going and reading what everyone else thinks about it. It's a weird thing. Opinion is a weird thing. If people disagree with me, it means they're wrong, but that's impossible when you're talking about an opinion, right? No. I don't think that's entirely true. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and people can disagree in good faith . . . but I think sometimes people are just mean. An opinion is irrefutable, cannot be said to be wrong, and I think sometimes people get lazy with that. It allows them to be cutting and cruel because they're too lazy to be more incisive and searching. I just came across an example of that, and it made me want to tear every last hair from my head.
This is from the New Yorker review of the film:
"Joaquin Phoenix is one of the best living actors, but as Doc Sportello, he’s coasting—digging deep neither into the emotional life of the character he’s playing nor, apparently, into his own, and not subjecting his performance to the pressure of a precise and demanding gesture-repertory. (There are a very few exceptions—a few glorious seconds of physical comedy dispersed throughout the film). Anderson seems happy to let Phoenix merely signify Phoenix-hood and doesn’t nudge him to be Phoenix. The character coasts on the bleary charm of the actor’s line readings and the slouch of his garb: his sideburns seem to be doing most of the work."
This is the problem with opinions--people can just say stuff like this. No, no, no, reviewer from the New Yorker, Phoenix was not "letting his sideburns do the work." He was playing a drugged out stoner who had no aim, no clue, no constitution. He was playing the hand he was dealt, playing the character he was asked to play. He played it brilliantly, as he always does, as every other review that I've read asserts. But this reviewer comes along and decided to take a shot at Phoenix and Paul Thomas Anderson because it makes him feel like a big man to do it. Sickening.
You're entitled to your own opinion, unless you're an idiot. See? Now I'm just getting downright mean. And inarticulate. I'm blinded by rage. It's a flaw in the medium of criticism--in the name of passing judgment, clever people can be mean and unfair, but masquerade as dispassionate intellectuals merely offering an "opinion." What garbage.
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Living is dying; dying to a billion things that you choose to exchange for a few.