Thursday, July 30, 2009
Maybe the moon saw, in her bright yellow glory, that people had taken over her land and that's why she gave up. See--as we stood across the lake from the moon-come-to-earth, Nicole in my arms our eyes on the sky--the moon seemed to start sinking into some clouds and I know, I know you're going to tell me the moon doesn't sink into clouds, winds blow clouds not quite four-hundred-thousand miles in front of the moon's face, so the moon doesn't even notice when she's hidden from our view but I'm telling you, tonight the moon sank.
I was holding Nicole and before our very eyes the moon let herself sink down into the clouds deeper and deeper until they covered her almost completely, until there was nothing to see of her strong yellow light than what looked like a crack in the sky. Yes, the moon let herself sink down and the sky let herself crack and then the crack blacked over and there was nothing left but the night and the stars and the scarred sky and me holding Nicole and wondering what did it mean that this just happened.
Wondering if any second one by one the stars will just start to put themselves out.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
As anyone who gave up reading Choose Your Own Adventure books at the age of twelve after developing a lifelong fear of paper cuts will be glad to hear, the genre has reemerged in none other than--yes--blog form (clicking on links is so much quicker and safer than turning to page 132, then back to 71, then to 12 for the third time [it's got to be the third time because you can see the dried blood on the page from the last two paper-wounded visits] because you're stuck in some loop and contemplating sending anthrax to the book's writer and/or publisher--which I never threatened to do as a child, unless, of course, the statute of limitations on such threats is up).
I don't know why I didn't think of using a blog to create a Choose Your Own Adventure myself--now that I've seen it done, the parallels seem so obvious. In each case, individual pieces are designed to be short and interactive. In each case, the writer frees the reader from the established hegemony of front-to-back reading by interconnecting the posts to allow readers to take their own trajectory through the work. The forms are so close, in fact, that you could improve the readability of any of the old Choose Your Own Adventure Books simply by plagiarizing it into a blog, wiki, or other digital form.
Oh, but that would be like the Gutenberg Bible, a vast technological leap ahead of preceding Bible manuscripts but virtually indistinguishable from them, not having yet embraced the possibilities (such as adding verse numbers and inserting commentary) that moveable type print would make possible in the later Geneva Bible and its descendants.
The author of www.existentialadventure.blogspot.com is no mere Gutenberg. He is already beginning to explore the unique potential of his form, and the results are delightful. A few examples:
1) The blog looks for the implications of non-linear reading.
Traditional Choose Your Own Adventure books are still based on the concept of striving for a specific desirable end, such as getting a treasure or not dying a horrible death. This definition-by-ending reflects readers' expectations of print media.
As the title implies, however, this Existential Adventure is based on creating meaning through the journey instead. This innovation has as much to do with technology, I think, as with philosophy: in the '80s and '90s, kids accused their nerdier classmates of having read the encyclopedia--a task so improbable and boring in a world ruled by the hegemony of front-to-back that no one in their right mind would undertake it. Digital technologies have changed all that. Kids read wikipedia today for fun, understanding that you can enter at any point and don't even have to finish a page before you click away to somewhere else in a great and satisfying web of uncharted knowledge. I've yet to hear of someone trying to skip to the end of a blog or wiki to see where it's going before they'll commit to read it, as people still do with print.
The thrill of Existential Adventure, in accordance with its digital medium and philosophical interests, has much more to do with what you think about as you move from decision to decision and how you learn to define success than with any ending you may arrive at. Even the loops are not traps, per se, but opportunities to find meaning as Camus did in the the myth of Sisyphus. Sometimes you even want to lose yourselves in links you're fairly certain will not drive the story forward, which bring me to my next point:
2) The blog embraces the proliferation of choices possible in digital media.
The types of choices offered by traditional Choose Your Own Adventures books were often binary: do you choose this or that?, invariably action-driven: what do you want to do?, and of course, came all at once at specific turning points in the script, rather than in a perpetual stream of agency.
While Existential Adventure doesn't offer the mind-boggling array of choice available in real life, it offers more kinds of choice than the traditional choose-your-own adventure. While a number of choices await you at the end of each post, smaller choices are scattered all through the prose in an unobtrusive way: objects often have their own hyperlinks, so that you can, for example, stop and look at (if not smell) the flowers. Sometimes such links only go to images or other simple detail; other times they reveal otherwise-hidden information and possibilities.
Some extreme choice come in a sidebar as well as constant alternatives to the more contextually-driven responses available at the end of each post. In keeping with Camus' maxim that the only serious philosophical question is suicide, for example, killing yourself is always a sidebar option.
The blog also invites you to make choices about attitude and even philosophical orientation in addition to choice about physical action (one caution: I wouldn't recommend choosing determinism. If you do so, all subsequent posts will include lots of underlined options, but only with that is actually hyperlinked, presumably to reinforce your idea that choice is actually an illusion.) The meaning, again, is more in the mode than in the arc: it's about the kind of perspectives and choices you get in each individual post more than about the "plot" you manage to build as you choose your own course through. Mode over arc, presentation over representation: the times have changed, and keep changing.
3) The blog is less predictable than a box of chocolates.
About a week after I first ran across the blog, I happened to show it to a friend who made the same choices I did--but with different results. Further examination has convinced me that the blog is constantly being edited as well as being constantly expanded, leading to a Harry-Potter-esque uncertainty about where each metaphorical or literal staircase will lead. Editability is, after all, one of the most exciting as well as terrifying realities of the whole digital age. The world of choice and information is constantly shifting under one's feet, raising all kinds of epistemological and ontological questions.
So what will you choose: to hide from the implications of this new digital world and age, or, like Alice of old, to go down the Rabbit Hole that is Existential Adventure.
Monday, July 27, 2009
I am beginning to think the external world is gradually turning surreal to fit the contours of my mind.
Sometimes bending is a good thing, though. For example, I'm bending this post two days back in time from when I actually wrote it so that it won't look more recent than my very important review of Existential Adventure.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
I asked for feedback two days ago. I have received only a handful of comments (many of which fell through an inherited genetic gap between the index and middle fingers of my hand). Thanks to Google Analytics, I know that forty-one to sixty-six of you have visited this blog since then--I am led to the impossible conclusion that some of you still believe in thinking before you write. How outdated! How positively--dare I say it?--dinosaurian! (Disclaimer: I actually did have to stop and check whether that was really a word before writing it, which probably makes me look like a hypocrite. But before you condemn me on that count, consider: if we never said anything hypocritical, the world would fall silent, and that's like letting the monkeys win. Speaking of silence, I need to get back out of this parenthetical whisper. It's too quiet in here.)
Can you imagine what our world would be like if everyone insisted on thinking before typing? The internet would be, at best, 5% of its current size. Travesty! Catastophe! Apocalypse!
You'd better get writing before the ghost of Marlon Brando comes to haunt us.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
As some of you are aware, this blog, along with its sibling(s), is a part of my plans for a Creative Writing Master's Thesis, which will ultimately qualify me to corrupt the youth of America.
Which means that it's time now to pause for reflection and feedback. I need to know as much as possible about how you read this blog, so I can make it better. So, feel free to respond as you will, or to use the following questions to guide you:
-What do you hope to get when you come to read this blog? How often are you disappointed? How often are you pleasantly surprised?
-What are you favorite and least favorite posts so far and why?
-Are you now, or have you ever been, invited to a communist party? Was it fun?
-Does this blog have any overall coherence/unity/ethos? If so, how would you describe it?
-Have you told anyone else about this blog? If so, what specifically inspired you to do so and what kind of person are you recommending this blog to?
-Do you think it's a coincidence that I started this blog exactly four months before my wedding without realizing I was doing so? Do you have any warnings for my future wife based on this coincidence or on general blog content?
Thank you in advance for any and all feedback.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
You have left us, Gidget, but will live
on forever in window wobblers and
No word yet via facebook on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reaction to this tragedy...I guess he doesn't feel this death as deeply as he did Michael Jackson's, for obvious reasons.
In any case, farewell Gidget. I may not always have quieroed Taco Bell as much as you were paid to want me to, but you will still be missed.
KNOW JESUS KNOW
My fiancee and I puzzled over it for some time, but couldn't figure it out. Did the person think Jesus was doing something wrong, and needed to be stopped? That would explain the first half, but not the second. Maybe the person was also trying to say that Jesus needed to learn something--no, Jesus don't do that, and furthermore let knowledge replace the ignorance that is leading you in these paths? The other bumper stickers on the car suggested the person was some kind of Christian, however, suggesting that blasphemy probably wasn't the true intent of the bumper sticker.
Maybe the bumper sticker was trying to record a journey of faith instead, turning from refusal to follow Jesus' teaching (NO JESUS NO) to a subsequent humility and emulation (KNOW JESUS KNOW). This seemed more probable, but didn't make the phrasing any less bizarre.
For days after seeing the car, I was still mildly curious. "NO JESUS NO" is sufficiently intense and unexpected to make an impression, you see. Then, this morning, while searching in vain for images of bumper stickers I wanted to discuss on another blog post, I found the answer.
The right end of the bumper sticker, it turned out, had worn out so evenly that we hadn't noticed it was missing. The full sticker reads:
KNOW JESUS KNOW PEACE
Which made me wonder: how many corners of Biblical text or essential pieces of context have gotten quietly lost in translation over the past two thousand years? How many passages are there which are as accidentally cryptic as that car's secretly incomplete bumper sticker?
All of which also suggests that there's more to religion and peace than will fit on any car's bumper. (Maybe a truck, though. I'll bet GM could fit all the wisdom we need on a big enough truck, and that's probably why the government decided it was worth it to bail them out.)
Monday, July 20, 2009
Yes, I am one of those proud few who still watch TV.
And tonight I found a show that made that habit seem worthwhile. It's called Black and it's about--get this--a forensic accountant. Yes, Jared Black's job is to go in after companies have committed crimes or else gone belly up and left trouble in their wake, and trace the path the company's money took through whatever tangled web of power and deceit was illicitly spun. The stakes are high, the tension is palpable, the mystery in the pilot threw me for at least three loops (two of which I immediately realized I should have seen coming, but didn't). As for the lead--he's a living counterexample to the old adage that the most effective form of birth control for an accountant is his or her personality.
Anyway, this is most definitely something you should add to your TiVo list, or else to your list of reasons to get some kind of DVR.
In either case (or perhaps both?) the wind today became the impetus for the following exchange, with profound hidden mystical layers of meaning, between my beautiful bride-to-be and her niece, a six-year-old girl of hitherto-hidden insight:
Natasha: In the breeze, the tree looks like it's laughing. The breeze is laughing. Look at the houses. They're sleeping. They don't move in the breeze.
Nicole: Maybe they're tired because people are always running in and out of them.
Natasha: They don't even dance when we play music.
Nicole: Maybe they do dance, and we just can't tell because we're dancing, too.
Further written commentary on this exchange would have to slight either the philosophy or poetry that lies within it and beneath its surface. Being unwilling to offer thoughts on one aspect at the expense of the other, I leave the exchange in your hands (and eyes and mind and soul), gentle reader, to be enlightened by to whatever extent you will.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Turns out we all expect completely different things and our Apocalyptic cooperation has been a sham all along.
So farewell to Gloria's muffins of doom, which made morning meetings oh so worthwhile. Farewell to the gloom and doom of Fay, and the ecstatic anticipation of Peter and Paul. Goodnight blood red moon we've had evening meetings watching for. Good night one-legged cow of dharma who will not be able to jump over said moon until the end of the current Kaliyuga. Goodnight bear and good night chair (I don't know what those have to do with the Apocalypse, but that's what happens when you get yourself stuck in a children's book.)
Maybe it's not so bad if the world doesn't end just yet.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Many people in America, Europe, and the Media (which I can't seem to locate on a map) seem to be quite concerned about this swine flu, possibly because of the extra scare power inherent in largely antiquated terms like "swine." More sophisticated people (me), however, are worried about other, scarier diseases. A quick ranking:
5) Bird flu. Because, as Alfred Hitchcock has shown, The Birds are scarier than pigs. (Babe: Pig in the City doesn't count. It's too twisted.)
4) Cholera. When it comes to deciding what to fear, who do you trust--the Media, or Oregon Trail?
3) Lima Beans. On a plate, they seem innocent enough. But what if they started growing inside your body? (I have similar feelings regarding watermelon seeds and cancer.)
2) Hypochondria. Because I am afraid of fear itself.
1) Pneumonia. When it killed Jim Henson, my childhood ended. The nightmares, however, did not.
Monday, July 13, 2009
The Provo Provokers used to be one of the most feared squads in Intermountain Quidditch, but this year has been a disaster. Our top-rated blindside Beater got suspended for the season after getting called for Bumphing, Blurting, and Blatching in our second match; our Chasers have all put on weight since last year; our Seeker got addicted to NyQuil; last year's openside Beater became a Jain, which has thrown off his game a bit; and (let's be honest) my cheerleading isn't what it used to be--all of which has contributed to our second-to-last finish in the conference, just above Unreal Salt Lake.
Here's to hoping the movie is worth the mediocre season. If it's not, that's OK...I'll just cry myself to sleep.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Reliable, that is, until it gets misplaced.
My cousin hugs the refrigerator--comforting, she tells me, because like her lost suitcase it is square--and wonders, in the absence of her native suitcase, where in this big crazy world she belongs.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
The premise is timely and intriguing...how would the world react if (when?) the energy sources we rely on suddenly stopped being sufficient for our needs? A collection of seven scenes, each depicting a unique story, ranging in length from three to thirty minutes each, take us on the journey. In an intriguing twist, the scenes have Urdu names representing the various "stages of love" from the first meeting of eyes on to all-consuming passion. The way the stages go was probably a much better fit for desperate, unapproved love in rigid medieval societies than for describing healthy, modern romantic relationships, but it does very well at capturing the stages of human response to this imagined (and future?) crisis, going from the first recognition that things have happened that will change life forever through the progressively radical responses.
I won't give away the whole film's plot(s), but do want to put in a plug for Ibaadat, the fifth scene, which features Mormons! Maybe I'm just biased, but I think the scene is also the prettiest...in it, Mormons have activated their lay church organization and old communal economics to make things work. The romance that develops between a convert's daughter and the bishop's son is subtle and sweet, but it's the backgrounds that are the most engrossing. The piece is set in what used to be a suburb, so there are all these vaguely familiar-looking houses, but their yards have been consecrated to the ward and converted into fields that the different quorums and stuff take care of, so the streets are just bursting with life. I don't think I'll ever be able to look at my own street again quite the same way having seen the way people use the land in the film (especially since it follows scenes where people are not doing nearly as well with the adjustment. Brrr!)
Anyway, I highly recommend this movie to anyone who's thought deeply about what the future may hold and doesn't mind sitting through some scary stuff to get to the hopeful parts. (I suppose, after all, that sitting through the scary to get to the hopeful is a pretty accurate description of much of life...) If you see the film, be sure to let me know what you think.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
OK, if you're still reading I'm assuming that means you've already read the book. I'm at the part now where he fled Njal Svenson by joining the raid on Ireland...and then got married there. Wow--I did not see that coming.
And it made me think...it's entirely possible that C.S. Lewis, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, George Bernhard Shaw, William Butler Yeates, Richard Brinsley Sheriden, Oliver Goldsmith, or any of the other great Irish writers everyone assumes are English could be descendants of the intrepid Jewish Viking.
It is time that our country move on from such simplistic understanding of former Governor Palin's next-door neighbor. We need to learn to see their most famous current political leader less as the Chechen Destroyer of fishing-picture fame (who optimistic bookies are still hoping to get into a match with California's Governator), and more as a kind and gentle man with a soft spot for kittens. We need to learn more Russian geography, about this country that stretches from sea to sea to sea to shining, frozen sea, and about its great cultural regions, like the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (a lesser-known destination for Yiddish language enthusiasts, snuggled sweetly on the border with China). We need to understand Russians as a people more interested in our first lady's gardening than in her clothes, and Russian schools as places where it's a good idea for an American President to occasionally give a commencement address.
And maybe, if we do, Russians will start to understand us, not simply as rivals, or as the home country of Coca-Cola and McDonald's, or as exporters of shallow and mindless materialism, but as...um...er...yeah.
I'll have to get back to you on that.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Does the above picture depict:
a) a nephew of Osama bin Laden caught wearing a Ted Kaczynski shirt?
b) a Greek guy eating at a Turkish restaurant in a Cypriot neighborhood?
c) someone ethnically (and ethically) ambiguous you'd rather not sit next to on a plane?
d) a Caucajewmexdian?
e) Other. Please explain below.
Please vote (by commenting)! Polls close in 48 hours and votes will be counted instantaneously. In fact, I could announce the results now, but that would ruin the fun of the election--who do I like like? Oh yeah:
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Today, though, is my daughterée's birthday, so I went out to the parade--and I didn't even take a book to read, which makes me proud of myself. The parade was quite enjoyable, as it turns out, and reminded me of great American values like giant plastic creatures, Clydesdale horses, and people trying to advertise stuff. There were also some soldiers, who I genuinely appreciate: it's truly wonderful to live in a country where the soldiers are so uninvolved in daily life that we need to be reminded about them.
One thing I missed, though, were the construction workers I would have liked to see in the parade. Good roads are such an important part of what it means to be American--the parade couldn't even happen without the road built and maintained by that orange-clad core who fuel our freedom. So I hope you all take a moment on this fine Independence Day (by which I mean the day after when you actually read this blog) to be thankful for the road workers who make America great, no matter how much we curse at their traffic cones.
Friday, July 3, 2009
If you're interested in another one of the triplet's blogs, you can read it at http://mormonmidrashim.blogspot.com. (I can't remember which one of us is the evil triplet, so be careful...I suppose with triplets you've got an id triplet rather than a evil one, anyway...and now that I think about it, I think the id triplet might be me...so I guess it's too late to be careful...which is probably more fun anyway...he he...yeah, I'm probably the id triplet.)
Thursday, July 2, 2009
A word first on the cancer: testicular cancer spreads quickly and was typically fatal up until the late 1960s. Thanks to widely-applied advancements in treatment, however, survival rates today are above 95 percent in countries where healthcare is accessible. Treatment typically involves an operation called the radical inguinal orchiectomy, and in some cases radiation or chemotherapy.
The most common age of onset for nonseminoma testicular cancers is 18-30, so people who get famous while young, such as athletes, account for the majority of high-profile testicular cancer cases. You have probably heard, for example, about Lance Amstrong's cancer. The following stories, however, may be new to you:
"It Has Worked Wonders for My Snooker"
Name: Jimmy "Whirlwind" White
Occupation: Professional snooker player, six times a world championship finalist but never a bride--er, champion.
Cancer story: Went in for a routine insurance check-up and mentioned a lump he'd found "as an afterthought." Events unfolded in a whirlwind (ha ha) after that: referral to a specialist, a quick diagnosis, orchiectomy the day after, and voila! White was back to the snooker table in no time.
Result: "My son Tommy Tiger, who was born three years later, is living proof that you can not only survive with one testicle but also that everything is still in working order." White also credits the disease with improving his game by putting the stress of competition in perspective.
Quote: "To be honest, most of my troubles - bankruptcy, drinking, gambling - were self-inflicted. But cancer is one thing I can't blame myself for. I am just a very, very lucky guy to have caught it in time. Either way, it has worked wonders for my snooker."
Better Than Another Blown Knee
Even after surgery, Nene still has two...
Name: Nene, like most Brazilian sports legends, goes by a single four-letter name.
Occupation: Shutting you down
Cancer Story: Drafted in 2002, Nene missed 148 of his first potential 437 games due to injuries. In 2004-05, he was out with a sprained ligatament, a hip contusion, and a strained hamstring. He played a grand total of 3 minutes in 2005-06 before blowing out his knee, and injury that abruptly ended his play for that season. In the 2007-08 season alone, he went out and came back three times: from a ruptured calf, a torn thumb ligament, and then testicular cancer (first detected during a routine team drug test). Nene's treatment involved an orchiectomy and chemotherapy. While the survival rates for testicular cancer today are above 95%, some athletes with advanced cases of the disease have worried about potential negative side affects of chemotherapy, which can affect weight and energy level and in some cases cause permanent damage to the lungs.
Result: The chemotherapy doesn't appear to have interfered with Nene's playing abilities in any way: the 2008-09 season was by far the best in his career. Dime magazine went so far as to honor him as the Most Improved Player of the season's first half.
Quote: "A lot of things that I had in my life — all these injuries, all these physical problems — I know for a lot of people's eyes these are bad things. But for my eyes, that is a good thing. They made me learn a lot of things spiritually. From what happened to me, the chemotherapy, the cancer, if you want to be an example you need to be an example in every aspect of your life, on and off the court."
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Songs get stuck in my head a lot, which is entirely normal for media-saturated modern Americans. Perhaps it was the same for our cave-dwelling ancestors ("Don't you hate it when you're trying to ground plants into paste and Urgh's hunting drums get stuck in your head?")--who knows?
Songs aren't all that gets stuck in my head, of course. Passages of scripture, memories, worries, my brain itself has been stuck in my head for years (although it seems to wander a surprising amount for being so securely fastened).
Questions. They get stuck in my head, too.
My daughter-to-be (daughterée?), for example, has asked me if I'm "part of India" at least a dozen times out loud, but the question, and her voice with it, have just sort of moved in over the past few weeks, which is funny, since half the time she phrases it as a statement: "You're part of India." So it's not like I'm looking for an answer.
Another voice in my head lately is that of my grandpa Art, who has been posthumously wandering through random scraps of his philosophies for my edification and benefit:
"I don't like to be an expert on anything; it's better to have a little knowledge in a wide range of areas. That's the genius of the thirty-second sound bite."
"So, in conclusion, Western civilization is doomed, democracy is falling apart. I love you; have a great day."
"A lot of people just throw it down the drain, but I get a lot of extra sustenance drinking the syrup from canned peaches. The taste is excellent; it's very filling and nutritious; they're a wonderful bargain."
I can see him, in his apartment (cleaned when he moved in the during the late 1950s or early 1960s and again in December 2005, just after he died) hunched over the phone talking to me. I have so many impossible memories, recalling things I cannot have seen. It's nice, though, to talk, impossible as it may be, with Art.