Tuesday, August 18, 2009

End of Summer Thoughts

I’ve been thinking on the following ideas for most of the summer (some before summer began) – here’s hoping they engage your mind..

Pen to Paper
I spend a lot of time winding through ideas that I think are unique or creative or original. Unfortunately, when I arrive at the logical end of these ideas, I usually find that my thought is a part of a larger idea that’s been shaped before. This has in large part deterred me from writing, as I can’t bear to create another shamefully unoriginal and needlessly personal semi-autobiography to try to win the admiration of my peers and future publishers. However, if I continue to dawdle in such a manner, I fear I’ll never write anything at all. Thus I shall begin to craft some stories about topics of interest to me, whether they’re especially inventive or not.

Religion is one of the most divisive topics I will ever encounter. It can also be one of the most unifying. It’s lovely to observe the overlap between seemingly incompatible views of the world, and to learn to appreciate the crevices that make each unique. Where some find pain, others see meaning. Reincarnation is an idea I’ve been contemplating. It’s not a belief widely held in the west, and I can’t think of any monotheistic belief system that embraces the notion. I think the idea of a transition to a form whose ability to reason is anything less than a human’s brings fear to a very large number of people. I see hope in this idea. In the same way that the chemical cycle in effect recycles the contents of living and non-living matter, reincarnation posits that a person’s spirit or spiritual matter is recycled through generations. This means that the good and beautiful things of the past are still here because they’d been recycled. About a year and a half ago I told people that the way in which to go about unlocking the mysteries of the universe is not to first come to a conclusion and then force one’s observations fit with that conclusion, but to observe first and then craft one’s belief systems around the observations made. Now if the physical world reincarnates physical matter, doesn’t it make sense that the spiritual world would do the same with spiritual matter? I know it’s not a sound theory in its current form, but perhaps you can at least appreciate the notion.

Chains of Oppression
I’ve realized through the psychological rollercoaster that has been the last six months of my life that I tend to take what are almost certainly completely random events and string them together to form what I’ll call “chains of oppression”. I seem to give people who have done me wrong a mythical status in my mind. I nearly deify them. They’re barely human, more an idea than anything else. It’s an unfortunate state, as I now have trouble telling who has done great wrong to me and who has done me little, as I mythologize even small pains. Each person that has caused me harm is added to a chain of oppression: people who have caused me a similar kind of hurt in completely unrelated situations. Fortunately, I realize that this is a bit crazy. And the fact that I can no longer really tell who’s cut me and who’s only pinched me has prompted me to try to give everyone a second chance. Which is a bloody hard thing to do, I tell you. Especially when you can’t figure out what your real relationship with someone is.

Historical Perspectives
Many of you know that I desperately search for some semblance of truth in this world. I’ve recently realized that I don’t know how to start looking for it (and I’m kind of wondering whether I can trust the end results of whatever studies I complete). So I’m going to try to study the histories of the fields I think are essential to the search – the sciences, philosophy, anthropology, literature, etc. Here’s hoping things become clearer in the near future.

On Cruelty
I’ve met some truly remarkable people over the past year. People who mean more to me than I can express. And I’ve learned something from them: there really is no excuse for cruelty. That means that no matter how bad you’ve been hurt, it’s not okay to hurt someone else. Ever. I know that psychology and sociology explain human behavior in a logical way that can justify infliction of pain on another person, but I’ve seen people who’ve suffered real pain at the hands of another human being and loved their way through it. It’s an inspiring thing to watch.

Something about a commitment to nonviolence is truly liberating. Last semester I discussed with a teacher’s aide in my European History class the idea that a certain group of European soldiers did not want to fight in World War II. The soldiers had nothing to gain – they spill their blood on foreign soil to return to their farms poorer than they had left. It seems to me that it is rare that the priorities of a nation’s rulers align with the priorities of a nation’s people during wartime, even in a democracy. I don’t think, therefore, that there is ever (except in self-defense) a good reason for a nation to go to war. What about genocide and crime against humanity, you ask? These things are the reasons for which to create an international court with some real power.

Pros and Cons of Paganism
Paganism seems perfect for me. An unusual embrace of dark and light coupled with the ability to choose the myths that mean the most to each individual has real attraction for me. And respect for the natural world is fantastic. Unfortunately, it still feels rather foreign. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to offering devotion to a god or goddess in whom I have to place some kind of faith. Still, the whole thing is undeniably compelling.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Short Story

I've decided to post a story I wrote for a Tools of Fiction class I took last semester. It's not the best example of my writing, considering that I didn't have a legitimate plot when I began writing and more or less wrote it as an exercise in creating realistic dialogue between characters. However, it's about time for me to post something new. Hope you like it. And don't no one be stealin my stuff now.

Shade sat with his back against a tall conifer and recited from a wrinkled sheet of paper.

We’ll revel in our decadence and hope the world will say
We love you though you’re lost
We love you though you’re strange
We’ll revel in our decadence and pray when we’re afraid
I’m sorry I’m so lost
I’m sorry I’m so strange

The girl’s eyes shifted to his face.
It’s your best yet. You should add music to it.
He lay down beside her on the carpet of leaves and took her hand.
I already did.

Shade sat on the hard bleachers that surrounded the dark and empty football field. He had wrapped headphones around the black fabric warming his head and was thinking of how his friends couldn’t appreciate the music he listened to. Shade’s friends didn’t like screamo because of its lack of lyrical coherency; no, they picked out a phrase or two of a popular song to gush about its significance. Shade thought music was written to help people forget, not to think.
Shade lit a cigarette and took a long drag. He held the pallid tube between the first two fingers of his right hand and watched the smoldering end leak ash onto the ground. Smoke cascaded from his nostrils as he stood and walked across the field to his cobalt Camaro. He pitched his nicotine-coated jacket in the trunk and ignited engine.
Shade headed for his parents’ house. He didn’t feel like he belonged there anymore. It was his senior year of high school and his parents were ready for him to leave for college. They seemed to be waiting for him to finish high school before filing for divorce. The two were trying to ends things properly, refusing to fight in front of him and or raise their voices when he was around. But they were quiet around each other, and any conversation between the two was terse.
The family typically ate dinner late and the boy sat down just after it had started. His father was eating fast.
How was work dad?
It’s work. It pays.
Yeah. Anything interesting happen today?
Okay. Thanks for dinner mom.
Of course. You were out late today.
Just doing a little jogging.
His father excused himself and deposited his plate in the sink. Shade heard the television crackle to life in the next room. He left the table and took his plate to the sink before slinking outside. He called his girlfriend and arranged to pick her up later that night.

Her name was Evelyn, and her straight auburn hair brushed against her shoulders. She waited on the sidewalk.
Ready to go?
Hop in.
The boy revved the engine and sped off toward the woods.
How are your parents?
I don’t know. Good I guess. Still trying to end it without hurting anyone.
Yeah. Are you okay?
Yeah. I’m leaving soon anyways. It’s not a big deal.
The two were silent for a few minutes before Shade turned on the radio to a station he knew Evelyn liked. The full moon brightened the night and he could see its light radiating against her face. Tall evergreens lined both sides of the road, separated from the pavement by two grassy medians. Everything but the top few branches was barren and dead and colorless. Evelyn turned down the radio’s volume.
Don’t you wish they’d fight or talk or something? Just get it out there in the open?
I don’t know.
Seems like the tension would be pretty unbearable by now.
I guess so. I try not to spend much time at the house. Just dinner, you know.
Shade parked his car near a tree marked with bright yellow paint. He exited the vehicle and opened her door. Evelyn took his hand and the two walked into the shadows of the forest. Shade used his flashlight to find the scarlet ribbons he’d used to mark a trail. Eventually the two entered a small circular clearing pockmarked by small clean shaven stumps.
My father brought me here before he let me hunt with him.
He told me a story about this place. Said that a long time ago a hunter had killed a doe that was looking after a fawn. He thought it would be good for his son to have some experience so he let him shoot the fawn. God himself took offense to this and sent an angel that cut through all the trees in this clearing before holding the fawn against itself and disappearing in a rush of flame.
The girl didn’t speak for a few moments.
Do you miss hunting with your dad?
I guess.
Your parents still mean something to you, don’t they?
Shade looked away into the woods.
It’s hard to know what to think when it’s the people you love the most who cause you the most pain.
Maybe you should talk to them.
Conversation’s not exactly my strong suite.
Just saying, it couldn’t hurt.
The boy pulled a large blanket from behind a nearby tree and laid it on the ground. They laid down on it and he pulled a sheet of paper from his shirt pocket.

Let’s wait and watch
The innocent die
We’ll sit and sing
The sorrows they cry
I’ll take your hand
And you take mine
Let’s just forget
Let’s close our eyes

I love you Evelyn.
I love you.
The two lay on their backs staring up at the stars. The boy always liked looking at the stars when she was next to him. He thought gazing into darkness felt better when you did so with someone at your side.
I wonder if they were ever in love.
My parents.
She thought for a few seconds.
I guess they at least thought they were.
Yeah. Does it have to last forever? To be worth anything?
I don’t know.
I bet if we went back and looked at them when they were young they would be a lot like us.
She hesitated.
Maybe. I hope not. Or maybe not everyone ends up like that. Even if they start at the same place. Maybe if they’d done some little thing differently they’d still love each other.
Maybe they can start doing some little things totally differently now.
The two got up and replaced the blanket. They walked to the Camaro and the boy drove her home. He crept into his parents’ house after having a cigarette and pulled the covers over his head to try to fall asleep.

Shade woke late the next morning and stumbled toward the shower. He nearly tripped as he stepped onto the half tiled bathroom floor. As he rinsed his body and scrubbed the grit from his hair he thought of all the projects his father had only half finished. His interest had seemed to wane when he realized that he probably wouldn’t be keeping the house. Shade had always thought of his father as a strong and motivated man and seeing him wallow in front of the television every night while the house lay in disrepair made his stomach sick.
He sauntered down the stairs and saw that his father had driven off for breakfast while his mother was still asleep. She had recently started sleeping for much longer than she used to and sometimes the boy had to wake her so that she wasn’t late for work. But it was Saturday so there was no reason to disturb her.
Shade spent about an hour reading the three newspapers that were delivered on Friday to his parents’ house. He felt a perverse comfort at seeing that the problems that human beings faced were widespread and severe. His father returned from breakfast and turned on the television to a football game. His father was putting on weight as eating became his easiest source of pleasure. He would never acknowledge it, but Shade knew that his father was losing confidence because of his physical condition. Sometimes Shade could feel the heat of the man’s insecurity looming just under the cold hostility that he would show when he felt challenged.
The man walked into the kitchen humming a jingle from one of the commercials he’d seen on the television.
I’ll be back for dinner. I’m meeting some of the guys to watch the game.
Okay. I’ll see you then.
At about three in the afternoon his mother awakened. She no longer bothered with looking nice or even presentable. She didn’t dress up unless she had to for work and her hair was fading to gray as she neglected to color it. Makeup was out of the question.
She cooked this night’s dinner in her pajamas. She made chicken parmesan and garlic bread and poured the family’s best wine into the family’s best crystal. The tablecloth covered every inch of the table and the napkins and silverware were set in just the right places. Shade jogged outside while she prepared the meal.
Shade’s father never showed up for dinner. His mother eventually realized that he wasn’t coming and left the table to return to her bedroom. Shade sat at the table. He stared at the uneaten food for a few minutes before calling Evelyn and departing with her for the woods.
She sat on a stump across from him as he recited from memory.

The earth will wither
Before it dies
The sky will darken
The sun won’t shine
Try not to worry
You’ll be just fine
Death’s always better
Than living a lie

The sound of Shade’s alarm clock was a tangible sting. He inhaled deeply and sat up in bed before turning it off. He showered and put on his clothes and poured cold cereal for breakfast before having a cigarette and climbing into his car.
Shade parked in the front of the student parking lot. His classes were easy and he got out of school at twelve. One of his teachers approached him outside while he smoked another cigarette.
Those’ll kill you someday you know.
Yeah. I don’t think I’ll live long enough to care. And if I do they’ll have some cure for it by then.
Don’t count on it.
The man walked away. His gait was decidedly arrogant. Shade thought he felt pity for him but he didn’t know why.
Evelyn walked out of the school and the two got into the boy’s car.

The pizza smelled good. It was shimmering with grease and topped with thin slices of pepperoni.
I think I should talk to them.
Your parents.
Yeah. I don’t know. My mother looked really bad yesterday when dad didn’t show for dinner. Got me thinking maybe you were right that little things like that can make a big difference in a relationship.
You should talk to them. Maybe you can put them back on the right road.
It’s worth a shot. I think I’ve got enough time to change things if I really work at it.
Do it soon. Sometimes people reach a point when they won’t turn around.
My mom’s off work today. I could talk to her alone first. That might be better than trying to talk to both of them together.
He ate with building excitement and finished his food quickly. The two entered the car and Shade drove to his parents’ house. The girl sat on a bench on the front porch while he went inside.

Shade called for his mother. There was no answer. He walked up the stairs to her room and knocked on the door. No answer. He opened the door. The covers of the bed were pulled all the way up. Someone was underneath. He walked closer to the bed but stopped abruptly. Pills of every size and color littered the floor.

The police arrived quickly followed by an ambulance followed by Shade’s father. Evelyn would not allow Shade to look at his mother. The police asked him an extensive series of questions as the ambulance drove away. His father sat on the porch running his hands through his hair. When the police drove away Shade looked at his father. The man’s eyes were wet. His face was dark and swollen. His father glanced up at him, and Shade walked over to where he was sitting. This was the first time Shade had ever seen his father cry. He would make his father remember this.
All this over a woman you didn’t love.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reading Rand

Ayn Rand’s books are more or less both cold-hearted and poorly written. They are cold-hearted because they promote the idea that there is no such thing as true love for another human being – love, in its purest form (according to Rand), is the love of oneself. Her writing is also cold-hearted for its lack of sympathy for the miserable man in today’s society who knows not how to forge a meaningful existence. Objectivism, Rand’s philosophy, holds that there are objective principles that rule the universe and that the few people who understand and take advantage of these principles are, essentially, the masters of the world – and according to Objectivism they deserve their status. Rand’s books are poorly written in that characters often spew excessive monologues regarding the nature of their activities and why these activities are justified by the objective natural world. The books lack consistency, really. And you can pretty accurately predict the plot of any of her other books if you’ve read one.
In spite of all of this, reading Rand for the first time was refreshing. I started with The Fountainhead, one of her more celebrated pieces of fiction. I’ve only recently realized why I was able to finish it, and that’s what I’m really writing about. In positing the virtue of selfishness, Rand also affirms the beauty of the independent spirit and the reservoir of physical and mental strength that the human race has the ability to tap. It’s not often that you come across someone who espouses such ideas. As a part of the Christian community, in which I resided for many years, I was repeatedly told to use the strength that I could find in Jesus to do great things for his kingdom. And during my first semester of college, most of my courses had something to do with sociology. Generally speaking, these courses are concerned with finding the reasons behind why groups of people do what they do, and usually the results are a little disheartening. When studying sociology, one always seems to come to the conclusion that a person’s past completely determines his/her present. And to a great extent, that’s true. But in both my time as a Christian and my time at College Park, I felt bound to something, whether it was my past or an unseen protector who wouldn’t allow me to use my own strength. And Rand presented the exotic alternative: I take responsibility for realizing my full potential. I still appreciate the beauty of such a philosophy, even if it is self-centered and morose.

Feel free to comment!

UFO Advisory

Grave news, fellow residents of College Park. This night I witnessed an unidentified flying object first hover, then glide, then zoom away into the night. The craft appeared vaguely circular, with mellow yellow lights illuminating its dark exterior. I at first supposed the unsolicited visitor to be a helicopter, but it made no noise, and I don't grant a helicopter the strength to withstand such winds as the area has endured tonight. I believe the craft to have been abducting the residents of our dear College Park. Word on the ground is that the ship's crew has a strange attraction to long fingernails, so I'd advise you trim them if you plan on going outside. I'll be updating you on the situation periodically. No worries, I'm looking out for you.
- Robert Wolfe