Friday, October 10, 2014

The Board of Time Management Discusses Adulthood

When God created the world, he wanted to ensure that time went on as normal and that no one interfered with the inner workings; and he created a government for time, so that his creations in general couldn't get anything done.

Said government was called the Board of Time Management, and the Board met today to discuss a special case of human age, the most common topic of discussion before the Board. The person of question was the honorable Jacob “Jake” Buller, who is in the unfortunate position of turning eighteen on the Eleventh.

Debate opened on the floor with a filibuster from an existential philosopher who believed that age is a relativistic construction and doesn't in fact matter in human affairs. Having drank too much Diet Coke, he had to exit the filibuster to use the little boys' room, and discussion resumed on the grim topic of adulthood.

Normally teenagers attain adulthood automatically, a dubious practice, but this case required special consideration, since several board-members raised questions about Buller's general maturity and readiness for adulthood. He was already on their radar due to his queer writing habits, primarily of humor, and that he had other cases of age modification that already ran in the family. (His mother was granted pension by the Board to stay twenty-six for the rest of her life, and one of his siblings, a sixteen-year-old girl with medical aspirations, was accidentally given an irrevocable amendment to her mental age, causing her to have the mind of one who is thirty-two.)

The first half of the debate on whether or not to grant Buller the right to become eighteen started with the opposing party, who brought evidence to the table. (This group primarily consisted of people called, ironically, “old-timers”.) Video footage captured by the NSA showed Buller gallivanting about in a trench-coat on a cold November night, evidence of his relative insanity; more recent footage showed him dancing about his farmhouse to movie soundtrack. At this several of the members who witnessed this video had to be taken to a facility for the mentally unstable, as the sight was deeply disturbing.

Despite these images destructive to the reputation, much of the board was unmoved. Thus, the other side presented their case. While Buller was weirdly unique in some ways, they said, particularly in the fact that he possessed an odd sort of cheerfulness that is obviously unnatural in today's gritty and wonderfully realistic world, he is in fact no worse than any other teenager. As there are different species of Dog, Buller was simply a different species of Teenager, and ought to be rationed out his age accordingly.

Several members objected to this, and said that they strongly felt that Buller was not enough like the typical teenager to be allowed Adulthood in this way. He had neither the wonderful atmosphere of the modern high school to lift him up, nor the egotistic and monocultural American worldview which is essential to the American dream and American society. What is worse, they said, is that Buller had dared to speak out against American society and was recorded on Facebook showing intense disapproval and even vulgarity. Their example followed: "Society is a steaming heap of wormy feces crawling with decadence and shallowness."

The debate devolved from there, and many of the anti-Buller board-members defected to the pro-Teenager party, resulting in a debate on whether Buller should be allowed Adulthood as a Teenager or whether he should be given Adulthood because he didn't like it.

The vote is scheduled to take place shortly before midnight; pundits say that it is likely that Buller will become an adult to-morrow. What they are unsure of is whether it will be a gift or a punishment.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Moody Pluto

Sometimes I have this nagging feeling that I live on a planet that is not my own, where all of a sudden the world takes on a different hue, as if the color of my lenses have changed; and everything that seems ordinary becomes extraordinary.

Take, for instance, the marvelous sensation of driving at dusk, in some lonesome and half-forgotten spot in central Kansas. The sun has set some time ago, and is sending out the last gasps of light to the horizon nearly choked by darkness. The crescent moon, thin as a needle, makes the dark circle it is tied to nearly tangible, if only I looked for it hard enough.

It is light enough enough that you can tell the grasses are there, but dark enough to where you cannot make out the individual tufts. Little swells of pastures and fields roll on into the world, to meet the dying horizon. It is the sort of landscape that I feel like requires a music of its own, a minor key from some haunting woodwind. An empty feeling starts in my stomach and goes up till it reaches my throat, and the world shifts.

It's as if I have a larger view, not quite a bird's eye but not quite a human's gaze. I can see the world gently turning on into the night, and the moon hanging above, mostly darkened; and this darkly blue sky rimmed with a dusty green horizon somehow seems like a different wrap entirely, a strangely foreign blanket over strangely foreign soil. The grasses darken, and the world looks like a moody Pluto, far from the sun and yet hanging onto existence.

The lonely wind sings over these hills with the slightest flavor of chill. It whispers to me that the whole land is empty; this is a new planet, and I have suddenly left the old one behind.

The minutes that pass are immeasurable, marked only by the emerging stars above; then the dusk dies, and the night comes on like a slow burn.

Then the vision leaks away from me, and gradually I hear the sounds of life again, seeping into my ears. Yet some measure of this sight, this lonely land with foreign hills, remains with me. And the next day, everything I've seen before has a different look to it—an aura of possibility, that this world I live on might have been a different world.

And somehow that makes me grateful that Kansas is, in fact, Kansas; and that I stand on rich brown soil rather than the windblown red of Mars.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Independent Contender Says He Will Create 200,000 Jobs for Kansas

WICHITA, KS – The race for Kansas governor is heating up as incumbent Republican Sam Brownback faces off against Democrat Paul Davis.

An unlikely contender has risen up against them, however, in the form of independent candidate Bill McDoothly. A Kansas native, McDoothly was born in Kansas and moved to Scotland for the first ten years of his life before coming back to the United States as a teenager. He quickly gained a reputation for accented brilliance in his rural community, and after graduating from a local college, climbed the political ladder with the speed of a freight train.

Now, he has his sights on nothing less than the governor's seat. “Aye, I think I've got a fair chance,” McDoothly says, in an exclusive interview with The Satirical Kansan. “Kansas has common sense. We're going down a political road that leads to a worse political road.”

When asked if his political ads were a little too “brash” and “ugly”, McDoothly took a strong stance. “Our experts have focused on creating a pushy smear campaign. There's a difference between pushy and ugly, and we're being pushy. I hired a writer last week that promises to come up with catchy insults, and I will be using those to full capacity in my next debate.”

His choice of policy may seem aggressive to some, but McDoothly believes strongly that his policy is the only way out for Kansas. “I can create 200,000 jobs for Kansas,” he says. “We can restore Kansas together. The governor has the right and the ability to completely take over the government in the form of firm leadership; and by providing 200,000 jobs, we can usher in a new age of prosperity for our beloved state.”

Despite his foreign accent, he views himself as home-grown. “I've got common sense and a strong back. I believe in Kansas, and I believe in the people of Kansas. We have values that everyone else in the United States has, and I believe in protecting those unique values. I sit around with a lot of random families, telling them of my political wonders, and I can feel the positive support they give me every day. I love my home state, and I would rather work here than anywhere else.”

McDoothly's first political ads, such as “Give Some Flak to Sam Brownback”, “Paul Makes Me Want to Bawl”, and “My Accent is Better Than Yours” debut on local channels later this week. “We're primed for victory,” McDoothly says. “All we need now is voters.”

Friday, August 8, 2014

Frank Discussion on Dihydrogen Oxide Addiction

“I've been drinking as long as I can remember,” Joseph remembers, clasping his hands in his lap. Joseph Weedy is a short guy, with corrective lenses and mouse-brown hair that tapers into short sideburns. He clears his throat and continues: “I think it started when I was a baby. My mom gave me dihydrogen oxide, or oxy as we called it. It was clear, tasteless, but utterly addicting. By the time I was two, I couldn't live without it. Scarcely a day could go by before I was begging my parents for more.” 

Joe is just one story out of many. Millions all across the planet are hopelessly addicted to this deceptive liquid drug. Taking it is simple: you get a glass from the nearest source—often as close as a sink or a fridge—and bottoms up. Many people take it dozens of times per day. Some more daring addicts try to drink it less often, but the withdrawals are devastating: within hours, your mouth dries out, and you start feeling weak. Sometimes this process, called dehydration, can lead to vomiting and diarrhea, and eventually leads to death.

This makes stopping an impossible task. Joe's tried before. “It was awful,” he recalls. “I stopped in the morning. By the time evening hit, I couldn't help myself: my hands trembling, I got a glass out of the cabinet and filled it up. When the glass was empty, my symptoms began to go away, but the knowledge that I couldn't kick this habit remained.”

Some enterprising characters have lobbied in Congress for the outlawing of this drink. “Drinking causes millions of people worldwide to have fulfilling and healthy lives,” one spokesperson said, the chairman of the National Nihilist Association. Their efforts remain fruitless, since oxy is an integral part of cultures worldwide.

There are many who think that dihydrogen oxide is, in fact, good for you. Joe dismisses this. “Oxy's an old disease. It's been around for a long time, and I guess it's a fairly harmless tradition. But traditions can hold us back, and I know for sure that there's a better liquid out there—one less constricting and better for you. We need to be free to drink what we want.”

Will scientists find a cure for the “H20” addiction? Many think that it's impossible. Regardless, drinking remains a crucial social problem in modern society.

“Look at both sides of the issue,” Joe says. “The NNA is just one of the many organizations trying to spread the word. We need as much tolerance and respect as both sides can muster, in order for the word to get out. Get educated, get involved, and help us find a cure for this old problem.”

Monday, May 26, 2014

"How Are You": A Definition

When I ask you how you're doing, I'm not puking up a piece of small-talk fluff.

Let me just get that out on the table. Maybe “How are you?” is different in the real world. But since there is some confusion about what it means, I'll let you know my definition—what it means when I ask you how you're doing.

When I say, “How are you?”, I am not looking for a one-sentence response. When I ask you how you're doing, it's because I genuinely care. How are you is me asking how your life is going—what you're feeling right now, what's good and what's bad. I want to understand what's going on. I'm not asking for a one-word answer; I'm asking for a window into your life.

How are you is me asking what's on your mind. What has you excited? What has you down? It's a permission to talk, to ramble even. If my friends can stand listening to me talk about the state of the animation industry, it's the least I can do to listen to whatever you're currently obsessed over.

And contrary to popular belief, I don't mind. When I get going, I can talk a lot. But my default is to listen, and I really do enjoy it—even if I'm not saying anything in return.

And when you reply with “alright” without any explanation, it's a missed opportunity for both you and me. If I wanted to know what's new in your life, you can effectively shoot down the conversation by replying with one word: “good”. I don't get to better understand how your life is going, and you don't get to talk to me.

Let's face it. “How are you” is an empty phrase ninety percent of the time. It's just something you say after “hello”, and too often the reply is a cover-up for how you're actually feeling. (“Fine”—except not really.)

And there's really no better phrase in the English language to catapult people into conversation, if they take advantage of it. Shoot straight. Tell people how you're actually doing. 'Cause if you're honest, you're not just “fine”. People can't sum up their lives in one word. You could be doing fantastic, you could be doing awful, but no one will know if you don't tell them.

Dare to say more than one sentence.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Seeing Beyond the Sunset

The other day, I was riding my bike.  I turned down a path lined with old trees; I'm not quite sure what type they were, but since trees here typically shed leaves all year round, the gravel was lined with brown.

I followed the road up a little bit and around a newly built house.  As I rounded the house, I came upon an intersection, and beyond the intersection there was a grassy area.

The sun was beginning to set, and just as I reached that place, it shot yellow beams all over the grass and hung in the air like mist.  It was so golden and dreamlike that I stopped my bike and gazed at it for a good minute.  And for whatever reason, my mind turned to one of my stories; and I thought about the vision I had seen in my mind's eye, of the Dreamtreader sailing through a golden sky—a sky just like that sea mist that had drifted in to sit on the grass.

Then I went on.

Today it happened again, though not the same way.  The sun was in the process of setting, and I was on the road as it passed by the beach.  I halted the bike and watched the sun set; when the last bit of burning yellow had left the ocean horizon, I continued on my ride.

But the sunset continued on, while my back was turned.  When I turned round again to head back home, I turned my gaze to the skies and saw the sunlight, while gone from my vision, still playing in the clouds and little thunderheads off to the east.  The sky was awash in pastels, golds and oranges and dusky light reds.

It led like a trail to the south; and then it halted in a swirl of pink and gold that mixed with the liquid navy sky, and all of it seemed dusky, like God had added a bit of cream and grey to the mix.

At the center of this, the full moon was rising.  It was oddly inviting, like a cup of warm milk.  It was at the center of this swirl, the milky white contrasting with the dark blue and pink-white-orange clouds.  It made you feel like something was happening; somebody was sailing up there in the colors, stirring them up and tasting the moon.

And again, I thought of my story, Dreamtreader.  I wondered if it was the Dreamtreader sailing up there; and if it wasn't, that it should be.  It felt like the sunset had been made for my story; that the golden beams I had seen on the grass were the same golden beams I had seen in the clouds and on the sails of a sky ship.

That little bit of sunset stuck in my heart.  It gave the story gravity and reality.  Because if I could see that vision in the sunset, perhaps others could see it too.  Perhaps other people had felt that same feeling when they stare up at the pastel clouds; perhaps other people feel like there is something alive in the dying of the sun.

There are days when I wonder.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Light Green Grass Studios: A New Era in Animated Movies

Some weeks ago Hollywood was shaken to the roots by the announcement of the incorporation of a new animation phenomenon, Light Green Grass Studios.  The studio is spearheaded by executive Joe Kordney, of the little-known Princess and the Mafia controversy, a movie which made Hollywood history by having a net profit of negative $226.1 million.

“The success of that movie,” he said, “should be ascribed to my screenplay revisions and my innovative work on watercress animation.”  As he explains in a widely read Rife interview, all this credit was stolen from him by his money-grabbing associates.  He has had similar experiences with El Doratho and the plagiarism of his treatment of Mango, which was to be his debut work.

It was this injustice that led him to begin work on creating a new animation studio.  At first the fledgling idea had financial problems, and existed in name only for “nine hundred and sixty-two days,” according to Kordney.  But through hard work and a generous gift of $203.23 from an anonymous donor, Kordney was able to get the studio off of the ground.

“We're starting out small,” said Kordney.  “We're focusing on short films right now, experimenting with animation styles such as Skin Deep, a method that will allow us to render animated toes with incredible detail and realism.  We're planning on releasing them on Redbox in a collection titled Grass in Shorts by 2015.  If it sells well, we'll follow up in 2016 with Grass in Pants.”

When asked about the source of his passion for animated movies, he said, with tears in his eyes, “Money.  If I can make even one dollar off of a viewer, then I'll consider my life goal fulfilled.  Even one dollar is worth the sacrifice.”

He went on to elaborate on their plans for full-length films: “And the money's in feature-length, no doubt about it.  What Pixar did with Toy Story and what Disney did with Tangled, we're going to do with our next project.  If all goes according to plan, it'll be such a rocker that it'll knock Frozen out of the park.”

Kordney explained that, while the project was under wraps, he could give a little bit of detail.  “I've hired Brett Blech of the Diary of a Raincloud fame to write the original screenplay, which naturally I'll be overseeing.  We don't have many ideas yet, but we do know that we want the story to feature a talking mattress and some hilarious bathroom humor.  It's a bestselling idea, and I think it'll be really well-received.  And of course, animated movies aren't all jokes; when we came up with the main theme of the movie, it nearly made me cry.  What is it, you say?  Well, it'll have a rebellious teenager and an overprotective father theme...can't say much more than that.  We wouldn't want anyone to take our idea!”

This blockbuster is slated to release sometime in 2018, and Kordney seemed optimistic that it could outdo even Frozen 2.  Speaking of Frozen 2, he mentioned that he had a lot of respect for Disney's decision—the fact that they announced a sequel before Frozen was even out of theaters meant that they had the most important goal in mind: profit.  “It's good to know that even the big-name studios have old fashioned values,” Kordney said.

Light Green Grass Studios is expected to release their first short sometime in the next six months, and the investors feel sure that the eyes of Hollywood will be waiting with bated breath.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Till It's Gone

The less you have something, the more grateful you are for it.

I've touched on this in other posts. Not having hot water makes me grateful for it; not having air conditioning makes air conditioning all the more wonderful. I am thankful for the things that I don't have. This principle is succinctly summarized in the old proverb, “You don't know what you have till it's gone.”

But if you approach this from a purely logical standpoint, you begin to see some difficulties with this principle. How far do you go with this? Eventually you'll end up as an aesthetic. If you're more grateful for hot water when you only have cold water, are you more grateful for a house when you don't have one? Is the state of “not having” inherently better than the state of “having”?

We all like getting new things – they are fresh and unexpected. But the problem with new things is that they get old. “Having” something eventually means that you become less grateful for what you have. If that makes you less grateful, are you a more grateful person if you go without everything?

I turned this over in my head for a long while. I came to the conclusion that the best way to get around this issue is to act as if you don't have the things you do have. If you feel deeply in your heart that you don't have hot water, you are irrepressibly grateful when you jump in the shower and find that you do have hot water.

In other words, if you act like it's gone, you'll know what you have. I am thankful for what I have, because there was a possibility that I might not have it.

See everything as if seeing it for the first time. You'll have all the goodness of being grateful with all of the goodness of actually having the thing you're grateful for.

Everything is new.

Monday, April 7, 2014

How I Broke My Glasses

I have a remarkable ability. In any other day and age it would be called a superpower. It is called being a klutz, the state of having too much range of motion.

I have for a long time advocated for an occupational name to be given to persons like myself. You might call it klutzery. Whatever the word might be, it can be said that I am the master of it, and few tales illustrate this so well as the tale of how I broke my glasses.

I have told it many times; because for the longest time I had my right lens slipping out every few minutes, and a plastic wire hanging down to my cheek like a thick strand of a spiderweb or an enormously thick piece of white hair. The plastic wire is what originally kept the lens in, and with that gone it fell out quite frequently. (Now I see through a maze of scratches on my lens, and sometimes I think it is a miracle that I can see anything at all.)

Alas, now my lens is fixed, and I no longer have an anecdote ready every time a new person noticed my broken glasses (or happened to see the lens fall to the ground). For fear that my absent mind will eventually forget this tale, I will relate it to you now exactly as it happened.

The first time I told this story, I started out in this way. They asked, “How did you break your glasses?”

My eloquent and deeply moving reply was, “Well, I put too much soap on my leg.” They laughed at this; and it took me a moment to realize that the logical connection, which was clear in my mind, was not quite as clear in theirs.

The truth of the matter is, it was because I had too much soap on my leg; or at least too much soap in the bathtub. I was taking a shower, you see. (For some reason, I always have to clarify at this point that I was NOT wearing my glasses in the shower. They were folded innocently on the left side of the bathroom sink, where they sit every time I take a shower.)

While I was taking a shower, I shifted my weight in some way or another, and ended up slipping. It was a fantastic fall; it was about as close to an art as accidents can come. My feet flew out from under me as if they had on the winged shoes of Hermes; my arms danced wildly from side to side, and I landed badly on my lower back with a terrific thump.

My right foot, propelled by this fall, slipped upwards and smashed into the bath faucet. The shower hose broke under this pressure, and flipped back towards the bathroom sink. It knocked against my glasses; my glasses trembled at this onslaught, and fell to the floor where the string broke asunder.

It took me some time to wash off the soap and blood (it looked quite alarming, but the gash in my toe was minor and healed up after several days), and afterward I picked up the pieces of my glasses and went on to be the comic relief of the missionary community for the next three weeks.

Although this makes an excellent story, there are nevertheless some deep lessons to be learned from this. The most obvious is that squinting like a pirate when only half your vision is corrected is an acceptable exchange for being the source of laughter.

However, the deepest lesson is more subtle. It is that, as a klutz, I have a greater appreciation for normal motion than a normal person does. The normal person takes for granted that they will not fall in the shower and break their glasses; the klutz takes for granted that they will probably stub their toe today on an object that has been sitting in the hallway for three weeks. Both find the experiences of the other alien.

This means that it is a continual source of surprise to me when things manage to go right. Several weeks ago I was playing volleyball, for instance. The several times I got a mouthful of dirt were not surprising; and being elbowed in the face hurt, but that was not surprising either. What was surprising was that I was actually able to hit the ball over the net. And so every score was a desperate score; every win was by the skin of my teeth, regardless of the actual number of points we won by.

A team of normal people might have fun when they play volleyball, and they might have joy when they win the game. But I will have the most fun, and every win for me is an exhilarating and improbable win.

Walking without hitting anything is everyday for the normal person; walking without hitting anything is a fantastic adventure for the klutz. I will therefore cheer the upright person for not submitting to the tyrant rule of the ground—every bicycle that does not fall and every runner that does not trip is a miracle from God.

The life of a klutz may bring more bruises, but on the rare occasion that we do not stub our toes, we will have more joy than the most optimistic athlete.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Good Hand Soap

Hand soap is an indescribably small thing in the large scale of the world. When compared to Napoleon or Brazil or the governmental debt of the United States, it seems to be of little importance.

But is it?

I have searched through trash cans and trashy Wal-Marts to research this post; I have ventured to depths of shelving in supermarkets that have been untouched for decades past. What I have found as a result of my daring research has surprised me beyond belief.

Good hand soap can be the tipping point of an avalanche, the slightest grain of sand that might steady or fall at a breath of the wind. It may, for instance, stop a missionary kid in Africa from getting typhoid or tuberculosis; it may prevent a doctor from getting a deadly disease in the emergency ward; it may prevent you from flunking your test as a result of your awful cold.

Washing your hands with good soap is one of the bedrocks of civilization, for whether the missionary kid in Africa or pastor's kid in America eats one meal a day or three, he must make sure his hands are clean beforehand.

It is said that the Native Americans fell before their various European conquerors, not from their swords, but their spit. Germs felled more men than swords did. And I can only imagine how the tides of history might have turned if, by a stupendous miracle, the Aztecs might have been graced with the gift of hand soap.

This takes only one of the faces of the many-sided die that is the miracle of hand soap—the medical one.

Take another side, that of democracy. If Barack Obama wishes to celebrate diversity, I hope that he may go home and look to his hand soap. I can't speak for the state of American bathrooms, but scarcely do I see more diversity here in Africa than when I look at a bathroom sink. I have seen many brands cross my porcelain altar, and I have marked their passing. I have seen the English Breeze drop like teardrops to my hands; I have read the incomprehensible Arabic on that cylindrical plastic as the suds rise into the air and dance for joy. All of the wonder of the Middle East and all of the refinery of the United Kingdom meet in my Liberian bathroom; three continents cupped in two American hands!

I cannot, however, fail to recognize the philosophical value of hand soap. The prospects are overwhelming.

Let me mentioned, at least, the immense joy that good hand soap brings. Please notice the adjective that I used there: “good” hand soap.

My sister sometimes visits a Canadian friend of ours here on ELWA; we may drop by there on a walk or stop by to help her move furniture. But whatever happens, if we should use her bathroom, our inevitable compliment is a joy-drunken exclamation on the state of her hand soap. It is indescribable. Not only because it superbly cleans our hands (which is, after all, the point of hand soap) but because the scent and texture is like that of the Greek nectar of the gods.

However our day might go, whether it is raining mongooses or whether the day is parched as the summer cirrus clouds, we may look forward to the joy of using her hand soap. It is a simple joy, which may be the best sort of joy there is, because you can find it anywhere—if you are looking for it.

There is, also, the spiritual parallel of hand-washing. Perhaps those who are religious about washing their hands may be religious about washing their souls. At the very least, it indicates that there are some people who are willing to be washed if they can see their need, whether it be dirty hands or dirty souls.

If we continue that parallel, we might say that Christ is the best sort of hand soap there is. As he cleanses us, he may fill us with simple joy; he might delight our senses; and if we should have cuts, he may sting us in his cleansing. Let us not be content with cheap soap, of half-Christianities and almost-churches. Good soap is expensive; it may cost us. But in the long run, the cost is worth the benefit.

All of this and more I have to say about hand soap—but time would fail me to tell the rest, so I will stop here. I have, however, one more thing to say.

The average human being will tell you that the standard time to wash your hands is twenty or thirty seconds. (My grandma, who was a nurse, often reminds us of this; and says that when certain bathrooms were videotaped—a rather awkward pause came here—many people either washed their hands for five or ten seconds or did not wash at all.)

Obviously, your mind ought to be doing something during this time, other than controlling your hands and causing them to lather up your soap.

My suggestion is to not squander this time; or if you do squander it, to squander it constructively. For half a minute, allow yourself to ponder the intricacies of hand soap. Purify your mind as well as your hands; dwell on simple joys and a cleansing Savior.

Perhaps all that can't be thought of in a mere twenty seconds, but I think if a fraction of that went through your head, it would be a twenty seconds well wasted.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Chasing Echoes of Thought

Sometimes I prefer thinking to talking.

You know, for an introvert, I really do like people. Really. I get along with most everybody and it takes a genuinely rude person to get on my nerves. I crave deep conversations.

But as an introvert, sometimes I prefer silence to speech. I get this sort of craving oftentimes after several hours of socialization—it's like an off switch. All of a sudden, I'm done with people. Boom. Mouths go in slo-mo and my widening eyes just can't take it all in. My ears plug up. My throat constricts. I blink rapidly. They're all common symptoms of an introvert shutdown.

In those times, I retreat to a quiet corner. Anytime this happens, I do the same action—it signifies that I'm thinking.

There's this odd gesture that somehow reflects what is going on in my head. I put my palms together, like I'm praying, and put my thumbs on my chin and my fingers just below my nose, touching my lips. Then I stare forward into space; or if space is distracting, I close my eyes like I'm doing some deep meditation.

It's a leftover from BBC Sherlock. Sometimes Sherlock does it when he's in his mind palace. I'm quite the opposite; I do it when I'm in my mind library.

You see, I don't have the time, patience, or belief to try out that mind palace thing. But “mind library” works quite well to describe my state of mind when I'm having a thought attack.

It's not really a sort of mind palace. The point of a mind palace is to organize information that you've memorized; the point of a mind library is to wander around looking up favorite pieces of information and failing to find any order whatsoever. They're strewn all about the library; spine up on the desk, ripped up on the floor, stuck to the ceiling with nineteen pieces of gum. If anything, the mind library is the complete antithesis to the mind palace.

Let me describe it to you. It's a library in the sense that it contains bits of information loosely bound together in long strings of almost-logic. However, I have very little choice about what goes through (or goes into) this mind library; I sometimes get to choose what I start out with.

Say I start out with politics. Perhaps that will lead me to the Supreme Court; then it will lead me to a Supreme Court decision having to do with a criminal versus the state of Kansas; then it will lead me to Kansas; then it will lead me to the farm; then it will lead me to a wheat field; then it will lead me to wondering what the price of wheat is; and so on, until my thoughts fly by so dazzlingly fast that even I don't know exactly what I'm thinking or how I got around to thinking it.

Inevitably, philosophy will get involved; it will start lecturing me about the subliminal worldviews of politics. Then my analyzer will tell philosophy to leave off and let the real thoughts do their work. Theology'll poke his head in next and start handing out treatises on how the Bible relates to the office of the President.

Sometimes this happens in minutes. Sometimes this happens in hours. All of it happens in my head.

I'll wander through bookshelves stocked with my stories and peruse through them; I'll look around for my essays, just to find out that they were lost somewhere in the massive nonfiction section. Once I go there I end up reading Chesterton quotes on absentmindedness and absentmindedly note the irony.

The worst thing is that sometimes I don't even enter my mind palace on purpose. Forgetfulness and my mind library, you see, are very good friends. I just stop sometimes and my face goes blank for long periods of time while my mind is off on vacation.

And lest you think I'm exaggerating, I'll have you know that I thought up this post in the shower, while analyzing the steady stream of information wandering aimlessly around my head.

So if you ever see me staring off into space, or pacing the hallway, or leaning back in my chair with my palms pressed together—just know that I'm in my mind library.

And if I'm meandering about in my mind library, I'm probably not getting anything done—but usually I can find some interesting stuff to take back to the real world and rework into stories and essays.

To close, let me leave you with a word from a dear friend of mine. It's wise and I resonate with it deeply:

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.” —G. K. Chesterton

Saturday, February 15, 2014

On Ridiculousness: A Defense

The other day I “ghosted” an old forum that I used to frequent often, reading posts here and there and checking things out. After some time, I concluded that, for whatever reason, I preferred the “old” randomness of the forum to the “new” randomness. Why was that? Was it just that my memory had romanticized it?

I investigated further on various forums and social networks. Some of what I considered “old-style” randomness was still alive and well. But what was the difference? Why did I still enjoy one particular style of “randomness” and humor, while I found that I disliked the other style?

I began to find this division all over. Not only on the internet, but in real life as well. I dislike certain brands of internet humor, but I enjoy being ridiculous and making up insane monologues with friends. I found that I loved making inside jokes that made no sense but disliked popular memes that made no sense. Both could be considered “randomness”, but what was the difference? Why did I like one but not the other?

I separated the two categories and analyzed them. Then I slapped some hasty labels on the twins: one, I call “Wholesome Ridiculousness”, and the other I call “Empty Randomness”. The two categories have some definite characteristics.

Let's take “Empty Randomness” first. This is primarily the sort of randomness I critiqued in my previous post: words which are used for no particular purpose. This is a category that contains imploding chocolate and turkeys and the like. It is random not for the sake of relief or the sake of sanity, but it is random for the sake of being random.

This sort of randomness, when used liberally, begins to give conversations and forums an empty feel; it has no particular direction and no specific meaning.

But what about “Wholesome Ridiculousness”? What's that all about?

In some respects, it looks similar to “randomness”. It often contains arbitrary objects; I'm sure it often features turkeys and chocolate.

But in contrast, it has two tendencies: first, it is more creative; and second, it is more relational.

The creativity of ridiculousness is the main thing that makes it wholesome. Anyone can explode over chocolate; but what takes skill and creativity, what takes imagination, is ridiculousness. To tell a sweeping tale of the year 2020 in which my hindsight was 20-20 and my mate Firefly was flying by—that is ridiculousness. Randomness is akin to throwing up whatever comes to mind; ridiculousness is akin to art, the creative impulse to make something, to make anything, to make a thing that cannot be possible except in the imagination. It is randomness for the sake of creativity.

Chesterton called it “farce” and put it this way: “Of all the varied forms of the literature of joy, the form most truly worthy of moral reverence and artistic ambition is the form called 'farce'...To the quietest human being, seated in the quietest house, there will sometimes come a sudden and unmeaning hunger for the possibilities or impossibilities of things; he will abruptly wonder whether the teapot may not suddenly begin to pour out honey or sea-water, the clock point to all hours of the day at once, the candle to burn green or crimson, the door to open upon a lake or a potato-field instead of a London street.”

This ridiculousness also tends to be more relational. Perhaps you may read randomness online in the form of memes and topics; but ridiculousness nearly always requires two or more. People bring with them a greater meaning. With other people, you realize that you are speaking to eternal beings; that if everything else in this earth passes away, the people you talk to will live on.

In that same way, when you are being ridiculous with friends, the ridiculousness becomes more than just a temporal distraction; it becomes something that will stick in your memory; it becomes the source of inside jokes, expanding like a spiderweb until the jokes are so long and complicated that you nearly forget it all and have to start all over again, like a secret handshake that continues to be amended as the years roll by.

It becomes a source of joy: some days when I feel down I remember the night that I went cow-tipping in the north pasture with my closest friends, and I feel again the exhilarating ridiculousness of wheeling through the pasture singing Vanilla Twilight atrociously off-key. We never did find the cows.

Where randomness is repetitive and without creativity, ridiculousness is imaginative; where randomness creates emptiness, ridiculousness creates memories.

Like I said, randomness as a whole has two sides. I dislike dry and meaningless randomness strongly; but I defend with equal strength the wholesome randomness that relies on creativity and relationships for meaning.

The trick for us is to distinguish between them. And how do we do that? We hold on to what creates meaning, and we reject what doesn't.

If we manage to do that, the internet—and all of life—will be better for it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

On Randomness: A Critique

If you ever join a forum, you will likely encounter a strange and revered altar. It is crowned in chocolate and stained in many virtual deaths; it is the dwelling place of cats and role-plays and a slew of arbitrary objects.

This is the home of one of the Internet's great religions, the mighty altar of Randomness. For whatever reason, the online ability to be random is one of the most treasured and revered; those who are the most random have a corresponding reputation.

Satire aside, randomness has enjoyed a surprising popularity on the internet, and to a much lesser extent, in real life. For whatever reason, we enjoy blowing up multiple times and fighting over chocolate and kittens. And yes, I am included in that number; several years ago, the most random thing in existence was the turkey, and it was my mascot, my proud standard and symbol of all that was Jake.

But as I've grown older, I've been more and more disillusioned with randomness. Although I still hold “the good old days” in fond regard, I look at them now with a more critical eye. (More on “the good old days” in my next post.)

Randomness now bothers me. By definition, randomness means that it is random; it has no inherent reason for coming into being and no particular meaning. And for a writer, this is the polar opposite of what I want to write and why I want to write it. Every word ought to have meaning; every word ought to be in place for a reason.

Even for those of us who are not writers, what we say and do ought to have a lasting value. Obviously, we won't hit the mark every time; sometime we may make a careless remark or something that's empty of value (and often, of civility). But as a general tendency, we should be weighted towards value and meaning.

The opposite has happened, however. The tendency is less towards meaning and more towards “randomness”. What we have failed to realize is that, just as bad money drives good money out of circulation, empty words can drive meaningful words out of circulation. Randomness can become something other than a diversion, and meaning will become the diversion. Instead of a comment about cats in a conversation on good stories, we will have a comment on good stories in a conversation about cats.

Having said my piece, let me temper it. Like most things, randomness is not inherently bad or good in itself. Yes, holding randomness up on a pedestal is a mistake; but so is looking down on randomness as something that corrupts and corrodes meaningful conversations. It is what you do with it that makes it either desirable and undesirable.

And there are parts of randomness that are undesirable. Randomness for the sake of randomness is a nearly always problem. It creates a philosophy of chaos and unmeaning. To be completely random is to throw away all rules and all meaning.

There are, however, two sides to everything. There is a sort of randomness that I stand by and defend from all comers, and I will address it in my next post.

Until then, what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? What's your opinion on “randomness”?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

On Afternoons

Afternoons make me sad, for they are the beginning of the end. They are old men, with enough strength to fight but not enough to win, decaying slowly until they melt into evening.

Somehow the sunbeams feel weighted with memory and emptiness, the dancing dust motes singing of the mist that had come in the morning but burned away with the coming of midday. Expectation is in some ways better than the thing that you are expecting. Morning is expectation; and the afternoon is the fulfillment.

Perhaps the most weighty afternoon I have experienced was in the heat of summer. The grass in the hills was yellow and brown and dry green, and the flat fields were full of yellowing corn and wheat stubble and overgrown soybeans that were beginning to shrivel and dry up. It was hot, the kind of heat that burned at your skin in the sun and hung on your clothes in the shade.

I was at the farm, and I can't remember what I was doing there. The farm pickup was sitting in the driveway, and the driveway was dirty white and grey and green with old gravel all grown up in mowed-over weeds. The house rose up behind me, newly painted, with the flaking paint still showing through in some places as an irregularity, nearly imperceptible bumps and chips in the overlapping boards. The farmhouse was a hundred and one years old, and generations of my family had called it home.

Eventually we found that we had to fix the mower, and so we loaded it up into the trailer and piled into the pickup to head west, the sun in our eyes. We coasted over the pastures for three miles till we reached Roxbury. It was one of those towns that could pass by in the blink of an eye; we blinked, and continued on into the hills.

That's when we reached a part of the country I had never ventured in before. The afternoon sun grew heavier in my eyes, and I leaned forward from the backseat to gaze out the windshield.

On either side of the two-lane county road, fields and old broken trees went on as far as the eye could see. Every once in a long while, a farm would appear behind a cluster of Chinese elms and pines, but they grew less as we went on. The road sloped up; each hill we rode grew higher and higher, like a tide rising with each wave.

Then we reached the highest hill, and the country spread out beneath us, hot and dry and lonely in the golden afternoon sunlight; fields like patches on a blanket, bereft of humanity. As we went down the hill, I saw from the corner of my eye a single silo, standing in the middle of a wheat field, brown and decaying but rising like a sentinel over the yellow stubble.

And as we went along, my grandpa narrated the story of the land, each chapter unfolding along the side of the road, soaked in the thistles of abandoned fields and growing with the wild sunflower buds that covered the shoulder of the road. His words painted black and white pictures in my mind, of a dusty and nearly forgotten age that hid behind the brown eyes of the Mennonite farmers. It stirred in me a deep feeling of loss that only I and the afternoon sun remembered, as the rest of the world whirled by in air-conditioned cars. They could not feel the sorrow of the sun or the memory of the dust motes in the orange and yellow beams; they looked forward, not back.

That's when I felt that intangible connection between the fading glory of my home, the farm I held dear, and the fading glory of the afternoon. Both were heavy with memory; both were inexpressibly beautiful and sobering. The emptiness of the afternoon fields felt like the empty rooms of the farmhouse, covered in old wallpaper and old sunbeams.

And into my heart there came an aching realization: like the afternoon, my home could not last forever; the stories could not always be remembered; eventually it must die in a flaming sunset, in beauty and hurt. As I gazed over the forgotten fields of Kansas, I asked myself, what is the worth in doing anything that will not last? What is the worth in fixing things that will always break? What is the worth in remembering things that will inevitably be forgotten?

Then I heard my grandpa's deep voice again, and I saw that silo once more in my mind's eye, the last evidence of a farm that once stood in that very spot; and I saw my grandpa as that silo, standing resolute over a new generation. Perhaps he would not stay forever, but while he did he would remind the growing generations of what once was.

Just because beautiful endings are endings makes them no less beautiful. Just because wonderful afternoons are afternoons makes them no less wonderful. Just because my home must decay makes it no less my home.

What is the worth of wonderful memories? It is that they are wonderful, not that they are memories.

So I will remember, and I will ponder, and I will sit in the introspective afternoon sun. The beginning of the end is not only an end, but a beginning. It may make me sad, but sadness is no evil if it reminds me to remember.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Best Thing Ever

Humanity has a penchant for exaggeration.

For proof of this statement, look no farther than our everyday conversation. “Did you see so and so? It was the best thing ever.” This is particularly true of internet conversation, and I'd have enough money to pay off the debt of the United States if I had a dollar every time it was said in connection to a fandom.

Is it a good habit? Is it a bad one? Or is it neutral?

Most people would shrug their shoulders and say it doesn't really matter. A few might say that it cheapens really good things and makes the person sound melodramatic and insipid. After all, if a good catch in a game of football is the best thing ever, what about the things that really are the best things ever? How do you describe them?

Both positions have merit. However, I'm going to take a position opposite to both of them. I believe in “the best thing ever”, and the reason is simple.

If a small thing is treated like a big thing, then the big things are not cheapened; in contrast, the big things become so much bigger. As Chesterton put it so well, “...the grass is an everlasting forest, with dragons for denizens; the stones of the road are as incredible mountains piled one upon the other; the dandelions are like gigantic bonfire illuminating the lands around...These are the visions of him who, like the child in the fairy tales, is not afraid to become small.”

To say “that was the best thing ever” is not to make smaller the big things, but to make bigger the big things. To marvel over the chilly sea, as I did this morning, is not to make the Arctic seem warmer, but colder. To admire the soaring height of the weeds across the road is not to make the mountains smaller, but bigger. This why crawling under Christmas trees is a seasonal occupation for children; for a moment, we like to believe that the branches of the tree aren't branches at all, but cosmic steps for some tiny creature, swinging from light to light like Tarzan and shaking the heavy needles from the tree, soaring up this marvelous staircase of branches to touch the stars.

“The best thing ever” does not degrade the ordinary things. It celebrates them. “This flatbread is the best thing ever” puts wonder in the marvelous creation of the bakery. To reserve such praise for high and mighty things takes the fun out of ordinary things; after all, why be happy with a little if you can get a lot? But to say that something is the best thing ever puts enjoyment and contentment and gratefulness into life.

And gratefulness makes life the best thing ever.