Some Month-Old Thoughts on Politics and Patriotism

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America picture 2A month ago today, our country celebrated the 241st anniversary of the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. As is fitting, I spent much of the day contemplating the meaning of patriotism, the quintessentially American rhetoric about liberty and freedom, and the relationship that those concepts have with morality in general. (Does patriotism make you a good person? If someone loves America, does that make them complicit with the shortcomings and injustices that exist in our society? Can an individual be proud of their country but yet dislike their government?) This is why I take ridiculously long showers, y’all. I had intended to blog about that topic later in the day and had even mentally formulated much of the content of that blog post. It would have been long, philosophical, and maybe a little bit boring. So I never got around to finishing it. But now, upon opening the Word document containing the very beginning of a very rough draft, I’d like to go back and use some of that content. What follows is a slightly edited version of what I wrote a month ago.

In the grand scheme of history, 241 years is an extremely short period of time. But since it is significantly longer than the human lifespan, every twenty-first century American views the Declaration of Independence as distant history and takes for granted (to some extent) the ideas it expressed.

Of course, those ideas weren’t completely new and original even at the time. The founding fathers were inspired by Enlightenment philosophy, perhaps most notably the writings of John Locke. And the quintessentially American emphasis on rights traces its roots to the Magna Carta of 1215. But 800 years is still only a small fraction of the millennia that organized government has existed. Besides, the Magna Carta was only about the relationship between the monarchy and the nobility, not the rights of the common people. And until the eighteenth-century, the concepts of equality and human rights didn’t play a large role in politics.

I think that we modern Americans don’t often think about just how new our “unalienable” rights are. It is certainly a beneficial thing that we have things like anti-discrimination laws, the freedoms laid out in the Bill of Rights, and the opportunity to vote for our leaders, but none of those things are universal throughout human history. That’s why we’ve made a holiday of the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. As Americans, we’re proud that our national identity is all about freedom, equality, and democracy.

Or is it? Take a look on social media or the news, and you’ll see lots of complaints about rights being denied, demographic groups being marginalized, voices not being heard, and needs not being met. Some of it may be petty or even inaccurate, but much of it will be valid. Despite our rhetoric about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the United States of America is not a utopian nation. At any given time, few if any American citizens are satisfied with the government, and most politically-informed Americans have feelings of animosity against fellow Americans with different political opinions. It certainly seems as if Americans hate America.

I would argue that this is a side effect of a democratic government. Because we elect our leaders and thereby have some degree of influence in our government, we pay much closer attention to politics than the average person in, say, medieval Europe. Most of us are more informed than we probably would be if we didn’t have any voice in our political system. All of us who make an effort to be well-informed are qualified to form and express stances on at least a couple specific issues, and many of us are to some extent emotionally invested in those issues. That’s not because we’re jerks who like to argue, it’s because the outcome could affect us or our family, friends, and neighbors. If I’m strongly against a particular proposed bill, or I actively dislike a certain candidate, it’s probably because I anticipate a negative impact on my day-to-day life, the life of someone I care about, or society as a whole. So when others support that bill or that candidate, it’s going to bother me. Personally, I try very hard not to be judgmental, but it’s hard not to question others’ morals or intelligence when they’re “wrong” about politics.

I believe that, in general, most political debates are far more complex than we tend to think, and that our opinions are less about right versus wrong than about assumptions that we don’t even realize aren’t shared. A lot of it comes down to the fact that, when our political ideology promises us all such broad rights and freedoms, there will be situations where there’s a conflict between one person’s rights and another’s. For instance, where does “freedom of speech” go too far and become discrimination or hate speech? At what point is “self-defense” too preemptive to be justified and lawful? Is it better to regulate immigration as much as possible to avoid letting dangerous, “un-American” people into our country, or do our American values dictate that we should welcome newcomers without discrimination and gladly grant them those rights we’re so proud to have?

And more broadly, what does the government owe citizens? Is education a right? And if so, how much can the government reasonably do to ensure the quality of public education? Is quality, affordable health care a right? And if so, what can the government reasonably do to ensure the quality and affordability of health care? To what extent does the government owe us financial assistance if we need it? And is it a good or bad thing if the government cuts funding to public services, financial aid for education, welfare programs, scientific research and the arts, etc. in order to lower taxes and/or decrease debt?

These are some of the questions that create partisan divisions and turn us against our fellow citizens. They are examples of the issues that cause us to dislike particular leaders and fear for the future of our nation. And all of these questions ultimately come down to our interpretations of freedom and rights. So how does patriotism fit into the picture? How can we love America if we can’t even agree on what exactly our American values are?

The initial plan was for this blog post to actually answer that question. I was going to have a lot to say about the history and ideologies of nationalism, populism, and globalization. It was going to touch upon the difference between cultural identities and officially delineated countries. It was going to include a tangent on separation church and state, as well as a very long and involved tangent about the relationship between church and state. It may have discussed topics relating to American superiority, ranging from the “city on a hill” rhetoric of very early colonial days to the controversies about current American military presence in other countries.

And it was somehow going to come to a nice, neat conclusion that would tie all of those threads into a surprisingly small and pretty little knot. I don’t know exactly how that would have happened, but it would have had something to do with the idea that both patriotic fervor and political vitriol are often motivated by goodwill for people in the society around us. Thus, it’s all good. No one is in the wrong except Hitler. It’s going to take a few more generations before it’s socially acceptable to include Hitler in any overarching statements about human goodness.

(By the way, the answer is no, if I could go back in time and kill baby Hitler, I wouldn’t. Instead, I would go back in time and tell teenage Hitler what a great painter he is and how important it is that he never, ever give up his art. Don’t let the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna crush your dreams, Adolf. Just keep painting and the world will thank you.)

But that would have taken much more time than I had available and much more research than I was prepared to do, not to mention that it would have been far too long for a single blog post. Maybe I’ll come back to some of those topics later. But probably not. Those long showers of mine mean that I will always have more blogging ideas than blogging time.

Starlight Blogger Award

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Starlight Blogger Award 05/30/2015

This Award is created to highlight and promote Inspiring Bloggers.

Thank you to J. of Salvageable for nominating me for the Starlight Blogger Award, created to “celebrate the creative bloggers who have truly inspired others through their beautiful and original content, imagery, art, abilities, and wonderful personalities.” The three rules, as laid out in Salvageable’s acceptance post, are as follows: “The recipient (if he, she, or they choose to accept) should thank the nominator, answer three questions from the nominator, and then nominate six more blogs for the award.”

So thank you J for the nomination! Since I haven’t been an active blogger in quite a while, I have to admit that I don’t have WordPress e-quaintances at the moment, and some of my original blogger friends are no longer active on WordPress, So I’m going to cheat and just nominate two bloggers. (I assume I’m not supposed to nominate the person who nominated me.) One is among my top commenters and the other is one of my best in-real-life friends, and both of them have awesome blogs that I follow and enjoy. They are Eagle-Eyed Editor and Clara’s Coffee Break. If you would like to accept the award, here are the questions from me:

  1. If you could have one round trip in a time machine, what time period (past or future) or historical event would you choose to visit?
  2. What is your favorite Christmas song, and why?
  3. What is your best memory (so far) from the year 2015?

And now, in response to J’s questions:

  1. What is your favorite part of the holiday season?

I know this is a very non-committal answer, but it really varies from year to year. Sometimes, the gift-giving part is the best part, sometimes the Christmas Eve and/or Christmas morning church services are the best part, and other years, various aspects of holiday preparations end up being more fun than Christmas itself. This year, I will be seeing most of the family about a week after Christmas rather than on Christmas day, so New Year’s will probably be the highlight of the holiday season.

  1. Of all the posts you have written, which one do you consider the best?

Since I have compiled top ten lists out of my first hundred posts and my second hundred posts, I can answer this one just by comparing two posts. I’ll go with this post about Star Wars from April 2013. It may not be the best-written, most humorous, or most intellectual thing I’ve ever posted, but it is, in my opinion, relatively good in terms of all three of those criteria, and it’s particularly significant right now in light of the fact that the movie it discusses came out last Friday. I actually haven’t seen it yet (I will tomorrow, and I very much regret that I didn’t get tickets for opening day) but I’ve heard such good things about it that, in retrospect, this post sounds very pessimistic and a little sad. But I don’t actually disagree with anything I said in it. Due to the fact that I’m very bad at giving straight answers, I’m not completely comfortable with choosing just one best post, and I therefore want to post a link to the short story I posted for Christmas in December 2013. At the moment, I’m also quite pleased with my Santa Claus post, but that probably does have more to do with seasonal relevance than anything else. I’m not going to post the link; it’s pretty easy to find, as it is the previous post.

  1. What is one book you hope to read (or reread) in the next month or two, and why?

In the interest of actually answering the question and naming only one book, I’m choosing The Mystery in the Cupboard as my answer. It’s the fourth book in the Indian in the Cupboard series by Lynne Reid Banks, although I tend to think of it as the main book in the series since I had read it multiple times before I read any of the others, and in my opinion, it’s by far the best in the series. It is a personal tradition for me to read it around Christmas time, preferably on Christmas Eve, although the book itself has nothing to do with Christmas. That tradition started when I was around ten or eleven years old, when I would get so excited and impatient right before Christmas that I felt a need to distract myself by getting lost in a really good book.  That was the book I chose that particular year. It was the second time I’d read it, but ever since then, I’ve associated it with Christmas Eve. I haven’t read it every single year since then, mainly because my own copy is packed up somewhere at my parents’ house, probably in the garage, and I’m not always there on Christmas Eve. Last year, I read it as an eBook on my phone, which I checked out through the library where I worked at the time. This year, I’ve already checked it out (as an actual, physical book) from the library where I now work, and will read it either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, depending upon when I finish reading the book that I’m reviewing for School Library Journal.

 

Thanks again for the nomination!

Still Here, Y’all

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Some of you may be surprised to learn that, despite the absence of any recent blog posts, I still exist. Yes, I know that there were three whole months where I didn’t post anything at all, even though I have indicated in the past that I have a personal rule about letting even one month go by without any new blog posts. Yes, I know that my identity is intrinsically linked to my internet presence and that it is necessary for me to express my thoughts online in order for me to prove that I do indeed think. Yes, I know that my blog is the repository for my mind and that I am essentially a zombie if I don’t utilize the opportunity to add to the archives of this repository on a regular basis. Okay, I just made up some of that stuff, but you get the point. The point is that it’s not cool that I haven’t been blogging at all this summer. I’m going to stick with my standard go-to excuse, which is that I have been really busy. I think I’ll also offer a sub-excuse by pointing out that sometimes, life kind of stinks and it isn’t really necessary to document all of it online. Nonetheless, the fact remains that I have this blog and that I think it’s kind of cool and that I would really enjoy to blog every single day. Unfortunately, I can’t do that. Even now that my schedule isn’t as ridiculously full as it was in the spring and early summer, there still are some days when it wouldn’t even be technically possible and other days where there are other things I need to be doing with my time. But I really do hope to get back into the pattern of posting something once or twice a week. We’ll see how that goes. So, yes, this blog post is just to let you all know of my continuing existence and to let you know that you can expect to see new content here in the near future. As a special bonus, here is a picture of my beautiful cat. Observe her great beauty.

Romana

New Blog Post: You Get to Vote in This One

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The time has come once again for me to acknowledge and apologize for the fact that I have been tragically abandoning this blog for a while now. It has been almost two months since I posted anything at all, and almost three months since I put any real time and effort into writing a blog post. Even this post, I am writing mainly for the sake of posting something during the month of March 2014. It would be a dismal failure to let a month go by without posting anything at all. As you have probably guessed, the reason for this neglect is that I’m busy. I’m currently working two jobs and taking a full course load of grad school, and I spend quite a lot of time on the road between these various places. So, yeah, that’s my excuse.

But I am pleased to note that, even without new posts, this blog is still getting views on a daily basis, and hundreds of views over the course of each month. That does include cases in which people get directed from a search engine, or because they are fellow wordpress bloggers who follow my blog, and they click on the link but then close it before actually reading the post. But I like to think that there are some of you out there who are genuinely interested in seeing what I post on this blog, either because you know me and read my blog frequently, or because I have at some point posted something that you found useful or particularly cool. So I am going to ask for a little reader participation here.

Following this paragraph, I have a list of potential blog posts (in no particular order) that I had intended to write at some point over the last two or three months. In some cases, I have the beginning of a draft already written. One of them is even almost done. I’m going to stick a poll at the end of this post, and if you see something on the list that you would be interested in reading, go ahead and vote for it. Comments will also be taken into consideration, but the poll is a little more convenient because there are numbers involved. My readership is small enough that I might not actually get many poll responses, so if you have even a slight interest in my future blog posts, I encourage you to make your preference known. (Even if you aren’t a regular reader of my blog) Just as a disclaimer, I am not making any definite promises as to when the next blog post will appear or how frequently they will come thereafter, nor am I committing myself to only writing stuff from this list in the near future. But I am definitely interested in knowing which of my ideas for potential blog posts have the most merit, and I will definitely make an effort to respond accordingly.

Movie list 1: For Valentine’s Day, I had started to write a long list of romantic comedies that I have seen, each with a paragraph explaining what I did or didn’t like about it. Since I hadn’t gotten very far in writing it by Valentine’s Day, I abandoned it and left it to fade into oblivion in my “Unfinished Blog Posts” folder. But I didn’t delete it, so it is capable of rising out of oblivion if it is asked to do so.

Movie list 2: Along a similar vein, I later started a short list of specifically seasonal movies that have personal sentimental significance to me. They’re the kind of movies that I consider to be an important tradition for their respective holidays or times of year. This is the one that’s already almost finished, so you’ll probably see it sooner or later regardless of whether or not it gets votes on my poll. But I’ll finish it sooner if people express an interest in it.

Movie list 3: Over spring break last year, a couple of my little sisters and I watched a movie online that was supposed to be based on the gospels. It was frequently inaccurate and theologically absurd, as I had expected. There are an awful lot of movies like that out there. Apparently, there’s a brand new one that’s particularly bad. And then there’s Jesus Christ, Superstar which is an outstandingly good musical even though it’s a horrible and completely non-Christian depiction of Jesus. There are so many movies based on the life of Jesus that someone could, in theory, have some fun making an annotated list of them to post it online.

Things you shouldn’t say to food industry/retail workers: Okay, the title needs simplification. That may be one of the reasons that I haven’t bothered to finish and post it yet. Is there even a specific term for people who work in retail, restaurants, and fast food? This blog post is inspired by the fact that one of my jobs is in the food industry, and an awful lot of customers say some pretty demeaning things. There’s a saying that you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat waiters and waitresses, but that saying ought to apply to a wider range of jobs. It seems that most people who have a successful career view people with less prominent jobs in a very negative light, and the people who get the worst of that judgment are those whose jobs involve directly interacting with those successful, moderately wealthy customers. That’s just wrong, not only because being unkind to people is wrong in general, but also because it’s incorrect to assume that minimum-wage workers only have those jobs because they’re inadequate for “real” jobs. Especially in our current economy, it’s not exactly rare for a qualified worker to need some time to get a start on their desired career, and in the meantime, they have no choice but to take a job that doesn’t correspond to their skills or educational background. I started making this list mainly to vent my frustration, and also in the hopes that there would be at least one person who would see it and realize why they shouldn’t make the kinds of remarks and demands on the list. But I didn’t actually finish the list yet; I’m probably a little under halfway done.

YA book list: I mentioned earlier that I’m currently in grad school. For those of you who don’t know, the degree I’m working towards is a master’s in library and information science. This semester, I’m taking a class in young adult literature. The point of the course is basically to read a whole bunch of novels for the teen audience for the purpose of becoming very familiar with what’s available and being qualified to discuss, review, and recommend these titles. So I’ve read an average of about five or six young adult novels a week for the past three months (minus one week) and consequently have some informed opinions about a fair number of recently popular books within this category. Obviously, the class itself has given me an opportunity to express some of these opinions, but I thought it might make an interesting blog post if I finished the semester by making a list of some of my favorites with an informal synopsis and description of what I liked about each one.

Christian cliches: I’ve posted some stuff like this before, but this list attempts to be a little longer and a little more thorough than some of my other rants about bad cliches and cliched theology. Spoiler alert: in most cases, my complaint about the cliche basically boils down to “It’s not from the Bible” and/or “It’s not Christian because it doesn’t have Christ in it”.

About April: A couple months ago, I started drafting this one in my head, but I haven’t started writing it yet. The idea was that I would write a nostalgic blog post about springtime in which I would describe some of the things that have characterized the springtimes of recent years in my life. It wouldn’t be about specific events, but rather about the little, day-to-day things that characterized the way I remember those times, like the general atmosphere of classes I was taking at the time or songs that I listened to a lot, or what I did if I had free time on Sunday afternoons. Of course, since the purpose of this post has more to do with tone than autobiographical description, it would basically just be about the pleasant things. If I do write this one in the near future, I will limit it to April rather than springtime in general, mostly because I currently live in a part of the country where spring doesn’t start until April anyway.

Weird myths about love: Here’s another one that I actually never even started, even though I had a pretty clear idea of what would be in it. It would be a list of assumptions that people of my generation make about the way that romantic love is supposed to work. For example, (despite everyone’s enthusiasm about weddings) there’s a sense of contempt for anyone who gets married before they’re in their thirties with a good job, financial security, and, most importantly, a well-developed self-awareness that has nothing to do with their relationship with anyone else. Because, *sarcasm alert* you know, in twenty-first century America, self-identity is more important than vocation, self-esteem is more important than caring about other people, and even marriage is to be viewed only as a landmark in an individual’s life rather than as a commitment between two people. Anyway, the main reason that I never got around to doing that post is that I would be writing it from the midst of the demographic that I’m critiquing (that is, single young adults) rather than from the more informative perspective that would be offered if it was written by an older, married person. While I am always happy to use my blog to criticize the cliches and weird assertions of my peers, it might be a bit too presumptuous for me to take on this particular topic. But I’m including it in this list because, if people want to read it, I’ll change my mind about that and go ahead and write it.

On prepositions: This one would take more time than the others on the list because it would require a good deal of research. I find it fascinating that prepositions in the Greek of the New Testament don’t correspond to English prepositions. Most Greek prepositions change meaning depending upon the context, and it seems kind of confusing. But when you think about it, English prepositions are just as weird. For example, “by” can be used to denote authorship or spatial proximity. I can think of many different shades of meaning for “in” and “with” and “for” and “to”. It seems to be an inter-language phenomena that the definition of a preposition is actually a cluster of related ideas. I personally think that it’s absolutely fascinating that different languages form these clusters in different ways. It would be very cool to take the time and effort to learn prepositions in a variety of languages and to compare them. In fact, maybe that comparison would lead to some interesting socio-cultural observations. As far as I know, no linguist has done an extensive study on comparative prepositions, because I have failed to find an academic book or paper on such a topic. Since I’m not a linguistic expert, my attempt to undertake such research would be less of an academic study than informed speculation, but informed speculation is good enough to make for an interesting blog post.

On giving up: This would basically be a rant about motivational cliches that tell people to always chase their dreams and never give up, or that promise that hard work always pays off if you stick with it long enough, without acknowledging that sometimes, it’s not a matter of choice. Sometimes, you lose the opportunity to try even if you never actually gave up. This is kind of a personal topic for me because I haven’t been able to take a single ballet class since last May, when I graduated from college with a major in dance after having pretty much dedicated my life to ballet for the past seven or eight years. Even though I always knew that no non-dancer can comprehend just how much a dancer’s life revolves around dance, it has come as a harsh surprise to me that nobody else is even aware of this major, life-shattering loss that I’ve experienced. Even knowing that I’ll someday have a chance to take some ballet classes again, and even the awareness that I was never very talented anyway, don’t change the fact that circumstances out of my control are causing me to miss out on something that defined my daily schedule, my priorities, and my self-identity for a significant proportion of my life. In light of the insultingly short-sighted inspirational phrases that are used by people who have never faced any obstacles worse than experiencing physical pain or reaching a frustrating plateau, I wanted to write a blog post that would talk about why these inspirational phrases are so insulting and short-sighted.

The differences between college and grad school: I didn’t really have this one planned out at all, but I kind of wanted to put something like this on my blog at some point. Now that I’m approaching the halfway point of my stint as a grad student, (yeah, I’m not planning to go for a PhD, as cool as that would be) this spring or summer seems like a good time to write such a post.

Stuff I Would Have Said

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It’s been a while since I’ve had time for any blogging, since life tends to get in the way of such things. I would say that I’m going to be posting fairly frequently in the next few weeks, but I actually don’t know if I can commit to that. However, this is the last week of the semester, so there’s at least a good chance that I’ll have more time on my hands for the next three to four weeks. Unfortunately, over the past month, I’ve missed a lot of events and occasions that I would have liked to have observed and acknowledged on my blog. For that reason, I’m using this blog post to list a few of the things I would have written about if I had written stuff.

NaNoWriMoNaNoWriMo: This November, I participated in NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) and wrote a 50,000 word story in thirty days. This is, in fact, part of the reason that I only wrote two blog posts in the entire month of November. Between school and work, I really didn’t have much time for that novel, and there were an awful lot of days that I didn’t get to write at all. I ended up having to write more than 10,000 words all in the last day, so I’m kind of proud of myself for finishing. With that being said, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to basically rewrite the entire thing in the editing process. My finished product is not remotely ready to be read. There are a few parts that sound like a plot summary written out in full sentences rather than like actual written work. When I finish editing and rewriting it, I’m guessing that it’s going to be significantly longer than it is now. Also, I regret that I never found the time to participate in any of the events associated with NaNoWriMo; I did all of the writing during homework breaks and in the middle of the night. But all in all, it was a good experience and I definitely intend to do it again next year. Who knows, maybe then I’ll have my schedule under control and it’ll be easier to dedicate time each day to writing.

Da Vinci CodeThe Da Vinci Code: For a good deal of this autumn, I have been reading The Da Vinci Code. I forget when exactly it was that I finished it, but it was definitely sometime in November. It was my intention to write a blog post about it, because I can think of a lot to say about the novel. In fact, I think I might still write a blog post about it in the near future, even though it’s now been a little while since I finished it.

snowSnow: This is my first winter up north since the winter of 2002-2003, and so I’ve gotten in the habit of thinking of snow as something unusual. In Alabama (where I went to college) and central Arkansas (where I lived before college) it only snows a couple times a year, and when it does, it’s a pretty big deal. In fact, it’s highly surprising that this is the second year in a row that it’s snowed in December in Arkansas. Here in northeastern Illinois, there have already been a couple small snowfalls, and yesterday, it snowed a couple inches. I will presumably be seeing a lot more snow in the next three or four months, but for right now, it still seems noteworthy and blogworthy that I’m seeing snow at all. If I had been posting stuff on a regular basis last month, I probably would have already blogged about snow several times.

JFKThe fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination: Actually, I hadn’t decided what I would have said about John F. Kennedy’s death if I had had time to write a blog post that day. But I would have wanted to write something. I went through a phase when I was probably about eight or nine in which I read everything I could find on John F. Kennedy’s death and the various theories associated with it. It is technically not completely certain who the killer was or whether it was a conspiracy. Even though it is fairly well established that it was almost certainly Lee Harvey Oswald and that he was most likely acting alone, I was intrigued that there was an element of mystery at all, and I had it in my head that I could solve the crime simply by reading a lot about the topic. Admittedly, I was not unbiased. I wanted to believe that it was an elaborate conspiracy that didn’t involve Lee Harvey Oswald at all, just because it would have been fun to disprove the commonly accepted theory. Obviously, I never did find enough evidence to prove anything, but that was really my first taste of research. (If you don’t count simply looking something up in an encyclopedia or dictionary) I never really lost interest in the topic, even though it has been several years now since I’ve taken the time to read anything at all about it. The event itself may have happened decades before I was born, but I still have personal memories concerning it.

Doctor WhoThe fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who: The day after Kennedy’s assassination, the British TV show Doctor Who made its debut. Consequently, the day after the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, the British TV show Doctor Who had its fiftieth anniversary special. This was the most exciting thing to happen to me since I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness last June. That movie had been out for a while before I finally got to see it, but I only had to wait one day before the new Doctor Who episode was available on Amazon. It was awesome. In fact, it was well worth giving up the internet for a day and a half to avoid spoilers.

The beginning of Advent: This year, the first day of the new church year conveniently happened to fall on the first day of the calendar month, which only happens one seventh of the time, so that was pretty cool. I wrote this blog post for the beginning of Advent last year. If I had actually written something for the beginning of Advent this year too, it probably would have been pretty similar to this, so I suppose it’s okay to just post a link to the old post instead of writing something new.

I took this picture out of the window of the parking garage one day back in late October or early November.

I took this picture out of the window of the parking garage one day back in late October or early November.

School: I’m now only two days away from finishing my first semester of graduate school, and it occurs to me that I have had very little to say about this on my blog. I normally try to avoid writing much about my everyday life or about specific events in my life, but I consider schoolwork and holidays to be two exceptions to that policy. In fact, it would make sense for me to blog about school even more now than I did as an undergraduate student, because I’m no longer studying the kinds of things that almost everyone studies at some point in their educational career. I’m in graduate school, y’all. I’m not saying that there’s anything in particular I want to share about graduate school just now. I’m just saying that it’s a little weird that it’s been an entire semester and I haven’t yet taken the opportunity to write a blog post specifically about the stuff I’m doing in school.

Behold the beauty of my cat.

Behold the beauty of my cat.

My cat: Dude, my cat is so awesome.

Number Two Hundred: Another Top Ten List

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A little less than one year ago, I wrote my one hundredth blog post, and I decided to acknowledge the occasion by making it a top ten list of my favorite things I had posted on my blog up to that point. I had fun compiling that list, so I further decided to do something similar when I hit #200. This is my two hundredth blog post, and so I have now made a list of my top ten favorite things I’ve written on this blog since #100. I actually had a little difficulty getting it down to just ten, which is why I sneakily included links to a couple others. There was a lot of stuff to look through; my blog is over 192,000 words long, which is equivalent to a book of nearly 500 pages. Here are the highlights from the most recent half of all those words.

10.  Awkwardness in the Checkout Lane from February 24. This was a short blog post that I wrote very quickly without putting much thought into it, but I liked the way it turned out anyway, and I still find it amusing.

9. On Sentences that End with Prepositions from January 1. It’s about Star Wars and grammar, so you can tell it’s worth reading.

8. More Stuff that Martin Luther Didn’t Say from September 4. This is kind of a follow-up to a much older blog post, and it complains about how Martin Luther incorrectly gets associated with transcendentalism. I would have liked to have put this higher on the list because it says some important things, but I personally didn’t feel that I did a good job with it.

7. Just another Blog Post about Kate and William’s Baby from July 24. I wrote this just because I felt like I ought to put something on my blog on that particular day, and the new prince was a major news topic at the time. But looking back at it, I think it’s pretty well-written considering that I didn’t put much time and effort into it.

6. Cotton Candy: A blog post in which I rant about bad theology on the internet from June 15. As the title implies, this is just a complaint about certain ideas that are prominent among religious people on the internet. (And, to some extent, just in general) Like the previously listed one about Martin Luther, this blog post didn’t turn out as well as I’d have liked, but I’m including it on this list because of the topic. I’m also going to cheat a little on the top-ten thing by including a link to a somewhat related blog post I wrote a couple weeks later: In Which I Continue to Rant about Bad Theology on the Internet from June 27.

5. The Confusing Thing about Random Facts from November 25. This was the first thing I posted after my previous top ten list, so it has had to wait nearly a year to find its place on this list. At that time, I didn’t like it quite enough that I would have expected to still like it eleven and a half months later.

4. Nothing Really Matters: A Close Reading of Bohemian Rhapsody from March 2. Cool people like to put thought into listening to Bohemian Rhapsody.

3. Why I Don’t Think “Go Tell it on the Mountain” is an Awesome Christmas Hymn from December 14. I forgot about this particular blog post shortly after writing it, and didn’t even notice that I reused the ideas in it a month later in one of my all-time most-read blog posts, Why Young People Leave the Church, which had a title that happens to be a phrase that often gets searched on Google. I only noticed that self-repetition just now as I was trying to decide whether the latter blog post was quite good enough to make the list, and I came to the conclusion that the one from December was somewhat better, even if it was seasonally-specific.

2. Humans: An Owner’s Guide for Cats from July 18. This one contains multiple pictures of my beautiful kitten Romana, who was only about seven months old at that time.

1. Star Wars Chronology Compression and related issues from April 14. It’s about Star Wars. Clearly, it’s awesome.

700 Miles of Fear

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Note: I seem to have developed a bad habit of wasting far too much time writing rambling, introspective, and vaguely depressing things with the general idea that I could use them on my blog. But then I always choose not to post them because they’re no good, or I never quite finish them, or they are a bit too disconnected and jumbled, or they’re too dismal. But I figured I ought to post at least one of them sometime, just so that I could somewhat justify the time I’ve spent on this kind of thing. The following blog post was written between classes early this afternoon, on a sheet of notebook paper that I borrowed from my calculus folder. I can’t say it’s completely unedited, because I did reword it a little as I typed it up, but it’s pretty close to what I originally wrote. If it sounds like stream-of-consciousness, that’s because that’s exactly what it is.

I think that all writers- amateur or professional, poet or novelist, experienced or aspiring- has a few favorite literary passages or lines that they wish they’d written. I know I have a few, and one such line comes from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”.  It goes, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”.  I know, that’s just one short line out of a long and complex poem, and it’s silly to single out those eleven syllables as being particularly profound. But it’s such a remarkably accurate description of life.

T.S. EliotIn general, I am not a big Eliot fan; in fact I resent him a little for being so famous that I’ve had to read “The Wasteland” a bajillion times. But there are things he wrote that I like, and that one line is chief among them. I could use this opportunity to make a few comments about other interesting things I’ve noticed or been told about my favorite Eliot lines, but I’m not going to do that. In my opinion, the less said about Eliot’s poetry, the better, because much of it is actually quite self-explanatory. Yes, there are many literary allusions and clever metaphors and a lot of symbolism that a literature class could fill up any amount of time trying to analyze. But the central meaning is something so basic and yet so hard to put into words that there is no way to say it better than the line itself does. The coffee spoon line is the prime example. Maybe that’s what I often dislike about Eliot; I love metaphors and allegories that translate neatly into literal language, resulting in a beautifully mathematical symmetry between reality and poetry. But I can appreciate this different kind of metaphor, which isn’t really a metaphor because there’s simply no other way to say it. It’s very true that life is measured out by coffee spoons. (And other seemingly trivial daily things)

roadThis morning, I counted. I counted how many days I have left before graduation,  how many of those days have classes, how many total classes I have left, how many exams I have to take, how many papers I have to write, and how many miles I have left to drive in that time. That last sum was about 700. It’s a frightening number because it’s so large and my car is so rickety. In the eleven months that I’ve had it, it has broken down numerous times and had several repairs, and there are several other repairs that it ought to have, if I could afford them. Every time I drive that car for any distance, no matter how short, it’s a nerve-wracking experience. And I have to drive a lot. Over the course of the last few months, it has gradually filled my life with a general sense of paranoia and dread that I sometimes forget was originally associated specifically with car problems.

booksAfter I counted, I stacked up my books and spent the last couple of hours before class reading from them alternatively. Many of these books and the concepts they discuss have played much too prominent a role in my life lately, and I was in no frame of mind to put the level of focus into each one that they all required. The ideas all jumbled together in my brain- the theorems of linear algebra, the disorienting randomness of postmodern fiction, the masterfully ironic tone of Douglas Adams. (The latter, actually, is one thing that I am not reading for school, but rather of my own volition) There somehow seemed to be common themes between all of them. A sarcastic attitude towards advertising, a few concepts regarding number of dimensions, something about technology and its relationship with people. And somehow they all combined into something very profound that had something to do with something very important, but I wasn’t quite sure what. This is the nature of liberal arts. Everything ceases to mean anything because anything can mean everything. Perhaps it’s all my own fault for taking Postmodernism in my last semester. I don’t know whether or not it makes any sense. To me, nothing makes sense right now, and it won’t make sense for another 700 miles.

Then there are the voices that speak in multivariable integrals. I noticed it one day when I was so tired that I was doing my calculus homework in my sleep while I was awake. In the next room, there were numerous people talking, saying all kinds of things all at once, and I thought that if you added up the area covered by their conversation, one voice at a time- each in terms of the ones you hadn’t done yet, because they were all talking to each other, of course- you could get a single, simple, numerical solution out of all the chaos. But that’s silly, if for no other reason, because it makes no sense to think of other people’s voices as steps in a calculus problem when I’m something different (I’m not even sure what) just because I’m the one who’s not talking.

puzzleFor the last couple months, at any given time, I’ve had a jigsaw puzzle on my dresser that’s never been finished. Every couple weeks, I almost finish one, but there’s always a piece or two missing, and so I put it away and start another one without ever quite finishing the previous puzzle. I’m not particularly prone to losing things; puzzle pieces are really the only things that I have a tendency to misplace, which makes the obvious metaphor even more poignant and a little disturbing. The missing pieces invariably do show up eventually, usually just a day or two later. But by then, they do me no good, because I’m working on a different puzzle and am searching for different pieces.

mileageThat’s what really scares me about the 700 miles. I’m not quite naïve enough to think that a college diploma is the metaphorical last step in a long calculus problem or the last piece in a big jigsaw puzzle. I am well aware that my life will continue to be measured out by coffee spoons after I graduate from college. The next 700 miles of my life don’t lead to a finish line, or even to a place where I can stop and take a break for a little while. They just lead up to an interesting landmark mileage number. And then I have to go on driving just as much in the same rickety old car, both metaphorically and literally.

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