aaaaaaand… the answer is relative.

I am interested in too many things. Starting projects might be one of my greatest talents. Finishing them… well. My dad bought me a shirt that says ‘I never finish anyth’ and it is without a doubt my best self-defining shirt.

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This would be the second best.
 
Recently, I’ve been cross-stitching, and reading Anatomy and Physiology for Dummies, and contemplating using beer as the yeast in my next homemade bread. I’ve been thinking about buying a brew kit and learning how to make my own beer. I insisted on making and decorating my own wedding cake and crafting my own centerpieces/favors for the wedding. (My favorite thing about the wedding – the actual wedding, not the after party – was wearing the dress that I watched Jon make me over the course of a couple weeks.) I have an incessant itch to learn how to quilt. I want to start a garden and grow tomatoes, chamomile flowers, lavender, peppers, basil and garlic (and that’s just to start out). I’m obsessed with books about Tai Chi, alternative healing, philosophy, and sociology. I want to learn massage therapy. I’ve already detailed some of my travels into the realm of computer programming and theoretical physics is basically my religion. Fantasy and science fiction created my morals and drive my passion for travel. I’ve crocheted, attempted to knit, obsessively studied abnormal psychology and dreamed of majoring in everything from creative writing to mechanical engineering to equestrianism. I love building things with my hands – one of my proudest achievements is contributing to the construction of a horse shelter. I taught myself how to draw (although I can’t really draw so much as copy black-and-white photographs in graphite) and study shadows and colors and space. Someday, I want to be a yoga instructor. I want to own a bakeshop. I want to pick up my violin and relearn music I haven’t played in well over five years and join a bluegrass/jazz/Celtic metal band. I’m in a technical writing class right now and I truly believe I could make money from the skills I am learning. I hope to become a major part of my dad’s business, which films conferences all over the States (and some of Europe) and posts them online.
 
I fucking want everything.
 
And this is part of the reason why I never finish anything. Because as soon as I’ve started on one thing, I become terrified that that thing is going to prevent me from all of the other things I want to do. So I have to go do something else. Sometimes it’s a matter of consciously giving up what I’m doing in favor of something else. Other times, it’s simply a matter of attempting to juggle too much at once and having bits and pieces fall by the wayside. Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve stopped doing something I love for months or even years, and when I realize it’s gone… I freak out and need to start doing it again. But then something else falls away. My life can often look like it’s in shambles, and the people who know me know not to take me too seriously when I become obsessed with yet another thing. Because it’ll fade out. The more intense the obsession, the quicker it goes away.
 
Some things stick. Some things come back again and again. I have to learn how to manage my time.
 
There’s never enough time.
 
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A Thread of Grace – or – Cynicism? What cynicism?

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 My sophomore year of high school, I remember talking to an older friend about the senior AP English reading list. She told me about this book called The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, explaining how it was about Jesuit priests in space. From that moment on, I knew I had to be in AP English my senior year. When I got there, when I read that book, it rooted itself into my soul as one of my favorites. Incredibly well-drawn characters, a heart-breaking journey in which two cultures meet for the first time and miscommunication ensues. It amazed me to learn that The Sparrow was Russel’s first book.

So, of course, I got my hands on anything else of hers I could find. I read Children of God. It didn’t tear my heart to shreds, and being of reader!type:masochist, I didn’t love it quite as much as The Sparrow. Still, it made my list of annual rereads. I purchased A Thread of Grace three years ago, along with Vamped: A Novel by David Sosnowski and Sunshine by Robin McKinley, two books also recommended by my previously mentioned older friend. Both books were good, but something about A Thread of Grace daunted me. I’d heard that Russel had decided which characters to kill based on coin tosses, and knew that the book would likely pitch me into a week-long depression. After all, if the characters were half as lovely and incredible as the characters in The Sparrow, in which you at least know who’s going to die right from the get-go, my poor heart wouldn’t stand a chance.

So the book followed me around, unopened, but lovingly placed on the shelf next to The Sparrow and Children of God, for three years. I kept it with me out of a deep respect for the author and the knowledge that, someday, I would be strong enough to read it. Yesterday, I picked it up, flipped it open, and braced myself for the worst of the worst. All of an hour ago, I finished it (hey, winter break, yo). It is, as expected, a heart-breaking book. Even in the hands of a lesser author, of course, any book about World War II is bound to be some sort of depressing. In A Thread of Grace, though, it’s not all of the death and tragedy that really breaks your heart. It’s the compassion that Russel shows for all of her characters. It’s the dozens of singular moments of grace displayed by at-times cranky, irritating, “shithead” humans. It’s the constant voice throughout the book challenging you to withhold your judgment, to simply step into these characters’ shoes, and live as they lived.

There seems to be no shortage of love for Mary Doria Russell. Another glowing review is not my intent with this post. Instead, I want to talk about the feeling I was struck with yesterday, about a third of the way through the book. The realization that, though the events in this book, right from the get-go, are traumatic and horrifying, I was not reacting emotionally. At least, not in the way that I responded emotionally to The Sparrow. At one point I turned to Jon and said, I can’t tell if these characters just aren’t as real as the ones in The Sparrow or if I’ve just grown more cynical since I was 18. I’m not feeling that ache of sorrow in my chest. And I’ll admit, the book did not once make me cry, although it launched a couple hour-ish long sessions of simply laying down and taking stock of the world.

Having finished the book, I think I may have been right about the cynicism thing, although not in exactly the way I was thinking of when the thought first occurred. The characters are intense and quirky, unique from each other and easily identifiable despite the sheer number of them. It’s not the writing that failed to evoke immediate, intense emotional response. I have mellowed out, a lot. My reaction feels like an old, tired sadness, a feeling which I used to treat as an enemy but has, through the years, become a kind of solitary friend. I believe this book would have infuriated me at 18. I would have chosen sides. I would have read, my heart-racing, my muscles taut, with my awareness centered completely on trying to figure out which of the characters were the most right. The end would have sucker-punched me into a moody contemplative silence that overshadowed my days for at least a week.

One of the characters, about midway through the novel, identifies a man he is talking to as someone who has seen war. The man asks, How can you tell? The other man responds, Nothing I say surprises you. It kind of makes me think of one of my bosses at work, who talks candidly about her life. I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about how I don’t know how to respond to being told about personal horror stories. Or rather, I worry that my response is interpreted as unfeeling and cold. I usually don’t say anything. I just nod. I tried, once, to say, ‘I’m so sorry that happened to you,’ but the words felt clunky and wrong. If I could be more candid about some of the things I’ve been through, or had to accept or witness, I wouldn’t want that response. In part, I feel that my boss is so candid with me because my response is so mute. I nod. I listen. I am not shocked. (Could… also be that she’s a little crazy. A lot of crazy people talk to me because I’m quiet, I think, and a little too eager to not offend… that may or may not be the topic of another post.)

I was not shocked by this book. I was shocked by The Sparrow when I first read it. But the emotional intensity of horror has faded as I’ve become more at peace with my own negative emotions and hang-ups and tried to let go of snap judgments. A Thread of Grace is more heart-warming than heart-breaking, more concerned with highlighting the grace of God in people than the awful things that we are capable of, despite the book being about the worst massacre in modern history (in human history?).

I seem to meet a lot of people who consider themselves hardened and made bitter by the world, who will look at me contemptuously should I show the slightest sign of optimism or faith in people. They seem to say, or will say flat out, that I simply haven’t learn how the world “really” works. As if I’m supposed to believe that the One True Lesson in life is that everybody’s out to get you and faith/optimism are childish traits that get weeded out when you grow “wise.” As if the greatest secret in life is that people can be douche nozzles. (People? Douchey? Never! *le gasp*)

Anyway. A Thread of Grace is a beautiful book, almost overloaded with sentimentality (maybe I am a little more cynical) but mellowed by humorous dialogue and believably ornery characters. Am definitely glad I read it. Whether or not it’ll join the annual re-reading list, I haven’t decided. That list probably can’t hold too much more without some cuts.

edit: Why is this post being so ornery about formatting?! -_-

Valjean, at last, we see each other plain!

So there is a recent abundance of movies coming out based on books. Good books. Really good books.

The Hobbit is coming out on December 14, I believe. Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of the Rings is responsible for my love of movie adaptations of books, because it introduced me to Lord of the Rings and gave me a deep respect for fantasy. It’s not that I hadn’t previously loved fantasy, but when the first movie came out, I was 12 or 13, nearing an age and an attitude where fantasy seemed more and more childish to me (I don’t like tweens, they’re ridiculous). After taking a journey through the sweeping landscape of New Zealand, my love for fantasy was renewed with fervor, and I am happy to say I will never consider myself too old for magic. The hero’s quest is and always will be one of my favorite products of humanity.

Then, on Christmas, Les Miserables is finally hitting theaters. My high school did a performance of Les Miserables when my sister was at the peak of her drama club experience. She played the woman who buys Fantine’s hair. I grew up listening to Castle on a Cloud, wishing for a lady all in white to hold me and sing a lullaby, never knowing until that year where the song came from. I attempted to read the book a few years later, but the bombardment of French names and French history and French politics threw me, and after about 100 pages I gave up, declaring that the book was simply too hard for me.

It’s the only book I ever gave up reading because it was too hard for me.

Jon picked it up for me two days ago at a book store where we have a lot of store credit (a store called ABC, which amuses me because of the connection to the group called ABC in the story itself). I’ve been reading it since, hoping to finish it by Christmas, as unlikely as that is. I’m fortunately finding it much easier to read. xD Perhaps those two years I spent as a Creative Writing major are paying off. Perhaps I just have more patience than my fifteen-year-old self.

So far, this book is filling me with a sense of peace, and a sense of sadness. The characters are lovingly, insightfully drawn – the bishop, who has all of thirteen lines in the musical, has an entire fifty page section dedication to a self-portrait. Yet when I listen to his section of the musical, I find that he has been characterized with loving respect for Hugo’s writing.

The idea of a large, Hollywood type production for this musical is both thrilling and a little worrisome. I’ve read a bit about people’s thoughts on Life of Pi, which I have not read or seen, and about how people are worried that the philosophical depth of the book will be lost. In Les Miserables, there’s a lot less to fear than that – I know what the musical adaptation looks like. I already love it with all of my heart and soul. I haven’t read the book and probably won’t have finished it by the time I see the movie. Still, I’ve heard that Jean Valjean has a new song. I don’t think he needs a new song. I worry they’ve taken out Gavroche or downplayed the Thenardiers or subjected Eponine to far less screen time than she deserves. Or, worse, given Cosette and Marius more focus than they deserve.

But it’s hard to be concerned. A movie can’t ruin a story for me. I hated the third Harry Potter movie, but the third book is still my favorite. What I hope for, though, is something akin to what Lord of the Rings gave me. Those movies are so good, I don’t compare them to the books. The books are their own world, full of intense, meandering descriptions and beautiful language. The movies are a pleasure for their visual appeal and the musical score. I enjoy the later Harry Potter movies, despite the fact that they do not tell quite the same story or inhabit quite the same universe as the books.

There’s something about the relation of books and their movies that I relate to the various stories told in comic books. I can read and appreciate six different Batmans and never get bored. I enjoy each story separately, and while the knowledge of one increases the pleasure found in the next, these stories are regularly not about the same Batman, or the same Gotham. They are tweaked interpretations, and they are made the better for their differences and the skill that is used in relating their similarities.

That’s something like what I expect from movie adaptations. I expect to be told a story about a somewhat different Frodo, a somewhat different Jean Valjean. These stories enhance each other because the two different interpretations give rise to a conversation between artists, which in turn gives rise to conversations between all members of the audience.

Those are my thoughts for today. Now, I’m off in search of a conversation between Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman, because it happened on Halloween and I have to believe there’s a video of it somewhere on this here wide-world interweb.

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Without Man, is there hope for Gorilla?

Without Gorilla, is there hope for Man?

As I mentioned in my last post, I just finished reading the book Ishmael by Danielle Quinn. I found it a joy to read, and continue to find it both joyful and challenging to consider what it has to offer. Ishmael is a short book about a young man who’s almost given up his search for finding a teacher – until he finds an ad in the newspaper for a teacher looking for a pupil who is eager to save the world. Disenchanted and refusing to admit that he’s actually interested, the young man goes to see this ‘teacher’ on a lark, and finds, to his astonishment, that the teacher is a gorilla with a very captivating life story.

The gorilla, called Ishmael, and the young man carry on a dialogue about the origins of humanity, about the mythology of our own culture and the mythology of cultures we would consider primitive. At first, the young man finds it difficult to believe that modern, civilized culture has any unified mythology to speak of, but as Ishmael encourages him to unearth his own most latent assumptions about what it means to be human and where humans come from, the myth is slowly brought to light.

The myth essentially says that Takers (in a world of Takers and Leavers – civilized cultures and primitive cultures), who have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, are enacting a story that says the world belongs to them, well, us. Stories like the story of Adam and Eve and the story of Cain and Abel came to us from the Leavers, who originally created those stories in order to understand why the Takers lived so differently, killing people just to take the land and live one way, almost as if they thought they knew what the Gods know – who should die and who should live.

Ishmael relates these stories, and the concept of Takers as being those who think the world belongs to them and Leavers as those who think that they belong to the world, to the very recent global crisis. In the end, Ishmael offers a very frustrated young man this, when asked what on earth can be DONE to “save the world”:

“The story of Genesis must be undone. First, Cain must stop murdering Abel. This is essential if you’re to survive. The Leavers are the endangered species most critical to the world – not because they’re humans but because they alone can show the destroyers of the world that there is more than one right way to live. And then, of course, you must spit out the fruit of the forbidden tree. You must absolutely and forever relinquish the idea that you know who should live and who should die on this planet.

“Teach a hundred what I’ve taught you, and inspire them to teach a hundred.”

-Ishmael, by Danielle Quinn

This is a very loose summary, missing half a dozen points and, more than anything else, the pure delight of reading the book itself. However, I think the summary is necessary in order for me to have grounds for explaining some of my thoughts, which are (in no particular order):

-Ishmael being a captive gorilla particularly predisposes him to come up with the unique worldview he is offering.

-The interpretation of the stories of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel are endlessly fascination to me – they beautifully illustrate the point, and I believe the unassuming nature of its offering – that it has no more or less basis than many other interpretations – illustrates the emphasis on there being no one right way to live as well.

-The dialogue on human xenocentricism (…is that a word? Does it mean what I think it means? Like ethnocentricism, but for the whole species) was not a new concept for me. At various points I have struggled with the idea that we are anything more or less than simply another one of Earth’s creatures. I have struggled to fathom to what degree others believe this idea as well.

-I feel a need, a desire, to re-examine some of my own thoughts and feelings about human nature. I have said things like, “It’s clear we’re different from other animals. We’re… weird.” There does seem to be something distinctly unique about us. But I have struggled with this strictly because I can hardly find any sense in it. Ishmael has given me a possible interpretation for my own struggle – we’re different, but not Different – but the idea if one I like a lot – which means interpreting this old thought entirely in the light of this new thought may be clouded in self-grandeur and thus suspect.

-It did feel really obvious in some ways. Obviously not the interpretation of Genesis, which was totally new, but the idea that we’re the only species truly capable of murder is old – and in some ways, not one I’m entirely sure I believe. Dolphins will kill sharks just for fun, won’t they? But there are still distinctions. This murder Ishmael speaks about isn’t even ‘killing for fun.’ It’s literally killing for the sake of the ‘one right way to live.’ These aren’t new ideas but, offered in the context of the stories we live by, they take on a deeper, more immediate meaning.

-Danielle Quinn gets my vote for understanding that you cannot overemphasize the importance of stories in the human psyche.

-This new world we ought to be striving towards? I wonder what specifically it means. There’s never been any question in my mind that we ought to be striving to “change the world” – in fact, a lot of my frustration stems from a) feeling like it’s impossible, b) only having vague impressions of what I’m trying to change and why I’m trying to change it, and c) having no clear terms for what I’m looking to become – what the change actually consists of. So while Ishmael definitely provides (at least the beginnings of) a framework for b) and yet another spark of hope and inspiration for a), Quinn intentionally leaves c) up in the air.

So, I do hope to inspire people to read this book, or at least to visit Ishmael.org and read some of the material there, as it is all very fascinating – especially the Question and Answer sections.

see Dee’s brain breakage

So a part of me wishes I could just pretend the last two posts never happened. Kind of. BUT I WILL RELEARN WRITING TO WRITE. … HOW TO WRITE. … huh?

Today, I’m almost afraid to say what I’m writing about…

Well I’ve started reading the Bible, because I picked up a book off the bookshelf (my favorite part of the whole house) by C.S. Lewis, in defense of Christianity. Or maybe it wasn’t so much defense as simple explanation. Anyway, it intrigued me, because C.S. Lewis’s writing is oh-so clear and simple, and if anyone’s going to have my ear when talking about something as tich-y (I think I made that word up) as religion, it might as well be the man who infused my childhood with Christian symbolism. I mean, this God figure? He’s totally a rip-off of Aslan. That’s all I’m saying.

(Don’t get mad at me. My family wasn’t allowed to ‘influence my religion’ due to the divorce settlement. I was raised more-or-less areligious (another word that doesn’t exist, apparently), or as areligious as you can possibly be growing up in the U.S…. primarily Utah.)

And, no, it wasn’t a straight shot from Lewis to the Bible. While I found Lewis’s essays (I know, I should remember the name of the book, or look it up or something…) to be at times amusing, well-thought out, at times even logically convincing or just downright creepy, the first book I gravitated towards after putting him down was Living Gnosis: A Practical Guide to Gnostic Christianity by Tau Malachi, because my mom bought it for me a few years ago and I’ve always had this niggling sense that Gnosticism is kind of nifty.

At the same time, thanks to a friend who throws books at you with NO SENSE OF RESPECT FOR YOUR READING LIST’S BOUNDARY ISSUES, I started reading Ishmael by Danielle Quinn and The Mystique of Enlightenment – The Radical Ideas of U.G. Krishnamurti, and in the span of about forty-eight hours (…don’t inquire into my life right now, there’s nothing going on), all I can say is that…

My brain broke. Talk of enlightenment unlike any I’ve ever read before from Krishnamurti made me feel queasy all over. (I’m the living embodiment of an existential crisis. That seems like it should be an ironic statement somehow but, please remember, my brain is broken and I can’t figure out how it would be.) There’s this feeling that he’s talking about nothing, and about how thoroughly useless it is to talk about nothing, and this feeling that he’s just kind of sitting there, EXISTING, while all these fanatics keep hounding him with their ideas of enlightenment even though he keeps saying the search is pointless and… I need to take a deep breath. It makes me uncomfortable.

Ishmael is badass, because it’s a Gorilla teaching a human how to save the world. It’s an absolute pleasure to read (if you don’t mind a book entirely made up of teacher-student dialogue) and it offers the most radically unique interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve I have ever heard… which I… really cannot summarize right now. That, combined with weird bits of interpretation in Living Gnosis that have me scratching my head (I don’t remember that in Genesis and I’ve read Genesis), and the fact that my waking hours for the past two days have been ENTIRELY CONSUMED by these books (and a little bit of Fat Man on Batman)…

Did I mention that my brain is broken?

Anyway, yes. I am now reading the Bible, or at least, this clunky teen-study Bible that my boyfriend has left over from his Christian days. Coding, writing, and everything else has pretty much halted because a life-long fascination with religion I thought I had buried got sparked while I was innocently perusing my bookshelf.

…My bookshelf is dangerous.