Thursday, December 25, 2014

Thoughts on the Angels and How Exciting Christmas Is

Earlier this evening I was standing next to my mom in the kitchen mixing myself a cup of cocoa while this was playing in the background:

Mom turned to me and said something to the effect of, "Isn't this magnificent?" Just moments before I had been thinking to myself how much I love this rendition of "Hark the Herald, etc." because of how triumphant it is. It was a wonderful moment because that feeling of the magnificent triumph of this Christmas carol seemed to encapsulate perfectly some ponderings I've had recently about the chorus of angels that accompanied the Savior's birth.

I like to think that the night of the Savior's birth there was a pretty sweet party in heaven. The whole of eternity was pointing to this moment, and we were so excited that it was finally happening - that the Savior of mankind was finally making his way to Earth to save us all from sin and death - that we couldn't be contained. (I say we because I like to think that I was among the angels who was so excited I just couldn't even handle it.) So, in our excitement, we made our way down to check things out:

and in the euphoria of the moment we just had to tell someone about it. Or rather, we had to sing to someone about it. So we went out and found some local shepherds, and we said to them:

"Hey guys. It's happening! He's here!! Jesus Christ! You know, the Savior! The Prince of Peace and all that jazz! The guy who's gonna make it all happen! HE'S FINALLY HERE! IT'S FINALLY HAPPENING! GO SEE!!!"

See, on Earth I think a lot of times we tend to get so caught up in the daily minutiae of life that sometimes we don't see what's really important and what's eternally significant. So in this moment - this all important and thrilling moment - the angels stepped in and let us all know what's really important. And I really feel like Charles Wesley encapsulated that message when he wrote:

Hail! the heav'n born Prince of peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

He's the real source of the magnificent triumph Mom and I were feeling earlier tonight. I love and am eternally grateful for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and I thank God everyday for the incalculable gift of His Son, which gift we celebrate during this season.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Definitive List of the Best Christmas Movies

I'm finally done with everything for this semester, and the strange stresslessness of life has left me not at all sleepy. So instead of sleeping I've ranked the best Christmas movies. I know in the title it says that this is a definitive list, but really that was just my way of saying that YES THIS IS THE DEFINITIVE LIST!! I'm right. If you disagree, well, then you'll just have to accept that you're wrong. Good, now that that's out of the way, let's proceed.


Actually, before we proceed to the actual list of best Christmas movies, there are a couple of other lists that I need to make first.

Christmas Movies that I've Never Really Liked Despite Popular Opinion

- Scrooged
- Christmas Vacation
- Love, Actually

Honorable Honorable Mention (aka good-to-fantastic movies that take place around or somehow involve Christmas, but because Christmas isn't a key player in the plot, weren't considered for the Top 10)

- The Hudsucker Proxy
- The Shop Around the Corner
- Die Hard
- The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
- Ask Me Again

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

- Holiday Inn
- Mr. Krueger's Christmas
- Christmas in Connecticut
- Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer (clay-mation)
- A Christmas Carol (Both the George C. Scott and the Alastair Sim)
- Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
- The I Love Lucy Christmas special where they all dress up like Santa Claus
- Frosty the Snowman (cartoon)

Now we can get on to the list. Well, we will after GeorgeCScottScrooge stops being in the way:

whenever I read A Christmas Carol (which is every year) George C. Scott is how I picture Scrooge in my mind

The Definitive Top Ten List of the Best Christmas Movies

10. While You Were Sleeping

9. Elf

8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon)

7. A Christmas Story

6. the home movie of Heather and her "My Child"

I don't have this one digitally so as to embed it here. But trust me, it's awesome.

5. Miracle on 34th Street (the old one)

4. It’s a Wonderful Life

3. The Muppet Christmas Carol

2. White Christmas

1. The Bishop’s Wife

Feel free to let me know if you disagree with me, but let me reiterate that if you disagree, you're wrong. See I've spent minutes - several of them - thinking about this, and come to the conclusion that this is the way it should be.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Early Morning Cowboys

Sometimes I'm awake at 4:45 in the am and I take breaks from what I'm working on to watch videos of monkeys riding border collies and herding sheep around a rodeo arena.

Which naturally leads to me listening to awesome musics like this:

and this:

It's the simple joys in life.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Thoughts as I Watched the Trailer for 'Le Petit Prince'

In Order:

- I hope it's in English
- except no, it should probably be in French
- but French probably wouldn't sell as well, so it'll probably be in English.
- oh good. French.
- man, I should learn French.
- I don't have time to learn French.
- mmm, I like this cover of "Somewhere Only We Know"
- I want glow in the dark paint
- and a plant tunnel.

Monday, November 24, 2014

can't sleep. thinking about trains. and rice.

It's 2:00 in the am as I write this. I'm in bed. Eating rice.

See, I'm not tired. I was just laying here staring at my lamp and thinking about how on Tuesday morning I'm gonna get on a train and head out to spend Thanksgiving with my brother and sister-in-law and their family in Oswego, New York.

And then I got really excited.

Like, tooexcitedtosleep excited.

So naturally I got up and got some rice to eat. And, well, I guess I could have sat down at the table to eat it, but, I mean, it's 2:00 in the am. Normally functioning human beings are in bed at 2:00 in the am. So that's where I am.

In bed. Eating rice.

Thinking about going on an old fashioned train journey.

Okay, maybe not so old fashioned. But a train journey all the same.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Upon Further Recommendation

sometime in the growing dusk of a sunday afternoon, when after threatening all day the snow has finally decided to start falling, but it's clear that the decision was a little reluctant because there's no haste in its descent, you should sit on your back porch with a mug of hot chocolate and a pair of slippers and listen to Sufjan sing about Christmas.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Hey, Can You Watch My Stuff for a Sec?

I'm in the Union right now trying to read Mary Wollstonecraft, and a guy just came up to me and, nodding to where he had been sitting, asked if I'd "watch [his] stuff for a sec." I nodded and said that "yeah, sure. I'd be happy to." And at the time I meant it. But now I'm wondering, what did I just agree to?
The "stuff" in question.

This isn't the first time I've pondered this question. Pretty much every time I'm in a public space and someone asks me to watch their stuff while they go take care of some business or other, I can't help but to wonder and worry a little about what my responsibilities actually are. Naturally, it's implied that I'll watch their things keep a wary eye out for any robbers, thieves, or street youths of any sort. But if while I'm watching, as per the owners request, one of these potential malefactors comes and begins rummaging around in the "stuff" I'm watching, how am I supposed to respond? Implicit in the request to watch, is a request to prevent the stuff from coming to any harm. But what does that mean? How far should I take it? How far would or could I take it?

Ok, putting myself in the situation I imagine I'd probably say something like, "Excuse me...excuse me. Hi, yeah, I was asked to watch these those things by their owner," and then...Yeah, that's pretty much all I've got.

This is a problem. See, that's just a statement. It's not a threat or a warning. It doesn't really do anything to disincentivize any untoward actions beyond making the perpetrators aware that there are witnesses to their misdeeds. While I think social pressure can be helpful in this situation and that people are probably less likely to do bad things if they know someone is watching, is emphasizing social pressure the extent of my responsibility to the owner and his stuff? How confrontational have I committed myself to being?

This is really the crux of question for me, because, frankly, I tend to eschew confrontation...pretty much at all costs always. So am I expected to go outside my comfort zone and, I don't know, raise my voice and say something like, "Hey, leave that stuff alone! It ain't yours!"? I mean, I guess I could do that without too much trouble, but I'd really rather not. See, it seems to imply a threat of sorts, and I really doubt I'd be willing to back up such a threat if it went beyond verbal sparring. Not because I'm necessarily scared to make a scene, but I'm not really into the whole "getting into a fight" scene.

Now before you go writing me off as a coward, let's look at things a little here. Who's to say the villain here isn't going to pull out a switchblade and go all West Side Story on me. Am I willing to be a dancing, New York street gang Mercutio  all for the sake of a laptop and a backpack? Frankly, no. But should I be? I do carry a knife of my own, so it's not like I'd be completely disadvantaged, but when I inevitably win, what lengths will I have had to go to in order to achieve that victory? Will I have killed a man? I'm not like Johnny Cash here. I couldn't shoot a man in Reno, just to watch him die. Do I really need that kind of emotional baggage, just because some stranger asked me to watch his stuff? Is the next 50 years of emotional well-being worth the couple hundred buck of stuff sitting at that table over there?

I can see him coming back now, so I guess my worries are appeased for the now, but the question remains, how far am I expected to go and how seriously am I supposed to take my responsibility, to watch someone's stuff for a sec?

Monday, October 27, 2014

On Musics, Ep. 1

I've found that a lot of what I seem to write about here on the blog is music. I mean, of the 23 posts that I've written in 2014 (counting this one), 6 of them (again, counting this one) are about music, or at least use music as a vehicle for making my point. 6 out of 23. That's like...a little more than 25%. (Be proud, I did that in my head.)  Sometimes I feel a little bad that I don't diversify my writings more than I do, but I've decided that rather than feel bad about it, I'm just going to embrace it and lean into it. So rather than push back the feeling that I shouldn't write about music, I'm going to make a conscious point of writing about it.

See, music is important to me. It stirs emotions and causes me to think about and view certain things certain ways. For this reason I try to be relatively selective about the kinds of music that I listen to. When I listen to a song I don't necessarily choose the emotions that song will evoke within me; however I can choose what songs I listen to and thus help to shape my own emotional states.

I realize that last paragraph makes it seem like I try to be all controlling about my emotions. I don't. In fact, rather than using music to affect and alter my mood, more often than not I seek out musics that reflect the emotions that are already present. In this way I think that music becomes a kind of catharsis for me as it seems to extract and distill my emotions into a form that is more readily experienced. I kinda like that.

So like I said, I think I'm gonna start a series of posts that I'll call "On Musics" in which I'll post a song (or two or three) and I'll kind of talk about why it (they) have been calling to me of late. I've even gone back and tagged all my past music post with the tag "On Musics."

Not this isn't to say that music is all I'll be writing about from here on out. I'll definitely still bring in the random musings of my life, but this is going to be a recurring thread that I'll revisit as it feels appropriate. Some days I may write a lot, getting deep and philosophical, and other days I may just post a song with a couple quick thoughts. Today it's going to be the latter.

And so, for today's inaugural "On Musics" post (although frankly it's not really inaugural because, like I said, I've written about music quite a bit before now, though not in any organized way), we have Dana Falconberry's song "Palmless."

I also rather like this live recording of it:

I woke up early this morning to finish some grading before class starts (at 8:30 in the am) and this song was in my head. It has proved to be just the perfect blend of melancholy and beautiful to capture the mood of grading papers in the dark and chilly morning hours of fall.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Autumnal Beauty

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower." - Albert Camus

Fall is solidly upon us. With the lovely crisp autumn weather comes an abundance of publicity for the rapidly changing colors of the leaves. No doubt you've seen that Camus quote on countless facebook posts and instagram photos in the last few days. If you haven't, you surely will.

I love autumn leaves as much as the next guy. In fact, I might go so far as to say that I enjoy them a lot more than a lot of the next guys. But at what expense do these leaves gain their notoriety? As we focus so intently on the leaves, do we not blind ourselves to other aspects of nature's beauty? Now I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, it's just the way we humans work. When we focus on one thing we can't help but neglect another. Kenneth Burke would agree with me, and in fact in his book Permanence and Change he made a similar point when he asserted that “a way of seeing is also a way of not seeing – a focus upon object A involves a neglect of object B” (49). So maybe we can't help but ignore other beautiful things when all we seem to see are the changing leaves.

Now don't get me wrong here, let me repeat that I love the autumn leaves. They're beautiful. They bring joy to the soul and peace to heart. They're the flag bearers of nature's final celebration before the world shuts it down for a few months. (Curse you Persephone and your weakness for pomegranate.) In fact, two of my favorite songs (maybe in the top 150 or so...maybe) bear the title, "Autumn Leaves."

First off, the inimitable Eva Cassidy:

Secondly, Cannonball Adderly feat. Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Hank Jones and Sam Jones:

Again, I want to make sure that it's absolutely clear that I don't hate the changing leaves. My feelings are so different. In fact, they are quite the opposite.

But like I started off saying before I was interrupted by the perceived need to establish and reaffirm my affinity for the leaves, our rampant love affair with the changing leaves comes at a price. Namely, we don't recognize the beauty of the flowers of fall.

Now I hear your complaints and acknowledge their validity. Yes, it's true, flowers do get all the glory and publicity in the spring and summer. And maybe you're right, maybe it would be only fair to let the leaves have the fall and leave it at that. But I don't like that. I don't like putting a limit on the amount or provenance of the beauty we can enjoy. I say that we should be willing to open our eyes to any and all beauty as it presents itself too us, from whatever source, and that we should do so year round. Not only should we recognize flowers in the fall, but we should recognize and celebrate the beauty of the leaves during spring and summer (heaven knows their ever-present greenness is a welcome relief after living the winter months among nothing but literal shades of grey).

These thoughts began swirling around my head on Sunday night as I was out for my evening constitutional making my way down this lovely path...

...that runs parallel to the railroad tracks near my apartment. As I was thinking whatever thoughts one might think on such an outing, I began to notice wildflowers growing all along the side of the path. I stopped thinking my thoughts and focused on the flowers. 

And boy howdy am I glad I did.

And so I've decided that here on the illustrious pages of yo mama llama I will give these autumn flowers the recognition and acknowledgement they so understatedly deserve. In truth, the beauty of the scene was really an experience far beyond my poor power to capture with just the camera on my phone, but the following photos provide at least a small taste of the splendor of my Sunday evening walk. 

Now clearly these aren't the most vibrant flowers around, especially when compared with their spring and summer counterparts. But when paired with with the subtly morose charm of an overcast sky and a bit of chill in the air, these flowers seemed, to me, perfect.

The sky grew dark and as I turned off the path and headed for home, I was presented with this sight:

Which led me to conclude, once again, that sweet mother, Indiana is beautiful.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Don't Cry Out Loud

So I'm sitting here innocently doing my work while listening to my music library on shuffle. That in and of itself is an adventure because there's a lot of seemingly dissonant genres that each evoke very distinct and oftentimes contradictory emotions. But mostly it's fine. Going from "It Takes Two" by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, to "R.O.C.K. in the USA" by John Cougar Mellencamp, to "After Hours" by The Velvet Underground, to "I've Got a Woman" by Ray Charles, to "My Cherie Amour" by Stevie Wonder, to "I'm from Nowhere" by Neko Case, to "Bright Whites" by Kishi Bashi was like I said, just fine. But then this happened:

Rather than just being able to listen to it in the background and still get stuff done, it demanded all of my attention. 

All of it.

What I really wanted to do was to sing along as loudly as I could. To somehow let Melissa Manchester know that she wasn't alone. That I was with her. But I couldn't. See, there are other people all around me:

and I don't think they'd much appreciate it.

So while I can't do anything about it now, rest assured, dear reader, that later today as I drive home I will most assuredly demonstrate my solidarity with Ms. Manchester by belting with full vigor:

Don't cry out loud. 
Just keep it inside. 
Learn how to hide your feelings. 
Fly high and proud. 
And if you should fall, 
remember you almost had it all.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sick In Bed

As the title of this post might suggest, I'm sick. And in bed. I don't understand how people can function and go about their lives despite being sick. Maybe I'm just a total baby, but even though it's just a cold that I have, I can't do anything. Yesterday I had tons of things that I needed to do. Like reading for my professional writing theory and modern rhetoric classes. And grading. Can't forget that grading. But anytime I tried to do those things, my head would start to pound so hard that my teeth hurt. And then there's the incessant dripdripdripdripping of my nose that eventually gets so bothersome that I shove wads of tissue up there just to stopper up the flow. (And if you've ever seen how cavernous my nostrils are you'll know just how much tissue this requires...ok fine, I don't use actual tissues, I use toilet paper. I'm too cheap to buy tissues. Also, I don't know why I'm calling them tissues. In real life I call them kleenexes.) But then the wad of tissues causes the flow of germ-ridden mucous to back up and start flowing the other direction, dripping down the back my throat.

That's all fine and miserable, but then, in due time a body-rollicking cough fights its way to symptomatic preeminence and no matter how many drugs I take (I don't even know why I take them, they don't do nothin) I'm left a dripping, hacking, miserable husk of a person huddled under my covers. It's like I'm a Victorian painting or something. In fact...

Ophelia by John Everett Millais

Ok, maybe I'm being a bit dramatic, but that's how I feel, you guys. That's how I feel. 

And because that's how I feel I don't get a single thing done that I really need to get done. Instead, I just lay in bed and sleepwatch movies all day. Movies like Swiss Family Robinson, and Candleshoe, and Blackbeard's Ghost, and The Monkey's Uncle. Even reading for pleasure is awful, so movies is all I'm left with. In fact, I'm gonna have to wrap up this post real quick-like because all these words and such are making my head pound.

So yeah, long story short, I have a lot of respect for people who actually get stuff done when they're sick. I don't know how you do it, but hat's off to you.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I Want to Be Old?

The question mark on the title of this blog post is likely confusing to many of you. See, I've made it abundantly clear that one of my major goals in life is to be an old man. There's just so much about it that is appealing to me. For example, I've decided that when I'm old enough to pull it off, I want to go to a fairly public place with my adult children and have them leave me alone as they go about their business. During that time I'll stand and grin charmingly, though also a bit creepily, at passersby. (Not like gross creepy, more like "that old man seems to be wholly unaware of the world and its established social norms and that's somewhat unsettling" creepy.) Then my kids will come back, wrap their arms around my shoulders and say, "Come on, Dad." We'll walk away and I'll be happy having successfully made people uncomfortable. And the best part is no one would think to say anything about it or ask me to stop, because I'm an old man and old people have carte blanche on causing those around them mild discomfort.

Another example: just a couple months ago I was sitting in the Union doing work of some sort when I saw this guy walk in and proceed to try out every available chair, finally settling on the one right next to me:

Immediately I knew I had to snap a picture, because this man represented everything that I want to be when I grow up: old with weirdly specific tastes in sitting apparatuses and a sweet hat.

Really, to understand just how awesome being old can (and will) be, all you have to do is watch Waking Ned Devine.

I look forward to being an old man so much that I even once threw a ward party in which a bunch of young 18-25-or-so single folks dressed up like old people and we ate pudding and applesauce and fig newtons and Werthers Originals and played bingo while listening to Lawrence Welk and Glenn Miller LPs.

Photos by Anthony Dunster
It was one of the best parties I've ever been to. Just to be clear, no we were not trying to make fun of old people and being old. We were celebrating them and it. We were actively looking forward to that day with joy and anticipation. At least, that was my take, because this has been my general outlook on the whole aging process for years now. 

Now I want to assure you that I'm not naive relative to the travails of getting and being old. I recognize and acknowledge that there's a lot to not celebrate about it. This summer, in fact, I witnessed firsthand with my grandmother just how hard being old can be. But I through it all my attitude remains unchanged: I just really can't wait to be old.

Or so I thought.

Today, for the first time that I can remember, I felt a moment's doubt about the prospect of aging. I was lathering up my face in preparation to shave, when I noticed what looked like an eyelash on my ear. With the back of my hand, the one that was holding my badgerhair shaving brush, I wiped away the hair so that I could get on with the shave. But the hair just stayed right there on my ear. It didn't even move. I leaned closer to the mirror for a better look, and I realized that it wasn't an eyelash at all. It was a coarse black hair, about the length and girth of an eyelash, growing straight out from the edge of my ear. 

Now old age coveting Sam, the one I've tried to describe for you here, should have been elated, right? Here it is, the harbinger of good things to come! Sing praises, for that blessed day of old age draws ever nearer!

Quick aside: I say that the ear hair is the first sign of old age despite my many gray hairs, because I've been getting gray hairs since I was 19 and they've never really seemed to me a marker of my appearance shifting with age. I'll admit, there was a time while I was working as a security guard at the MOA when Marlee, one of my best friends from my undergrad years at BYU, would stand behind me while I was watching the cameras and pluck out said gray hairs. But that wasn't because I was self-conscious. It was more related to the fact that we were bored and this was yet another valiant attempt to stave off that boredom.

Like I said, this ear hair should have been cause for celebration. But no. Rather than exultant joy, I felt mild annoyance and an impulse to finish lathering up my face and shave off that hair with the rest of those unwelcome and unwanted folicular invaders. But as I became aware of these emotions and in conjunction with them remembered my claims to wait longingly for old age, I was horrified. Was I an unwitting hypocrite all along? Are my claims of wanting to be an old man just a show, when in fact I'm just like everyone else and hope to be forever young

With this unsettling and apparent hypocrisy weighing on my soul, I left the ear hair, finished shaving, and continued getting ready for church. But all throughout church, and throughout everything else that I've been doing today, I keep reaching up and tugging gently on that hair on my ear. Not with enough force to pluck it out, but enough that I know it's still there. I tug, and I ponder. What am I to do?

See, that's the worst of it. I'm still not sure what to do with it tomorrow morning. Should I be rid of the hair or leave it be? Will getting rid of it brand me forever as a hypocrite and a liar? At this point even if I leave it, does my initial revulsion and continued fence-sitting prove that I'm not the old man-loving Samuel James Dunn, Esq. that I've so long claimed and hoped and perhaps longed to be? Does the fact that it's the first day of school play into this at all?

I don't know how to answers these questions. Maybe there aren't even any good answers. Maybe for now I'll just have to rewatch Waking Ned Devine and with every chuckle reassure myself that yes, I can't wait to be an old man...I think.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


April 26

by Sharon Creech

when you are trying
not to think about something
it keeps popping back
into your head
you can't help it
you think about it
think about it
think about it
until your brain
feels like
a squashed pea.

from Love That Dog

Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Distractableness and Art and Life

**Real quick before we get started, let me say that even if you don't read this whole post (maybe you're pressed for time, or tired, or lazy), at least read the quote below. It's wonderful. And it's all big and easy to find. Cool.**

I am highly distractable. (Chrome is trying to tell me that "distractable" isn't a word, and it suggests that instead I use "distracted." I don't like that. To say that I'm highly distracted would make it seem that I'm distracted all the time and that one of the central defining characteristics of my life is distractedness. I don't think that's true. In contrast, to say that I'm distractable would seem to me to say that I'm susceptible to distractions, without such distractedness necessarily being a primary marker of how I live my life. That may be a subtle distinction, but an important one. At least to me. And since I'm the one writing, what I say goes.) As proof of my distractability, look at that parenthetical remark that I just wrote. I had no intention of writing about those two words until I was distracted by the red squiggly line under "distractable" and felt it necessary to divert away from my original purpose and explain why I'm using a word that, apparently, isn't really a word. Anyway, back to that original purpose, I'm easily distractable.

Because I'm easily distractable, it can be hard for me to be productive in the traditional, linear sense of productivity. For example, I sat down today to write something for school, and here I am writing on my blog. To try and mitigate my being easily distracted, one thing that I'll often do to do is to actively distract myself, rather than passively allow myself to be distracted. If I can make efforts to be in some semblance of control over my own distractions, then I find that I can refocus back on the task at hand more quickly and more completely. This doesn't solve the problem and I'm definitely still subject to passive distraction (especially if there is any degree of decent people watching available), but it helps some. To this end, one of my favorite places to try and write is in libraries where there are literally thousands of tomes with which I can actively distract myself when the need arises. In order to make these distractions rather short and not deeply engaging, I look for books on subjects I have only a passing interests in. Today's subject of distraction: art and art criticism.

I was shoelessly wandering the aisles of art books when a book caught my eye: Art As Existence. I'm endlessly fascinated by questions of existence and identity, and this very question concerning the relationship between art and life was one that I often pondered during my time as a security guard at the BYU Museum of Art. However, as I was about to pick it up and peruse it briefly, another book with a similar kind of title caught my eye and I went for it instead. (I'll have to go back for Art As Existence another time.) The book that I ended up distracting myself with was On Art and Life by John Ruskin. As I thumbed through it, I randomly stopped on page 27 and began to read. And I loved what I read. Really, the whole point of writing this post was to put this quote somewhere where I knew I could find it again. It's that wonderful. Alright, now that I've sufficiently built up this quote, I reckon I ought to let you all read it.

Here 'tis:

Imperfection is in some sort essential to all that we know of life. It is the sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of progress and change. Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect; part of it is decaying, part nascent...And in all things that  live there are certain irregularities and deficiencies which are not only signs of life, but sources of beauty. No human face is exactly the same in its lines on each side, no leaf perfect in its lobes, no branch in its symmetry. All admit irregularity as they imply change; and to banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality. All things are literally better, lovelier, and more beloved for the imperfections which have been divinely appointed, that the law of human life may be Effort, and the law of human judgment, Mercy.

I love that. I can't really add anything to it without detracting from its awesomeity. It is easily one of my favorite distraction-aided finds ever. And now that I've sufficiently distracted myself from my work, I'm gonna get back to it. But first I'm gonna leave you with this picture that I took a couple weeks back of one of my all-time favorite flowers of all time. (yeah, it's so favorite that I used "all time" twice to describe it)

Friday, May 9, 2014

On Writing at 4:00 am

“Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.” - Franz Kafka 

I like that. I don't necessarily like the inherent negativity of the phrase "cold abyss," but I love the idea of writing as solitude, as an act that is so deeply personal that it forces a descent into oneself. I think this is at least part of the reason why some of my best writing gets done between the hours of midnight and 6:00 am. 

Now hear me out here, because I'm not just trying to justify my procrastinatory tendencies (I have been working on this paper for some time now, after all). There's just something serenely beautiful about sitting completely alone in my apartment at 3:30 in the am with only the sound of keys being pressed to disturb the stillness. 

I'm not saying that this is the only way to write, and I'm not saying that it is necessarily the most productive way to write. In fact, as I'm getting older it's becoming increasingly difficult for me to actually do the whole write all night thing anymore. I find that I enjoy writing in public spaces like coffee shops and libraries and common meeting areas in random buildings around campus as well, and I can usually get into a good writing flow in those settings. But while I can be productive and get things done in those settings, they aren't really conducive to getting into the spirit of "utter solitude." They don't allow me the pervasive stillness I need to really descend into the cold abyss of myself, which is where I feel like I find some of my best writing.

So while it means I'll be something of a zombie for the next couple of days, I'm going to relish these precious few moments before the world wakes up and begins the commotion of life once again. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Smelling My Way Through a Spring Evening Bike Ride

Ever since the weather has decided to stop being all cold and wintry and awful my bike has been wanting to be ridden. She just leans against the mantle and stares at me longingly as I sit in my chair. See, doesn't she look sad and lonely?

But today I decided to change all that.

After being somewhat-to-mildly productive on various projects throughout the afternoon, and after cleaning up my apartment this evening, I pumped up the tires which had gone flat over the winter, and once the Pacers-Hawks game got over I went for a ride. It was around 60 degrees out with a light breeze, mild humidity and only a few clouds so the stars were out. In other words, a perfect night for a bike ride. I was just cruising around generally enjoying life, when I was hit with the overwhelmingly wonderful smell of lilac blossoms. I got to thinking about the amazing of the smell of lilacs and the many memories associated with it, like playing in the huge lilac bushes behind Grandma Turner's house with cousins Ashley and Suzy, or running around in the backyard of Grandma and Grandpa Anderson's Sandy house playing "No Bears Are Out Tonight" or "Mother May I" or "Statues" on Sunday afternoon, or just walking around BYU and stopping to smell the random lilac bushes planted around campus. As I was reflecting on these happy memories that had been triggered by the smell of lilac blossoms, I decided that I wanted to pay attention throughout my bike ride to the various other smells that I encountered. So as I rode I would periodically pause for a moment to jot down the smells I smelled.

And so without further ado, the list in order of engagement with my nose:

- lilac blossoms
- fresh-cut grass
- marijuana smoke
- barbeque
- campfire smoke
- musty garbage
- sweat (from me)
- B.O. (not from me)...(but really, I checked. It wasn't me)
- popcorn
- watermelon
- cigarette smoke
- canal water 
- earth (by that I mean what your hands smell like after working in the garden all day)
- mulch/compost/manure (less earthy and more poo-y/decomposed green matter-y)
- post-sneeze mucous (you know, the aftersmell of a sneeze born of the leftover snot that didn't make it out) 
- mint (of the spear variety possibly?)
- laundry detergent
- amusement park-type chlorinated water (not just any chlorinated water smell, but the kind you smell when you ride a log flume-type ride a la Splash Mountain or, well, the Log Flume)
- hot dogs (not roasted hot dogs or cooked hot dogs, but the smell of hot dogs when you first open a package)
- french fries 
- playground asphalt
- new tire rubber
- chicken coop (feed + straw)

(Quick note about the list, I only listed each smell once, even though I smelled distinct versions of several of these smells several times.)

As I consciously paid attention to the smells I was smelling, I realized something. Almost without exception, I didn't see the source of the smell. I say almost, because I saw the lilac bushes, I saw the garbage, and I saw the cigarette smokers. But more often than not, I saw nothing. I never saw a watermelon. I never saw a canal. I never saw a laundromat or a washing machine, I never saw a grill or a fire or a single hot dog. And I certainly didn't bike past any amusement parks with log flume rides. And yet, though I never saw what produced these smells, they were a very real aspect of the reality of my bike ride. They may have even been complete fabrications that my olefactory senses made up. Maybe I didn't actually smell french fries, but there was a smell somewhere in the vicinity that was close enough to french fries that my smell-receptors in my brain interpreted the smell particles as french fries and told me that they were french fries. ...And now I want to go to McDonalds, dang it.

When I realized that I was thinking that I was smelling things that I probably wasn't actually smelling but that I thought I was smelling because my brain didn't have any experience identifying and classifying these smells, it was like the world opened up before me. Rather than seeking out smells that I had experience with and could easily identify, which I had only ever been doing unconsciously, my nose seemed keener to pick up on smells that weren't easily recognizable and which cause some minor confusion in the smell-processing centers of my brain. It wasn't a headache-inducing confusion or anything like that, but rather a curiosity-inducing confusion. A new world was opening up to me. As I started consciously seeking out these new and strange smells, I came to another realization: there was always something there for me to smell. Before I had been riding my bike under the assumption that there was no smell until I came into contact with familiar or particularly strong smells, which passive smelling led me to ignore a wide variety of smells just because they were strange or subtle. But when I actively tried to smell any and all smells, they were everywhere. There wasn't a stretch of North Lafayette neighborhood street that didn't have a smell of some sort.

I continued to record the various smells that I could identify, or at least that my brain was telling me it was identifying, but the more I encountered these alien smells and the more I tried to identify and categorize and know the unknown of these smells, I realized that my smell vocabulary is really quite weak. I was probably unable to pin down a solid 80% of the smells I smelled tonight. I'm inclined to think that a fair amount of the smell I encountered tonight was a mixture of smells, when made identification more difficult, but the whole enterprise fascinated me all the same.

I've decided that my dependence on vision as my primary means of sensory engagement with the world has left my other senses much much less developed. So I'm going to start trying to develop my olfactory sense. I'm going to actively try to smell more of the world (not in a creepy way or anything, just, you know, regular smelling just with more focus) and make conscious knowledge of the smelly side of the world. And I'm going to keep doing it until my sense of smell is so keen that I can "see" the world equally well with my nose or my eyes.

Ok that's probably ridiculous, but wouldn't that be cool? To be able to close your eyes and have your nose be sensitive enough to the smells all around you and your brain trained enough to gather and interpret those smells that you could get around town? It'd be incredible. It'd be like Toph in Avatar, only with my nose and sense of smell instead of my feet and sense of touch. Yeah, like that.

So here's to more bike rides and to better figuring out this whole world of smell to which I seem to be "blind."

*lifts and drinks a glass of milk in a toasting fashion* (because milk is the best drink ever. First milk, then Gatorade.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Moral Integrity of the Boo

So I wanna talk about this video that's been making the rounds today. I could describe it, but hows about you just go ahead and watch it:

Now there have been many conclusions drawn from and conversations had about this video. Some people have talked about how this is just a real life example of the dangers of depersonalizing a human being because it leads you to treat them like garbage. People have drawn comparisons between this and what happens on internet message boards and comment sections and so on. I've seen people saying that Yankees fans are scum because they did this. I've seen sports fans in general vilified because of the mob mentality that seems to overcome sports fans, leading them to do despicable things like booing athletes they formerly hero-worshipped. I can see arguments for all these conclusions, though I may not necessarily agree with them. These conclusions are all interesting in their own right, but they ignore a much deeper problem.

From this video one might get the impression that there is something inherently reprehensible about the boo. It seems to be making the claim that to boo an athlete or team or what have you is the equivalent of discounting the humanity of that athlete or team or what have you. The video takes the fact that in every case the fans immediately recanted their boos and even welcomed ol' Robbie Cano back to New York and uses it as evidence that to boo demonstrates a depraved morality. For me, however, the problem isn't that these individuals booed, but rather that they went on to take back their boo. To be ashamed of it. To even apologize for it. This is the moment where I see a lack of moral fiber. Each and every one of them lacked the moral integrity to stand up for their boo.

See, the boo was and is and will be warranted. Robinson Cano abandoned the Yankees. He abandoned the team. He abandoned the organization. And most importantly, he abandoned us, the fans. (It's most important because that's the group I identify with, so naturally it's most important.) Now I'm obviously not Robinson Cano, so I don't know what all actually played into his making the decision to go play in Seattle. Maybe he wanted to live in a place where he could go lick the Space Needle any time he wanted. Maybe he wanted to be closer to Canada. Maybe he secretly wishes he were a Goonie. Maybe he hates sunshine. Who really knows? The narrative that we've been fed by the media tells us that he left because, as Brian Johnson and the Young brothers would have us know, Moneytalks. But in all reality, it doesn't matter what his motivation was, because ultimately, he abandoned us.

Now before you get all upset at me for making the Yankees out to be the victims (the Yankees-as-villains opinion is much more acceptable currently), let me say that Yankees fans, and I count myself among that number, have feelings too. Robinson Cano was primed to be the face of the organization going forward. With Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera all having retired in the last couple years, and with Derek Jeter set to retire at the end of this season, the old guard is all but gone away. It's time to give the reins to the next in line. Robbie was going to be that guy. We all knew it. He was the next Jeter. In a time when the Yankees have made some widely despised moves to buy away star players from other teams, a tendency that I've always had mixed feelings about, Cano was the exception to all that. He was guy that made his way up through the ranks. He started his career with the Yankees, and he was going to follow in Jeter's footsteps to eventually die in pinstripes. But then he left. He just left. It was almost like if John Stockton in his prime had decided that he could do better than the Jazz, and left. Okay, that's not a fair comparison. Mostly because there does not exist a fair comparison to John Stockton. Not now, not ever. At least not in this little boy's heart.

But anyway, back to Robinson Cano. So you can see that from the perspective of a true Yankee fan, a boo is warranted. Now let me qualify that boo. I will always be a fan of Robinson Cano. He seems like a good dude. He represented the pinstripes as well as any, and I hope he finds success. (It's easy to have this perspective because he's playing in Seattle. If he were playing in Atlanta or Boston or St. Louis it might be different. But he's not, so I don't have to worry about it.) That said, I want a way to express my displeasure at his departure. I want an avenue to let him know that I'm disappointed that he abandoned what was to be his and our future. But he abandoned that future, and he sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. And I want to let him know that that is how I perceive the situation. These feelings are perfectly rational, and the boo is the widely accepted means of expressing them. In this instance it's not intended to demean or dehumanize, but rather to communicate displeasure. Now, I'll readily admit the fact that some fans do get too carried away with their boos, and it can become a very ugly gesture, but it isn't intrinsically so.

But given the chance to actually let Robinson know how we feel at his abandonment, not one of those fans stood up for himself. Not one had the guts to stare into the bright lights of Cano's celebrity and hold true to his conviction that what Cano did was wrong. I wish that just one of these fans would have had the backbone and moral integrity to look directly into Robinson Cano's eyes and said, "Look, I love you man, but I don't apologize for my boo. When you left the Bronx I was upset. And I want you to know that I was upset. You cut me deep, Robbie. You cut me real deep."

Maybe some day, he'll see the error of his ways and come back to the fold. Because let's face it, he'll never look so good as he does right here:

But until he does, the boos will be warranted. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

What About Love? (as in, I'm referencing the Heart song, not flinging an existential question out to the universe)

I've been listening to 80s lady rock all morning as I'm TCB. And by TCB, I of course mean this:

Anyway, I've come to the decision that I think I was an 80s lady rocker in another life. Except I don't actually believe in "other lives" and all that jazz, but if I believed in that kind of thing, and if my life didn't intersect with pretty much all 80s lady rockers, (making it pretty much impossible for me to have lived my 80s lady rocker life and still get done in time for me to start my current one), then I would think that. That's the only reasonable explanation. Because, well here, listen to these first, then we can talk:

What About Love? - Heart

Pat Benatar - Hit Me with Your Best Shot

Goodbye To You - Patty Smyth

Edge of Seventeen - Stevie Nicks

EG Daily - Better Off Dead (I went with the scene from the movie on this one. If that bugs you, sorry.)

Holding Out for a Hero - Bonnie Tyler 

Ok sorry, that was the wrong video. But it's from a fantastic movie that you should see if you haven't. But here it is for real:

I say it's the only reasonable explanation because there's something about these songs (and many others like them) that just resonates within me. But see, it just doesn't make sense with my current life. They're all singing about love lost and/or forsaken and/or longed for, and I don't really identify with that message. So the only reasonable explanation is that this was me in another life


At least I didn't think I identified with these songs.


As I'm writing this I'm forced to wonder if maybe I do identify with that message of longing for love. Maybe my music taste is trying to tell me something about my subconscious Petrarch-esque desires for love. 

Then again, this song has been stuck in my head off an on for the past several weeks and I have no idea what it's even about:

I know, it's not lady rock, but it's awesome. I don't understand it at all, but it's awesome. And nothing like the lady rock discussed earlier. All I really need to know is that at around the 3 minute mark when they hit the key change, drop everything but the drums, and start clapping something inside of me leaps for joy. Like, the pure joy of Rocky jumping around in the ocean to celebrate beating Apollo Creed in a race kind of leaps. 

So maybe the real moral of the story here is just that 80s music is the best and we can leave it at that. It's the music of my soul. Okay, I think I say that kind of thing a lot. So instead let me say that, at very least, it's the music of of my Monday morning, rainy spring day soul.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

On Significance (but I talk about a bunch of other things before I really get there)

What with it being national poetry month and all I've recently been reading poetry more than I usually do. I guess, now that I think about it, any poetry reading I do is more than I usually do, because I usually don't do any. I mean, I guess I read the odd poem every now and again, and I do keep a book of John Donne's poems on the table by my bedside, because a couple of months ago I was reading them before I went to sleep, and since then I never put the book back on the bookshelf, so it has just been sitting there on the table by my bed, which I guess if someone were to see that there's a book of poetry by my bedside they'd think that I was some kind of classy dude that reads so much poetry that he even reads poetry in bed, but I'm not that classy dude because I don't really read poetry all that often and not in bed either, except for that one time a couple months ago which led to the book being there in the first place, but like I said that one time is not the usual, not by a long shot. But now I've gotten off track of what I was starting off saying, which was this: I've been reading a fair bit of poetry the past couple of days.

Now I've never been any great shakes at writing poetry. I've tried my hand at it a time or two, but I inevitably come away thoroughly dissatisfied with my inability to really string the right words together. I think because I've never been able to write the poetry I wish I could write, I appreciate all the more when people can do it. Which leads me to this morning.

This morning I read a poem by W.H. Auden entitled "Musée des Beaux Arts" which describes Pieter Breughel the Elder's painting "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus":

Now if you don't go read the poem that I linked above, the rest of what I'm writing isn't going to make much sense, so go read it. I mean, it might not make much sense even if you do read it, but really you should go read it. I mean, it's only like 20 lines long; it's not going to take much of your time. Plus it is national poetry month, after all.

While in the past I'd read William Carlos Williams' take on this painting, I hadn't ever read Auden's. I'm glad I did, because I feel like Auden portrayed really well the idea that the significant things of life are, in fact, thoroughly insignificant to pretty much everyone else. I mean, look at the birth of Christ. Millions of people celebrate it every year, but pretty much everyone else around at the time didn't even know it was happening. Consider average Joe Bethlehem-ite. He probably got out of Bethlehem just as fast as he could after he graduated. He wanted to shake the dust of this crummy old town off his feet and he was gonna see the world. And in his adventures he met a nice girl and they were married. And now he and his wife and their two kids have settled down in the suburbs of Jerusalem and he's running a thriving sandal shop and they recently bought a second camel and life is just grand. And then out of the blue there's this decree from Caesar that he has truck his whole family back to Bethlehem where there aren't even any nice places to stay, and they definitely aren't going to stay with his parents (they never approved of his wife). And all for some lousy census. And so they travel all the way to Bethlehem and he's all chapped because, I mean, couldn't he have just sent a letter to the local government official in charge of Bethlehem and said, "Hey there. I'm married now, and I have 2 kids. Thanks for counting us." But no, instead he had to close his shop and take a few days off of work and travel all this way with his family in tow, and he definitely wouldn't be getting any work done because of the ruckus his kids are making. And after all this, what happens? Some old Roman government dude says, "Alright, I see you're married and you have 2 kids. Very well, you may go now." The government just worked so much better back when Reaganus Caesar was in charge. The economy was better, and the government was smaller and not as intrusive. And while our friend here is all hot and bothered about the government and this lousy census, Jesus Christ, Savior of all mankind is born in the trough the camels are eating out of. Talk about the seeming insignificance of significant events.

Clearly there are exceptions to this. The one I kept coming back to this morning was the time there was that royal wedding that the whole world seemed to tune in for. (Yeah, that sentence ended with two prepositions. Eat it pedants.) But for every royal wedding there are numerous significant events that happen all around us every day that are utterly life-changing to the people experiencing them, and we just go on living our lives completely unaware. Obviously the birth of the Son of God or a flight through and subsequent fall from the sky on melted wings are extreme on the spectrum of significance, but there are things that we all experience that, while not quite as significant as those, have real significance on who we are and how we see and experience the world. And through most of these things, the world takes little note. It's kind of a sad thought. 

I kept thinking about this as I got ready this morning, and it was still in the back of my mind as I was walking to school humming/singing "King of Pain" to myself. (I hummed the bits I didn't know the words to.) As I was about to cross the bridge over the Wabash River, which was particularly swollen after the torrential rain we had all night and this morning, I noticed a mourning dove sitting on a branch some 15-20 feet from where I was standing. I paused for a minute and stood there just kind of staring at it. As I did, it began to make that distinctive noise that mourning doves make. It's the noise that, as a little kid, I thought came from a rare diurnal owl that lived in the Jones' Chinese elm trees next door. So whenever I heard it I'd run over to the fence separating our field from their property and stare intently into their trees hoping to catch a glimpse. But I never did see it. Because it wasn't an owl making the noise. It was a mourning dove. Though I never did see a mourning dove either. Maybe I didn't see the mourning dove because I was too busy looking for an owl. But that's another issue altogether.

Anyway, I stood on the bridge this morning watching and listening as that drab little bird cooed to its heart's content, and as I did I looked out over the river through the tree branches laden with little red buds, some of which are starting to pop open with vaguely pink blossoms, and it really hit me that spring is upon us. The world isn't all that green yet, and it did snow last week, but all the same, looking out over that little portion of the natural world filled me with that hope and joy that is rare to the advent of spring. I considered taking a picture to capture the moment, but I decided that it would only detract from the serene beauty of it all. So I didn't.

That joy and hope felt significant to me, yet I was the only one experiencing its significance. Eventually I had to break the reverie and continue the walk to campus, but since then I've decided that maybe it isn't always good for there to be a huge crowd witnessing the significant moments. Maybe sometimes it's that very solitude that breeds significance. I don't know if I can make any vast generalization about anything here, but at the very least I have decided that poetry + Jesus + British royalty + The Police + rain + mourning doves + spring = the kind of significance best enjoyed solo.