Saturday, February 28, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Four

What? I Believe?

In her comments on yesterday's post, Carol asked: "Um, do you even believe in purgatory?"

So I began thinking about what I believe*, which inevitably reminds me of an old routine by Steve Martin ("I believe in 8 of the 10 commandments"), J. G. Ballard's surrealist manifesto ("the lunacy of flowers...the gentleness of the surgeon's knife"), or the misanthropic rant unleashed by the main character in The Singing Detective ("I believe...not properly labeling fatal poisons"). But do I believe in Purgatory?

No. Or Heaven or Hell, for that matter.

If there is an afterlife, and the fact that I'm willing to even begin this sentence with an "if' separates me from those who are of the "you die, you end, that's that" school, I suspect it echoes this life in that it is an on-going growth process. We come into this life and don't know anything -- infants are not very bright -- but eventually grow, learn and change. It is a fundamental part of our biological, intellectual and (again, this is controversial) spiritual existence. Since life is ongoing change why would the afterlife be stasis? Your place in eternity is going to be determined by, if you're lucky, 80 or 90 years in the physical realm after which, your place is fixed with no hope for movement or improvement? This is too much like a caste system and makes about as much sense.

Instead, I suspect that if any part of an individual continues on after physical death, he/she goes into the next realm as the equivalent of a newborn baby and then has to go through...well, think of it as spiritual diaper training. Just as everyone here has to learn how to not soil themselves, I suspect that if there is a next world, new arrivees are taught by those who have been there a while to do the spiritual equivalent. It is an ongoing learning process, an ongoing growth process, and eventually you evolve into something else.

I believe this view of the afterlife is based on the fact that I like my existence and like learning for its own sake, and would like that process to continue rather than simply end. Purgatory, Hell and even Heaven represent as much of an "end" as "you die, that's that."

*Freudian typo (which is a written Freudian slip): Initially, in this sentence "what I believe" was capitalized, but then I decided to make it lower case. While changing the letters, I accidentally typed an "s" instead of a "w" so that it read "shat I believe." I'm sure some of you will agree.

Friday, February 27, 2009

40 Days Of Lent: Day Three

What I Gave Up For Lent This Year

I gave up cursing. I could have/should have given up alcohol, but I already had made plans to visit a friend for drinks, and on Ash Wednesday, no less, so so much for that idea.

How am I doing? Well, okay, although I am aware that I've fallen twice, though each time I was quoting or imaging what someone else might say, so I don't see why their foul language should translate into more days in Purgatory for me.

One of the curses occurred while my friend Clare was telling me about her mother's various dogs. Her mom has a Great Dane, who has learned how to knock on the front door when he wants to be let in. It drives her crazy to answer her front door, only to see the dog standing there wanting to be let in before his time. Even worse, she has begun ignoring knocks at the door, assuming it's the dog, only to find out later that it was either a friend or a deliveryman.

This being Lent, I think the dog who knows how to knock at the door should qualify as a miracle of some sort.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Two

Stephen Teaches Sunday School, Motherf***er...

Interesting interview and argument about theology. Best part begins around 4:34.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

40 Days Of Lent: Day One

Karma, or Why You Should Forgive People Rather Than Chastise Or Banish Them

Chart depicting Kellogg's reputation dropping from 9th most favorable brand to 83rd after the company ended their contract with Michael Phelps when it was discovered that he smoked marijuana.

Ha ha.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why, Johnny Can't Read

I’ve had the same New Year’s Resolution for the past two years: take my age and finish that number of books in the calendar year. There were a couple of reasons for this resolution: the most obvious was to force myself to read more, but the second was to have something to consistently write about on this blog. Unfortunately, I failed each goal each year. Perhaps I should have tried this when I was in my twenties; seeing as I’m in my mid-forties, trying to polish off 42 or 43 books in a year is, personally, no easy task.

In 2007, I only finished 28 books. A failing grade, no doubt, but I consoled myself with the fact that I read throughout the year and, better yet, enjoyed a number of books on my list. Any disappointment came from not finding time to post book reports on this site. There were a number of things I was looking forward to discussing, but it seems the time has passed.

If 2007’s report was cloudy with a chance of silver lining, 2008 was a complete washout. Not only did I not finish much that I started (I have 30 pages left in Proust and The Squid. 30 lousy pages! But I haven’t picked it up since November), but looking over what I did read, there’s little that I loved. Perhaps there’s a connection. I’m loath to completely abandon a book. I soldier on with a pigheaded determination to finish what I’ve started, even if I don’t like it. As a teenager, shortly after I began Something Happened by Joseph Heller, a friend told me his father was unable to finish it. In some private act of literary machismo, I was determined to finish the book, inspired perhaps by the fact that my friend’s father was a college English professor. It wasn’t until I finished the book – it took me all summer – that I realized that perhaps my friend’s father was right all along. Something Happened is deliberately repetitious, a statement on the trap the main character finds himself in. I can justify it, but did I have to read all of it?

Apparently yes, and it’s a habit I can’t break. If I begin a book, I have to finish it whether I like it or not. This might be a nice example of commitment, but it also means that some books become blocks. I won’t read something new until the current book is finished and if I don’t like the current book, then I don’t read. The cycle can be as monotonous as the experiences of the main character in Something Happened. O, the irony.

There are other reasons for the sharp decline in number of books I read, and you’re staring at one of them right now: I spend much of my leisure time on the computer or watching television. I don’t feel bad about either of these activities: there are a number of movies or tv shows I want to see (I never random channel surf – the DVR has truly changed how I watch tv and for the better). When I am online, I am reading. But it is a different kind of reading. Text online is closer to magazine-style writing. Easy to comprehend, it consists of facts and, invariably, a heavy dose of attitude. You can read online for a couple of hours, zipping from site to site, only to discover that you’ve retained very little, apart from “this is cool!” or “that sucks!”

So why devote so much time to reading online or watching tv, especially when I have a resolution (which, let’s face it, is like a contract with God) to read so much? Well, I’ve noticed that with visual media (defined here as the computer and tv), my attention is immediately riveted, whereas with literary media (books – comics and magazines are excluded) it takes me a while to settle in to what I am reading. I fidget, I look at the cover for the umpteenth time, I glance at things around the room. It takes time and effort, it’s almost a process, for my attention to be fully pulled by the string of words. But once there, once a book has my attention, I don’t want anything else. Visual media captures my attention more quickly, but the hold is almost never as strong.

I didn’t consciously realize the other reason I wasn’t reading until late in the year. It was simple: I needed glasses. Reading isn’t much of a pleasure when you have to hold a book at arm’s length in order to see, and even then, the words are all soft grey. Something I forgot but instantly recalled was how nice black letters look on a white page. With my glasses on, the text just pops! off the page. It really is a pleasure.

So we’ll see if the third time is the charm. I’ll be 44 this year, so I’m trying to finish and write about 44 books before December 31, 2009. I’m already behind, but at least I’m currently reading (and enjoying) The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano and only have 30 pages left in Proust and The Squid.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

25 Random Things About Me (In Which I Finally Hop on the Bandwagon)

This list, like most things lately, has to do with facebook. I received a tag from my college friend Sue Starsinic along with her list of 25 Random Things, and before I could even finish my list, there was an anti-list article on (the backlash) and a pro-list article on Salon (the backlash to the backlash). Everything moves so quickly nowadays

In any case, here's the list for those not on facebook, and a distraction from the fact that I haven't posted anything here in over two months.

1. I’m a Gemini.

2. I dress to the right.

3. I like books (the objects) more than I like reading (the activity).

4. I believe I’m more at peace with chaos than most people…

5. …however, this doesn’t mean that I crave or seek out chaos: I’m not a sociopath.

6. I don’t believe in Freudian psychoanalytic theory. I think Freud was wrong about almost everything.

7. This list is not as random as it should be: it took me several days and a number of drafts to get it right.

8. I like the cool colors: greens, blues, greys. I don’t like warm colors: reds, oranges, yellows.

9. I painted my kitchen an orange-yellow.

10. I lost my taste for Chinese food after my appendix exploded.

11. I love thai food.

12. I like bars, pub culture, and drinking….

13. …but not as much as I used to.

14. I would like to learn to surf before I die.

15. I believe in love.

16. I believe the world is not so bad.

17. I live more in my head than in my body.

18. I’m not graceful or athletic by any stretch of the imagination, but there are times when I surprise myself and others. Rock-climbing, for example.

19. I’m an Anglophile, especially if you expand “anglo” to include all the lands they colonized.

20. I like email. I don’t like telephones. I don’t like the sounds they make, I don’t like talking on them, I don’t like how they interrupt what you’re doing and I don’t like how, after 11:00pm, they’re harbingers of doom.

21. I sometimes cut my own hair. If you saw me, this would not come as any surprise.

22. I’d rather be deaf than blind. Losing music would be a shame, to be sure, but losing literature, the cinema and all the visual arts would be immeasurably worse. Plus deaf people seem to be an insular, loyal community, whereas blind people need help crossing the street and often knock things over.

23. I believe biology trumps everything: it wins out over sociology, individual psychology, economics and spirituality.

24. I will have fries with that.

25. I don’t like games, apart from Monopoly, Clue, and poker.