Friday, December 24, 2010

Gr-Gr-Gr-Groupon!

I know that as far as legitimate posts go, this one scrapes the bottom of the quality barrel. But I just couldn't resist sharing this apparently amazing $4 Groupon.

http://www.groupon.com/chicago/deals/brew-and-view

Jump on it!

PS - Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 16, 2010

An Eye for the Sublimely Spinning World

Whenever I see a plane landing at a distance - a hazy, far-off vessel full of human beings, floating down over things close enough (in theory) to hit with a well-lobbed stone - I feel an upswell of emotion that closely resembles anxiety. For some reason, the planes coming to and going from Chicago are an existential trigger for me; something about seeing a distant representation of human purposefulness and intentionality that stands in no clear relation to my immediate situation and surroundings throws a wet blanket of pensiveness over any excitement that formerly colored my actions. "What am I doing here? Who am I? Why are things this way, and not another?" A sense of bittersweet wonder is restored for an instant to my life, as the innumerable contingencies upon which my life precariously works itself out are thrown into relief. In these moments, I empathize with Chesterton, who writes in Orthodoxy about how his conversion to Christianity enabled him to see the sheer mystery in the uncanny facts of grass being green, and the rising of the sun.

The world of human interconnection and directedness carries on, apparently indifferent to one person's persistent living but for traces at the fringes of perception that signify a deeper, more complicated, and more profound all-encompassing web of relationships than is capable of being perceived on this side of the eschaton. Colum McCann's astounding novel Let the Great World Spin gestures like the crazy person at these deeply felt but inarticulable mine-shafts of the human world of life. He evokes the sublime: that which in principle transcends the capacities of language to comprehend and signify, but which can nonetheless be (imperfectly) experienced, and which furthermore is a wellspring of art. This last aspect is interesting: we seem to be intent on communicating our perspectives on the sublime to others somehow, in a way similar to how we would attempt to communicate a private joy to a loved one, by leading them right up to their own encounter with it. In example: "words can't do it justice; you really just have to experience it - which is why I got us skydiving passes from Groupon!" McCann's novel communicates the sublime to me like the planes of O'Hare and Midway do, in a way that ruptures the unreflective equilibrium of my materially-comfortable life.

Here is a photograph that appears in the middle of the book. It triggers the same volatile mix of emotions that signal the sublime, and it reminds me of the dynamic, incomprehensible, supernatural realities that are held in tension just below the taut skin of naturally-sedimented perceptions. It is of the funambulist who held New York City captive in the spring of 1974 while he performed a high-wire act between the two nearly-finished towers of the World Trade Center.


The tiny silhouette seems to urgently ask, "Who are you? What are you doing here? Where are you going? What will you do?" and the grey clouds surrounding and backing him seem ready to grab and hoist the viewer into the overcast sky that glumly surveyed the frantic, harried city full of struggling and thriving human beings some thirty six years ago, on a day that would have apparently started just like any other.

Do yourself a favor this Christmas and read Let the Great World Spin. The sense of awe and the chain of very basic questions it may elicit from a serious reader remind me of a quotation from Merleau-Ponty: "true philosophy consists in relearning to look at the world."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

RUSH 2: Path 2 Despair

Returning to a neglected theme of this blog (the after-college day-to-day drag), for this post I am reviewing a video-game that my roommates and I have been playing too much.

Rush 2 your doom

For those of you who don't know, RUSH 2 is a racing game made in 1998 for the N64. On first blush, it appears to be just like any other arcade-style 90's racing platform (the popular "Cruisin'" series comes to mind). But if you can get your copy of the game to work and play it for any length of time, you will soon realize that whoever created RUSH 2 must have been a single, isolated dude who only allowed himself to work on the game in his unfinished, unheated basement, perched on a chair covered in thumbtacks and flypaper, with an eagle gorging itself on his exposed liver, on Monday nights after getting back from a book club dedicated to repeated readings of The Stranger and the play "No Exit."


FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS KIDS, DADDY'S MADE A BIG MISTAKE

Let's start with the title animation. It opens with three cars racing through a labyrinthine map, taking 90 degree turns on a dime and demonstrating a general lack of regard for our world's physics. One car manages to pull ahead, but promptly tips, rolls, and explodes into a fireball that forces the other two cars to find alternate routes. The two survivors reemerge on the straightaway, and in the last moments are seen battling to be the first into a tunnel. Green car or black/pink car - which will emerge victorious (read: survive)? Answer: everybody dies! The two cars remain neck-and-neck right up to the last moment and together exceed the  width of the opening; therefore they both explode into fireballs. This is telling, as is the next event. The camera pans out to reveal that the blocky structure housing the tunnel was actually the game's title, writ large: RUSH 2 fills the screen, and a voice whispers, "russssssshhhhhh." The message is clear: this game wins itself, players be damned. Welcome to hell.

A player has several options for gameplay, and there are numerous unlockable features. Without the purchase of the controller pack accessory, however, "saving" will remain impossible. This is why the game displays a 327-character code after each accomplishment, intended to enable the player to resume progress at a later date without saving. Great. A moment's reflection helped me to realize that this is why I have taken to saving my gas receipts and stealing pens from work.

The gameplay itself is frustrating. Unless you are accustomed to driving bumper boats, you will be dissatisfied with the handling; furthermore the AI opponents in Circuit and Single Race are remarkably tough to beat. But, if your mediocrity (or any other aspect of the game) is getting you down, fear not. Contained within each level is a variable number of golden keys held in floating orbs and levitating cans of Mountain Dew as large as virtual dumpsters. You can collect these, and they will do something, maybe.

I'M ON A BOAT I THINK

In order to give the game more than a half-hour of replay value, the developers added a feature called "Stunt Mode." It is the closest thing RUSH 2 has to a saving grace. In this mode, one or two players are able to roam around a huge arena that contains brightly-colored structures of various sizes and shapes. The purpose? Ramping off objects at high speeds in order to put together combinations of flips and spins, which are assigned point values. It's like BMXing with cars.

this will most likely end in death, and a fireball

Stunt mode is what keeps me and my roommates coming back. It may also be what keeps us depressed. "Fog" is a variable element in the game that can be increased to a point sufficient to render the experience akin to playing with Hotwheels under the blankets without a flashlight. Doing this in stunt mode adds a spiritual dimension to the gameplay, which is to say, it begins to feel like purgatory. Or hell

RUSH 2's stunt mode undeniably holds a certain allure; the game teases its players by consistently maintaining the possibility of stunt combos worth hundreds of points. The problems are 
  • this never happens
  • some structures have such steep angles that a car will explode into a fireball on impact, even at low speeds
  • the cars are top-heavy and tend to land on their roofs (resulting in an explosion, and a fireball, and death) 
  • not infrequently, the computer will fail to register rolls and flips, and huge "trick" combinations will generate no points 
  • large portions of the stunt level are dedicated to ramp-less, useless, and alienating moon-surface terrain (alienating, hah)
  • sometimes cars will just, well, explode into fireballs 
But it's not as though the points in stunt mode (or any other mode) matter, anyway. There isn't a discernible goal to be worked towards, or a reason for doing anything while the timer runs out, other than beating the other player (an accomplishment that is necessarily rendered questionable by the glitchy point-tracking system). Records aren't saved for high scores. And, in an interesting twist, even death will not allow a player to escape from this limbo-world before the appointed time; players have infinite lives and 999 seconds to attempt as many jumps and flips as possible off the neon-pulsing 3D hills, half-pipes, and ramps. Terry Eagleton's multifaceted characterization of true metaphysical evil in his study On Evil is apt to account for RUSH 2's eternality and circularity, as well as its general sense of confusion and purposelessness.

this state is only temporary, which is surprisingly unfortunate

At this point, it is worth asking the question, what makes RUSH 2 worth playing at all? 

Honestly, it is difficult to say, outside of a weak appeal to the idea that "some games are so bad, they're good." But additionally, it is interesting to note that RUSH 2's lack of sophistication in graphics and gameplay actually works to the advantage of the player. Since it is simply incapable of offering the level of depth and immersion that gamers have been taught for years to expect, it is easy to achieve analytic and existential distance from RUSH 2. Players of this game are self-aware in a way that players of (for example) Oblivion may not be, because, if for no other reason, it remains painfully present to consciousness that RUSH 2 is a poorly-designed game from an era when games generally were designed to be diversions from real life rather than stand-ins for it. A newer and better game would strive to allow a player to become so involved that it would become possible to temporarily forget a life outside of its virtual confines. 

It may be depressing to realize that two hours have gone by without a single combo-multiplier in stunt mode (this is depressing for several reasons, not least of which being the fact that you have just spent two hours playing RUSH 2), but it would be far more depressing to realize that two years have gone by at a dead-end job, and that three level 80 characters in World of Warcraft are at the center of your life. RUSH 2's unexpected strength, grounded in its many technical weaknesses, is that, at the end of the day, its simplicity and its goofily one-dimensional racing/crashing universe only allow it to be considered as a game and a diversion, and not as a potential lifestyle choice. Its existentially-distressing evocations are real, but slight, and furthermore offer the benefit of points of reference for the real life that the player of RUSH 2 is unable to forget even for a moment while playing the game. For this reason, I have to give RUSH 2 a higher score than it has probably ever received. 

8/10

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Two Random Memories

I was on a walk with a good friend several years ago on a cold November night in a nondescript Chicago suburb when our conversation was interrupted by a scary, angry man.

He ran out of a corner house, towards an astro-van that was pulling away, yelling "die! Diiie!" and wielding a large frying pan. My friend and I stopped and were a little scared and did not know what to do, so we planted our feet and watched from the other side of the street.

"Die!" yelled the man in the white undershirt as he ran towards the van, pan raised above his head.

"Die!" yelled the man again. Brake lights cast a demonic red glow over him as he neared the back bumper.

"Die," he said as the van stopped. He caught his breath and lowered his weapon. A moment of pre-meditation passed.

"Die, you almost forgot your pan!" He handed the pan through the driver's side window, and exchanged muffled pleasantries with the driver. At this point, I believe I went from biting my lip to staring open-mouthed.

"Okay, bye!" Hugging his arms to himself, the now-kind man ran back to the house over small patches of snow, and the van drove off.

My friend and I remained for a moment as the man re-entered his house and the van turned a corner several blocks away.

"You know, Marty," my friend Stephen said,
"sometimes real life really is stranger than fiction."

We kept walking, starting a new conversation since we could not remember what we had been talking about.

* * *

When I turned six or seven, my dad got me a Lego Technix (TM) Hovercraft set. Technix sets weren't your ordinary, pedestrian "5+" hundred block-piece structure-without-moving-parts-except-doors sets; Technix sets were for the gifted kids, the ones who would go to engineering school on scholarships and a sheer love of complicated design and construction. Always recommended for ages "12+" or higher, Technix sets were complicated, with numerous unique pieces, three-dimensional connector-joints that snapped plastic beams and shafts together at odd angles, and thick instruction books that probably even had spines. These things weren't even that fun to put together; each was an accomplishment - the kind of thing a kid puts on his shelf like a college grad puts his diploma on the wall.

Anyway, I was delighted to receive this gift from my father, and was even more delighted when he offered to help me put it together. In fact, I was almost giddy. I would gladly have accepted the task of working on it alone for several hours, both for the challenge and for the moment when I would be able to show it to him in its completeness and perfection. But he had volunteered to be involved in this hovercraft's creation with me, which doubled the gift; we were going to work together like fellow craftsmen on the difficult project. The father-and-son team. Send us your orders, I proclaimed in my head to a gathered crowd of delta-dwellers, and we will send you the most advanced plastic hovercrafts imaginable.

So we set up shop in the master bedroom, sitting with out backs to the bed in the space just inside the door, which was partially open next to an enormous mirror. The doorway was on our right; the mirror was just in front of his feet, propped up against the wall. This allowed me to see me and and my dad at work, just like I imagined some passerby on the street outside our hovercraft shop would see us through our shop's display window, wondering about our wares. I made faces that I imagined a hardworking hovercraft artisan would make, concentrated yet friendly enough to make non-threatening eye contact with intimidated civilian onlookers.

"Well," my dad said after at least an hour of co-working. He gazed soberly over the glasses perched on the end of his nose at the half-constructed vehicle in his hands. "I think I may need you to grab something for me from my toolbox."

"Sure, dad!" I leapt to my feet exuberantly, feeling what Gadamer describes as the 'superabundance of life' that attends the experience of play. "What do you nee-eed?"

"How about you get me a screwdriver and a glass of water?" Squinting, he held our project close to his face and picked at a mislaid piece with his thumbnail.

"Okay!" I jumped over his outstretched legs and hopped out the door, swinging it open behind me as I went out without thinking why.

I was startled to hear a "thump" behind me as I left. I stopped and spun around in the hallway to face my dad. He still sat with his back to the bed, still focused, pieces still scattered around him. But the door I had casually swung open had swiveled around to hit the side of the propped-up mirror. I now realized that the mirror had been leaning at a precariously shallow angle to the wall.

A sick sour sensation grew in my belly; the gently-swung door had somehow disturbed the uneasy rest of the six-foot tall, inch-thick monolith, and it now stood upright, unsupported, Frankenstein-like. It wavered above my unsuspecting father for an eternal moment. Then it began to lean in the wrong direction.

At this point, several things bubbled up together in my terrified mind. I decided immediately that there was no way I could save my father from the falling mirror without fatally injuring myself. The shock of grief over my dad's imminent demise, coupled with the shame of my cowardice in a dangerous situation, plus the knowledge that I was unmistakably the cause of this terrible event, sent me sprinting into the living-room where my mother had been pleasantly talking with a friend over tea. "I killed dad I killed dad I killed dad!" I screamed, jumping and landing with my knees on the couch, clutching my face with my hands and sobbing. My mother even had time to ask, "what?" before we heard the earth-shattering crash of the enormous mirror, which I knew at that moment was breaking on the plane of my hapless father's forehead.



I went with him to the ER, crying to a point of exhaustion in the waiting room after they took him in as my mother did her best to reassure me. She spoke with a doctor, and he then allowed me into the room where they were doing small surgical procedures to remove shards of glass from my father's body. I held my left forearm behind my back with my right hand and shot rapid-fire questions at the doctor leaning over my father's wounds, who chuckled at my anxiety and irrepressible candor. "You know what, you know what I think you have a very large nose," I said to him. My dad closed his eyes and smiled hazily from the table, and the doctor laughed.

By some miracle, although my dad's face and arms had been covered in cuts of various lengths and depths, the glass had only entered the skin on his right hand, so the surgical work was finished by dinnertime. "I'm really hungry," I mentioned somewhat absently to the doctor as he led me back out to the waiting room. "It's because you've seen a lot of blood," he said.

The rest of the day passed in a mist of guilt over what had happened, relief that I had not killed my dad, and bone-tiredness. That evening, as my mom put me to bed, I looked up to the shelf over my pillow before turning off my light and discovered the hovercraft. It was finished and looked even better than it had on the box, a glorious technical achievement and marvel of micro-engineering.

"What is this?" my mother asked, in faux-surprise. "Looks like your father finished it!"

I was amazed and near tears with gratitude, as this vehicle now signified, with so much else, the things my father had been repeating to me that evening whenever he saw me mulling over my tragic mistake from earlier: "It's okay, Martyn. It wasn't your fault. I'm fine. I love you." Even though it really was okay, it would prove impossible to forget the decisive moment when I ran instead of trying to stop the falling mirror, or even attempting to let my dad know that he was in danger. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Things That Suck

  • School loans entering repayment


Gah.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Defense of Lost Causes, Second Installment, No Postscripts

This post is going to be enthusiastic!


Hot Dogs
How many people do you know who have gotten seriously ill off a hot dog? So long as you don't get too curious about them, I think they're okay! Plus there are many kosher varieties!

Babies
Essential to the survival of our species! Sure, they're incredibly stupid and can't make conversation for the life of them, but how many of us can say "I was never a baby!"? None of us can, is the correct answer! So the thing is that you just have to understand the purpose of babies. They're not good for talking or surviving independently or whatever - they're here for sexually active adults to realize that sometimes certain things lead to other things! And those things can be quite demanding! The semantic ambiguity in that sentence results in a double entendre ha!

Elitism
Some people/things/tastes are better than others and that's that!

Being Sick
You have an automatic excuse! A go-to for justifying whatever you're not doing right/well! Plus you probably get to lie around reading all day, which is a great thing every so often! Also, you become a weapon and can exact revenge in the most inconspicuous ways - for example, leave your cellphone at home and borrow theirs, and breathe extra-heavily during your phone conversations using their borrowed phone! They will (maybe) never know that you were the reason for their contracting your virus!

Friendship / Relationships Generally
Even though all relationships end, and when they end, it's because of death, or an angry severance, or moving far away, or a terrible combination of those, relationships can be pretty okay in the meantime!

New Experiences: Weight Room

So: today I timidly entered our apartment complex's fitness center hoping no one else was interested in working out on a Thursday in the mid-morning, but just my luck, there was a girl using a treadmill near the door who looked like a serious exercise person. This cut down my options; I was no longer interested in using any of the machines in the fairly large zone of her peripheral vision, but fortunately for my insecurity, there was a tucked-away alcove in the middle of the room that contained a few items I hoped I knew how to operate.
I powered one up after an initial period of confusion over the instrument panel. The next three minutes were spent adjusting the speed, from trudging to walking to fast-walking to competitive-fast-walking to jogging to running to sprinting to running to jogging, where I stayed for the remaining ten minutes. I tried to read an Economist someone had left, ostensibly for the purpose of reading while running, but vertigo cut me off at the first paragraph and I almost fell, to my death. Being hopelessly far from a remote and in the middle of a grueling 12-minute mile pace workout, I was left to ponder the blank wall in front of me and the curious question of why someone would have left a magazine to read on this treadmill if running and reading at the same time was such an obvious deathwish.

Soon, I was in trouble. The jogging was going okay, but new exercisers had entered the room - buff dudes in their thirties, talking about important deals they had recently made. They walked through with duffels to the locker room, and I realized that my time was limited. I had to figure out how to use the other machines before they got back, so that I could at least look as though I knew what I was doing. This would make up for the itty-bitty weights I would be pumping. Either incompetence or tiny weights could be individually excused, but together, they could only result in my being laughed out of the place, never to seriously pursue physical fitness again because of the embarrassment.
I swallowed my pride and stepped back into the peripheral range of treadmill girl. She doled out what I expected, a dismissive glance, so with this behind us we entered into a comfortable new phase of relationship, characterized by disinterest (real on her part, affected on mine).  I applied myself to learning how to use four very simple machines.
All I have to say is, thank God for pictures, and machines designed for ease of use. It's like they knew I was coming when they built the place.

The buff dudes emerged after a couple of minutes ("yeah, and you know about our recent huge purchase with the SC corp, the fiasco that turned into, am I right? But hold on, where did that go wrong again? Well of course, the thing about...") to the sight of a totally competent skinny dude, flawlessly operating the Bench Press, Bicep Curl, and other strength-building devices, doing a normal number of reps at a low weight. Even treadmill girl, in her trips to the water fountain during my relentless workout regimen, seemed to implicitly give me some measure of respect. The buff dudes went over to the alcove I had so recently inhabited, with their special gloves and sleeveless shirts, to get warmed up on stairmasters. The trio ran in place while I furiously worked my twiggy arms and tried not to think about other people.
Sure enough, a few minutes after the buff dudes came out, my routine got too intense for me to care any more what the other exercisers thought, and it was at this point that I was able to experience some kind of liberation - the kind I imagine all exercisers feel, when they are able to transition out of a concern for their appearance as they exercise (not helped by the walls of mirrors) and into a concern for their fitness, or health, or whatever it is that causes them to do these terrible things to their bodies. This was a great experience, but for the agony.

I finished several sets of reps and could barely stand. Not sure if this was normal, I made as quick an exit as I was capable of, slouching past the buff dudes and treadmill girl who all carried on as though I was just another exerciser, staying fit like I had been for my whole life, no big deal. I just hope they didn't hear the sirens soon enough after I left to associate them with me.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

MOVED

So: we did it, finally. All in one day. Presently we're unpacking our stuff and discovering the benefits of living in the city limits, and later, we're going to go to the sauna because (by the way) this apartment complex has a sauna.

I have also been learning the ropes at the new job. I'm now pretending to know how to do things at the location at which I'm supposed to know how to do things from here on out, and making friends with other employees. There are a lot of them and I'm not great with names, so between that and fumbling through an unpredictable training program, it's been a comprehensively challenging experience.

I've been thinking a lot about the relationship of reality to potentiality. My mentor posed this question in a seminar: should we take potentiality to be primary, and reality to be contingent upon potentiality (possible worlds, for instance: our reality is an instantiation of one possible world among all possible worlds), or is reality primary, and potentiality is contingent upon reality (potentiality / possibility then is limited by our actual world)? Within theology anyway, there are pro's and cons to each. Possible worlds talk allows for certain theodicies, but then, the term "instantiation" becomes more appropriate than "creation" in describing how God brought the world into existence - and God's creative activity is no longer creative, but "instantiative," the actualization of a potential reality that has always existed as a potentiality along with every other possible potentiality (heh), rather than a bona-fide creative act. Taking reality to be primary, things get leaner as far as theodicy options go. But then, maybe our world becomes more special for its having been created according to a single possible design from all time. I dunno. Mainly, I guess I dunno God's mind. This is totally okay, however.

Well, time to get back to unpacking and arranging. Hopefully this place will be up for a housewarming shindig in the next week or two.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Some Poor Uses of Irony

  • Irony as a way of distancing yourself from things that are implicating to you when you identify with them
  • Irony as a way of criticizing or ridiculing something / someone from a safe distance, ensuring that your own positive beliefs remain invisible and therefore impervious to attack
  • Irony as a way of remaining inscrutable and aloof, even around those whom you love
  • Irony as a way of selfishly appropriating what is interesting to you from other cultures / movements / communities while draining them of any significant power to symbolize or signify in a way particular to the original culture / movement / community (in example: donning a keffiyeh without knowing/caring about Middle-Eastern politics one way or the other, or without being aware that a keffiyeh has historically been used by Westerners removed from the situation in Israel to show their solidarity with Palestinians)
  • Irony as a way of remaining safe, in life and theater (because it is not ultimately safe, and you will more likely remain alone) 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some Haps

  • I have completed my first five days of training
  • Sunday and Monday, we are moving out of this house and into an apartment
  • Then we will be able to get library cards (hallelujah)
  • Also we will have access to a fitness center, replete with walls of mirrors and a sauna
  • Furthermore, that is hopefully when we will return to purchasing groceries
  • I'm working on a better post about power and being cool 
  • Great Expectations opens this weekend at Arena Theater, so if you're around Wheaton you should see it
  • I'm reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, and it is wonderful. If you're into whimsy, beautiful descriptions and characters that feel more real than some of the people you know, you may find this worth your while 
  • Having a job is excellent for this reason: 
    • Tomorrow I actually have a day off
      • I get to decide how I want to spend it
      • There are many things that would be worth doing, and I may actually do them
      • Writing is one example
        • Possibly fiction, which would go up at my other blog
        • It is called "little forays into fiction"

So I feel pretty good about where my life is today; things are going well in a lot of ways.

PS I gave up on non-sequiturs, as you may have been able to tell.

PPS My friend Tim: he is good. He understood Mulholland Drive on his first viewing. Recently we carved a pumpkin together, and a friend's dad was there, and he said to her later: "they were such a cute couple." To be clear (since this question has come up a few times, and I don't know exactly why) Tim and I aren't a couple. And if you know why this comes up so often, please let me know.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Next Step

Tonight I finished the intensive three-day training program I began on Friday. Two of the facilitators shed tears over how proud of us they were during their final words to us several hours ago (this is not a joke). So: Tuesday I start in-store training. I am excited, but also nervous. I guess this is a totally typical emotional state for someone who has recently acquired a cool job.
Also I have had five hours of sleep total in the last two nights and keep forgetting when I don't get dinner. This has proven to be a problem, when I additionally have been furnished with drinks that are not intended to be consumed with nutritional goals in mind. I am slight of stature and without food in my stomach, I am unsurprisingly sensitive to the effects of grown-up drinks, even when they are consumed in relatively small quantities. 
Tomorrow is a day off, so maybe I will be able to put up something cool. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

First Day

Sometimes you need to just pack your reservations away for a little while and will-to-drink the coolaide. It was fun, and exhausting, and it's hard to imagine two more total days like this, but ultimately it will be worth it.  

Enthusiasm exercises we did today involved: 
triumphant leaping, with yells

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chapter Two: Beginning Work

So: tomorrow, I begin the first day of an intensive three-day training program for my new job. It is going to be great! But I am nervous. It is downtown and I won't know anyone else there. I just hope I don't prove myself to be a total idiot on the first day. Or second or third, for that matter.


Also: according to the contract I signed, I am apparently not allowed to write anything about the company I am working for, and will have to take down an image I posted recently of its logo. From here on out, I will have to deal only in the vaguest generalities when I write about anything work-related. I figure that this could be pretty fun.




FURTHERMORE

Here are a couple of quotations which have become personally meaningful to me in this season of life.




"We read to know we are not alone." - CS Lewis

"What happens to a... man to whom all things seem possible and every course of action open? Nothing of course." - Walker Percy 



FINALLY

How would a horse in a horse trailer feel if the truck the trailer was attached to stopped at a light, and next to the horse's trailer was another horse trailer, but when the horse looked over at the other trailer the only thing the horse could see in it was a whole bunch of furniture? I will explain the relevance of this question at an appropriate time. 




Love you guys. The ones of you I know, anyway. Especially the commenters. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Not Being Happy But Not Exactly Unhappy Either and is it a Problem?

So. I get anxious around those whom I would uncharitably describe as the "insistently-happy." A polarizing undercurrent sets the tone for even our most casual chance encounters; it's as though I'm understood to either be enthusiastically pleased to see them and to be in the world generally, or to find life itself (and them, by extension) hateful to me,without the possibility of a middle-ground. The only possible modification on these two modes in the other's perception would be an intensification, which would permit ecstasy or sheer rage.  The experience is to normal interpersonal interactions what fundamentalism is to religion.
At some point the sentence will be released into the air between us that conceivably can be either a greeting or a very serious question. With this sort of person, it is typically communicated more or less as the former, but with an unsatisfactory response, it will transmogrify into the latter. In example:

"I'm okay."
"Only okay?"
"Yeah. I mean, yeah, I'm doing pretty well."
"Why aren't you better?"
"I dunno?"
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"You know, I think I really am okay."
"Are you sure?"
"Uh, yeah."
"Okay. But if you ever want to talk about it, you can talk to me."
"Thanks?"

I am pleased for my friends for whom emphatic well-being colors day-to-day life. From my current perspective, I just don't see how it can be a reasonable expectation for everyone else. It becomes especially problematic when it's given moral weight, as if to suggest that it is wrong to experience negative emotions, even if they (appropriately) correspond to negative situations. And somehow, even more neutral emotions - feelings of "only okay" - are similarly, implicitly, condemned. These are big exclusions from the spectrum of emotional appropriateness for people living real lives in the world: be happy, or you're not "being" correctly.
But being "okay" is just that - being okay, right? It's what a "C" was before grade-inflation. Satisfactory, but with no reason to call it great. It helps to make sense of real sadness and real joy, for the difference from "okay" that both of those are. Of course, emotions are complex and this is a very simplistic way of looking at them, but I think there still is something to be said for an average state of affective affairs, when it is appropriate. In the least, I don't think "only okay" should signify that something is seriously wrong.

So, "insistent happiness:" I think it is primarily some kind of maturity issue, because I do have a number of friends who are doing really well in life generally, and who don't feel a need to force that well-being down the throats of those around them. I spent a couple hours with one of these friends tonight; she gave me the wonderful gift of listening to me talk out some things that have been bringing me down, without wantonly doling out prescriptives intended to immediately resolve The Perceived Problems. That's a real kindness - a small, good thing, in Raymond Carver's words. So thanks Emily. You're really pretty great.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lame Excuse for a Post

So:

  • I start training for my new job Friday
  • I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy in one sitting a couple of nights ago
  • It was terrifying but also wonderful
  • I haven't seen the local turkeys for several days
  • I will begin posting with less regularity on Friday, the day I start with the New Work

Monday, October 18, 2010

On Being Asked One Particular Unkind Question, and How to Respond to It

I live close to the college I recently graduated from, and for a lot of good reasons. My brother and sister still go to school there and I have a number of friends still in attendance, so I have been on campus frequently in the last couple months. The problem is seeing the people at the school whom I don't anticipate seeing, and the probing questions that come with these chance meetings. I can tell at a distance whether or not I am in for trouble. Initially, if a person I know (but not well) recognizes me while I'm around, their face will do a few things sequentially:

  1. Eyebrow raise of surprise
  2. Smile of recognition as they begin approach
  3. Smirk of deviousness as they formulate invasive query
It is best to remain staring at them for the duration of this process, so as to be sure about intentions. Sometimes people only want to say "hi, how are you?" but typically it does not end there, and it's the smirk that can tip you off to less-benign purposes if you're aware of the common tactics of the misanthropic.

So, the tractor-beam has been activated and you have been pulled into the orbit of an acquaintance who decides en route to you that they want to remind you of as many of your insecurities as is possible in a forty-second window. Any impulse that would propel you towards physical violence at this stage must be put down. The problem ought to be taken care of in a more creative and diplomatic way.

They approach and enthusiastically greet you: "HEY how's it GOINNNNN?" but the one incongruous element of their expression corroborates your developing theory on their intentions - the single raised eyebrow, the corner of the mouth upturned in a way that escapes the dictates of normal friendliness, the total lack of color in their irises.

You exchange the usual niceties. Yes I am well, are you well? Good. Yes. Classes? Great, oh those sound so interesting, I wish I would have been smarter with my schedule when I went here as an undergraduate student ha! And you are doing several wonderful extracurricular activities that is so good!

This is the kiss-or-kill moment, as it were. If your life has a face, your interlocutor has two options for what to do with it:

  1. Kiss your life's face: confirm your value as a human being, allow the conversation to end on a pleasant note, ask what kind of work you are doing, how your brother and sister are, etc.
  2. Kill your life's face: "so what are ya doin around here (*sweeping arm gesture*)? Just hangin' around? Hangin' on?" 
God confirms his love for you just the slightest bit more if your acquaintance goes the first route. Something else happens if they go the second.

Assuming the worst, you may choose between a number of possible responses to your acquaintance's decision to make themselves temporarily your enemy.

  1. "My brother and sister go here still and I'm working part-time for a professor who's working on a book, actually." (Low Strength Response, Not Deceptive)
  2. "Haha, no, actually; I'm candidating for an adjunct professorial position for which I'm inexplicably well qualified." (Medium Strength Response, Moderately Deceptive)
  3. "I'm actually interviewing students for a fascinating project being done by Notre Dame sociologists on social and emotional immaturity in 18-24 year olds; would you like to be interviewed? You will be able to take one free book home from the library if you sign this consent form and talk to me for a half hour about the most uncomfortable aspects of your romantic life!" (Medium Strength Response, Moderately Deceptive) 
  4. Ignore question, pose embarrassing counter-question - "so what was it like to find out that you were on academic probation after getting busted for cheating on all those tests?" (High Strength Response, Not Deceptive)
  5. Punch acquaintance and leave. (Prohibitively High Strength Response, Not Deceptive)

After it goes down, it will be important for your friends to cover for your having acted out, if you chose a higher-strength response - for them to offer something to the tune of "he's having a really hard time right now," or "I know how easy it is to interpret that in a specific way, but in light of his ... condition, it's actually the wrong way," or "here's five bucks if you promise not to talk about this to anyone."

The more justified you feel in being around campus after graduating, or in being around anywhere generally, the easier it will be to field unkind questions as to why you're "hangin' around." In this case the higher-strength responses will become less and less attractive as well. So next time you recognize the pattern in the approach, remind yourself of a job opportunity and run out to go pursue it. Or, if you have a job - well, then, just stand there squarely and let the condescension break over you like the waves of the sea on an ancient weathered stone.

And you know, there is the possibility that your acquaintance didn't intend any harm, anyway - in which case, I owe a lot of apologies...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Can Has Job?



















X
























oops . . . 


Leaving the picture of the company's logo on this site would have violated the contract I just signed to work with them

Saturday, October 16, 2010

In Defense of Lost Causes, First Installment, With Postscripts

The Blood Brothers
I love this band. I don't care that they broke up in 2000-whatever, or that their singers, when singing, sound like a sonic representation of the most brutal moments from Watership Down, or that their songs have hilariously unsubtle titles like "Love Rhymes With Hideous Car Wreck" and "Trash Flavored Trash." Sometimes, I just need a little angry music to take the edge off my own inarticulable anger over everything that's not right with the world, and this is the perfect band and the perfect music for that purpose. It is the unifying theme; a single brilliant bloody thread of rage is woven consistently through this group's canon. They're pissed about everything, and lyrically run the gamut from the vanishingly personal to the insidiously global, with everything in-between and in a variety of imaginative combinations. Their screechy earsplitting aesthetic is, ironically, in perfect harmony with their subject matter; I can't think of three bands better at unifying form and content into an internally cohesive whole than these banshees.
What does it mean to live truthfully when even identity is a marketable product, and nothing seems capable of transcending the impersonal, a-moral outworking of the inner logic of late capitalism? Well, the Blood Brothers positively can't tell you a thing about that, but as muckrakers, they're as provocative and insightful as they come.
For some noxious obnoxiousness with a keen but screwy moral sense, for a manageable adrenaline spike, for your curiosity, for the sake of doing a hard thing, and for that neglected niche that is your post-hardcore indie cred (Pitchfork gave their first album an almost perfect score), I would ask that you give the Blood Brothers a listen, maybe with the volume low to start.

PS I got a job today?

PPS A couple years ago, a friend and I were walking in the city and passed a guy that wanted us to give him a few bucks and when we didn't he yelled "y'all look the same anyways!" I suppose that is an example of a non sequitur. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

BOOKS!1! Also TJ & Dave. Also Promissory Notes.

So: in the last several months, I have read a lot of books. Primarily fiction, but with some other things thrown in too.
I love books. The printed word is one of my favorite media. There's something about turning pages that just jives with my jabbers, and you know, reading is great too. Anyway, to start, here's a near-comprehensive list of the things I've read since, perhaps, May, in no order:

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
Home by Marilynne Robinson
Whose Community? Which Interpretation? by Merold Westphal
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose
Wittgenstein's Poker by David Edmonds & John Eidinow
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime by Mark Haddon
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
The End of Memory by Miroslav Volf
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins
Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
i told me so by Gregg A. Ten Elshof
Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Scott Pilgrim Series 1-6 by Bryan Lee O'Malley

I also read a bunch of poetry books and plays but they're for some other post.
This is what I would like to do: write up sparkly little blurbs for most of these in the next couple of weeks. I adored them almost without exception, and would like to give thoughtful recommendations with specific reasons why they would be worth your time.



FURTHERMORE

Wednesday night I got to see my favorite performing duo, TJ and Dave, at the usual time and place, and afterward went to a little all-night coffee shop to catch up with some friends. It was very late. Dave walked in after we arrived and used the bathroom there! Then he came out! THEN I mustered my courage! AND THEN I approached him, told him how much I admired his work and have been influenced by it, and he shook my hand and said, "thanks!" All in all, it was a wonderful night. 

Here is a picture of TJ and Dave. They are by far my favorite improvisers, and are more or less why I am still interested in improv at this point in my life. I love them. If you see them some Wednesday night in Chicago, you will understand why. I intend to write a lot about them in the future. 

Dave is actually on the left, TJ on the right. They are in a typical pose.





FURTHERMORE

From now on, readers may expect at least one non-sequitur per post. Like "jives with my jabbers." Well, either a non-sequitur, or plain old-fashioned gibberish, I guess, but yeah. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Some Hopes & Fears

Hopes

  • Get a job soon
  • Happiness
  • Put up some reviews of things I've read recently
  • Get a bow tie
  • "Come to an understanding" w/ local turkeys
  • GRE: prep & take it
  • Applications to grad programs: do them
  • Find "pretty good" life direction, goals, etc
  • Peace 
  • Pay back college loans
  • To not sell out
  • Write and perform better every time
  • Teach
  • Make world better


Fears

  • No job soon
  • Happiness turns out to be philosophically ideal
  • Put up 0 reviews, read 0 things in the first place
  • Give in to internet spelling, grammar lol
  • No bow tie
  • Turkeys
  • No GRE prep, taking
  • No grad apps
  • No direction
  • No peace
  • College loans never paid back
  • Selling out
  • Teach, but only lies and evil
  • Write and perform worse every time
  • Make world worse
Hope is the thing with feathers...
BUT IT IS NOT THIS THING

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Job Update

Potential employer A (for awesome) is initiating a background check on me. Hopefully, this is a good sign.

the background check begins


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Intermittently-Risky Business

I suppose I would very loosely characterize risk (v.) as the act of opening oneself up to the possibility of loss, ideally in the pursuit of a goal. It is an important thing to be able to do! But in me, and probably in many people, the muscle for it has atrophied.

There is no way to eliminate risk from one's life. All of us are subject to chance events and cannot guard against all possible threats to our well-being. However, if one thing is true about the human species, it is that we are creatures capable of profound self-deception. Awareness of the inherent risks of living is something that can be willfully suppressed easily enough. Certain ways of life seem to involve little to no risk, and it may be true in one sense - negligible amounts of possible loss may be apparently involved in one or another venture - but the hidden risk wound up in decisions primarily made out of a desire for comfort and safety is enormous: it is the possibility for damage to be done to the human spirit. For serious.

I think it is a kind of violence to ourselves, to will to believe that it is possible and desirable to go about life without putting much on the line. And the more I practice that willed belief - the more I live and act out of it - the deeper the problem for me becomes. I don't want to believe that I do this even as I write about it! But there's not much that I would count as seriously risky in my past actions, especially in the last couple of months.

So I suppose the question is: how does a person get back into a healthy relationship with risk? Obviously not all risks are good ones, but the thing is, tons of them are good, and healthy to embrace. Some risks are even necessary to consciously accept - for example, the risk of utterly failing in front of an audience is a necessary one to take on for a person who desires to be a performer.

If there is a muscle for it, then maybe working it out will do the trick. And certainly another important aspect of changing an attitude towards risk would be a re-articulation of the constellation of goods involved in a given decision - a re-appraisal of the comparative value of different options, and a reconsideration of the things that lend those options their value. But who knows, really? Maybe at some point a person just gets forced into opening herself up to the possibility of greater losses than she is comfortable with, and when things turn out okay, she ends up with a new mindset. That would be pretty great. But to hope for that also seems rather passive, and passivity is part of the problem.

My brother is the one who has been provoking me to think about risk and my attitude towards it. Recently he got really angry about all the opportunities we (he and I) pass up because they're too risky. Here is a picture of him:



That expression pretty well sums up his outlook right now. May he inspire us all to take greater risks in the course of extraordinary pursuits. In fact, if you want to find me in the next couple of hours, just look for a lot of huge dangers. Wherever that place is, Jon will probably be there too, probably late.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pointers for Anything Involving Turkeys




  • Stand back
  • Shake whatever turkey is in hand
  • Just in case, repeat 2 if applicable (turkey remains in hand)
  • Wash hands
  • Cook it, or bury it, or try a combination
  • Either will result in: all turkeys being on to you
  • Confusing the turkeys will not work
  • Ruses generally will not work
  • Disguises do not work (unless + scent mask, then only sometimes however)
  • Costumes have limited effectiveness
  • Feigning disinterest works until they are on to you
  • Unless they were originally feigning too
  • Do not try to hide whatever it is they are looking for (if you have it)
  • Offer it to appease them or throw it out to distract them (if possible)
  • Don't be hopeful
  • Cars are typically safe
  • The house is not always safe but usually it is safe
  • A tall fence does not help the house to be safe
  • Doorknobs are favorable
  • Handles are not
  • Low handles are especially not
  • A house breach usually signifies the end, unless there are fortified rooms
  • It is not a good time to get distracted by your phone
  • If they blitz you and still you manage to get inside and lock the door and everyone else has fled or was taken out, and all you have is a bottle of brandy and an ambien, just be thankful that you've got em and try to go to sleep if you can ignore the scratching and calling and general horror, also write what you can on the white-painted wood of the wall with the sharpie stored under the sink for this purpose; it is the turkey reckoning so you'd better come up with a clever line by which to be remembered in the human resistance
  • Ambien dreams can be pretty cool but in your dreams, don't open anything
  • When you wake in the morning and they are gone, the area will need a good cleaning
  • Welcome to the new world order





high-ranking turkeys, surveying

* * *

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sufjan Stevens, Etc.

I have come around to loving his new album. It took a while to get past the bombastic flautistry and what-have-you, but honestly, I love it, even with how slight the reserves of my patience are for most electronic and techno music. This is the age of adz, and it is awesome. 


My favorite album of the year, however, is still Hadestown by Anais Mitchell and friends. I never thought folk opera would be my thing, if I ever knew it was a thing (I'm pretty sure I never knew it was a thing), but this contemporary retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice won me over on a first hearing. Perfectly cast, perfectly arranged, and beautifully written. Thanks be to Dan for introducing me to this indie diamond. 




I love me some music. 

I'M NOT EMPLOYED, I'M NOT EMPLOYED

BE NOT DECEIVED

Though there has been nothing new since Thursday, I am still jobless! And I apologize for any confusion my not-posting may have caused. This is why a person ought never to be clear about their intentions.

The big disappointment of the day was the discovery that GarageBand does not work on this computer, even though there is an icon for it.

Also, whistling has an interesting musical history that I would like to know more about. I consider myself to be a fairly mediocre whistler. In this, I would rate myself inferior to both Axl Rose and Andrew Bird, since they are professional, recorded whistlers. And also: Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was apparently a virtuoso whistler! He came from a very musically talented family. His brother, for instance, was a very famous one-armed pianist. And that is not a joke.


FURTHERMORE

I've never met an agreeable cat but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Today Tim and I carved a pumpkin in the likeness of one particularly disagreeable cat, and it turned out to look more-or-less like this: 


Tomorrow is the Chicago Marathon, but I am not going to be able to go. I suppose I'll have to run one in the afternoon to make up for it. Also, our pumcat ended up looking better than the one pictured for being more complicated, and mysterious. I do not know how it looks backlit, but it is important to save some good things for the future, so as to guard against running out.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My Favorite Syllogism, and My Friend John Who is Leaving

  1. Babies are illogical.
  2. Nobody is despised who can manage a crocodile.
  3. Illogical persons are despised.

  4. Therefore, babies cannot manage crocodiles.
(Taken from Steve Martin's autobiography Born Standing Up)


* * * * * 

FURTHERMORE
this is my friend John:





and this is my friend John when he realized he had to go back to New York:




we'll miss you, John.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Today's Twofer

I couldn't help but put this up too. It's taken from A Heidegger Dictionary, accessed at http://www.blackwellreference.com/public/tocnode?id=g9780631190950_chunk_g97806311909508_ss1-5.

Heidegger's interpretation of DASEIN purports to show it ‘as it is firstly and mostly [zunächst und zumeist] in its average everydayness [Alltäglichkeit]’ (BT, 16). Tag, ‘day’, and all, ‘all, every’, furnish: Alltag, ‘weekday; everyday life’; alltäglich, ‘daily; everyday, ordinary’; and Alltäglichkeit, ‘everydayness, ordinariness’. In contrast to a ‘distinctive, definite way of existing’, everydayness is Dasein's ‘indifferent Firstly and Mostly [Zunächst und Zumeist]’. Since it is so close to us, it is usually overlooked: ‘What is ontically closest and most familiar is what is ontologically furthest, unknown and constantly overlooked in its ontological meaning’ (BT, 43). Alltäglichkeit ‘clearly means that mode of existing which Dasein observes “every day” [‘alle Tage’].’ But everydayness is not a quantitative concept: ‘“every day” does not mean the sum of the “days” allotted to Dasein in its “lifetime”.’ It means ‘a definite How [Wie] of existence that pervades Dasein “for life”.’ That is ‘the How in which Dasein “lives from day to day”, whether in all its conduct or only in certain conduct prescribed by being-with-one-another’ (BT, 370). Everydayness contents itself with the habitual, even when this is burdensome. It is uniform, but it finds variety in whatever the day brings. Everydayness is inescapable. . .

I had forgotten about the importance of everydayness for Heidegger when I started this blog, but now realize that it's the perfect title. Anyways, cheers. 

Job Update, Etc.

God would have to do a miracle in order for a potential employer to remain interested in some idiot who couldn't manage to arrive any earlier than 7:22 PM to a 7:00PM group interview - but wonder of wonders, I have been scheduled for a meeting next Monday with the "regional leader," which may be the last step on the road to employment. It will be my fourth interview, following the initial group event, a double-feature with two store managers, and a pleasant chat with the "store leader." I wonder if the CEO of the company is referred to as "supreme leader."

FURTHERMORE
I didn't write this for my original "intentions" post, but my goal is to post on this blog every day until I get a job. So far, so good. It's been over two weeks of having some laughs and keeping the hope up. Here's to six more days of regular posting, and then a job.

UPDATE ON TURKEYS
Yesterday I went for a walk with two good friends, and we observed the roving turkey gang effortlessly jumping up to perch on top of someone's fence before hopping over to invade their yard. It was a tall fence. One of the turkeys even stood lookout for the other turkeys, but was facing the wrong direction and didn't see us.
I wonder what their devious plans are for our neighborhood, and despair.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Love, Desire, and Humanity Swirled Into an Expansive Harry Frankfurt / Jonathan Safran Foer Marble Cake

You'll need some time and patience for this one.

Harry Frankfurt's hugely important paper "Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person" is one of those pieces of philosophy that's helped me to understand myself and other people better. His basic thesis is that the essential feature of "personhood" is a certain quality of the will, which is a condition for moral accountability as well as the basis for the peculiar sort of respect that we give to other persons. (Personhood has empirically only ever comprised members of the human race, but theoretically it could extend to other species as well if certain conditions obtained.) Frankfurt argues that this certain quality of the will is the possibility for regulative self-evaluation; basically, we have first-order desires (think: hunger, thirst, libido, etc, but also less strictly-biological yearnings, like a longing for a father's approval), and second-order desires that actually have our first-order desires as their content.
Persons, then, are the sorts of beings that are concerned with the desires that they have; beyond mere calculation in the pursuit of first-order desires, we also have the ability to reflect on our desires and choose ones in particular that we desire to be aligned with our will. Charles Taylor, in typical brilliant fashion, takes this characterization one step further by arguing that second-order desires also involve what he calls 'strong-evaluation', a moral (in a very broad sense of the word) judgment that is informed by an idea of the sort of person that one wishes to become.
Persons, on this account, are creatures that are concerned with the sorts of creatures that they are, and the sorts of creatures that they are becoming. Interestingly enough, this is more-or-less in line with Martin Heidegger's phenomenological description of da-sein (the sort of being-in-the-world of human beings), but conceived almost entirely within the analytic tradition. The key element here that I wish to emphasize is the desire for other desires.
Now I will geek out in a different direction. I'm reading a great novel by Jonathan Safran Foer called Everything is Illuminated. The story is divided into alternating narrative halves: the first is the ongoing personal account, in hilariously broken English, of a Ukrainian translator who has been hired to work for an American writer intent on finding the woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The other half is the story being written by the American, which traces his grandfather's lineage in a remote shtetl community back to the late eighteenth century; it is whimsical and delightfully droll. The chapter I just finished deals with Brod, the American writer's great-great-great-great-great grandmother, who as a baby was rescued from a river after it swallowed her family's wagon as well as the rest of her family. She is adopted by Yankel, a seriously misfortunate but big-hearted old man, who does his best to raise the precocious and beautiful girl in a community filled with men that obsess over her.
Several pages dedicated to Brod and Yankel's relationship touch on a common human problem which refers us back to Frankfurt and second-order desires. Though Brod and Yankel are attentive to one another and seem to cherish one another, Foer writes (and it is worth quoting at length)
But my very-great-and-lonely-grandmother didn't love Yankel, not in the simple and impossible sense of the word. In reality she hardly knew him. And he hardly knew her. They knew intimately the aspects of themselves in the other, but never the other. . .
But each was the closest thing to a deserving recipient of love that the other would find. So they gave each other all of it. . . when Yankel said he would die for Brod, he certainly meant it, but that thing he would die for was not Brod, exactly, but his love for her. And when she said Father, I love you, she was neither naive nor dishonest, but the opposite: she was wise and truthful enough to lie. They reciprocated the great and saving lie - that our love for things is greater than our love for our love for things - willfully playing the parts they wrote for themselves, willfully creating and believing fictions necessary for life.
There is a lot worth going over in this passage, especially the brief riff on 'otherness', but I want to focus on the theme of love for love. Earlier in the chapter, Brod discovers that the world does not meet her expectations, and she cannot find anything that deserves to be loved by her, because her love is perfect and tremendous. And so, in need of an object, her love turns in on itself, and her relationships with the things in her life becomes mediated by her meta-love; she loves her love for things primarily, and the things themselves secondarily. Brod cannot sustain an un-mediated love for an imperfect object, and so cannot love the world she finds herself in or its contents. Yankel's love for Brod is founded upon his various emotional, spiritual, and psychological needs; when he was much younger, his wife left him without a reason, and he was additionally dishonored in his community for reasons that are not made clear. He gives himself over to his care for Brod as a way of giving his waning life purpose and direction, and so his love is similarly mediated.
As Frankfurt argues that a capacity for second-order desires are partially constitutive of our personhood, Safran Foer obliquely points towards this capacity as a source of our loneliness and sorrow. Second-order desires have both a positive and negative aspect, and the negative looms larger than the positive; second-order desires call into question our first order desires, and lead us to make choices against the majority of them in the pursuit of one that we would wish to identify with our will. However, this choice is susceptible to weakness and a lack of resolve, so even our positive willful affirmations do not result in success in every case. Frequently, we don't have the heart to do what we want to do (in this, there are echoes of a Pauline lament). We are self-regulative creatures, but therefore, we seem also to be creatures that are largely incapable of fully embracing our desires, and of sustaining direct and unmediated loves for things. Fear and disappointment prevent these important human happenings from happening.

The reason for today's post is my growing unease over mediated loves and truncated desires in my life and the lives of those around me. An insightful article from a Spring '10 issue of Harper's Magazine identified this problem with late-stage post-modern capitalism. The logic runs like this: 19th century industriocentric capitalism had essentially to do with the production of goods. Modern 20th century capitalism had essentially to do with the production of desires. Late-stage postmodern capitalism, our particular digitally-affected variety, has to do with the production of identity. Advertisers and marketing execs use psychological research to figure out what's cool or classy, and sell people an ideal image of themselves (a classic apple-polishing fallacy, but when since the 1800's have advertisements operated on a logical level to make an appeal?). Of course, intuitively it seems that mediated love in particular is a more human, less particularly economic, problem, but perhaps it has been compounded and intensified by our current social and cultural moment, allowed to grow large in the toxic commercial-psychic water we're all swimming in (but not drinking or using to bathe, at least not at my house, nope).
It takes a lot of guts to love something that is imperfect for its own sake, and not for the sake of loving your love for it or the appearance of loving it. And the full embrace of desire - the affirmation that it is good (desire itself, but obviously not all desires), and the commitment to the pursuit of it - is almost impossible, in the face of our nervy regulative self-evaluation, doubt, and concern for who we are in the eyes of an unknowable 'public.' But, reiterating a Heideggerian theme from an earlier post, care is the most basic human posture towards the world, and in this vein it is our loves and desires that give our lives thickness, richness, and depth. I would choose to love in a gutsier and more whole-hearted way, because that is humanizing, and to allow my desires to be full-sized and compelling to me, because that is also humanizing - but the risks involved are too significant to ignore. To give this problem a Nietzschean spin: why choose to explore the heights and the valleys of human life when the comfortable lazy plains present themselves? This is the pressing question for people in our epoch, I would suggest, and the denigration of theistic resources in the service of an answer may directly correspond to the growth of the postmodern malaise of inarticulate anxiety, boredom, and purposelessness.

So here's to love, desire, and everything else that makes us human, and a prayer for the miracle that would be full, unmediated love for things and an embrace of the desire that is eternal and infinite in scope.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Toxicity

Today I am driving to pick up bottles that I will fill up with water taken from various sources around our house. I will then take these bottles back to our county's health department so that our water might be professionally tested for heavy metals and other toxins. We are reasonably sure that our water is contaminated with one or more substances that are not meant to be consumed by humans. It comes from a well that may actually be located underneath the building, which means that it would be almost impossible for our landlord to fix in a timely and cost-effective way. Fortunately, our lease contains a clause that allows us to move out without a penalty if serious health concerns are discovered, and we already have one of those, more-or-less, with a basement mold situation.

Leaving our current house would obviously require us to find a new place. In the midst of all sorts of instability that is par for the course in the life of a recent college grad, this turn of events is disheartening, to put it lightly. Who knows what good might come out of moving into a more health-friendly environment, but from the perspective of this point in time, things are looking a little glum. I have to say, though, I won't be missing the brown recluse spiders.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Evening Observations

  • It is far less satisfying to beat a video game than it is to finish a good book
  • Hosting parties is fun but can be exhausting
  • A large house gets cold easily
  • I get cold easily
  • Everything becomes more difficult when you can't use the water at your own house
  • The Social Network really is a great movie

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Party Tonight?

Or "get-together"...

we have no idea how many people are coming! God help us.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pointers for Rummaging

  • In the fridge, Creamy vs. Extra Chunky should correspond only to a decision between peanut butter options, not a decision between dairy product options
  • Shake the pile of clothes first before going in to retrieve your wallet from earlier-worn pants
  • Leave most of what you can in a storage container, unless you want to get crud out from the bottom; in that case empty away but remember that you will have to repack it unless you intend to actually put away all that stuff (yeah right)
  • Shake the grass just in case, or make things easy and get a metal detector that will sense whatever material it is that your keys are made of, PS if it is night, forget about it
  • It was a bad idea to enter your neighbor's house in the first place, no tips for you, get out of their basement
  • Make it look as though you accidentally threw away your cellphone, and aren't in the pursuit of food, or shredded documents, or whatever, in that can/dumpster
  • You need to get a money clip, a person shouldn't "rummage" through a wallet, jeeze that thing is enormous
  • If there is a body in the trunk, well, I hope it is someone else's trunk, PS don't take anything
  • If there is a gun in the glove compartment, then why are you still in this guy's car, rummaging?
  • If there is a bound and gagged person in the backseat - I don't even care, you're done, "A" for listening you big dumb schmuck
  • Common sense should suffice for most other contexts, though I anticipate that it will prove insufficient in certain cases (ha, two meanings)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Revelations

I went to Missouri yesterday with my roommate Steve to visit his house and pick up some of the things he left behind last time he was home. Two other friends came. We stopped at a Denny's when we were still in Illinois but far away from Chicago and were being a little obnoxious as we sat down. John imitated a Missouri accent (pretty badly) and gave some guy the wrong idea, because he came over (a little drunk) and asked us in his outside-voice if any of us could tell him how a person gets to Pi. We didn't know, even after he came back from the bathroom and asked us again, so he explained it to us (sort of) and the more he spoke, the angrier he became.
"I thought you said you were smart."
"I'm from the South, and I'm an engineer. You smart kids can't even tell me how to get to Pi!"
"and how many times does seven go into thirty?"
He went on for a while and made us so uncomfortable that we could only let the pressure out through unintentional steam-releases of painful giggles. This probably made him angrier. He told us he was here to pick up his son and reiterated that just because he was from the South, it didn't mean that he was stupid. After going on long enough to be sure of having won (which he had), he walked away, ate, put on his feathered hat and left. The hat complimented his leathery face, white hair and goatee, brown cowboy boots, and attitude. We sat in our booth, wide eyed and pathetic and confused and a little indignant.

My friends and I thought about this event for some time after the man departed. After replaying it in our minds, we came to a difficult realization: that we were really the bit players in his unfolding story, credited after the movie as Obnoxious Guys at Denny's #1, 2, 3, & 4. We observed only the tip of the narrative iceberg, which was undoubtedly complex and dramatic. He had us beat the minute we started talking about mathematics. And our behavior was so typical, the audience would have known from our entrance whom they were supposed to be rooting for, and it wasn't us. We were small-timers; meanwhile here was a man on a journey with the spiritual dimensions of a Russian novel.

The moral of the story is that it's unwise to imitate regional accents at a high enough decibel to be heard in a restaurant that lies along an important national highway. And furthermore, it may be just as unwise to assume that you're the main character in every scene of your own story.

Mr Engineer from the South, I hope you find your son, and whatever else you're looking for.