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Friday, October 31, 2008

Going For a Swim With a Hollow Holiday Untopic

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I heard that today is some holiday, but I don’t have time for that sort of thing. Dressing up in macabre costumes has always seemed like an open invitation for closet exhibitionists and voyeurs to be spontaneous (ironically through formalized activities), while being prompted by their need to conform and be accepted by society… but then it is also fun for the kids. It’s a very confusing holiday. I don’t think holidays were meant to be this confusing. Nah, I’m not going to talk about ghouls and goblins. But I do want to address overcoming our demons — which is no more than our own selves. When someone comes to trick-or-treat at the door of your soul, it's you.

Historically, I’ve motivated myself through goals, then by having people there to catch me if/when I fall, winding me back up again and pointing me in the right direction, reminding me how to keep chugging away. Keeping my sights on the target, even if I happen to still be far from it, allows me to focus on the fact that the work I’m doing will come to fruition and be worth it all.

Let’s go back circa August 2008, and you can interpolate from the photo (superimposed to show the swimmers right next to each other) that Michael Phelps (left) won the 100m butterfly final in Beijing in part because he had the right form. He kept his body lined up and kept churning away. He trusted the process, honed it, and made it work for him. It works the same whether you’re ahead or trying to catch up. There are no substitutes for a full effort. Shortcuts for these things don't exist.

Watching the race, you can’t come away from it thinking that Phelps could have tried any harder than he did. He put forth a total effort. He had to. Anything less, and it would have been silver. Every little bit makes a difference in our lives. Phelps and Serbian swimmer Milorad Cavic were 1/100th of a second apart. Phelps was merely a bent finger away from not getting those 8 gold medals. Go ahead, bend your finger and see how easy that is to do. Now project that on a race where you’re moving all parts of your body continuously for 50 seconds, and you’ve just swung your arms over the top of your head, with adrenaline going full speed. There was no room for error in this race. One twitch anywhere and Michael Phelps would have lost. In fact, he was trailing in the race up until about the last .02 seconds of it. Look at all the ground Phelps had to make up when Cavic was less than 2 feet from the finish. How was it possible? Why did he even keep trying?

But Phelps didn’t panic. He just stayed with the plan. Observe the next frame below. His arms are still straight, his legs still aerodynamic, and he still hasn't started coasting. His face is down, and he’s not looking for the wall. Instead, he trusts that it will be there, and he’s not slowing down until he goes through it, not just to it. He didn’t give up merely because it looked impossible. Everything is impossible until it isn’t. Notice in this shot that Cavic is only about 4 inches from the end, while Phelps has about 2 feet to go.

With all this in mind, it's important to note that at no point was Phelps intimidated. He met the challenge head on, knocked it down, and beat the living tar out of it. He was unflappable.

I watch that race over and over, and I can’t figure out how Michael Phelps managed to win it. Cavic didn’t exactly slow down, and even though he had to reach at the end, it’s not unusual. Cavic ran a nearly perfect race. But Phelps did run the perfect race. Coming down the stretch, you can see Phelps gaining, yet the nearer they get to the end, it seems like Phelps just doesn’t have enough time to make up for the deficit.

Even when the race was over, it didn’t look like Phelps had won. It was an optical illusion. There’s no way someone could move their arms over their head from three feet away before someone else could swim six inches. The eyes can’t process an event like that and believe it in real-time. So everybody was ready to say that it was a valiant effort that came up just short. And then his name was flashed at the top of the scoreboard, his mom’s knees collapsed up in the stands in disbelief, and everyone was covering their heads, overcome by what they’d just seen… believing but not believing. The announcers were incredulous, trying to convince themselves it was true. That ‘1’ in Phelps’ lane apparently just couldn’t be willed away. It belonged to him. He owned it.

Michael Phelps would've made Winston Churchill proud, who once said in a speech, "Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty. "

To be inspired by others like this, who do their best and overcome obstacles to come out on top, is what it’s all about. We’ve all had some Michael Phelpses in our lives who show us how it’s done, and may be a source of encouragement for us to try harder. If they can do it, so can we, because there really are gold medals in all of us. It might not be in the 100m butterfly while the whole world is watching. It might be in the back yard playing with a 3-year-old and making them feel loved, or coming to terms with your own weaknesses, or smiling when you don’t feel like it, or expanding your mind to new possibilities, or being there for someone who’s having problems in the race. In large part, we get to create our own venues for where our races are run. We can’t do everything, but we can many times pick and choose those areas we deem most important, and then tell the starter that we’re ready to compete.

We also have to remember that although life is like a race, when it comes down to it we’re just racing against ourselves. We don’t really have to beat anyone else. When we’re in those lanes, it’s a bunch of other of our own selves — no Cavics to try to overtake. We’re striving for our best self. It’s true that all of our selves could take the easy route and just coast in, eventually finishing the race and making it look respectable. Or we could even appear to be trying hard but hold a lot of our energy in reserve since it requires so much. Or just maybe... we could reach deep down inside and give that extra effort that only we know whether we’re giving or not. That is what we’re competing against.

Is your life going to represent a gold medal effort, or something else? In life’s Olympics, we can all end up on the top step of that podium because anyone who wants to can be up there. Don’t be satisfied with anything less than gold. Awake your inner Olympian. This is your mission, Mr. Phelps, should you decide to accept it…

Video of the ending

(in this view, Phelps is on the far end and Cavic is closer to the camera)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lost Towns

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Being fond of atypical things myself, the humble town of Unalaska recently caught my eye. I came across it a few months ago while browsing the world, gazing up toward the frozen north. You never know what you’re going to find if you just look around to see what’s out there. It’s a place in Alaska, so I’m thinking what… the two cancel each other out? The postal address would say “Unalaska, Alaska”, which is kind of like saying “Negative, Positive,” “Backward, Forward,” “Undo, Redo,” like two opposing forces. But maybe on second thought it’s all about yin and yang. Perhaps Unalaska covers that other end of the spectrum that Alaska doesn’t, and they're a complement to one another.

The whole persona of Unalaska struck me as unusually unabashed in its scope. You’ve got to be pretty confident to call yourself Un-anything. I did find out later that I was mispronouncing the name. It’s actually a long ‘u’ sound, which is too bad, because anything with ‘un’ ought to be like the UnCola or Alice in Wonderland’s Unbirthday. (By the way, a very happy unbirthday to all of you out there who weren’t born on this day) Also, the second ‘a’ is the short sound, as in ‘ash’. But that makes sense, because ‘banana’ is the same way.

Unalaska is more than just a blip on the map — it’s a highly interesting blip. It’s very isolated from the world due to its unique circumstances. It surrounds itself in a group of small islands in Alaska’s archipelago, which I like to say any chance I get since it’s such a fun word. The archipelago is known as the Aleutian Islands, which consists of over 300 separate land masses, protruding 1,200 miles from the Alaskan Peninsula. So Unalaska could be misperceived as an Aleutian, but the further you discover about it, it becomes evident that it’s more real than any place on earth.

Unalaska is a port town, so ships come calling there often. Unalaska is so friendly that ocean craft of all types just gravitate toward it. It’s true that Unalaska is the 11th largest city in Alaska, however at an unassuming 3,800 people, it makes Palin’s Wasilla look like a noisy metropolis. There are only three cities in Alaska with more than 10,000 people, and I’m sure Juneau all of them.

From where I live in Oregon all the way to Unalaska, it's 3,696 miles, taking 3 days and 23 hours of traveling time to get there. And this is already starting from the west coast. That almost seems like a lifetime away, as if it’s a whole other surreal existence. The part of the trek just going through British Columbia and the Yukon Territory in Canada is 1,800 miles alone. After you get into Alaska and go past Anchorage, there are still ferry rides of 606 miles, 105 miles and 197 miles before finally reaching Unalaska.

So in order to get to Unalaska, you have to really want to go there, otherwise you could be easily distracted on the way. In short, nobody shows up there by accident. Everybody who’s there is there because that’s where their karma took them. There aren’t too many stragglers coming in on the ice floes.

It’s also interesting to note that going from Oregon to New York is shorter than going to Unalaska — by about 700 miles. But then anybody can go to New York. Where’s the adventure in that?

What would you do if you lived in Unalaska? The island is only 10 miles across, so there’s nowhere to speak of to drive. You could travel by boat to the neighboring islands, but there’s not much on them. Maybe you’d spend more time on the finer things in life instead of frivolous pursuits. You’d probably have a lot of good friends. For the heck of it, I’m thinking someday it would be fun to end up in Unalaska. There’s something pure about the whiteness of that region, and I have a feeling it would serve to cleanse the soul.

It’s just amazing to me that people live their lives in a locale such as this. They carry on in anonymity, the rest of the world oblivious to its majesty. And it’s comforting to know that there are completely out-of-the-way places like this where people can thrive. It gives one a sense of global community, and a tender sharing of Mother Earth.

Unalaska’s official website:
Wikipedia article on Unalaska:

Monday, October 27, 2008

Kids' Sayings

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Below is a collection of things our older kids said when they were younger. Their approximate ages at the time are in parentheses.

Amanda (4): “Can we have gorilla cheese sandwiches?”

Amanda (3): “Daddy, can you come play with me?”
Daddy: “I can’t right now, because I have a headache.”
(ten minutes later)
Amanda: “Daddy, are you done with your headache yet?”

Daniel (4), explaining the physics of lightning: “The sky had a crack in it!”

Daniel (4), describing the family drug policy “We don’t eat pills . . . but just apple pills.”

Rusty (talking to a boy): “What’s your name, little boy?”
Daniel (4): “His mommy calls him Jonathan, so that’s probably his name.”

Rusty: “Whose hair is this?” (holding up an 8-inch strand)
Daniel (4): “Daddy, it’s yours.”
Rusty: “My hair isn’t that long. See?”
Daniel: “But it was inside your head.”

Daddy: “The air is cooler over at Aunt Renee’s, because they live next to the ocean.”
Daniel (4): “Yeah. But we live where the sun is.”

Daddy: “Someday, you’ll be as tall as me, when you’re a grown-up.”
Daniel (4): “And I can eat some food whenever I want, huh?”

Daniel (4) (to Daddy): “Draw our family. And draw the computer too, ‘cause it’s in our family.”

Daddy (reading a Bible story): “And they preached to the robbers, and those who repented were set free, but those who did not repent were condemned and punished according to the law.”
Amanda (6): “And I’ll bet they were fired, too.”

Amanda (6) had lost her third tooth recently, and we were at the dinner table. Uncle Ray asked her, “What are you going to eat with, Amanda?” and she promptly held up her fork.

Kelvin (2) (holding up some glue stick): “Daddy, what’s this?”
Daddy: “That’s glue.”
Kelvin: “Goo? To paint your mouth?”

Uncle Ray was wrestling around with Kelvin, and had him pinned on the floor—
Ray: “Who’s bigger?”
Kelvin (2): “Daddy.”

Daniel (4): “Daddy, now when you have a birthday, you have big friends instead of little friends.”

When told it was bedtime, Kelvin (2) got up on the kitchen table where he could reach the clock and pointed to one of the hands, and declared, “Two minutes to go to bed.”

Daddy: “Do you want me to read a story about Jesus?”
Kelvin (2): “No, I want to read story ‘bout catapillas.”

Amanda (7): "Daddy, how do you spell 'Corvette'?"
Rusty: "C-O-R-V-E-T-T-E."
Amanda: "Hmm... Mrs. Ira spelled it right."

Kelvin (2): "The wind is blowing, so I'm gonna blow it back. Like this, with my lips."

Amanda (7), using a calculator: "Daddy, how do I do a backspace?"

When Audrey and I were leaving the kids with a babysitter so we could go to the Portland Temple . . .
Kelvin (2): "Are you and Mommy gonna get married?"

Kelvin (2): "When the sun comes in my eyes, I hold up my jacket in front."
Rusty: "You hold it up in front of your face?"
Kelvin: "No, in front of the sun."

Rusty: "To throw the paper airplane, you hold it right here."
Kelvin (2): (giving it a try) "But you let go..."

Rusty: "How come ants and flies can walk on the wall?"
Amanda (7): "Because they don't weigh as much as we do."
Rusty: "But if you dropped them, they would still fall."
Amanda: "Flies wouldn't fall."
Daniel (5): "If you smack 'em, then they fall."

Kelvin (2): "Your bones are inside of you so you can stand up. If you didn't, then you'd get squishy."

The kids were doing computer puzzles . . .
Rusty: "Don't help Kelvin."
Daniel (5): "I'll just give him a hint."
Kelvin (2): "No, I'll give myself a hint."

Rusty and Kelvin got in the car and were about to drive off.
Rusty: "Is everybody ready?"
Kelvin (4): "It's not everybody — it's just one buddy."

Kelvin (4): "Zach's mom has a waterbed. If you take off the sheets you can see the water. The pillows don't sink, though, so it's just pretend water"

Daniel (6) (explaining to Kelvin that he could be a football referee for Halloween): "You can be the one who blows a whistle if someone falls over."

Daddy: "Daniel, I'm fixing your dinner."
Daniel (6): (smiling) "Why, does it have anything wrong with it?"

Kelvin (4): "Rolly-pollies can roll up like a ball, and take turns using themselves as a basketball."

Rusty told the kids about one time on his birthday when he was young, he went to the swimming pool, and got stung two times. Daniel (6) then said without hesitation, "I bet you didn't have a happy b-day."

Daniel (6): "Here's the bee Mommy trapped in the window. It's not hurt or anything, but it's still dead."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mood Appraisals, Pt. II

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Originally I was going to write about verklempt next in this series of articles on moods, but instead I want to tackle melancholy, since it can fit the season so well.

Melancholy is one of the more underrated moods, suspended gracefully between positive and negative, faced toward the good while occasionally looking over its shoulder at impending doom, lending it an ambiguous air of muted exhiliration. This emotion has been gathering bad vibes through its association with darkened clouds, and consequently is perceived as gloomy, which is an unfortunate set of circumstances. The melancholy state can be quite cleansing in its pure form, often the result of being confused or having been stultified, only to grace the surface and break free from the foreshadowing clutches.

In its early stages, melancholy brings depth to the melee so that it is less elusive, and thereby manageable — a self-imposed life raft. From there it can develop into a myriad of substrata. Through the melancholy state, one may get the sense of drifting, and bumping off things without noticing them much, all the while uncertain what the next move should be, or even if one has such control. It’s a temporary loss of focus, yet if left unencumbered it can also produce its own gentle fog to calm the fears while the shore is being reached.

In the conventional sense, melancholy can bring down empires. Or even worse, it can produce writer’s blog, as we have all too clearly seen here in the past week. It can inadvertently fill the void with marinated esperanza. And it can serve papers to the winsome that Rastafari is in town. Basically, it can really mess up your mojo. But…

In the process, as melancholy takes one over jarring, fitful, meandering paths that rankle the delicate soul, in due course for the intrepid heart ultimately it leads to serendipitous respite, making it in conclusion worth its perilous journey.

I had once written a poem that captures the mood well for me, and it seems to fit now. Sometimes one writes poems for reasons unknown, only later to find a secure place for them. This one takes us through the early stages, leaving all to wonder the fate of nations.

The Wet of Water

A whisper in my imagination comes the damp wind of a life lived best on rainy days. With purpose, the campy sky descends and hovers in an embrace of terrain. Reluctant at first, a willow leads the trees to weep, all now tearfully content. Curiously, a lost dog dim in my sight, skipping around in and out of view. He loves the rain but tries to leave it. Every time, the dryness of shelter captures his interest only briefly; he must go back out and feel the drops. He'll swim and he'll drown, and he'll get dry again. I lose sight of him once more. He's gone. Vanished into the mist, though not escaped. More of the incessant pitter-patter, drip-drip. In lockstep with moods and regrets, the pouring cacophony persists. Dancing droplets spreading in distorted mirrored puddles revealing available light in short supply. Reflections of shiny promises that bounce up and meet the eye, inviting to join in a newness of strength. The rain reaches all objectives and begins to soak her helpless mother earth. The softness of the drenched landscape calms the senses, an utter wetness as its own emotion. Stark clouds are messengers of hope, delivering tales of ruin and renovation. With no glaring sun to intrude, the undefiled light resonates reality to a parched valley of murky fears. The eager pup seen again running through a glistening meadow, running away or running toward — perhaps both. He turns around to chase his tail, then continues across the horizon, still running. The clouds jostle and collide. Never tasting the downfall and out of its reach, I flinch at the sudden sounds. New streams created, running on contact with the soil. Rivulets flowing down, heading for unknown destinations, taking in deliberate form the lowest path. The surroundings covered in a dense fog; a hazy bubble in its own world, seeing nothing past the immediate. The afternoon sky threatens into dusk. The day is shorter, the light departs sooner. Radiance never before noticeable stands out in torrential dreariness. A darkened glow of relative significance. Contrasts are made clearer. The coolness of the air permeates all that it touches, causing haste and portending of a soggy field begging fumigation. Then the downpour overtakes in sheets and distorts the view. Off in the distance, the dog returns in a fit of urgent despondent shoulder shrugging to his post, as the rightful veritable melancholy one, and he barks silently while the rain camouflages his tears. Is his smell gone, I wonder. He knew the way without the rain, but with the rain he wanders — disoriented, out of touch, absent. His pitiful stare tells he is waiting for more clues, as he has turned to the left and the right, back and forth, and they all bring him back to the center of ultimate moisture. He is a drizzled captive, subject to precipitating mercy found in this enclosed existence. He waits on, as his only known option. He waits on... in the rain.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Life's Etiquette

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When people hold a drink container, be it a glass, can, mug, stein, what have you (Why do we say “what have you”? That’s really odd to say something that way. First of all, who are we asking what they have, and secondly, proper use of the King’s English would be to place the transitive verb after the subject. So we’d say “colanders, flasks, bottles… what you have.” Then at least we’d know that whatever this mysterious person has would be included on the list.) ... where was I? ... oh, yeah. Isn’t it interesting how some people will hold the container with only the thumb and three fingers, while poking their pinky up in the air?

Does this bother anyone else like it does me? Some things are just wrong. It takes extra effort to point the pinky like that, and there’s no real utility to doing it, other than possibly to try to annoy someone. And it’s doing a very good job of it.

OK, I can understand if it's a cup, and the handle is too small to accommodate all your digits. And a shot glass isn't big enough (so I've heard!). But a pop can? That's sacrilegious.

The pinky in the air is the international symbol for “Not only am I better than you, but I’m also better at drinking things, and you smell.” And then they’re trying to show off that they can lift their oh-so-heavy beverage without having to use all of their fingers. That action suggests also that they’re waiting for us to applaud this superhuman talent they possess.

It would be bad enough if they just took their pinky slightly away from the container in question, but no, they have to make a writhing spectacle of it. If you can’t bend it, put a cast on that puppy. Let us sign it and give out dedications — go all out. None of this pinky-winky stuff.

The pinky salute grates on me even more than fingernails scraping on a chalkboard, and only somewhat less than when people on the phone say “mmm-bye.” Luckily for me, no one in our household carries any of these recessively mutative traits, or I’d have to wear eye patches and earplugs all day long.

I’m wondering if some people do it in an effort to balance their hand. (yeah, that’s really going to help as a counterweight) Do they have a bullet fragment in their pinky that is magnetically repelled by something? Is their pinky acting rebelliously and not wanting to hang out with the other fingers? The dreaded pinky rebel. They have a cure for that now.

Do any of you (all three of you) have any idiosyncratic things you notice in others that rub you the wrong way? (Sometimes they’re referred to as pet peeves, but I believe that only works if you have just a couple. After all, who’s going to have a whole bunch of things they think of as pets? The whole idea of having something as a pet is that you’ve reserved it for special consideration. It's your highly exclusive group of special peeves. Having lots of special things is an oxymoron, not to mention a misnomer and a malapropism. I reject the notion of multitudinous pet peeves. After the second or third one, they’re just regular peeves.)

So, any tendencies that bug you? When you’re walking toward someone and they look off to the side instead of making eye contact... Does that get under your skin? How about when someone puts so much milk in their cereal bowl that it drowns everything? Does that upset your mojo? Or when people hold their hands up in front of them in slicing motion while they're talking, as if they're about to break out into a karate demonstration... Does that weird anybody out? Or maybe false eyebrows. Do those give you the willies? (Maybe the 'willies' is too strong. But what would the difference be between the willies, the creeps, and the heebie-jeebies?)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Conversations With Myself

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R1: It’s good to be here.
R2: It’s good to be anywhere. And at any time. It’s good to 'be'.
R1: But I digress.
R2: I’m with you.
R1: The funny thing about life is that we have nothing to compare it to. It is what it is. Things are so obvious to us that we can’t wrap our minds around them. Everything is a reflection of itself.
R2: It’s as if we’re on some eternal quest for an objective reference point.
R1: And is secularism like chasing our tails? Are we just going to be disappointed through that process?
R2: Well said. I’ve wondered what good is a certificate of authenticity if there’s nothing to authenticate the authenticity of the certificate itself.
R1: Yeah, the certificate could be fake.
R2: And that’s the whole point. So I would then ask you: do you think of yourself as happy?
R1: But that’s a loaded question. As opposed to what? Do we really know what happy is? I’m reluctant to attempt a definitive response. Can that be better rephrased somehow?
R2: Are you pleased with your existence?
R1: I suppose that’s a little better, but it still exposes the inherent flaw in the inquiry. Isn’t this ultimately a cyclical thought? What do I have to compare my existence with? It’s like when people ask someone who’s recently been married how they like being married. How can they answer that? They have only one spouse to measure it by, so how would they know if they like marriage or not when there’s no control group? What’s really being asked is whether they like being married to the person they’re married to. When parsed that way, it becomes a specific question instead of a general one as originally posed.
R2: And a dangerous one to answer.
R1: Quite so.
R2: At any rate, you’re boggling our mind here.
R1: I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. Thanks for reining me in.
R2: It’s my job.
R1: And you do it very well, I might add.
R2: You’re all too kind. I sound like that guy who Underdog gives a shoeshine to.
R1: Hey, if I don’t say it, who will?
R2: This is true. So are you happy?
R1: You don’t give up, do you? Hmm… If I’m alive, I suppose that’s a good indication that I’m fairly pleased with the whole situation.
R2: But there are sad people who are still alive.
R1: Yes, but they’re at least satisfied enough to want to go on living.
R2: It would seem that’s too complex an idea to not break down. I’m not so sure we can be that simplistic about it. People can give up in various ways instead of just cashing it all in. They may turn into zombies for all intents and purposes.
R1: I suppose you’re right. I’d say I’m happy in most states. I’m happy when I’m not thinking about whether I’m happy or not. I’m happy dreaming.
R2: While asleep or awake?
R1: Both, actually. I’ve heard a dream is the mind’s way of answering questions it hasn’t yet figured out how to ask.
R2: I like that. I need to write that down. So many things we think we know about ourselves, but language is so inadequate to bring it all into focus. And yet so many of us lean on clinical terms as if they could or should define existence.
R1: So the answer to your question is “I don’t know how to answer that question.” I’m sure I must be happy, but I can’t prove it. I’m divested of all culpability here.
R2: What does divest mean?
R1: You don’t know? Didn’t you read the same books as me, and get the same education?
R2: I can’t be responsible for all of that. We’re in different hemispheres, you know. I honestly don’t know where I was at the time. Probably saving your behind while you were cogitating over the expanse the universe. So then what does divest mean? I think you’re just trying to use big words to be impressive.
R1: It’s the kind of word that’s hard to put into words.
R2: You’re making even more sense now. Here, do you need some more rope? Would you like to buy a vowel?
R1: I know what it means, but I can’t really convey to somebody else what it means. It’s like that stromboli we had in Pasadena back in ’93. We can’t describe it. You have to experience stromboli.
R2: Ah, so true.
R1: Isn’t it amazing how a simple culinary incident can stay with you all these years?
R2: What gets me is how we’re weaving memories right now, yet not cognizant of the relative significance of each of the moments in our life as they’re occurring. Something might happen this week that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Or what happens this month may just fade from your memory. It’s hard to predict.
R1: Do you think that might be why people take long trips, in an effort to force a lasting memory and thereby render their life more significant? If they feel they’re not sowing memories, their life seems worthless to them.
R2: That’s an interesting theory. It could have wings, I don’t know. I always thought that vacations were an otherwise futile attempt to escape reality.
R1: That could be too. Although they can rejuvenate the mind and soul. Maybe we’re both right.
R2: What if everybody in the world is simultaneously right about everything?
R1: I think that would be the most wonderful joke ever played on mankind. And here we all are trying to one up each other.
R2: Right, it could all be relative, so what does it prove? I can’t compare myself to someone else. There are too many unknown variables to have any degree of accuracy at all.
R1: Good point.
R2: But it also makes me wonder, when is it not possible for two ideas to be true?
R1: When they contradict.
R2: What is a contradiction, though?
R1: It’s a mutually exclusive condition that cancels out one or the other.
R2: In theory, I can see what you’re saying, though I’m having a difficult time applying that to our situation.
R1: I think when it comes to absolute truths, competing ideas can’t be simultaneously true. The only problem is that, as a civilization, we’re not objective judges on such conditions. But in the natural world, two seemingly competing ideas could often both be correct.
R2: Maybe there’s that distinction. I think you’re probably on the right track. It’s at least a good recognition.
R1: This also raises the question: how well can we know anyone?
R2: How well do we even know ourselves? We experience our own consciousness, but does that entail some right to familiarity?
R1: It’s kind of ironic that the most we can learn about human thought processes is through self-observation. No amount of external experimentation can provide us with more vital data.
R2: One of the many poetic paradoxes of life.
R1: But when talking about truths cancelling other possibilities out, I’ve often wondered if opposites even exist at all in the natural world. It could just be an illusion we’ve constructed to try to make sense of our existence. Are black and white really opposites? Even dark and light. They seem instead to be variations along the same scale. And darkness is merely the absence of light, but that doesn’t make it the opposite. If I’m absent from a meeting, that doesn’t make me opposite from that meeting.
R2: But would your presence be the opposite of your absence?
R1: Not really. My absence is the state of not being there. However, I could be anywhere else. If I’m on the subway instead of at the meeting, that has an entirely different set of connotations than if I were on the surface of Jupiter and not at the meeting.
R2: How about up and down?
R1: Up is based on reference to a plane, so there is no definitive 'up'. There is no such thing in the real world as a precisely level plane, nor any perfectly perpendicular projectile, which is what 'up' would be. As a result, up can't be a property, and so there also isn't an actual down either. And before you ask about dry and wet, those are degrees of moisture, so they’re not diametrically opposed. And I reject any purely mathematical attempts, because that’s a tautology. Whether positives and negatives exist at all is something we’re trying to determine, so we can’t use that as part of the premise. The interesting thing about the natural world is that there are no negative values of anything.
R2: And this all leads into perfection. Baseball announcers say that a guy who’s singled every time up in that game is having a perfect night, but a perfect night would be all home runs, wouldn’t it? And a real perfect game would be a pitcher striking out all 27 batters on three straight strikes each.
R1: Exactly. Perfection is a just a buzzword to mean whatever we want it to. In most everything in life, it’s a misnomer. Perfection is an ideal, not a finite state we can encompass.
R2: Not in this life, anyway.
R1: Precisely. I’m glad you see it my way. The distinction between finiteness and infiniteness must be made. Otherwise, people are just speaking in circles. It all depends on the context.
R2: And so this would be why it’s so hard to imagine the properties of a perfect being outside of the religious context. Perfect beings never do and never would do anything imperfect. That’s the whole essence of being perfect in the first place.
R1: Yeah, the supposed philosophical conundrums are just mental calisthenics that demonstrate nothing substantive.
R2: Ah, the entanglements we weave for ourselves!
R1: We’re our own worst enemy in many respects.
R2: I have a question for you: What are some of the inconsequential things that puzzle you most?
R1: I look at the body structure of children, with their proportionally larger heads and shorter arms and legs, and I wonder at what point can you finally tell if they’re not going to be a midget? Because when they’re all young, you can’t tell.
R2: That’s a good one. What gets me is how much effort goes into ensuring that toothbrushes don’t slip out of someone’s hands and scrub our teeth just the right way. The expended technology is astounding. We give more attention to designing toothbrushes than we do to protecting society from harmful entities. Our priorities seem a little skewed. Is there really a concern that people are going to not be able to properly grip a toothbrush? Is there an epidemic of toothbrushes falling out of people’s hands?
R1: All right, here’s one. If we have a responsibility to tolerate others, then what responsibility do others have to us?
R2: Hmm… I guess the kneejerk response to that would be that those of us who have more of a grasp on life and have figured things out have a duty to wait for others to catch up and reach out a hand to them.
R1: But what defines who is who? What if I want to go over and join the crowd that hasn’t figured it out yet — does that thereby absolve me of all responsibility? Can a person self-inflict into another state?
R2: And would that be out of pure convenience?
R1: Yeah, a sort of moral welfare state. Just don’t try enough, and you won’t be expected to contribute any longer.
R2: Paint yourself as a victim, meaning the world must therefore come to you.
R1: Wow, that’s a little dangerous, isn’t it?
R2: I wonder if that could be the underlying factor in the breakdown of society throughout human history. Wanting to pretend like you’re someone who should be attended to when you’re capable of attending to others. It also makes it harder for us to find those who really do need help in various areas.
R1: Kind of like how people park in the handicapped spots without a permit or a need to do so.
R2: Yeah, that’s the general idea.
R1: And we might be able to tie this back on the relativists during the awakening who couldn’t decide if we’re even responsible for anything we do.
R2: I think their free will rebuffs are pointless. The vicissitudes of life can’t be quantified with any precision. We can no more identify a point of fate than to say why someone rolled all sixes in Yahtzee.
R1: Or that it necessarily had to be all sixes.
R2: Yeah, especially when I still need my large straight.
R1: A person’s actual existence is a testament to free will, so if anything, the skeptic is going against the very notion he or she is trying to dispute.
R2: Philosophers are a strange lot.
R1: But we need them for entertainment, I suppose.
R2: I’ve had problems with the whole apples and oranges debate.
R1: In what way?
R2: It’s like a license someone carries if they don’t want to substantiate their point. They just say that it’s like trying to compare apples and oranges. But apples and oranges can be easily compared. One’s red, and the other’s orange.
R1: Maybe they’re referring to the constitution of them.
R2: Doesn’t matter. They have more in common than they do in things that are unshared. They are similar in size. They’re both fruits. You can juice both of them. They contain fructose. Besides, what’s the utility in comparing oranges with themselves anyway? They’re the same thing. We’re supposed to compare things that are at least somewhat different. That’s what comparisons are for. Next time I’m just going to say “That’s like comparing oranges to oranges.”
R2: You make a lot of sense. So, what should we do for lunch?
R1: How about a simple nothing sandwich. I’m not picky.
R2: While hearkening back to the days of the stromboli.
R1: Right you are.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What I Love About Fall

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The season that energizes in so many ways, causing among other things one to be introspective and uplifted. While spring is nice too, there's something extra special about autumn. The crispness of the air has a quality all its own that speaks to the soul. There's something brutally honest about the bare trees and a cold, stark atmosphere. This is reality personified. Everything pauses and becomes silent for a moment in time. Listen to the absence of sound, how it pierces the inner being. What does the unheard speak of? All the world is unhinged for a season.

Much more elegant to come in from the cold to feel cozy than to be hot in the summer and turn on coldness. Nothing against the summer, though, because it merely prepares us for wondrous fall.

Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you got to do is call
And I'll be there...
You've got a friend

It all culminates with the fall. James knows the pattern well.

George Eliot knew it too. "Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns."

The leaves take on a metamorphosis, altering their panoply of colors, before mercifully fluttering downward to return to mother earth, leaving tree branches empty and waiting for a new beginning.

Perhaps if we had the fall all year round, we wouldn't realize its splendor as much. We need to see what fall isn't like so that we can appreciate what it is like. What does that tell you about life? Can you make it from one autumn to the next?

Stanley Horowitz may have best captured the essence of the build-up of seasons...
"Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all."

What a sublime thought... It all comes together in the fall. A welcome resolution to the long year's journey.

The poets and authors are the dreamers who mold life best, knowing the majestic in the air...

"No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace, As I have seen in one autumnal face." Rave on, John Donne, rave on.

My sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree,
She walks the sodden pasture lane.
—Robert Frost

And Frost intones that fall is apropos for assuaging the melancholy heart as well, a deep backdrop to bring the stolid monochrome back into its glory, yet ever so slowly at a thoughtful autumn pace.

There is a harmony in autumn, and a lustre in its sky, Which through the summer is not heard or seen, As if it could not be, as if it had not been!
—Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shelley speaks of harmony and luster, those almost indescribable qualities that must be experienced to be understood. The qualities other seasons know nothing of.

And so let us collectively inhale the magnificence of this autumnal period we now have before us, a blessing from the skies, a delicate feast for the ears and eyes. Let it fill your nostrils with newness of life. Let it seep in, let its beauty transform you.

Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile.
—William Cullen Bryant

How do I love thee, o fall? I shall count the ways all the day long...

Dance Like Nobody's Watching

Philosophy Soccer