urbanly

I can’t pretend that Ithaca could be called a city, but the resemblances are budding if you look closely enough. At the State St. house, I was precisely halfway between collegetown and downtown, which are the focal points of most activity in the area. It’s as busy as this town gets, which is quite dull. Still, it’s a few steps away from suburban, and I was surprised at the quantity of adjustments I found necessary. It took me a while to sleep through sirens a few times a night (on weekends especially), or just the generally constant passing of traffic. Once I adjusted, though, it became like white noise not unlike the whine of cicadas. Not unpleasant, and perhaps even a welcome reminder that the world is still going on. It even made me feel a bit jealous on those days I was bedridden with disease, knowing that everyone else was doing their thing while I could not.

There was, however, a sense of aesthetic disconnection from nature. This feels strange to say given the sometimes awkward artificiality of suburban landscapes (even in Ithaca), but there is something to be said for the sheer quantity of greenery consuming the visual field. Roads, sidewalks, power lines, and buildings gradually become more densely packed while trees and bushes seem more at odds with their surroundings. The roof was a delightful escape from this offense; at somewhere between three and four stories tall, the house was just tall enough to see above the tree canopy. It was distant enough from the ground and obscured from the main road by trees, so it bestowed just enough privacy to feel at ease. It was also well above the street lights, allowing for a very wide view of the stars at night. It was a place of intense excellence.

Continue reading urbanly

cull

As little as I post, the blog weighs heavily on my heart from day to day. I think often of the posts that I should and could be writing, but the last three years have found me incapable of seeing the process through to the end on a consistent basis. I have this overwhelming sense of potential for this place, reinforced by a nagging awareness of how cathartic writing actually always ends up being for me. I’m easily discouraged, however, and if I don’t find myself spewing forth beautiful imagery with every keystroke, I wander away to other corners of the Internet that promise more immediate satisfaction. I’ll leave a tab open with the two or three half-fulfilled paragraphs just waiting to be injected with life, and every time I sit down I am forced to conjure a new reason why I can’t complete the entry. At this point, I feel with certainty that I would benefit greatly from lowering the bar for what’s worth publishing. I have been awkwardly using social networks to do what this blog is much better equipped to do. Shorter posts will go a long way by placing less pressure on each individual entry. But enough melancholy.

At a friend’s recommendation, I read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (wiki). It’s a philosophical text written in the form of the Socratic method. As it happens, the last book I read was also written in this format, so I guess I have an affinity for the style. Halfway through the book I began to realize that the author was genuinely crazy, which was a shame given how valuable a lot of his insight had been up to that point. Still, I enjoyed his perspective on culture and mythology.

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scientification, act 1

I think I have some explaining to do regarding the last two years of my life. I’ve strayed from sharing the day-to-day details of my life on this blog, but I think it’s time to make this place a little more human. As my dearest friends disperse out across the world once more, it would suit me to become comfortable providing some more detail about the progress in my life.

Spring 2009 was a rough period in my history. I was still working at the Geek Squad, a job whose only saving grace was a team of exuberant and eccentric co-workers that allowed me to share in some of their excellence. I was really enjoying the academics at IC, but the social scene was intensely isolating and in my semester there I couldn’t manage to make a single friend. I was also struggling to come to terms with my gradual conversion to atheism and what this meant for my identity and future. Living with my parents greatly exacerbated all of these issues, and I was eager to get out. When John approached me about joining him on an apartment hunt, I was totally on board.

Continue reading scientification, act 1

adorable

This blog was given an award.

It wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

Adorable was perhaps the last adjective I had in mind in the creation of this blog, though Lauradid say it was given ironically. Social convention dictates that I accept and conform to the stated rules of this award:

  • Thank the person who gave you this award, and link back to them in your post.
  • Tell us 10 things about yourself.
  • Nominate your bloggers.
  • Contact these bloggers, and let them know they received this award.

The alternative to doing these things is that I embrace my inner asshole and analyze the shit out of a seemingly minor event. Can you guess which one I’m going to do?

Continue reading adorable

existential hat trick

Vocation, con’t

“Jack of all trades, master of none, but oft times better than the master of one.”

This phrase, written first in 1612, was regarded as a compliment during the Renaissance. Renaissance humanists believed humans to be limitless in their capabilities, and as such should pursue knowledge and mastery in every possible manner. Also known as polymaths, these individuals would learn multiple languages and musical instruments, developing not just intellectual skills, but also their physical prowess, social accomplishments, and artistic capabilities. They’re the reason we use the word university (universities were once places of universal education) and why the liberal arts are called the humanities.

Not everyone agrees with this ideal.

“He who embraces too much, has a weak grasp”
“You aim for everything, but you hit nothing”
“Who chases two jackrabbits catches none”
“Seven trades, the eighth one – poverty”

The problem with quotes is that it’s easy to mistake a catchy zinger for valid truth, so here’s something a little more personally relevant. An extended relative of mine – a concept artist for a custom car designer – gave me a framed piece when I was sixteen years old of this wonky car doing a burnout, and he signed it with this oddly prescient quip:

“Tim,
Pick your direction,
aim it & GO!”

My point, I hope, is illustrated. There’s an approach to life that says being well-rounded makes us better at life as a whole, and there’s another that says exclusive dedication is the path to success. The truth, I suspect, is a mixture of the two.

Continue reading existential hat trick

more birthday manifesto

A big thanks to Ben Myers for the domain name suggestion. A few people said they would have liked oftim.net more, but I figured it was time to embrace the name of the blog. Maybe we’ll see oftim make a return somewhere else, though.

Relationships, con’t

As unpredictable and tempestuous as my emotional state can be, I’ve never had cause to question the depth the connections I have with my family and friends. Even at my most self-absorbed, I could never bring myself to say that no one in the world cares about me or loves me. Perhaps my greatest mistake over the past years has been giving legitimacy to feelings of loneliness. Which leads me to conclude that the loneliness I’ve experienced has very little to do with a lack of companionship, but a discomfort with being alone. It would be easy to pass that discomfort off as me just being a social guy, but I think the existential crisis demands a more complete explanation.

Continue reading more birthday manifesto

a birthday manifesto

For my twenty-second birthday, I decided it was high time I sat down and had myself a genuine existential crisis.

What?” I hear you say, “Tim, you’ve been having an existential crisis since you were thirteen. Come on.

Probably, but it’s my birthday and I’ll have an existential crisis if I want to. Stay a while and listen, kids. My intellectual struggles over the past few weeks have revolved around one question. What is my reason for living?

I’m hunting for something that justifies my continued existence. I reject the tautology that we can just live for the sake of living. I need something more. I don’t mean more in any kind of supernatural or extraordinary sense – just something more than myself. I’ve been attempting to explore all the options for what that can mean. These posts will be a part of that exploration.

Continue reading a birthday manifesto

second-hand

On a regular basis, the subject of whether or not I’m still smoking comes up among practically all of my friends (because they’re the kind of friends that care). I’ve legitimately quit twice since I started nearly three years ago, and made dozens of half-hearted attempts here and there (usually at the behest of a lady). I feel like it’s time I discussed how I even started, what’s kept the habit going, and how I perceive it as an individual and at a societal level.

I could try and say that it began because of the setting, and that might hold merit. I was in England, surrounded by people far beyond my age and wisdom who were introducing me to ways of thinking and living that I’d never before considered legitimate. I was an immensely curious teenager, impressionable and overwhelmed with new experiences, thoughts, ideas, and alcohol. Nights out to the pub were inevitably peppered with smoke breaks, and my curiosity demanded to know. But that wasn’t where the habit started.

Continue reading second-hand

eulogy

I delivered a eulogy today. This is what I said.

I’ve never done this before, so I apologize ahead of time if I’m young and stray too eagerly into the unorthodox or worse, the cliché. Death is still mostly foreign to me.

I only experienced a short window in Nana’s time with us. Seventy-two years of her story do not include me, and a lifetime of practice, mistakes, and learning preceded my interactions with her. Whatever her challenges were, I was not privy to them. As such, Nana will exist eternally in my mind as the pristine vessel of the best kind of grandmotherly love. On any given day, she would fulfill with gusto the roles of guardian, tutor, correctional officer, and friend. She made possible a wealth of excellent childhood memories which I look forward to reminiscing on for the rest of my life; the ride home from school in her glorified go-kart of a car, the bacon sandwich she’d make every day while I sat down to watch afternoon cartoons (starting with Thundercats), the countless hours spent doing puzzles and playing word games. All of that was beautiful and lovely, but I think it would fail the depth of her character to limit my eulogy to youthful nostalgia.

Which presents a problem for me.

I realize, as I trawl through the annals of my biography, that my memory is not good. I have this collection of scenes from my childhood, but the details are so blurred. In these memories, her mannerisms and demeanor are perhaps the clearest of what remains; I can recall the lilting style of her voice when she would admonish me, or how her lips would purse woodenly while she read a story, or the way it seemed like every wrinkle on her face would contribute to her smiles. But ultimately, I can’t remember a lot of what she actually said to me. I forgot, kind of like loose change through a hole in your pocket. I was too young, incapable of understanding the myriad subtleties that no doubt accompanied her old-fashioned sensibilities and warm companionship. I want to say I know who she really was, but by the time I was beginning to develop an identity, she was losing hers to Alzheimer’s. I am stuck knowing her only through the murky lens of early grade school.

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metamorphosis

I’ve done it. I have produced another podcast. When I was failing for the third time to complete a decent written post, I realized that it was time to resort to drastic measures.

I’ll say it straight out – this isn’t my best, and I think there’s another direction I could have taken it that would have resulted in a more coherent point overall. However, I think it’s important enough that I keep at this, regardless of the quality of each individual creation. Hopefully it is worth your time.

#2 – Growing Up
The song at the end is B Complex – Beautiful Lies. Hint: it’s probably techno. I haven’t found enough new music recently, so some of you might have heard it in my presence before.

It’s a lot harder than it used to be to do this. I feel less confident in my ability to communicate at the level I think is required to demand the attention of my little handful of readers. I’m also certain a portion of it is my current creative ability has been surpassed by my capacity for critical analysis. Makes it hard not to agonize over every sentence. Lastly, I worry quite constantly about offending in a personal manner. It’s not so much that I fear controversy, but that I don’t wish to damage my trustworthiness by saying too much.

sandy

This is a post that I started (but never finished) last August, shortly before I departed from my job at Optimal Purchase. It struck a rather potent chord with me, now that I can reflect on what that choice eventually led to.

“Zefrank had a rather delightful little question recently:

‘You partake in a medical experiment. In the experiment you are given one of two pills. You don’t know which one until after you take it. One shortens your life by 10 years, and the other lengthens your life by 10 years. You have just found out which pill you took. The question is: which pill do you think will increase the quality of your life the most? Would one make you change the way you live your life more than the other?’

The answer is rather slippery. The obvious “trick” to the question is that most people would be pressed to make more of the time they have if they discovered they had less of it available to them; thus, the life-shortening pill would be more beneficial. This assumes, however, that the person is not already making the most of their time. What is “making the most”, then? Certainly, there is no limit to how well one can spend any given amount of time, so we can’t say that such a person wouldn’t be further enhanced by the life-shortening pill. Yet it’s a difference of twenty years that’s at stake, and a great many things can be accomplished and experienced in that time. I feel strongly that I am making excellent use of my time, currently – but will I look back in a decade and say the same?

Continue reading sandy

transform

It’s been a long time since a classic post. Forgive me if I’m a bit rusty.

Every few months, I go back to church just to see how it compares to the last time I went, and each time the experience is more bizarre.

The service itself has become increasingly uncomfortable for me. When the congregation speaks in unison, the chorus of mumbles precisely imitate what I imagine hypnotized zombies to sound like. I still enjoy the singing, but the emotions involved are more akin to singing along to Rihanna than anything else. The lyrics are distant and meaningless, simply being a mechanism by which to carry the tune. The sermon is a long series of statements that I just don’t agree with; where once I felt great confusion over how I felt about the implications of the content, I now simply see totally different interpretation of our existence. The crowning moment of awkwardness is when I lift my hand to deny the communion plate. The server pauses for a moment, as if to make sure he didn’t just imagine that I did what he thinks I just did. The guy sitting next to me stares at his piece of bread with absurd intensity. Every time. I remember how I looked around to see who was and was not taking communion, and I know that a very large number of eyes took note of my choice. I know that single decision molds the interactions I experience thereafter. I can sense in each conversation a careful tiptoeing and delicate probing to see where I am, and how I am doing.

Continue reading transform

loss

Many of my youthful memories involve passively eavesdropping on various phone conversations in my house. I was an introverted child devoted to his video games, but also capable of multitasking well enough to shoot noobs, guzzle coke, and listen to my mother on the phone. As a result, hundreds of anecdotes swim in my memories like little tadpoles doomed never to grow into proper frogs. Frog-memories. Memory-frogs. Whatever, man.

One such memory was of a young girl entering puberty. This girl was experiencing great distress over the phenomenon of growing up. A hither-to perfect child, focused in her studies and obedient in her manners, she found herself anxious and distraught at the introduction of such foreign objects like bras and tampons into her daily life, and rebelled for an exceedingly long period of time to a level that, compared to her previous demeanor, was rather shocking.

My mother deemed that she had experienced a childhood that was, perhaps, exceedingly good, and puberty for this girl meant the end of all she knew and held dear. My mother went on to conclude this girl’s reactions as evidence of original sin – that even the best families with the most excellent children cannot escape the taint of Adam. I would, of course, reach a different conclusion.

I think of all this as I ponder a commonality among some of my social groups that I find to be wholly disturbing. How can someone who is but twenty-four years-old truly look at all the world and see nothing but what once was, when “once was” is such a limited and incomplete definition, one borne of the naivety of youth? Was his childhood really so glorious that he is now permanently embittered to whatever new experiences he has yet before him? Or was he like this from the start, complaining to his mother that her milk was wholly inferior to the efficiency and convenience of the umbilical cord?

I would be content to consider this a mere anomaly if I didn’t see it in varying forms across every spectrum of life. I am terrified to consider what kind of old age these folk will experience. Oh, dear Sally, that Halo 6 you’re playing is absolute rubbish compared to the original Unreal Tournament! Everything after that – absolutely terrible, but they had the right idea, back then, mhm. There has always existed a mighty contingent of humanity that opts to criticize rather than to create, but I deem that this is a unique extreme of this population, and one that threatens to strangle itself with standards that cannot be matched.

I’ll leave this with a conversation.

[psimon] We call it “golden-age syndrome” because we forget that the golden age has a much more accurate name and the complaints about SK and games are symptoms of a more profound disease.
[psimon] Childhood.
[salmon] excuse me while my head explodes
[psimon] np
[salmon] i guess my initial question then is
[salmon] i loved my childhood well enough
[salmon] it was pretty great, plenty of magical moments
[salmon] but i have to say i’m enjoying adulthood a lot too
[psimon] Do you complain about Golden Age?
[salmon] i guess not
[psimon] I don’t think you do, but I’m asking just to be sure.
[psimon] Well, there you go, Salmon.
[psimon] You enjoy your adulthood and do not complain about the Golden Age you experienced before this current stage of your life.
[psimon] You have just come to understand the true nature of golden age syndrome
[psimon] Some people will spend the rest of their lives trying to figure this out.
[salmon] but i guess i still wonder
[salmon] let’s say ted had a really fantastic childhood
[salmon] the kind filled with technowonder
[salmon] how could he be poisoned against everything so quickly, before he’s even experienced it?
[psimon] I have my answer, but the answer is only worth anything when you’ve made it yourself. I’ll share mine not to deliver the answer to you, but to give you something to think about while you make your own
[psimon] I’ve found throughout this “real world” that many people.. scores of people.. are unhappy. Miserable. They complain, mope, get angry, any host of reaction, but at the core there is a lack of contentment.
[psimon] thinking about this and a few good books I was lucky enough to read…
[psimon] Some people grow into adults without realizing that contentment is a choice.
[psimon] So they go around looking for all these things that could be wrong, all these needs to try and satisfy…
[psimon] forgetting that the external world isn’t where your emotions are created
[psimon] its an internal choice, being happy, and people who don’t know that often don’t do that.
[psimon] children don’t have as powerful a capacity to resent or be displeased
[psimon] and the only exclusively human thing in this world is hypocrisy
[psimon] People who grow old without growing up become jaded and convinced that they’re right.

oasis

A while back, I came across a rather simple ytmnd that was just a clip from an old cartoon I was rather fond of.

Listen kid, love is the only chance for happiness you’ll ever get in this life, and if you’re gonna let a little thing like rejection stand in your way, maybe you just might as well stay right there on the ground ’cause people are gonna be walking all over you for the rest of your life.

Whenever I am faced with a conundrum for which I do not possess the wisdom to solve, I seek the insight of pretty much anyone that will listen. It’s been a while since this I’ve felt the need to do this, but the diversity of perspectives that I encountered offered a significant amount of clarity into this issue.

!: “hit it and quit it”

I am young and possess every quality necessary to gratify all of my carnal desires. This will not be the case forever, and it is likely that I will regret it if I do not capitalize on this soon. I am at the stage in my life where experimentation and exploration is easy and approved of. Manipulation is to be expected, and should be embraced if I wish to avoid unnecessary attachment while maximizing my enjoyment. Love begins with the mutual abandonment of said manipulation, and is maintained with much sweat and tears. Outside of this, romance is at heart a cold-blooded affair, in which every word and action can be broken down into simplistic motives, none of which are noble or laudable in any way.

@: “don’t be a manwhore”

Relationships are an enjoyable convenience that, when one is fortunate, might blossom into something worth keeping. Most of the time this will not happen, which is to be expected, and not to be mourned. With the appropriate mindset, attachment to casual partners may be avoided, but this is not an approach to be overused, lest I find myself incapable of escaping it, thus spoiling the opportunity for something more meaningful and long-lasting. True love is a fairy-tale. The simple reality is that my chances of being with one woman for my whole life are rather slim, and it is naivety to believe I am the exception. There is no magical match, only better relationships and worse relationships.

#: “expect nothing”

Searching for love is futile – it will come, or it will not. Love is rather like quantum physics – attempting to observe it will simply change the result, making it wholly worthless to try and predict or control. I should conduct my life in such a way as to survive as if love is not a possibility or does not exist.

$: “know thyself”

Happiness is primarily a matter of learning what is best for me. Each person is different, and thriving is a matter of finding deep connections. These connections can only occur if I know what it is I do and do not want, which requires a playing of the field, as it were. The better I know myself, the better the love (and the sex) I will eventually experience is going to be. Part of maturity is in figuring out the relationships that are worthwhile. Losses will be experienced, but I will be richer for them, and they will make future relationships better as a result.

%: “good things come to those who wait”

“The one” exists, somewhere, and every effort should be exerted to ensure that when I find her, it is as glorious and incredible as possible. Every possible form of attachment and commitment should be saved for the moment when this love is realized. Sex is an expression to be shared only with “the one”, and to dilute it is to disrespect “the one” and dilute the relationship I will eventually experience. This love expects to be waited for, however long it might take – but it is a love that will reward back in spades for the effort.

It is unfortunate that all of these seem to contain elements of truth.

decay

I have, for twenty and a half years, maintained that sex contains some metaphysical quality that made it special and unique among the many acts that comprise the human lifestyle. I have long felt that innocence was key to ensuring that sex remains what it should be; a holy and separate act that should be shielded from corruption and embraced solely as an act of true love. As time marches on, these feelings seem naive, more than aught else.

My doubts do not stem from lust, but from a re-examination of the nature of love. My hope has forever been that love is akin to a treasure that one stumbles upon unexpectedly, and that every effort should be exercised to ensure the glory of that discovery. As such, preserving sex for that moment would be tantamount. To dilute that experience with conflicting memories would serve to ruin its beauty.

If love, however, is not so much about a magical bonding, but about hard work and commitment, then what does that say about sex? If sex is not the penultimate expression of love, but time, devotion, and compromise are what matter most, where does sex then fall in the spectrum of expression? I had assumed that abstaining was a part of that devotion – an effort that was a demonstration of foresight and anticipation. This assumption seems increasingly faulty when I consider the reality that the connection between sex and love is not so necessary, and that it means little whether one comes before the other.

In an ideal world, they come simultaneously. It seems, however, that I do not live in the ideal world, and that true love (as I imagine it) may, in fact, be one of many works of fiction that exists only in the world of elves and phoenixes.

the surreality of truth

(here is the complete and mostly finalized version of the story; constructive criticism is welcomed and appreciated, as are questions of any kind)

Preface: This epic tale begins at 4:00pm on a Thursday, when I rise from my slumber to find my father has left me a note, saying something about having made an appointment for the doctor, citing concerns about hot flashes and clowns. I do not sleep, because sleep is for infidels. Dusk and dawn have passed, and I set out to the clinic.

FRIDAY: The Ambush

10:45am: I arrive at the clinic. The normal old saggy man is not around and has been temporarily replaced with an old saggy woman, a detail which I fail to notice until hours later. I inform her on various matters regarding depression and narwhals, and the fateful question arises which I have always lied about: “have I ever had thoughts of suicide”. I ponder the consequences of saying yes, and I feel that whatever happens, it should be entertaining; I give her an affirmative. I can see something sinister light up within her eyes, the fires of a white person’s over-reaction burning deep inside. She leaves the room, and approximately three games of cell phone solitaire later, she returns to inform me that if I do not check in at the hospital in two hours, she will tell the police that I am a godless heathen. I later learn that this was a bullshit bluff, but I am becoming quite sleepy at this point, and details/vision become blurry. I begin to regret my choice.

12:00pm: An angry horned man greets me at the desk, citing his gross over-qualification for his current task. Though I do not know it, I smoke what will be my last cigarette for seventy-two hours, and after two hours of Disney channel fornication being blasted throughout the waiting room, I am summoned into the inner sanctum to offer a sacrifice of urine to the cultists. They smile warmly, but I see through their illusion, and I am shunned back into the waiting room.

3:00pm: I am again called into the inner sanctum, where my blood is tapped because I am a virgin. Despite my protests, the cultists keep me quarantined from the others in a room containing grotesque amounts of literature on Jesus, no doubt to ensure me that they are not satanists. I fall into a sleep-like state, because I am goddamn tired.

5:00pm: I am awoken by a shaman, and she tells me that they think I should be checked in to the hospital. I ask many questions, generally following a tone of “I thought I was here to be evaluated” and “It took you five hours to tell me this?”, but she is not fazed. I ask if I can do this tomorrow, and my request is declined, citing concerns about me driving straight home to jump off a bridge. I give her a “what the fuck” look and she smiles warmly, but I cannot see through her illusion. I sign a paper that, unbeknownst to me, says that I agree to be bored out of my fucking mind for three motherfucking days.

6:00pm: The shaman leads me into the sanctuary of her people, handing me a pair of holy robes to be donned before I join the other initiates. The robes are made of blue paper, and I question the validity of a cult that cannot afford, at the very least, some Snuggies. She takes away my cigarettes, citing concerns about bullshit that I do not heed. My cell phone and wallet are also stripped of me, and I begin to realize that I have signed a very ill contract.

6:30pm: The sanctuary is filled with new initiates, and not much else. I am promptly greeted by an 80-year-old woman wearing socks on her hands, and I politely decline her offer of a high five. I spot no less than three middle-aged men that appear to be detoxing from various drugs. The shaman hands me off to her acolyte, who happens to be the first attractive person I have seen in twenty-six hours. I am grateful for this, but she spends most of her time ensuring the woman with socks on her hands does not take her clipboard away.

I am shown to my quarters, and a man wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt is snoring in a cot not far from mine. I am thankful that he is not wearing a Metallica t-shirt. The acolyte provides a tour of the facilities, which are not large enough to elicit a tour. A single shitty television sits quaintly in front of half a dozen chairs designed for the mentally unstable. There are no doorknobs, only these odd pyramid-like contraptions that I can only assume were made for the aliens these cultists undoubtedly worship. She informs me that contact with the outside is mostly forbidden, but that I may call for reinforcements via a singular phone that cannot reach cell phones. I manage to make a single call home, and plead for my music and some books. Every time I use this phone, it gives me a static shock. This cult is skilled in the ways of torture.

7:00pm: The woman with socks on her hands has grown weary from her quest for the attractive acolyte’s clipboard, and makes several attempts to retire to her quarters, entering mine several times in the process. I cannot blame her, because the demonic taint in this sanctuary is powerful. In the meantime, I examine the only sign of culture within this wasteland: a meager bookshelf. In between copies of Danielle Steele, I spot Anna Karenina, and I hide in a corner caressing it, drifting off in between long Russian surnames. The attractive acolyte leaves, being replaced by an obese woman that waddles in excess.

8:00pm: I spot a girl carrying a laptop. She hides quickly, and I am unsure if I really saw her. My parents arrive with survival gear, but my music is snatched away before my eyes, citing the potential ability to stab myself with the headphone jack. My copy of Baudolino survives the interrogation process, and I am granted normal clothes to replace the blue paper robes. I ponder tearing my robes as a throwback to Biblical outrage, but most of the initiates are too busy detoxing. I deem it an unworthy pursuit.

9:00pm: The initiates assemble in front of the single shitty television to determine the fate of this night. Several voices call out for Forrest Gump, but the disc cannot be found; the group settles for Uncle Buck, to much derision from the detox crowd. The AA crowd approves.

11:00pm: Uncle Buck has taught Ferris Bueller’s sister some manners. Satisfied with John Candy’s performance, I retire to my foam cot, hoping that I do not wake for several days. The man in the Led Zeppelin t-shirt is still snoring. After this, I learn that the demonic taint of this sanctuary spoils the possibility of even the most humble hopes coming to fruition.

SATURDAY: The Death of Comfort

6:00am: I awake, bleary-eyed, hoping that it had all been a nightmare. The light of dawn taunts me like an ill-mannered street urchin, and my back screams obscenities at me for sleeping on what was possibly the most uncomfortable bed I have ever encountered. Calling it sleep would be a stretch; the obese acolyte enters my quarters every fifteen minutes throughout the night to be certain that I am, in fact, still alive. Led Zeppelin is still asleep, and I begin to wonder if he has been subjected to voodoo magicks. I emerge from my room to see a twenty-something with a neck-beard pacing back and forth singing Van Halen lyrics in an off-tune voice. Fearing for my life, I quickly retreat back to my quarters, and I consider my options:

– take a shower, or
– brood

I choose to brood while taking a shower. I examine the sparse contents of my bathroom, noting that cleanliness (let alone aesthetics) has taken a backseat to preventing all means of hanging oneself; truly, it would take a master to commit suicide in this room. I examine the cultist shampoo (my shampoos were rejected, citing fears that I would smell better than the other initiates), and while the ingredients do not list the blood of daemons, the foul smell tells me otherwise. The shower spews lukewarm water with almost no pressure, and this enhances my ability to brood.

7:30am: Not really feeling any more clean having spent twenty minutes attempting to scrub away the image of the unholy neck-beard, I venture out from my quarters. The Van Halen devotee has taken to sitting motionless in the corner, which appears to be his primary method of sleeping. One of the middle-aged detox men occupies a chair, staring blankly into space. I decide to do the same, thinking that there is perhaps some merit in this activity. After ten minutes of staring at the floor, I give up the search for nirvana, and I embrace my dear Baudolino, hoping that I will fall asleep again.

8:00am: The acolytes dole out deceit in the form of eggs and sausage without remorse, and I do not forgive them. I avoid eye contact with the other initiates, fearing that they might bond with me, thus beginning the process of hypnotism.

Exhausted from having to evade their silent assault upon my sanity, I retire to my quarters, and my stomach voices its concerns over this cult, demanding food that doesn’t taste like shit. Led Zeppelin appears to be awake, and he stares at the ceiling, without movement. Although my suspicions regarding this phenomenon are many, I refuse to pass up the opportunity to sleep through this ordeal, and my back steels itself for another arduous trial.

11:00am: One of the shaman yanks me from my slumber, and he smiles warmly. He performs a dark ritual to see into my soul, but I remain steadfast, even though I lack the comfort of my shampoos. By the end, he acknowledges that I am too narcissistic for this cult. He informs me that I will be able to leave Monday morning, because the high priests do not work on weekends. The shaman is engulfed in a shroud of mist, and I do not see him again. In retrospect, it seems likely that he was a product of the breakfast sausages. Eggs are not usually so sinister.

11:30am: The neck-bearded fellow is flipping channels, and I happen to catch a glimpse of Gandalf. Seizing the remote, I hunt the dear wizard down, discovering an all-day marathon of Lord of the Rings in progress. For the next nine hours, I guard that most holy power over the television like a mother hawk, the continuation of my sanity inexorably linked to Frodo’s quest more than any fanboy could ever dream. To my surprise, Led Zeppelin rises from his slumber, and he sits down to watch, saying nothing. I fall asleep amidst the marshes of the dead, and I awake just in time to rescue the television from a VHS viewing of Titanic. Led Zeppelin gives me a knowing look – though he has not shaved in weeks, I accept his support in my cause. I have found my first ally.

1:00pm: My back has swayed my knees and shoulders to its cause; these chairs were not designed for mortals, and my attempts at adapting them to my uses are futile. This cult is skilled in the ways of torture.

7:00pm: I am temporarily interrupted from the loving embrace of Middle-Earth to consult with one of the acolytes. No doubt word of my victory over the illusory shaman has spread; she has been chosen to test her mettle against me, and her wavering gaze suggests she is unsure she can best me in mortal combat. The victory is easy, and Aragorn looks pleased, upon my return. This was not a coincidence.

9:00pm: The detox crowd demand Titanic, citing concerns over the questionable relationship between Frodo and Sam. While I cannot deny them this point, I remain steadfast, knowing that effeminate voices and awkward dialogue are merely circumstantial. A vote is cast, and with the valiant aid of Led Zeppelin, the forces of good prevail, for two more hours.

11:00pm: The exhaustion of utter inactivity overtakes me, and I crawl back to my quarters. The ill mattress laughs at my attempts to siphon relaxation from it, but I do not heed its merciless taunting, citing an inability to understand the foreign tongue of cultish furniture. Led Zeppelin is already asleep, noble warrior that he is. My body aches at every joint; this cult is skilled in the ways of torture.

SUNDAY: The Wurst is Yet to Come

4:30am: No. No. No, no, no. It cannot be.

It is dark.

Led Zeppelin is snoring.

My heart, which shrivels like an erection at a comic con, tells me that dawn is not near. Dawn has forsaken me, its feelings hurt over being compared to a street urchin. I apologize profusely, and I am not forgiven. I lay upon my foam cot, impossibly awake. I am not even left with the whispers of a dream to entertain me; like a prostitute with no clients, my thoughts wander the empty streets of my mind, desperately searching for a solution to this situation. None are found, and I know that I will not be allowed to sleep through this ordeal. I resign myself to my fate, taking Baudolino with me into the main shrine. The neck-bearded singer is not to be seen, and I conclude that God sort of exists.

6:00am: The sun decides to show its cowardly face. One of the detox men has risen, likely drawn by the scent of agony and despair, and he voices unintelligible slurs in my direction. I respond with long words that may or may not comprise a sentence, and he looks dizzy. I continue reading.

8:00am: This sanctuary has an endless supply of sausages. I ponder a crass joke about sausage-fests, and I laugh to myself. Horror strikes me, as I realize that I have taken the first step towards joining this cult. Seeing this, a shaman smiles warmly in my direction, but I parry her blow, quickly riposting with a frown. She emits an ear-piercing wail, and disintegrates into a puddle of demonic taint. The other initiates do not seem to notice.

10:00am: A few of the initiates gather in the main sanctuary. They voice concerns that coloring pictures is no longer entertaining, and they request the release of a board game. Boggle is revealed as an option, and my whole body quivers at the notion of finding words in a 4×4 grid of letters. My advanced rhetoric convinces the others, and the first game is played.

I have found forty-one words.
The combined total of my three opponents is less than thirty.

My heart shrivels. If it were a prune before, it is now a raisin. The others wisely choose to find a different game. Another hour is spent on Scategories. Most of my contributions in this event are euphemisms for penis. The AA crowd approves.

12:30pm: Outside, the sky turns pitch black, and a terrible earthquake rattles the entire sanctuary. A giant chasm reaching down into the depths of the earth erupts in the middle of the shrine, and one of the detox men (still sitting in a chair) falls into the abyss. grunting incomprehensibly as he plummets into the void. Out of the deep nothingness, the high priest emerges, floating quaintly in the air. The chasm closes behind him, leaving no trace of its existence. The earth ceases to shake, and the sun appears once more. The smell of sausages lingers in the air.

I ask the question that lingers on the tip of every initiate’s tongue: “I thought you didn’t work on weekends?”. He laughs loudly, and a swarm of gnats erupt from his mouth as he does so. “No,” he says, “I don’t normally, but we’re short-staffed this weekend”. He beckons for me to follow him, and seeing that he is unarmed, I trail him cautiously.

When we have reached our destination, he turns to face me. In the distance, I think I catch another glimpse of the girl with a laptop, and for but a moment I take my eyes off the high priest. Seizing the opportunity, he begins to grill me with questions, and I am no match; his grilling is superior even to George Foreman’s. The stench of sausages becomes overpowering, and images of neck-beards and socks swirl around me. I sweat profusely, and tell him what I told the shaman and the acolyte.

The high priest gives me a quizzical look, and I can manage only to counter with a smirk. “Really, you don’t need to be here,” he tells me. I give him the most powerful “NO SHIT” glare that I can muster. Despite this, he maintains that I cannot leave until tomorrow, and I weep internally. He lets forth with another tremendous laugh, and this time a flurry of fruit flies burst forth from his mouth. He floats away, though the taint of sausages still lingers in the air.

I retire to my quarters, where I am surprised to see that Led Zeppelin is not in his cot. My back utters vulgar curses at me as I collapse onto my foam piece of shit. Dreamless sleep overtakes me, and I am grateful.

5:00pm: I am rudely awakened by an acolyte I have not seen before. She has the audacity to tickle my feet to speed the process of emerging from my slumber, and before I have time to ponder the legality of her actions, she is talking loudly in a voice one might use to herd cattle. She wants me to join the other initiates for dinner. I question her gender, or at the very least, the functionality of her ovaries.

At the foot of my bed, I find a pile of new clothes, and a note from my father. It does not say anything interesting. I sweat profusely.

7:00pm: The initiates have gathered once more in front of the shitty television. The fate of this night is sealed: the VHS viewing of Titanic cannot be prevented any longer. Led Zeppelin is nowhere in sight. He has abandoned me. With aught else to do, I submit myself to this doom. Popcorn is made, and it smells like sausages.

8:15pm: Leonardo DiCaprio looks like a twelve-year-old boy.

9:00pm: To my immeasurable surprise, the Titanic sinks.

9:30pm: The Titanic is still sinking.

10:00pm: I search my youthful memories of this movie for any recollection of it taking this long for the goddamn boat to sink. None are found.

10:30pm: If I were permitted to watch paint dry, I would.

11:00pm: I ponder my past relationships through the lens of Kate Winslet as she floats on a frozen crate. After a few seconds of this, I decide that I would find a better use of my time sleeping. My back disagrees, but I tell it to shut the hell up. My pimp-hand remains strong, even in this dark place.

Led Zeppelin snores away, as ever. Thoughts of late 90’s CGI fill my head, and I am thankful for the distraction. I comfort myself with the knowledge that a mere twelve hours remain, before I am free. Sleep takes me, and I am pleased to be taken.

MONDAY: Pursuit of the Lovely

I awake from a nightmare involving Frodo, Kate Winslet, and Van Halen. It is still dark, and I feel panicked; it does not seem as though as I have slept very long. My body is flooded with warring sensations. I am starving, yet my stomach informs me that it will re-enact the destruction of Pompeii if I give it any more sausages. I am utterly exhausted, but sleep refuses to take me back. I yearn for something soft to touch, and for a brief moment, Led Zeppelin’s beard looks promising. The ill desire passes as quickly as it came, and I am left alone, wishing merely for something beautiful to behold. I briefly wonder if this is what old age feels like.

I stumble into the bathroom to stare into the the make-shift mirror. It is nothing more than steel that may once have been polished, but has now rusted, and my visage is obscured by blots of decay, making even the phoenix on my chest look dull and forlorn. I wash my face with cold water (the lukewarm water is not available at night), before shuffling out into the main shrine to look at the bullshit clock.

It is 2:30am.

The clock looks back at me without a shred of remorse.

My fury is matched only by my despair, so I sit down on the floor. This is not effective.

Knowing of no other way to vent my frustration without assuring an extended stay with this cult, I do the only thing a man looking to preserve his sanity can do: push-ups. The obese acolyte, who is doing her fifteen-minute espionage, seems confused at the nature of my activity. I am grateful for the first honest sweat I’ve had in days, and I manage to exhaust half an hour honing my impeccable vanity. My rage has quieted enough to go back to Baudolino.

3:30am: An asian man I have not seen before stumbles into the main shrine. He takes a seat across from me, and a polite conversation about how the fuck both of us ended up in here ensues. He shows me some fresh wounds from when the po-po slammed him into the pavement, and we share in righteous indignation against The Man. I am rejuvenated, for a short while, until a younger member of the AA crowd joins us. He describes the sabotage of an affair with a married woman nearly twice his age, and the asian man and I share a knowing glance; we do not pity him.

Eventually the conversation takes a turn for the worse, and a semi-passionate discussion of Jesus breaks out. It is a conversation I have heard a dozen times before, and I am displeased to find that the record is still broken, after all these years. It is temporarily intriguing to be, for perhaps the first time, on the opposite side of this engagement, but I soon find it is not much different than it once was.

Once the debate has sputtered out, the AA fellow returns to his quarters, and the asian man and I discuss various matters of Warcraft and Counterstrike for a while longer. This is, undoubtedly, the first genuine conversation I have had in nearly three days. It feels eerie, knowing this, and as I think of more things I have not done since this cult captured me, I feel utterly panicked at the notion of staying here any longer. This place makes me feel fragile and needy, two qualities I take great care never to emit and do my best to avoid acknowledging.

As the conversation begins to falter, I return to my cot that I might gaze at the non-descript ceiling and bore myself into a coma. This is not effective; try though I might, I stare for an hour without results. Each time I think I feel the subtle touch of unconsciousness, the obese acolyte peers inside to ensure that I am not dead, and apparently to ensure that I do not sleep. I want to scream holy obscenities in every direction.

Measureless sands of time sift through my fingers as I imagine myself in every manner of fantastic circumstance that is superior to my own. Here, I stand upon a mighty tower of stone, and I am the night’s lone watchmen. There, I reside in the crow’s nest of a regal battleship, gazing out at colorless seas on a moonless night. Now, I am a soldier in enemy territory that must sacrifice my sleep for the sake of my comrades. As important as I try to fantasize my circumstance, I yearn only for rescue.

I look down at my phoenix, and such a bold and excellent salvation I envision! At the very first light of morning, a most magnificent and terrifying firebird would rise up from the ashes of my hope, and from its wings would leap divine sanctification. Purifying flame would consume the rampant corruption around me, and only glorious beauty would be left behind. What more might I desire, than to see the existence of this place no longer necessary, and in its place, objects of eternal fascination and limitless grandeur, monuments to true pulchritude, dedications to elegance and grace. At the sight of these things, I could only fall to my knees and weep tears of joy, that my eyes had been blessed to witness such things.

The phoenix gives me a blank stare. The unbeauty of this place remains unmoved.

A few hours after dawn, the high priest convenes with his council of shaman, and he grants me leave before mid-day. An acolyte unlocks the giant steel door at the front of the sanctuary, and I leave silently and without ceremony. Outside, the sky is gray and featureless, and a fickle wind is tossing bits of rain around. The world is green, and never have I felt so grateful for such color.

I save my first cigarette for when I am home. I lay upon the damp grass, and watch the tendrils of smoke join the clouds above; it tastes better than sex, and I am, for what seems the first moment in centuries, at peace.

My heart is stricken with pity as I think back to those still within. I shall have to go back and rescue them, some day. I have much training to do.

escapism

I’ve spent the last three weeks holed up in my room, for no particular reason. After oversleeping for a test in my logic class, I suddenly lost all desire to keep going, and here I am, accomplishing quite little. It’s relatively the same circumstance I found myself in a year and a half ago.

I’ve been consumed with the concept of purpose. The popular mindset is such that purpose is equivalent with desire. We do not have a distinct purpose outside of what we want; we seek something, and we do what is necessary to acquire it. It is unsurprising, then, that the nature of depression lies in apathy. If our purpose is derived from the basic notion that we have something we care enough to pursue, we lose purpose when either we lose that which we used to care for, or we cease to care. Statistically, suicide is most common among individuals that have recently experienced significant loss – a job, family, etc, or have very weak ties to those entities in the first place.

The pervasiveness of simplistic evolutionary theory in my psychology classes has thus far been rather depressing. I don’t buy that most of our facilities can be reduced to functions of mate selection and special superiority. That just isn’t how I live my life on a day-to-day basis, nor anyone that I know. I recognize the importance and necessity of evolutionary theory in, say, biology, but I’ve come to think of the matter in this way: if we have evolved such that matters of morality, of love, of art and music, of poetry and film, are merely abstractions of survival mechanisms, then perhaps it is best to treat them at their abstracted level, rather than attempting to simplify them into more quantifiable terms. The process strips all that we gain in that abstraction, leaving us with very little that, to be rather blunt, makes us happy.

Perhaps what is so attractive to me about love is that it is both a desire and a purpose.

the lost and the lonely

My peers are hopelessly divided between the pretty and the ugly.

Nobody would ever put it like that – such terms are uncouth to our ears. Yet our words cannot hide our actions. I go to one group, and clustered together are meticulously prepared mirages of persons, yearning to be judged and found acceptable by the discerning. I go to another, and the art of presentation has been lost, drowned by society’s unspoken demands, embracing a hopelessness that provides solace against the onslaught of judgment.

The beauty around me is corrupted, marching its way into meaningless oblivion as it hungrily pursues itself, its incest creating a fog of self-absorption. I wander the halls looking for beauty, but I do not find it. Each woman is the same as the next, offering fake smiles to match their fake hair. At least they are consistent. The men speak in voices deeper than puberty granted them, wearing attitudes of pre-packaged rebellion like fine jewelry.

There is a solution, but I know not what it is.

blight

I thought I’d go ahead and share two papers I wrote recently. This first paper is from one of my sociology classes, Definitions of Normality. I referenced a few posts back. Although I had to resort to some hyperbole to make my point and I had to gloss over some really huge stuff to cram it into six pages, I like how it turned out.

The purpose of the paper was to write a time in which I’d “passed”. We recently read a book detailing the lives of various people that had pretended to be people they weren’t – black for white, gay for straight, etc.. I asked her if I could take an alternative approach, and she approved it.

If passing is defined as an attempt to circumvent unjust exclusion, I cannot confess to having done such in any meaningful way. I cannot recall a time in which I chose to hide important realities about my history or identity for the sake of attaining personal social equality. That is not to say that I have always loved who I am without reservation, nor do I suggest that I have never faced situations in which I wanted desperately to fit in – at any cost. My response to those feelings and circumstances, however, has not been to pass, but to consider the worthiness of the challenge, and change myself accordingly, all the way from appearance and mannerisms to my core values and beliefs.

This story starts in Mississippi, where my father was the vice president of a prominent theological seminary in Jackson, while my mother managed a large campus ministry. I lived there for ten years, until my father left his position to pastor a Presbyterian church in Ithaca. Until we moved, I had never once been challenged on or had any reason to question the religion of my parents, and I thought little of it until I was thrust into a new culture that did not embrace my father’s ideals. With this move, I continued to fit in marvelously with my peers at church, but I did not fare well in my elementary school experience. At the suggestion of my homeschooling friends, I spent most of my time in junior high homeschooling, a choice which radicalized my religious and political views. I began to read my Bible daily, prayed for God to take away my lustful thoughts (he never did), and I cheered as Bush took office.

Throughout this, however, I was tremendously unsatisfied with myself. From elementary school onward, I had a piercing desire for one thing: a girlfriend. I talked often of my loneliness to my mentors at church, and I trusted them when they assured me that God had a plan for me, and that I need only wait until God decides I should have one, if ever. They stressed that secular relationships would not afford me any happiness, and that I should seek to attract a holy woman by earnestly seeking God. The idea of adapting to modern romantic standards was repulsive; dating was a flawed and selfish system, devoid of any redemptive qualities. I should not seek to be ‘cool’, either, because ‘cool’ was not the measure by which men served God. So I ignored the conventions my few secular peers followed, even as I entered high school, and I took pride in being different.

I had but one friend (from church) as I entered my first day of high school, and he invited me to come to a gaming party at his friend Ben’s house – eager to see what exactly I’d been missing for fourteen years, I arrived without any notion of what to expect. Descending into a pitch-black basement, I entered a room whose walls and ceiling were covered with soft-core pornography, while half a dozen adolescents cursed furiously and compared everything to boobs and penises. I had no clue what to do, so I threw myself at an Xbox and tried not to look away. I managed to inquire why the walls were covered with tits, and Ben matter-of-factly explained that this was his sister’s room, and that she was a lesbian. I decided to save my shock for after I won the current round of Halo.

I quickly realized that this reality was at complete odds with what I’d been living for years before. I walked into church a day later with nothing but compunction and confusion. My father’s sermons told me that there was something fundamentally wrong with what I witnessed; they did not go to church, they were lustful and vulgar, they were sinners. My training told me that because they did not know Jesus, they were missing something from their lives and had no true purpose – but the more I came to know Ben (I went to every party he had thereafter), the less this conviction revealed itself to be true. Ben was an intelligent, caring, and hilarious person whose day-to-day problems did not find their solution in religion. He had something I wanted – even beyond a girlfriend – he seemed to have no need for the God I deemed so necessary.

I could have chosen to live a dual life. I could have easily maintained the facade of a proper church boy while participating in the godless hedonism of my peers, but I chose, instead, to integrate the two. I played both sides of the fence. I engaged my friends at school in much religious discussion, attempting to convert them to Christianity, while I did the reverse to my peers at church, playing the devil’s advocate, borrowing from many of the arguments my friends from school offered. I did it as a means towards figuring out which path contained more truth. At times, I resonated far more with one side than the other. But I never pretended that I was someone that I was not. I sought first and foremost to accrue knowledge, that I might make more informed decisions on my future.

I began to part from Christianity. A slow realization started, wherein I saw that the relationships around me – particularly the romantic relationships – operated on a set of rules that I was not properly following. My religious background had taught me to ignore these rules, but as Professor Baker noted, rules are what bind us together, they help make sense of the world. I realized that these rules existed for a reason, and that I must understand them if I wished to be a part this society around me.

So I changed. I decided to pursue and conform to these rules as best as I could. I started running and working out nearly every night. I started observing the fashions around me, I noted which colors went best together, how they wore their clothes, they way they walked and the way they talked. I watched movies, and I examined the men that my female friends considered so dreamy, and what made them so attractive. Cooley would be proud, no doubt; I shamelessly sought to emulate the best of what secular society had to offer. I wanted to be awesome. This wasn’t a new pursuit; I’d always wanted to be awesome. I was redefining what awesome meant to myself, and rethinking what awesome meant to others.

Quite simply, I was repeating the process of socialization. Baker describes this as the means by which people learn to be members of their social group. I was altering my primary social group to include a wider variety of people, who operated by a very different set of folkways. Prior to this, I had seen popular culture as being devoid of meaningful rules, but in fact, its folkways formed a network at least as complex as what was within the church. It wasn’t simply that I was adopting new folkways to achieve a goal, nor that I was abandoning old folkways; I was altering my core values in such a way that adopting these new folkways would be completely natural.

Over the following two years, I left Christianity completely, even after spending four months at a Christian study center in England. I got a large tattoo of a phoenix on my chest. I started smoking. I went through my first serious relationship, with all the accompanying highs and lows. My musical tastes expanded from almost exclusively listening to techno, to chamber pop, death metal, and trip-hop.

Goffman says that we are forever performing for one another, projecting an identity to those around us. Not everything I’ve done and all I’ve changed has been a grand projection for the entertainment of others, but the lifestyle changes I made feature an important common factor: they are, for me, parts of my life that I share with practically all of my peers. In changing my body, my religion, my music, these were expressions to those around me (as well as to myself) that I’ve changed, and that I’m no longer the person that I once was.

The path that these changes have taken me on has not been easy in any regard. The distance between the old church culture and myself grows ever wider as I lose common ground with their values and I decline more of their folkways. I am still close with many of my church friends, but a tension lingers over every conversation, composed of unspoken challenges and questions. I still yearn for what the faith purported to offer; the idea of an intimate and involved God is both beautiful and powerful. The community was also open, caring, and supportive, and the norms of my chosen social group do not lend themselves to such entities.

Although change is a difficult and frustrating process, I feel strongly that it’s a superior alternative to passing. Many people have “successfully” managed two separate lives, one for religion, and one for everything else – but such duality is ultimately destructive, as well as deeply disingenuous to both cultures. Passing, in this matter, seems unacceptable, a choice made out of weakness, an inability to choose between two competing societies that offer different realities and promise radically different futures. I have devoted my identity – the only identity I have – to one world, rather than diluting it, and I’ve changed it as has become necessary with society’s evolving norms. I take pride in having avoided passing thus far, and I hope that I can continue to do so for as long as possible.

This next paper is a little more obscure. I wrote it for my ethics class. The goal of the paper was to utilize Aristotle’s virtue ethics in approaching abortion. It’s a little meta, but I love me some meta, so I really enjoyed this one.

The realities surrounding an issue such as abortion are inexorably grim. At the core of the matter lie millions of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, for which abortion offers a permanent solution. This solution is not without its concerns, and it holds a number of grave reflections upon the virtues we hold dear as individuals, as well as a society. What virtues are at stake when considering abortion? Does abortion lead us towards those virtues, or does it send us astray? Although Aristotle would have had no concept of abortion as we know it today, his ideas can form a powerful basis for considering what is worthwhile in this debate.

To determine the virtues relevant to abortion, we must consider the consequences of an abortion. An abortion is not just about ending a nine-month pregnancy, but about preventing the birth of a child that will exist for years to come, and the burdens that are involved with raising that child. An abortion is also a matter of desire; excluding cases in which the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life, abortion is being considered because the child is not desired, whether due to a lack of financial or emotional readiness, or a simple absence of motive to become a parent. Finally, abortion also holds serious consequences for the physical well-being of the mother, particularly when contrasted with the alternative outcomes involved with childbirth.

All of this is largely a matter of looking forward. How will the mother’s life change with the presence of this child? In what ways will society be altered? What can the child look forward to? Although a multitude of virtues are weaved throughout the nuances of these questions, a few can be considered of greatest importance. These are questions of prudence. Is it wise to birth a child into an environment that is not prepared for her arrival? It is likely that such a child will be afforded far fewer opportunities – educational, financial, and social – than a child brought up inside a ready home. Likewise, an unprepared mother will certainly suffer stresses and anxieties that other mothers might not. When a child’s home cannot provide for all of his needs, it is left to society as a whole to provide support, a pressure which becomes quite serious with each unexpected child.

Aristotle would look to the importance of prudence as a matter of balance, an approach which works surprisingly well in this regard. Too much prudence might involve aborting every unexpected pregnancy, regardless of the mother’s wishes, for fear of the burden these children bring upon their mothers ans society at large. Too little would see abortion struck out as an option entirely, with mothers foolishly embracing the potential of new children without any consideration for their practical ability to care for these children.

Abortion is also an issue of fairness. If a woman does not desire her pregnancy, is it fair – to the mother and to the child – to bring the pregnancy to term despite this? Is it fair to bring a child into the world only to send them to an orphanage or foster home? By the same token, is it fair to place such an expectation on society to support the child? Is it fair for a woman to undergo the rigors of a nine-month pregnancy and risk childbirth against her will? If the unborn possess full human rights, is it fair to end their life despite these concerns? Is it fair to abort a pregnancy simply because its future is not the same as others?

Aristotle’s approach proves less effective in this regard. The median of fairness is highly nebulous; how may a woman be too fair as she ponders an abortion? Can society truly be too fair, too considerate of all relevant interests? To further complicate the matter, fairness is a more subjective virtue. If one values the life of an unborn child very highly, it becomes more fair to ensure the pregnancy comes to term, regardless of what outcome that child faces on the other side of the womb. Conversely, if one values a woman’s ability to control the future of her body as greater than her pregnancy, the fair choice is already made. Indeed, the answers to questions of fairness seem almost independent of the virtue itself, being predetermined by our attitudes on independence and the nature of human life.

Another direction to be taken with fairness is the simple answer that nothing about an undesired pregnancy, aborted or not, is fair. It is ultimately unfair that we are forced to make these choices, and as Aristotle himself acknowledges, the point from which we start our lives is hardly fair, regardless of how prudently we plan ahead. That being said, this route opens up a better question: are there cases in which it is more fair to abort, than to bring to term, and what are they? In this way, the virtue of fairness is still the goal, but it is less about achieving an objective status of equality, so much as choosing the fairer of two imparities, and we may still honor the importance of fairness in morality.

This brings us to the third, and perhaps most important virtue, conscientiousness. While it might first seem but a synonym of prudence, the conscientious person is driven by a conscience that is satisfied only by a wide awareness of what is it hand and a cautious examination of available evidence. Prudence and fairness without conscience are lifeless, as the goal in ethics is to make decisions that are moral, not just reasonable, for what is strictly reasonable is not always moral. The virtue of conscientiousness drives us to use our prudence and our pursuit of fairness to achieve a most moral end.

Conscientiousness is a virtue whose mean can be found in relation to prudence and fairness. While it may sound odd to be too conscientious, giving too much weight to our conscience would be to defy reason, to follow our gut without consideration for the practical realities and consequences of the situation. Too little conscience would, as mentioned before, result in purely mechanical decision-making, holding no regard for the sanctity of life and happiness, stripping us from what makes these matters important in the first place.

There is a potent example within Rachels’ book, The Elements of Moral Philosophy. He describes the infanticide that was once common in Eskimo society. The Eskimos lived in a harsh environment with very scarce resources, and families could only grow as large as the hunters were able to provide. As such, families were simply incapable of supporting more children; thus, they enabled society to survive by limiting how many children they raised; raising them was simply not a feasible option. Their choice was prudent – they looked to the long-term future of their community, and saw that they could not support more dependents. Their choice was fair – how could the life of a child outweigh the survival of their entire society? Their choice was also conscientious – they did not do this on a whim, but as was grimly necessary.

Considering the importance of these characteristics helps to reveal which choices are truly moral ones. If we thoroughly ponder each virtue, we can uncover a multitude of important questions – questions of prudence and fairness, questions that challenge our conscience. If we follow these questions to their end, it seems that the ethics of virtue may hold a multitude of answers, even if it does not yield them easily.

apart

One of the frustrating aspects of my sociology classes is this never-ending truth that I live in a society that has a really, really dark history, coupled with the fact that things are still pretty dark, if I take an honest look around me. While that’s not particularly new, as I grow older I can’t escape the fact that I am, at the core, a product of this society and many of my values are pretty American, no matter how much I might vie for moral and intellectual independence.

I wish, for example, that we gave more weight to the importance of family, geographically speaking. I’ve always thought it would be better to live in a society where leaving home at eighteen wasn’t the expectation, yet I find myself in a situation in which the only practical solution is for me to do just that. As much as I believe in the virtue of self-control and humility, in the art and form of love, all of that seems to break down with each passing day living at home. A part of me wants to stay home just that I might prove society wrong and show that one can be a fully-developed person while still living with one’s parents, and I stubbornly cling to this ideal in the face of the reality that it’s just not going to work. Having consumed the essence of Americana for nearly twenty years, I am fate-bound; I cannot value the things that I do and be the way that I am, and yet peacably live at home.

That’s not to victimize myself, but merely to say that I am thoroughly American, and my parents equally so. It’s not just my values at play, here, but theirs as well. The style of American parenting is often highly control-based, a methodology that does not mesh well with the existence of independent children within the household. I would have to submit to that control – minor though it may be at this point – a thought which repulses my American sensibilities, those qualities of self-reliance and self-actualization. Modern Americans are to find their identities outside the home, a process which does not lend itself to living at home.

One of the most distressing by-products of this is the diminished status of those whom do not find themselves independent. We relegate adult dependents back to a child-like status, into institutions and nursing homes, and we pay the people that run those places poorly, that we independents might live and breathe without restriction. It is only with the advent of new technology and medicine that we begin to see the disabled as viable members of society. The irony of this is that America regards its actual children with a strange paranoia. We fear their arrival with intense trepidation and declare their presence as among the most life-damning possibilities (though for some, that really is true), and yet we bend over backwards to protect them beyond all logical necessity, and we obsess over some of the most statistically improbable catastrophes.

Yet, here I am, giddy with the thought of embarking on this journey of self-determination, my head full of the limitless possibilities and the myriad details that will be my responsibility, and mine alone. Not that it’s happening really soon or anything; still have to apply for student loans and all.

lanes

I recently wrote a paper for one of my sociology classes detailing my motivations for leaving Christianity. It was pretty silly to try and cram it down into five pages while attempting to incorporate random quotations from papers and presentations, but it did cause me to reflect on precisely how much I’ve changed over the years. I’ve reversed my position on nearly every issue I argued so vehemently over, four years ago.

A part of me continually wishes that someone, or something will come along that will make it impossible for me not to return to Christianity. Growing up, I read countless stories of people like myself that left the faith, but were confronted with some undeniable truth or overwhelming experience that brought them back a greater faith than they had left it. When arguing my stance against my extended family a few months ago, a few of them treated me with the assumption that I would simply do the same.

The more I change on these issues – abortion, gay marriage, sex – the less I feel it’s possible I could ever make that return. I live with a small terror that I’m simply adopting all the views around me wholesale, but as I reflect on how I approached these issues before, that was precisely how I came to obtain my stances in the past. Still, I dislike becoming less distinguishable from those around me; it feels like I’m giving up what once helped make me unique. This might be a hold-over from having spent so much time looking down on modern society, but there’s a numbness that comes along with knowing that no one around me will disagree with what I’m saying. It’s one thing to have support, but it’s another to simply not have opposition.

This leads me to wonder why, exactly, I didn’t feel this way inside the church community, where solidarity within was certainly stronger there than I’m finding within the college community. I think it’s because I always had an issue that I knew many of those around me didn’t agree with me on, and I focused on that. It started with rethinking my opposition to evolution (I’m sure some of you still remember that epic bible study), then my stance on social services and capital punishment, then my views on sexuality and sex as a whole started to change, and so on. Maybe my departure from the faith was just an inevitability, as each of the dominoes tipped over, each issue I rethought being a logical consequence of the next.

I still pray, on occasion. My prayers focus on roughly the same issues that I have always prayed about. It doesn’t feel much different than it used to, and I don’t know if that’s comforting or disturbing. As always, God’s responses are enormously silent, though I wait for them as I ever have.

whey

Enough people said they’d listen, so I went for it. After some hassling I got my server working again, so if, for whatever reason, you can’t get the podcast, it’s because my computer is doing something funny and I’ll fix it soon.

This first podcast is semi-introductory, but it’s indicative of where I want to go with this. I incorporate a music intro and outro which might involve techno. Maybe. Feedback is always lovingly appreciated.

Podcast #1 – stories (4:55, about 1 minute of which is music)

Intro: Yonderboi (honestly not sure, came from a YTMND I watched two years ago)
Outro: Hystereo – Winters in the City

Took me about three hours to make – half of that was just getting used to the program I’m using (it’s an open source dealio). I really enjoyed making it, though it took forever to get the groove going.

ears

Without fail, at some point every few years I think to myself “Man, I would be totally down with being sick right now”. It’s usually been a long time since I was last sick (in this case, I haven’t been sick for 16 months), and I’ve forgotten precisely how miserable being sick is. Yet, for whatever reason, the thought of making sweaty love to my trash can and a box of kleenex doesn’t seem so bad when I start thinking about how much I’d love to sit on my ass for a few days. My body is usually quite quick to make this wish come true, although I’ve begun to wonder if that’s just the little microbes playing mind control games to get my guard down. Clever bastards.

Still, being sick does leave me with renewed appreciation for being healthy, which is something I’ve come to ignore as I keep smoking. It’s hard to weigh consequences that are so distant against a pleasure so imminent, particularly when most of my smoking peers don’t think much about it. And that, for me, is where most of the enjoyment of smoking comes. There’s much to be said for the communal enjoyment of drink and smoke, which is how I started, in England.

The image of smoking in my mind plays a role, as well. I like defying the standard cliches. For many non-smokers, there’s a very strong lack of understanding – they only know the nasty second-hand vapors that linger around the exits of every building, or the thoughtless smattering of crushed butts on cement. Careless addiction is certainly a feature of the demographic, but I like being able to understand that, and I don’t really mind the association.

Call me crazy, but I’ve always wondered what the experience of real addiction would be like. A friend at L’Abri shared some powerful stories about his addiction and subsequent time in rehab. That’s a reality I’ll never experience – and while I’m grateful, I also wish I could truly understand what he was describing. His descriptions were impossibly dark and grotesque, and try as I might, I couldn’t empathize. I had absolutely nothing to offer him beyond goofy antics and a pre-packaged idea of what God could do for him, even as I struggled to figure out what exactly God was doing for me. His experiences far overwhelmed my arrogance, however, and I was ultimately left speechless in the face of a reality that Christianity could not resolve.

Smoking’s certainly a weak attempt to gain access to that understanding, but I can’t say it’s been an experience I’ve regretted. Now that I’ve learned something, I should probably kick the habit.

Guh.