Saturday, 26 December 2009


1. My brother visited this week. He is normally over at Animation 07-11, where he draws pretty petchers, but he flew in from the Internet on Saturday. We picked him up at the airport and took him home, where he maneouvered around in a remarkably conscious state until he fell asleep during Public Enemies.

Which film is interesting, by the way. It is akin to Lawrence of Arabia or The Guns of Navarone in that I don't fully understand how it operates. It is about a character--not character interactions so much as a character--and the symbolic code or order or whatever you want to call it is different from most movies made nowadays. There is something entirely inaccessible about Dillinger, which is usually a mark of an older movie (ie. 60s) rather than a newer one. At least, in my limited film-watching experience it is. Maybe I'm just a dummy when it comes to watching the classics. Whatever you may think about me, this is not an impossible proposition.

Anyway, my brother coming over meant that the family was together again, at least for a week.

2. We, my family, volunteered at the Salvation Army's Christmas Dinner on Sunday. Mother and I helped set tables while brother and father worked in the kitchen. Then, once food was being served, I was in the kitchen generally slacking off and doing dishes with the other men-folk in my family. We (Nick and I) were sent out to eat once all the guests were served, and we joined a very bearded man named Rob who told us quite a lot about electromagnetism and how the whole system was being run improperly. We chose sitting with Rob because he had been alone for the whole meal.
My mother and I spoke to a woman who wore a nice necklace. My mother commented on it, and she said something like, "Oh, thank-you. Yes, I got it from a dumpster. I got everything I'm wearing today out of a dumpster. You'd be surprised what people throw out." She said it as someone in my own demographic would say, "Oh, yes, I got it on sale at [Abercrombie-and-Finch bracket accessory store]." That is, she said it with a certain amount of pride. And let me be clear: she takes care of those clothes. I'd have assumed she bought them at Wal*Mart or Zellers or maybe somewhere higher-end.
This did mean that I didn't go to church, but I think that's fine in this case, just this once.
Oh, and did you know that the Salvation Army's clergy (their term, not mine) wear uniforms and have ranks, like "officer" and "captain"? I did not know that. I think it's fascinating.
3. On Monday we celebrated Christmas. My Dad works irregular shifts, see. Well, he works very regular shifts, but they don't align with the days of the week, and he doesn't get stats off. (He makes an obscene amount of money on stats, too, so he doesn't exactly want to take them off.) So we celebrated on Monday. It was good, of course. I received more than Fallout 3 and seasons 2.0, 2.5, and 3 of Battlestar Galactica (see photo), but those are the salient points here.

4. On Tuesday we drove on the winter road to Fort Chipewyan. It is only maintained during the winter, and is rather cool. Perhaps I will have more to write on it later as we explore it a little further. (I can't claim the coyote picture; Nick took that one.)

5. I went in to work on Wednesday for four hours in the morning. I got some work done and got some questions answered, the latter of which was most important. I also showed brother and mother my project when they came to get me.
My brother also managed to get Fallout 3 working this day, and I played a little. I have not played it since, but I did enjoy it. I so rarely do that sort of thing any more--play video games, that is--but I used to do it fairly often. I think I like the FPS-RPG hybrid. (If you don't know what those terms are, I wouldn't bother looking them up.)

6. On Thursday, Christmas Eve proper, I served at St. Thomas'. In fact, I served for midnight mass, or the 11:30 service. It was the first Communion service I participated in as part of the worship team. I was jittery at first, but it worked out. Cues were, of course, as always, an issue. I was too distracted and nervous to feel overwhelmed or elated or whatever by the sacrament. But I will get 'better' at being a server and will hopefully as a result learn more things.
It was tough work staying up late enough for that, though.
Evidentally more happened on this day than evening service, but that might be better explored in the next entry...

7. On Friday, brother and I watched obscene amounts of Battlestar Galactica. Over the last week we managed to finish seasons 2.0 and 2.5, but as much as 4 and a half hours of that were viewed on Friday. I must again repeat the quality of this show: it is not your 'dinky' or 'silly' Star Trek-like sci-fi people seem to think it is. That's not to say that the original wasn't--I wouldn't know--but this show is good. It deals with "issues" and characters and suchlike that are required of being good. I have discussed that some extent here, but if you weren't with me back then, you could use being told it now. So consider yourself informed!
Which is not to say that we did nothing else. We--Nick and I--went for a walk down to Conn Creek, a little brook which runs through green space in the middle of the Thickwood-Timberlea area of town. One thing I didn't do is post on my blog, because I spent most of the day thinking it was Thursday instead of Friday, so I'm not doing Quick Takes until now. Sorry.

Today we returned my brother to the airport, from which he will go back into the Internet. But that is really for next week's Friday post.

Christian H aka English Clergyman

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Wearing Glasses of Many Tints

I hereby exhort you to read Huston Smith's The World's Religions, a book I have been spending time with until the day before yesterday. I have two particular reasons for this exhortation, followed by a set of qualifications, which are the short-comings of the book. But to begin I will tell you that The World's Religions is Smith's attempt at explaining the major religions of the world intelligibly, so that you, I, and your average joe can have a well-rounded, amicable, and sympathetic undestanding of the traditions he's detailing. His emphasis is on the "core" of the tradition and less on its ritual, structure, taboos, and other "trappings," unless they pertain directly to that core. Thus he is concerned with history where history is necessary, but avoids it when he finds it unnecessary.
As I said, there are two reasons you should read this book. The first is simple: throughout his assorted chapters, nuggets of wisdom--either from the tradition that section is devoted to or from his commentary on it--glint through the facts and philosophy like the gold it is. For instance, one phrase in particular caught my attention: "We are a blend of dust and divinity." Its poetry, of course, lends it its power, but others are less beautiful-sounding but nonetheless profound, such as the observation that, at root, most if not all lying comes from the realization that something about ourselves is not the way we think others expect it to be. Lying is often a symptom of a flaw in ourselves; if we observe our own lying, we will be better able to correct ourselves. There were many others, and I am reviewing the book in search for them, copying them out as I find them. Of course, when you read the book, you will find different things resonate than I will, I'm sure, but the nature of the book--a compendium and discussion of what Smith terms that world's wisdom traditions--indicates that almost anyone who reads it perceptively will indeed find embers wisdom.
The second reason, however, is vastly more important. Smith's lifetime religion-hopping has allowed him to see from the viewpoint of each tradition he represents. He is in a sense both an insider and an outsider of all religions, confering upon him the anthropological benefits of each position.* What this gives him is the ability to explain each religious tradition is a way that is fair to the others around it but nonetheless preserves the integrity of the religion itself. If you read this book with due attention and openness, you will be able to understand how a person would see from each religion's point of view, even if you still retain that your religion is nonetheless the best or truest one. This ability or attitude that Smith confers upon the reader is one of the book's greatest attributes. In a world in which Protestants and Catholics usually consider each other not truly Christian, it is easy to see how your average person could look at something like Islam or Hinduism and be entirely baffled by its customs and claims. In a world in which the media can often slip into equating Islam with terrorism, a world in which atheist organizations and celebrities portray religion as the prime divider (and if this has only a surface plausibility, is has at least that much plausibility), a world in which people will brazenly deny that Confucianism or Buddhism are religions at all, a world in which Aboriginal beliefs' endangered status goes not unremarked but unnoticed, the ability to see at least partially from another traditions perspective is invaluable. Smith's book is an oasis in our cooperative desert.
And before anyone is fooled one way or the other, I have particular people in mind when writing this, and some are atheists and some are Christians. Everyone needs what this book can confer, and I know far too few who have it. And it's not just the capacity to see from these different points of view, which enough people have; it's the actual details of each tradition that I'm refering to, which virtually no one has. I am, in fact, thinking of you, reader, whoever you happen to be. Read this book.
But not until you read my caveats.
First, Smith is himself biased. I noticed quite a few times when he tried to distinguish between a 'pure' version of the religion and a 'corrupt' version of a religion. I do not disagree with this attempt in and of itself; as a practitioner of a religion, I can tell you from the get-go that there are corrupted versions of religions, and that they ought not to be counted as fully part of the religion they came from. Take, for instance, those people who called themselves Christian who participated in such groups as the Ku Klux Klan. While I cannot speak about the possibility of their salvation, I can tell you that calling them "Christian" renders that word meaningless, as they certainly don't fit under its substantial definition.

However, I do not think that Smith's divisions are fair. He tends to cut away those strands of a tradition which are ritually focused, and instead devote his time to theology, compassion, and more often perspective. For instance, he no more than mentions that there is a difference between Sunni and Shi'i Islam, and instead draws his 'division' in Islam between mainstream and Sufi. This is like drawing your like between the Christian mystics and the Christian non-mystics, rather than between the three major divisions (East Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant). While I'd agree that a Catholic mystic looks more like an East Orthodox mystic than a Catholic non-mystic, I think there are still important differences which cannot be passed over so easily. While the different churches in Christianity are not analogous to the Sunni-Shi'i divide, I still think from my very little knowledge that said divide is worth exploring.
A good example is Smith's discussion of Hinduism. He spends a lot of the book exploring the philosophic and yogic dimensions of India (and it is until recently fair to equate religion in India with Hinduism, since Hinduism at the outset was simply the umbrella term for the religions in India, back when the English colonials believed that nations had single, national religions). In the Buddhism section, he needs to explain what shortcomings Buddha found in the Hinduism that surrounded him because he wants to explain Buddhism as a liberation from that context. Thus he sets up a 'corrupted' version of Hinduism. It is true that in some cases it was corrupted; for instance, by then the sense of hierarchy based on skill-set had transformed into the hereditary caste system. However, he also suggests that the sense of the mysterious had devolved into divination and "miracle-mongering," and that rituals had simply become mechanical petitions. First, it seems unlikely that no one derived meaning from their rituals, since these rituals persisted. Second, why ought we say that a religion interested in divination, miraclework, and petition is corrupted? By that logic, most of Shinto is a corrupted religion, since it is virtually devoid of 'lofty' things like theology or creed and is consistent mainly of ritual and myth. And this is certainly not the only place he betrays this attitude.
Related to this inaccurate definition of a corrupted religion,** he tends to dismiss ritual as secondary. This again devalues those traditions which use ritual and not theology to explore worldview. While he admits that ritual is older than theology and that such ritualistic traditions exist, he tends to gloss over the rituals themselves and tries to dig out those worldviews independently of their medium. I don't think this can be done. Ritual is far too important to too many traditions to put aside as a trapping. He reasons that focusing on the rituals, particularly those we find bizarre, is the worst kind of voyeurism, but to me it seems that trying to understand them and integrate them into the philosophical system he does so lovingly describe is a worthy project.
Another complaint, and this one fairly major, is his weighting. The Hinduism section is more than twice as long as the Taoism section, which is itself longer than the section of "Primal Religions," which includes the traditions of the Australian aboriginals, Native Americans, and non-Abrahamic Africans. He has no sections on Shinto, Zoroastrianism, Mormonism, Scientology, Neo-Paganism, or Baha'i. He mentions some of them in passing, but gives no discuss at all. This I found disappointing. So weight is another issue. (Obviously, if you want more detail on anything, you will need to consult more intensive sources, but this is always the case when you're looking at a survey.)

And my last complaint for the moment is that he has too optimist a view that religions are somehow reconciable. I realize that he was raised in a syncretistic environment (rural China) and I was raised in an environment that emphasized the rule of the excluded middle (educated Canada). I am a staunch monotheist, born into my current religion, and he is a frequent convert, first to a pluralistic Hinduism. For a Christian I have a very welcoming attitude towards other traditions and to syncretistic elements, but I must emphasize the "for a Christian" part: I continue to affirm the Apostle's Creed and you'd have to use Scripture to convince me otherwise. That is, I would call the Dene prophets Christian, but I wouldn't say they're right. Which is to say, I find his pluralism unlikely and excessive, but I realize that there are many who would find my exclusivism the same.***
Now that you are equipped to deal with his biases, I hope you will seriously consider reading this book. Reading this or a similar book (so long as it is reliable) is crucial to human citizenship in the full sense of the word.
*There is an on-going debate within Religious Studies about whether an anthropologist ought to be part of the religion(s) they study or not. Those who say "not" suggest that you'll be wearing fetters of some sort; not only will you be biased, but you'll have no external frame of reference to understand it and explain that understanding to others. Those who say you should be part of the tradition indicate that so much of religion is subjective experience, which means that one must participate and involve oneself in the narrative, symbolic, and interpersonal orders of which the religion is made in order to understand it, and that furthermore everyone is biased and works within their own frames of reference, even those who are agnostic. For the most part both sides acknowledge the other's point, but claim that their own concerns are more important than the other's.

**I would define a corrupt religion as one that veers from its central tenants or perspectives. Thus the KKK is not truly Christian because it does not advocate love, which is Scripturally required. As Protestants, the KKK would be willing to assert that the Bible is central to their faith, but if they do not love or at least attempt to love those around them, they cannot be Christian. Put more forcefully, if they trade in hate, they cannot dwell in Christ.

***I am not, in the scheme of things, wholly exclusivist--God will not damn someone who has never heard of Him, as far as I am concerned--but I recognize that non-Christians will often perceive me as being exclusivist by merit of the fact that I am Christian at all.

Friday, 18 December 2009


Having just read Em the luddite's post about snow in the South, I want to be clear about something.

Notwithstanding how much I gripe about the cold and how little anyone in the 'South' (ie. south of me, ie. most of populated Canada and the rest of the world) will be able to understand just how cold it is, I do find it quite pretty here. "Quite pretty" fails semantically. Whenever I see the hills from work, I pause--only for a moment, but I do pause--with a sense of blessedness that I get to live amid these hills. This was true in the summer, but in the winter it is more striking because it is newer. I've never seen these bluffs cloaked in white before. They look wilder like this, and I just want to get into them, tromp through forest drifts. I probably will do so this week.

There is a view in Fort McMurray which does, upon first seeing it, take your breath away. Whether you fly in or drive north on Highway 63, you will enter Fort McMurray at its southernmost point, which is the Gregoire-MacKenzie Industrial Park-Beaconhill trifecta. Driving north along 63 from there, you will come down "the hill"* into the Lower Townsite-Waterways area. As you come down, the hills still climb to your left but, as you ease around something of a bend and as Gregoire peters out, the trees and rocks and bush to your right will drop away and you'll see meadows roll down to a cluster of pines and spruce that give in to the Clearwater River, behind which the long, bare cliffs of the further hills can be seen. In the summer, when you first see it, the meadows are the light rich green of grass and the forest is the dusty dark of pines and the Clearwater is quicksilver and the cliffs behind are a pale earth forested with more pines and spruces that show, again, just how wide a palette "green" can be. I have not yet seen this during the daylight in the winter; I have seen it at dusk and by moonlight. Tomorrow I will go with my folks to pick my brother up at the airport, though, and this will be during the daylight. I wait with bated breath, because what little I have seen through the gloaming has hinted that it will be wonderful.

I love the winter light. It is white. Summer's warm radiance, signified best to me by a patch of gold on the rug, is nice in its place. But nothing says 'bookisness' to me like the white of an overcast day, and nothing says 'holidays and happiness' to me like bookishness. For those who haven't experienced it, when the ground is carpeted in snow and the sky is overcast, what sunlight comes through is reflected between the snow and the clouds back and forth, as though trapped between mirrors. Unlike a day with snow on the ground and a clear sky, it's usually not painfully bright (though it can be). The light, since filtered by clouds and reflected by snow, is white. Next to an incandescent bulb it looks blue, but next to a fluorescent bulb you can see what real white light it is. And since it's muffled from above and deflected from below, it's diffuse. There are no shadows. Nothing glows; there is no clear light source. There is just light.

I dislike the cold, I get claustraphobic and frustrated if I'm overdressed, my hands and legs hurt if I'm underdressed (in -35 to -45 Celsius, at any rate), I don't like getting footprints in snow, I don't like the time it takes to get dressed or the snow and water that spreads through the house no matter what you do or the mud that spreads through stores no matter what you do. You cannot kayak in the winter and there are no dragonflies or moths. Walking the dog becomes a much bigger chore than in the summer and shoveling snow emerges as grave and mature as Athena but as needy and tiring as a baby. Winter is not my favourite season--it ties for last with summer--but I must say that despite the recurrent frustrations--frustration so blinding that it's like panic only not rooted in fear--it can like no other season give a sense of underlying peace, joy, and maybe even rapture.

The hymns I associate with spring are ones of hope and renewal. I associate no hymns with summer, actually, but as a season I would characterize it as having a sense of possibility and maybe freedom. Autumn must always be new to me, gemini to spring, because that's when I start school (except this year); were it not for that it would be reaping the fruits of industriousness, winding down, impending rest. The hymns I associate with winter, though, are not properly hymns but rather carols. "Jingle Bells," yes, and, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," but more often the slow ones, so full of circumstance: "We Three Kings," "Silent Night," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and "O Come O Come Emmanuel." These songs are full of majesty. Not bursting with majesty, but full like filled wineskins or a well-packed lunchbox. They are soft, quiet, paced. And they are minor key, many of them. I don't know much about music theory, but minor key always strikes me as more monumental, as somehow out of our realm--fey, ominous, portentious, netherworldly, tragic, wild, or ecstatic. These carols are thus majestic, reserved, gentle, wild, full, rapturous, and otherworldy. They are that which is good about winter.

Winter is also dangerous. As a recently-initiated local historian, I am learning about fronteir Alberta in the early 1900s and am discovering just how dangerous winter could be. To us it means broken hips and sliding tires and poor visibility. To others it meant--and means--starvation and hypothermia and crashing planes and isolation and cabin fever and windigo and madness and darkness and other versions of death. If during winter the earth sleeps, than the earth has violent parasomnia. Winter is dark and dangerous and deathly, and that's how it functions as a metaphor in Frye's seasonal genres and in C. S. Lewis' fiction. This cannot be ignored, and as I pause before those hoary hills whenever I glimpse them at work, I also feel as well as I can how the early settlers of Fort McMurray must have felt about those hills--promise and freedom, hardship and death, mundanity and superreality cheek-by-cheek.

Winter is not my favourite season, no. But it is to me by far the most evocative, and I hope I always feel it.


*Sorry to confuse you, but there are at least three "the hill"s in Fort McMurray, four if you live in or know someone who lives in Abasand Heights.
**Once I have an appropriate one, I will post a photo of Fort McMurray in the winter on here.

7 Quick Takes (XXII)

1. I worked for a few hours on Saturday, taking pictures of artefacts in a sort of photo studio I made with portable lighting and white screens. This was for my exhibit. The previous photos had been too blurry. I can't recall the afternoon. What I can tell you is that it persisted in being cold. (I don't suppose there's any point in telling you that it's "cold," though, because unless you live north of Wandering River, you cannot understand the meaning of the word.)
2. Sunday. I went to church in the morning. There was some laying on of hands. This wasn't a healing service, but a gesture of asking the Holy Spirit to come down into the people beside us. I was not used to this, and I cramped up a bit holding an awkward position. (That, friends, is called bathos. Look it up.)
Then, in the afternoon, there was shopping for snow pants, which wound up being nice and warm. Also, a Secret Santa gift was purchased.

3. Monday. It was cold. There were assorted problems with buildings at work, including doors that would not open and furnaces that gave up and fire alarms that were going off. I managed to fix the alarm and reset the furnace, but I was no hope at the door. That, though, has now been fixed.

4. Tuesday. I cannot recall any particular event on Tuesday--I did buy more Secret Santa type things, but that can wait for Thursday. So instead I will tell you that I've still been reading The World's Religions. There are some problems with this book, which I will address in a review-type post, but here I will indicate that I think this book is on the required reading list of being a citizen of humanity. It does a very good job of making sense of the world's religions from (largely) their own perspectives, which is something pretty much every person I have ever met--including myself--desperately needs. (Yes, I mean you. Some need it more than others, but you can be quite sure that, whoever you are, I mean you.) You are allowed to wait until I've written my review, without which I am quite sure you will be misled into sin and ignorance. (And that, ladies and gentlemen, is hyperbole. Look it up.)

5. Wednesday. I volunteered at the Snowflake Soiree, which was a shindig put on in conjunction with the arrival of the Winter Lights judges. In case you don't want to bother clicking the link, Winter Lights is a contest which judges contestant community's festive spirit and blatant disregard for energy conservation. My Mom was doing a children's craft table, and I was helping her. I spent most of the evening helping a high-maintenance girl named Ella make a doll/puppet/glove with a pom-pom for a head. I got brief breaks when she ran off to see Rave the Raven ("Can I go see Wave one mowa time?"). All in all, it was a pretty decent evening.

6. Thursday. We had our Secret Santa deal. I got my recipient a pink hat (he hates pink) and put it in a bag with his name on it. Inside the hat were instructions that the big bag under the tree with a "?" on it was also his. Inside that were the real presents--chocolates and a calendar with horses on it. (I tried to find a calendar with horses being ridden by beautiful women wearing only hockey jerseys while the Dixie Chicks and the Barenaked Ladies played in the background, but apparently they don't sell that calendar, so horses would have to do.) Unfortunately, he didn't find the instructions as soon as I thought he would. He thought that was his actual present, and reasoned that it was for his daughter. He was good about it, but I could tell he was disappointed. I almost caved and told him to look in the hat, but he found it in the end and was happy. I also got a good gift--a game called "Catch Phrase"--but that is less interesting to me than giving the present.
After that we went to the restaurant in the Sawridge. The boss paid for us all to eat at the buffet, and I did what everyone does at a buffet, which is overeat. It was a good night.

7. And today is Friday. It was -19 this morning and -3.9 in the afternoon. For those of you luxuriating in the desert and who forget what it was looking like last week, that's balmy. I didn't wear my neck warmer or my snow pants. It seems the meteorologists were on the game after all. There was a bit of moisture in the air, too, for which I was grateful. We don't have much more than a few inches of snow, though. -35 and lower weather makes you appreciate the warm stuff. (Note: all temperatures are in Celsius. If you don't "do" Celsius, then I suggest you start.)

OK. That's all.
Go visit Conversion Diary. She doesn't need the traffic, but you need to read her blog.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Writing with a Goal

Of course I ought to be doing other things, like preparing for bedtime or working on grad school applications or not drinking caffeinated beverages, but instead of being responsible or something stupid like that I will write a blog post.

In writing text documents for the on-line exhibit I'm working on, I have stumbled upon a fact or few about writing itself. The fact-cluster is one which most of you already knew on some level, but I am going to augment your knowledge with fresh examples. I hope you find it useful.

1. Writing is usually done with a goal, or a purpose, or a win-scenerio in mind. A person does not simply write things willy-nilly. One writes toward something.

2. Different projects are written with different goals in mind. Take popular books. You can generally get a sense--but only an imperfect one--of the goals that authors wrote their novels towards in author interviews. The goal of a horror book is usually to scare the reader in a way that the reader finds enjoyable, though a bonus is to make the author think about things somewhat. Stephen King expresses this interest; mainly he's concerned with the story, but if you read On Writing you'll see he is nonetheless interested in what the story's "about." Science fiction's goal is often to explore ideas and, most importantly, possibilities--both in the sense of 'things we could do' and 'things that might happen if we don't wise up.' The goal of a romance book is, as far as I can tell, to provide a form of escape or distraction through titillation, sometimes outright arousal. Other books, those labelled "literature" by those who do such labelling, have some sort of critique or education as a goal, perhaps, though often it's a challenge.
The goal of an essay or argumentative book is different; the goal there is to persuade the reader. Perhaps they want to persuade the reader of a theoretical concept; perhaps they want to persuade the reader to a course of action; perhaps they want to persuade the reader (ie. grader) to give them a high mark. Sometimes it is to persuade the public to stop hating the reader so badly--this is a defence.
There is sometimes overlap here: a novel may be an attempt by the author to persuade the reader to respect the author. This would be "writing for fame."
Or, perhaps the writing is not reader- but self-directed. This is writing as celebration, writing as therapy, writing as discipline, writing as reasoning, writing as documenting. Or it is writing as exorcism, because the story burns to come out. Or it is writing for the sheer joy of wordsmithery.

3. Writing, when done well, is shaped by its goal. In English class they explain how, in a good story, each chapter, each scene, each sentence, each word somehow contributes to or drives the plot. This is only true if the goal is to move that plot along. As we have seen, this is not the only goal. A romance novel may include graphic sex scenes which move well past advancing the plot; they are obviously there for some reason all their own. This is because the plot is secondary to the response the author wants to elicit in the reader; usually, this is the same response the reader wants elicited in her, since she bought the romance knowing what would likely contain. (Or perhaps she does care more for the story and skips over these bits as silly. But at rate I think the author can expect that the reader will be buying the book at least to some extent for the sexy bits.) In a horror novel, a scary scene might be included not because it appreciably advances the plot but because it appreciably advances the suspense. In an 'idea' novel, a scene may be included not because it advances the plot but because it explores some new angle to or establishes some important groudwork for the ideas being analyzed. The goal shapes the story, in other words.
Essays are more obviously goal-driven. If you know this, I needn't explain it; if you don't know this, you likely don't want to.
Journals are shaped by their goals more nebulously; in this case it's how it serves the writer.

4. Writing which has no clear goal would be bizarre. Witness things written by children who do not yet have a sense of narrative flair. A friend of mine, for an assignment in our grade five class, wrote a story based on one of the pictures in the Chris Van Allsburg book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. The picture dictated that the story have as a moment in it a house which was lifting off. The title was something like "The House on Maple Street." I read the story for him, as an editor, I suppose. I cleaned up some grammar and spelling errors, trying to persuade him that because SpellCheck approved, "The dog was baking," didn't make it correct. Anyway, even then I recognized that there were some serious structural problems with the story. Namely, the house-lifting-off part happened in the last page of a five-page story. That would have been fine, of course, if the preceding four pages hadn't been devoted to an account of the protagonist's dirt-biking. What happened, clearly, was that he had to write about the house on Maple Street, but really he was more interested in dirt biking, so he attached the house bit at the end. Which isn't to say that he didn't think a space-going house wasn't cool. It just wasn't as cool as dirt-biking. His story failed as a story because it's goal was unclear. The first part was writing for himself, but the last part was writing for the teacher. He'd have been better off writing for himself, and then going back and "editing like a mofo," as Kay once put it, so that the whole story worked for the teacher. But it was grade five.

So that's the system I have discovered.
1) We write towards a goal.
2) Different writing projects have different goals. (enlightenment, $$$, arousal, pleasurable fear)
3) Writing projects, when done well, are shaped by their goals.
4) Writing projects with muddled or no goals have unsatisfying structures.

Now why I am discussing this?

Well. As I said, I am working on the virtual exhibit. This involves writing "Storylines," or blocks of text and old-timey photographs and new-timey photographs of old-timey things strung out in a narrative fashion. The point of these storylines, according to my instructions, are to lead the virtual visitor through my exhibit and give them something coherent to follow. This is unhelpful, as a great number of things could do that. What we have to keep in mind is that the visitor is at the exhibit because they want to learn, probably as a form of entertainment. That at least is our ideal visitor; it is also possible that there are high school students who want to extract specific information as quickly, painlessly, and thoughtlessly as possible for an assignment, but they will have to deal with the fact that I am not writing for them alone.

Which means my goal is to provide an information dump of assorted trinket-like facts and anecdotes. It's like a rummage sale: I don't expect everyone to find each piece of information interesting, but I'll only include it if I think someone will.

And that leads of course to my list of points, namely #3: Writing, when done well, is shaped by its goal. What is the goal of a narrative (it has to be a narrative) that functions as an information-dump, meant to entertain and inform?
It is a narrative with lots of tangents and anecdotes that don't advance the 'plot' one bit. It's an interesting genre, one which I could do again, but I can tell you that I didn't find it easy. The best thing about it was the fact that I was allowed to include things for no other reason than that they're "cool" (and on topic).

(If you want to see what this 'genre' is like, read A Brief History of Nearly Everything or Rats or The Serpent and the Rainbow or another popular-audience non-persuasive non-analytical non-fiction book. (Of course all non-fiction has some sort of thesis, but some have more than others. My theses in the exhibit are largely 1) this topic is worth writing about, 2) the overarching structure/topic is in fact an authentic claim/category, and 3) we--that being the museum in general and me in particular--are not idiots. This also acts to shape the narrative.) This can be an excellent and enjoyable genre to read.)

Saturday, 12 December 2009

7 Quick Takes (XXI)

1. Was it only last Friday that I went to a party? It must have been just a week ago. That's crazy. That, then is the first entry: On Friday I went to a party. The import of this is that I haven't been to a real social gathering since September--September!--when I visited Oakville, Kingston, and Windsor. It was tremendously awkward at first since I knew so few people and didn't want to latch onto those I did know and drag them down with my own social ineptitude. But in the end it worked out, as I got to know a few other people there and by the end I had quite a bit of fun.

2. Saturday. What happened Saturday? Books happened on Saturday. That's what. We went to the library, where I extracted The Magician's Book again, as well as Neuromancer. I finally got to finish the former, which has excellent parts and less than excellent parts. (It also gave me a book idea--I good one, I think--that I will attempt in the future. Not yet. I am not mature enough to take on this task yet.) I began Neuromancer, but will return it without finishing it, I think. It is perhaps too dark and gritty for me. Maybe not; maybe it's just a mood I'll pass through. But I am not feeling it right now.
After this, there was an expedition to the Peter Pond Shopping Centre (ie. the mall). This involved Chinese food and Bootleggers (not for me) and Zellers and Coles. This later was what interested me most, as from it came The Elements of Style and Huston Smith's The World's Religions. Lacking a reference book in either English grammar or world religions, I decided that I must use my gift certificates to remedy this situation. I have never read Strunk and White's classic, so I picked it up. And Smith's book was the most promising and most comprehensive, though now that I look over it I realize it stills lacks things on what might be called 'minor' religions--Shinto, Zoroastrianism, Rastafarianism, Wicca and Neo-Paganism, Mormonism, Scientology. There is a section for "primal religions" in the back, but this is thin and covers too vast a territory for me to confident of it. I haven't read that far yet, so I can't tell you for sure.
What Huston's book has so far done is greatly improve my understanding of Buddhism and re-familiarize me with Hinduism and Confucianism. That's as far as I've read so far, but I feel edified for having read this. Also, it's here in Fort Mac with me, so I can refer to it as need be. This is better than my host of textbooks in Ontario, which I cannot access. Yay!
Visits to the other stores mentioned, incidentally, involved buying presents for families through the Salvation Army.

3. Events must have occured on Sunday, but for me the day revolved around the twin axes of church, in which I didn't serve, and reading. I haven't spent enough time reading lately, so spending a whole day with The Magician's Book (see above) was nice. Not that I agree with certain parts of that book, but it was nice to just read.

4. And then on Monday work recommenced. Somewhere in this past week I finished writing text files, which is to say that most of the prose for the exhibit I am designing is now in draft form. This I must edit myself and then have edited. I have a rock-truck of work left to do, which means that the coming holidays will lack in certain holiday-like elements. Such as free time, or as much of it as Christmas usually heralds. This exhibit is becoming a stress-centre.

5. I need to spend more time on grad school applications again. I very much do not want to--I have mentioned this sentiment before--but there you go. I must, or I will be here in Fort McMurray for yet another year, and I can tell you that if that wasn't an incentive before, this week has changed that...

6. ...because it is COLD here! Geez jumpin' Louise. It took the knights of yore less time to suit up for a joust than it does for me to get my outdoor gear on, and I'm still woefully underdressed. I lack snowpants or other leg-warming accoutrements, for instance. I wear a coat and a jacket and a sweater over a t-shirt or long-sleeved shirt simultaneously, as well as two pairs of gloves (that's gloves, not mittens, b/c I need fingers to work) and two pairs of socks in my boots. I wear a hat and a hood (sometimes two hoods, if I am wearing my one-and-only hoodie that day) and a scarf or a neckwarmer. Under this pile of cotton and polyester my torso and ears are warm, but my hands, legs, and feet are still cold.
Now, in case you're thinking that I'm merely participating in that time-honoured Canadian tradition of griping about the cold, let me lay down some figures for you. Yesterday I saved some outdoors-related tasks at work for the early afternoon, when it was to warm up to -30 oC. For you Fahrenheiters, that's -22 oF, according to some on-line temperate calculator. Notice that it warmed up to that temperature. You wouldn't know it, though. I heard tell that with the wind chill it was -50. My legs actually hurt they were so cold when I did my end-of-day security round.
Some forecaster was talking about a balmy -5 next week, but I've been told that they lie about the forecast all the time. This happened during the summer when they told us it would be sunny next week, and it never was. I'm not surprised they lost a zero somewhere between the meteorologist's office and the newsroom.

7. I went to work for a few hours today and got a photo shoot done. (Of artifacts and not models, alas.) And then on the way back I had an impromptu photoshoot of some ravens. My subjects were kind enough to pose for me, though they were a bit nervous.

Oh, and I didn't do this last night because the folks wanted to break out a new game Mom bought called Catch Phrase. I found out about it at the party (see above), so Mom got it on Saturday (see above).
Also, again outside of the 7 Quick Takes thing, do people ever e-mail information to themselves, like pictures or links or whatever, instead of burning CDs or using USB keys? If yes, does anyone else feel weird about writing anything in the body? Like it somehow bifurcates your selfhood, makes you uncomfortably non-singular? Or am I the only one who both feels such bifurcations and feels uncomfortable about them?

Friday, 11 December 2009

Title Goes Here

I was going to write 7 Quick Takes, but I was busy and I should get ready for bed now. Bye bye!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Ham Cookies and Sonnet 45

Do you know what's bizarre? The sorts of things that lead up to one's blog in Webmaster Tools. For instance, there are consistently a few people out there (mainly Britain, from what I can tell) who Google "mina makeout" and get my blog up on the search list. That was one post of mine, likely the only post I have which uses either word. (Now, of course, there are two.)

What's really bizarre is the sorts of things I get first place on Google for. Like "ham cookies" (2, now 3 posts) and Sidney Sonnet 45 (2, now 2 posts). Seriously, Thinking Grounds ranks highest for people researching Sir Philip Sidney's 45th sonnet. That's sad. Ham cookies I understand; it refers to an online ad I saw once and my attempts to track down its origin. But Sidney deserves better than me.

For a while there, I was getting high hits for "pachycephalasaurus," too, which I am ashamed to say isn't very representative of my blog. There are not nearly enough dinosaurs on here, and in future I might try to remedy that.

I get lots of Aboriginal spirituality, which does make some sort of sense. I mention spirituality and aboriginal things fairly frequently, sometimes in the same post.

The number one which actually induces people to visit my blog from Google, though (rather than the above, which only describes what sorts of searches my blog turns up in), is "spirituality pathway test." I feel bad about this, because that sucker's sort of plagairized. And that's my #1 from Google.

Of course I assume my traffic is largely not from Google but from the prodigious amount of links I leave on other people's blogs.


Saturday, 5 December 2009

First Saturday Blog Carnival

Gist: you link your best/most defining/most favouritest blog posts of the month here, and then read other bloggers' submissions. It's a monthly, blog-personality carnival. Yippee!

Link here:

Friday, 4 December 2009

7 Quick Takes (XX)

1. I'm actually writing this Thursday night. I might be too busy tomorrow night (a social outing) to do this on Friday, as is traditional.

2. Saturday was Old Fashioned Christmas. Assorted things happened. We had an ice rink and a sledding hill. There were horse rides and pony rides and sleigh rides. There was a hockey shuffle board. There was maple syrup on a stick and children's crafts. There was chilli and hot dogs and hot chocolate and hot cider. There was a silent auction and a gift shop and pointsettas. There were carolers and live entertainment and bonfires and Santa Claus and elves and Christmas decorations. I was floater, as usual. It wasn't a bad event. I stayed later then than I ever have, though. I got out at 8:00. Before I left, I was mopping floors by flashlight.

I want you to look at this photo I took. The one to the right in this paragraph. Those are carollers, yeah, and that's a dude taking pictures of them, and there are little wooden sleighs with reindeer in the background and further back there are Christmas trees with Santa's Village in front of them. But that's not really what I want you to observe. What I want you to notice is the positions of the sun. See where it sits above the horizon? See the length of the shadows? Now here's the kicker: I took this photograph at 12:00 o'clock noon. That's the highest the sun gets around here. And we're not at solstice yet.
Of course, in Inuvik the sun doesn't even raise entirely above the horizon by now.
3. I served in church on Sunday. I've already written about that, though, in this post. That also happened on Sunday. I'm sure other things did, too, but they aren't really coming to me right now. It was a bit of a disappointing weekend, given how short it was.
Writing that Advent post got me to thinking. (Any surprises?) The other day I saw on ad on Facebook exhorting me to celebrate Newtonmas on 25 December. Maybe they want to join the festive season with their own scientistic holiday (I say 'festive season' because this time of year certainly has holidays other than Christmas, and the Jewish community began to observe Hannukah more to fit into the mainstream culture, Islam has the Eid and many religions have solstice celebrations, so I think it's fair to say this is one of those times of year that are celebrated by many different cultures). I have a suspicion that they want to practice a bit of irony and try to replace Christmas' spot in the mainstream culture with their own holiday, but I know I shouldn't think that because it's uncharitable. The choice of Newton-mas over Newton Day makes me wonder, though.
Anyway, this is the second scientist-based holiday campaign I've heard of. The other is Darwin Day. It makes sense for the atheist revolutionists and secularists to try and create a seasonal cycle. Conversion Diary has written about the importance of liturgical seasons, and in my incarnation as a Religious Studies student I have come to realize that many faith traditions take seasonal cycles far more seriously than your average Christian. I like being connected to the natural, planetary cycle because it makes me feel more agricultural and less urban, which is at this point nearing hypocrisy. Regardless, I realize how important it is to be able to enact a symbolic, community narrative each year, and the cycle of fall and return is a potent one. I think it will be a difficult project for the scientistics to create such a symbolic narrative. The creation even of a narrative has proven difficult (see the failure of things like The Great Story to gain momentum), and even people like Dawkins have noted that atheist communities seem inherently prone to dissolution.
Strictly as a scholar of religion, I'd like to see how this calendar holiday deal develops for the atheist movement. Will they try to use the actual idea of calendar holidays--that is, creating an annual narrative that the whole community reenacts--or will they find that is antithetical to their whole project of atheism? And do they have the voice and numbers to make this become popular? People who are still in academia (where atheism is more influential), could you keep your ears to the ground and let me know what develops?
4. I'll never finish this post if my entries continue to be this long.
I finished reading the Lovecraft collection (Nick, if you're reading this, know that you can borrow it now). Unrelated to this, I also finished reading Isaiah. I am now in--you guessed it--Jeremiah.
Thoughts on Isaiah: at some point I need to sit down and read it in bigger chunks. Maybe chart it out. I feel like something's there, but I'm not seeing it. I'm feeling like my education in close reading, while necessary and formative, is limiting me in my ability to see the whole of things I read. I want a sense of the whole structure (an idea I got from Frye, and again there are no surprises there). I have some sense of unease concerning this book. It's my first Prophet since my months in the Wisdom books, of course, so it's been a little while since I read much about carnage and slavery, I guess. This is why I want a sense of the whole.
I started this with Lovecraft, so I guess I should say something about him. Not the best, but certainly not bad. If you have any interest in the horror genre, you ought to read him. If not, then I suppose you need not. "Facts Concering the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family" remains my favourite, though "Whisperer in the Darkness" is a close second.
I have started reading Daphne de Maurier's Rebecca, and am so far enjoying it.
5. Today I received a thank-you (I won't tell from whom or for what) in the form of a $25 gift certificate for Peter Pond (a mall up here) and a space pen. It's one of those pens that can write underwater upside-down in a vacuum on a greasy surface at 100 degrees Celsius. (OK, I realize that it is impossible to be both underwater and in a vacuum or at 100 degrees Celsius and in a vacuum. You know the pen I'm discussing, though.) I also received a $2o gift certificate at Chapters-Coles-Indigo, so I have some fun lined up this weekend!
6. I had some work related things to share. I can't really remember. Let's see. It's cold. But not as cold as it usually is here this season, and it's bound to get colder. And I am now starting to think I hear people with me (usually upstairs) in empty buildings, especially when I have to go upstairs. But those weren't what I had in mind.
There's an article in the Queen's alumni magazine about female sexuality which is pretty interesting, but that's obviously not it because that has nothing to do with work.
That's it! I remember! Sorry, this is negative. OK, I shouldn't say it, because this might get back to me in a bad way. I don't think anyone at work is even aware that I blog, but it's the Internet. Who knows who's reading, right?
Notwithstanding, let me just say this: I am annoyed when educators speak in non-standard English. In particular, I am annoyed when educators speak in a regional dialect--Newfinese, say--when they are educating in a different region--northern Alberta, say. I'm worried they'll teach the kids bad habits, for one. With Newfinese, the worst will be the habit of replacing all ats with tos. ("Go and sit to your desk.") Prepositions and articles, in case you didn't know, are some of the worst for making people judge you. Not only is a person less likely to mistake a vern or noun, but we're usually more forgiving when you do, since then it seems like you're ESL. If you mistake a preposition or article, though, you just sound lazy/slangy/ignorant. This is problematic because, in English, prepositions are the hardest part of speech to learn. This is part of the reason why Chinese immigrants sometimes appear less intelligent to English-speaking Caucasians (or anyone else who thinks they're less intelligent based on language use, I suppose). It's also why it's a problem if you're teaching young kids and you use prepositions incorrectly. We don't systematically teach our children prepositions, but rather teach it through example. (Since it's almost entirely idiomatic and follows no universal pattern, it would be virtually impossible to teach by rote or rule, anyway.) So they kids might pick up the teacher's preposition use, which preposition use will be invalid in the context of all of the English-speaking world with the exception of Newfoundland and maybe Cape Breton. And since they won't be speaking in a Newfoundland accent, people won't chalk it up to coming from Newfoundland but will instead assume that the kid's just not as bright as he/she probably is.
Also, when you tell the kids to stay on the bridge and the nearest bridge is on the very busy highway, I get a little worried. I really hope that the kids know that "bridge" in Newfinese refers to a porch or deck just as much as it refers to a piece of architecture spanning a river, ravine, or road, and that therefore the teacher is telling them to stay on the deck. I don't see how they could know this, but then again I didn't see any of them headed for the highway, either.
I don't think there's anything we can do about this. I certainly don't want to discrimate against people who speak differently than me. It just seems like it's going to be a problem in the education system, as it might give kids habits which will be an unnecessary detriment to them in the future.
Educators, what do you think?
7. OK, cut to the chase, because I need to go to bed: Jon asked in a recent post about life being fulfilling. Or he discussed, more than asked. OK. I feel sometimes unfulfilled because I work for so much of my life now. For those of you still in school, I say this: be happy. School's better than the work force. At least, that's how it's been for me.
So where do I get my fulfillment? The loser answers are blogging, books, writing, and Corner Gas. The less loser answers are fortunately truer, if less frequent. Going to church is actually a big one. I know it sounds hokey, but it's true. St. Thomas' is now a big deal to me. Refer to the Advent post. And time with the dog is actually up there, too, even though she's getting smelly.
And I can't think of any more right now, other than thinking, which I try to do a lot of, and maybe playing Banagrams with the folks.
I need more 'inputs' (think Navs talk, for you Navs readers), and I really need more 'outputs'. Actually, a lot of my outputs are inputs and vice-versa. But what keeps me trucking right now really are those things I mentioned. Other than that I worry about my eyes dying on me due to the superfluity of screens, it works so far.
Simple pleasures are not for simple people; simple people need complex pleasures to keep them occupied, while complex people can deal with stangation because their own minds can turn fairly minor stimuli into fascinating phenomenon. Obviously there's really no such thing as 'simple people.' But I think there's an element of truth in what I'm saying. Look up the original meanings of extrovert and introvert in the personality theories.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

An Advent

[To the folks from Elizabeth Esther's blogstravaganza: this current post, "An Advent," won out over a close competitor for the monthly carnival slot. That other post is featured here. It represents what is perhaps another facet of my blogger-personality, appearing as differences in topic and perhaps style. In this case, I am discussing the intersection between people with disabilities and cultural ideals of sexiness. I talk about Aimee Mullins, conjoined twins, where 'sexiness' comes from, and moral reactions to these things.]

Today is the first day of the liturgical year, beginning with the season of Advent. If you are interested in what Advent is, I will yet again encourage you to visit Conversion Diary, which is quite likely one of the Internet's best wikis on all such things, even though it's not officially a wiki. I won't be talking too much about Advent as a general topic, though. Rather, I want to talk about this Advent, which marks or is marked by a unique advent for me.

(In case you didn't visit Jennifer Fulwiler's blog, I should at the very least tell you that Advent is the first season of the liturgical year and one during which we prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ, celebrated on 25 December. The end of the liturgical year, a season known somewhat anticlimactically as Ordinary Time, is the time in the liturgy during which we recall Christ's reign on Earth. Thus in the turning over from this last Saturday to today, we move from Christ's reign to a pre-Christ's reign time, a sort of harkening to the Old Testament which is itself a preparation for Christ. That's not a pre-Christ's reign time in that during this season the sacrifice is somehow moot and we're all for the next few weeks damned. No. It's rather a symbolic sort of thing, a remembering sort of thing. Anyway, Advent is a time of New Year's resolutions--or positive personal change--as we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ, both as born in Bethleham and as returning again at the end of all things.)

This Sunday, you may recall, is the first Sunday that I became a server at Saint Thomas' Anglican Church. If I were asked to give my denomination, I would say either that I was baptised and confirmed Lutheran or that I am non-denominational. I recall three churches of which I would have called myself a regular member of the congregation: the Lutheran one (St. Paul's) previously described, the evangelical/non-denominational/student church (Bethel) at school, and St. Thomas' here in Fort McMurray. Bethel did not have an alb-clad worship team, but St. Paul's did and during the last two years of elementary school and to a lesser extent the first year of high school, I served there as an acolyte. (I was also Assistant Minister once, but I don't remember much about that.) Anyway, one thing I missed when going to Bethel was the ritual, the altar space, the formal roles, and, as a sort of crystallization of all of that, the alb itself. Here at St. Thomas' we have both the energy of Bethel and the ritual of St. Paul's, and when they called for servers (of which 'acolyte' is in the Anglican church a subtype), I volunteered.

I completed server training a few weeks ago, but in the first two Sunday's following that the other new servers served, and then last Sunday there was a baptism and so one of the girls from the more experienced lot served for that. This Sunday, then, was my first day as a server. It is my luck (solely a figure of speech, I'm sure) that my first day as a server was the first day of Advent, and thus the first day of the liturgical year. Truly a day of firsts.

As far as St. Thomas' itself goes, this is also a time of turn-over. It doesn't match up as neatly as my first, but it's still interesting. Rev. Fraser is going to be consecrated as a Bishop soon and presiding in Athabasca. Thus St. Thomas' will be out a priest. (Rev. Leslie Hand will still be 'our' priest, but she can't always make it Sundays due to commitments at another church.) Today was the second or third worship that I have attended which Rev. Fraser did not himself attend. Rather, the deacon and one of the lay-readers (David and Lori respectively) made up the worship team with myself. Fraser will be back for some more Sundays, but not many more. The sort of service we had today will be more and more common, and so while it's not an actual first, it is among the first and is a taste for what will follow in a few weeks.

However, this leads into a more human story. That is, because Fraser was absent, we did not have communion this Sunday. The sort of service I prepared for was a communion service, and the cues I was watching for were communion service cues. This means I got awful lost and confused when I realized that a central part of the ritual would simply not be there, and so I had no idea when to do things. For instance, in the three songs before communion, you prepare the table during the second song and receive the offering during the third song. So I know that when the priest starts getting ready for the sacrament, I should be getting out the bread box and then the flasks, and then on the song after that I will get the offering plate, receive the offering, and place it on the altar. But since we had no communion, the pre-offering liturgy would be different and my other cue (the priest preparing the sacrement) would be missing. So I was lost.

After some fumbling, though, and some kind guidance from David, I got everything done on time. The good news also was that Lori hadn't led service very many times before and she was nervous too, though she certainly didn't show it.

There were other fumbles than that, but not major ones. David and Lori were very nice (and presumably still are) and it all worked out, and likely no one in the congregation was the wiser.

In a way I was disappointed that there was no communion. I would have liked to have helped prepare the host. It seems magical to me, and I wanted to be part of that. Now, I dislike your common Christian sayings because I fear that through overuse they have lost their meaning. Notwithstanding this, it occured to me during service that this disappointment is another instance of God's plans superceding our own. I had wanted to be part of communion as a way of strengthening my own bond with Christ through that ritual. The whole process was something that I craved, and I craved it solely because I wanted it to make me feel more connected to Christ. This I did not get. Rather, I served during a service without a communion. My focus was on other things then, like singing loudly enough and praying loudly enough and getting my cues right. I was forced to trust that David and Lori, and through them God, would help me perform this role properly and help me help the congregation worship during a time of transition.

I am not saying that I was in the main disappointed, but it wasn't what I was expecting. And don't get me wrong: I have not walked away from this saying, "Now I can trust God and trust the worship team! I am now focused on helping the congregation and not myself, and I can now find Jesus in the service elsewhere than in the host!" It would be nice if these were true, but they aren't really. I don't trust well at all and I barely think of the congregation and on a bad day I have a hard time finding Jesus anywhere, even in the host.

I knew that my peformance as server would not transform me from someone feeling lost and distant from God into a zealous and whole 'little Christ' who is pumping the Spirit out to the congregation. While I am sure that the sow's ear can become a silk purse as much as water once became wine, the transformation from me into Super-me nonetheless seemed a little unlikely even in light of that. I was, however, hoping for some magical connection, some sudden and undeniable affirmation of my community in Christ. Rather, what I did learn, if it was learning, was a lesson that is integral to Advent: that I am not there yet; that I need preparation and that my change is a process, not an event; that I have a long way to go.

I read Narnia books and see how exciting it is that Aslan comes in at the end and turns them into heroes. What I conveniently forget is that Edmund had to wallow in the Witch's prison. That Eustace had to become a dragon (or become disabled and disfigured, which you get by reading what it's like for him to be dragon) and then undergo what amounted to torture at Aslan's claws. That Aravis and Shasta had to trek across the desert with lions hot on their heels (like Jonah, in a way). That Polly and Eustace had to fight a losing battle amidst sorrow at the ends of times. That they had to do all of these things before they became knights (or friends) of Narnia.

The question, of course, is what sort of change is needed? I don't know, but I suppose neither did Edmund, or Eustace, or Aravis, or Polly, or Abraham, or Hosea, or Peter, or Paul. What I do know is that I will start paying better attention to the liturgical year. I don't know what to do to observe that, but at least I will keep an eye on it. And I will stop expecting magical transformations at the appropriate time, not because they can't happen but because they likely won't if you're looking for them.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Some Tired

I am some tired.

Old Fashioned Christmas was today, and I'm wiped. I serve in church tomorrow and fortunately I have the day off after that. I'm back in on Monday, of course.

That's all, I guess. I'm puzzling over Coriakan. (If you know what he represents, don't tell me!) Years ago yet I first started trying to work it out, but I have never managed it. A friend of mine told me it would be better if I figured it out myself.

Bah. I should go to bed.

Friday, 27 November 2009

7 Quick Takes (XIX)

1. On Saturday, I went in to work in the morning. I continued on my project until 1, at which point I went home. I got some movies in the afternoon, and of them I watched Drag You to Hell (or Drag Me to Hell? I can't recall). It wasn't very good. The plotting and pacing needed work, since the climax and the final scene both lacked the emotional impact one expects. Also, the special effects were sub-par for what we expect these days. Or, at least, some of them were. Not all, I guess.

2. On Sunday, I went to church and stayed afterwards for lunch, during which I had a talk with a kid about his Lego and then had another conversation with the deacon. That afternoon I watched Labyrinth, which I enjoyed overall. I still find the movie soundtracks from that era to be counterintuitive. I found I was unimpressed by the battle sequence at the end, due in all likelihood to the fact that the sequence was hampered by the use of puppets. (Necessary in the situation, I understand well enough.)
I did things in the evening that I can't recall. In the later evening I watched Children of Men on the TV. I enjoyed it, but that night I went to bed imagining apocalypse and I was a bit unhappy about it. (Normally thinking about apocalypse doesn't effect me much, since it's all just hypothetical/fantastic, but for some reason I was feeling impressionable--hypnotic?--enough that it did bother me.)

3. Monday. What happened Monday? Well, all this week we've been preparing for our event, Old Fashioned Christmas, which is happening tomorrow. This has had everyone running around busy and stressed.

4. I stayed late on Wednesday. I do remember that. I didn't stay too late, mind, but we got some help from a local landscaping firm. They lent us workers and a cat and we wanted to utilize this as well as we could. However, it gets dark too early to work very late. (Twilight is around 4-5, I'd say. After 5 it's pretty much dark.)

5. Hmmm. While a lot has been going on at work, not much of it is worth comment. It's all just events preparation. I put up lots of Christmas lights; I arranged a Christmas village we had donated and, with ample help, put up Santa's sleigh and Rudolf in a biplane. There was also lots of carrying of things back and forth and suchlike. Today I spent some time arranging floodlights onto buildings. It's been that sort of thing.

6. The homeschoolers came this morning for to present their completed projects. At least, those who could make it did. We had five kids, three of whom read short stories/picture books and two of whom had video assignments. I think it went well. It was stressful trying to get it together in the midst of events preparation, though.

7. I was going to stay late today to continue setting up, but in the end didn't. My Mom, who has the van, usually picks me up. I got the receptionist to call her, but apparently the message didn't record or something. I'm not sure, really. Anyway, the boss goes out and gets me at five to five saying that my ride's here. I was unprepared for that, but the boss said go home anyway, she'll see to it that everything gets locked up. So I went home at the regular time. It felt odd, going home so suddenly without any closing ritual. I felt like the day was unfinished. That feeling faded quickly enough, though.

I swear stuff has been happening outside of work--at any rate, I'm not getting enough sleep--but I can't recall what. Sorry.

At any rate, the event is tomorrow. And then, on Sunday, I am serving at church.

Fare thee well.

Friday, 20 November 2009

7 Quick Takes (XVIII)

1. This weekend I worked on my SSHRC stuff. This meant that over the course of Saturday and Sunday I did a number of on-line form filling, but I also did an interesting activity: I composed a bibliography of sources that I have not read. Not only have I never read them, I haven't even held most in my hands. I found them in library catalogs and on-line databases. I am still unsure as to whether or not the process expected you to have read them or not. As far as I can see, they can't expect you to have. It still seems absurd to me that I'd have to go through this. Anyway, I got 45 of them or some such thing. It was a lot of work.

2. I mailed the package off on Tuesday. I hope it got in on time.

3. And now, for the first time in a long time, I have something like free time again. The next due date is not until January. I will of course work on this earlier, but it will be a more relaxed process. To celebrate my free time, I wrote that very long post on Tuesday about disabilities and sexiness. If you follow, you know the one.

4. Jumping back, I went to church on Sunday, and one of the other training servers was up there. She's a youngun. I made sure to give her a thumbs up just before she helped prepare the Host.
The sermon was on not worrying about the future: Jesus said there will be wars so we oughn't to worry too much over that, and the world won't end. In part of this, the priest (I'm still unused to that designation) suggested that global warming was a joke. He seemed to imply that the carbon dioxide in question came from exhaling. Now, I've discussed global warming before and won't do it again, but I do think he was a bit off on this. Saying, "Don't worry, it's part of God's plan" is legitimate in a sense, but the impression I walked away with was that he was saying we shouldn't really worry about doing anything about environmental destruction, ethnic conflicts, terrorism and counter-terrorism, and all the assorted other things which quite likely threaten the integrity of civilization as we know it.
I think that we can and are obliged to try and prevent 'apocalypse'--not world-shattering destruction, but huge political/ecological/cultural changes that damage people's integrity. And on environmental apocalypse, let's not forget that we're been given custody of the earth, and so far we've been pretty bad custodians.
I think he's right to tell us not to let fear drive us. We as a culture are too driven by fear (especially considering how relatively little we have to fear). But I'm worried about the implications of passivity that might result.

5. At work I've begun to write text fragments for my virtual exhibit. Though this is work that I "like" doing, it gets difficult, typing at a computer all day (and yet here I am doing it again). For the last few days I've been doing bios on assorted priests (Catholic) that came to Fort McMurray, and some of these are so interesting. The lives of either Father Maurice Beauregard or Father Bernard Brown could be made into successful movies (there's already a bio on Beau called Father Maurice Beauregard, OMI: Life is wonderful...). The history of Fort McMurray can be very interesting--as likely can the history of any community be, if given the right attention and presentation.
<Edit 11 Mar 2013: I have recently received a message that Father Maurice Beauregard has committed sexual assault against minors. I have been unable to corroborate this, but nonetheless I want to emphasize that sexual assault is heinous and inexcusable and that I would not endorse a figure that I knew to be guilty of that crime. At the time that I originally wrote this post, I had heard of no such allegations.>

6. Today was Charlie's last day. Charlie (pseudonym) works at Heritage Park, seasonally. He's going on his 4-5 month winter vacation. Good for him. He officially retired a while ago, but hasn't stopped working.
Oh, and I held a baby today. I think it's the first time in my life. I just thought of it as a cat, and it worked out fairly well.
(I'm just kidding: I thought of him as a cat. I did know his gender.)

7. I am reading a bit again. Still in Isaiah. I am trying to finish my Lovecraft collection for Christmas. I'm on "The Shadow over Innsmouth." It's the second last in the collection. I have for the moment abandoned Heart of Darkness. I prefer Lovecraft's torturous style to Conrad's, I suppose. I'm thinking Rebecca or Moby Dick or lullabies for little criminals or maybe something about more trash lit next.
I am also repeatedly drawn to Frye. I'm not sure why. I think reading Fyre too much will destroy my own writing. I was trying to get something going where there were four characters, each with equal head-space time. Each of these four characters would show the story with a different emphasis and a different structure. One character's story would be a tragedy, one a satire, one a comedy, and one a romance (using these words in the sense Frye does--for tragedy, think Wicked or Hamlet; for satire, think Gulliver's Travels or The Miller's Tale; for comedy, think Pride and Prejudice or As You Like It; for romance, think Indiana Jones or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). The whole structure would be a romance, since that's the structure best suited for containing all of the others, and thus the character who was the romantic hero would be somewhat more prominent, though not by much. I was working on four-fold symbols and such, but the whole structure got just too complicated. I might return to such a project when I'm better at novel-writing (for a novel is what this would have to be), but in the meantime I need to move on. I feel as though I should return to the YA project I started for the UBC application, but I'm not so sure about it right now.
I'm also trying to piece together a Frye-based understanding of the horror genre, and it's not easy. I think this is a rare thing: sometimes it's on the border between romance and satire, which shouldn't be possible. Lovecraft is certainly satire (not in the sense you'd think of it, but in the sense of Frye's definition), though in a strange and fantastic way. But I think it can go either way for other authors, and that should be impossible. (There's also a strong case for tragic, in some stories, but not most.)

Anywho, away I go.

Quick Takes Queen.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Sexy Body, Disfigured Body

Aimee Mullins, who I have referenced here before, asked a question in her TED talk on her 12 pairs of (prosthetic) legs. Actually, she asked three questions. They are, "What does a beautiful woman have to look like? What is a sexy body? And interestingly, from an identity standpoint, what does it mean to have a disability?" I started to think about this over the course of about a week. Not only was I wondering about the answers to her questions, but I also had a few questions about her questions. I'll try to explore these with you here.

1. What is a sexy body? What is a disabled body?

The most obvious way to answer this question is to Google these terms. But I don't think you have to. I think you'll know what you'll find, especially in the case of the former. This won't answer our questions, though. Neither question--sexiness, disability--is easily answerable. Likely, neither is answerable at all, in the end.

First: sexiness. Or, if you prefer, beauty or physical attractiveness. (If you don't want to follow my reasoning, jump to the next bold point.) They say, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," and, whatever that person who originally minted this phrase meant, it has a truth different from that most people accept. Most people think it means that everyone has their own standard of beauty, which is of course somewhat true. However, there is another interesting element to this which I think becomes more clear if I say, "Beauty is in the mind of the beholder." Beauty is not, at least as we experience it, a quality inherent in an object or person. Rather, it is an interpretation of that object or person. People have said this before of all sorts of things, such as colour, but this is really a different matter than colour. A thing, of course, is not red itself. That is a psychological interpretation of the lightwaves we receive. But all things that we experience as red do reflect that particular wavelength. They are in a sense red after all.

In other words, our brains see a person and think, based on assorted qualities our sensory receptors pick up, "That's a sexy person." (If you want to hold onto an essentialist theory of beauty, you of course can. God or Platonic principles or what ever defines universal beauty can make a thing beautiful--truly, inherently beautiful--and then allow our brains to perceive that. Or, there is such a thing as beauty, somehow, derived from something, and it is to our reproductive advantage, somehow, to be able to perceive that, and we have evolved to be able to perceive it. The relevant point is that it's still a process that goes on in our brains.) In this sense, beauty is in the eye of the beholder--but that doesn't mean it's entirely subjective. To the extent that our brains operate the same, sexiness, even though interpreted, is objective; to the extent that our brains operate differently, it is subjective. The degree of difference isn't just genetics, of course, but also individual personal experience and cultural factors (and I'd argue that culture factors are way bigger than most people think). Anyway, the upshot is, 'sexiness' is partly universal, partly cultural, and partly individual. So we can answer 'what is a sexy body' in part, but only in part.

Now, there are all sorts of theories about facial symmetry and hip-waist ratios and things. I don't want to get into those, because I think that they are no more than contributing factors. A girl whose enormous, unibrow-laden, protuding forehead is perfectly symmetrical isn't going to win any beauty pagents. Meanwhile, I wouldn't say Helena Bonham Carter is the most beautiful woman in the world, but she's made it pretty well in Hollywood. But her face isn't perfectly symmetrical. Not at all. So I think we can say these sorts of things contribute, but aren't absolute.

I think here we need to fall back on what I said before. A lot of it is cultural. We are trained to think of particular people--often whole, 'healthy,' young, thin people--as beautiful and others as not beautiful. There was a time when overweight girls were considered sexy by some (Renaissance). There was a time when husky women were desirable (frontier, pre- and revolutionary Russia). There was a time when effeminate men were considered beautiful (ancient Greece, some Renaissance). Sickly girls also had a vogue (Victorian). It is true that some people we just won't find all that attractive anyway for biological reasons. But I don't think that's the case for people without legs. So long as we aren't actively repulsed by them, there's no reason we can't find them attractive. Listen to Aimee Mullins talk--just the first few minutes--on training repulsion.

That's not a real answer, but it's all I've got for now. I'll also note that I purposely trained myself not to be repelled by people with prosthetics and people with assorted facial disfigurations, etc. As a kid, I simply couldn't deal with anyone who looked 'disfigured' or 'deformed,' as I put it.

So what is disability? You'll notice I used "disfigured" in my post title. This is to emphasis a point: disability suggests a definition which rests on whether a person can perform as well as a typical person can in those tasks deemed part of everyday life. So we have people with missing limbs or people who are shorter than usual or what have you or blind people. This definition works well if you're only thinking of amputees, but it breaks down in other areas, at least if you want to talk about attractiveness. People with albinoism are not in any way less able to perform typical tasks, but they are often considered unattractive. Conjoined twins are often less able to do particular things, but they aren't always. Sometimes the only thing they are less able to do is to be alone, and I hardly think that counts. Aimee Mullins points out that people without legs are far from less able. They have now become more able. And then blind people, one of the largest demographics of people who are part of the disability--or different ability--activism movement, are often indistinguishable from sighted people, including in the realm of attractiveness. Disability is not the issue; it's 'looking weird' that is.

What definition can we use, then? Well, one possibility is, People who are visually atypical in some significant anatomical or pigmentational way, which is distinct from race, gender, or age. Another, less politically correct but I think more to the point, definition would be, People who would fifty years ago have been in a freak show, and now would be on the TLC network.

Where am I going with this? Good question. This is where: the fundamental question is, can a person who stikes us as so visually atypical also strike us as attractive?

Of course they can. If you care to, you can find all sorts of fetish literature about amputees and conjoined twins and human-animal hybrids (not possible yet, I know, but they would fit in this class if they did exist--and they were once thought to exist) and goodness knows who else. There is fetish literature about dragons doing R-rated things with luxury vehicles, so I guess we oughtn't be surprised.

But what about a 'normal' person, who doesn't have such fetishes? Well, I hope by now the pictures I've been putting in have answered that for you. There's no reason they can't, so long as we don't allow ourselves to be repulsed by them. And those fetishes may not be so off topic. I wonder if the forbidden-ness, the taboo, even the repulsiveness itself contribute to the fetish. If you look it up, people can be attracted to some pretty repulsive things. A Freudian analyst might talk a lot about the repression of certain disallowed desires being exagerated through a fetish. My point being, we might be naturally inclined to feel that these people are attractive--that these are sexy bodies--but we think we shouldn't feel so, and are as a result confused and repulsed. Consider the on-going cultural debate about whether the Medusa was beautiful or hideous. C. S. Lewis, for instance, calls the Medusa beautiful long before Cixous does. The classical painters painted her as such. And yet she's also a figure for ugliness--and disability.

Can a disfigured body be sexy? Sure it can. But we must let it be so.

2. Who becomes sexy?

And, of course, unless we find ourselves desiring that element which is different, the body must be sexy even without the disability. By now you'll likely have noticed that most of the people I've shown on here would have been attractive without their particular difference (or not, if you don't find them attractive). A 500-pound person will likely not be considered sexy, unless obesity turns you on. That's just a fact. And if a person is just generally what we'd consider unattractive, whether for cultural or hardwired reasons, then that they have a plastic arm isn't going to make much of a difference one way or another. If they could somehow grow that arm back, it won't help.

Which begins to put stress on Aimee Mullins implication that allowing the disabled to be beautiful is a victory. It seems that it's only a victory for those who are beautiful.

And I don't think this is going to push us into saying, Well, now that the legless are beautiful, people with distortions on their faces can also be beautiful. Because, I'm sorry, but by standard societal definitions, they can't. Not yet.

[I recognize that someone will come around with the argument that, if you fall in love with someone who is unattractive because of their personality, you will begin to find them physically attractive by magic, almost. I am absolutely sure this is true. Love is magic. I think we can also agree that that is beside the point. We already said we're not talking about the subjective. We're talking about quasi-objective attractiveness, in as much as it exists.]

So, if only some disabled people get to be beautiful, why should we value it at all?

3. Why sexiness?

Two reasons.

First, that there is no reason we can't bestow a privilege on some when we are unable to give it to all. It's not fair, but it would be ridiculous not to push for empowerment when not everyone in the demographic will be able to share it. It would be like saying, Let's give women the right to an education, and then someone saying, No, you can't, because those women over there are too old to start learning new things, and those women over their are so mentally handicapped that they wouldn't benefit from that education. (They have advanced learning disabilities or something.) It makes no sense.

And sexiness can be empowering. As much as people talk about beauty being a limit for women in some fields, I'd suggest you try being really downright unattractive before saying that. If you think you aren't taken seriously when you're pretty, at least people listen to you (or pay some sort of attention to you). At least people don't openly mock you for how you look, which I've seen happen.

Second, if we see some disabled people as attractive, we might be more willing to think of them--and by extension their whole demographic--as people. That is, we might think 'disabled person' over 'disabled person.' Grammatically, that is rendered 'a person with a disability,' which is the language differently-abled activists are pushing for. Hopefully, if we see a really hot albino guy walk down the street, we're less likely to think of people with albinoism as 'freaks.'

4. Why not sexiness? (I'll tell you.)

Notwithstanding what I've said so far, I think there's still a problem a number of problems, and I'm likely missing some.

While we're busy training ourselves to think of some disabled/differently-abled/disfigured/anatomically-or-pigmentally-atypical people as attractive, we're simultaneously training ourselves to think of being attractive as an important goal. That is, we're educating ourselves in the culture that worries about how people look in the first place. We're not breaking out of the system which discriminates by appearance. And before Jon breaks in here, I'm not talking about the movies. Whether we agree with Jon or not on cinema (and if you don't know Jon or what he thinks about cinema, don't worry about it) doesn't matter: I'm talking about real life here. I think it's fair to say that while enjoying an attractive person's appearance is not culturally destructive, discriminating based on it is. So we need to be careful when worrying about who is sexy that we don't by mistake brainwash ourselves into thinking that sexiness is somehow more important than, or even worse a contributing factor in, a person's humanity and their right to respect and compassion.

I revealed a particular issue earlier indirectly. There is a sort of thin edge where people who are too attractive aren't taken seriously and people who aren't attractive enough are avoided or ridiculed. Even if you found that happy medium, it would only be successful in that context; presumably, you'd be still unable to compete with those who were 'too attractive' in the other context when it comes to romantic rivalry, etc. In the end, the only thing we can say for sure is that we don't want to be in the lowest half of the attractiveness food chain. The hope, of course, is that we can somehow get out of this scenario, but if that is possible (which you might have cause to doubt), we certainly can't do it if we're at all worried about whether we're sexy when have a disability.

And then there's the issue of encouraging lust. At this point some of my readers will likely be thinking, Uhp, he's playing the prude card again, and from those readers' perspectives that would be somewhat true. There are a number of reasons why I think encouraging lust is problematic, but since some of them are religiously derived I won't fool myself into thinking that they'll be persuasive to someone outside of that context. I want to clarify here, though, that I'm not condemning the experience of physical desire. In the right situation, physical desire is a good thing--and that's biblically supported, in case you were unaware of that. But, at least from a Christian perspective, there is a problem with putting all this focus into making yourself (as a person with an atypicality of some sort) sexy, into discerning who is and who is not sexy, into allowing/encouraging/forcing yourself to feel physical attraction toward a person with a disability; the problem is the encouragement of an over-active libido. In our culture, there's already that threat. We don't need to fan the flame. But I think you can make secular arguments against allowing ourselves to be too sexually active, having to do with destroying our relationships, driving our desires into unattainable fantasies, and hampering our abilities to be romantically and sexually loyal to our partners. I haven't developed these arguments largely because I haven't seen the need to on a personal basis. They exist, though. I've heard about them.

(And in case you're thinking that I'm thus a hypocrit for writing this at all and for putting up all these pictures selected for their ability to arouse you, I say this: you're likely right. I do hope I'm making a point in all this that transcends that, but that's not to say on some level I'm not doing this just so I can think about pretty girls. The naked vanities, and everything, right? My only answer can be, "Orges and onions.")

This, then, is the crux of the question I have about Aimee Mullins' question: If we do allow that a disabled body can be a sexy body, then we are forced with a particular dilemma, which is between choosing the short-term empowerment of sexiness at risk of keeping ourselves in a destructive and discriminatory culture, or striving for other forms of empowerment which have concerns like ability and accessibility, added perspective, inherent worth, compassion, and meaningful relationships. Do we feel that worrying about sexiness as empowerment is in the end empowering, or does it just cause more problems?

There are some further lines of inquiry which are pertinent, but not so directly related that I will give them the space here (as I've so clearly gone well beyond the reasonable length limits of a blog post). You'll notice one of my photos is of an African-American woman who has albinoism. There is no way to discuss her attractiveness without bringing up race--is she beautiful because she is 'white'? The on-line discussion about the attractiveness of the Hensel twins (a pair of dicephalic conjoined twins) has, if not been exhausted, at least been exhausting. The first picture shown on here is of a prosthetic designed to be and marketed as 'sexy.' It avoids what is apparently called 'the uncanny valley'; that is, things which are close enough to looking real to sometimes 'trick' us but not close enough to really convince us are uncanny and make us uncomfortable, and the designers tried to avoid that when making this arm. Other designers strive for something verisimilitude instead, as you can see in other images. The point, then, is that whatever we decide about the moral worth of this question, in the end we cannot stop at the general principle but must then begin to untangle it on a specific level--race, uncanniness, privacy and individuality. These questions are not inseparable.

Which would be a perfect segue into the one problem I have with the feminist movement (Jon and I have discussed this), which is that there are so many other facets to identity that to focus on gender alone for your emancipation seems like a case of poor resource management. But that is getting off-topic and must be saved for another post. This one is way too long as is, and I need to go to bed.

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