31 October 2011

A Perfect Illusion

Today is Halloween, in case you hadn't figured that out by now. It's the day where ordinary citizens enjoy dressing up as things they would never want to be in real life. Wander into any costume store and you'll find all the equipment to transform yourself into pretty much any unsavory character to party the night away.

Granted, today Halloween falls on a Monday, which would suggest that people, perhaps, partied the night away on Saturday rather than tonight. This certainly seemed true then, while I was wandering the streets of Seattle in search of an elixir of youth. But this is all entirely aside the point.

When I went into one such costume shop earlier this autumn to acquire a fake mustache (It was my birthday, and I did what I wanted to), I found a veritable cornucopia of cheesy costumes. There were vaguely Gothic looking plastic swords, maces, morning stars, and num chucks. We had the creepy-doll masks, the Phantom of the Opera style masks (which, ironically, cost more than a full face, blank white mask), we had hoods that made it look like we had no heads. There were plastic knives with red goo inside that dripped, vaguely like blood, when inverted. There was fake scar tissue, vampire fangs, fake blood and pus. In short, a rather typical costume shop just prior to Halloween. Of course, this brief overview would not do without the mention of the obligatory sexy nurse, nun, firefighter, paramedic, vampire, werewolf, adventuress, Egyptian, [insert your poison here], mobster, angel, demon costumes for young women desiring to raise men's heart rate from more than mere fright.

The point that I am rather unsuccessfully driving at is this: No one really wants to be scared at Halloween. Not really. The kids are in it for the candy, the middle aged men with slight bellies are in to surprise the kids, the eligible young twenty-somethings are in it because it's the only time that dressing in incredibly provacative, still strangely fantastical, costumes and partying hard is an expectation.

On an entirely unrelated sidenote, this is why I can't stand traditional Halloween celebrations. Not what Thursday and Laura and Qwip and I have done on occasion re:Creepy Caroling. I hate the extra pressure women get to dress seductively during this time. Because, after all, if your costume doesn't expose a certain amount of skin, you will never be the life of the party. And that's the only thing women are good for nowadays. Decoration.

Ahem. As I was saying. No one really wants to be scared at Halloween. Those plastic "knives" dripping "blood" are patently unrealistic. So are the "velvet" robes and the "faceless" masks. When we open the door on some teenagers, let's forget the fact that they're a wee bit too old to be trick-or-treating, and find ourselves confronted by some ghoul with blood running down its face and the hint of glasses behind the eye-holes, the first impulse is not to faint or slam the door. No. We give them candy.

Imagine with me, if you would, a different scenario. Say that, on one night of the year, a man comes to your house after dark. His face is hidden in shadow, he doesn't speak, and you see he's holding a knife that looks pretty wet with something, you can't see what in the dark, but you get the general impression it's red.

Imagine with me, that this man steps up to the very threshold of your house, and holds out his hand. As he comes in to the light a little more, his eyes glitter inside his hood. But still, you see nothing inside.

Now, let me ask you a question. At this point in a movie, ominous music starts playing, and you'd probably be laughing at the cheesiness of it all. But let me ask you a question. If this happened to you in real life, would you be scared? If you found a stranger on your porch, bleeding viciously, would you decide "hey, this is fun, we should start doing this every year"? If, for those of you in Washington, the Green River killer so much as escaped, let along showed up on your doorstep, would you feel the clammy presence of terror?

I would. People don't want to be scared on Halloween. They want to feel smug. After all, if we can bravely face down a group of teenagers in cheap costume makeup and some plastic knives, we can certainly weather whatever storms life must throw at us. Halloween is just another way that our culture drives itself to complacency.

There were times in the past when the things we dress up as for jokes were very real terrors. When witchcraft, or vampirism were panic inducing. Need I remind you of the Bluebeard, or most of the Grimm Brother's fairy tales? The fears Odysseus faced during his 20 years at sea. Or look to Foxe's Book of Martyrs for examples of the awful things humanity is capable of.

And then tell me that dressing up as an executioner on Halloween is such a laugh. Halloween is not a celebration of fear, it's a celebration of false courage: yet another way that we try to lie to ourselves. The American Dream is, of course, not complete without a lack of fear. And if we can delude ourselves that monsters do exist, we can tell ourselves anything.

"He who battles with monsters must take care lest he also become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." Nietzsche

29 October 2011

A State Resembling Intoxication

"The young are permanently in a state resembling intoxication."

This quote is attributed to Aristotle, but Problematic is too tired to verify that fact at the moment.

I want to update my dearly beloved readers about the current state of my resolution, the details of which you may find a few posts ago in my archives. This past Wednesday was a planning day at the college I attend, and because I suddenly found myself without anything to occupy my time - aside from studying for two midterms - I decided to occupy myself with something else. It was thus that I found myself calling her to propose a morning of vagrancy in the town of Issaquah. My delight was enormous when she agreed, and was only improved upon by the prospect of making music with her.

So last Wednesday, I headed down to Issaquah, Ignatius in tow - you can tell this was important because of his presence - and had an absolutely wonderful time bumming around town with her and Matthias. Enough jollity ensued that it did seem, at least for a while, that we were in a state resembling intoxication.

In my defense, chai tea lattes, music, and a good friend tend to have that effect on me.

Anyways, I would like to point you over to Gray's blog, where you can both read about our minor adventure and listen to one of our creations.

Here's the link. 

26 October 2011

The Tempest and the Tea Kettle

I've been thinking a lot about death recently. And not merely the affect one's death might have on oneself.  Death: the termination or extinction of something. The death of a season, of a mood or a period. The death of a relationship, of a friendship, of a hero. The termination of an adventure or a hope. The passing of summer into autumn, from life and vitality to lethargy, decay.

But on a much smaller scale, I've been thinking about the death of an individual. Setting aside all thoughts of life after death, why does death affect us so much? It is not so much the snuffing out, the abandoning of natural life for a new existence. It is the absence we feel the most, and I've struggled with writing this post for weeks. How do you eulogize someone you love dearly?

My grandfather died two weeks ago. His memorial service was held one week ago. Yet, despite the time slowly trickling in to fill the gaps, I feel as if I have not mourned him properly. My thoughts are like the tempest, trapped inside an egg-shell thin tea pot with no chance of escape. Since his death, I've found my thoughts becoming more and more scattered, like the rubber shavings from a partially erased drawing.

Even now, I can feel that I am not doing this right. So bear with me as I attempt to describe why the Major meant so much to me.

My earliest memories of him go back to the time when they are mere impressions and snippets - polaroid snapshots, not high-definition film. I remember the kangaroo on the back of the RV he and my grandmother stayed in when they visited us. I remember the feel of gravel shifting under my feet as I make my way to the steps where they stood. I remember vague impressions from my Dad that the Major was a Good Man. And I remember the firm, fully engaged yet completely relaxed "thereness" when I sat in his lap.

Every year on my birthday, I call my grandparents to thank them for their birthday gifts, and every year, the one I look forward to is the Major's call. The Baskin and Robbins gift cards slowly transitioned into Barnes and Noble or Borders cards.

And I was growing up. One year, I called the Major, and asked him to tell me his story. It was for a class assignment: I had to interview someone about their life, and write a paper. The Major was the only one I was brave enough to call.

He was born in 1922, but lied about his age so that he could enter World War Two, carrying on his family's tradition. The Major (though he was not one yet) was set to work supervising the building of air force bases in the Pacific Theatre. In one notable instance, the base he was assigned to build in 30 days was completed four days ahead of schedule because of his ingenuity.

When I asked him about his most vivid memory, the Major spoke softly about the October of 1944. The ship he was stationed on was stuck on a sandbar in the Phillipines, carrying a load full of highly flammable and/or explosive materials. Included were tinfuls of carbite, a material that, when exposed to water, releases highly explosive gases. Due to an incredible "coincidence," the Major was not in his bunk one evening when a kamikaze struck that portion of the ship. Flames spread to across the deck and into the hold, endangering the gasoline, oxygen tanks, dynamite, grease, rags, and other construction materials stored above and below decks. The Major was tasked with taking care of the 90-some men burned by the attack, who, as he recalled later, were so badly burnt they didn't realise they were injured.

The Major re-enlisted after the war, and was eventually placed in charge of a battalion of the Army Corps of Engineers. During the Korean War, when his battalion was sent overseas, the Major was placed in charge of building the only nuclear power plant in Alaska. He retired from active duty in 1961, continuing to serve in the civil service until 1972.

By the time I entered the scene as a squalling infant, the Major had retired into a comfortable, if quiet, life of Tom Clancy novels. As I grew older, we began to connect over books. We began recommending books to each other around the time I was ten, with the knowledge that the other was extremely unlikely to ever read the recommendations. After all, I could hardly expect a World War Two veteran to read poorly written pulp fiction about girls and their horses, and he could hardly expect me to read brutally written books about political manoeuvring and war. But as the years passed, I started to read his type of books. I'd tell him about the Communist Manifesto, or the Wealth of Nations, or another book that I'd started to read. He took a great deal of interest the year I was debating about US isolationistic policies. The fact of the matter is, the Major and I had a strong, if quiet and often overlooked, connection.

I remember when he came to the Northwest for my brother's graduation and Eagle Scout ceremony. I remember driving with my parents past the house the Major used to live in just outside of Forks, Washington. I remember, this last summer, visiting him in Florida.

He told me I could look through his book shelf and see if there were any I was interested in. But he couldn't part with the ones I requested when the time came. I remember the last thing I said to him. "I love you, Grandad. Be good."

I've been thinking about death a lot recently. Death of a relationship, death of a presence. The Major wasn't so much as a constant figure in my life as a comforting, strong presence always lurking somewhere in the back of my mind. When I hear military news and scandals, something inside me always asks 'what would he think?"

And now, that presence is gone. I can't carry on as I once did. I find that I miss him terribly.

19 October 2011


I'm going to go out on a limb and write about another confession. I know what your reaction is going to be, even as I write this. About half of my dear readers will lean towards the screen, raveningly eager for yet another glimpse into my psyche. Another group, overlapping with the first, will pull out a text book and begin yet another psychological profile of Problematic. A few of you will lean back, concern written over your face, and wonder what new thing you'll be having to pray about in Problematic's life.

And I can practically guarantee you that a couple will have stopped reading at this point, and gone to do something far more fulfilling with their lives than waste another 5 minutes reading my jumbled thoughts. They might be smarter than any of us.

No matter. This reaction has yet to convince me not to write. I am, above all else, an ineffably optimistic authoress with no qualms over inflicting an uncaring world with my musings. There are over 6 billion people on the earth, so I know that at least one of them will like what I have to say.

Enough of the introduction. I have a confession to make, friends. Perhaps "confession" is not the correct word. Declaration? Statement? Proclamation? They are all correct.

Friends, I have an announcement. It hinges directly on the fact that I recently became a legal adult. Now, a lot of my friends went through a slump after turning 18. I understand the logic. We are adults now. We must behave. When I was a child, I thought and acted like a child: Now that I am grown, I must act like one.

Oddly enough, of all the people I know to get this post-18 complex, the Peter Pan syndrome one didn't. Yes, that's right. Despite my complete dislike of the concept of growing old, I felt no sense of depression or despair at turning 18. In fact, I felt no new compulsion to act my age.

This is where my declaration comes in. 

This year, during my 18th year, I will do stupid things.

 I can feel your interest rising from here. You really must learn to control yourself. And for the many dubious among you, let me explain myself.

I have spent my entire teenage existence worrying about not being a teenager. I avoided impulses. If I got the urge to do something, I'd do the entire opposite thing. If there was the slightest possibility that my parents might not completely approve or might shake their heads knowingly at my folly, I would put all thought of it from my mind. I would NOT be the typical teenager, pulling pranks and causing their parents many hours of amusement, if not worse. NO SIR. Not I. 

I blame the Rebelution for ruining my childhood. I went to it shortly before my 12th birthday, and ever since then, viewed my adolescence as a time for defying all stereotypes. I became a kind of walking killjoy for all my less-inhibited friends.

This resolve was, to a large extent, the root of many of the problems you've seen documented on this blog in recent years. 

But then, I started comparing my life to my friends'. The worst thing I had done, in 7 years, was to go to a tattoo parlor to get my ears pierced. Because my mother went with me, that hardly even counted. My friends had: dumped trash on someone's car in revenge for a prank; driven themselves into Seattle to bum around town; fought airsoft battles into the wee hours of the night; and generally lived their lives to the fullest. 

Me? I emptied the dishwasher. I went to Pike's Place once or twice a year and NEVER gave money to street musicians. I stayed up in the wee hours of the night studying for test, and generally lived a life of quiet desparation, fulfilling my need for adventure and excitement through countless read-throughs of Sherlock Holmes and the Lord of the Rings. 

For years, my favorite book was "The Club of Queer Trades" by GK Chesterton, specifically the one about the Adventure and Romance Agency, Limited. Why? Because I hoped that one day, one year, I'd discover the offices of the Agency and could at least hire myself an adventure.

These comparisons really came to a head when I went on a missions trip this summer to Gleanings for the Hungry. They have this rule about "no throwing fruit," so kids were throwing rotten peach goo instead. They'd drink 2-4 energy drinks on a shift and see who could sing the highest, for longest, and loudest. They Sharpie'd my hair green. They ignored curfew to go out praying. And no, praying is not a euphemism. 

I was kind of like a deer in the headlights. I had no idea how to react to any of this. It was so entirely outside my realm of experience, I had to either throw myself into it or shrivel in a corner and bewail the state of my generation. 

So when they Sharpie'd my hair green, I peppered their beds, and soaked their wallets in my garishly cheap and awful smelling perfume. I had a taste of what I had determined not to do for so many years. And friends, I'd never had so much fun in my life!

That is why this year, I have resolved to be stupid. I want to learn how to Airsoft, and I want to stay up all night doing it. I want to hike through the Cascades barefoot. I want to go out and dance in the rain, not just walk and insert a couple of small, furtive dance movements into my stride. I want to go to Folklife, and Sasquatch, and go listen to my favorite bands in concert. I want to have a real, down-to-earth conversation with someone I disagree with.

I want to learn to ride a motorcycle, and go on more roadtrips with my friends. I want to make those Sharpie highlights a more permanent fixture and dye my hair with green or blue streaks. I want to get a second piercing in my ears. In essence, this year, I am resolving to be stupid, have tons of fun, and ignore the consequences. 

The best part is, I've already begun. I wrote a song for my friend for her birthday, and mixed the awfully sung (on purpose) song onto a CD for her. I now have golden chain extensions in my hair. And I finally worked up the courage to buy the combat boots I've wanted for years. I plan on getting more steampunk stuff, not just classy jewelry, but in-your-face, deal-with-my-gears-or-else hats and goggles and gloves.  I'm going to be impulsive, and not stifle the discussions I want to have.

I resolve to be stupid. And to enjoy every minute of it.

I will be posting my bucket list shortly for any fans of my new resolution.

I will be posting again in a couple of days, but in the meantime, here's something to keep you thinking.

I recently ran across a blog that, to be brutally honest, I am falling in love with. The posts are interesting, pointed - but nuanced (!) - and just a little bit wry. It's such a shame that this blog has only 4 followers as of the time I write. Almost an awful waste. So, as you sit and wait for my next post, you should head over to A Deeper, Darker Ocean Green and check out Kyle's writing.

Especially this post.

13 October 2011

Look at all the pretty things

that steal my heart away. I can feel I'm fading.

I ride the bus in to college every morning. Usually, I put on my iPod and am effectively dead to the world for an hour. But today, I started doing something differently. Since I've started college, I haven't had as much time for devotions as I would like. As a result, I decided to bring my Bible on the bus and have my quiet time while riding. It is a good time, since no one pays attention to anything outside of their electronics. The bus is generally silent as a grave.

After I did my devotions and prayers, I turned on one of my favorite bands: Tenth Avenue North. And as I sat there, I got ... well, I'm not sure exactly what I got. Suddenly, an image popped into my head.

Now, if you're a follower of my friend Hannah, you know she wrote an excellent blog post about the song All The Pretty Things. If you haven't read her, you should check her out here.

As I sat on the bus, I looked around me. A lot of people were sleeping, or just shutting their eyes until their stops. There was a beautiful sunrise outside. The sun was brushing the tops of the trees with this golden light,  like how I might brush egg yolk on top of a croissant. It was absolutely gorgeous, and yet no one on the bus had eyes to see it.

We are, we are, we're caught in the in between
Of who we already are and who we are yet to be
And we're looking for love but finding we're still in need
It's only what we have lost will we be allowed to keep

And we're waiting but our eyes are wandering
To all this earth holds dear

Look at all the pretty things
That steal my heart away
I can feel I'm fading
'Cause Lord I love so many things
That keep me from Your face
Come and save me

We run we run to finally be set free
But we're fighting fighting for what we've already received

So we're waiting but our eyes are wandering
To all this earth holds dear

Look at all the pretty things
That steal my heart away
I can feel I'm fading
'Cause Lord I love so many things
That keep me from Your face
Come and save me

We are we are caught in the in between
But we're fighting for what we already have received
We are we are caught in the in between
But we're fighting for what we already have received

Look at all the pretty things
That steal my heart away
I can feel I'm fading
'Cause Lord I love so many things
That keep me from Your face
Come and save me

This is what I saw in that moment. We are all riding on a bus, which winds its way through many neighborhoods, ultimately leading to one destination. We don't open our eyes, because it's just so easy to close them and let stream of life take us where it will. We become complacent - the cushions are just so comfortable. Why get off them and risk exerting ourselves? So we sit, and sleep.

But God isn't content to let us sleep ourselves to Death. He wants us off that bus, running towards Him, not riding away. He opens our eyes, and we get off the bus. But as we run, we pass so many buses heading back to Death, and they all look so appealing. It would be so easy, to just get on one of them, and rest a little bit. It will be alright, we convince ourselves. I'll only rest for a little bit, just to catch my breath. And then I'll start running again.

But God doesn't want us to rest. He doesn't want us to become complacent, distracted. He wants us to fight for "what we already have received." Every time we stop, we go backwards. And every time we get on, it gets that much harder to get back off and keep running.

Are we becoming spiritually obese?

10 October 2011

"Just Friends" part 1

I have always been a firm believer in "just friends." What do that mean? It means that I strongly believe platonic friendship is possible between members of the opposite sex.  

For those of you squeamish with that label, I use "opposite sex" because gender is a term used to describe words. Like how a ship is a "she". That's gender. "Opposite sex" describes humans in terms of male and female.

Now, some people (*coughcoughGraycoughcough*) will tell you that all "friendship" between men and women is biological; that there is always some form of sexual tension between those friends. They point to examples of a woman's best friend proposing, or similarly "heartwarming" or "disturbing" examples of when one member of a platonic friendship wants more than mere friendship.

I think that some of these stereotypes are largely due to the romantic comedy genre. Think about it. How many rom-coms start with the premise that Woman X's best friend is a man, and that either the woman or the man is very interested in the other. Or a chance meeting between two people turns them into friends, and eventually, lovers. This premise coming from popular culture is pretty disturbing if you ask me. After all, if it is correct, I am either interested in all of my adoptive brothers at some sub-concious level, or they're interested in me. And I'm firmly in denial of that. You may call me Cleopatra, but I don't think that's an accurate characterization with this issue.

See, I think it is possible to have purely platonic relationships with my guy friends. Maybe it's because the little girl inside me still believes that guys have cooties and any romantic relationship with them will transfer those cooties on to me. I mean, holding hands with someone? Ewwwwww. That's disgusting.

But I don't think that's it at all. When we narrow the potential for friendship between gents and gals to merely sexual attraction, we narrow the possibility of beauty in the world.I'm going to go to a fictional example here. Yes, yes, I know I get far too caught up in my imaginary worlds. But they're so good for snarky examples on my blog. 


In the Lord of the Rings, there's an awful lot of romance. It's true. Faramir loves Eowyn loves Aragorn loves Arwen, and all the jazz, doncha know. Sam loves food, Pip loves Entwash.. It's all over the place. But one of my favorite relationships in the entire series is the friendship between Merry and Eowyn. The way they both go out to fight in Pelinor Fields after the king tells both of them they cannot. Mmm. Good stuff. 

But if we accept the thesis that there is no such thing as "just friends," suddenly, we see Eowyn paying attention to Merry because of some suppressed desire of hers stemming from the fact that she was orphaned as a child. And Merry pays attention to her because, as a Hobbit, he feels incapable of truly being manly unless he can associate himself with a pretty awesome sword-lady from Rohan.

And friends? That's just disgusting. No, seriously. How much more can you ruin a friendship than going all Fruedian on someone and telling them that "he's really into you" in one of those all-knowing tones of voice.

I cannot even begin to number the times one of my girlfriends, or my mother, or another well-meaning woman in my life has confidingly told me that whatever one of my friendboys I have been spending time with is secretly interested in me and just doesn't have the courage to say so.

Alright, they have a point. Homeschooled guys are notorious for not taking definite stands on the issue of women. And romance. And romancing women. 

But that is still entirely beside the point. You can ruin a friendship that way. I'll tell you, after I explain something to my male readers.

It is a certain fact that somewhere, in her deepest heart, your gal friends have thought "what if" about you. She has, hypothetically, wondered if the two of you would "work out." She's probably had a good laugh about the results. This doesn't mean that she's deeply attracted to you, or secretly in love with you, or an outrageous flirt. It doesn't even mean she's ready for a relationship with anyone. She probably doesn't even want to admit it to herself that she's asked.

But the fact remains. At one point, she's had the small, quiet thought. "What if he liked me. What if he does like me? And what if I liked him?" It doesn't force her soul into a raging conflict. If anything, it probably embarrasses her slightly that she's even thought about it. So, please, don't ask her about it. You'll only embarrass her more. 

But the thing is, when someone outside of her deepest heart tells her "he's so in to you," more seeds are sown. Suddenly, instead of just pushing aside the small question, we start focusing on it. Every action is viewed through an entirely different lens than before. It's no longer "just friends"; it's "just friends, if you know what I mean **winkwink**." 

And that ruins a friendship. Outside pressure from outside the relationship to do anything - dump the friend, spend more time with the friend, observe the friend closely to see if he's actually interested in you - always changes the dynamic into a different beast. 

"Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity." 1 Timothy 5:2

If there's no such thing as just friends, then friends, we really are in a whole heap of trouble.

I'd like to leave you with a thought about "doing your Christian duty" and pointing out potential trouble spots. Unless you are 100% certain that your galfriend is getting herself into trouble by becoming friends with a guy who clearly wants more:

"Don't talk to it, Merry. Don't encourage it."