Day 205--a spring cleaning

If you want to see a shrine to sentiment, visit my old room in my parents' home. Twenty-plus years of tangible memories stuffed, stacked, packed into an 8' by 12' shoebox, sans closet.

The closet was, is pretty bad.

Under my bed, in dressers, bureaus, under the computer stand, on the floor, on a chair, on the bookshelf, on the other bookshelf, in bags leaning against the dresser. On my bed so that I would have to relocate it all when I wanted to sleep. The clutter was everywhere.

I was a packrat. I am a packrat, though I'm recovering. While a portion of the junk can be chalked up to bulk mail that I hate sorting, the rest is--honestly--almost everything I've coated with an emotional or sentimental attachment. Letters. Greeting cards. Slips of paper with notes on them. Buttons. Essays I wrote in middle school. Craft projects lined with felt. Ads for concerts. Movie ticket stubs. Coasters. High-school short stories. Bottle caps. And, almost as an fleeting joke, a layer of dust over much of the harder-to-reach things.

These things all have memories attached, inlaid with faces of childhood friends, woven with jokes from family, fused with nuance, light and shadow. As much as a collector as I am, many of these things were kept to serve as catalysts, in hope that the memories would linger as long as their anchor remained. If I had only had some effective sort of cataloguing things while I was still a teen; it would've saved my mom and dad some of their breath.

I still cherish--will continue to cherish--the memories with which I've been blessed, as one of my favorite writers reminded me. But I've been learning that I don't need to place some form of misguided attachment to an inanimate object to cherish. I made the first big step in this regard when I moved to Beaver Falls. I was always that guy who loaded everything he owned into his dorm room in college; I know I brought less (books, clothes, computer) for a fairly permanent move. The clutter and keepsakes stayed behind.

As I pack for a trip this weekend, I think about what I need and what I don't need. As I look to hopefully move in the next month, I'll think about the necessities and what I can just keep intangibly. As I cancel a subscription-based computer game I've played for years, I think about the fun times I had and keep those thoughts alone. As I sell or give away the hundreds of CDs and DVDs I've collected over the years, I know that many of the songs will play in my head long after the plastic has been resold into someone else's hands.

I don't think I'll ever escape my packrat tendencies, but I know that I can store memories in my heart more easily than in a stack of dusty keepsakes.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/29/2007 12:45:00 AM, ,

Day 204-- a few annoucements

1) I'll be in Michigan from Thursday afternoon until Sunday at some point (that's my guess at least). I'll be here.

2) The cover of the final Harry Potter book has been revealed!

3) Marilynne Robinson's Gilead still stands as the best contemporary novel I've read, but Cormac McCarthy's the Road isn't too far behind. (Interesting addendum: both are the only novels that made me weep.) And now, Oprah's newest book club selection is the Road. The upcoming paperback release will have that gnarly Oprah logo on the cover. This will benefit the aging Southern author in sales, certainly, but...I'm a little shocked. I've seen the blessing/curse aspect of the Oprah sticker in the past.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/28/2007 01:33:00 PM, ,

Day 203

Hands on the door jambs, I inhale. It's still quiet enough that crunching gravel under tires--blocks away, even--sounds unnature. The sun is cutting through trees, clouds, painting perepheral vision maroon. A single pair of tail lights fade behind the shoulder of a building half a mile away.

I'd resisted the urge to sleep in, set my alarm several hours to 8 a.m. I'd had enough water. I had warmed up, stretched. I shut the door, leaving it unlocked--my housemates weren't yet awake, so I didn't have to worry about carrying house keys. Something garnished the breeze with a dash of berry; something aromatic, at least. I started jogging.

College Hill is ideal for running. There are steep hills if you want them, low-grade inclines, short cuts, straightaways--if you don't like one street, you can move to another. The sidewalks have a personality, from the stretch of brittle concrete on 6th Ave. to the rollercoaster dips near the end of 7th. I don't have much stamina--never have--so I let the sidewalks provide a fair share of the challenge.

I'm not sure how far I run. My internal odometer says close to two miles. It might be three. I get a good start walking, then run a quarter of a mile, slow down to a fast walk, repeat. I reached the three-quarters mark when the ink in the sky started spreading, pushing the gray out of the clouds and bleeding together into a soupy--but altogether breathtaking--mix.

Then the rain came.

I never liked getting wet. I mean, I bathe regularly and so on, but if I avoid water rides at amusement parks and retreat easily in water-balloon battles. The light blue on my shirt started turning dark in dots, then streaks, then gullys. The arc of the rain was water to dribble into my eyes, but I didn't speed up--in fact, I laughed. And I laughed more. Two older folks, jackets draped over their heads like the Headless Horseman's cape, sped by. I hooked onto the sidewalk on Route 18, drenched, taking the stairs to the coffee shop three at a time. Hair stuck to my face, water and sweat mingling and pooling on my lip. I laughed and caught my breath, watched the rain wash away the vestiges of night. The sun soon followed.

As I stretched in the coffee shop, I gave thanks to God for the rain, for sweat, for running, for dawn, for the birds that helped lure me out of bed with their song. I thanked God for renewal and redemption, for torn muscles that mend into something better, and for the countless parallels I miss everyday.

And I'm thinking that at the end of the day, after I had to break into my house (someone did wake up and lock the door), after I learned my car was yet again dead, after I realized I'll never finish the zillion things I need to finish before I leave for Michigan on Thursday. Weather the hardships, trust in Christ--torn muscles heal.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/28/2007 12:08:00 AM, ,

Day 202-- the Terror

If you can fault Dan Simmons for anything, it would probably be for being too ambitious. He's a genre writer, but instead of sticking to one arena, he lets his battles spill over into others. The Terror, his latest novel, is categorically historical fiction. But it also spills over into horror, mystery, supernatural parable and eventually a fable--all without shedding the skin of a historical novel.

The Terror is based around an expedition led by Sir John Franklin, an English commander chosen to find the legendary Northwest Passage. After a few bone-headed choices, the expedition's two ships--the Erebus and the Terror--are trapped in the Arctic ice for three years. A few hard decisions later, the crew abandons the ships and tries to escape the North Pole through various avenues. None of the men survive.

That's the historical answer, at least; Simmons follows history fairly well, showing the crew dwindle due to scurvy, starvation, exposure, and eventually murder and cannibalism. It's pretty unnerving; the book could've stood as a "horror" novel easily without any addition. But there's also something killing off the sailors with chilling--almost sadistic--efficiency. Add in some subplots involving mutiny, a carnival on the ice based off of an Edgar Allen Poe story, and a mysterious mute's a big book, basically. Over 700 pages.

Simmons does a really good job of making it tie together. I was worried at first--I had reached the half-way point and felt like everything was wrapping up. I was wrong; the novel is told from the perspectives of various crew members, and they're varied enough to provide plenty of plot. The main character is Captain Francis Crozier, the Irish commander of the Terror. Looked down upon because of his nationality, Crozier veers between fuming alcoholic and the only man who can get his men to safety. The remaining characters are immensely interesting: Sir John, the bumbling expedition commander; Hickey, the scheming mutineer; Blakey, the only man who survived the thing on the ice more than once; Fitzjames, Sir John's melancholy-but-capable subordinate commander; Goodsir, the kindly surgeon who tells his stories through journal entries, and so on. There are maybe 20 other characters, all of them nuanced enough to stay believable.

The Terror isn't carried by the characters alone--the narrative is wonderfully paced (even though it took me a week to realize it), it's detailed and realistic without sinking into boring territory, and it has a very unique ending. Very, very unique. Simmons captures the conflict of man against himself, nature, other cultures and even his own belief system, but never by falling into caricature. One of the most chilling aspects if how the men--all from a Christian society (superficially, at least) --often end up acting more pagan than the natives they encounter.

The novel isn't perfect. As engaging as it was, the book could've shed 100 pages and not suffered. Some of the violent scenes and sexual bits were a bit too much (I have a list of words I cannot stomach, and Simmons used almost all of them in a one scene). And as interesting as the ending was, it left me slightly unfulfilled--it worked, but not in a way that it should've.

The Terror has only been on bookstore shelves for a few months, but it's become a word-of-mouth bestseller. Despite the few gripes I have, I'm glad it's doing well.

PS--here's a song that fits the mood of the well. In fact, I might want to perform this at my upcoming coffee house performance.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/26/2007 11:54:00 PM, ,

Day 201

Some days, I just don't want to write anything.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/25/2007 09:30:00 PM, ,

Day 200-- on mediocrity

After years of dodging the truth, I'm starting to come to grips with the fact that I'm a pretty mediocre musician. I can't stand this, really; I've been playing instruments since I was seven, and feel like I should be better.

I play trumpet well, I guess--even though I've not played much in the past year, I have a ton of experience. (I was never good with improv, though.) But everything else...blah. I've reached this plateau on guitar where I'm better than the guy strumming Dave Matthews songs on the grass who is trying to woo gals, but I'm not good. And I have a really hard time singing and playing simultaneously. I'm a fair bassist--confident at least--but my plucking fingers wear out easily. On drums, I can do a few neat things and do some basic jazz fills--but, considering that I learned drums before any other instrument, I should be better than "can play basic beat." I'm also an average singer: I definitely was a blending voice in choir (which is cool to me), but I'm sometimes ashamed to sing by myself in front of people. And I can play chords on a piano, but that's it.

Maybe that's my problem. Maybe I'm focusing too much on being the jack-of-all-trade, and while I'm definitely not a master of none, I'm also not a master of being average. I'd love to just play more and get better. Lessons never worked well; in fact, I learn well when playing with other people. I really want to book a gig at the coffee shop, but if I do it'll be the same as all of the other shows I've played in the past: me fumbling through songs, shyly forgetting words, shaky hands mashing chords. No amount of practice has been able to fix this.

What does fix it, however, is me playing with other people. I flourish in musical settings where I have to depend on another, and vice versa. Maybe that's a hint to not do a solo show.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/25/2007 12:21:00 AM, ,

Day 199

The new issue of culture.ish is online. Maybe I caught all of the typos? Maybe?

Also, regarding the "big annoucement:" keen readers can figure out what it is.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/23/2007 03:17:00 PM, ,

Day 198-- on the babysitters' club (following a brief note)

(First, I have to admit I didn't catch the glaring/embarrassing/cringe-worthy error in the last entry title. It's fixed now, thankfully. If you don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry.)

Yesterday at the coffee shop, I was approached by a friend with a thought. We were both part of the various small groups Sunday school classes our church had the last year; he actually taught the bulk of the most recent class.

His request was simple--we were tossing out small group ideas two months ago, and one of the ones I'd mentioned is becoming an absolute necessity. There are many young mothers in our church (and sister churches); I knew a few that are so swamped that, after they spend the day taking care of their children, they have no time whatsoever to relax or have fun with their spouses. It's hard finding babysitters, especially with time commitments, and I know some of the couples don't have much money to toss around to pay the babysitters either.

What they need is a group of volunteers, a net of people within the church willing to help watch children even for an hour. Or, if multiple people can help, maybe one or two can watch the children and others can help cook or clean and so on.

I'm still working this out in my head. It would be great to involve college students, but still have a solid group available once school is done for the spring. It'd be great to have more than one person involved (work in pairs, in other words), but I realize that not every child needs more than one person. Incorporating prayer is a must, as is making sure everyone knows this is a volunteer thing.

I'd love to hear more ideas. I don't know what role I'd play, but I want to at least get the ball rolling. I'm pretty excited about this!

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/22/2007 11:13:00 AM, ,

Day 197-- three-month goals

When I sat down with my (first) advisor during Geneva's summer preview in 1999, I should've settled on List Making as my major, instead of Computer Science (yes, I was--that's why I was at GC for five least I switched sooner than later). I probably could've added Not Finishing Lists as a minor later on, too.

Tendencies aside, I'm going to make another list. Lots of big things have happened since I moved to Beaver Falls three(ish) months ago, so I'm making a list of things I want to accomplish in three months. Doesn't hurt, does it?

  1. My novel; more accurately, my latest stab at a novel
    • Finish outline by the end of March
    • Get rough draft started and rolling by the end of June
  2. Lose 20 pounds by the end of June; I lost 20 by accident over the past few months, why not actually try?
    • Run, starting tomorrow--and by run I mean walk quickly and let atrophied legs get back into shape oh-so slowly
    • Eat better; I'm rarely hungry, despite a spartan diet, but I'm realizing eating a cookie and raspberry kolache for a day isn't exactly the best choice. More grapefruit, that's the solution.
  3. Pick up David Bazan at the airport on April 24th for his show at GC that day. ("Hey, I'm here to drive you to Beaver Falls...just letting you know that I'm probably going to not talk to you during the entire drive because I'm a fan and I've just become really shy. Hop in.")
  4. Schedule a performance at BFC&TCo., hopefully before the end of May, maybe even the end of April. What I want to do is still up in the air--I like the idea of folk arrangements of Motown tunes, but it's really been hard adapting them. I might just scrap it and do covers of a few tunes I like, maybe play with Charlie or Brett.
  5. Continue clearing out more CDs and DVDs--I've jettisoned 17 DVDs so far and around 53 CDs.
  6. Spend only cash. If I don't have cash for something, I won't buy it.
  7. Finish reading the rest of the Old Testament. I'm almost there.
  8. Finish reading 20 more books, either fiction or non, by the end of June.
  9. Go on a road trip somewhere. I've never done anything like this, ever. I yearn for fun like this, but sit quietly at home and wish I was doing it. Why not do it?
  10. Learn to sew better (I'm pretty shaky) and learn to either knit or crochet.
  11. Start babysitting small group (more on this in my next post), hopefully by the end of April.
  12. Write essay on cultural snubbing of graphic novels, maybe essay focusing on Watchmen. Submit it to Comment? Maybe.
  13. Hopefully [ verb ] for [ noun ] at [ specific noun ]. YES IT'S VAGUE.
  14. Make a perfect rose in a latte. I'm getting close.
  15. Most importantly, dedicate more time to prayer. I've grown a lot in this area since last summer, and I'm--literally--praying that I will grow more.
Lots of maybes. Lots of maybes I'm not listing. Maybe these maybes will shift into 'yes's?

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/22/2007 12:14:00 AM, ,

Day 196-- on "essential books for young disciples"

A recent thread on the Arts & Faith forum: "Books to Read b4 H.S. Graduation, Essential Books for Young Disciples"

After I got over the lingo-y title easily (they had to abbreviate to fit it all in, see), I realized it is a good read. The A&F gang--as usual--is pooling their well-read minds and making a pretty exciting list of books that believing teens should explore before finishing high school/home school.

Most of the books are non-fiction, but a few novels crept in. Here's some of the books folks have been throwing out:

"The Christian Mind" - Harry Blamires
"The Book of the Dun Cow" - Walter Wangerin
"The Sacred Romance" - John Eldridge
"Orthodoxy" - GK Chesterton
"The Lord of the Rings" - J.R.R. Tolkien
"The Hiding Place" - Cory Ten Boom
"God's Big Picture" - Vaughan Roberts
"Meltdown: Making Sense Of A Culture In Crisis" - Marcus Honeysett
"Blue Like Jazz" - Donald Miller
"Wishful Thinking" - Frederick Buechner
"In the Name of Jesus" - Henri Nouwen
"Bird by Bird" - Anne Lamott
"the Abolition of Man" - C.S. Lewis
"Lord of the Flies" - William Golding
"Night" - Elie Wiesel
"Crime and Punishment" - Fyodor Dostoevsky

Vague suggestions for Tony Campolo and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were included. My suggestion: "Fabric of Faithfulness," by Steve Garber. What are your suggestions?

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/20/2007 07:28:00 PM, ,

Day 195

I found this thing, see. The thing below--I don't understand computers. Anywho, I made a playlist of some of the songs that are in my head these days. Of course, since I don't like the idea of going to prison, I only uploaded songs I own (so, all of the country tunes and bluegrass tunes and Motown tunes are out of the picture for now).

Yes, there is a Christmas song on there, and probably a whole lotta bands you don't know of. Check 'em out. The sequence is fairly intentional ("You Can't Win" is a great opener, and "Try" follows up well...and "Lost of Love" is probably my favorite closing track to put on mix albums).

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/20/2007 12:17:00 AM, ,

Day 194-- a real conversation with my dad

I talked to my parents on the phone tonight, and this was approximately how the conversation went when my dad had the phone.

Me: Dad, you sound tired.
Dad: No, I'm just...pondering. Have you ever done that? Ponder the universe?
Me: Oh, you know--
Dad: This is the latest thing, I can't wrap my mind around it. Quaker Steak and Lube has these all-you-can-eat nights, on Tuesday--?
Me: Right.
Dad: --and all the kids go there, eat all of these wings, thousands of wings--
Me: Yeah.
Dad: Chickens have two wings. How do they use the rest of the chicken?
Me: ...
Dad: They can't possibly use, like, all of those chickens--
Me: Maybe the, uh, grocery sto--
Dad: --and I really doubt that they can turn the rest of the chicken into chicken wings. Because you can't do that.
Me: I--uh, right.
Dad: I just don't understand.
Me: ...
Dad: I need to figure this out.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/18/2007 09:58:00 PM, ,

Day 193

Months ago, I was charged with organizing a movie event for the 20-something small group at our church. I'd forgotten about it over the past few months, and--despite occasional reminders from friends--continued to forget about it until last week.

I'm not sure why I easily pushed it out of my mind; maybe because I assumed I would be able to come up with something easily when finally backed into a corner. Which is totally false. Maybe I just genuinely forgot. Whatever.

In the end the answer was staring me in the face. I'd collected a few recommendations in the back of my mind. But I'd also collected a few criteria: 1) something good 2) something (hopefully) not boring or too long 3) something "classic" or foreign, just to break from the mold a bit 4) something that asked big questions but also asks the audience to think 5) something entertaining

The answer was the Third Man, probably my favorite film (it and the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance duke it out for the #1 spot constantly). It's 1) a good movie 2) not boring or too long 3) both foreign (English, despite two American leads; it's also a distinctly European film) and "classic" (made in the '40s) 4) it asks PLENTY of big questions, and some of the moral quandaries still haunt me to this day 5) It's definitely riveting. Plus, it's written by Graham Greene, which is a big plus. Knowing the 20-something crowd well enough, I think most of them won't have a problem with it being black and white and old. (Seriously, I know plenty of people that refuse to watch "old" movies.)

It's a good movie. Very good. Incredibly good. Considered one of the best films of all time. Now let's hope my friends will dig it.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/17/2007 06:58:00 PM, ,

Day 192-- on basketball brackets

On my Facebook sidebar, there's a little column that reads: "Follow your bracket's performance..." In a moment of daring I joined one last week; I know next to nothing about college basketball, but had an exciting strategy that involved selecting teams by cool uniform color, cool mascot name (I would chose a hypothetical mascot name of the Clever Lads over something like the Cougars) or cool player surnames.

But I'm not going to be following my bracket this year, especially since that should've involved me actually selecting teams before the tourney started. I have a giant empty space. I might just tell people that I was so sure of myself that--in a noble effort--didn't fill out the bracket as not to embarrass my friends.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/16/2007 10:04:00 AM, ,

Day 191-- on neverending books

Have you ever read a book that's seemingly without end? Have you ever read a book that, despite having read a sizable section, mocks you with the remaining mountain of pages? Have you ever read a book that has enough plot content and resolution to be finished by page 300, though it runs close to 800 pages in length?

I've answered 'yes' to these before. Probably the most memorable example was the recent re-translation of the Count of Monte Cristo, a book that ran 1400 pages. I loved it, though it took me three months to read. But there have also been many examples that I chose not to remember, books that were drastic bores or mammoth paperweights.

Dan Simmons' the Terror is closer to the Monte Cristo end, thankfully, though it may not be a classic. I'll wait until I finish to make a final call. It's a fictional retelling of the doomed John Franklin-led British expedition to find the Northwest Passage. There were no survivors; Simmons has another explanation for this, though. It's well-written and pretty captivating, but...golly, it is long. I was hoping to have it finished last week, and now I'm a day or two away from being half finished.

Maybe the main reason I'm thinking about this is is that--no matter how good the book--I sometimes get antsy and want to move onto something else. Maybe I should no longer do that.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/15/2007 09:40:00 AM, ,

Day 190

I woke up pretty early yesterday, ran some errands and--in a moment of inspiration--ran over to Geneva's campus. I wanted to ask my friend Chris about something, which then led to me talking to Dr. Hanna for a while.

As my feet left Ferncliffe stairs and hit sidewalk, I paused. I wanted to read the novel I'm currently plowing through; my house was out, since my housemates are back and I just can't concentrate there, and the coffee shop was out since I tend to just want to talk to people when I'm there. And I thought about going out to eat as an excuse to read, but....

The answer was looming over me. Since I was already passing as a student (GC t-shirt, messenger bag, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed), I headed directly into McCarthney library and--after shedding coat and bag--sat and started reading.

This worked.

Though I dozed off a few times in the two hours I stayed there, I managed to read a nice chunk of the novel (it's almost 800 pages, though, so it can stand many more chunks taken out). I wonder how this may work with the students back as they've resumed classes today. But before I meet with my pastor today and eventually go to work, I think I may swing by the library again to see if this could work in the long run. I think it can.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/14/2007 09:47:00 AM, ,

Day 189-- on my library

A friend suggest that I turn my book collection into a library of sorts. It was great to hear, since I've been toying with the idea for a while. I don't have a ton of books, at least compared to Suhail. But I tend to keep most of what I've read, and I've read a fair number of books over the past few years.

I've always wanted to act as a small-scale library. I love reading and talking about books with friends. I love the idea of starting a book club (still planned, by the way).

So here is the official invite: come on over and borrow a book or two. Here is a list of what I own (more accurate: what I brought when I moved to Beaver Falls).

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/13/2007 12:43:00 AM, ,

Day 188-- I wrote a book about rock and roll

Spring is near, so that means it's time to start writing another book. Last year I bought a plump journal, grabbed my trusty pen and camped out at Beecher's for a few hours. Having fleshed out the structure of a plot in my head, I tried to let it snowball.

It worked initially. I spent the next few weeks writing; I had been sitting in--for fun--in one of Dr. Hanna's summer classes, and he was a great encouragement. But my interest waned in the end, and I abandoned the project by the end of the summer.

The story ended up being a personal landmark--I think I'd written maybe 15K words, a lot for me. Especially since it was hand-written. I've done most of my work on my computer, so in light of this--and the joy I had editing recently by hand--I think that I want to write by hand all of the time.

While I don't think I'll revisit the manuscript from last year, I may recycle a few ideas. I want to develop the main characters fully before I begin, something I'm prone NOT to do. I also want to set the novel in western PA (at least most of it) and--as someone suggested--write about music or writing. Or both. I have some ideas. Let's see what I can do with them.

(And since last year's book was and this one will most likely be about journalism and music, here's a fun tune about both.)

EDIT: And speaking of music and writing (and fun), I got a big kick out of the latest post on the 'blog of one of my favorite bands, Dolorean. Take a peek.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/12/2007 09:35:00 AM, ,

Day 187

For the doubters, I do in fact have a family.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/11/2007 09:22:00 PM, ,

Day 186-- purging

I made a fairly big decision yesterday--I'm getting rid of 1/4 of all of the CDs and DVDs that I own. Since I own around 160 DVDs and 500 or so CDs, that means I'm getting rid of a lot.

"Getting rid of" doesn't translate as throw away; I'm either giving them to people who want them, or trading them into FYE for store credit (to get movies or music for other people) or cash (to save).

I started tonight. The first round, I called it. I pulled about 16 DVDs from my shelf, which resulted in close to $60 in cash/credit. You may see what I do with it. You may not.

This is after lots of thought, too. Why am I doing it? Well, several reasons. I think I own lots of music and movies solely to own them. That's been gnawing on me for years, but I finally decided to do something about it. I also own lots of movies because they're "good movies," i.e. I purchased these movies over the past few years because they're the movies that movie snobs should own. And that's a silly reason to own something. Lastly, I scanned over some of the titles and thought, "Would I want my children watching some of these?" The answer was no; that isn't to say that I own "bad" movies, but what I once thought was edgy and challenging now seems a bit more childish and meaningless. Keith made a good point, though--before I made any rash decisions regarding this, I also thought, "would I be OK with my grown children watching this?" That saved a few good movies from getting the axe.

But the first go-through is done. I haven't even started with the CDs yet. I think I'll probably be able to clear out maybe 40 on a first pass. And you know what? I feel great about this.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/10/2007 04:13:00 PM, ,

Day 185-- on tautology

Tautology is a form of rhetoric that really interests me. A tautology is a use of redundant language in writing or speech--I'm often guilty of this (for years I had said "ATM machine"!). It's interesting stuff, nevertheless, but I haven't decided if this grips me because I like language or solely because I want to sound smart.

So, here are some tautologies.

-ATM machine (automatic teller machine seems that some folks call tautologies in acronyms "RAS syndrome"...redundant acronym syndrome...this cracks me up!)
-chai tea (tea tea)
-free gift
-pizza pie (pie pie...this makes me giggle!)
-PIN number (personal identification number number)
-ISBN number (I encounter this often with standard book number number)
-future plans
-I personally... (I'm pretty guilty of this!) I think in my head... (as opposed to thinking in my stomach?)

How about some ones that make you laugh, or that you notice often?

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/09/2007 08:00:00 PM, ,

Day 184-- on why I write reviews and essays

Over the years, I've asked myself why I write. I never had a great answer; I'm not certain I do now. But I finally have some ideas, something to cling to.

I'm not a theologian. I'm not a great speaker, nor a great sociologist or debater. I can't remember loved ones' birthdays, verses of Scripture, to take cookies out of the oven or take phone messages. But I'm a cultural sponge, as much as I wish I wasn't.

With the things I read, or hear or watch or experience, I often see things I want to share with people. Sometimes big statements, more often than not little things--a wonderful turn of phrase, a ray of light hitting an actor just so, a key change that makes me weep. Little glimpses of the eternal. Even if the media is not created by a believer, sometimes there is Truth in art that holds a mirror up to our broken world, that urge toward a redeemed creation. This is why I write: I want the little things that whisper of Christ's sovereignty to grow in volume, and if a review or 'blog entry here and there can made one person nod and spread the word, more voices will join the chorus.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/08/2007 03:39:00 PM, ,

Day 183-- halfway there....

To celebrate my "half of the way there" post on the Year o'Blog, Marvel Comics decided to kill off my favorite superhero.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/07/2007 03:49:00 PM, ,

Day 182-- on the cold

I can't figure this out.

I like cold weather. I enjoy the seasons and the change from one to the next, but always look forward to trees shucking leaves and snow-etched wind blowing them away. Plus, snow is beautiful. And I spent a large portion of my childhood camping in this weather, so I've developed a high cold tolerance

But I'm cold. Very cold. My house is freezing: the kitchen door is so mangled that air flows through freely, the furnace coughs and sputters to life as an afterthought, and the space-heater that I dug from a closet--about my age, it seems--is rattling behind me, issuing foul chemical smells more often than heat.

I was cold at the coffee shop--dreading going home, I tried staying by the fire after work. Still cold. Multiple layers didn't work. Keeping my mind off of it didn't help, especially considering the material I'm reading. I started feeling passably toasty around 6 p.m., but--realizing how long I'd been at the shop--headed home so I wouldn't feel like a vagrant bumming heat off of my employers.

It's March. Spring is, looking at the calendar, pretty close. Come spring, come.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/06/2007 07:38:00 PM, ,

Day 181-- Big Star: the Short Life, Painful Death and Unexpected Resurrection of the Kings of Power Pop

When Hurricane Katrina hit, the disaster affected me in many of the same ways that it did others. With maybe one exception; whilst reading articles about the wreckage and rescue attempts in New Orleans, there was growing concerns that one of the missing was a man named Alex Chilton. This devastated me.

The name probably means nothing to you, but to me--and countless others--Chilton has been an elusive, mysterious cult figure behind some of the best pop rock albums of the 20th century. When they found Chilton alive several weeks later, it was a victory of sorts; his long-suffering band, Big Star, was also soon to release their first album in over 30 years. It felt like the band was finally getting the attention it deserved, even if some of it came attached to a city getting leveled.

Big Star crashed and burned before they even began, but the three studio albums they recorded in the early-to-mid '70s inspired countless songwriters. Rob Jovanovic does a good job of illustrating how the band came together, the conflicting personalities within the group, the later ventures of the members, and how an entire generation of artists were touched by the band's music.

But as a whole, the book was a disappointment. Maybe it's my fault; I think I had my expectations set high, and I think I was hoping the book would paint a different picture than the one set on an easel in my head. The bulk of the book told one of two stories: 1) such and such person played with such and such local Memphis band in the late '60s, and this ties into Big Star in such and such way, or 2) Alex Chilton was so messed up from his rock and roll experiences that he did such and such horrid, debauched thing. Repeat ad nausem. And golly, the book is cluttered with errors. Names are misspelled, too, many, commas, are, used, and some sentences flow like a glacier. I kept looking around for a red pen.

One aspect of the book really sunk in, though. One of the band's original members, Chris Bell, one appeared on the first album. His was a shy, introverted man of incredible talent, and left the band for a variety of reasons. He died in an automobile accident before he turned 28. He became a Christian several years before his death. A friend and I were talking today about people living short lives, and the tough questions that surround that--it just occurred to me that while Bell lived a short life, he touched many people, and there are several accounts from people in the book how God used Chris's involvement in their lives to lead them to Christ. It's incredibly moving stuff, and a weird juxtaposition of drug and sex-filled nightmare that creeps into many of the other pages.

In the end, the Big Star book may only be for completists. Big Star was an obscure band, though they shouldn't've been. Alex Chilton had two huge hits as a teen with his band the Box Tops ("the Letter" and "Cry Like a Baby"), Cheap Trick covered one of the Chilton/Bell tunes for the theme song to That '70s Show ("In the Street"), and countless bands either covered their songs, wrote songs about Big Star or its members, or were influenced by the group. But despite their influence, the book is weighed down by all of the editing and content-related baggage. It'd be your best bet just to listen to the music and let that stand on its own.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/05/2007 05:27:00 AM, ,

Day 180

After working the closing shift at the coffee shop for a month and a half, I'm back to opening again this upcoming week. Both shifts are fun, and have their own interesting quirks. There are two things on my mind, though:

1) I'll be waking up at 5 a.m. Even if it's only for a week or two or three, I hope my body will be able to shift back to going to bed (hypothetically) at 10 or 11 p.m. I keep eyeing the clock.

2) I have multiple evenings off. I'm pretty excited about this! (Sorry Brett.) Hopefully I can hang out with friends, maybe get some writing done, play music with Charlie, and actually eat dinner for once.

Monday is a few hours away, and I cannot wait.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/04/2007 08:24:00 PM, ,

Day 179-- February book roundup

Books Received/Purchased
-John Banville, the Sea
-Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle
-G.K. Chesterton, the Everlasting Man
-Tracy Chevalier, the Lady & the Unicorn
-P.D. James, the Murder Room
-Walter Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz
-Richard J. Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching In
-Flannery O'Connor, the Habit of Being
-Jeffrey Overstreet, Through a Screen Darkly
-Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death
-Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto
-Calvin Seerveld, Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves
-Dan Simmons, the Terror
-N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God

Books Read
-Vincent Bacote, the Spirit in Public Theology
-Nick Hornby, Housekeeping vs. the Dirt
-Robert Inchausti, Subversive Orthodoxy
-John Le Carré, the Spy Who Came in from the Cold
-Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology
-Flannery O'Connor, Mystery & Manners
If you couldn't tell, I created the above list with HTML code that overwhelms me. So I won't tweak it; I'll leave it be. Be at peace, HTML table.

Despite trying to read more than acquire each month, that's turning out to be an impossible prospect every February. I volunteer for Byron and the rest of the Hearts & Minds staff at the Jubilee conference each year and they pay me in books. I can't argue with that. I do look forward to eventually digging into the books I got in February, though--Through a Screen Darkly is by a pal from the Arts & Faith forum; Dan Simmons's book is getting incredible reviews; When the Kings Come Marching In looks like a fantastic read; and A Canticle for Leibowitz has a great reputation. In time, Jas, in time.

As for the books I did read, I'd love to say they were all wonderful. But I can't, especially as I'm able to let my opinions age a bit. It's only been a few weeks since I've read Spoon River Anthology, and I can barely remember anything about it. As important a landmark in contemporary literature as it is, the quality of the poems varies erratically. I think I'd rather listen to Richard Buckner's album version; in fact, I did last week, and truncation serves Masters's poems well.

Inchausti's Subversive Orthodox is swiftly losing impact as well. It was an interesting book--the author picked a long list of 20th century folks who, despite being labeled 'radical' at the time, were surprisingly orthodox in their Christianity. This includes Chesteron, Walker Percy, Berry, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and...Jack Keroauc? Inchausti makes a pretty convincing case for Keroauc and Andy Warhol as subversive champions of orthodox thought; I'm not sure I buy it entirely, but I at least want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Still, the segments on the various people are short and filled with lots of ten-cent words. The idea behind the book...I like it. The execution...there is a reason I'm forgetting it already.

Bacote's the Spirit in Public Theology was good, but felt like it could've fared better as a long essay or magazine article instead of a 100+ page book. Many crunchy theological concepts leave me baffled; this book is no exception, though I understand it at an internal level that I can't articulate well. Using the theology of Dutch Calvinist statesman Abraham Kuyper as a framework, Bacote does a good job of showing the work of the Holy Spirit in creation (as in the physical world) and in public theology, especially in regards to common grace. Bacote would occasionally lapse into theologicalspeak that made my eyes glaze over, but I've caused the same sort of reaction when babbling about music or books or whatever. Still, Bacote is a good writer, but I can't help but feel that the book could've been shorter (and that seminary students would get more out of this than I).

O'Connor's book was great; I think I'll leave it at that. I have a tendency to go on and on about authors I love, and O'Connor is certainly no exception. Most that read this know I love her writing, fiction or essay. If you haven't read her, do so. If you have and don't like her, read her again.

I'm glad I read Le Carré's books. It was a superb introduction to an author I'd not read. It was exciting, well-crafted and I have a feeling it's a book that I'll recall fondly years from now. But it was also the only novel I read this month. I remember when I used to think that non-fiction was something created by educators as a game ("let's see if they fall asleep with this one"). I try to be more balanced with how I read, but man--it was good to sink my teeth into this one.

Hornby's book review collection gets a special spot near the end because it served as the inspiration for my monthly book review. I loved how he kept track of what he bought or was given each month and what he read. I don't hold by the "no negative comments" rule his editors gave him. And I'm no where near as funny as he is. But hey, you have to start somewhere.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/03/2007 01:51:00 AM, ,

Day 178-- the Spy Who Came in from the Cold

There is a reoccurring image in the Spy Who Came in from the Cold--at some point in protagonist Alec Leamus's career as a spy, he nearly ran a car full of children off of the Autobahn; the children's faces, smiles, laughs manifest whenever Leamus realizes he no longer belongs in the intelligence community or the Cold War. He can easily crash and burn, die with a smile plastered on his face.

Le Carré's third novel served as his breakthrough in the early 1960s, and for a good reason: it's a fantastic book. The plot is engrossing, juicy without the unnecessary fat--Leamus wants in from the cold, British slang for wanting out of the Cold War and a painless reintroduction back into civilian life. He is sick of the death--watching friends killed, used by their handlers, or both. Leamus is sick of the game.

But after watching his last agent gunned down during a botched crossing attempt into West Germany, Leamus agrees to take up one last mission: to catch Mundt, the communist intelligence director responsible for the deaths of countless British operatives.

The plan to catch Mundt is deliciously elaborate, and spelling it out will ruin some great surprises. I will say that I never, ever would've expected the story to play out as it did. I was breathless by the end, fervently flipping through the last 3o pages. The last chapter in particular cemented the book's worth in my mind, simultaneously moving, sad and--given the time the book was released--fairly gutsy.

Le Carré is a master at both dialogue and description. Characters don't talk as characters in a plot; they speak as real people. And Le Carré moves words around like a chessmaster would bishops or rooks--he always feints on the page, using elliptical language to give a perfect impression of a character without saying more than two words about their appearance. I don't think I've seen anyone do this as effectively as Le Carré.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a quick read. But the book is also serious and thoughtful. It's the kind of novel that, though belonging to a genre that some consider disposable, lingers in your mind for weeks, months, years.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/02/2007 06:39:00 PM, ,

Day 177-- walking in rain

I paced a lot at work tonight--to the door, back behind the counter, back to the door. I looked out, at the street. At the rain.

The street was wet when I checked around 6 p.m.; I could tell by the way the glow from the streetlights careened off of the surface, like a flashlight played upon an upended can of oil. The customers trickled in the rest of the night, most shaking water from umbrellas, shoulders, hoods.

We finished cleaning in record time. By the time I descended the stairs to the sidewalk, I realized I had left my hat dangling on the shop's coat rack, and my umbrella rested near the door of my house. I shrugged, started walking and thumbed my headphones into my ears. Rain pattered on my shoulders; I questioned the wisdom of my nightly walk, but turned right before any more doubt poisoned the well.

I walked longer--farther, more casually--than usual. Think of it this way: it's a short walk from the coffee shop to my house, and I normally make a rectangle of sorts on College Hill on the way home. Tonight, I made the rectangle lines a tad longer.

The walk was wonderful. I dodged puddles, leapt over cracks. I often avoid going out at night when it's raining--I have astigmatism in an eye--but this time the lamps on street, on porches were beautiful lighthouses bathing the sidewalk for my sake. The doors to a local church were crouched beneath one said light, the red paint emanating warmth over the block of asphalt ocean. My shoes are wet, leather moist, tips of my socks guarding toes to the last. I pray jovially; I smile and thank God for rain, for shelter, for music, for little things as they come to me. I crest the hill on the street adjacent to the Young apartments, the pins of water arcing into the haze over Reeves Stadium. The soundtrack is apt, in stereo--piano, acoustic guitar and bass in my right ear, electric guitar and organ in the right, drums and vocals multitracked. The electric guitar wanders around, like water lazily sifting through sand to meet the late autumn Atlantic. Like walking in the rain at night.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/01/2007 11:10:00 PM, ,

Day 176

This is definitely a filler sort of post--I'm pretty tired, and haven't had much time to formulate a legit entry.

I have a really, really hard time figuring out what I read next when I finish a book. I wring hands, fret, pace around. OK, maybe not--but I can't just casually grab a book off of the shelf. I tend to avoid the monsters sitting on my shelf (City of God, Ulysses, China Mielville's Iron Council) and go for other books. I think I'll still be avoiding those books years from now (well, except for Ulysses, since 2007 is the year I will read that book).

To save some time and trouble, I'm just going to make a list of eight books. Those eight books will be the next eight books that I read, no questions asked. Here goes.

Rob Jovanovic-- Big Star: the Short Life, Painful Death and Unexpected Resurrection of the Kings of Power Pop
Dan Simmons-- the Terror
Henry Van Til-- the Calvinistic Concept of Culture (alliteration!)
Andrew Beaujon-- Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock
Susanna Clarke-- Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Dashiell Hammett-- Red Harvest
N.T. Wright-- Simply Christian
Arthur Phillips-- the Egyptologist

There. It's a good mix of fiction and non, theology and history, hard-boiled crime and historical horror.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/01/2007 12:40:00 AM, ,