Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Dragon and the Turtle Go on Safari, a Review

The Dragon and the Turtle Go on Safari is a cute kids book about a turtle named Roger and a dragon named Padraig. The two decide to spend an entire night out camping, beneath the stars and alone all by themselves. While out, the familiar spooks and noises born from childhood imagination appear, and Roger and Padraig struggle to endure the long night.

One thing I thought funny (and somewhat bizarre) was the high, Old English language the two buddies used to speak to one another. "I say my good man..." "Capital!" "Jolly ho." This stuff was fun to read but slightly odd.

The illustrations (by Vincent Nguyen) are all beautiful and rich. Many forest animals appear and all are drawn very child-friendly. The night landscapes are also pretty. The book is a very full and vivid picture book for young readers.

The themes are great for young kids, teaching them the values of friendship and of helping others. Also, on the back cover of the book there is a collection of questions to ask your kids to prompt them to respond to the story.

Overall, The Dragon and the Turtle Go on Safari is a fun book for young children that teaches good morals and tells a fun story along with it. There is a lot of verbiage, so a parent may be used to help younger readers. 

FTC Thing: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

First Impressions: The Decemberists, Iron & Wine, and Dead Space 2

The King is Dead
 The Decemberists have been one of my favorite bands since I discovered them a year or two ago.  I love practically every song in their catalog.  The King is Dead was getting mad reviews before the album came out a week ago, and now after listening to the thing several times, I know why.  The opening song "Don't Carry it All" sets the pace & tone for the rest of the album.  Fun, light-hearted, and very Americana in sound, the entire King is Dead is a showcase of American roots prog-folky songs.

This album features Gillian Welch singing alongside Colin Meloy's lead vocals, and their combination is nothing but wonderful.  Evidenced by the first single, "Down by the Water," this album is different from the typical Decemberists sound.  The band returned to a mostly stripped-down set of songs, forsaking their typical lengthy ballads for something tight and solid.  This album is a great mix of musical genres, sounding like a cross between sea shanties, highlands folk, Celtic diddies, classic country music, and REM.  While this isn't my favorite album in the Decemberists catalog, it's excellent, and I think any fans of the band would like the songs here.

Kiss Each Other Clean

 It's no secret that I love Iron & Wine.  When I saw them in concert back in November, they sampled a few of their new songs that would be appearing on their new album Kiss Each Other Clean.  This album was released this week, and I've listened to it a few times since Tuesday.  It's starkly different from any previous album I&W has released, but this time, different makes for a very fun and funky departure.  The first single, "Walking Far From Home," is a beautiful song reminiscent of "Trapeze Swinger," but more upbeat and catchy.  In fact, most of this album is catchy, mixing pop sounds with the familiar acoustic-folky songs I&W is known for.  Sam Beam's lyrics are still as strong as ever.  Another song that I really like on this is "Your Fake Name is Good Enough for Me," a seven minute diptych that starts off slow but explodes into something that sounds straight from a 1970s anthem. 

Part of the fun for this album is that it is so different from anything Iron & Wine has released.  Traditionally I think of soft acoustic stuff, occasional banjos and electrics, and quiet lyrics.  With Kiss Each Other Clean, Beam has dove into heavy synth sounds, weird funky noises, and a much more upbeat experience.  If you're an Iron & Wine fan, definitely check this out.

Dead Space 2
Uh, I died within ten seconds of starting my game.  My post yesterday about wearing a straightjacket and hallucinating practically mirror how this game begins.  Isaac Clarke wakes up three years after the events of Dead Space to practically be thrown into the same types of situations.  Gameplay doesn't change much at all from the first, but dang it if it's not ten times as terrifying and twenty times more beautiful.

Dark corridors.  Lurking necromorphs.  Breaking glass and muffled screams.  And a protagonist that's suffering from dementia.  It's crazy how a game about survival and terror can make the heart pump and make you feel alive.  So far I've only put an hour or so into the game but it's been intense and I've jumped once or twice.  In short, any fan of Dead Space will probably like this, in addition to anyone that enjoys survival horror games (which I don't).  For me, it's the perfect mixture of sci-fi and zombie-alien-religious story arcs that make Dead Space such a success.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Meeting is a Metaphor

Yesterday I had a meeting in Paducah, a city two hours west of where I live.  It was a final review meeting, pretty much like the one I went to back in the Fall of 2009.  Basically our project plans have been submitted for a while and have been reviewed and looked over by the State folks.  We then show up, sit down, and begin dissecting the work, page by page.  Each page is reviewed for inconsistencies, errors, changes.  Is the Right of Way going to have to be moved here?  Is that 18" pipe going to be able to handle the discharge here?  This kind of stuff.

While I definitely had more confidence in myself and my work this time around, I still feel very new to the business.  I've technically had my job since May 2009, and I've learned a lot during that time.  But, sitting in a room full of people much more experienced than myself is quasi-nerve racking.  For one, I'm still new to a lot of the jargon.  For two, I still think of myself as new.  I mean the project I've worked on since my hire date actually began in 1997, so I've stepped in at the tail end of things and have scrambled to make sense where I can.

Nevertheless, the meeting went well.  I learned some stuff.  I jotted down a pageful of notes of things I need to change and things I still need to do.  I'm behind, drowning in a pool of things to do, but I'd rather be that way than splashing in the kiddie side.  To me, having options that are somewhat pressed for time (~2 months) is easier on my mind than an uncertain timeline with uncertain responsibilities.

And then I woke up and realized that the meeting wasn't just a meeting.  No, it was something much larger, something so unavoidable that it was impossible to, uh, avoid.  Like Neo waking up in The Matrix I saw that life itself is one big meeting.  We're all in a room with the bigwigs, being judged and guided.  Sometimes the jury's kindhearted.  Sometimes they're cruel and selfish.  Either way, a jury exists to judge, and we're all judged by our peers.  We're all thrown to the wolves, but only after we've been drenched in blood and covered in wool.  We're all wolves, devouring one another, lapping up the sick after we've had our fill.  The earth groans beneath our selfishness as the heart groans within.  We hurt.  We grieve.  We try our best to prepare for the meeting and yet somehow we always come up short. 

I take comfort in knowing that Jesus suffered and was hated.  He told His disciples that they would be persecuted for following Him and for living like Him.  He told them that if He was hated, then so, too, would be His followers.  I take comfort in this.  It's not easy knowing that the world hates me, that the world wants to see me fall, that there's someone waiting as a wolf to tear me apart all for the sake of their own selfish desires.  The way I figure, I must be on the right track to suffer, to be persecuted, to be gobbled up and stomped upon by the world.  I count it all joy when I fall into trials.  I'll gladly stand up for what's right and take the gut punch.

And then I wake up and realize that the meeting is something more, something dark and twisted, something human, something else...  I step from the shadows bound in a straightjacket, hallucinating and fleeing for my life.  All around me are horrors too dark to describe; you'd think me mad if I tried.  I run, slipping on blood, through the bodies lining the walls towards the open door just down the hall.  There, freedom, just up ahead...  And the thing appears, leaping from the darkness and screaming in rage born in the pits of Hell.  We seem to stare at each other for only a second, but by then more have appeared, circling around me, jaws snapping, sharpened limbs gleaming in the soft glow of artificial lights.  They close in and I feel the first pains of punctured flesh.  Like a bag of sugar with holes in it, I open up and spill out.

And then I woke up and began to doubt, began to question, began to wonder how much was too much, how far was too far?  Who cared?  All was vanity!  All was senseless wanderings through the vast emptiness of space, through desires of longing for more and inhibitions begging for less, through misunderstandings and broken communication, through a world full of wicked sinners and dirty saints.  What can be done to atone?  What can fix the wrongs?  Who will teach me the error of my ways and show me what I can do?  Who will read these words and judge, misinterpret, and make assumptions?  Who will find the truth in them and discern the fiction?  The cynic wants to say the world will happily pick up their stones and toss them, burying me and my wife beneath a pile of broken rocks, our bones fitting in nicely with the white color of the stones.  I seek to understand the impossible, to change the inevitable, to fix the problems, to comprehend the mysteries, but I can do none of them.  It's beyond me, and in this I must try to take comfort.  The meeting has happened, is happening now, and will continue to go on until the end of time.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Third Bear, a Review

Jeff VanderMeer's The Third Bear has been on my TBR pile for quite a while now. I've never read anything by the author, though his highly acclaimed novel Finch has garnered a load of attention. Likewise, his collection of bizarre short stories contained in The Third Bear has collected lauds and nods from nearly every review I've read. The book has a strange type of magic that charms the reader and takes him on a journey like never before.

So I made preparations to read this book, curiosity piqued. The library purchased it on my suggestion, and then when the book arrived, I promptly forgot about it. Too many other things to read. Carl (of Stainless Steel Droppings, check out his fantastic blog) posted a review last week on this book, and his eloquence reminded me about my library request. That very day I went and picked up VanderMeer's work. I was immediately stricken.

There's really no good way to describe this book. It defies genres. It defies expectations and normal thinking, subverting tropes and typical story-telling methodology for something unique and unforgettable. There are some stories that, upon completion, I couldn't bring myself to describe coherently, even if the tale was spectacular. This holds true for many of the stories, the inability to put into words what you just read, but it only serves to make the reading experience all the better.

For this reason, there's no way I could give reviews to each story in this collection. I don't know if I could pick my favorite, as nearly all have their own speciality, but a few of my favorites are below.

The titular tale, "The Third Bear," is a dark and somewhat familiar story. It reads like an old fairy tale, and the growing sense of dread throughout makes for an unsettling read.

"The Situation" is baffling. Part office-life, part post-apocalyptic, part Idon'thaveaclue, this story sealed the deal for me. I read it after reading "The Third Bear" (which I recommend you do as well, even though it doesn't follow the story in the layout of the book) and noticed a few coincidences that I could not ignore. I'm not sure at all how to describe what's going on in this story, but I highly recommend you read it.

"Errata" is possibly the weirdest piece of fiction I've ever read. I daresay fiction because the story is about a writer named Jeff VanderMeer and he's working on a story around Lake Baikal. The thing reads as a letter written by VanderMeer to an editor and seems to be taken as a true story. Suffice it say that this story unfolded beautifully and still lingers in my mind.

"The Surgeon's Tale" is probably the longest piece in this collection, but one of my favorites. It's reminiscent of Frankenstein, but it's also much more. This tale was emotional and beautifully written. I could smell the sea salt on the pages. I could watch the sargassum dance beneath the surface. The protagonist's longing was tragic, but his love was uncanny.

And lastly is "Appoggiatura," a story so twisted and confusing, so different, so essential, that it practically begs to be re-read immediately. Reading this was like catching glimmers of the City out of the corners of my eyes, almost as if I myself were somehow involved in the rich tales collected in the book.

I think one of the main reasons I enjoyed The Third Bear so much is because Jeff VanderMeer knows his craft. It's like taking a Salvador
DalĂ­ and transmogrifying it into prose.  His voice is strong; his imagery is top-notch; his creativity is uncapped. I'm tempted to say I've never read a work that evokes more imagery in the mind than this book (see the remarks regarding "The Surgeon's Tale"). His prose is fluid, flowing through the surreal landscapes he's created with ease, making the reader feel both comfortable and lost. He takes little-to-no time explaining himself, but instead leaves what he's told as fact and we're to accept it and go on. There's no reasoning why the rabbit can talk in "The Quickening," it just can. Once these weird truths are accepted, the stories shine like a reappearing sun after an eclipse, bright and glorious.

After finishing "Appoggiatura" and the Author's Note, I felt the desire to return to some earlier tales, though I resisted this urge. Some other day.

Am I gushing? Perhaps, but The Third Bear is worthy of it. The book was so unlike anything I've ever read that it has me wanting to read the rest of VanderMeer's catalog immediately. If you're in a rut and tired of reading the same thing over and over, check this book out. Or, if you're just wanting to experience the thrill of Vandermeer's magical oddity, do yourself a favor and read The Third Bear. I can't recommend it enough.

Oh, and do check out Carl's review (here). Some of these stories are available for free online, and Carl's got all these links collected for your viewing pleasure.

Friday, January 21, 2011


In the hinterlands of Western Kentucky, where the border plummets into the treacherous waters of the Ohio River on one side and ascends into the heavens on the other, snow has fallen.  Thick and layered, white and pure, it covers everything.

"I don't see it," I say to myself as I sit and type this blog.  "I'm just not feeling it."

And so I pause, the cursor blinking steadily, waiting for my next command.  What will I type?  What can else can be said?

Said, perhaps, is the wrong choice of word, given that I'm technically not speaking but writing.  Ah, you say, but does a writer not have a voice?  You've got me there, I say.

The problem is that I've just finished Jeff VanderMeer's The Third Bear, possibly one of the most remarkable books I've ever, as Dave said yesterday, "injected into my brain via my eyeballs."  The creativity has my brain working overtime.  His writing is so absurd and surrealistic that I feel like it's something I would write if I had the skill, the smarts, and the name Jeff VanderMeer.

Yes, but what is your purpose?  My purpose.  My purpose?!  You don't even exist, you're just a plot device in this blog post, no better than any of the other impetuses I've used to create.  How dare you ask me what my purpose is!

L of omphaloskepsis fame has two intriguing posts up, each with great commentary and discussion.  The first is about feminism in sci-fi (linked here), the second is about the blending of genres and the blurred lines between them (linked here).

I did finally get paid today.  Twenty days late, which means I'm technically due another check two days ago, but I'll take what I can get.

And the snow melts.  The river floods.  The earth trembles.  In the multiverse that exists beneath, above, and between the fallen snow a child awakens.  In his mind he sees things as they are for the first time. 

Expect a review on Monday of VanderMeer's phenomenal book.  In the meantime, check out The Sound and the Fury of Kristopher A. Denby.  Kris has started back to college again and has plenty on his plate, all of it quite exciting.  The guy's got tons of movie trailers and reviews for films I've never heard of, plus a pretty sweet collection of STAR WARS fanart.

"I don't see it," I say to myself as I finish typing this blog.  "I'm just not feeling it."  Yeah, well, I'm not helping you anymore.  You're on your own.  Alone.  Forever.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"Big Red" Holy Bible - Contemporary 3-D Art, a Review

The "Big Red" Holy Bible - Contemporary 3-D Art is a bible targeted for young readers, recommended for ages 6-12 or a 3rd grade reading level.  The bible uses the International Children's Bible translation, a translation I had never encountered before this review.  The best description for this bible is from the Booksneeze website.
The same "Big Red" Bible that you've trusted for 25 years . . . now with updated, fresh, 3-D art for today's video-game generation. A full-text of the International Children’s Bible translation with bright Red cover and ALL NEW contemporary art, that was created especially for children ages 6 to 12. “Big Red” has been updated with an all new collection of beautiful full color pages, illustrating treasured Bible stories. Inside the type is big and readable for this age group. Kids will love having a Bible to take to church that’s easy-to-read and understand!
I initially requested this bible because I thought the illustrations and simple translation would be good for my brother-in-law in 3rd grade.  The illustrations are all computer generated, designed to look like something from a video game to attract such a young audience, but I found most (if not all) of them off-putting and bland.  I'm not sure if a young kid would be impressed with these or if they would find the illustrations cheesy.  Personally, I didn't like how "white-washed" most of the people were, though I fully expected it in our Americanized version of Christianity.

As for the translation itself, the ICB seemed pretty straightforward and understandable, though slightly clunky.  I do think a 3rd grader could read from this translation with few problems, but there may be some places with difficulty.  I read through some of my favorite passages and used it for a few days alongside my morning studies, and I didn't like the way some of the sentences were structured.

One thing that I liked was the dictionary in the back and the use of footnotes throughout.  The dictionary has plenty of entries that would be useful for a child when coming across an unfamiliar word.  The footnotes are your standard biblical footnotes, offering cross-references or "Other versions add..." and the like.

Overall, the "Big Red" Holy Bible - Contemporary 3-D Art is not something I could see myself buying for my kids or really recommending for others.  The bible is riddled with illustrations, but proportionally they are severely lacking.  For the most part this seems like a simplified translation with occasional illustrations tacked in at random places.  The provided dictionary & memory verses at the back are nice resources, but in no way unique to this particular bible.  If you're looking for a children's bible only for some easily understandable text, then perhaps this is the one for you.  If you're wanting something with more bells & whistles, perhaps more color and not endless pages of text, I'd skip out on this one.

*FTC Thingy: This bible was provided to me by Thomas Nelson Publishers and Booksneeze free of charge in exchange for an honest review.  There were no cookies or pies or delicious cakes involved in this transaction, though if there was, I certainly wouldn't be telling anyone about how delicious they were.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fearful to Fearless, a Review

Fearful to Fearless is a book with a simple premise: stop being afraid in life, stop being anxious or nervous, and instead be bold and fearless. 

The book is divided into three sections: "Fear Not", "Don't Worry", and "Fear God".  Each one begins with a brief introduction and then proceeds into the familiar devotional format.  The book at first seems unusual, as it essentially is an exhaustive collection of bible verses that relate to fear, worry, doubts, and the like.  Yet, its simplicity is great, for whatever page you open to you are guaranteed to read a verse that directly relates to fear.  Also, after each verse, Kusner gives a brief sentence or two to think and meditate on.

This book basically is like running a query on the word "fear" and the bible and then putting the results into book format.  While the idea is not original, it definitely shows the author's concern for his subject.  However, be advised that any extra stuff is relegated primarily to the introductions, and this book lacks bells & whistles.  (Yet, who needs bells & whistles when you've got God's Word?) 

Fearful to Fearless is a standard Christian book that offers encouragement, this one chiefly for those that struggle with fear and apprehension.  Some extra verses or commentary would've been nice, but then again, if one was looking only for a collection of verses on fear, this book would fit perfectly.  For anyone that faces these problems, fear and worrying, and would like a devotion-type book, I can easily recommend Jeff Kusner's Fearful to Fearless.  If you're wanting a more in-depth look and commentary on fear, this may not be the book for you.  

*FTC Thingy: I received this book free from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Six-Shot: Some Insight & Miscellany

One.  Our birthdays were celebrated over the course of four days, beginning with Keisha's on Thursday and ending with my Birthday-Part2 on Sunday.  Saturday was spent across the river in a bigger city where we could dine on exotic Indian cuisine and lollygag around Babies-R-Us for a few hours.  We also stopped by the Guitar Center, Borders, and Sam's Club.  The night ended with a rematch game of Rook against the Winslows, wherein the Stewarts were utterly trounced.  Sunday brought the normal church activities, as well as an afternoon boring game of Bears v. Seahawks, Lego Star Wars, and an evening rematch of Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit (which I won).

Two.  Was it mere coincidence that my flash-fic piece, "Fate & 15th," ended on my birthday, January 15th?  Let us examine.  Coincidence: an event that might have been arranged although it was really accidental.  I can't say, though I would be inclined to say yes.  Some, however, would cry irony, and I would have to disagree with their incorrect word choice.  Further demonstration can come from an incident that happened last week, where my mind mistakenly chose irony when it clearly was coincidence.

Example:  I work a lot of crossword puzzles.  I was thinking one night (not sure why...) that I had not seen Nils Lofgren's name in one in a while, and his name appears quite often.  Nils, for those unfamiliar, is part of the E Street Band of Bruce Springsteen fame.  The next day, the crossword clue had ____ Lofgren.  This, dear friends, is coincidence, an expected outcome that I hadn't intended on happening happening.  Irony would have been ____ Springsteen. 

Three.  I enjoy dark songs, as I mentioned last January, so it seems a logical extension that I would enjoy dark fiction.  The stuff just seems so real and honest, usually offering more insight to the human psyche than a field of wildflowers beneath a rainbowed sky with unicorns chomping on some grass off to the side.  As such, my writing is often dark (evidenced with nearly every bit of flash fiction I've written, and many of my short-stories, too).  My most recent piece, "Fate & 15th," was designed to pursue a dark tone, create a story by using the same or similar opening lines for each vignette, and confuse the reader by making things unexplainable yet realistic.  In part in was inspired by Neil Gaiman's short story "Other People."  My love for Lost also seems to come in with these related arcs, too.  "Fate & 15th" began with only Part One, but when I was finished I wanted to know more.  The shadows needed more, and they seemed to permeate throughout all five parts.  Are the shadows inner demons?  Yes, but they're more than that, too.  I do write and read fantasy, and who's to say that this tale is in our familiar world setting?  (As Dave pointed out, an 8-chambered .44?)  Perhaps these dark beings are more than just inner demons, or perhaps they have much more power over their victims.  Who knows?  All I know is that it was fun and could provide fodder for something else down the road...

Four.  Generosity keeps begetting generosity.  I don't know if it's because I've been part-time laid off or if it's just Providence taking care of me, but things keep happening and I keep finding myself more and more impressed with people.  Even though my paycheck is now two weeks late and I should technically get paid again this week, I'm not worrying.  I know God provides.

Five.  Pat Rothfuss recently announced his book tour for his next installment in The Kingkiller Chronicles, and he's coming nearby again.  I've already made preparations to drive the 3+ hours to see him.  If he's coming close to you, consider visiting the man.  Here's his tour schedule.

Six.  Was my aforementioned example somewhat pretentious?  I hope not, for I meant not to be, only musing on my own enlightenment.  Oh, the new Decemberists album The King is Dead is currently available on Amazon as a $3.99 download.  I abandoned 2666.  Yeah.  That's number six...  Book review (likely) tomorrow.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fate & 15th: Part 5 of 5

     It happened like this.
     Ellen was paying for her ice cream when the bells to the door clanged.
     Coty stepped into the store on Fate & 15th.
     Ellen drew the revolver and the weapon exploded in her hands.
     Coty’s head exploded from the bullet’s exit path.
     She then turned and killed the cashier with another shot. Right before she squeezed the trigger she thought, My God, they’re everywhere. She brought the gun to her temple and pulled the trigger, but the chamber didn’t fire. Odd, she thought, having put eight rounds in the magazine earlier.
     Dwayne was the first officer to arrive at the scene.
     “Ellen?” he asked, his pistol hanging in the air.
     Her eyes were filled with darkness, unfocused and dilated. “Shadows,” she whispered.
     “What? What are you talking about? What did you do?”
     “Shadows,” she repeated. “They made me do it. I understand now.”
     He lowered his gun, realization blossoming in his mind. He felt the scratch urging just below the surface.  “Ellen, I--”
     She shot him in the chest, the .44 tearing through his body like it was paper. She had put four more rounds into his flesh before her mind cleared. The last tendrils of blackness faded away and she gasped at the carnage before her. What have I done?
     She looked down at the gun. The store wouldn’t stay empty much longer. There’s still one bullet left, she thought, her hand trembling. There were leeches now, crawling across the floor and on the walls. The blackness reappeared, swirling in her vision like smoke. The razor talons of the shadows sank into her brain once again as she fired the last shot in the chamber. But the pain didn’t stop. The talons dug deeper, devouring her from within, a pain unimaginable.
     For a fleeting moment, she thought she saw Dwayne. He was surrounded by a thick miasma of darkness. Then he cried out and was gone and the shadows moved on her.

Total Word Count: 1138

Herein being the end of the five-part tale of flash fiction.  I hope you enjoyed it, if this type of dark tale is the sort of thing you enjoy.  I hope it kind of made sense; it does to me.  It's certainly raises questions...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fate & 15th: Part 4 of 5

     Dwayne Braugh hadn’t meant to hit her. Not the first time, anyway. It just happened, and it grew easier after each time. He didn’t like doing it, but he did it anyway. He tried blaming it on the alcohol, but they both knew that was a lie. He usually didn’t start drinking until after he was finished with her. Then he tried to blame it on work, a bad day on the streets, an angry boss, something. All more lies. In truth, he couldn’t really express why he started hitting her.
     One night Ellen just wouldn’t shut up. His head was pounding and the next thing he knew he had slapped her across the face and busted her lip. He did it again and bloodied her nose. Then the darkness that tainted his vision disappeared and he regained control of himself.
     He tried explaining it. Shadows! she sobbed, blood pouring into her mouth. You possessed? That stopped him cold. No, no he didn’t think so. There were shadows scratching at his mind. They stole his self-awareness, his faculties, his free will. They scratched still, but he shrugged them away. They made me do it. I’m sorry, he told her. I can’t help it. But sorry meant about as much as a belated birthday card.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fate & 15th: Part 3 of 5

     Hank Steiner hadn’t expected to sell a gun the day that that cute little Ellen Braugh came waltzing through the door. He’d been on hard times since the new Super Guns & Ammo opened up a few blocks over. No way to compete with those kinda prices. It had been three days since he’d sold anything over a hundred bucks.
     But then Mrs. Ellen Braugh (blond, young, clean background) came in and requested a special .44 for her husband’s birthday. She paid cash so he wouldn’t find out. Twenty-five one hundred dollar bills. Where’d you get all this cash from? he asked. She winked at him and he could feel his face flushing. It’s a secret. Not too much of a secret, he thought, but who was he to judge. He knew business was bad for everybody, so who cared how she made her money. He sold her the gun, promising secrecy.
     Thank you so much, she said, and she kissed his cheek as she left. Dwayne’ll love it!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fate & 15th: Part 2 of 5

     Ellen Braugh hadn’t expected to kill someone the very day she bought the gun, but life has a way of not going according to plan. She had meant to take the gun home and hide it beneath her pillow and wait for Dwayne to come home, drunk or possessed (what’s the difference?), and start in on her. She’d put up with it for too long already, and when you’re the wife of an abusive cop, there’s not much you can do.
     So she’d gone into Hank’s wearing a low-cut tee-shirt and some extra makeup and said she was looking to surprise Dwayne for his birthday, so could he please keep it a secret, but she would like to get a new .44 magnum for his upcoming 44th birthday, thank you. She’d researched enough to know that a .44 to the head wasn’t something pretty to look at.
     The day she went and picked it up (thank you so much, Hank, I just know he’ll love it), she was feeling happy enough that she decided to stop by the store and pick up some ice cream, a little treat she could enjoy after the deed was done. Any old place would do, there, just at Fate & 15th. Fate, she thought. God had a sense of humor after all.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fate & 15th: Part 1 of 5

 Herein being the first of a five-part tale of original flash fiction.

     Coty Hopson hadn’t meant to kill himself when he stepped through the door and into the tiny shop on the corner of Fate & 15th. One minute he was walking along, listening to some Crows on his ipod, not paying much attention to anything but the way the music sounded and what Adam Duritz was singing about. He heard an explosion and the next thing he knew, he was in a room--place? box? void?--completely saturated in darkness, unable to see anything.
     At first he thought he’d gone blind. He’d had an aneurysm like his Uncle Trent and survived but was without sight. The longer he thought about it, the more it didn’t make sense. He could see tiny bursts of light out the corners of his eyes, and sometimes he thought he saw shadows moving in the dark. If he were blind, he doubted this would be the case.
     He supposed, in retrospect, that had he realized the shadows were really moving that things might have turned out differently, probably not, but maybe, but that was moot now. He could still feel them ripping him to pieces, tearing his body apart day after day, and he guessed it would continue on for all of eternity, but for the life of him he couldn’t understand why.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Lack of Personal Pronouns

Jeez it's cold.  And it's only going to get colder.
Hungry.  The apple & brownie & 4 cups of coffee this morning was a pathetic breakfast.
Doing an exercise regiment that should yield 100 push-ups after 6 weeks.  (Here.)
2666 is an odd book.  And incredibly dense.  One sentence spread over 3 pages.
25th birthday is Saturday.
Keisha's 23rd birthday is Thursday.
Going out for Indian to celebrate.
Plugging along with ditch drainage and still wallowing in late to very late paychecks.
Doctor tomorrow for a checkup and to hear the heartbeat again.
Next month to find out if its a girl or a boy.
Generosity begets generosity, Anonymous Sender of $60.
Didn't watch The Cape and didn't miss it.
Did watch the Colts lose, though. Sadly.
Did watch Monsters of Folk on Austin City Limits Friday night.
Did pre-order Dead Space 2 with the donated $60.
Did spend some time sanding down & stripping the remaining two kitchen chairs.
Didn't eat a good breakfast...  must resist Snickers in desk drawer.
Did play at the Shelter yesterday, had two people show up, plus two others.
There's snow a-coming, and colder temps.
Don't understand why some people can be so delusional, do ya kennit?
Might be playing a game of Rook tomorrow night.
Requested the library to purchase Joe Abercrombie's newest The Heroes.
Did get more Ethopian coffee beans last night from Will.
Should finish How I Met Your Mother Season 5 this week.
Wants to slap bet somebody.
Si man i yulma nin enquantuva?
Star Wars on blu-ray this September.
Chernobyl: 25 Years Later.
Got Dr. Horrible on blu-ray for Christmas.
End of line.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Where I'm At

I feel like my life is at the confluence of a great and mighty river.  Ahead I see the waters flowing off as one single stream, fuller now than ever before.  Behind me there are many waterways, some stretching beyond the horizon, others springing out the ground.  Sometimes I am floating in these streams, meandering and twisting with no particular care or aim.  Other times I'm aboard a vessel and taking charge of my course.  And then there are times when I'm struggling to stay afloat, fighting with every last breath to rise above the rapids and gasp down air.

The past is an interesting thing.  Dwell on it too long and you find yourself waxing nostalgic, wishing for the impossible, and mostly disappointed.  That's the thing about the past: it's full of disappointments.  A favorite sports team losing a pivotal game.  An automobile accident that cost hundreds of dollars.  A friend letting you down.  But mostly I think we're disappointed in ourselves.

As we age, we hopefully grow wiser.  This isn't always the case, and too often we're forsaking the safety of the ship for a leisurely swim in the treacherous currents.  Sometimes we can get sucked under and end up lost at sea and away from the ship.  For me, my past seems to be a constant teeter-totter of on-board/at-sea, one minute helmsman, the next a piece of jetsam

I've always held fast to optimism, and I still do.  I'm a strong believer that thinking positively drastically affects one's well-being and global view.  Of course, thinking positively can only go so far, but still, it's a better position than being a constant pessimist.  This type of thinking helps no one.

A cynic may suggest that pessimism is a more realistic view of life, and that may be true, but I don't think so.  Life is a matter of subjectivity, and it's only as good (or bad) as we make it.  I'm comfortably and optimist and a realist.  I'm 20% laid off, but I'm confident that God will take care of me and mine.  I struggle with knowing whether or not I should keep my job, cause late paychecks and uncertainty is stressful.  I have financial worries--mortgage, student loans, and general debt--but God will work in this, too.  I love my house but want to sell it to save money.  My health insurance has a $7000 deductible and Keisha's pregnant.  I'm expecting my first child, and I could despair at thinking How could I bring a child into this world?, but I leap at the excitement of becoming a dad.  I have daddy issues a-plenty and the relationship with my father pains me to no ends, often sending me into a dark place whenever I even think about him, so I long to be the best dad I can be to my child.  I am now teaching (as of December 26) my Sunday School class, and this somewhat terrifies me, but at the same time forces me to grow and step up.

Honestly, somewhere along the way these past few months my mind has slowly switched to a more Jesus-shaped view.  I've found myself wanting to read and study the bible.  I've grown to love Christian non-fiction.  The other day I found myself thanking God for my blood type (I'm O-Neg, so I can give to all people), and this realization struck me as profound.  In all I do I am seeking to glorify God and to act as Jesus would.  Do I succeed?  Heck no, but I'm trying.

So where am I at in life?  I'm at a place where the future is opened up before me, filled with possibilities and excitement.  I have no idea what it looks like.  Sometimes the weight of it all is threatening to drown me, but then I remember that I'm on the ship and in no danger.  The future is bright, the water is clear, and grace abounds.

Bits & Pieces
  • We're starting back up the worship service at the Pitino Shelter.  We took a little break (a few months, actually), and hopefully the cold weather will have more people in attendance.  
  • We've been selling things on ebay to make some extra cash.  We've got rid of a lot of textbooks, the PS2, and some N64 games.  Still more to go.
  • I would give my left arm to pre-order Dead Space 2 and buy it on January 25.  The first game was my favorite FPS of all time, and probably my second favorite PS3 game I've played.  (Reviewed here.)
  • Anybody play Rook?  
  • Anybody wanna surprise me and buy me a copy of Dead Space 2?  You'll have my eternal gratitude.
  • The MENSA desk calendar William got me for Christmas has proven quite fun this new year.
  • Dave is risen and blogging again!  Go. There. Now.  (What, Dave? Even after my eulogy for you? So if you die again, do I have to do another one?  Grr... Is there a book on blogging etiquette?)
  • Seriously.  Dead Space 2.  Anybody?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Mere Churchianity, a Review

I had never heard of the Internet Monk prior to receiving this book, nor had I heard of Michael Spencer, the name he went by outside the blogosphere. No, I chose this book for two reasons: One, the title, Mere Churchianity, was clever and Two, I was interested in this so-called "Jesus-Shaped Spirituality." So the book arrived, I discovered it was published posthumously, and I dove in to see what this was all about.

To say I was immediately hooked would be misleading, though I was. For one, the author told a story at a Dairy Queen on Hartford Road, which, coincidentally, there was a DQ on a Hartford Rd just a few miles from my house. The story was a sad, indicative reflection of many modern youth groups and how they react outside of the church. But the sincerity of Michael Spencer's voice was heard: there was a problem with our churches.

A few pages later I discovered that Spencer grew up in the town I now call home, a small(ish) city in Western Kentucky. To make things even more interesting, his family still abides in these parts. So learning that Spencer was a local might have buried the hooks even deeper into me, assuring that I continue reading.

Yet, even without these coincidences, I would have had no problem finishing Mere Churchianity. The subject is something I believe is vitally important in our current, fast-paced, instantaneous society, and Spencer highlights many of the same problems I see all around me.

Churchianity is the art of shaping one's life after the church, as opposed to Jesus. Some may find this discrepancy negligible or a matter of semantics, but it's not. Look around. How many churches are truly following Jesus? How many pastors are standing in their multi-million dollar buildings wearing their fancy clothes and proclaiming that Jesus wants us to "have our best life now"? How many church goers are bigots? Racists? Homophobes? It doesn't take a genius to know that the word "Christianity" carries negative connotations, that all Christians are judgmental and close-minded. While this is untrue of all Christians, largely, to the rest of the world we're a religion that is intolerant of anything that doesn't fall under the OK of our set traditions and customs, most of which originated from the church, not Christ Himself.

Jesus was the ultimate example of love and humility. Who did He spend most of His time with while He was in His ministry? It wasn't the religious folks, that's for sure. No, He hung out with prostitutes, liars, thieves, tax collectors, Samaritans, and all the other lowlifes of the times. Jesus said in Matthew 9, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." How does this compare with our churches of today?

Largely, this disconnect is the focus of Spencer's Mere Churchianity. The book was written for people that had left the church or were thinking about it, people that were dissatisfied with how things were going, people that wanted a REAL church, not a group of hypocrites.

I found myself shaking my head at many of the things Spencer was saying, agreeing that we need to be REAL and dependent on each other, as the early church. There were some things that I disagreed with, of course, and I recommend reading these types of books with a critical & careful eye. Still, for the most part, Michael Spencer was absolutely right. Our churches are screwed up and are too busy focusing on things that don't matter and ignoring the One who does.

I very much enjoyed this book. My copy has notes and underlinings all over the place. Spencer wrote conversationally, but with conviction and honesty. This is the kind of book I wish more people read so as to see that we're not all judgmental and uncaring. I can recommend this book for the target audience (those leaving or thinking about it), but also for the lay church attender as well. The argument is urgent, and if churches don't start fixing things, I fear for the future of the bride of Christ.

*This book was received from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing in exchange for an honest review.