Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Leap Day Quandary

A leap for Leap Day.
It truly is a delicate situation.
Nigh on precarious, I daresay.
See, I've never had a blog post on Leap Day.
I squandered 2008 away with a smattering of posts as
I cringed through my last semesters of college.  And the Leap Day
before that one I was coasting through my last months as a high schooler.
And the Leap Day before that one... there's no telling.

So this is a monumental day.  People all across
the world are literally erecting monuments
to Leap Day 2012, just like the
Mayans predicted all those
many years ago.  
But the
having a Leap 
Day post is that I 
don't have much to write
 about, and I struggle with the idea
 of publishing inane babble.  

I could talk about the
 new fancy gadget 
up on the sidebar
 there.  The media
 player thingy.  We've
 started recording and
 podcasting our weekly Coffee Talks.  It's
 a men's group, so if any of you ladies wanna
 give it a go you may wanna take a shot of testosterone
 before you go in.  This week we covered Genesis 1-25.  The guy
 at the end that says "Logan Stewart"... yeah, that's not me.  I'm the second person
 you hear speaking, the one with the odd and hickish accent.

Accents are another thing.  I could spend my 
time being self-conscious about it,
 about the way that I say words
 like "light", "night", or "like."  
The fact that I say stuff
 with a drawl and a 
mumble, but
 those aren't
to get 
     I prefer to see them as character attributes, not as words of a simpleton.  It's baffling 
          how city folk make fun of our accents, though.  Even folks from Louisville, the largest city 
     in the state, populations something-point-something-million.  Louisvillians are so diverse that
                  some talk more country than me, and others more city.  Personally, I can tell that my
          accent's gotten more noticeable as I've aged.

I intentionally used the word "gotten" in the previous paragraph to give birth
 to this paragraph for one solitary reason.  It bothers me to read the word
 "gotten" in anything that wants to be taken seriously unless
 someone's speaking.  Just seems like a lazy cop out.

My dad's dad was a cop.  A deputy sheriff, in fact.
  So yeah, I've taken a few rides in the back of a squad car.

A "young girl" jumped off the bridge here today.  She's in critical condition.
  I don't recall anything like that ever happening around here.  I can't imagine coming
 to the decision to do something like that, to stop your car in the middle of the span, get out, walk
 to the edge
   climb the rail,
      stare down the water
       feel the wind gusts 
  blow at you
      I can't imagine the thoughts in her mind for that 2-3 second drop.
  I can't imagine hitting the water and thinking that something has
 gone terribly wrong 
(or right).  
I can't imagine waking up in the hospital after deciding to do
 it.  It's an incredible opportunity the girl's been given, 
to not have died immediately.  
I pray that she recovers and that the love of
Jesus is shown to her.

I'm not a fan of buggy 
and clunky computer 
programs that limit user
input.  I'm talking to you, 
HEC-RAS.  It's the standard in
bridge & open channel analyses for anything
remotely complicated, and yet it's lacking plenty 
of functionality.  Maybe that's cause it's 
developed by the USACE?  As it 
goes, I'm doing a lot 
of experimentation 
with this thing.

I am a fan of format.   
And experimentation.  
And questionable verisimilitude.  

Happy Leap Day!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In General

i.  I've added a new tab to the top o' the page titled "Concerts."  It's a chronicle of the shows I've been to.
1+1.  I started a new project at work recently.  It's some nice and fancy bridge hydraulics, running a few different HEC-RAS simulations.  This is for the East St. Louis project I mentioned several months back.  It's nice (and fun) to be doing something different.
...  Stewartland now has a new computer (thanks Mom!), usurping my 8 year old laptop and Keisha's 6 year old piece of junk.  It took some work and updating and motherboard work, but it's nice to have friends that are more than capable when it comes to that kind of stuff.  Me, I'm squeamish.
4444.  I checked out a different translation of The Brothers Karamazov.  I own the Constance Garnett translation, which is fine but oddly clunky; so far the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is proving easier to read.  I'm alternating between translations, depending on where I'm reading.
%.  It's February and I'm in flip flops.
six.  Lent began last week.  Last year's was an amazing experience.  This year we're doing something a little different.  Taking our inspiration from Isaiah 58, we're trying to be more intentionally selfless and more giving.  We felt that fasting was good for us last year as a kickstarter, but we also feel like it should be more of a normal practice instead of an annual thing.  Thus, we committed to fasting one day (24-hrs) per week indefinitely.  Been doing it for quite a while now, and it's remarkable how much I look forward to and dread the thing.  Still, I long to draw closer to Jesus and to live more intentionally.
7.  Does anyone else make playlists for parties?  I'm hosting poker at my house this Friday and I'm working on the tunes.  This is common practice for me, though I wonder if it's common for everyone?
     7.b.  Any particular song I should add to the list?
ocho.  I've been in a writing slump.  Not much creative writing going on, not really.  I've daydreamed and thought of some ideas, but I've not had the time or the drive to put thoughts to words to screen.  Most of the time I keep thinking on the grander story, the world that links the tales I'm most intrigued with.  Perhaps one day...

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Reapers Are the Angels, a Review

Oh my. You know that feeling you have when you're reading a good book, and as you're reading you try to put it out of your mind that the page count is dwindling and the text is going to run out soon and you try to slow down and savor the last few pages but you can't, because you just gotta know what happens? And then you finish and you're slightly hollow and realize that two days have now passed and you can't stop thinking about the book and what exactly did happen. You give it to your spouse and force her to read it so you can discuss it with somebody, and then you pester and question her as she does.  You find yourself speaking with an accent to mimic the protagonist, whether its appropriate or not. You are, in essence, haunted.  You know that feeling?

Alden Bell's The Reapers Are the Angels had this affect on me. It generated quite a bit of buzz when it came out, back in 2010, and several of the genre bloggers I follow recommended it as a good read. I shelved it and moved along until just recently, where I decided (on a whim) to read it and knock another book off the 2012 Manifesto. Again: oh my. The Reapers Are the Angels is a post-apocalyptic zombie tale that's not really about the zombies or the state of the world. It's a story about a girl named Temple, fifteen and incredibly resilient, struggling to survive in the "now" and reconcile the choices she's made in the "past." The world changed twenty-five years ago, so Temple has little knowledge of how things were back then, and she gains most of that knowledge from fellow survivors or tossed-out magazines. 

Temple's voice was what propelled this book for me. She's smart, flawed, sassy, and funny, but she's got a depth to her that stays hidden from anyone with a brain. She's made mistakes and regrets them every day, and yet she's not up-front about it, not even to herself, and thus not to the Reader, either. Temple spends her days traveling around the country, living mostly alone for much of the time. After she makes an enemy of a man named Moses Todd in a survivor's town, though, she spends the rest of the book on the run, waiting for their inevitable meeting.
"She leaves him sitting there, glancing back just once before she goes through the stairwell door and observing how the cloud of smoke from his cigar gets pulled in wisps out the dark gaping hole in the glass wall--as though it is his soul, too large for his massive frame and seeping out the pores of his skin and wandering circuitous back into the wilderness where it knows itself true among the violent and the dead."(p35)
Interestingly, The Reapers Are the Angels is toted as a Southern Gothic type tale, in the vein of Flannery O'Connor or Cormac McCarthy. Like McCarthy, Bell adopts a different method for presenting the story, eschewing quotation marks and atypical punctuation. This simplicity adds to the feel of a post-world (just like it did with The Road), though it can get confusing, as one may not know whether or not a character is speaking or if we're reading Temple's thoughts. Nevertheless, I didn't find it too much of a distraction to ever get lost. Similarly, Bell reveals much of the story by revealing little, that is, he's quite sparse with his prose. There are times when he waxes on the beauty of the stars or a river or something, but it always seems to fit the moment and what Temple would be thinking. Other times there's very little description and even less action/resolution, but again, it seems fitting.

Despite my glowing reaction to the story, there were a few problems evident.  Most notably was Bell's odd word choices, as if he relied heavily on a thesaurus to put a little purple into the prose from time to time.  I didn't notice this too much, but Keisha pointed it out as one of the big issues she had with the book.  This is directly related to my biggest issue, that being that I thought Temple was a bit unbalanced as a character.  The girl is incredibly skillful and incredibly dangerous, having the resilience to not only survive in the dead world, but to survive well.  And yet, despite her obvious intelligence, she was illiterate.  This really served no purpose to the book, and in fact extended too far out of my willingness to suspend disbelief.  This wouldn't have been as noticeable if she didn't wax poetical whenever she was moved.

Alden Bell's book was an absolute pleasure to read. It's one part Western, with a vengeance story driving much of the plot, but it's also much more than that. The zombies are different than other zombies that I've read. Heck, the post-world is different than other imagined futures. Temple was a fascinating character to explore, and I loved her rhymes & reasons for life and God and the rest of the world. If you're looking for a short (225 pages) and addictive read, then let me suggest The Reapers Are the Angels. It never crossed the line into horror, but it camped close to the edge, proffering room for a vivid imagination to take the story and run. It's a book about a girl with questions and guilt, a girl that wonders about what it means to be human. It's a fast-paced book with some small hang-ups, but it's one that I strongly recommend.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Great Somnambulist Faces His Fears

When Millard Filmore banged on my door this morning, the clocks in the attic all read a different time.
3:13     4:00     7:30
6:51     2:01     9:45
8:88     0:00     x:92
12:12     hellomoto
12:00     3:13     5:14
1:19     6:52     4:28
I think it has something to do with the President's time traveling abilities, but my clocks always go haywire whenever he shows up.  "Logan," he says, his voice heavy and augmented, not like Darth Vader's, but smoother, more velvety, as if his larynx has been marinating in honey all night.  It's impossible not to hear and listen to his words.  The dog is with him, Wolfie, she is called.

"Sir," I reply, cringing at how coarse my voice sounds compared to his.  I had been asleep, dreaming of Martin Luther King and Mama Cass Elliot.  They were singing a rousing and puzzling mash-up of "Dream a Little Dream" and the famous speech of Dr. King's.  It was getting to the good part, too.

"The Great Somnambulist has slumbered for much too long.  It is time."  I wondered at his word choice and whether he was being ironic or coincidental.  And he stared at me with those haunting eyes, lifeless and pale.  I quivered down to my soul then.  How can I explain it?  It's like the feeling you get when you're reading a 160 year old book that's been translated from its original Russian and you come upon a piece of dialogue that spans three pages but only one paragraph.  You wonder how people spoke with such eloquence and at such length back then, and you feel sorry for those in their presence.  The diatribes against God and Man and Society had to get old.  If you understand my meaning, that's similar to the dread I felt.

He held out his hand and I took it, trying to find something else to look at besides his eyes and failing.  With a sucking-slurping sound and a burp, the wormhole opened and we shimmered.

"What will happen in the third season of Downton Abbey?" I asked him.  "And will the ridges on my tongue and my hard palate cool back down?  You see, in my haste yesterevening I bit into a slice o' pizza that was much too hot, and in doing so the sauce--cursed tomatoes!--scalded me most severely.  Because of this I have been out of commission, so to speak, though not out of mind, lest you think I already was out of mind, but I would implore you to think otherwise.  Consider this.  Would a man out of mind successfully argue himself sane by brevity or would he ramble on and on about it, summoning up a panel of peers and contemporaries to support his claims that he was, in fact, quite sane?  Hmm?  I ask you, President Filmore, do you see my reasoning?  I think you do, and I will leave it at that.  But what about the pontifex?  What about the Gilmore Girls?  Is this about the seismograph again?  That wretch Claudio Montezuma assured me that he saw Mr. Julius McPeasy accompany Count Flopsy back to the vaults with it.  No?  Is it Cornelius Antonin Scruzz then?  Has the lad been found?  I had given up hope on that."

We were in the gardens, strolling through the rows of squash and onions.  I was bumbling like Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov.  Time travel affects us all differently.  Do all computers insides look so clunky?  Are all motherboards created equal?  Can we replace our RAM if we're running low?  Do you sulk and slink in the shadows when you trespass?  Does snow exist any longer?  Will the Counting Crows new album be any good? (I hope yes.)  Will Skyrim ever end?

All of this and more I wondered.  Finally we reached the end of the squash and President Filmore stopped.  Before us I saw a pedestal composed of Irish Spring soap.  In the milky moonlight the soft green was incredibly beautiful.  Atop the pedestal was a housecat lying on its back, paws out before it.  Resting on the paws was a plate, elegant yet simple.  And on the plate was....

"You know what you must do," said the silky voiced President.  I stepped forward.  My hands were shaking.  "The Great Somnambulist must not be allowed to give up so easily," he said behind me.  His words put fire in my bones, and with resolve I took the pizza into my hands.  Pepperoni.  Black olives.  Mushrooms.  Peppers.  Few onions.  Cheese.  Bacon.  I rubbed my tongue against my hard palate and winced.  Are rhinos things of the past?  Will I ever be free of soda?  I bit, and as the pizza sauce exploded in my mouth, the pain I once felt vanished and in its place came euphoria.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Resolution for Men, a Review

The Resolution for Men is not the kind of book that I would normally read.  In fact, I think I've only read one book like it before, John Eldredge's Wild at Heart, and that as a single lad in college.  Now, with nearly five years of marriage under my belt, and almost a year of being a father, books like Resolution seem more appropriate.  Resolution, written by brothers Stephen & Alex Kendrick, is an accompanying resource book for last year's Courageous, a quasi-companion to Fireproof.

Point blank, I've seen neither of these movies, though from what I hear, they're "wonderful."  Personally, I just don't see the appeal.  I get that Christian movies are clean and wholesome and powerful and filled with a message, but generally the acting and budgets are not comparable to a Hollywood powerhouse.  Now I'm not knocking these movies, and I'm glad that they exist.  No, what I have problems with is the fact that the movie is labeled as a "Christian" movie, relegating it into a genre that's typically laughed at and ignored.  Anyone who's read this blog very long knows that I dislike labels and genres, whether it's for film or books or music or whatever.  If you want to reach a larger audience then remove the genre classification.  Until then, we'll remain a splintered people, separated by race, religion, and many other things.

With that said, Resolution is a non-fictional book about what it means to be a Man.  To be a good husband.  To be a good dad.  Or, from the Introduction,
This book is an unapologetic call for men to live courageously for their faith and their families.  It is designed to strategically challenge you to become the man God created you to be. (page1)
Continuing my confession, I would very likely never have read Resolution on my own.  It's just not my norm.  As it so happened, my Wednesday morning D-group (which we affectionately call "Coffee Talk") decided to read this book together.  What's more, we decided that after we finished that we would pledge the "Resolution" the book provides, affirming our intentions publicly and in the presence of others.  This Resolution is the focus of the book, as it precedes and concludes the text.  Each of the fifteen chapters point to the twelve points made in the "Resolution", and all build upon one another as expected.

To make things even more difficult, I literally started reading the book a day or two before my dad died.  Because of the book's content, my mind had been thinking about him a lot at the time.  Thinking about how he was never there for us and how little he was involved in my life.  The book speaks of being a chain-breaker in your family, and I had a clear goal in mind for my life of how not to be.  Reading the book was cementing the way to that goal.  Then he died, and all the difficult parts about fatherhood were suddenly clearer and made more of an impact.

I came into Resolution with no real expectations, what I found was a book containing a lot of great information about being a Man of God.  I like to read with ink pens and highlighters at my disposal, and this book shows it.  Many of the pages are scribbled with notes or underlines, things I found particularly insightful or applicable.  Consider (and I apologize for the quote-dump here),
*All sin in us reveals that God is not as holy to us as He should be. (p89)
*[And] the more maturity a man has, the more responsibility God can trust him with. (p62)
*If you want to get to the core of who people really are, get them to start talking about their dad. (p14)
*God's Word commands husbands and fathers to lovingly lead their homes. As men, we are to walk in honor and integrity and fully embrace our responsibilities as shepherds over our families. We are called to model a loving, Christlike example for our wives and children... Therefore--because this is God's calling--it's no mystery that a godless culture would mock and constantly undermine fatherhood, attacking and inverting what God designs and values. (p13)
*Strong relationships and marriages don't happen because people never hurt each other. They happen because the people involved keep on forgiving. (p172)
*Being a Christian once meant faithfully and boldly representing Christ, even when it came at great risk, even when it meant being unpopular. But too many men today have redefined being Christlike to mean "nice and quiet." (p137)
This is just a smattering of things I marked.  For you see, Resolution offered much more than I was expecting.  Not only did the authors give theory behind things they recommended, but they went beyond that by offering practical things to do.  I appreciate reading a book with suggestions for how to apply to my life.  Too often, it seems, that these books only offer us reasons why we need to do things a certain way but not how to go about it.  

I've already mentioned the "Resolution" at the front and back of the book, but it's worth mentioning again.  I think the desire of the authors is to get men to recommit themselves to seeking a lifestyle that's reflective of biblical manhood.  The Resolution is a solemn compact that should not be entered into half-hearted.  I imagine that there are some who have qualms about making that type of commitment and instead just gloss over that part of the book, but as for me, it's something I'm going to do.  The Resolution is composed of great points that not only will make us better men, but will draw us closer to God.

Stephen & Alex Kendrick's Resolution for Men is not a perfect book.  There are plenty of instances that I completely disagreed with, where I felt that they were being too legalistic or too dogmatic, but these were uncommon.  At times I also felt like they were repetitive in their message, but this could be that they just wanted to make sure that their message was heard.  Even so, these brothers are to be applauded for the book they've produced.  It's poignant and much needed in modern day America.  If you're wondering what it takes to be a better husband, a better father, and a better Man in general, then let me suggest checking out  The Resolution for Men.

[Note: Just in case you're curious, there's also a Resolution for Women out there.  I can't attest to its content, but if it's like this one, then I do recommend it, too.]

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wrestling With: Reverence & Respect

Recently I was part of a frustrating exchange.  An elderly man in our church expressed his disappointment in seeing someone wear a hat inside the sanctuary.  What's more, the culprit was a minister.  (No, this wasn't at my church, but was at another church in a video we were watching.)  The elderly man proclaimed that there's not any reverence anymore, no respect of the pulpit or of the church or anything.  He acknowledged that yes, the church is not the building, but even so, it should be respected*.  To complicate the matter, two other people joined in and supported him.

Through it all I felt a growing sense of unease.  How can people think that the clothes they wear are an indication of their heart and its relationship to Almighty God?  We all know that "clothes don't make the man."  That's been around forever.  Eventually I was asked my opinion, and I said that I disagreed with them and that I saw no problem with it.  I went on to say that God doesn't care what we wear as long as it's modest and not causing someone else to sin or laced with profanity.  He looks at our hearts.  Our respect/reverence of Him has nothing to do with what we're wearing in church.

Growing up in rural Kentucky, my home church had a dress code.  For males, blue jeans or pants were to be worn at all times; females had to wear skirts or dresses.  Shorts were never allowed.  This was how I grew up, and how I thought for much of my life.  I never bothered to ask why.  It was one of those "that's just how it is" things.  Along those lines, American history shows plenty of examples of men taking their hats off before entering buildings, opening doors for women, and being generally "respectful."  Culture defined respect, and like any good Baptist, this turned into a tradition, albeit lacking any biblical support.

I was given some stern looks and questioned about my opinions.  The problem with America, I was told, is that we've progressively compromised our stands and allowed liberal theology to overtake us.  I can agree to some extent with that, but not in full.  Too often people hold to the "God is an unchanging God" mentality, that He's "the same yesterday, today, and forever" and that means that we should be the same, too.  The problem with that is that it limits how you worship God, who creates a new day every morning, who's crafted a world filled with beauty and impossible splendor.  The world is changing, just as God knew it would, and holding on to pointless traditions are inefficient at best, and downright wrong at worse.

The bride that Jesus died for is built on the Word of God, not traditions.  Traditions can teach, and there is wisdom found in them, but they are not God's Word.  Whenever the two butt heads, I'm going to choose the bible every time.  It bugs me when people say "I believe that..." or something similar.  What we believe has no matter when compared with what God says.  The bible speaks plenty on respect and honoring God.

  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. -- Proverbs 1:7
  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  -- Psalm 111:10
  • Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory, honor, and power... -- Revelation 4:11
  • Honor your father and mother. -- Exodus 20:12
The bible teaches in being reverent to God.  The bible teaches that I should live out my life in fear of Him, and that that fear is healthy and humbling.  The bible teaches us that as we fear Him then He blesses us.  Jesus taught us that people should respect one another and love one another and that our respect and love toward one another is reflective of His love to us.  The bible does not teach that wearing a hat in church is disrespectful or wrong.  That means that we can serve and worship God in a three-piece suit as easily as we can in gym shorts and sandals.

It seems to me that the Generic American Church of Denominations has a mixed bag when it comes to things like this.  We have our traditions and our practices, things that are obviously American and rooted in our grandparents and great-grandparents days, or all the way back to the Pilgrims even.  We hold fast to these things, convincing ourselves that they are right and God-breathed.  On the same hand, we cling to biblical cultures and practices when it's convenient, eager to apply verses out of context.  This double standard is frustrating and foolish.  It brings to mind James' words 1:8, "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."  Man cannot be double-minded or else we're called a hypocrite.  The same goes for the church.

I just wish people would wake up and realize this.  I'm just as guilty as anyone else, blinded by my own opinions and biased to my own thinking.  But I'm honestly trying to base my opinions on the bible, not on traditions or culture or some pastor or the latest book or anything else.  God's Word is the only source of truth that we have.  The rest is just empty words.  Now I'm not saying that we should just throw out the way that we do things, but I am saying that we should think about the way that we do things.  Are we scriptural in our practices?  And even deeper, even if we don't say anything, are we silently judging somebody else because they're doing something out of the norm or worse, something we disagree with?  I'm wrestling with being as biblical as I can in my life.  I hope you are, too.

*Why?  Why are buildings worthy of respect?  God no longer dwells in a tabernacle or temple.  He sent His Spirit to us, which dwells in our hearts.  So again, why treat the building as something holy?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Just After Sunset, a Review

My relationship with Stephen King is limited.  I've read the entire Dark Tower series, and enjoyed it very much.  Back in high school I read The Green Mile and a short story collection titled Everything's Eventual.  I think that's about it.  I've had The Stand on my TBR for a good while, but I've never managed to crack it open.  So when I received Just After Sunset from my sister last year on a loan, I placed it on my shelf and figured I'd get to it whenever I did.  As it turns out, it was sooner than later.

Just After Sunset is King's fifth collection of short stories.  There are thirteen stories within, which seems appropriate given the subject matter.  I figured the pieces would be horror, but most of them came across as suspenseful or eerie to me, and not a one crossed the line into horror.  Okay, maybe one or two, depending on what gives you the willies.  

As I did in my review of Neil Gaiman & Al Sarrantonio's Stories, I've written a brief review/preview of each story.  (Actually, these are my unedited notes I took after I finished a story.)  At the end of each mini-review  I've given a rating based on the GoodReads scale.  I've boldfaced the stories that I would recommend.


"Willa" - This is a beautiful little piece is about a man named David and his fiance Willa. David and Willa are in a group of passengers waiting for an Amtrak train to come and pick them up from a layover in a sleepy little town in Wyoming. It's late, the train should be there soon, and David notices that Willa is missing. He sets out to find her, only to discover something else entirely. 3.5-stars

"The Gingerbread Girl" - After Emily and Henry's daughter dies in her crib, the couple begins to drift apart. Emily takes up running, to an obsessive degree. Eventually the two separate, and Emily heads to the Gulf of Mexico, to stay at her dad's tiny conch shack while she clears her head. She keeps up her running, more and more each day, until one day she notices what looks like a dead body in the trunk of a neighbors car. This is a pretty standard abduction/escape story that, while exciting, was rather dull and uninspired. It was difficult to read, too, considering I currently have a daughter that's sleeping in her own crib now. 2-stars

"Harvey's Dream" - Janet and Harvey have been married for many years. She's grown rather dissatisfied with life and her husband. As she's looking at his pasty white legs at the breakfast table one morning, Harvey tells her about his strange dream from last night. What follows is uninspired and mostly boring. 2-stars

"Rest Stop" - John Dikestre is a writer working on a new story. At a rest stop late one night, he encounters a man abusing his wife/girlfriend, and John muses whether or not he should interfere. 2.5-stars

"Stationary Bike" - Richard Sifkits, widower and artist, has just been told by Dr. Brady that his cholesterol needs to go down. Dr. Brady gives Richard "the speech" about aging and fats, and eventually Richard decides to buy a stationary bike. At first, riding fifteen minutes was a chore, but as time goes by, Richard has to set alarms to remind himself to get off. For when Richard Sifkit's is on the bike, his mind takes him places that may or may not really exist. 3-stars

"Graduation Afternoon" - Very forgettable and kind of boring. Seems to be written with 9/11 in mind, possibly? About a girl getting ready for a graduation party, planning her future and that of her dull but wealthy boyfriend. 1-star

"The Things They Left Behind" - Scott survived 9/11, but he has horrible secrets, horrible memories, horrible dreams, horrible visions. He skipped out on working that day, and everyone in his company died but two. Scott Steely is a man with survivors guilt and a box full of things that were left behind by the victims: a conch shell, a lucite cube, a mushroom, a whoopee cushion, and some sunglasses. Their arrival is a mystery, and he finds that he cannot get rid of them. This story was wonderfully written and reflective, even if slightly vulgar. 4-stars

"N." - Can a story get inside your head and change you? Can you believe the words of an OCD madman? Psychiatrist Dr. John Bonsaint recounts his testimony and experience with a delusional patient referred to as N. This story is a framed story, where Sheila, John's sister, writes to a childhood friend of John's about the doctor's recent suicide. After his death, John's patient notes were discovered marked with "BURN THIS." Sheila's curiosity got the better of her, and what follows is a strange story that is gloomy and haunting. Reminiscent of House of Leaves, this tale is a great descent into madness. 4.5-stars

"The New York Times At Special Discount Rates" - While getting herself together in her bedroom, grief stricken from the death of her husband, James, Annie gets a phone call. When her husband starts speaking on the other end, life takes an upside down turn. This was a short but enjoyable piece. 3.5-stars

"Mute" - Monette recounts a mysterious confession to a priest. This is another frame story, where Monette's wife's infidelity at age 54 has been found out. Not only has she been cheating, but she's also been embezzling. So when Monette picks up a mute and deaf hitchhiker, he finds the perfect companion to vent to. This was quite an intriguing story. Fun. 3.5-stars

"The Cat from Hell" - Halston is an independent hit man. When an aged and wealthy man offers him a hit for $12k, Halston takes it. When the man says that the target is a cat, Halston shrugs, unconcerned. He's killed plenty of men before, never caring about the reasons behind the hits. He figures the cat's just another target like any other. What he finds is something else entirely. This was a short and fun story, albeit bizarre. 3.5-stars

"Ayana" - A narrator tells his story of how he watched his father's miraculous recovery from pancreatic cancer after a small girl kissed him. From then on, the narrator found that he, too, had the gift of healing, and this story recounts some of what he's done over the years. I found this piece kind of odd and out of key with the others, not really seeming to fit. Plus, there was no action, just a very passive memoir like tone of things that had been done. An interesting idea that wasn't developed enough. 2-stars

"A Very Tight Place" - Curtis Johnson has plenty of hard feelings over his neighbor, named TMF for short. TMF had an electric fence, which killed Curtis' dog. Curtis wants recompense and revenge. This story was exceptionally colorful, filled with so much profanity that my eyes bled, and enough vulgarity that I nearly quit the story several times. I wish I had. This story is absolutely disgusting and gross, and I cannot imagine what Stephen King was thinking when he wrote this. I was compelled to keep going just to see how everything would resolve, even if I felt dirty and wanted to throw up. The premise is that Curtis is lured to an abandoned construction site and left to die in a tipped-over portajohn.  1.5-stars

As you can see, for the most part, I was around the 2-3.5 range.  The arithmetic mean of these stories is 2.8, which is just below the "I Like It" 3-star rating.  The three bolded stories are all very good, and I can easily recommend them.  In particular, "N." was a delight to read, and "The Things They Left Behind" was one of the most powerful 9/11 stories I've read.  I really loved King's take on that day.

If you're looking for some short fiction, Stephen King's Just After Sunset has some gems, but it has some unpolished stones, too.  There was potential in a few, and some were just flat out boring.  All in all, I liked the read well enough, but I could have liked it better.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012


I'm moved beyond words and coherent thought.  I wonder how someone can be so selfish?  So delusional?  How does saying "I'm sorry for all the hurt I've caused" lead to causing more hurt?  How can a man take a hatchet to his two sons, ages 5 and 7, and hit their throat, causing them unimaginable pain and suffering?  How can he then explode/burn his house down, killing himself and his kids from carbon monoxide poisoning?  And why does the picture have to be of a happy looking family?  It literally sickens me.

I've never saw the appeal of suicide.  But what's even more baffling is when suicide leads first to murder and then the checking out early.  Is there some great failure as a people that leads to the taking of one's life?  Is there an offense that finally cracks the shell of a person's heart?  Have we, by and large, been too aloof, too absent, and too selfish that we miss all the signs?

Oh God how it hurts me thinking of those boys.  Their confused minds as their father grabbed them, pulled them in, and wounded them.  I can only imagine how their hearts broke at the betrayal of the man that birthed them.  And the man.  What led up to that moment?  Was he slighted at work?  Was he abused?  Was he bullied as a child?  Was his heart simply filled with brackish blood?  Surely this was not his ideal.

These types of news stories have a profound impact on me.  They make me want to pull Keisha in close, squeeze her tight, and tell her just how much I love her.  They make me want to pick up Avonlea and kiss her until she scratches my face off with tiny baby nails.  Not only do this, but they bring into focus how important it is that I be the kind of father I'm supposed to be, to be the kind of man I'm supposed to be, and to be the kind of Jesus follower I'm supposed to be.  Am I invested in people?  Do I notice when something is going wrong in someone's life?  Do I truly, honestly care about Jonathan the Starbucks cashier on Wednesday mornings?  Or what about William the Franey's clerk?  I care enough to know their names, but would I be able to see it in their eyes if something was wrong?  Would I miss them if they stopped showing up?  What about you all, other bloggers that I know only through the Web.  Would I be able to infer something was wrong in your lives?  Would I be able to offer any support?  Would I miss you if you no longer commented/posted?

In the midst of life's maelstrom, especially this week's tumultuous seas, my heart is at peace, but it's tenuous. It's the kind of peace that's rooted in eternal joy, not immediate happiness.  It's the kind of peace that if fraught with burdens and sorrow, for the pain in others overwhelms so.  It's a peace like David's, who called out to God in the Psalms time and time again for deliverance and rescue.  While my personal pain and angst may be relatively shallow, there's a world that's filled with anguish.  I want to do my part to lessen it.  Pray for that family tonight.  They definitely need it.  And if there's anything I can pray for you about, just let me know.  I'll do it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Current Updates & Link Love

(Because I haven't put a picture of Avonlea up here in a while.)
  • Keisha is blogging now.  She's chronicling motherhood and Avonlea.
  • I bought my PE CERM12 manual the other day.  Truly defines what a tome is.  According to Amazon, it weighs 6.7 lbs and is 1552 pages.  I'd guess closer to 10 lbs and 1600 pages.  I'm already dreading the studying it's going to take to pass that darned test in October.
    • Oddly enough, this does not count as a book purchase for my 2012 Manifesto, as it's not really a book to read, per se, but a book for work.  Kind of.
  • February is here and I'm making headway with my TBR.  I've been doing a lot of comic book reading, but also quite a bit of STAR WARS novella work, too.  All have been quick, fluffy reads.  I should probably break that up for when I start The Brothers Karamazov, but I doubt that'll happen.
  • Anyone else use freegal through the library or Noisetrade?  I've been getting a lot of top-quality, free songs of late.
  • I was asked to play guitar for a little concert at a coffee shop this Saturday night.  Makes me a little nervy playing in public like that.  I said sure, cause I just like setting challenges for myself and rising up and above mediocrity.  Being out of my comfort zone is getting easier and easier in some areas...
  • Last Saturday we had a most amazing night of worship.  A few weeks ago we were talking about things to do to become a more biblical church*.  Worship is a lifestyle, and praising God should not be confined to only Sunday mornings.  So we created WORSHIP 8:03.  Our goal was to create an environment solely dedicated to worshiping God however you wanted.  My part was playing guitar and helping lead worship on stage.  We had 30-40 show up.  There was an open communion.  I think it's safe to say that there was a general spirit of unity and worship among us there.  I know I loved it, just praising my Creator and Savior, thanking Him for His love and mercy.  It was much needed.  In fact, we're already planning our next one for March.
  • I was contacted about having one of my reviews used for promotional purposes.  I said yes, and if it goes any farther, I'm sure I'll put it up here.  Until then, I'll just stay hush-hush about which book.
  • Omelets are without a doubt the best breakfast food.  Thankfully, Art of Manliness has put up a new article on how to make better omelets.  (Sometimes mine are great, sometimes they look like a cat threw up in a skillet.)  This is a companion to their most excellent "How to Make Better Eggs" post from a few months back.
  • I finished reading my chronological bible reading plan yesterday.  Took eleven months.  Here's the new one I'm starting tomorrow.
  • Much more going on, but I'll just keep all that quiet for now.
*Yes, I realize that "church" in this sense goes directly against my principles.  Nevertheless, it's another example of an English word that has multiple meanings and falls apart under minor scrutiny.  In general, whenever I mean the "church" as the bride of Christ and a unified, global body, I prefer to write "Church."  Whenever I mean a localized, unified body, I again prefer "Church."  When I mean the building where the Church goes to, this I refer to as "church."