You Know Why I’m Here

wing-night

One of my favorite pictures relating to the previous super bowl was a meme that showed Seattle Seahawks Running Back Marshawn Lynch at a press conference with the caption: “Today is 50 cent wing night. You know why I’m here.” As someone who has a bit of Scottish blood and also a desire to read and eat socially I tend to seek meal deals, despite the fact that most people view those as somewhat solitary activities, and despite the fact that socializing and reading both tend to interfere with eating, even if I’ve never been known to go about any task in a straightforward and ordinary fashion. As it happens, today one of my coworker mentioned a special on boneless wings tonight, so I figured I would take advantage of inexpensive but tasty food to go along with a humorous book and perhaps the occasional glance at college basketball scores.

As I tend to do when I go out, I had a book to read today [1], a book which reminded me, if any reminder was necessary, that by instinct and nature and proclivity I am not a cool person. I don’t really mind this fact. My eccentricities, such as they are, have usually attracted comments about being odd or different, but have seldom been viewed as cool. I am okay with this, especially if there are a few people who appreciate my genuine and odd personality and find the quirks I have endearing even if they can be a bit frustrating sometimes. I desire not to be popular, or the attention of the masses, but rather I desire to be loved for who I am. If that has been a difficult quest throughout my life, it has been consistent. I dislike being alone, to the extent that I do not like to eat alone, or read or write alone, for when I am alone the irrepressible urge to analyze my life and existence comes over me, and this is not a pleasant compulsion of mine [2].

Yet I am fond of wing houses for many reasons, one of which is that they are responsible for many fond memories. When I lived in Town & Country, a local wing house was a common place of refuge for me as a graduate student seeking unlimited refills of sweet tea, an accessible power outlet for my laptop, and a pleasant and enjoyable space to write about the Prussianization of the Chilean army. For a variety of reasons, I was unable to write well in my apartment, but fortified with some sweet tea and chicken and cheese sticks, and the occasional boneless wings and cheesecake, though not all at the same time, I was able to plug through and write what needed to be written. I just couldn’t do it alone. So in seeking a pleasant evening of inexpensive wings and bottomless iced tea, I am not doing anything out of my own normal at all, even if it does not appear to be a generally common habit among others [3].

So, what is it like to read books and ponder life and seek a temporary refuge from one’s own overactive mind by social distraction at a wing house on 50 cent wing night? I travel to the mean streets of Tanasbourne [4], find a map that points me to the wing place, order my food, drink some tea, watch some basketball, end up talking to someone who is a fellow sports nut but who also is a bit too much into touching my arm and shoulder, something people do a lot that I find really irritating, especially when the people I would want to do it don’t, but everyone who I wouldn’t want do it does. At long last I finish my book, rustle up my check, and head home, full in belly, but with too much to ponder to feel wholly at ease with life. That’s how it goes, though.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/book-review-not-cool/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/night-of-the-iguana/

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/a-historian-at-play/

[4] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/the-mean-streets-of-tanasbourne/

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Book Review: Not Cool

Not Cool: The Hipster Elite And Their War On You, by Greg Gutfeld

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Crown Forum in exchange for an honest review.]

At its heart, this is a book about encouraging its reader to be good and to note care about the self-appointed and self-destructive purveyors of a leftist elite agenda. Among the most startling insights to someone who is a fellow and critical observer of the hipster elite [1] is the fact that the hipster obsession with cool is in fact a self-defeated attempt at distancing to create a sense of irony and detachment and to deliberately avoid showing effort in an area where one believes oneself overmatched. It springs, not surprisingly from black culture and the beat culture of the 1950’s, and represents a sullen response to feelings of inadequacy, posing in such a fashion that one makes the successful and the hardworking envious of the popularity and success with women that one gets by insulting hard work and labeling it as uncool.

This book has, in general, a take-no-prisoners approach. Over and over again it demonstrates the double standards and hypocrisy of those who consider themselves cool, where the author makes fun of himself in cutting and witty remarks that only serve to embarrass those he is talking about even further. Nor does the author merely speak in generalities; he names names and provides telling details that demonstrate careful research and a zest for pointed criticism. Those who are written about in these pages as cultural elites are taken down a few notches, often with well-placed commentary about their popularity and hypocrisy and general uselessness to society. The author attempts to be a cultural arbiter himself, perhaps in a funny or ironic way, but he also just as clearly makes some sound points about the damage that has resulted in society in insulting what is good and praising what is evil.

This book encourages its readers to think for themselves, to reject fashionable nonsense, to respect parents and work hard and show compassion on others without seeing government as an atm with no spending limit. It praises rationality while recognizing the irrationality of people, and also comments painfully on some areas of personal experience. As someone who grew up in the South, without ever having fit in there, I have been subject to the “Deliverance” jokes with dueling banjos and attempts at witty insults discussed in this book’s chapter on why hipsters hate the South. Although the author’s praise of “free radicals,” namely those who are free thinkers without being doctrinaire liberals, is a bit defective on account of the fact that the author is at best an agnostic libertarian, being the sort of person who has no interest in micromanaging the lives of others, I vastly prefer his attitude to those whom he criticizes for their immense hypocrisy. The criticism is harsh, but also just, and often funny, as long as one is not the subject of the ridicule.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/the-irony-of-hipsterdom/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/agents-of-corruption-2/

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Album Review: Under The Iron Sea

Some bands consolidate upon their successes [1] and build even further, while others find a great deal of anxiety and frustration in success, not finding that it meets their hopes and dreams. Keane is one of the second kind of bands, whose sophomore album, rather than reflecting success and encouragement. The album was successful, going to #1 in the United Kingdom and selling more than three million copies worldwide, but it was about half of the first album’s sales, and the album was full of dissatisfaction in the friendship between the band’s lead songwriter and the band’s lead singer [2], a dynamic that would continue throughout the band’s body of work as a whole. Not only is this album rather melancholy about romantic love, but even friendship is threatened by success and by personal demons. Now, for a track-by-track review:

Atlantic – This particular song is a gloomy and ethereal reflection on fear and aging and loneliness and the desire of a loved one to help life be more pleasant. One of the most touching aspects of this song, for me, is the way the song ends on an unresolved chord, reflecting the unresolved nature of the narrator’s longing.

Is It Any Wonder? – This song, a relatively successful single off of the album, features a distorted piano, and gloomily reflects upon exhaustion and frustration. The song has architectural referents, as well as commenting that love in our times and situations is something known only from children’s rhymes, which seems all too true.

Nothing In My Way – This is a song about divided lovers, reflecting on divorce or breaking up, problems setting and respecting boundaries, and putting on a false front of cheer to hide feeling dismal and despondent. The song’s title is deeply ironic, reflecting the deception of appearing to be happy when one is deeply troubled.

Leaving So Soon? – This sad song, which is reflecting on a troubled friendship or relationship of some kind, comments on the sad fate of someone opening up about themselves, and seeing to one’s sadness that others find it too much to take, and quickly leave. The comparison of a friendship or relationship with plants is notable here.

A Bad Dream – This dark and melancholy song was a moderately successful single in the United Kingdom especially, and it reflects on death, the loss of friendships, and the feeling that someone has become the sort of person one was born to hate. It is the sensation of waking up from tormented sleep only to realize that one’s day-to-day existence is a torment as well.

Hamburg Song – This song, which is an organ ballad, is a reflection on a desire for friendship and the feeling that one’s generosity is taken advantage of because one is diffident and relatively undemanding. It is a song full of longing and suffering, and is a beautiful song despite its deep mood of sadness.

Put It Behind You – This song, is yet another breakup sort of song, where the narrator seems to parody the sort of lame self-help clichés that tend to be used to cheer people up in such a situation. The song urges people to do what is best for them, but that is precisely the sort of problem many of us face in life, not being able to do that or sometimes even to know what is best for us.

The Iron Sea – This is the sort of song that a band puts in an album as Grammy bait in order to attempt to snag a nomination for best rock instrumental. This song, coming in at almost 3:30, would have been worthy of such a nomination, as its spooky and menacing feeling compliments the album well.

Crystal Ball – This song is an up-tempo but downbeat song about the search for something to tell us who we are, when all we see is our despondent and catatonic state, no matter whether we try to fall on the earth or call upon God in heaven. The song appears to be about feeling lost and seeking salvation, not only in an ultimate sense, but in the sense of present overwhelming troubles.

Try Again – This song, like “Put It Behind You,” is an attempt to move forward and recover what was lost in a troubled relationship. It speaks of dysfunctional fighting, about being so exhausted that one falls asleep on the train, and about not wanting to see people who bring us suffering but feeling compelled to try again anyway.

Broken Toy – This is a song that, like “Is It Any Wonder?” appears to reflect on childhood, as the narrator feelings like a broken toy. It is a sad and spare ballad, and seems to hint at a darker undertone to the gloominess of the album as a whole.

The Frog Prince – Yet another song that uses a childlike and dreamlike image to reflect a reality, this is a song about the isolation and ruin that result from putting on an image of coolness and having the hollow reality become evident to others. The song reflects a longing for innocence, for transparency, and for a lack of faith that such qualities are to be found to a great degree in our contemporary society.

Unlike the attempt to balance out hopes and fears in their previous album, here Keane seems to succumb to despair in their sophomore album. Over and over again the songs reflect loneliness, isolation, torment, and the breakup of relationships, and the fear of reality. The songs point back to a time of lost innocence that seems forever beyond recovery, and the façade that is placed to cover one’s insecurities and vulnerabilities appears like an iron sea that imprisons the tender heart beneath. If one wished to dig even deeper into the album, this song seems to reflect a far deeper trauma than the usual suffering of broken relationships and fickle friends, but suggests a far more disturbing root of the complicated tangle of problems that lie beneath this album’s melancholy material. The fact that this album was my favorite album of 2006, the year my father died, and that it still to this day reflects my own mood and concerns and issues is something I find rather disconcerting, but so it is.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/03/19/album-review-hopes-fears/

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_the_Iron_Sea

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Book Review: What’s In Your Wallet

What’s In Your Wallet, by Lawrence J. Beharry

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by the author in exchange for an honest review.]

The title of this book contains a clever reference to the saying by Jesus Christ that where one’s treasure is, there one’s heart will be also. As a whole, this book was difficult to fairly judge, especially because it was unclear if the Trinidadian origins of the author should be taken as a reason to be kinder to the language of this book than it deserves on its own merits alone. In terms of its style, the book itself contains three different styles. One is long block quotations of the King James Version of the Bible to give an archaic flavor, another is regurgitated statements from encyclopedias and other unknown sources that show a complete absence of either correct citation or original thought, and the third is the grammatically simple and broad, sweeping generalizations without nuance or qualification that appear to be the author’s original thoughts, as contradictory and sometimes incoherent [1] as they are. The book could have greatly used a cowriter to help form the thoughts in a better style, a copy editor to help with obvious mistakes in spelling and capitalization that fill this book.

In terms of its content, this book seeks to blend the insights of psychology along with a particular interpretation of scriptures and the use of the author’s personal life as a model for others. In addition, the author spends a lot of time talking about the Triune God as if it was something that existed and that he understood. Likewise, the author praises the words of a certain Terence Fretheim on the level of scripture, which seems more than a little bit troubling. It seems a bit of a waste of paper as well that the spacing of this book is so large, when it could have been almost half the size and been a truer book in terms of its actual depth of material. In many ways, this particular book is puffed a bit from its padding, and could have used some trimming.

That said, with all of the critical comments that can be made about this book, of what value is it? For one, this book is obviously a work of considerable time and effort from someone who wished to express themselves and encourage others, and it takes a great deal of courage to write a book and subject it to harsh criticism. Additionally, the book speaks about issues like faith and fear and showing love to others and avoiding hatred over confessional differences, and these are matters about which all of us, myself included, can be reminded from time to time. By no means is this a perfect book, or even a polished book, or even at times a coherent book, but that does not mean that value cannot be found for those willing to reconstruct the author’s argument in one’s head, with qualifying statements added and dogmatic statements and syncretism and speculation removed. This may be a tall task, but sometimes it can be a worthwhile one.

[1] Here is an example, chosen at random from page 66:

“Over time, we will all draw a variety of constricting habits around us; ones that trap us in a place of supposed comfort, well below what our potential mind would allow us to attain. Pretty soon, such habits drop below the level of our consciousness, but they still decide what we believe what we can and cannot do, and what we cannot even bring ourselves to try. Nevertheless, this is the reason why society is in a rut, because we fail to take a stand, and wait for the second coming of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

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Check My Swag

One of the more intriguing and amusing aspects of preparing for a business conference like Domopalooza [1] is trying to gather swag. There are a lot of popular misconceptions about swag, especially the way that most people know it (aside from the carpet material, that is). There have been a variety of rap songs that have popularized the notion of swag referring to the accoutrements of the rapper lifestyle, otherwise known as bling. When a rapper asks someone to check their swag, they usually have in mind the sort of peacocking visual display that involves chains, gold teeth, and the like. Now, like any other case in which I demonstrate an awareness of the gangsta lifestyle, this seems to greatly amuse people who know me, since it would be difficult to be more painfully white than I am, despite my somewhat complicated life history [2]. At any rate, the mental image at least some readers have about my commentary on swag so far is of a somewhat awkward and dorky looking balding fellow dressed in khakis and a patterened button-down short sleeved shirt typical of what I wear to work with some gold teeth and a few chains.

This is not, of course, what I mean by swag [3]. During my days as a college student, when it was much more common for me to go to conferences related to my engineering studies, I was a keen collector of swag. If your company booth at the conference had a stress ball, a corporate themed notepad, or some pens, or something of that nature, I was going to visit, chat a bit, and collect that swag. Of course, I never had any swag to bring, but I would definitely take it from others, and relieve it from the generally willing booths of the engineering companies that populated such conferences. Now, of course, as a corporate guest of a conference, I have to wonder how much swag to bring, as my associate coming with me is not the sort of person to show an interest at all in such matters. As someone who has a keen interest in making a trip pay for the company I work for, I will be bringing some business cards to mark notes about the people who I drink shirley temples with [4], some pens, a nice glass I might use myself since it has a handy top, and a swag bag that I hope to fill with the loot collected from others. No doubt others will have even more elaborate swag to share.

What is the point of swag as marketing paraphernalia? At least as I think of it, swag is made up of momentos that are designed to stick in one’s mind. When I squeeze a stress ball with a globe which is labeled with a company, there is a subtle association between that company and stress relief, or relaxation. Alternatively, the place could be stressful enough that its employees, and prospective employees, need to be concerned about their ambient stress levels in day-to-day work. At any rate, the physical good is designed to trigger a memory, like a photo of a family member or friend or loved one brings up memories of time spent with that person. Likewise, a momento of a company would be a subtle sort of commercial that brings the company name to mind, hopefully in a positive way. This is the same sort of low level marketing that I prefer to use with my own writing, blogging about what I care about in such a way that people are reminded from time to time of my existence, and subtly encouraged to find out what I am thinking about or doing right now. It is an approach I prefer because it does not tell me what to think about something, it just provides me with enough material for my mind to make associations as necessary.

Today seems in general to have been a day for swag. Not only did I collect the swag for my upcoming business trip, but as it happens, surprisingly, Costco came in selling membership cards. Since I already go to Costco for my eye doctor [5], and since it is on the way home, that adds at least a few items to the sorts of purchases I can make there, and at least another shopping option so that I don’t have to rely on scheduling shopping excursions with friends who do have the card, as I have had to do in the past. This is, to say the least, a bit more convenient, and I will have to go in and see what is available that I already use. The membership swag and reading materials are something that I will have to add to my list of reading materials, to see what kind of deal it provides. I suppose if you have paid for it, though, it cannot fairly be considered swag, but merely has to be considered as consideration. Sometimes, though, the difference is hard to tell.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/coming-attraction-domopalooza/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/01/15/this-is-not-a-drive-by/

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/nobody-uses-an-umbrella-in-oregon/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/that-does-not-mean-what-you-think-it-means/

[4] There are at least two other people I have seen who have tweeted about looking forward to drinking shirley temples with me, one of them saying it reminded him (or her) of childhood.

[5] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/12/03/those-blurred-eyes/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/brand-new-eyes/

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Book Review: Hearts Of Fire

Hearts Of Fire: Eight Women In The Underground Church And Their Stories Of Costly Faith, by The Voice Of The Martyrs

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by VOM Press in exchange for an honest review.]

This particular book is probably not one that should be read by those who want to sleep peacefully and untroubled about the fate of Christians around the world. The eight stories in this book are about women who have suffered on account of being Christians and doing what believers do, namely being open and public about their beliefs, as best as they understand them, over the course of the last 70 years or so in such countries as Russia, Romania, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, China, and Indonesia. It bears repeating, this book is not pleasant reading. Although the women written about survived their difficulties, not everyone did, and survival often involved imprisonment, torture, humiliating conditions, illness, injury, rape, and the death of loved ones. To say that this material makes for unpleasant reading sometimes is an understatement.

This book has a couple of open agendas. One of those agendas is to give a representative flavor of the sort of pressures that Christians face around the world, whether as foreign mercenaries or as converts from other faiths that view Christianity as a political threat. The poor treatment of political and religious prisoners is something this book makes plain, as well as the fact that the same foreign support that makes Christians vulnerable to attacks also allows them to have resources to draw upon in times of difficulty. The other open agenda is a desire to see women recognized as potential leaders, rather than viewing them merely as subsidiary and subject to men. This agenda may be welcome to some readers and unwelcome to others. It would appear as if the main interest of this particular collection of stories is women, but hopefully the men who read it are the fair-minded sort who are not offended by powerful and passionate women.

The sacrifices made by the people in this book are truly moving. Many of the women risked prison, some lost husbands and children, most were scarred and abused to a great degree, risking their health and lives and even their sanity in loyalty to their faiths. Some were induced to marry in difficult circumstances, some refused to marry because of their commitment to preaching. Some of the women come from Christian backgrounds, the rest were converts from other faiths, including Islam, Buddhism, and one from Judaism. The stories vary in length from the shortest, about a Vietnamese young woman, to the longest about one of the founders of Voice of Martyrs. Ultimately, a wide variety of responses to the decisions made and suffering of the people discussed in this book can be made. Whatever one’s feeling about their faith, though, any reader ought to feel a great sense of compassion for their struggles, and a fervent desire that God’s Kingdom come, so that mankind would no longer dwell in darkness.

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Why Aren’t They In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: Jim Croce

The story is a sad and all too familiar one. A musician toils for years in obscurity, facing the opposition of his family, frustrations with the corruption of the music industry, before achieving breakthrough mainstream success. At that moment of initial popularity, though, the musician is in a fatal plane crash and his most popular album, instead of being a breakthrough that signifies the potential of years of success to come, becomes a bittersweet and melancholy sense of loss at the excellence that was missed. A widow was left to keep the memory of her late husband alive, which she did admirably through her writing and business efforts, and a son was left without a father. In judging the musical excellence of Jim Croce, we must realize that while some artists have a definite arc to their career that includes a lengthy and excellent body of work that allows induction as a lifetime achievement award of sorts, other artists and bands, often through no fault of their own, had only a short time to write, release, and perform music and for which to be judged for influence. Fortunately for us, Jim Croce was an exemplary artist who had three essential albums in helping develop the template and wide range for singer-songwriter music in the early 1970’s. On his extant body of work and its influence, Jim Croce is a worthy inductee in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, even without taking into account his tragic and untimely death due to pilot error. It is to that body of work we will now turn.

The Influence Of Jim Croce

The influence of Jim Croce exists in several different ways. Some of them are larger concerns, including his difficulties with the corruption of the music industry and the thorny problem of how to get paid as a musician [1] with a major-label contract and some gold albums to one’s name. In an indirect fashion, the death of Jim Croce came about in part because he had to tour on the cheap, with predictable results in the quality of the transportation. Other concerns are ones about the range of music, where Jim Croce’s music combines an observational slice-of-life approach in such songs as “Workin’ At The Car Wash Blues” and “Big Bad Leroy Brown,” to songs about personal identity like “I Got A Name” to deeply heartfelt love songs like “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels),” “Time In A Bottle,” and “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song.” Besides the various ranges of genres and the emotional depth of his music, the songs themselves remain culturally important. To cite but two examples, “I Got A Name” was played prominently in the recent film Django Unchained, and “Time In A Bottle” received the same treatment in X Men: Days Of Future Past [2]. A musician whose music can help inspire film work decades later is surely worthy of recognition, making it little wonder that Croce has been in the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame since 1990. A compelling life story, a phenomenal (if abbreviated) body of work, and massive and enduring cultural influence make Jim Croce a no-brainer for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Why Jim Croce Isn’t In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Despite the fact that at least six of his songs are on regular rotation in classic rock formats (to say nothing of easy listening format): “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” “I Got A Name,” “Time In A Bottle,” “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels),” “Big Bad Leroy Brown,” and “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song,” and the fact that his last three studio albums hit gold [3], and the fact that he had two number one hits (one posthumous), three additional top ten hits, and another three top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, somehow Jim Croce has flown under the radar as far as being enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Despite his dissatisfaction with the music business, it is likely he would have been able to record at least at the pace of an artist like Gerry Rafferty [4]. While it is lamentable that we are lacking several more great albums from Jim Croce, the ones we have were good enough to merit a lasting place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Verdict: Put him in already. His case for induction is similar in terms of musical quality and enduring songs to that of the recently inducted Cat Stevens [5], so hopefully he doesn’t have much longer before his own induction.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-badfinger/

Power Pop Tragedies

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Croce

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Croce_discography

[4] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-gerry-rafferty/

[5] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-cat-stevens-yusuf-islam/

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Advice To A New Blogger

Today, a coworker of mine asked me for advice about blogging for her partner, who was encouraged to start a blog by some of her professors. As I have a reputation for being an experienced blogger, and a relatively popular one as well [1], I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss some of the lessons that I have distilled from years of experience blogging and dealing, whether successfully or not, with the repercussions that follow from being a public intellectual in the anarchic world of the blogosphere. As might be expected, most of what I have learned as far as lessons are concerned is very personal, but for that I hope that my advice may be of benefit to others. Seeing wider applicability to these thoughts, I wish to make this personal advice somewhat more of general interest, and you who read this may do with it what you will.

First, I would like to comment a bit on my curriculum vitae as a blogger. I began blogging about a decade ago, and my initial blog, which lasted for several years, mostly focused on areas of academic or current events interest. Any sort of personal angle in writing was strongly discouraged by the damaging personal repercussions I received from an entry dealing with sexual abuse written shortly before the death of my father. At this time, for only a couple of years or so, I kept up another blog that was basically a diary of my life, including much more lighthearted fare like concert reviews and less academic thoughts. These blogs became pretty derelict after 2006, when for four years in the midst of the grip of major depression I was working full time and going to graduate school full time, I did not have the time to write, or even much time to eat or sleep as I ran myself into the ground. It was only in the summer of 2010 that I began a book review blog that was supposed to contain all of my book reviews (and nothing else), but this quickly became subsumed in my current blog, which has a staggering scope of writing, ranging from deeply personal diary entries to lengthy and highly technical research writing to journalistic op-ed pieces to book, movie, and music reviews, and everything in between. Depending on your own interests, you may choose a narrow scope to help with focus or a broad scope to allow for fertile and wide-ranging ideas, as best suits your own interests.

While I would not presume to tell anyone about what subject material they should write about, I think it worthwhile to discuss at least some of the choices that must be made. As a writer with radical commitments to both open and transparent personal dealings as well as showing honor and respect to others as best as I am able, my writing exhibits a strong tension between the voyeuristic tendency to be too open and vague and implicit writing that is sometimes so indirect so as to be incomprehensible to someone who does not have an intimate awareness of my personal dealings and whereabouts on a day-to-day or at least week-to-week basis. How you choose to balance between seeking to unburden yourself of personal longings and frustrations and respecting the privacy and dignity of other people who may be far more private in nature is something you will have to struggle with. I struggle with it daily, and not always well. Whatever “beat” you choose to have as a blogger, I do recommend an attitude that would be helpful. In my experience, I have seen several blogs written in response to my own, or influenced strongly by my own, that did not last well at all. The failure of these blogs was largely based on two reasons—the reason for the blog’s existence was to be negative and critical, and it is difficult and unprofitable to write always or even mainly with a negative attitude, and writing a blog that is only about very dark personal material can be deeply draining, and very embarrassing as well, especially if you blog under your real name as I do. I would therefore advise an approach to blogging that is focused on areas of interest and passion, where one can maintain a positive attitude at least a good part of the time, and that one allow for a variation in tone and subject material, being light where a light touch is good, and not being heavy all the time. This blog may not be the best example of a lighthearted blog, but I hope at least that among the serious matters of reflection I write about, there are at least a few blogs that reflect good humor and fun and happiness.

One thing that will help you to determine what it is that you will be writing about is the end to which your blog is directed. As might be expected if you have read my own blog, I have complicated purposes in my writing. One of these purposes is to reduce my own personal stress and frustration and anxiety level so that I may at least pass for someone who is somewhat normal and well-functioning. By necessity, this means writing occasionally about matters of extreme personal delicacy, which demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that my life has been a deeply troubled one. Yet other purposes include sharing the odd and humorous tidbits of daily life, my appreciation of what I experience and observe, reflections on books, music, movies, art, politics, business, science, and history, as well as participating in remote and sometimes indirect conversations with friends and family far away and those who for one reason or another I am unable to speak with as often and as deeply as I would wish. Often, my writing possesses several layers at the same time, some of which are generally accessible to a literate audience, some of which require knowledge of the songs or books that are being referenced, and some of which require an intimate personal knowledge of my life to understand the full meaning of my blog entry. Your writing will likely be less complicated than my own, and probably less verbose as well, but the subject matter your blog deals with will depend largely on who you are writing to and why you are writing in the first place. If this changes over time, that is not a problem [2], so long as the blog still serves your own personal purposes.

There are some notes I would like to make about the community of writing you will be joining and participating in. There will be days that will be enriched by having your post re-blogged or linked somewhere with an appreciative community. There will be days where people will write critical or even downright nasty personal comments. There will be time wasted eliminating spam messages that inevitably will be attached to your blog entries, and there will be time spent editing posts to say what you were thinking in your head rather than what managed to come out through the keyboard. I recommend strongly that you focus your blog audience and conversation on those who are friendly and encouraging; life is too short to spend it being burdened by haters, and there will always be haters if you are writing about what you are passionate about and interested in. There will be some people who do not agree with your perspective but who appreciate it, and who are useful to provide a sense of balance and counterpoint, and these people are to be treasured and appreciated, even if their voices are sometimes critical. There is no place at all, though, for people only interested in argument and verbal abuse. Write often enough to keep your community at least somewhat satisfied and wanting more.

In order to do this well, it may be necessary to manage your time effectively so as to be able to write at least a reasonable facsimile of what is in your mind. I find for myself that a blog entry requires at least an hour of my time to write, along with a certain amount of time devoted to editing the inevitable typos that are found by some of my diligent and regular readers. Some entries flow fluently and elegantly and without a great deal of effort required except to allow one’s thoughts and feelings to be expressed through one’s fingertips. At other times, blog entries require the loss of blood, sweat, and tears, all of which I have shed at one time or another in the course of my writing. It is a difficult challenge to keep one’s writing at least somewhat consistent in pace given the ups and downs of one’s moods and the technology available, but it is a worthwhile goal to achieve. At times I have fallen asleep writing blogs, which served their purpose a bit too well to allow me to relax and unburden myself from some of the more anxiety-prone moments and interactions my life is full of. At other times, the implications of what I have written and thought have kept me awake in sleepless terror. Whatever occurs, it is worthwhile to keep writing as long as the passion moves you and there is something on your mind and in your heart that you are yearning to express. May you do it better than I do, and more happily also.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/08/so-you-want-to-be-a-blog-supersta/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/an-introduction-of-sorts/

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Little Lamb, Little Lamb, Who Made Thee

As may be expected by the season that we are in, both the Bible study and sermon this past Sabbath focused a great deal on the New Testament Passover and on the implications of the sacrifice of a perfect Lamb of God for our sins, so that we may be reconciled to God. I was reminded of the innate response I have to an innocent creature like a lamb, in wanting to hold them and take care of them and feel protective for them. In the ninth grade, I was assigned as part of my English class a reading of a poem by William Blake called “The Lamb,” which comes from his Songs of Innocence collection and goes as follows:

“Little Lamb, who made thee
Does thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing woolly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice.
Making all the vales rejoice:
Little Lamb who made thee
Does thou know who made thee

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee;
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by His name,
Little Lamb God bless thee,
Little Lamb God bless thee [1].”

After services, when some friends and I were at dinner, the discussion went to an aspect of the Passover law that struck me as deeply relevant. I wonder how many people understood the sort of point that God was making with the sacrifice of a Passover lamb, especially given the fact that lambs are cuddly and cute and sweet little animals that it is easy to adore. In examining Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world, I wanted to ponder one particular aspect of the biblical Passover, one I do not think has been sufficiently recognized or reflected upon. Indeed, I wonder myself just how often this particular part of the Passover law was kept in its full intent and spirit, because its implications are deeply troubling and upsetting.

This law is written in Exodus 12:3-7: “Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it.” On the surface, this appears to be a simple and straightforward law. Every family was to take a young lamb without blemish (unlike our own characters) and to keep the lamb for a few days before slaughtering it and using its blood to smear the doorposts and lintels, so that the death of the innocent lamb would allow the less innocent people of Israel to live without the loss of their own firstborn sons.

I wonder how many people got what seems to be the point. What happens when you take a little lamb and adopt him for a few days. Do your kids play with him, view him as a pet, give him a name and see him as a kindred innocent soul? Do you tell the children angrily that this lamb is not a pet, but a sacrifice? What do they say the first time they realize this animal is to be slaughtered? The questions go on and on, and I wonder if the people of Israel sought to keep the slaughtering at a distance, done by a butcher rather than done by the head of household on behalf of his family. It is understandable that slaughtering animals, especially for sacrifice, around one’s family (especially children) is more than a little awkward, but I wonder if that was not part of the point. After all, lambs are innocent and cute and cuddly, and few people would want to kill them, especially as a reminder of one’s own sinful and fallen state. God makes it clear that He does not delight in sacrifice, other than the sacrifice of a repentant heart (see, for example, Psalm 51).

Yet God commanded the Israelites to kill a lamb in a special way, after having separated it for three days. There was time in those three days to reflect upon the death of the lamb, and how in our fallen state innocent life must be taken to pay the price of sin for the guilty. Perhaps there would be a sense of horror if someone really saw the death and loss that resulted from sin. Truly, we are all broken and deeply warped by our own longings and compulsions, but seeing the full price of what we do might at least lead us, if we are not driven mad by the anguish, to earnestly desire to be made whole and pure, so that we may be more like the lamb slaughtered for our sakes. If it is not good enough to finish, at least it might be good enough to start.

[1] http://www.famousliteraryworks.com/blake_the_lamb.htm

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Secretary’s Notes: Part Six

[Note: This blog is part of a continuing series that gives a first impression of the minutes for the Spokesmen’s Club meetings [1].]

For the third straight time, tonight’s Spokesmen’s club started late on account of waiting for club members to arrive, and we eventually began with thirteen people, which had some interesting consequences. The usual secretary’s minutes and treasurer’s report were given without amendment, as is custom and a lot of time was taken up with business. Business included thinking about the theme for ladies’ night, agreeing to pursue dates for next year’s club meetings, and deciding whether we wanted to pay an extra three dollars a person to get turkey bacon. Only one of the motions received enough votes to pass because of a trick of parliamentary procedure, by which a motion only passes with a majority vote of the whole club, and that was to keep an option open for the Red Lion Inn. The topics were given in energetic fashion by one of our club’s newer members, and someone who also had a speech. The topics ranged from best/worst jobs to blessings realized only in retrospect, and got good involvement from the club as a whole.

After break, which was a bit skimpy on food because I did not get the Facebook and e-mail messages about the absence of the second person who was supposed to bring snacks. Oh well. Besides that, there were five speeches, ranging from two graduate one-point speeches to a crystal clear, a complete speech, and an impromptu speech. The speeches, for the most part, went well. It was an enjoyable evening, and the director’s comments as well as the evaluations were generally right on point and full of corrective or at least analytical means. Of particular interest is the fact that a request was made for one of the people to give a speech next time, for the fourth meeting in a row, in order to graduate in time for the ladies’ brunch. We will see how that goes.

[1] See the previous blogs in this series:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/secretarys-notes-part-five/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/secretarys-notes-part-four/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/secretarys-notes-part-three/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/01/12/secretarys-notes-part-two/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/secretarys-notes-part-one/

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