The Year in Review

Here is the obligatory lame-ass review post of the year 2005.
(Weak, dude - you should just give in to your lameness and start a Live Journal...)

"Imagine you are Jesus Christ, and your second coming is planned for 2005. When, where, and how would you reveal yourself to the world?"

"Religious experience, in other terms, is concerned with a “Somewhat.” But this assertion often means no more than that this “Somewhat” is merely a vague “something”; and in order that man may be able to make more significant statements about this “Somewhat,” it must force itself upon him, must oppose itself to him as being Something Other."
-Gerardus "Please, call me Jerry" Van Der Leeuw

"I made a new family - the Ugolinos. There was dad (the Count), and four sons - the youngest being little Anselmo. I locked them in a single room, with only a tiny, high window, and bricked up the door. As planned, they slowly went mad and died of hunger... but to my disappointment, those who lived the longest never turned cannibal."

"I spend a lot of time alone with myself. Four hours every night. I think things. I sift out the inane and blog the rest. If I didn't sift, my blog would be the mental equivalent of a bareass Camel cigarette; you'd cough and choke on the first drag, and promise yourself that you'll quit."

"The facade is weak here. If I look hard at the edges of my vision I sometimes catch a glimpse of a stagehand. Sleep is when they do maintenance - they tidy up and patch holes to keep everything looking real. If you don't sleep, they can't work on it. So I say we all stay awake for as long as possible..."

"Ultimate Post Modern Cocktail...
Muddle crushed ice with oleander leaves in a tall glass. Add equal parts disillusionment, absinthe, and bile, poured through a Republican's linen handkerchief drenched in the tears of my generation. Serve with a jaunty umbrella, handmade in an Asian sweat shop."

"Many of you know my distaste for Rap. It's not that it's all bad, it's just that most of it is. However, I recognize that it is a powerful force in today's culture, and that it reaches millions of young people with its vitally important message of guns, bling, hos, hydraulic suspensions, and... the Dharma?"

"Why do we believe in forever? It's a bizarre concept really. Excluding the particles that we learned about in Physics class, NOTHING lasts forever. Yet we continue to talk about things like "best friends forever" and "true love always.""

"We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog to bring you this breaking story...
The Hopeless Romantic, well known webcomic artist, penguin fighter, and noted metrosexual is, in fact, straight. Film at eleven."

""It's ok to cry."
"But I hate crying."
"Me too, but you have to let stuff out. It's like going to the bathroom - I don't really look forward to it, but I feel better afterwards."
"What the... are you saying that not crying is like emotional constipation!?"
"Yes - crying is just like pooping from your eyes.""

"This teaching cuts to the roots of what it means to "practice" a religion. It speaks to a radical shift in the practitioner's perception of the world, a turning away from old patterns and a dedication to a new way of seeing. When Alan Wallace says above, "right then" he is referring to a time that is also right now - every moment is an opportunity to practice."

"What they are talking about is not pride - it's relief. They are relieved that they are American, because being from somewhere lower on the ladder is crappy. In a sense they are saying, "I know that we are giving the rest of the world a raw deal, and I'm really glad I don't live there; better them than me.""

So there you have it - the standard mix of religion, academic ennui, and sarcasm that you have come to expect from me. I wish that I could boil down 2005 to some pithy nugget of wisdom, but I can't. I can't because there is no wisdom unique to 2005. It's the same wisdom year after year, and I fail to learn it, year after year.

I'd love to say that 2006 will be the year that I finally learn, but starting the year off with a big fib seems to set a bad precedent. It's likely that December 31st of 2006 will see me sitting right here at my mother's kitchen table, typing on these very keys, with just as little to say. I'd be surprised if I'm not just as pissed off at our government, just as baffled by fundies, just as unhappy with my body, just as tired, just as jaded, and just as unenlightened. To top it all off, I will almost certainly be bothered more by the fact that I have less hair.

Now for the good news. Some old Zen master once said, "a man can live comfortably, even in hell, if his life is organized" and he was right. Because I already know most of what's coming, I can be organized and ready to flex around the things that do change. Philosophers always point to the way trees bend in the wind rather than breaking, and hold this up as some ideal for man to strive for - but they seldom address the fact that the tree can't move to get out of the wind, and thus has no choice. Man almost always has three choices, bend, break, or get the fuck out. Whenever we decide to not exercise that third option, it's not about bending to avoid breaking; it's about bending because you chose to be here. The real message then is "since you must bend, do so gracefully and with a minimum of bitching."

So, here's to a graceful 2006. I'm sure I'll bitch plenty, but I'll try to at least make it funny bitching...

Gods, Demigods, and my little cell...

This evening, I finally made some decisions about grad school.
Although I love the idea of getting financial aid for two years while I work on an MFA and write the Great American Novel, I am also enamored of the idea of having a job when I am done with my degree. Because very few MFAs lead to lucrative book deals, I have decided to pursue a PhD. I also have decided that getting a traditional PhD in Religious Studies is not the best path for me, because I am unlikely to suddenly acquire the proficiency in French and German that such a degree requires.

(Artist's rendering of the author pursuing a traditional PhD in Religious Studies)

I am currently looking at two different programs to avoid that unpleasantness.

Claremont Graduate University
Claremont is offering a very interesting Religion PhD program based on an interdisciplinary model. They refer to it as "academic trespassing." The program description says "by trespassing, we mean migrating across disciplines as theoretical or applied questions demand. Or jumping boundaries between theory and application, as when addressing a problem outside the academy leads to new discoveries in academic terms." To get in, you have to be recommended by a Claremont grad, which one of my mom's friends just happens to be (ahh, the sweet stench of privilege). Although the Claremont program offers a very lucrative financial aid package (Full tuition plus $20K a year), I am actually more interested in going to...

Baylor University

The Sociology department at Baylor offers a PhD in the Sociology of Religion. The big selling point of this program is that the program chair is Dr. Rodney Stark. I based my study of the Bahai conversion process on a certain aspect of the conversion model that he and John Lofland developed while studying the Moonies in San Francisco. That article, plus his 1996 book entitled, "The Rise of Christianity" helped refocus my study of religion overall. He is something of a demigod in my academic pantheon... not on a par with the Venerable Bede or John Milton, but impressive nonetheless (see below).

Venerable Bede - god.

John Milton - god.

Rodney Stark - close, but not yet a god.

I began the application process for Baylor this evening (the deadline for Claremont was December 16th - they are my next year fall-back plan). The general deadline for the graduate school is February 15th, so I have time to get the letters of recommendation and take the GRE. The first few weeks of the semester will be busy, and then we wait...

Chrismahannukwanzaka 2005

Now I can begin to give thanks - for my faux Catholic family, the main celebration of the hollowdaze has passed without major incident. I returned to the unHoly Land safely, the presents were well-received, and the tensions created by having too many people in the house (including a squalling infant) have yet to errupt into the drunken name calling and cane fighting for which the Irish are so famous. Everyone seems content to leave each other alone and play with their new toys.

I am composing this entry on my new toy, a shiny new iBook G4 laptop! My mother - I mean, "Santa" - knew that my desktop pc was slowly dying, but I had no idea that a new laptop was what I would be getting, much less a Macintosh. My mom's hetero life partner, Jan, is a Mac believer and it's always been a bone of contention in their relationship. For mom to be buy me a Mac is almost like she's admitting that there are many ways to heaven, and each man must find his own path... I think I wept.

At any rate, it is very sleek and glossy, and it has many bells and whistles with which I will bore you in later posts. For now, a picture will have to suffice.

Now we can all start worrying about New Years... Happy Hannukah!

Thesis Defense

3 40 90 12 300

I wore black from head to toe, in keeping with the solemnity of the occassion. The inquisitors three gathered at the appointed hour, like the three wise men (well, two wise men and one wise woman), called to the spot by portents and signs - by portents I mean doughnuts, and by signs I mean coffee. Of course, I had none - caffeine would make me jumpy, and munching on sugary snacks would ruin the serious, scholarly, almost mendicant look I was cultivating. Each of us held a 40-page packet; the result of my last year's toil.

After my opening remarks, the questioning began. It went on for 90 minutes, but it wasn't as bad as that sounds. At some point, it became more of a conversation than an inquisition. The room grew lighter and the barrier between student and faculty became less defined. I became less a student, and more like a colleague...albeit a junior colleague, but a levelling of the playing field was evident.

In the end, the paper was approved with minor revision. They discussed various ways to turn it into an article for publication, and possible future studies I could do as a follow-up project. At some point in all of this one of them said, "So, does this complete your Major?"

Yes. Yes, it does. The Self-Designed Major Council has to meet and ask me the same questions, but basically it is done. My twelve credits next semester are a bit of a formality at this point... I will complete the requirements for my English degree so my diploma will show a double major, but that's really an afterthought to me. The degree I wanted is done - and I now begin pondering that achievement.

Ironically, this is also my 300th post on this blog - another achievement of sorts. For about a month now I've been watching my post count, wondering what to put in this auspicious spot, but I kind of lost track while I was trying to get the paper ready. 300 entries has to be the longest journal I've ever kept. To think it only takes an audience to keep me writing - my ego knows no bounds.

Achievement is not really the right word for either of these events, though. It feels more like survival to be honest. A plane full of students crashes on this island called "College." Some academic careers survive, and some get killed. Today, I ducked the Iron Giant.

Sigma Tau Delta on the Air

In addition to running the Black Vatican, His Sinfulness is also an officer of UW's chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the International Creative Writing Honors Society. Check out the chapter's blog (link on sidebar) for poetry, articles, and news items like the one below:

KOCA Radio has made the mistake of giving the officers of Sigma Tau Delta airtime. Tune to 93.5 on your FM dial at 4:00pm on Thursday, December 15th to hear Luke, Levi, and Reverend Linus talk about poetry, upcoming slams, and how Luke doesn't get girls...

Paper Post Partum

After a year of gestaton, it's over. My water broke last week when Dr. Newell finally said that the working draft looked "pretty good." The final contractions came in the form of nearly 160 pages of printing and $2.45 worth of binder clips. G-Fresh, acting as midwife, delivered the three weighty packets - still warm from the printer's womb - to the mailboxes of my committee members while I sucked on ice cubes and kept doing those breathing excercises. I hope I can get my figure back...

And now, I have no idea what to do. I have carried this thing within me for so long that I feel empty and antsy without it. I know that I could just play online poker and read webcomics all evening, but I can't seem to relax and enjoy the slack. There are no more journal articles that need to be read, no more statistics that need to be researched, no further revisions to make... and that feels very wrong right now.

I'm sure that it will all make sense soon enough. I probably just need a good cigar and an old-fashioned drunk to kick this feeling. Thank the gods for textbook buyback...

Candid Ajax

To divert attention from the clearly unpatriotic and possibly commie sentiments in the previous post, here are some pictures of Ajax being cute.

Ajax, playing with his marble toy.

Ajax, looking smooth...

Patriotism Revisited

In the past, I have ranted at length about patriotism. I have pointed out that if you were born here, being patriotic is like being proud of having blue eyes; it's an accident of birth and nothing more. I have pointed out that we are all in this together, and no amount of arbitrary line drawing on maps will ever separate Us from Them in a meaningful way; what happens inside our borders affects those outside, and the reverse is true as well. I have even given examples of the historical legacy of rampant patriotism - the Holocaust, dozens of communist pogroms, the Cultural Revolution, and McCarthyism, to name just a few. In short, I think of myself as a citizen of the world who happens to reside in America.

Today in class I ran headlong into internalized, old school, conditioned response when I suggested that perhaps patriotism might not be a good thing. I suggested that perhaps the Us vs Them mentality that patriotism generates is not what the world needs right now. I asked my classmates to just think for a moment about why they were patriotic, and see if their reasons were really good ones. Their responses were pretty disheartening.

One guy said he was proud to be an American because we can go to McDonalds and have cheeseburgers or go shopping anytime we want. A girl said she was proud to be an American because that was the way she was raised.

I didn't have the stones to say, "So you are proud of being the gluttonous pig at the top of the food chain, and you are proud because your folks told you to be proud."

I couldn't bring myself to bust them in the mouths like that. They are young, and trying to overcome rural Wyoming upbringings. I tried to tell myself that at least I made them think about it, and planted a seed in their minds... but it wasn't a very satisfying rationalization.

The truth is, these kids aren't thinking about it, and many of them never will. They don't see that we are the beautiful Eloi to the third world's Morlocks, and that our pleasures come from their misery. They don't care that our lifestyle is killing off the workers that make it possible. They certainly don't care that the country they are so proud to be part of is a bloated monster that feeds on the carcasses of poor, mostly brown people everyday. In fact, their beloved America would gladly consume them too if they ever fell to that social strata.

What they are talking about is not pride - it's relief. They are relieved that they are American, because being from somewhere lower on the ladder is crappy. In a sense they are saying, "I know that we are giving the rest of the world a raw deal, and I'm really glad I don't live there; better them than me."

If they aren't thinking about the interconnectedness of the world now, when they are college students, it's likely that they never will think about it much. If being surrounded by the diversity and intellectual intensity of a university community doesn't wake them, what could? As dear old Dorothy Parker used to say, "You can lead a whore to culture, but you can't make her think."

Geek Shopping

I am adverse to gift registries; it seems too much like sending your loved ones out to do your shopping for you. I think that gifts are only really meaningful when you can tell that the person who bought them has paid attention to you, and actually sought out something that they know you will enjoy. This is a grim prospect for some of us... it means actually TALKING to your family (shudder).

In some cases though, the gifter has listened closely to the giftee, and still the gift is not quite right. This is not a failure to communicate, but rather it may be that the giftee has highly technical likes - in other words, you are shopping for a geek.

If, for example, I were to mention in passing coversation how much I admire the performance of the Lam Hoac Sea Devil Deluxe Light, especially if you install the 5 PT LS, few of you would have a chance of knowing what I'm talking about (maybe Jim and Britt would know, but only because I made them watch many videos of said item...).

Or, hypothetically, you might hear me say, "I sure wish I had the FA118A#ABA keyboard to go with my HP iPAQ rx1955 Pocket PC."

It's unlikely that you'd be able to remember all that technical jargon, much less actually locate the items in question. I guess we geeks will just have to make do with gift certificates - lots of gift certificates...