Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Deep Breath

Marc Barnes, who pens a fine blog called BadCatholic, has left me sheepish. He posted about a snow day. Just a snow day. And praised it. (Snow When It is White)

Looking at my posts over the last couple of months, I’ve speculated about actors, bashed Coloradoan rappers, evaluated common curse words, praised my favorite rock band… and all throughout mined my own opinions. As well a blogger should.

But you know what? I think based on the blogs I’ve been reading, we bloggers complain too much. Marc's on to something. I’m taking a deep breath. And I’m going to tell you how wonderful my life is.

I’m sitting in a brown armchair, and I’m melting into the cushions. My father’s in a chair next to me, reading the Wall Street Journal. He spent 20 years in the Marine Corps, and four years after getting out received his PhD in theology. He teaches now at the University of Great Falls.

My little brother is playing Journey on the piano, somewhere in the distance. And I must say he’s rocking it. He, my other brothers, and I cruised iTunes today, using the gift cards our parents gave us. I used mine last night, and stayed up till midnight with my new songs from House of Heroes, The Classic Crime, The Beatles, The Almost, and more delightful rock bands.

I look out my window. The skies are painted with white clouds, split by patches of lazy blue. Under them sleeps a hillside with half-melted snow. A quiet little Montana city sprawls some hundreds of yards away.

In a week and a half I’m taking a plane to Kansas City, and from thence to Benedictine College, at one of the best Catholic schools in the country. I’m living the life millions of people would love to have. I don’t want to lord that over anybody, but I cannot deny. This feels good.

I won’t ignore reality, and the reality is that this world is ridden with evil, and that this world is not my home. There is a deeper reality. And the more we ignore it the more we're going to hurt. Abortion. Adultery. Bad entertainment. Drugs. Wars. Hunger. They're all symptoms, and I think they're going to get worse.

But sitting here, in a good home, with a good family, with a good feeling… I can’t help but think everything’s gonna be alright. There’s going to be a storm in this country, and if things keep up it’s going to hurt. But it won’t last. Nothing that bad can last. There will be sunlight through the clouds. I can’t tell you where precisely it will come, but I’m certain. We cannot imagine the things God can do for us. We have barely begun to see what He is. He'll come through, in a way that will blow everyone away. I think I believe that.

Have a wonderful day. Take a deep breath, and make it good and long. And do what you must.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What If You Were _________?

This first part is for men. Scroll down if you want the part for women. There's one question for each. For men, a lesson first. If you don’t know what I mean by “The Old Spice Guy”, he's the actor in a commerical for Old Spice commercial that was a national sensation. Millions of YouTube views. Physically, he's what millions of guys would love to be. Big chest, arm muscles, manly beard, and a towel around his waist. And so on. I won't post a picture because the commercial has him shirtless, and that might bother some readers.

To the question…  what if one of you woke up as this guy? Seriously. Think about it. You go to bed as your same old self, whether it be fat, skinny, or riddled with acne, or whatever… and then you wake up, look in the mirror, look at yourself- and you’re him. The biggest stud on the block. Quite possibly the universal block. It doesn’t change as your day goes on, and eventually you accept your body has changed into this astounding, muscular freight train. You get the voice and everything else, too, but no changes in memory or personality or anything like that.

What would you do? You want it to stay? You want it to go? You gonna go ask out that special brunette who you’ve been crushing on for three years without breathing a word? Go out to the nightclubs and explode onto the party scene? Try a career in acting?

This next part is the question for women. If you are a woman or girl reading this post... what if you woke up tomorrow to find you looked like Megan Fox? She’s an actress who’s popular, as near as I can figure, for physical appearance- a lot like the Old Spice Guy. She's attractive, in that glamorous, eye-popping Hollywood way. And now so are you. What would you do that day? As for men with the Old Spice Guy, you’d have Megan’s appearance and voice, not any personality traits.

Whether you hail from Venus or Mars, I’m not trying to be a creeper with this question. In fact, I think the question’s a goldmine for philosophical and moral insights. What would other people do? What would they want to do? What would the best way to use the new appearance? Is it even desirable to have as compared to your old body?

Comment, if you have an answer and feel like sharing it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

According To Plato, You Might Be A Sissy

Not comforting news, is it? That’s a powerful accusation, considering this man’s reputation. One of the several enlightening events of my first semester in college has been reading The Republic. I haven’t read anything else from Plato, so everything I will say here I say based on what he says in that one book. So perhaps I should fix the title, and switch The Republic for Plato. But when it comes to catchy titles, poetic license is indispensable, so let’s leave that alone and get to the point.

Plato talks some in The Republic about music and poetry. In the midst of describing the perfect city, Plato describes how to educate the residents. Note that this education, for Plato, was for the select residents he meant to defend his ideal city and keep it ideal. Also note that what he called music, we call media. Music for Plato, if he was alive today, would be not only our music, but also our movies, Internet games, and anything else that reaches people. Gymnastics is all athletic pursuits. While he’s talking about these, he mentions a danger.

“But if he keeps at it (listening to music) unrelentingly and is beguiled by the music, after a time his spirit is melted and dissolved until it vanishes, and the very sinews of his soul are cut out and he becomes a “feeble warrior””.

Too much music makes us weaklings.

The first thing I did after reading that was to look at my tummy. I have a rather round tummy, I’m afraid to say. I haven’t played serious sports in more than a year, and I’ve been living soft ever since. Naturally, then, Plato raises some pertinent questions for me. I’ve been listening to music way too much; I’m on YouTube right now listening to a catchy rap.

Not anymore. I just clicked out of it, and now I’m thinking. I’m hardly the only one who likes to do this. We Americans love music. We’ve wound it so deep in our culture and ourselves… well, I suppose all cultures do. Nevertheless, I observe…

Our most famous musicians are more famous than our soldiers in war. I can’t think of any man who ever earned a Medal Honor, and of Purple Heart winners I can only name John Kerry. And that only because of, interestingly enough, a political satire song.

What I can name in abundance are the most popular musicians and singers and bands right now: Black Eyed Peas, Zac Brown Band, Ke$ha, My Chemical Romance, Lady GaGa, Avenged Sevenfold and enough more to fill an orchestra. Pun intended.

I know more words to “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey than to my country’s national anthem. There are many, many people here who don’t know their national anthem at all.

Pop stars have to be protected in case the masses try to mob them, out of some mindless, crazed attraction to the pop stars’ fame, and their persona, and the songs that walk with them. Like a moth to a flame. A thousand moths to a flame.

I see danger here. Do you?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

One of The Greatest Rock Bands Of Our Time

You read that right. My favorite rock band is one of the greatest rock bands out there right now. I am not sarcastic or trying for any vague, complicated metaphor. I speak directly and I blaze with confidence.

Say hello to House of Heroes. They’re an alternative rock band from Columbus, Ohio, currently signed with Gotee Records. No, you’ve never heard of them. Their genre… oh… let me tell it this way. Take the vocal harmonies from Queen. Throw them in with those magical melodies the Beatles had. Shake well, and throw in pop/punk from Relient K and Jimmy Eat World, rock from Weezer, and lightly sprinkle with Tom Petty and Muse. Bake to perfection. 
That is what I’m talking about, and if you’re licking your chops right now, you won’t be disappointed. 

They found out with this 2008 album, The End Is Not The End, that all four of them can sing. United they did things to their music that made them soar over everything I’ve ever heard. And the songwriting! I could write pages on just the songwriting. Add to how that works with the music, and how amazing the music itself is… I could write a whole book. The themes span love, heroism, redemption, remorse, and a host of others, with references to World War Two and wars in general. It’s the talk about the wars that give it an extra layer. There’s such a story in the music. Listen all the way through the album; you’ll find hints of it in the lyrics, since it’s not a concept album, but you’ll hear in it in the music. I can’t say exactly how. Each song begins and ends like how chapters in novels begin and end; just the right tone, just the right place. It leaves me spellbound every time. This is a sonical odyssey.

Suburba (that's how they spell the title) came out just a few months ago: August 2010.  And the vocals only got better. And the songwriting ventured into new territory. With the classic rock came a focus on youth and suburban America. And my, oh my, does it take your breath away. Gorgeous renditions in “Relentless” the first track, of a boy running wild in the suburbs; “God Save The Foolish Kings”, a gang preparing for a fight and looking for purpose; “Disappear”, a dark, driving reflection on mortality… you have to listen all the way through the album here. Even though, for this and the last album, any track will have you hooked on its own.

Oh! This barely scratches the surface of what I could tell you about this band. But I am a college student, and finals near; I’ve already taken too much time to tell you this much. Let me leave you with a music video for the band’s top single from The End Is Not The End: “In The Valley Of The Dying Sun”.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My First Kiss

Have you ever heard of 3OH!3? Yes, it’s spelled that way. I know at least one of my readers is out of my generation, so I’ll explain before I get to the main point. 3OH!3 is the stage name for a rapping duo that’s extremely popular. The beats are insanely catchy. That’s one part of their popularity; the second part is some sincerely clever rhyming; the third part is the recurring appearance of sex and swearing.

So why talk about them? They have this song called “My First Kiss” that I want to make a contrast with. Below I've embedded the song's music video. (WARNING: EXPLICIT CONTENT)

Now here's a different clip...

The second video is from The Princess Bride. If you haven't seen the whole film, you are in a critical state of cultural deprivation and you need to watch it immediately after you finish this post.

Think about these two videos for a minute. You see kisses in both them. They way they’re portrayed says something about kissing, and by extension love, and by extension ourselves. 

Which kiss looks happy?

Which kiss looks beautiful?

Which kiss do you want? 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Life Is At Stake. No Jokes. Follow My Link.

It seems a couple has decided to leave the fate of their unborn child... to an Internet poll. "Give Birth" or "Have An Abortion". I have no way of telling whether they mean it, but I will not risk a life and assume they don't. 


Please vote "Give Birth". And please spread this to everyone who can help.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Puritans vs. Playboys

Puritans vs. Playboys. This has changed our nation in a way I find comparable to the Civil War, or World War II. From what I understand, it got started in the 1950s, when Marilyn Monroe took the nation by storm. Rising with her was a young publisher named Hugh Hefner. It was a racy centerpiece of Monroe in Playboy that shot him into infamy. I think of that magazine every time I think about the sexual revolution. Monroe, Hefner, Kinsey, and all the other people who got it started were fighting against the old moral order, whether they meant it or not. 

Clearly, they won. I'm assuming you're familiar with the popular culture in the U.S.A. of 2010. If you aren't, watch the film “Superbad”. Even better, take my word that my country is drenched in sex.

It's almost a total 180-degree spin. Only decades ago, husbands and wives on television shows slept in separate beds. Now unmarried couples make out in swimsuits on CBS. There seem to be two camps of sexuality in American history: harsh restriction, and total license. Puritans and Playboys.

Who’s right?

Neither. I’ve thought about both attitudes and decided neither is healthy. When I was young, I would blow up when my father showed a PG-13 movie. I even deleted a song when I heard the lyrics “I want to touch you”. I had a pistol of righteousness, and I was trigger-happy like no other.  Now that I look back at those days, and at the sexual revolution as I understand it, I don’t ever want to be a Puritan. Sex cannot be repressed. It is integral to who we are as humans, and men and women. I can’t hide the way I feel when I see a woman. It’s tantamount to denying I have a soul. My sexuality is too deeply grounded in my identity to ignore. To be a real human, I must embrace sex, and be unafraid to talk about it. I refer all opponents to former Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Now, about Playboy. Their attitude won’t do either. Expressing your sexuality does not mean going out and sleeping with twenty different people in as many hours. I certainly don’t blame the people who do that, depending on what they know. For people that are totally ignorant, confused, or mislead about morality and sexuality, it may be better to have sex than deny their natural desires to do it. 

But that rests heavily on individual cases, and I’m not convinced there’s enough of those to convince me to support promiscuity as a whole. In fact, I denounce any sex outside of marriage. I have read things, heard things, sensed things in my own blood; sex is an act of utter euphoria. It is a connection that should be the pinnacle of any union between a man and a woman. And if it’s a pinnacle, then it must be saved for… well… the pinnacle! For marriage, the pinnacle of love! And not a moment before.

Do you agree with me? Whether or not you do, question the things I just said. I firmly believe them to be true. But I am human, and I can fail. I need your help in figuring this out. You need mine, too. We all need each other’s help. For this is a debate we cannot abandon. Over the past fifty or so years, the United States of American has opened wide the floodgates of sexuality. The duty is ours, the children of the aftermath, to say where the U.S.A. will go from there. 

What we say about sex, we say so much about ourselves that we might as well be talking about ourselves. When we speak of how we treat sex, we are thus charting the course of souls, and by extension a nation.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Modern Ozymandias

“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said- "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my Works, Ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Good old Percy Shelley. Those Romantics, love ‘em or hate ‘em, knew how to seize their readers’ imaginations. Well, not all of them, but they sure have mine. This poem is a striking metaphor for the futility of pride. In post-modern English, I’m saying the poem disses on people who are trying to look more important than they actually are, and the way it does that is really cool. I love the grandeur of the imagery, and what happens to it. The “vast and trunkless legs of stone”, the “sneer of cold command”, and the “King of Kings” make my vision soar, and then plunge to the ground on reading those cold, cold words: “Nothing beside remains.”

If I ever put on airs, please shove that poem down my throat.

Not to be a hypocrite, but there are others who might benefit from such a treatment. Where are the modern Ozymandias’ in our world? You know they’re out there. Think for a moment. Where, in American society, or anywhere in the world, can we find a fellow human being who has crafted an image that makes him or her look greater than who he or she actually is?

I’m going to answer with my own poem. A parody, actually. Sorry if this seems a roundabout way to say what I think, but it’s too much fun for this English major to resist…

I met a man from a land of trouble
Who said, “Two great, broad and unlit billboards
Stand in the ruins. Near them, in the rubble,
Half-sunk, a filthy poster lies, whose pose
And wild clothes, and cleavage double
Tell that her picture well was planned and shot
And still it lives, erotic, bright and dead
The face that drew them and the songs they bought
And on that poster these words I read:
“My name is Lady GaGa, Queen of Queens,
Love me, little monsters, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the billboards
Lie fallen stadiums, once tall and fair
Dashed against the age of frenzies and whores

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Can't Recommend This Highly Enough

If you haven't heard of BadCatholic, brace yourself. This fellow's had some bold and fascinating posts; I can't recommend him highly enough.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Sincerity of Swearing

Bear with me if you don’t like this title. I seriously want to step away from my inclinations and think about vulgar words. Are there times when they can be honest?

This used to be an easy question for me. Growing up in a squeaky-clean, super-Catholic homeschooled family, I had a mouth more devoid of curses than G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra is devoid of brains. High school and college have changed that. A lot. I stopped homeschooling in the eighth grade, and have been exposed ever since. And I’ve used it enough myself to ask serious questions, based in experience.

So can swear words be sincere? By this I ask if it can actually be a legitimate expression, under whatever circumstances.

After thought, I have decided that there are times that we “have” to swear. By this I mean when someone is under so much pressure, and he/she must let it out without throttling someone, and the first word to come to their mind is, “S---!”. I find the latter option more agreeable than the latter. Total control, obviously, would be best, but we are weak, and there are times when we simply cannot endure another second without venting. See Black Hawk Down  or World Trade Center if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Of course, there are times when we say it without a thought. Like if a friend sneaks up behind you and grabs you. Or when you’re painting on the roof and you nearly fall off. Surprise doesn’t leave much time for choosing words. Neither does fear. During my first driving lesson, I said a string of things that made me glad it was a driving instructor in the passenger seat and not my mother. I was terrified. My shaky hands were on a wheel controlling one ton of metal and rocket fuel. One false move and I was going to hurt something. Blindly, I babbled vulgarities. Literally I could not control myself until when my teacher asked me why I was swearing.

On top of all that, many people don’t mean the meaning of what they say. If you break my ribs with a sledgehammer, and I yell, “F--- you!”, I’m not commanding you to fornicate with yourself, which is the most sense one can make from the phrase. I’m saying that you just hit me and I’m in pain and I hate your guts and will rip them out the moment I have the strength to walk. Think about “h--- yeah” or “d--- right”. They don’t make any particular sense. We’re adding them for emphasis, almost like one would add Tabasco to a pizza.

That’s been a convincing case for me, but it doesn’t change one thing. You can’t change what the words mean. Only a whole group of English users over time can do that, and I don’t think it’s been done yet for curse words. As things stand right now, “s---“ still means dung, “f---“ refers to carnal knowledge, “g-d---“ still invoke God’s eternal punishment, and so on.

American society over time chose these words as its bad words, and this is important to our psyche. We’ve been trained that these are the words we’re not meant to say. Even in a secularized world, films still get PGs or PG-13s for “d---“ and “g-d---“, last time I looked. So the effect when you say them is that you are breaking a moral law. Which is still true, anyway, looking at what the words mean. Double whammy.

Plus, there many other words to express your frustration. As I said, this requires self-control. And for that, you need to grow into someone better. Deepen your reason; deepen your faith, too, if you’re Christian. If the lack of a better you is what makes you swear, odds are you want to stop swearing to get the better you.

I conclude that swearing can be honest. Sometimes. As an understandable mistake. But it must be a mistake that is understood, regretted, and detested. Constantly it must be fought. Ideally, you’d never say them, not even once. Control your tongue and you control your mind; control your mind and you control everything else.

What do you think?  

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thank You, Eragon

Christopher Paolini is living a writer’s fantasy. After writing a grand story, and self-publishing it, some kid read it and loved it. This kid happened to know someone who knew someone at Alfred A. Knopf, a big publishing company under Random House. A few suggestions later, Paolini’s novel hit the national scene and became wildly popular.

Now he’s working on the last installment of his Inheritance Cycle, of which Eragon was the first. They tell the story of a young man who finds a dragon egg. The egg hatches, and he winds up fighting with the dragon against a powerful tyrant. These books set the bestseller lists on fire. Eragon was his breakout hit; his very first novel. Eldest broke Random House records. So did Brisingr.

Why do we want these kind of stories? You know what I’m talking about. The Lord of the Rings. Star Wars. The Chronicles of Narnia. Transformers, even. Stories of good and evil at war, with powerful forces, vast scales, and something  huge at stake, like the fate of the world. Maybe even the universe.

How many movie trailers have you seen that try and get that mood? You know the type. Frenzied action scenes, desperate-looking heroes and heroines, ominous shots of villains and minions, and urgent choral music. The trailers for the seventh Harry Potter are perfect examples…

We are not the only generation who likes this sort of thing, ether. Cecil DeMille, if you remember him, was the James Cameron of his day; the Ten Commandments was an Avatar for sheer special effects and grandeur.  There weren’t as many movies like that in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but the rise of Tolkien and George Lucas brought it back with a vengeance.

So why do we like them?

I submit that we sense something in these stories, these specific sorts of stories- and that we want it. Badly. When I see King Theoden and his Rohirrim roar and ride upon Mordor’s army, I get this feeling roaring with them in my heart. And it’s not just because it’s a grand show. It’s something I can’t describe for sure, but can guess and be confident. It is the feeling of war. A deep war. A war deeper than any war on this earth; World War Two is a gang fight compared to what I speak of. I speak of our own spiritual struggle.

We want to be King Theoden, riding into certain death, and riding because he knows what is good and that he will fight like a madman to preserve it. We want to be Luke Skywalker, standing before  Emperor Palpatine and refusing to accept the dark side of the Force. We want that courage. We want that devotion. We want that suffering. We want that purpose.

I put up such an illusion of purpose in my modern life, but at times I sense I’m not hooked up to anything, that I am not anything at all… unless I’m hooked up to God. In the end, what I want and what you want is to be hooked up. To go on a quest. To pour out ourselves into something; something worth dying for.

Which is exactly what these heroes and heroines do. We watch them because they are the humans we know we can be, and what we want to be more than anyone else. We want to join them in the cosmic struggle, so clearly seen in the fire in their eyes and the urgency in their cries.

Look at Eragon again. If you haven’t read it and the other books, I would certainly do so. They aren’t quite as deep, original, or even coherent as The Lord of the Rings, but they still show you that quest. I cannot thank Eragon, and his creator Christopher Paolini, enough. With his first novel, Mr. Paolini wasn’t afraid to go after that quest, and try and take our breath away, and make our souls burst into flame. He didn’t do it as well as the masters, but he put in a darn good effort.

Thank you, Eragon. Thank you truly. I’ve followed you on a magnificent journey, and may you smite that foul King Galbatorix when your author comes out with Book IV.