east of eden - fistful of quarters

ok this movie is hilarious, and awesome. it is extremely well done. it's the type of movie that is really cool and not a lot of people know about it--but soon it will be the next spellbound and it will be popular and those of you out there who think things lose credibility once they have become mainstream will no longer take so much delight in it, like napoleon dynamite or juno or death cab.

still, it has quite the story and characters, complete with its nerds, protagonists, and villains. particularly there is one villain. his name is billy mitchell. he's sleazy, arrogant, has the trophy wife, self-absorbed, has a terrible style, and is somewhat of a coward. at the end of the movie we were all expressing our extreme hatred for the guy, calling him names and talking about sending him hate mail. of course, we were just joking around, but i'm sure the type of people who actually do those things will be all over it because the movie did a stellar job of portraying this guy as the biggest douchbag you've ever seen. my favorite line of the movie is from billy: "on my phone it says 'never surrender.'

so i walked away from that movie to my car chuckling to myself at some of the insults we had come up with, however nonetoopleasant they were.

today i finished reading East of Eden. it took me quite awhile but i got there. i really enjoyed it, and while i'm not going to give you a book report, there are some pertinent themes here. as you might guess by the title, the book deals a lot with the question of good and evil. the primary relationship explored is the brother-brother/cain-abel. but throughout the whole book the question keeps coming up of if a person can be good, and if some are destined to evil--if some lack that something that brings goodness.

in the book it seems those who are completely good and those who are completely bad end up alone and isolated. it is those who struggle with their combined nature who find some degree of happiness in life, even if they bring the others around them down with their complexity. humanity is defined by "thou mayest" the choice to do either good or evil. and those idealists who believe in only one it seems are those who cannot truly live their life. it's a powerful theme.

in this story there is one of the evilest characters i've ever read. she has some serious issues. but fortunately the complexity of her keeps you from pure hatred--though horror is an accurate description. these are the sorts of people we find in fiction. they make their point. but perhaps one of steinbeck's points is that these people don't really exist, they don't really live.

so i'm driving home thinking about billy mitchell. he is painted with the brush and we loathe. he is the guy we root for to fail. but billy mitchell is no fictional character. and the beauty of the documentry is that it is just that--a documentary. you cannot look at him and see his acting. you look at him and you see his front. it's so off-putting you are most likely to not allow yourself to look long enough. because it's in his eyes. it's in his trophy wife with plastic breasts and the way he clings to her as he walks around the arcade.

below all the bravado is a human. a man who has sold his identity to a bunch of computer chips, a few buttons, and a joystick. he is dominated by fear. because if he loses this he loses all he is. and if you see this, you see this human just like me and you, then the hatred fades. and if you're not careful you might make the next mistake and pity him, providing another judgment. no, we are all so insecure when it comes down to it. and we have our own little posses that give us the security we need in one way or another.

maybe what we hate so much in billy is what we see in ourselves and wish wasn't there. so we project. or maybe we're much too clever at deceiving ourselves and miss our own constructions. in any event, the wisdom of a little girl still rings true--though she is talking about getting into the guinness book of world records it applies to all we achieve and strive for: "a lot of people ruin their lives trying to do that."

it may be easy to see the pointlessness in spending so much of your life striving to accumulate points on a 30 year old video game. it may be a lot harder to see the pointlessness in a lot of the things we strive for, trying to prove ourselves in whatever way.



my room has six windows in it. in the winter i keep the blinds closed to try and keep in a little heat. otherwise i like to have them open as much as possible. but right now i just have one of the blinds half up--the one that is just over the top of my computer, so i raise my eyes now and see through the bare branches down to the street below. i can also just see the western sky, a peek of the sunset when it comes. cars pass occasionally, but mostly there is stillness. and the tiny figures of a person or two walking to class.

it's almost as if you have to be this far away to appreciate the magnanimity in people. to see them so tiny. everything else around is all for them, all for us. even the glow of the sunset. we get far too focused on all the surroundings so often. or we become so focused on just one person that the rest become fuzzy.

sometimes there is a desire in me to take far too much of it in. to engage in far too many friendships than one person can hold.
sometimes i want to go off and live secluded from all else, so that i can be free from all that they take. and yet i love to give. but it keeps me from much else.
sometimes i want to love one woman to a depth i cannot even imagine right now. i think that's most of the time.

really though i'm writing this post because i was reflecting on something these past few days. i had a couple friends come to manhattan to visit, a couple phone conversations, and other interactions. i've had a lot of things kind of stirred up in me over the past several weeks, and while life was something slower and calmer--accompanied by a stillness from God not long ago, all that has changed. life has taken off running.

and in the midst of it all i am just incredibly struck by the amazing friends that i have in my life. i cannot express how blessed i feel by them and how fortunate i am in having so many quality presences in my life. for those of you who are them and are in the blogging world, thank you.

life is about people. true joy comes from the beauty of relationship, both with God and people. you can trudge all over europe to seek beauty and find nothing of that true joy. i wish the same blessing upon you all.



my favorites: the rock

well for those of you out there that know me, you might say i'm something of a fairly serious or intense person--in a sort of way. this is really reflected in the art that i love: russian literature, dramatic intense movies, rembrandt, 'melancholy' music, etc.

of course, this does not tell the whole story. and this is a dedication to the other side, the one that doesn't always come out in a place like a blog. in my top 5 movies, right along with braveheart, big fish, the shawshank redemption, and good will hunting--is the rock.

yeah, that's right, the rock. sean connery kicking ass, nicolas cage playing the role he is supposed to--a dorky overachiever, great chase scenes, betrayal, conflict, a good plot, secrets, humor, a thrilling ending, and of course a great soundtrack. yup, that's right. the rock.

i thought about posting a video of a great line, but it's not quite g-rated, so if you want to see it go here. but then go do yourself a favor and go see it if you haven't!


quote of the week

"To be afraid of hell and desirous of a life without pain or trouble in heaven was not in itself Christian. It was self-interest on a higher level...But even in more spiritual forms of conversion, as long as men are wholly intent on their own destiny, they do not necessarily emerge from selfishness. It only changes its form. A Christian regeneration must have an outlook toward humanity and result in a higher social consciousness.
The saint of the future will need not only a theocentric mysticism which enables him to realize God, but an anthropocentric mysticism which enables him to realize his fellow-men in God."

Walter Rauschenbusch in 1917


something of a lullaby

if you haven't heard bon iver yet, here's a taste. it's incredible. i couldn't find my favorite song of his to put on here, but this will do. enjoy.



the wisdom today comes from our friend steinbeck: "In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love."

damn straight. of course we tend to focus on the misguided short cuts--the bad things to get money or power so we will be loved, or the misguided loves--that when we feel pleasure or delight that is in some way love. but are their other vices in pursuing love in ways that are accepted?

what are our shortcuts?

does this have to do with our belief that love is finding yourself, when in reality maybe love actually is losing yourself? ok maybe it's both. but do we give up on losing ourselves for the finding? do we take a shortcut that way?

do we jump into something that is not yet its time? or are we so driven by the need that we our desire for love is tainted--it can no longer be a pure and good want in our life?

do we avoid the brokenness and vulnerability that is necessarily to truly receive love? or do we try to earn it by being so good as to not need to go to that place with God, with another, with a family member?

is love something that needs to be earned? it's at least something that does not truly come quickly that is for sure--no matter what you want to say about love at first sight. it is much to full to happen in an instant.

many more thoughts could come from this very rich statement. i don't have any more right now.



so this was my four year old niece's quote of the evening, as we all were sitting around the kitchen table talking after dinner:

"um, you guys, can we go out in the living room? i just want to go out there and chill with you guys."

wow, so precious.


quote of the week

"The first task of seeking guidance then is to touch your own struggles, doubts, and insecurities--in short, to affirm your life as a quest. Your life, my life, is given graciously by God. Our lives are not problems to be solved but journeys to be taken with Jesus as our friend and finest guide."

Henri Nouwen


this is great

just try to tell me you're not in tears after watching that.


super wednesday

today was ash wednesday for those of you out there following the church calendar a little more than you are following the primary calendar. do you know off the top of your head what lent is actually about? i have to admit that i didn't at first thought, beyond leading up to easter.

lent celebrates the 40 days that Jesus went off into the desert fasting, praying, and being tempted by the devil. dostoyevsky saw huge significance in the three temptations, and how they signified the major temptations we face. and how, for the most part, the church has fallen to all three of them. that's not the point of this post, but if you're interested check out The Grand Inquisitor, or if you're slightly more ambitious The Brothers Karamazov, which is where it's from. It's way better in context anyway. i cannot recommend a book more highly. but i digress.
there is some degree of irony in the fact that this comes the day after super tuesday. Jesus was quite the interesting political figure--but i don't know enough about that yet. a lot of people followed Jesus' example and followed Jesus out into the desert, living a monastic life. this political season makes that especially tempting! but after the temptation he came back into the world and ministered. in Luke 4 he receives the Spirit of the Lord in order to really change things--to heal the sick, to give sight to the blind, to preach the good news.

comparing that to any sort of political leader is just so silly. i have always wanted to just reject politics, and in a lot of ways i still do. but that is not to reject social reform. this is a key distinction. why do we feel that we need to do this through the political system? sometimes i wonder if europeans care more about politics because that is all they really have to put their hope in for social change. the states still have many religious organizations doing a lot of charity and social work. but that's a bit beside the point. is it worth the time and energy to engage in politics for such slow and little change? can't it be more worthwhile elsewhere? is it more of a stand for change not to vote (democratic heresy!!!)? did Jesus rally for a good caesar? or a better king of the jews than herod antipas? or do we follow our own way? thoughts?

another observation: i noticed romney carried 90% of utah. and hilary is doing very well among women voters, and obama among the blacks, and huckabee among conservative christians. do we even care about the issues at all? some of those allegiances have to do with policy (generally one or two issues only), but really--can we take this election seriously if this is the way we decide who to vote for?



enveloped smoke around
a car.
from a manhole underneath
wails its gift.
shivers against leather
there is all the warm of a cigarette.
the metronomes are set slow
in unison
they never touch.

another rhythm kept;
wet mist.
straining to hear--
no, to feel
your hairs come together and drip
your neck
your ear
your cheek.

wiped away steadily on
smooth glass.
a flick and the beams rise
the rain giving them reach.
it's time to go.

your feet are heavy
and your mind sluggish.
and maybe
you sit there a moment longer.



i have to admit, the return of a certain unnameable television show tonight spurred this rant.

one word: sensationalism. there was a time and a place where this was mocked, where this was scoffed at as 'cheap entertainment.' drama is of course a very important element in any sort of fiction genre, but there comes a point when it is just ridiculously over the top. the abuse of it has always been around to some extent, but it's just gone off the deep end now.

there used to just be the dramatic event at the end of a large part in a book, spurring on the next section. now there is a cliff hanger at the end of every 3 page chapter. there used to be dramatic endings to an entire show, or perhaps a season. now every single show has a 'spellbinding' ending. beyond that, there is a question looming at every commercial break!

fiction is not the only culprit. we see it especially in 'reality tv,' specifically game shows. Who Wants to be a Millionaire really took it to a new level, with lowering the lights and dramatic music and the commercial break right before the answer is revealed. and everyone followed suit. deal or no deal, the moment of truth (a sad commentary in itself), etc. they all are ridiculous. they take 10 minutes worth of content and stretch it into an hour. lingering the extreme close-ups on their face. why do we accept this!?! and don't get me started on the new american gladiators. decked out in barely any clothing, the gladiators yell a grunt to say they are ready. people swim under fire. it is completely overdone--even more so than the 80s version! the 80s version! (ok early 90s, but it started in the 80s) yes, the 1980s, where hair was big and everything was overdone. we are worse! we don't need big hair. (oh and everyone gets injured on that show! what kind of gladiator gets injured and sits out events?).

you know what it is? it creates a guise over terrible plots and bad acting, and all we care about is "what's going to happen next???". we become addicted simply because it's a cheap feeling of excitement in our otherwise uneventful lives. ok that's a bit harsh--but it is living vicariously. at best we become attached to the characters because they have some sort of development or endearing quality (usually brought on by the actor, not the plot). but they're not real! really the only 'real' thing we can take is a greater meaning within the stories. but we don't even care about the deeper values or ideas put forth--if there even are any.

i am guilty too. yes, i watched every episode of the OC. what? seth was funny. yes, i know i'm a hypocrite. speaking of deeper values. i have since mourned the loss of several weeks of my life i will never get back.

sometimes i begrudge the approval of subtlety in fiction, but i do see why it is really necessary. and my point of consolation is that movies seem to still do the majority of their 'drama' genre pretty well. and of course there's always good fiction out there--but contemporary fiction has its own issues.

so, if any of you screen writers on strike out there happen upon this post, i know that america eats up the crappy drama--but for pity's sake, use this free time to write something decent. and of course i don't blame you entirely, i know much is the director and producers. oh hollywood, how distinctly american. it's times like this i wonder if i live in the wrong country.

and those of you out there who watch these shows, time for some soul-searching. why do you watch? i mean really, for real, why?