mE: a life in progress


Thursday, April 18, 2013

AWEOSME WEaiod fjid

my roomates all have boyfriends

and they're goin on missions.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Unexamined Life of Death

The unexamined life is not worth living.” –Socrates

But what about unexamined death? Around this time of year, I always think about death. Mostly because… well, everything is dying. Trees drop their leaves. Things wither. It gets cold outside. And Halloween, of course. This year, I’ve been noticing how closely the holiday is associated with death. Usually, I just associate it with candy and things that are scary. But then I thought about these things:
He's just lonely
-Grim Reaper
-Skulls and Skeletons
-Mummies and Zombies

For some reason, these consistently top the list of typical Halloween figures. All these personages share one common denominator—death. They either symbolize death, have gone through it, or could kill you. Or all of those, as is the case with the zombie. At the very least, they’re supposed to scare you. Why? Why do mummies feature more largely into the Halloween holiday than swamp monsters do? Why is a cemetery—a place for the dead— such a typical setting for spooky Halloween stories? Yeah, it’s probably got to be really weird when the dead come alive again (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). Still though. Around Halloween, we like to get scared – to death, and by death.

Death’s scary because it’s unknown.  It’s the last frontier that everyone gets to cross into but can’t really get coached on beforehand.  For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to death-- in the same way as I’ve been drawn to black holes (not necessarily in a “gosh, I’d really like to try that someday”—but in a terrifying, strange, and fascinating way). When I first found out the power of a black hole, I was terrified. If a black hole could capture light, then certainly it could move faster than light, and could just hop out of nowhere and swallow our little planet before anyone had time to react! Then the earth would be gone and everything we’d ever worked for would be demolished in one fell swoop. Then, I started learning about black holes, and became less frightened and more in awe. For example, we can guess what a black hole does to the dimensions of space and time, and hypothesize, but no one really knows for sure. Kind of like death—except death does come to everyone. I think in our culture, we either try not to think about death, or we convince ourselves it’s so far off that we don’t have to worry about it.

Death is one huge thing that gives meaning to life, like dark gives meaning to light, and vice versa. They really can’t have meaning without each other. Death’s mystery doesn’t have to be scary—it can also be beautiful and make us think more seriously about our existence. The fact that we have limited time means that we have to make choices about how to spend it. Good health is appreciated more after one has been sick or had a near death experience. But facing death also does make us want to be productive, create bucket lists, spend our time more wisely, and figure out the things that are most important to us.

M. Scott Peck, one of my favorite thinkers, says that death is the ultimate narcissistic injury—like failing a test or getting picked last or not getting a job—but hundreds of times more heavy.

“Nothing threatens our narcissistic attachment to ourselves and our self-conceit more than our impending obliteration,” he says.

No kidding.

It’s natural to fear death and anything that becomes a reminder of it.

Still, he says, there are two ways to consider death.
The first is common—we fear it, avoid it, and put it out of our minds. We don’t think about it, and get scared, uneasy, or sad if we have to think about it. 
The second is to face it smartly and face it as early as possible. Huh? Face death?

“Insofar as we can overcome our narcissism, we can overcome our fear of death. For people who learn to do this, the prospect of death becomes a magnificent stimulus for our psychological and spiritual growth. ‘Since I’m going to die anyway, what’s the point of preserving the attachment I have to myself?’ And so they set forth on a journey towards selflessness.”

Facing death involves a stripping away. It whittles down all the accoutrements of success, talent, popularity, achievement, material possessions. It forces us to ask questions and make journeys. These journeys aren’t always easy. But, the less fearful we are of death, the less fearful we become of life. This, according to Peck, is the basis for learning to become more loving.

No longer burdened by the need to constantly protect and defend ourselves, we are able to lift our eyes off ourselves and truly recognize others. And we begin to experience a sustained, underlying sense of happiness that we have never experienced before as we become progressively self-forgetful and are able to remember God.” We are able to see deity at work in our lives.

He makes it a point to say that while religion can help people to reckon with death, in the end, everyone has to settle with dying personally at some point. Plus, all the major religions tell us that “the path away from narcissism is a path toward meaning in life.” The message of these religions is “learn how to die.” Buddhism and many other eastern religions advocate the idea of losing one's ego and becoming one with the world. The idea echoes in John 12:24, and when Jesus paradoxically says that if we lose our lives, we’ll find them. Christian baptism by immersion is symbolic of death and rebirth, as are many other religious rituals.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suicidal. But I think about death a lot. I believe that facing death and coming to terms with our ultimate fate can awaken us. It invigorates us and makes us see that our curse is also our blessing—that we can live purposefully with the time that we have left.
I admire literature, art, and music pieces that re-examine the topic with honesty, questioning, and true interest. I admire it when artists personify death without making it a grim reaper. I think we can learn a lot from death, and these genres and forms are uniquely suited to present it in a way that can help us grow. Here are some creative works I love—to death.

Meet Joe Black—I could go on for days about how much I love this movie. Maybe I’ll write about it sometime. Death comes to life as “Joe Black,” and is endearing and frightening, innocent and cunning at the same time. Death falls in love with life, doesn’t want to let it go, but has to. While on his trip, he powerfully reminds those he touches what is important in life, especially Bill Parrish, played by Anthony Hopkins. Everyone should see this movie. If you know me, I might let you borrow it.

Departures—this movie won an Oscar for best foreign film the year it came out. In Japanese culture, touching the dead is seen as taboo, but people have to do it because people die. When a man has to “depart” from everything he’s known and start a job in the morgue/funeral industry, he realizes that there’s much more to death—and life—than he thought before. Beautiful movie. If nothing else, the score will make you cry.

Ghost Town—This movie is great because it is hilarious and poignant at the same time. Again, death teaches a dentist to become vulnerable, to let others in, and become healed through love. It tells a great “trooth.”  (There are some really great puns, also)

The Book Thief- While I haven’t made it through the book enough enough, I do know that Death is the narrator, which is awesome.

La Dama Del Alba—This is a Spanish Play where death is the heroine. I don’t really remember a lot about it except death is personified as a woman (who happens to be the heroine). I read it in Spanish class.

Television Shows
Pushing Daisies—While Ned has the touch of death, he also has the touch of life. And though mostly whimsical, the series also touches on pretty heavy themes in life—like regret, choices, becoming vulnerable, telling the truth, and… well, there are more. The two main characters do an excellent job.

Death and All of His Friends—Coldplay’s Viva La Vida soundtrack featured death quite a bit. In fact, this band is often facing death artistically. I particularly like “Now My Feet Won’t Touch the Ground.”
Waltzing Past the Grave—Jay Clifford. A lovely little waltz.

And of course, I couldn’t leave the table without mentioning this LOTR quote:

“PIPPIN: I didn't think it would end this way.

GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?

GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

PIPPIN: Well, that isn't so bad.

GANDALF: No. No, it isn't.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Camera Angst

An Essay I wrote in June 2011-- a little loquacious, but that's ok.

The Original Camera Angst

I’m slightly tortured every time I push down the silver button to open the shutter on my camera. Just when I think I’ve captured something, some moment, I’m reminded of time and stung by its spinning wheel.  In the moment that light hits the aperture, I remember that the picture I take will end and be bound by the edges of the frame and the rectangular shape of most pictures. I realize that I could not take enough pictures to capture whatever moment is present—it's fleeting and leaves even as I think about it. Even if I could take enough pictures, I don’t think I’d want them, because to capture something doesn’t restore it. I’d miss something if I tried.  
            I am traveling—I have been for the past seven weeks. Often, I have asked myself: how, in the understanding that all my treasured moments must end—all the places I visit, foods I eat, and flowers I smell must end and be left— do I store away these memories more effectively for later use? How can I record the instances in a way which will communicate them meaningfully to others? I am no historian, but I do practice, as other tourists do, the habits of snapping photos, recording videos, and purchasing souvenirs.  I have, as faithfully as possible, kept a journal and a travelogue. I have kept ticket stubs, gathered rocks, pressed flowers, and colored little pictures in an attempt to preseve the moments and store up what I’ve lived through for future recollection—as though it won’t happen naturally.
            Sometimes I second guess myself—do I not have enough faith in my own brain and mind to believe I will remember? We are creatures whose existences are fueled almost solely by our memories and we rise above all other species because we can hang onto our experiences. We call the recollection of these experiences knowledge. And I, a student in ardent pursuit of truth and goodness, can certainly memorize. So I pat myself on the back.
            But then again, I’m astonished by the number of objects I have misplaced and left behind at the hostels we’ve stayed at. I couldn’t remember the other day whether I’d packed my cell phone for the day or not, because if I had, it was lost forever in the underbelly of London.  (I hadn't packed it)
            So no, in some cases, I can’t trust my own mind, which is why I take pictures, keep scraps, and write. Since I can’t stop time, I hope these will fence the moment in, corral it.
            There’s still that little sting though, every time I click the camera to take a photo, because I realize… memory cards (aptly named) can only hold so many images. Writing is a sacrifice of time  which could otherwise be spent in the creation of other experiences. If I spent my time drawing the landscape, I cannot, at the same time, use my feet and explore it. If I gather rocks on the ground, my eyes miss the sky above me. I could wait an entire afternoon for the lighting to be just right to get a great picture—and then not even appreciate it.  And I could spend so much of my time planning how to remember that all I actually remember is the planning itself. You squeeze the knot too tightly-- and what’s important slips out.
            I echo Wallace Steven’s sentiment:
            I do not know which to prefer, the beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes
The blackbird whistling, or just after.
            What forces make a memory?  Do I, through my physical motion and choice, through opening my eyes, make the moment what it is? Do I fashion the memory, or does it fashion itself? And why do I need to know so badly about the forces of enframing and shaping memory? Of enframing, shaping, and fashioning life?
            Eventually, all things will be swallowed up, either by time or by the sun exploding or by the big crunch. I know. Everything moves, everything changes, all things must pass away.
            But it still matters to me. If I were a pygmy, it would still matter. Instant, or innuendo?
            I stare out across a bay. The day is windy so the waves of the water are crested with white foam. I can hear the seagulls and the whishing of the waves, like a mother trying to coddle her stubborn child (the shore) to sleep. It’s beautiful.
            I can’t explain to you everything about this moment and its beauty, but I can give you that. Future self, I pray you will remember. To both of you, try to imagine.
            Imagine a little wave that you’ve singled out from your high precipice above the bay. Because you love the moment, you love the wave. Even as it crashes down into the water, disappearing from the blue, you love it. Another fills its place-- this one you also love. You love the moments and the waves, because here is the photograph you will take come to life. You are loving what can never be captured, so you drink it in gladly. Free from pixilation or rasterization, the waves astound you. If you love the moment, you must love the change as well, right?
            What gives me a moment—time—also gives the waves the ability to play upon themselves, gives the cloud a period to slide over and off of the sun.
            So I love the very thing that fills me with angst—time. Only time and change can cause love within me. Again, Wallace Stevens says it better:
            "Is there no change of death in paradise?

Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,

Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,

With rivers like our own that seek for seas

They never find, the same receding shores

That never touch with inarticulate pang?"
"Death [change] is the mother of beauty, mystical, within whose burning bosom we devise our earthyl mothers waiting sleeplessly."
Gosh that's pretty. I don't even know what it means but it sounds so nice.
There will be more moments and more things I will be able to love. They will rise up into being, frothy and present. But if you love the little wave, you have to remember and appreciate all the ocean beneath it, too. How can you love the little wave without embracing, or wanting to embrace, the entirety of oceans and seas everywhere? The surface of the moment may recede down into the depths of memory as the particular water droplets may sink deeper into the sea. Both may be hidden and tucked away, never to return or be retrieved. But each moment, like each molecule of water, somehow finds a way to be renewed, like the waters of a Roman bath that bubble warmly up somehow after thousands of years-- through layers of sediment, even.
            Like the water,  memories have a way of rising again, called to mind by a smell, sound, or texture.
            And sometimes, even if you can’t quite remember everything, the knowledge that the thing did happen is enough. My feet, resting side by side, walked each step of the mountain. They carry no blisters or signs of having climbed two mountains, yet there they are, bearing my body day in and day out.  We did climb a mountain, two in fact.
Ben Lomond, one of the mountains we climbed
            There is a kind of love which can overcome the fears, doubts, and troubles of dealing with time--a kind of love that can make a friend even of death and change.
            Sang the Eagles: “You may lose and you may win, but you will never be here again.”
            So take it easy, Em.
            “As this loud brook’s incessant fall in streaming rings restagnates all,
            Which reach by course the bank and then are no more seen; just so pass men.”
           We close our eyes for a moment, and that moment is gone. But the moment gives as it takes, and really, the present moment is all that we have.
            So I’m opening my arms as wide as my aperture. I’m going to love as many of the moments as I can, and let them fall into the satchel of my memory.  Hear that? There’s the sound of a moment passing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

...what I was going to post for Valentine's Day

On Marriage
Kahlil Gibran

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

"Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss" -Antonio Canova, Louvre

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Tunes

Thanks to the benevolence of Cam's mom, our band (newly rechristened Thesaurus Rex) was able to record four of our best songs in the month of November. We recorded and mixed for a total of 24 hours over two days. It was a great experience. Noisebox Studios treated us well and everybody was pretty pleased with how things turned out.
Take a listen!

Hide and Seek--
Written by me
Guitar and Vocals- Emily
Second Guitar and mandolin- Sam
Bass and Backup Vocals- Keaton
Backup vocals- Sarah
Drums- Brady

Hide and Seek

Suicidal Phoenix (name might be changed later)
Written by Sam
Guitars- Sam
Bass- Cam
Keys- Keaton
Drums- Brady
Claps- Cam and Keaton

This is my brother's first song-- not bad. He was channeling Coldplay, if you can't tell by the solo.

Suicidal Phoenix

Here are the other two, by Keaton and Cameron, respectively. On behalf of the band, I welcome your comments, compliments, and criticisms. Thanks!

1889- Keaton

Another Sky- Cameron
Another Sky

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Miss Representation

I really liked the preview for this new documentary called "Miss Representation." While I do wonder how motherhood plays into women not choosing to pursue prestigious positions which no doubt require so much time and effort, I think that much of what is said in this trailer concerning media construction of gender hits the nail right on the head. It needs to be shared.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This is Halloween

Presenting the Meta-pumpkin. By Me.