I Would Like to Thank the Academy…

I was pleased to discover, around 11:00 one night, that my blog had been nominated for the Liebster Award by one of my favorite fellow writers. It is nice to know that there really are folks out there who are interested in what–if anything–I have to say.

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And now…to the protocol!

Move the First: Thank the Liebster-winner who nominated you.

Thanks, Muggle! I have enjoyed reading your thoughts and look forward to reading more. I’m happy to hear you have enjoyed reading mine, as well. (Visit Muggle’s blog. No, really, visit it! Now!)

Move the Second: Post eleven facts about yourself.

  1. I collect turtles. Figurines, not real ones. Although I do have a red-eared slider named Turtimus Maximus (which is what happens when you watch Gladiator right before naming a pet).
  2. If it involves bacon, I love it. One of my favorite restaurants is even named Bacon. Guess what they serve…
  3. While working as a stagehand for Stages-St. Louis, in St. Louis, Missouri, I accidentally set a prop player piano on fire when I crossed the wires on the car battery that ran it. It was an accident. I swear!
  4. My absolute favorite place in this world is Holy Island, off the northeast coast of England.
  5. My second favorite place in this world is the Durst family farm, outside of Butler, Missouri.
  6. I love the BBC more than life itself. My favorite BBC show is ALL OF THEM.
  7. I am genetically incapable of producing adequate facial hair, but refuse to accept the fact, so I tend to look like an overgrown adolescent. When I do shave, I just look like an adolescent…
  8. I believe searching is more important than finding.
  9. I lived in Argentina from my 11th to my 18th birthday.
  10. I love being an uncle, and I have no desire to be a parent.
  11. I am at heart an introspective romantic, and I hide it behind a mask of sarcastic jackassery.

Move the Third: Answer the questions posed by the nominating blogger.

1. What book/show do you think everyone should read/watch?

  • Book: Here’s a few–Death of a Hero, by Richard Aldington; The Glory and the Dream, by William Manchester; for your kids, the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary. Show: Anything by Joss Whedon (my personal favorite is Angel–it’s a much deeper show than people give it credit for) or Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing inspired me into grad school).

2. Is there anything you would change about your life? If so, what?

  • I would live overseas again. Preferably in the UK, and there, probably in Scotland. I think the Highlands are one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

3. What is your favorite food/drink?

  • It’s a toss-up between bacon and Doritos (the good old nacho cheese variety, not those wannabe follow-up flavors…).

4. Are you religious?

  • No, in that I do not subscribe to any particular religion (at the moment); yes, in that I understand religion as the impulse toward meaning and the unknown, regardless of the finer print, and the ongoing search for enlightenment and a deeper understanding of life and my reason for being, a search in which I’m heavily invested. In the latter respect, I think we’re all just a little religious, whether we identify as such or not.

5. If you could only choose one vacation spot for the rest of your life, where would it be?

  • The UK. No question. I have been many places, and I’ve never enjoyed myself more.

6. If you could go into space, would you?

  • “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise, its continuing mission, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Does this answer your question…?

7. If you were reincarnated after you die, would you want to retain your memories of this life?

  • I’d never really thought about it, but I think No. Life is an adventure that I think must be lived from scratch. I like the idea of the tabula rasa, of becoming all over again.

8. Do you consider yourself a writer?

  • As they would say in Argentina, I consider myself proyecto de, an ongoing project, if you will. But I want desperately to be one, and it colors my approach to all the other things I do in life. I’ve published several times, in academic journals and one actual book. Does that make me a writer? Not sure. Does living make me a human? Hmmm….

9. Do you believe in ghosts?

  • I would say, with Fox Mulder, “I want to believe.” I have done my time sitting in a darkened car on rural roads outside ruined old family cemeteries, hoping to see something surprising. Hasn’t happened yet, but I’m still watching…

10. I love quotes. What is one of your favorites?

  • My favorite quote of all time, and the one that means the most to me, is the one found on the header of my blog, from the Crane poem “Think As I Think” : “I will, then, be a toad.” I first read that poem in the 11th grade, and it has been my governing philosophy in life ever since.

11. Do you have any comments about my blog you would like to make?

  • It is one of my favorites, and I always look forward to new entries. You explore topics that lots of people shy away from, and it encourages me to say what’s really on my mind. I would not, I think, be able to talk so freely about the things I believe, if I didn’t know you and others like you were out there, listening…

Move the Fourth: Ask eleven questions of your own.

  1. What was your favorite vacation/trip?
  2. What is the one event you live for and never miss?
  3. What is your biggest pet peeve?
  4. Life: Is it journey or destination?
  5. What is a food you hated as a kid, but really, really enjoy now?
  6. How do you define “progress”?
  7. What makes work satisfying for you?
  8. If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
  9. Aliens: Are they out there?
  10. Who was your favorite teacher?
  11. When you vacation, do you fly or drive, and why?

Move the Fifth: Nominate 11 blogs (doesn’t have to be eleven) that you feel deserve recognition. These blogs should have less than 200 followers to the best of your knowledge.

These are some of the folks I think more of us should hear more from. Each one of them inspires me in their own way: some make me think, some make me scowl, and then think, and some just make me laugh so hard I cry…

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Backwards with Time

Corinna Keefe

On Being a Dad

faithfully doubting

Educate for Texas

Shadows of Our Feelings

tehsocialgeek

Verbalizations & Such

The Perks of Being Young and Inquisitive

What Would Nadia Do?

Move the Sixth: Display award badge on blog.

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What I Believe, Pt.1

Not too long ago, someone asked me, point-blank, what I believe. I did not know what to tell them. Mainly because I had no clue. Mind you, I had been in “professional ministry” in Christian churches for almost a decade (three years as youth minister at a small, rural church in Missouri, followed by five as pastor of another very small church outside of Waco, Texas). I had a Bachelor’s degree in Christian ministries (whatever that means) and a Master’s degree in church-state studies (don’t ask; nobody knows). Moreover, I am the son of Southern Baptist missionaries, a pastor’s kid–an MK/PK, for those in the know–and grew up surrounded by people who made religion and its transmission their life’s work. And with all that training, with that sort of resume up my sleeve, I had no clue how to tell someone what I believed.

This wasn’t always the case. For many, many years, I would have happily and concisely told you exactly what I believed. Just like I stood behind pulpits and in front of youth groups and told lots of folks exactly what I believed. I was absolutely sure, for a very long time, that I knew how things of faith worked, how a life of faith should look, who God was, how to talk to Him (Him, not Her–’cause that’d be wrong). I knew who was going to Heaven, who to Hell. I of course fell firmly into the first category. I had walked that aisle, the old Sawdust Trail, been through those cleansing waters, and come out a cock-sure, self-satisfied, born-again believer. I was in the Lord’s Army, sword and all.

So, what happened?

The short answer is, I started to think about things instead of just accepting them, instead of just doing and saying as I was told. When I did that, I began to realize what it means to believe, and to understand that “believing” is decidedly NOT what I had been doing for all those long, confident years. Because, you see, to really believe something, you have to test it, weigh it, roll it around on your tongue and get a sense for the bouquet, the vintage. You have to kick the tires, take it for a test drive. And when you’re out there on the highway and the fender falls off, you’ve got to seriously consider moving on to a different dealership.

Well, my fender fell off. And when it did, I had no choice but to start over from scratch, to go back to the drawing board. I was scared to death. I was also exhilarated, renewed. Excited at the possibilities; frightened at the prospect of a deconstructed worldview that, as it turns out, was inherited rather than chosen. And in the process, I was born again, again.

But this is not going where you may think. You see, I am now, as Divided Heaven would have it, a born-again non-believer–at least insofar as Christianity is concerned. I have been told time and again, by my former fellows, that I no longer have the right to call myself a Christian, and I’m tired of arguing with them. More importantly, whether or not I have the right to do so, I really no longer have the desire. For one thing, I’m not a huge fan of labels–more on that later; really, though, I’m tired of what that particular label has meant in my life, and of what I see it has meant in the lives of others, and I don’t care to be its advertising executive anymore.

Still, though, while I don’t believe a lot of the stuff I once would have claimed without a second thought, it’s important to me to know what it is that I do believe. For starters, I believe that life without belief is meaningless, purposeless, and a total waste of time. I also believe that we are defined by our beliefs, and when my entry comes up in the Webster’s, I want to be damn sure I can be proud of what it says. So, here I am on this journey of certain uncertainty, trying to figure it all out. And, since I think best when I think out loud (a fact which drives my co-workers bat-crap crazy), I’m taking you lot along with me.

I don’t know if anyone out there cares to meet this side of me, but here I am, in all my crazy, inconsistent mental milieu. I know where I’ve been. I’m not sure where I’m going. But, then, who ever is…?

Road Trips with Plato

Desert highway.
Radio playing.
Frequency changing,
Never staying the same
As I pass from signal to signal,
An innocent listener caught
In the middle of life and of death,
Sometimes an Other, sometimes
Myself, but always
A stranger.

A Life in Several Stanzas

I

I didn’t do the things you told me
Not to do, true. But who does that leave
Me now? How am I supposed to cope with
The subtle extinguishing of hope within
My chest that promises more rest than
I am worth? From birth directed, always as
Expected: passivity perfected is all that’s left
Inside, so open wide and flash that toothy grin
That offers sin wrapped in remorse, gift horse to
My dentist.

II

The poet doesn’t know it; no
Seed will ever grow it. The
Human eye can see it, if it manages to
Free itself from the oppressiveness of vision for
One soul-blinding second. Reckoned in aeons,
Gone in minutes: no matter how you spin it, it
Never quite stops spinning, its neon
Afterglow trimming the stars within its orbit,
Arcing through the darkness, a never-likened
Likeness of a face forever hidden, and it swirls,
Unbidden.

III

When this rocking horse stops rocking and
The finish line comes knocking at my
Inconsequence, with what eloquence will I
Announce the lifetime I renounced and now
Search for in despair? Will I find it is not there? Not
Anywhere at all but in the thoughts of pious mermaids,
Awash in holy marmalade smeared on tasteless
Wafers? Am I safer for the knowledge, or by it am I
Vanquished? Is this banquet for the eating
Of those whose hearts are beating, or must it
Wait and rot, for those whose hearts
Are not?

Freshly Pressed

One day I wrote a few words that impressed;
My prose, dressed up nicely in Sunday best. I
Was pleased, honored, flattered; but couldn’t have guessed:
Now every new day feels quite like a test…

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Baa Baa Black

Out of the wilderness, black sheep
Bleating; dead heart beating, receding,
Retreating from overcrowded solitude.
Verisimilitude erased. Chaser chased by
Pursuers pursued; thoughts eschewed and
Reclaimed, never named, always
Blamed, reframed and reworded. Absurdity
Burdened by unloaded guilt in a quilt of patchwork
Heartbreak, headache. Namesake of nothing; ever
Becoming in the midst of unravel. Gavel falls: broken
Walls collapsing, altars lapsing in clouds of
Holy dust consecrated in blood obviated by ongoing
Martyrdom. Tilted cross at a loss for repeated
Explanation. All is obfuscation and
Doubt. Let me
Out!

Heroes, Unplugged

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One of the perqs of working as a cataloger is the fact that a good portion of the library’s incoming materials crosses my desk at some point in its journey from box to shelf. Two years ago, I intercepted a book about the development of the British and Irish novel between 1880 and 1940, and as I worked it over, I discovered a wonderfully abundant bibliography at the end of the book that listed every novel discussed within its pages. As anyone who knows me even in passing can tell you (probably with a sigh), I am a bit obsessed with anything having to do with the British Isles, so I rushed down to the office photocopier and ran myself a copy. And then I started working my way through it, A to Z.

On my second outing, I hit paydirt. Which brings me to the third installment of the Big List, featuring Richard Aldington’s Death of a Hero (1929). [Sidenote: Up until fairly recently, this book was out of print, hard to find, and hard on the pocketbook. However, it has just this year been released as a Penguin Classic, which you can order here for a mere $12.00.]

The 1920s were a compelling time in British literary history, as the people of the Isles struggled to come to terms with the horrors of the Great War and the swift kick to the shins it doled out to progressivist thinkers. An entire generation of men had disappeared without a trace, mowed down in the trenches of Flanders and other points along the Western Front. The inevitable tendency of human history toward the good no longer held up to social scrutiny. Into this pregnant pause stepped Aldington and others like him, men who had braved the French fields and made it home alive…and who were all too conscious of those others who did not. They were angry; they were disillusioned; they longed to give the finger to the “Dulce et Decorum” crowd and tell them they could all go to hell on a one-way train. And nobody did it better than Aldington, through his (anti-)hero George Winterbourne. So much so, that the first edition of the book was heavily censored. (Rather than bow to the demands of his publishers, Aldington insisted that the book be published with bracketed ellipses in place of the redacted text.)

Death of a Hero follows the ill-fated ramblings of young Winterbourne from his infancy onward, chronicling the sociocultural machine that oversaw his development and, ultimately, hung him out to dry. In the process, the novelist brilliantly deconstructs (and then redefines) the heroic ideal that had in turn-of-the-century Britain become synonymous with the idea of patriotism, to the point that the one was assumed to dictate the other. As the War on Terror continues to rear its ugly head around the world, spawning greater and greater conflicts even in its resolution, Aldington’s observations have become timely once again.

I leave you with one of my favorite passages from the book:

“George, though he didn’t realise it then, wasn’t going to be a bit of any damned Empire’s backbone, still less part of its kicked backside. He didn’t mind going to hell, and disgracing himself and his parents and his House and The School, if only he could go to Hell in his own way. That’s what they couldn’t stand—the obstinate passive refusal to accept their prejudices, to conform to their minor-gentry, kicked-backside-of-the-Empire code. They worried him, they bullied him, they frightened him with cock-and-bull yarns about Smut and noses dropping off; but they didn’t get him. I wish he hadn’t been worried and bullied to death by those two women. I wish he hadn’t stood up to that machine-gun just one week before the Torture ended. After he had fought the swine (i.e. the British ones) so gallantly for so many years. If only he had hung on a little longer, and come back, and done what he wanted to do! He could have done it, he could have “got there”; and then even “The School” would have fawned on him. Bloody fool! Couldn’t he see that we have only one duty—to hang on, and smash the swine?”

Happy reading!

Corinna Keefe

As the second installment of the “Big List,” I want to introduce you to my new favorite blogger: Corrina Keefe. If you’re interested (and trust me, you SHOULD be interested), check out her latest post, “A poetic reason to write more,” here.

Nothing gets my blood (and my brain) pumping faster than words, well-used words, words that are playful, loving, cleverly arranged. This morning, I had the distinct pleasure of stumbling across exactly that sort of thing. Writing that is so complex and full of meaning, revealed and hidden, that you want to read it over and over again to ensure complete comprehension, and that even then leaves a sneaking suspicion that one more reading might uncover just a bit more meaning. Words carefully selected, like eggs: cautiously, because fragile, judiciously, because (as everyone knows about eggs, and few understand about words) the one that’s rotten spoils the dozen. Words assembled with such skill that I doubt the adequacy of my own to do them justice.

I’ve offered a link to one specific post on this marvelous blog, but my inclusion of this talented writer in my list is in recognition of the blog in general. Read it all. It’ll be worth it.

And to the blogger in question: Thanks for giving my morning a nice sort of buzz. I look forward to reading the rest of your work myself, and to the things you have yet to write.