Thursday, December 31, 2009
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
The sincerity of his words were moving, but I still thought it was a weird thing to say.
I've kept an eye out for medievalists since then. They are generally easy to spot, mostly because they are the only ones in the neighborhood who dress like Robin Hood. They like to do medieval things, like lay siege to a dog house or storm a mailbox. Also, they are the only people you know with names like "Ulf" or "Hrothgar" or "Erowen."
It is easy to poke fun at these people. Outsiders interpret their behavior as a strange attempt to escape the modern world. I don't know if that is the case, but I wouldn't put it past either Ulf or Hrothgar. Anyone who would lay siege to a dog house is escaping something.
Still, I think there much that we--the outsiders, the modernists--could learn from these medievalists.
Take Sir Harry Andrews, for instance. Harry Andrews was a committed medievalist. He spent the last fifty years of his life building a medieval-ish castle (christened "Chateau Laroche," but best known locally as the "Loveland Castle") along the Little Miami River in Loveland, Ohio.
Why did Sir Harry do it?
Good question. During my recent visit to the Loveland Castle, the man who took my admission fee ($3.00 a person) explained that Harry built the castle because his loyal knights (who were actually members of his Boy Scout troop) needed one.
Fair enough, I thought. At least he didn't do it to impress girls.
* * *
Although I grew up only a town away from Sir Harry's Chateau Laroche, I never got around to visiting it until this week. My expectations were high; I had heard and read a lot of good things about the castle. On their official website, for example, Sir Harry's knights, the Knights of the Golden Trail (KOGT), describe it (and themselves) in these terms:
"Chateau Laroche was built as an expression and reminder of the simple strength and rugged grandeur of the mighty men who lived when Knighthood was in flower.
"It was their knightly zeal for honor, valor and manly purity that lifted mankind out of the moral midnight of the dark ages and started it towards the gray dawn of human hope.
"Present human decadence proves a need for similar action. Already the ancient organization of Knights have been re-activated to save society.
"Any man of high ideas who wishes to help save civilization is invited to become a member of the Knights of the Golden Trail, whose only vows are the Ten Commandments.
"Chateau Laroche is the World headquarters of this organization, started in 1927."
Wow! Who wouldn't, on the "simple strength and rugged grandeur" of that description, expect anything but the best from the world headquarters of a society that "wishes to save civilization" from "present human decadence"? Personally, I was so inspired by those words that I nearly forsook the modern world and changed my name to Unferth.
Good thing I'm not a drinking man.
What can be said about Sir Harry's magnum opus? The exterior of the castle is impressive, especially when you consider that Sir Harry did it all with his two knightly hands. And, to their credit, the KOGT have done a nice job keeping Sir Harry's castle grounds courtly and colorful. I mean, if I were throwing a medieval-themed wedding (or even a medieval-themed Tupperware party), I would throw it there. As castles along the Little Miami go, it's one of the more picturesque.
Still, inside the castle is a different story. While the KOGT are big on saving civilization, they are not big on dusting. Walking through the castle, I felt like I was taking a tour of the home of Pig Pen, Charlie Brown's perpetually dusty friend. Everything--Sir Harry's framed photographs, swords, and suits of armor--was covered with the stuff. I think I even saw where some medieval smart aleck had taken a finger to the dust and written the words "WASH ME" in both Celtic and Old English.
Don't get me wrong: the Loveland Castle is worth the three dollar admissions fee--even with the dust that hasn't moved a millimeter since 1985.
You see, Sir Harry's Chateau Laroche is a monument to the Independent Spirit. To the rest of us, Sir Harry and every other hard core medievalist seem like they're three motes shy of a drawbridge, but they don't seem to care. They are who they are, chain mail and all. They seize that independent spirit with a gauntlet of steel.
It takes a lot of courage to be a dork in this world. It takes even more courage to be a dork with a big dream. Sir Harry had a big dusty dream, and he made it a reality. That's more than most people can say.
Friday, June 12, 2009
I remember writing it late one night. Sarah and I were still living in Provo. Connor was probably just a baby. We lived on the bottom floor of an apartment building next to a laundromat, so we always had people walking past our living room window. Apparently, on the night I wrote this poem I let my imagination run wild.
I can tell that I wrote it at a time when I was still taking myself seriously as a poet. It has that sound to it. I also wrote it at a time when I was trying to write longer poems, which explains its wordiness.
On Hearing Someone Sing Outside My Window
If I were alone and somewhere else—
in a cabin, maybe, in the secluded forests
of central Alaska—the soft singing
I just heard outside my window would be
disconcerting, if not scary.
I have seen enough movies to know
isolation provides the perfect setting for madmen
and murderers to play mind games on hapless
campers before finally finishing them off
with a sharp ax or kitchen knife.
If that were the case—if I were alone
in the woods with only the four walls of a cabin
to separate me from a suspicious song—
my imagination, which usually trampolines
to the grizzliest conclusions, would get the better
of me. In the initial fear of those first notes,
my body would shiver; salty drops
of sweat would run down the sides of my ribs
like earthworms, drenching the armpits
of my flannel shirt. My breathing, of course, would be
as labored as a freight train wheezing through the night,
my heartbeat like an alarm clock without a snooze
button. Even my toes, which are always so calm,
would panic and scramble for sanctuary.
After this rebellion of my senses is
quelled, I would barricade the door and windows
with my furniture, turning my rough-hewn
tables and chairs on their sides, pushing them
against anything that would allow access
to my rustic domain. Only then, with the cabin secure,
would I listen again for the eerie song of the stranger,
placing my ear, perhaps, to a drinking glass
against the wall. If I’m lucky, I would hear nothing,
the maniac singer having moved on to a cabin more worthy
of his art, one full of teenagers on spring break.
If I’m not so lucky—which is usually
how these things go for me—I would hear
the stranger’s song still outside my window
rise to a hideous crescendo, followed by a murderous,
But I am not in a cabin in central Alaska.
I live in an apartment beside a Laundromat
where the procrastinators of the day go to wash
their clothes at night. The stranger, no doubt,
is some musically-inclined college student
who returned home from a good day with her books
only to discover, with some chagrin, that she had
no clean clothes for tomorrow—
hardly a maniacal ax murderer poised to hack away
my door, slice through the craftsmanship
of my barricade, and spill my blood on a grand scale
with plenty of splatter for the horrified investigators.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Swine Flu Blues
My nose ran like a faucet,
So now I’m on the news.
My friends won’t dare to look my way.
I’ve got the Swine Flu Blues.
It started out as allergies,
Then turned into a cold,
And then I heard about this Flu
And placed my life on hold.
I bought a blue mask, just in case;
Flu meds I had to steal.
I looked around for kosher pork
To fix a pork-less meal.
I shunned my friends from Mexico,
Unlearned the Spanish tongue.
I plan to boycott Taco Bell
Before this song is sung.
So, as my heath care bills amass,
The doctors claim I’m fine.
But I know best: I’ll soon be gone.
These Swine Flue Blues are mine.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H. W. Brands
Good--but what's the real story?
Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
So lame. Mediocre TV miniseries material.
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
Better than Morrison's overrated novel, Beloved.
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn
Batman versus Jack the Ripper: Awesome.
Batman: Year One by Frank Miller
Should be titled: Gordon: Year One.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Worse than X2? Are you serious?
A Boy Named Charlie Brown
Real winners are losers. Good grief.
Ignore the critics. Reason: Racer X!
Monday, March 2, 2009
Friday, February 27, 2009
My wife has recently posted excerpts from my old journal on her blog, mostly as a way to mock me. I have decided to do the same.
From 6/12/1997 to 8/28/1998 I kept the journal. I was a senior in High School at that time. A lot of what I wrote is really lame. Some of what I wrote is kind of funny, even though I didn't mean for it to be funny at the time. I took myself very seriously then, and the journal ended before I learned to laugh at myself.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Darlin’, I can't stop the rain
The notion that love and relationships are the only anchors in troubled times is repeated several times throughout the album. In “Lucky Day,” for example, the singer takes comfort in the knowledge that “In the dark of this exile / I felt the grace of your smile.” Likewise, in “This Life,” the singer reflects on “This emptiness I've roamed / Searching for a home,” ultimately concluding that “With you I have been blessed, what more can you expect.”
I'm in love with the queen of the supermarket
In “Life Itself,” which is possibly the best song on the album, Springsteen continues to explore the darker side of love. In this song, the singer is caught in a demanding relationship with a self-destructive lover:
Springsteen, of course, is ambiguous about gender in “Life Itself,” suggesting that the lot of the singer is more universal than unique to men only or women. So, too, seem to be the questions asked of the listener:
Why do the things that we treasure most, slip away in time
Till to the music we grow deaf, to God's beauty blind
Till we fall away in our own darkness, a stranger to our own hearts
These questions, in many ways, cut at the heart of the optimism in Working on a Dream, for they remind listeners that “the things that connect us”—i.e. love and relationships—often carry a high price, especially in demanding relationships like that in “Life Itself.” The singer’s frequent repetition of the phrase “I can’t make it without you,” however, illustrates the depth of his or her seemingly irrational reliance on a connection that will inevitably prove destructive. The singer’s voice, after all, is sincere; he or she seems willing to face inevitable destruction for the chance to “make it”—so much so, in fact, that the singer ends the song with a toast of commitment to the relationship:
So here's one for the road, here's one to your health and to
“Life Itself” stands alone in its bleakness. Most of Working on a Dream remains upbeat, often in spite of its awareness of hard times. The title track, “Working on a Dream,” is catchy and fun to sing along to. “Good Eye” is another good track, although it is largely incoherent. “What Love Can Do” is one of the best songs on the album, as is the bonus track “The Wrestler.” The peppiest song on the album is a mediocre track entitled “Surprise, Surprise,” which easily wins the “Most Obnoxious Chorus” award:
Well, surprise, surprise, surprise
One low point on the album, however, is the song "This Life," which has good lyrics but a forgettable melody. The same can almost be said about the song "Kingdom of Days," which is a love song about growing old. "Kingdom of Days" is growing on me, though.
Sing away, sing away, sing away, sing away
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
People still preserve communication. In fact, our society has become so communication-saturated that it seems almost impossible not to preserve communication, since the digital forums through which we transmit our communications often do the preservation and archiving for us. Still, while I have a digital record of all of my e-mail sent since 2005, I have no hard copy to speak of. Should I buy the proverbial farm, so to speak, kick the fatal bucket, or shuffle off the mortal coil, my family and friends will have no access to my digital correspondences unless they know the password for my e-mail account. My question, therefore, is this: what happens to such digital correspondences when the forums or technology that produce them become outmoded and obsolete? What will happen to your g-mail archive--or your blog, for that matter--when Google goes bust?
In many ways, we now approach written communication as something relatively disposable. To be sure, written communication has never been more popular. Text messaging, for example, has enabled people to carry on conversations in real time without ever opening their mouths. E-mail and online message boards have made correspondence faster and easier. Blogs have given everyone (including me) the opportunity to become a published writer--even if they have nothing to say. What is more, Facebook and other social networking sites have made it possible, via the "status update" feature, for people to create an hourly (yea, even a minute-to-minute) written record of their daily activities. No other era in history has written more than our own. Yet, what are the collected works of our era but words written on the swift current of an ever-widening river?
Two hundred years from now historians will likely face two problems. First, in their efforts to analyze and interpret our day and age, they will be overwhelmed with the surplus of digital junk--digital photos, documents, etc.--that they have to sift through in order to get at our heart and soul (provided, of course, that the technology needed to access our digital junk is still around). Second, once they are through sifting the digital junk, they will struggle to find our heart and soul because the forms of written communication that we have used to express ourselves most personally--text messages, e-mails, blogs, Facebook statuses, etc.--have been written on forms of disposable digital media. After all, what text-message conversation will outlast a cell phone replacement or an old cell phone plan? What e-mail will survive a discarded or forgotten e-mail address? What minute-by-minute Facebook status record will survive Facebook's inevitable demise? The fact of the matter is this: unless we actively archive our words on some enduring medium, they will be lost to time.
In Founding Brothers, Ellis makes the point that Adams and Jefferson were writing not only for themselves, but also for the generations of Americans who would follow them. That is, they wrote deliberately and with the knowledge that their correspondence would survive. Today, it seems, we often write without much thought for tomorrow. Will our posterity want to read our text messages? Will they want to know what our Facebook status was at 7:32 am on Tuesday, January 27, 2009? Maybe. Maybe not. I am willing to bet, however, that they will want to read something of substance from us--something that reveals, on a personal level, who we were as a generation.
Ernest Hemingway and his contemporaries were called the "Lost Generation" because they were perceived as being morally lost in the post World War I world. In many ways, today's generation is rapidly becoming a new lost generation--a "Lost Digital Generation," if you will--because what it has to say is written instantly, received and processed rapidly, and then immediately deleted.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Friday, January 16, 2009
Saturday, January 10, 2009
1. Never read a history book by an author who is a journalist. Journalists aren't historians and usually do not write very good history. Journalists who are interested in history ought to take lessons from Tony Horwitz. He does not write history--he writes about it.
2. Be wary of novels by New England writers. I have nothing against New England and New Englanders, but I rarely like their novels. Since the days of Emerson and Thoreau, our friends from the Northeast have acted as if they own American literature. Usually, their novels are about self-absorbed thirty-somethings who have no grasp on life and wonder (over the course of 400 pages) why their lives persist in sucking. I recommend reading writers from anywhere south and west of New York.*
3. Avoid memoirs. Memoirs tend to consist of an overabundance of whine and cheese--if you catch my drift. I'm not usually interested in someone's alcohol problem or spiritual odyssey through Southeast Asia. I'd rather watch a Sponge Bob marathon than taint my soul with crap like Eat, Pray, Love or Reading Lolita in Tehran. If I want to read about someone's life, I'll read his or her biography (as long as he or she is dead).**
4. Remember that few novels sold at Wal-mart are worth reading. My heart grew sick the other day when I saw that Wal-mart is selling a mass-market paperback edition of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Sure, good literature seems to be reaching the masses--but what price glory?
5. Avoid novels with a happy endings. Happy endings are for Hollywood. Nothing ruins a novel like a happy ending. As one of my BYU professors put it, a novel that ends happily is a novel that ends too soon. If I hear that a novel is uplifting or inspiring, I usually do not bother with it. I get my daily doses of happiness from real life. When I want to escape the happiness of the world around me, I stick my nose in a depressing book. Catharsis does wonders for the soul.***
* Yes, I know neither Emerson nor Thoreau were novelists. And I know that Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island.
**I once read an excerpt of Eat, Pray, Love and nearly lost both of my eyes when they rolled too far back in my head. I actually don't know much about Reading Lolita--and what I do know about it doesn't interest me. I have read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, which is an example of memoir at its worst. I wouldn't line a hamster cage with that book. Educator Mike Rose has a lot of good things to say about education in America, but his memoir Lives of the Boundary spends far too much time on his often-irrelevant life experiences.
***Not all happy endings are bad. An ambiguous ending has saved many an overly happy ending.