Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rhinoviral Review! A guide for the perplexed

Things I do when I have a head cold that truly seem to help:

1. The Neti-pot (pictured above.)  Sinus irrigation that seems to stave off my natural propensity to transform a rhinoviral infection into a secondary infection, be it in the sinus cavity or the bronchial tubes.  I cannot recommend this invention highly enough.
2. Cold-Eeze lozenges or their generic counterparts.  I swear by them that, taken every second waking hour during a head cold, they genuinely shorten the length and intensity of the cold.  I also employ menthol lozenges, however I assume their effect are purely palliative.
3. Analgesics and lots of them overlapping as often as I can.  Inflammation is your enemy, so pump yourself full of anti-inflammatories I say.
4. Steam.  Breathed in liberally especially upon waking.
5. Lots of sleep.  My mother taught me that if I'm too sick to go to school, I'm too sick to play.  I still have that ethic.  Today, for example, I slept about 16 hours.
6. Lots of fluids, especially those gleaned from citrus fruit.

Things I do when I have a head cold which may or may not work.  I genuinely don't know but do them anyway:

1. Chamomile tea with a spoonful of molasses.
2. Apple cider vinegar.
3. A half a glass of red wine taken in the hour of sleep.
4. Feeding a cold.  These two seem more like an excuse although I am told that the body needs extra nutrients when fighting a virus.  Laurie notes the gusto with which I apply this proverb.
5. Nasal spray.  Used very sparingly and even less so since I've discovered the Neti-pot.  But I was told by my physician many years ago that leaving a sinus cavity congested is a bit like having a rain forest.  An eco-system will evolve there.  I have also heard convincing arguments that nasal sprays can do more harm than good in the "come down."

Things I do when I have a head cold which probably don't help, but I do anyway: '

1. Deny that I have a head cold.

P.S. I am returning to work tomorrow.  Thank you to all of the well wishers and I wish you all a healthy Spring.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fernando Pessoa on my brain

I usually attempt to eschew quotations in my writings aside from the occasional epigram or quotational exclamation point to something I've just said (occasionally sneaking an "appeal to authority" logical fallacy in to see if anyone notices.)  I'll spare you my finger wagging reasons why.  Suffice it to say, I feel better in my writing when quotation is a tool used infrequently.

Having said that, I just came across this passage by the incomparable Fernando Pessoa from  The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Classics)
which, through its high accuracy, struck me to the quick.  Pessoa, along with being one of the greatest writers in history, is clearly a time traveler and a mind reader.  The quote below is a fine illustration of about 1/3rd of the existential dilemma I've been writing about of late.  I think about this all the time and, perhaps if you do too, you may at the very least find a modicum of consolation in the articulation of the existential dread.  You may even feel slightly less lonely.

Lacking the time to formulate an original post for the next day or two, I thought I would post it here to share it, but also to have a place of easy reference for myself (by the way, I hadn't announced it on this blog yet, but I am now officially writing another play.  More on that soon.)  Here's Pessoa:

“If I carefully consider the life men lead, I find nothing to distinguish it from the life of animals. Both man and animal are hurled unconsciously through things and the world; both have their leisure moments; both complete the same organic cycle day after day; both think nothing beyond what they think, nor live beyond what they live. A cat wallows in the sun and goes to sleep. Man wallows in life, with all of its complexities, and goes to sleep. Neither one escapes the fatal flaw law of being what he is. Neither one tries to shake off the weight of being. The greatest among men love glory, but not the glory of a personal immortality, just an abstract immortality, in which they don’t necessarily participate.
"These considerations, which occur to me frequently, prompt an admiration in me for a kind of person that by nature I abhor. I mean the mystics and ascetics—the recluses of all Tibets, the Simeon Stylites of all columns. These men, albeit by absurd means, do indeed try to escape the animal law. These men, although they act madly, do indeed reject the law of life by which others wallow in the sun and wait for death without thinking about it. They really seek, even if on top of a column; they yearn, even if in an unlit cell; they long for what they don’t know, even if in the suffering and martyrdom they’re condemned to.
"The rest of us, living animal lives of varying complexity, cross the stage as walk-ons who don’t speak, satisfied by the pompous solemnity of the crossing. Dogs and men, cats and heroes, fleas and geniuses—we all play at existing without thinking about it (the most advanced of us thinking only about thinking) under the vast stillness of the stars. The others—the mystics of pain and sacrifice—at least feel, in their body and their daily lives, the magic presence of mystery. They have escaped, for they reject the visible sun; they know plenitude, for they’ve emptied themselves of the world’s nothingness.
"Speaking about them, I almost feel like a mystic myself, though I know I could never be more than these words written whenever the whim hits me. I will always belong to the Rua dos Douradores, like all of humanity. I will always be, in verse or prose, an office employee. I will always be, with or without mysticism, local and submissive, a servant of my feelings and of the moments when they occur. I will always be, under the large blue canopy of the silent sky, a pageboy in an unintelligible rite, dressed in life for the occasion, executing steps, gestures, stances and expressions without knowing why, until the feats—or my role in it—ends and I can treat myself to tidbits in the large tents I’ve been told are down below, at the back of the garden.”

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My 34th Birthday

It was a perfect storm of allergens.  Zephyrus was feeling sprightly and it sprinkled just enough to invigorate the tree pollen, not enough to wash any of it away.  As a result I had a low grade sinus headache for my birthday until wine o'clock.

However, first thing upon rising I was greeted by a cheerful knock from the postman who had brought me my recent book order.

The two books are Biblia Sacra Vulgata (Vulgate): Holy Bible in Latin (Latin Edition) and Winnie Ille Pu (Latin Edition). Laurie had a day full of work and meeting, so the rest of my day resembled a more cheerful end of the 'Time Enough At Last' episode of The Twilight Zone had it taken place after the advent of shatterproof lenses.

I've had seafood on my mind for a few weeks and Laurie and I went out for same.

With malice towards none, I will point out Laurie's food in her photo and my folded, patient hands in mine.  Something went terribly wrong with my order twice and I was finally given a complementary meal.  Terribly wrong.  Like I ordered a steak and the first time they brought me a telephone on fire and the second time they brought me cotton gauze drizzled with WD-40.  I felt bad for the server who was afraid we would be mad.  I wanted to explain to her that we were the best possible customers this could happen to for her, that it's just luxury food and they had done me no malicious evil, and that the restaurant had, in fact, given occasion for something memorable on my birthday.  I finally had a nice plate of salmon and shrimp.

And that was my 34th birthday.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Crimes Against Humanities

"By means of beauty all beautiful things become beautiful." - Socrates
In my mid-20s, I had a nervous breakdown.  It came as I was suffering the birth-pangs from the womb of higher education into adulthood, but also as my entire plan for that adult life, which I had been working toward for years, were shattered when the woman I planned to marry dumped me to join a Buddhist meditation community and immediately start seeing someone else.  I went a little cra-cra after that.

At the time I was seeing a psychiatrist-in-training from a local university.  There are clinics that exist in some universities where one can receive analysis, therapy, treatment, the whole she-bang, for a supremely diminished fee.  Personally I feel that, unlike a barber's college, the less experienced may be an asset in this case as the psychiatrist is closer to their education and, more importantly, possibly more current in their understanding of the understanding of workings of the human mind.

The experience helped me through that difficult time and, I think, equipped me for the transition into adulthood in a lot of ways.  It was very helpful and I still highly recommend "#1 on the Stanislavski chart" to everyone.  But a lot of the harder, more existential wrestling matches in my life have been resolved or, at least, ameliorated in some less conventional outlets.  As many of you know, religion has been more of a battlefield than a refuge for me.  So much of my therapy has come from other places.

I was listening to All Things Considered the other day when, to my great surprise, a story came on which struck me rather across the face as being intensely classist.  The story was about the disturbing trend in America of defunding public libraries (as though those were a huge economic drain in the first place.  But I'm already getting ahead of myself.)  The story, however, did not focus on that trend being disturbing.  Instead the story focused on eBooks, specifically the scramble to optimize profits in that industry and the burden that free lending libraries place on that goal.  One solution seems to be the trend toward limiting the amounts of times one can "check out" the virtual intellectual property before the customer (in this case the library) is forced to re-purchase the book.

But hiding in the periphery of the story was the point that has been like a stone in my shoe for the past week.  The person interviewed and the interviewer both suggested that brick and mortar libraries with brick and mortar books are becoming archaic in the digital age.  I felt they even went so far as to suggest that this was common knowledge and a point not open for debate.  I've stated my position on eBooks before.  First of all, I don't have an eBook reader because I never have a disposable income of $100+ to spend on one and most of the books I stuff into my brain through my eyes come into my hands gratis, either by parties who support my decidedly bohemian path, or by the very public libraries that, paradoxically, the public radio program was denigrating.  I am not against eBooks.  In fact, I'm very excited by the world of possibilities they afford, perhaps undermining the Boy's Club publishing industry just as the internet undermined the Boy's Club music industry about a decade ago, and opening the doors for authors who may not have otherwise "made it."  I also think the readers, specifically the Kindle and the Nook, are aesthetically pleasing.  They look like things I would enjoy carrying around.  They also get internet access anywhere, for those times when you're walking down the street thinking "What was the name of that Weimar era cabaret performance artist who staged psycho-sexual nightmares and was fired for breaking a champagne bottle over the head of a patron?"

I live in a poor neighborhood and we have ongoing issues with people who have chosen "substance abuser" as the key selling point on their curriculum vitae.  We live directly in the path between the soup kitchen and the shelter, which occasions all manner of behavior outside of the realm of accepted legal social behavior taking place in and around our front yard.  It also occasions the people who, for any number of reasons, have been thrown out of said soup kitchen or shelter to camp in or around my front yard.  There is a specific older gentleman I'm thinking of who lives in a 1970s one-person sleeper RV filled with detritus which spills out when the door is open, making him into an unwitting Hansel, who camps, lets his dog run free, sells and indulges in what I assume to be methamphetamines, and whose key personality hook, in my experience, seems to be belligerence. The function of the lending library will not be obsolete until that man has unlimited and free access to an eBook reader.  I am not saying that their existence will effect this outcome, but their existence ensures that at any time he can go into that building and learn just about anything.

I have another facet of the argument to illustrate, exiting the tenuous realm of the hypothetical and entering the privileged position of personal testimony.  In a lot of ways, I was a version of the man in that story once.  I was once a drunkard, and I spent a lot of time in front of the television, filling my brain with mediocre crap.  At one point, I had a major health scare that gave occasion for me to reevaluate what I was doing with my life.  The library is where I then went and largely where I have stayed.  I remember one startling realization I had, which is a microcosm of what I am talking about.  Laying on my bed, staring at the cottage cheese ceiling after brushing with mortality,  the scales fell away from my eyes, and I awakened to the knowledge that I'd never at that point heard one of Beethoven's symphonies all the way through, but that I had probably watched days worth of Gilligan's Island.  And I didn't even like Gilligan's Island.

I have a virtual friend, Maura Lafferty, who recently said, "There isn't much in life that can't be solved by Beethoven's 7th." There is a great truth to that statement.

In college, I largely studied the works of, and how to produce productions of, the works of William Shakespeare.   I took a Shakespeare Intensive course through Shakespeare & Company.  We chose a passage from Shakespeare to work on.  The first few days we worked on establishing the emotional connection to the piece.  The latter few we worked on text work (scoring the trochees, spondees, and dactyls, and that sort of thing.)  I chose a short passage from the beginning of The Winter's Tale when Leontes is waxing soliloquific about his nascent suspicion of his wife's infidelity.  I was walked through a series of questions which left me a wailing mass of tears on the floor, what is referred to in psychological circles as "a breakthrough."  I was wailing uncontrollably on the floor like a child having an enraged tantrum being ignored and feeling entirely powerless in a savage, predatory world.  I was unable to stop it and I remember several people coming and holding me down at one point.  Much later I was able to articulate that it was as if I had previously thought I had a well within me, but I then discovered that I had a dormant volcano that extended down to the Earth's molten core.

Later, I had a friend who directed me in a directing-class project of the "wooing of Lady Anne" scene from Richard III.  I played Richard and I obsessively threw myself into the part and the study of the work.  I remember having a moment, and it still haunts me a little, where I became hyper-aware that I, Paul Mathers, could, under the right circumstances, given certain external stimuli, be Richard III.  I could kill.  So could anyone else.  We all have within us the potential for the greatest good and the starkest evil, or anything in-between.  This realization walks around with me.  Sometimes it is supremely encouraging.  Sometimes it is terrifying.

So often I have worked through a problem with the aid of the humanities.  When Rob died last year, as I've so often mentioned, I found no comfort in the places one is commonly sent for comfort in times of grief by well meaning parties.  Much to my surprise, I found so much comfort in what I happened to be reading at the time, which was Plato's accounts of the death of Socrates.  I have had occasion to recommend the same in the past year to a few people who have been struggling in similar ways in their own lives.  

There have been many who have articulated the argument for the humanities far better than I.  It is an age old and, I dare say, aphoristic problem that arts and education tend to take the first and harshest cuts whenever budgets are tightened in a society.  There are even highly insulting terms often employed like "entitlements" or "unmonetizable knowledge" that inevitably rear their ugly heads.  At the risk of being crass, one can imagine the social puppeteers or lunatics who, as the adage would have it, have appropriated the office of the Psychiatric hospital's chief doctor, fully realizing the profit loss of touching the war machine, protecting, creating, and imperializing their financial interests and certainly not touching their own pay rate.  Defunding Crackhead Jim's access to beauty and truth seems a much easier pill to swallow.  It is a reptilian mindset that suggests parents who give their child a dollar instead of a hug every time the child cries out for love.

Although I will tarry a moment longer in the domain of polemic to point out the key flaw in the "unmonetizable" argument.  It can be illustrated by this formula:

The level of focus on The Profit Margin is in direct proportion to the output of crap.

You want a better profit margin, you use cheaper ingredients, you fire the experienced workers and hire cheaper, less experienced employees, you cut corners, you save time.  This is why a 30 year old vacuum cleaner is better than a new one.  This is the slippery slope of attention to wealth.

Example: 1995- "Let's reclaim the invention of the television for education!  Let's make a television station called The Wonder Channel, funded both by subscription AND advertisers, and create content based on learning, exploring, wonder, creativity, truth, and beauty!"
2011- "Next up on '-Der': Barbecue Pit Bosses.  Join Cleavus and Lil' Vinton as they build backyard barbecue pits.  You will learn neither how to make a barbecue pit nor how to barbecue from watching this program.  Mainly you will watch the two leads yell bleeped out swears at each other.  Brought to you by Tadalafil."

Eventually the series is canceled when a video from the cutting room floor is leaked to YouTube in which Cleavus gives a profanity-laden rant against one of the credit card companies that finance the show.  The entire story is sad and makes the world seem slightly lonelier and life seem slightly more fleeting in the collective unconscious until the only flaccid pleasure people can derive from interacting with the world at large is mock and scoff, guffawing at the very Hellbound handbasket in which they are firmly tucked.

Although a Theater major, I am able to readily identify the unsustainabilty of a system where the bulk of the wealth is funneling to an increasingly smaller percentage of the population and that increasingly smaller percentage is paying increasingly less into the system.  The three card monte game of the Right is to fool the working class, through appeals to down-hominess, old fashioned values and so forth, into thinking that they, the Proles, can one day, through hard work and enterprising, become one of them, the Cake-Eaters.  This is false.

So, the news is full of talk about defunding the arts and education.  As I said before, it's an easy place to cut when you're holding the cutting device and when you interests lay elsewhere.  It's way easier to fund and maintain a prison-industrial complex than a flourishing public education system.  And, if you don't do the latter, you're going to have to do the former, so I guess they go for what's cheaper and easier.  But once again I think of society as something we will to make.  The world is what we make of it.  What if we had a population who were consumed with truth, beauty, love, equality, and unity?  Let's not even go that far though.  What if we just had a society where humankind's expressions of and arguments for those highest of virtues were accessible to every citizen?  How much better would that be?

And I'm not necessarily making the argument for government funding of the humanities exclusively.  As with any other source of funding, there is always the problem of "biting the hand that feeds" the arts, much like poor Cleavus.  I am in favor of heavy government funding of the sciences and the humanities.  But more to the point, I am for accessibility to the sciences and humanities for everyone.  There are many admirable attempts at putting the cookies on lower shelves within the humanities.  There are "rush" seatings at most live concert and theater venues in which one can go to the ticket booth within the last 30 minutes before a performance and get severely discounted seats.  Many theaters have "pay what thou wilt" nights.  The internet has an embarrassment of riches of free resources of lectures, classes, and readings, free for the taking.  The doors to the libraries are still open.

I think that the humanities have so much to offer a society.  If we must talk about the monetizable aspects (and, unfortunately, there exists the type of philistine tromping around the offices of elected officials who will demand the monetizable aspects) I would bring up health care.  Foresight dictates that the future of health care demands preventative health measures.  However, the prevailing philosophy of modern western medicine trends exclusively toward the palliative.  George Bernard Shaw wrote a brilliant foreword to his play The Doctor's Dilemma in which he makes the point that the paradox of the medical field is that if it ever reached a point of ultimate efficacy, it would put itself out of business.

The Humanities are good for the future health of a society.  They allow so many avenues for growth, education, and progress.  A civilization filled with growing, educated, and progressing individuals has a more optimistic future than one filled with demotivated, ignorant, cynics.  So, investing in the Humanities as a society is much like putting aside money into a long term IRA or Keogh plan.

The Humanities offer so much in the way of mental and physical health to the individual as well.  They are a conduit for the highest aspirations of humankind.  The Humanities are indicative of a good life, which is something that no one should be denied access to.  I would hasten to add that anyone who has studied the great civilizations of old knows that so often the great civilizations fall at the hands of utter brutes.  As Dystopian authors or social commentators know, there is a great danger in hiding the light under bushels of reaching the point where "We have seen the brutes who will fell our civilization, and they are us."

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Value of Nothing

When I was in my early 20s, I had a dream one night which was one of the most important experiences in my subconscious life to date.  You see, when I was a child, I had a very rich fantasy life which was fueled by gross dissatisfaction with or outright fear of my peers.  My fantasies would mainly revolve around being rescued from this life by Professor X or Gandalf or by suddenly falling heir to Scrooge McDuck's fortune and being whisked away to an exciting and adventurous place where being smart and different is an asset rather than a liability.  In my adolescent life, this tendency mutated into a sort of ham-fisted rebellious streak until finally settling, in my early 20s, into the borderline agoraphobic intellectual that you all know and love today.

The dream was about an anthropomorphic manifestation of a universal construct called The Timekeeper of Always.  I somehow made the acquaintance of that being and he showed me what goes on behind reality.  Reality pulled away like a curtain and I was able to observe what goes on behind everything, the reality in which this one is but a poor reflection of a reflection.  Then he thought better of it, replaced the curtain, wiped the memory of what was behind the curtain from my mind, and returned me to the world of consciousness.  I woke up unable to remember anything of what was behind the curtain, but able to remember the rest of the dream.  It was terrible.  Rational Paul knows that this was a manifestation of those same latent desires from childhood, likely poured through the filter of a time in my life when I exclusively read Philip K. Dick, Robert Anton Wilson, Clive Barker, and Neil Gaiman.  Still, I am able to tap into that sense of cosmic loss that I felt on waking and here, 12 year later, I am still able to remember the dream (the parts that were not wiped from my memory in the dream) with utter clarity.

Something else I can tap into at any given time is the constant Existential Hum.  It is as if I have, in the "soundtrack" of my mind, a tone of Todesangst which toggles volume at divers and sundry points, but which is ever present.  Sometimes it's pounding like a bass drum, sometimes it's so high pitched that only dogs can hear it.  I would like to be able to say, "Come what may, it is well with my soul.  The timing is all.  I have no fear of death."  But that would be dishonest.  I don't have that kind of peace.  Death sounds awful to me.  It also looks awful to me.

When I become aware of the brevity of this life, I panic.  When I think of the likelihood of death as a simple extinguishing of consciousness, I am terrified.  When I think that this is happening constantly everywhere on the planet and that, in fact, walking consciousnesses effect that outcome on other walking consciounesses, I am horrified.  When I then consider the vastness of the human mind against the great insignificance of the entire Earth, a speck in vast space, I am crippled.

I've noticed a trend in certain types of churches, generally the more accepting and inclusive ones, of becoming a sort of psychic Intensive Care Unit.  Unfortunately, wolves and foxes are attracted to places where the smell of blood is strongest.  I have often remarked that I feel like an alien in my own religion and in the past year that seems to be transforming me into a Deconstructed Christian.  As much as I like to think of myself as one of God's little snowflakes, special and peculiar in my precious little experiences, I think I can see that this turn of events has emerged from specific external stimuli.  I know that I'm not the only modern (or, indeed, historical) person going through a similar long, dark night.  I know that this is a trend emerging in those whose doberman grip on their religion is keeping them attached to the edge of the cliff just as a florist district emerges in a major metropolitan area without any city planning.

In spite of the truth in Marx's assessment, I do not think that the primary function of a properly applied religious path is as an opiate.  However, I reject automatic deference to orthodoxy.  I have no interest in impressing my peers or dead white guys with my alignment with them on the issues.  I have no interest in impressing others with my religion.  My religion is simply my relationship with God and what that means to my behavior in this world.  I want to fellowship with other believers and have a free exchange of ideas.  I want to love my fellow human and honor my God in my behavior.  I do not care if a guy with a book published or sermons broadcast on the radio agrees with me on a point of doctrine that I've come to believe.  Having deconstructed my spiritual walk in the past year I find that I cannot reject the Gospel.  The most junior of analysts will probably make short work of reconciling this paragraph with the first two.

Let's take the afterlife, for example.  Popular Christian versions of the afterlife tend a little too close for my comfort to what I call "action figure religion."  As in there are places behind the curtain of reality called Heaven and Hell where people go and there are different places and beings.  Golden roads and pearly gates in front of which St. Peter stands behind a podium with a large book and so forth.  You could make a diorama of these places.  That sort of thing.

The Annihilationist view strikes me as more in line with an Old Testament understanding of the afterlife as well as being more in line with observable reality as I have experienced it.  The ignominy suffered by Sodom and Gomorrah lay in their destruction, their snuffing out of existence.  The hope and comfort of the Gospel is in the escape from the condition of life, being under the thumb of death, with the possibility of reconciliation with God and eternal life with same.  We are unable to restore what was broken.  We are all freeloaders at the Divine Feast and it required an act on the part of the divine to even let us in the room, much less give us access to free refills.

 I do think that one must needs retain an agnosticism over the afterlife as we do not have a complete set of stats.  The ancient Hebrews as well as the ancient Greeks were eyes deep in metaphor.  When I say "O, my love is like a red, red rose, that is newly sprung in June" I am not meaning to suggest that Laurie is of a burgundy complexion and that her face literally looks like a collection of petals.  It is entirely acceptable in language to employ devises to express a deeper meaning or a meaning not so easily expressed by the conventional employment of vocabulary.  Poetry exists to express those things which can only be expressed through poetry.

I have mentioned before that I don't buy the version of the Genesis creation account put forth by so many Christians that it is meant to be read as though it were a history textbook and that anyone who says otherwise is speaking heresy (and, therefore, going to Hell.)  The evidence seems to point fairly conclusively to the fact that the planet is upwards of 4 billion years old, which suggests to me that metaphor was being worked with in the writings of a member of an ancient civilization, one who was obviously and like all of us fettered by their space-time understanding of the universe, meant to identify God as creator and thereby set the stage for illustrating humankind's relationship to that deity.  Clinging tenaciously to the seven days in spite of all evidence to the contrary not only undermines the credibility of our religion to the eyes of the world, but more importantly, it misses the point.  Likewise, as I've said before, I don't think we know or can know exactly how the end of human existence will play out either from the data science has to offer or from eschatological scriptural passages.  Once again, I don't think the point of those passages was for us to make charts.  I think they were meant to point toward what a Christian ought to focus on and how they ought to behave.

The trend toward churches being ICU wards for the psyche is, I think, entirely appropriate.  Existence is extremely harsh and difficult to deal with.  Humans treat one another in abysmal ways.  God, in my experience and in the experience of so many others I've talked with, so often appears silent to us.  This agnosticism of the faithful, the fact that there is so much we do not and cannot know, is the major theme of the book of Job.  I would point out that Job is most likely the oldest book of the Bible.  So, when it came time for humankind to have divine revelation, that was the first message delivered.

The other night I was completely shaken by a line from a film Laurie and I were watching.  It was the film adaptation of the graphic novel The Watchmen and, at one point, the Rorschach character says to his prison psychiatrist in reference to his vigilante dealing with a child murderer "You see, Doctor, God didn't kill that little girl. Fate didn't butcher her and destiny didn't feed her to those dogs. If God saw what any of us did that night he didn't seem to mind. From then on I knew... God doesn't make the world this way. We do."

So often I wonder why God seems to be okay with so many things that go on.  I also think so often about how this world can be whatever we make of it... and this is what we've chosen to make of it.  What does that say about humankind?  And, you see, this is part of why the need for Christ seems entirely plausible to me.  However, I don't think the belief leaving me waiting for the Deus Ex Machina to swoop down at the end of the play and save "the good guys" is the appropriate reaction to that information.  I don't think religion is the key to isolating one's self from people one dislikes, disagrees with, or simply fears out of extrinsic differences.  I find myself more in step with the axiom of the entirely pagan Marcus Aurelius who wrote:
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” 
I walk around every day with the absurdity of existence strapped to my forehead, forever in my field of vision.  I understand the traditionally Freudian analysis of my alienation and sense of loss over the forgotten dreamtime glimpse behind the curtain.  I also know that I my brain might prefer hysterical misery to common unhappiness.  I say all of these things, but also still hold to the Gospel.  I still am a Christian and, I think, probably more earnest of one than I've ever been.  Certainly more than when I had all of the answers neatly arranged on a silver platter.  I think congregations would do well to be less surprised to find the dead and the wounded in the pews next to them and remember that they serve the Great Physician.

P.S. It seems that these "talking cure" posts about religion are turning into a regular addition to my blog.  Apologies to the hypothetical people who come to my blog for writing about literature.  I am finding this practice therapeutic.  I also hope that my healing path may occasion some comfort to other hypothetical people out there.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

More fulfillment of my duties as a tea spokesperson

Oh my stars and garters!  My commercial for Earl Grey tea has occasioned people sending me gifts of tea in the mail.  THIS KIND OF BEHAVIOR IS HIGHLY ENCOURAGED! 

The tea above was a gift from my old friend Jessi Lijewski and arrived on my doorstep a few mornings ago.  Within the envelope was, as you can see, five types of tea.  I repaired to my kitchen and commenced brewing.

 My normal loose leaf Earl Grey brand is Twinings.

Twinings Earl Grey Tea, Loose Tea, 3.53-Ounce Tins (Pack of 6)

Twinings (pronounced as to rhyme with the sound that makes me avoid upper-class toy shops, not to rhyme with what Mr. Sheen claims to be doing all the time) is old, established, and traditional.  It's a 300 year old brand started by a tea merchant in London.  It has hints of citrus and a heady bergamot twinge.  I let it brew while I'm getting ready for work, splash in some cream, and drink it as I commute.  It's a pleasant way to start one's day.

If I were call upon to employ a musical metaphor, if Twinings were J.S. Bach, the Intelligentsia brand would be Erik Satie.  Both are elegant, astonishingly perfect in their technical blends without sacrificing one mote of beauty, and, in spite of their difference in time, somehow end up with undeniable similarities.  Oddly enough, the Intellgentsia brand was first known for its coffee, but has branched out to fine tea, while Twinings is known for its tea, but has lately branched out to fine coffee.

I enjoyed the Intelligentsia brand very much.  The citrus flavor is a bit more pronounced and the "nose" is fantastic.  The aroma richly infuses your kitchen as the leaves infuse the water.  It is a very exciting tea.

You can enjoy either tea in your own home by ordering them from their website or, indeed, wherever fine teas are sold.  I would highly recommend you do so.  I have an array of four other teas which I am looking forward to sampling.