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Monday, December 12, 2011

Thank You for 1,000+ Views!!! / Next Steps

First off, I am proud to announce that this place has generated over A THOUSAND VIEWS!!!  I simply can't put into words just how grateful I am for the attention you've given to this place.  Granted, these views could still be of my own doing, as well as the times my former professor Mark Mills has seen fit to comment, but I'm hoping this number of views has been the result of more than just the two of us.  :)  Thank you immensely for even accidentally clicking on this place.

I've been contemplating my next steps so far in terms of my writing, and I'm pleased to announce my focus is shifting back toward shorter work, namely poetry...this means I'll actually be able to post some more of what I write for you to see.  This shift is the result of my enrollment in an advanced poetry writing course with my university, as well as an idea I've had in my head for some time now to work on a collection tentatively titled "Geriatric Soul."  I'm actually working on what would be the title poem for that collection now, and will show off the first draft when I have it written.

I'll also likely be working on longer-length work as well, since I'll also be enrolled in a novel writing course.  While I'm a long-winded individual as it is, I'm a little bit daunted at being in this course because I don't necessarily have the greatest work ethic.  While I do blame myself, I do blame my mind's inability to silence my own inner critic unless I've got a deadline breathing down my neck.  I'm hoping to stay on top of things for that class once it starts, but I'm taking other classes that will require significant attention as well, so we'll see.

In some news unrelated to my writing, I've been cast to play The Joker in a short film being made by my university's film society, so that should be fun as well.  I've got a little bit of a reputation among some people in my major for my portrayal of Heath Ledger's Joker for a pseudo-acting class I was a part of, but I'm thinking they're wanting something a little less dark and a bit more Mark Hamill-like, so I'll have to do a little work on that before production starts this weekend.  I'm really excited about this, and I hope I wind up giving them a performance they can be proud of.  :)

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Poem I Wrote at Loch Norse's Open Mic at the Bow Tie Cafe

As a bonus to anyone who reads this blog and shakes their fist at the fact I rarely showcase my work on it, I'm going to go ahead and show you the poem I wrote after arriving at the Bow Tie Cafe as I was waiting for my turn.  I was hoping to read it when my turn came, but the staff kindly requested I stick to my short story for the sake of time and so they could make sure everyone got a chance to read.  One of the student writers in attendance, Sara Cissell, can vouch for me...I swear, I wrote this in about ten to fifteen minutes after I arrived there.  It's sort of turned into a pseudo-tradition for me, to see if I can drum up something on the spot at these events.  I don't know why, but I always feel in the mood to write when I show up to these things and am waiting for my turn to come.  I blame NKU for making it my natural response to write frantically as a deadline is approaching... o-O  Without further ado, here's what I got:

Hearing your voice
makes me crack a smile I thought
I'd never use again.
Ten years and nearly three months after
receiving your four-page letter,
only to learn you were no longer in a
place to read my reply,
or to hear the sound of me crying,
or to wipe away my tears,
and somehow I'm smiling.
Hearing your voice fly through
my ears with the grace of an angel,
feeling it linger in echoes within my brain...
it's strangely supernatural.
Thankfully captured through
moments in time when you seemed to soar above everything...
EVERYONE else...
and it brings back the smile I saved
only for you.

That's what I came up with...not too shabby for it being straight from the mind without revision.  I was thinking of reworking it to read like this:  "Your voice threading through my ears like...(something)...feeling it tangle in the loom of my brain."  I hesitated to go with that approach because it ruined the "hearing" aspect of the line I already had down on the page, since all of that imagery would strictly appeal to the touch...strictly feeling.  That, and the (something) shows where I'm stuck to fill the line, and also the whole "brain as a loom/thread" image is one I've used quite a bit in different things I've written, so I was aiming at something different.  I can totally see where that would work, though.

Anyway, I hope you like it.  :)

Reflection on Loch Norse Magazine's Open Mic at the Bow Tie Cafe

I literally just got home from Loch Norse Magazine's Open Mic event at the Bow Tie Cafe in Mt. Adams...that's in Cincinnati, OH for those who don't know where the hell I'm talking about.  :)  Anyway, I thought I'd take some time to offer a reflection of sorts about how it all went down.

The first thing I need to talk about is the turn-out.  The turn-out, to my estimation -- and it could simply be the fact the Bow Tie Cafe is a compact place and there were regular customers about, going in and out, hanging around, buying coffee and/or alcohol, etc. -- was significantly greater than Loch Norse's first event on campus in our Student Union's multipurpose room.  I have to admit that when I heard their decision to have the event off-campus, I was extremely concerned about how this would impact the turn-out.  I was convinced that because it was across the Ohio River in Cincinnati, turn-out would be impacted in a negative fashion.  I am so proud to tell you that I was wrong.  Having the event off-campus was definitely the right call, and I applaud Loch Norse's staff (Jennifer Whalen, Rex Trogdon, Elizabeth Parsons, faculty supervisor Kelly Moffett, and the rest of the staff that I'm blanking sincerest apologies) for taking such a risk to begin with.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I really feel like you guys are ushering in a renaissance for the creative writing community on campus, and I'm grateful to be included in the thick of things.

Dr. Gary Walton was the featured reader for the event, and he read to us various poems as well as a novel excerpt that were all incredible.  I need to buy his novel because it focuses on old Newport, KY and because there is so much shit talk and foul language in it!  It definitely caters to someone so easily amused as me.  I also noticed the faculty turn-out for the event -- Professors Andy Miller and Stephen Leigh were notable attendants -- and I'm guessing this was due to Dr. Walton being the guest speaker.  I definitely see where having a prominent, established "keynote reader" if you will would be essential in guaranteeing the turn-out of fellow creative writing professors and other established writers, and if the staff at Loch Norse read this I would emphasize that they continue with this trend.  Faculty/established writer turn-out is an essential turn-out that these events need, and people like Dr. Walton can guarantee that.

I also noticed that the event had a lot more readers than the first event, which is definitely a sign that Loch Norse is doing all the right things in its promotion of creative writing at NKU.  Many wonderful writers got up to read their work for us, and I really wish my memory was awesome enough to remember every name because I'd list them all here for you to see.  So many wonderful poems and pieces of fiction.  I, too, stepped up to read a bit from the most recent short story I wrote for Professor Miller's Fiction Writing class, concerning a writer who is stuck pitching a novel manuscript to a mysterious figure in a suit and a Grim Reaper hood (still untitled as of this post).  The reaction I got was great, most of the praise coming from my enthusiastic and inflected delivery, but it made it obvious that I'm slowly starting to become the type of creative person who's own personality and presence overshadows the creation.  I've inwardly criticized this in the past, and have developed a desire to have my work speak louder than myself, but I've also understood that a creative person's work is, essentially, an extension of themselves in some way, shape, or form.  I guess I'm torn on how I feel about this, but I'm proud to have gotten the praise that I did.

The only thing that I think is missing in the scheme of things is turn-out from the general student body.  It's easy to motivate the people already invested in reading and writing, but it's much harder getting "regular" students to come out, unless the professors get to them in the English classes and demand they attend literary events for credit.  I can't really cite this as a criticism toward Loch Norse, because this is a problem many organizations with a focus are faced with...attracting the general population.  I personally don't know how exactly to go about addressing that issue, but my thought-process would be to somehow "bring" the action to them, or let them somehow "sample" it on a smaller/more condensed scale.  Perhaps a public reading held somewhere on campus?  At this stage of the semester, with it being cold outside, it would likely have to be inside a heavily populated/traveled building like our Student Union...basically just setting up shop and starting to read aloud to anyone who might pass by to advertise an upcoming event.  I could see this maybe working to an extent, but then again not so much...

All in all, I think Loch Norse is doing all the right things, and I think their efforts are really starting to pay off.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

850 Pageviews?! / What's Going On With Me

WOW...people must ACTUALLY be checking the place out!  Sure, no one has actually joined or decided to follow me as a member yet, but there is no way in hell that all 150 pageviews since I made the post commemorating the 700 views could have been made by me, because I've only glanced over this place maybe three or four times in the spare moments I could get.  Seriously, though, thank you for at least coming here by accident.  :)

I thought I'd take a moment to catch whoever is reading up on the goings-on of me.  I've written another short story that is currently untitled about a poor writer who is stuck pitching a manuscript to death.  Haven't written the ending just yet, but I've had it workshopped by my classmates in my Fiction Writing class, and overall they really enjoyed what they read.  I'm actually set to have it workshopped yet again tomorrow by a group of writers brought together by my campus' literary magazine, Loch Norse Magazine.  I haven't made any revisions to it just yet, but I feel like another workshop round could do it some good since I have some lingering questions and concerns about the story, which I might actually lay out in a future blog posting here.

I also wanted to point out that Loch Norse Magazine now has a blog of its own to follow, and strangely enough they made it using Blogger as well (  It's called "The Loch," and should be a great resource for people interested in the creative writing scene at Northern Kentucky University.  I stand firm in my opinion that our writing community is undergoing a renaissance, and I credit that to my good friend and Loch Norse's Editor-in-Chief, Jennifer Whalen, along with her wonderful staff.  They are really working their asses off to draw attention to the magnificent writers this campus has, and I will do whatever I can to help them in this endeavor.  I honestly believe we are just as talented as anyplace else, and I hope that everyone who encounters us can see that.

That's really all I have to say for now...oh yeah, I almost forgot:  I've got a birthday coming up this Friday.  I'll be a decrepit 22 years far as I'm concerned, time can just go ahead and stop for awhile, at least on adding itself to my age.  I'm fine where I'm at, thank you.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

700 PAGEVIEWS!!! / The Self as Content

This post serves two purposes:

1)  WOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!  700 PAGEVIEWS!!!  I can't believe it!  Signing into my blog inadvertently inflated the number to 701, and it's probably safe to say that the number you see has 85% to do with my activity alone, so perhaps I have no reason to celebrate...but I will anyway.  :)

2)  I wasn't sure if I wanted to go delving into my own philosophies on the writing process or anything, but there was something I thought I might address since it was brought up in confidence during a workshop for my story, "A Private Room in Rosewood."  I haven't published it here, primarily because it is a much longer piece and because it is, as of this post, unfinished.  However, there was something that I was called out for in this story that has roots in where I started out as a writer, and that was my use of " the self as content."  In other words, I used myself as content (in the form of a character) in this story.

Using the self as content, especially when not veiled particularly well, can be seen as a sort of "cop-out" on the part of the writer, or as a sign that the writer is arrogant, conceited, full of himself/herself, has an inflated ego, etc.  I can completely understand this mindset; matter of fact, I'm in a class right now at NKU called Revolutionary Poets and Artists, and some classmates of mine accused Walt Whitman of arrogance about his use of the self as content, especially in the way he made himself the voice of everyone in his poem, "Song of Myself."  They made their points quite eloquently, and speaking from the perspective of a student who struggled to condense this 52-section poem to 23 pages of still-readable, printable pages, I can see where it would be easy to slice Whitman's throat on that point.  It is quite easy for a reader, especially one who is not familiar with the writer at all as a person aside from knowing the writer's physical appearance, to see their use of this practice as a sign of vanity.  It's completely understandable.

However, I believe there is another way that this can be interpreted.  I believe a writer's use of the self as content can be an indicator not necessarily of ego, but rather a sign of their contentment with who they are as a person...perhaps even a celebration of who they are.  That, to me, doesn't seem like such a negative thing, although making it seem this is the purpose to a reader, especially one being forced by insane teachers to study your work with a fine-toothed comb and a magnifying glass, is tough...nearly impossible, even.

Playing with the self as content is something I've done as early as elementary school.  I really started to blossom as a writer in second grade after writing a story about the event people in my region know as the "Great Flood of '97," a story for which I won a Young Author's Award from NKU.  It was in third grade that I really took off as a writer, writing what could essentially be dubbed fan-fiction based off of my favorite video game franchise, Mortal Kombat.  The only difference was I was using good friends from class (including girls I had crushes on) as characters, as well as myself as the main hero (for the record, I based myself off of my favorite MK character, the Thunder God Raiden).  Back then, I figured if I could make it happen and write myself and my friends in as the people who saved the day, then what was stopping me from doing it?  I was a third grader; I didn't care.  I wrote stories in this mold all the way until 7th grade, and I only stopped because the focus in writing slowly shifted away from the creative to the personal/reflective/scholarly.  I think this shift was actually a significant factor in my becoming so introspective, something else that has greatly factored into my use of the self as content, but I'll elaborate on that a bit later.

Finally getting the chance to write creatively in the classroom again in the fiction genre, I realize that stories in the fashion I used to write would no longer be looked at so favorably.  I'm no longer writing for childhood classmates; I'm writing for adult classmates and whoever else I think might want to hear me.  I'm a decade older, extremely conscious of death and mortality, and afflicted with Crohn's Disease.  The self as content has taken on a brand new meaning for me.  I found that with "A Private Room in Rosewood" I wasn't writing to make myself a hero, I was writing as a form of catharsis more than anything.  My character, which I named Silas, was me with very subtle differences.  He wore a "boss of the plains" style black hat with a high, round crown, and was at a crossroads in his battle with Crohn's Disease, a stage I fear might become a reality for me.  Most people afflicted with this condition will require major surgery in order to maintain the quality of their lives, and most will often have to have major sections of their intestines removed and what's left routed out their sides into colostomy bags.  The mere thought of this happening to me frightens me beyond words.  I've often wondered how I would react to such news, whether I'd be willing to go through with this operation or whether I'd try to run from it, perhaps even choosing death over the chance to prolong my life with such a radical procedure.  It's caused me to question what exactly defines "quality" in a life, and being an introspective person it's something I've spent countless hours debating in my mind.

It is my introspective nature that causes me to wonder whether the self as content is something I'll always employ in my writing.  I think every writer puts some part of themselves into their own writing, but the question for me would be whether I'm as blatant about it as I have been in the past.  In my introspection, I often find myself exploring various scenarios, some that have happened and others that could potentially happen but haven't, and insert myself into each scenario in a particular role and play out how I would act in my mind, right down to every single word I would say and what would be said back to me by others in the scenario with me.  Think of it as improvisational actors upon a stage being given a scenario and roles, and being told to play it out.  That is essentially how it works within my mind.  It is introspective moments like these where my mind seems the most vivid, where I get lost the deepest, and they are moments that seem to strike me on a nightly basis.  In some strange sense I can't even begin to logically explain, I almost feel bound to use myself as content due to my introspective nature, because this is where the well seems deepest.

Could I change the outer appearance of my "character self" to veil the fact it's me?  Certainly.  I suppose I could...but part of me wonders why I would even bother.  I could change the outside to mask my blatant use of me as a character, but it strikes me as a superficial thing to do.  Voracious scholars would see through it...that is, if I ever became a writer worth studying.  The same people who call me on such things, the ones that know me, would still be smart enough to see it.  I don't see it making a tremendous difference with readers, because only two people in my Fiction Writing class called me out on it and they were people who knew me outside of class; the rest all got a good look at me, hat and all, and should probably have made this connection for themselves in their reading, yet didn't call me on it.  I would think my appearance alone would be enough to tip someone off.  Were they just that dazzled by my craft, by my awesome wordsmithing skills?  I doubt it.  XD

Poets threw out meter and rhyme in favor of free verse because they felt those constraints were too limiting, and that free verse could allow them more flexibility and directness (another rant I could go on for another time, and my stance on this might serve to shock you), so why should I hide behind smoke and mirrors in my writing?  Because doing so would demonstrate skill?  I'm not so concerned with being the greatest writer of all time as much as I am conveying a message, and if I feel like inserting myself somehow can be a means to this goal, I'll do it without a second thought.  I think it certainly works for "A Private Room in Rosewood."  Crohn's Disease may not be the terminal killer that cancer is, but it's definitely a disease that can lead to fatal complications.  It's an intermittent, chronic, slow death.  Besides, and I hate to sound writer-hipster here, but cancer is so overused.  o-O  I actually had quite a few people commend me for using Crohn's over cancer, so that should tell you something.

This could be the rant of a vain person, but I see it like this:  I saw the opportunity to take an aspect of my own life and character and use it to convey a message that will hopefully resonate with someone else, perhaps provoking reflection, thought, or incorporation into their own lives.  That could still be construed as conceited, since every celebrity peddling a memoir always claims that they're trying to showcase their own lives so that others might find inspiration or lessons from them.  I don't see myself in that same situation, and it's not just because I'm not famous...yet.  o-O  I don't see myself as this grand figure doling out morsels of advice to commoners below me; I see myself as a human being laying himself open for other humans to see that I'm human, too.  Chalk it up to my own dealings with death and grief (I've attended about a funeral/visitation a year since 2000), but I've learned in my experiences trying to comfort grieving people that sometimes it takes showing them that you, too, can bleed in order to establish a connection with them.  It takes more than the usual, worn-out "I'm sorry for your loss" to show them you genuinely care.  If you really want to make a connection with someone having a difficult time, you have to come down to their level and prove to them you are just as human as they are.  This kindred spirit is the person I always strive to be with those around me.  My letter to my deceased teacher's wife (Brook Gifford, which can be found in an earlier post on the blog) is proof positive of who I try to be in another's moment of crisis.  I try to act as such because I see it as my duty, as the right thing to do, and so that hopefully someone else might come along and do the same for me one day.  This is a major aspect of me as a person, and I think it shines through in my serious writing where I'm using myself as content, because I'm trying to use myself to help other people.  That's how I see it, anyway.

Feel free to judge me how you wish on this matter; some might see it as a "cop-out" of a vain man, but I see it as the efforts of a caring man trying to make a connection with someone.  Perhaps it takes knowing me to see it like I do?  I can certainly say it takes knowing at the very least what I look like to even recognize what I'm doing at all.  I stand confident that my intentions overshadow any thoughts of conceit, but that could simply be my pride in my craft talking.  :)  I think it takes some pride, some self-confidence, to even want to use yourself in such a way, and I do admit I'm proud of who I am as a person, or who I try to be anyway.  Are there things about me that I'm not proud of?  Sure.  I've got issues like anyone else, with the exception of maybe my Crohn's...that's something confined to a smaller percentage of the population.  I just hope that my good intentions shine through any shadows doubt might cast, and if there are still people who see it the other way around, they are certainly entitled to see it that way.  I would hope that they take the time to try looking at it like I do, because I can certainly say I've looked at it from the perspective they see it from.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Recap of "First Draft Friday" hosted by Loch Norse Magazine

Last night, I had the esteemed privilege of attending a gathering of the best creative writers that Northern Kentucky University has to offer.  Loch Norse Magazine (formerly NKU Expressed) hosted the event, dubbed "First Draft Friday," in the Student Union's multipurpose room as they have done all their prior public readings.

This reading was the first one of the fall semester, and the first one to be held with their new staff.  My former poetry professor, Kelly Moffett, is the faculty member overseeing the magazine's production, and my dear friend and peer, Jenn Whalen, is the new Editor-in-Chief.  Another good friend of mine, Elizabeth Parsons, is now their Fiction Editor.  Elizabeth revealed to me that with the new name change will also come an increase in page length for the magazine, as they will be investing more of their funds into creating space on which to share more student work than ever before.  I could also see this making it possible to accept longer submissions than they have in the past, but I could also see where they might want to use the extra space to showcase more student work, as I'm sure some of the decisions they have to make in terms of what gets published are tough.

The turnout was good for this first reading, about the same as the prior readings I've been to on campus.  I could understand if the staff would want to see a greater turnout, though, as there were probably twenty or so people total.  Most of the people who attend these events are student writers affiliated with NKU, as I am, and  speaking from my own desires I would like to see more non-writers and students of the general population coming out to see what we can do.  If there is any way I can help Loch Norse bring in more people, I will gladly do it.

To get back on topic, the event was emceed by another friend and peer of mine, Zachary Grady, who provided the introductions for each writer and the humor to help keep the audience engaged between readings. The second person to read was, to my recollection, a history major with an English minor, and he read from a novel-in-progress.  It was his reading that made it evident to myself, as well as the staff, that for the next events a time limit might have to be put in place.  His reading lasted almost a half hour, and it was awkward for all involved when he had to be asked to leave the stage.  The first time this occurred, he said he was nearly done, but kept reading an additional ten minutes before he had to be given "the hook."  It wasn't that he was boring (he was quite compelling) so much as it was the fact he was eating into time.  The event was slated to be over by 8:00 or 9:00, and the staff wanted to make sure everyone who came wanting to read got to do so in the time they had the room reserved for.

My good friend, Christopher Burdett, was also a notable presence at the event.  He is the closest thing to a genius I know, as well as a very strong writer as well, and he caught me groaning on Facebook about how I have a tendency of starting projects and not following through on them.  He had me enter a "poetry pact" with him, which almost works like a death pact except that the point of our deal was that we would each write a poem in anticipation of the event and bring it to read for everyone.  We each presented two poems, and I think one each we both wrote the day of (I wrote one mine after arriving at the event).  It was hilarious for me because I was really struggling and agonizing trying to scrape something together to honor our pact, and I automatically assumed with Burdett's genius intellect he was going to wordsmith something that was going to blow what I had out of the water.  I can't even begin to tell you how thrilled I was when Zachary Grady came over and asked us what we were planning to share.  Burdett told him about his two poems, and I told him I had two poems, a one-page short creative nonfiction piece, as well as seven pages I wanted to read from my most recent short story, "A Private Room in Rosewood."  Grady asked me to close the show so that the fiction pieces were more spread out, which thrilled me because I could use going after Burdett as a sort of comedic timing to make the joke that, "Hey, we had a pact, you saw how awesome he was, here's my shitty response!"  I was overjoyed.

I can see where closing an event like this would be an added pressure for someone, because it's your words that wind up lingering in the minds of the audience before you.  Personally, I feel extremely comfortable in front of a crowd in spite of my somewhat quiet and reserved nature; matter of fact, I enjoy it.  I live for events like this.  I feel like my set was solid, and the feedback I got seemed overwhelmingly positive.  I actually had a fellow student message me over Facebook to tell me she was in love with my writing, which is the first time that's ever happened to me.  Never had anyone fall in love with my words, before... o-O ...if only I could get them to fall for me.  XD  Eh, but anyway, I started off with the poem I wrote in, like, ten minutes after I arrived.  It's untitled, and it's about cake; I got the idea in the shower of all places.  I more or less juxtapose a fruitcake and a devil's food chocolate cake, and was using those images to convey my thoughts about different points in a creative person's career, when they first start out and have artistic/indie credibility versus when they make it big and become mainstream.  It only occurred to me after writing it that maybe, JUST MAYBE, I should have done research about cake making, because I know next to nothing about it.  The next poem I read was untitled, based on the current situation my great uncle is in battling renal cancer.  I then read the untitled creative nonfiction piece that can be found elsewhere on my blog, written from the perspective of my hat that captures the duality of my life with Crohn's Disease, and I finished by reading seven pages worth of my yet-to-be-finished short story, "A Private Room in Rosewood."

I felt bad not having more uplifting material, almost feeling like I was slowly sucking any positive emotions from out of the room, but I'll do my best to rectify that at the next event they have in the semester.  I tried to dull the depression of the pieces I read by inserting droppings of dry humor when I felt it appropriate, as well as trying to emote in a way that conveyed to them that I was more exasperated than genuinely angry or depressed.  I tried to show my audience the humor that lies within my serious-looking exterior, and I think in spite of my reservations about my performance they were ignored, embraced by the audience not as a death to their happiness, but as really strong, honest pieces of writing, and for that I am extremely grateful.

I cannot wait for the next event to come along; the chance to share my work with people in that type of a setting is what really brings me to life, and I'm always looking for a chance to make a connection like the one I got to with that audience.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Currently Untitled Creative Nonfiction Piece

Sorry for the boring title, but I don't have one yet for what I'm about to share with you.  If I haven't mentioned it elsewhere, I'm an Honors senior at Northern Kentucky University, and we have a literary magazine which has  actually just been renamed to Loch Norse Magazine from NKU Expressed.  They are having an event coming up on a Friday, an "open mic" of sorts for people to come read first drafts of new work or work that has yet to be workshopped in a conventional classroom setting.  While I have other things I could be working on, my mind has been on this event, and because of that I spent the whole morning writing a creative nonfiction piece to read there (and hopefully get published!!!).  I hope you enjoy it.  :)  This is the first creative endeavor I've posted on here...SAVOR IT!!!  xD

I watch in silence as he slumbers from the spot he made for me on top of his shelves.  Its high vantage point offers me a good view of his dreaming below, of his covers cresting with each respiration, but tonight those cycles have come with quivers and shivering that put his other uneasy nights to shame.  He slowly emerges from underneath drenched sheets to answer the call of his clock, glistening with sweat but shaking feverishly.  He struggles to stand on aching hips, knees, and ankles.  He seems to drag himself out to take refuge in the bathroom, a specter of the young man I'm accustomed to seeing.  Today is sure to grind along with his pace, but I'll help see him through it.

On his good days he's vibrant, even if my presence or his taste in clothes contradicts it.  He has color in his face, shine to his eyes, and a strong smile that lifts and defines his cheeks.  He cruises with the grace of a ship on the ocean, wind fully in his sails, swaying with a swagger that is undeniably his as he keeps time with the beat of "Billie Jean" ringing through his earphones into his soul.  I can almost feel his mind at work as he takes in lecture, or when he's scribbling down an idea to write about later.  We glide along to greet his friends, which he does by giving me a squeeze and a tilt.  I shake as he doubles over in laughter, hiding his face until his composure returns.  I recline as he relishes the words of the day's anecdotes, and vibrate with the resonance of his voice as he offers encouragement or advice.  He is on, he is in step, he is alive.

On his bad days he's pallid, in perfect coordination with the neutral color of his clothes.  His eyes lose their luster and cease to glow from beneath me.  His lips tremble in their efforts to stretch into a smile, too weak to lift his cheeks and often choosing instead to sag on his chin.  To most observers, his cheeks would be nonexistent, further emphasizing the slender bones that comprise his face.  He drags as if his keel is in shallow water scraping the rocky bottom, listless, teetering with a muted grimace as he struggles to find solace in the whispers of Aaliyah's silky voice.  I feel heat radiating off his scalp and sweating his hair, not because of brain activity but because it seems to cook; I am the lid on the pot it's boiling in.  He hides himself underneath me, and I shield him from attention he might get.  He is nearly spent when he greets his friends, and I feel a sudden updraft as he falls from under me into a chair.  I tremble as he giggles at the jokes of the day, a much fainter feeling than the quake I know him to produce.  I sit recumbent as he reassures his friends that he's alright, pleading that the conversation take its normal course.  Once again behind closed doors, he takes me off to cry.  Superman can't be seen weeping in his cape and costume.  He is off, he is fragmenting, he is dying.

He emerges from the bathroom, face dripping with remnants of warm water.  He slowly stoops to pull on his pants, his fingers fumbling as he buckles his belt.  He plants his feet firmly in his boots, slips into his shirt and sighs.  After a moment, his eyes rise to meet me.  He reaches up for me and holds me against his chest, his eyes closing as his chest contracts in another sigh.  I count ten strong, deliberate heartbeats before he finally musters the strength to bring me to repose on his head, his hand brushing along me as it falls back to his side.  We turn and stoop for his bag, which he brings to hang upon his shoulder with the emission of a faint grunt.  As we exit his room, he uncharacteristically turns to reenter the bathroom, bringing us before the mirror.  He regards me as I sit on his head, mumbling under his breath about how no one seems to know him without me.  He lets out a giggle and his lips stretch with ease into a smile.  His eyes shimmer through my shade.  Perhaps this will be a good day after all?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Kamikaze Philosophizer: An Issue I Have With Computational Theory Of Mind

The following is a blog entry I just completed for my philosophy class on the class blog, that I'm posting in here for your own amusement/my own records.  I'm struggling with computational theory of mind, mainly how to go about refuting it or at least stretching it so we can see the seams that hold it together.  Take a read at what I have struggled to articulate and let me know somehow what you think:

Computational theory of mind is a hard thing to refute; I totally agree that our brains operate on an “input/output” system, but here is where I begin to pick apart at the idea. I scribbled these brief thoughts as I listened to the discussion last class, so bear with me if this seems sparse.
Okay, you have this theory, this idea that the brain's output is stimulated by input. That seems completely logical to me; every system operates on an input/output level, more specifically on a four-part level beginning with input, then process, output, and finally feedback, and the process repeats. If you haven't noticed in this life, there are a hell of a lot of circumstances to be seen and experienced within it. There is, potentially, a finite number of these circumstances in the entire world, although it is likely impossible for us to measure/count/gauge them all…however, what if one considered time/age to be a circumstance as well? I think that, then, would make the number of these circumstances an infinite one. Say, for example, you have a subject, and you create a set of circumstances which elicits a certain response from said subject. Now, you recreate all of those circumstances, those circumstances within your control (which would strictly be environmental/situational in nature), and you get a different reaction from the subject instead? What does that, then, say for this theory? You could argue that the theory isn't disproved by what I've proposed, that if I consider time/age to be a factor then the different response could be blamed on the fact we couldn't repeat the same instant in time in addition to the environmental/situational settings. Still, though, I think it's telling of the merit of this theory, especially if one believes the brain to be of a limited capacity/capability. You're potentially looking at an entity that is having to react to infinite circumstances, and is succeeding at doing so. How is the brain doing this? Perhaps by interpreting only a few of the total circumstances present in a given scenario? I could see that. A computer playing chess is knowledgeable of all potential moves it can make, which seems to be infinite but in reality is not, and in order to make a timely move it doesn't go through every single permutation to select the one it needs, but rather searches through a more concise list of permutations given the situation it is in. What we have here in reality, however, is not limited to chess. The game of chess doesn't deal with time in the same way reality does; time in chess only serves to keep the game going, and I think that's different than the constant passage of time we face. You're not dealing with time in chess as much as you are the circumstances surrounding the piece in question: what spaces are available to move to, what sorts of pieces are around it, etc. In real life, we deal with time in a more direct fashion…
I'm finding it really hard to articulate just what it is I'm wanting to explain, but I hope I'm giving you enough to at least show you where I'm trying to get. Feel free to chime in and let me know if you think I'm thinking the wrong way on this, or if you think I might be on to something and could perhaps find the words I can't seem to at this time. Should the circumstance of time be considered as such??? I just get the feeling that this theory works as long as there are a finite number of circumstances to encounter in life; I could be wrong on that, but that's the vibe I'm getting, that one should be able to get the same, certain reaction out of a subject by adding together circumstances 1, 2, and 3 for example. I'm just confused as to what it would mean to not get the same reaction if those same three circumstances are again employed, or whether that would be theoretically possible. If it is, then I feel time is, itself, a circumstance, and as such opens the door of circumstances wide enough for there to be an infinite number of them, since time is perceived to be an infinite thing…although humanity invented minutes, seconds, and clocks to better measure/understand it. XD

My Letter to Brook Gifford

As I promised in my last blog entry...

Below, cut and pasted, is the letter that I handwrote and typed for the wife of my teacher, Mr. John Gifford.  He passed away this past Tuesday, and I only found out about it Thursday.  Although his loss weighs on my mind heavily, what hurts me more is knowing that he left behind his wife and one-year old son.  I wrote this letter in the hope that what I had to say would help her eventually find some comfort, so that she would have my thoughts on paper outside of one simple meeting at his casket...and also because I thought it would be a bit more polite to just give her something she could look at if/when she wanted to, rather than have me try to say it all to her at once like everyone else did, although she seemed to warmly greet everyone who approached her and seemed eager to hear everyone out.  Never would I have anticipated her to be so strong...perhaps seeing the outpouring provided her comfort?  Perhaps she was trying hard to live in the moment before having to see her husband buried?  Whatever her reasons, she made an impact upon me, and although I had to leave because it was getting very late and I had 50 miles to get back home, I can't help but be amazed she took the time to embrace everyone the way she did.  It was a four-hour wait to get up there from where I was in line...I've never seen such a turnout in all the visitations/funerals I've been to.  It's a testament to the man he was.

But without further ado, here we go:

Dearest Brook,

How to begin…that’s always the first question to come to mind when one sits down to write.  Half the battle is beginning.  I should know as a self-professed/aspiring writer and certified writing tutor at Northern Kentucky University.  I find myself sharing that adage with many a fellow student that pays me a visit seeking help.  Often, I find I’m saying this to a person who is lost for words or just not passionate about the topic at hand, but in my case the opposite is true:  there are so many things I want to say to you, things meant to show you what your husband meant to me and how he impacted my life, as well as things to say to you in hopes of easing your pain and helping you to cope with your loss and the fallout from it.  All of these thoughts are attacking me at once, so please forgive me if this letter seems to meander, and I beg your forgiveness if (God forbid) I unintentionally offend or upset you more than you are already.  Those are not my intentions at all.  I just want to help you.  I figured writing it all out would be best; I speak well, but I write better…plus it beats trying to dump all my thoughts on you at once.  This way, you can take it in when you want to, at your own pace.

I met John Gifford in 2004, as an incoming freshman enrolled in his Tech Overview course at Campbell County High School.  His tall stature and deep rural voice, which oddly reminds me somewhat of Josh Turner (who, coincidentally, I was getting acquainted with around the same time), made an instant impression on me.  I knew he was cool.  His calm demeanor reminded me of my grandfather on some strangely subconscious level, an observation that came to me much later, which is why I think I hit it off with him so well looking back.  I am glad to have met him when I did, given my grandpa passed away a month prior and it was the start of my time in the “big, scary” high school.  Mr. Gifford’s warm presence and kindness definitely put me on the fast track to getting comfortable at CCHS.  I was so fond of him that I took his Production Tech class my sophomore year, too.  Those two years of having him as a teacher were, simply put, AWESOME!!!  So many memories made…building the cardboard chairs comes to mind first.  Although the challenge of building a chair out of cardboard and masking tape that was strong enough to support his weight was daunting, I wound up building one that he very nearly taught class out of, and it stands to this day.  I should admit to you now that I laughed when he’d fall through the other chairs to the floor…HARD…hard, as in I nearly cried and…well, almost lost control of two important bodily functions…not sure if it’s appropriate to say “peed” or “pooped.”  Oh well.  There were other awesome projects we did, too…the CO2 cars, the birdhouses, the mousetrap-powered cars (I outfitted mine with a rod and gear/spool system to ensure it went the length of the hallway we tested them in)…his assignments were always so fun.  I also loved when he took us to the Toyota plant, but sadly the most pervasive memory of that time is when classmate Trent Decker ate as many chicken nuggets as he could and left McDonald’s feeling absolute miserable.  We were amused to hear he wound up up-chucking that very night…served him right eating over 60 nuggets…or was it more???  I’m laughing regardless.  I didn’t attend the Donkey Basketball games, but I still remember Mr. Gifford talking about how they gave him the smallest, meanest donkey to ride.  I remember screenprinting shirts; I still have mine, and will cherish it always.  I remember this heavy…I think it was some sort of machine that deployed either gumballs or pencils…sadly I can’t remember which.  My mind goes to gumballs because I recall it doing something cool with the money you put in, or maybe the gumball that came out…but my mind also says pencils because I remember him getting mildly frustrated with the students who didn’t bring pencils for drafting, and doing something to capitalize/penalize us for forgetting…you know, come to think of it, it might have been a pencil machine.  I also remember him being excited about his engagement to you, and recall him talking about the home he was building for you and him.  That really stands out in my mind.  I also recall him subscribing to the school paper after I started into journalism.  I think he left CCHS before I was named Editor-in-Chief my senior year (07-08), but I recall volunteering to bring him his paper myself to see him.  I was sad to see him leave CCHS, but sympathetic due to knowing the distance he drove to work for us.

I found out about his passing when I first got home from NKU on the 25th, this past Thursday.  It was one of the first Facebook posts I found.  The wind was completely taken out of my sails.  I was hoping to come home to finish work on a poem I’d started in honor of the tenth anniversary of the death of singer Aaliyah, who died tragically at 22 in a plane crash leaving The Bahamas (strange, I know, but this Kentucky boy has a soft spot for urban pop music…well, just her’s anyway…I’m much more complicated than I can explain here), but I couldn’t think.  I was just in shock and disbelief.  I couldn’t process what I’d just learned, and frankly I still can’t.  Never could I imagine I’d be talking about the passing of a man only eight or nine years my senior at this tender age, this soon in my life.  I’ve lost a fair share of people thus far in my short existence:  elder family members in their dying-off phases (my dad’s mom in 2000, which is a sad story in that other family members used her living will as leverage to bring that about, and my mom’s dad in 2004 due to lung and bone cancer; the other two both died in 1984), classmates in car accidents, a cousin who was shot and killed in 2001 leaving behind a baby boy…but with Mr. Gifford, this is the first time I can truly say I lost a friend.  It really hurts in a way I struggle to put into words.  I cried when I watched Channel 5’s coverage of his death on their website, and wept more at the outpouring of grief from the students posting on the newly-created John Gifford Memorial Page.  Over 1,000 people have already joined the page, a testament to the man he was and the lives he touched.  I would say that I wished he could see it for himself, a collective show of appreciation in his honor all in one place, but I’m certain he got to see that appreciation every day he went to work.  It’s something many people likely never see until after they pass on, just how much they are appreciated by those they care about.  I’m thankful enough to have gotten a glimpse of how much I matter to those around me.  I saw it when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease on Friday, August 13 of 2010 (I should probably be somewhat superstitious…).  That weekend is the darkest point thus far in my life.  I was convinced life as I knew and loved it was over.  I spent most of that time asleep, initially due to the anesthetic from the colonoscopy that confirmed the diagnosis, but mainly because it was the only escape I had readily available from a grim, harsh reality I hated.  I was ready to give up on myself, and I more or less did until my family and friends came out in droves after I announced my diagnosis to the world.  They weren’t about to give up on me, or let me give up on myself.  Their encouraging words overwhelmed me.  Their heartfelt support showed me nothing had changed and I still mattered.  My diagnosis didn’t have to be the end of my world unless I wanted it to be.  My family and friends gave me the strength to get back up, to understand the true x-factor in life is all in how you choose to react to whatever happens.  My dad’s father was an alcoholic, and he and my grandmother would constantly get into fights as my dad was growing up.  By all intents and purposes, he should be an asshole, but he’s far from it.  He’s a good father and person in spite of that.  As such, I try hard not to let my condition affect who I am, except to strengthen me.  I still get depressed from time to time, and deal with physical and emotional pain on a daily basis, but I try my best to take the bad so I can keep experiencing and focusing on the good.  If Mr. Gifford had still been in touch with me, I am absolutely certain he could have helped me reach these conclusions much faster than I did.  I wish we hadn’t fallen out of touch.

I share with you my condensed life story not to unburden myself upon you, but to offer you a better glimpse of who I am and who I’ve become, thanks in part to your husband’s influence, and also in hopes that you might find some points of sympathy with what I’ve experienced to help you as you grieve.  I’ve dealt with death quite a bit in my nearly twenty-two years and grieved each time, but I’ve yet to suffer so personal a loss as you have.  I’ve never lost a spouse, lover, and soulmate before.  I almost have no leg to stand on next to you, yet here I am trying my best to comfort you.  Chalk it up to how I’m hard-wired, but I’ve found most of my sadness and grief is built upon seeing/knowing/being cognizant of the pain of those left behind.  Mr. Gifford’s loss definitely saddens me greatly, but my thoughts have been mainly with you, Jake, and the family and close friends, and wondering whether you’re getting along the best you can in light of his loss.  Consider it a sort of repayment for what Mr. Gifford did for me if you want, but I think it’s on a greater level than that.  I almost feel it’s a hard-wired desire or instinct to make sure you’re faring as well as you can.  I’m trying not to be overwhelming about it; I don’t want to be like one of those people who, in spite of their desire to help, only make it worse, use worn-out words whose meanings have faded with each processed sound, or are forceful in their efforts to get you back on your feet.  My intention isn’t to push you down the road to healing, but rather to gently point you in what I think (and hopefully you think) is the right direction for when you’re ready to walk it.  I don’t want you to feel alone as you make this journey, but I’m smart enough to know that no one else can walk the path you’re on.  You grieve for your husband, John; I grieve for my friend, Mr. Gifford.  We aren’t in line with one another on the same path, but thankfully our paths run parallel with each other, which puts me somewhere right next to you.

Please don’t let this shake your faith.  I don’t know if it will, but I feel I should cover this point anyway.  I can’t speak to how you believe, or exactly what, but keep hold of it.  I don’t know if there’s a rhyme or reason for what happens, but history seems to indicate the truly great, talented, and good depart this world too soon.  Mr. Gifford meets that criteria in my eyes.  It’s sort of a funny idea to take stock in, that the better person you are the shorter your life is, but I can kind of believe it.  It takes extra effort to be the best you can be, so it might possibly wear a person out…yet Mr. Gifford seemed to shine effortlessly, so perhaps that isn’t so true after all.  Perhaps God needed him more?  That could very well be the case, but I don’t think that definitively negates your needing him, your son needing him, or everyone else needing him.  Makes God seem a bit cruel, but God could simply have a plan too great for us to understand.  There are so many ways of framing the “why” in this, so please choose what your heart and soul and intuition feel is best.  I’ve seen and heard of faithful people being shaken by moments like this because of the greater uncertainty that exists about what happens after death.  It stems from an innate fear of the unknown; we can’t definitively say what the afterlife is going to be like, or whether there is one.  Different religions and schools of thought exist with interpretations of how it might be, and argue, fight, and kill those that think and feel differently out of an innate fear of being wrong.  You have nonbelievers clinging to science, the pious denouncing theories like evolution, skeptics wanting visual facts to build a theory, and the devout twisting and selectively believing facts to suit their beliefs.  It’s chaotic and confusing, plus these factions wind up causing just as much bad as good.  Call me off-kilter or non-traditional, but to me, no matter what or how you believe, it seems too farfetched to believe there isn’t a creator or some sort of afterlife.  Why can’t we say that God is a scientist and just follow the religion we wish so that we become the best people we can?  Why fear being wrong?  Why kill one another or tell someone they are wrong?  Just be the best you can, encourage others to do the same, and wait to see for yourself how it is?  I’ve met many people of varying faiths/beliefs, studied many religions and philosophies, yet I still consider myself a believer in nearly the same sense as when I started, and somehow magically find it within myself to appreciate and be fascinated by beliefs different than my own, rather than shun them.  This existence is too damn interesting for there to be nothing after death; I stand convinced there’s something at work outside of the tapestry of stars.  I believe we’ll see the departed once again if we adhere to our respective moral compasses.  Sorry if I come across as preachy; just keep believing how you want.  Also, for the record, I’m a Christian with an appreciation for Asian/Native American religions and a “What Dreams May Come” view of the afterlife.  If you’re confused by the last bit, find that movie and you’ll understand.

I hope that you’re okay, or at the very least make it to okay.  I know there is no instant cure for loss/pain/grief, but I hope you reach the end of this overly long letter a bit better than when you started to read it.  I tried to choose my words carefully, but fearlessly as well.  I’m deeply sorry if I offended you along the way or made you feel worse in any way.  I went into this with care, and also with the belief that laying myself open to you would be the best way of connecting with you.  Your husband is a significant part of who I am, and I hope you are able to see that.  I wish I could bring him back for you and Jake.  It bothers me that things have happened this way, but unfortunately there isn’t much we can do but decide how to proceed.  We’re stuck moving forward, whether we want to or not.  If I have any shortcomings as a person, it’s that I get lost easily within myself and get stuck dwelling on the past too often.  Neither practice is bad, as long as you remember to reach out again and use the past in a way that benefits your future.  I hope and pray that you find peace, and I wish little Jake the greatest life that can be conceived.  I may not be in line with you, but I’m somewhere beside you.

All my deepest sympathies,

Ryan Scott Hayes

Yet Another Musing on the Afterlife

I think I went pretty in-depth on this already, but the following is a blog post I made recently in an Honors philosophy course I'm enrolled in right now talking about whether I think dualism is a feasible concept.  I break down my religious/spiritual beliefs in my post as well, which may or may not shed some more light for you on where I stand:

The following is an excerpt from a letter I wrote over the weekend to the wife of a former teacher of mine, who sadly passed away last week at the tender age of 30 due to a heart issue. He'd had issues with it when he was 15, but had been symptom-free up until the night he died. I wrote this letter in an attempt to comfort her, to put down everything I wanted to say to her so she could process it at her own pace and desire, rather than try to dump it all on her at once in one meeting at his casket:

“Please don’t let this shake your faith. I don’t know if it will, but I feel I should cover this point anyway. I can’t speak to how you believe, or exactly what, but keep hold of it. I don’t know if there’s a rhyme or reason for what happens, but history seems to indicate the truly great, talented, and good depart this world too soon. Mr. Gifford meets that criteria in my eyes. It’s sort of a funny idea to take stock in, that the better person you are the shorter your life is, but I can kind of believe it. It takes extra effort to be the best you can be, so it might possibly wear a person out…yet Mr. Gifford seemed to shine effortlessly, so perhaps that isn’t so true after all. Perhaps God needed him more? That could very well be the case, but I don’t think that definitively negates your needing him, your son needing him, or everyone else needing him. Makes God seem a bit cruel, but God could simply have a plan too great for us to understand. There are so many ways of framing the “why” in this, so please choose what your heart and soul and intuition feel is best. I’ve seen and heard of faithful people being shaken by moments like this because of the greater uncertainty that exists about what happens after death. It stems from an innate fear of the unknown; we can’t definitively say what the afterlife is going to be like, or whether there is one. Different religions and schools of thought exist with interpretations of how it might be, and argue, fight, and kill those that think and feel differently out of an innate fear of being wrong. You have nonbelievers clinging to science, the pious denouncing theories like evolution, skeptics wanting visual facts to build a theory, and the devout twisting and selectively believing facts to suit their beliefs. It’s chaotic and confusing, plus these factions wind up causing just as much bad as good. Call me off-kilter or non-traditional, but to me, no matter what or how you believe, it seems too farfetched to believe there isn’t a creator or some sort of afterlife. Why can’t we say that God is a scientist and just follow the religion we wish so that we become the best people we can? Why fear being wrong? Why kill one another or tell someone they are wrong? Just be the best you can, encourage others to do the same, and wait to see for yourself how it is? I’ve met many people of varying faiths/beliefs, studied many religions and philosophies, yet I still consider myself a believer in nearly the same sense as when I started, and somehow magically find it within myself to appreciate and be fascinated by beliefs different than my own, rather than shun them. This existence is too damn interesting for there to be nothing after death; I stand convinced there’s something at work outside of the tapestry of stars. I believe we’ll see the departed once again if we adhere to our respective moral compasses. Sorry if I come across as preachy; just keep believing how you want. Also, for the record, I’m a Christian with an appreciation for Asian/Native American religions and a “What Dreams May Come” view of the afterlife. If you’re confused by the last bit, find that movie and you’ll understand.”

I believe that this is the best job I've ever done at really laying myself open for my own eyes to see, which I feel was drastically needed in order to really try to connect with her in the fallout of such a tragic loss. It's one thing to mentally know who it is you think you are, and to have all of these thoughts swirling around in your mind, but it's much more satisfying for me to be able to pull this sort of thread from the loom of my mind and sew it into paper. It's the closest thing I think we can get to actually turning the abstract into something tangible, although interpreted it is still of an abstract nature…perhaps less so. o-O

When it comes to whether I take any stock in dualism, I think I'm fairly safe in saying that I can. Based on the above passage I shared with you of my own writing, it's quite obvious I hold a belief in a higher power, in a creator, and as such I most likely have to believe there is something more to us than just our physical forms, our bodies, which I do. However, it is also quite obvious that the beliefs I hold are quite unconventional and nontraditional in comparison to most “organized” religious beliefs. Right from the start, I state that I am Christian, which immediately tells you I hold belief in a singular “God” and believe in the existence of a “Heaven” and “Hell.” However, my views on these planes of afterlife existence are hardly traditional. I mentioned I hold a “What Dreams May Come” view of the afterlife, and that if you watched that movie, you'd largely take away my current beliefs on the subject. To sum it up here to give you an idea, I believe in a “Heaven of the mind/one's own creation,” be it a conscious creation, unconscious creation, or both.

In the movie, when Robin Williams' character, Chris Nielsen, passes away, he initially sees Heaven as being depicted in acrylic paint, which symbolized his strong connection to his artist wife and her own paintings. As he became more comfortable and more accepting of his newfound plane of existence, the world around him slowly became “real” in the sense that his surroundings became actual leaves, grass, and vegetation. The more comfortable he became with his surroundings, the more control he had over it. His tailor-made Heaven was just but one part of the large scheme of Heaven, as it is mentioned that Heaven is a place big enough for everyone to have their own personal space, but that travel between them was possible, as Chris found out when he happened upon his deceased daughter, Marie, who led him into her own Heaven based on a diorama she adored in her room.

On the flipside, “Hell,” as depicted in the movie, is a plane of existence people wind up going to where they don't know they're dead. People go there for the standard reasons, such as committing murder, etc, but one of the most telling things about Hell is that it winds up being the home of suicides, which reveals the true nature of the construct of Hell. Not necessarily fire and brimstone, Hell is a direct contrast to Heaven in that Hell is essentially “your life gone wrong.” “Good people wind up in Hell because they can't forgive themselves,” a conclusion Chris Nielsen comes to toward the end of the movie, best sums up the nature of Hell. Where Heaven in this case could be described as a sort of “fantasy world” created by a deceased person, Hell is the “anti-fantasy world” of a person trapped within their own pain. Chris' wife, Annie, unable to cope with the loss of her children and husband, decides to take her own life and winds up in a twisted version of her home, run-down, destroyed, all of her art and favorite books gone, located in the bowels of Hell which is strangely depicted as the church she was married in, upside down. Suicides are essentially punished because the taking of their own life constitutes a violation of a “natural order of life,” which isn't really touched upon in great detail in the movie, but can be interpreted to mean choosing to end one's own life before it's actually time. In the movie, this punishment is implied to last for all eternity, but in the actual book (which I've yet to locate and read, which has many difference to the film) the penalty for suicide is 20-25 years in Hell before resurrection to essentially “try again.”

Although Chris is told time and again that no one in the afterlife has seen a suicide brought back from Hell, he is able to rescue Annie at the very brink of losing himself because they were true and legitimate soulmates. Chris is able to finally make her realize who he is and where she's at by choosing to forsake Heaven and join her in her misery, which nearly robs him of his Heavenly existence because he's accepted her warped reality as his, and therefore has begun to lose his mind. Going back to the topic of resurrection, the option is available even for those already in Heaven, who wish to experience life again. At the end of the movie, Chris and his wife, Annie, who died rather young in their prior lives, opt to be reborn so that they might meet again and experience the one thing they didn't get the chance to in their last existence: growing old together.

That's quite a lot to take in, so I don't know if I'll spend so much time elaborating on the other facets of my personal beliefs, other than to say I found things to like in certain Asian and Native American religions. I find myself especially fascinated by Taoism and the Tao te Ching, as well as Buddhism and the teachings of the Dalai Lama. As I alluded to in the passage, I find reasons to be fascinated by the many different beliefs and faiths I come across in spite of my own such thoughts, something I think a great many people seem unable to do because they cling so tightly to the things they hold value in. There is nothing inherently wrong in holding tight to what you believe, so perhaps the issue at hand lies in the fears I touched on: the fears of the unknown and being wrong. The fear of the unknown is a tough fear to shake, and I can't definitively tell you whether I feel I've conquered this one or not, but when it comes to the afterlife I always equate it to starting a new year at college or school, or perhaps moving elsewhere for work…you know, that anxiety you get because you really don't know what to expect. When I look at the afterlife in this sense, I'm able to alleviate a lot of that fear, treating it simply as another plane of existence I simply don't know about. When it comes to the fear of being wrong, now…perhaps that is the harder fear to break, especially for those who believe their particular faith is the one true “ticket” to a positive afterlife. For those stuck on the fear of being wrong, I initially supposed the best way to go about diagnosing it was, once again, to think of it in a general, everyday life sort of sense, in that if you guessed wrong on a math problem, for example, you didn't have to be afraid because it wasn't the end of the world. Then I quickly realized the error of that comparison, because most feel that if they choose the wrong faith to believe in, they are cast into a negative afterlife because they didn't follow the tenets they were supposed to. It was then I came up with another way of potentially explaining it. It comes down to the three similarities we share as human beings: we're born, we live, and we die. The manner in which we do these things may not be exactly the same, but at the very base value we all do these things, so perhaps…PERHAPS…whatever happens afterlife will be similar for each of us, if not exactly the same. Hence why I think my “What Dreams May Come” view of the afterlife holds some merit: because our respective afterlives, or our own areas of such, will be of our own construct based on who we are/were, what we believe(ed), and perhaps even the style of life we led.

Of course, I don't claim to know how it's going to be; this is simply the outcome I hope for the most. As I said, I'm not afraid to admit my view of the matter is wrong, or could potentially be wrong, but is it really appropriate to blatantly say to someone that the way they think it might be has absolutely no merit at all? I find such negativity to be highly disrespectful, and counterproductive. Let each person have their view, and shape that view, and let's all find out how it is when it's our respective times. I personally believe our current existence is too interesting for there not to be something after our expiration, but hey…I could be wrong.

I could go on and on about my belief in a “spectrum of consciousness,” as well as different “planes of consciousness,” but perhaps I should leave that for another time. This blog entry is pretty long as it is…I will say that I'm not keen on believing in a strictly “black and white” interpretation of something, which might give you enough to decipher my thoughts on those issues. Perhaps these are things I can elaborate on when you see me. I guess you could say that I'm most supportive of either Cartesian dualism or popular dualism, based upon my beliefs…I'm still not sure which I take more stock in. I suppose the greatest of my desires is to see it be popular dualism, which would support my concept of the afterlife the most, but at the very least I would hope it would be Cartesian dualism, so I'd at least be some sort of “thinking substance.” :)

A bit of a tedious read, I think, but that pretty much sums up my thoughts on that...I was just reminded that I quoted a letter I wrote to the wife of a teacher of mine who passed away last month.  I should share that here as well in its entirety.  I consider my best written effort yet to try to reach someone who is in grief; I really laid myself open to her in order to establish a connection.  I'm hoping my words worked to help her in the grieving process, but as of yet I do not know.  I meant to deliver the letter to her myself, but having traveled over fifty miles for the service and realizing the line to the coffin was a FOUR HOUR WAIT (yes, my teacher touched that many people), I could not stick around to see her, and gave my letter instead to a young student helping to direct people through the school where the service was taking place.  I hope she got my letter...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Dear Folks, Sorry I Haven't Written Lately

So, I logged into my humble blog and discovered I could update to a new, smoother interface.  I did this, and then promptly shat myself when I discovered that my blog, that admittedly I haven't done a great job of keeping up-to-date or interesting, has garnered over 500 views.  Perhaps that will give me some incentive!!!

I guess my inability to maintain the blog hearkens back to my inability to maintain a personal journal; the idea was always fascinating to me, but when it starts to feel like an obligation is when I start not to care so much.  With this blog, it hopefully will be different because if I'm eliciting some sort of reaction or attention it should give me some motivation to actually post more...that's the idea, anyway.

While this post really contributes nothing in comparison to the others, I just want to thank anyone who has checked the place out, or perhaps stumbled upon it by accident.  I'm hoping to spruce the place up a bit.  My intention is to begin sharing some of the writing I've done, since writing happens to be a passion/hobby of mine. I claim to be the Kamikaze Wordsmith from Hell, after all, so I better start showing you why.  :)  Right now, I have a lot of things going on in life, like senior year of college at NKU (right now I'm in some fairly intensive courses that require a lot of writing, including a Fiction Writing course which should help boost my creative productivity significantly) among other things, but I'll try my best to make posting here a bit more routine.

Again, thanks to anyone who has checked the place out.  Expect to see some more from me here in the future.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Opinions on the Florida v. Anthony Verdict

Not that my opinion matters all that much, but below is my reaction to the verdict re-posted from Facebook:

I feel like these jurors were waiting for forensic evidence to magically appear that never had a chance of lasting from the time of death to the time the body was finally located. While forensic science has really become the ultimate, defining evidence of crime in court cases (and for good reason), I think the downside of it is the way it has been portrayed in all of these courtroom dramas and CSI shows. More often than not, the criminal winds up linked to the crime by the discovery and existence of some forensic evidence. I think it's highly likely that most minds, potentially including the minds of the jurors, have been poisoned by what I'm dubbing "CSI syndrome." I don't think enough stories have been crafted and told concerning crimes with virtually no hard/defining/conclusive evidence, and I feel it is up to the hands of writers and filmmakers to rectify this.

I feel that the jurors might have been a bit too distracted by the existence or nonexistence of certain forensic evidence that they were unable to step back and look at the entire picture. While I concede that the evidence at hand was merely circumstantial and that there really wasn't clear cut evidence to implicate an exact manner of death or evidence to physically link Casey to the remains, I have come to feel that Casey's own character was, and should have been, the clearest indication of guilt. None of her reactions could be considered typical given the circumstances. She is, by and large, one of the coldest individuals I've had the opportunity of seeing. While I'm not entirely surprised by this, I can now definitively believe with more conviction that there are some really fucked up people out there.

With Casey Anthony more or less found not guilty of murdering her daughter, Caylee, then WHO DID IT?  Will this be marked down as yet another unsolved mystery?  I'm of the opinion that Casey is the only plausible culprit of the crime, and until I'm persuaded otherwise that is the opinion I will always keep.

Lesson(s) learned:  Casey got away with murder, and don't EVER wind up tried for a crime in which a jury decides your fate, because guilty or not you just might wind up screwed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Musings on the Afterlife

While browsing the General Discussion forum on the Aussie Mortal Kombat fansite, Kamidogu, I came upon a thread asking whether suicides go to Hell, as many popular religions believe.  I thought for awhile about this question, and wound up crafting this response, which turned into a reflection on my own thoughts about the afterlife.  I thought posting that here would be a great way to revive this blog I've been neglecting.  XD

I'm holding out hope that the afterlife is sort of how it was depicted in the movie What Dreams May Come, at least for Heaven anyway, where it is big enough for everyone to have their own, tailor-made place. If that is the case, and I really hope it is, my Heaven is sure to kick a lot of ass just by virtue of my interests, likes, and eccentric/weird personality. One of the first things I want to do is challenge Bruce Lee to a game of Mortal Kombat...don't worry, guys, I think I can beat him so long as both of our definitions of Mortal Kombat are the same. If it's the video game, I think I've got a chance, but if his idea is a real fight, I'm probably fucked...but's MY Heaven! MY DOMAIN!!! *cackles maniacally...

Holding true to the What Dreams May Come idea, which really did a lot to influence and shape what I think/hope the afterlife is like, I think in the case of suicides, if they do go to Hell (and this is an opinion I waver on constantly), it wouldn't be a place of physical torture and anguish, but rather a place that torments them mentally. Suicide, like some religions believe, would be a violation not so much of rejecting God's gift of life, but more so of a natural order, or perhaps some sort of pseudo-predestined plan for life...and I hesitate to say that because I'm a bit skeptical of the idea of predestination. Hell, I believe for them, would essentially be their life gone wrong, an eternity spent living out what they knew to be their life, but with the miserable/negative parts augmented. I believe this would be the case because, with many people, misery is like gravity...some people become so steeped in it they come to view it as their "normal."

I have a close friend who seems perpetually miserable. With some of the things he's endured (the most poignant being a three year relationship which became an engagement that was broken off due to her mother not letting her move away with him so he could attend school; she then wound up promptly dating and marrying another), he seems to have every right to be miserable, but with the string of setbacks he's faced, I would almost say he is emotionally damaged, and to him misery is his "base emotion," if you will. I think suicide is something that is constantly on his mind, but an action he ultimately can't bring himself to enact due to the stubborn friendship I've established with him, plus my making sure he's around people who bring the happiness out in him each week on campus. I don't want to believe that a guy like him would go to Hell if he decided to commit suicide one day, because he's one of the nicest guys I know; but if going to Hell is a fact for those who kill themselves, I would have to believe it would be due to their own inability to escape the emotions and things that plagued them. If good people go to Hell, I think it's mainly due to their own inability to forgive themselves for their own perceived misdeeds and an often misplaced sense of guilt. It would essentially be a Hell of their own construct, like Heaven would be under this idea.

I'm not so convinced that the soul transcends the spectrum of emotions we know in life, like many religious people believe. I imagine Heaven would give us infinite reasons to be happy, and would undoubtedly encourage the positive emotions, but there is something that scares me about not potentially feeling certain emotions again, like anger, sorrow, or grief. To me, having the option to feel however you want is one of the greatest gifts to have in existence, and the idea of having that stripped away by Heaven sort of disheartens me. I personally believe you would still maintain that emotional freedom in my idea of Heaven, but perhaps a potential punishment in Hell would be the emotional handicap that those of deep faith would believe for Heaven. It makes logical sense to me when I think of it that way. Not saying I'd spend my entire eternity feeling miserable in Heaven, but it wouldn't be Heaven for me if I couldn't feel however I pleased.

But back on point, the constructs of such an afterlife would hinge on whether emotional capacity is maintained beyond death, which I believe to be so. Given the fact I believe this, I would wager that if one committed suicide, their skewed mental and emotional states would ultimately create for them their own personalized Hell. I guess you could say that Heaven and Hell would be mental constructs, in a sense, shaped by a person's own mind and given life via the person's emotions. Saying that, the line is blurred between the is there really this separation??? I would argue yes, if only based upon my idea that Heaven would grant emotional freedom, while Hell would handicap that freedom. Heaven would be easier to mold and control with the mind, while Hell would be volatile and essentially uncontrollable, not conforming to anything but what torments the person unfortunate to occupy it. You could say that the one defined rule in the afterlife is that Heaven offers a person freedom, while Hell does not, and as such the formations of such afterlives are formed by the person based upon that rule.

The movie was based on a book, which to my knowledge is markedly different in many respects to what the movie depicted. One concept contained within the book, which the movie likely overlooked for more dramatic effect, was the idea of people in Hell serving "penances" for their sins and infractions committed against the natural order of things. In other words, people damned to Hell would not necessarily remain there forever, but would serve what could be thought of as prison terms before being offered a second chance at life to secure entry to Heaven. For example, by committing suicide, the character Ann (called Annie in the movie) was damned to Hell for a period of 24 years, and ultimately was reincarnated because she was not yet ready for Heaven. I like this idea of Hell as a sort of prison/reformatory of sorts. Very unique concept, if I do say so myself.

This theory of mine gets complicated really fast, as you can tell. Like many ideas and theories on the afterlife, it has its points of contention I'm sure. While I personally hold this idea to be a distinct possibility...perhaps even a truth...I acknowledge I could be completely wrong on the matter entirely, and like everyone else I won't know what is to happen (or not) until after my own death. I think it an appropriate time to admit I don't necessarily believe in one "true" religion or belief system or one "correct" path to a positive afterlife. I'm skeptical of whether there is one definite "Heaven/Hell." Back on point, though, I think the main reason why I grew to love this concept of the afterlife that was illustrated in What Dreams May Come is because of my belief in Heaven as a sort of paradise. This concept of Heaven was the best one, to my observation, that satisfied that belief, as it introduced to me a Heaven I could essentially tailor to my own interests, etc. I deem it a deeply reassuring concept to grasp onto, and will likely continue to do so throughout the remainder of my life.