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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...