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I don’t even know what to think about this. But I couldn’t help but point it out. If only they were as on top of telling me to avoid roads that are closed due to the BarBQue festival this weekend as they are on top of finding out where women are parading around in bikinis, I might actually find their content worth reading.

Good grief.

Good grief.

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One of those days

There are these days that I get euphoria. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s something like depression – everything in life just combines in the right combinations to push my personality over the top. Rather than being down and lethargic and reclusive – symptoms of depression – I become boisterous, energetic, and super-confident. I feel like I could take over the world, in a benevolent and all-loving sort of way.

Today I’m filled with dreams of being a freelancer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely happy with my job; other potential jobs do not tempt me and you’d be hard pressed to get an actual word of complaint out of me about work. But this isn’t where I’m going to be forever. There is a time and a place for everything. And one day, I’ll get my skillsets in order, I’ll get my online presence in order, and I’ll know that it’s now or never, and I’ll take the leap to start out on my own. And today I’m just thinking about how that’ll be. It’ll be good, I hope.

But I’m also thinking about all the dreams Freya and I share together. Dreams of vacation coming up soon – a weekend hiding out in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains where we’ll spend our time painting and writing and soaking in a hot tub drinking champagne. Dreams of adventure in the near future – our road trip around the US that will be the adventure that makes everyone else jealous (8-10 months going wherever we want, doing whatever we want).

Then there are the dreams of who knows how far off – our dream of starting some sort of commune or collective; a place where artists can come and live for a few months (or longer) as they work on their various projects, a place where we can attempt to put into place the ideas about community that we are continually shaping. We drive past large buildings all the time and discuss its merits for being that place – we’ll find something some day.

Freya has a dream to start a homeless shelter here in Nashville aimed at families and children – the fastest growing aspect of homelessness in America today (see here). She has no clue what it will look like yet, that’s one of the things we want to research on our big road trip. But it’s an admirable dream, and I can’t wait to be there as she finds out how to carry it out.

But then there are the small things, the actual things. There’s the ability to roll down the windows on this majestic day, to sing aloud to a song that actually celebrates the glory of being alive (check it out, it’s on repeat as I type), to see the clouds floating along.

Yeah, it’s euphoria, and it strikes me occasionally and I love it. Today is a good day. Every day is a good day, even if you don’t quite remember it.

American Beauty

“I’d always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all. It stretches on forever like an ocean of time.

“For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars.

“And yellow leaves from maple trees that lined our street.

“Or my grandmothers hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper.

“And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand new Firebird.

“And Janie.

“And Janie.

“And, Caroline.

“I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much – my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.

You have no idea what I’m talking about I’m sure, but don’t worry. You will someday.”

Growing up is mostly a desensitization – a loss of the ability to be in awe and to have wonder. It happens to all of us, it is equal parts a defense mechanism and a natural course of life. It is a battle sometimes to remember what it’s like to stand in wonder, to be in awe.

This film, for all the flaws that critics complain it has, is the most stark film I’ve ever seen about trying to find this sense of wonder and awe in the mundane, in the suburban, in the every day. It’s a worthy pursuit, one of the most worthy pursuits, to struggle against whatever forces you must to gain and reclaim wonder.

Wonder is not simply about the latest technological advancements – it can be about staring into the eyes of a dead bird. It can be about marveling at the clouds in a sunset. It can be so many small and large things, but the struggle is stopping, letting it sink it, trying to remember and reflect on it.

There is SO much beauty in the world. Do you see it?

Corporate Ranting

I feel like Seth Godin saying this, but who cares:

If your business is based on having customers, an important thing to do is make the customers feel like they are wanted.

Back around March I started itching for an iPhone, but some form of pragmatism kicked in and I realized that it’d be better to wait until A) I was eligible for an upgrade [July 5] and B) the new model was released. Around that same time however I had to add the wife to my account on AT&T because well, we were married and it was time for her parents to stop paying for her cell service.

We went in one evening in March to add her to the account, and thus began a long series of struggles that have greatly pissed me off in the past month.

We went into the AT&T store simply to add my wife as a new number onto an existing contract. So they look up my account and that’s where we find problem number one. I’d opened the account in Alabama, now I live in Nashville, and you can’t have numbers of differing area codes on the same account. So they needed to “localize” my number.

Which meant that we went in to get her a new phone and number, and I walked out with a new number as well. Frustration number 1, because I wasn’t prepared to swap numbers at all, but had no alternative since I needed the wife on my account.

A month later I start researching what exactly my date of upgrade eligibility is, and lo and behold it’s set at September 2010. Which is a little confusing because my contract runs out in October 2009. But I foolishly think to myself “oh well, that’s obviously wrong, I’ll just call them and have them fix it.”

Which then starts this trend wherein AT&T fools me up front into thinking it’s an easy process, and then tries to throw as much shit in the way as possible so that I really really understand they dislike having customers.

I don’t remember the exact dates, but I do remember how far apart they were, so here’s a “timeline”:

Monday, wk 1: Call AT&T. Explain to them the situation. They look at the numbers, realize something is wrong. Say to me “That’s not a problem to fix. We’ll submit this for review and then give you a call back in a week when everything is updated!”

Wednesday, wk 2: AT&T calls me: “You requested a reset of your upgrade eligibility date, correct?”
Me: “Yes”
AT&T : “Great, we’re just calling to let you know it’s been successful!”
Me: “So, just to confirm, what is the date that I’m able to upgrade now?”
AT&T: “Well its…. Oh…. well, it looks like it hasn’t been reset. You’re going to be wanting an iPhone, right?”
Me: Yes
AT&T: Ok let me transfer you to another person, they can handle that.
Me:

I’m then transferred to another person, who first attempts to go ahead and get my information to buy the iPhone, so that I have to re-explain why I’m not getting one yet and what this call is about. They then look at my account, and ask me if there are any other phones that I’m interested in, because the iPhone is the hardest to get with what’s wrong with my account.

YOU MESSED UP MY ACCOUNT AT&T! I don’t care HOW HARD it is to reset it, you’re going to do it because it’s NOT MY FAULT.

So then I have to spend an HOUR on the phone with that person while they fill out forms and put me on hold so they can type up notes and they have me repeat my information and finally, FINALLY this is what I’m told:

“Ok, we can’t actually reset the date, but we’ve put extensive notes explaining your situation. You won’t be able to go to an Apple Store or buy online, you have to go to an AT&T corporate store and it will be up to the manager there if you can upgrade.”

At this point, I’m laughing because what else can you do when a company says to you “we messed up and there’s no way to fix it, and we’re not really sorry because, well, why should we be?” BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT I HEARD.

But does this story end here? No. Then two weeks pass, and I’m eligible for the upgrade. I go into the AT&T corporate store (I tried the Apple store just in case, but to no avail) and say I want the phone, and they say well we don’t keep them in stock we just do fulfillment orders and I say well, whatever you have to do. So they take my information, confirm my upgrade eligibility, and I swipe my card.

A week later (which is this past Wednesday if you want to know) I get an email saying “Your iPhone has arrived! Please come pick it up.” So after work I drive over to the store, and that’s where MORE problems come up.

Apparently “this form” hadn’t gone through properly, and even though my iPhone was sitting RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, and even though my bank account showed a $217 payment to AT&T for THAT VERY iPHONE, I couldn’t have it, because “this form” hadn’t gone through properly, that’s what she said.

Well, actually she disappeared into the back of the store for 15 minutes then came back and said, and I quote”

“I have good news and bad news! The good news is you are actually going to be able to get the iPhone, the bad news is you’re going to have to come back tomorrow and get it.”

Apparently “this form” NORMALLY took 72 hours to go through but they were going to email the person directly and explain what would happen and they were sure to hear back tomorrow.

Except that “tomorrow” was yesterday, and they didn’t hear anything, and at this point I JUST WANT TO GET WHAT I PAID FOR.

So to hell with you AT&T. Just fix your damn mistake, have someone other than a peon apologize to me, and maybe, although I know this is probably REALLY hard because of all the forms and confusing systems and extensive notes it would take, maybe you could give me some sort of credit on service.

Because all I did originally was decide to add another person onto my contract and give you more money. And you decided I was a pain in the ass.

John Hodgman recently toasted Obama at a dinner by giving a speech about the age old battle between Jocks and Geeks. He sliced it a little differently than what we may remember from high school though; rather than it being merely people who were interested in technology versus people who excel in athletics, Hodgman said that the defining characteristics of a geek are questioning and a constant desire to learn. The defining characteristic of a jock is a sureness of self, a confidence in their view and knowledge of the world.

I am undoubtedly a geek, by these definitions. My wife contends that I’m a geek by many other definitions, but I retort that I don’t have all the seasons of Buffy and Angel memorized, have only seen the Star Wars films once each, and until J.J. Abram’s latest film, I’d never watched anything related to Star Trek except for Family Guy parodies. But that’s not the point. By Hodgman’s definitions, I’m a geek. The more I learn the more I learn how much I don’t know, and whenever I do get a grasp on some concept or idea, I hold onto it tightly but always willing to let go if I’m shown that I’m wrong, or there’s a better way.

It’s just how I naturally operate – I have a deeply ingrained thirst for knowledge and truth which probably feeds into why I’m a voracious reader and self-motivated self-taught learner. But this post wasn’t supposed to be so much about me.

Rather, why is it our natural bent to take what we know, whether it be a little or a great deal of knowledge, and to then treat anyone who attacks or differs with that knowledge as if they are challenging God himself. I guess simplicity says that our natural idea of the world is that what we know is Truth With A Capital T and everyone who contests that is an idiot; but it seems to me that whenever we claim to hold Truth With a Capital T we often find ourselves acting like Idiots With a Capital I. Very often.

This happens with scientists, this happens with Christians, this happens with little kids, this happens with pretty much everyone at some point or another. We find it very very hard to surrender this notion that we are the center of the world, and I guess it’s because that’s a very disconcerting concession to make.

I was just watching This American Life’s tv show on Instant Netflix and saw how foolish this makes us seem. As an Iraqi travelled through parts of the country and set up a booth in public places that said “Talk to Iraqi,” with the hopeful goal of having people ask him what it was like for him before and after the war, he was greeted with lots of Americans telling him what it was like. Telling him why we’re right. Telling him how horrible Saddam was.

And it’s not that either of the people sitting at the booth had an exclusive hold on What Truly Was, but it seems quite foolish to march up to someone who lived under Saddam and to tell him How it Was. It belies not only our confidence in ourselves, but also our trust in the purveyors of information in the world today – from the TV News to the Newspapers to yes, the President of the United States. And it makes me wonder, would we feel so confident if occasionally these information sources seemed… less authoritative?

I have been politically conservative for most of my life so it has come with some shock to those around me that I hesitatingly supported Obama. It is the nature of Politics that we divide our Party lines like the line between God and Satan – you cannot serve two masters nor can you serve two parties – but I’m hesitant to say I “support” Obama in the “woohoo I’m a democrat and he’s my man” way, more in the “He’s my president and he doesn’t seem evil” way. That said, I’ve been incredibly impressed at one aspect of his campaign and administration: the desire to surround himself with really smart people.

Hodgman brought this out in his speech referenced above – he claimed that Obama was the first geek president of our modern times. This may or may not be true, but it seems that Obama believes in himself with limits – he knows himself enough to know what he doesn’t know, and he seeks out people who not only won’t just be yes men, but are truly experts in the areas they are serving in. This to me is admirable, but hidden between the lines of political spin that happens everywhere. It comes down to the fact that Obama is willing to question things and admit when he’s not sure about something, and I think more than anything else about him, that’s what I like, and that’s what encourages me about this administration.

He could still mess things up really bad, but so can Republicans, and I don’t think it’s controversial to say that he’s made it clear that he’s going to try not to mess anything up.

This is a test from my new-spangled Glue account that I’m setting up in anticipation of my iPhone’s imminent arrival.

Glue is gluenow.com and it lets you post to all your social media spaces at once. And I’m not sure how much I’ll use it, since I’d rather have a single dashboard for all my different sites (2 tumblrs, 1 wordpress, facebook, twitter, and probably others I’m forgetting) rather than one site that updates all of them at the same time.

I’m rereading Chaim Potok’s excellent novel My Name is Asher Lev right now, and last night I stayed up way too late reading. These two passages really caught my attention and merit putting somewhere that I’ll be able to find again.

He said to me one day in the second week of July, “Asher Lev, there are two ways of painting the world. In the whole history of art, there are only these two ways. One is the way of Greece and Africa, which sees the world as a geometric design. The other is the way of Persia and India and China, which sees the world as a flower. Ingres, C├ęzanne, Picasso paint the world as geometry. Van Gogh, Renoir, Kandinsky, Chagall paint the world as a flower. I am a geometrician. I sculpt cylinders, cubes, triangles, and cones. The world is a structure, and structure to me is geometry. I sculpt geometry. I see the world as hard-edged, filled with lines and angles. And I see it as a wild and raging and hideous, and only occasionally beautiful. The world fills me with disgust more often than it fills me with jooy. Are you listening to me, Asher Lev? The world is a terrible place. I do not sculpt and paint to make the world sacred. I sculpt and paint to give permanence to my feelings about how terrible this world truly is. Nothing is real to me except my own feelings; nothing is true except my own feelings as I see them all around me in my sculpture and paintings. I know these feelings are true, because if they were not true they would make art that is as terrible as the world. You do not understand me yet, Asher Lev. My little Hasid. My sanctifier of the world. My half-naked painter with dangling payos and a paint-smeared skullcap. One day you will understand about the truth of feelings.”

Then, two pages later.

The following week, the third week of July, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We walked through centuries of Byzantine and Western crucifixions. He showed me the development of structure and form and expression, and the handling of pictorial space. I saw crucifixions all the way home and dreamed of crucifixions all through the night.

I told him the next day that I did not think I wanted to see any more crucifixions. He became angry.

“Asher Lev, you want to go off into a corner somewhere and paint little rabbis in long beards? Then go away and do not waste my time. Go paint your little rabbis. No one will pay attention to you. I am not telling you to paint crucifixions. I am telling you that you must understand what a crucifixion is in art if you want to be a great artist. The crucifixion must be available to you as a form. Do you understand? No, I see you do not understand. In any case, we will see more crucifixions and more resurrections and more nativities and more Greek and Roman gods and more scenes of war and love – because that is the world of art, Asher Lev. And we will see more naked women, and you will learn the reason for the differences between the naked women of Titian and those of Rubens. This is the world you want to make sacred. You had better learn it well first before you begin.”

These passages stand alone – but that last sentence was a dagger to my heart. Do I have the strength to learn the world well? Most Christians do not. They do not see the reason to expose themselves to the horror of the world, but in being afraid to do that, they are never able to speak to that world.

I want to avoid that. It sounds like a long long path, but I’ve already taken the first steps…