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Archive for December, 2008

Subject: Out of the office

Body:
Nashville MacAuthority,

It causes me no regret to inform you that I will be out of the office from noon today. Because of this, please refer all pricing questions, policy questions, procedural questions, iPod questions, video questions, Service questions and personal questions to others in the company.

Thank you for your cooperation and Merry Christmas.

Winston Hearn

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Quick Notes

Sometimes I don’t have anything full length to say.

  • This weekend the wife and I are becoming Instant Parents as we housesit for friends and watch their 4 kids, who are four years old to sixteen years old. It’s ok, we’ll be fine.
  • We plan on recuperating from our temporary Parenthood by catching Slumdog Millionaire on Sunday night after Church. Come if you want – it’s at Regal Green Hills and we’ll probably hit the 7:40 showing since the next one is 10:05. I’m predicting in advance this will be my favorite film of the year. (Trailer Here)
  • We have another date on Christmas Eve to hit up the Belcourt to see A Christmas Tale at 5pm, but you’re not invited to that. I mean, if you show up I can’t really stop you, it’s a public showing, but we probably won’t sit next to you. We want privacy as we make out take in the film. (Trailer Here)
  • Just got my new Moleskine 2009 planner from Barnes and Noble. I’m incredibly excited about it; I had to wait three days to write in it simply because I had lost the Zebra pen that looks the best on its pages. I bought one last night, and now I can begin planning my year.
  • Ok, I’m going to pretend to work for a bit now. Christmas Eve is my last day at this infuriating job!

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Review: Happy-Go-Lucky

(I posted about this film right after we saw it, but I thought I’d go ahead and write a proper review.)

Round this time of year many people watch a higher percentage of old films than they do on a normal basis. They drag out old VHS copies of White Christmas, Holiday Inn, It’s a Wonderful Live, and let these films play a number on the sentimental and nostalgic parts of their brains. Watching those films, we can’t help but think of the “good old days.” Now, arguably, these movies represent very little about their respective time periods, but with their overriding optimism and upbeat plots, we can’t help but dream a little dream about how things used to be better.

Mike Leigh’s latest film is not a musical and probably will never stir up much nostalgia, but it does paint an accurate portrayal of Now that will attract film watchers for years and years. The film is not an immediate classic, nor does it have any overwhelming strengths that make people talk or ensure its success as a indie phenom (no hip pregnant teens, crazy families in classic vans, or sex dolls posing as girlfriends). Instead, Leigh has crafted a film that is grounded in reality, to the extent that it is hard to remember these are characters and this is fictional.

Happy-Go-Lucky centers on Poppy (Sally Hawkins), an upbeat, eternally optimistic  school-teacher who lives with her best friend in London. Hawkins brings Poppy to life in brilliant ways, from the boots she continually wears to the sneaky smile that is ever-present. We meet Poppy riding her bike through London, her bright clothes standing out even in contrast to the various hues that pepper the city streets. Soon after this scene her bike is stolen, and with only a mournful “We didn’t even get to say goodbye,” Poppy moves on, not to be discouraged by this crime.

As we follow her to work, to driving lessons, and out to her pregnant sister’s house in the suburbs over the next few weeks of her life, we find out that nothing is able to discourage Poppy. And as we realize this, we expect Hawkins’ character to get really annoying really quickly. But the subtlety of Leigh’s writing and the strength of Hawkin’s acting combine to reveal that Poppy is not naively living on a planet of her own making but choosing to navigate reality with a smile on her face.

This does not mean she succeeds in bringing that cheer to others – a bookstore clerk that she meets in the first scene is unmoved by her obstinate attempts at communication and as the film progresses she fails and meets other obstacles, and with each one we see deeper into who Poppy is and find out more what it is that drives her eternal optimism. I found myself expecting to find cracks in her psyche; surely she is running from something. But Leigh and Hawkins reveal, through Poppy’s encounters with a strong supporting cast that the optimism is not a defense mechanism, instead it is revealed to be a sure-footed strength, a confidence that Poppy carries with her, undefiled by the sin rampant in the world. Poppy is not traversing the world unaware, instead she is wise to the problems and tragedies of life and courageously smiles through it all, insistent that even if she can’t make everyone smile, she at least ought to try.

Eddie Marsan puts in a wonderful performance as Scott, the driving teacher who is exasperated to no end by Poppy’s enthusiasm and happiness. But in Leigh’s film, no character is a prop or a cartoon, and Marsan puts in a performance that turns on a dime and opens our eyes even further into what it means to live as Poppy does.

As most Americans enter into the holidays, it is a shame they won’t take time to go find a theater showing Happy-Go-Lucky. Because, unlike those classic holiday movies which sugar-coat problems with singing and frosty windows, Happy-Go-Lucky’s strength is that it dwells in the mundane yet tragic reality of modern life. It is only because of Poppy’s unwavering exuberance that we remember we too have a choice in how to respond to reality, and acceptance of it does not mean cynicism or pessimism. 

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Per This American Life

If you’ve listened to the episode of This American Life that came out Sunday, you’ve heard the short play by the Neo-Futurists. It’s kind of a deconstruction of a conversation – instead of making a statement, they simply say “Statement.” It ends with a brilliant line that is currently my status on Facebook. 

My wife and I have listened to it the past two mornings on the way to work, and laughed so hard we were nearly crying each time. Just now, inspired by that play, we had our own conversation via facebook chat. I’ll relay that for your enjoyment.

 

Freya: enthusiastic greeting!
Winston: enthusiastic greeting!
Freya: kind-hearted question
Winston: generic response
                  return of kind-hearted question
Freya: generic response
             bland statement
Winston: agreement
Freya: over used internet short hand accompanied by light hearted and funny statement
Winston: Complaint
Freya: sympathetic response
Winston: Affectionate statement
Freya: returned affectionate statement
            witty and sweet remark
Winston: Typed laughter

And while I’m relaying interesting things, check out these lyrics from the band MGMT. This is off their latest album Oracular Spectacular, and it’s the first cut Time to Pretend.

I’m feeling rough, I’m feeling raw, I’m in the prime of my life
Let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives
I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars
You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars

This is our decision to live fast and die young
We’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun!
Yeah it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do?
Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?

Forget about our mothers and our friends
We were fated to pretend

I’ll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms
I’ll miss the comfort of my mother and the weight of the world
I’ll miss my sister, miss my father, miss my dog and my home
Yeah, I’ll miss the boredom and the freedom and the time spent alone

But there is really nothing, nothing we can do
Love must be forgotten, life can always start up anew
The models will have children, we’ll get a divorce
We’ll find some more models, everything must run its course

We’ll choke on our vomit and that will be the end
We were fated to pretend

Depressing indeed, but quite a wonderful expression of the world today. It caught me offguard, especially considering the sound of the song (quite poppy). I highly recommend it. 

 

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Year End Lists

I guess there are many wonderful things about the rise of blogs and the decentralization of information due to the internet, but if I were to name just one that I really really appreciate, it is the return of the critic as fan.

As I read year-end lists of fiction and music (go here for books, here for music) I respect that many of the people writing the lists, while still applying critical standards and actually judging the art, are letting the lists be personal. “I liked” is a phrase that enters into these lists quite often. 

I appreciate that, because I’m not really interested in why an album is definitively the best album of the year; I want to know what people who have more artistic knowledge than me liked. I don’t have to like it, but it least gives me a lot of new options to try.

And don’t worry, although I’m no critic, I’m working on my year end list. It’ll only be music, unfortunately I don’t read enough to make book lists. I guess I could make a “favorite magazine articles of the year” list, which would be completely comprised of New Yorker and Wired articles, but that doesn’t seem fair either.

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Long Road to Glory

 

 

Where you suppose seems a good place to start personal essays. Many personal essays that do not launch into anecdotes often start with supposing. Possibly because it is better to suppose than to think, and the world is full of people who simply think.  But this essay is entirely about what I suppose, and how I wrestle with it internally, and how that effects my perception of hundreds of issues that one can’t avoid in today’s world.

I suppose Fundamentalist Christians are the devil, if I believe the narrative outside of Christian circles today. This of course is the most negative way to view it, a more positive spin is that Fundamentalist Christians are just narrow-minded, anti-scientific, anti-scholarly, and more often than not, white middle-class, middle-Americans.

I listened to an episode of This American Life today from 2005 called “Godless America,” on the subject of these “Fundamentalist Christians.” Now, I can’t nail down exactly what comprises an FC, but I gathered that if something can be seriously expressed by someone with a southern accent, it is probably an FC position. The episode dealt with two issues; the Separation of Church and State from a “Christian” perspective, and the ridiculousness of the Bible.

These are issues that I could address in length; but that would just be me opining on subjects on which I do not have any educated opinion to share, which is not good for anyone. Listening to stories in the episode stirred up in me feelings that I’m not sure I know an easy answer for.

My wife, God bless her, listened to me ramble and process on the way home from work, so if these thoughts have any clarity at all, you can write her and thank her.

The turmoil in me regards multiple facets of what it means to be a Christian in the now world. While the central doctrines of Christianity remain the same throughout the ages, and the Gospel is the rock upon which faith is built; there is no denying that every day what it means to live as Christian changes, as well as what it means to live out the Gospel. It may be subtle day to day, but over centuries it changes radically.

Take for example slavery, which seems incomprehensible to the modern Christian but was a given part of life to most Christians and most of society  just 200 years ago. Times change. 

Today abortion is legal in America, much to the chagrin of Fundamentalist Christians. Now, I don’t think I’m a Fundamentalist Christian, but it saddens me that abortion is legal in America. I am most definitely pro-life, since the two sides to the issue are pro-life and pro-choice. 

This is where the episode of This American Life that I listened to comes into play. To explain, I must slightly digress from abortion. The episode dealt with separation of Church and State; how to Fundamentalist Christians the problem is that the norm in modern society is keeping Church out of State, when from their point of view the idea of the constitution was to keep the State out of the Church. There are reasonable cases for this view.

The scholar on This American Life (whose name escapes me) made the case that while our founding fathers were Christians and God-fearing men, they strove to craft a constitution that intentionally left out all mentions of God. Furthermore, he pointed out that when the constitution went up for ratification in the 13 colonies, it was very nearly defeated in multiple states for being “Godless.” Most controversial was Article Six, which says that there can be no religious test for holding public office. Many states had religious tests in place, and many people argued that there should be a religious test for public office. 

Thankfully the constitution as drafted was ratified, and we have the incredible document that exists today. The speaker made the point that it is ironic how back then, it was the critics of the document who said it was “Godless,” and now the charge is that it is “Christian” but being twisted as “Godless.” Now there are a myriad of issues that spring from this debate, but I want to focus on what the founders did, and why it was so incredible.

By fastidiously creating a document that does not mention God, these men created a document that incorporated the beliefs of their personal faiths in such a way that even if the nation fell away from Christianity, it would still be built upon facets of the Christian faith. Even more incredibly, their attention to detail meant that the document reflected their faith, but transcended Christianity to apply to all people. This is typically known as Natural Law; truths that may personally spring from a personal faith but are expressed in universal, natural terms so that no one can attack them for being “exclusive.” 

The brilliance of the Constitution is that the view of man and government it expresses sprang from the authors’ understanding of man and Government as dictated by their personal faiths, but that view was expressed in universal, natural terms that could not be argued on purely religious grounds.

Arguably, this is the greatest test of truth in a religion; if the truths that derive from that religions narrative and worldview fall in line with the world at large. If reality does not fit into religion; in other words if the large narratives of life cannot be explained by the meta-narrative, then obviously something is wrong with the meta-narrative.

The founders were able to take the truths of their meta-narrative and derive from it principles that applied to all people. They then expressed those truths in non-religious terms so that the truths could truly be self-evident.

When it comes to Abortion (and many other issues dear to the Fundamentalist Christians), we fail on the natural law front. Now, as my wife pointed out to me earlier, it is not that there are significant groups out there who approach these issues on a natural law level, because there are those groups, but the issue at large has become a Christian issue. 

Today in America there is pro-choice – which seems to be most people who aren’t practicing Catholics or Fundamentalist Christians, and pro-life, which are the people who are in those categories. And overall, the pro-life people’s main agenda is to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

The turmoil I face is that deep down, I don’t give a damn about Roe vs. Wade. Even if we were ever able to overturn it; within a few decades it would be reversed, and so on and so forth. The fact is, in America a significant portion of the population does not understand why it’s such a big deal to have readily available abortions. In fact, it seems downright medieval to not have them available. 

But all the time I find myself hanging my head at how the abortion issue is presented to that portion of the population. Murder! we yell, which it is to us, but not to them. Sin! we yell, which it is to those of us who believe in this theological idea of sin. Doom! we yell, because it is coming if we do not support the sanctity of all life in this country.

But Roe vs. Wade is not the thing that destroyed the sanctity of life in this country. And reversing that decision will not really change anything except the law. And the fact that it’s come down to a pro-life vs. pro-choice issue is a shame on not the Godless liberals, but the Fundamentalist Christians who are trying to convert the world to a Christian worldview via laws.

My frustration is that we haven’t attacked the issue with the care that the founding fathers handled the future of the nation they began. The Fundamentalist Christian response has been a 30-odd year battle against a Supreme Court decision that was really just an inevitable product of the philosophies that developed because of Freud and Nietzsche. And if we believe our own rhetoric, we are once again handling the future of our nation with this issue of Abortion.

Hell, we don’t even have to listen to our rhetoric. The simple fact that we are killing more of the future generation than are being born ought to scare the hell out us. The statistics and natural law arguments alone are more than overwhelming to let every single person in America know that abortion is a really bad idea. Pair that with the difficulty of nailing down exactly when life begins, and there are surely really good ways to present a logical” case against abortion that derives directly from a personal faith in God but does not come wrapped in religious or righteous language.

But by and large this is not how the issue is handled. And it frustrates me to no end, because while I agree with the goal, I disagree entirely with the methods. 

This is compounded by the fact that I am a Christian, and do believe that abortion should not happen, that it is murder. I do want to argue rationally, naturally, that abortion is wrong. I don’t want to pound dogma down people’s throats. But simply by admitting I’m a Christian, I immediately have what feels to be an insurmountable association with things that I either disagree with, or have significant doubts about. 

Normally, if I find myself too closely associated to one group that I have problems with, I leave that group, or disassociate myself from it like any rational person would. But I can’t do that with Christianity. These beliefs are what make the world make sense. Many a times I’ve stepped out from my faith in my head, and I don’t like what I find. The world doesn’t make sense unless I view it from within the Judeo-Christian meta-narrative. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty shitty Christian, especially when it comes to the day to day relationship aspect. But on the meta-level, there is nothing else that makes sense. 

So I’m stuck. I am a Christian, by choice, and by firm belief, but I’m not sure how that works out in life. Because I don’t find that I have much in common with the pillars of public Christianity today; but I don’t want to revolutionize or join any “modern” movement for reasons this post is not meant to delve into. What I want is to be taken seriously. I want this ideal world to exist where if I step up to be rational, people will recognize that while I hold fast to the fundamentals of Christianity, I’m not a Fundamentalist Christian and then they will listen to the substance of the ideas I present, without dismissing me.

And I’m not really sure what to do since that is – for all intents and purposes – impossible.

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On Writing

As I ease back into the habit of blogging, it is amazing how many thoughts come into my head in a given day that trigger the “I should blog that” response, and yet I find it so hard to write.

Let’s face it, I’m out of the habit of writing. Because of this, my blog posts are a bit more stoic, a bit more plain, and definitely don’t have the voice of “winston” that all my past blogs have featured.

This will hopefully be remedied in time. But for now, I will continue easing back into the habit of writing.

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