Sunday, July 29, 2007

Please remember to not inadvertently break the law with malice and forethought, okay?

I went to Food Lion yesterday, and by their shopping cart deck, they had this sign:

"Please remember to leave your shopping cart on the premises for others to use."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm not sure forgetfulness is the issue here. "Whoops! I got home from the grocery store, and my buggy is in the back of the minivan. Silly me!"

I think it's a (again, correct me if I'm wrong) stealing issue.

Mom pointed out that it was a nice way of saying, "Don't steal the shopping carts."

Well, can't they think of some nice way of saying, "Don't steal the shopping carts?"

Something like, "Please don't steal the shopping carts?"

Or has postmodern thought (very idealistic... I admire some of it, and I am a closet deconstructionist) gotten to the point where we can't call a spade a spade, because what is a spade? It's whatever the author wants it to be.

Look, here's my spade. It may look like a stolen shopping cart, but no, seriously, it's a spade.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mister Rogers, I Want to Be Like You!

Today at Wednesday meeting, Dr. Del Tackett spoke to us via video lecture and he talked about the Final Sphere on the Twelfth Tour and all of these very science-fiction sounding dimensions. But essentially, he talked about community. What stuck out to me was the emphasis on the parable of the good Samaritan.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of those few things pretty much everybody can admire about Christianity (even though few people seek to emulate the Samaritan's example). The Good Samaritan story says that anyone can and should be a neighbor to anyone else who needs a neighbor.

OUCH. I do not particularly want to be everyone's neighbor. People sometimes offend me. Not a whole lot, but sometimes. Being a neighbor leaves no room for selfishness. True neighborliness says "My egg yolks are your egg yolks." "I will let you have first pick of the stuff I'm selling at my yard sale tomorrow." "I will let you have first pick of the stuff our rich neighbor is selling at his yard sale." "You can wake me up in the middle of the night when you've just gone into labor and I'll watch your older, whiny kids."

And I wish I could be the ultimate neighbor... that I could give and give and give... even if it's the last of my egg yolks.

I wish I could be Mister Rogers, to say to most of the snot-faced rugrats in America:

I've always wanted to have a neighbor just like you
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you

So, let's make the most of this beautiful day
Since we're together we might as well say
Would you be mine, could you be mine
Won't you be my neighbor
Won't you please, won't you please
Please won't you be my neighbor.--Won't You Be My Neighbor, the Mister Rogers Song

According to TVGuide, once Mister Rogers' car was stolen from the studio parking lot.
It got on the news and people were naturally outraged.
Hours later, the car was found where it had been stolen, with a note that read...

"If we'd known it was yours, we never would have taken it!"

Of course not. You don't steal your neighbor's car. You're not even
supposed to covet it, for Pete's sake.

Neighbors will be back when the day is new, and they'll have more ideas for you...

I wish I could be a neighbor. I'm waiting for JC Penney to have a sale on cardigans.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Better than Barbie...

...if you have spent your childhood going to slumber parties and making yourself and everyone over--iVillage's Makeover-O-Matic is the fulfillment of all your wildest dreams--countless combinations of hairstyles, eyeliner applications, lipliner shapes--and there's none of the cleaning-up-of-haircolor-drips-from-the-sink action that generally follows such blissful beauty experiments. It keeps me online for hours, when I could be doing other more useful things.

I have always known that there were different ways that the Harry Potter series could end. Harry could die and Voldemort could win without any cost to himself. Voldemort could die, and Harry could win without any cost to himself. These two choices seemed unlikely due to the fact that in supernatural battles, cost always happens. Voldemort could die and Harry could sacrifice his life, dying nobly in killing him. This seemed quite a bit better as far as mythology and literature go-- but not in children's books---it would disappoint the kiddies. Harry could die and come back or otherwise sacrifice something very dear to himself to defeat Voldemort but Harry would ultimately be, if not fine, (and probably not fine) alive and a sort of lower-case "s" savior. The resurrection myth is one of the most enduring story savers, because it is true (even if it borrows from the entire Bible). My money has always been on this theory because it worked in Lord of the Rings, Til We Have Faces, and most books that have ever been written.

Of course, I don't read Harry Potter. I didn't wait in line with the entirety of my last paycheck so I would know the end. I didn't feel like I needed to. I have my theories.

Speaking of wildly popular books I don't read, I used to say that I wouldn't read The DaVinci Code. (My dad read it about a year ago, and he said it was stupid.) I have to read it for a class I'm taking. I'm trying to evaluate the claims in it on an academic/historical basis, but it is really difficult because the book is disappointingly boring. I can only conclude that it was wildly popular because not enough people had ever heard of gnosticism or Catholic conspiracy theories. In my mind it is not really a novel idea at all. Ever since Jesus lived, many people have been saying that Jesus isn't God, and if Jesus isn't God, the Church is either deceived or actively deceiving. As to the Merovingian dynasty being the descendants of Jesus, do we really want to give the French that much credit? I don't think so.

I really liked Keep the Aspidistra Flying in a sardonic sense (that's the Money Chapter book) but at the same time, it worries me. When you are looking at a life (your own) that you prefer to keep not in the suburbs, the danger is that you will turn out like Gordon, and love money too much. Not only rich people love money. Poor people love money, too. Of course, they also hate money, because they love it. (Lots of things turn out this way--you love something so much that you hate it because of what it does to you. Of course, it has to be a thing. You can't really love a person too much, only too little.) And the danger is that our society loves the suburbs, the comfort, the money, too much. And that will end in comfortable middle-class absolute ruin.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Break the rules--it won't be beautiful, no--but you'll make the people around you smarter...

I knew one day I'd thank myself for reading so much nerdy Shakespeare.

The day is now.

If you don't feel like reading the link, what it basically says is that understanding Shakespeare requires bursts of increased brain activity. Why? Not because he spoke Elizabethan English--but because Shakespeare clearly didn't listen to his English teacher well enough. Shakespeare may have been a piggish xenophobe (or at least a materialist writing for such an audience) but his use of language was incredibly innovative: which is to say, we would all get in trouble for doing what he did with English. (Also why Shakespeare could never have been French. English is far looser and more fun to play with.) (See? You can end sentences with prepositions in English. Can you in French? I think not.)

Shakespeare invented words. (Or at least people think he did... can we really know for sure?) He also was a big fan of the "functional shift"--using a noun as a verb.

The first example of this that comes to mind is, of course, from As You Like It, a play near and dear to my heart. Silvius is complaining about Phoebe's perpetual bad attitude and scornful, barblike insults. Rosalind has just received a letter from Phoebe, and indicates (although this is a lie) that Phoebe has similarly attacked her/him? in the letter: "She Phoebes me. Mark how the tyrant writes."

How come Shakespeare can get away with this massacre of grammatical structure laws? I think it's because we know we cannot win any battle of words against the master of vocabulary. Shakespeare was incredibly articulate and his wordbank was more expressive, diverse and expansive than most writers, definitely most speakers, and certainly most playwrights (most of whom try to emulate the normal speech patterns of their day). (Probably why some people attribute the inventions of many words to Shakespeare--he was the first to actually record the fruits of his prolific linguistic resources.)

So... read Shakespeare. It makes you think hard and you will like it.

Not to mention that, like, the next time you say "like" as it was never intended (and you do have to say it--if you are exclusively writing this way, not intended for speech, functional shift becomes anthimeria), talk about friending someone on facebook or myspace, or talk about the latest episode of "Pimp My Ride" (two shifts for the price of one phrase--you can't beat this deal!) you can feel the warmth and fuzziness of the fact that you are doing your listeners a favor.
(I intended to talk about the George Orwell quote I recently included in a post, but I'm too sleepy and will do it later.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I've been trying to be better informed about news, since I'm a registered independent and have to vote according to my interpretation of politics.... so I've been listening to all the opinions about David Vitter. (He, of course, is the senator from Louisiana who is now in deep dog-doo for obvious reasons.)

And there are these people who write or say on the radio that senators should be held to a "higher standard," which makes no sense unless you believe in standards, which means that you believe in absolutes, which means that you believe in a God who is absolutely good or absolutely evil.

There are practical reasons for holding political officials to a "higher standard." I don't like to listen to Sean Hannity, but my mom does, and one thing that Sean Hannity loves to point out is that world leaders should behave better than the proletariat and the bourgeois to prevent blackmail and scummy emotional manipulation resulting in intricately arranged political maneuvers to bring down the republic.

(Although I am independent, I staunchly believe the States is a republic, not a democracy. But maybe that's a remnant from my Victor Hugo, I-want-to-marry-a-student-insurrectionist days. Vive la republique!)

(One of my favorite parts in Les Miserables is when Marius and his old-school, very establishment grandfather have a showdown, just before Marius leaves home and joins Les Amis de l'ABC. Marius is really furious, and he thunders at M. Gillenormand, "Down with the Bourbons and the great hog Louis XVIII.!" The next line is, "Louis XVIII. had been dead for four years; but it was all the same to him.")

(Les Miserables is a wonderfully funny book, but I feel like I'm the only person who pays as much attention to its humor as its tragedy.)

Some people, by the way, think David Vitter is a heel and we're all heels and should be held to the same standard. These people are not humanists.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

beauty, money, and other myths

I've been thinking a lot about beauty. Not in the sense that I've been applying more mascara than usual, because let's face it--is that even possible? but in the Edmund Burke/Immanuel Kant sense.

Peter Kreeft says he knows three former atheists who began believing in a divine being due to the music of Bach. "If there is the music of Bach, there must be a God," as Dr. Kreeft summed up the premise. (I think this is one of those statements that either make no sense in the world to you, or make all the sense in the world to you. Many statements end up like that. I can't decide myself what I make of the "If there is the music of Bach" premise. I've always believed in God so I do not know at all what it would take to convince me of the existence of God. I'm not convinced that it would be beauty, but it's been interesting to think of beauty as an attribute of God.) (God is that thing that nothing more beautiful can be conceived.)

I am a big, big Samuel Beckett fan. If I could have convinced my brother to team up with me, we would have gone as Didi and Gogo for Hallowe'en or something. (Heck, if I could have brought the trash heap with me, I could have been Winnie from Happy Days). But I don't at all consider Beckett's work beautiful.

I am trying to read Ulysses. I like Joyce. I liked Finnegan's Wake. (I tried to blog in that style once. It went like this: Paper cuts. Symbolism. -where's the milk, dad? -in the fridge where your mother left it---oygevaltdreidldreidl oatmeal. Shin splints. Shar pei.) But Modernism is not beauty. Deconstructionism is emphatically not beauty.

Beauty is Georges Seurat. (Impressionist with the dots, guys.) I've always really liked Stephen Sondheim's musical Sunday in the Park with George (parodied in tick... tick... BOOM!) which is inspired by the La Grande Jatte painting and is one long love song to beauty and a wrenching exploration of the creative process. (Besides, I loved that the name of fictionalized Seurat's fictionalized lover is Dot. It's funny. Because Seurat invented pointillism.)


More red...
And a little more red...
Blue blue blue blue
Blue blue blue blue." --Color and Light

And that, says Georges and Steve, in this musical, makes art. That makes beauty. Not all art is beauty. All beauty is art.

On a drastically different note, over the weekend, I read George Orwell's Keep the Aspidistra Flying. (An aspidistra is apparently a very suburban-husfrau plant. It is a book about the victory of suburbia, middle-class values and a paycheck over the wounded ego of an anti-The Man poet hero.)

It has one of the most perverted introductory paragraphs I've ever read. More horrible than The Stepford Wives and listening to Tyra Banks' one single (Shake Ya Body, was that what it was called?) on repeat for two solid days or getting a root canal without anesthesia. It gave me chills.

The introductory paragraph was this:

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not money, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not money, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not money, it profiteth me nothing. Money suffereth long, and is kind; money envieth not; money vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. . . . And now abideth faith, hope, money, these three; but the greatest of these is money.

I Corinthians xiii (adapted)"

Does this say anything about our society? I think it does, and I will write about it later.

By the way, I just figured out that the edition of The Brothers Karamazov that I just got used is an abridged version that doesn't have The Grand Inquisitor in it. (!) (!) (!). That's like having The Return of the King without the battle of Pellenor Fields. It's what would happen if Darth Vader wasn't Luke's father. It's like The Beatles without John Lennon OR George Harrison. (Although, honestly, Ringo was always my favorite. Because he was on Thomas, The Tank Engine and brought hours of happiness to my baby brother.) It's like a chocolate-covered, custard-filled Krispy Kreme donut with the custard filling sucked out. It's just bad.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

That's Entertainment!

I think I'd like to talk about entertainment now.

First things first, it is essential that you watch Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. I just watched it for the third or fourth time, and was reminded that it is, of course, one of the best movies ever made.

For one thing, it is about samurai. Samurai make for great movies due to their "cool little ponytails," according to my adolescent sister, they speak Japanese without sounding like a tape player eating up a cassette (a problem experienced by certain Japanese actresses in certain Kurosawa movies, such as a certain The Hidden Fortress [to which a certain first entry in a film series entitled Star Wars owes a great debt]) (the princess in The Hidden Fortress is pretty to look at, but I would not have gotten through the movie if she had not fortuitously decided to disguise herself as a mute--good plan, Princess Yuki!), they actually do bow to their senseis, and at the end of the day, they only die honorably.

I love samurai.

Also, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie to increase your pop culture literacy. Almost every good filmmaker has done either a parody of The Seven Samurai or has been inspired by it. The Magnificent Seven (which is a faithful retelling), Sholay (which I haven't seen, but they love it in India!), Star Trek: Insurrection, A Bug's Life (people seem to be surprised that I think that A Bug's Life is extremely similar to The Seven Samurai... the only blaring, flagrant diversion is that the "samurai" warrior bugs aren't really warrior bugs...), Sleepless in Seattle (it's a little-known fact that Nora Ephron was going for a Kurosawa vibe... she failed miserably, as Martians had fed An Affair to Remember into her subconscious through her computer screen... but the movie was successful, anyway), and The Transformers. The story is just that classic-- noble warrior bugs defend a tiny Mexican village from the Son'a.

So enough about the plug. Let's get to the psychology.

I've been thinking a lot about movies lately, and about entertainment in general--what does entertainment say about Americans, who can't get enough of it?

Let's say you had never heard of movies, and I told you that there was this invention that enabled you to go from your monotonous routine to a dark room, where you could pay to watch people pretend to do all the things you would never get to do, like fly, or flirt with Ioan Gruffudd, or save someone from a death worse than fate, and then, after you watched people pretend to do these things, you would go home, and the next day you would return to your boredom and mediocrity.

I think perhaps that you would either think I was insane or that I was lucky, depending on whether or not your life had any substance at all.

Because if life has meaning, why would we want to rely on living vicariously through 2d representations of Jessica Alba or Bruce Willis or Josh Hartnett or Cate Blanchett? That's a little harsh, right? Americans don't rely on movies, do they? It's just entertainment!

Piffle. The more I think about entertainment, the more I'm convinced that we use movies to numb the desire that we have for the real thing... a movie of our own, an adventure we can claim.

Almost every movie, and almost certainly every good movie, is, at its heart, an adventure. It is a 2-hour journey, usually with a little bit of suspense and uncertainty, within the realm of relationships at the least. Why would someone voluntarily want to watch Hostel? They're either a sadist with no opportunity to wreak similar havoc on their own--or they enjoy the rush of terror. Now why would someone enjoy the rush of terror? Because fear--conquering it or enjoying it--is a huge part of adventure, and most citizens of the United States do not know how to personally experience adventure.

To me, this is really sad. It sounds like apocalyptic science fiction: a society where a majority of people spend most of their waking hours in cubicles, looking to moving pictures so that for 2 hours they can have a pretend adventure of love or war or comedy.

And for me, this creates a dilemma--how can we find our own adventures? John Eldredge would say that it is in a relationship with Christ. Well, yay. I'm sure that's not a trite answer, really, and I certainly don't want to look outside of Christ. But I'm having trouble finding my adventure.

I don't think that the only reason we watch movies is to have a brief sense of adventure. Sometimes in movies, we find patterns to follow once we find our adventure. Like in The Seven Samurai--once I'm finally on an adventure that fills me with excitement (that's really probably actually a sense of chilling dread and impending doom) I hope to be as wise a leader as Kambei Shimada, as dedicated (if not as grasshopper-like) as Kyuzo, as indefatigably optimistic as Heihachi ... and the list goes on...

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Story of My Life; Or, Why I am Not a Nihilist

No fledgling blog is complete without an initial biography.

So here it is.

My name is Claire. Claire is one of those eighties, yuppie, French names, on a couple of daytime soaps... it's not a bad name, on the whole, even if I am neither yuppie nor French nor on daytime television.

I was born and raised in a land of writers and revolutionaries and preachers and good old boys--the Southeast of the United States of America. Now, despite a whole lot of things I dislike about the state of the Union, I ultimately like the United States because we're a country that consists almost totally of vagrants and outcasts. No wonder so many nations have such a love/hate relationship with the U.S.--we took all these people they were trying to get rid of, and in one sense that's great, right? Now they don't have to deal with their tired or their poor or their huddled masses yearning to breathe free. But then you take the tired and the poor and you turn them into a superpower and give them positions in government. You just have to despise that, particularly if everyone with positions of authority in your government is energetic and rich.

(I like the U.S. for another reason, too... but it probably deserves its own post.)

Back to me. I was homeschooled. This means many things.

One is that I get relatively defensive when someone makes disparaging comments about homeschooling on a grand scale. I realize that homeschooling is not always the most beneficial choice, and it's not always feasible. However, I don't diss the public school system or private schools and say that they are "detrimental to society at large," as a guy I know once told me, speaking of homeschooling.

I make it a point to never attack other school systems, for one thing, because the teachers in those schools tend to take it very, very personally. Similarly, when I sense that my school system is being attacked, I take it very, very personally--my chosen mode of education is insulted, I am insulted as both student and teacher, and my mother is insulted, because she taught me and made the initial decisions. I mean, as palpable hits go, that's incredibly below-the-belt.

The other is that I learned what I wanted to learn and challenged myself. What this means is that I wasn't always challenged. So there are deficits in my education. (Do I care? Honestly, no, not really. Everyone's learning has blind spots, and if I discover that I want or need to learn something to survive, I will learn it, no problem.) It also means that I read a lot of Dostoevsky and other authors and became a fairly well-rounded individual.

Another big, important circumstance in my life is that I was raised in a conservative, nondenominational brand of Christian home.

This clearly had an impact on me, both good and bad. My parents are great, growing up was fine, I went to church and youth group and did it all, etc.

But then I became An Adult and realized that I had to start to define my beliefs and myself on my own spiritual journey, not merely hangin' around watching my dad read Brother Lawrence. The light bulb came on when my dad told me I could be politically more liberal than he and my mom are.

"Really? You're giving me permission not to vote Republican? Can I go to church and still do that?"

This was a big step. I registered as unaffiliated, and I can't vote in the primaries, but other than that, I am very happy. People on both sides lobby hard for my vote, and I have to think hard about issues before I make decisions.

I want to reiterate that I didn't ever neglect the Christian faith. I just had the Christian faith that was always taught to me, with occasional emotional experiences unique to me. And it was good. But now, I have the Christian faith that I fought for, myself, and have thought about a lot.* And it is better. It may be less orthodox than my former familial beliefs. It may be more orthodox. It is better, for me, because it is mine.

*(By the way, Razhumikin Razzmatazz may very well betray my dependency on Dr. Peter Kreeft, C.S. Lewis, Blaise Pascal and G.K. Chesterton, who also thought/think about their faith a lot. It may also betray my dependency on others, like Harold Pinter, Kurt Vonnegut, Sartre, the majority of France, and my psychology professor who thought/think about their faith a lot and were/are athiests or skeptics.) (In fact, I'm going to step out on a limb and say that this blog WILL betray my dependence on both.)

So, Claire, why this blog?

Fact: I am a veteran, inveterate blogger. I started long ago--an idealistic, moody, sardonic teenager with a penchant for Victor Hugo and theatre. Since that initial blog--which has some truly funny posts, but ended in a slow, maudlin manner characteristic of bad independent movies--I've started several.

There was my Myspace blog for my Myspace friends.

There was my Xanga for my Xanga friends.

There was my Livejournal for my lj friends.

I quickly got tired of it. Writing three blogs for three different audiences slowly zapped my creative energy as I attempted to tailor my posts to the different brackets. And deep down I knew that this was no way to blog--it was becoming a set of inside jokes. And before I knew it, I was hooked--I depended on these various and sundry sites to network with people I didn't want to lose. And the various and sundry sites became less and less about the content of the writing and more and more about news, which of course made personal contact with others less and less necessary.

Well, now I'm being deliciously daring. I am forcing myself out of the loop. I am forcing myself to write letters, to make telephone calls, to show up at the front doors of near-strangers.

And, I hope, I will eventually return to online publications I feel okay about sharing with the world. I hope these New Posts will be less moody, even a little less sardonic, but still original and quirky. I want them to be accessible and fun.

So, that is the reason for this latest incarnation.

As for the title, it comes from Crime and Punishment. Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of my favorite authors. I don't know--I guess I just admire cranky old Russians with intimidating beards. I didn't know this for a long time, because it's completely lost in translation, but the names of many of the characters are derived from common Russian words. Razhumikin is one of those characters. His name is derived from a word meaning "reason" or "intelligence." I am not the most brilliant person on earth, but reason and logic matter to me. As I get further and further away from my high school years, which were trademarked by a sense of melancholy (it's the Hugo, I'm telling you...) and become more and more phlegmatic, I spend an increasing amount of time evaluating whether or not things make sense anymore.

(By the way, I do not know how to pronounce Razhumikin, so don't ask me.)

(By the way, I almost named this blog "Not-so-grand-Inquisitor," which was inspired by The Brothers Karamazov, but I didn't want to leave the wrong impression. Not only have I never led an inquisition, but I'm also not antagonistic towards Christianity, by any means.)

The "razzmatazz" part of the title is just sort of a balderdash word that goes with Razhumikin.