Monday, August 17, 2009

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I'm a pushover for kids. Especially if the child has some type of disease or disorder that puts him or her at a higher risk for being teased and abused by peers. This sympathy probably stems from personal experience, but admittedly, I choke back tears when watching Hallmark commercials.

Twenty months ago when visiting friends at the corporate office, there were some jokes and remarks about the owner, the VP of production and some other guys growing out their hair long. I took up the challenge for vain purposes at first, to fit in as one of the guys.

A few months later an opportunity to help others through this silly endeavor became evident. Children undergoing chemo treatment or suffering Alopecia could use a wig or hair extensions. Ironically, one of the younger stars on Flickr that I've come to admire (for her willingness to humble herself and her professional, yet fanciful style) has Alopecia and uses hair extensions.

So it was decided to grow out my hair the required length for donation. It hasn't been without it's sacrifices. And as I've come to even like having long hair it will be another sacrifice to cut it back. Still, there's good with each season in life and the satisfaction of knowing how the past 20 months of minimal effort will bring peace to a child or young-adult's life brings a great satisfaction.

What I've learned over these past 20 months:

  1. Hair doesn't grow out at the rate of an inch per month. It's more like 3/8 of an inch permonth.

  2. As a long haired man, I've "frightened" many grown-ups... until I started looking more like a smiling Jesus hippy.

  3. The younger the child, the less affected they are to seeing long hair on a man.

  4. Each inch of long hair from the forehead causes another annoyance until it reaches about 7 inches long.
    • First it gets in the eyes
    • Six weeks later it's into the nose
    • another six weeks and it curls into the mouth
    • Yet another six weeks it tickles the chin
    This is probably why so many long-haired women have short bangs.

  5. Nearly all shampoo has lauryl sulfate in it. This chemical weakens the hair and over-strips the protective oils from it. (Great site about shampoo ingredients.)

  6. When doing any type of physical labor that requires you look down, any hair that isn't tied back obstructs your view.

  7. It's difficult to pull back all your long hair and the one strand that isn't bound with the rest will find its way into your face when you roll down the car window to let in the outside breeze.

  8. Long braided pig-tails and a bandanna doesn't make me look as cool as it does for Willie Nelson.

  9. Long haired men that walk with confidence are stereotyped as successful photographer/musician/artist.

  10. Women who brandish well-kept natural long hair have garnered my respect.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Time Flies

I've noticed that the month of May has flown by quickly. No television was my goal. We watched a few movies - about one every other week. Since I've dropped TV, I picked up drawing, photography, photoshopping, flickr networking, more blogging and getting closer to my wife and kids.

Tonight I go to a pizza place that can best be described as something like Dave and Busters, but more family oriented. I hope to have fun with photography there and meet a couple of new people. With more activity in life, it feels more like an adventure. Other than the occasional movie, I'm ready to give up the screen altogether.

By the way, the movies watched were: The last few shorts from the Ray Bradbury Theater, Planet of the Apes (with Charlton Heston) and Les Miserables with Liam Neeson. Ray Bradbury Theater was a real disappointment. I remember him being more creative instead of taking ideas from other writers and putting mild twists on them. Planet of the Apes was

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Fading Melody

Years ago, half my life away, I wrote poetry and music regularly. They even won contests. Even though the poetry itself is backed up on some dusty floppy disk, the creative swarms are lost along with most of the colorful friends I had at the time. One activity I was engrossed in, and what helped during uncreative times, was poetry or lyric interpretation. I would go deep into some poem that already had enough levels of complexity that English teachers feared to tread into them because they could alone spawn half a semester of banter and commentary.

For example, T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men", which tends to address the journey of the soul from a newly acquired state of death to its completeness. There are allusions to Dante, Conrad, Morris and Kipling tied together to show political angst supposedly towards the Treaty of Versailles. I'd tend to think, as others do in this trying time, that most politicians are hollow, stuffed and already dead. Didn't Dante dedicate a special canto in hell just for them?

Other poetry was much easier to cypher, like Edna St. Vincent Millay's "A Few Figs From Thistles" which is primarily about blazing through life, though you'll make regrettable mistakes along the way ... and tends to go into typical relationship taboos such as adultery, cheating, lust and bondage.

Rush, Sixpence None the Richer, Tori Amos and Sarah McLauchlin were bands that I frequented concerts to, as news of them came to me, in the Austin area and had all albums available and ready to be brooded upon. The styles of the last two particularly influenced my style of music, though some strong religious differences and some blatant blasphemous songs from Tori Amos sent me on a decade long boycott.

For some time, music was what I breathed, ate, drank, slept. I surrounded myself with music every moment of the day when it made sense. But over the course of the past ten years that craving became more of an emptiness. Music lost most of its meaning and lyrics were chaff in the wind. Some of that is because of the gross amount of bad music that started coming out. But it had more to do with becoming more "responsible". Though the probability of most of these risks are the same, the consequences are much higher.

But what was interesting when reflecting over how the apathy towards music increased was noticing that, as one "civilizing" or "taming" event came after another, my spirit was eventually broken. My passion for much of anything was chopped at - hacked away - by worldly forces and I felt myself become just another work drone. I remember one employer laughing at me after one of those experiences and literally saying: "So you can be broken!"

Yes - but by breaking people you lose ... the creativity, the passion, the responsibility, the fearless risk taking, the adventurous spirit ... you kill it ... it dies like a fading melody into the grave of white-noise that was so easily attainable to begin with.

These are all necessary for art, beauty, entrepreneurship, adventuring, exploring - in short, it's required to really live out life. I have never met a suicidal person who was passionate about life and enjoying it. I have known one or two who were passionate but constantly getting brow-beaten by the world until they had nothing left to live for.

The challenge is to remember these lessons when my seven year old gets permanent paint on my jacket, or looks up longingly for approval on some messily crafted crayon drawing, or her eyes light up eagerly to pick up an expensive clarinet though she hasn't learned how to play a note. Eventually, and directly from my reactions, she'll either learn to love messes like Pollock and Picasso, or dream of it while she passively files papers. She'll either color the grey world like Julian Beever, or she'll quietly beat the pavements with the masses. She'll croon the world with new music like Goodman, or puff out sad sighs and conform. I don't want her to end up like me - at least not like the me that exists today.

Just like how trees that are chopped to the ground can grow back, that root of inspiration is still buried deep in my soul somewhere. It's a mess getting through the scar tissue and it's a fighting struggle to be enough of a conformist to support my wife and four kids, yet have enough creativity to show them that the world God made for us has more beauty in it than the government would have us believe.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

I'm feeling [insert adjective]

As autumn begins its merry dance and trees across the still green lawn shake gold hues into their leaf tips, the wind changes shape. The sky changes its face. The rift between the livelihood of summer and the dead of winter reveals itself as an inevitable change and plasters in colorful cracking coats, exciting thoughts and refreshing the imagination.

I noticed that when people ask me how I'm doing, if I state a mere "I'm feeling O.K." then the day feels dull and feelings of inability shoot through my core. But when I reply "I'm doing Fantastic!", "I'm feeling Great!" something changes. And like the autumn blaze in the season before us a feeling of capability and creativity begin its constructive work.

Last week my wife and I had a discussion about change. About changes that lie before us and the changes we've been through. About the habits of millionaires and the activities of people who lead happy lives. Through that conversation two immediate changes came up.

1. Drop the TV.
A good amount of what we watch is educational, but still entertaining. Shows like Good Eats and Mythbusters are peppered with documentaries on health, finances and history. There's still some mindless entertainment, though. Last night I took some down-time watching a couple of three-stooges episodes. And though I only watch 10 hours of non-scheduled programs a week, opposed to the national average of 19 hours, that's still 10 hours that could be pared down to 2 (for Family Movie Night).

2. Spend that extra time reading.
My personal take on reading has been to find something that excites the imagination. But reading books to hone and create skills, to challenge and build faith and to encourage thought and creativity need to be more prevalent. The idea is that if I can inspire my desires into action then I'd be more successful in life. For example, I could be a better photographer, a better Dad, a better Husband, a better thinker, a more creative programmer, and overall enjoy life more with a change in attitude and thought that comes through reading and applying.

So those are my two major lifestyle changes that have come up recently. I hate it when people say "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" or "you're too old to change". Bah! That negative attitude didn't bring them any success. Statements like that are insulting. They're saying "you're incapable, unintelligent, too complacent, unmotivated, uncreative..." At the heart of the matter is a lack of faith in God. The Bible is loaded with examples of men, young and old alike, changing. Anything I create I can change. Similarly, anything God creates He can change.

So what am I feeling? I'm feeling change!

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Nietzsche's monster allegory

It's just a core question about the state of our souls that most theologians have to ask by trade. Who doesn't at some time in their life feel vanquished, as in empty.

Most have the experience of rejection. When our offerings have been rejected enough times and we've been "put in place" (which in this case means reminded that they have no say in the matter at hand) enough times, we can actually convince ourselves that we're worthless... at least for a time... for most of us. Some never come back.

I wonder about that emptiness. That dead state. It's a type of insanity that breeds an awareness. We are not as important as we may hope to be. Our accomplishments don't mean anything to the big picture. Our impact is infinitesimally small. No matter how intelligent you are on a matter, someone else has a more desirable opinion to listen to... because they're not you. Life is personal, so we take these rejections personally whether we should or should not.

With a fair amount of consideration (or distraction) of the matter, most people return back a little more somber ... a little less bright eyed ... a lot less enthused. That was the part about "Flowers for Algernon" that freaked me out the most. People can be so subjugated and diminished to the point that their purpose and meaning in life is stripped away with it. It's akin to breaking a wild stallion then tethering it to a basement grain mill for the rest of its life.

When I feel cramped up too much, or see others in that state I find it helpful to put energy into something creative - in a displayable way. It reminds me that no matter how far down people may push me or how much they crowd me out that I am unique and add to life in a way that they do not.

I admit that there are times at work and even at play that I have to "play dead", myself. Sometimes a business' survival is more important at a given time and my participation to help that business, though it may be doldrum or even maddening at times, helps out others - it expands my world and restates my belief that life is more than just myself.

Possums and birds play dead to survive. Like I mentioned before, sometimes we have to do that, too. But if people "play dead" for too long I've seen and experienced that the spirit is quenched and a more sinister death starts to settle in. We began to feel robotic and sense that we are only a cog in a cold machine. Adults aren't the only ones prone to this.

It starts when we are little. We go to a failing school system; we watch commercials that train us to believe we are unfit (without their product); any friends or family that buy into the culture second guess everything we do to the point that we second guess ourselves; we go to a university where professors almost strategically tell us that whatever we know/think/love is crap (unless you agree with their world view - or at least bribe them a little); in the corporate world you're told that your job is not to think (at least for most).

Each time these attacks wave and crest in consuming foamy hands to wrench our necks when we try to be creative. It's policy; it's bureaucracy; it's parenting and policing and mentoring gone wrong.

I look back at a week ago when one of my children were so excited about something they were doing. I shooed them off "Daddy has to work. Don't bother me right now." and they slump away a little. I became the very monster that bored its way into my life until I dolefully gave in. That sucks!

Nietzsche was incorrect about fighting monsters. It's when you're spirit is defeated by the monster that you become like it.

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Friday, June 20, 2008


I recently watched a show called "Trick or Treat", hosted by Derren Brown. For those who don't know who Derren Brown is, he's the most famous psychology magician in the UK and arguably in the world (other than Benny Hinn). In the last episode of the second season he talks about superstition and it's curious ties with human reasoning.

He showed strong evidence that we are so self-absorbed that we naturally believe that random events in this world are in response to our involvement - no matter how detached.

I had to think about this and the book of Job came to mind. Here is a righteous man being tortured by Satan and his friends are picking on him, accusing him of doing wrong things that he never even thought of doing.

So I think there are Biblical applications here. In religion, we try to build a relationship between man-kind and the unexplainable. In a relationship with God, we often find that the best miracles happen when we do nothing other than sit and wait. So again, religion does not equate to relationship. Nevertheless, I want to suggest that there is an overall result of our behavior. If we do evil, God allows evil to fall on us with more severity and recourse to ultimate destruction. If we do righteous, then our prayers have merit and God will offer some graces and blessings where there would otherwise be none. But it appears to stop there.

Like my children, if they behave then after a while if they ask something special from me I'm more willing to give it to them - but they're still getting fed, clothed, sheltered and educated regardless. If they continually misbehave and rebel, then I step back and watch them fall. Sometimes I lecture them afterwords and sometimes I don't. Again, they're still going to be provided for regardless.

There's a proverb that it rains on everyone - the righteous and the wicked alike. From that proverb I agree with Derren Brown. Most of life occurs and it's what we choose to do with that occurrence that demonstrates who we are, but our ability in tomorrow's ball game is not dependent on our unwashed lucky socks.

So I've been rethinking some of the traditions and rituals I go through in life. Is it because I believe something will happen from it or because I think it's the right thing to do? That puts a new perspective spin on life.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

The Human Soul and the Frankenstein Effect

Movies are an amazing part of our culture. Each movie has a message through which directors, editors and producers take the art work of the actors, camera men, sound men, prop builders, makeup artists, etc and build out a (hopefully) coherent slant or idea. Sometimes it's as base as revealing our crass natures to be compelled to watch vile trash. Sometimes it's highly intellectual and perpetuates water cooler conversations about life's mysteries.

One recurring theme in science fiction and horror movies is the Frankenstein base. This book poses two questions: At what point is the act of science crossing the boundary of playing God, and at what point does the human soul exist or not exist?

There are certainly other aspects to Mary Shelley's story, and I don't want to typecast her novel into just these two ideas, but they are core concepts that have riddled philosophers for ages.

It appears that the first question is loosely tied to another theme. When man uses science to overcome mortal fear, the result is something to be infinitely more feared. In conjunction with this, the outset of the creation can never exceed the creator. In other words, we can't make humans better than they were created to be in the bounds of the natural laws and trying to do so creates a monster. Even in reality, medication has side-effects which include mortal danger. The balance and trade-offs that typify a "lesser of evils" concept is prevalent throughout nature. The question remains - where is that balance, and who are we to determine it?

In Robert Louis Stevenson's book "Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde," a scientist tries to separate the mortal sin from the soul. The problem is that sin dominates our lives so instead of an angelic and benevolent personality surfacing, he split out a psychotic and horrific personality fit for the city of Sodom.

Frankenstein is not much different. A scientist is looking for a path to immortality, but discovers that with an immortal body comes an eternal pain. The monster is never given an identity, leaving it soulless. Though the experiment is a success, its level of suffering significantly outweighs the level of elation, and readers are left to view meddling with nature in such a fashion as a failure to all humanity.

These themes have only become more modern with scientific discoveries. The 1958 version of "The Fly" takes a scientist who intends to defy the laws of creation to disintegrate and rebuild molecules of living animals in a God-like manner but finds himself a victim of carelessness. This leaves those around him struggling with the concepts of morality and the limits of the human soul.

At first, Andre the scientist is arrogant. He claims to know God's purpose for humanity without acknowledging God's limits: "God gives us intelligence to uncover the wonders of nature." After catastrophic failure he denounces that statement: "There are things man should never experiment with. Now I must destroy everything, all evidence, even myself. No one must ever know what I discovered." His wife tries to convince him not to follow through: "You can still reason, Andre... You've still got your intelligence... You're still a man with a soul. You've no right to destroy yourself!"

"The Fly" equates intelligence and reason with having a soul. As long as the half-man-half-fly can reason and shows intelligence, the man-creature is considered to have a soul, and killing him/it is considered murder. In the movie, the truth is merely twisted to simplify the innocence of Helene, but even the Inspector, after squashing the fly in the web considered his act the same as murder. You can't murder a thing, so it must have still had a human soul in context.

The newer version of the fly from 1986 was much more atheistic and followed more of a "using science to overcome fear results in something more feared" approach. There are some thoughtful punches about how cognitive and intelligent behavior separate man from beast, but references to a human soul were absent. The Brundle-Fly transformation showed more of a reverse evolution effect, and the duration of Seth's transformation into a fly was prolonged only because it felt good rather than out of hope to return to a human state.

A new model of Frankenstein effect has come out recently under the context of zombies. Specifically, genetically altered humans. Movies such as "Resident Evil", "28 Days Later" and "I Am Legend" have been hitting the theaters since 2002 where everything from military experiments to pharmaceutical greed to philanthropic science has been the seed to bring about deadly results.

What makes these so frightening is that, like other Frankenstein effects of their time, it involves a science that most people know little about - even the scientists who currently explore these new venues. Creating life from the genetic level is also known to be problematic because of genetic mutation. Life that can change function or resistance over a few generations of reproduction is unpredictable and thusly, frightening. Using a virus as a mechanism to inject the genetic instruction amplifies the mutation and unpredictability because of its short reproductive cycle and its massive growth rate in a short period of time.

Because as a collective race we know so little about genetic based medicine, it has become a modern-day equivalent to technologies of electricity and surgery back in Shelley's time.

Nevertheless, the heart of the matter is the human soul. To be spoken of with any credibility or seriousness, zombie manifestation, like all apocalyptic events have to deeply coincide with faith and spirituality. If not from Biblical context (Revelation 9:6), it should at least be taken in the context by the merit of the soul.

If any one of us were to turn into a zombie, would we have a soul? What is a zombie? Could someone be both dead and alive at the same time? What is the essence of man and when does it leave the body and can the body survive without it?

Ghosts are easy - they're disembodied spirits. But zombies hold the paradox. Not only does it question life after death, but like in the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", it questions life-in-death. At what point, if any, is man reduced to a dumb animal? At what point is the human soul lost beyond redemption? If it can be redeemed, then what's the price?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold :
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.

-Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Where's the Joy

During my trip to DC, a dear friend and I had a conversation where I disclosed two separate thoughts that he put together.
  1. I believe that any authority over me was put there by God.
  2. When I was moved from one department to another I put myself into a state of misery, assuming I was being punished, but not able to determine exactly what for.
To my surprise he replied that for exactly this reason he doesn't like religion - that we take on a god to believe in then beat ourselves up with it. I hadn't thought of what I had been doing in that light.

The truth is that I did nothing wrong and the company had gone through a series of events that just led to moving me into a different department where I could benefit the company more. Furthermore, it wasn't by any lack of performance or ability that I was moved - though me being a telecommuter had a strong hand in their decision.

But even if God did cause these "coincidences" to occur, it's not my place to beat myself over the head about it. Playing the blame game with myself doesn't allow me to take in what this position change has to offer, it makes me miserable and others see it... then they point to God, rather than my flawed beliefs, as to why I'm so miserable.

If I really believe that God's in control then I have to ask myself - what am I worried about? To be a successful representative of Christ, I need to quit knocking myself and start counting my blessings. You can't have joy without peace, and you can't have peace without a thankful heart (Phil 4:4-7).
"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Finally, having joy is an exhortation (1 Thes 5:12-22). That means it's a choice in the same way that love is a choice.
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
So what have I learned from this whole experience?
  1. People are judging God by my behavior and actions.
  2. I've been adhering to more religion than relationship with God.
  3. To choose joy, pray and be thankful.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Two photos and something learned

Last week I had the honor to join with my company headquarters in D.C. for business and pleasure. They usually give me one free day to wander around the Nation's Capitol. During this trip, I ventured into the Arlington National Cemetery.

I had expected a few things about the cemetery, all which were disproved while there. First, it's not just soldiers that are buried there. Wives, infants and civilians are there, too. Some famous but there are plenty obscure and unknown. Second, as you move closer to the present there are fewer tombstones marked "unknown".

I had expected there to be no "unknown" tombstones and just one "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" monument. Instead I found many tombstones marked "unknown soldier" - a whole field of them - and two tombs of unknown soldiers. One is the more famous with paths marked to get there. It's huge with a single, large, uncomfortable marble chair on a stage facing rows of marble pews below. The other is a tomb marking the remains of 2111 unknown Civil War soldiers.

There are no unknown tombs in the Viet Nam plots and only a few in the Korean or World War II plots. World War I has more and Civil War has an entire field of unknown soldiers that were given little more than a number to their name. I suppose there was an absence of dog-tags then. But thought it was worth asking into. The woman at the center desk in the visitors center shed some light into this.

She said that at one time there were a few unknown soldiers in the Viet Nam plots, but that they had since been identified through DNA tests. All soldiers that die this point forward will not be unknown because of that biological technology. If I heard correctly, there are rare cases where bodies are exhumed for this purpose, which is how the last unknowns in the Viet Nam plot were identified.

It's macabre, but comforting that we are able to identify the dead, but really - what is our identity? It's certainly more than a chisel mark on a tombstone or a series of amino acids along a protein chain. Our souls are here on earth for a purpose, and like a green leaf on a tree or a single line of code, we're here to play a small part in something much bigger than any one of us. And though we get lost in the billions of others that have come before us, live around us, and will come after us we are each significant... even if we're "unknown".

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