Saturday, January 5, 2019

Snickety Spoilers

I've just finished Netflix's delightful A Series of Unfortunate Events.  While I absolutely loved it, it did leave me with a few questions, the answers to which were more difficult to find than one might expect.  Because, I'll admit, there were a few relationships and plot point that I was not 100% clear on, and because it's been on my mind, here now are explanations for anyone else.

100% Spoilers Ahead.

There were once three siblings, the Snickets.  They were Jacques, Kit and Lemony.  Lemony fell in love with Beatrice.  Beatrice, though she did love him back, could not marry him for some undisclosed reason.  Instead, she married Bertrand Baudelaire and they had three children, Violet, Klaus and Sunny.

The Snickets and the Baudelaires, along with Count Olaf and others, were part of a secret organization, called the Volunteer Fire Department, or V.F.D.  The VFD's mission was to put out figurative fires in the world.  But a schism developed within the VFD, with some members wanting to 'fight fire with fire', thinking it would be OK to kill bad people, and others insisting that the ends did not justify the means.  This came to a head when Beatrice stole a sugar bowl.

What's so special about the sugar bowl?  Well, there is a special mushroom which is exceedingly poisonous and the fungus can spread very fast.  Seems some of the bad VFD members wanted to use this fungus to wipe out bad people.  To combat this, the Baudelaires had created an immunity drug in the form of the sugar in the sugar bowl.  Anyway, the two sides now actively went to war with each other.

The Baudelaires were killed when their house was burned down, leaving their three children as orphans.  Enter Count Olaf, who wants to keep the children so that he can plunder their inheritance.  This begins the events of the books, wherein the children go from location to location, always plagued by and then escaping Count Olaf.

Many members of the VFD tried to help the children, especially Jacques and Kit Snicket, both of whom lost their lives in the process (Jacques killed by County Olaf and Kit killed by the accidentally released fungus).  Lemony did try to help, and offered the children a ride away from one perilous location.  But the children declined, as they thought another person was going to help them get justice.  Lemony, in what appears to be an act of cowardice, flees, leaving the children to find disaster once again.

The children do escape that calamity and make it to a secluded island, where they meet the founder of the VFD, the former principal of Prufrock Academy, where most of the VFD's attended, and the principal handpicked the clever ones to be part of the VFD.

Kit also makes it to the island, pregnant.  She is exposed to the fungus, but Count Olaf, in a final act of heroism before dying, prolongs her life long enough for her to give birth.  The Baudelaire children begin to raise the baby there on the island, and name her Beatrice, after their mother.  After a year, they leave the island.

There's some confusion at this point, as it seems the Baudelaires get separated from the child.  But in the last scene of the show, we see that she has sought out her uncle, Lemony Snicket.  It's interesting to note that he here finds out that the very children he abandoned, saved and raised his sister's child, who is named for the woman he loved.  He then takes it upon himself to trace the entire story of the Baudelaire orphans, and that detective work is the subject of the series.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Aphantasia Update - I Live in the Moment

As many of you know, I have what's recently been dubbed Aphantasia, which is an inability to create pictures in one's mind.  While most people, if you mentioned your mother's face or the house you grew up in or the Taco Bell down the street, would summon up an image of some kind, there is a tiny percentage of us who do not do that. 

One of things I've been working on is how this affects the memory.  You see, while I can remember facts, I don't store them in a visual way.  So, for example, I remember that an old girlfriend of mine wore a red dress at a Christmas party, and she looked amazing.  But if you asked me any details about the dress (Was there cleavage?  Did it show off her shoulders?  How long was it?), I have no idea.  I simply know that it was red and sexy.

I recently saw Wicked for the 2nd time.  I remembered that I loved it the first time, and remembered a lot, but not all, of the story beats.  But it was, in a way, like seeing it for the first time.  I knew facts about it from the first time I saw it, but it was like experiencing it for the first time, because I couldn't compare the 2nd time to the 1st time.  Those memories simply aren't in my head.

There's something similar with grief.  I don't miss my Dad.  Because frankly, I don't remember him.  I remember things about him - roughly the way he looked, the way he talked, his mannerisms.  But I cannot pull up what I think most of you would call a memory. 

(I've also been wondering if this is related to why I don't seem to hear or experience God.  There's no experience to be had, for me, other than the reality of the present moment.  Others in a church may be carried away by their emotions and experience something 'other' than themselves, but I do not.  I don't doubt that others have experienced God, but I have not - not in any direct way.)

This really calls into question whether I have memories in the same way as most people.  Because I remember facts; I do not experience them or replay the images or anything like that.

The nice thing about all this is that I live in the Now.  I don't know that I experience nostalgia or regret like other people do.  I don't think I miss people to the same degree.  I may be bothered by having an unresolved issue, but it's only because it's unresolved.  I don't spend time replaying an event and thinking about how I might have done things differently.  While I may wish for more human companionship, I'm not necessarily missing a specific person, unless it's about how they had a particular sense of humor or empathy or some trait that I have mentally jotted down.

So, like they say, I live in the now.  Because it's my only option.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Foreknowledge? Or Calling the Ball?

Is prophesy possible because God knows the future?  Or is God playing an incredibly complex game of pool, and every once in a while, just to show off, he calls out 'Eight ball, corner pocket'?

I lean towards the latter.  I'm not totally convinced, but I lean.

See, it seems to me that God, when He created the universe, had to kinda put Himself aside in some way.  He carved out this little bit of reality that wasn't completely filled by Himself, and that's where our universe sits.  Because, in order for us to have free will, we had to be in a space that wasn't all Godded up, so to speak.  We had to have room to breathe without breathing in God.  Otherwise, we'd breathe in God and God would be all that would come out, and that wouldn't be free will.

And part of that formulation was time, as we know it.  So while God is, for the most part, outside of time, I posit that the part of God that is in our universe, is not outside of time.

It would be very cool and awesome and all that if God knew the future by simply looking ahead and seeing how things turn out.  But how much cooler is it if He can't see the future?  A pool player doesn't really 'know' where the eight ball is going to go.  But he is confident in his ability to make the ball go where he wants it to go.  And I suspect that God, even before the break, called not just one shot, but all of the shots.  And now He is showing his mastery by tapping the cue ball in such a way that the rest of the balls ... dance.

Anyway, that's my theory.  Not that God can't see the future, but that He has chosen to limit Himself in this way for our benefit, but it doesn't restrict His ability to shape the universe in whatever way He wants.  Can't really prove it either way.  But that's how I think of my God - He calls the shots, then makes them happen.

Friday, November 30, 2018

I'm not Cheap, I'm Simple

I was talking to some folks about Escape Rooms the other day.  They're not cheap.  For example, The Basement in Sylmar is about $35.  For one hour of fun.  And nobody loves games more than me, but $35?  I'd rather go to someone's house and play a game.  Or even buy an 'escape the room' game for $20, which takes longer and then you can give it to a friend to play.

Expensive pizza?  From some place like Dominico's?  A medium two-topping pizza is $18.  You know how much a medium pizza is from Domino's?  $6.  Is the Dominico's really good?  Yeah.  But honestly?  I'm just as happy eating the Domino's.

Maybe I just have simple tastes.  Maybe I'm boring.  I mean, I can see the value in sometimes spending extra money for the experience.  But more and more, as I honestly evaluate my level of appreciation or happiness at the time of the experience, I'm just as happy with the cheaper option.  Plus, it's ... you know, cheaper.

Not that I don't splurge on some things.  I'm pretty happy with the music I have in my library, but I will buy new songs if I really like them.

One big question right now is whether I'm going to take a trip to Japan.  I know people who are going to be living there for a year, and there's an open invitation to visit and stay with them.  I'm sure Japan is amazing and I do love this family, but ... I'm also pretty happy just staying home.  Plus there's taking time off of work and finding someone to take care of my cat and stuff like that.  So now you've got extra headache and expense just for an experience that I'm not convinced will make me any happier than simply staying home.

I dunno.  I'm a logical person, and I have to do the math - the emotional math, if you will.  And the more I look inward, the more I find I'm pretty content already.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Is God really Omnipresent?

I love my men's group.  Last night we tangented into a discussion of whether God is actually omnipresent.  The idea there being that God is everywhere at all times.

This is one of those doctrines that I've always taken for granted.  But I tend to go along with ideas like this up until the point that I don't.  There are a lot of doctrines that sound kinda like some guys way back when wanted to make sure everybody understood just how big God is, so they came up with doctrines with no wiggle room.

And when I start thinking about it, I have some issues right off.  Because the impression I have is that in order for God to create a universe where free will is possible, He had to create something that is outside of Himself, that is Other than Himself.  Which makes me think He is not everywhere.  Not that He couldn't be, but that He has chosen not to be.

But what does the Bible say? 

Well, there are lots of verses that kinda sound like God is everywhere at once.  But a lot of them say things like 'He sees what you do in private' or 'He beholds all things in heaven and earth'.  But omnipresence isn't saying He can see everything - it's saying that He is everywhere.  So I'm gonna say those are not proofs for omnipresence.

Then there are verses like Psalm 139, where it asks 'Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your Presence?  If I ascend to heaven, You are there.  If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.'

But that's in the Psalms.  And the Psalms are filled with hyperbole and metaphor.  I don't think my soul literally pants for God or that the wicked will all fall into their own nets.  I think you need to be extra careful when extracting theology from Psalms.  So when it says 'He knows my innermost thoughts', I'm not convinced that's supposed to be taken literally.  Just because I say to someone, 'I know what you're thinking', doesn't mean I actually do, even if I'm correct.  It's an expression of an emotion or a hunch.

Meanwhile, there are verses on the other side.  Like in Genesis, when Adam and Eve are naked, and then God show up and calls to them.  He isn't there, and then He is.

So where does that leave me?  It does seem like God can see everywhere, even allowing for figurative language.  And I'll allow that God CAN go anywhere He wants.  But I lean towards that idea that he's carved out that space for us so that we have some freedom.  Like letting your kid play in the back yard - you don't keep an eye on them at all times, and you're certainly not there in the backyard with them, but you're within earshot, so if something happens you can run and be there pretty quick.

That's where I'm leaning after one day of thinking about it.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Matt's Insomnia Tips

I do struggle with insomnia from time to time.  And since I keep seeing posts from someone I know about how much they hate their insomnia, I thought I'd talk about the tricks that have helped me.  Take it with a grain of salt, of course, since I'm writing this at 5am, being unable to sleep any more tonight.

There Is No Try - Don't try to go to sleep.  If you're lying in bed thinking about how you're not sleeping, you're just getting wound up or frustrated.  Instead, commit yourself to thinking about something else.  For me, it's writing.  I'll lie there thinking through story ideas or coming up with a blog post.  The thing is to do it sincerely.  If you're doing it while keeping one metaphorical eye open, looking for sleep to appear, it's not going to work.  Just know that you may or may not go to sleep, but in the meantime, perhaps you'll end up being productive.  For example, I had this blog all written in my head before I got up.  That said ...

No Math - People can't do math in their sleep.  If you're ever wondering if someone is sleepwalking or talking in their sleep, ask them what's 5 +12.  The reverse is also somewhat true.  There's a part of your brain that won't want to go to sleep while you're focusing on logical stuff.  So find other things to think about.

Get Up - Some of the best advice I ever read for insomnia was that if you're not falling asleep within a reasonable amount of time, get up, do something else for a while, then try again later.  Do something that doesn't wake up your brain too much.  Me?  I piddle around on the internet or watch TV.  But ...

No Clocks - This is pretty simple.  If you see that it's 2am one night, the next night your brain will think it's OK to be up at 2am.  So don't look.

Chocolate Milk - There's nothing scientific here.  Obviously, you don't want to drink coffee or tea or anything overly caffeinated.  I'll sometimes have chocolate milk or hot chocolate.  Sure, there's sugar in it.  But I think the taste reminds me of childhood, when it was easier to go to sleep.  Speaking of ...

The Void - When I was younger, I had a foolproof method of falling asleep.  I would imagine an endless void behind me, and I would fall back into it.  Sometimes I would tumble backwards, heel over head, and sometimes I would just float.  And the void wasn't scary to me - it was just the unknown, sort of an adventure.  Sadly, I can't always use this now as it kinda makes me feel dizzy.

Naps - I've read that you shouldn't nap during the day, because it will make it harder to sleep at night.  But I don't know that that's true in my case.  And if you're tired and you can get a little sleep to help you keep going, I say go for it.  But set an alarm.  I like to do 15 minute power naps.  Sometimes I'll do double naps - the alarm will go off and I'll say, "Siri, timer 15 minutes", and nap a little more.  But it's possible that when you feel like napping, what you should do is ...

Exercise - I hate exercise, but the reality is that exercise helps your body get back on track with its natural rhythms, and expending that energy will make your body more prone to go to sleep in a timely fashion.

So there you go.  My tried and true, guaranteed to kinda maybe work sometimes tips for dealing with insomnia.  Yeah, nothing is foolproof, but each of these has helped at times, and maybe they will work for you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Good Place to Start

I've been thinking a lot about why so many people these days feel like it's OK to just do whatever they want, and why there's a certain moral bankruptcy that is spreading in our society.  I'm talking about both the big things, from Enron to mass shootings, to little things like cutting people off in traffic and illegal downloads.  And I'm reminded of Confucianism.

2500 years ago, Chinese society was in a similar place, with people more and more doing whatever they felt like.  They had no moral center.  And along comes this guy, basically an itinerant teacher, preaching a strange, new philosophy.  Sadly, his teachings didn't really take hold until after he died.  The emperor adopted his ideas and managed to get them to spread across the country.

Confucianism is kinda two things.  One part is some pretty basic principles and rules for how to behave.  But it also plugs everyone into a larger community by encouraging respect for your elders and devotion to your family and other societal structures.  It's not really a religion, although there is an element of praying to deceased ancestors.  Really, you can be a Confucian and a Christian.

I've long thought that community is the key to many of our society's ills.  Just imagine if farmer Bob cut off general store owner Rick in a small town in 1868.  It would be all over town, and everywhere Bob went, people would be looking at him funny and asking him why he did that.  And, really, Bob wouldn't do it in the first place, not just because of the shame, but because he would know the person he was interacting with and people generally don't do that kind of thing to people they actually know.  But today we can do these things in a vacuum. 

Of course, we all know this.  I'm not stating anything we're not all aware of.  But what to do about it?  Honestly, I don't know.  But there is a sitcom which I think is a great conversation starter and, as such, may be more important than a lot of people realize.

On The Good Place, each episode, in addition to being delightful and funny, also teaches an ethics lesson.  And one of the things that they keep coming back to is the question of Why Be Good?  Why bother?  And the answer it keeps coming back to is because of other people.  There are characters on The Good Place that struggle to be good, but being around other people - even other people who also struggle to be good - helps them.  It pulls out of them the desire to be better.

So, no, I don't have an answer.  Yet.  But I think this little show is a great conversation starter.  And it points toward at least a partial answer that is palatable even to our increasingly immoral and godless society.  Because everyone wants to connect with other people.  We just need to figure out how to facilitate it, and then have these conversations with each other about ethics.