Friday, August 27, 2010

Vicarious and Lived Experience

"So much of what I see reminds me of something I've read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?" --from You've Got Mail

Books are wonderful things, non-fiction and fiction alike. They are methods of metaphysical and intellectual transport when actual travels are not a physical or fiscal possibility. Books have the ability to take us to new places, to introduce new modes of thought, to allow us to fall in love with the types of characters we usually think we hate in real life. (And let's be honest: sometimes they're exactly like real-life people we hate, but sometimes they're not. And liking a hateable character means that somewhere, we have the potential to like a hateable real-life human.)

Bookworm that I am, though, I sometimes worry myself: is it possible to become entirely too wrapped up in the imaginary and in my own thoughts? Do I ever occlude real-life experiences in favor of experiencing something vicariously?

The answer, I am sorry to conclude, must inevitably be yes.

And before you think I'm being too hard on myself, let me say that I think this may be the case for many of us. I grant that books may not be the chosen vehicle for everyone's vicarious experiences, but I think sometimes we retreat to various types of mediated experience--of someone else's experience, even--in order to experience something that we're too scared to experience ourselves.

Perhaps everyone doesn't experience things vicariously due to fear. In some ways, I think vicarious experiences are imminently practical. But I also think such vicarious experiences are not, on the whole, entirely satisfying: once they end, I don't feel they have changed me in the same ways that actual experiences have. And I worry, to use a horrendously awful cliche, that I sometimes let the fear of striking out keep me from playing the game. (Although for the record, I've played baseball. And I didn't enjoy it. I do, however, enjoy watching it. When it's live. Because the only thing more dreadful than televised baseball is televised golf. And the only thing worse than televised golf... oh wait. Nothing's worse than televised golf.)

I've decided that I need to keep myself open to experiences: new experiences, continued experiences, things I haven't experienced in a while and might just do well to experience again. And here, dear readership, is what I ask of you: what types of experiences (good, bad, and ugly) have you had that you've dearly grown to appreciate? And what types of experiences do you think I should have?

If your experience strikes me as something that I too should undergo, I'll do it. (Some of you may want to recommend experiences regarding--ahem--dating. I'll take them under advisement, but that's all I promise.) And then I'll blog about it. All I ask is that you bear in mind that I don't drive.

I want to live a braver existence. This seems to me a logical first step.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Blending In, or Thoughts on Spies

These thoughts come primarily, I suppose, from following USA's Covert Affairs. Also from watching Alias when it was on NBC. And also from watching Chuck. (About Covert Affairs: I keep hoping that it's going to get better. It keeps disappointing me. And I keep watching anyway, because I think Christopher Gorham is attractive.) I suppose, too, my question is also somewhat influenced by The Pretender as well.

What, me, a spy-fic nerd? What are you getting at?

Anyway, I always wondered why all of the spies are always so pretty. To be clear: I understand the theory, particularly with female spies. They have to seduce their way into information sometimes, and that clearly works better if they are pretty. I would make the assumption that if seduction rates were translated into batting averages, I imagine the prettiest of women would be batting .360 or so.

But how much of espionage is about seduction? And how much is actually blending in? It has occurred to me that most run-of-the-mill sneaky work would probably be best done by people who have those faces. You know the kind I mean. The kind of people who look like dozens of other people.

What do you think?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Reading for Pleasure

I'm not sure how it happened, but somewhere in the last two years of studying and research and analysis, I forgot how it felt to read for pleasure. And I do mean pleasure. I don't mean fun. I did a perfectly adequate job of reading for fun during my summer and between-semester breaks.

Reading for pleasure, at least my reading for pleasure, often includes a greater degree of absorption than reading for fun. When I read for fun, I want to whoosh my way through a plot line that I find entertaining. I want to like the characters, or I want to like to like the characters (all of the best characters--literary and otherwise--are, after all, works in progress). And I want to read quickly. Reading for fun can be done in a day. The analytical side of my brain doesn't tend to get terribly involved when I read for fun.

But oh! when I read for pleasure, I invest my faculties into the book. (And at this stage, I can't turn off my analytical mind. But I find my mind is always satisfied when it has some interesting topics to think through and I don't have to think them through on a timetable.) I like to take my time, to taste the language, to meander through the words. I like to pause and ponder, stop and wonder.

I like to read for pleasure in the same way I travel: I like to go where my whims take me, wander at will, and move forward at my own pace. It's soothing. It's calming. It's wonderful.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cleaning and Control Freakishness

As I have periodically observed elsewhere, I find a certain catharsis in cleaning.

I blame the control-freak aspect of my personality: when I find myself facing things that aren't entirely within my control, I begin to clean. It makes me feel better to impose order on those things I can't when I feel that other things are spiraling completely beyond my control.

Interestingly, I realized today as I scrubbed the bathtub that I enjoy writing for exactly the same reason: I revel in imposing order on random words. Writing allows me to take language and to impose my own control. I get to arrange the words; I get to make the statements; I get to express myself in my own desired fashion.

Given this realization, I am now wondering why I don't do both more often--both the cleaning and the writing. To be fair, I'm working out a large writing project and that involves writing notes about how to construct the final project.

But I think I might need to clean more often.

Then again, maybe not...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Faith and Knowledge: An Inquiry (or Something)

I've been thinking a lot about faith lately, perhaps because in recent weeks I've been wrestling with my own. It's not as steady as I'd like it to be, but then again, I'm like everyone else in this regard--a work in progress. But I keep trying to think my way through what is becoming, for me, a rather tangled query: how are faith and knowledge linked?

Scripturally speaking, we're told that faith is hope for things which are not seen, but which are true. Knowledge, according to the Bible Dictionary, is one of God's attributes... and "knowledge of divine and spiritual things is absolutely essential for one's salvation." The difficulty is this: how does one know divine and spiritual things?

I recognize that there are different types of knowledge: some forms of knowledge are based on pure empiricism and actual experience--I know I will get sunburned in 100 degree heat if I don't wear sunscreen, because I've had that experience. (And even if I hadn't, I know that the sun is hot and that it can burn.) I believe there's such a thing as innate knowledge, i.e. I think that one of the talents we are blessed with is that we automatically know (or recognize) things when we hear them. And then there's learned knowledge, which, as near as I can figure, comes from listening to what we are taught.

The gospel includes all of these types of knowledge including, I'd argue, at least a small bit of empirical knowledge. But I still can't figure the link between faith and knowledge: when, exactly, does believing become knowing? And further (and probably more importantly), is there all that great a distinction between the two? After all, rhetorically speaking, we often hear the two used interchangeably.

And to throw in another monkey wrench, we're also taught that faith has to be based on correct knowledge for that faith to be effective. I grant that's the "which are true" part of the "things which are hoped for and not seen, but which are true" equation. But faith implies we are trusting those things are truth--at least initially--not that we know they are true.

I'm probably rambling a little, but I'm trying to sort out a relationship here. And it only gets more messy and muddled the more I analyze. Except for this: scripturally speaking, those who know often fall away because they skip over the having-faith. Laman and Lemuel, for example, who know they've seen an angel. Because they empirically know, they don't place any faith... and they eventually fall away. (Clearly for more reasons than that, but I find it an interesting link.)

The one thing I understand when it comes to faith and knowledge is this: if you conceptually know that God is an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving being, then you can easily place faith in Him because you have faith that He has a purpose for everything and that He knows exactly how to achieve that purpose--even if you don't understand.

Thoughts, anyone?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

On Names and Naming

There's an idea percolating in my brain. A story idea. Potentially a novel idea. But key to the idea is names and naming. (Beyond that, I'm not telling you the idea. You might steal it!!) I think Shakespeare is the most oft-quoted authority on names--"that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." And while I'm sure many people have had many other things to say about names, I'm too lazy to research those people right at this second.

My name means, more or less, 'pure.' (Although to be fair, my name is the diminutive version of a nickname of a name that actually means pure. Thus the 'more or less.') My younger sister's name means both 'pretty' and 'good.' So by definition, I suppose she's a pretty good younger sister. Or a pretty, good younger sister. Probably both.

What intrigues me most about names is this: we do not choose them for ourselves. Someone chooses them for us, and that someone sometimes has something specific in mind when they choose the name. Not always. As far as I know, my parents just liked most of our first names. But sometimes... it's why I don't envy people with family names.

And I really don't envy people who are named after virtues. Of course, I think the one guaranteed way to ensure I wouldn't live up to my name would be to assign me one like that. (Seriously, I think it's kind of mean to name your daughter Patience. Or Faith. Or Charity. People will call you on your name...both on whether you act your name and on whether you don't.)

Anyway, it's a system set up to favor parents. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Clearly, newborn babies aren't exactly equipped to name themselves. They aren't physiologically or psychologically capable of saying, "Hey, Mom. Please do not name me Prudence after your favorite great-aunt. Name me Michelle instead." But I often wonder what name I might choose for myself if I had the option. I've never minded being a Katie, but would I have opted instead to be a Lizzy or an Emma or...some other name that doesn't stem from a Jane Austen novel?

I firmly believe that we choose the significance of our own lives: we choose how to spend our time, we choose our own pursuits, we choose the company we keep. We choose where we go and what we do, but we don't choose what we're called. Our names do not determine our lives; I'd never make such a far-fetched claim. But I wonder, based on my life to date, if I wouldn't change the meaning of my name to better match the significance I hope my life will have...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning...

I realized something fundamentally important yesterday. When people ask if I'm a morning person, I tell them no.

That, my friends, is a lie.

Well, sort of.

Usually when I think of the term "morning person," I think of those people who wake up happy. The type who jump out of bed and starting bouncing around like Tigger. Boing boing boing. The ones who almost chirp "Good morning" to everyone they see, as though this new day is going to be the Best. Thing. Ever. because it's morning already!!

I'm not that type of morning person. That type of morning person draws out the curmudgeon in me.

Yesterday I had reason to wake up early, to leave the house early, and to be out and about around the city early. And I realized that I am, after all, a morning person. Just not the Tigger type. But I enjoy the cooler air, the quietness of the streets, the utter stillness in what eventually becomes a rather noisy place. I like seeing people walk their dogs, and I like it even more when they simply nod in acknowledgement of my presence instead of engaging in the boing boing boing of "Good morning! How are you today? Isn't this day amazing? Aren't you so glad to be awake?"

I suppose, in the end, I do consider myself a type of morning person. Just the type of morning person that loves when a morning allows me to revel (just a little) in some of my hermit-like ways.