Friday, November 19, 2010

Remember when...

...I predicted I'd forget about my blog? It ended up being a quasi-fulfilled prophecy. This blog has been like a loose string slowly flitting across the back of my head. You know you could make something neat out of it with some effort, but you ignore it, and it bugs you (but not much). Was that a good analogy? Only if someone else understands it, right?

2010 has been a remarkably strange year for me. Strange in that I've confronted the clash between my past and my past's past. I feel like in the last three years I've been three variations on a theme. Preemie, missionary, and RM. The mission left an unshakable impact on my life, yet fifteen months of post-mission life have also done something to shape my character, in ways I've yet to conclude if they're positive or otherwise.

My dad once told me that the mission seems more and more like a dream as the steady flow of time drags it away from the present. Yet it was reality. I most definitely spent over 600 days in Honduras, preaching the Gospel, day in and day out (minus those weird days of confinement). I learned lessons that I'd be an idiot to even think about forgetting. I made an eternal impact in the lives of many, many people. Such experiences transform a person, but as not every RM is fully active in the Church, that transformation isn't perfect nor permanent.

So would I say I've regressed to my silly, immature self? Definitely not. Brother Bott warns his students never to think of themselves as "returned missionaries" because that title implies a return to whoever they were before manning the black name tag. Yet I say that a person can never truly return to who they were before two years of full-time missionary service. Yeah, they can pick up old habits, cruise with their old buddies, and ignore the precious truths imprinted in their hearts, but it's just that. It's making covenants in the temple, spending two years under the mantle of the Spirit, and just immersing yourself completely in the Gospel for such a long, long time.

A mission is like a baptism.

You are deep in a foreign place, inhibited by guidelines like a limb restricted by water pressing from all sides. You are sunk into depths that, if not careful, can enter you and drown your spirit. But there's a transformation taking place. Forget that you were not meant to dwell under the surface forever. You breach the water a different being. You are a new creature, and you can wander the world in any direction, including heavenward. But you can't go back. Not ever.

Was that a good analogy? I don't really think so. But at least I did a blog post. And I feel. If I have these feelings about my mission, that means I served honorably, which means a lot to me right now.

All the good people want to rescue / All the smart people want to talk to you

Thursday, May 13, 2010

TWO Movie Reviews

My dad's got his top 50 movies posted on his own blog, and as a way to bond with him, I've decided to see many (or all, time permitting) of them with him. I can't recall if Amazing Grace was on that list, but after seeing it, it's definitely on my top 50 now.

The story revolves around William Wilburforce's life's work to ban slave trade in the British empire. As an American, it was a story I'd never heard (or even considered) before. In our classrooms we only get to hear the story of our own Civil War, which had the same result for the United States but at a much grizzlier cost. What's even more fascinating is that the movie takes place more than half century before the Civil War even starts.

Wilbur, as the protagonist is known (probably to distinguish him from his friend and the British prime minister, William Pitt), is probably one of the most eloquent orators to square off against Parliament, but as soon as he bears the standard of abolitionism, he faces opposition that crushes him and his cause. The ultimate theme is how much someone is willing to sacrifice himself for a good cause. After years of political defeat, humiliation, accusations of sedition, and stress-induced illness, he still summons the courage to see his cause through. The best quote of the movie has to be from Lord Charles Fox, played by Michael Gambon (a.k.a. the new Dumbledore), once Wilbur's bill finally passes:

"When people speak of great men, they think of men like Napoleon - men of violence. Rarely do they think of peaceful men. But contrast the reception they will receive when they return home from their battles. Napoleon will arrive in pomp and in power, a man who's achieved the very summit of earthly ambition. And yet his dreams will be haunted by the oppressions of war. William Wilberforce, however, will return to his family, lay his head on his pillow and remember: the slave trade is no more."

That puts me to shame both as an American and as a Latter-day Saint. Well, I can't do anything about the fact that England ended slavery in an infinitely more refined manner than America, but as a Latter-day Saint, I have the greatest cause on my shoulders. Thanks to my habit of introspection, I realize that I can do so much more to share the Gospel because I really have no reason not to. I'd like to lay my head on my pillow and remember that I did some true good in this world, and it's well within my capacity.

I definitely recommend this movie for inspirational, romantic, or entertaining purposes.

Now onto other pressing matters...

I remember seeing the first movie and wondering why the heck I knew so little about Iron Man before it came out. He's a self-built superhero, he's cocky as all get-out, and he's so good at blowing stuff up. My kind of guy. So I just had to see the sequel with my buddies on opening night. Even with my hiked-up expectations, I was not disappointed.

My favorite parts:
- Tony Stark sassing the U.S. Senate
- A drunk Iron Man brawling with War Machine with the DJ cranking out "Robot Rock" by Daft Punk (priceless)
- Tony's robot Jarvis telling him, "Congratulations, sir. You've made a new element."
- The twirling laser attack that cuts through everything
- Some choice quotes I'd prefer not to admit I laughed at

I wouldn't be surprised if I see it once or twice more in theaters. I don't care what critics are saying about it--so much, in fact, that I haven't bothered to check what they're saying--it's got plenty of action, lots of humor, and the right amount of, um, non-action to keep the audience engaged. Also recommended.

I take a freight elevator and press fast forward

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Hunt for Record Stores, Part I

I am a firsthand witness of the cross-over from physical audio media to digital audio. Back in the day, you had to bug your parents to take you to the store/mall so you could buy the latest New Kids on the Block/Nirvana/Chumbawamba album (I use the rhetorical "you" because I actually never did this in the 90s). Nowadays, technology has simplified the process to less than 20 mouse clicks. It's sped up, you don't have to worry about storing a bunch of CDs, and, in unscrupulous cases, it's free.

My personal feeling on the topic is as follows: it's thrilling to go to record stores. I walk through the glass door, hear that little bell, which dovetails into the ambient, obscure 90s album the clerk doesn't mind listening to his entire shift. After 15 minutes of sidling through narrow aisles flanked by racks and racks of albums from bands I recognize, bands I didn't know existed, bands I wished that didn't exist, etc., I find a used copy of that one album from that one band that I heard of that one time. Price: $5.99. iTunes, in your face.

When I was in Provo, I frequented Graywhale, located on the east entrance of University Mall. They easily bank on the trendy music scene, with employees in their mid to late 20s and album organization by multiple genres (including the amorphous "indie"). Albuquerque is different. New Mexicans listen to country, rap, classic rock, and emo music. Cutting edge music is ignored if you can't mosh to it. As such, getting the jolt of looking through record stores is harder to find.

So today I looked up four record stores in my area and checked them out. Here's my report:

Charley's Records and Tapes: I enter to the sound of ( ), by Sigur Ros. Very, very good sign. They have a massive used rock/pop collection, with decent pricing (from $6-8). Unfortunately, the store would've been in style about 10 years ago, as the majority of CDs were big names from the 90s and back. Despite this, I scored some albums and feel alright about it.
Loot: They Might Be Giants - Flood ("Istanbul, not Constantinople") ................................... $5.99
Earthsuit - Kaleidoscope Superior (Mute Math BEFORE they were Mute Math) .... $6.99
Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (That one album from that one band, remember?) ... $5.99

Record Roundup: They like music just a little less eclectic than imported music. I got an earful of the 80s. I bash the decade, but drum machines aren't that bad. The selection was virtually the same as Charley's, just condensed. Noteworthy was the first physical Battles CD I've ever seen (including Utah).
Loot: Moby - Play (My friend David's been looking everywhere for this CD) ........................ $7.99

Natural Sound: CLOSED! I actually went to this store once back in 2007. It catered very well to people like me (it makes sense, considering its proximity to UNM), with several used CDs from the last five years. However, today its sleek glass walls are shrouded in opaque plastic, and its once proud name has been scraped from its art deco storefront. RIP, Natural Sound.
Loot: Nostalgia ............................................................................................................................ priceless

Krazy Kat: ALSO CLOSED! I'm not nearly as sad about this one, since the website I browsed had few good things to say about this one.
Loot: Getting to come home sooner ......................................................................................... priceless

In summary, Albuquerque has a decent indie music selection. Well, it did, until I bought it all today.

Why can't I be bright / Like my lover's light

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

H.P. Lovecraft

This spring I've made a pro-active war campaign against existentialism. What that basically means is I'm going to have lots of purposeful things to do instead of playing Freecell and allowing my brain to think depressing thoughts while my hands and eyes are busy. Being home when your family is gone from 7-3 and your best friends are in different countries makes me want to consider life. But life is for living, not considering. Anyways, I started reading again.

I picked up a collection of stories written by H.P. Lovecraft, who has been hailed as one of the greatest horror writers of the 20th century. He's most famous for emphasizing the grimness of the unknown. I was only able to read five of the stories before I got weirded out, but his prose is gorgeous and his themes are eloquently (and grotesquely) presented.

In "The Music of Erich Zann," a man in a boarding house hears beautiful yet frantic viol playing from the highest room in the building. He seeks out the player, who is named Erich Zann and is both mentally unstable and mute. He "befriends" the old man and begins to visit him. He notices that Erich has his curtains drawn over a window, which, the narrator surmises, would be the only one in the whole boarding house that would allow a view of the city. Erich refuses to let anyone touch anything in his house, so the narrator doesn't get to see. As time goes by, Erich's music grows more intense and otherworldly. The story ends when the narrator sees why his music is so frenetically played: his window is a portal to an abyss, and the foul creatures that live there are entrapped only by his viol playing.

Lovecraft's stories almost always involve some frightening element of something incomprehensible. In another story he created a monstrous demon called Clthulhu, who is so sinisterly alien that its name isn't even meant to be pronounced by humans (and that's the closest we'll ever get to accurately saying it). And it looks hecka freaky:

Lovecraft's writing reminds me of a paper I wrote about Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. My paper was about how the dual-natured main character acted as an invitation to introspection. One assertion I made revolved around the fact that Stevenson never explicitly describe Hyde's visage; the author merely describes everyone's unease towards him. This lack of imagery forces the reader to delve into his or her own dark nature to find a decent representation of a being so crooked as Edward Hyde. Lovecraft, however, uses under-explicit imagery to evoke fear of the unknown. Despite the foulest depths of human nature, there are forces in this world (and far beyond) that we could never understand or even begin to illustrate with words.

So much for fighting existentialism.

I personally have few qualms about the things I don't understand. I love learning more about things, but I know that there are concepts that are beyond human comprehension. And I'm okay with that. I know that God created man and woman in His own image, and I'm also convinced that evolution is a valid scientific principle. How they coincide, I'm unsure; I leave that to the Creator. As for the abyss of the unknowable, my testimony puts everything in perspective. Our Father in Heaven created everything that exists in the universe. We cannot know all that He has made, but we can know Him. He is all-loving, so we shouldn't fear what we don't understand. That's what faith is for.

-Locked in a kiss / Outsiders cease to exist

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Grand Canyon

After finishing a tough semester, my dad rewarded me with a trip to the Grand Canyon. I'd implanted a false memory in my head that I'd been there before, so it was incredible to go there for the first time.

We left Provo on Friday and spent the night in Kanab, Utah, in preparation to hike the North Rim. Of course, the morning we were ready to head out, we learned that the North Rim doesn't even open until May, thanks to snow. So we made a makeshift ramp out of snow, floored it, and launched ourselves across the canyon to the South Rim. 100% factual. Even better, we unknowingly caught the tail end of National Park Week, which led to a waived $25 parking fee. Nice.

We hiked the popular Bright Angel Trail down 3 miles, which meant a 2112 foot drop in elevation. It's certainly different from hiking a mountain, where the hardest part of the hike is done first. I was unnerved when we were going down the trail and seeing so many exhausted people struggling to make it back up. However, I'm apparently in better shape than I thought; we scaled that bad boy in record time (remember, you always set a record when it's your first time). We spent the night and Flagstaff and arrived home to New Mexico today.

Seeing such spectacular natural formations made me grateful that God cares for us. He could very well have made a boring world with gray earth, ocean, and skies; His purposes would still be accomplished with an earth devoid of beauty. The aestheticism of places like the Grand Canyon arouses an innate sense of splendor and joy, and our Father in Heaven smiles every time we intake the gorgeousness of the planet He made especially for us.

It was also great to spend time with my dad. It's a blessing to have a father who truly understands the concepts I just illustrated and takes plentiful opportunities to quench his thirst for nature. It's an even greater blessing to have a father who loves his son enough to bring him along.

Well, I'm home now. The duration of my stay is still indeterminate, but I have a feeling I'll be back in Provo for Summer semester.

-Soy un disco quebrado / Yo tengo chicle en el cerebro

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Heaven help me.

After some consideration--two, three minutes' worth?--I decided to start a blog. Now, I've run a blog before, back when I was hormonally charged and fooling with politics. These days, I tend to avoid politics where possible, and I try to deny I even have emotions. I am also more mature (theoretically) and have more insights and maybe even more to write about than I did before. This blog will probably be filled with life updates, thoughts on LDS doctrine, music reviews, my musical history, poetry, and, heck, whatever I feel like. This is Web 2.0. I own this place.

And my first act of business is wrapping up this post. All those wonderful things I could write about aren't very concrete in my mind right now. But I'll leave a tasty teaser: the Grand Canyon and how I managed to survive Winter 2010 at BYU.