Post-Mortem

Autopsy report conducted December 31, 11:50 pm EST.

Subject: Anno Domini Two-Thousand and Fifteen.

Cause of death: it’s compicated.

Other notes:  It would appear from preliminary examination of the body that the subject died of natural causes.  However, death may have been hastened by a number of causes, including but not limited to severe depression, distraction from electronic devices, and meme overdose.

What am I saying?  You can never get enough memes!

Look at it long enough.  You’ll see it.

Every time the end of the year rolls around, the first thing I think to write about is the fact that New Years celebrations are really kind of arbitrary.  Important things never happen on New Years or birthdays, only on dates of entire randomness and seeming insignificance.

On the other hand, one of the things I’ve realized more this year is that even if celebrations like those are arbitrary, that doesn’t mean they’re not important.  Even if one has to deal with annoying people singing annoying songs on stages with flashing lights and such.

The eve of a new year stands as a sort of moment of collective mindfulness.  Mindfulness of the fact that time passes more quickly than we often think.  It’s a moment when for once we slow down, take stock of where we stand and who we are.  Am I on the path I truly believe I’m meant to be on?  The path that God wants me to be on?

Of course, New Year’s Eve and our own birthday, fine and dandy as they are, i’m gonna keep typing the same thing over and over and see if mom notices.  I’m gonna keep typing the same thing over and over and see if mom notices.  I’m gonna keep typing the same thing over and over and see if mom notices.  I’m gonna keep typing the same thing

There is no denying now that you can read what I’m typing mom, because you started laughing, so don’t tell me it looks like a blur because you’re not wearing your reading glasses.

Haha.

This is our family.

Anyways,

Of course, every day of the year should be dedicated to this kind of mindfulness.  New Year’s Eve and our own birthday are fine and dandy, of course.  I, at least, sometimes have a tendency to shove mindfulness to the back burner of my head so I can focus on more important things.

But really, can we focus on important things if we’re not mindful of what “important” means?

Maybe you’re in a place where you’ve got the hang of mindfulness a lot more than I do.  And if so, that’s absolutely wonderful.  I’m just thinking out loud here.  🙂

To be honest, I have no idea what 2016 will be like.  We’ll get a new president, which should be interesting.  And we’ll have an extra day of February, which should be fun.  Beyond that, only time and people who know more about the world than I do can tell.

It’s been the best of times.  It’s been the worst of times.  I feel like I’ve seen the flag flown at half-mast many times too often this year.  It’s a terrible world out there.  And yet there is such beauty in it.  One has to wonder how the two things can exist simultaneously; beauty and evil, goodness and pain.

I suppose we can only trust in God to reconcile the two in the end.  And ask Him for the strength and wisdom to further His kingdom in this world as we advance towards the next.

So here’s to another year of advancing.

And here’s to those moments when you’re bored, your iPod is out of batteries, and it’s late, but you stop and take the time to be thankful for being alive, for the fact that you’ve just come from church, that you’ve gotten to stroll briefly around downtown Manassas, VA, and that you’re listening to U2 with your dad.  (It’s been a long evening, but a good one.)  Moments of unusual, healthy, necessary silence in an otherwise cacophonous world.

That’s all I got.  To all of you my dear followers, I love you.

But it wouldn’t be a new year if I didn’t quote this song…

So everybody put your best suit or dress on
Let’s make believe that we are wealthy for just this once
Lighting firecrackers off on the front lawn
As thirty dialogues bleed into one
I wish the world was flat like the old days
And I could travel just by folding the map
No more airplanes or speed trains or freeways
There’d be no distance that could hold us back

– “The New Year”, Death Cab for Cutie

To anyone and everyone reading this, I wish you a merry Christmastide, and a blessed new year.  Peace to you.

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In Review: March & April

Catching up on these…

Books

All the Light We Cannot Seeexcellence-lit
Anthony Doerr | Scribner (2014)
A+

In All the Light We Cannot See, Doerr weaves an intricate narrative of a young girl and boy, one in France, the other in Germany at the dawn of World War II.  The depth of his characters and the way in which the two finally meet is chronicled in a spectacular series of events that never feels contrived and in which every sentence happens for a reason.  Doerr’s poetical prose and knack for detail result in a polished novel whose only flaw is a slightly unsatisfying (though, in its defense, inevitable) conclusion.

One of the best novels I’ve read in a while.  4.5 stars out of 5.
stars45

 

The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality
Ronald Rolheiser | Doubleday (1999)
A+

If there’s a reason this book didn’t get this month’s Kitten of Excellence, it’s because it’s not merely another book I enjoyed.  It’s a book I press into your hands, saying, “Read this.  You won’t regret it.”  It’s not so much recommended reading as required reading for any follower of Christ.  Within its pages, Rolheiser outlines how a truly Christian spirituality should channel our inner energy and restlessness in this bustling 21st century.  And he does so in a series of ten near-perfect chapters of unassuming but pertinent insight that introduce the reader to this “search”, while pointing the way to the answers.

Just read it.  You’ll be glad you did.  5 stars out of 5.
stars5

Music

Carrie and Lowellexcellence-music
Sufjan Stevens | Asthmatic Kitty (2015)
A

From the opening notes of Carrie and Lowell, one can tell it will be an enjoyable listen.  Stevens’ songwriting is deeply artistic, never using eccentricity as an excuse for effort, and on his latest album, deeply intimate.  It’s a record full of sadness, candidly addressing the subject of his mother’s death in 2012.  But it never feels as though Stevens is wallowing in depression or seeking the listener’s pity.  He has succeeded in the supreme act of living: of taking one’s suffering and making it into something beautiful.

The result is his best release to date.  4.5 stars out of 5.

 

Kintsugi
Death Cab for Cutie | Atlantic (2015)
B+

Kintsugi is good.  Unfortunately, that’s about all that can be said to its credit.  Though it easily surpasses most of what you’ll find on the radio these days, Kintsugi lacks the genius of earlier releases, and falls few yards short of Codes and Keys in terms of stepping outside their comfort zone.  However, it is the sound of Death Cab doing what they do best, delivering a well-paced and polished record that nicely showcases Ben Gibbard’s skillful lyrics, even if it might not attract hoards of new fans.

Worth the price of dinner.  3.5 stars out of 5.
stars35

 

Funeralexcellence-music
Arcade Fire | Merge (2004)
A(+)?

Arcade Fire is without doubt the darling of contemporary music critics, but their reputation as exceptional artists is not without founding.  Nor is Funeral‘s reputation as a modern classic undeserved.  From the first notes of “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”, to the soaring chorus of “Wake Up”, all the way to the masterpiece that is “In the Backseat”, it’s a timely record of growing up that is only the more impressive for being the band’s debut album.  It’s doesn’t always speak to the listener, and is a bit of an acquired taste, but there is nothing like turning up the volume on this puppy and driving around the city.  Which, I’ve never done, but I imagine it would be awesome.

A definite must-listen.  4.5 stars out of 5.
stars45

 

Presents, Coincidences, and a Silly Poem

Last month I joked about postponing my birthday to March because the polar vortex caused everything else to have been.

So now it’s March.  Winter has… at least tentatively… gone away, the sun is shining, and I guess it must be my birthday again.  We finally got to enjoy my brother’s culinary expertise and knock the second performance of our choir’s Valentines’ Day show out of the ballpark.  (Despite it being a month since being on stage, everyone did wonderfully.  *breathes sigh of relief*)

But the coincidences don’t end there.  Right around a month ago, Death Cab released the second single from their upcoming album.  Almost like a birthday present.  😀  And now the entire album is streaming at NPR’s First Listen series until it’s officially released next Tuesday.  Check it out here.  (Highlights: “No Room in Frame”, aka Pleasantly Upbeat Track, “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” aka FINALLY They Are Rocking and Rolling, “Good Help (Is So Hard to Find)” aka All of a Sudden It’s the 80’s Again.)

Oh, and same thing for Sufjan Stevens’ new album.  *happy-dances faster*  I’ve only listened to the first track so far, but it seems pretty promising.

Finally, I leave you with my love and prayers for every good thing for you all, and a silly haiku I scribbled in my Chemistry notebook the other day.

Sliced Bread

Ingenuity!
Ready for sandwiches!  They
Need eat cake no more.

That’s all, folks.  God bless you.  🙂  Sweet dreams…

In Eager Expectation

To anyone and everyone who has enjoyed the many Death Cab for Cutie songs I post here: their newest album is coming out at the end of March and I am SO FREAKING EXCITED RIGHT NOW YOU HAVE NO IDEA!

Here is a link to Pitchfork’s article on the announcement, which also explains the album’s curious name.

http://pitchfork.com/news/58036-death-cab-for-cutie-return-with-new-album-kintsugi/

Until then… I will try to remain composed.  But I know it’s gonna be the first thing I blurt out when I finish writing this and head upstairs to where the rest of my family are…

.superexcited

 

And Thus, Drunken, Bruised, and Bleeding, 2014 Stumbles Off Into the Sunset

This feels a bit odd…  It’s just now 11 pm here in the land of Eastern Standard Time, but I’m scheduling this post to go live at midnight, January 1, 2015.  Twenty-freaking-fifteen.  :O  Most days of the year I’m envious of the people out west because it always looks like they have more of their day left than I do.  New Year’s Eve is the one day that I’m envious of everybody in the Old World and the Orient.  It’s already 2015 for them.  THEY’RE IN THE FUTURE.  o.0  Time travel is real.

Anyways, the point is, to all of you reading this:  HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!  XD  XD  XD  *sets off bottle rockets (purchased in Tennessee and then smuggled into the state), opens bottle of sparkling white grape juice (screw cap though… no fun), and flies across the blogosphere on Nyan Cat’s back wishing people good cheer and scattering confetti*

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

This morning, as on most, Grandma was watching Good Day D.C.  As I walked into the room, the commentators mentioned a poll going on at their website.  The question was this: was 2014 a good year or a bad year?

At that hour, the results so far indicated that most people thought it was a good year.  Then came the people who thought it was a bad year, and finally the people who thought it was a mixed year, at a mere 10 percent.

These 10 percent may be onto something.  After all, every year holds blessings and curses alike.  I tend to be an optimist and say the gift of another year here on God’s green Earth outweighs whatever crap gets dumped onto my hypothetical desk each morning.  His love is unchanging, ever there to surround us and guide us through each day.  Children are born, bright-eyed and wonderful, and with them hope flourishes in this desert that surrounds us.  The seasons turn, each bringing with it a shade of Mother Nature we haven’t seen for twelve long months, filling us with awe and joy at her beauty.

In short, the sun rises each day, unchanging, upon our world.

That said, there are plenty of good reasons to say that 2014 sucked.  Too many people died for too many stupid reasons.  We can’t seem to get our government to govern the way it ought to.  People are hungry and cold; people are angry and joyless.  These things happen every year, it’s true, but this year they seemed shockingly obvious.

In short, the sun rises each day on our unchanging world.

Just moving one word can transform the meaning of a sentence entirely.

That’s the thing, isn’t it?  Change.  God is unchanging and eternal, and this constancy is our comfort.  The universe around us changes, but at so slow a rate that we would bet on the sun rising tomorrow in a heartbeat.  We take it for granted, but we are quite glad of it.

We, on the other hand, do not, can not stand still.  We are in a constant state of change, either progress or regress.  If we stand still, if we abandon change, we aren’t keeping up pace.  We don’t just stop moving forward; we fall behind.

To me, it’s sometimes discouraging how hard it can be to move forward.  Standing on the brink of a new year, one might be reminded of that Death Cab song (go ahead, roll your eyes, people):

So this is the new year
And I don’t feel any different

– “The New Year”, Death Cab for Cutie

It’s a new year.  So what?  We’ve passed over an arbitrary recurring marker of time, commemorated by promises to ourselves which we inevitably break and food and drink that is considerably delicious but probably not healthy.  Big. Freaking. Deal.

Still, I claim the victory for the optimists.

There’s something amazing about the fact that billions of people will all be celebrating across the world the same holiday, possibly the only holiday that isn’t disagreed over because of nationality, religion, or politics.  We’ve all placed our hopes and dreams on the back of a single instant in time, set forth on this day for heaven knows what reason (don’t make me Wikipedia it), sending with them a wild prayer for the future, that we’ll make it to the end and object of our journey, even if we haven’t any idea of where it is we’re supposed to be going.

We use our imaginations.  In our minds, we’re being handed a book full of blank pages, the stained copy from last year filed away as evidence of who we’ve been.  It’s an inspiration to tear down the ancient crumbling walls inside of us and build ourselves into a better person, so to help build our world into a better place.

Arbitrary?  Yes.  But any inspiration is worth clinging onto.  And anything that helps us climb this towering mountain of “could’ve been”s is precious.

And if one maintains that this year was rather terrible, that can only mean that there’s a good chance next year will be better.

So yeah.  Still drunken and unsteady from 2013, The World embodied in 2014 was beaten by Fate and left in the gutter.  But by the force of its own momentum, and the will of its people to survive, 2014 pulled itself to its feet to bid the world a bruised but dignified farewell, and with a laugh, limped off into the sunset.

And now, 2015 is here to get its revenge.  Bring it.

In my own soul, I feel like the year rushed by with a mighty swooshing sound, leaving me dazed, too slow to take it all in, to eager to move through it.  Did I waste it?  Did I not pay enough attention to everything that happened?  Our trip to Greece, discovering indie music, a semester of college classes, writing, reading, etc.  What is it all?  Memories already fading.  Pieces of me I haven’t quite finished putting together yet.

It was a busy year.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

(Charles Dickens, I disagree with your use of a comma there.  With all due respect.)

Another year is immanent.  In so few minutes, seconds, 2014 will be gone, and we will embark upon The Year Two-Thousand and Fifteen, Anno Domini.

I don’t know why, but something tells me 2015 holds something great in store for all of us.  I pray it may be so.

To all of you, blessings for the new year.  Let’s make it a great one.

So everybody put your best suit or dress on
Let’s make believe that we are wealthy for just this once
Lighting firecrackers off on the front lawn
As thirty dialogues bleed into one
I wish the world was flat like the old days
And I could travel just by folding the map
No more airplanes or speed trains or freeways
There’d be no distance that could hold us back

– Ibid.

We may be separated by vast distances, but we are one in the Spirit, my friends.  I thank you so very very much for putting up with my rambles and gracing my blog with your readership.

To the next year.  Allons-y!

Quote: A Lack of Color

“And when I see you
I really see you upside down
But my brain knows better
It picks you up and turns you around
Turns you around
If you feel discouraged
When there’s a lack of color here
Please don’t worry lover
It’s really bursting at the seams
From absorbing everything
The spectrum’s A to Z”

“A Lack of Color”, Death Cab for Cutie

The Best of October

BEHOLD, October is past, ready or not, and the year is quickly drawing to a close.  It is against a sky which has in the past week driven me alternately to t-shirts and to mittens with its sun and snow that I bring you the best of my forays into music, literature, and the arts in general from the month past.  Cue majestic drum roll.

Books

  • Who: Rainbow Rowell
  • What: Eleanor and Park (St. Martin’s Press, 2013)
  • Why:  I’ll be honest, I have tried repeatedly and always unsuccessfully to like Young Adult literature.  I find these novels too often to be short on believable character development and enough pages to pull off anything intricate.  Enter Eleanor and Park.  It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s the finest book I’ve read of its genre.  For starters, yes, it’s a love story, but I found the plot of these two misfit kids in the 1980’s applaudable, and not as narrow as some.  Its subtleties could have been brought out more, but it made one think a little, and Rowell’s way of portraying each character’s perspective is interesting and effective.
  • For: Anyone remotely interested in YA lit, those looking for something not terribly intellectual but not crappy, people who read really fast.

 

  • Who: Peter Kreeft
  • What: Three Philosophies of Life (Ignatius Press, 1989)
  • Why: For anyone who has never read Peter Kreeft, you must.  He is an outstanding contemporary philosopher.  In this book, Kreeft sets forth three main possible philosophies of life, as demonstrated by what Kreeft says are the most profound books of philosophy he has ever read.  These three are the biblical books of EcclesiastesJob, and Song of Songs.  What follows is a wonderful examination of life as vanity, life as suffering, and life as love, and the connections and pathways between these ideas through the lens of biblical Christianity.  An insightful and yes, enjoyable read.
  • For: Philosophers, Christians, people who have never heard of this Kreeft character but want to see if he lives up to my claims of his awesomeness.

 

Film

  • Who: Nancy Oliver (writer), Craig Gillespie (director), starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider
  • What: Lars and the Real Girl (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2007)
  • Why:  I have something of an affinity for quirky independent films, and this film most definitely fits that description.  The story of a socially inept young man who purchases a life-size mannequin to be his girlfriend, Lars and the Real Girl is at times funny, at others touching, and throughout, a very interesting character study.  The way that “Bianca” helps change Lars’ way of interacting with the world and the way in which his family and friends react to her makes for a memorable hour and a half.
  • For:  Those looking for something both thought-provoking and enjoyable to watch, appreciators of film as an art form, lovers of the quirky and slightly bizarre.

 

Music

  • Who: Death Cab for Cutie
  • What: We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes (Barsuk, 2000)
  • Why:  We Have the Facts is a strong entry in Death Cab’s discography.  It’s style is a bit of an acquired taste though.  For those who don’t mind the almost lo-fi instrumentation, the dynamic and emotional ebb and flow, especially on the second half of the album, make for some beautiful moments in music.
  • For: Professed Death Cab fans, lovers of independent bands, those who want something different from most contemporary music.

 

  • Who: The Postal Service
  • What: Give Up (Sub Pop, 2003)
  • Why: Give Up is an interesting portrait of a surprisingly successful side project.  I’ve never encountered another album with quite the same feel, at times introspective and dreamy, at others optimistic and extroverted, and always an interesting blend of Ben Gibbard’s expression and Dntel’s eccentricity.  Quite an enjoyable album, and unique.
  • For: Fans of Death Cab or Dntel, folks who need cheering up, those who are willing to try something new.

Songs of the Month

Jumping back to music real quick for October’s picks:

A Movie Script Ending – Death Cab for Cutie

A fine song, not their most polished, but neat tune and lyrics.  Was horribly stuck in my head at one point, and we were out of town, so it kind of reminds me of Gainesville, VA now.

You’ve Got a Friend in Me – Randy Newman (from Toy Story)

How can one not love this song?  To all my dear readers, this song is for you.  I love you guys.  ❤

o.0  heh,

I almost wrote “dead readers” instead of dear.  *creepy music*  Maybe I’ve been thinking about Halloween too much.  If I do have any dead readers out there, I’d love to hear from you!  That would be freaking creepy actually.  Maybe I don’t want to hear from you.  Tom, have you been reading my blog?

“R”, left index finger, we type “R”, not “D”.

Oh boy…  It’s been a long weekend.