A Movie I Saw: Upstream Color

I finally saw Shane Carruth’s 2012 follow-up to 2004′s Primer, and boy is my brain tired. Much like that former movie, Upstream Color is a perfectly understandable story filmed in a way that doesn’t spoon-feed you everything that’s going on or what it means. Nobody trusts his audience to figure stuff out quite like Shane Carruth.  The good thing about Upstream Color is that you can discern what happened without seeing it 20 times or consulting an insanely detailed multi-tiered internet chart.  Having said that, it’s just as philosophically stimulating.  Its implications are super-interesting, even if the actual movie drags in spots, and has Packer Sweep-level plot holes.

Spoiler Fun Area — You should probably go back in time (a la Primer) and see Upstream Color before reading further.

The difference in complexity between the two movies can be easily explained in terms of the subject matter:  Primer is concerned with time travel (always a bugaboo) while Upstream Color is concerned with life cycles.  There exists a fictional worm with a three-stage life cycle:

  1. It lives in white orchids and turns them into rare blue orchids
  2. It’s harvested from the blue orchids and fed to unsuspecting humans, in whom it creates a hypnotically suggestible state until the human is fed, at which point it grows to enormous lengths.
  3. It’s pulled from the human and inserted into pigs, which creates a weird psychic worm-link between the worm-filled pig and the former human the worm inhabited.  It passes the worm to the pig’s babies, who release a blue dye into the wild that turns the orchids blue.

Of course, the story is not about the worms.  It’s about the people who are victimized in stage 2, and their long journey to take control of the situation and break the cycle.  It’s really as simple as that.  It’s not a feel-good movie in that the main victimizer doesn’t get his comeuppance for destroying multiple lives through hypnotic worm-nappings.  No, the person who gets the comeuppance is the morally ambiguous Stage 3 guy, who puts the overgrown worms into the pigs, then spies on the worms’ former owners through them in order to compose music.  I guess that doesn’t really sound very morally ambiguous when you type it out.  Anyway, the main character kills the pig guy, and stops him from dropping pig babies into the river, which stops the orchids from turning blue, which stops the bad guy from harvesting the hypno-worms.  I felt pretty good about it, this ending of the cycle.

Upstream Color is beautiful and dreamy, but plot structure suffers for its art.  It requires the main character to be destroyed and stranded alone in her post-worm world, so zero (0) of her family members, former friends, or co-workers appear in the film.  Think about this:  If an evil man used a worm to hypnotize you into not leaving the house for a few days, do you think that would grab some attention?  If I didn’t answer the phone or show up to work for a few days, people would freak the heck out, even if I hypnotically called in sick.  If I liquidated all my home’s equity at my bank, I would think that would throw up some red flags.  Because the money went somewhere, right?  Clearly I was scammed.  Even if I thought I was crazy, there was a person who took advantage of the situation, right?  And in any case, WHERE IS THIS GIRL’S FAMILY?

So it works as a probably unintentional screed against careerist isolationism, is all I’m saying.

And there had to be at least 20 local people who had been victimized by this guy; wouldn’t mental health professionals be putting two and two together?  For that matter, how did this evil guy figure out this whole hypno-worm thing, anyway?  And why does it use it seemingly only to steal money?*  And how can he live with himself afterwards?

Having said that, I must say the whole movie is worth seeing just for the scene depicted on the poster, where the main character and Shane Carruth sense their psychic pig-babies being thrown down the river and wind up in their bathtub together with a handgun. It’s pretty neato.

To those who haven’t seen the movie, I’m sorry.  You should know that every one of the paragraphs above does really make sense.

 

 

*One way in which Primer is superior to Upstream Color is that the immoral characters eventually realize that their time machine can be used to give them so much more than just money.  As you might imagine, it’s also quite a bit more depressing.

Why Societal Expectations of Behavior are Mostly Counterproductive, Part II

This is part II of this particular idea. See here for Part I.

Also, see this super-long article on the Age of Smarm by Tom Scocca on Gawker. It illuminates many of the consequences of our collective lack of honesty better than I ever could. Funny how that works.

Why Societal Expectations of Behavior are Mostly Counterproductive, Part II: I Probably Don’t Have to Tell You This, but the Media is Disintegrating Our Souls.

There are plenty of reasons to bash the Mainstream Media* these days, and I’m not writing this to add my baritone voice to that choir. Nobody likes baritones anyway. No, I’m mentioning the MSM to introduce the concept of the Best Possible Emotion For a Given Situation, because it would be hard to imagine one without the other.

Think about the way every level of TV News is delivered. A blandly attractive man or woman looks very serious when the story is about something commonly accepted as bad; when the story is about a surfing dog or a rescued baby, however, they express Christmaslike levels of wonder and joy at the sight. This makes sense, right? These anchors and reporters are just reacting naturally to the situations they are reporting, right? Anyone suggesting otherwise is the living incarnation of cynicism, and should be re-indoctrinated into the Universal Church of Earnestness again, right?

Ahh but this is exactly where the Best Possible Emotion For a Given Situation comes into play. If they always pick the emotion that societal consensus indicates, at what point does societal consensus stop and the news anchor begin? It is, after all, the news anchor’s job to reflect what they think the audience’s feelings are. They don’t really have a choice in the matter, if they want to keep being news anchors. Are we to seriously think that every single news anchor is made serious and sad at every crime story, and then instantly switches to happy mode when lighter stories come up? If this is the case, they must be either a) fantastic at coping with their wildly flying emotions, or b) not feeling any of these feelings very deeply at all. I mean, there are other, more cynical choices (they’re all sociopaths, for example), but allow me to suggest that for the vast majority of anchors and reporters, the choice is b). They have become immune to the feelings, and are mostly simulating the Best Possible Emotions because it’s easier (and more conducive to long-term employment) than trying to be authentically themselves.

The reason why it’s like this is that most USA TV News viewers only dip below the emotional surface level on occasions when they’re forced to, usually times of extreme joy or stress. So most days it can be comforting to see a bland and somewhat ideally attractive person emote in ways we feel are appropriate. The Societal Consensus is a real (so to speak) thing, and when we’re plugged into the illusion it can become something we believe in, as long as we’re not forced to think about it.**

Obviously, this is not a phenomenon unique to TV News; it’s just as obvious in other jobs, as well. We see the BPEFGS at play when the doctor gives us bad news, or when the hold message on the phone says “Your call is important to us,” or when the business executive writes in a mass e-mail that he has “mixed emotions” about firing a subordinate, or when a professional athlete tearfully apologizes after being caught cheating. Since we can’t see into other people’s brains, all we can do is give them the benefit of the doubt. And since we are also subject to the societal consensus of the BPEFGS, we may even trick ourselves into thinking that we know someone is being honest about their emotions if we want to believe it and the BPEFGS on display is particularly convincing. But deep down we always understand that we don’t know jack.

This wouldn’t be a problem except that no matter how uncynical we may want to be, everyone subconsciously realizes that TV Newspersons are simulating emotions rather than feeling them. And this makes us feel alone. In fact, when a MSM person breaks ranks and displays an emotion that’s not the BPEFGS, people go absolutely bonkers over it, even if it’s as simple as making public a petty dispute between co-hosts:

Or being forced to deal with an off-book situation for which they don’t have a ready canned emotion:

Ok, that last one seems fake.  But that just proves my point, doesn’t it?  When a Newsperson doesn’t follow the BPEFGS, it’s news. We’re fascinated by it. Why? Because we are starved for real human emotions in a world that rarely displays or accepts them.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this, it’s that last sentence. It’s true, isn’t it? It’s not cynicism, it’s quite the opposite. It’s being earnest enough to say that sometimes I feel good about bad things and bad about good things. Sometimes I’m jealous of other peoples’ success, or happy at their misfortune, and this doesn’t make me a worse person. It makes me a real one. I sometime react in inappropriate ways, and I reject all judgments of those reactions. I’m not saying my emotions are perfect, but I’m saying they are me, and that’s the first step in actually dealing with them.

So we can see that the actual cynical ones are those displaying the BPEFGS without feeling the appropriate emotions. Maybe they’re even telling themselves that they really do authentically feel the societally correct way every time, or even worse, maybe they don’t even know how to feel anything except the BPEFGS anymore. Maybe their souls have been actually disintegrated. It happens all the time. Please, please, don’t let that happen to you.

 

 

 

* Semi-recently acronymized as the MSM, it refers to any long-standing media outlet not affiliated with a particular ideology or group. So, CNN or a local newspaper would be MSM, but not, say, the AARP Magazine (what’s it called? Old People Today?)

** Sorry not sorry.

Why Social Expectations of Behavior are Mostly Counterproductive

Yep.

I suppose I should start with this: I have a fake sentiment allergy. When I hear a sentiment that I deem to be inauthentic, I feel a revulsion in the center of my body, in my intestines.  It makes me physically ill, and I must immediately move my attention to something else lest I be caught up in a storm of disconnection.

I know I’m not the only one who has this feeling, though I do seem to feel it more strongly than most.  I read about it in books, both fictional and not.  I see it in the faces and the anti-fakeness rants of friends, family, co-workers, and others.  I see it in the commonly held disdain for seemingly unrelated things like Christmas music and hipsters.

So what is this feeling, anyway?  It’s usually expressed in appreciation for things like authenticity and honesty.   People want to hear real emotions and real thoughts.  They don’t want others’ emotions or thoughts filtered to be more socially palatable.  They crave this because they crave connection with other people.  Without honesty, such connection is impossible.  People don’t want to hear what they know you think they want to hear.  They want to hear what you really think/feel/believe.

I’m not smart enough to understand what creates this desire for connection or why we’ve essentially created a society that prevents it from happening, but this is where we are.  I have my theories, but they’re not important right now.  I’d rather talk about the consequences of this society on its unfortunate citizens, who have to fight like the dickens for the right to have their own emotions and opinions in a world that substitutes fake societal consensus for real talk.

The internet is generally the exception to all this, since the perception of anonymity has given rise to the assumption that everyone’s opinions are equally important.  This is why you have internet communities that are more connected and real than their real-life counterparts. This is also why you have lots of people creating online alter egos and emphatically expressing antisocial ideas they would never say out loud; they have no other societal outlet and they crave an outlet for this one part of themselves, and so random comments of “BOOBS” on Youtube videos are born (along with countless better uses of the medium).

In our pre-internet systems, however, the societal consensus still reigns over people with an iron fist.  I don’t think this is all bad; people shouldn’t feel like they can be as hurtful to others as they want and avoid repercussions.  Certainly, the societal consensus prevents a lot of fistfights.  If people said what they really think all the time, no matter how half-formed and idiotic the thought was, way more arguments would take place.  But here’s the thing:  We crave connection so much that even negative connections are something we seek out, in order to feel more alive and real and like our true selves.  When confronted with an idea or opinion we don’t like, it tells us about what we do like.  And this is good — it feels like honesty.  So many of us walk around not knowing what we really want, or what we’re really feeling at any given moment.  Connection with others connects us with ourselves.

Our society is built to tell us what we should want, in order to benefit other people who really don’t know what they want, but who are fairly certain they want your money at the expense of their own souls.  You should want, for example, a nice car.  A nice car will get you respect and chicks and self-esteem and a general feeling that your life is going well.  In the car commercials, they don’t mention the negatives that come with the nice car.  Chief among those negatives is the very idea that something as arbitrary as a car should have anything to do with respect, chicks, self-esteem, or a general feeling that life is going well.  Because deep down, everyone, even a person with a super nice car, knows that the car-respect connection is stupid and arbitrary.  So why doesn’t anyone say this?  Because the illusion is so ingrained in our culture that pointing it out makes you at best an unreasonable spiritual idealist (ew, gross), and at worst a total hater.

And so the general law we see is this:  If you suggest dismantling a societal consensus illusion, or even suggest that it IS an illusion, the stakeholders in that particular illusion will get totally pissed.  In the case of the car-respect-chicks thing, guys who spent way too much money on a car to demonstrate value to a mate would probably be offended at the suggestion that the quality of one’s car (or any material possession, for that matter) is no basis for determining one’s value as a mate (or anything else, for that matter).  Women who bought into the idea and are using car quality in their matrix of potential mates would probably be offended, too.  How dare someone tell them they don’t really want what they want?  So you see why the illusion continues, at least until reality hits.

This is the reality:  Illusions can only hold up for so long.  The ideal deeper truths will always have their say, and only through acceptance of those deeper truths can one ever find well-being.  So the owner of the respect-generating car is plagued with thoughts of what happens when the car goes away and does this girl only like me because of the car and a car is not a good basis for a system of self-respect and why are parts for this thing so expensive and my boss treats me like garbage but I have to keep this job because I need to make payments on the car and the general feeling that life is going well for me is an illusion that I don’t want to maintain anymore and if that guy in Logistics wants to talk cars again with me I may kill somebody and I think I need some professional help to deal with these panic attacks, etc.  You can pooh-pooh Idealism all you want, but in the words of the immortal fake George Michael from Saturday Night Live, “Accept it before it destroys you.”

This is not to say that cars are evil.  Some people authentically dream of working on/improving/racing/etc. cool cars, and this is a totally legitimate thing to authentically want to do (pro tip: every authentic dream is legitimate).  However, most car people are just using cars to get something that cars can’t ever give them.  This is sad.  This is also what we can’t talk about, except among proven real friends or on the internet.

I’ve noticed this shared consensus illusion is especially pervasive and iron-fisted in two areas:  Media and Business.  Noticing that was the whole reason for this post.  I think I should tackle that next time, don’t you?  This is getting way too long.

Thanks for reading!

 

Christmastime is here.

Usually when I update this, it is out of frustration with my life’s path, and a general desire to just do something.  This is not necessarily bad, but it does explain why I haven’t posted much in three years.  I’m not able to recreate the mania/frustration enough times to make this worth my while.  I’ve thought about creating anti-leadership blogs.  I’ve thought about getting visual and creating a Tumblr.  I’ve tried becoming an actual fiction author, with mixed results.  I’ve posted things on Facebook and adopted Twitter as my primary means of blasting communication to the world.  All of these seemed like good ideas at the time, and they seem like good ideas right now.  I just haven’t had the gumption to explore them.

It’s a beautiful fall Wisconsin day today, mad even more beautiful by the extra hour of sleep awarded by Daylight Savings Time.  I know I’ll be mad when it gets dark at 5pm, but right now I’m bedazzled by the autumnal beauty.  If I weren’t feeling a bit sick, I would totally be playing disk golf right now.  That’s what I do.  It always seems like a better idea than what I’m actually doing.  I’m watching the river go by from the window of a coffee shop in Grafton, WI, and can’t believe I still get to live in paradise.

Christmastime is here.  Christmastime is beer.  Christmastime is fear.

Happy Holidays!  Hug a goose (p.s. but tell him to please finally fly south and stop pooping all over everything)!

Good a Time to Start as Any

Let’s start blogging again, shall we?   I’ve been concentrating exclusively on the mind-shivving work of fiction writing for so long I’m not sure I know how to even blog.  I need to dump some essays out of my brain to make room for the good fiction OJ Wolfsmasher needs to write.  Also, forming good sentences is becoming a problem.  LET ME BE SUPER CLEAR THAT THIS IS NOT GOOD FOR A “WRITER.”

Step 1: Affect a “voice”

No no no seriously.  Try to do a bit with the way you word things.  I’ve been at this for quite a while, and I think this is probably key if you want to be successful at the obsolete art of blogging.  Instead of saying, “I like asparagus” say “yo, I like dat asper-a-gus, you dig?”

The voice doesn’t have to be DAT, er, THAT racially insensitive, but it totally helps.

Step 2: Give up the “voice” and be yourself.

I’m an INFJ.  I literally don’t know how to do that.

Step 3: Settle for Imperfection

I STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING.  TRY AND DEAL, K?

Have faith.  You will be rewarded, you who kept this blog in your Google Reader/Replacement Reader all this time.*

I cannot reiterate enough the importance of following my Twitter feed.  Bon mots, people!  Get ‘em while I’m still interested in Tweeting!

*What do y’all use now that Google Reader was assassinated with such extreme prejudice?  I’m using The Old Reader because it looks EXACTLY like Google Reader once looked.  You know, before Google killed it.  I need to get over this.  It’s not like The Old Reader is worse, right?  Plus, it gave us a reason to laugh at AOL again, right?  LOL at AOL.

2013. i think i lived in that apartment once.

Here we are, at that time again where we arbitrarily increment the year number by one and start the calender over from the beginning.  We are in January.  The year is 2013.  Neither of those things were true yesterday.  On the one check per month I actually write out, it’s going to take a while to get used to that.  I should get it right by about June.

The incrementation comes at a curious time, the dead of winter.  This date, January 1, is a national holiday.  I’m blogging this in a coffee shop and getting paid for an eight hour day by my employer.  No, Alterra Coffee Death Roasters is not my employer.  My employer is paying me because it’s a holiday.  All of this is hard to keep from taking for granted.  This is just always when the year has flipped, since Time Immemorial.  Or at least 1972, when I was born.  That’s what Time Immemorial means to me.  Every year, Christmas comes with all of…its Yuletide blerk.  And then that week happens where the kids have no school, and after that everyone gets blitzed out of their minds because they’re a year older and our tradition is to party hard when we want to forget.  It’s not sold to us that way, but you must understand I live in Wisconsin.  We drink here.  A lot.

“Blog” is still a funny word.

2013 means I’ve had this blog for 10 years now (remember epth.blogspot.com?).  I don’t know if that sounds like a long time, but it does sound like a milestone.  The first six or so were quite prolific.  The last four…ehhhhhhhhhhhh.  How many “h’s” do I need to properly express my combo-feelings of guilt and sadness and fear of Law Enforcement and Time Lost?   That seems like enough.  ANYWAY, after a few false starts I feel like really being in social media again.  I’m not going to promote it, I’m just going to let it be what it is.  I have changed the blog template again to reflect the darker times.  Made it sightly more complicated.  Like life.  Plus, I miss people like Tony Pagel.  Tony, you out there?  Google yourself and find this, please.

Blogs seem like cultural internet relics these days anyway, amirite?  You know where it’s at?  Tweets.  Follow me (@epthnation), because I have been tweeting all this time, even when I don’t blog.  Something about 140 characters is just so inviting.  I’m sure it can be addictive for some, although I feel like most seasoned internet people just program their twitter to puke out tweets at semi-random intervals designed to get them the most attention and click-throughs.  I just can’t manipulate people like that.  Clearly, I have no business on the internet.  Literally!  (get it?)

No meme today.  I’m in a coffee shop, and there are little ones about.  You’d be surprised at how inappropriate most memes are.  Wait, no you wouldn’t.

Love,

OJ Wolfsmasher.

 

9.13.12 STUCK IN ELEVATOR PLEASE HELP

Two things of note happened to me yesterday.  The rest, you can just forget about.

1)  I got STUCK IN THE ELEVATOR at work for 10 minutes.  I could have DIED.  Well, not really, but I could have been stuck in there A LONG TIME.  When the elevator stops and random floor numbers light up, your mind immediately starts to run towards the worst case scenario.  Then the panic tries to set in and punch your mellow in the face.  My personal panic was triggered by two things:  a) my slight claustrophobia, and b) the fact that no air seemed to be moving AT ALL.  There is, thankfully, a working phone in every elevator with a help number on it scrawled in ball-point pen.  I called the security “Command Center” and tried to describe the elevator in which I was stuck.  She wanted to know the BUILDING NUMBER, which is something I found unnecessary since I gave her my EXACT GRID LOCATION.  My annoyance gave me something to occupy my mind, and was much appreciated.  That’s probably why they ask those meaningless questions in the Command Center.

Then I hung up the phone and was alone in the elevator with nothing but my thoughts and the oppressive heat to keep me company.  Much to my surprise, I had cell phone service, which I used to text and call my work mates to tell them of my predicament.  They ignored me.  What did I think about in that stuffy cell?  The fact that I’ve wasted my life.  Just kidding, I totally thought about whatever normally goes through my head.  I don’t want to tell you what that is, because you’ll find it stupid.  Even I kinda do.  But that’s a post for another day.

2) I saw an AMC Pacer parked in front of some dude’s house in Grafton:

10 Reasons to Join Bard and Book

I’m not so good at selling things.  You know why?  I HATE BEING SOLD THINGS.  You have to understand, I’ve been constantly manipulated for what seems like 40 years, and I don’t really see the value in the whole process.  It started with the totally understandable “See, being good and not screaming keeps you from being spanked,” and ever since then people have been trying to convince me to do, and not to do, stuff.  So I guess what I’m saying is that I, moreso than probably 98% of humans, understand your skepticism about this dare I sheepishly say revolutionary new way to consume carefully-ordered words with your eyes.

I’m therefore going to have to step out of my brain for a second and try to convince you to sign up for this website thingy that lies before you.  A couple of disclaimers before I go:  a) OJ Wolfsmasher is obviously a pseudonym; b) OJ Wolfsmasher stands to financially benefit from your signing up, in that a portion of the monthly subscription fee goes to him; c) If you don’t sign up for the site, OJ Wolfsmasher might not be able to write anything ever again ever.

I guess that was more of a threat than a disclaimer.

Now, some (off the top-of-my-head) reasons to become a subscriber to Bard and Book:

1)  The authors are starving for attention, and will interact with you in comments and chat rooms.  This means one thing:  More friends for you!  (Ok, maybe I’m only speaking for myself w/r/t attention…but still, friends!)

2) The more people who subscribe, the more we will write.  The dream for most of us (again, only really speaking for myself, so this is all speculation) is to one day become full-time writers.  You can be a big part in making that happen.

3)  At some point in the near future I’ll post my recipe for White Chili.  You don’t want to miss that.

4) This still has to be cleared with Anthony Horvath, our leader, but I feel moderately confident that I can convince him to have a contest among our members to design a real logo to replace that blurry picture of random white people at the top of the Bard and Book homepage.  I have no idea who they are, and just want them gone.  (note: They have subsequently been sacked.  Victory is ours!)

5) The authors are all really good, and are just beginning to grow into the craft of writing (again, speaking only for myself, blah blah blah etc).  You’re in on the ground floor!  This isn’t Amway, but if it was, you’d basically be signing up to be a millionaire.  As it is, you’re just signing up for great writing every month.

6) Studies have shown that reading is fundamental.  I may be mixing up “studies” and “library commercials from the 1980s.”  But I’m pretty sure reading is better for you than most things you’d otherwise be doing.

7)  You can play “Count the Typos that OJ Wolfsmasher missed in editing.”  Seriously, it’s horrifying.   I’ll do better.

8) Your subscription not only gets you exclusive access to the content by the seven of us, it gets you content from mystery authors that may be added in the future!  And those guys (or girls, hopefully — just sayin) will be way better than us (again, speaking just for me when I say “us.”)

9) This isn’t a cult like Scientology or Facebook.

10)  In all seriousness, I will be forever in your debt.  Even if I end up saving your life someday, I will still owe you at least a cold one.

In conclusion, I’m going to pull a page from Sally Struthers’ economic guilt book and say that for the price of a cup of coffee (or maybe two or three cups of coffee, and from Starbucks) you can get access to an entire month’s worth of stories from seven authors who are just trying to make a go of it in this horrible publishing world.  If that’s not worth it to you, then don’t sign up.  But then actually do.

Bard and Book

NEWS FLASH HOLMES!!!

For those of you who didn’t know, I am now a writer on Bardandbook.com, writing under the assumed moniker of “OJ Wolfsmasher.”

Here links are, to get you started:

Bard and Book

My Bard and Book Blog and Book

Cheap as Free e-books from me and others

I feel like an explanation is in order for anyone still reading this.  I, Michael Pape, being of sound mind and possibly body, am (for internet purposes) now three not-totally-separate people:

Michael Pape, broken wreck of a man just trying to make the dreams of others, and probably himself, come true as much as possible.

Epthnation, a man so steeped in Gen-X irony that he renamed his blog “Hooray for Everything in Reverse,” then went to Google Images and got a picture of “Hooray for Everything,” then negativized it and made it the blog’s header;

and OJ Wolfsmasher, fiction author for Bardandbook.com.  His internet presence is yet to be determined, and will probably be too much anyway.

So you now have people to follow on Twitter as well:  @Epthnation (where I keep my most delicious bon mots), and @OJWolfsmasher (which is TBD as far as content is concerned).  I’d encourage you to join Twitter.  It’s perfect for those with no attention spans!

As for Bard and Book, it’s basically a new and experimental way to fund a starving group of writers.  You sign up, and you get exclusive access to a large and growing library of e-books.  You might want to get a Kindle or Nook if you do this.  I’ve got four short stories up there now, with a longer zombie one (tentatively entitled Zombiez!) coming soon.  

 

 

Pass It On, Bro

“What a wonderous time is spring…when all the trees are budding.”

There is this OLD Christian campfire song called “Pass it on.”  It’s a relic of the kind of “teach the world to sing and buy the world a Coke” mentality that the American 1970s produced so effortlessly and intentionally in its citizens.  I used to love this song when I was a (little) kid.  It was in the tiny “contemporary” hymn-pamphlet we used during chapel, the one that had all the snazzy songs that the kids liked.

“The birds begin to sing, the flowers start their budding.”

By the time I got to college, it was common to express disdain for the earnestness and cheese of this song, and many others in that hymn-pamphlet.  They were just another victim of the pervasive irony that held all of us Gen-Xers in its hypnotic sway.  And, to be honest, the lyrics ARE totally lame and cheesy, and the metaphors…

“That’s how it is with God’s love, once you experience it.”

…feel a bit lazy and forced, unless you happen to be high.

I mention this because I’m up at 5:43am.  There would be a sunrise right now, if not for the clouds that are hovering over Lake Michigan.  There is a giant pink-bud-studded tree outside my window that is pretty even in the dull blue-gray of the not-yet morning.  In the distance, piney trees point to the sky.  Since I’ve walked past just about every square inch of Grafton proper, I know those trees are meant to shield an ugly factory from a road.  But from my window, they could be the entry point to a beautiful forest.  I can’t tell.

“Once you experience it.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the must-be-believed-to-be-experienced nature of God lately, and how leaps of faith are essential to understanding, well, just about anything.

This fact has confused and pissed me off for about five years, and made it difficult to pass on.

But mornings like this, even though they are “cold and gray,” make me understand something important, and this by (what else) faith:

I live in Paradise.  Problematic Paradise.

“Loud boiling test tubes.”

Ok so “Earth and All Stars” is still irredeemable, but “Pass it On” is A-Ok.  Even if it does turn God into a giant mystical doobie.