Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Time Before the Time Before Now

On June 21, the senior environmental engineer of the MLC* quit.  Unexpectedly.  I walked in to work on that Friday, my then manager caught me before I had a chance to start my day, and told me the news.  He also gave me a promotion, a new job title (staff environmental engineer), and a pay raise.  I was moving from the environmental field that I loved and had training in--water & waste--into a field that I had little relevant training and little love for--air. 

Air pollution is a beast.  The rules and regulations are overly complex.  The redundancy is ridiculous.  I had no desire to enter air, but then I was there.  Now, almost 5 months later, the senior position still has not been filled and the projects keep stacking up.  I'm surprised to find that I actually enjoy some of the air side of things, though water is still my desired field.

Additionally, launching Encounter Community Church back in August has equally added to my day-to-day.  It's something I'm passionate about--making disciples who make disciples--enough so that I'm staking my claim on the words of the One who established The Church.  Disciple making was Jesus' primary objective on earth.  It was important to Him, obviously, or He wouldn't have brought it up in His last statements before He went back to Heaven.  ECC is going strong and God is blessing us and I'm thankful to be a part of it.

But what sucks is the timedrain that's been applied.  My hour commute added with my long work days added with ECC work leaves me drained.  Me being drained unfortunately results in my family being neglected.  I treasure the time I get to spend with Keisha and Avonlea and Callum.  I love my family so much and I miss them when I'm not home.  I need to be a better husband, a better father.  I need to efficiently spend my time with them when I'm home.  I'm aware of the issue and I sincerely believe that it's a temporary thing, but I also realize that I have to stay on top of it or else I'll become yet another zombie enslaved to the consumer, self-serving culture.  Godspeed to me, I say.

That's where I'm at.  That's where I've been.  That's why my blog is sidelined, cause at the end of the day this thing is just an electronic archive of my life, a digital record for the future me to look back upon and read.  Just like taking a picture or recording a video is great and all, but if taking a picture comes at the expense of actually missing the event, then what's the point?  A picture is a memory.  A picture for a picture's sake is not a memory at all.  There is the functional purpose of book reviews here on Rememorandom, but that's a mere corollary to the intent. 

And I'm all about living intentionally, living honestly, openly, sincerely, unashamed and unafraid.  I hope you are, too.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Handmaid's Tale, a Review

Even though it’s been a few weeks since I finished Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, I see Offred’s story in my mind still, like a ripe tangerine split open and glossy in the midsummer’s morning.  I see her, in her red burka like outfit, white wings as blinders on her face.  She’s tragic.  Defeated.  Her loss is gut-wrenching.  How she once had a life—a Life—so normal, just like everybody else.  Married.  A daughter.  A job.  Happy.  But all of that was in a time before the overthrow, before the government was decimated, before the regime took control and installed a patriarchal society.  Women’s rights were gone.

Just like that.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a classic dystopia that is devastating for its simplicity.  As often is the case in this genre, specifics aren’t exactly forthcoming, but there is enough worldbuilding put together to discern what’s happened.  The book is a quasi-stream-of-consciousness novel chronicling the life of an unnamed Handmaid.  The plot slowly reveals information about her life before she became a Handmaid, and much of this book is melancholic in recollection.

The way the sun would shine and cast a reflection on a man’s hair and send her spiraling backwards, remembering the way he looked in his mundane world.  How he sounded.  How he smelled.  And pages and paragraphs disjointed but connected, a weird juxtaposition that works well, especially as the frame becomes more aware.

Interestingly enough, the Handmaid’s tale never grows stale, and that’s largely due to Atwood’s superior skills as a writer and storyteller.  The language is powerful.  The imagery is rich.  (I really liked what she did with colors in this book.)  The message is a touch heavy-handed (it’s satirical) and required some strong suspension of disbelief on my part (I’m a Realistic altruist to a certain degree), but her point was well made.  I was affronted by the male portrayal throughout the book on many occasions, but her point is conceivably possible.

So what exactly is The Handmaid’s Tale?  It’s a simple story about a woman’s struggle to survive in the world.  She wrestles with past mistakes, with guilt, with a constant fear of death, with God, with many things most of us can relate to.  It’s a bleak picture of what America could become if things went absolutely cat-whiskers crazy.  It’s an absolutely makes-you-wanna-bawl kind of book if you have a two year old daughter (like I do).  It’s a funny kind of novel that elicits the occasional chuckle.

Honestly, The Handmaid’s Tale is novel that’s both striking and entertaining.  I believe Atwood was more concerned about the moral of the story than the actual plot, but both were well done.  The Handmaid’s Tale is a modern classic that may seem uninspired in this modern world of dystopias, but it’s a book that deserves its accolades and, at least in my opinion, deserves a read.  Boldly recommended.

Friday, September 06, 2013

No Subject

This is how I like dealing with spam.
How are you doing?please I'm sorry for taking a little of your time,please I have an important issue I will like to share with you concerning my inheritance and character of my wicked Uncles that wants to kill me to enrich themselves.On hearing from you on my email address and i will give you more details.
Have a nice day.Sincerely,alexa oko

Dearest Alexa,

Oh my goodness.  I can’t believe you’ve finally found me.  I’ve been searching for you for years, ever since our wicked Uncles initiated the coup and seized control of our dearest city.  However did you obtain my electronic mail address?  I lost many good men in trying to maintain its secrecy, and yet I see that the wretchedness of our Uncles is once again superior.  They quite simply must stop it at once.  I no longer have the time or energy to fight this struggle.  I’m haggard and bedraggled.  I’ve not had a warm meal in months.  This gruel I commandeer from a kindly but portly Middle Eastern baker down the street is all that keeps me going, at least in terms of nutrition.  At night I lie awake and devise schemes of destruction, of sneaking into our Uncles compounds at night and setting free the Fires of Heaven, of covering them in raw meats and releasing a pack of dogs upon their wicked souls.  Oh yes, I have dreams and take mortal delight in them each and every night my dearest Alexa.  I fear that my mind has been bent beyond what is acceptable; no longer am I the innocent child I was when I played upon the bloodred waters of my homeland.  I am a scarred individual with ruthlessness within my bones.   This is, I think, the most evil of all the heinous crimes our wicked Uncles have done.  For I’m sure you remember me when I was the embodiment of pure naiveté and innocence, ever clothed in white, ever surrounded by butterflies and the sweet aroma of the primrose.   How they have wronged me.  How they have wronged you.  And now they are seeking to kill you and enrich themselves!  Oh the humanity.

Thanks for the update.  Take care!

Have a nice day yourself.

Sincerely, logankstewart

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Things They Carried, a Review

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, is one of those books that I found out about in college. It was a humanities class with an emphasis on cultural diversity and whatnot. We had to read several excerpts from all sorts of literature, and the excerpt (and idea) from The Things They Carried made enough of an impact with me that I decided that I’d like to read the entire book. The excerpt talked about the things that Vietnam soldiers carried with them, like drugs, letters, photographs, ammunition, lucky charms, and sundries. The exact weights and how this bore on the soldiers as they made their way across foreign lands.

Now, five years later, I’ve finally read it.

It was a whim. I was in the midst of five other books, kind of a lull, honestly, and I found myself in my den looking over my bookshelf. So many things on that shelf that I need to get to. Not sure why, but I pulled out the 250-page paperback and flipped through it. Why not?

That night, as I was rocking Callum to tentative sleep, I started reading O’Brien’s novel/memoir. I was immediately pulled in, and a day or two later I was finished with the thing. I kept telling Keisha that I needed to look up some stuff afterwards, to see what was Real and what wasn’t. I kept re-reading the Title Page: The Things They Carried, a work of fiction by Tim O’Brien.

That’s part of the beauty of The Things They Carried. O’Brien is writing this as a memoir, but it’s much more than that, too. The book is essentially a collection of war stories (lies? narrative essays?) about Vietnam. The lines between fiction and truth are blurry. This is intentional. O’Brien is blatant about this, giving the Reader an odd sort of feeling as to just how reliable the narrator is.
O’Brien is concerned with Story. The book offers several asides on what defines a story, seamless and meta and over-the-top but perfect. “Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” (Page 38)
Anyone concerned with telling a story, let alone putting fingertips to keyboards and translating it, would do to read O’Brien’s book.

Overall, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried was a wonderful, unexpected book. Out of my normal distribution of genre/non-fic, I could barely put the thing down. I still find myself thinking about some of the stories O’Brien told. If you’ve never read this book, I definitely can recommend it to anyone. The topic is war, which may be offputting, but then again it’s not really about the war, either. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Leaving Church

I was asked earlier this year to pray about a decision. 

It was difficult and painful.

But I prayed and I saw what the Spirit was doing, if only a glimpse.

Moreso, I saw what could be.

And I made my choice.

Keisha came to the same decision.

On Sunday, July 13, we left the church.

Well… we left the local church body we were part of, which isn’t to say The Church.

No.  God forbid.

Instead, we are joining a group of followers who are going to plant a church.  We’re all willing to shuck norms and instead actively engage in the call to discipleship.  We long to become fully devoted followers of 
Christ, and we long for others to do likewise.

I miss the former body I partnered with, but Jesus said following Him would require sacrifice. 

Me, I’m willing to sacrifice anything for the Murdered One who died for me.

I’m willing to do whatever it takes.

For whoever will listen.

Wherever He leads me.


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Riyria Revelations (Full Series Review)

Michael J. Sullivan was/is a self-published author who was so successful at his craft that a traditional publishing house (Orbit) bought up his books and re-issued them.  These six books were split into three omnibuses.  The Riyria Revelations tells a spectacular story that is instantly familiar and yet completely different.  In The Crown Conspiracy, the Reader is introduced to a duo of thieves—Royce Melbourn and Hadrian Blackwater—who are hired to steal a sword from an impenetrable fortress.  Little did they know that this action would set off a series of events that would change the course of the world.  Along the way they meet princesses, warlords, pirates, monks, magicians, and all sorts of colorful characters.

Indeed, characterization is but one of the strengths of the series.  Royce and Hadrian are complex characters, thieves of renown who are exceptional at what they do.  They each have a rich history that slowly comes to light over the course of the novels, and I can’t help but think that this is part of the meaning behind the series’ title.  The two are simultaneously funny and lethal.  Their banter is a joy to read, and their escapades are entertaining.

While character is vital to a good story, plot is integral.  Sullivan tells a matter-of-fact story, one that is not filled with flowery language nor is it devoid of life.  Each novel is a complete book in itself, satisfying to read without leaving the Reader too dependent upon cliffhangers, etc.  There is an over-arching story, of course, and I can’t imagine anyone reading any single book of this set without wanting to read the rest.  The books are quick reads and pacing is never slow.

World-building is top notch here.  Like Royce and Hadrian, the history of the world grows with each novel.  The old empire fell hundreds of years ago, and in its wake several independent kingdoms arose.  Imperialists look to rebuild the empire.  Nationalists seek democracy.  Royalists prefer a monarchy to rule over them.  These factions provide plenty of room for conflict, as do the religions that accompany the various peoples.

I’m trying to think of shortcomings but am failing.  Michael J. Sullivan’s books are tight stories with intense action and wonderful characters.  Tropes appear and disappear, sometimes subverted, sometimes not.  The conclusion is breathtaking and exciting.

Do I recommend The Riyria Revelations?  Let me put it this way.  I let my brother borrow the first volume.  He tore through it, and then when he found out that I didn’t (yet) have the second volume (Rise of Empire) he went out to buy it.  Instead he wound up with the third (Heir of Novron) because the bookstore was sold out of the second book.  I ordered Rise of Empire from Amazon and proceeded to read it.  Meanwhile my brother re-read The Crown Conspiracy.   He said he “liked it as much—or better—than Patrick Rothfuss.”  I gave him the second book and he’s since read each one of them multiple times.  That’s some rather high praise for Mr. Sullivan.  Praise that’s absolutely worthy. 

The Riyria Revelations are safe novels that I can recommend to any person with a passing interest in fantasy fiction.  They would be a great place to start for a fledgling reader into genre fiction, but they also are great for old salts, too.  I very much look forward to reading more of Michael J. Sullivan’s work. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Josh Ritter Concert (The Mercy Lounge 6/27/2013)

I finally got around to seeing Josh Ritter in concert.  The few times he's came close enough I've had other things going on and have never been able to make it.  Last night, Mr. Ritter, along with the Royal City Band and the Milk Carton Kids, rolled in to Nashville.  Fate aligned and I found myself there.

Venue: The Mercy Lounge
Status: SRO, hot, front of the stage spot
Opening Band: Milk Carton Kids
Main Act: Josh Ritter
Time: 8:00pm

Having already witnessed the Americana sounds of the Milk Carton Kids twice before, I was very much looking forward to seeing the duo again last night.  Their new album came out a few months back, so they played several new songs.  Even more, they played plenty of tracks from their first two records.  Additionally their stage presence was more refined.  Witty banter.  Audience interaction.  The MCKs played just under an hour and quietly stepped aside for Josh Ritter to come up.  (I would have loved for them to have played a little longer, but alas...)

Josh sent out an email a few months ago giving some insight to his new album The Beast in Its Tracks.  Josh was going through a messy divorce with plenty of pain and anguish.  To anyone who's listened to it, it's obvious.  So I was expecting Josh to be a bit somber last night.  Instead, he burst onto the stage hopping around with one of the widest-most-genuine smiles I've ever seen on someone.  He was like a subdued Thom Yorke. 
An example of craziness. 

This energy was felt in the crowd.  Everyone on the stage looked like they were having a blast, dancing, singing, laughing.  I heard Josh yell to the bassist between verses of one song, "This is awesome."  And I think he meant it.  Being right in front of the stage, his charisma was infectious. Despite the heat and packed-like-sardines crowd, I had a blast.

Highlights?  The whole thing.  "Kathleen," one of my favorites, was played, and Josh let the crowd sing a chunk of it.  That was fun.  In "Wolves" Josh got down on the stage and howled, which was funny.  "The Temptation of Adam" was in the encore, which was awesome, cause I didn't expect to hear that one.  He sang "Galahad" and laughed through it.  His setlist was long, about an hour-and-a-half.  I got a pick from the stage (actually Leigha picked one up for me and one up for Dustin). 

Perhaps the best praise I can say is that of all the concerts I've been to (here), this would rank as one of the most fun.  I've been to some great shows, but being this close to the stage paired with the energy, wow.  An awesome show.

If you're not familiar with Josh Ritter (for shame), you can listen to some of his music here and here.