Braid

I don’t typically talk about video games here, but I thought I’d share my recent experience with Braid. This is the most beautiful, thought-provoking piece of work I’ve ever encountered in the gaming medium. There’s amazing art, ingenious puzzles, and unusual time-manipulation mechanics, plus a roundabout exploration of various themes such as love, obsession, and the consequences of our actions. This is the kind of game that has the sophistication and appeal that even non-gamers would appreciate. I recommend it to anyone.

Really, you should watch the trailer to see what this game has to offer. Then go buy it on Greenhouse or Steam. It just might be my favorite game of all time, and it’s only $15.

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The Cloud of Our Thoughts

Found a neat thing. You put in the RSS feed of your blog, or perhaps paste a section of text, and this little application will find the most common words in that body of letters and make a picture of them. Here is the Wordle for esunasoul.com.
If such a cloud of your thoughts was floating around your head all the time, what would I see?

Posted in Introspection, Journeling | 1 Response

One of My Perfect Days

We wanted an adventure outdoors.


Something far enough away to be special, but close enough that it would be easily reached. Our lazy and late start meant many of the local state parks were already at capacity. So we struck out into the hills, to the place called the Greenbelt.


Whiskey pulled us through shallow streams and across the dog park, down narrow trails in the woods and under bridges. Aman, Shalini, Jeff, and myself visited Bull Creek, small area of wilderness in the middle of urbana. Sometimes a man-made thing would emerge from the leaves, looking nothing so much like the remnant of a post-apocalyptic world.


After 3.5 hours of hiking, we decided food was in order. A quick stop at the grocery store equipped us with Tex-Mex essentials, and we headed back to Seabrook Manor to grill fajitas on the back porch. I attempted some margaritas in the until-then-unused blender which ended up being more slushie than frozen. Chris brought his skillet to make fresh corn tortillas and Nishat pounded out Chopin on the piano. Arthur came over from next door and we all sat down to a tasty meal; a house full of friends sharing in abundance.

Everyone helped wash the dishes and spray disinfectant on the surfaces, and then we sat on the couches to digest. Conversation gave way to soft, ambient music. First one guitar, then two, then the piano, then then the drum joined in… and not wanting to be excluded, I grabbed my flute and completed the post-hippie ensemble. We played for about 30 minutes, with everyone swapping instruments except myself. Nishat eventually began using everything in his immediate surroundings as an experimental percussion surface, and I almost couldn’t contain my laughter when he started singing while gargling a glass of water. Despite the silliness, it still worked. I was pleased to finally get to participate in a jam session, where the music was still alive.

That night, bone-weariness made for deep dreams without words.

I dreamed of tunnels under the World Tree where we met eachother in the dark.

I dreamed of standing together against the open sky.

I dreamed of tangled threads of our various lives.

I dreamed of distance.

Whenever I have a wonderful day, I experience this sense of peace and unity of spirit. It’s the same feeling I’ve always felt with good friends and making good memories. The faces change and the circumstances change but the feeling is the same. I like to think that, in a way, all those moments exists together in the same space and time. I can go forward with confidence knowing that I am carrying those pieces with me, and that nothing and nobody is lost. Sometimes I miss you all so much, and wish our lives weren’t diverging. But the knowledge of such days and dreams shows me that words like “sacred” and “eternal” aren’t something that happens to us later. It’s now.

Blessings on you and yours. I plan to visit Louisiana one of my 4-day weekends in June or July. What days are off-limits, guys? I want to see the maximum people I can.

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Two Red Things and a Theory of Mysticism

With the old white car on it’s last legs (or last wheels?), we finally purchased a new one. I spoke sad words over the Honda to wish it well on it’s journey to Mexico, which is surely the only place it can be sold now. Then I drove it to the dealership to leave as my trade in and picked up my Toyota. Starting the old car proved to be very difficult that morning. I would not be surprised if they weren’t able to move it after I left it there. I am pleased that I drove it to the very last possible second, and squeezed as much use from it as possible.

So now I drive a shiny, certified used, 2008, red Corolla. I am not a person who would normally buy a red car, but you get what you get. I am beyond pleased.


I needed a bold red painting for the living room, so I decided to make it myself. I’ve painted a few canvases in the past with mild success. I can’t say that any of them were particularly good. But I think The Giant Flower has turned out acceptably well. I will be hanging it over the couch this evening.


I discovered something interesting while painting it, which is going to send me off on a wild and possibly controversial tangent:

Some of you may remember that I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I listened to a story while working on this picture. Now I find that studying various areas of this flower (the curve of a segment of a particular petal) will evoke mental images for me of the scenes I was hearing as I worked on it. Mixing together a certain shade of green calls up a few phrases of dialogue. The black areas of the picture make me think of chapter 2.

I’ve experienced this kind of narrative deja vu before while walking through an area I where I was previously plugged into an ipod book. For example, I’ll revisit Walmart after finishing a story, walk through the produce section, and think “Ah, this is where they stormed the castle”. These associations fade quickly, but I’ve never had an entire story associated with and visually compressed into such a small space. This painting is, for the time being a map (or perhaps a sigil?) for an imaginary world.

Which makes me wonder how much this constant audiobook consumption is affecting my perception of reality at large. Surely something lingers in my subconscious after the vivid imagery has faded. It disturbs me greatly to think these authors of fiction and fantasy are shaping the way I see the world so viscerally.

I am a person who is fascinated with mysticism and the esoteric. In the same way that a person can boost their self-esteem through affirmations and therapy, I believe that we are able to manipulate our subconscious–and, therefore, the course of our lives–through the practice of ritual. Sometimes ritual affects us in broad ways we don’t realize (which is why it is very important to be wary of the set of religious beliefs to which one ascribes). But here is a place where science and faith intersect for pragmatic use. Through action and attention, we can slowly build up associations within our mind that make us into better people. Or, if we aren’t careful, worse ones.

If I were to bombard myself with peaceful, loving, compassionate words and sounds while making another small drawing, could I later use that drawing to help me evoke peaceful feelings in times of frustration and anger? Could a person program for themselves associations with a variety of physical talismans to aid memory and mood, such as a symbol to draw on the top of exams that a person has spent time associating with calmness, clarity, and the tested material? My experience with these audiobooks indicate to me that the answer is Yes. Like Pavlov’s dog, the bell can make us salivate.

However, this kind of focused construction of associations isn’t practical. It seems almost like hoodoo and superstition. Sigils and talismans, ha! But if it is a kind of magic, it is very individual. No item in itself is a symbol for anything, but all things have the potential to be symbols for everything. Nothing has inherent power over us, except that which we give it.

I could write a great deal more about how the rituals of our culture shape our identity, and how the rites of passage and holidays are so fundamental to our larger concept of family and friends. But what interests me at the moment is how the rituals we invent and perform for ourselves can influence our individual lives. Some eat comfort foods when sad. Some buy things to celebrate. Some pray for help when discouraged. Some exercise to let off steam. With all these patterns so easily observable, is there a way for us to more effectively harness the power of our subconscious?

Some of you might say “Yes, and it is called religion.” I’m not here to criticize, but in my experience the hulking beasts of the organized faiths can do us as much harm as good. I need only look at the guilt and pain fundamentalism has inflicted on my family members. While good things can be gleaned from such pathways, the larger establishment isn’t one-size-fits-all. So, what’s The Answer?

There isn’t one. Everyone has to find it for themselves; that’s the point. Your individual talismans and sigils cannot be mine, which is why the world is full of fanatics and apologists. To you, the flower painting above is just a flower. Whatever your beliefs, whatever your rituals, all of these things only hold the power in your life that you allow them. Even if you do not actively charge a symbol with meaning, meaning will inevitably build up around the things you surround yourself with.

So. This language of symbol and associations is the way I personally think about mysticism. Knowledge that cannot be expressed by words, and may or may not be objectively true. Put dully, my thoughts on a “subjective understanding” of the world centers around a theory of conditioning. But does a conditioned response make the power of the mystical experience any less true or valuable?

Of course not.

Posted in Creativity, Introspection, Journeling | 3 Responses

Christmas

The trees in the backyard of my childhood home are gone. The dead grass stares with shock at the open sky, still unable to believe that the winter sun is touching the crisp brown fingers with it’s delicious chlorophyll-producing light. A metal building now stands to the back of the lot, and harsh stumps dot the ground like low fibrous tables. When the seedling stood there 100 years ago, who could have known I would be the one to stand tall on the remains of the fallen tree?

Christmas is a time for cutting down evergreens. So now the pines are indeed cut down, and are turned into nevergreens instead. I don’t dislike the new shop building. It hides away the back corner of the yard, and provides a dark and leafy tunnel my girlhood eyes would have seen as a place of magic. I joke to my father that it is unfair that he only just now built a clubhouse out back when I am finally married and moved away. But the empty cement floor will soon be filled with my grandparent’s belongings. My old room will be given to my sister, and my sister’s room will be given to them, and our sour old cat will not be able to find a quiet room in the house.

My greatest gift was to see my family this year. I love them very much. <3 I got a lot of other awesome things that represent warmth (a coat), harmony (the piano), support (money), and walking down diverging paths (new boots), etc. It's funny to me to think of them being so far away. I can communicate with them so easily, and the streets of the city are so familiar I can hardly believe how much land passes under the wheels of my car when I get into it in Texas and get out again in Louisiana. Mental space and actual space are at odds.

For example, I am amazed that there is a box in which I live called a house that is discreet from everyone else’s house. My current house is just a variation on the larger idea of the House, yet is unique and individual and very different from the house I grew up in. Conversely, my I feel no distance between Haughton and Austin when I consider the space between my two homes. My Home exists in a few places simultaneously. So my physical houses are far apart, yet my homes are close.

Luckily, technology does a very good job of making the world feel so much smaller than it is. It hides the physical gaps using the pulsations of ephemeral electrons over wire. I am capable of a much broader awareness than ever before in human history. I am, on occasion, fooled into thinking that I am actually experiencing life more fully through the pixels than I would without them.

What I cannot allow myself to forget, however, is that sometimes those broad horizons can dull my sense of wonder. Though the homes in my heart are close together, there is nothing so great as holding on to the neck of a person I love. Though I can see photos of the raized backyard, the best perspective can only be obtained from the top of a cold stump.

I am not sad about the changes that come with growing up and moving away. In my mind, it all runs together like watercolors anyway. The edges of each thing bleed together into a solid wall of memory and light. But in the real world, where I and Thou must be clearly defined, it is good to come home for the holidays, and it is good to go through the rituals of the season. All the screws are tightened up and all the knots adjusted, and everything is made orderly. Changes are noted down in the log, and pins are pushed into maps. What I am trying to say is, seeing the people I love is Good and Right and of benefit to the universe. The sailing is made smooth.

So I send holiday warmth to everyone. I saw some of you, missed others, but still hold you all close to my heart. Blessings.

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The New Life

I got married on September 27th, 2008. I kept meaning to write about it, but I’ve been too busy setting up my new life to do so. I guess it’s a bit late to summarize the experience, isn’t it? It’s not really fresh in my mind. Most of you have already seen the facebook images anyway. All I can really say is that it was wonderful. I’m so thankful for all the friends and family who made the day special. And I’m even thankful for those who couldn’t make it for all your well-wishes and years of love. You rock.

So I moved to Austin, Texas with Jeff and into the tiniest apartment ever. I also got a job at St. David’s hospital in the ICU working nights. Then, this weekend, I moved into Unit B of a roomy duplex. Our friends occupy Unit A, which is great. But we had a dilemma; what do we call the place? It’s no longer just “Arthur’s Place” or “Jeff’s Place”. So we decided, rather ridiculously, to refer to the building as “Seabrook Manor”.

The Manor is about halfway unpacked and organized, though there is still a lot we need to do to get the place completely fixed up. I thought you’d like to see the place anyway, so here is a messy tour.

The outside of the building, and our cars. Mine is barely clunking along these days. We’ll have to buy another for me within a month, I’m certain. Something interesting: you can see the very large blue recycling bin by the side of the house. Austin has curbside mixed recycling pickup. This apparently comes from a law that if tenants want to recycle, landlords are required to provide the service. This makes it very easy for me to dispose of all those Diet Coke cans in a green fashion. With the number I drink a year, I’m convinced I’ll make a significant impact on the environment. Perhaps even stop global warming personally.
My poinsettias are the only meager Christmas decorations about at this point, though a tree is surely in the near future. When it gets summery, I might need a rocking chair for that thar porch.

Backyard. The bucket came with the place, so Jeff used it to accidentally spill water all over the upstairs bathroom. It was then banished to the back porch.

Through the front door is the still-messy living room. Here Jeff has taken all his CD cases out of the CD towers to organize them. He is very pleased about this, as you can see, but we find we’re going to have to buy another media tower to hold the contents.

If you stand at the front door and face forward, you can see into the kitchen.
And if you look a little left, there are the stairs. My left shoulder is against the coat closet, which contains exactly zero coats at the moment. (I am wearing mine, and Jeff’s is some place where he won’t be able to find it when we are going out.)

So here we are in the kitchen itself. The back door is there on the left, and the empty flower vase is there in the middle of the island.

The kitchen from the opposite corner. I am very thankful that I took Rachel with me when I registered for wedding gifts; otherwise I wouldn’t have anything with which to fill this enormous kitchen. Along that right wall you can see the half-bathroom/laundry, the pantry door, and the under-the-stairs storage closet.
Anyway, if you go up the stairs and make a right there is a hallway. To the left are two rooms:
And to the right are the upstairs bathroom and master bedroom.

The left room in the Y is what we’re calling The Library. I’m hoping it will eventually become a guest bedroom at some point… but for now it’s just books…
lots of books.

To the right is a very empty computer room. We’re going to set up another desk for Jeff’s computer soon, and I’m sure I’ll eventually use it for art too. You can see the still-incomplete painting of the naked lady there in the corner. One day I need to finish her, but I just don’t know what to do with her feet.

Here is the really, really messy master bedroom. The bed isn’t even made, for shame! There is a master bath to the right and a big walk-in closet to the left that is still so exploded I can’t stand to show you. I’m hoping to finish unpacking the rest of this stuff by the end of the week.

So. That’s probably an over-detailed tour of the new place. I am way excited about it. :)

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Dog, Crayons, Books, Plans

The Dog

We came home the other night to find a dog on the side of the road in our yard. Head down, unable to stand, no collar but very friendly and obviously well-fed. A golden retriever with large paws and brown eyes. “Crap, this dog looks like it’s been hit by a car,” we thought, and mulled over what to do with it.

The dog had a companion, a large brown creature of unknown breed more closely resembling pig than canine. When we decided we couldn’t stand to leave an injured animal on the side of the road, we bundled her up. Goldie growled, grunted, and whimpered when we hoisted the blanket into the bed of the truck. She stood briefly, dragging a stiff leg before collapsing. Pig Dog started yelping as we drove away, clearly unhappy to be without his true friend.

As I rode in the truck bed with the dog, I suddenly remembered why it was illegal to do so. I twined my wrists into the frayed loops of tie-downs and lay flat, trying very hard not to think about how far I’d fly from the vehicle if we hit anything. Goldie put her paw on me and lay her head down next to mine. My hair whipped up into a big fro of curls in the 80 mph winds.

At the emergency animal clinic, dad and I watched the Olympics in the lobby. When we were called back to talk to the vet, she told us that Goldie was a very old dog. “I don’t think she has any broken bones. I think she just has really terrible arthritis. Medications would help.” Goldie, now standing perfectly erect and panting cheerfully, walked back outside to our truck with much less help than she needed to get in the door.

“Faker!” I wanted to yell. Why had this dog acted so very pathetic up until the point we blew that money on her? You try to do the right thing, have compassion… and you get a Faker Dog and a Pig Dog in your backyard eating double bowls of dry food and causing Solomon to scream all night through the windows.

The next day they were gone. And then the signs for “Missing Golden Retriever” started appearing around the neighborhood. But what can we do?

The Crayons

My coworkers have kids starting school. They lament shopping for supplies.

“I always loved shopping for supplies as a kid,” I said. “Man, you know what I always wanted? The big box of crayons. I never got bigger than the 24 pack… but wasn’t the big box cool? With the sharpener on the back?”

Everyone agreed that the big box was, in fact, the epitome of cool.

And then, a week later, I come to work and one of the nurses plops something in my lap. I look down. It was a 96 pack. All the others had forgotten the earlier conversation, but she hadn’t. “Ha!” I squealed with glee, opening it to read some of the color names. There was even a sharpener on the back.

I was so busy that day, I didn’t have time to draw her a picture. But I did make a sign using a different unusual shade for each letter reading “Cheryl saved my childhood dreams!” She laughed with satisfaction.

Books

I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I read a novel for pleasure.

Sure, I listen to audiobooks constantly. I’ve probably listened to 15-20 audiobooks since January during my commutes. And I have lots of books on my bedside table that I use for “study”. They’re dry, dusty old tomes analyzing philosophy or emerging religions or something like that. Not exactly light reading. Not something I usually read cover to cover.

So, I decided to read a few books. To lay my eyes on the words and carry the paper around with me. And then I remembered why I got away from them in nursing school. They consume me.

When I was a student, I spent my driving hours listening to books. I spent my reading hours immersed in schoolwork. After graduation, I never went back to the old way. I think I was imagining that my new system was somehow more “efficient” and “high tech”. I’d forgotten that I am an exceptionally fast reader. I never skim or skip over things, I just plow through them so quickly. So I read 6 books this week. Is that not crazy? I’m going to have to slow down. I have a wedding to plan, after all.

Plans

So I’m going to quit my job September 11th, move my things to Austin, come back and freak out for a week, then walk down the aisle September 27th. I had bridal portraits last Saturday, which was fun. (I wish I could post pictures, but you know, wouldn’t want to spoil it for certain people.) I’m getting really excited about all this. It’s going to be a really huge change for me. I’m not only getting married… I’m moving to a new city, finding a job in a new specialty, fitting myself into an established network of friends… becoming independent (I feel like I am the very last person to do this).

But my feet are far from cold! I’m just excited to think about the opportunities. Doing something totally new. And being with Jeff, who has my heart now more than ever.

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Thank You Notes

Finally finished. Then my arm fell off. ^_^

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Bridal Shower

I knew these things were about eating cake, standing around in high heels, seeing friends, and opening a present or two.

Cake…Lara, Mom, Me…

We didn’t take many pictures of the guests, here are a few…

But then, whoa…
The gray boxes in the back are filled with dishes. Here are a few of them.These boxes are stuffed with towels of every hue.
I am absolutely overwhelmed by the generosity.

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The Fourth of July


We always travel to Memphis for Thanksgiving and the Fourth. I can’t go as often as I used to; work gets in the way. This time, I was lucky. The holiday fell on my weekend off and the manager didn’t feel the need to rearrange anything. So we crammed ourselves into the car and headed north. I slept several hours with my mouth open and head lolled to the side. Before I knew it, we were in Memphis again and it was party time. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes.

I love seeing my aunt, uncle, and cousins. Their house is a fun place. I went to live with them for a summer a few years ago and Lori chased me around the track until my fat ass was in shape.
I distinctly remember going through junkfood withdrawal and the caffeine jitters during those weeks. But it was a good time. I feel sentimental about it.

But for holidays… when you go to the same gathering so many times, how can you write about it? It becomes a ritual so ingrained that reciting the course of events becomes tedious in the way describing one’s dental hygeine is tedious. Yes, we went to the Germantown festival and saw fireworks. Yes, we played Scrabble and trash-talked eachothers vocabulary and spelling skills. Yes, we drank wine and laughed and listened to the nonstop twang of fingerpicked guitar.

The only differences were the guests. And also the lack of a traditional holiday play. (Oh well, we’re probably too old for that anyway). Anyway, there was this one kid there, Aaron’s friend Shu. He was making Lara really angry because he was making so many racist comments. He’d be all “You make C’s in geometry because you’re just a white boy.” and “I can do all that stuff because, you know, I’m Asian.” I was getting a little irritated myself because his babbling was nearly nonstop. But then I started laughing once he claimed to be a Kung-Fu master. “Oh yeah,” I asked, “what color is your belt?” Shu: “Black… like my skin.” Wtf?

We came home Sunday and I collapsed and now I’m back to the grindstone with work.

Wedding plans are coming along. I still need someone to coordinate, someone to mind the music (and announce a couple things during the reception), to book a honeymoon suite, to locate an afterparty spot for the outta-towners, to find a group rate hotel for the outta-towners, to buy some jewelry, to buy wedding bands, to meet with our minister, to print and send invitations, to make some centerpieces and find decorations for the front of the church (oh god oh god please no tulle)… the list never seems to end.

So to unwind lately I’ve been learning to Irish step-dance with Lara, learning to play “Into the West” on the piano, reading about the history of tarot cards and the dreams of Walt Disney, and buying weird chocolate bars from World Market. For your information, Ritter bars are really good, but blueberry white-chocolate bars start strong and end up a little disturbing.

Peace be with you all.

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