Thursday, December 26, 2002

On Goddesses ...

Rose's lucid comment on dance got me thinking (by the way, thanks for commenting. It's always interesting to know who reads this). I mean, it's pretty obvious that dance is not strictly abandonment - at the very least, whether leading or following, I've got to be paying attention to the music and my partner, and those are deliberate, rational acts. And since I spend most of my dance time leading (it's what I'm best at, and it's the easiest way to dance with girls), my dancing is usually even more cognitive. This is because with all but a tiny handful of partners (and only one consistently) I need to figure out how she's dancing and what she can follow, and adjust myself accordingly.

So all this got me thinking: when I think of dance personified by the Footloose Doll, what do I mean? I think what I mean is that I imagine my worldview as largely dominated by three goddesses, or heroines (goddesses in the sense of personified ideas, heroines in the sense of idealized role models). Each of these represents the extreme of some value. I don't want to reach the extreme, but I do want to participate in it. The first of these (in no particular order) is the Dancer, the Footloose Doll. Her value is that of abandonment, the loosing of restraints, the giving in to lawful passions. I don't think that dance is that, strictly speaking, but I do think (as Blue Rose pointed out) that it is something like that. And for me, the best moments in dance are those when cognition virtually ceases, and the waltz spins both time and space into a spun-sugar halo that settles above my partner's head, and there is nothing to think about because there is only the now. Such experiences are, I think, important in the life of a mature human being. So it is that the Dancer's value is abandonment.

The second goddess is Honor Harrington. Honor is the goddess of service, leadership, and duty. She represents that pinnacle of leadership, where a leader's authority comes not from her position but from who she is - she is that kind of woman who commands the sort of loyalty that comes from genuine love. She is the personification of how you earn that kind of loyalty: by pouring out yourself for those that you lead//serve, by somehow giving all you have to everything you turn your hand to, by being superwoman. She represents meekness, because such an exceptional woman is devoted with all her soul to the legitimate authority placed above her. She seeks not advancement but only to perform her job fully and completely - and because of that advancement comes to her. If a man wishes to be called a man, he must understand and participate in these values of the servant-leader exemplar, and so this is Honor Harrington's value.

The third goddess is Alanna of Trebond (not Alanna the dancer who visits the Ailouriskai every Monday). Alanna's value is that of personal determination and of emotional compartmentalization. Alanna is a heroine who reminds me that if the world comes crashing down on your head, still you can press on. She reminds me that happiness is not a virtue - that it is a nice thing, a wonderful thing, but it is not something that you absolutely must have. She reminds me that emotions are wonderful things to be savored - but that when there is a job to be done, they can and oftentimes should be set aside until the necessity has been met. Emotions can't be turned on and off at will, but a truly grown adult should be able to act independent of them. So this is Alanna's value.

Of course this is not an exhaustive list of my virtues. But these are the Natalian virtues which are old enough to be assigned goddesses who are fictional heroines. There are others whose exemplars are real people: for maturity in worship and raw closeness to Jesus, the Hawaiian; for wisdom and spiritual discernment, Maelana. And there are others who yet have no exemplar, such as the value of childlikeness and the related values of gaming and dance. Some day, I am sure, those values will have their goddesses. And some day I will meet the goddess glaukopis who is both an exemplary woman of God and the woman I will marry - and who knows whether even Alanna, my oldest goddess, will be replaced by that woman?

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Red Jenny and Alanna lent me their dance music collections so I would have some waltz music to take home for Thanksgiving's little dance lesson. Because of this, the size of my mp3 collection has increased considerably, and I find myself with a great deal of dance tunes (like any sensible individual with a virtually empty 120 GB hard drive, I simply copied the contents of both CDs). I don't even know what exactly I have yet, though fortunately it mostly came organized. I do, however, have the Brian Setzer Orchestra's "The Footloose Doll" in my swing collection.

In case you aren't familiar with this song (an omission which I encourage you to rectify, if only so this entry makes more sense) I reproduce the lyrics of this song here:

Look at that chick
In the silvery dress
She's got a cool tattoo
And her hair is a mess
And every single guy in the joint
Is just watching her dance
Dance ballerina,shimmy on down
It's your turn to swing
It's your night on the town
A little gin goes a long way
So please pass it around

She's the footloose doll
Dancin' like a hurricane
She's the footloose doll
I don't even know her name
She's the footloose doll

Now standin' at the bar
Was long cool Eddie
He had a few
And he's not really steady
But he had his peepers
Fixated on the footloose doll
She called out "Hey Eddie"
He was there in an instant
She said, "You know you kinda look
Like Gene Vincent"
That was all he needed to hear
And that was all she wrote

She's the footloose doll
Dancin' like a hurricane
She's the footloose doll
I don't even know her name
She's the footloose doll

Now if your ever in town
And wanna try your luck
The footloose doll
Can really shake you up
But never underestimate
The power of the feline cat
They found poor Eddie
By the side of the road
His clothes were all torn up
And his car had been towed
He never had a chance with a chick
Like the footloose doll

She's the footloose doll
Dancin' like a hurricane
She's the footloose doll
I don't even know her name
She's the footloose doll

Apologies for the length of that. The reason I find this song noteworthy (besides the attitude - every bit of attitude in the lyrics is present in the music) is that it's a good bit of Jungian psychology. That is, it describes the archetype (my archetype, at any rate) of the Dancer. And I'm not referring to my Sweatshirt Girl here, I speak of The Dancer, as a concept.

If you are reading this then you likely know that I like social dance a lot (it's even possible that by the end of the year I'll like swing). What you might not know is how much dance of all kinds has always terrified me - and if you know that, you might not know that I have always longed to dance (and if you knew all three of those things, give yourself a pat on the back because you're more than halfway to understanding my relationship to dance). Ever since that fateful day in kindergarten when Mrs. Church put on that music and told us to dance - that day when I had a choice to dance or not, and I chose not to dance, for that day and for nearly fifteen years after - dance has held this terrible fascination for me. And because of that, there is this figure of The Dancer in my worldview. Like Alanna of Trebond or Honor Harrington, The Dancer is an archetype whose characteristics incarnate some part of me. Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen. I may not be defined by dancing the way Antilles is defined by his CD collection, but in an important way I am defined by dance.

So what is she like, this Dancer? Listen to the song and you'll get a fairly good idea; that's why I consider it noteworthy. The Dancer is strong, yes - all my female heroes are strong while at the same time undeniably feminine - but Alanna and Honor have weaknesses; the Dancer has none. She is an almost elemental force, wild and dangerous but alluring, even inviting. She's the epitome of cool, the girl burning up the dance floor during her birthday dance at Jammix whom everybody wants to dance with and everybody wants to be as good as.

If you think that this boils down to the Dancer being an archetype of the untamed maiden, you're right - but not wholly right. Yes, the Dancer is wild and untamed, and there is a certain vague idea in my head that if she can somehow be domesticated wonderful things will happen. But it is not just that. She is dance itself, as well, and dance is her. Dance is the faculty of abandonment, of lawlessness, wild and dangerous but alluring: dangerous because lawlessness is the enemy of order and duty and everything that I have so desperately wrought myself to value; alluring because for all that I recognize that the day will come when it will be safe for me to throw off the inhibitions and just be: sweep the girl off her feet, burn the roadhouse down, do all those things that I've always wanted to but didn't dare or wouldn't let myself. Things like dance.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

It recently struck me that my Stanford life is positively filled with girls. There are no less than ten such specimens in Testimony, to say nothing of the Ailouriskai, Phoebe, Cythereia, Alanna (who comes by so often now, more's the delight!), and next quarter Thalassa and Blue Tango will return. It's as if somebody crowded the female side of my life into northern California, and left all the males down south. Not that I don't enjoy being surrounded by lovely ladies, mind. It does give me pause to think, though. I wonder how much of the behavior differential between Stanford and home is due to the gender imbalance in my social sphere.

Consider that up here I go to great lengths to establish myself as one of the girls, so to speak. Down home I don't do that, and I don't think it's just because there are so few girls in my social sphere. Even with Princess and Thea I didn't behave like that. What is different up here? Partially of course I'm making a deliberate statement about what I think of male stereotypes. Partially it's a way of interjecting a tiny bit of acting into my campus life, where affectation is so common but acting so rare. Partially it's because my support structure here pales in comparison to the one I grew up with, and I try to compensate with a special emphasis on gallantry. And partially it's to increase the amount of time I spend with girls. And I mean that in a very literal sense. I like being around girls. I like studying their behavior, I like trying to get inside their heads, I like practicing to be a good date when I go somewhere with one of them.

Partially too, of course, it's a reflection of the fact that while I celebrate the division of the human organism into two gendered halves, I don't think those halves are really very different at all. But they are different, different and wonderful. Retaking Social I, this time as a follow, has pointed this out to me. There is something about dancing with a girl that is entirely independent of the dancing part. What I mean is, if you give me two partners of equal skill but opposite gender, I will probably enjoy the dance with the girl more than with the guy. There is something magical about the presence of a girl that makes the dance that extra bit better. Speaking of dancing, I recently compiled my "waltz favorites" playlist, and it inspired me to write my Social I essay. Here it is:

A friend of mine recently asked me why I like waltz so much. He’s a swing dancer from Los Angeles, and so far as I know has never danced a waltz in his life. I don’t mean to imply that he isn’t a real dancer, of course; he’s been a part of the LA swing scene for years. I was surprised at his confusion, though: didn’t I find the music boring, he wondered? And that’s when we discovered that he thought of waltz as being done to classical music. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at that. Most people probably think of waltz in the same way my friend does. All the same, I was surprised.

I recently compiled a playlist of my favorite waltz tunes. The effect of the music is hard to describe: if you imagine that it made lightning course through my veins, caused my heart to leap into my throat, and lit a fire behind my eyes, you will have some idea of what I experienced. No doubt the audiences of the great romantic composers felt something similar when they waltzed for the first time to the music of that era—I do not. But when I listen to the waltzes of my generation, the dance enters my body like a ghost and possesses me with the aching need to counterbalance, to spin and be spun, to drive across the floor with a momentum that is unstoppable and yet leaves me weightless in the arms of my partner. How could anyone find this music boring?

Of course my friend probably hadn’t ever seen people waltz to “Erin Shore” or “Caribbean Blue.” But I think that that is only part of the answer. When I listen to a good waltz, I can picture myself waltzing to it—I can all but feel my partner in my arms. In fact, one of my criteria for a good waltz tune is whether or not it conjures up that image in my mind.

But wait—if I didn’t already love the waltz, the songs would never have become imbued with the power to conjure the dance. And why precisely do I love the songs so much? Because they do have that power. There is a cycle at work here: dance and music run together until one is scarcely separable from the other. The dance is not complete without the music—and the music longs for the dance.
My point? I could be writing all of this to recommend to my fellow leads that they learn to dance with the music. But while I think that is a good idea, it is not why I wrote these ruminations. The truth is that I wrote them down because I was listening to that waltz playlist, and I felt that I had to unpack some of what I was feeling or I would explode. Boring, indeed!

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Addendum: apparently that motto should read "eithe diamenoien hoi hetairoi," (long live the Companions) which I think sounds all right poetically but is in my humble opinion less suited to bellowing. But I think that Meg Anassa is correct that it ought to be an optative of wish rather than a third person imperative (isn't the idea of a third person imperative weird?), so there it is. And "eithe diamenoien hoi hetairoi" sounds better than "diamenoien hoi hetairoi" or "ei gar diamenoien hoi hetairoi," all of which mean the same thing.

Monday, November 11, 2002

I love fiddles. I'm sure I've mentioned that before, but in case I haven't let the record reflect that a properly played fiddle makes everything seem bright and cheery. "Brother found work in Indiana; Sister's a nurse at the old folks' home ..." such words are right up there with "Bring it up, Marty!" with their ability to make me smile. The Dixie Chicks have that ability, which is why I truly consider them good artists: inasmuch as art aims at manipulating the emotions (which is the essence of my definition), the Chicks are rather masterful artists. "Li'l Jack Slade" is an instrumental piece that actually speaks to me - one of a single-hand handful of pieces of music that I can understand without lyrics. That's pretty impressive, if you ask me.

I had a realization today while reading Turtledove's Striking the Balance. Now, I think that Turtledove is a pretty fair author, and as a thinker about science fiction I'd say he's the best I know of. I think he's a pretty fair writer, too, but he is not a genius writer - by which I mean that his sentencecraft is better than average but not really standout. I don't really have a better word for it than "sentencecraft," so I shall have to attempt a definition. By "good sentencecraft" I refer to that phenomenon whereby you are reading a book and you just fall into this kind of rhythm where the author's words are so well fitted together that their very arrangement is art by itself. But it's not rhythm, not really. When real rhythm is off, it's painful. When sentencecraft is not good, it's just nondescript.

So much to my surprise, somebody commented. Evidently people still read this. I wouldn't have the leisure to blog right now, though, if it weren't for Meg Anassa's migraine on Friday. Not that I would wish a migraine on anybody, let alone our current didaskole, but Jesus did use that to my full advantage this weekend as far as leisure goes. And by "our" of course I refer to the Companions, hoi hetairoi, my Greek class. Ever since last fall, when I embarked upon this great Hellenic journey, I have been blessed with the most phenomenal Greek class. This is what college is supposed to be like: careening through the halls of academia with Antilles, Neani, the Dark Age King, and the Didactic - and of course our fearless leaders, of whom Meg Anassa is the current - watching movies and discussing Star Wars, signing our names in Greek and generally having a blast learning stuff. My life would be immeasurably poorer here if not for the Companions. Diamenontwn hoi hetairoi! (Isn't that a cool motto? I could definitely bellow that at the top of my lungs while charging into the teeth of Darius' army, lance in my hands and horse between my legs. Not that I know how to ride, or how to use a lance).

Anyway, the other great advantage of not having Greek to read tomorrow due to Meg Anassa's migraine is that I was able to go home this weekend and have a wonderful time. Returning to the Cove is and remains a wonderful experience. I don't want to trumpet the virtues of my family too highly, but so far as I'm concerned evil exists outside the Cove. All is warmth and safety and sense and love. Seeing my sister is particularly good, as Adelphe has become my model for my peers as women. I should point out here that in Natalie, "woman" need not be particularly different from "man." Those words, when used in a moral sense, are merely gender markers. That is to say, when used to refer to moral states of being, "woman" in Natalie means "female man," and "man" means "male woman."

The reason for this is that I have decided that what makes a "good man" is essentially the same thing as that which makes a "good woman." There are a few differences, naturally, to account for deity-specified gender roles, but by and large I think that the virtues that make a good man are the same virtues demanded of a good woman, since those virtues (in my opinion), are not framed in terms of gender but in terms of Christ-likeness - and so it is that the apostle can say there is neither male nor female, since the truly important things about being human has nothing to do with your gender (I'm breaking with Heinlein here; mark your calendars) but how well you resemble the Christ.

On a final note, Blue Rose and Alanna sat in on a session of my D&D game. I am both glad and sad about that. I am glad because, as Rose said, now she understands what I'm talking about when I talk about roleplaying. I think that's good. I also got to see Alanna again (she comes over regularly now; that's cool), too. That is also good. However, I don't consider my D&D game to be a particularly satisfying from a roleplaying\\artistic standpoint, which means I don't consider it a very good example of what roleplayiing can be. I feel rather like somebody attempting to explain the concept of visual art, and the person I'm trying to explain it to has finally seen her first real picture: except that it's one of those medieval illustrations with no sense of depth or perspective. It's not bad art for what it is - but visual art can be so much more! What I really wish is that Rose, and all those other folks who ask me about roleplaying, could see a Phoenix Earth or Infernal Gaslamp session.

And speaking of Phoenix Earth, no luck yet. Neani is interested, and I think I could get one of the guys in my D&D game interested. Shanah might be interested, though I'm not holding my breath - although I consider Phoenix Earth (that is, Phoenix Earth with the crew) to be very good roleplaying indeed, it presupposes certain attitudes on the parts of the players: attitudes such as an amenability to engaging in violence in life-threatening situations, or the acceptability of using violence in defense of the innocent (quote from the combat packet: "Although the point of Phoenix Earth is not to put characters into life-threatening situations, this does happen with alarming frequency."), and I'm not sure those are attitudes that Shanah has, so Phoenix Earth itself might not be attractive to her even though I suspect roleplaying as a concept is. That means that I'm two players short of a quorum - and I have no idea where I'm going to get the other two. Oh well. Mr. Clean has begun what he calls "faux Phoenix Earth" back home, with all new players, and it's been a smash so far. I shall content myself with that.

Friday, October 11, 2002

The Dixie Chicks are playing over my speakers once more, and their new CD Home has been promoted to my new favorite country album. I certainly don't envy the Chicks their recent financial and legal troubles, but listening to this music reminds me of a lot of things. The irrepressible grin on my face reminds me of why I love being a performer. There is a happiness that shines through this CD that lifts me up - and it truly does shine through. The Chicks had fun with this, you can tell: and that reminds me of how happy you can be when you do what you were made to do.

This issue of what I was made to do - what I am, to put it another way - has been much on my mind lately. Let me explain:

The "self" does not interest me as a rule. I usually care much more about what I should be than I do about what I am. It's like taking ground in an offensive: you don't stop short of the objective. The ground you take on the way to the objective is important, but it's not what you should be focusing on. Or to put it another way, it's like scoring a 1600 on your SATs. Sure it's nice to have done it - but once you've done it, you move on rather than sitting there congratulating yourself.

So I don't usually think too much about the parts of my "self" that are admirable (the ground that Jesus has taken, if you will, or the exams that I've scored well on). And I don't think too much about the parts of my "self" that are despicable, except with an eye towards how I should improve. And really, the parts of me that are admirable are not so admirable that they shouldn't improve. So my introspection is usually done with an eye towards where I should be more than trying to figure out where I am. Self-analysis is, when all is said and done, a means to an end.

But there is another way to look at the "self" in the present, which I think is admirably summed up in the following Kendall Payne lyric:

I wanna feel something sweeter than this sin
Cover me in leaves; roll me over again
I've been everybody else; now I want to be
Something closer to myself.

That's talking about something much deeper than simple descriptive introspection. It's talking about "who I am" in the sense of "who God made me to be." And that I think is something much more worth knowing than merely finding out "what am I like right now?" So who am I?

To begin with, I am a writer. When God conceived of me before the dawn of creation, he conceived of a person who would love the manipulation of words for its own sake. There is an impulse built into my soul to take words into my mind and shape them into objects of delight. When I am playing with language I feel the joy of the Lord.

I am a storyteller. When God formed me in my mother's womb he fashioned me into a person who loves to use his words to take other people away. When I write fiction, I feel the delight of doing what I was made to do. I feel God smile when I am roleplaying because I am doing what I am designed to do.

I am a gamer. I was born to never grow up. For my father and I, gaming is a necessary part of life. Without it our wonted optimism falters, our serenity is disrupted. Gaming helps me to take joy in life. I am refreshed by it.

One thing I am not is a dancer. I love some kinds of dance, of course: I love waltz, I love polka, I love hustle. I enjoy swing - when I'm not listening to the old self-doubt that tells me I'm not good enough to do it. Other kinds of dance I don't mind, but I don't love. But I don't love even the waltz for its own sake the way I love roleplaying for its own sake. I love the waltz because it is a picture of romance: of two learning to be one, of learning how to sacrifice without diminishing themselves. I love the polka because it is a picture of freedom and delight as I fly along the surface of the floor. I love the hustle because it reminds me that deep down inside, I want to be cool. I love all three of those dances because I love the way they make me feel when the movement is smooth and flawless. In short, I love what those dances do to me.

But it is the dances who do things to me, and that I think is different than storytelling or gaming, where the elation comes from inside me. For Shanah Van, or for Red Jenny, I do not think that is true. I think those girls are dancers by nature. As Shanah put it, dancing is her sanity.

But for me, dancing is not my sanity. It's something I do for fun, and something I do because with every fiber of my being I long for what it holds out to me. Roleplaying, now - roleplaying is my sanity. Roleplaying lets me write, game, and tell stories all at once. So when Red Jenny got me invited to the game she's playing, I said yes despite the fact that it's D&D 3rd - and when the Viennese Ball Opening Committee asked me to dance with them (which would have meant sacrificing Campus Crusade's weekly meeting), I said no.

Monday, September 30, 2002

Well, here it is over a week since I've been back and interest in Phoenix Earth remains rather low. Curiously, this is not as disappointing as I had thought it would be. As Mr. Clean reminded me, I can be assured that the crew back home is most interested indeed. And really, that's okay for now. I have the opportunity to play with lots of folks up here through the Stanford Gaming Society, but I'm a little put off by that whole deal, to tell you the truth. Mind, it's not that I think that they're bad players, or that they'll be way better than me. It's just that the vibe I get off of those games is that they're, well, games. And while I admit that that kind of thing can be fun, I don't roleplay to play a game. I do it to tell a story through the vehicle of a game, which is another thing altogether. And then there's the prevalence of the D&D 3rd edition (which I will refer to hereafter as the D20 system, though I realize that's slightly inaccurate).

Now, don't get me wrong. As a gamer myself, I do appreciate the virtues of the D20 system. From a gaming standpoint it's really rather impressively optimized for allowing players to beat merrily away at imposing ranks of monsters who exist for no particular purpose other than being beat upon. And it's not that I don't think that the D20 system could be used to tell stories - I rather expect that the game Red Jenny is involved in will do just that. But I think that when a good story is told in that system it's in spite of the system rather than because of it.

Allow me to elaborate. Roleplaying games exist on a continuum, with pure storytelling at one end and pure gaming on the other. The hobby actually started out on the pure gaming end. The further to that extreme you go, the more rules and restrictions you find yourself mired in. If you want to emphasize storytelling, then, you've got to either do away with rules entirely or else find yourself a system that mimics reality as closely as possible. A good roleplaying game consists fundamentally of a world - a set of universe laws (e.g., "physics remains unaltered; magic works in the following ways; here is the technology level we're at and the current state of knowledge") - and within those laws anything that would be possible ought to be possible in the game, and my intuitive sense of the world ought to apply to the results the rules of the game churn out. If I jump, I want the rules to say I come down. And this is where my problem with the D20 system lies.

My beef consists of two parts. First is the question of classes. I have no particular problem with the idea of classes, but I think the D20 system mplements them poorly because it plays too much with causality. Take the example of a paladin. A paladin in the 3rd edition is a holy knight with some vaguely defined devotion to righteousness, whatever that means. Because of this devotion he or she is granted several supernatural powers (by "righteousness," apparently ... but I digress). Now that's all well and good; I can accept a world where righteousness is some sort of force of nature or even a personal being. But the truth of the matter is that people play paladins because of their powers, not because of what they are. This is pointed out by the fact that if a mage decides to devote himself or herself to the pursuit of righteousness, what does he gain by it? A bunch of ethical restrictions, that's what. Of course the mage could just decide to level up as a paladin ... but that's to say that so far as the game is concerned the mage only gains the benefits of devotion to righteousness when he becomes a paladin. It's the way the game rules work, but not the way game reality works. A person's class should be defined by what they do, not the other way around.

Then there's the question of what classes are even available. Leveling up in D&D translates, essentially, into the ability to beat things more effectively. Now, that's all well and good so far as it goes ... but what about the other parts of life, the ones that don't involve mayhem? There are people who spend their whole lives studying etiquette, which is most assuredly a non-violent pursuit. Where is the provision in this system for skills and classes that are strong in the mental and social aspects of life (and no, wizards don't count. All of their arcane study has one ultimate goal: beating on things)? I don't object to carnage and mayhem in a roleplaying game, but most of life is nonviolent. And the D20 system utterly fails to model that.

Second is the question of armor. This is my huge and eternal complaint about the D&D system. Consider the example of a man wearing plate mail who is struck by a sword, and the example of a man wearing street clothes who is struck by a sword. According to the D&D system, I have a vastly inferior chance of wounding the man in plate. This is true. However, granted that I do wound them both, I will deal exactly the same damage to each.

This is obviously absurd. The only conceivable representation of this is that I have actually penetrated the clothing of both men and my sword is literally inside their bodies, displacing an equal amount of tissue. Now, I won't deny that that's possible - plate mail can certainly be penetrated by muscle power. But that means that every time I damage somebody in the D&D system, I leave them with a gaping hole in their armor. Which is obviously absurd (and let's not even think about how bludgeoning a man in plate has the same effect as bludgeoning a man in civies. Explain that one to me, if you can). Armor does more than deflect a blow, it also lessens the force of it. The system needs a damage resistance quality built into its armor - not just into the feats of certain classes - in order to accurately mimic reality. And that doesn't even begin to mimic the effects of a gun: if I shoot a man in plate and a man in civies they are both very likely to take comparable amounts of damage. Why? Not because the bullet does more damage to one than the other; it's still the same bullet. If I shoot a man in plate he falls down; if I shoot a man in civies he falls down - he doesn't explode or anything. So weapons too need a characteristic that allow them to bypass or partially ignore armor.

And then let's consider the question of wounding. There are, I believe, two methods of inflicting harm to the human body: tissue disruption or tissue displacement. A bludgeon (or a penetrating weapon that doesn't penetrate the skin) inflicts tissue disruption through the transfer of energy. We know that that can be damaging and even lethal (c.f. the case of the hoplite who dies of a head wound without his helmet ever being penetrated, or the man whose ribs get broken when a bullet strikes his bullet proof vest). But it's a very different quality of armor that stops tissue disruption as opposed to tissue displacement. Take the case of chain mail: a man in chain is reasonably well protected against most swords, for instance. He is less well protected against a maul. A man in thickly padded armor is reasonably well protected against bludgeons, but not less so against a sharp object. There needs to be some sort of distinction there, and in the D&D system there isn't.

And finally we get into the question of the type of attack. The plasma jet evolved by a shaped charge round is defeated by significantly different physical properties than defeat a kinetic attack, or an energy one. A rubber suit will protect me just fine from your chain lightning, but not from your sword. Rolled homogenous steel will protect me just fine from your sword, but not from your plasma jet (or your fireball). Where's the distinction? Why do we have a world where all those types of attack exist and a rules system that isn't even passingly aware of it?

Of course the argument against all that stuff is that they slow down gameplay. But I would argue that gameplay is not what roleplaying is about (and if you disagree, by all means go ahead and use the D&D system). Roleplaying is about acting, about telling a story. If we must have rules let them enhance the experience of the game. Let them give the players insight into what exactly just happened. Let them give the DM suggestions about how to narrate what just went on. Let them introduce an element of chance into the narrative. But let them be grounded in the narrative and never stray, or else they are inhibiting the point of the game itself.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

So I've got an hour before my next class and my last post was kind of a downer, which I try not to do. So I think I'll post. I am torn between terror and giddy satisfaction.

I've got several reasons to be disquieted, but my disquiet has been pushed into terror by the simple fact that I'm taking Intermediate Fiction Writing this quarter. I'm taking it with the same instructor as I had for beginning fiction writing, and she even remembered me, but I am still extremely apprehensive. Malinda's (since she's an instructor who I don't count as a personal friend, she doesn't get a blogname) class was a lot of work last time, and I don't expect it will be any different this time - except I'll be a lot busier this time around, or anyway I fully expect to be. And besides the pressure of turning out these stories, there's the added restriction of "no genre fiction." I don't normally read so-called realistic fiction, because I want my fiction to edify and inspire me with tales of good triumphing over evil, courage over cowardice, and honor over selfishness. In short, I want my fiction to be about what ought to be, not what is. I already know what is! Not that I doubt my ability to write good realistic fiction. I just don't care about it the way I care about fantasy and science fiction. And I am afraid of not having enough time to write good stories, and having other people workshop work that I know isn't good.

I suppose I'm also afraid that nobody will ever take seriously the writing that I care about. I know intellectually that that's not true - this is just one more part of my education where my duty is to play a game I don't care about. And I'm sure it will improve my craft, thus enhancing the work that I do care about. But sometimes it's hard not to think that nobody up here appreciates Christianity as an intellectual and philosophical system, and that prospect is at once disheartening and deeply offensive. Back home I can be assured that even my non-Christian friends respect my religion as a tradition that absolutely must be understood, either because they're still not sure what to think about it or because they realize that they live in a society that was at one point predominately Christian (and is, to be fair, still the most religious society on the planet). In some cases (e.g., The DM) it's especially my non-Christian friends who think that Christianity is worthy of treating respect. But up here ... I mean, what would it look like if I took a Phoenix Earth manuscript to the English department and asked for serious critique of a work of Christian science fantasy? I can't help but fear that the response would be ... well, misunderstanding.

And of course, then there's the fear that they just wouldn't care. I sent out an e-mail to the Stanford Gaming Society the other day announcing my intent to run a Phoenix Earth campaign, time and interest allowing. Time ... well, I'll make time for roleplaying. Gaming is too important to me, to much a part of who I am as a moral and spiritual being, for me to cut it out of my life entirely. Even if I can only run one session a month, I'll do it. But interest ... now, interest is another story entirely. These people don't know me, they don't know my system, and they don't know my world. Would you join a game like that? I'm not sure I would. And even though I know that those restrictions mean that a lack of interest in Phoenix Earth up here won't truly mean anything, it will be disappointing.

But that's enough depression. The other side of me is elated. With the exception of Malinda's, I'm taking classes this quarter that I'm truly and honestly excited about. And Testimony ... well, Testimony has had two really good shows in the past couple days. I don't mean to brag, but we rocked. And as many of us no doubt have noticed (and in some cases already posted), the Orientation Show order gave every impression that The Powers That Be have recognized that we are, in fact, very good. And not only that, but apparently we got a positive flood of auditonees since the last time I checked! How wonderful is that?

And, if that wasn't enough, I had Social Dance I today for the first time. I'm taking the class as a follow, and I was initially a little wary about the whole thing because I was reflecting that while I do want to be skilled in all sorts of dances, I don't actually like all types of dances. And I want to be skilled in all sorts of random things (like fencing - ooh, I think I'm gonna like that class!), so that's nothing particularly special. But I had forgotten how very fun dancing can be, and how fun the Dance Master's classes are. I came out of that class with a big grin, the kind that signifies an irrepressible, inexpressible joy - the kind that I used to get after a date with Princess or Thea. Yes, life is generally looking up.

I am also quietly pleased, despite some initial envy issues, to be serving on Testimony's [leadership\\officer] core for this year. Because I think we have a good team, and I think that we have a good possibility of actually being a spiritual covering for the group - and I am glad to have been called to be a part of that endeavor. This may not (never will be) the cove, but it is for the moment home. So I am home, writing stuff that I care about, listening to "Dust on the Bottle," ... and, of course, in good health.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

Well, I'm back at Stanford and more or less moved in. My gear is where it should be, Goochy is atop his lightning ball, and Hoplomachos looks down on me at my computer from his perch atop my bookcase.

My sister, meanwhile, is at Pepperdine, and I must say that I am vaguely jealous. Maelana is proud of her school, and I can't say that about mine. It's not that I'm ashamed of Stanford, mind you, but there doesn't seem to be anything about it that's really worth being proud about. It's smart, reasonably innovative, and morally mediocre. We have a surprisingly strong believing community, of course, but the institution itself is ... not much of anything. But I suppose it's really fairly rare to find a school or company that one is actually proud of, so all that is by the by.

What really vexes me about being back here is the way I seem to become more of a creature of emotion on this campus. The pettiest things can send me spiraling down into a self-pitying funk. It's like I'm contending with the spirit of this place, a spirit of self-importance ... which, come to think of it, sounds precisely like what I am doing. I shall have to take steps accordingly. I am glad that Eliani returned On Basilisk Station to me. In places like this it is good to have role models like Honor Harrington to remind me that there is a better way to live.

Of course, despite its various failings, I do still want to be back at Stanford. This is where I belong, and this is where I shall stay. And after all, I would do well to remember that I am here to grow up ... and one can hardly expect God to have sent me to a place where living was easier than home to grow me up. Besides, I have big plans for this year. The biggest of which is beginning the process of marketing Phoenix Earth, which process I will be pursuing on two different tracks. The thought fills me with trepidation now that I have actually begun to investigate what that entails, but I shall press forward. Phoenix Earth is not just my baby; it is my testimony. It's a story that I think deserves to be told. So I shall tell it, if I can.

Monday, September 16, 2002

I'm in the process of upgrading my computer to Windows XP, so I'll take this opportunity to fill in all who are interested about Zingaro and Palermo. We'll go in increasing order of complexity.

Zingaro Nature Preserve was essentially a beach, but it was the best beach that I'd ever been to. I guess it was a fifteen or twenty minute drive from the dig house, and people went fairly frequently - I guess there were maybe four or five trips to Zingaro over the course of the dig, which is pretty good for six weeks. You had to pay two euro to get in (~$2), but that was ok because the place was absolutely gorgeous. You got to the beach itself by walking, and after you walked through this big tunnel cut into the rock (for which you were heartily glad, given the ferocity of the sun) it was like you had entered Jurassic Park or something. The Mediterranean stretched out before you to your right, windswept and a deep jewel blue, and ahead and to your left were these great cliffs that jutted into the air, and were all the more dramatic for the fact that they were covered in the greenest grass despite the precipitous incline. The first time we went we hung out on this rock outcropping and swam in the water (which was absolutely clear and warm enough that even I didn't get cold). That was cool, and I got to meet people on the dig for real for the first time. But the sun and complete lack of shade, plus the fact that the rock we were on was inhabited by tiny worms that would poke their heads out of the holes they'd burrowed into the rock and bite you, detracted somewhat from the trip.

The second time around we hiked around this outcropping - and hiked for about thirty minutes in sandals, which was less than pleasant despite the spectacular vistas it afforded. I was very glad for the CamelBak I was carrying. The beach we got to, however, was worth it. The water was even clearer than before, and really shallow for about sixty yards or so, so you could see the bottom really clearly even without goggles. The beach was little pebbles instead of sand, which was all to the good in my opinion since sand has an irritating habit of gluing itself to you when you're wet whereas pebbles do not, and these pebbles were just as soft as sand. And the beach was this sheltered cove, too, so we even had shade. Oh yeah, and the beach was almost deserted. Quite phenomenal.

So, as Her Majesty would say, to Palermo then! Palermo is Sicily's largest city at about 700,000 residents. It felt like a big city, anyway, even though I know 700,000 isn't all that much compared to the places I've spent most of my life. I went with a group for the weekend in an attempt to ration my leisure activities (which, at the dig house, were essentially limited to cards, books, music, and Phoenix Earth) by doing something that got me out of the dig house. As most of you know, I'm not much for big cities (in point of fact, they make me uncomfortable), but I figured the company would be enjoyable. As it was; I got to know the Conservator and Tango on that trip.

The plan was to walk around the city enjoying the sights for the first day, those sights including the outdoor market, big cathedral, and a number of smaller ones throughout the city, renting a hotel for the night, and then visiting the archaeological museum and catacombs on Sunday. So we mostly wandered around for the first day. The outdoor market was noisy and sprawled for street after street of the most random stuff: lingerie hanging from lines drawn across the street, bootleg CDs, coffee percolators, handpainted ceramics, groceries, and on and on. The cathedrals ... well, I guess I can't say much about the cathedrals, which is strange because they were really breathtaking. I am most indebted to Chaminade (my high school) for giving me the ability to appreciate and comprehend Catholicism. That has proved important any number of times, and it came in handy again when taking in the cathedrals at Palermo. The thought I had most was taken from Gladiator: "I didn't know men could build such things." There is something curious about cathedrals, which I find neither beautiful (despite the beautiful artwork) nor stately (despite the grandeur of the architecture) but simply ... well, grand.

We stumbled upon a traveling exhibit of Elymian Sicily that first day, which was really cool because they had the niftiest stuff in it. There were several stelae that they had dug up, which gave a chronology of this one site (unfortunately I couldn't read the Greek, to my great frustration). We saw some reconstructed pithoi, which were huge (and rather ugly) and I also saw some bronze arms: a bronze spearhead (ceremonial, I conjecture), a greave, three helmets ... it was so cool.

The hotel was only a one-star hotel, but it was remarkably nice. The room (well, my room; we got three) was rather spacious, even, and certainly clean. And the amenities were nice. Anyway, the next day we saw the archaeological museum, which was like the traveling exhibit only a hundred times cooler. And all the stuff was rather poorly displayed, so our little group went around explaining stuff to each other. We saw a whole bunch of sculpture that still had the original paint on it, which was way cool for the Conservator since that's what she's interested in, and whole pieces of temples, and vase paintings of all kinds - most particularly interesting to me were those depicting hoplite battle, since those very paintings are critical to our modern understanding of what went on on the Greek battlefield.

The catacombs were also interesting, but from a more philosophical standpoint. They were mostly in use in the 16th century, if I recall correctly, and haven't had another interment for about 80 years. Some people thought it was creepy - which I guess I could see, given that the bodies were just there within arm's reach (beyond the chain-link, of course) and some of them were kind of falling apart. Mostly I thought it was interesting to contemplate the mindset of a people who would inter their dead that way, and wonder how much of it was sociopolitical and how much of it was actually theologically motivated. The latter was particularly interesting to me since the text seems to indicate to me quite clearly that when the Resurrection occurs we get new bodies ... so what use in preserving the old ones?

So that was about the size of my big outside adventures. Now you're all caught up with Sicily. And I'm about to go back to school, so probably I'll have to skip the rest of summer unless there are some specific requests.

Friday, September 13, 2002

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m back. I’ve actually been back for some time, if by “back” you mean “in the United States rather than Sicily,” which of course is where I was for the first six weeks of summer and the principal reason I stopped blogging. Not that I ever intended for this to be a consistent news update. Blogs are information dumps and nothing more, and there is something distinctly ungentlemanly about expecting people to read your blog rather than talking with them. Speaking Natalie will remain an exercise in Speaking Natalie.

All that notwithstanding, I do understand that many of you are probably curious about Sicily and how it went. So here I sit with Martina McBride singing over my speakers to tell you about Sicily and how it went. For convenience’s sake I will divide this post into three main sections: where we were digging, how we were digging, and what we were digging. This will likely be a very long post, but if you don’t want to read it (or want to stop reading once you realize how long it is) don’t feel bad. I give you leave to stop. Really.

For those of you who don’t know, let me give you a little background on our site. I was digging at a hill in western Sicily called Monte Polizzo, which in the 6th century BC was home to a settlement of a people whom the Greeks called Elymians. We don’t know what they called themselves, or if they even thought that the “Elymians” were a single cultural group, so until we find out how the Elymians thought of themselves, Elymians they shall stay.

The basic picture we get here is that the Greeks and Phoenicians did their colonizing thing in the 8th century BC, which is how you get Phoenician (i.e., from Lebanon) cities like Carthage out in the middle of North Africa and Greek cities around the Black Sea. Naturally both peoples colonized Sicily (well, okay, the Phoenicians only sort of colonized it, but for purposes of our discussion let’s just say they did). For a while the natives and newcomers coexisted in relative peace. Around the 6th century, the Greek cities started wanting more land (after all, you need a hinterland if you’re going to be a proper Greek polis) and things got kind of ugly. The Greeks being a rather nasty militaristic people, the Elymians got the short end of the stick and started fleeing inward to these hilltop sites which were miserable to live on but easy to defend against the faceless bronze-clad bourgeois hordes. Monte Polizzo is one such site.

So that’s where we were digging. As far as how we were digging: The town of Salemi, which is where we were staying ‘cause it’s right near the hill, has been kind enough these past several years to provide the dig with a house at its own expense. This is essentially because we’re the biggest thing that happens to Salemi all year, excepting the Mafia – I mean, the pharmaceuticals industry. So every day, except for Sundays and every other Saturday, we’d get up about 0600 and stagger into our digging clothes and go outside. Going outside was absolutely necessary, for two reasons: 1). The dig house, like virtually all buildings in Salemi, had no air conditioning to combat the humidity; 2). The food was outside. So we stumbled outside, and those of us who drank coffee (which does not include me) drank shots (from little plastic shot glasses) of coffee from these aluminum percolators whose handles were only technically attached to their bodies, which made pouring coffee (or worse, making it) somewhat hazardous. Then we would battle the meat wasps for the materials to make our lunches and stumble into the vans and cars that would drive us most of the way up the hill. Standard load-out for a digger was four liters of water, though as it turned out we generally didn’t drink that much. We left the house by 0630 and were generally on-site by 0700.

Of course getting to the site included walking the last ten minutes or so, which wouldn’t have been bad except for the severity of the incline. But once we got to the top (and I do mean the top, as in the highest point on the hill) of Monte Polizzo we could take a breather near one of our rock piles or under a tarp. Oftentimes the hill would be shrouded in thick white mist that rolled by with a beauty that was almost eerie; half the time I expected Ringwraiths to come striding out of the mist. On mornings like that you could see your shadow projected onto the mist, and visibility was less than fifty yards. It was beautiful.

The soil at Monte Polizzo was really hard once you got through the top soil, so we dug with pick-axes. I’m told that in wetter climes, such as Britain, the soil is so soft that you can’t even use a brush on it because you’ll smear the layers too much that way. At Monte Polizzo, we literally ran into rocks that were easier to chop through than the “soil.” So we used big picks to take out large amounts of dirt (this stuff laughs at shovels unless it’s already broken up by a pick), and small picks to take out small amounts of dirt, and we only broke out the trowels when there was absolutely no other choice. You’ll probably wonder if we didn’t break stuff, blasting into the soil with big metal blades (naturally we used the blade end of the pick, rather than the pointy end) all the time. And, well, yes, we did. But if we ever broke anything truly important, which was pretty rare, the folks in the pottery lab could always put it back together. And it’s either dig with picks or don’t dig at all. Besides, pottery is surprisingly resilient. Many of the sherds we dug up could take several direct hits from a small pick and show only scratches. There’s a reason this stuff has lasted twenty-six hundred years.

Except for the first two days, when we laid into the local vegetation with picks and sickles to clear a plateau for the new Zone D and moved all the rocks dug up last year, the work was actually surprisingly light. I mean sure I moved several metric tons of dirt by hand, but over six weeks that’s not all that hard. The procedure is essentially to pick off a layer of dirt about a centimeter thick or so, then take your brush and dustpan and sweep it all up and dump it in a bucket. That stuff would eventually get sieved, so we didn’t have to be too careful, but the truth of the matter is that it was generally pretty easy to see the pottery, bones, or iron that we were digging up. And of course the wall was fairly unmistakable, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Weather on the hill was generally pretty clement, and up at the very top of the summit (Zone A, where I was working) there was a nice breeze for most of the day. But it was quickly apparent that nobody who wasn’t deathly afraid would live up here voluntarily. Every so often the nice breeze would turn into a scouring sandstorm that blasted across the hill and made life absolutely miserable. Dustpans would get blown for fifty feet or more if you put them down wrong, and every single particle of dirt you dug up got picked up by the wind and blown into somebody else’s eyes. Then there were the days when it was miserable and chill, and the fog enveloped the hill all the way through noon. And the days when the breeze didn’t come and the air was so still you wondered why it didn’t fall to the ground like a bunch of atmospheric marbles and you just baked. But most of the time it was relatively pleasant, if you brought plenty of water (the nearest spring is naturally down the hill, which would have meant a long walk for our Elymian friends).

At 1030 we’d break for about fifteen minutes, and at 1130 we’d break for lunch for half an hour. Then at 1430 we’d pack up our finds for the day and drive them back to the dig house, where we’d wash the bones and pottery and put them into these plastic trays called cassettes to be taken away into the lab and never seen again.

But what were we digging, you ask?

Finds-wise, we dug up mostly broken bits of pottery. Monte Polizzo is literally covered with pottery; the stuff littered the ground on the way up to the site. My tango-dancing friend whom I will refer to as Blue Tango worked in Zone D, half of which was literally carpeted in pottery – that’s about twenty-five square meters of the stuff. And there was lots of bone, too, both burned and unburned. We dug up a lot of that in Zone A, though hardly as much as one of the Zone B trenches (which, to be fair, was digging up a bone-working workshop). Most of our bone was pretty small – if you cook bone enough apparently it turns all white and black and blue and shiny and then it explodes, so naturally the burnt bone fragments were all very small, usually smaller than your pinky nail. But even the unburnt fragments were fairly small in our area.

We also dug up a fair amount of metal stuff. Mostly the metal finds were unexciting, just little lumps of rusted iron. But sometimes we found cool stuff: e.g., three bronze Punic (= Carthaginian) coins, two bronze pendant earrings (or possibly necklace pendants), a bronze key (we think), an iron javelin head. That stuff was all pretty cool. When we dug up something fairly rare like that we’d call over the GPS rod or the infrared range-finder team and get the 3D coordinates of the object where we found it, so somewhere there’s a three-dimensional map of our hill with individual rocks and building stones mapped in, and you can see the relationships of all of our “small finds” to that. Wherever that is, I’m sure it’s very cool.

By far the coolest stuff in Zone A, however, was the buildings. Monte Polizzo was a settlement, and two of our zones (B and C) were digging up houses. Zone D was digging up a storage courtyard (which had some man-sized storage jars, or pithoi, lying in the ground where they fell. It was way cool; those jars are totally going to get reassembled). Zone A was digging up a religious structure.

I say “religious structure” instead of “temple” because we don’t know very much about Elymian religion. We don’t know what their temples looked like, or even if they had the concept of “temple.” We do know that there were two altars at this site, both of which had oodles of burnt bone around them (some of it worked, presumably from Joe’s Worked Bone and Antler, down in Zone B). The center of the zone was dominated by a circular structure with thick stone walls (like, two meters thick) that contained the remains of terracotta basins which still contained ashes. So obviously religion was important to these people (this “temple” is sited directly on the highest part of the hill, at the center of the settlement) and included sacrificing very select parts of animals (as it turned out). My trench in particular was chasing a low, curving enclosure wall of stones that came off of the main circular structure. We ended up finding a small … well, rectangular space right next to the enclosure wall, barely wide enough for a man to lie down in. Don’t know what it was – a closet, a strongpoint of a wall, or what. Very interesting though.

So that’s essentially the dig in a nutshell. Professor Morris will be giving a lecture sometime in the fall to update folks about what exactly they’ve concluded now they’ve had time to look at this season’s data crop, and you can go to that if you want. I’ll post an announcement about it here. Sicily was, however, interesting for other reasons.

First and foremost – indeed the primary reason I went – was the amount of spiritual growth that took place over this trip, despite the lack of fellowship and teaching. There was some very good worship out back behind the dig house with just me and God and my mp3s, and that of course was merely the beginning. But that’s all I’m going to say about that. I just didn’t want to gloss over it entirely.

It was also interesting for the people I met. The Newspaperman, the Archaeologist, Blue Tango (no conceptual relation to Blue Rose), Songstress, the Conservator, the Assassin, and of course Her Majesty Padme Amidala. If not for those people my days at Sicily would have been incredibly dull. I may even look some of them up when I get back to campus. I wouldn’t mind spending more time with the girls, anyway. The guys … well, I’m glad I met them on the dig but they aren’t precisely the kind of people I’d normally hang out with. No, I don’t have crushes on them, and yes, they almost all have boyfriends. Besides, only the Songstress is Christian.

Most interesting of all from a wisdom standpoint was watching the people in charge, however. This dig was quite the exercise in watching different styles of command. I have come out of the experience with the conviction that authority – real authority, the loyalty-inspiring kind that makes performers devoted to a director or makes soldiers follow an officer into certain death – comes from the confluence of two factors. These are competence and character. A person with much competence and no character cannot command his subordinates any farther than they will go because it benefits them. Likewise for a person with much character but no competence. A person with both, however, may wield true authority: people will follow such a person against all rules of self-preservation, sacrificing personal comfort, scheduling convenience, or indeed their lives (at the extreme) for no other reason than who that person is. (This confluence of competence and character is, by the way, the heroic talent of the epic heroine Honor Harrington, and why I hold her in such esteem). Steven Pressfield put it succinctly into the mouth of Alcibiades in Tides of War: somebody asks Alcibiades how you lead free men, and he replies quite simply, “by being better than them.” The dig provided several examples of good and bad authority.

At the low end of the spectrum was our House Manager, who was a genial guy most of the time but had a short temper and a tendency to snap at people for unjustifiable reasons because he was annoyed at little things they did earlier. It wasn’t even that the man wasn’t good at what he did; he was. But he didn’t display sufficient strength of character for that to matter. He was a man who had position but no real authority, for he commanded no respect.

This was all in marked contrast to Trinity and Professor Morris, our assistant director and project director respectively. Both of those individuals were equally good at their jobs, but they displayed real concern for the wellbeing of the members of the dig – when I got left behind one day Trinity not only exempted me from pottery washing but bought me a beer (well ok, so I don’t drink beer, but it’s the thought that counts in this case). That shows the character necessary to wield authority. And then of course there was my zone supervisor, Lady Margaret, who will be teaching me Greek in the fall and whom I shall refer to as Meg Anassa (literally, Lady Meg) as well as Lady Margaret (it’s a Zone A joke). How pleasant it was to work under a woman who spoke well of me when I did a good job, who brought pastries and frozen juice boxes up to the site for us on special occasions, and who was involved in every detail of her zone’s excavation without hovering over our shoulders all the time? I am, by the way and needless to say, quite pleased to have the opportunity to have a class with her.

Well, I expect that will do it for the moment. If you want to hear about side trips to Zingaro Nature Preserve or Palermo you can certainly ask me about those, but I think I’ve read your eyes off enough for one post.

Monday, June 10, 2002

Before I begin, you should know that the explain-o-tron 2000, wherein I revealed the entire history of Phoenix Earth from the beginning of existence to the end of history and the rise of the Phoenix Earth, went well. Most of my players were delighted to find out what had been going on all the while, and most were satisfied that their characters had ended well (Twilight was disappointed that Natasha Mage Lady Major Chastity Tomalov did not turn out to be the Antichrist, but I couldn't justify that after working out with Archimedes just how Scripture describes the end of the world. And I was personally glad to see that she made it to the end). There was one notable exception, of course, but that was to be expected as the individual in question does not, so far as I can determine, believe in evil in the sense that most fantasy requires you to believe in evil. Phoenix Earth is no exception to the rule in that it decrees that there is, absolutely, such as thing as Evil, and it is absolutely opposed by such a thing as Good. In my opinion, anybody who believes that sentient beings do not deliberately do things they know are wicked and they know they will regret - even in the immediate future - is deluding himself. Morality is only loosely subject to cost-benefit analyses. Despite this I had a wonderful time, and it was delightful to see Maelana graduate. I love going home.

I love going home for a variety of reasons. I love seeing the crew, of course, and spending time with my trusty geeks and fellow storytellers. I love spending time with the family, safe and secure in the cove. I love driving Betsy and having a safe place where I can sing however I please without bugging other people. I love going back to The Church on the Way - not so much because it is my home church (I do not feel that I have a home church at present, inasmuch as the term requires a single entity) but because Pastor Scott is my pastor. For most of the year I may be under the spiritual care of another, but Scott Bauer remains my pastor.

Not the least reason why I love going home is because at home spiritual and life issues are clarified and crystallized in a way that they almost never are here at Stanford, where the intellectual and spiritual muck of a community that believes itself to be the leaders of the world and searches for truth that it secretly believes it already possesses pollutes the atmosphere with oxymoronic (and parallel) quests for ultimate ethical reason and the death of absolutism.

I speak in generalities by way of introduction. What I am referring to specifically is the idea of physical affection. Hitherto I have generally bought into the romantic notion - inspired by BattleTech, and specifically that most wonderful storyteller Michael Stackpole - that physical affection between nonfamilial individuals need be nothing more than a sign of emotional affection - fondness, if you will. There is much to be said for this view, I believe - consider the fact that a hundred years ago (or even less than that) me hugging Princess would have been considered scandalous, whereas nowadays it truly would signify nothing more than affection. And it may be that one hundred years hence (as Heinlein seems to have believed) greeting a member of either sex with the most passionate kiss you can muster will truly be nothing more than a fond greeting.

I truly wish it were so, and I am sure you can imagine [with me] several members of either sex who inspire you to wish it were so very fervently indeed! And that will serve to point us to the chink in the armor of this conceit. For I perceive that I desire things to be so primarily so that I can go around kissing people whom I want to kiss - and I want to kiss those people because, well, I want to. And what is that but desiring them? And if that does not fall under Matthew 5:28 (literally, whoever looks at a woman to desire her ...), I don't know what does.

Of course the French kissing examle is almost painfully obvious - though, in a way, that is the point, for the hugging example would have been painfully obvious to our forebears. The larger point, I think, is that absent paired rings on your fingers physical affection must never be conceived of as loving in itself. I am tempted to go so far as to say that it is never loving at all - for I am the king of those who need physical affection, and I do not myself truly believe that it is something I need, even when my heart is broken. Or, to put it another way, if we are to define physical affection as loving, we must show how such actions seek the other's good (by the Natalian/Lewisian definition of love given in an earlier post). And that, I think, will be a hard task. At best, I suspect, such things as being held are morally inert.

There is a part of me of course that protests that there should be room for exceptions if I really want it bad - which I hope strikes you as ludicrous as it strikes me. Such sentiments are very pretty when expressed, as the Dixie Chicks have, as "this time I'm willing to dance on the wire," but they boil down to "I want it really bad!" and even the Chicks, in that same song, recognize that such trysts are doomed. Instead, I think it is much better to remember such statements as "remember your training, and you will make it back alive!" (Starship Troopers and any number of other war movies, I'm sure) and, with Chely Wright: "shut up and drive; you don't know what you're talking about."

Friday, May 24, 2002

Before I go to bed, I feel compelled to post some thoughts about Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles. I just finished watching the first two DVDs, and I consider them money well spent - or, anyway, I would if I hadn't been given them as gifts.

It would be unfair to say that Roughnecks was what Starship Troopers the film should have been. ST had its own internally consistent aesthetic as far as the universe dynamic went, and I think it served the script's purposes admirably. And Heinlein's actual vision of how Mobile Infantry fought would be very difficult to film - how do you make a film about infantry in a universe where one man in an armored suit is good to cover forty square miles of terrain? I mean, how would you ever get anything on screen?

That said, I think Roughnecks strikes an admirable balance between the dictates of the camera and the feel of the universe that science fiction geeks everywhere have always wanted to see brought to the screen. Granted there's no power armor (what Roughnecks substitutes as "power suits" pales in comparison to what we know real Mobile Infantry suits can do), but there are the following in keeping with the book:

1). A focus on the small unit. The operational unit of the Mobile Infantry has been changed from platoon to squad, but the basic idea of "very small numbers of men are required to get the job done" is still there.
2). Mobile Infantry troopers ... well, they rock the house. They may not have Marauder suits (and as we all know, the Roughnecks version of the "Marauder suit" is nothing at all like the real Marauder) but this is real heavy infantry, with armor that actually protects them, and an enormous amount of firepower at their disposal. Those automatic rifles that Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer wielded in the movie - you know, the ones that apparently fired paper clips? They're back, but this time they tear warrior bugs to pieces. As it should be.
3). If the humans have the firepower, it's the bugs that have the tactics. Human technology is insufficient to truly protect against a bug ambush. Again, as it should be - the bugs are supposed to be better coordinated than the humans, who have to rely on the individual superiority of their troopers to win through.
4). The Mobile Infantry is actually mobile. Roughnecks makes up for the MI's lack of power armor by providing them with all sorts of nifty locomotive gadgets for getting into, around, and out of battle. MI troopers are dropped by the individual man from orbit. They have rough and tumble low-gee vehicles. They have jet skis. They have personal jet gliders.
5). The feel of the weapons is pretty close to what we know Heinlein's MI used. No atomic rockets yet, but we do toss nuclear bombs around like they're nothing. The preoccupation with fire is there, translated into a variety of nifty plasma gadgets. And the Morita smart rifles that are standard issue for Roughnecks MI even manage to skirt Heinlein's statements to the effect that the MI don't use rifles anymore by giving them guided ammunition.

So, from a technological standpoint I give Roughnecks major props for translating everything about Starship Troopers' tech establishment onto the screen except for the power armor. Which is darn well good enough for me to be just undeniably cool.

The bugs? Well, I admit that I was not immediately scared of the bugs like I was in the movie. I mean, this was a TV cartoon, which means having people get ripped in half while begging their mates to help them is a big no-no. But after a few episodes I bought into what the characters were telling me: that these were big, scary bugs (never mind that I'd never actually seen them kill anyone). And we're seeing the bugs adapt their strains to the various interstellar battlegrounds just like the humans adapt their equipment, which means lots of new and icky bugs to fit the occasion. Perfect!

Plot? Oh, I was skeptical at first. But the plot has turned out to be quite good - and, amazingly, stay focused on the basic point of Starship Troopers: namely, what it's like to be an infantryman, in any time period. This is a series that is meant to be taken seriously, not with tongue in cheek like the movie. And that, too, is in keeping with the basic point of Starship Troopers.

And lastly, you ask, what about the characterization? Although this is an action-oriented series, I find myself liking the characters quite a bit. Lt. Razak (with his new, simplified spelling) is such the consummate leader that you can't help but like him, and the guy who does his voice is really good - he's at once terrifying and fatherly and so utterly in charge that you just have this sense that no matter how bad things get he'll pull you out of it. He is precisely Heinlein's image of the Old Man. Sgt. Brutto is a somewhat less-than character so far - not at all a model sergeant and a bit of a jerk, but he's getting more rounded as the series moves on so I have hope.

Johnny Rico's back, and a pleasant mix of Van Dien's war hero and Heinlein's unimportant everyman who happens to be MI. The true role of observer and liason between Mobile Infantry and Joe Audience has been taken by the reporter, Higgins, who does an admirable job of filling those shoes. Ace is notably absent but replaced by the colorful Corporal Gossard, who's a more interesting character anyway. Carmen Ibanez is back, and (while not as pretty as Denise Richards) far more believable than her big-screen counterpart as the genius superstar who was born to be a starpilot and represent all that the infantryman is deprived of: mother, home, comfort, safety. And, much to my delight, Dina Meyer's Dizzy Flores is back in all of her her sexy, no-nonsense, pining-over-the-hero, tough-as-nails glory. I'm not sure what Dizzy adds to the point of the story, but she's a great foil to Rico and Jenkins (who have a much-needed best-friend thing going on) and is just in general fun to watch. I understand that the character was crafted to appeal to the lonely adolescent sci-fi geeks who are the primary audience of all things Starship Troopers - but knowing that doesn't stop her from appealing to me!

So, that's my quick little dissection of Roughnecks. If you happen to know Dizzy Flores, or someone remotely like her, send her my way.

Monday, May 20, 2002

Well, it's been a while. But I suppose I can spare a bit before lunch to update, now that I have some things to talk about that are worthy of updating.

To begin with in chronological order, then, the Jennifer Knapp/Jars of Clay concert. I am not a Jars fan, and I am a [nominal] Jennifer Knapp fan. Naturally I went primarily to see the guitar girl whose music graces my speakers. I can't say that I was impressed, but then again I don't like her new album all that much. She did perform "Undo Me" ... kind of ... in one of those medleys of old stuff that artists seem to be using nowadays as a way to satisfy their fans' desire to hear the old stuff. Both she and Jars were fun to watch; these are clearly instrumentalists who have mastered the fine art of playing in a visually engaging way and having a blast doing it. Both performances were hampered by the rock concert sensibility (which I dislike intensely) of having the background just as loud as the vocals, if not louder. Especially in a situation like this, where every last decibel you hear comes from the speakers and not the instrument directly, this seems like an entirely avoidable disaster in my opinion. Granted, I'm a vocalist who gets a lot more significance out of the poetry of the lyrics and the artistry of their delivery than I do from the accompaniment (and that's really the rub; groups like this don't view the instrumentals as accompaniment so much as co-equal with the solo) ... but it seems that the heart of the music, particularly in Christian music, is in the lyrics rather than the arrangement.

I do give both performances kudos for having the sense to make the event more than a fun concert. And Jars' encore was particularly tasteful. But all in all, I think the Avalon\\Zoe Girl\\Joy Williams concert at the beginning of the year was better.

Then there was Star Wars II with my Greek class, which was ultimately cool. Even if you don't know that Twilight and I used to quiz each other on the model numbers of various components on Star Wars starships, you can tell I'm a Star Wars geek by the fact that I refer to all of the movies (and always have) by number instead of subtitle. What follows will not be the end of the post, but will be (I expect) a long digression into the relative merits of Star Wars II. If you are not interested in getting an ex-hardcore fan's take on the movie, skip down.

To begin with, you should know that an appreciable part of my enjoyment was due to the fact that I was seeing it with friends. Star Wars is a social milestone in the history of my life; if not for Star Wars I would literally have no crew. We bonded first over Star Wars, and I think everybody who knows him will get a warm feeling of nostalgia if I just recall Kharmak asking "what's a wookiee?" So the fact that I saw the midnight show with my Greek class ... well, it was a symbolic statement of the fact that I am acquiring real friends up here. And any event associated with that must necessarily be remembered fondly.

However, I thought the movie was good anyway. Yes, I thought it was on par with IV, V, and VI. Before I respond to specific criticisms of the movie, allow me to postulate the following:

Film critics view Star Wars II in one of two ways. Either they come to it like any other movie, with their favorite critical theory (whatever that may be) and grade it, or they come to it with the assumption that it must be good and then try to explain away its faults on the grounds that "the fans will like it anyway," tacitly implying that the critic himself thinks it's kind of weak but hey, it's a sacred cow.

What I would like to suggest to you is that Star Wars II ought not to be viewed as primarily cinema, but primarily science fiction. World-building science fiction, in particular (hereafter "science fiction"). Science fiction demands that the audience make critical connections forwards, backwards, or laterally in time. It's a critical part of what makes science ficiton art. If you can't do that, you're no more prepared to critique the movie than someone who knows nothing of instrumental music is prepared to critique an operetta. The corollary to that is that nothing in science fiction is silent. Everything the author tells you or the director lets you see has significance to the plot or the theme. This is just a maxim of the genre; you may accept it or not. I think that most critics don't. So they see the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi's Aethersprite looks like a Star Destroyer crossed with an A-wing is not and shrug their shoulders. Cute visual storytelling. But it's not; it's a multilayered statement of any number of things. It [should] immediately call to mind Obi-Wan's critical role in the Rebellion, the fact that the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire come out of the same entity, the fact that Obi-Wan helps create the Empire. And that in turn creates dramatic tension in the beholder just the same as a clever piece of dialogue or great scoring does.

With that in mind, a fan's response to several specific critiques. I hope you will not find any spoilers in what follows, and will understand that "you" refers to film critics directly and not you, the reader of this blog:

1). The movie is preoccupid with politics and has too much exposition. In the first place, Star Wars I-III are political history. They're docudrama. If that's not what you were looking for, sorry, but that's what they are. This is why we're cycling through characters like there's no tomorrow: Qui-Gon, Jar-Jar, Darth Maul, Jango Fett, Nute Gunray ...they played their part on the historical stage and then they disappeared into the background. History is not always the story of characters, and in the case of the history of the Clone Wars and the fall of the Republic, it won't do to focus on individuals the way it did for a study of the Galactic Civil War and the fall of the Empire. In point of fact, the unifying theme of I-III has nothing to do with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, or Padme Amidala. It has to do with Palpatine. All of this is nothing more than a footnote to explain how Palpatine singlehandedly destroyed the Republic and created the Empire. As for the idea that there's too much exposition ... I disagree. It seems to me that the phrase "too much" implictly invokes a ratio. 70% talking, 30% showing, or something like that. But in fact all of the exposition given here connects to at least one other fact the movie assumes its audience will be intelligent enough to pick up on. And that means that the ratio of told:shown drops dramatically.

2). The romance is awkward and unbelievable. Well, maybe maybe not. We're talking about someone who's been in politics since she was 14 (she's now 24) and someone who's been in Jedi training since he was 9 (he's now 19). Both, in all likelihood, skipped the part of life where you learn how to deal with the opposite gender. Both are insanely skilled overachievers and know it. Both lack parent figures (Obi-Wan, as you know from IV-VI and just watching him, hardly cuts it as a father figure whatever Anakin says). I happen to know that late-teenage overachievers who know they're in the 99th percentile of humanity and are starving for intimate relationships say and do impossible things in romantic situations. I go to an entire school full of such individuals and have done such things myself. I know girls who get wooden and artificial when they're straining to stay rational in the face of tidal-wave emotions. In short, I argue that Lucas isn't out of touch with the realities of young romance so much as too in touch with it - this is a romance I find entirely believable, but not a kind that is particularly photogenic. And that I think is what people are actually complaining about.

That's enough about Star Wars II for now. I can give you a more complete analysis of the movie if you want, but you'll have to ask me.

Finally, as to going home ... ahhhh, going home. How delightful! We saw Star Wars II with the crew and Twilight's dad and had a rousing discussion about it afterwards while agreeing we did actually enjoy the movie quite a bit. Then we went to my place and had the second ever Classical Phoenix Earth session. The DM called it "really really cool," which sentiment others have echoed. Twilight even said I was "born to do this," and even Cloud (who was not there, of course) said that just the character sheet looked incredibly cool. This was all incredibly gratifying, of course, and we had some innovations too which went off as "mind-numbingly cool," in The DM's words. One was the introduction of the literary cutscene: short short stories about what's going on elsewhere, to allow me to vividly describe the world and even tease the players with plot development. And the other was the straight-faced opening, narrated from the perspective of a real character in the world. All of this is new and experimental but went off great.

And the session was just really cool, too ... nothing went as planned, but that's the essence of Phoenix Earth and I apparently improvised without a hitch. And now the players have brought great misfortune on their heads and it's not my fault! And even more importantly, the party was tougher and more wily than I could have anticipated. This campaign is going to be great fun.

The IG session was great fun too. Our new party, with Kathelia included, finally got somewhere in Antarctica (yes, Antarctica) and had a good old-fashioned dose of horror. The session was a little rushed but that's ok, and ironically enough both sessions ended in cliffhangers. Oh, it's going to be fun when I get back!

And to top it all off I have the first four campaigns of Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles and my own DVD of Moulin Rouge! Ahhhh ... sure there's no time to watch 'em, but at least they're there! Just get to the end of the week ...

Thursday, May 09, 2002

Yet again in Social Dance I avoided dancing with Miss Lodge. This is a courtesy on my part, as I strongly suspect that I am to her as Brown Sweatshirt Guy is to Blue Rose - and if the BSG voluntarily avoided Rose when politely possible, I expect she would thank him. Not that I think I'm an awful dancer or an obnoxious partner, but I see no reason to inflict myself upon her if she'd rather I not.

Fortuitously enough, this put me in the company of Miss Tokyo, with whom I have only previously danced waltz and (I think) a little bit of swing. Today we were doing cha-cha and mambo\\salsa, so dancing with Tokyo was a very different experience from our previous times. She's as good a partner in the Latin dances as she is in the others, so dancing with her was quite the pleasure. I also got to come back from social dance hiatus (i.e., I sat out last class due to sickness and missed the class before that) with the English Goth as my first partner. I've danced with her so often by now that we have adjusted to each others' idiosyncrasies quite well, and we have a fun time chatting during class too. Oh, and early in the class I got to dance with the Apple Senior, who has a very interesting handhold (unusually high) with her right hand but is really quite the smooth follow. If something doesn't work with other girls it usually will with her, and that makes me feel good.

As you may or may not know, a little while ago I was, like poor Simba, feeling rather down on social dance. It just didn't seem fun. Much to my surprise, the Latin dances we are learning now (previously the bane of my existence) have quite revived the pasttime for me. I am sad that I will be missing a large portion of Big Dance in two weeks - but it's for a good cause (namely, going home).

I will also be going on the Campus Crusade for Christ spring retreat this weekend. I am excited about this. To be sure, it's a bit risky to miss three weekends in May in a row. But I feel like my Sweet One has been quite clear that he wants me to go. I am not sure precisely why, but that is good enough for me. CCC is slowly bringing me around to the fellowship establishment. In some ways it still feels silly and unnatural to me, but I believe enough good is coming of it that I can forgive those faults. To be sure, the teaching there is not (in my opinion) of the caliber that one receives at InterVarsity (speaking of the Stanford chapters, now). But I do not lack for good teaching - and the fellowship at CCC is, for me, superior to that at IV. Perhaps it is because I know people coming in, via Testimony. And it is good to again be at a place where Antilles leads worship, as I feel he has a particular gift for that and annointed worship leaders are rare. I feel comfortable saying that because of course it is no praise of him (I feel sure that he would not want me lauding him too highly in a public space such as this).

There is, as well, the presence of the Soprano. I consider this important enough to mention because I begin to suspect that my path has been crossed with hers so that she may fill in the role of the Caryatid. I had not realized it until now, but I miss not having contact with any pillar-women (that is, women who are pillars to me, as I can think of a number of sisters I know whom I am sure are pillars to other men). As the psalmist says,

Then our sons in their youth
will be like well-nurtured plants,
and our daughters will be like pillars
carved to adorn a palace. (Psalm 144:12).

It has recently come to my attention that my sphere is positively saturated with beautiful women (whatever Trent says about Moorpark, Stanford suits me just fine!) But a daughter like a pillar carved to adorn a palace is a rare and beautiful thing - something that I think all believing men should have.

Monday, May 06, 2002

At 2241 Pacific yesterday I turned twenty-one years of age. I did nothing particularly 21-ish, although when the waiter at Max's asked if he could get me a cocktail to start with I did stop and think about it for just over half a second.

The day was not precisely replete with festivities, but it was an agreeable day all the same. I began the day at midnight, when Shanah had the brilliant idea of giving me a birthday dance in Otero lounge. Neani was there, along with a fellow Berkeley-ite from For Christ's Sake, which is Testimony's counterpart group at Cal. For this reason my birthday dance consisted of swing (courtesy of Archimedes), which is of course not my favorite dance but the one that included the largest number of people. I am afraid that my ability to follow swing is lacking, although I hope to have largely remedied that problem by this time next year. I feel certain that Neani's follow was not as good as most of my Stanford partners' have been, despite the fact that her knowledge of swing is in some ways far greater. I attribute this to the influence of the Dance Master on the Stanford campus and am grateful for it.

So I began my birthday surrounded by beautiful girls, all of whom were pleasantly attractive in their own special way. I woke up in plenty of time to go to church at The River and was again pleasantly surprised to find myself in especially attractive female company, although I am sure that their attractiveness was not in celebration of my birthday. The "happy birthday Eric!" that made me jump halfway out of my skin probably was, though, and although it was a small thing it made me smile. Also fun was the fact that church was on the San Jose State campus for the first time, and the service was rather good. The River is of course lacking in certain key areas of what I think a good church should be, but it is a decent place all the same ... and certainly the place that I belong right now. And after all, all churches are lacking in certain key areas of what a good church should be.

Upon returning to campus I commenced the dismembering of my music midterm, which was not a task I enjoyed but not a task that I despised or made me feel shriveled and worthless, either. And that's an improvement. After that my Sweatshirt Girl took me out to dinner at Max's and then to Lane by way of Blockbuster to watch The Music Man. This made me smile, and it seemed to me that the sky on our way to Ginger (her car) was a pleasant mix of the ebon blackness of the Los Angeles night sky and the stars of the Stanford night sky. The symbolism in that struck me as God's way of saying "happy birthday."

The astute among you will have noticed by this point that pretty girls featured large in my birthday. Andrea and Lindsey (although I now prefer Nikki) did not make an appearance, which was probably all for the good as I enjoyed being me yesterday. In two weeks' time I will engage in guy-heavier festivities, namely Star Wars II, Phoenix Earth, and Infernal Gaslamp. All in all, a reasonable balance. Except for the lack of family. I am afraid that I will be spending precious little time in the cove this time around ... but I suppose that couldn't be helped.

The show went well. In point of fact, I thought it was fantastic. I have decided that our pre-show routine needs work, though. I actually resorted to doing some of the stuff that the Director had us do before shows ... and darned if it didn't work in calming my nerves and getting me ready to go up there and pour myself out to the audience. That's pretty much all I'm going to say about that, but you should know that the show went very well indeed.

Monday, April 29, 2002

I know the race of the week is coming up on becoming the race of the month, but I'm afraid there just isn't enough time to update it. You'll just have to wait.

As he has done a number of times in the past, Dad has demonstrated what may be a certain amount of Spirit-led foresight in predicting the next major issue of policy I will have to deal with. Namely, how do I deal with friends when they do things I don't think they should? And as usual, M'lakMavet has phrased the answer to that question (which I formulated as far back as middle school) in away that reminds the twenty-year old me what the thirteen-year old me had already figured out. If you think that this paragraph refers to you or someone you know, you may be right. However, it refers to nothing and nobody specifically.

It is good to have the Cardinal and Ish around, even if they're only "around" in a digital sense. My relationship with them is a pretty clear example to me that the Internet can be a very, very good thing - and a clear example that God keeps pace with the developments of human civilization.

I was encouraged this week to run into the Soprano at Campus Crusade. I don't know her very well but I suspect that she's one of those women, like the Caryatid (who's getting married on Memorial Day weekend! *squeal*) and the Fiance (who's getting married on July 27! *squeal squared*) who is a veritable pillar in her spiritual community. The kind of woman who epitomizes what it means to be a woman of God, and by extension to be female. This was encouraging to me not only because I think I needed such a woman to convince me to give this "fellowship" institution another try (thereby demonstrating that my Sweet One still has my back) but also because it reminded me that such women do exist. There is such a thing as a woman who is "all fair" and in whom "is no spot" (Song 4:7). If I demand such a woman to marry my search will not be in vain. Do I consider myself worthy of such a woman? Ha! It is to laugh. But I will be. Wait and see.

Star Wars II will be coming out on May 16, as many of you know. Remarkably, I will be home, and it is therefore possible that I could see it. This will be the first Star Wars movie that I have not seen in the theaters with Thea and Princess. I find that thought somewhat sad. Princess still goes to Northwestern of course, so she won't be available (even if it were possible to contact her without an act of God, which I don't think it is) ... but Thea might be. Maybe I should contact her and see if we can arrange to get together for lunch and a movie, for old times' sake. I had planned to see it with the crew, but I bet they'd understand if I could swing another date with Thea. I wonder if she's still going with the Historian.

Testimony's spring show is on May 4, which is the day before my twenty-first birthday. I have thoughts about that but it's late and I should go to bed. Good night, ladies and gentlemen.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Back home it's prom time, and Mr. Clean has gone and acquired himself a girlfriend - or, at any rate, she's acquired herself a boyfriend who happens to be him, which makes it pretty safe to assume that he's acquired himself a girlfriend who happens to be her. What with the time of year, and my birthday, I'm kind of being immersed in thoughts about boys and girls and what happens when they meet. In honor of the occasion I'm listening to my favorites from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, which is my favorite movie musical of all time even if the commercial soundtrack was a bitter disappointment.

The comment about my birthday refers to the only way in which I actually feel old. I would not describe myself as old (except in jest, but my friends do that often enough that I rarely feel the need), but I am somewhat old for my grade and older than all but two of my friends up here. I do not feel old, and I don't expect to feel old for a good long time. However, there is one way in which I "feel my age," if you will:

I want a family.

Now, generally speaking I consider statements like that to be a warning alarm for character flaws, so in all fairness to my own heuristic I should qualify that. I do want a family - just a wife at first; kids later - but I do not truly want a family right now. I am not done with school. And I would say the fact that I clearly have no romantic prospects at the moment is a fairly clear sign from God that I shouldn't be moving on yet. That will do as good as any segue for a brief monologue on dating, which I feel has been due for a while.

To begin with, let me answer the Great Question: do I believe in love at first sight?

The short answer to that is no, but the real answer is that in Natalie that is a null question. The Natalian definition of love (courtesy of Mr. Lewis) is to seek another's good. That is, seek//pursue//create. The phrase "at first sight" here has the connotation of "pre-interaction," and it is therefore logically impossible to have love at first sight on the Natalian conception.

So on to the second Great Question: do I believe in The One?

The short answer to that is yes, but the real answer is rather more complicated. I believe that God has created a single woman whom he plans for me to marry. I cannot back that belief up with any sort of verifiable truth, though, so my belief doesn't count for much. It's essentially something I hope because I think it would be nice. In point of fact I challenge//defy any of you to prove to me that the "One" hypothesis is the only one justified by a sensitive reading of Scripture. For all I know M'lakMavet is right and God doesn't have one person specially in mind for me; only certain standards that a girl must meet to be my wife (as I must meet for her, of course). The short answer to this question is yes because logic and our knowledge of physics necessitates that God exists independent of the dimension we label "time," and therefore it seems reasonable to assume that God already knows who I will marry.

So, with the formalities out of the way, what did I actually want to talk about?

First, let me revise my earlier comment that "if you're not in a life position to marry a girl, don't bother dating her," followed by the comment that "this is, of course, something that I already believe." I do believe//affirm that statement. No, I don't think that you should only date a girl if you have the financial capacity to support a household. Yes, I think you should only marry a girl if you two can provide for your own household, but that's another issue.

What I do mean by that statement is that you both ought to be in a position personally to marry. This is necessitated by the idea of Christians only dating to evaluate each other for marriage. If you aren't ready for marriage, then there's nothing to evaluate - and if you try, your instruments probably won't be calibrated correctly. What do I mean by ready? For starters, both people should be emotionally whole - free from any glaring emotional deficiencies - and have proven character. Are they self-controlled? Are they patient? Are they kind? Are they gentle? Do they seek others' good? Do they love the Lord in a way that transcends mere emotions? Do they also love the Lord in a way that transcends mere intellect? And are these things true of them not just often, but almost always?

Perfect? Of course not. But growing, consistently. If you are not already becoming more perfect before you date somebody then I don't think you will be loving your significant other. In my view dating absolutely must not have anything to do with fixing either person. If either needs fixing, terminate the romantic part of the relationship - in deed, not in word - and get fixed.

The other salient point in my dating philosophy is that God should tell you both to date one another. This is essentially an extension of my romantic nature. If you don't mind generalizing, I think every decision a Christian makes can be divided into Little Deals and Big Deals.

For Little Deals, you assume God is okay with it unless he tells you otherwise. I confess that I don't inquire of the Lord whether I should eat a hamburger or pizza for lunch (shocking ...). Things like that. If a Little Deal can't be traced to a basic Biblical principle that okays it in general, I'd be suspicious of the classification, but most "everyday" decisions can be.

Big Deals are those decisions so momentous that you assume God is not okay with it until he tells you otherwise. These are the decisions where you say with Moses, "if Your Presence does not go with me, do not bring me up from here." I would classify choosing your college as a common Big Deal.

I also choose to classify dating as a Big Deal. I couldn't call myself a romantic and not treat dating as a momentous thing. I expect that dating will at some point have a significant impact on the course of my life - certainly a bigger impact than my choice of college! It seems to me it would be inconsistent to make the bigger of the two decisions without waiting for explicit confirmation from the Father.

What about the idea that I might miss The One by doing that? I doubt it. If there is a One, then she's the One because God made her that way. God may think I'm being silly by deciding not to date a girl he hasn't explicitly told me to go for, but the root motivation there is a desire to submit my romantic life to his leading. And it would be patently out of character for God to penalize me for that.

I just realized that I've been throwing the word "dating" around a lot and haven't defined it. I am afraid that is because I am incapable at the moment of defining dating in a truly precise way. Allow me to posulate the following, however: dating is, fundamentally, emotional pair-bonding. Contrast to marriage, which is simply an emotional pair-bond that has no option to terminate. Do or die, come on you apes, you wanna live forever, and all that jazz. No, I can't give you a definition of "pair-bond." Make of that what you will. You'll just have to get a sense of what I mean by it by listening to me talk.

Those of you familiar with Time Enough for Love will point out that Lazarus Long doesn't define permanency as part of marriage, and would probably therefore view my two definitions as equivalent. I disagree with Mr. Long, of course, but that's because we come from different universes. His hypothetical point does illustrate a basic idea of my father's that I have decided to adopt until further notice: the emotional relationship between a man and woman while dating and married are different only in degree, not in kind. That is, "dating" and "marriage" are on the same spectrum, emotionally speaking.

Antilles is the logically trained one around here, so he may be able to point me up on this, but I believe that philosophy leaves room for "dates" (a guy and a girl doing something for the purpose of enjoying one another's company) outside of "dating." I had a "date" with Shanah this evening, but I hope that neither she nor Cloud thinks I am interesting in dating her (I'm not, for the record)!

I do think that it is remarkably easy to slip into a pair-bond with someone. I did it last year while telling myself I wasn't, and I'm fairly certain the same thing happened to Ransom and Chariessa this year. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but I think it deserves to be said, because this is the fundamental reason behind my renewed resovle to be cautious around girls. I can't fully control my feelings of attraction, but I can control whether or not I cultivate them - and while I think pair-bonding requires cultivation, in many cases it seems to require remarkably little. Like Mr. Lewis, I believe that the human machine was designed in two parts. Like an alkaline, those parts have a remarkable tendency to bond with random species in the solution of life with very little prompting.

I suppose that's about all I had to say. I have once again behaved irresponsibly by staying up past my bedtime. I should go to bed now, I think.