Sunday, December 19, 2004
One of the Christian principles which I most love C.S. Lewis' space trilogy for elucidating is the idea that God is working for my good, and if I don't remember that I can bring much evil upon myself by refusing to take the good that he is offering me simply because it isn't the good I had my heart set on. This weekend has borne that principle out.
Last night I saw The Brian Setzer Orchestra with the family, and that was a fantastically good time. It involved no dancing (the pit was way too crowded for that even if my sister and I had felt like venturing down there) but the music was great and the showmanship was just superb. It's hard to see how that really substitutes for the Dickens Faire, but somehow it filled that hole.
Perhaps more obviously, if I had stayed up at Stanford I would have missed seeing Twilight's father playing Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. For those readers who don't know, Twilight's dad is quite the actor, and this was by far the most moving rendition of the tale I have experienced in any medium. But aside from the production's many and obvious merits, the whole experience was enhanced for me by the fact that I was simultaneously remembering my Belle breaking up with my Scrooge, that I was thinking of dear Fanny Scrooge, of whom I was so fond, dead (but living on in the spirit of her son Fred), that I was remembering walking through London myself as Scrooge was conducted through the streets by the spirits. The whole thing was somehow much more mine as a result - and, I suspect, tied into certain ways in which God is growing me (and now Alanna knows what that phrase means!). It's praiseworthy, I think, to remember that I neither chose to go to Dickens in the first place nor chose to leave it in the second - and yet had I resisted those two things I would have missed much that God had for me.
On a slightly related note, I totally sympathize with Shanah's expenditures on pretty things. It may surprise some of my readers to know it, but I like wearing pretty things. It's one of the character traits I have inherited from Alanna the Lioness. This has come about most recently thinking about the February Gaskells, the Viennese Ball (for which I will be assembling a Victorian costume), and of course next year's Faire. And the trouble is that many of the pretty things I want are expensive, like tailcoats and waistcoats\\vests and top hats. Mmmm, top hats. Collapsible silk top hats. And of course then one gets into the world of options, which involves an even greater expenditure of money. And really, I must be careful to use my borrowed money wisely. And after it is my own money, I must still be careful to use it wisely. Sigh. Well, I suppose it wouldn't be fun if I could just buy whatever I wanted, right?
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
I'm listening to SHeDAISY's Christmas album, Brand New Year, which I think will become indelibly linked with my memories of the Faire. You might not think SHeDAISY is the right group to be recording a Christmas album, but I really, really like it. Fun. Playful. Not too serious. That's SHeDAISY for you. It's also kind of the Dickens Faire.
I don't normally go to these costume things to play the game, understand. I usually go to dance, and so the costumes seem kind of irrelevant to me. I can participate in the period play to a certain extent - after all, what fun is dancing if you can't be a gentleman? - but when I go to something like Gaskells my objective is to dance.
I went to the Dickens Faire, though, to play. I wanted to be a young apprentice lawyer from New York on a grand adventure in mid-nineteenth century London. Oh, I wanted to dance, too - but San Francisco seemed like an awful long way to go just to dance. No, I decided that if I was going to go to the Faire, I was going to play. I didn't dress up, but I probably could have by raiding the Savoyards' costume store. As I told Miss Bobbi, this was a deliberate choice on my part. If I was there solely to play, I would let imagination carry me the whole way. If I was going to go in further than that for a penny, I wanted in for a dollar.
It's a little hard for me to explain to you why the Faire meant so much to me, and I rather bitterly regret that my travel plans prevent me from attending the last two days. There are so many memories I have from my three days there. The milk shop, and the young fellow who ran it. Dancing with Little Nell. Seeing the delight on the faces of the gentlemen Fezziwiggers when they saw me ("Ah, the infamous Mr. Lowe!" as Mr. Noakes put it). The intimacy of hanging out with cast members in front of Dark Garden to appreciate Lily Fezziwig's window - and being told by Mr. Scully that I was "one of the family." The smiles on the faces of the ladies I danced with. Sending Miss Lily a slightly mischievous telegram. And yes, I admit that it was gratifying to hear from Miss Bobbi that I had created a "stir" among the young ladies.
I have this montage of memories, of thoughts and sensations, and I don't know that they evoke the wonderland of imagination that I found at this place. There's at least three components to the magic. One is, as Blue Rose pointed out, that it's a combination of dancing and roleplaying - what more could I want? And doubtless my dearest Rose has put her finger on something there. But there's more to it than that. Ever since meeting my young vampiress I have felt pushed in the direction of Dickens, feeling the Lord say that there was something special for me there. I feel more certain of that now than ever, though what it is exactly I decline to speculate on at this point. Part of it, I suspect, is the same thing that God had for me among the Chaminade Players: to be a witness in a theatrical company (as I lamented to Alanna the other day, it always seems a shame to me when people find out that I am a Republican Christian and instantly assume that I now fit their stereotypes of what that means, rather than thinking that perhaps I am proof that their stereotype is wrong). No doubt it will become clearer in time.
And the third component is Christmas. The cheer, the effervescent delight, the friends and the family and the warmth. These things do not exist at college, and for the past five years my Christmases have only really begun when I returned home. But this year my Christmas began ... well, when Christmas ought to have begun, and there is someting very special about that. Something deeply touching, which I feel compelled to repay by being a part of it next year. Miss Elliot told me that she can't think of any better way to spend her weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas ... and I don't know if our reasons line up exactly, but right now neither can I. How grand to be allowed to dance, roleplay, and act all at the same time, while simultaneously helping to remind people of the spirit of Christmas - indeed, to create the spirit of Christmas.
The "spirit of Christmas" is not of course what I think Christmas is all about. There is nothing epic about the spirit of Christmas, and Christmas is in my estimation ultimately an epic holiday. It is about the return of the King, the Ancient of Days entering a tragic and broken world to rescue mankind from the human condition and raise us to a new level of creation, one where we have more to look forward to than the tawdry aesthetic beauty of endless tragedy. It is about the drama of Elrash taking form not as an elf but as a man, when it became clear to all creation that the outcome of the war was no longer in doubt. About evil itself being opposed not by mere men and their pitiful efforts to will justice into being, but by God Almighty.
And yet for all that the "spirit of Christmas" is a very worthwhile thing, and I think it is why this season and its very epic holiday has become so popular. Dickens Faire celebrates that like no other event I know of. It's like the magic of Disneyland crossed with the magic of Christmas. Which is why I have to go back.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Because I dance ...
I am no longer deathly afraid of the dance floor.
I have experienced partners who don’t care how good I am, but how attentive I am.
I have learned that in dance, as in romance, how good you are is largely determined by how attentive you are.
I have walked home at night six inches off the ground.
I know what it’s like to read somebody’s mind.
I know what it feels like to enjoy music with every part of who I am.
I have seen the world dissolve into a spun-sugar halo.
I know what it feels like when the music ends and there’s a breathless girl in my arms.
I know what it feels like when the music ends and I’m the breathless one.
I understand why there’s a place in the heart of every little boy that wants to be a knight in shining armor.
I get to practice being a knight in shining armor.
I experienced my first kiss.
I have come as close to flying as any boy this side of Peter Pan.
I have a new way to tell my loved ones I love them.
That third one, about attentiveness, probably is an over-simplification, but I do think that certain values necessary to a good romance are instantiated in social dance. Instantiated is my new favorite word thanks to Archimedes, whom I miss very much.
The list isn't entirely complete, though. When I say "every part of who I am" I mean that when I dance I can appreciate music with my body (the part of me that dances), with my voice (that part of me that sings), with my mind (the part of me that analyzes the music), but also with my imagination (the part of me that yearns) and with my spirit (the part of me that prays). And along the same lines, I'd add one more thing to the list that I didn't feel comfortable sharing with the Dance Master, for some reason:
Because I dance, I better understand what it means to dance like David danced.
Thank you to everyone who has ever danced with me. Especially thank you to Shanah Van, who ultimately got me into this, and to Blue Rose, who was my first real dance partner.
Monday, November 29, 2004
I’m writing this on the plane back to Stanford after Thanksgiving weekend. Like most holiday weekends, this wasn’t exactly a restful vacation, but it was not for that unrefreshing. I got to see The Incredibles and Finding Neverland with the family, and if I’m lucky then tonight I’ll get to see Alexander. However, Phoebe’s birthday party is tonight, which may interfere with my consumption of yet more bad cinema themed upon the ancient world. I will see Alexander at some point, however, and I may even have a review to post of it. Personally I think what makes Alexander such a compelling figure is that he was a truly terrible man who was nevertheless a truly great leader. As Ian Morris said, one of the prerequisites for being called “the Great” is that you have to be a homicidal sociopath. How favorable my review is will doubtless have a good deal to do with how Oliver Stone chooses to portray one of history’s great butchers.
(edit: I did see Alexander, and I was ... intrigued by it. I'll probably post a review at some later point. Preliminary suggestion, if you intend to see it: read up on the Battle of Gaugamela and the Battle of the Hydaspes River ahead of time. Gaugamela especially is important to understand, and because the portrayal is pretty realistic it helps to already know what's happening.)
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today. What I actually wanted to talk about was returning to The Circle after a long absence—one during which I have hardly even thought about Phoenix Earth. Partially that’s because Starsiege: 2845 is tapping into my limited store of creative energy, but mostly it’s because there’s been other stuff on my mind. Like law school. And Nari. And, you know, other fairy-tale related stuff.
But playing Monica again was truly wonderful. Like The DM, I had sort of thought that my playing career had peaked with Danielle. But no, that’s really not true. I don’t know if Monica is better than Danielle, either in terms of how great her character is intrinsically or how well I play her. Different characters for different stages of my life. But she is at least as good as Danielle. (Interesting thought: Danielle was an instantiation of Alanna, and Monica is an instantiation of Keladry.) I mean, I actually broke down crying because Monica broke down crying. Really. You should have been there.
It is ironic that this blog is intended to serve as a soapbox for me to display the parts of me that don’t get displayed otherwise at Stanford, and yet it is incapable of showing one of the great parts of my personality which are hidden at school: my roleplaying side. One of my great regrets is that my Stanford friends have never seen me roleplay. I really can’t translate that into prose unless my audience has seen it firsthand. I mean my Stanford friends have never seen me really roleplay—the kind of roleplaying which is the heart crying itself out into the world. It’s not just that I’m a very different sort of person around the gang than I am up here. Not just that my gamer side really only exists in LA. Never meeting Danielle or Monica … I mean, that’s like never seeing me dance. Never seeing me dance, of course, would hardly make or break a friendship with me. It wouldn’t be all that big a deal really … just a shame. And you really can’t meet Danielle or Monica outside of their respective games. I guess I could have a conversation with you as either woman, but it just wouldn’t be the same.
Of course the real reason that was so wonderful was not simply because it was great art or great self-expression. It was because it was just so good to feel. I have had lots of good things happen to me at law school, and it’s not as if it isn’t fun. And of course there are lots of people who are working harder than me or doing harder things, so I hate to sound like I’m complaining. But I am being stretched all the same, and it does feel a little bit like being a page. Being stretched all the time is not exactly good for just feeling. But playing Monica certainly is.
And so, for that matter, is seeing good movies. Honestly, I love my time period. We have so much art! And sure some of it’s bad, but really, we have so much more good art than any other time period, and we have it in so many media! Like The Incredibles and Finding Neverland. And Christmas music. Speaking of Christmas music, Alanna and I apparently got our wires crossed as to when she was coming out and when I was going to Dickens Fair. Not that there’s anything we could have done about it, but it’s sad that I shall not get to see her at Dickens after all. Still, I shall go to Dickens next week. That should be fun.
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
First off, I might as well admit that I appreciate as much as the next metropolitan Californian Republican an election result which vindicates a lifetime of feeling vaguely persecuted for my voting record. But the truth is that I've only ever felt vaguely persecuted for my voting record, and I've felt much more seriously persecuted for other aspects of my individuality.
Mostly I intended to rant about the people who feel that the fate of the nation hangs on the presidency. I'll concede that it makes a difference, and it's even possible (though I consider it highly unlikely) that it will make a difference that actually affects my personal contentedness in any serious way. But I'd like to suggest a few things.
First, I'd like to suggest that we are Americans regardless of who our chief executive is. While I'm at it, I'd like to suggest that you can vote against somebody, but unless you're willing to renounce your citizenship rights, then you support the result regardless. Americans support the Constitution and the results it decrees whether we like those individual results or not. If the result matters so much to you that you feel you can no longer support the Constitution, well, time to fish or cut bait. Drink hemlock or get out of Athens. I submit to you that it matters that much to very few Americans, and I would appreciate it as a personal favor if nobody pretended that it did in my presence just so they could let off the steam because they became personally invested in the executive race.
Second, I'd like to suggest that the truly important things in life were not at issue here. God help us when the most important things on the American mind are foreign policy, taxes, jobs, abortion, and our precious civil liberties. Oh wait ... they already are. Well, God help America then. Love of one's neighbor, love of God ... those things are important. They certainly bear upon our foreign policy, our taxes, our jobs, our stance on abortion, and they probably imply certain civil liberties. But I'd like to suggest that neither God nor morality (if you're one of those people who think there's a difference) are for or against tax cuts. Reasonable minds can differ as to the best way to love our neighbors. I submit that a man's worth is not determined by his stance on abortion, whether he has a job, or whether his country's constitution enshrines a right to liberty. Do those things matter? Sure, of course they do. Maybe they're even important. But there are more important things in life that are beyond the reach of any election.
P.S. I am continuously bemused by the fact that the DM doesn't appear to consider me a mystic. I mean, I claim to speak in tongues, and when I say I believe in angels I don't mean it in some namby-pamby sort of subjective or metaphorical way. I mean it in the alien intelligence which can mess with your mind, and quite possibly with your brain, hardcore way. I believe that God tells me things, which probably though not necessarily also involves direct manipulation of my physiology. I don't know how much more mystic I can get, but somehow I don't seem to count. But that's probably a post for another time.
God help America. Last time I checked we didn't trust in the president, anyway.
Sunday, October 31, 2004
But seriously, I just had to post about the Halloween Gaskell's. Lots and lots of fun. Dancing at Gaskell's is always a bit of a challenge, but I really like going for the people. I was thinking of not going tonight, and vaguely worried that I'd find the whole thing disconcerting given what happened at the last Halloween Gaskell's, but I figured it'd be a while before the next dance event so I'd better go, lest I feel deprived later. After getting hideously lost, I made it in halfway through the second set.
And was promptly picked up by a young vampire who said I looked like I wanted to polk. Which I did. This was the beginning of the good night. Even though Gaskell's doesn't have dance cards, I love being in a setting which lets me set my dances up. For one thing it makes me feel wanted. For another it makes me feel dashing. For a third it facilitates flirting, with vampires and others. Oddly enough, I flirt way more at Gaskell's than I do at Friday Night Waltz or Jammix. Maybe it's the faux Victorian air.
Now, ever since my encounter with Zydeco, I've been a little wary of this whole flirting thing. I should reiterate at this point that my definition of "flirting" is a little broad - I'm sure it encompasses your definition of flirting, but your definition may or may not encompass things like smiling charmingly//politely at a young lady or holding a door open. Mine does. Anyway, I'm not about to say that flirting should be avoided at all times in all contexts, but I am beginning to suspect that there's more danger to this flirting for fun business than I had previously thought. Or maybe I was always cognizant of the danger and I'm just more susceptible to it now that I'm older. Who knows. Anyway, I'm very fond of Zydeco and I wish she wasn't in New York so that I could cross-step with her, but she certainly taught me that.
That said, one of the things I love most about dancing is the flirting. Now, mind, I do think I know how to dance without flirting, and I think I know how to dance in that liminal area which I call flirting and most people don't. I spend the vast majority of my dancing time in those areas, and I have a blast doing it. But I really look forward to those few dances where I can really flirt. Dangerous? Well, sometimes. There's flirting, you know, and then there's flirting, and I don't think you need to defraud a girl to dance flirtatiously the way I'm talking about, and here's why.
It's the communication. I love//need to communicate - to share, to project, to put myself out there - but normally I do it with words. Dancing flirtatiously lets me do it with movement, with touch, with looks and expressions, and with music. There's something wonderfully thrilling about feeling two personalities simmering, straining to bridge the space between bodies. There was an awful lot of that tonight.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Tonight was wonderful, after a hard day. I got to dance an awful lot with the Tech Director and White Jade, and the TD and I even got singled out to exhibit our hungroise. Dancing with both those girls is awful fun and is kind of flattering, but that wasn't really why tonight was so great. Like I said, it was a hard day.
But at night, the moon was full and bright.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
My day begins at 0750 when my alarm goes off. At approximately 0806 (that is, two snooze buttons after the alarm goes off) I get out of bed and get ready for school. Breakfast consists of a 16 oz. Jamba Juice for approximately $3, and I get to my first class roughly ten minutes early.
Class begins at ten till nine, and proceeds until 1140 each day, when I go to lunch with the Duelist at El Cuadro. At approximately 1230 I have returned to my room. If I am feeling responsible, my self-discipline is sufficiently fortified, and/or temptation is sufficiently low, then I open up my books and start reading cases. If not, I am liable to play a few turns of Rome: Total War. More on Rome later; it deserves a game post.
At 1410 every day except Thursday and Friday I return to the law school for more class. On Mondays and Wednesdays I'm done with class at 1540; on Tuesday I'm done at 1710; and on Thursday and Friday I'm done at 1140. Once class is over I open my books and read cases, taking small breaks to play games or what have you that generally don't last more than an hour to two hours total per day. Ideally I begin getting ready for bed at 2200 so that I have time to read the Bible (I'm currently reading in Acts) and Honor Harrington. The goal is to be in bed by 2300, though sometimes that whole ritual gets pushed back an hour. Then I sleep until about 0750, when my alarm goes off.
Weekends I have an Honordate at Pizza My Heart for lunch, and sometimes for dinner as well. Saturdays are half-work days, meaning I sleep in and take longer breaks, but Monday's reading must be done by the end of Saturday. Sundays are I get up at 0730 to go to The River's 0900 service. Every other Sunday I will now be going to brunch and prayer at ... you know, I still don't have a good blogname for them. But they're important people. Then I have a few hours of sabbath before the 1930 conference call to touch base on Starsiege 2845 stuff, after which it is usually about 2200 and time to begin the ritual of going to bed.
It's not a bad life, seeing as I enjoy going to classes and so long as I'm alert and awake (read: well rested) my cases are all very interesting things to read. When I am not alert and awake things become drastically less fun, so sleep is important. It is stressful of course, but as Dad pointed out there are other, worse costs to living a life of leisure. I don't have as much time to play as I'd like, and I feel like I get very little recharge time, but I suppose that is one of the things I am here to learn how to cope with. Whether I worked at law or some other profession in the future, there would doubtless be precious little time to conquer the ancient world and so forth.
Every other Friday there's some sort of dance going on, which I can go to because it's permissible to sleep in on Saturdays. Wednesdays at 2000 and Thursdays at 1900 I have dance classes, all but one of which is lots and lots of fun. Wednesdays I do History of the Waltz, which is fun because I finally get to take it and because sometimes I get to dance with the Tech Director. Thursdays I have beginning waltz & swing with the Duelist, which is fun because I like dancing with people who are just getting into dance. I also have a west coast swing class, which is super fun because west coast swing is new and novel to me and yet way cool. The only real deficiency in the class is that not enough country is played. However, perhaps I will now feel more comfortable going to the Saddlerack, which like all clubs has its foibles but is overall an enjoyable experience. It makes a big difference to one's clubgoing experience, I've discovered, if one actively likes the music that gets played.
The only dance class that I'm taking which isn't super fun is this "fusion rumba" class that goes between beginning waltz & swing and west coast. Richard has said that rumba is now going to be a regular part of Jammix, which kind of baffles me. Is this a concession to the off-campus people who come? Is it in response to some perceived desire for more rumba? I don't know. I've discovered though that my major gripe with the class so far is the songs that get played. There are a lot of "nightclub two steps" in my music collection that are arguably too fast for traditional two-step and fit rather into Richard's faster, smoother, fusion rumba category. It's just that they sound like two-step to me, and so I want to dance two-step to them. Well, the first Jammix is coming up so we'll see. If I'm lucky the Ballerina will be there and I can dance with her. That would be fun.
Speaking of dancing with people, I miss dancing with Esther Selene, Alanna, Chariessa, and Zydeco. There are lots of other people around here whom I enjoy dancing with a great deal, but it would be awfully fun to dance with them too and I miss dancing with them. I'm pretty sure only two of them read this, but still, let the record reflect.
If you've been paying attention to my away messages you'll note that Alanna (the Lioness, not the dancer) has figured prominently in the state of my online presence of late. This is because I am busy, and my life reminds me a lot of Alanna's right now. As my torts professor said, we are not given enough time to do everything we are asked. This is deliberate. It is to teach us how to manage our time under pressure, and how to get things done quickly. In that respect law school is a lot like training to be a knight.
And like training to be a knight, I am convinced that the benefit to be gained here is not actually the professional skills we're being taught. Those things are important, and I wouldn't be here if I didn't want them any more than Alanna would have been at Corus if she hadn't wanted to learn the martial arts. But more important than that is what is gained in the process of getting there. It is the intangible benefit that comes from reaching that critical point where you either spit in the eye of your training system or else let something die inside of you: the point where you say, "I can do this, and nothing you can throw at me can stop me." Where you learn the discipline to do what you set out to do, come what may. It was Alanna who first taught me to never give up, to never surrender, in an academic context. I look forward to getting reacquainted with her.
Saturday, September 25, 2004
I just got back from Pizza My Heart, where I indulged myself in their candied walnut-and-gorgonzola-and-chicken salad and a slice of pepperoni pizza liberally smothered in lemon pepper while reading Honor Harrington. Mmmm, so good. If only they had orange Slice and Mountain Dew in 24-ounce Dixie cups, that place would be the perfect non-automotive retreat. Of course that would probably invoke my roleplaying buddies in some sort of Dark Summoning ultimate straight out of the WarCraft III beta. Also, I'm listening to "I'll Make A Man Out Of You" from Mulan, which is one of my favorite songs to sing at the moment along with "Mine, Mine, Mine" from Pocahontas. Stick with me, I'm tying this all together in the next paragraph.
The way it all ties together is Moulin Rouge got me thinking about the nature of love as portrayed in movies again, and I realized afresh that I probably watch romantic movies in a somewhat odd way. Moulin Rouge proclaims itself to be about love overcoming all obstacles, and I think you'd be hard pressed to watch it without coming away with the sense that somehow, in a way you can't quite put your finger on, love did indeed overcome all obstacles. But one of the things that makes the movie great is that you also can't help but feel like somehow the Duke was right - that this is no more than a passionate infatuation. Because really, what is actually portrayed between Christian and Satine other than passion? Lots of passion, to be sure, and wildly naive and romantic Bohemian passion - but only passion. And passion is not love.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for passion. It is frequently the first aspect of love, and rightly so I think, because love is something that you have to want. But there is more to love than passion. There is discipline, and loyalty, and obedience, and reason, and ferocity. Passion will not let a love last forever, and love must last forever (why, you ask? Because it's love!). Forever requires discipline and hard work in introspection and communication, and honor and loyalty to the one you love, and the buttressing of reason when the world crashes down around your love and your passion can't find it anymore. It requires ferocity to defend it, and obedience so that it is left not in your hands but in God's (particularly true of those of us who are not yet married). And all these things must be wrapped up together with passion in a single glorious whole which overcomes all obstacles because it is superior to all obstacles. This is why I like this line from Euripides so much: ho d'eis to sophron ep' areten t' agon eros / zelotos anthropoisin, hon eien ego. There is a passion leading to virtue and self-possession / envied by men, one of whom I wish to be.
But in the movies all we ever really see is passion, and especially in Moulin Rouge. And I think at that point there's two ways you can look at a film. You can either conclude that it means what it shows, namely that if you want someone bad enough then you can have your love - or you can conclude that it means what it says, namely that love - not passion but love - overcomes all obstacles, and all you need is love. That's what Moulin Rouge means to me. It's what this song from Mulan means to me. It's what Honor Harrington means to me.
Especially Honor Harrington. All of my goddesses, with the exception of Alanna, show me what love is. But especially Honor, because her tale is so much longer and fuller. Which I suppose is why my honordates have become things almost sacred, and why the tradition has been resurrected from junior year. And why I wish, though I realize it's unlikely, that I could storytime Honor to somebody who would understand. Because above all things I believe in love.
Friday, September 10, 2004
In a lot of ways law school is like middle school: I go to school pretty much in a contiguous block starting at 0850, I have a locker, I have ridiculously heavy books, and I will spend virtually the entire year with the same section of about two dozen students, with whom I will take the prescribed classes at the prescribed plan. That's all actually pretty cool by me, since it eliminates a lot of the inefficiency which is found in undergraduate schedules and makes it easier to work. Also, if not for the section system, I wouldn't have gotten to meet the Duelist, and I am very glad to have met him.
The other thing of course is that all that structure is designed to give people something to hang onto when they freak out about the fact that they're in law school (ooh, big scary noises). Which they will do, even though they're at Stanford, which is the most stress-relieving university I can think of. And I have to admit that even I am stressed, even though I don't exactly feel stressed. If I wasn't stressed I wouldn't be listening to music 24-7, I wouldn't be reading Honor Harrington every night, and I wouldn't be so relieved to go somewhere with Meilissa. I wouldn't have enjoyed Friday Night Waltz quite so much.
Don't get me wrong, though: law school is fun. I talked to The DM the other day and he wasn't apparently clear on the fact that I am going here because I expected it to be fun. He was worried, in fact, that I might have come here essentially for the money (which, he recognized, would principally have value to me as a means of supporting a family). Well, I have other reasons too, but make no mistake: I don't do things I don't enjoy just because they're useful. Over the summer I saw the recent Peter Pan, which had a line in it that just jerked the tears right out of me. Mrs. Darling (well played by Olivia Williams) tells her children this:
There are many different kinds of bravery. There's the bravery of thinking of others before one's self. Now, your father has never brandished a sword nor... nor fired a pistol, thank heavens. But he has made many sacrifices for his family, and put away many dreams.
Where did he put them? asks Michael.
He put them in a drawer. And sometimes, late at night, we take them out and admire them. But it gets harder and harder to close the drawer... and he does. And that is why he is brave.
Now like I said, hearing that I just started to cry. Good man, I thought. Good man. Yes. Unquestionably. But that is not me, and if I have anything to say about it it never will be.
Now, I have put away dreams to come here; don't get me wrong. I put away the dream of ever becoming a professional writer. I put away the dream of ever seeing Phoenix Earth in any kind of print. And I put away other, more recent dreams as well. Well, every now and then I take one out and admire it, late at night. But for the most part they're gone, and the statue room is closed, and I'm content with that situation.
I'm content with it because there's a fundamental principle of dreams at work here, I think. I am, in essence, a romantic - which for me means I believe in the importance and reality of the dream. Let me give you an example. It's romantic and dreamy to just know what your romantic partner is thinking: to be able to say or do something which is exactly what she needed. It is also romantic and dreamy for that to happen immediately, without having to talk about it or anything.
Well, this is the real world, and I will live that romantic dream in the real world if I have to conquer half the world to do so. But in the real world I'm presented with a choice: either I can learn to live in my girlfriend's world or I can not go through the draining and frustrating work of getting to that point. Which is the higher dream? I say the first one, and that means the second dream must be done away with.
And that is what is going on here. For instance, sure, I could have tried to become a writer. But that would have certain consequences for my family which I didn't consider worth the sacrifice. And as a bonus, I will still be able to tell stories to the people who matter. And then too there is the God factor, which changes everything. As the song says, the dreams I dream for you ... As my desires are more and more replaced by God's, so too are my dreams. I can't very well expect to be happy if I'm not following my dreams. The catch is that my dreams are not fixed. Which means I'm here not only because it's practical, but because I want to be. I have to be.
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
In other news, I'm all moved in to my new single at Crothers. I don't know if I'm down with this single thing. It's a nice room; even if it is kind of old it's also pretty big and I have it laid out nicely. I just miss Archimedes. Of course even if he was a grad student we couldn't room together, because he's going away to Oxford. On the plus side, Phoebe is coming back from ... well, DC, but I think of her as coming back from Oxford. I'm excited about that.
I'm all set to begin my new era, and am sort of just killing time until the new era actually begins tomorrow. As proof of the new era, I have wall decorations. Lots of wall decorations. The trouble with wall decorations is that I never had anything to decorate with that actually belonged on my walls. I mean, I didn't want to put up just any old thing. It had to be something that said something. Now I have lots of stuff that means something.
I'll start with the non-wall decorations since most of them are new, too. Of course there's my venerable Goochy (Cthulhu). The great pastel Unknowable Evil has been ousted from his lightning ball (which, sadly, is dead after many faithful years of service), and now looks down upon me with cutesy malevolence from my desk lamp. Goochy stands for art, stories, my friends back home, and the "good old days," whatever those are.
Then there's my very own bronze horse (Etruscan, but Greek-inspired). The khalkos hippos hagios stands for the Hetairoi: for my undergraduate career and the discovery of the collegiate experience, and for my honored teachers: Jody Maxmin, Meg Butler, Eirene Visvardi, and Jack Mitchell.
The last non-wall decoration is my new Honor Harrington coffee tumbler (tumbler courtesy of Starbucks, Honor Harrington pictures courtesy of me). I don't know how much I'll use that as a cup, but I think it looks really cool. And it's pretty appropriate, if you think about it.
Overlooking my computer station I have three pictures of Hawaii and/or my family in Hawaii. Those stand for the family, the togetherness of the cove, and Hawaii and all it stands for (which, if you're curious, is pretty much the same thing Disney World stands for).
As you enter my room, if you look to the right you'll see three prints of the Archimedes Palimpsest, oriented according to the Archimedes text and not the euchologion (prayer book) text. That stands for the ancient world in general: the joy of studying it, and the importance of a long view of things.
Over my bed are four prints of Honor Harrington. They remind me to be like Honor: to never do less than your best, to do your duty or die trying, to always care, to be loving rather than safe, to be the kind of person who changes the world not as a result of what you do but as a result of who and what you are.
And finally, there is the poster of the Moulin Rouge which Blue Rose bought for me in Paris. That stands for the romantic dream, the importance of being hard-nosed and uncompromising in the pursuit of romance, and the fact that Blue Rose loves me and I love her. Or at least I think she does. I guess it's kind of presumptuous for me to say that, but I think so, at any rate. I feel kind of bad that it took me so long to get that poster up and properly displayed (it was up last year, but just with thumbtacks. Now it looks a lot nicer) because it does mean a lot to me. There were just, you know, complications.
And those are my decorations. Everybody should come by Crothers 141 and see them and be overpowered by the tidal wave of symbolism. Also to see me.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
So, on that note, about Alien vs. Predator 2. I picked this up because it was $10 and had won a number of awards in its day, and I'd always been kind of curious. Then I saw AVP last week and it was fantastic (don't believe the reviews; it won't win any Oscars but it's a solid action movie and a good treatment of both franchises), and after that I required more alien vs. predator action. So in between my ambitious Phoenix Earth mapping endeavors, I've been taking breaks to play AVP2.
Except that they aren't really breaks, owing to the fact that the game is terrifying on the Half-Life scale of terrifying. I haven't played as either an alien or a predator yet, but I think I'm about halfway through the marine campaign and it's been fantastic. For one thing, as I said, it's terrifying. You really can't overstate the importance of that; I mean, the marine experience is supposed to be terrifying, and this game (like the movie) is one of those situations where you score points for meeting "supposed to" expectations. I hear the alien and predator campaigns have distinctly different feels to them, which I think will be great. I mean, come on, the predator experience is supposed to be scary, but not terrifying. You're a predator.
But actually that's one of the things I appreciate about this game: the fact that the marines know all about aliens (xenomorphs, they call them), and yes, they respect them as heartily dangerous and scary, but nothing that will keep them from doing their jobs. That hasn't stopped me the player from being terrified, but it's nice to see the military portrayed as decent, competent, and courageous. The marines in Aliens ended up coming across as decent enough individuals, but the overall portrayal of the military in that movie suffered a little too much from post-Vietnam syndrome for my tastes.
The other things I really appreciate about the marine side of this game are the movement model and the gear. As far as movement goes, there's just one big thing: you move at a realistic speed. Now, don't get me wrong, the movement model could still be better. No movement model that doesn't prevent me from running all the time, make my accuracy a function of being hurt or moving, and make my ability to move a function of my injuries, truly deserves my respect. But the fact of the matter is that those three factors, plus the speed at which you're allowed to move, are things that every first-person game gets wrong, and will continue to get wrong so long as market expectations are what they are. As a result, I appreciate the guts of any game developer who will fly in the face of what the market wants to deliver to me at least a semblance of the realism I crave.
Realism (== verisimilitude == immersion == assisted suspension of disbelief) is also the reason I appreciate the marines' equipment. Most games assume that proper weapon balancing follows this model: rate of fire, damage per round, and range/accuracy must all be balanced so as to equalize the overall firepower flux. Hence, in most games the automatic weapons are weak, inaccurate, or both - after all, they're automatic. If they were more accurate, more powerful, and faster firing than a handgun, why, what would the point of a handgun be?
But not in AVP2. In this game the marines' pulse rifles really are superior to their pistols in every respect - the only time you use a handgun, really, is when you're forced to do so. And the smart guns ... oh my. In most games the machine gun (which in real life is not only an automatic weapon but a long range automatic weapon) usually fires either paper clips or is hideously inaccurate. In AVP2 the smart gun is not only mightier even than the pulse rifle, it has a higher rate of fire and actually tracks your foes. It is, if you will, "smart." In fact, so far, every weapon I've seen in the game does exactly what it looks like it should. It's true that it takes a burst of rifle fire to put down a xenomorph, which in the real world would never be accepted for long. But on the other hand I'm pretty sure a single rifle round would do for a human being, and xenomorphs are supposed to be ridiculously tough. So if you assume that marines almost never run into them, even if they know the stories, then you can probably accept the lethality level of their standard weapons.
The weapons situation, combined with the notoriously buggy netcode, probably makes AVP a very unpopular multiplayer choice. But frankly that's okay with me, because I couldn't care less about the multiplayer community's wants. Having a machine gun that tracks you is not spammy, it's an obstacle. It's not a mistake; it's a challenge. But most multiplayer players would consider the heavy use of such a weapon "cheap."
This is the sort of attitude that turns me off to multiplayer. Basically, to me the appeal of playing computer games against human beings is the fact that the human being has the potential to be far more challenging than a computer opponent. If you will, the only way to develop (or experience) real skill is to play against a human being. Now, skill is not the only reason I play computer games. I play them the way some people go to the theater, or the art gallery: to experience art. But artistic experience does not require a human being on the opposing force. Only skill requires that.
The trouble is that I have no desire to develop or witness skill at a made-up game that isn't fundamentally different from chess or basketball. Now, don't get me wrong, if you enjoy chess, basketball, or Unreal, you're welcome to do so. Competetive sports are a good thing, whether mental, physical, or electronic. They just aren't my thing, and I resent the fact that market pressures have turned multiplayer computer games into nothing but sports.
The distinction between "sport" and "real" that I'm drawing here is this: do the constraints of the competition emerge naturally from the objectives, equipment, and human factors involved, or are they imposed from the top by a referree? For example, there is nothing inherent about a basketball court which forces you not to travel, or makes it a very bad idea to do so. That is a rule which some rulemaker imposed upon the game (to make it more fun and challenging, of course), which is what makes basketball a sport in my book. Another example, from the electronic world: in every Tribes title, the rates of fire and muzzle velocities are ridiculously low. There is nothing inherent in a spinfusor which makes it fire its projectile slower than a black powder pistol would (and I of all people should know). The performance characteristics of the gear in Tribes games are artificially limited to make the game more fun and challenging.
Now, if you like that sort of thing, and lots of people do, then that's fine. But developing skill at a game like that is equivalent to developing skill at a game like basketball, which isn't something I have any desire to do. I want to develop skill at a challenge whose constraints are emergent, which makes me figure out how to get past the computer-guided machine gun rather than eliminate it from the game because it's "too hard" - which, just maybe, puts me in touch with the brave men and women who do this for real, and the incredible mental skills that let them do it.
Friday, August 06, 2004
Twilight and I were speculating the other day that everybody (or at least every roleplayer) at some point in his or her life encounters a character that things just click with. You see a movie, or you read a book, or maybe you're just daydreaming, and all of a sudden you encounter a person and say, That's it. That's who I want to be. And for the rest of your life, all of your characters are in some way a reflection of that character. I suppose it must be something like love at first sight.
I have been fortunate enough to encounter four such characters in my life, and I happen to be revisiting Honor Harrington at the moment. Specifically, over the last few nights I have been reading the scenes in which she begins to fall in love with the Earl of White Haven, and I find myself much more sympathetic to her plight the second time around. Specifically, I was struck with this passage:
Her nostrils flared as she inhaled deeply, and when she opened her eyes once more, they were calm. She reached out, mentally and emotionally, to her new command, and something deep inside her sighed in relief as she felt responsibility's familiar weight settle upon her shoulders ... and push her maddening preoccupation with other matters out of the front of her brain. It didn't cause her distractions to magically disappear, but at least it gave her a respite which might - if she was lucky - last long enough for those competing elements to subside into their proper places.
For me, that is another one of those click moments that epitomizes what I want to - what I must - be. I believe deeply in love, and in romance, and in the proper interplay of those two things - above all things, you might say, I believe in love. I find those thoughts a constant companion these days, and more and more I find myself confronting a deep-down longing for a family of my own. Not kids, not right away - a husband and wife are a complete family in my book. A family. A house to make a home. A legacy to construct which will stand as a bastion through the centuries for all the abused little girls and downtrodden little boys of the world. As Belle sings, I want adventure in the great wide somewhere ... Or in Honor's words:
It shocked and confused her, but she could no more have denied that desire than she could have stopped breathing, for she sensed the enormous potential singing unseen but inescapable between them. It wasn't sexual. Or rather, it was sexual, but only as a part of the whole, for it went far, far beyond any sensual attraction. It was a hunger that went so deep and subsumed so much of her that sexuality had to be a part of it. No one had ever before evoked such an intense sense of shared capability within her, and she sensed the way they complemented one another, the unbeatable team they could become.
That is the kind of longing that has been with me these past weeks, the need to find that kind of love and seize it, come hell or high water, and take it farther. And yet there is much to be done first, and I have a new command that settles down upon me and calms me.
As C.S. Lewis cogently observed, the Lord never repeats himself. I have, at last, the core-deep, foundation-of-the-universe knowledge that I must go to Stanford Law School, but that assurance did not come in the same way that it did when I discovered that I must attend Stanford undergrad. And it means something different, too. Unlike the last time the Lord called me forward to a distinct season of my life, I have stuff left over from the last season. I hesitate to call it baggage, because it's not a bad thing. I suspect, personally, it is a necessary thing. I am leaving behind me so many questions unanswered, so many things unknown that I might have been able to figure out if I had just a little more time.
And I think that is one of the big points I am supposed to take away from this. I do not plan my life. It is not up to me to figure things out to my heart's content. My life, if I know what's good for me, will not be directed under my sovereign authority. And besides leaving behind questions which may never be answered, I am moving forward into territory which I thought was going to be reasonably predictable and am discovering is not. Somewhere, deep down inside, I had assumed that most of my major character traits would be formed by now. They're not. I'm starting to care about systems, about societies and institutions and how everything fits together to impact the experience of the individual. I have always believed in the moral imperative to transcend your circumstances or die trying, but I am now starting to really care, deep down, about the fact that circumstance is not some monolith that must crush or be crushed.
If that can change in me, who knows what else may change in these next three years? And who knows where I will be when I pass the bar - for with this new thing the Lord is growing in me comes the first realistic, truly imaginable scenario in which I am not a well-paid attorney. Perhaps I will be, perhaps I will not - but I don't know.
Uncertainty behind, uncertainty before, and a longing beside me which does not look like it will be filled in the near future. And what does it all come down to? Holy. When I stop to pray about my life, all my worries and hopes and confusions stop dead in my mouth and all I can really utter is that: holy. The worries, the hopes, the confusions, the outright requests are all still there, but they really don't seem to matter compared to the holiness of God. I stand in the presence of holiness, in the presence of sovereignty, and nothing is really frightening any more. In a way I stand in the presence of the most frightening thing in existence, and that makes everything else seem petty by comparison. He is not safe, but in his presence I am safe. I know who it is who gives me the new command, and I trust him implicitly. I can tell that my law school experience is not going to be at all what I expected. But I can also tell that everything is settling into its proper place, because he is holy.
Sunday, July 25, 2004
This sort of work is something that not every roleplayer enjoys (witness The DM), but I like it a lot. It is one of the reasons I like Phoenix Earth so much: it gives me a chance to explore parts of the art of roleplaying that the player's role doesn't afford me. Not only do I get to plunge headlong into the very different art of DMing, I get to play around even further behind the scenes with the mathematics and conventions that underpin the entire art form. It is sort of like what the Dance Master sometimes says about role-reversal: some people have an urge to learn the whole dance, not just their side. Well, roleplaying is an art that I want to understand all of.
At the same time, recent events have made me acutely aware of the fact that there is not really any satisfaction to be had in these mere artistic pursuits. In fact, recent events have really brought home to me afresh the fact that there is not really any satisfaction to be had anywhere but Jesus. Let me clarify by putting it another way: satisfaction can be had anywhere, but only if Jesus is there. Take the Jesus factor out of it and the satisfaction really goes away.
When I say "satisfaction" in this context I am not talking about a temporary sense of pleasant satiation. That of course is something that an infinite variety of activities can supply. What I mean is the kind of satisfaction that sticks to your bones, the kind of thing that allows you to look in the mirror and say, "I am satisfied with my life" (or, to borrow a phrase from the hymn, "It is well with my soul").
I realize that I am a very young man, but I think I can say this with some degree of certainty based on my experiences thus far. Academically, I have performed to basically the highest degree of expectations my socioeconomic context can set for me. Intellectually, I have enjoyed the company of some of the world's greatest minds in my chosen field, and they have enjoyed mine. I know many people whom I am proud to call my friend, and the evidence is that most of them are proud to call me their friend as well. I am reasonably accomplished in many forms of art (oral, literate, vocal, dramatic, dance, roleplaying), and I have fairly ample time to practice the various arts that I practice. Romantically, my life has been rich and satisfying, and I am intensely, fiercely proud to be the ex-boyfriend of the two young ladies whose ex-boyfriend I am.
And the thing of it is that I have, at one time or another, had ample opportunity to examine each of these life traits in either my life or the life of someone close to me, but absent the Jesus factor - and in every case the satisfaction has been simultaneously absent. That list of life traits is long enough for me. If fulfillment is not found in academic, intellectual, romantic, social, or even creative activity by itself - but if fulfillment\\satisfaction is found in academic, intellectual, romantic, social, or creative activity in the presence and under the auspices of Jesus, then what is the conclusion to be? That fulfillment is to be found in some other activity I haven't tried yet (e.g., non-academic career, life-long social work)? Or that fulfillment is found in the common factor?
Sunday, July 11, 2004
In other news, I had a really good time at church today. Blogging about the whole experience would probably take up too much time, so let me concentrate on half of the service: the worship.
Being a charismatic and going to the church that I do, worship obviously plays an important part in my church experience. But today as I was in worship I got to thinking some more about why. This is something that I have been thinking about since Blue Rose's paper for her music history class on the CCM and worship phenomenon, and today as I heard that the high school group would be going off to camp I was thinking about it some more.
The reason I was thinking about it is because I've been to those summer camps, and I know what's in store for those kids. Now don't get me wrong, they're great. But looked at from a certain point of view, the things that go on at those things look pretty illegitimate: there will be kids prophesying, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, and worshipping Jesus until their voices are hoarse and their hands just can't clap any more because they've been singing and clapping and shouting and dancing for hours every day by the score, all in this out-in-the-woods, high energy, emotionally charged sort of atmosphere.
Depending on what side of the tracks you come from that probably either sounds fantastic or really creepy. I personally come down on the side of fantastic, but I think I have a certain amount of sympathy for the other perspective too. The question that inevitably arises in any sort of connection with charismatic worship, I think, is whether or not this isn't all basically a product of emotional energy and groupthink rather than a legitimate activity of the Holy Spirit.
Of course whether or not it is inherently plausible that in the 21st century the Holy Spirit is interested in doing things like empowering his church with miraculous healing and prophecy is a philosophical\\theological question that has to be answered first. Obviously as a charismatic it is my opinion that the text supports that view, and it is also my opinion that the experiential evidence supports incontrovertibly the idea that in fact those things do happen. As to whether or not any given instance of something strange happening is a coincidence of psychology or the result of a believer responding in faith to the activity of a personal Spirit is something that has to be answered on a case-by-case basis. For myself, I will readily admit that there are times when charismatics let their imaginations and emotions run wild, and I will also readily admit that there are times when the Lord will show up and do something productive if the church will let him.
And that is the reason I love worship in the charismatic tradition, and why church today was so good. One of the ideas I was exposed to during Rose's research was the idea that the music of the charismatic praise-and-worship tradition (and whether or not you're charismatic, the praise-and-worship phenomenon has its roots in charismaticism) is actually fitted to the theology of the tradition. And the thing I love about this tradition of worship is that it is more than a time to prepare the congregation's heart to enter the throne room of God, and it is more than a time to respond to the fact that God's Word has just been preached. Those are, of course, important functions that any church service ought to incorporate. To these functions, the charismatic tradition adds the idea that worship is the time of the service where the congregation eases off its control of things and responds to what the Lord wants to do right then, right there.
This is a phenomenon that I think most people who have gone to a decent church are familiar with, at least on the personal level. You go to church, God shows up, you find that he's speaking to your heart and you're primed to listen. It's even something that shows up on the level of leadership at some churches - The River, for instance, is not a charismatic congregation, but its leaders behave in sort of charismatic ways. You can't tell your congregation that you as a pastoral staff feel very strongly that the Lord is calling your church to San Jose specifically without admitting to prophecy. That's an example of what prophecy is. Charismatic worship takes that to the congregational level, and it's so good to be at a church where the worship leader is empowered to lead the congregation down those paths of response if the situation calls for it. Mmmm, so good.
Friday, June 18, 2004
Still and all, it feels odd to be back on a campus with no Blue Rose, no Shanah Van, no Archimedes (yet), no Cloud, no Chariessa, and no Esther Selene. Of course Cythereia is here, and right next door, and Archimedes will be on campus soon enough. But it's still odd ... I was ready to come back to campus and go forward with my new law school existence, meeting new folks and making new friends. I wasn't ready to come back to a campus which was in between times. It's the sort of thing that makes you want to listen to Vienna Teng, except that I forgot the AC adapter for my CD player so I'm husbanding my battery power. Or it makes you want to read the stories you loved when you were a kid, the kind that get stuck in your heart ... and I could do that since I brought the Jade Phoenix trilogy up with me, but I'm trying to husband my reading material too, just in case. Well, I'll just have to think about Phoenix Earth, I suppose, which we will return to when I get back from campus.
Speaking of home, there's been a new addition to the family, as it were. She's a three-year old silver Honda Civic LX with a stick shift. From the moment I saw her I knew her name was Meilissa (you can call her Melissa if you want, but her name is Meilissa, with the first syllable pronounced like the month of May). Melkor apparently thinks I should name her something racier, but I can't do that because her name is Meilissa. It comes from the verb meilisso: to soothe, to make calm. Now personally I happen to think that Meilissa is a plenty attractive name for such a pretty young lady, but the primary function of a car, in my opinion, is to be a singing space. Which means her name is Meilissa.
Sunday, June 13, 2004
Well, I do feel proud in one sense, but usually I translate that as pleased to avoid miscommunication. I don't want people to think that I imagine I must have been a very clever, hard-working, or otherwise meritorious fellow to "do" all that I've "done." That's just plain silly. But I do feel fiercely, intensely pleased that I have reached the milestone which I was assigned to reach. Four years ago, while I worshipped on the Quad at midnight with Stanford believers, I accepted God's call on my life to spend the next four years of my life here. Four days ago, while I worshipped on the Quad at midnight alone, I accepted that my time here was finished, and well spent. I can count my regrets on one hand, and I feel fortunate in that. Now it is on to something new - and while that "something" is physically on the Stanford campus, I am not here per se. I am not going to be where God called me to be when I was a high school senior, which is the operative factor. I am going to be where God called me to be when I was a college senior, and the fact that those are geographically the same place is largely immaterial to my sense of moving on.
I have finished my time with a handful of academic honors and a bachelor's from the best darned department in this university. I realized today what it means for President Hennessy to confer upon me the degree which I have been awarded, with all the rights, privileges, honors, and responsibilities pertaining thereto, by the authority vested in him by the faculty and trustees of this university. Who certifies a master? Other masters. In a very real sense it is not Stanford University which has awarded me my degree, but the faculty of my department. Jennifer Trimble, Ian Morris, Richard Martin, Joe Manning, Reviel Netz, Joy Connolly, Jody Maxmin: they have personally conferred upon me the right to claim a bachelor's of arts. They entrust that part of their tradition to me, person to person. They read my work, they heard my thoughts, and they have considered it worthy of this level of scholarship. Not Stanford. Real people, whom I know and who know me.
That realization gave me a greater sense of what I have "accomplished." But what made that significant was my departmental graduation. Because I have a small department, we could afford to take some time over the actual dispensing of diplomas, and Jen had solicited from faculty and teacherscomments regarding all of us graduates. There were very nice things said about all of us, and some good things were said about why one studies classics, which it is good to be reminded of occasionally even if one already knows. But what really made it special were the sorts of things that Jen read about me. My name is spoken in the halls of the classics building. Meg Anassa remembers me from Sicily as a person of character. I am remembered as a person of character.
This is pretty nearly the only academic achievement I consider to be noteworthy. I suppose it is conceivable that, in furthering the store of human knowledge, one could discover a fact which by itself changes the face of humanity. But such discoveries and inventions, if they exist, must come few and far between. I have done good work at Stanford, and some substantial work too - but nobody is better for it. My world is not changed in any lastingly important way because of my papers, translations, exams, or grades; no good has come of it. But if I am remembered as a person of character, some good will have come from my time here. Not because it is important that I be remembered, but because it is important that character be transmitted from person to person. Such character as I may have must be transmitted if it is to do anybody but me any good, and if I am remembered and admired as such a person then perhaps I have left a legacy in the lives of individuals here which will actually mean something.
Of course it doesn't do to become solely obsessed with what good comes about as a result of my actions. The actual implications of my actions are too far-reaching for me to confidently say that no good will come of something. And in any case it is far more important for me to do my part and follow God's leading than it is to go haring off looking for good to do. I am not in command here, and ultimately what will do the most good for people is if I obey the Lord. If that means reading Asklepiodotos, then read Asklepiodotos I shall, and never mind if I can see how that benefits people.
But at the same time, every now and then it is nice to actually see the benefits whose eventual existence I have faith in. It is particularly nice when those benefits are in the form of changing people. That is the sort of change I believe in. I believe that systems can and do change, and I am glad there are people who are built so that they feel the importance of that in their heart because it is frequently important that systems change. But it is changing people that I feel in my heart, and if I have done that then I will consider that my time here has accomplished something real.
Friday, May 28, 2004
I am proud to be graduating, which sort of surprises me, since I don't regularly feel comfortable applying the term "proud" to myself with reference to any of my so-called accomplishments. I am regularly pleased with the course of my life, but when you come right down to it it's not like I really did anything. This is clearly where the Lord's plan for me led, and therefore doing Stanford is nothing more than my duty - and I hardly see how it is meritorious to do what is expected of you. Besides, it's not as if I have been "successful" here (as I'm sure lots of silly adults will tell you I've been - and I have been successful here, but not for the reasons most people would imagine) as a result of my natural talents or even my hard work. I have been sucessful here because God allowed me to be, which in my book means that my contribution doesn't count as anything meritorious or something to be proud of (yes, I'm an Arminian).
But of course, in another sense, fulfilling my duty is something I can be proud of, I think. This is because on the Natalian/Heinleinian sense of duty (see sidebar) what i have done is refuse to betray myself. I made the decision to be obedient, and at the end of the day I have not turned my back on that debt that I owe myself. And somewhere in there is something that I am proud of.
I'm curious about what law school is going to be like. Some people tell me it will be hard, and yet the image I get of Stanford Law is not that it is hard. I should mention at this point that "hard" in a scholastic context means something different to me than "challenging." My view on what it would mean for school to be "hard" was shaped thirteen years ago by the following passage from the Song of the Lioness:
"Face it," Gary told her kindly. "You'll never catch up. You just do as much as you can and take the punishments without saying anything. Sometimes I wonder if that isn't what they're really trying to teach us - to take plenty and keep our mouths shut."
Alanna was in no mood to consider this idea. When she returned to her rooms that night, she was tired, nervous, and upset. "Pack your things," she ordered Coram as she marched in the door. "We're going home."
Coram looked at her. He had been sitting on his bed, cleaning his sword. "We are?"
Alanna paced the room. "I can't do this," she told the manservant. "The pace will kill me. No one can live this way all the time. I won't -"
"I never figured ye for a quitter," Coram interrupted softly.
"I'm not quitting!" Alanna snapped. "I - I'm protesting! I'm protesting unfair treatment - and - and being worked till I drop. I want to have time to myself. I want to learn to fight with a sword now, not when they decide. I want -"
"Ye want. Ye want. 'Tis something different ye're learning here. It's called 'discipline.' The world won't always order itself the way ye want. Ye have to learn discipline."
"This isn't discipline! It's inhuman! I can't live with it, and I won't! Coram, I gave you an order! Pack your things!"
Coram carefully scrubbed a tiny bit of dirt off his gleaming sword. At last he put it down, carefully, on the bed. With a groan he knelt down and reached under the bed, dragging out his bags. "As ye say," he replied. "But I thought I'd raised ye with somethin' to ye. I didn't think I was bringin' up another soft noble lady -"
"I'm not a soft noble lady!" Alanna cried. "But I'm not crazy, either! I'm going from sunrise to sunset and after without a stop, and no end in sight. My free time's a joke - I'm out of free time before I get to the third class of the morning. And they expect me to keep up, and they punish me if I don't. And I have to learn how to fall; I'm learning the stance with the bow all over again when I was the best hunter at Trebond, and if I say anything I get more work!"
Coram knelt on the floor, looking at her. "Ye knew it'd be hard when ye decided to come," he reminded her. "No one ever told ye a knight had it easy. I didn't, for certain. I told ye 'twas naught but hard work every wakin' minute, and a lot of extra wakin' minutes to boot. And now ye're runnin' away after just two days of it."
That is what "hard" means to me. I have never experienced anything close to what Alanna and Keladry did: wake up before dawn, work all day, study all evening, sleep after sundown, repeat. Hard is waking up early to study and spending all day in the law library on two meals a day so you can spend all evening writing papers, all so you can go to sleep late and do it again. Really hard would be if that wasn't enough to maintain something approximating my customary grades.
Will law school be like that? Some people imply that it will, and it's possible that this time they're right. I have a hard time believing it, though - probably more because it's never happened to me than because it's an inherently implausible picture. But if it is, then it is, and that's all there is to it. That is what I like so much about Alanna and her story: it reminds me that just because something is unfair doesn't mean you don't have to do it. Because the conditions Tortall imposes on its knights are unfair - but they need to be if those knights are going to learn to live in and rise above a world which is unfair. If my path leads into a period like that I don't see how the rules change just because I am not training to be a martial artist.
As far as the actual process of graduation, this time around is very different from the last time I graduated from something. Probably this is because there are no APs in college, and therefore the year ends in fact when the year ends in name. There is no post-AP refractory period in which there is nothing but a few weeks between me and graduation. Instead there will be a few days - and in the meantime there is still work to be done. As a result, I am not thinking of graduation very much. It doesn't loom over my life like it does for some people - why, I don't know.
Perhaps it is because of this that I am not worried about things like which friendships will be maintained and which will not. Of course, with the exception of Shanah, all of my friends are going to be here next year. That probably helps a lot too. Still, it is useful to reflect, as I recently did briefly with a friend who doesn't have a blogname yet, on the latest in the litany of girls who have done their part, consciously or unconsciously, in healing the fourteen-year wound: Blue Rose, Esther Selene, and Shanah Van, my erroneously blognamed Sweatshirt Girl. Add Chariessa to that list, somehow. Dear friends.
This post is getting pretty long (even if it contains a long quote, which in my opinion shouldn't count) so I'll just finish by observing that I have once again been reminded of the songs I hope to dance to at my wedding reception (of course, who knows if there will even be dancing at my wedding reception). Some of them would include multiple dances, and I don't think this is a complete list. But for some reason I find myself thinking wistfully of the future, and instead of thinking about graduation I think about dancing on an empty floor with a wonderful woman to:
It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing, Shania Twain
Martyrs & Thieves, Jennifer Knapp
I'm Speechless, Avalon
In A Different Light, Avalon
Stolen Kiss, Ronan Hardiman
Siamsa, Ronan Hardiman
Erin Shore, The Corrs
There are others, of course, that I wouldn't be happy to have excluded. But these (and probably a few that I've forgotten) are special. One day.
Monday, May 17, 2004
What I really wanted to talk about was a line that Thetis has to Achilles: she tells him that if he stays in Phthia, he will find a wonderful woman, he will have sons and daughters, and they will love him and remember his name - and when his children are dead, and their children, then his name will be forgotten.
Now of course because Achilles is Achilles he foregoes that option in his quest for kleos aphthiton. And that's a very important part of Achilles that I felt the movie makers understood very well and I'm not going to comment on that since it is basically the central issue of the movie.
But it got me thinking: I too am going to find a wonderful woman (or at least I'm planning to), and I too will have sons and daughters who will love me. And when I am dead they will speak my name to their children - but when my children are dead and my children's children, then my name will be lost to history. I have no plans to perform great deeds that will leave my name to generations of academics, lawyers, or readers. Of course I may, but I am not looking for it.
What is interesting to me about this is that I do not especially want my name to be remembered. Now of course it is easier for me to say that than Achilles, because I am a Christian and as such I consider human beings immortal. But even so ... Achilles wanted to be remembered forever. I will be content if my name is forgotten, so long as my actions echo through the rest of my race. If I raise mighty sons and daughters in a family that is a picture of the godhead, and if they pass that legacy on to their sons and daughters ... what could be more glorious than that, to raise a family whose members will be remembered by those who encounter them because Christ is formed in them?
My children will hear great tales of the family their grandparents forged, and with God's help they will see that their own family is what it is because of their mighty grandparents. And I dream that my children will also raise Godly families, the sorts of families that change the world by being. My grandchildren will probably not know much about my parents. Perhaps they will not even be sure if their great-grandparents were Christian. And the same may be true of my great-grandchildren. But the legacy will remain, and I am content with that.
Thursday, April 22, 2004
"All my life," Dienekes began, "one question has haunted me. What is the opposite of fear? To call it aphobia, fearlessness, is without meaning. This is just a name, thesis expressed as antithesis. To call the opposite of fear fearlessness is to say nothing. I want to know its true obverse, as day of night and heaven of earth."
"Expressed as a positive," Ariston ventured.
"Exactly!" Dienekes met the young man's eyes in approval.
"Dogs in a pack find courage to take on a lion. Each hound knows his place. He fears the dog ranked above and feeds off the fear of the dog below. Fear conquers fear. This is how we Spartans do it, counterpoising to fear of death a greater fear: that of dishonor. Of exclusion from the pack."
Dienekes smiled darkly. "But is that courage? Is not acting out of fear of dishonor still, in essence, acting out of fear?"
Alexandros asked what he was seeking.
"Something nobler. A higher form of the mystery. Pure. Infallible."
Ariston asked if this higher courage in fact existed.
"It is no phantom," Dienekes declared with conviction. "I have seen it. Do you know who owns it, this pure form of courage, more than any other I have known? My wife." He turned to Alexandros. "And your mother, the lady Paraleia." He smiled again. "There is a clue here. The seat of this higher valor, I suspect, lies in that which is female."
His glance took in the fires of the camp, the nations of the allies clustered in their units, and their officers, whom we could see, like us approaching from all quarters the king's fire, ready to respond to his needs and receive his instructions.
"The opposite of fear," Dienekes said, "is love."
The opposite of fear is love. Warrior's wisdom, the psychologists tell us, which fighting men have known from time immemorial. Put it in a Christian context. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7). Now this spirit which God has given us, is it not his own spirit - the spirit which is in us, which is stronger than the spirit which is in the world? The spirit of God - the spirit of love himself - is given to us, not the spirit of fear. The opposite of fear is love.
Take another passage from Gates of Fire. The scene is Athens, the characters Dienekes' squire Xeo, on his way to Thermopylai, and his cousin Diomache, whom once he loved:
"Let neither of us pity the other," my cousin spoke in parting. "We are where we must be, and we will do what we must."
Sometimes I ask myself, about breaking up with Selene, are you not afraid? Afraid of what (or who) she will find in Chicago, and afraid of what (or who) you will not find at Stanford? And while I acknowledge that those are scary things, I am not afraid. It is not the kind of fearlessness that comes from knowing who I am and what I must do - not the kind of fearlessness that comes from seeing God through Alanna and Keladry and Honor and Cimorene, and hearing the bronze-voiced divine command calling me onward. For now, at least, it is a different kind of fearlessness.
The opposite of fear is love. And that's all I have to say about that.
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Mostly it's a shame because I am now left with something of a dilemma regarding my birthday movie. Of course at Stanford (at least in the circles I run in) it's dangerous to plan for one's birthday, since there's a reasonable chance that someone else has plans for your birthday. One must strike a balance between planning enough that you'll have a celebration in case your friends don't throw you a surprise party, and not planning so much that their plans will be foiled if they do throw you a surprise party. This year I was planning on having pizza at Pizza My Heart, having some sort of girl dinner (awkward planning issue: I still want to celebrate my birthday with Blue Rose and Shanah, but I also want to celebrate my birthday with a one-on-one date with Selene. Not enough meals in the day), and watch a movie somewhere in the Quad.
Now, I had been planning on making the movie event Fushigi Yugi, but of course I also want to see Sinbad, which I will now have to pay money to do (darn it). Perhaps I shall have to compromise by watching Sinbad after Kiss Me Kate is over, and doing Fushigi Yugi on my birthday.
I think I might do this because on the whole Fushigi Yugi is the more attractive birthday event. For one thing, it stands a good chance of being the second anime series ever to hold my interest for the entire run (following Hellsing, which only sort of counts as the final episodes were less-than, in my opinion). Granted I haven't finished Fushigi Yugi yet, but I think it has promise, and I'm eager to watch more of it because I like it. For another, I have this idea in my head that it stands in relation to Selene the same way that, say, the Song of the Lioness stands to me.
Now, I may be making that up. But even if I am, I still want to see the rest of Fushigi Yugi because I also suspect that it may end up adding to my literary pantheon. My literary goddesses\\role-models so far are entire female, and either feminine or gender-neutral. Alanna, Cimorene, Honor, and Keladry are important and good, but they're all women. It would be nice if they had some male company to speak on masculine issues, and I think - just maybe - that Tamahome and Hotohori could fill that role. The addition of one or two more literary deities\\role-models would be a significant event - and one that I think is worth pursuing besides the enjoyment the pursuit will afford me.
Monday, March 29, 2004
This has occupied my thoughts rather seriously for a while now, thanks to Richard Martin's class on epic, and I think it gets at one of the reasons I love roleplaying so much. The orality of the art form taps into what Blue Rose was saying the other day about the firstness of a performance being special. Oral performances, by definition, are always unique, first-time things. And really, it's the art or orality of roleplaying that occupies most of my thoughts when I think about roleplaying, even though I spend most of my time trying to balance rules and numbers (by necessity; I can't roleplay by myself).
One of the things that I think roleplaying shares with epic is the use of secondary genres. I think this might be a unique sharing; freestyle rap is (so far as I know) restricted to a single genre of performance. But the openings and interludes of a Phoenix Earth session are clearly different kinds of art because they're written (and therefore prepared beforehand), not improvised moment-by-moment. And the fact that they're literate rather than oral imposes different restrictions on them. Their descriptive power is greater, and their dialogue proceeds according to a different pace than orally-composed dialogue.
As in the case of the secondary genres which Dwight Reynolds records as part of the tradition of Sirat Bani Hilal poets in Lower Egypt, the secondary genres of a roleplaying session serve to set the tone and draw the audience in to the world of the epic itself. Literate openings are particularly conducive to this because my culture is not oral, and therefore my overall artistry is greater when I am composing literately than when I am composing orally. The opening effectively enhances the power of the subsequent oral performances. When an opening is bad, or absent altogether, it takes the players much longer to mentally drop into the world of the epic, and their performances clearly suffer for it. The latest Circle session provides a good example of this; Mr. Clean and I had a roleplayed (= oral) "prologue" bit that took place before The DM read his opening, and the quality of the roleplaying in the prologue piece was markedly inferior to the quality of the roleplaying immediately after the opening (and this was true even of players who hadn't performed at all that session prior to the opening, meaning that it wasn't just a question of "warming up").
Another secondary genre which roleplaying includes that is also very like Reynolds' experiences with modern-day Arab oral epic are the "bits of local color" that populate both genres. In Egypt a poet will discuss local trivia with the audience during breaks. He demonstrates thereby his masterful knowledge of the community's history and identities ("aren't you the grandson of so-and-so, who once ..."), and in so doing he asserts his place in that community. Much the same happens in a roleplaying session. Players will stop to discuss stories of past sessions, or even things unrelated to roleplaying that are tangentially related to events in the game. In so doing we assert our "idioculture," our private group identity which is known only to insiders. If a player can participate in these brief digressions, he has established that he is part of the group. It seems to me that this is essentially similar to the way in which a Bani Hilal poet establishes his identity as part of his community in Egypt through his performance of "bits of local color."
And in both cases, in fact, the performer views himself (and is viewed) as an outsider. The art of roleplaying is arcane. An outsider is likely to ask, "is that like Dungeons & Dragons?" or "is this with computers?" - questions which betray the interlocutor's ignorance of the most basic elements of the roleplayer's craft. Roleplayers in my experience are loathe to bring up the subject of their art in the presence of outsiders (even in contexts where we feel it would be both appropriate and enlightening, such as Prof. Martin's class). The way in which we speak of our games among ourselves is dramatically different from the evasive or even slightly condescending answers we are likely to give in response to an outsider's questions. The Bani Hilal poets are no different: societal outcasts, practitioners of a poorly understood craft, with a distinctly different way of speaking amongst themselves than among outsiders.
Then there are secondary oral genres within the main game itself. This is akin to, say, the praise-songs that poets sing to the Prophet in Egypt, or the similies in Homer: distinctly different genres of poetry, but still composed orally, that is, on the spot without prior meditation. The same sort of thing happens in roleplaying. During Modern Phoenix Earth, for instance, there was an instance when the party was split up, each with one NPC (= character I control). One group's NPC received a phone call from the other's, and I narrated the phone conversation for the benefit of one half of the party, so they could only hear "their" half. Later during the session we went back chronologically and played out the other group's actions during the same time period. This left me with the task of narrating the other side of the phone conversation, some forty or fifty minutes (in real time) after I had narrated the original half. Keep in mind that I didn't have any notes or cue-cards telling me what had gone on in that conversation, or what exactly had been said - just my memory of a series of responses along the lines of "okay ... mm-hmm ... really? No, don't do that ..." and now, on the spot, I had to reconstruct a complementary series. On this occasion my players looked at me expectantly: could I do it? Another similar situation came during the early days of Classical Phoenix Earth, at a hospitality feast of thrown by the orcish clan Follakir. During that feast I had an orc stand up and begin singing an epinician ode narrating the recent heroic deeds of one of the characters in the party. My players asked me what he was singing, and looked at me expectantly to see how well I could produce an orcish victory ode on the spot - even allowing for the fact that it would sound like a translation of poetry, since I don't actually speak orcish.
In both of these instances I had a limited degree of success, and my players applauded me for it. They recognized that the task was actually quite difficult, and the fact that I was able to succeed at all was a demonstration of my verbal virtuosity. This concern to show off one's virtuosity in the skill of composing on the spot is another thing that I think roleplaying shares with oral epic. DMs aren't necessarily expected to be completely oral (they have a much harder task, which incidentally means their orality is considered more skillful as well) but players are - a player must be able to produce dialogue and actions, on the spot, in character, and the more skillfully a player can do that the more his performance is admired.
A DM's orality is demonstrated by being able to produce in-character dialogue and actions for his various NPCs, but also in being able to improvise whole sections of plot (which is why his task is generally harder). This is like the way a real oral poet responds to his audience by gauging their interest level and altering the course of his tale accordingly - lingering on a detail they like (such as the way a royal horse is caparisoned), rushing through things they don't like, or even inserting whole new episodes. The difference is that in roleplaying the members of the "audience" are actually participants in the tale. My favorite instance of this comes from Apocalyptic Phoenix Earth, where the party decided (quite against both my wishes and my expectations) to go to Mars rather Israel. They were perfectly within their "rights" (i.e., the constraints of the genre of roleplaying) to do so, but it meant that all of a sudden I had to narrate what happened to them on Mars.
Now, the overarcing plot did indeed call for the party to go to Mars at some point - but not that point. I had three hours or so of session left to fill with a plot episode that I had given virtually no prior thought to. A skilled performance in my case, in this circumstance, would have had to accomplish three goals: a). to keep up the narrative pace without a stop that would make it obvious I was thinking; b). to narrate an interesting and dramatically satisfying three hours; c). to do so in a way that didn't do irreparable damage to the course of the long-term plot. Success in those three areas would show off my verbal virtuosity (because I could narrate at the same time as I was furiously thinking) as well as my mental virtuosity; that is, my command of my material. How well do I know 22nd century Mars? Can I draw on my latent knowledge of that world to craft an interesting episode?
My ability to do so would demonstrate my authority as a DM. A DM with authority is one who, by virtue of his command of the epic material, is able to draw his players into the world of the epic and give them a sense that this is all "real" (the way a good Michael Crichton or Dan Brown novel convinces you, through command of the material, that it's all possible). Besides command of his "epic" material (i.e., the stuff that he brings to reality, such as the character of the Martian colony) a DM should be able to speak authoritatively on the descriptive aspects of the world (i.e., the stuff that he inherits from reality, such as the geology of Mars).
Roleplayers share with listeners of epic, I think, a desire to see their tales as history or "real." What that really means is that they want to see their tales as plausible - every good epic must have poetic embellishments which we admit are fictitious or implausible. But we want to have a sense that beneath that there's a kernel of events that could have happened this way. The Bani Hilal could have (and did) migrated westward to Tunisia, and the older generation in Egypt still clings to the desire to see the Sirat Bani Hilal as history-with-embellishments. In roleplaying this kernel of possibility often takes the form of DMly authority on technical matters which are misunderstood. In Phoenix Earth, for instance, I have unusual authority on matters of military equipment. I understand, contrary to common fantasy belief, that real swords did not weigh ten pounds, and that even a four-pound sword is extremely, almost unwieldably, heavy (my Roman history professor perpetuated this myth to an entire class of undergraduates just last quarter, discussing the light swords of the Romans in contrast to the clumsy, heavy swords of Europeans - simply not true, as scholars ought to have known since Oakeshott). I understand what ancient catapults looked like and how they worked, which is not common knowledge. I go out of my way to look up the mechanics of horsemanship or herbology. Details like that give my narration a ring of truth which helps the players suspend their disbelief of the fantastic elements (such as magic).
The narrative style of roleplaying is also similar to the style of epic, in my opinion. One way in which this is done is being able to expand certain incidents with greater narrative detail (consider the description of, say, Achilles' shield). Another possibility is being able to use certain incidents as jumping-off points. In a traditional epic where the overall plot is fixed this would probably be done by inserting an episode "out of order," or referencing it when necessary (e.g., the "mythological" speeches in Homer where characters narrate other epic events which are somehow related to the current epic event). In roleplaying it's possible to "jump off" by completely altering the plot. For instance, in Apocalyptic Phoenix Earth one of my primary villains was killed very early on in the game (remember that the players' actions are not under my direct control). I altered the plot so that the villain showed up afterwards - or rather, other bounty hunters claiming to be him. Another similar example also comes from Apocalyptic Phoenix Earth, where one of my players, who had recently struck it rich, attempted to buy himself a starship. I was able to foil him by using the Black Horsewoman of the Apocalypse, thereby simultaneously foiling his attempt to increase his power beyond what I felt was reasonable and begin to reveal the powers of the Black Horsewoman. That event demonstrated one of the ways in which narrative skill is measured: my response would be considered skillful if the players couldn't tell whether it was pre-planned or not (my ability to fool them rests on two things: first, whether my face or voice betrays anything when I actually narrate the event; second, whether or not the improvised event fits seamlessly into the thematic and dramatic look and feel of the narrative). Oftentimes after a session my players have asked me, "so, how much of that was planned?" It's quite a compliment.
The last example of verbal virtuosity I want to discuss is simple acting skill. In certain cultures (such as ancient Greek) epic singers are supposed to act out their tales, doing voices, and so on. A skilled rhapsode, for instance, could bring his audience to tears - and his ability to bring them to tears was one of the criteria by which his skill was measured. The same is true of roleplaying; a DM should be able to do several accents and voices, and a skillful performance speaking in dialogue will demonstrate his ability to act in a wide emotional range.
Besides a common desire to demonstrate verbal virtuosity, roleplaying shares with epic a reliance on formula. This is commonly misunderstood as being constrained by fantasy "conventions." For those in the audience who don't know, prior to the work of Milman Parry early in the 20th century, Homer's repetitions were generally considered just that - repetitions, and sometimes clumsy ones. In fact, Parry demonstrated (and subsequent scholarship and comparisons with contemporary oral epic traditions have confirmed), an epic poem is composed of virtually nothing but formulas. A formula is more than the familiar repeated epithets; every half-line in an epic poem is a formula. In effect, an epic poet has learned to speak by combining thousands of half-line units in ways that meet the metrical requirements of his medium. A large part of his art is recombining these formulas in skillful ways.
The same is true of roleplaying, but our formulas are the fantasy "conventions" which we have inherited. These conventions are themselves attempts to artistically or anthropologically recast the essence of other epics and mythological material. For instance, dragons figure large in all Indo-European epics. The fantasy concept of "dragon" is an attempt to find the common ground. The same is true of basilisks, golems, and virtually every other fantasy creature ever (fantasy, as a genre, is one of the most multiculturally literate genres I know of). Reinterpreting monsters is a way of recombining formulas: for instance, everybody since Jason's day knows what a walking skeleton is supposed to be, but Phoenix Earth has found a way to make skeletons unique and scary.
Formulas pervade roleplaying just as they pervade epic; everything we do is formulaic. Our characters are formulaic: for instance, Grhaed Steelfist is a creative reinterpretation of the formula "dwarven barbarian/fighter." Faelis Khasii is a reinterpetation of the formula "creepy necromancer." And that in fact is too simplistic; each of those characters (and all my characters) are reinterpretations of several formulas which are then creatively fused (for instance, Grhaed is also a reinterpetation of the formula "brash young hero"). To a player who is conversant with roleplaying's formulaic system, the ways in which these characters are not stereotypical necromancers or dwarves are just as eloquent as the ways in which they are.
Moreover, the fact that they are formulaic means that their character is exhibited more than developed. Characters in epic can develop (e.g., I would argue, Achilles) but usually they don't. Their actions exist in a sort of atemporal soup which everybody is aware of, and which informs the audience's perception of the hero's character in an atemporal way: whether or not the hero has done X yet, the audience knows that he will. This is one of the facts that good epic can play off of, and it is one of the things that makes roleplaying in character possible. Because everybody knows that Grhaed is the "brash young hero/dwarven barbarian," the players have a benchmark to compare him to. If that formulaic benchmark were not there, it would be impossible to tell whether or not Grhaed's player were playing him skillfully. Because Grhaed is in some ways not the "brash young hero/dwarven barbarian" there is room for his player's performance to surprise and delight.
Significantly for comparison to epic, plot is also formulaic. You cannot go to an index of roleplaying plots and look them up, any more than you could ask a real epic poet to list for you his entire body of formulas, but the formulaic system is there nonetheless and can be accessed by (and almost only by) someone who has grown up immersed in the good, the bad, and the ugly of fantasy stories (one should remember at this point that there are bad epic poets who give bad epic performances, no less than there are bad fantasy storytellers who tell bad fantasy. What one should remember is that fantasy stories are not bad because they seem "conventional"). The plots come principally from previous fantasy stories (of all genres, literate and audio-visual as well as oral) and from world myth or ancient history. They are frequently original and "local" (e.g., the plot of Phoenix Earth, which is my independent creation) or commercial, but they are all formulaic and immersed in the body of conventions formed by what has been told before.
The issue of commercial games deserves to be mentioned because it provides a rare link to the kind of tradition that epic frequently has at its disposal. Everybody knows the plot of Sirat Bani Hilal; everybody knew the plot of the Trojan War. Nobody knows the plot of a local, homebrewed game like Phoenix Earth (except for my players, whom I deliberately gave a sketch of the overarcing plot to precisely for the purpose of having a common-knowledge tradition to work with). Ont he other hand, everybody knows (at least roughly) the plot of, say, the first three Dragonlance books (themselves written down after the events narrated within had been roleplayed orally). You can go out and buy books which contain full-fledged plot episodes, but those books will contain summaries of what happens along the way. It is up to the DM to expand those individual incidents into oral performance - and up to the DM to deal with it if his players depart from the plot laid down in the book. These books are identical across the world, but every performance of them is individual. No different from the "text" of Sirat Bani Hilal, which "everyone knows," but is different every time it is performed.
Society is another area for formulaic reinterpretation. For instance, the kioa and the elrasha in Phoenix Earth are reinterpretations of the formula "dark elves vs. good elves." If you depict an elf in fantasy, the informed audience will immediately start wondering where the dark elves are; that is formulaic. Phoenix Earth reinterprets that formula with a Christian twist. Our themes are formulaic: Phoenix Earth reinterprets the Tokienian theme of "evil as corruption," and all roleplaying reinterprets the age-old Indo-European theme of "the quest for undying fame." In fact, Reynolds' "heroic poets, poetic heroes" thesis could well apply to roleplayers: our characters tend to be social outcasts (as we ourselves perceive ourselves to be, at least when we take on our roleplaying personae) looking in some way to leave a mark on the world (which of course they succeed in doing, or else we wouldn't be telling stories about them).
Indeed, roleplaying has inherited more from earlier epics than just a desire to tell stories about heroes who long for undying fame. Dungeons & Dragons has perpetuated many fallacies about medieval equipment (e.g., ten-pound swords and forty-pound axes), but part of the reason those fallacies have lasted is that today's roleplayers have a desire to add a bit of Superman to their heroes. An age-old sign of heroism, dating all the way back to Homer's heroes, is the ability to wield the unwieldable weapon: the massive battle-pike that only Achilles could wield, the bow that only Odysseus could bend, the rock that Patroclus can wield with one-hand which would take two or more men today to even move it. We also inherit the concept fo magical healing from Homer: in the Iliad, Machaon's Bronze-Age medicines are supernaturally effective on Menelaus (for instance), because Menelaus has to be back in the fight in a time-frame which is incompatible with normal healing.
This comparison with ancient epics is fruitful too, I think, for helping to understand the role of the gods or magical weapons. In roleplaying, it is understood that magical items and supernatural powers devolve on a hero because he is a hero. They make him more effective, but they do not make him a hero. This is just a law of roleplaying that is implicitly understood by all. In the same way, Achilles is helped by Athena (or, if you want to take later versions of his story, invincible) because he is a hero. He is not a hero because he is helped by Athena/invincible; that is not the way the system works.