Changes (Have) Come

In the year and four months since I last bothered to post anything here, a lot has happened. Chief among these events was my proposing to and actually marrying my now-wife, Jessica! I also began a graduate program in linguistics at Oxford, and am in the second year of that program, finding great enjoyment in it as well as in exploring Oxford with Jessica. The hectic pace of life in the last year and a half did not keep me from having ponderings worth blogging about, but it did keep me from actually blogging about them. Also, I noticed that the ability to post snappy one-liners as Facebook status updates, or to share a link with only a brief description, tended to siphon away any drive to construct actual extended discussions here (a phenomenon which I’m sure is quite widespread).

Two factors draw me back to the blog despite overwhelming opposition from laziness (among other things): first, Jessica has been encouraging me to write on certain topics we discuss from time to time. Second, I haven’t been to my Facebook homepage in four months, and thus have a list of things I actually want to say to The Internet which haven’t been said even in short form.

The purpose of this post is simply to clear the stage, and as such is primarily for myself. It simply wouldn’t do, in my brain at least, to go from an entry about the release of Summer of Rock 2009 to a discussion about the linguistic behavior of Americans in Oxford, 16 months later. And that is partly why the longer I waited to write, the less inclined I was to do so. Now that’s changed.

In short–coming soon: something else!

Sabbatical’s End

Four and a half months after I stopped work and planned to engage in a sabbatical of sorts, I’m back. I flew in from Kenya a day ago, and am now in Orlando as I prepare to help my parents move cross-country to San Francisco.

In many ways, I’m still recovering from Kenya, and cannot yet distill that complex and amazing experience into a weblog entry. In the coming days, I hope to write a thematic series of articles on the various aspects of my time there, which might be a better way of doing justice to it. For now, it’s just hard to adjust to life in the US, and life away from my friends old and new at Tumaini.

I certainly have a lot to think about and process. Between 3 weeks of touring with the New Frontiers, spending 6 weeks at Schloss Mittersill in Austria, and now living 8 weeks in rural Kenya, I’ve had a number of new experiences, and noticed a lot of things about the world and myself which call for introspection, integration, and response.

As I look forward to my future both near and far, I find that I’m more confused about what I can and should do, not less! In that sense, the sabbatical did not live up to my hopes! But I’m beginning to see that this place is probably right where I should be, despite my desires for easy clarity. I think God and other people gave me so many unlooked-for gifts during this time away, albeit sometimes through hard circumstances, so it has been a slow process of gaining the eyes to see their goodness! I’m sure that process will continue in the next weeks and months.

Now, I must focus on re-inserting myself into the matrix of life here, finding work, and pondering next steps. There’s an exciting freedom in not knowing where I will be in a year, let alone two months! But I hope that the right path, if there is such a thing, will present itself to me in enough time to follow it. It usually does, I guess.

So that’s all for now–please stay tuned for the Kenya series, pictures, and other announcements during the next few weeks!

Sabbatical Part 2: Leaving Austria / Suite Apocalyptique

When I last wrote about the sabbatical which is underway (read part 1 here), I was in the middle of my time at Schloss Mitersill, in Austria. That time has now ended! I’m currently writing at a hostel in Oxford, and tomorrow I’ll be catching a flight to Nairobi, before heading to Nyeri, Kenya. I’m very happy to report that my time at the Schloss finished well. This, of course, means that I’m certainly sad to see it end. But before I talk more about that, here are some pictures of the Schloss and the gorgeous surrounding area:

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It has been a while since I last wrote. Much has happened (not least the tour I mentioned in the last entry), indeed too much to adequately share. Many of my friends will have received an ominous e-mail a few months ago entitled “Life Update”. In that e-mail, I detailed a few of my current struggles, and elaborated a plan to take a bit of a sabbatical from work and life in California.

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Productive Nostalgia

I am at home in Orlando right now, to be with family and relax during the Thanksgiving holidays. Another stated goal of this time is to avoid using the computer as much as possible so I can begin healing from my RSI’s. As you can tell from the mere fact of my blogging, such is more difficult for me than it sounds. In fact, I’ve begun to see computer avoidance as a discipline I should practice for spiritual as well as physical reasons.

At any rate, it is good to be home. One of the tasks my mother has set me for my time here is to go through all my old boxes of saved school projects, mementos, love letters, etc., and to vaguely scrapbook them. (For me, “scrapbooking” involves putting things into a binder).

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Geneva 2006

If you want to skip right to the pictures, click here

I just returned from Geneva, Switzerland–a trip I decided to take a mere 3 weeks ago. Every year, my parents have a business trip in late September to some international location (for legal reasons, these meetings have to take place outside the US). Since I graduated high school in 2000 and chose to attend Stanford (a quarter school), I’ve had the good fortune to not be in class during these trips, and thus was able to tag along with my folks. We’ve been to some great places–London (twice), Dublin, Lisbon, and Barcelona (after I graduated). I didn’t go on the 2005 trip, but since my work schedule permitted this year, I was able to go to Geneva. (For a few older blogs of such trips, see here for Lisbon 2002 and here for Barcelona 2004).

These trips are always fun, not least because I’ve gotten to know many of the other attendees, all great people. At times there have even been sons or daughters there like myself, and so there are often young people to hang out with, in addition to spending great time with my parents. My friend Laura was there, of this January’s Bahamas trip fame.

The group dinners are generally quite nice, and so it’s also fun to bring “dress-up” clothes to wear consistently. (I wore my suit this week for the first time since last December, I think). This trip was particularly special for me, however, because it happened that my 24th birthday was during the trip, and I had a wonderful time celebrating it with my parents and some friends, both at a spectacular dinner and later at our pub of choice, over fine cuban cigars and cognac. I certainly couldn’t ask for a better birthday experience, though I did miss my friends from home. As an extra special gift, my parents also let me use some of their airline upgrade coupons, so we all traveled to and from Geneva in business / first class. What luxury!

I spent most of my time in Geneva sleeping, hanging out in our great hotel (the Hotel d’Angleterre), working out or using the sauna, catching up on my reading, or wandering around taking pictures and buying sandwiches using poor French. One tourist highlight was definitely the Patek Philippe museum, which had on exhibit some of the oldest and most complicated watches in the world. The sheer amount of time, love, and skill put into these objects by their craftsmen was literally awing. One complicated mechanical watch we saw had over 1800 unique parts, individually designed and produced and assembled. This watch, like some others in the exhibit, kept track of the time, of course, but also such measurements as the day, the week, the month, the year, the lunar phases, sidereal time, the location of certain stars in the sky, etc… (taking into account leap years, etc..–it’s guaranteed to be accurate for something like 500 years if kept wound).

Life in Geneva appears to be very expensive, and the same was true of souvenirs. Accordingly, the only things I brought back were two beer glasses (one a .5L stein (Cardinal), and the other a Belgian snifter (Leffe)), both procured by my dad, free for the asking from bars. Incidentally, the beer of the trip was hands-down the Belgian Leffe (the blonde variety). It had a light color, a creamy texture, and a strong, sweet taste. It was not overpowering, though, and had a very strong spruce hops aroma which kept the whole thing dynamic and interesting. It probably now ranks in my top 5 beer list.

Well, check out the pictures, and let me know what you think!

My Holy Grail, At Last?

Anyone who has been around this weblog for long enough has realized that I care a lot about mainly two categories of things. The first is Girls, and specifically how to entice an especially awesome, as-yet-unpinpointed one to eventually marry me. The second is The Stuff I Am Passionate About. This second category is usually seen in long diatribes about how I have so many passions that the thought of finding one thing to do in my life (my life’s project, so to speak) is incredibly daunting. I usually think of such pursuits as falling under one of the following headings: Philosophy, Theology, Music, Language, Coding, Writing, or Design. Importantly, I’m interested in the creative elements of each.

I often laugh derisively at any suggestion that these things could be combined into a single role or project; for what pursuit can bring together such disparate fields as philosophy and computer programming, not to mention the others? It struck me today that maybe there is such a project: the design and implementation of a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), of which the current most popular example is World of Warcraft.

Clearly, since a MMORPG is a piece of software, it involves coding. But it also involves World Design–the overarching story and history of a fantastical place (a la The Silmarillion, my favorite book). Clearly creating such an immersive world involves a foray into philosophy (and probably theology, since worlds without magic or arcane technology are boring). Beyond that, what can provide more immersion than Tolkien’s strategy of language creation? Of course, histories of entire civilizations and languages need to be conveyed in as powerful and encompassing wording as possible, thus requiring a skilled writer. Finally, what is a venture into an unknown world without the appropriate stunning visual and audio design? The score would need to be more immense than any 2-hour movie.

Well, there it is! It doesn’t seem like anything important is missing. And it certainly explains my fascination with the concepts behind MMORPGs in the first place. Unfortunately, I don’t know that working for a MMO house would be fulfilling at all to me; curiously, I don’t know why. I certainly don’t think that a life spent to encourage the use of the imagination is wasted–Tolkien and Lewis are my heroes precisely for that reason. Maybe it’s just that my experience with MMORPG culture has made me doubt whether the kind of imagination encouraged is actually of any enduring value. I suppose that at the end of the day I do believe that imagination has a function–that of re-envisioning a broken and fractured reality–and I don’t know that World of Warcraft really inspires this, rather than a mindless grind for powerful virtual items that give one a sense of superiority over other players.

Maybe that’s the difference between The Silmarillion and World of Warcraft–since The Silmarillion is a story, it asks you to enter in and wander around by yourself, unlocking experiences with the imagination. Warcraft, on the other hand, is unavoidably a game, and one not of collaborative imagination as often as competitive un-imagination. (What I mean by unimagination is that many players purposefully de-mystify any imaginative elements in MMORPGs, reducing it to the underlying code systems, so that they might more easily “win” the game. My motivations in playing MMORPGs, on the other hand, are generally rather to have an immersive, imaginative experience). Perhaps there are ways to create a game like this; perhaps that is what real-life role-playing groups find attractive about their sessions (which frankly don’t appeal to me, for some reason); however, I doubt that, even given the possibility of designing such a game, that the result would be compelling to enough people to build a multi-million-dollar franchise on top of (which seems to be the point of most computer games).

But what do you think, O Reader? Should I go try and get hired by Blizzard? I haven’t said anything about the physical pursuits I enjoy (which are also many), or about any actual positive results of work for the poorer and more downtrodden in the world (who might not be able to afford my computer game). What is there to say about that? (But note that I’m not asking the question, “Was Tolkien wrong in writing his novels when he could have been helping poor children elsewhere, very materially?” since I take it for granted that the answer’s no.)

Lame Catch-up Entry, Summer 2006

Well, this is the longest hiatus I’ve ever had on this blog so far, but I won’t say it’s without reason. Still, there are many times I wish I’d had the space to catalogue some thoughts. The best I can do now is give a list of the sort of things I’ve been up to over the past months (with pictures!). Hopefully you’ll find some of it interesting.

In roughly chronological order:

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The Quota of Rock

Last night I went back to the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco for the second time this month, to see the Smoking Popes / Lovedrug show. It was an incredible experience, and I realized something about myself that is important to share (and might also be an important contribution to Rock Theory in general).

Gratuitous picture to get you to read further: Lovedrug’s symbol of the moment

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Random Event Update, Mid-May 2006

While I have for a while been promising certain academic ponderings and/or Whitney summaries, these are not immediately forthcoming. Meanwhile, I thought I’d share (in a mood particularly inspired by the new caramel Bailey’s and friends) my satisfaction with certain recent Events. Said Events are three. (Actually, there are more, but there has to be some kind of limit)

Event 1: On Thursday, I went to an Over the Rhine and Hem show in San Francisco. I have loved and followed Over the Rhine for years. Karin’s (the singer’s) voice is like magical, sensual, chocolate and wine-filled lovemaking. I think. I have never had magical, sensual, chocolate and wine-filled lovemaking, but it is at least how I would imagine it going. The show was at the Great American Music Hall–my favorite SF venue, where I have seen most if not all of my favorite artists over the past 6-7 years. After Hem’s flawless opening set, Over the Rhine kicked things off with “Latter Days”, possibly my favorite song of theirs. From then until the end of their hour-plus set, I was in a world of enchantment which I can’t coherently relate. Many things rose up in me and got stuck in my throat that I wish I knew how to remember. Times of such beauty are rare.

Event 2: Last night (Saturday), my housemate Trent’s fiancee and friends were all out for some “bachelorette party” or something. Not to be outdone, many of us non-women had an “anti-bachelorette fiesta” of sorts. While the real anti-bachelorette celebration will take place in Mexico in a little while, we settled for much pizza, beer, the viewing of a movie, and some “drunken frisbee golf”, as we like to call it, on Stanford’s campus. This is one of my favorite events. Indeed, it does consist of a certain amount of frisbee golf, but the “drunken” adjective is not as accurate as might be feared. There is, it is not to be doubted, a good amount of alcohol which is consumed beerly. However, the primary attraction to “DFG” is not any actual state of drunkenness (which, as good Christians, we studiously avoided), but rather a state I like to call “playing frisbee golf with a cigarette and pulling a cooler of cheap beer behind us every once in a while drinking some”. For some reason the image is just plain titillating. Beer or no, I had one of my better rounds on the Stanford course, finishing like 10 over par or something.

Event 3: Tonight (Sunday), I went to church. Gasp! It has been a while. But I had ulterior motives. Not, surprisingly, to ogle at hot church-going women (though that may or may not have been a previous ulterior motive). In fact, his greatness himself, the fabulous NT Wright, deigned to speak at MPPC’s “Postmodern” evening service. Candles and big TV screens in full effect, NT gave one of the better talks I’ve heard inside the walls of a church in a long time. I’m not at the moment in a position to sum up the talk, but suffice it to say it scratched my itchings. I haven’t read much of Wright’s considerable bibliography, but am now planning on it. I also find myself wishing the man hadn’t decided to get involved in the church. If he had opted to stay in academics, for instance, I would have been easily persuaded to travel to Oxford and study under him (such was his facility with history, philosophy, and theology).

Apart from these events, there were also two amazing birthday parties (at Tiburon and Half Moon Bay, respectively), and three amazing games of Ultimate Frisbee. Today at our third game session, I felt a magically-increased ability to read the disc, to run to wherever it was, and to just generally be happy with my performance (a relative first for me in the realm of sports). I suppose I have always underestimated the power of practice to actually make better the thing practiced. Maybe it is because I’ve always quit things when the practicing got slightly difficult–but Ultimate has kept my attention quite well, and I am happy to call it my favorite team sport. (And no I am not a hippie). Also, not to be forgotten, I held a CD release party for Splendour Hyaline’s latest offering. A good number of my friends showed up and we rocked out to my music. Apart from the ego-stroking, it was a very meaningful time and I was glad to celebrate the completion of a new art project with many of those I love.

In other news…I am planning on reading The Da Vinci Code. God help me and my literary (in)sensibilities.