Refracted Glow

07 March 2009

Insanity of the instantaneous

The rate at which American has revved up is a common self-reflection. We’ve heard all the criticisms before- fast food, mtv, the internet. This is old news by now; yet, we have yet to do anything to reverse the trend. The rapid, constant transformation of technology certainly makes the path a treacherous climb, but it is our indifference and apathy that keeps us from simply tackling the problem.
We expect gratification to always be a moment away. Without regard to reason, or to work, or to suffering. We often forget that pleasure requires pain in order to fully be revealed. We choose to take whatever can get in that moment. This epidemic is everywhere:
-in a stock market reliant upon speculation, purely based in the particular emotion of that moment.
-in our news, where every hour of the day must have a bigger, juicier story than the hour before- even if the story is a phantom whisp of smoke- even if the news media has to create its news.
-in our films, where in 1982 the average shot length was 20.2 seconds; 25 years later, it was 2.5 seconds.
-in our sports, where any drug that assures a quicker step up is welcome, until too many people find out.

The economic recession is a direct product of our need for speed. The very cornerstones of our financial system were in the business of guaranteeing loans for irrational pipe dreams. There were rooms full of eager associates, selling subprime loans and securities by the dozen in order to reach their quotas. We trade on the future without any thought of the work required to make good on that future’s promise. It’s as if we’ve lost the capacity to enjoy the collection of moments that eventually lead to gratification.
They are there, always, just as the molecules in air surround us mediums. Without these molecules, we couldn’t receive the varied arrays of sound, or feel the wind pressed flush against our skin. To attempt to replicate those experiences every instant without the building blocks of molecules is insanity. It is the miracle of each of those molecules- of each moment of our lives- that deserves our appreciation. To live within our means, we must learn to appreciate what lies within our means.

19 February 2009

I went to see a film the other night. It was a relatively unknown film, at a relatively late time, so the theater was unsurprisingly empty. This is something I relish and secretly hope for most every trip to the theater. I sprawl about as many chairs as possible and react to the film uninhibited. The course of the film’s story arc swirled through a myriad of feelings and thoughts, and I smiled, grimaced, and cried along with every turn. I clenched in agony during two terrible choices, writhing against my chair and myself. I pleaded to the screen “don’t” over and over again during a final, tragic choice.
My eyes glossed with tears when theirs did.
My muscles flinched when theirs did.

It didn’t matter that I was in a large, dark room with a pearlescent screen. I was there, but I wasn’t. I was in the plot, in the characters. In the church of singing children, in the thick courtroom. With every nerve-ending of my body, I was in the film. And it is the mere possibility of that experience that compels me to take part. Too often we discount those experiences because of their detachment from our physical world; but the emotional world in which we simultaneously reside gains sweet nourishment from each one. Whether the experience is borne of a physical interaction or participation in a work of art- it has emotional relevance. Our soul, like our brain, must process stimuli consistently regardless of the framing of that stimuli. All that is required is the lifting of an eyelid.

08 February 2009

White and ice

It rained ice from the sky the other day. Then, it showered the ground with sleet. Then, it finished off with a fresh layer of snow. These winter storms run through Oklahoma once a year, usually when most don’t expect it. After the storm was over, we had a nice layer of frozen precipitation covering the landscape. When I awoke on the third day, the storm had passed and the sky was filled with bright sunlight. Not wanting to miss a day of ice and snow, I went out for a walk.
I say walk, but what I really mean is I went out to run and slide across, down, and through sidewalks and streets. I have a certain path I rely on for my walks- alongside a nice little ditch, through a pleasant suburban neighborhood to a pleasant pond in the heart of a pleasantly small community. I followed this path with eyes wide and a smile even wider. Ice fell from a pine tree nearby, as though it was filled with bristling snakes shedding their crystal skin. There was hardly any crunch under my feet, because the ice and snow was as smooth as a brand new ice cube.
As I walked/skated along the path of the covered sidewalk, I came upon a group of three little girls, sledding garbage can lids down a slick incline into a run-off. They took turns on their refuse-vehicles, their buoyant giggles in tow. I tried to stay out of their way, but in doing so I started to slide down the ditch’s icy embankment. When I finally slid to a stop at the edge of the creek, I laughed to myself, (at myself) and continued alongside the creek. The sidewalk was a good 10 feet above me; it took me a moment to realize that escape was going to be tricky. The ice was so slick that to walk up the incline would have been impossible. I was dressed for a simple walk outside- treadles basketball shoes, ankle-high socks, and no gloves for my hands. Some blades of grass had poked their heads out of the snowdrift, offering me a semblance of traction. I used these small spots of grass to make my way, moving each foot forwards in short increments while the stationary foot slid backwards. It was a painstaking process, awkwardly flailing about as I progressed upwards inch by inch. That’s how I do things- whether on the ski slope, the basketball court, or the mountainside. It looks ungainly and I’m nearly falling out of control, but somehow I make it happen.
Yet this incline was proving impossible. I could make it to within reach of the summit, but I inevitably slipped into the long slide back to the creek. I would crouch low, claw at the ice with my bare fingers, but that couldn’t stop the inexorable slide. I eventually tried a new spot- a promising patch of grass with no ice. I used my long leg to secure a foothold and pulled the rest of my body up to meet it. At that point I was still a good 4 feet short of the sidewalk, and I had but one option: a young tree, supported by a rod and stakes in the ground, stood as my lone hope. I surveyed the distance, flexed my feet, and rolled my shoulders back and forth. Why my shoulders? I have no idea.
And then, without really planning it, I leaped.
And missed.
I hadn’t quite aimed properly, or gotten a decent amount of force in the leap. I reached out with my hands, but I knew I was off. So, I extended myself at a hard angle. Before the momentum of my mass could pull me back down I managed to ring my hands around the tree like a lasso. My body swung from side to side, but I held firm. With a final heave I mounted the tree and stood once more on the sidewalk. There I stood; sweat droplets on my face, a knee throbbing, hands bruised and slightly bloodied. The garbage lid girls and their giggles were pointed towards me. I laughed, waved, and continued on my way.
The pond was completely frozen over when I reached it. On it stood scores of geese and waterfowl, so accustomed to their home of fluidity. As I listened to the ducks clicking in disapproval, I couldn’t avoid the terribly cliché image of a huddled mass of grumpy, old men. They stood in the cold as curmudgeons, bitterly muttering. At the same instant, the laughter of more children like the little girls came bouncing across the pond like rays of light. I was confronted with the two disparate reactions to this simple phenomenon. In a place like Oklahoma, winter only really visits once or twice a year. When snow comes, it changes the very nature of the ground you stand on. For some this is the chance for adventure; anything you take for granted can become an entirely new experience. For some, all there is to do, it seems, is to stand your ground and mutter to the wind. As the change comes falling into our lives, each moment is white, blank: lying still in await of our imprint.

15 January 2009


"Waterboarding is torture."
-Eric Holder, Attorney General Appointee

What a nice, cool breathe of relief. Finally, after the blundersome tap dances of the last eight years, someone in charge has taken a stand for the sake of this country's morality.
Yes, I know it only seems like a few, insignificant words, in an insignificant confirmation hearing. But when I think of all of the "I don't recall"s, and "I don't know"s, and "It depends on how it’s done"s, those words gain powerful meaning. They say that we will no longer sacrifice our conscience. They say that we are done with the half-lies, rationalizations and deceptions that turn is into mirror-images of those we hunt. This country was founded on the rule of law, and not the rule of fear. It is our equality under the law that feeds our morality, that shows us all to be the same. We are humanity, inter-connected and self-reflective. When we break our own law, even in pursuit of others who have broken it, we break the bonds that connect us as humans. That was the meaning of this country, in the beginning. And the brotherhood of nations. It was not to say that the rules created by a few are perfect and unquestioned, but that an equal recognition of that rule of law will create a more perfect society. There us a lawful path for every process or undertaking, even to change.
Instead of submitting to the rule of law when we felt threatened, our leaders subverted it. They took matters into their own hands and minds. And we sat and watched, whether with incredulity or uneasiness, their deception without doing a thing. Millions of blind eyes were turned, sealed shut by fear. Fear of what we would find, fear of the lawlessness of those who terrorize us. We sat on our plush couches, in our perfectly modulated comfort, and we watched it happen.

The city on the hill used to be a beacon of light in the world; yet our light is only now a shadow of what we used to be. It is up to us, as much as our newly-elected leaders, to untie the binds of fearful darkness that have so ensnared it.

07 January 2009

To begin

I have always struggled with the concept of blogging. I want to share my true nature- the conflicted ideas debating in my mind, the experiences in life that touch me, the ideals that drive my spirit. But to what extent? The moments in life are ever so minute, yet dazzlingly complex; to reveal the details of their magical existence would be a great chore, and in all likelihood a terrible bore to you. It would be frivolous and, in a way, demeaning. Even if I spared no detail, in the end it is still up to you, the reader, to color my stories with the brush of your own perspective. What I hope to do, instead, is to re-create the feeling of those moments that move me deeply, and those arguments that stir within me. They will be there for you to decipher, to probe, to do with what you will.

You'll soon discover that it is usually the simple, small facts of life that speak to me most clearly. I recently immersed myself in an introduction to cosmology, and one facet connected me even more deeply to life. All of life, as we have known and witnessed on this planet for thousands of years, shares the same source. The basic matter that constitutes this earth and its inhabitants is a remnant of large supernovas eons ago. We come from stardust, made of the rarest material in the grand scheme of the universe. The ancient mystics taught that the path to enlightenment lay inward, to the realization that we are all one and the same. Enlightenment, gnosis, is the acknowledgement of our truest nature in harmony with all that is. In a very scientific way, they were completely accurate. We are the same- not just humankind, but all of that chich we designate as being alive. We are stardust.
Of course, that is an incomplete statement. It only seems to address te physical nature. There must be something more: to explain why we feel the things we feel, why our emotions hold such sway in our lives. Why we experience the world in such distinct ways. There is something more to who we are, to what life is. Something unseen, unheard, is precisely this Mystery of life that defines us. We have many names for the source- Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu. It gives and takes, creates and destroys life. It is, in a sense, that which we name as life. When I open my eyes on the world outside, I sense it. It is in every leaf, every particle of light, every droplet of water. In me. The miracle of what is awes me, and inspires me. What society wants to consider small and insignificant, I consider to be essential.

This is what inspires me to write. It is not out of self-importance or ego that I share the ruminations of my soul. People sometimes say I am a good writer, but I know they are simply too kind and loving. I am a misty shaft of light, a potential and nothing more as of yet. My greatest weakness is my inability to finish, to carry through. If you searched me, you would find only ideas. Outlines, and beginnings. But nothing that I have truly completed, nothing that I have accomplished with my writing. This blog, it turns out, is for my own aid as much as anything else. It is to help me remain accountable to the aspirations and dreams within.