Most Important Job
Overflow
The stuff that spills out of my head. Half Journal, half Blog, half stream of consciousness, half meaningless blather, half....

My name is Cody Clark.
If you're interested, you can find out about me here and here. But this is the site where I am most at home. Please excuse the mess.

I love guests, like everybody else, so sign my Guestbook.

Oh and if you wish to shower me with gifts, here's my wish list.


Listening To
Wilco
United Future Organization
Thievery Corporation
Steve Reich
Fuschnickens
Mocean Worker
Bowling For Soup
Radiohead
Barenaked Ladies
Cornershop


Reading
The Constant Companion
   by Eknath Easwaran
SoulSalsa
   by Leonard Sweet
The Perennial Philosophy
   by Aldous Huxley
Peace Like A River
   by Leif Enger
Tomorrow Now
   by Bruce Sterling
An Intimate History of Humanity
   by Theodore Zeldin
Sandman
   by Neil Gaiman
White Noise
   by Don Delillo
Creating Positive Futures
   by James Ogilvy


Stuff To Do
Environmental Scanning
Work on Waitt Foundation Community Site content
Finally learn how to use Paint Shop Pro
Put poetry on website
Finish friend's tshirt
Paint more tshirts


People to See
me
Rebecca Blood
Fleming Funch
Chris Corrigan
Peter Russell
Phil Ringalda
pamie
Phil Gyford
Owen
Mark And(erson)
Bob McDaniel
Nick Bostrom
Eric
Mary T.
Margaret Berry
Eliot Wilder
Daniel Talsky
Fred from Floyd
Gwen Zepeda
Alison Hawke
Malcom Davidson
Veronica Nichols
Caterina Fake
Meg Pickard
Kurt Brobeck
Dave Trowbridge
meesh
Sarah Hepola
Matthew Sturges
Dooce


Places to Go
Building Tomorrow's Communities
Futurescan
Mondo News
Everything2
Arts & Letters Daily
SciTech Daily Review
Arts Journal
Slate
Salon
Business Daily Review
EurekAlert!
SmartMarriages
Metacritic
Red Rock Eater
Obscure Store
memepool
Techdirt
Robot Wisdom
kottke.org
Boing Boing
Daley News
Raising Hell
Internet Scout
The Marriage Movement
Shifted Librarian
Deviant Art
Beliefnet
Relapsed Catholic
Holy Weblog!
Sursum Corda
not martha



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Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Mundane Stuff

"The fly that touches honey cannot use its wings;
so the soul that clings to spiritual sweetness
ruins its freedom and hinders contemplation."

- St. John of the Cross -


This is just what I needed to read (which in itself sets off some internal alarms.) The vast majority of my time I do not *feel* close to God, I do not *hear* the sweet music of spirituality over the hum of the engines of my life on steady course. But I can be assured that the steady hum is spiritual music of its own prosaic sort. When I think about it, that is..

I know people who are addicted to the candles and incense and music and all the sweet feelings that a superficially sensual spirituality can inspire. I've been known to lapse into that trap where I think I must *feel* spiritual to *be* spiritual. It's that trap which makes me a prime target for commercialized feel-good new-age spiritual hucksterism. It's that trap which makes me question my interest in Buddhism because of its behind the curve candle shop curio trendiness.

It's an attitude that makes me not look for the spirit in the depths of dishwater, dirty nappies, and dingy laundry.

One of my priest friends said some thing to me recently that I just had to write down. He said it's his job as a priest to make mundane stuff holy -- he takes normal bread and wine and makes it into a sacrament. But then he said that we laypeople have the same job to make mundane stuff holy as well.

The divine can be found in the details of a life lived in Love, but those details are rarely the stuff of veneration and worship. Would you put a diaper on an altar? Only if the diaper genie was full, I guess. :)


Monday, April 28, 2003
Its all Good

Being asked to speak to a group of married couples about marriage on Saturday night: GOOD
Having to write a talk about marriage on Friday night to give to a group of married couples for Saturday Night: NOT GOOD
Arriving and realizing that the couples you're about to tell about marriage have been married on average thirty years, twice as long as you: NOT GOOD
Being able to adjust your talk during the rubber chicken dinner: GOOD
Having a rubber chicken dinner set in front of you, which you must politely eat: NOT GOOD
Eating a rubber chicken dinner that turns out to be quite tasty after all : GOOD
Audience enjoying your talk: GOOD.
Having enough time left after the speaking engagement to catch a quick movie: GOOD
Finding a movie, Chasing Papi that fit exactly into your time window: GOOD
Being at Gulfpointe 97 theatres with the thronging Saturday night crowds, 75% of them theater hopping teens: NOT GOOD
Looking at the characters of the movie, who are all serious eye candy: GOOD
Watching characters who have the acting talent of serious eye candy: NOT GOOD
Listening while the idiot behing you in the theatre answers his cell phone DURING THE MOVIE and carries on a conversation: NOT GOOD
Imagining the idiot being struck dumb from his own cell phone radiation: GOOD
Noticing the interesting use of animation as a plot device in Chasing Papi: GOOD
Noticing that the plot, dialogue, direction, and everything else (besides the eye candy) was uninteresting: NOT GOOD
Not caring because you had a night out with the woman you love: GOOD
Pulling into the babysitter's five minutes early: GOOD
Getting home and collasping into bed: GOOD
The idea of mixing service and dating: VERY GOOD


Friday, April 25, 2003
Small Sermons

Here are three small poems worth mulling over. Would have been more appropriate to post these during lent. I just post them as they are sent to me.

When the mind is attracted
To anything it senses,
You are bound.

Where there is no I,
You are free.

Where there is I,
You are bound.

Consider this.

It is easy.

Embrace nothing,
Turn nothing away.

-Ashtavakra Gita 8:3-4

--------------------------------------

We Who Prayed And Wept

We who prayed and wept
for liberty from kings
and the yoke of liberty
accept the tyrrany of things
we do not need.
In plenitude too free,
we have become adept
beneath the yoke of greed.

Those who will not learn
in plenty to keep their place
must learn it by their need
when they have had their way
and the fields spurn their seed.
We have failed Thy grace.
Lord, I flinch and pray,
send Thy necessity.

--- Wendell Berry

------------------------------------

Ashamed of what's not shameful,
not ashamed of what is,
beings adopting wrong views
go to a bad destination.

Seeing danger where there is none,
and no danger where there is,
beings adopting wrong views,
go to a bad destination.

-Dhammapada, 22, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu



Heidi Cody

I generally don't like to do "look what I found in my referrer logs" posts, but sometimes I find stuff that's too good not to mention.

There was one google hit on my page from someone searching for "Heidi Cody" and I was wondering if it was someone I know in real life looking for us on the web. What I found when I followed the link myself was pleasant surprise.

There is a Brooklyn-based artist named Heidi Cody who does brightly-colored print art. And she's pretty good too.

She uses her bright prints to highlight the saturation of commercialism in culture. For instance, each letter in this alphabet comes from the logo of a major american consumer brand. Can you recognize them? And how about this collection called "Fast Pitch" which contains small bits of familiar logos? I could recognize Starbucks, Oreos, and Dominoes Pizza. (Says a lot about me huh?) How 'bout you?

So Heidi and I have a cool namesake of sorts. I love the Internet.


Hair Genes

Happy DNA day! I was listening to the DNA day story on NPR just as I was trimming my beard, so my thoughts turned to hair and heredity.

My beard is just like my hair has always been. It has the same unruly, impossible nature my head of hair has.

I grew up envying kids with straight hair. Hair you could actually style instead of just tame. Hair that would obey. Back in the seventies when I was a kid everyone had "wings" ala Farrah Fawcett and Shaun Cassidy. I wanted "wings." What I had was more like "tentacles." My hair was thick and curly and ruled by waves and swirls and cow-licks that made every single barber I ever had remark about my hair. I had thick Black Forest Hair.

There were two times in my life I was satisfied with my hair. Once when I just let my hair win and it let it grow out unabated. The waves and swirls, about six or so inches out, turned into a thick curly mane of hair. And nowadays, when I cut it back so short that my hair has no freedom to get swirly on me.

Same goes for my beard. If I let it grow out, I look positively Hassidic, and my wife is after me to shave. And when I trim it very short it looks uniform, but kind of retro ala Miami Vice, and my wife says it's too short. But at medium trim, you can make out the patchy shocks of thick whiskers and the unpredictable sparser areas, like an uncharted geography of follicular distribution. And so I am rarely satisfied. But it beats shaving all to hell.

The one time I shaved my beard (egged on by a particularly aggregious beard-shaping mishap) I hopped into bed with my wife and she saw me and screamed. Once she figured out it was me and not some bed-jumping marauder who vaguely looked like her husband, she said immediately, with urgency "Grow it back." So I've had a beard ever since. And probably always will.

Girlzilla has inherited my thick forest hair. And she has the same love-hate relationship with it. At its current length, when she does nothing with it and lets it hang, it looks like a blonde version of Rosanna Rosanna Danna's hair. (Old SNL reference) She wants straight hair like the other kids too. Last night she was up past her bedtime trying to straighten it with a curling iron, frustrated to tears. We had to send her to bed in mid battle. Poor kid, she has my hair genes.

Now with Mr. Freshpants, who is African American, we have ahead of us a whole new hair adventure which will require some training and adjustment. I wash the oil out of my own hair. I put oil in his hair after I wash it. It's a whole new territory.

Petunia's hair is like her. Wispy and petite and eminently stylable. Looks good with bows.

But neither of them has my hair genes. Girzilla does. Sorry kiddo.


Thursday, April 24, 2003
My Dogma ate my Karma

A discussion in some comments below made me think: What do Karma, Zen, and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle have in common?

They're all concepts that, since they have been popularized into common usage, are usually inaccurately applied.

Take Karma, for instance. People talk about Karma as if it was some form of cosmic retribution. Like, let's say that you made a really boorish, insensitive post on your blog and then a few days later you got attacked by a Rottweiler and were seriously hurt. That's an unfortunate coincidence, but that's not Karma.

Nobody, not even people who make fun of fat people, deserve to be attacked by a Rottweiler. I certainly hope that person recovers as quickly and comfortably as possible.

Karma, if I understand it right, has to do with how your choices affect your future. Like, if you are a violent, angry person who goes around acting violent and angry, you are more likely to become a victim of violence and anger yourself. Not because you *deserve* it, but because you set it up that way for yourself. Karma is not so much a religious belief as a good sense philosophy to live by.

So, if you post insensitive things on your blog, you do not deserve to be attacked by a big dog. But you do create a future for yourself that is more aligned with insensitivity which, if it becomes a habit, will probably not be good for you in the long run.

The good news is that you can always change your Karma by changing your choices. I like ending with the good news.


How you know you're in a NASA meeting.

You go for several minutes where all the nouns, aside from the occasional pronoun, are acronyms.


Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Blow your anti-terrorism whistle.

This is some very funny terrorism advice. From a local Houston group.


Berry Good

Wendell Berry captures my current mood of ambivalence, ambiguity, and equivocation in three little gems:

About the tension between public and private personas...


A Warning To My Readers

Please do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full of
fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.

-- Wendell Berry


About procrastination and productivity...


Throwing Away The Mail

Nothing is simple,
not even simplification.
Thus throwing away
the mail, I exchange
the complexity of duty
for the simplicity of guilt.

-- Wendell Berry


About contemplation and companionship...


Except

Now that you have gone
and I am alone and quiet,
my contentment would be
complete, if I did not wish
you were here so I could say,
"How good it is, Tanya,
to be alone and quiet."

-- Wendell Berry


I know he's the "Mad Farmer" and i am a middle-aged city boy, but I can never read him without a nod of acknowledgement and agreement.


Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Pinocchio World I World I'd Like to See

So I'm already in a bad mood. Seeing as how this creeping crud in my chest has not let me draw a good breath in several days and I still have this earache and headache and it's really cramping my style.

And then I run into this post on a blog about this story. For a further exhibit of human kindness and charity, read some of the comments below the post. Priceless specimens there I tell you.

First of all, let me say that I am basically against the lawsuit in the story. And I'll be the first to own up to the fact that obesity is usually a condition created by bad choices. Granted there is a huge very profitable infrastructure that is invested in encouraging folks to get fat and keeping them that way while making them feel insecure about being fat so they'll spend lots of money on loopy shortcuts to get skinny again. And there is a reasonable body of medical evidence that at least some obesity is determined by genetics -- some people can eat like pigs and get a free pass from putting on the pounds which is most decidedly not fair. But in most cases, I believe it is a matter of personal responsibility and behavior. I know that first hand.

But you know...

You know what I'd like to see, if only for a glimpse? I'd like to see *everyone's* fundamental character flaws and poor choices manifest themselves physically in a way that is unmistakeable and unnatractive. Kind of like the Pinnochio phenomenon writ universal -- you lie, your nose grows. That kind of thing.

Lesse, what if people who, say, made rude insensitive comments grew hairy moles on their foreheads and with each little smug remark the mole grew a little bigger? Or what if malicious gossip made your eyes slide slightly out of alignment so that you looked a little more like a Picasso with each little juicy tidbit you share with your peeps? Yeah, a whole world that could not hide their pettiness, shallowness, and, yes, lack of self-discipline, behind an attractive face and body. That way, no one could be beautiful on the outside without being beautiful on the inside. Just maybe the world would be a better place.

Pinocchio World. That would be some sweet justice. It wouldn't relieve any of my problems at all. But it would be kind of cool to see.

But only in my mind's eye. For a minute. I wouldn't wish that kind of humiliation on anyone. If you are so blessed, then please appreciate it if you have the option of hiding the evidence of your faults. Not everyone can do that.

I guess Jesus would have me pray for this person and the conversion of their heart or something. So I will. But not because I want to.


Beyond Lovers

As I sat at dinner last night my line of sight was directly on this older couple in the booth by our table. They must have been in their eighties. Her hands were palsied as she poked at her salad. He stooped slightly over his. They didn't say a word to each other the entire time as far as I could tell, but their eyes held contact often. It seemed as if they'd been together so long that they had abandoned words and gone telepathic. Their eyes did their speaking.

They shared a dessert, cheesecake, as apparently was their habit. The waitress seemed to know their routine. After they paid he gently stroked her hair as he helped her up from the booth. They left slowly, her on his arm. The two forks crossed on the empty dessert plate they left behind seemed touchingly significant.

Beautiful. To be beyond being lovers, beyond mere soulmates, to the undefinable next level. What more inspiring vision for any married person can there be?


Monday, April 21, 2003
Deconstraction

I had this weird experience in Church last night.

You ever get that kind of odd feeling when you're listening to someone talk and you suddenly notice their makeup? Or their hair? And you have this totally absurd feeling and think, "This person has paint on her face as she is talking to me. And she has combed petroleum products through her hair. And she is wearing spun plant fibers woven with strands of more petroleum products on her body. And she has breasts. And a sternum. And bones. Which are made up of bone cells which have all these different kinds of organelles those have complex molecules and all those molecules have atoms like calcium. And atoms have, you know, protons and stuff and protons are made up of God only knows how many different kinds of subatomic particles like muons and quarks and such. And all are separated by space. So this woman I am talking to is a well-organized pile of particles made mostly of empty space. And on a quantum level, each of her particles is a probability function. She's a complex probability function. And I am a complex probability function. And were talking about what to eat for lunch"

That ever happen to you, in a split-second, as you are talking to someone? The person you are relating to suddenly deconstructs in your mind's eye when you least expect it?

It's like how I could be driving down the street and think suddenly, "I am operating a pile of heavy machine-tooled metal parts at a speed that would certainly kill me were they not moving with me at the same speed. My life depends not on those parts, but on the relationship they have to one another. My life is in the hands of an army of people who machine-tooled and arranged this pile of parts for me."

I call it deconstraction. We create for ourselves a curtain of reality so we don't have to deal with all of reality at one time and our brains do not explode. The curtain is necessary for us to function, but it is a curtain indeed. Yes, it may be an enormously complex pile of parts, but I call it a "Car" because most of the time I must deal with it as one unit. My friend is a "person" and not a pile of particles because that is how I must relate to her most of the time. Every once in a while my mind pulls back the curtain for a tiny glimpse at what lies behind my carefully constructed reality filter curtain. And I find it very distracting. Decon-straction.

And so as Fr. Albert was bowing to the paschal candle last night, I had a Spiritual Deconstraction. Symbolism, history, traditions, mystery, beliefs exploded from behind the Paschal Candle and then kept coming out as the Mass progressed. Everything I laid eyes on was deconstracted briefly. I had to work to turn it off in my head. I came out of Easter mass a bit disoriented, as if I'd just walked on to (supposedly) solid ground after stumbling my way over a number of sand dunes.

And this rambling post is not really just a post, but a vast number of signs and symbols arranged from bytes which are made of bits, which are just electrical charges held in certain arrangements, this way and that...

Quick, close the curtain!


Agony and Ecstasy

It was a good Easter weekend. Spent all weekend in the Texas Hill Country on the Frio river. A lot of it sitting in one of those folding armchairs with my legs dangling into the cold, fast-running water while watching my kids and friends splashing and having lots of kid fun. Ahhh... two days of ecstasy.

Well, Friday was better because there were fewer people at our spot, so I could take in all the natural beauty. Saturday there were more, um, river people. I'm talkiing mullets and sunglasses which looked like they came free with a box of Marlboros. I'm talking special floating tube-coolers containing beer that I quit drinking once I came of age and could buy my own beer. I'm talking some seriously ill-advised bikinis. (Granted there were some well-advised ones too, but they were way outnumbered). So yeah, the hoots and hollers of inebriated river folk and the train-wreck can't-look-away-but-don't-want-to-see-either spectre of rarely exposed flesh distracted from the natural beauty of the spot, but it was all good. We had a blast on the Frio river.

And then I was reminded of one thing that plagued me when I used to live in that part of Texas -- allergies. Mesquite pollen, cedar. I felt like someone had scooped out my sinuses with a melon baller and filled them with oatmeal. I don't think it's fair that I should have stuff coming out of my nose if I cannot get any air in through my nose. I'm just sayin'. I spent most of Saturday night trying to sleep and failing. I must have sounded like a drugged bear gasping for breath. Snort. Hack. Sniff. Agony.

We got back in plenty of time for Easter Mass, where I was sniffly and bleary and coughed a lot. I also contemplated resurrection -- not just resurrection in general, but resurrection of the body and Jesus' resurrection. I contemplated my inability to get to the wordless truth of something without having to fit it through the filter of my brain's limited understanding. If anyone has a good "how" and "why" explanation about the resurrection of the personal body, I'd like to see it. Like Agent Mulder, "I Want to Believe," but I haven't worked out any mental models to reconcile my avowed belief with my brain's understanding. So, like I say, I could use a little help here. Anyone? Anyone?

And so Easter Monday. I'm physically feeling a little better today. Now it just feels like someone scooped out my sinuses with a melon baller two days ago. And I got this residual cough that won't let go. Well, with enough drugs, I am hoping to sleep the whole night tonight. A boy can dream can't he? Not with mesquite pollen, apparently.


Thursday, April 17, 2003
Happy Easter

I know it's early, cause it's only Holy Thursday, and we have the contemplation of passion and death and sacrifice yet to come. But I'm about to venture to the Texas Hill Country to spend Easter with family and friends and I'll be out of Internet contact until Easter Monday.

So I wish you a Happy Easter and, even if your only observance of Easter is limited to secularized pagan rituals involving fertility symbols such as eggs and bunnies, may your Easter experience renew your appreciation of new life. Rejoice in the beauty of Spring and take time to be glad and young.

you shall above all things be glad and young.
For if you're young,whatever life you wear

it will become you;and if you are glad
whatever's living will yourself become.
Girlboys may nothing more than boygirls need:
i can entirely her only love

whose any mystery makes every man's
flesh put space on;and his mind take off time

that you should ever think,may god forbid
and(in his mercy)your true lover spare:
for that way knowledge lies,the foetal grave
called progress,and negation's dead undoom.

I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance

--- E.E. Cummings




Monday, April 14, 2003
Poetry

And after that self-serving post, I give you a page of good varietal poetry to read.


The Master of Eighth Grade

I got a late start in my education. I went to school through kindergarten and lost interest in school when my parents didn't make me go anymore. I just didn't see the point in all that preachy school stuff. The "real world", as I defined it at the time, had much more to teach me. I saw school as a crutch for people who couldn't handle the "real world" well.

But as I got older, I started to come up against limits to what my pragmatic "real world" approach could do for me. I experienced frustration and self-doubt. Gradually, I awakened to the fact that I needed school to broaden my horizons and that I needn't shun the "real world" just because of my schooling.

So I had some catching up to do. And I was a quick study. A model student. So much so that I got wrapped up in my image as a good student. That became me.

I reached the eighth grade and that was my best year so far. I was the best student I knew. I got to know the eighth grade material so well that I started to help the teacher teach the other students. I actually taught some classes. I had authority and status. And that status made me even more attached to the truths that I taught in eighth grade to the other eighth grade students. So I stayed in eighth grade and taught eighth grade because I was good at it.

I became the master of eighth grade.

-------------------------------------------------------------

You know of course that I'm lying. No, of course, I have a graduate degree in "real life" (whatever that is.)

The story above is an analogy of my spritual life to date. It explains as closely as I am able the spiritual malaise I felt Saturday night around a campfire at a retreat where I was helping to.... teach...spiritual truths....to eighth grade students. Sigh.

At the climax of the retreat I was giving, when all of the retreatants were experiencing the closeness to God the retreat was designed to elicit, I was feeling far away. On the outside looking in, remembering the excitement of new spiritual progress. Of the "beginner's mind." Of not knowing instead of being one who "knows." Or has deluded himself that he knows.

Actually that's not fair. I am not a hypocrite. (At least not in that sense.) I believe in what I teach. The eighth grade level spiritual truths that I have attained have served me and my family well and when I get up to talk about them I depend with my whole heart on their truth and utility in this spiritual life.

But I am the still just the master of eighth grade. And ninth grade scares the shit out of me.

I have some unlearning to do.


Friday, April 11, 2003
Never Mind: a Nine Inch Nails experience.

Well, I feel pretty dumb. I pointed to Skull Bolt yesterday because I admire the guy's writing style and that it reminded me of some other poets I like. Today I went back and read more, as I tend to do when I like someone's writing, and.. well... hmmm.

I still like the guy's writing style. But I cannot endorse it because I cannot stomach what he writes about. Sprinkled with unnecessary angst and degrading images that I frankly don't want to parade in front of my psyche on a regular basis. I was enthusiastic about this guy's writing style that I hadn't vetted his writing for content all that well.

That's a frustrating dichotomy I'm faced with often. Some of the best art, from an artistic standpoint, is repugnant to me from a philosophical, spiritual standpoint.

It's like my experience when I was first exposed to Nine Inch Nails about ten years ago. I thought the music was some of the most innovative I had heard in a long time. The beat, the way they worked the industrial noises in, was way cool. I even had somebody make me a tape. I drove down the road a number of times blasting NIN at the top of my asthmatic stereo's lungs before I stopped to listen to the actual lyrics.

Oh. This would not do. The spiritual malaise that oozes from Trent Reznor's mind -- it's not necessarily the sex references and cursing, it's the seething self-loathing -- made me feel dirty. I love the driving, complex wall of sound that is their music. But I will not. Not I say. Drive down the road with the words "I want to f*** you like an animal" in my head. You choose the images and words that you put into your head. I need to choose something less life-draining than that to fill my brain. But if Nine Inch Nails ever puts out an instrumental album, I'll be so there.

What makes this problem even worse is that the Christian "alternatives" to these popular culture standouts are so abysmal. There is nowhere else to go for "Christian Pop Culture" except the bland top 40 ghetto of Contemporary Christian radio. And forget anything avant-garde, cutting edge, or alternative. It's frustrating.

So I linked a guy who writes really well about stuff I don't really like. Sent y'all there. He even apparently linked me back. And now, with a rather red face I have to make like Emily Latella and say, "Never mind." Sorry, Skull Bolt, I don't blame you if you de-link me and flame me to boot.


Creating Wealth

Last weekend Heidi and I spoke at an Engaged Encounter retreat. It works on the Cursillo model which involves a series of presentations interspersed with periods of writing and reflection. On each EE weekend we do, Heidi and I give some of the presentations and then try to use the periods of reflection to address issues in our relationship. This last weekend, we reached some conclusions about our money situation. And last night was the first in what I am hoping is a paradigm-breaking solution for us -- the Thursday Night Planning Date.

In the past, we've each taken turns being the one saddled with the responsibility to "do the checkbook" and "pay bills." This is something neither of us like -- we enjoy the spending part just fine though. The job of accounting and paying for our life has always been a lonely, frustrating job fraught with non-communication and, at times, resentment.

At our last retreat, we decided on a more creative approach. To take this mundane dreaded task and turn it into a regular "date" at the local coffee house. Heidi and I know that we are formidable team and that together we can do anything. So why not do it together and relate our money to a larger vision for our household?

This will require that we not look at this part of our life as just getting and spending money. We agreed we need to take a broader approach to what constitutes "wealth," "capital," and "currency" and examine our expenses in light of what increases our family's true wealth.

We're talking different kinds of wealth -- social, emotional, spiritual wealth as well as material wealth. How do we use all those things? Do we deplete our material wealth unnecessarily when some other type of wealth might fit the bill? Do we acquire "capital" -- things that will help us create the various types of wealth in our home -- more than we acquire "stuff" and consumables? Does every material thing we acquire fit our family mission and vision? How are we using our various "currencies" -- time, skills, attention, information, as well as money -- to build and spread our wealth?

Heidi and I are big picture people. We're dreamers. And so our Thursday nights are set aside to put the mundane "chore" of paying bills into the big picture -- in the light of achieving our hopes and dreams as a team.

But the road to growth is littered with the rotted carcases of bold new improvement initiatives. Of this I am all too painfully aware. What we need are prayers -- yours and our own -- that we will keep the resolve to keep this practice going.

But so far, so good.


Thursday, April 10, 2003
Poetry, Blogs, and Conversational Surrealism

Do you like the poetry of James Tate? It can be rather absurd. How about the poetry of Charles Simic? If you like the plainspoken absurdities, the conversational surrealism, of their poetry, then you'll like Skull Bolt.

I don't know who this guy is. He stumbled onto my blog and left a comment. But I find his own brand of conversational surrealism delighfully disorienting:


Note to whoever kills me:

Please retrieve the wire from my pants pocket. Plug one end deep in my ear. Plug other end into a telephone jack (see schematic). Please give my soul this chance to make it to heaven. [Is the internet heaven?] [World Soul, collective whatever thingy?] Bury my body (no coffin please) in shallow ground, but first plant marijuana seeds right in my torso and thorax. Let it grow. Let it grow. I want to be in somebody's high conversation. Use my clothes for scare crows.




Wednesday, April 09, 2003
Looking Ahead?

The smoke is far from clear over Iraq, and already we're starting the chest-beating towards other "rogue nations." Pax Americana, anyone?


Cautious Cheer

I did not agree with the means, but I cannot help but enjoy the ends even thought the means don't justify them. It is nice to see the Iraqis celebrating in their own streets.

But I am worried about the looting and whether we can restore a legitimate and effective government to Iraq. The fact that we apparently won so quickly is good, but it means that Bush will almost certainly listen to Rumsfeld and the Pentagon instead of Colin Powell and the State Department. It is, I repeat, a bad idea to let our military run our diplomacy. As Caterina pointed out yesterday, our track record in rebuilding Afghanistan does not really speak well for the US as a nation builder.

I share the sentiments of the 46 year old man in this story:

"Before it was so bad for us - so this makes us happy. We look forward to having a new government and an end to this mess. Look, the US is welcome here - but not for long, just for a while to help the next Iraqi government get going. And after that they have no right to stay here; and while they are here they must see us as human beings and not as barrels of oil."


Tuesday, April 08, 2003
Redemption Blog

Reusablog is my latest fun new blog find. She blogs imaginative ways to reuse stuff you'd ordinarily throw away. I am sympathetic to her cause. I like to use trash and junk in sculpture because it symbolizes the redemption we all have access to through faith. This cool little blog echoes that theme. Worth a visit.


Longhorn Lamentation

Since we had no plans to watch U.T. play in the NCAA Championship last night, we caught a movie on pay-per-view instead. Sigh.

What is it about U.T. sports and big games? Can't seem to win the big ones that really count. It adds to the character of the team, I guess. Well, I am a true fan, win or lose. Thanks for a good season guys. And congrats to Syracuse.

We'll get 'em next year. Yeah.

That said, this person needs a little of what these people are selling, IMO. Every time Texas chokes in a big game, I expect a little good-natured razzing, but please.


She Toddles! She Waddles!

Petunia, as of yesterday, has decided that walking might be the way to go. She's been able to walk for a month now, taking two or three unassisted steps here and there, but crawling has been her default mode. Now she toddles around with a "Hey, look at me!" smile on her face to the applause of all standers-by.

C'mon baby, do the locomotion....


Monday, April 07, 2003
The New American Century...

...is scaring the piddle out of me. I'm not kidding. This war is not about oil or WMDs or Al Qaeda or even Sadaam's atrocious human-rights record. It's about American hegemony in the 21st century. This is a coherent plan, set forth by some very smart, but very wrong, people.

This (thanks Dave) is a must-read for every American. Then get it from the horse's mouth -- The Project for a New American Century.

Add to this growing wealth of journalism documenting the new Pax Americana vision.

They're even remaking the maps to the new vision.

Do we really expect the rest of the world to stand by and watch as this strategy unfolds? Sounds like a recipe for world war with US in the role of the agressor to be repelled.


Shut the Door

It was an exhausting weekend. I'm tired of talking.

Heidi and I spent all day Saturday and part of Sunday at an Engaged Encounter Retreat talking to engaged couples about Christian marriage. And then we immediately went home and finished preparing a class to teach a bunch of junior high kids about Holy Week that night.

That's a lot of talking. Too much being up in front of people. Too much pretending that words are an adequate way to communicate spiritual truth. I spent too long playing the authority role of teacher.

That's a very energy-draining role. Henri Nouwen uses this example of an oven whose door is opened too often for it to build up much heat. Such is the case, Nouwen says, of one who speaks often. His "door" is open so much that the "heat" of the spirit does not build up and instead starts to dissipate. Silence then is the remedy from having your "door" (mouth) open too much.

And so I was eagerly anticipating my morning art-meditation of making bad art, albeit with a focused mind and closed mouth. And once at work, I'm pretending I'm on silent retreat, avoiding unnecessary conversation.

(Well, at least I'll try. I'm a pretty social person, so we'll see how long my resolve lasts.)

But overall it's a day to recultivate my focus. Shrink the ego. Talk less. And recoup my spirit.

Have a good, spirit filled Monday.


Friday, April 04, 2003
Time Warp

While waiting in line to pay for lunch at our favorite Tex-Mex joint, I saw my old fifth grade teacher and my elementary school principal having lunch together. Apparently there was some truth to the playground allegations involving sitting in trees and people ending up in baby carriages.

This is a weird side-effect of living as an adult in the community in which I grew up. For whatever reason, all my closest chums moved off elsewhere, but many of my nodding acquaintances stuck around and I run across them pretty often. I knew them well enough back then to recognize them now but not well enough to stop and "catch up" with them.

Like the other day I was eating in a buffet restaraunt that I am loathe to admit on the Internet that I patronize. And I could have sworn that two tables to my left was -- Jennifer, I think -- a girl I knew in fourth grade who always said I had cooties. And across the restaraunt was a guy who threatened to beat me up in seventh grade. He was sitting with what looked like one of the girls we all thought were so "foxy" back then. But the other day, she just looked kind of tired. It's a miniscule time warp -- a sprinkling of long-forgotten past on top of the present moment.

It felt weird. I certainly wasn't going to go over and say hi to any of them, but eating my buffet food in the same room but at different tables felt like I was back in the old school cafeteria at Ross Elementary.

Like the fact that I work with a number of my old schoolmates' fathers, this time warp phenomenon is just part of my life in the Burbs from whence I came. You can go home again, apparently, but the feeling is surreal.


Things that go through my mind while meditating

"Am I doing this right?"
"What am I gonna have for breakfast?"
"This isn't really praying, is it?"
"Ommmmmmm... God that sounds silly."
"I don't feel anything. Is this working?"
"Doh! My mind is wandering again! Bad Cody!"
"How much time is left?"
"Breathe, Breathe, Breathe. Focus, Focus, Focus."

Thomas Keating says that all of those kinds of thoughts during contemplative prayer are very natural and that you shouldn't feel bad that you have them. They are from the ego trying to reassert its dominance since it feels threatened by all the sitting and just being.

I read one time that you shouldn't chase distracting thoughts away, but just let them float across the sky of your mind like drifting clouds. Some days for me are more cloudy than others, let's just say.

Sitting and doing nothing is some pretty hard work.


Wednesday, April 02, 2003
Watercolor Cursing

I hate watercolors.

They are runny and hard to control. No matter how little I think I'm getting on my brush, I've got too much. They highlight your poor brush technique. They are a subtle medium (and I'm a rather ham-fisted artist). They command more attention to technique than I am willing to give.

So, obviously, I must continue using watercolors. Dammit.

My morning meditation went horribly awry once I tried to apply the cursed watery color. What I ended up with only turned out acceptably after I gave up my original vision for what I wanted to do and let the piece lead me instead of the other way around.

There's a spiritual lesson in there I'm sure. But I'm mostly just disgruntled about how much I hate watercolors. Instead my meditation turned into a discursive reflection about artistic mistakes I make and how they parallel those in my life.

My mistakes, in art and in life, come from three places:

Ignorance: Lacking understanding of technique and the medium.
Inattention: Getting in a hurry or letting my mind wander.
Frustration: Clumsy attempts to wrangle control when control is not mine to be had.

And so, the bad paintings (like this morning's) must be painted, if only to assault these demons.

Granted these are not the only types of mistakes I make. I do stuff that's outright wrong that I know is wrong when I do it. But I find no artistic parallel for that. Those can be handled through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But no amount of confession will eliminate my particular demons of Ignorance, Inattention, and Frustration. That takes practice.

And so I must keep using the damn watercolors.


Tuesday, April 01, 2003
Being Agnes

Agnes Martin has been a particular spiritual and artistic inspiration to me lately. Her paintings are deceptively simple -- minimalistic constructions of a humbling precision and luminescence. The test pattern of my mind is composed of such geometric constructions. And I find that imitating Agnes Martin's geometric minimalism is to me what playing scales is to a pianist.

"Being Agnes" takes me down to my test pattern, to a primitive visual language of space, color, line, and contrast. And in that language I find a sort of chant, a sacred word, which I can use to center myself in prayer. Centered in an awareness of perfection and divine inspiration.

Agnes writes:

"Moments of awareness of perfection and inspiration are alike
except that inspirations are often directives to action.
Many people think that if they are attuned to fate, all their
inspirations will lead them toward what they want and need.
But inspiration is really just the guide to the next thing
and may be what we call success or failure.

The bad paintings have to be painted
and to the artist these are more valuable
than those paintings brought before the public.

A work of art is successful when there is
a hint of perfection present --
the slightest hint... the work is alive.

The life of the work depends upon the observer,
according to his own awareness of perfection and inspiration.
The responsibility of the response to art is not with the artist.

To feel confident and successful is not natural to the artist.
To feel insufficient, to experience disappointment and defeat
in waiting for inspiration is the natural state of mind of an artist."

-- Agnes Martin



I feel the truth in Martin's words, though by looking at her sublime minimalist paintings it is hard to imagine her feeling insufficient.

But I know personally that art entails humility -- you're a slave to inspiration (just try to do art when the inspiration is not there), you're in a state of vulnerability to the observer, and I find I'm always accepting and expecting failure to the point of being surprised by the occasional success.

Trying my hand at my own brand of precise geometric minimalism in imitation of Agnes Martin is a particular source of humility for me. It requires of me a certain level of attention and precision that seems beyond me in other matters. I find that when I sit down and focus on the details of the art, I reach a flow state stronger than my most dedicated attempts at meditation have ever achieved. My hands, my eyes, my inner mind are at once focused and empty of all distractions, and I build my capacity for awareness and humility in the process of striving to a minimal perfection I will never attain.

But the bad paintings have to be painted. It's in that striving for perfection, subsequent failure, and striving again that I find my deepest prayer of late -- a metaphor for my struggle to imitate the perfection of Christ.

So if you see me sitting in a cafe or at my desk drawing and coloring squares or squinting over a straightedge and pencil, I'm not playing, I'm praying.

Or maybe it's both.