Monday, August 29, 2011

Atheists in Foxholes: Myth or Fact?

No one laughs at God in a hospital. There are no atheists in foxholes. Or are there?

No matter what beliefs you hold, I hope everyone can appreciate the artistry and beauty of this song, by the amazing Regina Spektor. She has a lot of great music - my other two favourite songs by her are Eet and The Call (from Prince Caspian).

While Laughing With’s quality is indisputable, the lyrics are more controversial. To me, the song's lyrics speak of the potent and ever-present human need for faith, stemming from our powerful and primal fear of the unknown. But I imagine no two people hear the exact same message.

For those who subscribe to some religious faith,
Laughing With carries a powerful message that “everyone believes. There are no atheists in foxholes.” From that point of view, the danger and fear are only wake-up calls reminding people of what is truly important in life.

But the song is equally powerful (if not more so) when heard from a atheist or skeptic’s point of view. Yes, the song literally says that people turn to God in hard times, but in doing so it begs the question: If it takes hard times to turn people toward God, does He truly exist, or are we imagining Him to assuage our own terror?

I'm inclined toward the latter point of view, in part because of my dad, who
underwent a bone marrow transplant a few years ago. Before the transplant he wasn’t a religious man, but in the hospital, when he felt so bad he didn't think he'd live, he prayed. In desperation, he turned to something he believed was a figment of humanity’s collective imagination. Once safe, he laughed about it.

And then there's Terry Pratchett, someone I admire as both an author and a human being. He has never thought highly of religion, asking: “Who would not rather be a rising ape than a falling angel?”

But a few years ago he told the Daily Mail about
“a sudden, distinct feeling I had one hectic day that everything I was doing was right and things were happening as they should. It seemed like the memory of a voice and it came wrapped in its own brief little bubble of tranquillity.” 

Terry Pratchett has one of the finest minds in the world, but thanks to a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's, he is slowly losing it. Although he still writes, he’s in the proverbial hospital or war. He’s gotten the bad news, the doctor’s phone call. And then one day he has this feeling…

Someone inclined toward religion might call it a ‘godlike presence’, but Pratchett is still a humanist. He calls it the universe and says he hasn’t found any sort of god - just maybe the feeling that causes humans to believe in them.
“It's that moment, that brief epiphany when the universe opens up and shows us something, and in that instant we get just a sense of an order greater than Heaven and, as yet at least, beyond the grasp of Stephen Hawking. It doesn't require worship, but, I think, rewards intelligence, observation and enquiring minds.
I don't think I've found God, but I may have seen where gods come from.”
I don’t think religion is a debate that can ever be resolved, not unless we suddenly get gods along the lines of those in fantasy novels - heavily involved and empirically verifiable.

Barring that, I'll continue to count myself with the skeptics. I think so much of organized religion is and always has been about politics and power. True and pure founding tenets are twisted to serve base human purposes.

Having placed my faith in logic and reason, I know it doesn’t make any sense for there to be any sort of god at all. And yet…

I want there to be something, against all logic and probability. I don’t want to die and just disappear. I certainly don’t believe in some sort of next life where you get to be the same person you were on Earth. I just don’t want death to be emptiness.

I accept that in all probability, death is nothing. I understand that my choice stems from primal human fear, not some deep philosophy. But I also know that when faced with death I will pray - to whomever might care to listen. 

Until then, if the joke is funny, I’ll keep laughing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

It's a [insert life-defining gender here]!

Whether you believe nature or nurture accounts for gender differences, there’s no denying that in today’s world, gender defines and shapes each and every one of us.
A few years ago, I filled out a chain mail quiz counting stereotypical boy and girl traits. At the time, I scored almost twice as many boy traits as girl traits. In preparation for this post, I redid the quiz… and scored three times as many boy traits as girl traits. (And let’s be clear: I’m quite sure that I’m a girl.) The truth is, despite these results, I’d make a very bad boy. Of course, I make only a marginally better girl.
I’m uber-competitive and I love math. I disdain makeup, high heels, and jewelry in favour of spending way too much time playing sports and messing around on my laptop. When in comes to clothes, I take pains to be neat and clean, but I wear no skinny jeans, no dresses or skirts and nothing that shows cleavage. Certainly no pink. In fact, blue is the most prominent colour in my wardrobe. I think being ‘nice’ is dumb, like extending an invitation for people to walk all over you. I’m not shy about my opinions or my beliefs, and I can be a ‘real bitch’ when I lead. I’m planning to study engineering in university.
At the same time, I’m a detail oriented perfectionist. I must keep everything neat and clean. I love languages (I speak English, French and some Spanish) and creative ventures such as novel and poetry writing. I adore little kids (when they aren’t sticky), and when I have kids of my own someday, I can’t imagine leaving them at a daycare. I have trouble keeping left and right straight and reading maps that aren’t oriented correctly. I want to become a best selling author of books with happily ever after endings.
So which is it… I am a ‘girl’ or a ‘boy’? Maybe I just make a very bad stereotype, which is no bad thing.
To get an objective opinion, I took a male/female brain test developed by the BBC. When I got the results, I was flabbergasted. Not by the results so much as by their methodology and reasoning in dispensing them.
By all means take the test yourself, but please be aware of its many and serious flaws. Half the time, their own male and female averages on different sections defy the so-called ‘scientific results’ they are handing out.
They’re using selective neuroscience to justify gender stereotypes, gender bias, and gender based discrimination. For example, they say that women and people with an arts background tend to score worse on a spacial manipulation test than men and those with science and engineering backgrounds. I have two questions about this:
1) Why is it that women have better ‘spatial memory’ when it comes to objects that have moved (earlier in the results) but worse ‘spacial manipulation skills’?
2) More importantly, why would people with arts backgrounds (such as painters and sculptors) be worse at spacial manipulation than people with science backgrounds (like chemists and psychiatrists)? Extreme examples, I know, but they serve to illuminate the gross generalizations permitted when it comes to gender.
I could go on all day, but instead I will simply quote Alanna the Lioness: “Men don't think any differently from women- they just make more noise about being able to.”
(For those of you interested in a more lengthly tirade, I recommend Delusions of Gender, by Cordelia Fine.)
In the end, all the quizzes and tests in the world don’t mean anything compared to the importance of simply being myself. Girl? Yes. Conventional girl? Hell no.
As an addendum, I’d like to extend my deepest sympathies to Jack Layton’s family and friends. Jack was the leader of Canada’s NDP party, which recently won a historic position as the Official Opposition in our House of Commons. More than any other Canadian politician, Jack was beloved of the entire country.
I went to bed in the early hours of this morning, and when I awoke this afternoon I discovered that while I slept peacefully, Jack Layton had passed into the final sleep of peace. I don’t know what he believed about death - in fact, I’m not even sure what I believe - but I refuse to believe that such a vibrant presence could disappear forever. I choose to believe that somewhere, somehow, Jack lives on. 
In his final days, Jack wrote a beautifully eloquent open letter to his country and the world. He wrote the following speaking to fellow cancer patients, but I think we could all do well to take this advice:
You must not lose your own hope… You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future… cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey…
His closing words, his farewell to the country and people he served with such passion, devotion and steadfastness, were perfect, and perfectly representative of the man he was. 
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
Jack probably never read The Two Princesses of Bamarre, but I think the closing of that book is a wonderful way to say farewell to someone known as “The Fighter.”
Step follows step.
Hope follows courage.
Set your face toward danger.
Set your heart on victory.

Goodbye Smiling Jack. You will never be forgotten.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Love Poems

Hello World!
I had a really wonderful (or at least original and kinda interesting) post planned for today. But I’m going out of town for the next week, with no Internet access to speak of, and so this post is actually being set up on Saturday morning.

Because of all this, I’m going to save the post that isn’t finished yet for another week, and instead upload a poem I wrote for my best friend, and the card I made out of it. For the record, she thought the gift was really sweet.

Just in case the picture above doesn’t work properly, or is too hard to read, here’s the text of the poem. I hope you like it.

The Girl I Fell in Love With

When we first met
Way back in grade school
You were innocent, and shy
Hiding behind your long brown hair
And ever-present yellow hat
You’re not the girl I fell in love with anymore

When we first met
I felt you were a kindred spirit
Someone who would get it
When no one else did
We shared the same joys and sorrows
But you’re not the girl I fell in love with anymore

Now, we’re two totally different people
Sometimes the things you do make me cringe
I want to hold you close
And keep you safe from the big scary world
In times past you might have let me
But you’re not the girl I fell in love with anymore

Now, you’re wild and foolish
Or so it seems to me
A timid goody two shoes
Watching you live your life
From my safe seat in the corner
You’re not the girl I fell in love with anymore

The girl I fell in love with
Wouldn't drink or do drugs
She didn't keep secrets from me
And we didn't have the barriers
I now pretend not to tiptoe around
You’re not the girl I fell in love with anymore

It feels like only yesterday
That we met, and I fell in love
With the most wonderful, fantastic
And simply all around amazing girl

You're not the girl I fell in love with
All those years go

You’re the girl I fall in love with
All over again
Every single day

Legal Stuff: This poem was written by me, and belongs solely to me. Same for the image. No one is allowed to copy them or post them on another website without my express permission. Although I’ll be very flattered if you want to and ask me, so I’d probably say yes.

That said, I hope you like it. But maybe you don't, maybe you think it needs work or just plain flat out despise it. Whatever you opinion, please let me know. I’m happy to take both praise and advice.

P.S. I had four page views this week... from the Netherlands and Germany. To my anonymous readers, if you venture back here to see this, thank you, thank you, thank you. You give me hope that others will discover this blog, and that eventually, I may grow myself a small following.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Quotable Insight

As predicted, no one has seen this blog yet, but as promised, here is the second post, one week later. I won’t quit that easily.

Today I’m going to give the world a little insight into myself, by way of a few of my favourite song lyrics, movie quotes and book quotes.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m going for variety and quality, not quantity. Some of these quotes/lyrics are insightful and ‘deep.’ Others are funny or showcase the writers style and skill. Some are simply ones that my sister and I have shared so many times they’ve becomea part of me.

I’ll start with lyrics. This is not, by any means, a list of my favourites, just a sampling of lyrics I love that don’t lose their potency when without music. If you keep reading this blog, I promise you’ll hear lots more about music. It’s an obsession of mine.

Limon y sal (Julieta Venegas)
Yo te quiero con limón y sal
Yo te quiero tal y como estás
No hace falta cambiarte nada
I first heard this song in my Spanish class, but I’ve since come to love on it’s own merits. I especially adore this part of the chorus, which basically means “I love you just the way you are, good and bad, there’s no need to change.” Click here to watch the music video, and here to read an English translation of full lyrics.

I hope you dance (Lee Ann Womack)
I hope you still feel small
When you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
My dad used to play this song for us, and it truly does have a wonderful message. The music video can be found here, although I don’t particularly care for her look in it. Too much makeup, and too dressy. For me, life isn’t about looking like that. From this song I thought it wasn’t for Lee Ann Womack either.

Will I? (Rent)
Yes, I’m a bit Rent obsessed. This song consists of 15 words, repeated and in round, poignant and beautiful. These lyrics represent what’s so amazing about Rent.
Will I lose my dignity?
Will someone care?
Will I wake tomorrow?
From this nightmare?
The Princess Bride
I’ve seen this movie so many times I’ve lost count. We used to watch it every summer at my grandparent’s cottage, and I practically know the whole thing by heart. I don’t want to spoil the awesomeness of the first viewing by revealing all the laugh-out-loud funny parts, so here is a single quote. It’s one that my sister and I love to quote to each other at random. No, we’re not exactly normal.
Westley: Ha! Your pig fiance is too late. A few more steps and we'll be safe in the fire swamp.
Buttercup: We'll never survive!
Westley: Nonsense. You're only saying that because no one ever has.
Star Wars
I don’t know why, but despite having seen Star Wars IV, V & VI about a million times each, this is still the only Star Wars quote my sister and I use and abuse on a regular basis. It’s from Star Wars II, and anytime someone says “it depends” around the two of us, this is what follows.
Obi-Wan: These Kaminos, are they friendly?
Dex: That depends.
Obi-Wan: Depends on what Dex?
Dex: On how well your manners are, and how big your pocketbook is.
For best results, that last line requires a long, drawn-out delivery in an obviously fake deep voice.

G.I. Jane
When I want your opinion, I'll give it to you.
This movie played on summer repeat about five years ago, and my family watched it (or parts of it) probably six times in a week. This line is just so funny, and perfectly indicative of the military culture “G.I. Jane” finds herself in.

The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner)
Gen (narrating): Ambiades, I realized, was the kind of person who liked to put people in a hierarchy, and he wanted me to understand that I was at the bottom of his. … For my part, I wanted Ambiades to understand that I considered myself a hierarchy of one.
The Queen of Attolia (MWT)
Attolia: And now we wait.
Nahuseresh: Wait for what?
Attolia: Hmm? Good heavens, I don't know. Eddis produces such lovely threats when her Thief is concerned.
The King of Attolia (MWT)
The king sighed. Forgetting Costis standing nearby, forgetting possibly that anyone or anything else in the world existed, the king said shakily, “Tell me you won’t cut out my lying tongue, tell me you won’t blind me, you won’t drive red-hot wires into my ears.”
After one moment of gripped immobility, the queen bent to kiss the king lightly on one closed eyelid, then on the other. She said, “I love your eyes.” She kissed him on either cheek, near the small lobe of his ear. “I love your ears, and I love”—she paused as she kissed him gently on the lips—“every single one of your ridiculous lies.”
MWT’s Queen’s Thief series is amazing. I’ve reread those books many times, getting deeper into the story each time. I chose these quotes because they each capture a certain aspect of MWT’s writing.
The first is Gen’s tone: witty, sarcastic and oh so lovable despite all his faults. The second is the wonderful political interplay in these books, and MWT’s perfect turn of phrase. The third passage captures the essence of the relationship the main characters share. It’s poignant pure and deep, but not perfect, and they’ve had to overcome so much to get where they are now.
For those of you interested in this series (which I highly recommend), this is a spoiler free review.

Terry Pratchett
If you haven’t read anything by Pratchett, fix it right now. I beg you! I’d share a bunch of quotes, but too many would require at least some context to be fully understood, and if I got started, I’d never be able to stop myself. So here are simply two examples of his wit and wisdom. Trust me, if you read his books you won’t be disappointed.
Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day; set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life. (Jingo)
The Monks of Cool, whose tiny and exclusive monastery is hidden in a really cool and laid-back valley in the lower Ramtops, have a passing-out test for a novice. He is taken into a room full of all types of clothing and asked: Yo, my son, which of these is the most stylish thing to wear? And the correct answer is: Hey, whatever I select. (Lords and Ladies)
Mercedes Lackey
Her books aren’t nearly as funny as Pratchett’s, but they don’t aspire to be. Lackey’s writing is the best of fantasy and storytelling combined, with a lot of emotional depth and wisdom.
If I'm walking on thin ice, I might as well dance my way across.
This line inspired Lackey to write a filk song that I adore, called Philosophy.
Friendly fire isn't.
A Shin’a’in proverb. So short. So true.
That was then, this is now, the moment is never the same twice.
Said by a proverb dispensing character whenever someone throws one of her proverbs or past advice back in her face.
Just because you feel certain an enemy is lurking behind every bush, it doesn't follow that you are wrong.
I love this one. It reminds me of the more modern 'you’re not paranoid if they’re really after you,' which I also adore.

Dealing with Dragons (Patricia C. Wrede)
This was one of my first favourite books, with a strong female main character. The opening is still one of my favourite things to read.
Linderwall was a large kingdom, just east of the Mountains of Morning, where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable. The climate was unremarkable. The knights kept their armor brightly polished mainly for show—it had been centuries since a dragon had come east. There were the usual periodic problems with royal children and uninvited fairy godmothers, but they were always the sort of thing that could be cleared up by finding the proper prince or princess to marry the unfortunate child a few years later. All in all, Linderwall was a very prosperous and pleasant place.
Cimorene hated it.
Tamora Pierce
Continuing the theme of strong female protagonists, next I fell in love with Tamora Pierce’s books. Here is a sampling of lines/dialogue that stuck with me.

Alanna: I'll be fine.
Coram: You're sure?
Alanna: Of course. Would I have said so, if I wasn't?
Coram: Yes.
(Alanna: The First Adventure)

Myles: You didn't kill him. He would have killed you, but you didn't kill him.
Alanna: So? He was stupid. If I killed everyone who was stupid, I wouldn't have time to sleep.
(In the Hand of the Goddess)

"I think as a human being... Men don't think any differently from women- they just make more noise about being able to."
(Alanna, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man)

Prince Kaddar: We assumed those tales of women fighting among the Riders were only tales. No woman has ever asked to join our armies.
Daine: With you so open and welcoming to the idea, I'm not surprised.
Kaddar: Women aren't up to the discipline of military life.
Daine: You must tell Lady Alanna that sometime. I'd do it from a distance.
(Emperor Mage)

"When people say a knight's job is all glory, I laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Often I can stop laughing before they edge away and talk about soothing drinks."
(Raoul, Squire)

"Mistresses, have you ever noticed that when we disagree with a male- I hesitate to say 'man'- or find ourselves in a position over males, the first comment they make is always about our reputations or our monthlies?"
(Keladry, Lady Knight)

As you can tell by the length of the sections, books are my main obsession. I could go on all day. I have, elsewhere and in real life.
Thank you for perusing my ramblings. If any of the links are broken, please let me know and I’ll fix them ASAP. Have a great week!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Inaugural Address: Welcome to ‘One Life Glory’

Hi everyone! There probably aren’t very many (if any) of you actually reading this soon after the now in which I sit writing it. But who knows where this blog is going? So I’ll say it again: Hi everyone! Whether you’re reading this tomorrow or ten years from now, welcome to my very first blog.

My name is Morgan. I’m a Canadian high school student trying to balance my life between schoolwork, sports and creative endeavours while still getting enough sleep. I fail miserably on that last part, but I have a lot of fun. I’m not waiting for old age to wear purple.

Since January 1st 2011, I’ve been participating in the DayZero challenge, trying to complete 101 goals in 1001 days (about 2.75 or 33 months). One of my goals is to create a blog and post regularly for a year, which will be from today until July 31st 2012. Beyond that, we’ll see.

This blog is called One Life Glory, paraphrased from One Song Glory, from the musical Rent. I have yet to see Rent (tragically), but I love the music. One Song Glory is Roger’s attempt to make his mark on the world by writing one great song before he dies of AIDS.

As far as I know, I’m not about to die, but that’s the beauty and terror of life... there is no certainty. I can say I’m not about to die, but this is only as far as I know!

What I do know is that I am dying. Everyone is. That's what being alive is all about. (If you caught that I just quoted Terry Pratchett, you’re amazing – here are twelve imaginary cookies!)

Even if I live for a hundred years, my life will consist of a finite number of seconds, and I don’t want to waste any of them. Thus, my DayZero goals, and this blog. I want to stretch my limits and express myself to anyone who cares to listen. Who knows what will come of it?

What do I plan on posting? Good question. Mostly, it’ll be whatever catches my fancy, but I suspect you’ll see a lot about books, writing, music, running, and the general oddness of life. Please let me know what you think of anything you read here... whether or not you like it. I’ll post every week for the rest of the summer, and every other week once school starts again in September.

In the end, knowing and accepting that I am dying only means I want to live every moment I have to its fullest. I don’t always succeed (who does?), but I give it my best shot. So here’s to a fun and interesting blog for you (whoever you are) to read, and a cathartic and creative blogging experience for me. Cheers!