Days when the sky is too big

I visited Oklahoma last week. It was overcast and raining when I landed at the airport, something I was grateful for. A wide blue sky would only have amplified the gnawing homesickness I felt for my immediate surroundings.

Driving under a cloudless sky is particularly oppressive. With that vast blue expanse above, everything down here feels tiny. I’m driving a tiny car to a tiny destination to do some tiny thing, and all the while, an endless blue pool stares down apathetically. A sky wide open makes me feel like one of the rare clouds that dares to puncture the monotony – isolated, small, and fleeting. These feelings are true, in a way. They’re just not great for a return to a place where everything used to feel important. Continue reading “Days when the sky is too big”

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What’s my favorite movie? Part 1/5: Spirited Away

I made it through college without ever locking down an answer to the most softball icebreaker question there is: “what’s your favorite movie?” In this IC-exclusive series, I’ll write about five of my favorite movies in an attempt to arrive at a definitive conclusion. That being said, I reserve the right to change my mind at any time in the future, and it might take me six months to get around to writing about all the movies I want to write about. This is part 1/5: Spirited Away.

Spirited Away is an animated movie nominally for children. From legendary director Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away was originally released in Japan in 2001, and was distributed in North America by Disney in 2003. I saw it for the first time when I was 19 or 20, and no doubt would have found it terrifying in 2003, at the age of 11.

This is a movie that you watch and ponder for days after. You might Google “why is Spirited Away so weird,” but mostly, you just have to think about it and let it sink in. Because of that, I’m going to devote a decent portion of this post to explaining how I interpret the film, and in doing that I hope it will be apparent why it’s worthy of consideration as my favorite movie.

Spirited Away is the story of 10-year-old Chihiro stumbling into a bathhouse for spirits and growing up quickly as she’s forced to deal with ever-escalating problems. The movie has the rough outline of a coming-of-age story, but it’s more concerned with how growing up feels than what it looks like. It’s a collection of moments that elicit strong feelings and articulate a coherent philosophy about childhood; it’s not a movie for nitpicking plot points. Spirited Away is a series of lessons about growing up, and everything in the movie makes sense through that lens. Spoilers ahead, obviously. Continue reading “What’s my favorite movie? Part 1/5: Spirited Away”

Stability without stasis

Growing up, one of my favorite places was the back seat of my family’s minivan. It would probably still be one of my favorite places if it were around anymore. That seat meant familiarity even as the world flew by – I could fall asleep and wake up in a new state, and the seat was always there, my open backpack on one side and a Nintendo handheld and a couple books on the other.

The back seat wasn’t just a refuge; it was something I looked forward to. Uncertainty anchored to familiarity is exhilarating – it’s the promise of better things and of new adventures. Uncertainty by itself is exhausting. Airplane travel, for example, carries none of the fond memories or feelings of embrace that I associate with that minivan. I’ve never outgrown my fear of airplanes, hope as I might, and it always strikes me how different it feels from something so similar.

Continue reading “Stability without stasis”

The Wonder Years, “Sister Cities,” and finding refuge

There’s a small wooden torii gate in the middle of a busy intersection downtown. I hadn’t paid it any mind until a few months ago when this website’s favorite band, The Wonder Years, released a perfect teaser trailer for their upcoming album and, a few days later, released its title track “Sister Cities.” The song and the album are about interconnectedness in a world that seems increasingly to foster isolation, and since I first heard that single in mid-February, I’ve thought about the gate nearly every day. On the chorus of the track, frontman Dan Campbell sings “I’m laying low / a stray dog in the street / you took me home / we’re sister cities.” The torii gate is a monument to Fujiyoshida, Japan, Colorado Springs’s sister city, and I’ve been wondering if there’s a similar expression of Colorado Springs on the other side of the world, overlooked, but occasionally reflected on. I’ve been wondering if somebody in Fujiyoshida is wondering the same thing right now, their thoughts mirroring mine but neither of us ever knowing. Continue reading “The Wonder Years, “Sister Cities,” and finding refuge”

This is a God Dream

The following piece was written for and dedicated to the Oklahoma Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

If we’re going to call it a quest we should probably think about what that means
Because our words have more to say than the images they conjure in our heads
A quest is more than a fantasy of figures in shining armor returning triumphantly, a hulking beast laid slain in their wake
It often comes with a lack of direction
A time spent wandering, searching for anything that would lead forward
It means that above all, what makes this special is the beginning that leads to an end
All quests have the same starting point; we are offered a task and a purpose from God that we are willing to see through no matter what the cost

So that’s where we have to begin

We must realize that what is asked of us is much more than retrieving a goblet and bringing it back to a trophy case
We are asked to be the ones that help transform the world
Our quest that we embark on is at its core a rescue operation
We are sent to hear the cries of those who know there has to be something more for them
We are sent to bring hope and justice to those who feel chains tightening around them.
Chains of poverty, racism, discrimination and exclusion, an emptiness of spirit

We are sent forth as the heralds of the good news, that through Christ a better world is possible
And we don’t have to wait for it, we can begin building it now

So, we ask God to deliver us serenity
Deliver us peace
Deliver us loving
This is what we need today

And so, let the gospel be our map, our guide, our bread for the journey
Let this be our God dream, our imagination soaring to the limitless possibilities
Because we follow in the footsteps of the one who conquered death
The one who bends the impossible into reality
May we not quit
May we not settle
May we pick each other up when it seems like we cannot continue

But most of all may we never be satisfied to leave things as they are until we can truly and confidently say it is on earth as it is in heaven
May we be restless in our pursuit of the Kingdom of God
May we dream together with God to create a new thing
God, send us out to dream

Album Lyrics – Complacency

Here’s the link to listen: click here

The Plan

(Demetri Martin, from If I)

It was a crazy moment, to have a plan from eleven years old
Every choice, every summer: classes, extra activities, SATs, essays,
Leading to that one big goal, and then being that close to it and realizing,
“I made a huge mistake, I have to admit it, cut my losses, I’m out of here.”

And it was a total crisis, a total crisis of relevance.
Because I was now an adult – yes, okay, it’s cool to be quirky, maybe, on the side.
Do some puzzles, make puzzles, whatever, you learn how to ride a unicycle,
That’s cool when it’s on the side, right? And you have a plan.
What happens when you remove the plan?

Florida Coast

Take me through the everglades
Take me to the top of this mountain I’ve made

Keep your head above water
Keep your head above water, you’ll
Keep your head above water, you’ll
Keep your head above water

I miss places I’ve never been
Got to stop thinking “remember when?”

Get Through

Maybe the sophomore slump will end soon
I thought I could be like Xaphoon
I thought I could write songs like songs “for emma” too
I can’t promise it’ll all be good
But I can promise you we’ll get through

Birds

Circle all you want there
I won’t let you nest in my hair
You’ll keep it up long enough
That’s not belief, that’s fear

Circle all you want there
I won’t let you nest in my hair

Interlude

I revolve around you
Your shadow becomes my shape
My path is mostly yours and my
Kingdom is your tide
My path is mostly yours and my
Kingdom is your sky

Your shadow becomes my shape
My path is mostly yours and my
Kingdom is escape

Sacred Spaces

The places I love are scattered everywhere
They’re sinking and floating
Drowning, dehydrated
I don’t care
They’re sacred

The places I miss are scattered everywhere
They’re haunted and empty
A ghost like me can’t stay
I don’t care
They’re sacred

Reckless

There’s a vast blank wall up ahead
Useless and frightening
The clouds might swallow you whole
With an ominous flash of lightning

No longer staying silent
Your dreams have gotten violent
You tossed and turned last night
Fumbling and shaking
You panic and drop the flashlight

This is as reckless as you’ve ever been
Time and time again
There’s no way to win

I lay on my back
Dreaming of ways
To hide from prying eyes
I grew up under an endless sky
Where sunsets can last for days

Complacency

I could say that I’m happy
But that would be a lie
Under the oppression of a perfect blue sky

I’m trapped
By the light reflected in your eyes
I’m trapped
Under wishes and hopes
I’m trapped by childish fears
And the urge to keep chasing ghosts

Maybe that’s dramatic
I shouldn’t be so dire
But sometimes it feels like I’m the last one
Standing up to the empire

I could be quiet and call it maturity
I’d know that it’s complacency

I was ready to run away
But now I can barely stand
My legs are getting heavy
I’m sinking into the sand

I was ready to run away
But now I can barely stand
My legs are getting heavy
I’m sinking into the sand

Invisible

At the supermarket checkout
A sandwich and a bottle of tea
I’m tired and awkward
But she stares right through me

Standing on the bus I pull the stop
The driver doesn’t hear, I know
I should say something
But we’re already past and I’m too slow

I glance up and he looks away
You walk out when I want you to stay
Maybe I’m invisible today

Late night at work
I walk to the car in darkness
Nobody pauses, nobody steps aside
I’m not bothered, through the crowd I glide

Put on those headphones and press play
They’re staring at me but I’m far away
I know I’m invisible today

Demetri Martin and the obsessively examined life

The pieces of media I wrote about in my last two enthusiasm posts, Owl City’s Ocean Eyes and the movie Hoot, are at least reasonably well-known even if most people are apathetic about them. But when I ask people about the subject of today’s post, Demetri Martin’s stand-up set If I, almost nobody has heard of it. To me, this performance is the pinnacle of the philosophical comedy genre I wrote about a while back in a post about DC Pierson. It’s a comedy show, as Demetri Martin is nominally a comedian, but it provides more introspection than laugher and that’s not a bad thing in this case.

Demetri opens the performance with this gem: “The unexamined life is not worth living. Socrates said that. I would just add one thing – man. The unexamined life is not worth living, man!” This is the tone of the show distilled. It’s obsessive self-analysis and urgent soul-searching, softened by deadpan humor. It rules.

Continue reading “Demetri Martin and the obsessively examined life”

Hoot and finding home

I’m a sucker for a good coming-of-age movie, and one of my favorites is Hoot, a 2006 adaptation of Carl Hiaasen’s novel of the same name. It’s a fairly straightforward story about a kid who moves to Florida, gets tangled up in a low-stakes mystery, and learns to love his new home.

I’ve loved this movie for a long time, but I recently rewatched it after I saw some abandoned construction equipment in a parking lot that reminded me of a plot point where one of the characters steals a bulldozer seat. This made me wonder why so many things remind me of Hoot; I don’t think about Stand by Me every time I see train tracks or Juno every time I see an ill-advised headband. Why has Hoot stuck with me the way few movies have?

Last time I wrote about something I love, I said it made me miss a place I’d been but that no longer exists the way it does in my memory. Hoot takes it one step further and makes me miss a place I’ve never gone. The story doesn’t take place on the Florida coast by accident – Carl Hiaasen is from Florida, and his affection for the place shines through from the book and into the movie. Continue reading “Hoot and finding home”

#TrustTheProcess

Sam Hinkie was innocent.
Or at least as innocent as someone with that much control over someone else’s livelihood can ever be
Imagine training your whole life to be good at this one particular thing
And the only person who wants you to use your gifts doesn’t want to actually do well with them
Hey pal, I’m trying to lose as much as possible to cheat the system and I think you’re our missing piece”
Do you take that deal?
Do you make the tacit admission that you’re better than most but among the best of the best you’ll only ever be a space filler?
At best the answer to a trivia question?
And yet Sam Hinkie asked over and over for people to say yes to this offer.
He told them to trust the process
To know that they must be bad so eventually someone can be good
It just might not be you.
It probably won’t be.
Sam Hinkie remains innocent because he never pretended to be anything else
But this is what the process demands
The churn of those who were never all that remarkable and who no one will remember

The worst day of my life came with a greeting card
It’s hard to really articulate this particular brand of misery
Of going to finally accomplish something for which you’ve been working for half your life
Of taking the last step to obtain something that you believed was your purpose, your reason for being, the means by which you got out of bed because you believed yourself remarkable
And then a small group of people in an ever shrinking room tell you you’re not special.
Not only are you not special, but you may as well be worthless
You were a fool to think that you belonged here.
You are made to endure the slings and arrows of those who have never met you for far too long
You leave that room broken. You might never recover.
And then you go home, wait a week or so, and check the mail
And those people who have told you that you are not good enough, that you have no value, have the audacity to send a card
A serene nature scene adorns the front, and on the inside is just the names of those who destroyed you, and a simple phrase
Trust The Process
As if that is supposed to bring comfort
Sure, you have fallen down the stairs, but you got to the bottom SO FAST
As if I needed to be torn up to become anything of value

Trust the Process
It is a cousin to the watchwords of the well-meaning but unhelpful
Everything happens for a reason
It’s all part of God’s plan
Trust The Process


It is hard to climb out once you have resigned yourself to being a part of the churn of the unremarkable
It is hard to see that you are not as broken as they said you are
It feels like defeat to attempt to join in the process that crushed yourself
It does not always get better.

But what I have learned from the bottom, I carry with me
If this is a process, it means this is not the end.
There are still things in motion
There is still hope that might be waiting
There might be brighter things coming
I reject the processes that aim to add to that great churn
But there must be a process by which we drag ourselves out of it
We will make something worth remembering
We will become remarkable
One step at a time.
That, I can trust