The bad news is that the government of China is sterilizing, murdering, and harvesting organs from religious and ethnic minorities with impunity. The good news is that closer to home (meaning, in my case, the United States, in case that's not obvious), Donald Trump is facing imminent impeachment proceedings after a whistleblower report revealed, among other things, that he cheated on Putin with the president of Ukraine. I won't celebrate just yet, though. I can't predict with confidence that he'll face any actual consequences, because the last four years have demonstrated that he's exempt from the standards of behavior that apply to actual humans. Case in point: several Republican senators have refused to even read the report. Admittedly, at nine pages including the appendix, it weighs in substantially longer than a tweet, but these are the sacrifices we should reasonably be expecting them to make for their country if they actually cared about it.
Only two U.S. presidents have ever been impeached (which, contrary to popular misconception, doesn't mean they were booted out of office, but just that the proceedings that could potentially lead to them being booted out of office took place). The last was Bill Clinton. I was alive at the time, but too young to care who he was, let alone notice when he came under national scrutiny for fooling around with an intern and lying about it under oath. My parents were disgusted at him for dragging this country through the mud and not having the decency to resign, but I don't think even they could fault him for wanting literally any woman who isn't Hillary Clinton. But Trump's wandering this time around is just baffling. Why would you want this
when you could have this?
Richard Nixon never faced impeachment proceedings after Watergate because he did have the decency to resign. A shrewd political move, in hindsight, because now he's almost exclusively remembered for that one scandal instead of his War on Drugs that's ruined the lives of millions of good (and disproportionately non-white) people. I obviously wasn't alive then but I've heard that this was the moment when American faith in government was irreversibly shattered, giving way to the ubiquitous cynicism we find ourselves immersed in today. We expect politicians to be corrupt and dishonest, and we only muster up the energy to get upset about it if they're in the opposite party from us. I see memes sometimes claiming that Obama's only scandal was wearing a tan suit. Yeah, no, just because you ignored scandals like Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the IRS harassing conservative groups to help him get re-elected, and his secret White House Halloween party with Johnny Depp doesn't mean they didn't happen.
What neither Nixon nor Clinton had, though, was legions of sycophantic butt-kissers desperately trying to defend everything they said or did. Neither of them would have gotten away with a tenth of what Trump has said and done. And maybe the Democrats will even lose their nerve if they decide having Pence take over as president would be even worse. So like I said, I'm not holding my breath to see if he actually gets held accountable like an actual human this time. But there is hope. And rebellions are built on hope.
I harbor no ill will toward the leaders of eastern European nations for manipulating the political processes of another nation to further their own interests. The United States has done exactly that and worse. I guess it's supposed to be okay when we do it because we're the good guys. And I harbor no ill will toward the Russian trolls who made a profitable career out of writing fake news about Hillary Clinton prior to the 2016 election. We all need money, and it's not their fault the U.S. is home to millions of gullible morons who can be exploited for profit. (In one article I read, one of them said he started out writing fake news about both Trump and Hillary, but only the Hillary stuff went viral so he focused on it exclusively.) Maybe the Nigerian scammers need to learn a thing or two from them. Americans above a certain age will forward almost any bullcrap in an email or Facebook post, so if they won't even take yours seriously, you're doing it wrong.
Just today as I was writing this post, for example, I had to see this garbage in a group called "Sustaining the Prophets and Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ" - intended to be a forum of uplifting religious content for Latter-day Saints from any country - from some poor soul living in an alternate reality where black is white, up is down, and Donald J. Trump is a great man who deserves respect. It actually legitimately scares me that people who think like this exist. I'm not talking about people who held their noses and voted for the lesser of two evils, I'm talking about this inexplicable level of delusional worship that makes me physically ill.
The admins took their sweet time doing anything about it, so I'm not at all sorry for my progressively less tactful role in the dumpster fire that erupted in the comments. I got accused of "casting the first stone" just because I expect a reasonable middle ground between "perfect" and "thoroughly unworthy and unqualified to be president of the United States". The distinction between righteous and unrighteous judgment really shouldn't be that that difficult to grasp, but it is for some people, and I'm sure my sharing this hilarious response from somebody else in the thread won't help.
In more lighthearted news, sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg pissed off a lot of people with her impassioned defense of basic science and common sense. Some of the actual "unwarranted abuse" from idiots whose worldview is threatened by actual facts centered around her being on the autism spectrum. It's unusual for a prominent girl/woman to be known for being on the autism spectrum, because women usually hide it a lot better and don't get diagnosed until later in life. But she's on the spectrum and that's played a major role in shaping her activism and it shows somewhat in the way she looks and talks. And in some people's minds, that makes her a second-class human. I enjoy being reminded periodically that people like me are still viewed as second-class humans. By all appearances, though, Greta is not the slightest bit bothered or deterred by her haters. Good for her. When I was sixteen, I was doing things so unimportant that I don't even remember what they were.
USU's campus has a spot above the parking terrace where you can go and look out over a good-sized chunk of town and, if you time it right, the setting sun. Recently I was in the vicinity while the sky was turning orange, so I headed up to look. This spot is also right behind freshman housing and has a fire pit where several happened to be congregated at this time. I avoided eye contact and charted a course well around them. My being there was not problematic in itself, as this area is as public as any other part of campus and I've seen people old enough to be my grandparents come to take pictures of the sunset, but I wanted to avoid any appearances of trying to crash their party or steal their s'mores. I also had my earbuds in as usual. So it took me a minute to notice them calling out to me. As it turns out, they wanted to be my friends and offer me a s'more.
I apologetically explained that my music was really loud. (I hope to permanently damage my hearing just enough to no longer pick up the million annoying little sounds that my brain refuses to filter out like a normal person's.) They said that was fine and what was I listening to? I said Nightwish. They asked what is that? I said it's a Finnish metal band. They said take out your earbuds and let's hear it. I obliged, grateful that I had told the truth. The song, "Nemo", is an epic yet melancholy piece, as one can infer from the title, which of course is Latin for "little orange fish". It so impressed one of the freshmen that she pulled out her own phone and Shazam'd it. And in that moment I knew that notwithstanding how much of my time and potential I may have wasted that day, right here and now I had enriched someone's life in a very tangible way. Because of me she now knows that Nightwish exists. I'm not worthless after all.
And karma was swift to repay me. One of the guys asked if I had heard of a Swedish metal band called Sabaton. I hadn't, and I procrastinated looking it up for a few days because I get nervous about the unknown and my taste in music is generally superior to other people's, but I got around to it the other day and I would just like to say holy crap. It's epic. So far as I can tell, all of their songs are about World War I and/or II, and somehow despite being generations removed from those events this genre is completely appropriate for conveying the power of unprecedented war machines and the terror of ordinary soldiers going through hell. Its unrelenting speed, volume and intensity conveys a sense of all that without getting bogged down in history lessons or graphic details. And I'll just stop right there before I start to sound like I'm trying to sound like a music reviewer who knows what he's talking about, when all I'm really trying to is that I like Sabaton and my life has been enriched by the introduction. Favorite track: "Bismarck".
This past Friday a friend and occasional reader of this blog, and his wife whom I met for the first time but who already knew about me because of my blog, hosted the inaugural meeting of the Logan Music Society, "a place to listen to, present, and chat about music old and new, from far and near". For this meeting everyone was invited to "play" a song that has changed them and explain why. And since this guy is an actual musician type person, I thought maybe "play" meant "perform", and that almost dissuaded me from showing up. I can't play music, I can't read music, I can't sing without Autotune and I know very little about the official terminology and stuff. I just like listening to it and I know what I like. I did finally decide to show up to be supportive, and everyone just played their chosen songs from their phones so that was all right.
I still hesitated to share one in front of the group because me no very good speech the English extemporaneously. That's why I write. But I went for it because, you know, facing your fears and stuff, and I don't think I sounded like a complete idiot. People liked the song and somebody asked for the artist's name and wrote it down and said she was really excited. Another enriched life. Even so, I want to take this opportunity to compensate for the shortcomings of my presentation by redoing it with my superior writing skills.
Three contenders ran through my mind prior to the meeting: "Unwell" by Matchbox Twenty, "Last Man Standing" by Hammerfall, and "Dante's Prayer" by Loreena McKennitt. I nixed "Unwell" because I thought it would benefit the group more to share something they were less likely to be familiar with. Then, noting the general tone of prior selections and apparent musical leanings of the people who actually knew stuff about music, I opted for the remaining option that I thought they would like more. Of course it would have been perfectly acceptable to express my individuality and break the prevailing tone with metal, but since I didn't have a preference either way I nixed "Last Man Standing" and of course that left "Dante's Prayer".
"Dante's Prayer" is the final track off Loreena McKennitt's 1997 album "The Book of Secrets". She does Celtic New Age-y stuff and my parents were really into that, so they bought the album pretty much when it came out. I was four years old. And I absolutely adored some of the songs and I absolutely adored Loreena McKennitt herself, looking so radiant on the album cover. I decided I would marry her someday. As it turns out, she's still single, but only because her fiance died in a boating accident around the same time I was having these thoughts, which makes me feel terrible. Anyway, despite that, there was one song on the album I didn't care for, and that was this one. I remember where I was the first time I heard it. I was taking a bath when this low melancholy moaning sound unlike anything I'd heard before came over the stereo system, and I thought it was weird and creepy and unpleasant.
Obviously I don't think that anymore. The sound, as it turns out, is a Russian Orthodox chant called "Hallelujah", and even though the Russian Orthodox Church is being a jerk right now I absolutely love what they have to offer her. The sound is still weird, yes, but in such a good way. To me it's a sound that seems to freeze time itself. It's a sound that says, gently but inescapably, "Stop whatever you're doing right this instant and listen to this and become introspective." And I find myself wishing that its time-freezing power was literal and would last forever, because the time it brings me to is the time I was four years old sitting in the bathtub. When I was four years old I didn't know that life was as happy and simple as it was ever going to get. I didn't appreciate that my problems were all but nonexistent, but they were about to multiply like cockroaches. What I wouldn't give to reclaim that innocence! The bathtub part is just incidental.
Nostalgia is a double-edged sword, as depressing as it is uplifting, and I find that same tonal ambivalence in "Hallelujah" and then in the rest of the song as it segues into piano, cello (I think), violin (I think), and Loreena McKennitt's goddess voice. Granted, this may owe more to my own lack of emotional intelligence than authorial intent, but the way art works is that my interpretation is as valid as anyone else's. The lyrics speak of hope, of faith, of seeking after God when he seems the most distant, of grasping at tender mercies and persevering through the long dark night of the soul - depression, faith crisis, loss, whatever. In my favorite passage, she sings,
"I did not believe because I could not see
Though you came to me in the night
When the dawn seemed forever lost
You showed me your love in the light of the stars"
Yet I cannot bring myself to call this a cheerful song when it sounds like something to be played at a funeral. In this very same passage, Loreena/Dante laments her/his own foolishness and shortcomings, and this continues as (s)he asks God to strengthen her/his "clay feet" and "feeble heart" and "take these crumpled hopes, etched with tears". Near the end of life, perhaps, looking back with no small amount of regret and lingering heartache over the past, but acknowledging God's hand throughout, and humbly pleading with Him to remain nearby through the final stretch. Loreena's voice fades away as she repeats, as she begs, "Please remember me." She is altogether silent when the music segues flawlessly back into "Hallelujah", closing out this hymn of unparalleled beauty that simultaneously preaches hope, acknowledges pain, and diminishes neither. As I put it more simply the other night, "It makes me cry for multiple reasons." That's how I feel about it now that I don't hate it anymore.
It's a shame that "agenda" has become a dirty word. If I pointed out that Disney has a clear and unmistakable agenda to fill Star Wars with more women and non-white people, most would assume that I'm racist and sexist and see this as a bad thing. But Disney does have such an agenda, and I see it as one of the few things they've done (mostly) right with Star Wars. (I say "mostly" because actual character development seems to be less than an afterthought in some cases.) I'm not exaggerating when I say that the lack of women and non-white people was previously the biggest flaw in an otherwise stellar franchise. And as I've grown more sensitive to these things, I've implemented the same agenda in my not-yet-published and still-evolving novel.
Some years ago, before the new batch of Star Wars movies, I proactively went through my draft and made more characters female just because it seemed like the right thing to do. My two protagonists were already female (hence the working title that will definitely be replaced with something better someday, "Space Girls"). I had no agenda in mind when I made that decision at the beginning. It was just something I tried out and for whatever reason it made them more real to me and more interesting to write than my previous male protagonists who were flat and hollow and stupid, and I did this before Rey was ever a thing, before Disney even bought Lucasfilm, but now they'll make their official debut long after that fact and I suppose it will look like I'm just jumping on the bandwagon. It never occurred to me, though, to make them anything other than white. Crossing the gender barrier was somehow more intuitive than crossing the skin color barrier.
Of course, skin color is handled differently in the non-visual medium of writing, and often glossed over altogether. Most works of fiction in the U.S. have historically been written by white people to an audience of predominantly white people who will assume that all the characters are white unless otherwise implied or specified. So in the original 1980 novelization of "The Empire Strikes Back", Donald F. Glut makes no mention of Luke's or Leia's or Han's skin color, but introduces Lando as "a handsome black man". I presume Mr. Glut didn't and doesn't have a racist bone in his body. But this kind of unconscious bias is something we take notice of and try to rectify nowadays. Contrast it with Alexander Freed's 2016 novelization of "Rogue One", the most diverse Star Wars film up to that point. Every main character is given a detailed description of his or her appearance, but with no mention of skin color whatsoever.
Just a few months ago I tried to diversify my novel in like manner. Of course, most characters are never given a level of description sufficient to justify mentioning skin color or national origin, but most of them had boring "white" names and were white in my mind. My unconscious bias was at work because I'm white and I grew up surrounded by white people - my middle and high school combined literally had like five black kids - so of course that was how I would visualize the world unless prompted otherwise. I replaced a majority of these "white" names with various Hispanic, African and Asian names. All but one of the more prominent characters were also white (or half-white, in the case of one human/alien hybrid) so I changed some of their descriptions and tweaked a few of their names to rectify that. However, I didn't feel at liberty to make such adjustments to the two protagonists. They're at the center of the story I began nearly a decade ago, and to me they were like real living breathing people that I couldn't just alter as it suited me. The most I could do was decide that one of them is half Northern Paiute.
I did not use any labels like "white", "black", "Latino" or so forth, as they seem a bit heavy-handed for my purposes. Within the world of the story, national and ethnic boundaries are all but nonexistent. People of Earth live under one overarching government and collectively regard themselves as "Earthlings". Current categories of race within the Earthling species have been supplanted by the differentiations between Earthlings and other sapient beings from other worlds altogether. "Racism" is no longer about skin color so much as the number of eyes or tentacles someone has. So I just describe Earthling skin color as "pale", "tan", "dark" or what have you, and let other contextual clues like the names or accents fill in the rest. To me this makes sense and is an ideal which we should be striving for in the real world (even though our chance of meeting other sapient beings anytime soon isn't great). "Race" is a social construct that misleads people to believe in divisions within humanity that don't actually exist. Discarding it with all its associated terminology and baggage is, of course, quite impossible at this time. But I think we should be striving toward that end.
Now if anyone has actually read this far, I can imagine some of them asking, "Who the ---- cares? Why does it matter? Why are you SJWs so obsessed with this identity politics crap?" There are at least three reasons for me to have this diversity agenda.
1. The most obvious - inclusivity. If you haven't had the experience of growing up and seeing nobody of importance in the movies or on TV or in novels who looks like you, then you can be forgiven for not grasping why it affects people so much and why they're so happy for the situation to change. Even if you refuse to try to understand, it should be a neutral thing. You shouldn't feel personally attacked by people who look different getting more chances in the spotlight.
2. A related but more selfish reason - because I find it more interesting. I never gave a second thought to growing up surrounded by white people, but now it feels like a breath of fresh air whenever I have the opportunity to be around a substantial number of people who look different than me. Diversity for its own sake is just beautiful, okay? I don't know how else to explain it. And most of the name replacements I made in my novel are objectively superior to the originals anyway. Joaquin Tolentino is a much cooler name than Jacob Collins. Sorry.
3. Because, get this, it's actually necessary if I want to be realistic (which I do). This reason doesn't really apply to Star Wars because it's a fictional galaxy altogether, but my novel is set in this one, just in the future. And in the year 2153, the United States and Europe and probably all of Earth are going to be way more diverse than they are now. From what I can gather, in fact, white people are pretty much the slowest-reproducing demographic on the planet. In just a few decades they'll probably be the smallest minority of all (and since I'm not a Nazi, I have no problem with that and I'm not complaining in the slightest, just stating a fact). So visualizing a future world that's as dominated by white people as most current American movies, TV shows and novels would actually be absurd. So this means my white and now half-white protagonists are actually minorities after all!
I would agree, however, that this shouldn't matter. No such agenda as this should be necessary. In an ideal world, movies and TV shows and novels would automatically reflect the diversity that exists in real life without requiring conscious and deliberate efforts to make them so. But we, at least in the United States, aren't at that point yet.
Remember the demonic mosquitoes I wrote about? The mosquitoes that, before I bought a handheld bug zapper, attacked me en masse every day on the way to work and bit me more times than I can begin to estimate? Yeah, so I read the other day that some of them, this exact mosquito population on this exact block, were trapped and tested positive for West Nile virus. I'm sorry, what century is this? What country is this? And why in the seven levels of hell hasn't anyone in Logan done anything about this mosquito infestation, which has existed for years, until I bought a handheld bug zapper?
So by my calculations, there's a zero percent chance that I haven't already been infected with West Nile virus several times. Nothing has happened yet and maybe nothing will happen because actually 8 out of 10 people who get infected with West Nile virus aren't affected at all. And only 1 in 150 people develop super severe and potentially fatal symptoms. If that does happen to me, though, I don't have health insurance so I'll just be screwed. Yay, America!
Probably I'll be fine. But the unwelcome revelation prompted me to think even more about my mortality than usual. What would I do if I found out from the doctor I can't afford to visit that I only had a few days or weeks to live? I would tell my least favorite people in no uncertain terms exactly what I think of them, write a brief list of instructions for what I want done with my corpse, and then relax and look forward to never having to worry about money again. I have no fear of death. None whatsoever. I do have a considerable fear of death being preceded by protracted high levels of pain, but the actual prospect of transitioning out of this craphole into a far better plane of existence is a happy one. I think about it at least once a day. Every morning, and I do mean every morning, I wake up so exhausted that I fantasize about slipping into oblivion so I don't have to get up or open my eyes. Meanwhile President Russell M. Nelson, who turns 95 tomorrow, says "I can hardly wait to bounce out of bed each morning."
Maybe on resurrection morning, for the first time, I won't wake up more tired than when I went to bed. I read all about resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 this week with a study group, and was touched by the entire chapter but particularly verse 19: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." If I believed that this life was all I'm going to get, I certainly wouldn't tolerate it for another moment. And my life isn't even that bad in the big scheme of things, but it's completely not worth drudging through if I'm not going to be compensated at some point.
I was struck also, for related reasons, by this comment from an anonymous twelve-year-old who's recently decided to spend his one and only life drive-by trolling the Deseret News Facebook page. In its few sentences, wisely ignoring the centuries of Christian theologians and philosophers whose prior musings on the subject would only bog him down in semantics and critical thinking, and refusing to be baited into actually engaging with or demonstrating the slightest cognizance of the contents of the article on which he posted it, he undertook to singlehandedly once and for all resolve an issue that lesser minds have debated for as long as they've grasped their own mortality. Behold:
I'm not sure which he needs more - the gospel of Jesus Christ, or a grasp of basic English grammar. And what kind of responses, I have to wonder, do such simpletons think their asinine comments are going to trigger from the faithful? "Oh, you mean to tell me there's suffering in the world? I had no idea! That completely disproves my heartfelt beliefs in a higher power, which were entirely contingent on my misconception that the world was made of rainbows and butterflies, and on my never having considered the problem of evil until just now, thanks to you, you brilliant free thinker, you! This also explains the mystery of why the least prosperous nations in the world have the lowest levels of religiosity, except actually the opposite of that is true, but who cares because reasons!" That's what I'm going to say the next time I accidentally read such mindless blathering from one of these jackasses.
Also, "cult members"? I've never been called that before, and it really hurts. Really.
To my shame, though, I must admit that I took a couple minutes to actually look at his page. This is his cover photo:
I guess the implication is that God can't exist because stars exist? Or something?
If the worldview he's proselyting for is correct, then the existence of life, let alone sapient life, is a tragic accident of astronomical proportions. Even the happiest life on this planet is a pointless existential nightmare from which one is only released by the endless and inescapable void of death. There is no ultimate justice. Nobody ever really gets what they deserve, for good or evil. Any and all "lasting" achievements that people may focus on to delude themselves that it's worth it anyway, that they can take comfort in collective progress and some cheap bullcrap counterfeit of immortality, will die with the human race in a couple centuries at most, to say nothing of the eventual demise of the entire known universe. If I believed this, I would also believe that my only rational course of action as a thinking person would be to kill myself and escape the nightmare as soon as possible, and that's exactly what I would do.
I'm not suggesting for a moment that I think atheists, either those who coexist in mutual respect like adults or those who spend their pathetic lives taking personal offense at other people's sense of purpose, should kill themselves. I'm just being honest about what the problem of evil looks like to me. In pretending that theists are the ones who can't solve it, Mr. Delusional has got it exactly backwards.
Dr. Daniel C. Peterson said it very well: "Most of the world's population, historically and still today, does not live, well fed and well traveled, to a placid old age surrounded by creature comforts. Most of the world has been and is like the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the slums of Cairo, the backward rural villages of India, the famine-ridden deserts of northeastern Africa, the war-ravaged towns of the southern Sudan and of Rwanda. If there is going to be a truly happy ending for the millions upon millions of those whose lives have been blighted by torture, starvation, disease, rape, and murder, that ending will have to come in a future life. And such a future life seems to require a God.
"Yes, the problem of evil is a huge one, but to give up on God is to give evil the final say. It is to admit that child rapists and murderers dictate the final chapters in the lives of their terrified and agonized victims; that Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot really did triumph, forever, over the millions they slaughtered; that, in the rotting corpses of Darfur and Iraqi Kurdistan, we see the final, definitive chapter of thousands of lives; that there is, really, no hope for those whose health is in irreversible decline; that every human relationship ends in death, if not before.
"This would not be good news, and I see no compelling reason to accept it. In fact, I see numerous persuasive reasons to reject the claim. But that is a subject not just for another occasion but, necessarily, for a great number of other occasions."
I love these words, even if the God I depend on for this hope is the same guy who thought it was a good idea to invent mosquitoes and West Nile virus.
In the little group of cool people I've been hanging out with for a couple months, there was this guy and this girl who acted like they were kind of dating and kind of not. Like they were always standing next to each other at events, but took separate vehicles to get there. That sort of thing. The girl rarely spoke, but she smiled at all my jokes, so I liked having her around. But recently, she wasn't around and the guy was and I overheard the guy discussing his intention to break things off with her to avoid leading her on. He said she was too quiet. I interjected, "You got something against quiet people?" as a way of sort of sticking up for her while kind of playing it off as a joke to minimize the offensiveness of butting into this conversation that was none of my business, the joke being that I'm pretty quiet too. He said it's just that she's hard to have conversations with. I guess he's never heard of texting or Facebook chats.
Those are awful moments, when you're privy to these discussions and you know what someone is in for and can't do anything but send thoughts and prayers, which it turns out are just as effective at preventing breakups as they are at solving the United States' mass shooting epidemic. I could have tried to warn her, of course, but that didn't seem like it would help anything.
As I thought about it, I realized that this girl, both as a person and because of her ambiguous and ill-fated dating situation, reminded me of somebody that I used to know. She's twenty and I was twenty back then and this other somebody was probably around the same age too. And she was quiet.
I met Claire in late 2013 when her roommate Krista told me how much she, Claire, enjoyed my blog. At this time my blog was hosted by the godawful hosting company Webs, which experienced crippling technical difficulties at least once a month. That's not an exaggeration. In my four plus years with Weebly I've experienced problems of that magnitude maybe one time; I can't even remember. In those days I had no regular updating schedule and just posted whenever something in the news or at church made me particularly angry. And most of those posts sucked so much that when I switched web hosting companies, I happily consigned most of them to the dustbin of cyberspace, only bothering to preserve a few gems for posterity here, like this story. I played "Truth or Dare" with Claire and her roommates once and Krista asked if that story was true and of course it is.
Claire and her roommates were in my home evening group, and when the other twenty-one people in our group didn't bother to show up one week, I ended up talking to her a lot. And then we just ended up talking a lot and spending a lot of time together in general. She readily listened to everything I had to say about organic evolution, blacks and the priesthood, and other topics that she didn't have much to say about. We took walks and swung on the park swings and went to events and things. Often it was dark by the time I dropped her off at her apartment and we both just stood there looking at each other. She always looked as awkward as I felt. Because she was so shy, I tried to enrich her life by letting her read "Quiet" by Susan Cain, but the copy my parents gave me for my birthday had mysteriously disappeared.
We sometimes had unresolved philosophical discussions about whether our activities constituted dates. These things are so difficult to quantify scientifically. We could have been on anywhere between zero and two dozen dates. Once during the awkward eye contact when I dropped her off after she accompanied me to a free concert on campus that filled a requirement for my music class, she said, "I don't really know much about dating," implying perhaps that she had regarded this as a date, but by her own admission she wasn't really qualified to evaluate that. Everything happened so organically, and at first that scared me because I felt like Claire was interested in me - back then I believed that some women were - but I wasn't really interested in her. So I felt like we were on this slippery slope to a relationship that I wasn't convinced I wanted. As I enjoyed spending time with her, though, I relaxed.
One evening I was Facebook chatting with Krista and said something to the effect of, "If Claire doesn't like me, she must be a real idiot to not realize how bad she's leading me on."
Krista said something to the effect of, "I just laughed real loud at that, and my roommates asked what's so funny, but I won't tell."
Krista had her own maybe sort of boyfriend, and I was privy to some of his ambitions of fun date activities they could do together, but the next time I saw her I became privy to her saying that she didn't want to date him, and like I said, those are awful moments. They got married a while later, but in the meantime I felt terrible for him and also started to think. There but for the grace of God go I? Was my own slippery slope also headed toward a brick wall?
For some reason it felt like the beginning of the end when I showed Claire my favorite musical, "Evita". We borrowed it from the library and watched it at her house. Right at the end, we discovered that the disc was dirty and/or scratched, and the playback got all choppy and completely ruined the musical's haunting final moments. I was mortified. Claire said it wasn't really her sort of thing, but it was interesting and worth watching. Maybe if I had grabbed the library's other copy of it, things would have turned out differently. Who knows?
One night not long after, when I asked Claire if we could hang out in the park, she said, "We've been hanging out in the park a lot lately. I think we should take a break."
Then a few hours later she said, “Hey, can we meet in the park? I need to talk to you.”
At this point, not counting Claire, I had been on two dates in my entire life. But somehow I knew as surely as I knew of my own existence that this was going to be a "Let's just be friends" talk. With considerable trepidation I showed up and we sat on the swings and talked for half an hour about stuff so forgettable that I've forgotten it.
Just as I was beginning to relax and feel relieved, she said, “So, is this a date?”
I hesitated. "Well," I said cautiously, "I think I want it to be a date, if that's all right with you."
She was silent for a long moment.
Then she said, "I think I want it not to be a date."
As we discussed what had happened over the course of our friendship, then and later on Facebook, I was relieved that I wasn't the only one who didn't know what was going on. She didn't expect it any more than I did because why would I be interested in her? I listed some reasons and she said it was a rhetorical question but thanks. She became too busy for me and dated and married someone else, coincidentally also named Chris, a few months later.
I have no profound conclusions to draw from this, but I feel nostalgic and wistful about the whole thing, especially now that this other person and situation reminded me of it. Claire was probably the closest thing I ever had to a girlfriend. Or maybe it was Nadia, the young lady in Ecuador that I Skyped almost every day of my freshman year until I pushed her away because she deserved better. Or maybe it was my roommate Joey's female cat who came into my room and rubbed my legs every chance she got. These things are so difficult to quantify scientifically.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.