Thursday was the first time since 2019 that I made it up to my grandfather's house for Thanksgiving. Although I had a great time, afterward of course I waxed nostalgic and depressed about how those three years have zipped by and how much has transpired within them, good and bad. Back then it was my grandmother's house too. Back then nobody had heard of Covid-19. Back then the girl next door hadn't yet sent the police after me. Back then I hadn't even applied to graduate school. Back then I had zero nieces instead of two. And when all is said and done, back then I was three years younger. Not that I'm old, but I'm significantly closer to the end of the prime of my life than the beginning. After thirty-five, if I'm lucky, I'll spend the rest of my life physically deteriorating. That seems like a really perverse ratio to me. A majority of people in developed nations - not me, I'm sure, given my state of health, but a majority - can reasonably expect to live into their eighties or beyond. So in my view, they shouldn't start actually being old until they turn sixty or thereabouts. They shouldn't start losing their hair or their eyesight or their bladder control until then. But nobody asked me.
Getting old is going to be a major theme of Indiana Jones 5, which is one of the things I'm grateful for this year. Of course I'm being a little premature because it might suck, but I'm confident that it will be at least moderately entertaining and that I'll prefer its existence to its nonexistence. Give me a few chases and explosions and I'll be happy. It will be set in 1969, the year my dad was born. It's going to heavily feature the moon landing and the Nazis who ran the American space program. (On the one hand, casting Nazis as the villains again feels ridiculous, but on the other hand, Nazis are still villains in real life and it will be more cathartic than ever to watch them get what they deserve, which, in case I wasn't clear enough, is death. Nazis deserve death.) I hope it also touches on the Stonewall riots, the civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam War protests, and second-wave feminism, just so the people who complain about everything being too "woke" will have aneurysms when they watch it. But I digress. Indiana Jones is canonically 70 years old in this movie (though Harrison Ford is pushing 80, and is older than George Hall was when the latter portrayed 93-year-old Indy in the highly underrated Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which shows that at least people are aging better than they used to even if they still spend most of their lives looking old). He's an old man in a time of immense change and upheaval and as he approaches retirement, he's becoming obsolete.
This angle is especially interesting to me in light of the character's origins. He is, of course, based on the action heroes from old adventure serials and was never meant to be taken altogether seriously, yet he's always been a little more realistic than them. He gets hurt and he gets tired while they never did. He's firmly a product of the 1930s and 40s just as they were, yet unlike them, he stuck around and aged through subsequent decades, and that's just cool to me. Meta, almost. And Disney has promised not to recast him or reboot the series with a different actor. When Harrison Ford is done, Indiana Jones is done (even though he's already been portrayed at different ages by multiple other actors - the aforementioned George Hall as well as River Phoenix, Corey Carrier, and Sean Patrick Flanery). So more than likely his goddaughter Helena, introduced in this upcoming movie, will get her own spinoff series instead, and the people who complain about everything being too "woke" will weep and wail and gnash their teeth that this icon of masculinity has been replaced by a woman. I see no downside, though. If her series sucks I can just pretend it doesn't exist. I don't anticipate that, though, because as long as it gives me a few chases and explosions I'll be happy.
Another thing I'm grateful for, one that's actually been released, is the first season of the Star Wars series Andor. Now again, because I have very low standards, I found Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi worth watching, but in some ways they were disappointing. They fell short of their potential. Andor is just phenomenal in every respect - great plot, great characters, great dialogue, great music. It dares to be original instead of nostalgia bait - so much so, in fact, that the first three episodes didn't feel like Star Wars to me and were hard to get into, but once I got used to it, hoo-boy it was great. So much political intrigue, but done better than the prequel movies (which I also liked), punctuated periodically by just the right amount of action. Likeable villains, despicable protagonists, and just regular people trying to make it in the galaxy with no Force and no lightsabers. Great debates and doublespeak and monologues. Electronic music that sounds more modern and different than the usual scores, but works beautifully. And the thinly-veiled parallels to real life give the people who complain about everything being too "woke" a lot to complain about, so that's a plus. I recommend it to everyone because I've seen multiple people say that they're not really into Star Wars but they love this show. They say it's just a great show, period.
Last but not least, I'm grateful now and always for music, my love, my drug, my lifeblood, my precious, my escape from whatever disappointments or existential horrors life can throw at me. I hope and pray that whatever happens as I age, I won't lose my hearing. Which means that I probably will because God doesn't seem very concerned about what I want.
One of the best things my parents ever did for me was play New Age music to set the mood almost every Sunday morning instead of boring church music. I've loved it ever since and recently came to the realization that although I appreciate all genres, this one might be tied with metal and eighties as my favorite, if eighties counts as a genre, which right now I say it does. But if you were to ask me what New Age music actually is, I would say something lame like, "Uh, it's usually instrumental, but not classical, and sometimes it's not instrumental. And a lot of it is Celtic-influenced but a lot of it isn't." I know because that's more or less what I said once when someone did ask me. I don't know how to talk about music, I just know how to listen to it. According to Wikipedia, however, New Age music is a pretty vague umbrella term after all, with two competing definitions: it can be "music with an ambient sound that has the explicit purpose of aiding meditation and relaxation, or aiding and enabling various alternative spiritual practices, such as alternative healing, yoga practice, guided meditation, or chakra auditing," or it can be "[m]usic found in the new-age sections of record stores.... more of a marketing slogan rather than musical category." So that makes me feel less stupid.
New Age or New Age-adjacent artists that featured in my childhood included 2002, Acoustic Alchemy, Ayman, Cusco, David Arkenstone, Diane Arkenstone, Enya, Gandalf, Hennie Bekker, John Adorney, Loreena McKennitt, Mannheim Steamroller, Suzanne Ciani, Vangelis, and Yanni. Of these, David Arkenstone was by far most frequently in rotation. My parents had most of his CDs released from 1990-2000 and a couple of more recent ones. He singlehandedly showcases the diversity of so-called New Age music. To date, including collaborations, he has released ninety-nine albums drawing influence from cultures all over the world. I guess now that's cultural appropriation, but I don't care because good music is good music. He's criminally underrated. He's been nominated for five Grammies and I think it's a travesty that he didn't win any of them. I don't know who did win them because I don't pay attention to that sort of thing, but maybe there should just be more Grammies to go around in the first place. In my book he's tied with John Williams and Koji Kondo as the greatest composer of all time. He certainly deserves to be the most streamed artist in the world more than Ed Sheeran does. He even has an objectively cool-sounding name, and in his younger years he could have gotten the lead in The Chosen with his beard and long hair.
A while ago - I thought it was earlier this year but realized today that it was last December, which just goes to show how my life is exponentially slipping away - I joined his Facebook group and got some stuff in the mail. OMG, a childhood hero wrote my name.
He actually interacts with people in the group, not always in the timeliest manner, but still, OMG, a childhood hero spoke to me.
In conclusion, I urge everyone who isn't familiar with his music to rectify that situation ASAP. If I have to recommend just one of his albums, difficult though that is, I'll go with Citizen of the World (1999) because it earned a Grammy nomination and showcases several different cultural appropriations, I mean influences. If you don't love it, I'm still right and you're wrong.
The Gypsy Camp
I've shared this track on the blog before because when I first heard the Gerudo Valley theme from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, it sounded to me like an inferior pastiche of this one. Don't worry, I got over that and learned to love them both.
Land of the Tiger
Carried Away Across the Sea
Temple of the Pharaoh
Into the Dreamtime
This is by far the most popular track of the album on Spotify for some reason, the only one with the six-digit streams that the others also deserve.
Extricating myself from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a rather gradual process, as I've held onto as many bits and pieces as I could in an attempt to minimize the existential crisis and convince myself that my twenty-one years of membership weren't a waste. So, for example, I stayed subscribed to the r/latterdaysaints subreddit until I got banned for encouraging nuanced thinking and intellectual honesty. The other day I took another step forward by getting rid of several LDS books that I'm never going to read again and in a majority of cases never read the first time. I'd already tossed my old "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet and my old "To Young Men Only" pamphlet (based on Boyd K. Packer's anti-masturbation General Conference talk that was quietly removed from the church's website a few years ago) in the recycle bin weeks earlier, but destroying actual books rubs me the wrong way unless the books themselves rub me the wrong way. I think the only books I've ever intentionally destroyed was Wizard's First Rule, that I burned after the delusional neighbor who loaned it to me stabbed me in the back and set in motion the worst day of my life, and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, which I encountered at my old book warehouse job and surreptitiously tore the cover off of because I didn't want to sell it for reasons that should be obvious to decent human beings.
But just because these books no longer mean much to me doesn't mean someone else shouldn't benefit from them, so I chose to gave them away. Most of them, anyway. A few were gifts from family members or belonged to now-deceased family members so I'll keep them around for that fact at least. But the majority I took to the local YSA ward yesterday a couple hours before stake conference started. I set them up on a table outside the north chapel because it was empty and I've paid enough tithing to entitle myself to use it. The table outside the south chapel was covered with little papers and things, including a stack of little orange advertisements for stake conference that had obviously missed its chance to be of any use to anyone. At least I was able to give one of them a second chance.
Here, then, are brief descriptions of these books because I lack the motivation to find anything better to write about today. I'm sorry.
They Lie in Wait to Deceive Volume 1 - I picked this up a few years ago at the Logan Institute even though I had already read all four volumes in this series online. In this volume, Robert and Rosemary Brown strike back at professional critics Jerald and Sanda Tanner and some guy named Dee Jay Nelson who, in the seventies and early eighties, pretended to be a leading Egyptologist and went around giving lectures against the authenticity of the Book of Abraham. The Browns painstakingly documented all his lies about his credentials and experience, and were so successful that his career ended and today he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. I consider that a worthwhile effort even though real Egyptologists have also said plenty against the authenticity of the Book of Abraham.
The TRUTH About "The God Makers" - As I write this I've just remembered that I got this book from my now-deceased grandmother, but it wasn't a gift per se, she just had it laying around and didn't need it anymore, so I guess that's all right. This one is also available online. "The God Makers" is the title of a book and movie by evangelical countercultist Ed Decker, and both are regarded as laughable sensationalist garbage even by most other critics of the LDS Church. Their most lasting legacy is an excerpt posted on YouTube under the inaccurate title "Banned Mormon Cartoon." (Years ago I asked "Banned by whom, exactly?" I'm still waiting on a response.)
The Church of the Old Testament - I think I got this from the book warehouse on one of the days when they let us take free books home. I never read it. Presumably it attempts to root modern LDS practices in the very different practices of the Old Testament. Latter-day Saints and Christians in general read a lot of things between the lines of the Old Testament that Jews don't, and I suppose until we can ask the authors about it in person we won't know who's right. I'm more skeptical nowadays, but the author did have a BA in anthropology, a graduate certificate in Middle East Studies, an MA in linguistics, and an MA in Middle East studies (Hebrew) with minor in anthropology and archaeology, so he wasn't just some hack writing faith-promoting drivel for Deseret Book.
Mark E. Petersen - Virtually the only thing anyone remembers apostle Petersen (not Peterson) for is his insanely racist pro-segregation speech to BYU faculty in 1954. I picked up this biography by his daughter from the book warehouse in hopes of discovering that he had some redeeming qualities. I never got around to reading it, and since I'm no longer required to convince myself that he was a representative of Jesus Christ, I see no reason to do so in the future. I did, however, read Church Historian Leonard Arrington's diary a couple years ago, and I learned that Petersen was one of the leaders who fought Arrington at every turn when he tried to publish balanced and transparent history. So now I remember him for two things. That's an improvement. (Incidentally, after his death in 1984, Arrington remarked that his BYU speech "was one of the most bigoted and narrow-minded talks ever given by a 'disciple of Christ.')
On Becoming A Disciple-Scholar - I wanted to be a disciple-scholar. I wanted to be a paragon of faith and intellect working in harmony. Strange, then, that I never made the time to read this relatively short book. I must have been too busy arguing with strangers on the internet.
Law of the Harvest: Practical Principles of Effective Missionary Work - I bought this my freshman year of college at the peak of my enthusiasm to convert the world, even though it's available online. David Stewart was and is a believing member, yet the issues he raised in this book and elsewhere threatened my testimony quite a bit. As I grew up, claims about the church's spectacular growth were ubiquitously touted as proof that it was true. He pointed out with solid data that its growth rate had steadily fallen since the late 1980s and that a solid majority of members on the rolls no longer associated with the church in any capacity. (This has now become so obvious that it's common knowledge among people who aren't completely out of touch with reality.) What's worse, he pointed out how Jehovah's Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, and evangelical missionary and/or church planting programs (aka the ones that don't claim to be led by living prophets) have consistently and dramatically outperformed the LDS missionary program (aka the one that does claim to be led by living prophets) in terms of numerical growth and retention. Now look, I don't expect an "inspired" missionary program to have no room for improvement or nothing it can learn from other groups, but I do expect it to not necessitate some random guy outside the church leadership structure writing a book about why it sucks. So that was a faith crisis shelf item for a long time.
Saint Behind Enemy Lines - This is the story of Olga Kovářová Campora, a convert to the church from communist Czechoslovakia. I was going to read it earlier this year and then I didn't. I'm sure it's very inspiring and I don't begrudge her finding peace and/or joy wherever, but even as a believer I couldn't help thinking about how atypical her experience is for Eastern Europe. Today, thirty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the church has fewer than 3,000 members in the Czech Republic and Slovakia combined. A few years ago it had more Slovak members in Sheffield, England than in Slovakia. Maybe it still does, but the Slovak branch in that city was closed after not very long (with none of the fanfare that accompanied its opening, of course), so I don't know.
Sunshine for the Courageous Latter-day Saint Soul - Stories to make one feel warm and fuzzy, I'm sure. I suspect that many of them are drivel, but only having read one and found it tolerable, I shouldn't assume.
Brother to Brother - I stole this one from the book warehouse. It had been rejected, so we couldn't sell it and I was supposed to toss it in the recycle bin, but as one who had been obsessed for years with everything I could get my hands on about the church's (usually but not always abysmal) history with Black people, I had to read it. I snuck it home with me and read it. Co-author Rendell Mabey was one half of one half of the two senior missionary couples sent to Ghana and Nigeria in late 1978 following the revelation that made Black people eligible for priesthood ordination and temple ordinances. This is his story, and it's a faith-promoting story that has the benefit of being true. Between 1946 and 1978, tens of thousands of West Africans had obtained literature from the church and desired to be baptized. They knew about the priesthood and temple ban, of course (though additional stuff like Mark E. Petersen's BYU speech are another story), but tended (and still tend) not to care the way African-Americans tended (and still tend) to care. Many of them were still waiting when the missionaries finally arrived and baptized them.
Counseling With Our Councils - I got this from the institute when I was part of the Leadership Committee of the Latter-day Saint Student Association. I "won" it somehow, out of all the people there, but I don't remember how or why. With that being the case I feel kind of bad that I never read it because it looks really boring, but now it can be put to some use.
Then there's the little stack that I would have just recycled if they'd been all I had, because they're not real books, just manuals - three copies of Gospel Principles (I think the small one is an older edition, but I didn't care enough to look) and two volumes from Teachings of Presidents of the Church (Gordon B. Hinckley and Joseph Fielding Smith, the latter carefully curated to omit any of his teachings on race or science). I really ought to get rid of more books since I'm most likely going to move to another state next year, but I'm not sure I can bear to do that unless I apostatize from science fiction.
Green Canyon High School is my favorite place to substitute teach. It's a convenient distance and a convenient age group. The last time I was there I saw a poster for an upcoming production of War of the Worlds, so being a lover of sci-fi as well as wanting to support the students, I went to it this weekend. It wasn't based on the book, it was based on the radio broadcast based on the book. The play depicted the radio employees broadcasting the broadcast. Very meta, and not a lot of actual action going on, but it held my interest just fine. The partially tongue-in-cheek thirties nostalgia set a nice tone and the dialogue reminded me that the original book is a freaking masterpiece and I should read it again. I felt bad that this performance didn't have nearly the audience size it deserved.
Speaking of school, I'm planning to go back next year because my mentor convinced me that I haven't spent enough of the prime of my life in school. I'm leaning toward an MFA. I still don't know what differentiates an MFA from an MA and at this point I'm afraid to ask, but I know it's less of a time and money commitment than a PhD that will still advance my career farther than the Bachelor's and the MA that have failed to advance it any farther than substitute teaching K-12. It goes without saying that sixty years ago the Bachelor's alone would have set me up for life, and the bar has somehow been raised to this point where I need at least three degrees to be noticed, but the world was worse sixty years ago than it is today in many ways so I just have to take the bad with the good. Granted, I did choose a "useless" degree according to the people who, if there were any justice in the world, would be denied access to the fruits of the writers, artists, and musicians they hold in such contempt for getting useless degrees.
With a basic college degree portrayed from early childhood on up as the bare minimum to which everyone must aspire in order to have any chance at any success in life whatsoever, it becomes all the more unreasonable that eighteen-year-olds whose brains won't be fully developed for another seven years are held fully accountable for the long-term consequences of the student loans they're pressured into taking out. The issue, of course, is not so much the amount of the loans themselves as the interest that continues to accumulate so they pay several times over what they borrowed and somehow still owe more. I don't see how any person with a basic grasp of ethics can believe this system is fair or justified. So while BIden's forgiveness program may or may not be the most ideal approach, I have not one shred of sympathy for the predators who won't be able to extort as much money as they wish.
I'm far from an expert on the legal or economic nuances of the situation, but at least in theory I see no reason why taxpayers should have to pay the forgiven debts either. If the government holds the debts - and my understanding is that this forgiveness specifically doesn't apply to debts held by private companies - then I don't see why it can't decide that they simply no longer exist, just like it decided that this time today is magically an hour earlier than it was yesterday. Money is not real. Pieces of paper or numbers on a screen have no intrinsic value whatsoever. We decide as a society to pretend that they do because it's easier than having everyone try to work out the exchange rates of a thousand different goods and services and successfully barter with people who may not have the slightest interest in what they have to offer. When conservative Christians read Jesus' parable about a king who decides that a debt of ten thousand bags of gold simply no longer exists, do they complain about how that's going to burden the taxpayers or wreck the kingdom's economy? Is there supposed to be something fundamentally different about money in the modern world? (Also, the guy who has that debt canceled and then goes and harasses someone who owes him a hundred silver coins totally reminds me of Derek Chauvin.)
Many have correctly pointed out that this forgiveness is only a short-term band-aid solution, without seeming to notice that Biden has also announced multiple no-brainer reforms to the loan system itself that will make it screw borrowers over and ruin their lives substantially less in the future - like, for example, by not constantly adding interest to the principal and charging interest on that so the debt grows faster than it can be paid. It's a start. I mean, in some developed countries college education is free (yes, I know that means it's funded by taxes) because governments recognize that having educated citizens is in their own best interest. Educated citizens are far less likely to actively oppose common-sense public health guidelines during a global pandemic or try to overturn election results to keep the racist troglodyte they worship in power, to name just a couple of hypothetical examples.
Anyway, I'm considering a few school options and hoping to pay for the MFA the same way I paid for my MA, by teaching, but I won't say yet what those options are because I probably wrote something very offensive once and I don't need someone sharing it with them and telling them not to admit me.
"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 Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, 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.