First, some unnecessary backstory. Pretty much everything I know about Tinder I learned from a classmate's essay in my Creative Nonfiction Writing course. Like all the creative writing courses, this one was uncensored and unfiltered, but this essay was the only piece of writing I ever got from a classmate that shocked me and made the professor be like "Um, that's kind of offensive." The questionable parts of the essay were her claims that she looked on Tinder for guys "who don't look like rapists" and that "Mormon men with beards look like they're part of the Taliban". I wrote in my comments, "What does a rapist look like?" But it was an informative essay nonetheless, and the only meaningful increase in my knowledge came a couple weeks ago when I was forced to take the first sick day of my life and spend it on the couch waiting to die. I somehow got to reading screenshots of funny, weird, and/or creepy Tinder profiles and messages, and that made me think about Mutual.
Mutual, from what I understood, was like Tinder but only for Latter-day Saints. It was named after the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association and the Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association (formerly the Young Ladies' National Mutual Improvement Association, formerly the Young Ladies' Cooperative Retrenchment Association) because I presume the far superior name "Tinder Mercies" would have triggered an unwinnable lawsuit. I thought about this app because I was reading about all this scummy stuff on Tinder and I presumed that Mutual wouldn't have this scummy stuff. I'm sure it has some scummy people, but I presumed they had to behave themselves while on the app. And then I wondered if the app was free and then I figured it was probably free but with a Premium version required to actually make it useful, and I verified that and then, being very ill and bored, I downloaded it for reasons I still don't know. And I had another learning experience.
So of course you have to start out by making a profile. You have to have at least one picture, and that's where I hit my first snag. I couldn't find any non-group picture taken of me within the last year that I didn't hate, and even if I could have, I would have considered it misleading. I could concievably get a picture taken at just the right pose and angle and lighting to make me look moderately handsome, but I can't stay at that pose and angle and lighting all the time in real life. Nightmares flashed through my mind of women from the app meeting me in person and being disappointed by my mannerisms, voice, facial expressions, and outlook on life. So I ruled out that route right off. I used the picture of my dead dog (who wasn't dead at the time it was taken). I knew nobody would swipe on that and I didn't care because I just needed a picture so I could move on.
You have to set your profile somewhere on a scale between "Down for Dates" (because alliteration) and "Relationship Ready" (ditto). I couldn't be honest because "Barely Browsing" isn't an option. I set myself toward the former end of the scale but since I wasn't planning to get swiped, I didn't stress about the precise placement. You can say whether you've served a mission and if so, where. I said "Korea Pyongyang North" and got away with it. You can select some interests, hobbies and such, from a list and write a bit about yourself. There are a few prompts, but you can only use one. "Most embarrassing moment? Downloading this app." I should have tested to find out how much you can write but I didn't feel the need to duplicate information already available on the internet. So I just put an invitation to my website, but I didn't get a spike in traffic and I didn't expect one anyway so that was fine. And of course there are cool things you can only do with the Premium version, but I wouldn't have sprung for that even if I could afford it. That would be like paying Spotify every month with no guarantee that I would actually get to listen to music.
Then the app started bombarding me with other people's, specifically women's, profiles, and I immediately noticed what I regard as a tragic design flaw. Each profile just comes up as the woman's default picture, name, age and location. Sometimes she has more pictures you can scroll through. Then you can tap on it and bring up her common interests with you, DD vs. RR status, and whatever she chose to write about herself. And most of them didn't write much about themselves. A lot of them just listed their Instagram names in that space, so I went and followed their Instagrams where I could see several more pictures of them and, in one case, her boyfriend. Sometimes they had a little quip that attempted cuteness but gave little information. "I'm not gluten-free." Oh, good to know because that would have been a dealbreaker. Definitely more useful than your feelings on vaccines or Donald Trump. I admit that one of them made me smile, though, and I quote: "Just please don't murder me."
So the design flaw is this: I believe the Mutual app, whether by design or practice, encourages shallowness.
With so little to go off of, I was basically supposed to decide based on a woman's appearance whether I would bother messaging her. And yes, this is a natural human tendency, and like most humans I am more inclined to want to get to know humans who have certain physical traits that humans have evolved to find attractive in the opposite sex mostly for reasons of genetic fitness, but I feel very guilty about that. I don't want to be encouraged in it. Aziz Ansari in his book Modern Romance acknowledged that Tinder encourages shallowness, but decided that's fine because it's just like real life where people only gravitate to the people they find attractive anyway. Okay, but what if we harnessed the power of technology to make ourselves be better? What if we took the opportunity to look past the physical with greater ease by actually having access to a bunch of pertinent information right off the bat? For example, I would give virtually anyone a chance if she gave the right answers about vaccines and Donald Trump.
I mean, you've surely had the experience of talking to someone that at first you regarded as rather plain-looking, only to find that she grows more and more beautiful with each moment of conversation, and before you know it three hours have gone by, and she asks you out, and you're not sure at first if that's what's happened but you figure "Dinner and a movie, my treat" is pretty unambiguous, so the day approaches and then an hour before you're scheduled to go she texts and says she can't, she's sick, and you try to reschedule but her responses are kind of evasive and it occurs to you that this isn't a postponement but a cancelation, and you ask her directly if that's the case, and she says yes, you seem like a nice guy but she's just not interested, and at this point you become just a little teensy weensy itsy bitsy bit confused, so you calmly and politely inquire why she asked you out in the first place, and she says something to the effect of "I could tell that you liked me, but I figured you would be too shy to ask me out, so I thought I'd help you" and you feel like the next time she wants to "help" someone she should just, like, not, but after crying for a while you decide to forgive her but then - this is the strangest thing, you don't get it at all, but her appearance changes again, like she has the same face as always but now she looks like a literal gargoyle, and you don't get it at all because you're not mad at her, you don't hate her, and there are plenty of people you do heartily dislike but they don't become "ugly" to you just because of that, so you know this isn't just some psychological perception thing on your part, and when you go with the missionaries to help teach her because she's going inactive you mention that bit to them in case it's relevant to her spirituality, only you try to be polite by calling it "almost a physical change" even though there's no "almost" about it, and they seem to know what you're talking about, and she always seems super awkward and uncomfortable being alive, too, which you never noticed before, and you don't know if she was like that before or you just didn't notice, but you confide in a close friend who happens to be her Relief Society president and shares some probably confidential information about her mental illnesses, and you understand that in her mind she really thought she was being helpful and with that reaffirmed you're able to let it go completely. We've all been there, right? Right?
So I knew right away that I was in over my head. Unlike Tinder, instead of choosing the right, you swipe up to indicate your approval of someone's profile, and down to indicate that they aren't attractive enough for you. And I couldn't bring myself to swipe down on anyone. It seemed to me such an act of wanton cruelty toward a perfect stranger. If there had been something in any given profile to indicate that our personalities or political views or astrological signs weren't a good match, I could then have passed her by with a clear conscience knowing that it was no reflection on her. But there never was. The only real filter I could get was age. I decided a while ago that most 18-20 year olds aren't really adults and I don't want to deal with their crap, so I swiped down on those, but that still left so many more. And you can't just skip one and move on. You have to make a choice. You can go back to your own profile, you can close the app, you can turn off your phone, but as soon as you return to Mutual the same profile will be in your face demanding to know your verdict on her corporeal frame.
I kept the app for two weeks, up until the day I saw somebody from my stake. I haven't seen her since she left on a mission a couple years ago but now apparently she's back. I've never spoken to her and she's probably grateful for that. I didn't want to swipe her one way or another. But seeing her here now drove home the futility of having this guilt-trip of an app that I had no intention of using for its intended purpose and which I believe is fundamentally flawed in its execution. So I deleted it, but as I type this I realize that I should have done something fun like a. swipe and take a shot of Dr. Pepper for every blonde until my stomach dissolved, or b. make a fake profile, an attractive one, to see what caliber of messages it received and test my original hypothesis that Mutual filters out the unsavory aspects of Tinder. But like I said, I didn't really think this through in the first place.
I actually would have forgotten all about the Logan Institute of Religion's closing social if I hadn't heard "Cupid Shuffle" earlier that day, which immediately reminded me. I believe every dance organized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in North America is contractually obligated to include "Cupid Shuffle" and "Cha-Cha Slide". This one was different than normal, though, as it was hosted by a live DJ who played sort of a mixtape of all the songs with only a couple pauses for slow ones. The dance and the food were also the only options this time around. No games, no movie, no room hilariously labeled "The Friend Zone" where you could go make friends. But no choice paralysis, so that was nice. Of course I got food first, which I would have done even if the dance had started yet, which it hadn't, and sat down to eat in the dark gym where I hoped I could be left alone. But this guy, let's call him James, found me.
James was in my ward for a year or two until he aged out of it. He's one of those guys who will talk to you for half an hour no matter how little interest you show in what he's saying. Unlike most of those guys, however, he thinks he's some kind of holy man - he literally told me that everything he says or does is "sanctified" by the Holy Ghost so that he can say or do whatever he wants and remain temple worthy - with the mission to share his special, deep, made-up doctrine with anyone who will listen. This time around he told me about how the "Second Coming" doesn't actually refer to Christ returning to the Earth, but rather to the people of Zion coming together and coming up to meet him, or something, and the leaders of the Church just don't understand that yet. President Nelson, did, however, say in the last General Conference that time is running out, which James enthusiastically took as validation that "I'm not crazy!"
I just nodded through it like usual. I didn't know what else to do. He masterfully weaves unrelated and decontextualized scripture verses together to support his hypotheses, and I lack the skill to refute them on the spot. Besides, telling this kind of people they're wrong tends to just give them a persecution complex and reinforce their conviction. See also: anti-vaxxers. And I try to be nice to him because I know what it's like to be stigmatized for mental illness and I don't want to do that to someone else. But when he felt the need to tell me in graphic detail about his imaginary sex life that I never asked about, and called my dear friend Mackenzie whom he's never met a whore and servant of Satan, and got agitated while driving and started grabbing at imaginary demon-things he called "birds", and said he was working behind the scenes to stop the missionaries from baptizing those he deemed unworthy, I had to do something. I told the bishop everything and made it his problem. I felt bad, since he was new at being a bishop for the first time, but better him than me. Then James aged out of the ward and things calmed down for a couple years until the other night.
When he left to wander around I bolted from the gym and found a table in one of the lounges. I had to socialize, but so be it; at least I was safer. The dance was supposed to start at 7 so I returned to the gym only to find that it had been postponed by fifteen minutes, so I went back to the lounge and found a chair by the corner where I could be alone. Some girl perpendicular to me was still eating. Then "Joe" happened by. Joe is a regular fixture at the institute who looks for girls with athletic figures and then talks to them about football until they wish they were dead. I mean, I don't know what exactly they're thinking, but even I can tell they're not enjoying it. So he said "Hi" to this girl and she said "Hi" back and they stared each other down for a moment and I don't know how she did it, but he left. That was a surprise. Another surprise happened when she subsequently turned to me and said, "And how are you, Chris?"
Sometimes I feel like I have real honest-to-goodness dementia. It's absurd how often someone addresses me by name and I don't even recognize their face. Apparently this was someone from my ward named Jessica who's friends with Amelia Whitlock whom I quoted in the blurb for this blog, and she said Amelia recently noticed that and got all excited but I could have sworn I asked permission to use it in the first place so I thought she already knew that. Jessica asked what I was doing and I said I was reading an article on my phone about computer reconstructions of historical figures' heads and she said that was cool. I tried to scroll down to George Washington and show her, but my phone chose that time to replace the article with a choppy white screen and the moment I got to him she said "See ya" and left.
Then the dance started and I wandered in because a. there was nothing else to do and b. I never get to play my music that loud at home. So that went on and then the first of two slow songs came on and the DJ complained that there were too many ladies not being asked to dance. As generous as I am, there was nothing I could do to single-handedly solve that problem, and I don't typically ask strangers to dance anyway because in my view it's one of the least efficient ways to meet people. I looked around for somebody I knew. Technically I knew Jessica now, so I figured I'd ask her if I could find her. But someone very unexpectedly tapped me on the shoulder and asked me first, having either taken pity on me or taken her destiny into her own hands. So we walked sideways in a circle and demonstrated why this is one of the least efficient ways to meet people.
Me: WHAT'S YOUR NAME?
Me: WITH A 'T' AS IN 'TRAILER'?
I thought she said Tori, but I had to verify that it wasn't Corrie because that's technically a woman's name and even if it wasn't, you can never be sure. Given that she's from Utah I can't even be sure that "Tori" isn't spelled with four m's and a silent q. We had a nice conversation, all things considered, but it was over so fast, which is the other reason why this is one of the least efficient ways to meet people. After two or three minutes we just knew a few basic facts about each other, mostly about me because she asked most of the questions because I was still perplexed that this was happening, and then we high-fived and there was little else to do. Maybe this works for attractive guys, but I don't feel like I can ask for someone's number or add them on Facebook after two or three minutes of small talk, and I actually gave up years ago on asking for numbers without a legitimate reason at all because texting them and getting no response got old fast. I'm not likely ever going to see her again. So this experience left me more depressed than if nothing had happened. Don't get me wrong, though, I do appreciate Tori for being nice and assertive.
Eventually I needed a water break and there I ran into the missionaries, or rather I chased them down and demanded to know why they haven't visited me yet. Sister Black asked if I'd been dancing and meeting girls and whatever, and I said yes, but I guess she didn't hear me because she pushed me back to the gym. She pushed me with the fingertips of one hand, and I could have easily resisted or moved aside, but they wanted to come to my endowment if possible so I needed to discuss that with them anyway so I decided to just cooperate and let her feel like she was doing a good deed by forcing me to be sociable. I happen to know that she wants to travel the world by herself instead of getting married, so it seems slightly hypocritical, but whatever. I talked as I let her push me and then we reached the gym doors and the second of the two slow songs came on, which made her extra insistent that I go ask a girl to dance. I would have taken fifteen seconds, tops, to finish talking to the missionaries and then gone in and maybe found Tori and asked her to dance again if that wasn't too weird. But James showed up again.
James literally pushed me aside - a gentle push, like Sister Black's, though unlike Sister Black he's big enough to pound me into a pancake if he wanted - and started talking to the missionaries as if I wasn't there. He launched right into his special doctrine. I zoned out and only caught a few words here and there, but it went down exactly like the last time I lingered nearby while he talked to missionaries. One companion stared at him, enraptured, while the other glanced at me and smiled as if to say, "Is this for real? Are you hearing this too? At least I'm not alone." For at least five minutes he talked to them, long past the end of the second and final slow song, ignoring my telepathic pleas that could have been accurately bowdlerized as "Go away." At long last he did, and we wandered away in a daze. Sister Black, the one who'd smiled at me, said, "That was the craziest person I've ever met!"
"Was that your first time?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "You know him?" I said I did, and we finished talking, and she characterized his interruption as "rude" which made me feel better that I wasn't the only one annoyed by it. If I have to suffer, other people should too. That's just fair. I'm glad I'm no longer the craziest person she's ever met.
The following evening USU held its monthly "Poetry and a Beverage" event. It was Glasses' final performance. I wrote years ago about my fiction writing group members whom I dubbed Bracelets, Redhead, and Glasses, and those were stupid pseudonyms and I usually don't even bother with pseudonyms anymore, but I stuck with them for the sake of consistency even though I think I only mentioned Redhead and Glasses one more time after that. At that time I described the latter as "a culturally unorthodox Mormon who hates society, speaks his mind and swears a lot", and that's still pretty accurate except that we're not supposed to say "Mormon" anymore. He's a real cool guy and I've talked to him and seen him around over the years but I just never wrote about him because our conversations are none of your business.
He's a master of rhythmic, almost rap-like, humorous and unfiltered poetry that he's performed at almost evey PoBev while here, and as far as USU is concerned, last night was his magnum opus. (As far as I'm concerned, his magnum opus is still the ode to Oreos that he wrote back in 2015. Good luck ever topping that one, pal.) It was long and covered a lot of unrelated topics, kind of like my early blog posts but actually entertaining, and included enough opinions to offend everyone in the room. Among other things he reflected on his time at USU, his positive memories and his less positive memories and the fact that tuition has risen 22% while he was here even though the national average increase was only 9%. He listed some things that everyone is supposed to love that he doesn't love (like animals, babies, and Bernie Sanders).
He concluded by expressing exactly how he felt about certain aspects of USU and college in general, repeating the same colorful four-letter verb as a mantra for each aspect. A very few people got up and left at that point, but when he finished he got the loudest and most enthusiastic applause of any act I saw that night or at any other time. The organizers were well aware of his previous contributions and smart enough to save him for last. I know I can't do justice to his poetry or convey its appeal with my weak summary, but this being his last time and all I wanted to pay tribute. He and a couple other people have asked when I'm going to perform at PoBev. I'm thinking probably never, but stranger things have happened. I just can't think of any.
Okay, I'll give the blathering on about Star Wars a rest. A review of "The Last Jedi" will probably be forthcoming in a few weeks. I'll just say for now that I liked it much better the second time.
Visiting my family in Indiana required getting up at 6 am on Saturday morning. So like most people would do, I set an alarm. But additionally, my brain does this really helpful thing where it likes to wake me up at least an hour before my alarm goes off. And it did that. So after a bit of unpleasant half-sleeping delirium I came to my senses, such as they are, enough to figure that I should check how much time I had left. And the clock said... wait for it... 12:46. So I had probably been asleep for like two minutes. I said to my brain, I said, "Are you ----------------------------------- kidding me??"
I got back to sleep and, sure enough, woke up again. I checked again. Maybe it was almost time. Or maybe it was 2:59. It was 2:59.
"I hate being me," I told God. That was an overstatement, of course, but it was how I felt at the moment.
The third time, I wasn't optimistic, but it was 5:49 and that somehow came as a relief even though I felt like crap. I just wanted to put on a blindfold like Kanan Jarrus and never open my eyes again. How was it possible to be so hungry and so needing to throw up at the same time? Ironically, I felt worse than I did a week later in Indiana, yesterday, when I went to bed at 10, fell asleep sometime after 1:30, and was woken up at 5:24, aka 3:24 MST. Somehow I got so hot while being unable to sleep that twice I went outside in my underwear and stood with my bare feet in the snow and it felt like a cool spring day. But I digress.
I had to get up so early, in large part, so I could arrive at the airport two hours before my flight to make sure I would have plenty of time to get through security even though it's never taken me more than five minutes. But this time it did. This time it took an extra ten minutes. When my laptop didn't come out of the scanner with the rest of my stuff, I knew something was up. When the TSA guy carried it over to another station and asked "Whose laptop is this?" I knew something was up. When he gestured me over to him with a couple fingers and pointed to the external hard drive enclosure duct taped to the top of it and asked "What's that?" I knew something was up. He said that for future reference it looks suspicious to have something taped to a laptop in an airport and their explosives expert would have to look at it. That was fine with me, as I had nothing to hide, but I started to get a little worried that they would confiscate it anyway like they did my toothpaste one time, and then they may as well just shoot me too because it has my tens of thousands of songs that took years to accumulate.
It was nice of the people at both airports to let me through with my expired ID. There was an officer at one of them who looked like Will Smith. I wanted to get a picture of him, but I might have gotten in trouble. I traveled all day, had the usual delays, and got to Indiana around 9 pm EST. It was another hour to the house and then I was ready for bed. And right as I got out of the car I remembered the trains that pass like twenty feet from my parents' house several times day and night and always blow their horns. I used to like trains.
On a more positive note, the next morning it was once again nice to attend a congregation not completely full of white people. Don't get me wrong, most of my best friends are white, but it just gets stifling when that's all I'm ever surrounded by, you know? Because it was Christmas Eve, somebody thought it would be a good idea to sing like eight hymns. I opted out of all the extra ones because I was tired. The black Baptist convert behind us complained that we had ruined the tunes, and she wasn't wrong.
So, the fifty degrees of winter thing the previous and only time I'd visited Indiana turned out to be a fluke. It was very cold. One day I walked a couple miles from the house and on the return trip my fingers felt like they had been hacked off. I have gloves, I just don't know where they are. But it was sunny! I was asked to post some pictures and bring the sunshine back to Utah! So here are some pictures and I got a pocketful of sunshine which, as anyone in Logan can attest, is being put to good use. I hope I got enough pictures to satisfy the person who requested pictures.
Trains that were very hard to photograph through the trees
As Douglas Adams famously wrote in "Last Chance to See", here be chickens
My parents have the best kind of neighbors
A church we don't go to
Bustling city stuff
My scary friend Mackenzie is starting to sound even more like a mob boss
I knew what she meant the first time, of course, but I like messing with her. My advice to her and anyone else hiring someone to take me out is make sure you're not talking to an undercover cop by mistake. I saw that on TV once. It was real, filmed with a hidden camera in the cop's car, and this woman was hiring him to shoot her husband and he was playing Satan and trying to goad her into being more evil. He was like, "You know, sometimes when I shoot people, it takes them a long time to die and they suffer a lot. Does that bother you?" And she was like, "I don't care, I don't care, I just want him gone. Ohhh, I'm gonna sleep good tonight." You can spot undercover cops because they never actually drink the beer. Wait, wrong scenario. You're on your own then.
My parents have a few books
I took the time to read some of them and record my thoughts.
"Lost Race of Mars" by Robert Silverberg. Written in 1960, set in the distant future of 2017, where the colonists on Mars still use film cameras and paper mail. I'd trade digital cameras and email for a colony on Mars. We haven't even put a person on Mars, which is pathetic and inexcusable. We should have done it decades ago. Would we even be able to get emails on Mars? Could they set up the internet infrastructure between here and there? But hey, at least we have fidget spinners, amiright?
"Peanuts Classics" by Charles Schultz. This one is mine. I don't remember it having a broken binding and a brown stain all the way through. Let's see... oh, I know all these comics by heart even though I haven't read them in who knows how long. I read them so many times and yet I never really understood how great some of them are.
"From First Date to Chosen Hate" by Brenton G. Yorgason. Oh, "Mate". Right, I always read that wrong the first time. It's not the best font. Well, maybe I ought to read this famous book. Plot twist: it's for Australians wanting to escape the matezone. "Hooley dooley! So you've come the raw prawn with another true blue Sheila and she's dobbed she just wants to be mates? Do you just cop it sweet and hope she'll be apples, or bugger that for a joke? Fair suck o' the sav!" etc. 1977? Then it should be good for a few laughs. I'm sure it's very... dated. Hum de dum. Oh, so dating sucked even before millennials ruined it? So much for my... romanticizing the past. Creative date ideas - skip! Satan's deceptions - skip! Getting engaged - skip! Oh, look, it's available on archive.org and I just wasted my time reading the hard copy instead of something else! Well, it was very dated but it did have some good stuff. I recommend modern readers to supplement it with "Modern Romance" by Aziz Ansari and "Animal Behavior" by John Alcock.
"Happy Valley Patrol" by John "Blitz" Krieg, pseudonym for Robert Kirby. This book has seen better days. The binding is all but gone and at least a quarter of the pages are not connected to anything. I didn't do it, though I have read it many times. It's a collection of the eponymous newspaper column about Kirby's time as a police officer in Utah, and I love it because it makes fun of two things that I love making fun of: the human race and Provo. And it's just as hilarious this time around.
I also read through all my Tintin books that my sister is keeping safely for safekeeping. I hadn't read them since before I started college, and now I get more of the jokes and references. Hergé truly was a rare breed of genius, which would explain why most Americans don't appreciate him. If you haven't read Tintin, do so; you won't be sorry unless you have no taste. If you want to be thorough you can start from the actual beginning with the mediocre "Tintin in the Land of the Soviets" and the racist "Tintin in the Congo", but it's probably better to just start with the sanctioned volumes and come back to those for thoroughness after you're hooked.
The Mormon Section
A noble crusader against injustice has brought to light that in the last five years, twenty Holocaust victims were posthumously baptized by various Mormons in violation of LDS Church policy, sparking another round of complaints about baptizing dead people without consent. One should always obtain a dead person's consent before performing an ordinance that will either unlock their path to salvation or have no affect on them whatsoever. And it is, of course, incredibly selfish and thoughtless for Mormons to spend time baptizing people who will never be on the membership records, pay tithing, or help a church ball team. How would we feel if someone did it to us? I, for one, would be outraged if I were dead and a Muslim or a Hindu or a Rastafarian did something they thought would help me get into heaven. In fact, there's a website called "All Dead Mormons Are Now Gay" which purports to make that happen, and you can guess how much that upsets me by how many times in my life I've mentioned it. (This is the first time in my life I've mentioned it.) Why doesn't every religion just do this for everyone, and then we'll all have all our bases covered?
Several Jewish leaders take this practice personally because it reminds them of the long history of Jews being forced to convert to Christianity or die. That's understandable (even though, as people keep pretending to forget, Mormon teachings state that dead people are free to accept or reject the ordinance). The LDS Church is under no legal obligation to stop the baptizing of Holocaust victims, but does so as a gesture of good will. Most of the people feigning self-righteous indignation over the very few who slipped through the system are atheists who believe that Holocaust victims ceased to exist as soon as they were murdered. That in their lives, millions of lives, the Nazis permanently and irrevocably won. And these complaints about baptizing dead people without consent ring just a little hollow coming from them. And do they care one iota about Jewish religion or culture at any other time? A random teeny little hunch tells me probably not. Some people need to grow up.
The world has survived year one of Drumpf's presidency. True, he didn't accomplish much worthwhile, and he consistently refused to behave in an intelligent or dignified manner befitting a nation's leader (which comes as a surprise to no one), but he hasn't started a nuclear war yet despite his best efforts so I say we should count our blessings. I look forward to blogging for another year, and striving to please my loyal fans, unless of course I unexpectedly die and move beyond this vale of tears, which would be even better. I suppose it's also possible that Daesh will cut off my hands. That would really suck. I will surely face many challenges in this coming year, and just as surely God will bring me through them as He always has in the past, as undeserving as I am. I don't stress nearly as much about them now. So there's that.
George Harrison - Ding Dong
There aren't a lot of New Year's songs. That means there also aren't a lot of good ones. Enter George Harrison's "Ding Dong", which ought to be a lot more famous than it is, and might become a tradition with me since this is the second time I've shared it.
I have noticed that non-Muslim Americans, even those who love and support Muslims, often make the mistake of thinking that Islam is a race or nationality. Something "other", in other words. In truth, Muslims can be as white and/or American as anyone else. They're just normal people. And while they certainly deserve their reputation for being devout, far more so than Christians in many cases, they have other pursuits and interests just like everyone else. I thought about this recently when I watched "Rogue One" again and noted that, since it was partially filmed in Jordan, the credits listed several Jordanian people of whom the vast majority are undoubtedly Muslim. And Riz Ahmed, the rapper who was so eager to play defecting Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook that he sent in ten audition tapes, is a Muslim. I hope this doesn't sound patronizing. I only wish to tear away some of the "otherness" that many of us ascribe to Muslims without even realizing it.
So it got me thinking, what is it about Star Wars that transcends cultural and religious differences, that appeals to Muslims as well as Christians or atheists or whoever else? Of course, all of the above enjoy the action sequences and cool aliens and so forth as much as the next guy, but I think there's a deeper reason than that, especially for people as devout as most Muslims who weave worshiping God into every day of their lives. In my futile and long since aborted quest to collect all the Star Wars books that existed, I got "The Episode I Scrapbook". It was full of pictures and trivia and it had a behind the scenes section with a couple quotes from George Lucas that I think speak to why Star Wars is so universally appealing and enduring.
"The Force evolved out of various developments of character and plot. I wanted a concept of religion based on the premise that there is a God and there is good and evil. I began to distill the essence of all religions into what I thought was a basic idea common to all religions and common to primitive thinking. I wanted to develop something that was nondenominational but still had a kind of religious reality. I believe in God and I believe in right and wrong. I also believe that there are basic tenets which through history have developed into certainties, such as 'thou shalt not kill.' I don't want to hurt other people. 'Do unto others...' is the philosophy that permeates my work."
"The first film simply sets up Anakin as a sweet kid, which is what we have to do - say, 'First of all, he's just like you and me. He's a nice little kid and he wasn't evil.' A lot of people got very upset and wanted him to be an evil little kid that went around pulling wings off flies, as if that would explain everything. But then where does the story go? The point is not that you are born evil - the thing that makes the film work ultimately is the fact that he is a good kid, trying to be a good kid, and he grows up to be a good kid. It's simply that his emotions take him places he can't control. He becomes evil out of his own ambition and greed, and revenge and hatred - all those things that kids face."
And virtually all of those books are now non-canon anyway. Goodbye, Dave Wolverton's masterpiece "The Courtship of Princess Leia". No more of Han gloating, "Kiss my Wookiee!" No more of Luke threatening, "Take your hands off her or I will take your hands off you." No more of C-3PO singing, "Han Solo, what a man, Solo, he's every Princess's dream!" I hope great lines like these will at least be reincorporated into future movies. The Nightsisters of Dathomir did get used in "The Clone Wars" series, at least, resulting in an utterly ridiculous but thoroughly awesome storyline.
Star Wars is a subgenre of science fiction called space opera, which is sort of grand and sweeping and larger than life. Viewing it as a work of art as much as a story has helped me tolerate some of the more ridiculous elements, like technobabble and single-biome planets and blockades of only three ships and old friends running into each other in a galaxy of over a quadrillion people, while still appreciating the internal logic and consistency and depth of everything else. So many planets and characters and species and ships and droids and stories... it's got to be the largest franchise in the history of ever. And I'm blessed to have been born into the small window of human history when it exists. But the absolute most ridiculous thing that I can't get over is in "The Force Awakens" when Han uses the hyperdrive to get past the third Death Star's, I mean Starkiller Base's shield and then slows down before hitting the planet. Light travels at 300,000 kilometers per second. The Millennium Falcon was going faster than that. Either from hitting the planet or decelerating so abruptly, it would have been pulverized to atoms.
Now that Star Wars movies are being released in December I have to write about them and Christmas at the same time, and there's only so many ways to tie them together. Is there Christmas in the Star Wars galaxy? Their equivalent is generally considered to be "Life Day", first revealed in 1978's really really really bad "Star Wars Holidy Special", a holiday that Wookiees celebrate by covering their nudity with red robes and evidently taking some kind of psychedelic drug so they can walk through space into a star and listen to Princess Leia sing while she's so coked up that her eyes are pointing in opposite directions like a chameleon and she has to hold onto Chewbacca to stay standing. But the special was actually aired (one and only time) around Thanksgiving, not Christmas.
The 1980 album "Christmas in the Stars", in addition to giving a young Jon Bon Jovi his debut on one track, revealed that the Star Wars galaxy has Christmas as well. Not that it's saying a lot, but this album is scads better than the Holiday Special and I actually like it and recommend it to everyone without apology. You don't want to miss Artoo beeping along to the tune of "Sleigh Ride" as Threepio teaches him to sing, or a bunch of droids pondering the age-old question of what to get a Wookiee for Christmas when he already owns a comb. (I shared that a couple years ago here.) In the end [SPOILER ALERT] it is revealed that Santa's brother helps him deliver toys because the galaxy is too big for him to do it on his own.
Why do we spend so much effort making movies where the entire point is that Santa Claus is real and the skeptics need to have faith when Santa Claus is not, in fact, real? I think it's because Santa Claus should be real. In a just world, Santa Claus would be real. Because Santa Claus is second only to Jesus as an embodiment of all that is good and right and noble. But if we cultivate these attributes in ourselves, and keep them alive not just at Christmastime but all year round, then Santa Claus is real in a lame metaphorical not real sense.
One of my bishopric members really wanted to read my book, providing an opportunity to see how the more chronologically advanced Mormon demographic will receive it. So far he has been thrilled and not bothered by the thematic elements, cynical critiques of the human condition, or references to evolution. He says he learned some new words for the golf course; "Fardles" and "Space spit" (affectionate homages to Anne McCaffrey's "Dinosaur Planet" and R.L. Stine's "Space Cadets" series, respectively).
Originally I used real swear words, mainly because "The Outsiders" didn't and it totally ruined my suspension of disbelief. "We'll kill each other with broken beer bottles, but we won't swear or talk about sex, no matter how contrived this makes our dialogue at times. Also, we have names like Soda Pop and Pony Boy." So I was just being realistic. But then I read an interview with Dave Wolverton, who was asked how his Mormon faith influenced his writing and said in part: "When I first started writing, I was trained by my professors to try to create natural sounding voices (so if people swear, then you should swear), and I started realizing that I was really not being true to myself. Just because people swear doesn't mean I need to do it in my writing. I decided after my first novel to sort of back off on that, and I've noticed that a lot of other fine bestselling authors do the same - they don’t use any profanity at all." I figured that probably no one would read it because of the swearing, but people might not read it because of the swearing. So I fixed that. Though the concept of having words in our language that we're not supposed to say is still stupid to begin with.
I hope Star Wars doesn't steal all my ideas. "The Force Awakens" had me a little worried when the Millennium Falcon's escape from Tatooine, I mean Jakku, bore somewhat of a resemblance to a similar escape in my book.
Rebel Force Band - Living in These Star Wars
The original Star Wars movie was supposed to be timeless, but the myriad third-party attempts to cash in on it, including at least a score of disco or pop covers of the main theme (with the one by Meco charting at number one), were forever rooted in 1977-8. This band went a little too far with this album. They thought that Lucasfilm wouldn't sue them if they wrote the final S in "Star Wars" backwards, but they were wrong. Forty years later and like most of the others it's long since become public domain. I like it not just for its "camp" charm but legitimately as good music. Sue me. With gems like "Don't Fall in Love With an Android" and "Chewie the Rookie Wookie [[sic]", how could I not?
I fully expected to write a post about the thing Aubrey did at work that she didn't want anyone to know about, along with her real name and not a pseudonym, but she finally complied with my blackmail after I extended the deadline and fudged the terms that she agreed to and said were fair, so I won't. I'm too nice for my own good. Not only does this set a precedent for people to walk all over me, it also makes coming up with something to write about far more difficult, but that's never stopped me before. To take up space, here's a picture of the prank email I sent her from a brand new address created for that purpose. It went into her inbox while the legit email sent from my real address went into her junk folder.
(Context: she claims to no longer be a Justin Bieber fan.)
The whole thing is tongue-in-cheek, of course, as I have no problem with Justin Bieber and have never even heard "Despacito" (though I'm automatically disinclined to want to because of my knee-jerk rebellion against anything viral). Writing it kind of felt like playing millennial bingo. Timely pop culture reference, check. Twerking, check. Derogatory comment about white girls because that's totally not racist because they're white, check. It's a pastiche and a parody, a loving tribute and a sarcastic rebuke, all at once. And it would have gone to waste if I hadn't been there to make her read it instead of deleting it immediately on seeing the subject line. Instead, she shoved it in my face and said, "Did you do this?! Did you do this?! Did you do this?!" Also, the "Norwegian" bit is plagiarized from a Dilbert strip.
Mackenzie invited me to go paddleboarding at Bear Lake with her and Charlie (another person who I've rarely mentioned). For those of you who are unfamiliar with Utah/Idaho geography, Bear Lake is a lake. I love it and since I hadn't gotten to go yet this year, I agreed even though I wasn't entirely sure of what paddleboarding is. It sounds kind of like something the CIA does to brown people. When I showed up at her house Charlie wasn't there yet, but one of the many Emilies I know (and because I know so many, I don't bother giving them pseudonyms because you'd never guess which is which) was there with her husband, who was the one who actually knew Mackenzie. I met this Emily in Animal Science class in fall 2012, so wow, it's been a while. I took that class because I wanted to even though it was only tangentially related to my then-major, Wildlife Science. Animal Science and Wildlife Science are not the same thing and if you think they are you're ridiculous. I tried to end up sitting by this other girl and was initially disappointed to end up by Emily instead, but she ended up being fun to talk to and a good friend.
In this class there was an optional field trip that we both went on. If you have a weak stomach, skip the rest of this paragraph. I got up around 4 am on a Saturday to get on a bus to drive out to a sheep ranch near Evanston, Wyoming (not to be confused with Evanston, Brazil). There were hundreds, maybe thousands of sheep, and the main task of the day was restraining the males one by one and inserting some kind of shock probes up their rectums to make them ejaculate so their sperm could be collected and tested. The first time I witnessed that, I felt so lightheaded I had to go back to the bus and sit down for a while. I got over it and had a good time for the rest of the day and we had our lunches there and then on the way home stopped at a McDonald's where the TV was playing a news report on the latest thing Mitt Romney had said to offend people. So that, not to put too fine a point on it, is why the sight of Emily yesterday made me think of raping sheep. Oh, and we also had a horrible terrible soul-crushingly boring Pre-Algebra class together that I flunked because depression robbed me of my ability to give a crap.
She was real friendly. I should have warned her not to be friendly with me in front of her husband because then he'd think she was flirting and get really upset. It sounds ridiculous to me too, but as I've recounted before, that's what happened with a couple of my neighbors just because the lady said hi a few times and invited me to play hopscotch with her two year old. Her husband is so insecure. I saw him just a week or so ago, unexpectedly chatting with some people outside my house, and I had to get past him real fast before he saw me laughing at the look on his face. I wasn't sure if it was appropriate to find this situation funny, but my dad thought it was hilarious so I adopted him as a role model and absolved myself of any responsibility for it.
So we went to Bear Lake, and I found out what paddleboarding was, and I immediately decided to spend most of the time sitting down instead of standing like I was supposed to. The wind was pretty strong and I didn't want to fall in the water. I'm a little skittish about water because I can't float. I don't have enough body fat. People tell me that all humans can float and that if I just relax, I'll float, but they're wrong. The only person who understands is my dad because he's the same way, so thanks for those crappy genetics, I guess. (Just teasing. I love you.) Anyway, I did fall in once and experienced the horrifying moment of sinking before my life jacket popped me back up, and once was enough. I spent some time just laying on the paddleboard and drifting around like a shipwrecked sailor who's given up. At one point some kid drove his own paddleboard over the top of mine and said "I think I'm stuck on you" and I said "That's very flattering" which would have worked better had he been a female around my age, but a compliment's a compliment.
When I tried to head back the way we'd come, the wind erased in seconds what little progress I was able to make in minutes, so I gave up and moved closer to shore and got in the water and walked it over there. Mackenzie was frustrated because she had worked so hard to paddle over there and she has seen me just being lazy and it wasn't fair that I made it over there too. Then we stopped for shakes and I was supposed to get a raspberry shake because Bear Lake is famous for raspberries, but I actually like peanut butter better so I opted for that instead. Of course Mackenzie gave me a hard time about that too.
Information Society - Think
This is one of the songs I discovered via YouTube during one of the periods when one of my laptops was fried. I'm not sure now when that would have been because I'm not interested in doing the math. Suffice it to say that I loved it, but I forgot what the band was called and was unable to find the song again. The prominently featured audio clip "Think about it" is obviously from Captain Picard, but searching for that quote availed me nothing. My luck changed one day in Hasting's when I saw Information Society's 2015 album "_hello world" on display - on vinyl, because that's a thing again for reasons beyond my comprehension. I guess I'm lucky that my senses aren't attuned enough to tell the difference in audio quality because I enjoy having everything as computer files and shuffling them all together. Anyway, the band's name triggered my memory so that I was able to find this song and several others, and they're one of my favorite bands now. This one is still their catchiest.
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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.