15 December 2009

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.

"3. Another great trick I learned was to take a dry orange peel and make sure you powder it very fine. Then mix it very well with about a half cup of regular milk. Place this mixture onto your face making sure your whole beard is covered. Then leave it on for about forty minutes or so. This has a amazing effect how soft your beard gets. Then place a cold compress afterwords. I have done this plenty of times to my brother in law, hubby etc."

19 November 2009

"My Life" Flashed b4 my eyes!!!

Sorry I haven't blogged in awhile! I know all of you readers out there around the world have all just been on pins and needles waiting for my next post!! :)

WEll here it is b/c OMG I was awoken from my blogging slumber and shocked into ACTION! last night because !!! news flash !!!


And it was like it lighted up the whole sky, seriously, as bright as DAY, and then it all went dark again. Like a fireball, but then it disappeared. So anyways they were talking about it on tv and some scientist guy was like, Oh, it broke into a jillion pieces. I was all, like, Where did they all fall??? 'cuz that could give you some serious brain damage, LOL. But I guess all the pieces just disappeared. And on tv they were all talking about how they though it was the end of the world, and there life flashed before theyr'e eyes and all that, and I'm like, OMG!! 'cuz we were totally just talking about metafores in my english class and this is TOTALLY a metafore about........

(can you guess it??)


I know, deep, huh??? But, think about it, it totally IS!!! B/c you're born, like, a baby, like, nobody sees you right? Well I mean they see you but, you know, you're little. A little light!!! Then you grow up in a flash of glorius light (yay COLLEGE!!! woot woot) and then you get old and broken down and then you die. OH!!! And you even get BURRIED IN THE EARTH!!! And a meteor gets burried in the earth to!

So, anyways, thats my deep thoughts for the day LOL! Just thought you would all like to hear about my genious metafore. Thanks prof. Johnson!!!

18 November 2009


This is what a feminist looks like.

Viva WRI.

17 November 2009

Food, Inc.

Chickens now produce more meat in less time (why is this bad?).

Multinational corporations are just trying to make profits (why is this surprising?).

And all food is corn. Why? Because the US government's subsidies to corn farmers cause them to produce way more corn than people demand, making it so cheap that food companies include it in their products to take the place of actual food, which is more expensive. High Fructose Corn Syrup. Maltodextrin. Di-glycerides. I don't even know what these are, but apparently they all come from corn. And they make junk food cheaper relative to more nutritional food, creating a system of incentives that perpetuates diabetes and obesity, especially among the poor. But that still doesn't exhaust the massive surplus of corn produced by American farmers. So we send it to Africa, where it's so cheap that people eat it rather than buy food from African farmers, who subsequently go out of business, leaving the country dependent on US "aid."

Answer: kill subsidies.

18 October 2009

Fate Smiles.

All these gorgeous things happened to me in the space of about a week.

Munchies was my favorite Chinesey restaurant, and it was gone, but now it's back (incarnated as Cooking Taste Right) and their tapioca drinks are as good as ever. And the Taiwanese lady who runs the place remembered me from before.

We were walking down the street and a middle aged couple said to us, Did you see the space shuttle??? So we looked where her finger was pointing in the night sky and the moving dot of light we saw was definitely, unquestionably, the space shuttle.

A Hot Pocket was just hanging, like a very loose tooth, from its perch in the vending machine. As I was contemplating whether or not to start pounding on the glass, my wondering eyes beheld it, of its own accord, fall right down to the bottom. So I bought a dreamsicle and ate them both.

At the Festival Latinoamericano downtown, I stopped at one of the booths set up for a dentist's office (maybe a Spanish-speaking dentist? I don't know why they were there) and tried to toss the ball into one of the holes on the wooden cutout of a mouth. I got it in the hole marked "toothpaste." And they gave me some free Crest Pro-Health Night Mint toothpaste. I didn't even know Night Mint was a thing. But I like it.

Juan Martin del Potro won the US Open. He is from Argentina.

Killer week.
But this week was probably even better.

02 October 2009

Grendel's Mother and Garcia Marquez:

Magic Realism in Medieval England

It is a widely-held belief that magic realism began when the writers of the Latin American Boom started weaving in supernatural occurrences among the stark details of mundane settings. Although its precise characteristics are often negotiable, one broadly accepted definition of magic realism is "what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something 'too strange to believe'." (1) As more of it has been produced over the last half-century, scholars have started identifying unifying threads within the body of writings that people call magic realism. The Emory Center for Postcolonial Studies identifies the following four common characteristics of Magic Realism.
    -Hybridity: it involves “issues of borders, mixing, and change.”
    -Irony Regarding Author’s Perspective: “the writer must have ironic distance from the magical world view for the realism not to be compromised.”
    -Authorial Reticence: “a lack of clear opinions about the accuracy of events and the credibility of the world views expressed by the characters in the text.”
    -The Supernatural and the Natural: “the supernatural is integrated within the norms of perception of the narrator and characters in the fictional world.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Miguel Angel Asturias, and Salman Rushdie are all well known practitioners of magic realism. But none of them was the first to write it. In fact, England was a hotbed of magic realism over a thousand years ago.

Beowulf, one of the best examples we have of medieval English fiction, was composed somewhere between 700 and 1000, a time during which invasions and migrations were constantly altering the demographic and political landscape of England. The epic combines quotidian and mythical elements in a way that bears the undeniable imprint of magic realism. It matter-of-factly includes trolls, elves, living dead, giants (ll. 111-114), dragons, and the Grendel among the villains against which its human protagonists fight. And while those protagonists may be human they exhibit moments of superhuman strength: "It was the space of a day/ before [Beowulf] could reach the bottom [of the ocean]," (ll. 1495-6) and "It was not granted to him/ that iron-edged weapons might ever/ help him in battle; his hand was too strong,/ he who, I am told, overtaxed every blade/ with his mighty blows (ll. 2682-6).” And what about that editorial “I am told”? In the absence of any statements by the author—or even any idea of who the author is—this may be as close as we can get to an “irony regarding the author’s perspective.” One of the most recognizable features of Anglo-Saxon literature is Wyrd, the supernatural force that governs mortal happenings and is almost personified: “Wyrd often spares/ an undoomed man, when his courage endures!" (ll. 572-3)” The very ambiguity about how animate wyrd is adds to its mystery and hence to its magic. But perhaps the story’s most magic realist element is Grendel’s mother (ll. 1258-9). Through her, the narrative recognizes that not even foul monsters exist independently of anything else—they too have someone who brought them up, who cares for them, who mourns them. We’re forced to recognize familiar elements even in the horrifying Grendel.

But there are other details that separate Beowulf from fairytale. The Broadview Anthology’s introduction states that the story is set in a historically accurate Scandinavian geography, and that “a number of the poem's characters . . . are mentioned in other sources as if they were figures of history rather than fable.” Moreover, the poem’s themes are far from purely fantastical. Broadview goes on to state that Beowulf is an “intensely political poem,” and that
    Kingdoms and successions, alliances and truces, loyalties and the tragically transient stability of heroic society are the poem's somber subtext, a theme traced less in the clashes of the battlefield than in the patterns of marriage and kin, in stories remembered and retold, in allusion and digression and pointed foreshadowing.

In other words, the presence of the supernatural in Beowulf is not gratuitous, nor is it the primary focus of the author. The poem incorporates these devices in its examination of matters of daily concern to the people it portrays. “Beowulf is neither myth nor folktale,” asserts Broadview. It can only be magic realism.

But the supernatural in the middle ages was not confined to fiction. Bede is considered the father of English History. His most well-known work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, is shot through with magic realist traits. Bede lived in Northumbria, a land bordering the territories of the wild, primal, and mystical Picts (now Scotland). It seems he considered the Picts and the other Celtic tribes of the British Isles a natural source of mystery. He mentions that "it is said that the Pictish race [is] from Scythia”, which the footnote clarifies could mean Thrace or the "farthest northern regions of the world, Ultima Thule.” His description of Ireland is paradisiacal:
    No reptiles are found there, and no snake can live there; for, though snakes are often carried thither out of Britain, as soon as the ship comes near the shore, and the scent of the air reaches them, they die. On the contrary, almost all things in the island are efficacious against poison . . . the island abounds in milk and honey.

Bede balances mysticism and historicism by emphasizing the supernatural in the geographic realms just beyond the familiar and the known.

The most overtly magical moments in Bede’s history are the visions. While they are to be expected in hagiographies like the Abbess of Whitby’s story, Bede also includes visionary elements in his secular history. The account of Edwin’s ascent to power revolves around his conversion, brought about by the occasion when “suddenly in the dead of night he saw a man approach him whose face and dress were equally strange” who told him, “I know who you are, and why you grieve, and the evils which you fear will fall upon you." Bede writes, “it is said that he immediately disappeared, so that the king might realize that it was not a man but a spirit that had appeared to him." By making this detail so central in this otherwise earthbound account of political and military machinations, Bede shows that the supernatural inhabited not just the lives of the saints but the lives of the secular. Also, his practice of prefacing supernatural occurrences with “it is said” may be his way of maintaining authorial reticence, a coy acknowledgment of the potential unbelievability of that doesn’t commit itself to strict approval or denial. According to him, the first commanders of the Angles “are said to have been” descended from Woden.

Caedmon’s story provides particularly realistic detail. Before he was visited in his sleep and commanded to “sing about the beginning of created things,” he was just a regular bloke with no particular musical talent. Bede makes a point of clarifying that “sometimes at feasts, when it was agreed for the sake of entertainment that all present should take a turn singing, when he saw the harp coming towards him, he would rise up from the table in the middle of the feast, go out and return home.” Describing Cademon this way makes his character delightfully believable, and thereby places his supernatural experience squarely within the context of the ordinary.

According to the Broadview Anthology, "our study of the past says as much about us as it does about the past we try to study (p. 2)”, and a magic realist reading of our culture’s old writing sheds more light on our literary present than we might expect. Medieval English literature clearly meets the qualifications for magic realism. But contemporary literary criticism insists that magic realism is something that comes from the third world in the twentieth century. Indeed, if we consider Bede to have written magic realism, he is probably the only Anglo-Saxon male ever to do so. Today magic realism is written in Latin America, in the Middle East, on the Indian subcontinent. It is written in the developed world by women and minorities. In other words, “magic realism” has come to mean “not Anglo realism,” with the distance between consisting of geography, race, or time. By applying the label “magical” to those elements of other cultures which used to be present in our own, we are imposing an implicit sequential hierarchy—realism dominates mysticism, the rational supplants the irrational. This belies an enormous cultural hubris. The main difference between magic realism and realism is that the latter comes from a modern Anglo-Saxon culture that has rejected the influence of the supernatural and the mystical. However, as other traditions have found their literary voice (and as we’ve examined older Anglo-Saxon culture), it’s become clear that rejection of the unobservable is the anomaly, not the other way around. Luis Leal said, "Without thinking of the concept of magical realism, each writer gives expression to a reality he observes in the people.” The term “magic realism” implies that magic is not included in what’s real. But in the culture of medieval England as well as in many cultures today, the opposite is true: no depiction of life is complete without acknowledging the unexplainable. The contemporary American poet Rita Dove put it this way: “To me, just looking at anything closely is pretty magical. I've had people point out passages they think of as having elements of magical realism, and all I can think is: isn't reality magic?” (2) Bede thought so.

    (1) Matthew C. Strecher, “Magical Realism and the Search for Identity in the Fiction of Murakami Haruki,” Journal of Japanese Studies, Volume 25, Number 2 (Summer 1999), pp. 263-298, at 267.
    (2) William Walsh and Rita Dove, “Isn’t Reality Magic? And interview with Rita Dove,” The Kenyon Review, New Series, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Summer 1994), pp. 142-154

30 September 2009

It's the Economy, Stupid:

Why Modern English is Not Better than Old English

Sometimes Old English gets characterized as evolutionarily inferior to Modern English—the communicative Neanderthal to today’s Homo Linguisticus. And in a way it’s understandable: the language certainly had a smaller vocabulary before the introduction of Norman French, and it barely resembles today's English on the surface. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature states that

“Old English poetic language is not necessarily congenial to the demands of precise reasoning; sentence boundaries and relationships between clauses are often uncertain. And yet despite these interpretative problems, the Exeter Book ‘elegies’ are among the most moving and powerful poems in Old English.”

Moving and powerful they certainly are. But what Broadview misses is that they have such force because of, not in spite of, these interpretative problems—or at least the linguistic differences in which they have their roots. If English’s evolution made it broader, it also made it shallower. The gain in quantity of verbiage available was accompanied by a loss of significance: when you have more words to choose from, each word must necessarily embrace less meaning. This dearth is evident in modern attempts to translate the Anglo-Saxon classic The Seafarer, one instance in which Modern English shows itself to be far less expressive than its “less evolved” antecessor. Because it lacks the necessary density of meaning and economy of language, Modern English grunts and snorts through The Seafarer where Old English sings.

Translation dilutes The Seafarer‘s content by shearing off the multiple associations Old English attaches to each word. The language is more condensed than we can adequately express with Modern English. In their translation, Igor Fux and Matthias Kasimir try to limit the effects of this problem using parentheses and slashes to indicate ambiguous or multi-layered meaning in the original. It opens “May I by myself sing (work) a true song” (Fux and Kasismir, l. 1). This significant double-meaning in the word “wrecan” (l. 1) is lost in other modern translations, which each choose some variant of one meaning or the other. As such, modern readers miss out on this imagery that blurs the line between tangible and metaphysical creation, a connotation that would have been clear in the ears of Anglo-Saxon listeners more accustomed to working with their hands than we are today. Fux and Kasimir seem similarly ambivalent about “narrow/ frightening” (l. 7), “weep/ wail” (l. 10), and “lowered/ cut” (l. 12). These are not different voicings of a similar concept, but radically divergent readings of each word in question. Shifting them into our more narrowly defined language requires excluding some of the meanings present in the original Old English words, and the poem loses thickness as a result.

Modern English also fails to invoke the significance of The Seafarer’s original spare form. Jonathan Glenn’s translation showcases how Modern English relies on too many words to truly capture the stoic melancholy of the Anglo-Saxons. The poem is an elegy, dealing heavily with loss, hardship, and solitude. Because its tone is so subdued, it needs to be pithy: what it says is enhanced by how few words it says it in. After all, these are warrior-folk living a lean existence. They place no premium on filigree; every word counts. Even the best modern approximations are too verbose. For example, “abode and still do bitter breast-care” (Glenn l. 4) cannot hope to be as concise as “bitre breostceare gebiden hæbbe” (l. 4). Even though the number of syllables is the same, the increased number of accents and stresses in the modern line gives it more insecurity, more desperation to make its point known. And “the mind of the sea-weary one” (Glenn l. 12) can only stammer in blustered awe at the serene majesty of “merewerges mod” (l. 12). Modern translations may be considered to be less disjointed, more flowing and lyrical. But even this detracts from the original work’s significance, since elegies are meant to evoke abandonment and disconnection. Modern English loses the minor tonality expressed in that heavily rhythmic stress pattern, a pattern like oars rowing steadily away from home.

Languages suit themselves to the needs of the societies that employ them. In an orally literate culture like the Anglo-Saxons’, people can only understand words as fast as they can be spoken. So it makes sense, especially in poetry, that storytellers should layer each word with multiple meanings to provide maximum expression. Furthermore, in an environment of verbal economy, it is absolutely necessary to rely on form as much as content to communicate tone, style, setting, and even theme. Modern English is good at expressing a lot of things, but Anglo-Saxon elegies are not among them, perhaps because we don’t use English to pass down stories by oral tradition anymore. So the word “modern” does not at all confer superiority—it merely indicates what era the language is best at describing. Modern English does pretty well with stock markets and shopping malls and identity theft. But there’s nothing like Old English for talking about earfoðhwile.

24 September 2009

A Modest Proposal

Remember when you were in high school and your parents wanted you home by a certain hour from a party and they told you, "Just let me be the bad guy. You don't have to say you want to leave, just say, My parents will kill me if I'm not home by 12."

Maybe your parents were geopolitical geniuses, because that's exactly what Barack Obama has to do with little kid Israel right now. Despite demands from the Palestinians, the Arab League, the United States, and the left in his own country, Bibi Netanyahu complains that he can't muster the political gumption to freeze settlement building-- the right would freak out. I can understand that; he did, after all, get elected on a conservative platform. But look: right now America's president has made a conspicuous effort to reach out to the Muslim world and risked his own popularity at home by putting unprecedented pressure on Israel's leaders. Meanwhile Fatah has just had its first party-wide conference in 2 decades. If Israel keeps building settlements in the West Bank, it may well sabotage the best shot at a peace deal that has appeared since the Oslo accords.

Enter Dad Obama. And by "enter" I mean "invade." That's right. America invades (liberates?) the Israeli-occupied West Bank, doesn't kill anyone, gently but firmly escorts the building crews away from the settlements they're working on, and vaporizes every trace of settlement construction.

Before you hyperventilate, think about it. Israel's settlements in the West Bank are in defiance of UN resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The existence of the settlements--inasmuch as they represent a deliberate obstacle to Palestinian statehood and therefore a grievance of young, unemployed, potential Muslim extremists all over the world--constitute a far more serious and deep-rooted threat to American security than did the situations in either Afghanistan or Iraq before the invasions.

Who could then give Netanyahu any guff for halting settlement construction? To his conservative base, he could holler in shock and outrage, but he'd be totally powerless to do anything in the face of US Army-shaped "facts on the ground." And everyone would know it. We could even offer compensation to help displaced Israelis resettle in Israel proper. The Palestinians could remove the settlements from their list of objections and focus more energy on unifying themselves, improving security, and reducing corruption. The Europeans, long champions of Palestine, wouldn't even have to make any token noises about respecting sovereignty, since we wouldn't invade Israel at all, just the West Bank, and even then it would be Afghanistan-style: a friendly liberating force helping the locals against an oppressive tyrant. In fact, the American government is already helping to train Palestinian Authority security forces (with admirable results as internal security continues to improve in the West Bank). Of course the hardcore right-wing Zionists would hate us, but the increased goodwill from the Muslim world would be staggering. And isn't that what we've been trying to accomplish lately in those other Middle East lands we've invaded? Let's send our troops where they can really combat Arab Anti-Americanism. The only real front in the war on terror has always been Palestine.

23 September 2009


You know those people who get all excited about saying, "No one speaks well anymore! In fact the rabble would respond to this diatribe of mine by saying 'we speak good!' And that's disgusting! Ewww! Let's cut out the tongues of anyone who says the word 'like'!"

I can sympathize with those people, but man they sure make themselves easy to loathe.

I'm no linguist, but I feel like a lot of our colloquialisms have a longer and more distinguished history than we expect. I mean, look at Chaucer (the Knight's Tale, 192-3):

Hir yelow heer was broyded in a tresse
Bihynde hir bak, a yerde long, I gesse.

What a desperate cop-out for a rhyme, right? And yet it gives us a historical record of this crutch of a phrase that frankly I would have found hard to imagine outside of the twentieth century. I mean can you imagine Benjamin Franklin saying, "We must all hang together, or we shall all hang separately, I guess"? Yeah, that's what I thought. And yet Chaucer used it . . pretty much the same way we use it today. I guess (har har) that Chaucer didn't shy away from using appropriate or relevant verbal conventions in his writing, as many writers and "You-know-what-I-mean" haters do. You know what I mean?

line 105.
Creon got served.

19 September 2009

Man Proposes. God Disposes.

We live in an age of wonder. This month, if all goes as planned, German cargo ships will be the first ones to make the trip from Asia to Europe through the Arctic waters north of Russia known as the Northeast Passage. This route cuts over 4000 miles off the trip ships currently have to take through the Suez Canal. “It is global warming that enables us to think about using that route,” said Verena Beckhusen, a spokeswoman for the Beluga Group shipping company, according to the New York Times. And that’s not global warming’s only breakthrough trade route. Some scientists now predict that navigation of the Northwest Passage through Canada’s Arctic could also become commercially feasible within 20 or 30 years. The Northwest Passage has long been a dream for international traders, and the object of expeditions to prove its viability. In another age of wonder, the Victorian Era in England, one such attempt provided the basis for Sir Edwin Landseer’s Man Proposes, God Disposes, part of the Royal Holloway Collection of Victorian paintings now on exhibit at BYU’s Museum of Art. The painting offers us an ambivalent view of social progress in Victorian England and invites to reexamine the advancements of our own era.

In 1845, England sent John Franklin to lead a crew whose aim was to map the Northwest Passage. The flowering of international commerce had already enriched Britain immensely, and the straits offered tantalizing financial gains to any country that could control them, if they proved navigable. Industrialization was also rapidly advancing the technology available for exploration. The expedition was outfitted with the newest inventions of maritime science, including steam engines from the London and Greenwich Railway and an iron rudder and propeller that could be retracted into iron wells to protect them from damage. The expedition set off . . . and was never seen again. Years later, searchers discovered that they had been trapped in the ice for years, gradually killed off by weather and disease and starvation. Marks on crew members’ bones indicated some had resorted to cannibalism. (1)

In Landseer’s deft hands, the scene becomes a perfect encapsulation of the Victorian era’s pathos. A forbidding but majestic icescape frames two polar bears ferociously tearing through the remains of the shipwreck, with a broken telescope lying discarded and useless in one corner and an exposed ribcage visible above the ice in the other. In many ways, Victorian England was a place of heady optimism, reflected in the rags-to-riches story of Thomas Holloway himself. But his collection of art, purchased a few years before his death, highlights the tensions associated with society’s progress. Many pieces are gritty scenes of the human suffering that accompanied urbanization: debtors’ prisons, rising crime, crowded homeless shelters. However, almost all the rest of the paintings exhibit a striking polarity: they are idealized scenes of rural bliss, natural beauty, and exotic locales. Escapism. The rich people who drove the demand for art—those who had benefited from the radical social and technological changes sweeping over England—wanted to forget about the price progress had exacted on their country.

Man Proposes, God Disposes is unique in the collection for synthesizing elements of these two groups of paintings. Nature’s awesome serenity serves as a backdrop to the woes humanity invented for itself: the obsessive, feverish worship of technology and commerce leads to calamity. That calamity was evident in the ills present in newly-industrialized Victorian England, and Landseer seems to say that such rapid and unconsidered change threatens to twist people’s very humanity from their grasp—can’t we see those ravenous polar bears as stand-ins for the crew members? And on some level, can’t a society be called cannibalistic that launches some to fabulous wealth at the expense of others who languish in poverty?

Landseer’s painting might be particularly relevant for us as a 21st-century audience. Our society exhibits many parallels to the Victorian Era: boundless opportunity, increasing reliance on technology, ubiquitous commerce. Bu with a daily backdrop of headlines populated with slums, hunger, and extremism, it seems unnecessary to ask what calamities could be riding the coattails of our progress. And the Victorians would probably be taken aback at the social cannibalism of Ponzi schemes and sub-prime mortgage loans. Landseer’s title is a warning; hubris has been the bane of mortals since Icarus. Our achievements must be tempered by an acknowledgment and minimization of their negative effects. So while the world produces and invents and communicates as never before, new passages are going to continue to open up to us. But every action has consequences. Or as the New York Times put it, global warming can help the Arctic open up for shipping, fishing, and oil exploration . . . but it “could be a particularly harsh jolt to polar bears.”

08 September 2009


I know you are skeptical.
I was skeptical too.
Skeptical because anything that becomes a phenomenon around here usually drowns in its own popularity. Not only around here. I guess it stands to reason that when lots of people start telling you you're cool, you start to think you're cool.
Well, a lot of people around here have been telling Fictionist they're cool. But guys, guess what?

They kind of are.

Not that they know it. Well, they might know it a little. It might just be sloshing around their ankles a bit. But they probably deserve it. On Friday I went to a show of theirs at Velour and was fortunate enough to discover that this was the night they had chosen to unveil the songs that will appear on their next album in October.

Let me tell you why I was glad to hear that. First: I know that every band has those rabid fans who would probably scream in exultant and conspicuous recognition at the opening lick of every song, just so everyone in earshot knows This Is Their Favorite Song, and they will sing along with all the words. I wasn't ready for that. This was my first exposure to Fictionist (I saw them once as Good Morning Maxfield, but it was in the Wilk, which, come on, doesn't count), and everyone else's ignorance of the setlist made the playing field feel more level. I didn't have to fight my way into a social caste, I didn't have to prove anything-- it was about the music.

Second: the music is good. Fictionist is a band made up of musicians. You know, some bands are made out of people who devote themselves primarily to political opinions, or graphic design, or having the right friends, using the band as a billboard to paste their intentions on. Fictionist is a bunch of nerds. Frontman Stuart Maxfield used to be a fixture in the BYU Jazz combos, always with his mustard-yellow solid-body Telecaster rather than one of the big hollow boxes preferred by most jazz guitarists. Jacob Jones, the keyboardist, was another HFAC regular. I have seen him, with my own two eyes, playing Dixieland trombone in a straw hat. I don't say this disparagingly at all-- I'm saying the kids have credentials. And you can hear it. The chords are sometimes complex, but never for the sake of complexity. They are lush, or brooding, or nostalgic, or exuberant. And when the band falls seamlessly into a new time signature four bars before falling effortlessly back, they aren't shoving it in your face, they're just saying, Here, dance a little. The songs bypass gee-whiz unconventionality and deliver instead emotion that is familiar and universal, but sonically better articulated than we're used to.

Also-- and yes, this deserves its own paragraph-- they love the Beatles. One of the songs in Fictionist's set could have been the B-side George never wrote for While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and their encore tune was She's So Heavy. The last Provo band I enjoyed this much was Don Juan Triumphant, who I once saw play the second half of Abbey Road while waiting for someone to show up with an amp. It's not a coincidence.

Fictionist is real. No matter how many flannel shirts are in the audience, these guys just love to play. In fact, Stuart Maxfield looks a little uncomfortable in the jeans it seems his fans demand he wear. And that's a good sign.

31 August 2009


If you haven't ever ordered an Animal Style burger at In-N-Out, I won't just assume you live at the bottom of the Marianas trench. You could also be Amish or Martian, or maybe you're a caterpillar so you don't eat meat. These are all valid excuses. Maybe you suffer from a life-threatening allergy to grilled onions. Who am I to judge?

My point is this: underground menus are often not quite as subterranean as they sound. You expect an underground menu, with such exciting and mouthwatering items as the Animal Style burger, from the kind of companies that keep up a folksy mom-and-pop image like In-N-Out. Especially when you start hearing about them on NPR. But you don't expect an underground menu at huge, boring, faceless national chains like Taco Bell.

I'm here to tell you that what you expect is, as usual, totally wrong.

Latitutde +40° 14' 55.55", Longitude -111° 38' 49.73": birthplace of arguably the best thing ever to be born in a Taco Bell, including Lindsay Lohan. Near the beginning of 2009, an employee at the Cougareat decided she wanted to improve on an existing underground menu item called the Man Burrito. She added a few touches of her own, suggested it to a few indecisive customers, and soon realized she had created an underground phenomenon. Without the help of national marketing campaigns (or any kind of marketing campaigns besides word-of-very-pleased-mouths), her creation began flying off the big industrial griddles at at rate of more than 15 per week.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the Super Man Burrito. You, reader, go over to BYU's Taco Bell and order one. All the employees know how to make it by now. The receipt will tell you that you have ordered a cheesy double beef burrito with guacamole, sour cream, red chip strips, and potatoes. But by the first bite you'll know that you got so much more. (Especially if you tell them to grill it. Don't forget.) By the last bite you'll FEEL that you got so much more. By dinner time you will still feel like you got so much more. And the best part? It's also on the receipt: three little numbers called $2.62.

This could replace the memory of talking to Javier the midget every day at lunch during high school as your favorite all-time Taco Bell memory. I know it has for me. But you don't have to take my word for it . . .

12 August 2009

You never know.

I came home one night and walked across my moonlit backyard to find a dead chicken with its feathers all over the lawn.

06 May 2009

That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire -gmh.

I went to the dentist-- have I told you this?-- for the first time in almost three years. They scraped on my teeth with these sharp metal things. I mean, yeah, I knew they were going to do that. But I'd forgotten how uncomfortable it is. Don't call me a crybaby-- I recognize it's no root canal-- I'm just saying there is something sinister about the cavalier way they drag those pointy things across the intimate parts of your teeth. The fingernails/chalkboard effect. In the middle of what seemed like an exceptionally thorough scraping I realized that almost every muscle in my body was tensed-- neck, shoulders, legs, toes. Because of one metal point on my teeth. I had to consciously will my fists unclenched.

Later I went to yoga. Yeah, you read that right. For the first time ever. On the wall outside the wood-floored, naturally lit, sanskrit-inscribed yoga studio-- yes, the wall next to the cash register-- there is a poster with little photos of a dude doing, I don't know if all, but a heck of a lot of the yoga poses. Let me just tell you there's one where he's upside down, completely vertical, balancing on his head. Crazy. In my class of course we're nowhere near that, it's definitely toward the beginner side of intermediate, and still, I'm sweating, my muscles are shaking, and I'm thinking, This is supposed to be relaxing? And yet by the time I got to the end, lying on my back, I was so calm I actually dozed off for a few seconds.

I was thinking about this while I was home, trying to balance the contentedness of rest and the restlessness of sloth. Hope and worry dominating each other alternatingly, like a rhythm, like a heartbeat. The ebb and flow of the tides at Point Lobos. Like my vacation was a study in tension and release.

Then on the day I got home I remembered, with a wallop, that's just what regular life is anyway. And it's all right. In fact it's beautiful.

02 May 2009

Summer Reading.

I recognize I haven't written here for a while-- but I've been busy doing more interesting things.

For example: reading children's literature. It's especially beautiful when you know people who write kids' books because sometimes they give you an advance copy and sometimes it totally melts you.

09 January 2009

Strange and Beautiful.

It's always kind of vivifying to start a new anything, and I'm starting a new semester, 2 new jobs, and a new apartment-- I've been feeling top-notch. But folks, here's the dark lining to my silver cloud: both my new jobs are at school, and my apartment is right across the street from school, which is all awfully convenient and all, and I'm not complaining, but: it means that more than ever The Campus Is My World. I tread the same paths again and again, in varying degrees of snow. I don't even feel like driving my 1984 two-wheel-drive Nissan pickup anywhere because no matter where I park it I get stuck in the ice and I have to ask someone for help. Not that I'm all averse to asking for help. People are always very willing. It's just . . . I'd prefer not to. I guess the Winter kind of forces us to confront our group-forming human instinct. Huh.

Anyway. A break in the monotony came a couple days ago. I had an evening class in a building I don't go in very often because it feels like a dungeon. When the class ended it was after dark, and as I walked out the doors it was snowing, everything was all obscured, and for a second, I didn't recognize where I was. I didn't look around carefully enough to orient myself, I just started walking and taking pleasure in this sense of being in a new and unfamiliar place. When you're in a different place, it feels good to have snow falling quietly. The snow serves to further surrealify things. Then I saw that crazy stained glass rocketship statue or whatever it is, realized I where I was, reoriented myself, and returned to my humdrum life. But it left me thinking how cool it might be to crash land in a new place where you don't know where anything is. Things just acquire a totally different feel when you recognize them. Know what I mean? It's not even the same town anymore.

If there's any place on campus that still holds for me a smidgeon of that undiscovered, virginal quality, it is (ironically?) Rape Hill. Those stands of trees, intersected only by meandering footpaths, strike me as the Provo equivalent to Hogwarts's Forbidden Forest. It's an oasis in the stark Purpose imposed by the rest of the campus's design. It maintains a certain enigma; it invites mystery and subterfuge. Let's go hide in the woods dressed like Mowgli for all of spring term. We shall feast every night on roast duck.