Dec 16

A long, one-sided conversation with Elise

I was going to write a post on here after the election, but obviously I never got around to it. I never found a way to say what I wanted to say, or at least not in a method that I thought would change anyone’s perspective. This post was going to be about how all of us felt like we were in a minority group after the election.

Let’s look at this on the very small scale to hopefully avoid some of the visceral emotions at the federal level: My new state representative is Caleb Rowden, who won the vote 7,801 to 7,560. That’s 241 votes that won it for the guy I didn’t vote for. His agenda, however, is pretty much opposite to what I was looking for in a representative. People in Missouri really really hate the Affordable Care Act. As someone who has dealt with ridiculous insurance refusals due to “pre-existing conditions” and someone who has seen how much power the insurance company lobby has in Jeff City, I am a big ACA supporter.

Hatred of Obamacare and love of God were basically the only two things that Rowden ran on. He doesn’t have any political experience and his claim to fame is as a Christian recording artist. I’d probably get along with him just fine if we didn’t talk politics. But now he’s my rep and I don’t agree with anything he says on facebook or twitter or his campaign website. But I read his comments and they make me angry in a physical way where I feel my heart speed up and my breathing get shallow.

I believe that this is how a lot of us felt after the election about one thing or another. These ideas and political beliefs that we hold seem so logical and obvious and we found so many articles that supported our beliefs and got so many likes on our facebook posts about how this or that was killing jobs. My last post was about group mentality and we have gotten so good at homogenizing our groups that we are rarely forced to listen to anything that we disagree with. But if we do see a post we disagree with or a tv segment or article that goes against our views, our first reaction is to change the experiment parameters. That is our crazy, outspoken family member or our weird acquaintance from one class in college or a tv channel that is obviously biased and not reporting the truth. I want to make it very clear right now that I am not positing that people with a certain view do this anymore than the rest of us. I think we all do it.

So on November 7th when we were faced with hard numbers, we all felt like the odd one out in some way. People did not take this well. Our perceptions of the world were fractured. We were forced to admit (or refused to do so) that our logical and obvious views were not seen the same way by the majority. This made a lot of people very defensive. That is why you will hear things like the “War on Women” or “War on Christians” and why you may know people who have started acting like they are fighting for freedom in a dark and condemned world.

This was along the lines of the post I was going to write, but I didn’t because I couldn’t find the words and I didn’t think people would want to read them. But I’ve had a lot of people call me out on what they see as a conflict between my political and religious beliefs. They aren’t being malicious, they just have grown up with and continue to put their votes behind this idea that the Christian faith is inseparable from a specific and fixed political perspective. I think that they respect that I have actually thought through these things and that makes them wonder how I could come to a different conclusion than the one they easily hold.

I considered writing a whole post on why I am currently a democrat and why I don’t find this political belief to be at odds with my faith in any way. It was going to talk about our weird co-opt of Jesus as an American and personal wealth as something to be sought and deserved. But I didn’t really feel like doing the research that was necessary and I didn’t really think people would want to read it.

In the last week on Facebook, I started posting several stories about gun violence and our need to address it as a country. The shooting at the mall in Oregon, a murder in St. Louis, a kid in UCity who accidentally shot his friend. Then I saw breaking news about a shooting in Connecticut. It seemed at first like there would only be a couple fatalities, but the number quickly went from 3 to 26. I had started posting these stories as a response to my frustration over the way people reacted to Bob Costas’ comments after Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend then himself. Costas read from another journalist who discussed the ease of killing with a gun and how without that easy and permanent solution right in front of him, Jovan Belcher and his girfriend would probably still be alive.

When you have clinical depression, you get one question a lot. Do you have access to firearms? Seriously, it’s the first thing they ask at every doctor’s visit. Having access to a gun when you are depressed drastically increases the likelihood that you will kill yourself. I can’t imagine the feeling of knowing you have an easy solution at your fingertips during those moments when you just wish you could go to sleep. There is not much chance of failing at suicide if your method is a gun.

I also am reminded of a conversation we had in English class my freshman year of highschool. We had read Romeo and Juliet and then we watched Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (the one with Leonardo Di Caprio). We had a discussion about the way the modern environment in this version changed the story. In the fights between the warring families, the replacement of guns for swords really changed things in our minds. You don’t accidentally kill someone with a sword, it takes force and it’s messy. But with a gun you can easily kill someone in the middle of a fight and then realize that you actually ended someone’s life with a simple pull of the trigger.

These are some of the things I was thinking about when I was posting stories about gun violence this week. But after the shooting in Newtown, I wasn’t the only person commenting on it. The argument is expected and it has played out the same way over and over again, but maybe because of the age of the victims or because of our fresh feelings of being in the minority opinion, this argument seems louder. I don’t think it’s politicizing a tragedy to talk about the method of the murders. The thing about politics for me is that it is ingrained in life. What the employee at Panera had to do in terms of washing his hands and wearing a hair net while he made the bread I just ate is political. Having to stop at a stop sign in the parking lot is political. We are all complicit in the contract that has made our body politic a reality and it is a constant in our lives.

I recognize completely that I will not be able to convince anyone that gun control is necessary and I know I don’t have the right words, and people probably won’t read this, but I’ve got to respond to something that has come out of the gun argument this time. Mike Huckabee and now several others who have jumped on board, said this: “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”. One of my facebook friends also posted this little gem which I found in the middle of a long quote about the white house supposedly calling Christmas trees Holiday trees and a generation who wasn’t spanked:

Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her: “How could God let something like this happen?” (regarding Hurricane Katrina). Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said: “I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?”

These kind of comments have pushed me to post something today. I understand completely the sentiment that several great men and women of faith have shared in the wake of this tragedy. I agree completely with them that the brokenness of humanity is the root cause of violence. As a Christian who believes in heaven and hell, yes, I mourn with my brothers and sisters over those who are lost. But I still have a very real problem with comments like the ones Huckabee, a political figure, made.

I do not want my Christian faith legislated. I don’t want the ten commandments posted in schools or God taught as another subject. I don’t want Christianity to be the official religion of my country and I want Christians to stop predicating the idea that A) The US was founded by a bunch of God-fearing men whose ideas remain infallible at all times and B) That our Savior would be a Bible belt republican demanding that we say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”.

My church right now is doing a study on the Sermon on the Mount. Two weeks ago we went over the beatitudes and in my small group the following Wednesday, we talked about how living the life described was difficult in part because it is so opposite from the life that is exemplified in our culture. But very quickly, I forgot this message. Then last week, our pastor talked about how we read the beatitudes and decide that we need to be good. Well if we are just really really good, people will see that we are different as Christians and ask us for the key to our supreme good-ness. But that is not what the sermon on the mount says. It demands that we be Christlike and the life lived like Christ is at odds with the life that the world tells us we should want. And it will always lead to persecution because it is at odds with the dream life of success and being liked. People can be good without God, but they cannot be Christlike without Him. That is why the sermon on the mount doesn’t say we should be friendly and generous and compliment people. It says we should mourn and be meek and peacemaking.

I don’t want my faith to be legislated because forcing people to be moral does not cause a change in their lives. “Putting God back in schools” does not cause people to repent of their sins and ask for God to lead their lives. It just makes people follow Christian morals without any heart change. And taking this method at spreading the gospel is a cheap and easy way out of the difficult path we are commissioned to take. But people are not going to find salvation if you force them to be good. They will only reach out to God when they are convicted of their inability to be Christlike.

God did not get miffed at us for taking down the Ten Commandments from our hallway and then decide that fair retribution would be to allow 20 six and seven year olds to be killed by multiple gun shots. Stop. And stop taking your conviction over the fact that so many of the people in our society are lost and blaming it on the world. It’s pretty much your one job to love the world and live like Christ. Maybe we aren’t doing our jobs very well.

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Jul 17

mob mentality dot tumblr dot com

xkcdI have a very refined filter during most of my time on the internet. I go to facebook and see only the updates I want to see (for me this means no one’s updates because I hid ALL OF YOU!), I go to tumblr and I see only the people I follow (lots of nerdfighters, authors, comedians, and a handful of real people), I go to twitter and scroll through some more people that I choose to follow (authors, actors, news sites, sports teams, and a few real people), then I might head over to reddit where the front page I see is defined by my settings (no r/christianity or r/atheism but a healthy dose of r/dundermiflin and r/kingkillerchronicles), then I’ll hit my Yahoo! shortcut and my most common internet process is over. This is a well-controlled internet experience. I know and love the communities I am a part of, I get their jokes, and I share many of their views. Even if someone says something a bit off of what I think/feel/believe, I’m fairly sympathetic because these are people that I am vested in.

And then there is the rest of the internet. I click on a Yahoo! news article about Sandusky or the election and of course I scroll down to the comments. I scoff at the things people say, the assumptions they make, and the ignorance that blinds them. When you read some of the things people say online, you can’t help but shake your head and wonder how these people even exist. You experience no sympathy towards them. How do they not get it?

Something that has been worrying me lately is the follow trend in our digital lives. We can connect with people from all over the world, and yet, it seems like we very quickly assimilate into homogeneous groups that look, lament, and laugh the same way. Well, maybe we just gravitate towards the people who are like us, right? Maybe we reach out to communities where we feel accepted and so of course our views and opinions are similar, yeah?

I’ve listened to all kinds of social science research lately that talks about group dynamics. My post should be called group mentality, but mob mentality had such a nice ring to it! Anyway, people behave differently in groups than you would expect. We like to think that peer pressure is a conscious act that we grow out of; rather, it is frequently a completely unconscious change in behavior that neither the pressured or the pressurer is knowingly engaged in. We mimic those that we are around. You see this in how quickly we adopt each other’s phrases and idiosyncrasies. You see it overtly in the way that we begin to dress like the people that we hang around. Those are relatively harmless ways to fall in with a group. But group mentality can get a lot crazier.

In Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell talks about a woman who was badly beaten in NY while 38 people looked on from their windows and did nothing. Through several studies, what researchers found in regards to this case was that the more people are in the group, the less each individual feels responsible for action. Another study I heard about recently was looking at instances of cheating and what made people willing to cheat. Unlike what most people expected, there were not some people who were cheaters and some people who were honest. It was all about context. In one situation, study participants were taking a simple math test in a room with several other people. There was also a secret collaborator in the form of an actor who obviously took the opportunity to cheat (they were self grading or self-reporting or something, so cheating was easy). The participants looked on as this unknown impostor cheated without consequence. So you would expect instances of cheating to go up in this situation, right? Well when the cheater/actor had on the same sweatshirt as the university they were at (and which all the participants attended), cheating went way up. But when the cheater/actor had on a sweatshirt from the rival university in town, cheating went way down.

We are not in full control of our behaviors when we are in herds. We like groups because they form part of our identity, but with that, we relinquish part of our individuality. We don’t act because the responsibility for acting is divided among the group. We are quick to adopt an us vs. them ideology where cheating is bad when they do it, but it’s acceptable when we do it.

So we’re back to my internet routine. I go on tumblr or twitter or fill-in-the-blank and I see only what I want to see. My ideas about politics and fashion and morality are reinforced. I feel vindicated in my beliefs about such and such issue because I see all the people I follow supporting it too. But were they always my opinions before I identified with this community? Then I see a fight about healthcare on a friend’s facebook page or a comment about a politician on a news article or I hear a coworker in real life discuss a world event, and I think, how could they ever have that opinion? Don’t they realize how ridiculous they sound. And look how quickly I’ve resorted to an us vs. them standpoint.

The follow mentality started to alarm me when I kind of stumbled into a couple different social groups of which I’ve never identified as a member (the hipster Christian kids and the athiest hippies …yeah, I know it sounds kind of ridiculous, but I end up in strange groups sometimes). I saw how they reaffirmed each other and scoffed when others disagreed. They overlook when US makes an oversight in argument but raise hell when THEM make the smallest of inaccuracies. Most of the time, though, they are isolated from any disagreement at all, and this is what worries me. Sure they put up walls against considering any opposition that may arise, but the isolationism is worse. As an isolated group, any inherent differences are sanded away, unconscious peer pressure occurs, and responsibility is divided. Our morality is also shaped. Things do not seem wrong when one of us acts, but we claim moral high road if one of them acts. Our filter morphed from creating community to causing obscurity. We see only a small part of the picture.

Maybe you think I’m being hyperbolic. Maybe you think you are above this kind of pressure. But over and over again, studies show us and history proves, that people are capable of horrible, unspeakable acts when they lose their identity for the group’s. Next time you hear someone say an opinion you think is absurd, pause. Consider how quickly you jump to opposition and derision. Think about how quickly you judge and laugh with pity. The other person has their own group that has been building up and reinforcing that opinion, they think you are ridiculous for not realizing the obvious superiority of the opinion. I don’t think you can shake off the chains of your herd mentality in this moment of opining opposition. But I do think we need to do something.

I think we need to read and listen and spend time in communities that we don’t identify with. We need to reach out to people with different opinions and try to see them as individuals, not a collection of beliefs. And really, we’ve got to take off the filter of isolation sometimes. Communities are great, but not if they make us less responsible and morally ambiguous. We’ve got to bring back the pause and the second thought. I really believe that the world we’re contributing to with all of its sharp divides and contextually-based morals is not a good path. We are never going to come to agreement, but I do think we can overcome some of the judgement and vilification that seems rampant in our society. Let’s stop “follow”ing and start reaching out.

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Jun 21

Oh Treacherous Mind

Most of my blogs are not really blogs. They do not detail what I’ve been up to or log what I’m looking forward to. I used to have that kind of a website when I was in high school, and I’ve always been a journal keeper, so I do have those records. But the writing I’ve produced and shared over the past 5 years has been more essay-like. Of course the content still tends to relate to something in my life at the present moment, but that relationship is not always obvious, at least not to everyone. Usually I am chewing on some idea for awhile and I begin to collect quotes or videos that I have viewed before but can now use to highlight my points.

As you may have noticed, I enjoy creating that full-circle feeling; the thread is woven through each individual component to create a full picture. But I write all the time. I write on bits of paper, in a hundred different notebooks, while I am waiting impatiently for something, or when I am trying to escape the room I’m in. It is a way that I can get out of my own head for just a minute and it helps me confront my thoughts and obsessions. This post is not inteded to be full-circle. It may not even make sense as it is mostly stream of consiousness. But what I love most about sharing my writing is the fact that it creates continued conversation in my life. I don’t get love from my readers in my comments, but I get reaction in the interactions that follow after they read my posts. So while I love the full-circle post with a nice little bow at the end, what makes people enjoy a post is when the content resonates.

These words are coming to you out of the mind of a woman. I know that I tend to fall in as one of the guys, but I am still a female. Really. Stop laughing. I know who you are. As easy as it is for me to make and maintain friendships with guys, the way that we view the world will never be the same. But maybe we all succumb to the following, just in different ways? I truly don’t know.

One of my favorite college classes was 19th Century British Women Writers. It was a class of about 20 females and 1 male. Our teacher was fantastic, the kind that has written difinitive books about the subject yet is still completely approachable and enthusiastic. Novel writing in the 19th century was just becoming an accepted outlet of female creativity but the women writers were still heavily limited in what they could express. Yet they still managed to create classic works which continue to RESONATE.

In Middlemarch by George Eliot, there is a scene at a party that I absolutely love. Rosamond is looking for a way out of her town to bigger and better things. Lydgate is trying to move on from his past and make a name for himself as a doctor (which as a profession in Victorian England might have been even more beaurocratic than it is now). They meet at this party and Rosamond immediately sees how fortunate it would be to be connected to Lydgate. He is far above anyone she currently knows and they could go so far together. We, the reader, see Rosamand’s obsession from the instant of first meeting. We also see Lydgate’s point of view. He thinks she is very pretty. … that’s it. What she sees as a turning point in her life, he doesn’t remember hardly at all. His thoughts on the way home from the party are absorbed in his profession.

My professor, Julie Melnyk, was really good. She helped us identify how telling this moment is. I always look for a quote in this passage that doesn’t exist because we added a bit more to the story in the class. Our idea was that as Lydgate is riding home in his wagon, thinking about disecting bodies and advancing medicine, Rosamond is on her way home also, thinking about how to arrange their (hers and Lydgate’s) furniture in their future home together. Wow.

I think about that part of Middlemarch a lot. From a very young age, we females stubbornly open ourselves up for hurt in exactly this way. Just go and look at pinterest and see the wedding boards of girls who aren’t even close to marriage and you’ll start to see what I mean. I don’t have a wedding board, and it’s not because I don’t love wedding details. I have lived with so many girls that were close to marriage in addition to being a part of my sibling’s weddings and the planning process, that my wedding knowledge is immense. I love wedding ideas. I do. But I don’t have a wedding board because I can’t. I just can’t allow myself to partake in the fantasy that deeply. As soon as I would start to pin things, I know I would begin to have someone in mind. Talk about planning furniture arrangements!

It’s amazing to be interested in someone, to have a crush. It’s a really cool feeling, right? Being interested in someone makes me feel nervous and alive. And yeah, imagining times we will meet in the future, conversations we could have, well that’s all a lot of fun too. But those fun little pretend conversations in your head can quickly become damaging.

Ok, I really didn’t plan to have all these external analogies and examples, but apparently I cannot escape them. This is such a strange viedo to place here, but it will make sense I promise. I present to you, the Salmon Ladder from Ninja Warriors:

To me, when I begin to imagine and color in all the details of future encounters I will have with a crush, it’s like I’m moving up one side of the bar on the salmon ladder. The other side, reality, is staying still. And the imbalance makes it SO much harder to move up. Even if you are able to balance the two sides out again, the whole thing wastes energy that you will need later and could easily be the cause of your failure.

Dedicating so much time to imagining the perfect future with someone who you are not committed to spending the future with (and vice versa) is a great way to power through those last few minutes on the treadmill or the last few miles in traffic. The little fantasy you create in your head becomes a lovely escape. But it also becomes a story, a fiction, and never more than an idea.

I really believe that as much as possible, we’ve got to stop putting the object of our interest into a box in our mind. It’s incredibly difficulty not to, and maybe it’s impossible to stay away from completely, but the effort is necessary if we ever want to be satisfied with reality. At the end of the day, I don’t want some great story in my head (unless it turns into an awesome book that gets published…). I want reality. I don’t even really want it to be perfect. I am blessed to know some pretty awesome married people. My parents, my siblings and their spouses, my friends AJ and Danielle. These are not people without obstacles or rough times, but still their relationships are enviable. I don’t want the fantasy because working for the reality is so much more satisfying. I think. I’m not exactly an expert :)

I’ll leave you with a fantastic quote from (500) Days of Summer:

“I guess I just got lucky, um.. We met in Elementary School, in 7th grade we had the same class schedule, and uh.. we just clicked. You know, technically, the girl of my dreams would probably have like, a really bodacious rack, you know uh.. probably different hair.. and yeah, you know she’d probably be a little more into sports. But um.. truthfully, Robin’s better. Robin’s better than the girl of my dreams. She’s real.”
-Paul, (500) Days of Summer

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Jun 07

Manna is a hell of a drug

Manna is a hell of a drug
And I need a little more, I think
Because enough is never quite enough
What’s enough?
-Manchester Orchestra, “I Can Feel a Hot One”

I’ve always loved the idea of manna in the Biblical sense. It is the quintessential example of not worrying about what you will eat or drink. It was fantastic and miraculous and absurd. Here are the verses for reference:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’” The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.

Exodus 14:4, 16-20

What is so crazy to me about the whole thing is the lack of faith. These are people who have seen all kinds of miracles. They have been delivered from captivity in a blockbuster kind of way. And yet, there is still disbelief. Bread is literally appearing on the ground every morning and they don’t believe that God will continue to provide. I can just imagine the thoughts of the people who keep extra overnight: “What if we have to move in the middle of the night and we will need energy to run?”, “What if the baby wakes in the night and needs food?”, “What if there’s not enough to go around tomorrow and we’re left with too little?”, “What if this whole thing was just too good to be true and our meal ticket expires?”. As if God cannot anticipate every need before it occurs.

Bread is a common theme and metaphor throughout the Bible. One of the most famous stories of Jesus’ life was about loaves and fishes:

 Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed from those loaves!

Mark 6:41-44

Do you remember the barb we all threw at each other as kids? You’re stupid times a thousand. Well, you’re stupid times a million. You’re stupid times infinity. Of course the next person might try the old infinity plus one approach, but even as kids we knew the game was over once someone pulled out infinity. Early on we get the idea that infinity is the biggest number that exists. But it’s really not a number. The whole idea of infinity was a taboo subject during the centuries when math as we know it today was being developed. You could talk about it as an idea, but never as a reality.

Galileo discovered that if you take the series of natural numbers (from 1 to n) and then you halve it by taking only the even numbers (from 2 to 2n), the two resulting series’ are the same size. In the picture below, that means that when n=6, the series of natural numbers is the same size as the series of only even numbers. No matter how big you make n, the series’ will be the same size, even though you took half away from one series. Galileo didn’t pursue this idea any further (he was already in hot water for enough things), but I can’t help but imagine that he had a thought about what his scenario would look like if n approached infinity.

That phrase, “approached infinity”, is straight out of my past in calculus. The thing that mathematics understood really early was that you cannot actually get to infinity. Whether that is a really big infinity where something just keeps doubling, or if it is a fractal where every time you increase magnification, the pattern continues smaller and smaller and smaller. It’s not an easy thing to wrap your mind around. I just love the fact that infinity can fit in the smallest places, like between 0.0 and 0.00001, and yet it can also fill the largest area ever and beyond even that.

Pi day is a math holiday that is celebrated on March 14th (3/14). Last year I was teaching math and we had a huge Pi day extravaganza with food and presentations, and extra credit galore. Later that day, in study hall, one of my students was asking questions about Pi and why it was such a big deal. She knew how to use it, but not why it made all the teachers in the math department go a bit crazy. I was telling her that if you discover the next digit of Pi you win a huge cash prize. She said she would just guess it, because after all, there were only 10 choices. It was like she thought that somewhere, someone had the answer to all the digits of Pi and you could just guess the next one and win a prize. As if the answer was in the back of the book and you could copy it down and turn it in. I tried to explain that until it is discovered, no one can prove the next digit, and that there is no final answer on what Pi equals because it truly goes on forever. I talked about how if you were to write out the full number of Pi as a decimal on a thin strip of paper, that paper would wrap around everything in the room, every thing in the town, and everything everywhere. She just kept saying, “but it has to end”.

Infinity does not make sense to us. But it’s not just a mathematical idea. Here’s a fantastic video from Hank Green about the size of the universe.

NO EDGE!!!

We have such limited words and understanding to describe so many of the truly awesome things in our world. We cannot understand how something can be more but not bigger. Our mathematical models tell us that motion is impossible (Zeno’s Paradox) and yet we keep moving. Our explanations continue to fall short.

I believe that God is infinite. And I like that we can glimpse that infiniteness in the stories about bread! It is the kind of infinity that can fill a small space completely as with the manna, or expand without sense as with the loaves and fishes. It’s not something that is easy to grapple with, but some concepts just reject explanation. Infinity is unsettling and unresolved. Hopefully this little chat has given you questions without answers, as was intended :)

Even as the finite encloses an infinite series
And in the unlimited limits appear,
So the soul of immensity dwells in minuta
And in the narrowest limits, no limits inhere
What joy to discern the minute in infinity!
The vast to perceive in the small, what Divinity!

– Jakob Bernoulli

Reference which I stole heavily from: http://www.mathacademy.com/pr/minitext/infinity/

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May 31

Friend, Amigo, Rafiki

For 19 of my almost-23 years, I have lived in St. Louis. It is a city I know better than any other. I cannot claim to know all of it, give me a break, it’s the 16th largest metro area in the country. Regardless, I’ve driven all over the lou and can’t really get lost like you can somewhere you’ve never been before.

Three weeks ago, I moved from Florissant to University City. This is not a huge move. In true St. Louis form, I will say it is about 25 minutes away. I already knew the area fairly well, but with the change in my starting location, my perspective on the rest of St. Louis changed too. I don’t mean this metaphorically, I mean it very literally. All of a sudden, I was driving on interchanges that I had never or almost never been on before. 170 North to 70 West. 64 West to 270 North. An Olive Boulevard that is not the picture of the Olive Boulevard that used to pop into my head.

Nothing has changed about any of these areas, only my perspective. I knew they existed, but I had never experienced them before. Why would I have? The purpose of driving is to get somewhere, and I was always starting in the same place so my routes were necessarily bound. But now it’s all differnet. I love those moments when your thinking is turned completely inside out.

I have spent a lot of time, inside my head, thinking about friendship. What makes two people friends? Why do I have so many male friends and so few female friends? Do people’s ideas on what friendship means affect who they stay friends with? What exactly is it that causes some people to stay your friend for decades and others to slip into acquaintance? etc. etc. ad nasueum etc.

The answers to these questions are really interesting to me. Also, I am a bundle of social anxiety so I can’t stop myself from obsessing. Mindy Kaling (Kelly on the office) wrote a fantastic book last year: “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?”. When you have social anxiety, those types of questions are prevalent. Do I sound stupid? Why did I just laugh… no one else laughed… why did I have to bring attention to myself by laughing? Having pretty bad social anxiety also makes me really sensitive in friendships.

The whole friendzoning thing really baffles me. I went through most of high school thinking that I didn’t appeal to any guys. Then I get flak for the next 6 years for dating the one guy who actually asked me out (and you know, made it clear that it was a date and he was interested). Somehow, me dating this less-than-clean-cut guy was a slap in the face to all those guys that were interested in me but never made a move. Guys that I had become friends with. All of a sudden I am portrayed as just another girl who picks the bad boy over the nice guy. Nonsense.

I’ve tried to explain my view on the friend path versus the something more path to my guy friends before, but it has never been communicated well enough so I’m going to try again.

Here is what guys hear when I explain it:
Girls decide really quickly if you are on the relationship path or the friend path. If you don’t ask her out right away, she’ll slate you as a friend and then even though you will be there for her through break-ups and family troubles, she will never be able to see you as anything more than a friend. The bad boy, on the other hand, makes a move right away and that’s why she goes out with one after another even though you, the nicest guy ever (?!) are sitting right by her side. When you ask her out after getting to know her and deciding that you two would be a good match, she declares that she can only see you as a friend. There is nothing you can do to switch paths, you are a victim of the whim of women.

And guys hate the way that sounds. Of course they do. It sounds pathetic. And in this scenario, they definitely get the short end of the stick. Many guys these days don’t want to ask you out until they get a feel for you and your personality. It’s actually more of a complement when a guy that knows you asks you out as opposed to one who has just met you. This scenario, how guys hear it, is not what I mean.

My attempt to achieve clear meaning (in first person):
First, you have to know that I am going to assume that you won’t like me when you first meet me. I do not make good first impressions so this assumption is pretty airtight. I meet a guy. I am attracted. I try to get to know him better (all while totally stalking his fb) and do my best to subtly flirt (gah, me trying to flirt is ridiculous) when I see him. However, I am verrrrry good at being friends and not so good at being a girl. So very quickly I realize that he is only looking for friendship, and really, I never expected him to be interested anyway. I will be invited to things and given a bit of hope that maybe there is more. Very soon I will start to hear about girls. Maybe it is one girl in particular that the guy is interested in. Or maybe they were kind of already into someone before I even entered the picture. But most likely, I am cast as one of the guys and get to be a part of whatever group-specific female rating system that they have in place. These conversations may be hidden from other women, but not me! I am in the inner circle.

And so I take the friendship. I love making new friends and you get to share things with friends without the same kind of fear of judgement, so it works out just fine. And I’m happy with the friendship. After a considerable amount of time, and this is not in every case, just some, he begins to be interested in me. Maybe he was earlier on and he never made it clear, but it becomes clear now. Now, he wants more. But he has already made the switch to friend and I have moved on. Also, I know him now in a different way. He doesn’t try for me. He doesn’t treat me like a woman. In some ways it’s great to be one of the guys, but I don’t want to be one of the guys to a guy I’m dating. I am not the girl that gets walked to her car or shielded from dirty jokes. You don’t change your plans to make me happy. Why would I be interested?

Hopefully that is a bit clearer now. The thing is though, sometimes I’m just not interested. Sometimes I’m just not into you. And it sucks when there is an imbalance of interest. Not everyone you are interested in is going to reciprocate. Move on. You deserve interest.

This whole idea of friendzoning relies heavily on the idea that you are owed for your friendship. After listening and being there and saying all the right things, your payment must be a chance to woo the object of your affections. But that’s not how it works. Putting in 3 years as a friend doesn’t mean that you should be the next in line for a date.

But this doesn’t just apply to friendships with extra feelings involved. Recently, my friend was talking about how he doesn’t have any expectations with our mutual male friend. His idea of friendship without expectations has been niggling around my head for days now. Do I offer friendship without expectation? I don’t think I do.

I’ve always had this vision of friendship as a two-way street where the relationship was dependant on each person giving of themselves. But his comment completely changed my perspective. I’ve been mulling over these questions about frienships for years and I had all of my theories and answers so well defined. I knew my way around them.

Now, however, I’m looking at the same questions from a different perspective. Every time I get frustrated that I am the only one who calls my long-distance friends, or feel upset when a friend bails on our plans, I am expecting payment for my friendship. Being someone’s friend doesn’t require them to give you anything. Being a true firend to someone means offering that friendship without expectation of future relationships, help moving, or reciprocated support. Being a good friend is all about what I’m offering and not even worrying about what I’ll get in return.

This is a scary thought for someone with social anxiety who already worries that people don’t like her and don’t want her around. At the same time, it is emotionally liberating. Someone not being a good friend to you does not affect how good of a friend you are and can be. When a friend bails, it is not a reflection on you.

Maybe this whole idea is incredibly obvious to you. Maybe you had already seen the whole issue from this perspective before. For me, my starting point has changed and I am looking at things in a whole new way.

Charlie Kaufman: There was this time in high school. I was watching you out the library window. You were talking to Sarah Marsh.
Donald Kaufman: Oh, God. I was so in love with her.
Charlie Kaufman: I know. And you were flirting with her. And she was being really sweet to you.
Donald Kaufman: I remember that.
Charlie Kaufman: Then, when you walked away, she started making fun of you with Kim Canetti. And it was like they were laughing at *me*. You didn’t know at all. You seemed so happy.
Donald Kaufman: I knew. I heard them.
Charlie Kaufman: How come you looked so happy?
Donald Kaufman: I loved Sarah, Charles. It was mine, that love. I owned it. Even Sarah didn’t have the right to take it away. I can love whoever I want.
Charlie Kaufman: But she thought you were pathetic.
Donald Kaufman: That was her business, not mine. You are what you love, not what loves you. That’s what I decided a long time ago.
Donald Kaufman: Whats up?
Charlie Kaufman: Thank you.
Donald Kaufman: For what?

-Adaptation (Film)

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Feb 01

The Truth Resists Simplicity

One of the biggest reasons people don’t buy kindles or nooks is pride. My former roommate used to say that buying books for your bookcase was like showing off trophies. Every time I move, I consider just giving most of my books away. But then unpacking them and setting up a new bookshelf is so much fun. Everyone has different tastes for their bookshelves. I mostly organize by genre, but deciding which books get to be on the most prominent shelves is a process. Personally, I discard all book jackets immediately upon purchase and usually throw them away. You might have just gasped at that admission. Perhaps you read your books with a narrow opening so that you don’t break the binding. I think you are ridiculous. I like my books to look read.

There is one very common book-buying trait which I do not possess. Most readers I know like to keep a book series consistent with either paperback or hardback books. Of course the result is that the series lines up nicely and makes your trophy case of books look better. But for me, looking at a series or a group of books by the same author, I can tell at exactly when I was vested. I see the both the discovery point and the point when I started anticipating.

One of my faorite authors just released a book last week. I knew I was going to love the book even before I got it because this author is like my friend. Instead of interviews, it’s like he has a conversation with all of us, his fans. With blogs, tweet responses, tumblrs, and vlogs, I have gotten to know him. Over the last three years as he has been writing this latest novel, he has shared thousands of interesting tidbits online. Over a year ago he made everyone aware of ViHart, a mathemusician on youtube who does amazing things like this:

Last summer he did a book club about The Great Gatsby and talked about how the epigraph of the book was made-up. I don’t think I learned that in school. When the crazy guy shot Gabby Giffords and the little girl and all the other people in Arizona, John Green tweeted: “It is very sad to me that some people are so intent on leaving their mark on the world that they don’t care if that mark is a scar.” He has created videos about Dutch tulips and written blogs about “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” and the treachery of images. All of these things were just normal remarks from an author who participates in the community.

Then I read the book. It was truly reading a book that my friend had written. I had been there when he discovered these things that contributed to this cohesive novel that was so beautiful. I knew the motivation and spark behind some of the ideas he discussed. I saw his thought process. This book was like a friend.

Like a book series, I know the point of discovery in my friendships. At some point in casual friendships, I catch up on all the paperbacks that have already been out and published for a while. Then I switch to hardbacks. And more than that, I wait with anticipation for the new releases. I know the dates they are coming out and I usually read them immediately and in one sitting, when I finally get my hands on it. But sometimes, it is more than just waiting for publication and buying the more expensive hardback the day it comes out. With Green’s books, and with others, I get to see into the process and even shape the community. Maybe I am not quite a preliminary beta-reader for the text as it is being written, but I am more than just a casual reader.

Although it requires a bit more effort, being an anticapatory reader and friend is exceptional. It might cause your life or your bookshelf to be a little bit less neat, but knowing the motivation and even shaping it, make the resulting story absolutely superior to casualness.

Now go read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

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