Saturday, October 11, 2008

irreligious religiosity (I)

[UPDATE, 10/12, 12:15PM: The footnotes, which I had neglected to include when I first published this post, are in now. I had already begun writing the second part of this essay, and when I copied and pasted Part I below, I forgot to skip down to the bottom of my draft copy to retrieve the footnotes. Thanks, Addofio, for making the catch, and apologies to everyone else who had been searching in vain for footnotes.]

So my buddy Mike calls me the other day, and we have a good talk about everything and nothing, as often happens between the best of friends. I've known Mike since the third grade. In this call, we talk about family (he's married and has three wonderful kids, one of whom is my goddaughter), about the possibility of getting together to just hang... and at some point in the conversation Mike mentions that, after reading my comical post about Obama and McCain getting married, the thought crossed his mind that just maybe that's the sort of post that should have gone on my other blog, the one I haven't been updating since I began this walk-- the edgier one I don't normally talk about here.

Mike already knew what I would say in response to this sentiment, and he agreed: a man can do whatever the hell he wants on his own blog. This is one reason why I don't leave comments on other people's blogs asking them to change things around.* I'm a very tolerant and generally accepting person-- go be yourself! I resent that other people aren't that way, and I consider it a violation of my personal space when someone performs the cyber-equivalent of coming into my apartment and claiming I need to rearrange the furniture.

None of which applies to Mike. As he told me, he had considered mentioning this earlier, then had thought better of it-- very likely because he had gone through the same thought process I had. So why did he bring it up at all? To make conversation, he laughed.

Twice before, however, a related question has come up on this blog in somewhat different form, so I thought it might be time to tackle the matter head-on here. While this blog is at least ostensibly devoted to matters religious, you may have picked up on the fact that, overall, I don't sound very religious. In fact, I sound more like someone who'd rather be cracking fart and dick jokes than engaging in God-talk. There are many reasons why that's so, and it's a big topic-- one I haven't really felt ready to discuss before now. I'm not sure I'll be covering all the bases in this post, but I'd like to try and address some of the underlying issues about what makes me tick and why the blog often seems to be about topics not relevant to religion.

Long-time readers may recall that a commenter once expressed disappointment that this blog wasn't showcasing enough explicitly religious (or interreligious) writing. My response to this was essentially what I noted above: only I dictate my blog's content. If I'm gonna be dictator of something, it might as well be something as generally harmless and inconsequential as a blog.** That response obviously didn't address the issue raised in the comment. A person could be forgiven for thinking my response was a petulant non-answer, but please note that, from my point of view, the comment struck me as a call to furniture-rearrangement-- i.e., it was rude. At least one other commenter expressed a more muted version of the same sentiment. While three comments out of thousands of possible comments aren't enough to make me engage in deep introspection followed by a show of repentance, they are enough to make me want to stop and lay out my point of view.

What Mike was saying, if I read him correctly, was that the political post, given its tone and content, didn't belong here at Kevin's Walk. The other commenters came at the problem from the opposite direction: More explicitly religious content, please. All three people were proceeding from an assumption about this blog's purity and focus. Despite my resentment of such personal-space violations, I've tried to address the problem by providing interview transcripts and, recently, YouTube videos that directly address religious issues of interest to me. I've also written about the difficulty of writing transcripts while on the road and without steady access to an actual computer; trying to write transcripts on the BlackBerry would leave me with crippled thumbs to keep company with my bad knee. In addition, I have written-- more than occasionally-- about certain religious issues, and people have been free to opine about them in the comments section.

But the fact remains that many of my posts can be seen, with some justification, as irrelevant to religious matters. I have, for example, written a great deal about what it's like to walk in various weather conditions; I've also written about blisters, shredded hip skin, bodily stink after not washing for more than a few days, topics other than religion that I've discussed with the people I've met, food I've cooked and/or eaten... and of course, I've gone on and on about my poor right knee. Add to the mix the occasional post on politics, and little "brain fart" ditties about nothing in particular, and you may be left wondering whether this blog has even a whiff of the religious about it.

My response: You just don't understand. And here's why.

I've heard the word "holy" defined by our church's previous pastor as "set apart." This is a perfectly acceptable way of looking at the sacred; most scholars and clergy and laypeople share this view on some level. That amazing Romanian historian of religion, Mircea Eliade, quite literally wrote the book on the division of the world into the sacred and the profane (where "profane" means ordinary, not the vulgar or obscene) in a work titled, aptly enough, The Sacred and the Profane. In his work, Eliade talks about how objects like natural stone formations acquire their sacrality; consistent with what my former pastor said, Eliade notes that something about these objects sets them apart from their natural surroundings. Something makes them special, or even unique, and it is from or through this specialness that an experience of the holy is possible. The sacred object is a conduit for a hierophany, that is to say, a manifestation or eruption of the sacred into the world of the profane. Ordinary time is sundered; something awful or numinous or inspiring has come among us.

Eliade is pointing to a pancultural phenomenon, one that can be seen in religious traditions great and small. Time and the world are divided into different sectors, some of which are radically more important than others. Look, for example, at how this plays out in religious Buddhism: a temple is a sacred space, set apart from the everyday. The Buddhist liturgical calendar is littered with special days, and non-monastics will flock to the temples on those days to perform rituals-- i.e., special gestures-- they wouldn't normally perform. You might not be Buddhist, but all this probably sounds familiar, because this division of time and space is as natural to human beings as the progression of the stars and the seasons.

Even people who engage in rituals every day will divide their 24 hours into special and not-special moments. We simply can't spend our lives goggling in awe at everything around us, buffeted by the miraculous; we'd go crazy if we tried. Instead, we're built to appreciate the cosmos in an emotionally sinusoidal manner: now it's holy-time, now it's not-so-holy time. If every moment were a "wow" moment, "wow" would cease to be meaningful. Seeing the universe in terms of the sacred and the profane is therefore perfectly legitimate. We're wired to make such divisions.

It's been a long time since I looked at my copy of The Sacred and the Profane, so I can't remember whether or to what extent Eliade might have dealt with another, equally powerful religious undercurrent: the one that sees the sacred and the profane as not-two, that identifies the Absolute with the Ordinary. Without digging around for my copy of Eliade's book, I surmise he would have been comfortable with this nondualistic view because it, too, permeates religious sensibility.

In this other, nondualistic way of looking at things, it's impossible to separate the holy from the ordinary, the sacred from the profane. Muslims understand this sentiment in an intensely theistic way-- a way I don't share, and that in fact makes me somewhat nervous at times. Many Western Christians are this way as well, whatever they may profess about the separation of Church and State-- that supposedly agreed-upon division of life into secular and sacred domains. My own version of this religious undercurrent is closer to the Zen or philosophical Taoist way of looking at things, but there's also a strong dose of scriptural Christianity in it. Both streams of tradition, South/East Asian and Western/Middle Eastern, inform my outlook.***

Zen sees itself as "nothing special." That's one of the reasons why I'm very suspicious of a book like Philip Kapleau's The Three Pillars of Zen, which contains testimonies of "enlightenment" experiences that sound, at least to me, no different from ecstatic visions-- Westerners once again misappropriating Zen, ex-Christians fleeing their own tradition and undergoing charismatic experiences in another religion.**** I have an instinctive mistrust of people who so willingly let themselves go over the edge. While there's something to be said for trusting the cosmos and stepping into the abyss, there's more to be said for remaining grounded in the moment, because this moment is all there is.

I call myself a Christian, but I also call myself a nontheist and a scientific skeptic; I'd like to consider myself grounded in the Now, not oriented toward a Hereafter or a divine Other. I don't see reality in terms of a personal God; in fact, I seriously doubt such a God exists. As a scientific skeptic, I realize that I can never avow with absolute conviction that there is no such God; neither science nor pure logic will ever be able to prove God's existence or nonexistence conclusively. At the same time, my empirical orientation gives me reason to believe in the probability that the God of classical theism doesn't exist. So: am I even religious?

Yes, I would say I am.

I consider myself religious because I experience those numinous moments, those "aha"s and "wow"s that offer a glimpse of how deeply, ocean-deep, this life reaches. And it's not miraculous; it just is, and that's enough. This, this now, just this, is the Way of Things. It's amazing, yet amazingly mundane. Every glance, every jostle, every pivot, every twinkle of a baby's eye, every grandmother's delighted cackle, every twitch of a prowling kitten's tail, is infused with infinite significance. And by the same token: every bellowed swear word, every dollop of poop, every punch thrown in anger, every murder, every natural disaster-- these things, too, are pregnant with meaning. All these phenomena together make up the Holy and the Ordinary, twins who aren't twins at all, but one and the same.

For me, seeing the sacred and the profane as not-two is what brings me down to earth in the middle of a baptism. It's also what makes me delight in the weight of a happy dog, far too big for my lap but still sprawled there, chest up, begging for a scratch. These events happening around me and in me and through me-- this is the world's dance, life interacting with itself, energy at play! And that energy includes the painful knees, the culinary successes and failures, the shenanigans of our politicians, the moments of boredom when all one can do is blow fart noises through one's lips. Holy and ordinary: not-two. Korean Seon Buddhists talk about man-haeng, the ten thousand practices, where every single thing we do is, in some way, religious practice. Prayer is practice, but so is scratching your ass. It's not so much that scratching your ass is infused with the over-dramatic glow of the holy; it's more that prayer isn't so far removed from ass-scratching.

So you might think I've been blogging about topics not relevant to religion, but if you take a peek at the world from this Zen or philosophical Taoist perspective, you'll see that I've been doing nothing but blogging about religion. I don't expect that sentiment to satisfy most of you, but there we are.

[To be continued. We still have to talk about the Christian aspect of this issue.]

*Or did I once leave a comment at the Marmot's Hole asking Robert to stop screwing with his damn template? I don't recall. I may have to amend my statement to, "I don't normally leave comments..." Side note: given how close a friend Mike is, I'd consider him one of the few people who would have the right to muscle in and give me an earful about whatever was on his mind, blog-related or not.

**I concede things might be different if I had thousands of readers and was getting several tens of thousands of hits per day. A blogging powerhouse may have to watch his step. As Ben Parker told Peter Parker, "With great power comes great responsibility. Oh, and chicks. Chicks dig power." Then again, I'd like to think that, were this blog suddenly to go stratospheric, however unlikely that might be, I'd try to remain as true to myself as possible.

***I say "South/East Asian" because Zen Buddhists will insist that the roots of their tradition go back to the Buddha himself (cf. the "flower sermon" with Mahakasyapa's beatific smile as the punchline), but the general tenor of Zen is so thoroughly philosophical Taoist that it would be wrong to exclude East Asia in talking about this tradition. I say "Western/Middle Eastern" because Christianity is, as many people like to point out, not originally a Western religion. However, Christianity's fusion with Greek thought-- that turbulent merging of Athens and Jerusalem averred to by Raimondo Panikkar and others-- has made much of Christendom thoroughly Western, whether we look at it metaphysically or culturally or historically. As the product of a Protestant tradition, I can't deny the Westernness of my own Christianity.

****There's a real, knock-down, drag-out debate to be had over whether I should be putting the blame so firmly on Western shoulders. Asian practitioners of Zen have written about their enlightenment experiences, and some of those writings also possess an ecstatic tone. Suffice it to say that I'm suspicious of those Asian writers as well.

*****The "goodness/pizza" image is one I've used before, in my book Water from a Skull. It comes from a lecture on Buddhism by Dr. Charles B. Jones at Catholic University. Relationality is an important concept in Asian thinking. What a thing is is absolutely a function of its relationship to other things. Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, even went so far as to say that the relationship comes first; the objects are secondary. This is the reverse of how we tend to think in the West: we'll normally posit two discrete objects, then construct or perceive a relationship between them.


Glocal Christianity on "interfaith" dialogue

Commenter Cuboid Master brings to my attention this post about "interfaith" dialogue at a blog called Glocal Christianity. The post asks interesting questions, and the ensuing comments show the happy morass into which such discussions almost immediately sink as different perspectives crash into each other. As can be expected, one major strand of the discussion is of the "whoa-- there are language issues!" sort: is "interfaith" too Christocentric a term? I'm of several minds about such discussions, because they often seem to lead nowhere-- where "lead nowhere" can be defined as either (1) leading to a watered-down, meaningless, ultra-PC terminology that satisfies no one and possesses that made-by-committee stink, or (2) leading to an endless debate from which no happy majority emerges. I'll take option (3), whatever that might be.

I liked the fact that the post author, Matt, included atheists as part of the larger discussion. His reason for doing so strikes me as valid:

What’s more, it suggests Atheists are excluded from the conversation. This is something I find deeply problematic too, as Atheism is as much a religious option as Christianity and Paganism, in a negative kind of way. I mean, it’s like talking of hairstyles and excluding the skinhead option from the discussion.

You see, all too often I think conversations between Christians and Atheists degenerate into a bipolar “theism versus atheism” thing that I find most unhelpful. I prefer broader, more pluralistic conversations that welcome MONO-theists, PAN-theists, POLY-theists and A-theists to the one round table.

One commenter quickly picked up on something I also noted: the above litany of "-theists" fails to include Buddhists. Buddhism doesn't fit easily into any of the established categories, but my experience has also been that most traditions, when you've made room for the variety they represent, aren't easily pigeonholed.

There's a meta-question in all this: why bother dialoguing? Aren't we, at least in America, already getting along fine as it is? We're not out on the streets killing each other, right? Regarding the problem of talking with atheists, one commenter to Matt's post writes:

All theist/atheist “conversations” I recall being in become debates – and usually degenerate into apologetics, leave niceties for coarsities, and ultimately with no apologies. I find it has about as much chance of “succeeding” as arguing with a sibling over their choice to abandon a perfectly wonderful spouse.

I'm left wondering what "success" means to this writer. Does dialogue have to have set goals and guidelines?

Anyway, the blog is worth the trip over, and the comments to the "interfaith" post are interesting and insightful. Go have a look.

Thanks, CM.


hang on

I've got lawn chores to take care of, so this essay-- which is already a tentacled monster in need of multiple amputations-- isn't going to appear as quickly as anticipated.


the weather in Irrigon

My friend (and chase-car driver) Chuck writes from Irrigon:

You left just in time. It has snowed and is in the teens in
the Blues.

Wow. Barely a month after I'd arrived in Irrigon, it's already snowing.


Friday, October 10, 2008

coming soon

Expect a very long essay on a very personal subject.

(No, nothing about genitals. Shoo. SHOO!)


confessing my ignorance


5. confidence in a purchaser's ability and intention to pay, displayed by entrusting the buyer with goods or services without immediate payment
6. reputation of solvency and probity, entitling a person to be trusted in buying or borrowing: "Your credit is good."
8. time allowed for payment for goods or services obtained on trust: "90 days' credit."
10. a sum of money due to a person; anything valuable standing on the credit side of an account: "He has an outstanding credit of $50."
12. Bookkeeping.
a. an entry of payment or value received on an account.
b. the right-hand side of an account on which such entries are made (opposed to debit).
c. an entry, or the total shown, on the credit side.

13. any deposit or sum of money against which a person may draw.

(see here)

Why is credit being called "the lifeblood of capitalism"? Isn't capital the lifeblood of capitalism?


4. the wealth, whether in money or property, owned or employed in business by an individual, firm, corporation, etc.
5. an accumulated stock of such wealth.
6. any form of wealth employed or capable of being employed in the production of more wealth.
7. Accounting.
a. assets remaining after deduction of liabilities; the net worth of a business.
b. the ownership interest in a business.

(see here)

I'm not being flippant in asking this question. Credit seems primarily to be about faith and good will: you provide your service, trusting that the recipient of the service will pay as s/he promises, i.e., this person isn't paying up-front. That opens the door to spending beyond one's means, and the writer of the above-linked Post article seems to be saying that this style of business is the lifeblood of capitalism.

It seems to me that not all capitalists would give the concept of credit such pride of place-- that many would, in fact, suggest that a better, stronger capitalism results from spending within one's means, with disciplined self-regulation being better than regulation from above. Not being an econ major, though, I find myself totally at sea in such discussions.

What first needs to be cleared up for me is whether the Post writer is speaking descriptively (i.e., this claim is meant to be taken as actual fact) or prescriptively (i.e., this is how things ought to be). Banks do routinely offer loans, and credit cards do abound, so there's an empirical argument to be made that the Post article's claim is factual, that these practices lie at the heart of capitalism. But in describing X as the "lifeblood" of Y, one is speaking in a fairly sweeping, grandiose manner, which makes me wonder whether the writer is speaking more in terms of "oughts" than in terms of "is"es.

So: what do you think is meant by the claim that "credit is the lifeblood of capitalism," and further, do you agree (1) that that's how things are, and (2) that that's how things should be?

UPDATE: Take a look at this excerpt from the article, noting the parts in boldface:

The Bush administration is considering a partial nationalization of some banks, buying up a portion of their shares to shore them up and restore confidence as part of the $700 billion government bailout. The notion of government ownership in the financial sector, even as a minority stakeholder, goes against what market purists say they see as the foundation of the American system.

Yet the administration may feel it has no choice. Credit, the lifeblood of capitalism, ceased to flow. An economy based on the free market cannot function that way.

The government's about-face goes beyond the banking industry. It is reasserting itself in the lives of citizens in ways that were unthinkable in the era of market-knows-best thinking. With the recent takeovers of major lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the bailout of AIG, the U.S. government is now effectively responsible for providing home mortgages and life insurance to tens of millions of Americans. Many economists are asking whether it remains a free market if the government is so deeply enmeshed in the financial system.

Given that the United States has held itself up as a global economic model, the change could shift the balance of how governments around the globe conduct free enterprise. Over the past three decades, the United States led the crusade to persuade much of the world, especially developing countries, to lift the heavy hand of government from finance and industry.

But the hands-off brand of capitalism in the United States is now being blamed for the easy credit that sickened the housing market and allowed a freewheeling Wall Street to create a pool of toxic investments that has infected the global financial system. Heavy intervention by the government, critics say, is further robbing Washington of the moral authority to spread the gospel of laissez-faire capitalism.

How is one supposed to read this? The article's title and the second boldface selection both want to steer us to an examination of American capitalism, implying there are many types of capitalism (but, apparently, only one type of American capitalism). The first boldface selection, however, makes a general claim about capitalism, tout court. I'm getting mixed messages, here.

But wait-- it gets even more interesting. As you go further down the article, it becomes clear that "American-style capitalism" is code language for "relatively unregulated capitalism," i.e., a capitalism that relies on the risks and vicissitudes inherent in a free-market system. The article's author seems to be leaning toward a more highly regulated, European-style capitalism, without considering the third alternative I mentioned above: a capital-based capitalism in which people don't spend beyond their means: eliminate credit altogether! Is that asking too much? A world with no credit would certainly be a simpler place: you've either got the money for your purchase or you don't. "Credit" would be a concept bandied about only by family members and friends: "Spot me a twenty?" I admit I have no idea what role regulations would play in a capital-based world; ideally, self-discipline would be the best regulator, but it wouldn't be hard to counter-argue that most people are fiscally undisciplined, and would soon be spending beyond their means without outside intervention. Then again, self-discipline wouldn't be the only regulator in my scenario: you go to the hardware store, see a $200 piece of equipment, check your bank account, realize you don't have the requisite cash, and leave. The store's non-acceptance of credit will carry force even if your self-discipline fails. What could be simpler?

You know... it's a good thing I'm not in charge of the US economy.


post-mortem concerns

I still don't understand why there are gazillions of reports about what heaven looks-- and sometimes sounds-- like, but a dearth of reports about what heaven smells or tastes or feels like. It's the ultimate foodie's nightmare: arriving in the afterlife bereft of one's olfactory and gustatory senses. Will the audiovisual stimuli be enough to keep a disembodied soul happy for eternity? Why can't heaven also be a big, juicy burger made from the flesh of an eternally regenerating cosmic cow?

(Not that any of this matters if we don't have souls, and/or if there is no afterlife.)


Thursday, October 9, 2008

pic dump: renovation and a foodblogging moment

This is a shot that goes straight down from the current kitchen floor (the kitchen's going to be completely transformed) to the laundry/utility room downstairs:

Below, a shot of the jajang-myeon my mother made. I did very little, in this case, except help with the concept. Note the pizzeria pepper flakes:

The next photo shows my right middle finger, nicked by the air conditioner. I was reminded of that line in the movie "Transformers," in which one character sees the claw marks in the wall and jokes that it's the handiwork of Wolverine from the X-Men.

Below, a view of my parents' bed in the daytime, when it functions as a storage device:

Next, a shot of the upstairs bathroom-- still unusable, but now with a bath:

The next few shots show the slow evolution of the porch into a dining room, and of the old dining room into an annex of the kitchen:

The new Carrier heat pump thingie sits atop our dead cat, who had been buried in that spot because it was where he liked to catch sunbeams. What a strange gravestone!

Lastly, a shot of the front bay window, in which you can see all the permits Dad had to print out, as mandated by Fairfax County codes:


slow news day

Been sick for most of the day, hence the lack of logorrhea. But in the tradition of "rrhea"s everywhere... more will come. C'est promis.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

from tragedy to triumph

If I had known it was going to go so well, I would have taken pictures of tonight's whipped-up dinner. The challenge: create a non-spicy dish that Dad could eat (he loves spicy food, but can't handle too much spiciness), using spare beef and other leftover ingredients.

The beef had already been shredded, and Mom had some of her saesongi mushrooms left over from a previous preparation. We also had milk, butter, sour cream, and a half-brick of cream cheese, so I thought to myself: Stroganoff.

Initial prep went well; I heated butter, dumped in the shrooms (some of which had to be cut down to size; saesongi are huge and meaty), added some salt and pepper, then threw in the shredded beef. A few minutes later, I tossed in every bit of creaminess I could find, but when I tasted the mix, something didn't seem quite right. The beef, which had been prepped for a different dish, was too conspicuous; the mix wasn't melding into Stroganoff. A whisper from the Force made me turn around, and I found myself staring at a large bottle of powdered curry. I ladled out a tiny bit of the faux-ganoff into a plastic container, added a bit of curry, tasted the result, and... jackpot.

After that, it was a matter of finding veggies to accompany the curry. I had some dried onion on hand, and we had eggplant, green bell peppers, and carrots. The green peppers, watery little weasels that they are, went right into the faux-ganoff, where I knew they'd soften up fairly quickly. I decided to boil the carrots into submission because time was short, and after I'd finished chopping the eggplant up, I threw it into the water as well. A few minutes later, I drained the mess and tossed it into the faux-ganoff, which was shaping up into a nice curried beef dish, albeit an unconventional one. Chicken or shrimp would have been nicer, but I had to work with what I had.

In the end, it came down to the taste test, with my poor family as the lab rats. My brother David had come over, so he was part of the test as well. We set the table downstairs in front of the TV; I brought down a huge pot of reheated rice, and Dad and David brought down drinks and a large bowl of kimchi (kimchi goes very well with most curry dishes). I went up and got the curry, brought it down, and asked everyone how much they wanted, warning them that this was an experimental dish.

As it turned out, everyone ate everything, except poor David, into whose bowl I had dumped an inordinate amount of food. Mom and Dad both ended up having seconds, and I ate David's leftovers. David, for his part, proclaimed the dish "good."

So the beef curry passed muster. It wasn't a true curry by anyone's measure, but the curry powder is what made a previously nonsensical dish into something both sensible and edible. What a relief.


the routine

We seem to have settled into a weird little routine here at the homestead: when lunchtime rolls around, we feed the renovators. There are usually about five of them on any given day, though today there are only two. For the most part, the renovators get Korean fare (jajang-myeon yesterday; ojingeo-bokkeum today), which is fine since most of them are Korean, though we often see a few Hispanics in the crew. ¿No hay problemas con la comida coreana? I ask in my fractured Spanish. They reply-- sometimes in English-- that, no, it's actually quite good. I needn't have worried. Most folks from hispanophone countries like it spicy.

I help Mom where I can, though I admit I'm not the best with Korean food, unless it's ddeok-bokki. My main role is at dinner, when I break out more Western fare. Thus far, it's been spaghetti bolognese (delish), beef burgundy (also delish), sandwiches and tomato soup (not very good, as it was jury-rigged with unconventional ingredients), and even a blackberry jam that is, at best, mediocre. If life were an Iron Chef contest, Mom would still come out to the winner; her cooking nunchi* remains far superior to mine. Which is perhaps as it should be.

My role at lunch is mainly in helping to put together Mom's concepts and to set the workbenches for lunch. Mom comes up with the culinary ideas, gathers ingredients, and asks for my help as sous-chef. During dinner, the roles are partly reversed, though Mom still insists on doing things like making salad to go with whatever I'm cooking.

We're happy to be using up so much food; part of what we're doing is getting rid of our excess supplies before the kitchen is finally torn up and totally remodeled. After that, we'll be relying more heavily on the backyard grill-- and possibly a Dutch oven, if I can convince the parents to buy one. We've still got a mess of New York strip steaks in the downstairs freezer... pair that up with some shrimp I saw hiding in there as well, and one of these nights is gonna be Surf n' Turf Night.

The post-dinner routine involves a cleanup of the kitchen, and sometimes a general vacuuming of the floor to make the place navigable without shoes. Mom tends to go downstairs around 8PM to begin watching her Korean dramas on cable for two or three hours; if dinner is served late, she'll eat leftover Korean food downstairs while Dad and I eat leftover Western food and deal with the dishes. Dad gets Mom's TV space ready by unwrapping the TV; the entertainment center is usually covered with a plastic dropcloth all day long to protect the equipment from sawdust and the like. It's also Dad's job to get the exposed bedroom ready for when Mom goes to sleep: during the day, the bed serves as a cargo palette on which Dad stacks boxes and boxes of his and Mom's (and the kids') possessions, thereby freeing up floor space and wall space for the renovators. Load the bed in the morning; unload it at night-- that's Dad's task.

While the renovators are here, there are other things to do, though I'm not usually involved with them. Dad will shop for hardware store items or work things out with the cable company; Mom will shop for food to supplement our supplies (we often have 90% of the ingredients already in stock, but need a few more to round out a given recipe). I helped one renovator register to vote, mowed the front yard, helped Dad carry the 150-pound air conditioner down to the street (another finger-slash pic is on the way), and have been superficially involved with sundry yard work, such as weed killing and the reduction of a huge pile of wood in the form of clipped branches, thorny brambles, and chain-sawed logs.

So there's a lot to occupy us, and the renovators move among us, practically part of the family now. I practice my Korean with the Korean guys and occasionally attempt Spanish with the Spanish-speaking crew. I also continue to work on graphics, formulate Craigslist ads, and look for work. Oh, yeah-- and I'm trying to get back into walking, though my legs weren't feeling so hot last night.

That's life at home these days. Next week, I'm meeting the folks to whom I hope to be tutoring French (they told me they're looking at another tutor as well). At the end of October, when the parents get Verizon FiOS installed, I plan to use some of my cash to get my laptop repaired, get a router to feed off the parents' FiOS line, and apply for work as an online essay grader. Sometime within the next few weeks, I will have established a more or less steady cashflow. Cross them fingers.

*The word nunchi is very hard to translate. In this context, think of it as intuition. Koreans often use the term in reference to social situations, e.g., being able to pick up on the general mood among a group of friends, or being able to "read" another person's thoughts or intentions based on a number of "fuzzy" factors. When asked, I often translate nunchi variously as intuition, perceptivity, percipience, or even situational awareness. Basically, it's knowing what to do in any given situation. Truly perceptive Koreans say they possess "quick nunchi" ("Nan nunchi-ga bballayo!").


merci pour les commentaires

Thanks for the recent comments about the new bumper sticker design. I rejected one comment because it was anonymous (please read the comments policy, folks!), but the comment pointed out something I'd noticed a while back: a quick glance at the logo, and you might think you were looking at "Kevin's Wank." Admittedly, you'd have to be predisposed to dirty-mindedness to see this right off the bat; otherwise, it's a stretch. Being the filthy guy I am, however, I can understand where the commenter was coming from. For the moment, though, I don't see the problem as all that serious, so I won't be closing the stick figure's legs anytime soon (to make it Kevin's Drunken Lean?).


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

a better bumper sticker

Dad told me that my Kevin's Walk logo is fine, but it doesn't work as a bumper sticker: when you try to read it from afar, there's too much white, and because the letters aren't solid, they disappear or go mushy thanks to the brain's natural tendency to produce something like the dithering effect.

Solution: in the spirit of the presidential campaign, I've chosen to change the design to a white-on-dark-blue configuration, with a little red thrown in to keep with the original "red, white, and blue" concept.


The design might still receive one or two tweaks, but it's just about ready to go, and the new bumper sticker will replace the old one. I won't be changing the design for my mugs (check a mug out here), but will be reworking the shirts to take my parents' critiques into consideration. Unlike mugs, shirts sometimes do get glanced at from afar-- especially if they're nicely filled.



I did the ten miles in three hours, fourteen minutes, and three seconds, which makes for an average speed of about 3.09mph. Not too bad for a gimp, and close to the 3.2mph I'd been averaging during the training phase before I started the actual walk. My knees were both fine, but my right ankle's a bit achy and so are my hip joints-- a reflection of the fact that I hadn't walked more than a few miles per day during the previous 36 days. While in Walla Walla, I was lucky to walk 2-4 miles per day, which is nothing.

The previous series of pictures was taken to show the new branch of the bike path at the beginning of the George Washington Parkway. I took the shots while on my way back home. I have mixed feelings about this new path; on the one hand, it allows pedestrians and bikers to avoid one of the parking lots on their way to the trailhead. On the other hand, the new path sits right next to the parkway, putting walkers and bikers uncomfortably close to "thru" traffic, exposing them to more noise than is really necessary. I hope the old access to the trailhead will remain open to walkers and bikers; walking through the parking lot was never really a chore, nor was it ever particularly dangerous. And in the morning, the lot is usually empty, making for a nice, tranquil stroll before reaching the actual beginning of the bike path (Mile 0).

I'm sure I'll get used to the bike path's new look, but for today, I'm like the wary old dog that sniffs suspiciously at a new and unwelcome change in the scenery.


new path 10: old perimeter sidewalk all torn up

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new path 9

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new path 8

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new path 7

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new path 6

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new path 5: improved parking lot

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new path 4

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new path 3

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new path 2

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new path 1

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"Off"?? no rest for the weary

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expended kinetic energy

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the test

I'm stepping out this morning for a ten-mile walk. Gonna test the knee, see how it holds up to the strain, and burn a few calories at the same time.

Latecomers to this blog will be delighted to know that photos of the path I'm about to follow are already up. I'd link to them if I had time, but will instead leave the task of searching the archive up to you. Best bet: try searching the April and May 2008 sections.

Today's walk takes me past Mount Vernon Estate-- George Washington's home-- then onto the GW Parkway bike trail, and up to Mile 3 of that trail before I turn around. It's exactly two miles from our house to the trailhead, so it's five miles one way: a ten-mile round trip.

Off I go.


Monday, October 6, 2008

yours truly in a recliner

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my brother David sleeps while his laundry percolates

Move along... Nothing to see here.

[Pic removed before my brother finds his gun. Hee hee.]


middle finger slashed by air conditioner (Dad and I carried it down to the street)

By "it," I'm referring to the AC, not the middle finger.

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which cosmology were you talking about?

My friend Malcolm writes:

It would, of course, be absurd to suggest that religion has done nothing for us. It has performed very well in its principal function: to define, bind, and regulate human social groups.

Are we talking about religion here on earth... or about the Force?

The Force is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us; it penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.
--Obi-wan Kenobi, "Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope"

Seriously, though, go read Malcolm's post. Excellent as always.


D-Day approaches

We're looking at an enormous amount of heavy lifting in the very near future-- possibly this week. When it happens... there might be photos of straining blubber.


vielen Dank

Thanks to the several people who have sent private emails with eBay advice. I'll look over the emails and the blog comments and proceed with caution. Caution seems to be the buzz-word in most of these correspondences.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

closer to 600 miles

What follows are pictures that will give you an idea of where and how far I walked. The total of 568.94 miles isn't accurate; even though I did connect the dots between cities, I didn't follow every single hitch and curve. The actual mileage is therefore greater than what you see; it's possible that my walk was much closer to 600 miles than I'd previously thought.

The second picture, though, is a humbling rendition of what 570 miles looks like when you see the entire mainland United States. This is the view that reminds me that I didn't really get that far, in the grand scheme of things. It's also a challenge to keep on going when I start up again next spring.


So there-- a little gift for all the people who wanted a picture of the path I've walked. HAPPY NOW?



OK, folks: tell me everything you can about eBay-- the good, the bad, and the ugly. I've been tasked by the parents with eBaying a lot of old items in the house to help defray the cost of renovation. I'm also going to receive a portion of the eBay proceeds for doing the legwork. Anything you can tell me re: procedures, must-dos, must-don'ts, etc., will be helpful. I've been receiving eBay spam for years ("Your eBay account is in danger of being hacked!"), but have never actually subscribed to eBay. Any and all advice appreciated, but there are no guarantees that I'll follow it.