Thursday, July 2, 2015

Where do you live?

My wife and I moved into a new apartment this week. We had lots of help loading the truck. Mormonism is good at many things, and helping those who move is certainly one-- several fellow congregants who know us only as passing acquaintances spent hours carrying heavy boxes due to our shared belief that when you are in the service of your fellow beings, you are in the service of God. 

Moving has given plenty of opportunity to think about what my place of residence means-- in moving from one apartment to another, just a few blocks away, I'm leaving one community and congregation behind and joining another. Where I leave is not just geography, it's about webs of human relationships. My wife and I made many close friends in our old neighborhood, and decided to move in part because several families we were close to moved on, as transient college students are wont to do. While we had stayed in the same place, our community changed, and it was time to move on. 

I moved to this city for college, but I chose my university in large part due to its proximity to many of my relatives. I love spending time with them, and I'm so glad that my wife was able to meet them in the early days of our relationship. The closeness she has developed with my grandparents, cousins and siblings who live here fills me with joy. 

When she graduates, we will probably move to another city. Instead of seeing these relatives a few times a week, we will see them perhaps once a year, perhaps every few years. But we will still live embedded in this web of family relationships, and they will nourish us each day. I have seen that in our relationship with her parents, who live thousands of miles away, but whose love and support flows to us constantly. We live in these relationships as much as we live in an apartment or a city. 

Our aim, in choosing and caring for the place we live in, is to make it a place that builds these kinds of relationships, that lets us live in awareness of our bonds with those around us. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Where has the time gone?

Six years ago, I started this blog. Four years ago, I abandoned it to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Almost three years ago, I returned, wiser and (for a while) quieter as I tried to process what I learned. Two years ago, I began posting again, with a greater sense of who I was and what I meant to say. 

Two years ago I also began dating a woman who was smart enough to beat me at Scrabble, and kind enough to let me win sometimes. Who I could talk to for hours, about anything. Who has the wit and timing for a career in stand up comedy, but takes the serious things in life seriously. Who loves good music almost as much as she loves her family (and I know no one who has a stronger love of family). Whose faith in God led her to leave behind all she knew and face down opposition from those closest to her to do what God Required, and then used that faith to heal those relationships. 

And soon it seemed that all I had to say, I said to her, and all I wanted to do was be with her. 

And so I stopped posting, and wooed her. 

We've been married now for a year and a half, and I am happy every day, and grateful I could see the best chance in my life when it came my way. And now again I have new things I've learned, and new thoughts, and new things to say to the world. 

So here I am, and maybe you'll be seeing me more often. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

My New Favorite Typo

Usually, I spell things right the first time.  But four or five times in the past week, I've written "while" in place of "well."  Always at the start of a sentence, always followed by a comma.  I don't know what leads me to replace this space-filler with a temporal signifier, but I do.  I can't recall ever having done it before this week, but it keeps happening.

It's an odd slip, it is.  And isn't that a part of what life is made of.


Did you know that kiss and lips are identical in T9?  Well, neither did I.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

What are you reading?

I read a lot of books (those less these days than at some times in the past) and a fair number of magazines and newspapers.  Also, blogs.  And lots of other internet things.  But there is one reading source which often escapes attention in regular discussion which is of great import here.  After all, no compendium of all things Mattathias-y would be complete without at least a passing reference to web-comics.

I also like print comics, which combine two of my favorite things (words and pictures) into a marvelous new thing. Web-comics add a third ingredient: the internet.

I was first introduced to this wonderful medium when I was perhaps fifteen by the indomitable Olivia, my eldest sister, who started me on her favorite at that time, Cat and Girl, by Dorothy Gambrell.  About a year later, one of my Moskowitz cousins showed me xkcd.  In both cases, it was love at first sight.

Since then I've found many comics by many wonderful creators.  The amount of time and energy these artists devote to these projects, clearly primarily for the sheer pleasure of introducing their jokes or stories into the world, is awe-inspiring.  And some of the results are phenomenal.  True, many webcomics are junk, but that's just Sturgeon's Law in action.

I still like xkcd and check it often.  I occasionally go back to Cat and Girl, which is as good as ever.  But I've gravitated towards story comics that move forward with each update.  There are several that I began following before my mission which I caught up with in the months after I got home.  They still moved me.

Some stories just grab me.  Some art entrances me.  There's a certain amount of risk in following webcomics.  I've been disappointed more than once by a creator who abandons a project half-way.  People get busy, depressed, distracted.  But the best stories are worth it.  I want to share with you some of the best I've found.  So here's the current list of webcomics I'm following:

Vattu by Evan Dahm
Family Man by Dylan Meconis
Spacetrawler by Chris Baldwin
Lackadaisy by Tracy Butler
No Rest for the Wicked by Andrea Petersen
A Redtail's Dream by Minna Sundberg

Do you read any webcomics? What do you like about the medium?  Do you have any favorites I haven't listed here?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Back on the Blog

Sorry I haven't written in a long time.  I've been busy reading.  And living my life.  It's been pretty amazing in the past few years.

I'm not the same person who started writing this blog, but I'm pretty close.  I may be wiser.  I've certainly been more places.

Last week a good friend said she missed my blogging, and challenged me to start up again.  So here it goes.  Back to the blog.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Can we all speak straightforwardly to each other?

The first step is to speak.  Next comes speaking to each other.  Which seems to be something we're often poor at.  Often we speak past each other, or around each other, or we just insult each other while pretending that whatever position we've settled down on is unbeatable.  And then there's being straightforward.

But there are important questions we need to answer which we cannot answer alone, and which no amount of subterfuge or avoidance or beating around the bush will remove.  Things need doing.

So this is a very good question.  And I'm not sure what the answer is.  But there's always hope.

What were you thinking?

The source for this post is my recent project of "spring cleaning" on my gmail account... since I hadn't used it in two years, a fair number of unread messages, mostly from listservs, had piled up.  When I merged in all the messages I received as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I had 1,637 unread messages.

The most interesting part came when I went through my "drafts" folder.  Which is a snapshot of ideas I was in the middle of forming two years ago:

There is a fragment from a story my brother wrote, in which a group of legendary rabbis discuss the nature of revelation while sitting in an LDS sunday school class.

Short scriptural thoughts on the nature of debts and the nature of miracles which I was planning to send to a Mormon hermeneutic group.

A translation I found for the Mul Mantra, the first words of Sikh scripture.

A response to a friend regarding questions she raised about a paper I wrote on the simultaneous development of post-temple Judaism and the ritual of passover seder.

A Polish Poem about Samizdat, or the Soviet-era practice of secretly copying literary works by typewriter to avoid censors, which I was going to send to my brother.

A link (which I think I saved in drafts for my own future reference) trying to parse through opposition (Western) to and enthusiasm (Eastern) for Shariah law.  Noah Feldman's approach here is excellent.  He carefully examines assumptions, shows how we often reach our conclusions by ignoring wide amounts of relevant data, and carefully uncovers a truly thoughtful basis to something many people just reject as foreign.

A letter to my sister about our planned low-impact all-natural restaurant venture.

A blank letter to one of my cousins, reaching out across time and space to be part of a family I love and appreciate so much.

Unsurprising, perhaps, that what was on my mind then is still so much of what is on my mind now!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why waste energy?

I just got angry at the internet.

And I mean really angry. So angry I swore loudly, and I try very hard not to swear ever.

So angry my heart rate shot up, and is still up now, ten to fifteen minutes later. It's racing in my chest, as if I just went cliff diving or nearly got bitten by a rabid dog.

I let a webpage do this to me. Not the content of a webpage either. Simply the inefficient workings of a search function. I became spitting mad over poor web design.

This is not because I'm a man of strong design principles, either, although I do like good design when I see it. It's because I couldn't find what I wanted right away, because the site was putting an obstacle in my way. It was like getting angry at a chair because you stub your toe on it.

It was the AAA site, and I was trying in vain to find a price for passport photos. As I searched fruitlessly, I let the anger bubble up.

Did my rage make anything better? Did it improve the site? Did it improve my day? Did it help me get what I wanted? No.

It was simple, wasteful, and absurd.

Anger is rarely anything else. May the memory of this moment give me pause the next time I feel inclined to rage at a webpage, a person, a chair, a cloudy sky.

Peace, peace, peace.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What use are stories?

Last August, I had the singular pleasure of reading, for the first time, a few essays by Brian Doyle, as part of a class about essays. At the end of that class, I had another great pleasure and privilege: that of sitting in the room during a phone interview with Brian Doyle himself. Here are my notes:

"The reason that poetry is in the end the greatest literary art is that it’s closest to music. It can be easily abused. There’s more bad poetry than anything else.

To say something big in a small space is a great virtue.

Part of our training as writers is to write poorly, you have to learn the craft by learning what not to do.

A lot of early writing is about the self, it’s kind of self absorbed—maturity as a writer involves looking at the glory and beauty in other things.

Large Irish-Catholic family—fanatic readers, floor to ceiling bookshelves—newspaperman storyteller father, teacher storyteller mother, everyone at the table was smart. If you didn’t have something to say, a story to tell, no one would know your name.

To be a great storyteller to me seems very American.

The mechanics and delight.

Sheer, joyous goofiness of writing. It’s like you built a chair.

I was put on Earth to be dad, that’s my job. Second is husband. But as a writer… Sensitivity and itch and joy and passion of writing, of telling stories.
As a writer, you develop an ear for true food. I’m very sensitive to fatuous homilizing, to telling someone else what to do… I’m wary of opinion and commentary, and I try to avoid it. Does it matter? Does it ring true to me inside someplace?
I try to listen for falsity, for nonsense.

My kids always say “Did you vote for Lincoln?”

Everybody carries loads, everybody has scars cut in their hearts. The story of the world is suffering, but the grace and courage and humor with which people carry their loads moves me to the marrow of my bones.

It really matters to share stories. Story is the most human food. If you don’t have stories, you’ll starve, your soul will starve.

Our job as writers is to be witnesses, to witness how other people do it.

Total childish wonder— I’m knocked out by everything. Total childlike idiot wonder, and a fascination with grace under duress.

Giggling seems to me to be a very powerful form of prayer. My idea of a good day is one where you giggle for about three hours.

I’m writing a long thing about sturgeon which I suspect may be growing into a book against my will.

I just wrote a thing about a series of books, how amazing is it when you read a book, and you realize “there’s more of this?!”

I write about my kids a little bit less as teenagers, because they’re a little bigger than me, and I’m worried about getting hit.

The first essay I published was when I was ten or twelve, and realized I had no present for mother’s day. I realized I had totally punted, and all my brothers were looking at me… I’d just finished the Screwtape Letters, and so I wrote a letter to my mother from Hell, denying her admission because she was so cool, and I put it under her plate.

Read maniacally, read fanatically, read read read read read… read all kind of writers, and see how people get voices on a page. Don’t worry about form—you’re a storyteller. It’s a craft. You get better with age, because you learn to work the tools better.

Working for newspapers and magazines was good for me. It taught me to smell a story, put it together, and get it down.

Ask questions and listen—we swim in a sea of stories.

I didn’t set out to write a collection of essays—I wrote them all and then collected them.

Write one little thing that sounded true, and then another, and then another.

The essay as a form breathes surprises for the writer the most. They’re playful, they’re the closest to the human voice. There’s room for direction and Coherence that you didn’t expect.

Essay collections are fun, because I actually spread all the essays out on the floor, and then I take my shoes off, and wander around and say “Who wants to be with who?”

I just like the word Utah—it indicates the square size and brawniness of the state—the Rockies. It sounds the way it looks.

Utah is the most unbelievably beautiful state.

Can we all speak straightforwardly to each other?

Witness in mercy and humor. So much of life is striving, and so much of the joy of life is witness and mercy.

Awareness is the beginning of all prayer.

Roads are forms of discipline and concentration.

We are an amazing species. We are headed I hope towards witness and mercy and forgiveness.

We’re afraid. We’re very violent. Witness and story are important in ways we can’t even understand

Spiritually, communally, morally, evolutionarily.

The more you can pay attention to the grace of your fellow beings, the more likely it is that the world will advance.

Attend to each other."

Monday, July 5, 2010

What immortal hand or eye?

I'd never thought of fireworks and William Blake as things that go together, but watching the fireworks on Saturday, I couldn't get this stanza out of my head:

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Happy Independence, America. And keep on burning, tyger bright.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Carbon Monoxide

It's a well known fact that carbon monoxide is colorless, tasteless and odorless, as well as deadly. This lack of features is precisely what makes it so dangerous... there is no way to sense the slow seeping of carbon monoxide without the modern technology of a CO detector (or, failing that, the proverbial coal mine canary.)

What you might not have known is that when a carbon monoxide detector goes off in your house, while you can't smell the carbon monoxide, you will immediately smell the scent of your own fear. What does it smell like? As the alarm rings in your ears, you would swear that the pungent odor of your fear is exactly like the odor carbon monoxide would have, if it had any at all.

Friday, June 25, 2010

What's in a Name? (Part 2)

Last week I was volunteering with a project called Lose the Training Wheels, as a bike spotter. Their were about 15 of us volunteers, working together for a week. We had about thirty minutes of downtime between sessions. Almost none of us knew each other at the start of the week, but we developed the sort of easy break-room relationships that come with any project like this. We'd chat about sports scores, or colleges, or how well our riders were learning. Sometimes, we'd kick around a soccer ball or shoot some hoops.

But that's not what this post is about. Here, I mean to ponder the following phenomenon.

There was another Matt in the group. A Matthew, rather than a Mattathias, but we were both going by Matt. This caused the standard confusion on the first day ("Matt, you'll be working with Nathan... Oh shoot, there are two Matts.) This is fairly common, but what happened next is interesting.

The other Matt, it was clear, felt an instant connection because of our shared name. For the rest of the week, when he came in, the first thing he'd do was greet me with a "How's it going, Matt?" and a wide grin. During breaks, he'd come over to talk. Besides the name and the interest in volunteering, we didn't have much in common, but that didn't seem to matter to him.

Matt was friendly with everyone, but obviously felt that there was significance to our fellow Matt-hood. I don't think I felt it nearly so strongly as he did, perhaps because being a Mattathias has always made me feel different from other Matts, especially Matthews.

So what is it then, that makes a shared name feel like a shared nature?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What time is it?

I have a life-long animosity for alarm clocks.

This first became apparent when I was in first grade, and had to be up in time to get to school by Eight AM (I had been in an afternoon kindergarten class, blissfully free until 12:30.) I ignored my alarm clock completely, making my mother come time and time again to call, wheedle, and threaten me out of bed. When words alone did not suffice, she moved on to diplomacy by other means: tickling, dragging, repeated threats of ice cubes (I cannot recall whether these threats ever became reality, but from the force they carried I think they must have, at least once.)

Things did not improve with middle school.

When I entered ninth grade, however, I also entered the world of early morning seminary, a Mormon religious institution designed to provide students with scriptural instruction at an hour when they were most in need of reminders about charity. The upshot of this was that my alarm clock was now set two hours earlier, and I couldn't count on my mother to be awake in time to remind me.

Fortunately, pajamas were acceptable dress in my seminary class, so I didn't have to rouse myself too early.

I got better at heeding the alarm, but as my 70% seminary attendance freshman year attests, not much better.

It was not until my senior year that I discovered the snooze button. I couldn't use it much before class (my alarm was set at 5:45 AM, and I could hit the snooze once, leaving it to call again at 5:55, and still get to seminary in time) but I would often return home and set another alarm for 7:15, sometimes hitting the snooze twice, sometimes three times, and thus surfacing to grab breakfast and rush out the door only sometime between 7:30 and 7:45.

It didn't help that I lived in a basement, in a room natural light rarely dared to enter.

These recollections come to my mind because the conflict between man and alarm clock has begun anew for me: This past week, my alarm has been set to 7:50 am. I have hit the snooze once, twice, three times, four, five, once a sixth. Other days, I turn the alarm off, but still don't rise from the bed. Today, I arose at 8:30... only to return and sleep another hour.

I don't know whether I'll ever learn to listen to an alarm clock. I hope that someday, I can learn to greet the day early, even without one, as I do on a camping trip.

Really, I think many of my everyday struggles would disappear if I lived in a tent.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Why do I procrastinate? (Part 2)

I've noticed an interesting phenomenon in the past couple of years.

I spend a large amount of my time coming up with ideas for things to do. I have long lists of these things, of projects I want to work on and finish. I am fairly certain that I could work all day on these projects, and still have ideas left over.

And yet on an equally regular basis, I find myself telling myself that I have "nothing to do". Grasping for something to keep my attention, I will check my e-mail four to five times a day, check and re-check my favorite blogs, spend hours on facebook (I waste time off the internet as well, by staring at walls or sitting idle).

How do I reconcile the tremendous amount of things worth doing with my frequent claim that I have nothing to do? Clearly, I am lying to myself on a regular basis. But how do I break through this mental trap of idleness and keep myself engaged in things that matter?

Friday, April 9, 2010

What is THAT?

This is a question my 5-year old niece asks pretty often.

Today she asked it to me when she and her parents came to drop off some perishable food before they drive to California for a wedding.

The that in question was my bicycle tire, which was hanging from the corner of a bookshelf.

"That's a tire for my bicycle," said I.

She pondered this.

"Why is it so huge?" she asked.

"I am a huge person, and so I need huge tires." I said.

She pondered this.

"And what is that?" she asked, pointing, "Is that the cover for the wheel?"

"No," said I, "that's the tube. It goes inside the wheel, to keep it fat."

She pondered this.

"It has a sticker on it," said she.

"Yes," said I, "it's called a patch. I put a patch on the tube because there was a hole in it."

She pondered this. "A patch?" she asked.

"Yes," said I, "like pirates wear. Pirates wear eye patches because they have holes in their faces."

"That's weird," she says. "They only have one eye?"

"Yes," says I. " That's why I don't want to be a pirate."

She ponders this.

Then she looks up at my eyes, which are covered by my glasses.

"I don't need glasses," she says.

"No, you don't," says I, "but you might need them when you're older."

She ponders this. "Yeah, like when I'm a grandma."

We both ponder this.

"I'm not a grandma," she tells me, "but I'm practicing to be a mom."

I ponder this. "Yeah?" I say.

"I have an imaginary husband," says she.

"Yeah?" I say.

"Yeah," says she.

"What's his name?" says I.

"David Bowie," says she.

I ponder this.

"But's he's fake," says she, and wanders off happily to eat her Raisin Bran.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

If not now, when?

Wrote a long letter to a good friend tonight.

I've been looking at the world with the intent to write it with a while now, which means that I'd see something or hear something and start writing a paragraph in my head, trying out how it would sound to describe it to Joumana.

Two months of that kind of thinking made for a six page letter. I think I enjoy letter writing almost more than anything else, so it's a pity I don't do it more often.

I'd kept putting off writing it, telling myself I didn't have the time, that I'd find time in the evening, that I'd find time over the weekend.

Finally decided that the only way to find time is to look for it. Strangely enough, as soon as I looked, there it was.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How did you get to be well read?

This question occasionally after people have known me for a few months, because I have a strong habit of making references to this and to that. I don't answer it very often.

The explanation is really very simple. I'm not well read at all. I'm just good at looking that way. I haven't read most of the books I'm familiar with. I don't have the depth or thoroughness of a classical education, or even simply of a dedicated reading program. And along with all the books I haven't read at all are the books I've only half-read: Les Miserables, The Sun also Rises, God in Search of Man... My apparent erudition comes largely from a few semi-encyclopedic, scattershot collections I've flipped through over the years: The Jewish 100, An Incomplete Education, a book my mother had with pictures and essay of great works of art in the Western tradition that I would sit with for hours as a child.

But this answer may just raise more questions: Why develop a passing familiarity with so many things? Isn't depth of understanding more fulfilling? And why read such collections so urgently at such a young age.

The answer to these questions is even more simple, and I share it far less.

I was raised by wolves.

But no ordinary wolves. No, these were highly intellectual wolves, for whom a pup unable to converse about Early Romantic Literature was a disgrace and a liability, fit only to be left alone to starve in the cold, harsh world of academia. From my earliest days, appearing well read was a matter of life and death.

It is fortunate, then, that I found so much pleasure in a matter which was essential to my survival.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Is it really possible to complete a goal?

This question began my sister-in-law Nicole's g-mail status for several weeks. It continued, "The anticipation, work, and dedication is so all-encompassing that the completion still feels incomplete."

I know what she means. It's part of what I felt when I finished my Eagle Scout.

I wrote an essay about it, at the time, trying to make sense of how far I'd come and where I was going, trying to understand how something "finished" could still feel so far from done. I went through about four or five giant outlines, and then wrote the final draft in one crazy weekend, after coming home from a Model United Nations conference in Illinois.

I was looking at that essay a few weeks ago, because I was going to link to it on my other blog. And as I read it, I realized that if I wrote it now, it would be a different essay. And I wanted to sit down right then with my outlines and start it all over again. But that's my past. I have other essays to write. Maybe, someday, it will be time for me to come back to it.