When Dreams Are Dead and You Just Don’t Care

You know what’s a real pain in the neck?

Starting a band. No, not just that. Being in a band!

First, you need to find other musicians who have the same tastes and ambitions as you. Then you need to find out if they can actually play. Third, you need to determine whether they’re reliable (you’ll soon discover this as rehearsals begin). A practice space is nice, too, If you can actually solve for these parts of the equation, then you need material. And in the untrained world of amateur rock bands, everyone wants the glory but never wants to do the work. And they hate the guy who does.

When you do get gigs, they’re late at night at some dive with awful parking and you’re probably third or fourth on the bill, near closing time, when nobody is there because all of your friends who nodded and smiled and said they’d “totally make it” when you told them about your show bailed on you because of “work” or something, and so you end up playing to another empty room.

What a hassle.

It’s a funny thought to have, though, because for a good fifteen years of my life music was the most important thing to me. I had always been fascinated by the way these vibrations my air molecules can be organized into shapes and sounds and structures. Composition and performance were my passions in equal measure, and I always thought I would have slides into orchestral composition and teaching after some years of performing in various ways.

Not my picture, but I’ve stood on an awful lot of stages like this.

The thing was, I didn’t finish music school. Nope. On some incredibly bad advice, I switched majors and ended up you-know-where. This was also, mostly, my own fault though. Lack of confidence, no real experience dealing with adversity, and growing up in a cage of safety really took their toll on my psyche and resiliency.

Fast-forward to the present. Some years ago, while I was back in school, I had to sell all of my instruments to pay bills. It was crushing, and still stings. But it was necessary, and stings less over time. And while I make rumblings about wanting to buy another bass eventually and maybe even play in a band, the drive just isn’t there like it used to be.

In hindsight, and this is weird to say, selling all my guitars might have been a symbolic letting go of the past, of dreams that won’t come to fruition.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Corinthians 13:11

Perhaps I’ve just moved on. And this is natural. Continue reading “When Dreams Are Dead and You Just Don’t Care”

My Conversion Story

People have asked me for my “Easter conversion story” before, and since today is Holy Wednesday*, it seems like as good a time as any to talk about this.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe you’ll find it interesting. Or inspiring. Or crazy. I’m sure some “rational skeptic” will tell me it’s a “chemical phenomena akin to insanity that shouldn’t be viewed as proving anything other than the delusion-holder’s personal subjective experience,” and so on.

(Boy, wait until I tell the story about when I had an honest-to-God prophetic vision . . .)

Whatever. All I know is what I’ve experienced and you can take it or leave it. The important starting point for this particular story is that, from the ages of about fifteen to seventeen, I was an atheist.

Or thought I was. Things changed on Good Friday when I was 17.

Let’s back up a little bit though. I grew up in the Greek Orthodox Church. Both of my parents are 100% Greek with either parents or grandparents from the old country. On my mother’s side, my grandfather is a priest, and so was his father. There were more in the family, but I don’t know how far back it goes.

My experiences with the church were generally positive. I rather enjoyed seeing my pappou up there doing the service and giving communion, and we always went out to breakfast afterwards. Orthodoxy focus a lot on the mystical, the afterlife, the resurrection, and the love of Christ . . . as well as the wages of sin. This didn’t bother me, nor was it prohibitively frightening. In fact, it made sense: Disobeying your own parents and ignoring tradition and common sense lead to big trouble. Why wouldn’t ignoring your heavenly Father lead to the same?

And the fact that there was a Creator didn’t bother me at all either. Everything has to come from something, I thought. And even to this day, “Everything spontaneously came into being in perfect order for no reason and with no cause whatsoever” remains an unsatisfying leap of faith to make.

No, what first got me as I got older was the idea of the Resurrection.

I remember on my way to church with the family when I was 14. It might have been Easter; I can’t remember. What I do remember is expressing skepticism that Jesus Christ really rose from the dead. “I get all the other stuff,” I said, “but how do we know he didn’t just die?”

My family didn’t quite know how to answer. Continue reading “My Conversion Story”

The Curse of the Midwit

One of the worst things to be is a midwit. And I am one.

Let me explain what I mean by “midwit.” I have seen the term used many ways, and they boil down to these six points:

  1. Someone who is not as smart as the truly intelligent, but is of above-average intelligence,
  2. Who wants other people to think they are actually more intelligent than they are, so they,
  3. Ape positions and mannerisms they think intelligent people espouse, without,
  4. Doing their own research or,
  5. Amending their positions when provided with compelling contrary evidence, and most fatally,
  6. Don’t realize that they are not as smart as they think they are

Point six is the one that causes trouble. And here’s where I like to think I differ from most midwits: I always try to acknowledge when I don’t know something, which happens quite a bit.

I recently finished listening to a podcast where Dave Rubin spoke with Bret and Eric Weinstein. Now those guys are smart, on a level I could never hope to approach. One thing that struck me was not their encyclopedic knowledge of a variety of topics, but how they approached the world:

  • They fully admitted when they didn’t have enough expertise to make anything other than an educated assumption based upon what they did understand
  • They were fully aware of what they didn’t know or understand
  • They were able to articulate the opposite position of what they personally thought or believed
  • They very incredibly careful with their language
  • They thought conceptually
  • They saw the potential flaws in their own positions
  • They made connections between various disciplines, and had interests and intellectual pursuits outside of their stated, credentialed areas of expertise

Eric Weinstein said something that stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was essentially that the idea “jack of all trades, master of none,” is both incorrect and harmful. He they said “specialist in one trade, connector of none.”

Connector of none . . . 

Wow. Continue reading “The Curse of the Midwit”

Kid’s Stuff: Children’s Entertainment Doesn’t Have to be Bland

My son likes cartoons and books and movies. Who doesn’t?

Here’s the thing: I can often tell the quality of the product by how often my son talks about it when it’s over and how much he laughs.

I will use two cartoons to illustrate this point: Doc McStuffinsand Masha and the Bear.

Doc McStuffins is one of the most bland, anodyne, and actively beige cartoons I have ever seen. My son likes it because he’s interested in medical stuff, but there’s nothing there. The main character is perfect, the conflicts are utterly trivial, there are lessons shoehorned into every single aspect of an episode, and the humor is non-existent. I mean, the show is not funny at all, not even good for a chuckle. The mark of a funny children’s show isn’t how often an adult laughs at it, but you’d think a kid’s laughter would be a good indicator.

But nope. When he watches Doc McStuffins, he just blankly accepts what comes on, and then is on to the next one. He doesn’t talk about it after the fact. The show feels carefully crafted by a committee of bean-counters tick points off a checklist. It’s just another widget churned out by the institutionalized entertainment factory that is Disney. I should be careful criticizing them too heavily, though, since Disney will soon own every single piece of entertainment that you read, watch, listen to, or otherwise experience, including this blog. It’s a hungry mouse.

Contrasting Doc McStuffins with Masha and the Bear is pretty eye-opening. Masha and the Bear is a Russian-produced animated show loosely based on Russian folklore about a hyper-energetic, slightly destructive though ultimately well-meaning little girl named Masha and her adventures with, and slight terrorizing of, a big friendly brown bear. The bear doesn’t talk, communicating in gestures and grunts. In fact, none of the other animal characters talk, just Masha and occasionally her cousin Dasha.

Anyway, all Bear really enjoys doing is gardening, hanging out at his house playing chess or reading, and reminiscing about his glory days as a performer with a circus in Moscow. Masha, of course, has other crazy ideas, which always leads to some form of chaos that is ultimately resolved. In the process, Bear and all the other animals are exasperated to the near breaking point, but things work out in the end (hey, it is a kid’s show, isn’t it?).

Unlike Doc McStuffins, Masha and the Bear has actual conflicts: Bear’s battle against the black bear for the lady bear’s affections, Masha’s rivalry with Bear’s panda cousin from China, Masha finding a penguin egg and forcing Bear to take care of it, and so on. The episodes are short, snappy, chaotic in the old Warner Brothers tradition, and funny.

There are sight gags that have my son erupting in side-splitting laughter, and I’ll admit: My wife and I get a kick out of it too. It’s nothing intellectual or snarky or anything like that. It’s just dumb cartoonish slapstick akin to what you’d see Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck engaging in. There’s a reason why the classic Warner Brothers shorts are still held up as the benchmark for cartoons to be measured against.

There are lessons in Masha and the Bear, but here’s the distinction between them and other Disney-fied pablum: the lessons aren’t rammed down the kids’ throats. Instead, they are demonstrated through the characters’ actions. In other words, the show shows and doesn’t tell.This is storytelling 101, and kids absolutely pick up on that. Continue reading “Kid’s Stuff: Children’s Entertainment Doesn’t Have to be Bland”

Five Interesting Points from The Mystery of Death by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis

“An explanation of what happens to you when you die” is sort of the lazy man’s answer to the question of “What is the purpose of religion?” This is true, but it is only a part of it.

The question of what happens after death has enthralled, and indeed scared the hell out, of human beings since we first became aware, unique to all other creatures, that we will, in fact, die at some point, and that this death is inevitable.

This is what author and theologian Nikolaos P. Vassilidis attempts to shed some light on in The Mystery of Death, at least from an Orthodox Christian perspective. Published in Greek in 1993 and later translated by Father Peter A. Chamberas, Vassilidis, a member of the Orthodox Brotherhood of Theologians has taken Scripture and the teachings of the Holy Fathers and compiled them in a lengthy tomb big on what Scripture and logical analysis tells us and light on speculation.

It’s heavy reading, as you can imagine.

Religion, most religions at least, deal with more than just what happens when you die. But questions surrounding the end of life are obviously incredibly important, questions such as:

  • Why do human beings know they will die?
  • Why do we die?
  • Why are we here if we’re destined to die?
  • And of course, what happens next?

Vassiliadis relies heavily on the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Symeon, St. Gregory Palamas, St. Nikodemos, and other luminaries of the pre-Schism Church, as well as more recent Orthodox scholars like Georges Florovsky and Justin Popovic. It’s a well-researched book that offered a lot of eye-opening revelations about what death is, why we die, sin and repentance, and what comes after.

It’s tough to do a typical review of this book other than to say I highly recommend it to any Christian, Orthodox or not (although Catholics will probably have an easier time with it than most other denominations). So as with my discussion of Moses Maimonides’s The Guide for the Perplexed, I think it’d be more useful to go over a few of the more interesting points Vassiliadis makes:

Continue reading “Five Interesting Points from The Mystery of Death by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis”

Do the Thing

As I continue to work furiously at finishing up my novel (any novel; and yes, a different one than before–I’ve been doing this stuff forever!) an interesting thought crossed my mind: when is it ready?

(NB: As I’m planning to self-publish, this might not all directly relate to traditional publishing.)

  • Is it when an editor gives you the go-ahead?
  • Is it when you’ve reached a certain consensus among your beta readers?
  • Is it when you can’t find any more typos?
  • Is it when elements of your story meet the checklist for the market you’re trying to sell to?
  • Is it when you personally are happy with the result?

The answer, of course, is that you’re never fully finished with anything. Love him or hate him, Star Wars creator George Lucas embodies this philosophy, as seen with his different versions of both the original trilogy of movies and the sequels. Some might call this tinkering unnecessary–I am among those–but to be fair, they’re his movies: where we see masterpieces, he sees flaws.

Frank Zappa did similar things in the late 1980s, much to the chagrin of fans–again, myself among them–by replacing the bass and drum tracks on several earlier albums where he thought the performances were poorly recorded, poorly played, or both. He also remixed a lot of albums, with mixed results.

Which brings us to books. Sometimes authors correct errors, such as later editions of some earlier books in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. Believe it or not, J.R.R. Tolkien did the same with his books, correcting a few inaccuracies in later editions.

And authors like Stephen King have even Reese’s expanded and unedited versions of previously released books; The Stand comes to mind, which is either better than the original or a bloated travesty, depending on who you ask.

But aside from fixing typos, us regular folk are probably not going to be in a position to remaster and rerelease brand new shiny expanded versions of prior works, mostly because we’ll be too busy working on the next one. But I digress.

Anyway, when are you done? What are the indicators to look for? Continue reading “Do the Thing”

The Spirit of 1821: Greek Independence Day and the Annunciation

greek-independence

Zito! 

March 25th is Greek Independence Day, commemorating the beginning of the Greek rebellion in 1821 against their Ottoman oppressors after four-hundred years of subjugation. The revolution began, according to legend, when Bishiop Germanos raised the Greek flag at the Peloponnesian monastery of Agia Lavra.

revolution

Badass.

Whatever the inciting incident, the revolution attracted the attention and aid of many European powers, particularly Great Britain, who felt a kinship with the Greeks for their thousand-year cultural legacy of philosophy, government, and all of the other gifts of Western Civilization.

Oh yeah. The United States got in on the act too. Our fifth president and Founding Father James Monroe stated to Congress that:

“A strong hope is entertained that these people will recover their independence and assume their equal statue among the nations of the earth.”

Of course, Monroe and his famous, eponymous doctrine (largely the creation of then-Secretary of State and later sixth president John Quincy Adams) committed the United States to not getting involved in European affairs (while resisting any European incursion into the Americas), but the rhetorical support remained, and indeed bolstered the spirit of the Greeks.

It’s a beautiful circle. The Greeks were inspired by the Americans, who were partially inspired by Greek philosophy and ideals as they revolted against England and created the United States system of government (and the architecture in Washington, D.C.).

I mean, listen to the slogan of the Greek revolutionaries: Eλευθερία ή θάνατος! Freedom or death! Sounds familiar, right?

droppedimage_2-3

Being both Greek and American, it’s always exhilarating to think that, in my own small way, I’m heir to two strong and vital cultural legacies.

But the interesting thing is that March 25 is also the Annunciation, the celebration of the Archangel Gabriel announcing to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to Christ. This is no coincidence.  Continue reading “The Spirit of 1821: Greek Independence Day and the Annunciation”