Sunday, March 30, 2008

It was the first week of spring, so naturally . . .

I went to the beach. During the first month of school, I picked up a slip of paper in the school rec room entitled "From PLNU to Mission Beach." That I was actually going to a school that close to the place I spent most of my childhood dreaming of, the place where my fabled Uncle Ric had comfortably lived thirty years maybe three hundred feet from the sand's edge, the place where I first touched the Pacific Ocean, inspired me. I pinned the directions on my bulletin board and resolved to bike there one day.

And I finally did it yesterday. My plan was to bring some reading homework and chill solo, but happily some girls from my hall had planned an outing there as well, so I just met up with them. The ride took less than forty minutes, most of which was coasting. I got a lot of talking and sunning and a little bit of reading. I finished off the rest of the homemade wheat thins my dad had made me, which were even more delicious by the sea.

Awww, look at my freckles. The ride back was great until I hit Point Loma, which ran entirely uphill, of course. I made it, though.

I also got to bypass a ton of traffic and ride along this nifty bridge. I'm still awed at how cycle-friendly San Diego is.

I got back to my room, looked at that paper on my bulletin board, and felt like I accomplished something. Then I made a lovely dinner of steamed caf vegetables and whole wheat couscous in my rice cooker. I love that little pot.

I followed that up with brown bag microwave popcorn. Alton Brown, Food Network personality and self-styled food scientist, created a method for making popcorn with nothing more than a paper bag, kernels, and a couple of staples. Yes, that's right, staples can in fact go into a microwave safely. They're actually too small to cause a reaction or spark. So if you're trying to avoid popcorn lung and you don't have a stovetop handy . . .

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Double posting: Why I Believe

This post can also be found here:

I am a reader. This is appropriate, since I am also a literature major. Through books, I relate to the world. I take the commonality of the human condition as a given — we are all essentially the same; we all want essentially the same things in life. So when other humans have painstakingly distilled their own lives and beliefs into a finely crafted text, I think it only right that I take a sip.

And so I have tried to taste widely and conscientiously. At times I have spit out bitter mouthfuls of bad philosophy, or set down lukewarm cups of tepid thought. But occasionally I find a refreshing glass of clear, lucid wisdom.

I have often wondered whether it would be intellectually reasonable of me to assume the mantle of Christianity as so many others have, adhering to it unquestioningly, merely out of tradition. And then I found that G.K. Chesterton had already thought of this. “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” If we truly are all the same, why couldn’t the answer that Pascal or Aquinas or Luther or any other of the millions of thinkers throughout Christian history had found be the same one to satisfy my own yearning?

But what about those who hadn’t accepted this explanation? One of the most condemning objections to Christianity from its inception has been the “problem of pain,” as C.S. Lewis described it. We’ve all asked these questions. If there is a God, why is there so much suffering in the world? How could a truly good God allow such horrendous things to happen?

Lewis contends that for God to create a world in which there is both freedom and the absence of suffering would be inherently contradictory. “It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets with an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

Feodor Dostoevsky explored this theme in The Brothers Karamazov. One character, Ivan, imagines Jesus returning to earth in Spain during the Inquisition. There, the Grand Inquisitor accuses Christ of allowing suffering by refusing to dominate humans. He refused to cajole belief by enticing followers with stones turned to bread. He refused to force belief by throwing himself off of the temple. He refused to demand belief by assuming control of the kingdoms of the world through bowing down. “Instead of taking possession of men’s freedom, Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings forever. Thou didst desire man’s free love, that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide.”

Do you know what these works tasted like? They retained the flavor of another book I had read, one that had told me that behind all these words, there was the Word. There is little that has become more true to me than that I must work out my own salvation with fear and trembling. I want to understand what I believe, that I may indeed always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks me, a reason for the hope that I have.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Break is over, but memories of the hot cross buns remain.

Easter may have been especially early this year, but for me it was timed perfectly. It was nice to have five days during which not a single one of my efforts was graded. Well, except for the homework I had to do.

I hung around the house for a couple of days before Angelica and I went up the hill Friday night to visit the Tates at camp. We talked, ate Sarah's delicious omelettes and banana bread, and went on an Easter egg hunt. It was pretty much perfect.

Saturday afternoon Angelica and I took out the tandem bike my dad picked up off of craigslist. We grabbed a smoothie, then pedalled through the citrus orchards, where we surreptitiously snatched an orange. Uncomfortably appropriate in light of my recent foray through Augustine (he has a pivotal pear orchard experience), but irresistable. All that wasted fruit just lying on the ground . . . but I won't bore you with my justifications.

Easter Sunday we left bright and early for church.

We shared some muffins in the coffee shop upstairs before the service began.

Everyone looked so nice in their Sunday best.

We then headed home to prepare the feast. Okay, most of us did—Rachel and I took off on the tandem for a while. We did return some DVD rentals and pick up a newspaper, though. When we got home, the house smelled scrumptious.

We had ham and turkey, German potato salad, green beans and onions, cucumber salad, and hot cross buns.

I learned this week that hot cross buns are a traditional Easter fixture in England, so Angelica decided to try some out. They were magical—yeasty, raisiny, covered in icing. There were some left over at breakfast, but not for long.

After we ate, we did what we seem to do quite often on holiday afternoons with full bellies—we drove out to the Anza property and climbed on rocks. We marvelled at the tiny bursts of wildflowers carpeting the sandy dirt, so pretty it was almost a shame to walk on them, and watched the sunset reflected on the hills.

When we got home, Dad's apple pie awaited us. We finished the night with his homemade kettle corn and the season of "The Office" that the Tates loaned us. And now it's time to go back to school. Six more weeks . . .

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

All that Rhetoric training paid off for him.

My one lit prof may drive me crazy (I woke up in the middle of the night last week and realized I was thinking in my sleep about how poorly I did on her midterm), but that she had us read Augustine's Confessions partially redeems her. The arguments that he presents are breathtaking. Here, he asserts that evil is merely the absence of good:

“And it became clear to me that corruptible things are good: if they were supremely good they could not be corrupted, but also if they were not good at all they could not be corrupted: if they were supremely good they would be incorruptible, if they were in no way good there would be nothing in them that might corrupt. For corruption damages; and unless it diminished goodness, it would not damage. Thus either corruption does no damage, which is impossible or—and this is the certain proof of it—all things that are corrupted are deprived of some goodness. But if they were deprived of all goodness, they would be totally without being. For if they might still be and yet could no longer be corrupted, they would be better than in their first state, because they would abide henceforth incorruptibly. What could be more monstrous than to say that things could be made better by losing all their goodness? If they were deprived of all goodness, they would be altogether nothing: therefore as long as they are, they are good.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On killing birds with stones, and wanting to wring the neck of another one.

Last week my Lit 201 class went to the La Jolla Playhouse at UCSD to see a reinterpretation of one of the obscure Greek plays we've read this semester. I wrote an analysis for extra credit, and I thought I might as well get a newspaper story credit out of it too.

I almost didn't get there, though. My prof told us she'd arranged for a school shuttle to pick us up at 6:15 pm, but at 6:30 there was still nothing of the sort in sight. Twenty or thirty of us were milling around, so I called public safety, who had no idea what was going on and told me they'd "look into it." One of the girls standing in the group mentioned she had the prof's number but didn't want to call her ("I'll call her if it doesn't show up by 6:45"), so I asked her for it. It was her home phone, so I got her cell from her son and left her a message.

Having paid $19 for my ticket and committed to writing the review, incensed at the thought of missing the play because of some ridiculous institutional breakdown in communication, I watched people peeling off of our group to get rides with those who had cars. I cast about for one myself and found a fellow freshman, a commuter student. At 7, we circled the campus and were about to leave, when we spotted the bus at last. Just then, my phone rang with my prof's return call. "They thought they were supposed to show up at 7:15," she said. "They only came because you called." I thanked her and got on the bus.

We made it just as the ushers were ringing the bells. The rest of the night went smoothly and the play was nothing if not entertaining. I can't confirm it, excellent journalist though I may be, but I heard later that my prof had written down "7:15" as the shuttle's arrival time.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

And just like that, my whole world opened up. Luckily, the skies didn't.

Saturday was the first time I felt like I actually live in San Diego. Emphasis on the living. Searching for fresh and breathless, I cycled a 12-mile circuit to the Embarcadero and back.

I coasted down familiar Cañon St. to Rosecrans, and then crossed over to N. Harbor Dr, which cradles the bay. An extensive length of boardwalks stretches obligingly next to the water, creating a scenic path to ride without concern for motorists.

I pedaled past the Star of India and Anthony's Fish Grotto, stopping to admire the installation art that lines the waterfront.

I got as far as the USS Midway before a few scattered raindrops fluttered out of the heavy clouds overhead. I decided to turn back homeward. The rain continued to threaten, but never followed through. As I approached Cañon again, I spotted a bread and pastry shop I'd always wanted to try, and took advantage of the extra hour daylight saving time had given me.

That was a moment of unmitigated pleasure: a long bike ride behind me, halfway through a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip roll, halfway through a text message conversation with my dad, and halfway through St. Augustine's Confessions, whose amazingness not even my hated professor's compulsion can diminish.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The good things that have happened this week.

Rather than focusing on the three midterms, the chapter test, the massive essay project, and how I derive much of my sense of self-worth from my academic performance (because really, who wants to hear about that?), I decided to dwell on the good of this awkward week sandwiched between our spring and Easter breaks.

In brief:

—My new phone gets acceptable reception all over campus, and now that we have a text-messaging plan, I can text all of the time. So go ahead and call or text me; chances are I will get your voicemail notification sooner than the five hours later I've been accustomed to!

—My dad brought my bike down Wednesday night and we went to Filippi's and ice cream in Pacific Beach. I really appreciated the one-on-one time, and driving around downtown, and eating a meal outside of the caf . . .

—The leftover pizza made a great dinner the next night, before I went out for frozen yogurt with the newspaper staff. It was a belated birthday celebration for me that had been pre-empted by the pre-spring break workload deluge. We drove out to the famed Yogurt Express where, if you bring the Internet coupon, your total comes out to about $1.50 for a loaded cup of self-served yogurt and toppings.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Because it's true—I really don't have anything better to do than to make stuff and take pictures of it.

Since I'm on a strict "don't do anything strenuous" plan, I decided to do something productive. So, for the past few days, I've been trying to conquer the beast that is the sewing machine. I haven't quite mastered it yet, but I think we do have a healthy respect for each other now.

I started out with a sleep mask. It's kind of crude, but it works. It should make a comforting addition to dorm life. Note my freshly trimmed bangs and poor, swollen left cheek (apparently Dr. Pulsipher had to dig deeper than he thought on that side).

Then, after trolling Internet craft sites (my favorites:,,, I became enamored with the idea of a traveling tea holder and decided to use my scrap fabric to attempt it.

I guess it's relatively practical. The school caf has a hot water spout, but only generic black tea bags, so I can see myself packing some of the mango or cranberry I've got stashed in my room.

Finally, I got ambitious and tried for a shoulder bag. It took me the better part of the day, but at least I didn't have to think about my mouth too much.

So it's not like this week has been a total waste, I think. I wish I could figure out how to adjust the tension on the sewing machine, though. That purse could use some serious topstitching. . .

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Yes, yes, they took the teeth out, but I'm sure they left the wisdom in.

So I had my two lower wisdom teeth out on Monday. Fun way to spend spring break, I know. The surgery itself wasn't so bad. The worst part was waiting for the doctor to find a vein in my arm—painful. The best part was the nitrous oxide they gave me to relax. I talked to someone last week who said he'd purposely fought the sleepiness, just to see how long he could resist it, but I found myself grasping for unconsciousness. The sooner I could be blissfully unaware, the better. I'd never actually been put completely under before, and I was happy to find that it really was all over in an instant.

Afterwards, of course, was a different story. The worst part of that was regaining sensation in my mouth, reclaiming that rubbery, foreign skin as my own in tingly increments. The best part was the new frozen yogurt place we found in San Jacinto. I didn't realize how accustomed I am to living in a city where there's one of everything within five miles of anywhere. I'd despaired of finding decent frozen yogurt after we tried a disappointing Golden Spoon in Wildomar that morning, but on the way to pick up Angelica from MSJC, we spotted a promising little place. Free samples, self-serve stations, toppings galore, paying by the ounce—that's good yogurt.

I've been on a mushy, liquidy diet since then. I haven't completely despaired yet, though the homemade wheat crackers, barley soup, and barbecued chicken that have wafted out of our kitchen in the last twenty-four hours have probably elicited as much saliva from me as the numb lower jaw did. I've been getting creative. As Calvin S. Brown said in Music and Literature, "A strict formal pattern is likely to be hindrance to a minor craftsman, but a stimulation to genius." Brown may have been speaking of Bach's adherence to the fugue form, but I feel like his sentiment has application here as well.

Post-teeth extraction cream of wheat

  • 1 cup water
  • splash of vanilla extract
  • dash of salt
  • poof of cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp. hot wheat cereal
  • sugar to taste

    Boil water, vanilla, salt, and cocoa powder. Slowly stir in wheat and simmer, stirring, until thickened, about two minutes. Sprinkle sugar on top and serve with milk.

Better-than-canned tomato soup

  • 2 cups water
  • glop of roasted garlic tomato sauce
  • plop of juice from jar of olives
  • garlic salt

    Boil, then serve with cold water to cool it sufficiently for a sensitive mouth.

Peanut butter and mashed bananas have also been figuring prominently in my meals. I can't wait until I can chew again. I sat down to eat my cream of wheat with this month's National Geographic this morning, and found nothing less than a feature on wisdom teeth to accompany me. According to the article, most doctors recommend a "wait and see" approach. Mine didn't—even though my referral was only for the bottom two, he would have taken out all four. As there was no need, we decided against it. I have a feeling none of them would have ever given me trouble, and the uppers least of all.

Since I haven't been able to do much else, I've been immersed in homework. I pounded out an 1100-word essay on the intersection between music and literature (hence the Brown quote above), wrote a response to the first half of Ovid's Metamorphoses, and slogged through some Spanish. I got my hair trimmed and my eyebrows done today, and I'd be looking pretty good if it weren't for the swollen cheeks. Thank goodness for vicodin . . .

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A speaking engagement.

For my first day of spring break, I went right back to college. Not to my college, of course, but to UC Irvine, to see Angelica present her research paper on George Catlin.

She's been taking courses at Mt. San Jacinto College even though she's still in high school, and last semester her history professor was so impressed with her work that he insisted she enroll in the college's honor program.

He also encouraged her to sign up for this annual symposium, to read the final project she completed for his class.

She did a superb job, as you can see in the clip above.

Catlin was an advocate for Native Americans during the 1800s. He traveled throughout the West, sketching and painting the Indian ways of life, determined to accurately preserve them before westward expansion obliterated them.

The host of the program lauded the day's participants as California's cream of the community college crop. I'll bet Angelica was the only sixteen-year-old in the group. Her abstract will be published in an upcoming UC compilation.