Monday, January 25, 2010


No monster better encapsulates the fears of the twenty-first century than the zombie. We're not afraid of the half-animal half-man that preys on us from the impenetrable forest, otherwise we'd have 'Werewolf Week' on the Discovery channel. Vampires too are no longer the foreign nocturnal monsters who seduce and steal our women away, now they sparkle, take our daughters to prom and marry them before 'biting' them and having a family. These classic monsters don't scare us anymore, but the zombie does.

In the world in which we live, where swine flu breaks out and takes over the world, the idea of plague still scares us. We see the fruits of extremism, where suicide bombers mindlessly seek destruction. Consumerism is rampant, people sell and are sold 'stuff' in an effort to find happiness. Things move so fast that people don't have time to stop and think where this is all going. In our post-God society we see humanity as just an animal, a documented lump of interconnected biology, a brain whose inter-workings are no longer a mystery, we're nothing more than evolutionary instinct. We're mastered by our DNA, scientifically destined for death and decay, humans are not greater than the sum of their parts. Never has man's opinion of himself been smaller than in our age and it scares us deeply. Hence the rise of the zombie's popularity; the zombie is a perfect metaphor for our twenty-first century fears.

The philosopher Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. The truth is that living the 'unexamined life' in a kind of non-living. If we go through life a slave to our desires but never consider ourselves or this life and rise above the din of human routine, then we are a kind of zombie. We can change though. We can master our basest desires rather than being mastered by them. I love zombies because they remind me of what not to be. Man has a spirit, a part of himself that rises above the material plane. I believe firmly in what Shakespeare wrote about mankind:
“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!”
Everyone has the potential to be more than just a zombie.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Beatles and Me

I remember the first die-hard Beatles fan I ever met. Her name was Merisa. She was a really sweet girl who I met at a summer camp at BYU. We met again later when I attended BYU after high school. Merisa was a talented vocalist and she loved music. She would send me emails of song lyrics. I thought they were poems until she sent me a line I recognized from a song. “They paved paradise and put in a parking lot.” A lot of these songs were Beatles songs and she talked a lot about how much she loved them.

It was an odd thing for me; the Beatles were a band long before my time. I was into the current bands of the time. Smashing Pumpkins, The Cranberries, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and U2 were the bands I knew and loved. In fact everyone around me loved those bands too. To me Merisa was this strange anomaly, a woman out of time, like a person at a J.K. Rawlings book signing raving about how great Chaucer is.

I asked Merisa why she was such a fan of the Beatles. She told me that her parents played them all the time and they would sing along as a family. She had a very musical family. My Mother says she loved the Beatles when she was a young girl. Despite that I didn’t grow up listening to the Beatles as a child. It really didn’t bother me; I didn’t know that I was missing out on anything at the time.

There was only one time I can remember feeling like I was missing out on the Beatles experience growing up. It was in high school, me and my friends were driving off campus for lunch. We’d all piled into Natalie’s boat of a beater car, Doug, Natalie, Jodie, myself and others. The song Yellow Submarine came on the radio and instantly everyone in the car cheered. Everyone in the car sang along with the song at the top of their lungs and swayed back and forth in time to the music. They were all so happy, except for me. I didn’t know the words; in fact this was the first time I’d ever heard the song before. As a high school student I was amply skilled in fitting in, I swayed with the crowd in the back seat and mouthed words but I felt left out

With that experience forgotten I didn’t think of the Beatles again until I met Merisa. We became good friends. She had this playful innocence about her that I really liked. She wrote me on my mission but I lost touch with her towards the end of my time away. I didn’t think about Merisa or the Beatles until one profound experience.

When I got back from my mission I was busy trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. As I was exploring the opportunities available on campus I found a ‘Study Abroad’ offer. It was a program that sent college students to foreign countries for a certain period of time to study learning the culture and the language of the place. At least two of my siblings had done study abroad in Europe and enjoyed it so I was interested. BYU had just expanded their program to include a program that took place in Saint Petersburg, Russia. I applied to get into the program, I only had a semester of Russian language at the University but I told them that I had taken three years of Russian in high school. They accepted me despite the fact that I wasn’t qualified for the program, probably because the program was new and they had open seats available.

Academically I was pretty lost on that whole trip, but I loved what I saw of Russia. The language classes were far too advanced for me and I pretty much failed the academic part of the program. What I got out of the trip was mainly the museums and the cultural sights of Russia. The only thing that I remember from the class part of the program was when they had a history teacher from the local university come to teach us.

He gave us a one day crash course on Russia’s history, hitting all the highlights. The fact that he taught us in English isn’t the only reason that I remember his lesson so well. Russia’s history is fascinating and I would encourage anyone to look into it. The thing I remember most fondly about the lesson was his insight into modern Russian events. I’ll never forget when we asked him about the fall of communism. He told us the moment he personally realized that communism wouldn’t work was the day he first heard the Beatles.

Immediately I was in disbelief. How does someone who was indoctrinated since birth listen to a couple guys beat on instruments for a few minutes then suddenly realize that his entire system of government is flawed? Was this guy nuts? He went on to explain that according to Russian communism, Western capitalistic society was the enemy. They believed that capitalism was a dead, the western world still clinging to the past, and that communism was the inevitable destiny of the human race. When he heard the Beatles he couldn’t believe that something so creative and wonderful could have come out of a society that was supposedly so evil.

That was the highest and most intellectualized praise I had ever heard given to the Beatles. That very day I went out to the marketplace on the outskirts of St. Petersburg and bought my first collection of Beatles music. I got to the apartment of the family I was being boarded at and I sat and listened to the music. It was wonderful. This music was so playful, so innocent and so emotional. I was impressed. It reminded of Merisa, a person who was clearly shaped by the music she loved.

Since then I profess my love for the Beatles whenever they come up. Years later I still love to hear their songs and I play Beatles songs for my son and daughter whenever I get the chance. A little while ago I went to my friend Joe’s Beatles Rock Band party and I was reminded of my experience with the Beatles. As I sat with a crowd of friends, we laughed and cheered, singing “Yellow Submarine” together. We were all so happy. There is something about these songs that speak not just to the generation that first listened to them but to everyone. Plus, this time I knew the words.

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Year's Resolution: Conquering the Unread Bookcase

Since I started writing I've been very concerned with the books I'm reading. To be more specific, I'm concerned with the books I'm not reading. Over the years I've collected quite a few books that I've been planning to read but haven't gotten around to yet. Here's a picture of my bookcase:

I'd say that about 10% of those books are actually read, the rest are just sitting there collecting dust. I've determined that before I spend anymore money amassing a larger library of unread books I'm going to read through all the books in my collection that I haven't read yet. Here are the ground rules for this project:
  • Have no more than three books going at one time, currently I have more than that going but once I finish some of those I'll maintain that narrow focus of only reading three books (1 Classic Literature, 1 Contemporary Fiction and 1 Non-fiction book).
  • I will not spend any of my own money on new books. If I am given a book as a gift or given a gift card or store credit that I use for purchasing a book it will immediately be added to the bookshelf and become a part of this project.
  • If someone lends me a book to read I will read it as a part of this project. Obligation reading is essentially what this project is about (but hey, reading is still reading).
Since I was a child I've always had a special reverence for books. The way they look all lined up on a shelf and the way a new book smells; it all creates this amazing atmosphere. But I'm afraid I neglect the most important aspect of a book, the information inside and how it can teach and transport a person to new people, places and things.

So I've taken the first step, I registered for the website and added all the unread books in my bookcase to my to-read list. This is my New Years resolution, to conquer the unread bookcase!

Updates will be forthcoming!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Old Books

There's something about old books. They're like time capsules. A window to another world where people talk and act just a little bit different than we do. Opening an old book is an adventure, every time.

“If you want to learn something new, read a book by someone from 100 years ago.”

An old book is also a mirror on our own world. The things you hear about a classic story before you read the original is a reflection of the things our world values in that world of art. The modern world sees Don Quixote as a lovably wise dreamer striving for the impossible dream. Read it and see that the Don was actually a laughably pathetic man who read too many fantasy books and was justifiably mocked for his foolish delusions (like a man who plays too much Dungeons & Dragons today and decides to wear chain mail and Renaissance Fair garb everywhere). Read Peter Pan and see that Pan was far more sinister and deadly than the 'spirit of youth' portrayed by Walt Disney. Read Frankenstein and see that the monster was more than a groaning infant-minded child; he could reason, speak eloquently, and sought revenge on his creator.

It's not surprising that ideas and characters are recycled so much in our day. The character Sherlock Holmes inspired the television show 'House M.D.' and a new Hollywood movie named after the character. Bram Stoker's original vision of a vampire has been repeatedly re-imagined from Anne Rice's tales to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Stephanie Meyer's Twilight. Greek Mythology is continually recycled through movies (Clash of the Titans), books (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) and even video games (God of War). I would advise that if you don't read the source material for these ideas and characters you are limiting yourself and missing the entirety of the wonderful worlds that spawned these creations. Worlds that even today we can't stop revisiting.