the ebb and tide of faith

It’s Good Friday again. This has got me thinking about the role that my Catholic faith has played in my life over the years.

The practice of my faith has always been there with since about the age of 13 — I say 13 because that was about the age when I was confirmed. Part of the preparation for the Catholic sacrament of confirmation seems to involve going on some kind of religious retreat. In my case, it involved spending a weekend at a youth center on the south side of the small city where I grew up. The center was run by a priest who was a real character — he shared the place with two LARGE Irish wolf hounds, and liked to wake everyone up in the morning by playing Spike Jones records. Anyway, I can recall meeting with everyone else on retreat in the center chapel and praying together. I’ve had several points in my life where I’ve felt a genuine connection with the divine… this was the first of them.

After that, I spent much of my teens being a good practicing Catholic. I went to confession three times a year, to Mass on Sundays and holidays (including Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil — the “big three”), served as an altar boy and sang in the Church choir, and taking on large helpings of Catholic guilt at regular intervals. Church for me at that time felt like participating in a community and identifying myself with a community of people. I

That changed a bit when I finally went away to college. I was busy studying a great deal of that time, and Mass never seemed to be a huge priority. One thing that was unique about my practice of my faith in those years: the parish for the University I attended knew how to do a good folk mass, strumming guitars and everything. I don’t know quite how they did it… maybe it was all the young college students singing along. It just seemed to make sense. Folk masses have rarely made sense to me since.

After that, the practice of my faith lapsed for a couple years, until I got involved with the Newman Society at my graduate school. That signalled several more years of heavy involvement in a Christian community, but more to be involved with a group of like-minded people. Perhaps that is an inevitable part of the growth of faith — I cannot see the world with the purity or passion of an adolescent. I eventually became so engrossed in the workings of the Newman Society that it dimished the practice of my faith. I could not attend Mass without thinking of the petty struggles that were going on among the players there.

My time since then has been marked another ebb of faith. Be it the difficulty of completing a dissertation, or finding a job and setting up a new life, but I haven’t been going to church much. I still pray often as I always have, but, I haven’t been making much outward effort to practice my faith.

I think that perhaps that is changing. Girlfriend S. is also a Catholic in a similar circumstance, and we see the mutual exercise of our shared faith as a way to bring us both back to where we want to go.

a personal ad… then and now

As some of my prior entries seem to hint, I have been known in the past to find a date or two (or five, or 12, or 15) on the Net over the last decade or so. In that time, I’ve seen my prediction that “the Net will be to the 90’s [and the new millenium] what singles bars were to the 70’s” largely come true. I’ve also seen the population of women posting ads on the Net grow from three 22 year old bisexual college coeds who typed IN ALL CAPS (two of whom were actually 15 year old guys who lived in their parents’ basements) to a respectable and interesting cross section of society.

As an example, I now reproduce the following excerpt from a personal ad shown to me by a friend on the East Coast (the ad was accompanied by a professional-looking black and white head shot of an attractive woman):

I am: Biracial, half White French Canadian half Black American, world citizen, healthy, in great shape, and happy! – I: Live in Manhattan and have lived and been educated abroad in London, Paris, Brussels and Scandinavia, Bahamas. Write music and sing, signed to a record label, have toured as background singer with major artists. Education: Le Cordon Bleu Paris Ecole and owner of a successful culinary company. I love my life and I am quite confident. My family & friends are paramount. I adore: people with healthy self-confidence whom are authentic & genuine. I’m fascinated by: Science, Physics, NLP, languages,The Financial Times, people with more than 4 words in their vocabulary. (does not include: OK, like, dude or totally) I love: Traveling abroad-le cite du Paris, the Islands, Relais & Chateaux hotels & resto’s, flying the Concord,SOHO, scuba & sailing, dining out, the Obake Anthurium flower, brunch in NYC, films, all animals, laughing out loud,the ocean. Music I dig: the Verve remix; John Mayer, French artists, neo-soul, urban alternative, acid jazz bossa & hip-hop, industrial & electronica. I am not amused and recoil in horror: Arrogance, pretentious, uncultured or unkind people, rudeness, vulgarity, drama, baggage, and ESPECIALLY…lima beans (yuk)!

I do like tall men (5’11 and up) Self-confident, razor sharp wit, erudite, intelligence, well travelled a major must! Make me laugh!! Adventurous/worldly, genuinely kind, cool, sexy, have a style that stretches beyond jeans, romantic, classy, yet down to earth, a true individual.. generous, & prosperous. 🙂

This is precisely the sort of thing that one did not see in the world of Net dating 10+ years ago.

At the same time, reading over this ad elicited interesting emotions in me. Would this be the kind of personal ad that I would want to respond to (if I wasn’t seriously involved with Girlfriend S.)? Yes, most definitely. My reactions beyond that vary depending on the person I was in the 90’s and the person I am now.

I believe I would have been intimidated by this woman of obvious accomplishment when I was a younger man. My extensive labors in the halls of academia created a certain insecurity in myself… because while I felt that I was doing something important, I wasn’t doing variety of things that I would like to be doing. Getting an advanced degree is about specialization, almost to the point of tediousness. This ad speaks to me of a personality that is more the generalist that I always endevor to be, but couldn’t at that time. So, I fear that I would be put off by it… because I would ask myself “what could I show this person about myself that would be interesting and complement her life?” It is an interesting statement of who I was at that time that I probably couldn’t think of much.

Now… well, I think there still might be a shadow of my former sense of intimidation. On the whole however, I would be far less afraid because I am much more confident in my interactions with the world, where I am in my life, and where I am headed. At the same time, I think I can more carefully recognize the role that chemistry plays in relationships. If the chemistry is right, anything can happen when you are willing and available to the moment. So, maybe I haven’t been to Brussels, Paris, or the Scandinavian countries and I’m not a cordon bleu… but I have visited Vienna and Edinburgh, and I can hand toss a white pizza like nobody’s business. I’m not so much of a fan of NLP, but I do like languages, physics, science, and non-fiction television. We could at least converse and make it interesting… she and I.

Having that confidence about myself is a good thing. It is a nice feeling.

my job is obscure and cryptic

I sometimes feel frustrated that I can’t talk about the details of what I do for a living with most people, except in the most general terms. Why? The details of my job here at Company O. are obscure and peculiar within the general scheme of things, and the effects of what I do are well-hidden from the public. Just to give you an example, here’s what I did yesterday: I edited the context free grammar describing a Lookahead LR parser to eliminate shift/reduce conflicts that arise while reading the configuration file for a software program that mathematically simulates the workload of one of Company O.’s main products.

See? I can feel your eyes glazing over, from here. No one outside of the computer industry knows or wants to know what that means. A few people are probably even afraid of me for even mentioning it — as if understanding what Backus-Naur Form or Chomsky Normal Form or Deterministic Finite Automata somehow makes me incapable of sitting down, drinking a beer, and talking about how the war in Iraq is causing the needless destruction of historic antiquities, how I’m glad that Pamela Anderson no longer seems to be on television much, or the great start that the local baseball team is having.

Some people do not have this problem. Girlfriend S. works with kids all day. Everyone understands kids. So, when I hear from her every night, she can tell me in exhausting detail about exactly what happened during her day… who did what to whom, which parents she had to deal with, which parents she doesn’t want to deal with, and so on. When she gets around to asking about my day, I can’t say “well, I solved fourteen shift/reduce conflicts that were preventing the compilation of my language parser because I was using left recursion instead of right recursion” or “I discovered that the installation on our test cluster was failing because of a bug in the NFS automounter; it worked fine after I recompiled the module with an -O1 optimization flag instead of the usual -O2 flag.” Nope. Saying like that has the implicit expectation that it will somehow be understood. Only other members of the geek priesthood understand stuff like that, and while Girlfriend S. is many things, a geek she is not. So, I’m stuck telling Girlfriend S. “well, things went fine today.”

I also think that there’s little point writing about my job here. Other diaries I read are by artists, writers, and aspiring actors. Those are jobs I can in some way relate to because even though I don’t do them for a living, I’ve written a 145 page dissertation, studied music for many years, and I used to think that finger painting was WAY cool back in grade school. I’m sure other people can relate to that as well. Me, I think my diary is pre-determined to be a more meditative collection of essays… rather than any kind of day to day document of my working life, simply because most people wouldn’t understand what I do, even if I told them.

oh, I could have been on the Springer show

I was recently happened upon the story of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century as an “off topic” link in another web log I read. As I re-lived his horrible adventure of identity theft, lies, and whistleblowing, I was reminded of a misadventure in my own life that occurred about 10 years ago that I will recount for you now.

The thing to remember about the following story is that I was an incredibly mature, responsible individual at 25 who had the self-esteem to say “no” to a beautiful woman who showed all the signs of eventually ending up on the Jerry Springer show. Yeah, right. Sometimes, I almost believe it too.

This is a tale about K. I met K. online , at the local site. I’d just broken up with my girlfriend of about a year, and was looking to bounce back fast, by meeting someone who was all the things that my girlfriend wasn’t but I thought she should be. I won’t go into the exact list of things that appeared there, but, remember that I was an incredibly mature, responsible individual at 25, and you can be sure that they were really important. Things like, you know, a certain hair color. Or having a woman on your arm that was so amazingly good looking that other men would envy you and drool when she walked into a room with you. Mature things like that.

K. turned out to be many things. She was a formidable flirt, and I quickly felt a sense of chemistry when I communicated with her online. That flirting online turned into flirting over the phone, and eventually flirting in person, following a pattern that was rather new then, but old and familiar now. She also turned out to be physically gorgeous, half Asian and half European, fit, curvaceous, and possessing a “rock video girl” fashion sense that included some interesting choices in lingerie. She was, in short, just the sort of woman that an incredibly mature, responsible, self-confident 25 year old on the rebound was looking for in a soul mate who possessed a long list of profound, mature charactistics. Yes, she seemed to be a perfect fit.

After we had been out a couple times, a few wrinkles began to appear that lent a certain sense of drama to our relationship. Like the night I called her and discovered that she was hiding in her apartment with the lights off, terrified, because her “ex” was stalking her. Her “ex”, you say? Well, yes, she was also recently out of a relationship and the guy in question did not seem to be reacting well to the split. She was afraid that he was going through her garbage, coming to her apartment while she wasn’t there (he evidently still had keys that he hadn’t returned), and hitting *69 on her phone to see who she was calling. She was talking about how the restraining order she had out on him was not working. Now, being an incredibly mature, responsible 25 year old on the rebound dealing with a woman who could have tried out to be a Playboy Playmate, I decided not to treat these facts as warning signs. NOOOOOOO…. I was going to be her Knight on the white horse and come to her rescue by helping her through these difficulties. She was going to just love me all the more for being the person she needed to lean on during tough times, right?

Things got decidedly more interesting from there. Her “ex” called me. I have the feeling that he hit *69 on the phone, because he had no idea who I was or how I knew K. Our conversation was rather curt. He wanted to know who I was. He wanted to know why I was calling her. He informed me that he was married to K. and he was trying to locate her. Now being an incredibly mature, responsible 25 year old with a deeply developed intuition regarding character, I didn’t believe him when he said that they were married. After all, K. and her friend M. had laughed off the notion that they were actually married, didn’t they? Or maybe they just remained painfully silent while I stammered “can you believe that he told me that you were married? can you believe it?” After all, K. had told me that her “ex” would say anything to control her relationships with other people.

K. and I stopped seeing each other a few weeks after that. She suddenly announced that “she was moving in with another man.” I was dumbfounded. Another man? I thought she was only dating me. I was crushed.

K. and I kept in touch online though. I suppose that I was still hoping that things would work out between us somehow. I also called occasionally and things seemed pleasant enough. I eventually became hopeful.

Any hopes I had were irrevocably dashed one night after midnight a couple months after our breakup. I called her for the first time in a few weeks. Her “ex” answered. I quickly but politely ended the call, but he used *69 to call me back. He said he remembered talking to me. He asked when I’d seen K. last. He repeated that they were married. I asked if she was there. He said no. Again, I politely ended the call, adding that I would appreciate it if he didn’t call again.

Remembering all that talk of a restraining order sometime back, and noting that he was at her place and she wasn’t, I decided to do what any mature, responsible 25 year old would do — call the police. My hope was that if he was stalking her once again, I could at least help establish a paper trail that would detail his activities. So, I called the police department in the nearby town where she lived.

The woman operator at the police station turned out to be rather helpful. Since there was some question about whether or not K. had moved recently (all I had was a phone number at this point) and because she was in no imminent danger, all the police could do was call and inquire after her safety. That call would also have a low priority, and could only made when there was nothing else more important going on. That said, the woman on the other end of the line seemed to have a pretty good idea of who I was talking about based on the first names involved and the fact that a restraining order had been filed. She said she would call me back after they called K.

I called the police at about 9:30pm, and they called me back three and a half hours later at 1am. The news was devestating. K. was ok, and was home, but, she was married to her “ex”. In fact, her “ex” wasn’t even her “ex” — they were undergoing a trial separation when K. and saw each other, but, had decided to reconcile. I think I slept for about 2 hours that night.

I called K. one more time (from a pay phone) in the middle of the morning when her husband was likely not to be home. She explained that she and her husband were back together but she felt that they should divorce. She said it was complicated. She said she was sorry. I said that I didn’t really see much point in even remaining friends if she couldn’t be honest about something as important as say… being married. I hung up the phone like any mature, incredibly responsible 25 year old now doubly on the rebound.

After that, I took about six months to a year off from dating. I used some of the time to figure out what exactly went wrong. I also tried to straighten out some things with my “ex” — the woman I’d been seeing for a year before I met K. I used the time to put some things together about K.; how she was a great flirt because it disarmed attempts to talk more seriously and honestly about what she really felt, how she had moved from a household with a domineering father to one with a domineering husband who saw her as a trophy, and how she really needed therapy to break up some of these patterns in her life.

That experience was when my dating life hit bottom. True, she was probably the most physically attractive woman I ever dated for a significant period of time… but she was also one of the most troubled women I’ve ever known. Thankfully, she is one of the reasons why I love and treasure my current girlfriend. S. fits into my life in all the ways that K. never could… and S. makes me very happy.

And K., if you’re out there, I hope you finally found some happiness. You deserve it.

will “J. Lo” come to mean “J. Loser at the box office”?

I came upon a happy little article on the MSN home page this morning when I started my computer. Among the pleasant tidbits of entertainment gossip I found within, there were the following:

The scoop on the latest, name-changing film from Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck is that in addition to having an identity crisis, it’s just plain bad. Tough Love has had its name changed from Gigli, had its release date pushed back four or five times and had a $5 million rewrite after test audiences were left unimpressed. In fact, the original ending had Ben’s character dying, but since audiences hated that, the studio had to re-shoot a new ending.

A quick review of the plot and it’s easy to see why folks have freezer burn over this puppy. In a nutshell, Ben plays a lowlife thug named Gigli who kidnaps the mentally retarded brother of a federal prosecutor to save his mobster boss from incarceration. Staked-out in his apartment with his kidnapee, Gigli’s soon joined by Ricki (Lopez), a gorgeous lesbian gangster who’s sent in to assist. But as time goes by (and your life force drained from you) — his feelings for Ricki grow, (and she of course, falls for him) and then they become concerned for their prisoner… blah, blah, blah.

Some say the fact that J.Lo and Ben met on set may be the only positive thing to come out of filming, while others claim that too is a sham. I’m betting both go straight to video. But wait, there’s more! Reports are also coming in that Ben and Jen’s romantic chemistry is zero onscreen. Nada. Zippity-doo-dud. According to the National Enquirer, producers of their other new flick Jersey Girl are desperately rewriting love scenes because test audiences don’t get why their characters are even attracted to each other! Price tag for re-shoots? A hefty $3 million. The cost of having Ben and Jen turn up the chemistry meter? Priceless.

What the < long string of explitives deleted > was going through the mind of the movie executives who gave the “green light” to these two projects? Had they just switched to a better grade of cocaine? Or were they just getting into a little too into this dictatorial mentality that seems to have taken over the entertainment cartels these days (the apparent theory that unlike horses, you can lead the public to water and they will ALWAYS drink… no matter how awful it tastes)? Or had they just yet again mistaken fascination with personal celebrity for the ability to make bank at the box office?

Well, since the Ben and J. Lo marquee combination is being used to sell crap about lowlifes, lesbian gangsters, and retarded children of prosecutors, I think I’ll try to cash in by submitting a few screenplay ideas of my own:

  • Okay, my first thought is for an updated version of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Ben could play a bald, impotent trance club DJ and J. Lo could play a bi-sexual prostitute who is secretly in love with him. Ice-T could have a cameo as her pimp. They hook up with a grifter/heroine junkie played by Brad Pitt and head down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. While there, J. Lo could have an affair with a Bourbon Street lesbian stripper who gets killed by racist homophobes, played by Halle Berry.

No, wait. That has too much titillation potential. They could get Paul Verhoeven (of Basic Instinct and Showgirls fame) to direct. It might actually work. Ok, I’ll have to try again.

  • How about Ben and J. Lo doing a period costume piece… something like Shakespeare perhaps. That’s it… Ben and J. Lo could do a race-reversed version of Othello. Ben could play Othello, and J. Lo could be Desdamona. John Leguizamo could play Iago.

Ugh. That’s still not bad enough. Ben might actually be ok in a period costume epic; after all, he was pretty good in the supporting role in Shakespeare In Love. If not, they could update the time and location of the play to be Prohibition Era gang war in the Bronx. That would put J. Lo in her element.

  • Aha! A musical version of Cinderella! J. Lo could play Cinderella, and Ben would be the Prince. The members of “Destiny’s Child” could play a trio of evil stepsisters, and Diana Ross could play the evil Stepmother. Ving Rhames could play against type, and become J. Lo’s fairy Godfather… or maybe Queen Latifah could work if Ving wasn’t available. Jah Rule could produce the soundtrack!

Ouch. That would probably make diddley squat at the box office, but the soundtrack could probably sell millions.People would make money. That kills that idea then.

You know, coming up with utterly worthless plot ideas is harder than I thought. People in Hollywood have to work hard to come up with movie material with absolutely no redeeming value.

  • Eureka! A revisionist history of the Kennedy Assassination. Ben could play Lee Harvey Oswald and J. Lo could play his secret mistress — a Mexican aristocrat’s daughter that he met on one of his trips south of the Border. After witnessing the assassination from the Book Depository, Ben and J. Lo must flee Dallas to escape the wrath of the killers from the Grassy Knoll, whom he can identify, while also avoiding capture by the U.S. Government.

Oh yeah… that’s it. Gotta starting working up a treatment. That one’s gonna sell big down in L.A.

Could you type this for me?

After missing it in theaters and seeing the spirited ads for the home video release, I rented the movie The Secretary with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader on DVD the other night. For those who aren’t familiar with the plot, here’s a short summary:

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Lee, a woman recently released from a treatment center for practicing self-mutilation since her early teens. Once home, she decides to escape the torture of dealing with her alcoholic father and child-like, over-protective mother by becoming a secretary and getting a job. She eventually gets a job in the office of Mr. Grey, played by James Spader. Things begin platonically enough, but, eventually Mr. Grey learns of her love of self-mutilation and directs that passion for pain as well as Lee’s need for structure and discipline toward sexual dominance & submission. Soon, Lee comes to enjoy this new relationship with her boss, grows up a little because of it, and falls in love. Mr. Grey, suddenly unsure of this new love in his life, first sends Lee away and forces Lee to demonstrate the strength of her love and belief in him.

There were several things I liked about this movie. Most of important is the honesty and tenderness in the plot and the portrayal. It deals with subjects in a sensitive, un-sensational fashion that are often played with a misguided sense of comedy (see the movie adaptation of Anne Rice’s Exit To Eden) or lurid thrills (Madonna’s Body of Evidence being one of a series of bad erotic thrillers in the Basic Instinct mold that use different forms of sexual expression for cheap kicks) in order to make them palatable to sexually conservative middle America. This is in no small part due to Mr. Spader’s and Ms. Gyllenhaal’s performances, that are honest and lack affectation. It is also due to the fact that there is really very little nudity in the film and chooses to explore its subject matter more psychologically than it does graphically (think of it as the “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” of BDSM movies.)

With that said, the film does have a few flaws. Both characters are really a mess. Lee is portrayed as psychologically unbalanced, and, Mr. Grey is… well… there is no real exploration of his past, the reasons for his attraction to Lee, or the roots of his unusual behavior. This lends itself to the idea people who pursue this lifestyle must be mentally defective in some way. I also found the resolution of the film somehow lacking… yes, Lee ends up happy, but, I was unsure as to exactly how she had grown.

Beyond all this commentary about the film, however, I found myself wondering about my attraction to this film in the first place. I guess I’ve always been attracted to mature and honest treatments of mature subject matter. It is because I think that I cannot be the person I am and taking the points of view that I do, without at least thinking about other viewpoints.

I also think that Hollywood’s portrayal of relationships has become too, well… formulaic. As with the movie Bound, this movie is merely a twist on an old theme. Yet in taking the time to deal with that twist, the film makers and performers have put some thought and energy into its portrayal. That makes it different from many films I’ve seen.

something smells fishy, and it’s not my tuchis

I was planning on writing out some thoughts related to the film The Secretary starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, but, an article in today’s New York Times has diverted my muse in a very different direction. My comments on The Secretary will appear here tomorrow.

Let me preface the following rant with a few words about my political leanings: I’m a rather moderate Democrat with Libertarian leanings. To me, this means that if a politician starts screaming about getting Government out of people’s lives, I say to him let us be serious about doing it for EVERYONE. Across the board. I mean it. Let’s not just mean this for “white, heterosexual, southern, fundamentalist Baptist capitalists” or anyone else who thinks the “right” way. Let’s include everyone living in this country.

Given this stance, I was naturally rather alarmed to learn in a New York Times article entitled “Republicans Want Terror Law Made Permanent” that Senator Orin Hatch of Utah wishes to remove the amendments to the 2001 U.S.A. Patriot Act limiting the powers granted to the Justice Department until the year 2005. This would permanently relax some of the requirements that must be met in order for the Government to know what you’ve been doing on the phone, in the mail, or online, and it would permamently expand the information that the Government could find out about what you’ve been doing online.

So what is the harm in this, you ask? Well, the amount of harm is predicated on the fairness of the Government officials using these powers, and the history of the United States Justice Department to impartially enforce the law makes me suspicious. Certainly, the fact that men like J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon were able to initiate servaillance on politicians, media figures, and political oppponents for years (in some cases with the intent of advancing a political or social agenda) without question is very worrisome. In more recent days, I am VERY dismayed to hear about cases like that of Maher Hawash— a foreign born U.S. citizen who is being held in solitary confinement in a high security Federal prison for 19 days (and counting) without being charged with a crime or being brought before a judge, supposedly to compel “material witness” testimony.

Everything I have read to date suggests that the reason we had the 9/11 attacks was because the Government wasn’t “on the ball”, not because they lacked sufficient powers to watch the terrorists involved (though I’m open to other ideas if good analysis is put before me.) The argument for extending those powers made at the time was that a state of “emergency” existed and “special powers” were needed. Now some seek to remove the “special” from “special powers”. That, my friends, is a political agenda, not a response to extraordinary events. In my view, it’s an agenda that stinks.