Sunday, November 18, 2018

Regeneration - My Last Post

This will be my last blog post, at least for the foreseeable future. Why? I'm going to be pretty busy with the new post I just accepted. If you don't care to go the link, I'll be working as Associate Director and Dean of Saint Joseph's College of Marian University. Here's the professional picture of me they shared on the Marian press release.

When I started this site, Saint Joe had just suspended operations and I was asked to join the Phoenix Team, beginning an eighteen month period of radical uncertainty. While it's tempting to say -- not to mention believe! -- this ends my period as a "Forest Dweller," the last eighteen months has taught me this cannot be the case. Instability and uncertainty are a constant, lurking around and under every corner. We do well to make friends with them, to understand them, and embrace the fear they represent. In that spirit, while this move is incredibly exciting, it is also scary.

To think about what this change represents, not just for me personally but also for the work I've been doing at Saint Joseph's College, I want to use a concept from the science-fiction character Doctor Who: regeneration. "The Doctor," a time-traveling alien who uses his expansive knowledge and bravery to do good and battle evil, does not die when fatally sickened or wounded. Rather, he regenerates into an entirely new physical form with a slightly different personality. In the Doctor's most recent regeneration, the character even changed genders, going from male to female. Somewhat paradoxically, though the character is still the Doctor and aspects of his being carry over, he still changes quite radically, making the regeneration also a death of who he was. Sometimes the Doctor becomes attached to his form and the life he's built with it, making it difficult to undergo the regeneration. The most poignant of these is the Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, who visits all his former companions to say goodbye, then, unable to hold back the regeneration process any longer due to the extreme radiation poisoning he's suffered, he goes through the painful changing process in the following scene.

The Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, shares some of this same ambivalence, but puts aside the angst to place his regeneration into broader perspective.

 Some of the Doctor's words in this clip are worth repeating:
           It all just disappears, doesn't it? Everything you are, gone in a moment like
           breath on a mirror...But times change and so must I. We all change, when
           you think about it. We are all different people all through our lives and that's
           okay, that's good, you've got to keep moving - so long as you remember all
           the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day,
           I swear.

These words, and the general concept of regeneration as a metaphor for change in our lives, strike me as incredibly profound. It is time for me, at least metaphorically, to regenerate. There will be aspects of continuity, but also radical change. I'm still working for a Saint Joseph's College, but a Saint Joseph's College that has (by necessity) also regenerated. I'm still going to teach, but I'm moving even further into administration. I'm still going to champion the Core program, but it will have to adapt to a new home and curricular model. Like David Tennant, and I suspect most people facing profound change in their lives, there's a part of me that doesn't want to go. While this new challenge calls for changing my outlook in many ways, I won't forget who I was or where I came from. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear.

In the midst of the tumult of the last eighteen months, maybe the most important thing I learned was that there are whole other worlds and possibilities out there to explore, if you'll only look. We got into archery, hiked the Porcupine Mountains, went kayaking, tried growing tea plants, herded turkeys, wrote for the South Shore Convention and Visitor's Authority, and I got into blogging, which I had not even thought to do previously. After witnessing the announcement of Saint Joe's suspension in the Shen Auditorium on February 3rd, 2017, I looked around at all my students and colleagues who would be cut adrift. What would we all do? In a daze, I wandered up to my office, called Jeanette, and then sat there wondering, "Will I ever get to teach and write again? Will I ever get to be me again?" It turns out there were more ways of being "me" out there than I had ever considered, and I'm all the better for it.

Now, it's time to regenerate into another "me" in this role at Saint Joseph's of Marian. Like the Doctor, who's never quite sure what shape he might take (he's called regeneration "a bit dodgy" and "something of a lottery" on occasion), I'm not completely certain what this transformation holds in store. However, I'm looking forward to finding out. Building an educational experience to serve this population of students is too exciting an adventure to pass up.

Since this will be my last blog post for quite a while, I want to thank all those who took the time to read these pieces. It was fun to do, and I still have many ideas that I never put out there, so if, somehow, someday in the distant future, I get the time to blog again, you just might hear from me.

Until then, and throughout the days in between, take care. It's been a joy talking with you.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Glowing Ball: A (True) Halloween Story

Halloween was my favorite holiday as a child and the chilly autumn nights with the thought of ghosts and goblins roaming the land still hold a fascination for me. Originally, October 31st was celebrated by the Celts as the last day of the year since it signaled the end of harvest time. As ritual Anthropologists have long argued, the in-between (or "liminal") space between two structures -- such as the end of one year and the beginning of the next -- is often accompanied by rites of celebration, fear, and even disorder. Hence, ghosts and goblins. (When Christian groups moved into the Celtic area of Europe, they tried to take the focus away by naming November 1st " All Hallow's Day" and Samhain became "All Hallow's Eve" -- or "Halloween.")

The ritual history aside, this is a time for spooky stories, and there's a great (and true!) one in my family involving my wife Jeanette and her father, Ron. The story begins on a clear, warm summer night in the early 1990s when Jeanette was just a teenager. After her parents had gone to bed, she settled in to watch some late-night television. With the darkness of the room and the lateness of the hour, she felt as though she and the flickering screen were the only ones in the whole house. Even so, Jeanette began to perceive that, despite the seeming emptiness of the house, she was not alone. While the hair on the back of her neck stood and her heartbeat thudded in her chest, she began to see a ball of light hovering in the upper corner of the living room picture window. It was bright white, to the point of having a cold, bluish tint. According to Jeanette, it looked something like this:

A slight glimmer shivered through this sphere of light and it began to move, slowly and deliberately, across the exterior of the window. As Jeanette watched in silent shock, questions rippled through her mind. Could it be a car headlight from the distant road? Could it be someone holding a flashlight, possibly looking for a way in? Instantly, though, she knew the answers to each question: the light was too bright, close, and slow-moving to come from a car, and too high in the air to be a flashlight from a person. Seconds seemed to become an eternity as Jeanette sat on the couch staring at the light until she began to feel as though it was staring at her, almost as if it wanted to tell her something. As difficult as it was to believe, she felt as though the glowing ball was intelligent and purposeful. It wanted something.

Sheer terror finally imbued Jeanette’s limbs with strength and she overcame the paralysis of fear to race headlong back to her room and hide under the covers of her bed. Whether due to fear or disbelief, she said nothing the next morning of her experience, nor did she broach the subject for years afterward. The tale of what she saw that night did not surface until years later, when she was home from college visiting her family. After a night of reminiscing, she suddenly found herself describing the glowing ball, how deliberately and slowly it moved, of how it seemed purposeful, thoughtful, and, not least of all, frightening. She partly expected her parents to laugh or smile or perhaps make a joke. Instead, once the story was over, her father Ron looked a little pale. It turned out that he, too, had a tale to tell.

It happened when Ron was also a teenager. Alone in his room one night, he felt as though something was watching him, even staring at him. As he turned, there inside the room with him was a glowing ball of pure, white light. It hovered above, looking – he, too, felt as though it was looking – down at him like a beaming, glaring eye. After a moment of indecision, Ron ran from the room and raced outside to look up toward his window. He had been on the second floor and wondered if something outside was casting the light into his room. From below, though, he could see no source, no explanation for the sphere of light, nor could he think of any reason why it had appeared. By the time he returned up the stairs to peer cautiously into his room, it was dark inside. The glowing ball had gone.

As a teenager, Ron was also hesitant at first to talk about what he had seen. Would anyone believe him? Would his friends laugh at him? Could it all have just been his imagination? Time went by and Ron stopped thinking about his strange encounter.

A few years later, Ron and some of his friends were visiting an older man who claimed to possess psychic powers. Amid questions about the future, both in general and particular to each of the young, the supposed psychic suddenly turned to Ron and said, “You’ve been visited, haven’t you?” Taken aback, Ron could only furl his brow and squint at first. The psychic continued, “Something came to you, didn’t it?” Ron then related the story, about seeing the sphere of light floating in his room, the feeling of being watched, and the unlikelihood of an outside light creating the glowing ball. “That was a spirit,” the psychic concluded. “It came to you to tell you something. It has a message for you, and it will come back some day in the future.” After Ron was finished, he and Jeanette sat dumbfounded, wondering if, years apart, they had actually seen the same – well, they didn’t know what to call it. An entity? A spirit? An apparition? With so much unknown, they decided to label the experience and the story in a descriptive way, simply calling it “the glowing ball.”

There is a fair amount of paranormal literature out there on "glowing balls," or "orbs" as they are frequently called. One body of thought claims they are spirits and that the size and color are significant to the identity and disposition of the entity. Sometimes the orbs are enormous and fly through the air, as a sighting a year ago from Siberia claims in the video below.

Of course, there are plenty of potential non-paranormal explanations. For orbs that appear in photographs, lens or camera problems can account for the images. (Check out these orbs caught in photos to see if you agree.) In other cases, people have suggested that ball lightning could explain mysterious glowing orbs, though in some ways ball lightning is just as mysterious.

Whatever you think accounts for such sightings, I'm still brought back to the shared experience of Jeanette and Ron. What could it have been? The spookiest part of the whole tale, to me anyway, is how the experience passed from father to daughter. I wonder sometimes, as I say good-night to our boys, will it come back and visit the next generation?

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 15, 2018

The New Epics, Part 4: Iron Maiden

Welcome to the last post in this series in which I have made arguments for various books to be considered "new epics." I stretched the usual definition a little by arguing for a fantasy series (Lord of the Rings), a children's series (Harry Potter), and a graphic novel (Marvel's Civil War). In this post, I stretch the bounds even further by arguing for the body of work of a musical act which I have mentioned in my blogs before: Iron Maiden.

Though there are other acts I will briefly mention, I'm focusing on Iron Maiden for how well they fit the criteria set out in previous posts:

1.) The work(s) must possess scope, depth, and/or creative ambition.
2.) There should be a persistent cultural influence on other creative works.
3.) It should interact with and draw upon previous creative works.
4.) The work(s) must comment on the dilemma of being human.

Some of the other acts or, specifically, musical albums that might fit this definition include the following. First, the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a concept album that -- in a very post-modern move -- has the band imagine themselves at the concert of another band, which is actually them playing other roles. (You can even see this on the album cover: the brightly colored quartet is the Beatles dressed as Sgt. Pepper's band, while directly to the left of them are..the Beatles.)

Second, in the early 1990s, Billy Joel released what would turn out to be his last album of original pop-rock material. What is unique about the album, called River of Dreams, is that the songs are arranged in the order they were written, showing the artist's evolution of thought during a difficult period in his life: The songs start out with anger and frustration and eventually become more thoughtful and accepting.

Finally, an even more recent album, the rock/punk opera American Idiot by Green Day deserve an honorable mention for taking the genre of punk to the next level.

When I think of "music" and "epic," Iron Maiden is the band that comes immediately to my mind.
With songs like "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (13+ minutes in length), "Sign of the Cross" (11+ minutes), and "Empire of the Clouds" (18+ minutes), Iron Maiden's career has been defined largely by what you might call "heavy metal symphonies" - songs with multiple movements, melodies, and complex key changes. Among Iron Maiden fandom, these songs are even referred to as their "epics." Led Zeppelin has "Stairway to Heaven," Metallica has "Master of Puppets," and Green Day has "Jesus of Suburbia," but none have equaled Iron Maiden's ability at producing intricate, towering musical masterpieces. As such, their influence is undeniable.

The topics of their songs also display a fascinating commentary on a wide variety of cultural sources. They have based works on mythologies ("Powerslave" - Egypt; "The Isle of Avalon" - Celtic; "The Flight of Icarus" - Greek; "The Book of Souls" - Mayan), literature ("Murders in the Rue Morgue," "Stranger in a Strange Land," "Brave New World"), science fiction ("Out of the Silent Planet," "To Tame a Land"), World War II ("Aces High," "Where Eagles Dare"), World War I ("Paschendale"), the Crimean War ("The Trooper"), religious history ("Montsegur," "For the Greater Good of God") and the occult ("Dance of Death," "Revelations," "The Number of the Beast"). The diversity of topics there is perhaps owed to the band's richness of interests. Recently, I read Bruce Dickinson's (the lead singer) autobiography and learned that he nearly went to graduate school to study History, is a talented fencer, and has a commercial pilot's license. (He even flies the band's plane on tour.)

The lyrics and topics of the band's works consistently delve into the murky depths of the human condition, fulfilling the fourth criterion. As just a few examples, "The Thin Line Between Love and Hate," the closing track from the album Brave New World, considers the duality present in all human psychology and how quickly one can turn from good to bad or vice versa. "The Prisoner", though based on the BBC television program of the same name, is a metaphor for anyone yearning for freedom or release from bad situations and circumstances. Finally, one of their most famous songs, "Hallowed be thy Name," puts the listener in the place of someone being led to the gallows and you realize that, since mortality is universal, how that individual is facing that moment is instructive to how we all must someday face death.

My current favorite Iron Maiden epic (at 11 minutes in length) is "When the Wild Wind Blows," a parable (based on a British graphic novel) about how fear and suspicion can twist a person's outlook. A clip to the song is below, if you have a spare 11 minutes.

My all-time favorite Iron Maiden song, though, is "Powerslave." Rather like "Hallowed by thy Name," it deals with mortality, but from the perspective of an Egyptian Pharaoh who was once attended by innumerable slaves, but now at the end of his life must come to terms that he himself is a slave, to the power of death. The clip is below, and surely you can budget a little more than 7 minutes for that, can't you?

While considering any of these songs or the band itself as "epic" might seem like the most egregious abuse of the concept, let's recall the original traditional definition of the term: "a long narrative poem in elevated style recounting the deeds of a legendary or historical hero." These were often sung, I'd add, meaning Iron Maiden's lyrics and musics about all of these topics might be the closest things to "epics" (according to the old-school definition) that I have considered over these many weeks.

As one last reflection on this subject after these many weeks, not long ago I was in my basement lifting weights, listening to The Number of the Beast. I first got that cd in the Fall of 1992, when I was having a very tough time as a freshman in high school. Those memories came back as I listened to the songs and remembered how they had motivated me to push through. Things did get better for me (and they've periodically gotten worse then better then worse then better, as is the way of life) and having the music as reference point was very comforting, even cathartic. I think that is what "epics" are meant to do.

Throughout these weeks, the works I've put out for consideration have been ones I connect with personally. In fact, someone could say, "Well, geez, Michael, you just self-indulgently chose to talk about stuff you liked!" To that I would reply, "Welcome to my blog." But seriously, I encourage every reader to sit and think about his/her own definition of "epic" and maybe write out a list, across genres, of what you would consider "epic."  I'd be delighted to see what some of you think.

That's all for this series. I hope you enjoyed it! Next time, in honor of the upcoming Halloween holiday, I will have a ghost story to share from my very own family. Spooky, huh?

Until then, take care.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The New Epics, Part 3: Marvel's "Civil War"

As the third part of my series on the "new epics," I'm going to focus on the graphic novel Civil War from Marvel.

Last time, we looked at Harry Potter. To remind everyone, here is the criteria I've been using to set the parameters of "epic":

1.) The work(s) must possess scope, depth, and/or creative ambition.
2.) There should be a persistent cultural influence on other creative works.
3.) It should interact with and draw upon previous creative works.
4.) The work(s) must comment on the dilemma of being human.

There are many graphic novels that could fit this definition, and I'm going to list some runners-up toward the end, but I'll highlight Civil War in this post due the complexity of its political message, the wide number of characters involved, and the depth of the philosophical issues it evokes. As a fairly obvious comment on the cultural climate of America immediately post-9/11, the series also makes a substantive -- and ambitious -- connection to real historical events.

There has been a sequel - with which I am much less familiar -- and, of course, the 2016 movie Captain America: Civil War, that has only a tenuous connection to the graphic novel. Other significant comic crossover events preceded Civil War (such as 1984's Secret Wars) but those did not dip as deeply into the philosophical or political.

For those unfamiliar with the story, an accident involving rookie (and cavalier) superheroes results in the deaths of hundreds of civilians, especially schoolchildren, and the government demands that everyone with superpowers register and work for law enforcement. Heroes take sides for and against this registration act: Iron Man heads up the forces of law and order who support the act, while Captain America leads a group of rebels. Calamitous and bloody confrontations between the two groups become inevitable.

Though villains play a slight role in the story, the main conflict resides between characters otherwise classified as "heroes," making it plain that this is a tale of a society tearing itself apart from within. This is a perfect metaphor for the political climate that has obtained in the United States since (at least) September 11th. Broader than that, in their arguments for their beliefs, Iron Man and Captain America put classic philosophical schools into relief. By asserting that the Registration Act is just because it protects the greatest number of people at the lesser cost of civil liberties, Iron Man becomes a spokesperson for the ethical theory known as utilitarianism. Captain America, on the other hand, argues that the consequences are irrelevant and that Freedom is a good that should never be exchanged for any sort of perceived benefit, situating him firmly in the Kantian deontological camp.

The tagline for the series was, "Whose side are you on?" Indeed, how one answers that question might suggest which philosophical school he/she most closely fits. The series admirably muddies the waters, though, as it progresses as heroes switch sides, both groups commit heinous acts, and there is compromise of respective codes of ethics. The epic is thus a parable not just for the tension between freedom and security in our society, but also how, as any conflict deepens, even those of good conscience can descend to barbarism. Thousands of years ago, Aeschylus is supposed to have said, "In war, the first casualty is truth." Marvel's Civil War may be a perfect illustration of that maxim.

Therefore, for its incisive political and philosophical commentary, I nominate Marvel's Civil War as a "new epic." Other graphic novels could have made the cut in my estimation, particularly two Batman stories. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns was an epoch-changing contribution to the comic world, and gave us an unforgettable portrayal of a older (not to mention even more brutal) Batman. (Plus, the Batman/Superman fight in the last section makes infinitely more sense than what you get in the film Batman vs. Superman.)

For its fascinating exploration of the psychological contrasts and overlaps between Batman and his arch-villain the Joker, Alan Moore's The Killing Joke has to at least be mentioned. Students from my 2016 "Evil in the Myth and Literature of World Religions" might remember this book from the syllabus.

Finally, I want to mention a multi-part comic story that was originally printed in the 1960s. I first encountered it in the mid-1980s as part of a Marvel retrospective series called Marvel Saga. It is the tale of the Fantastic Four's first encounter with the space god "Galactus," who eats worlds for sustenance.

Spanning three issues, the Fantastic Four's bid to stop Galactus is only successful with an even heftier dose of their usual heroics, plus the intervention of the other demi-god like beings, the Watcher and the Silver Surfer. This rebellion against the will of a practically divine tyrant has shades of Prometheus against Zeus, or the Buddha against Mara, tapping into a timeless human impulse to test our mettle against even the most powerful entities and seemingly intractable boundaries.

Next time, in the last edition of this series, I stretch the discussion even further by entertaining if certain works of music, or even particular bands themselves, are worthy of the title "epic."

Until then, take care.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The New Epics. Part 2: Harry Potter

Welcome to part two of my series on "epics." For this entry, I submit that a certain wizarding saga from the last twenty-five years deserves to be called epic: Harry Potter.

My family have been fans of the books for a while. Which entry is my favorite? You'll find out below. Even if you are not a fan of these books, you must admit there is something special in the series. These qualities become even more evident with the use of the criteria I employed in the last post (on The Lord of the Rings) for reassessing the category of "epic." Those points again were:

1.) The work(s) must possess scope, depth, and/or creative ambition.
2.) There should be a persistent cultural influence on other creative works.
3.) It should interact with and draw upon previous creative works.
4.) The work(s) must comment on the dilemma of being human.

It is pretty clear that Harry Potter fits these criteria, but let's go through each of them. All seven books (totaling more than 4,200 pages) form an intricate sub-world of magic-endowed people and beings. The relationships between characters go back generations and the people themselves behave in convincingly three-dimensional ways. There is an entirely new sport ("quidditch"), a wizarding language, and a plot that takes seven books to come to fruition. This is certainly a saga of scope, depth, and ambition that author Rowling has composed.

One also need not look far for the book series' impact on popular culture. Some have argued that, due to the fracturing of societies into "micro-niches," Harry Potter may be the last genuine global popular phenomenon. That, of course, remains to be seen. For the time being, though, a writer at the Stanford Daily believes that one day we will be reading Harry Potter alongside Antigone, The Great Gatsby, and the Iliad.

Besides obvious cultural influence, the Harry Potter saga draws on cultural touchstones from the past. Rowling puts in references to classical mythology (the three-headed dog, centaurs) and other traditions of the world (the snake nagini). The most obvious corollary with other epics, though, is the template of the "hero's journey" (the schematic of which is often attributed to Joseph Campbell). The individual is called, unexpectedly, into an adventure, must assemble allies and friends, overcome challenges, and protect a community. It's a standard sort of plotline found across the world and Harry Potter is obviously far more complicated than this rendition, but the basic elements are there and connect the story to traditions from around the globe.

Where I find Harry Potter most compelling, though, is in its human element. The characters reflect classic archetypes (the hero on a quest, the old mentor, the zany sidekick, the ruthless villain, etc.) but each is a fully realized and, at times, unpredictable person. Even the good characters do things that frustrate and upset me, just as real people would. The series does not shy away from showing people as quite flawed.

Entire books have been written on the ethical and philosophical themes of the series. (Also, did you know that there's a group that uses the Potter series as the basis for a modern Lectio Divina practice?) Out of all the possible topics, one that has always stuck with me is the dynamic between Harry and Voldemort. Their lives parallel one another, becoming more and more entwined as time passes. Each is an orphan, each is recognized as the most powerful wizard of his generation, and after the events of Goblet of Fire, they share the same blood. Yet, Voldemort (whose name means "flight from death" in French, giving just one example of the fascinating name etymologies Rowling employs) fixates on control and fear, both in others and, unbeknownst to himself, his own. Harry, on the other hand, chooses friendship, trust, and love. While Voldemort and his vision achieves ascendancy not once but twice, both times it falters, showing that while evil power may dominate for a time, due to its own inherent insecurity, it cannot persist.

I've loved Harry Potter for a long time, but over vacation we listened to The Order of the Phoenix on tape during the car ride.

This may be my favorite volume of the epic since it illustrates lessons I've taken to heart, and ones I hope my sons do, too. In this book of the series, we see how otherwise good people can make terrible, obstinate mistakes. Harry doesn't listen to his friends' counsel, with tragic consequences, though the entire situation is arguably set in motion by Dumbledore's paternalistic mistrust that Harry can't handle certain crucial pieces of information. Beyond that, there is the additional message of resilience: Harry knows irrefutably that Voldemort has returned, but the majority refuse to believe it and systematically harass, taunt, and smear him. Still, he persists, even at great cost, because he knows he's right. That is a lesson for any age.

Given its exquisite mastery of language (on multiple levels), connection to ancient mythic/religious themes, and central humanity, it's clear that Harry Potter deserves a place among the "new epics." Next time, I'll go even further beyond the usual understanding of "epic" to highlight some graphic novels that I believe also meet the criteria.

Until then, take care.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The New Epics, Part 1: The Lord of the Rings

This is the first in a series of posts on the topic of what constitutes an "epic." Late August and the start of Fall has filled me with nostalgia for when I taught in Core. Due to the program's structure, certain works of literature were wedded to corresponding times of year. During this period, having spent several years in Core 3, I always think of The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Gilgamesh. (Come late winter it would be Beowulf and Inferno.) One of the things I always asked my students in those courses was, "what would you consider a modern-day 'epic'?" The question tended to elicit some good discussion (and some fascinating contenders) and expose the bias that something always needs to be very old to be considered an "epic" or a "classic."

"Epic" has been an over-used word for many years. (Lately, "iconic" has gotten just as bad. If people forgot that word altogether, I wouldn't mind.) There is a very specific definition for "epic," though, as a literary genre. In that context, "epic" is primarily used to refer to long narrative poetry, as you would find in Beowulf, the Iliad, the Odyssey, or the Mahabharata. Leaving the definition at that seems very narrow and unsatisfying. On the other hand, resorting to a definition such as "long narrative involving a hero" seems a bit too broad, even though one can find Senior thesespresentations, and peer-reviewed articles along just those lines. (In some ways, I prefer Faith No More's definition of "Epic," though we need not dwell on that here.)

In these posts, I'm going to offer some examples of what I believe to be more modern "epics." In some cases, this will stretch the usual understanding by going beyond literature. Though I don't think an epic needs to be old, it should be able to stand the test of time and remain relevant for a long period, at the least for what it says about the time it was made. Here are the rather loose criteria I plan to use:

1.) The work(s) must possess scope, depth, and/or creative ambition. It must be an attempt to accomplish something grand.

2.) There should be a persistent cultural influence on other creative works. How has it affected the literary, cinematic, and wider popular world we live in?

3.) It should interact with and draw upon previous creative works. (Homer drew on preexisting Greek stories and myths, the Aeneid plays off The Odyssey, the Mahabharata refashions Vedic stories, and so on.)

4.) The work(s) must comment on the dilemma of being human.

5.) For the purposes of these entries, I'll be selecting works that have great personal meaning. This will make the list idiosyncratic, but that's the point: take my ideas, change them, and come up with your own list.

This week's contender for the status of "New Epic": J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

The ambition, depth, and creativity of these books is unmistakable. Tolkien created an entirely alternate world, complete with maps, fully-formed languages of different races of beings (especially elvish), long genealogies of important characters, and thousands of years of back story. Entering these books means engaging with a three-dimensional universe.

The ongoing influence of The Lord of the Rings is also indisputable, whether it is music, movies, role-playing games, or literature. The entire fantasy genre would look very, very different and other elements of popular culture (like Dungeons and Dragons) might not exist at all. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as others have noted.

Tolkien also drew upon the ages of mythology that preceded him, as well as his traumatic experiences in World War I. From the former, he was especially influenced by Beowulf (having written perhaps the most influential article ever on that tale) and Norse legends, with their trolls, monsters, and magic rings. The Celtic heritage of elves, spirits, and fairies also makes an obvious contribution. Like an alchemist, Tolkien pulled in all these base sources, but transformed them into an entirely new substance.

That substance is alive throughout the mammoth work with comments on the human condition, even though many of the characters are not strictly "human." It is a world of polarities. Ethereal Elves are balanced out by barbaric Orcs, majestic Ents by dimwitted Trolls, soaring Eagles by foul dinosaur-like creatures. The same is found in the main characters: Gandalf is foiled by Saruman, Aragorn by Boromir, Theoden by Denethor, Frodo by Gollum. The first list, though, is of creatures defined by their natures. The second list of pairings finds the binaries separated by moral choices: Either gradually or by sudden urge, the likes of Gandaly, Aragorn, Theoden, and Frodo separate themselves from their structural opposites of Saruman, Boromir, Denethor, and Golloum by choosing hope, forgiveness, and fidelity over fear, vengeance, and selfishness. None of these "fallen" characters was irredeemable and none of the "heroic" characters was infallible. This is a story about how people are defined by their choices.

This is also, and much more centrally to me, a story about loss. Like many other epics, the centerpiece of the story is a journey, but this journey is unique in that the hero (Frodo) does not technically complete the quest and he is utterly broken by the experience. For me, the most wrenching line in the books' many pages comes when Frodo admits this fact to his friend Samwise: "The Shire is saved, but not for me."

I first read The Lord of the Rings when I was nine and I entered it as an adventure story, which it certainly is. Then, I rediscovered it during one of the best movie-going experiences of my life, seeing Peter Jackson's film version of The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001.

Rereading it many years later with my own children, I have come to appreciate how much this epic is shot through with the sadness of loss, a topic on which I have blogged before.. This is a story about seeing the world you've known come to an end. Everyone in these books is losing almost everything they held dear: the Elves are leaving for the West, the dwarves are sinking deeper and deeper into their mines and obscurity, the power of wizards has vanished. The land is filled with ruins and fallen kingdoms. Not even the destruction of the evil Sauron can arrest the march of time and change.

Whenever I read the books, I hope for Frodo to be strong enough, just this once, to destroy the ring and live happily ever after, but the genius of this epic is that Tolkien realized the hero must always fail. To live happily ever after is to never change, to never admit the journey has damaged you and the world around is always taking away those things most precious. Though I have some criticisms of the film versions of these books, the conclusion of Return of the King, particularly the closing song "Into the West" by Annie Lennox, captures this mood perfectly. The end of the tale is not triumphant but mournful.

In the book Meditations on Middle Earth, a collection of essays on Tolkien's influence on current writers, Michael Swanwick contributed a piece which I believe has perhaps the most insightful summary of this theme in The Lord of the Rings. He writes that the books tell us, "Those who are willing to pay for all they have, to suffer and make sacrifices, to toil selflessly and honorably, and then to surrender their authority over what remains, ultimately gain the satisfaction of knowing that the world has a future worth passing on to their children. But it has no place for them anymore."

Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Mahabharata, and Beowulf all contain this same lament of familiar worlds passing away as new, uncertain futures are born. The Lord of the Rings poignantly communicates this same deeply human sorrow. This message has special meaning for me as, noted at the beginning, the origin of my interest in thinking anew about the epic genre is my nostalgia for the Core program and being part of its team. Worlds changing and passing away, indeed.

On another, more positive topic, an announcement: my book, Malleable Mara: Transformations of a Buddhist Symbol of Evil has a page and description on SUNY Press's website. The book will be available in March, at which time I will post a link to that.

Next time, I contemplate how an even more recent wizard-related book series fits my new definition of "epic." Until then, take care.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Fear of the Dark

As a scholar of comparative religion drawn primarily to the study of mythology, I've often wondered about the precise moment or apparatus in human development that led to our species' capacity for elaborate, abstract narrative. Paul Trout's  Deadly Powers: Animal Predators and the Mythic Imagination (2011) broaches that very subject and takes an innovative, as well as perhaps controversial, stance on the question. Though not without its flaws, his approach is fascinating and it touches on two earlier blog posts. In this post, I'm going to summarize the book, give a critique, and show how it connects to some prominent narratives in popular culture.

The story begins with the fate suffered by many of our species' ancestors:

Put simply, as fossil evidence shows, millions of years ago, early hominids in the human line (Homo ergaster, Homo habilis, Homo erectus), easy prey for eagles, big cats, and so forth. The graphic, brutal image above is based on the perfect fit between sabertooth tiger teeth and holes found in early human skulls.

Trout argues that early human ancestors developed first mimetic, then vocal, then linguistic, then storytelling methods for evading predators. If these techniques would have aided hominids in escaping predation, natural selection would ensure that those behaviors increased over successive generations. Trout writes, "At the hearth fire, perhaps deep within a cave, our ancestors imitated predators to control and conquer their fear of them. By imitating, mimicking, simulating, and impersonating the very animals that frightened them, they were able to imbue themselves with greater resolve, more courage, heightened physical strength, and a more intense sense of group solidarity" (127). This, according to Trout, was the birth of human storytelling.

Over time, scenes like this:

Become scenes like this:

The imagination, elaboration, and mystification of predators was also the birth of another tell-tale narrative trope: the monster. Trout spends early chapters drawing interesting parallels between famous mythic monsters and the prehistoric beasts known to hunt human ancestors. The dragon, for instance, combines raptor, snake, and feline body parts, while eagles, snakes, and leopards are very likely candidates for animals that hunted early humans. Besides that, most monsters tend to have prominent teeth and claws, which ancient predators of humans would also have possessed. Thus, it's no wonder monsters frighten us: the monster template is based on predator-recognition alarms wired into our brains and genes. Having blogged previously about monsters, I found Trout's discussion interesting. If he's right, he might not be far off in asserting that real-life "monsters" in the form of predators "spurred the development of the human imagination" and made humans the species we are, with the big, imaginative brains we possess (136).

Trout cites myths from around the world that talk about how, at the beginning of time, there was a monster that had to be defeated before humans could inhabit the earth. The Vedic Hinduism of India, Babylonian myth of Mesopotamia, the !Kung of Africa, Aborigines of Australia, and Cree of North America are just few examples, showing the presence of such a myth across the globe. Trout believes this wide dispersal of the narrative demonstrates it is fundamental to human storytelling and reflects a genetic memory of when our species overcame predators to become the dominant life-form on the planet.

Trout's insight reminded me of some popular culture media that make the same point. The most recent iterations of Godzilla and King Kong (as part of an attempted cinematic "monsterverse" to rival Marvel's movies) state that these beasts ruled the world long before humans and might be emerging to retake it.

(As a sidenote, that is a marked departure from the origin of Godzilla, who in the original Japanese Gojira (1954) is decidedly a creature of modern times, created by American atomic bomb testing. I'm also not a tremendous fan of Godzilla's look in these films.)

Those familiar with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel storylines know that in that mythology, demons ruled the world first and were expelled over time by the first humans. Monsters and vampires persist as the hybrid progeny of those first demons.

Behind all that is the mythology of H.P. Lovecraft, who wrote many interconnected, intertextual tales of the horrible "Old Ones" who ruled the world before humans and will one day return to re-stake their claim. The most famous of these Old Ones is the cephalopodic Cthulhu.

Could it be that this line of narrative is re-enacting the ancient human triumph over predators?

As with other books purporting to trace an evolutionary origin in the deep past for a human behavior, Trout's claims are at best suggestive, but not definitive. Though he's convinced me that response to predation must have had something to do with the development of the human capacity and tendency for myth-making, it might be an overstatement to claim it is the reason for such a complex cognitive process. Also, selecting myths from here and there across the world, while interesting and certainly revealing, is also difficult to do without risking loss of context.

Those shortcomings aside, Trout does build on some solid foundations in evolutionary psychology, particularly speculations about the development of human cognition. I have blogged about some of these points before, particularly in relation to the origin of religiosity. Namely, those individuals who perceived the world around as made up of "agents" (i.e., anything that moves by itself) and further determines these agents to have "mind mechanisms" (i.e., desires and intentions) like themselves, will have an advantage in detecting and avoiding predators. Over-detection (for instance, getting spooked and running away from a falling rock, thinking it was a leopard) is far safer than under-detection. Over time, due to selection, these traits would be prevalent and would lead to our species perceiving agents and minds throughout the environment even when they do not exist. As a result of this evolution of abstract thinking, the argument goes, our minds create all kinds of fantastic fictional characters to populate the world, such as ghosts, giants, demons, gods, elves, vampires, etc. Scott Attan, author of In Gods We Trust: the Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, calls the brain's tendency to generate so many "false positives" the "Tragedy of Cognition."

As I remarked earlier regarding the origin of myth-making, it seems rather simplistic to attribute something as complex as religious behavior to one natural selection factor. However, Trout's hypothesis does suggest reasons for why monsters and horror stories have persisted beyond the point when we are preyed upon regularly: they're still good for a jolt of endorphins and for social cohesion. It's also good, as a recent NPR article shows, for dealing with the wide-range of fears and anxieties the modern world throws at us.

One of the things I suppose I enjoyed about Trout's book is that it reinforced a notion I've held for sometime: It's the dark things of the world and (more importantly) our reactions to them that make us who we are.

In conclusion, in 1992 British heavy metal act Iron Maiden came out with the song"Fear of the Dark," which could have been the soundtrack for Trout's book. It's linked below, for those who are interested.

Until next time, take care.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Inner Light

In 1992, Star Trek: the Next Generation aired an episode entitled "The Inner Light." In that story, when the Enterprise encounters an alien probe, Captain Picard is struck by a beam and (seemingly) transported to an alien world where he lives for decades, marrying, having children, growing old, and seeing the planet begin to die. At the conclusion, he reawakens on the Enterprise bridge, with only minutes having passed in the real world while he lived an entire life on the alien world. The probe turns out to have been the alien world's way of ensuring that someone, somewhere will remember them after their planet dies. Picard is certainly impacted by the experience. A flute he'd learned to play during the mental journey is included in the probe and he keeps it for the rest of his days.

Reading a book of folklore and mythology the other day, I came across not one but two older stories of similar occurrences. In one, an Arabian chieftain is enticed by a sorcerer to look deeply into a pan of water. The image of a town begins to form and before he knows it, the chieftain has washed up on a beach in front of that settlement. A young woman greets him and before long they are married and having children, living prosperously in the town. Years pass, the man's wife dies, his children grow, and he wanders to the beach. The waters engulf him and in a flash he has returned to his chieftain throne, the sorcerer standing before him, with only seconds having elapsed.

Hebrew mythology contains a similar story of King Solomon.

We are told that one day Solomon was playing a game with Asmodeus, king of the demons. To make a point, Asmodeus weaves a spell around Solomon. transporting him to another land where he must live as a poor beggar. He meets a woman, gets married, and works his way back up in the world, but is eventually drawn back to his game with Asmodeus. Thinking he was gone for decades, he roars at the demon who demurs that the king had never gone anywhere and only a moment had passed.

In India, in the Yogavasishtha, there is the story of the sage who saw inside the mind of a hunter and got lost there, becoming the hunter, who then became a sage, while years and years seemed to pass, though little time had actually transpired at all.

Where do these stories from around the world come from? Is it from the experience of very vivid dreams that seem so real and so expansive, but are just passing moments in our slumbering minds, and we awake with a jolt to the world we know? Or, is the mind capable of creating a whole other world, as one man claimed happened when he suffered a concussion? In that story, and in the thread on the Fortean Times website about the supposed incident, a man claims to have been hit in the head and while unconscious accumulated years and years of memories of having married and started a family. It all evaporated when he was put into a squad car to go to the hospital to be treated for his injury.

Can such experiences really happen, or are these stories just mythic expressions of our attempts to deal with the fogginess of time, the gossamer-like quality of dreams, and our sometimes tenuous grasp of reality? Besides Star Trek's "The Inner Light," there are other well-known popular culture treatments of these ideas, like the movies Inception and The Matrix. Examples of humans considering these occurrences stretch back a long ways, but what does it all mean? The Star Trek episode's title, "The Inner Light," comes from a 1968 Beatles song written by George Harrison as a B-side to "Lady Madonna." Perhaps the song can lend a clue.

Though the instruments are meant to be evocative of Indian music, the lyrics are straight out of a chapter of the Chinese Daoist work Dao De Ching: "Without going out of my door / I can know all things of earth. / Without looking out of my window, / I could know the ways of heaven. / The farther one travels, / The less one knows."

These lines express the Daoist sensibility that all people, and all things for that matter, are perfect as they are and have no need of outside correction or development. The world within is all you need.

These stories across culture, time, and medium could be seen as reinforcing the Daoist idea that, despite the seeming smallness of our craniums, there are entire worlds and teeming dimensions to be found within us that stagger space and stretch mere minutes into lifetimes. Picard's interior experience of the passing of an entire life on another world opened him up to an existence (i.e., marriage, family) that he had not considered. One could argue that the greatest distance he ever traveled was without ever leaving the ship. All he really needed to do was look within himself. Perhaps that is a lesson for all of us. To quote from another Beatles song, "The movement you need is on your shoulder."

That's all for now. In upcoming blogs, you can expect a discussion on the Asian philosophical influences on Walt Whitman, the status of Harry Potter as an "epic" figure, and much, much more. 

Until then, take care.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Family Vacation 2018

Apologies, dear readers, for the gap in posting. I was away with my family on vacation. In this post, I'm going to share some stories and pictures from that experience, but also delve into the philosophical and cultural concept of the "vacation."

In short, this vacation was great fun. Not having fun is impossible with a group like this:

This year, as we have for the past two years, we traveled up to the coast of Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It's about an eight hour drive, which was fairly uneventful until we encountered this storm front in central Wisconsin.

While we were pulled off due to heavy rain and hail, we learned on the radio that the county was under a tornado warning. Given the cloud formations we saw, I think we came pretty close to seeing something.

At any rate, things settled down considerably once we arrived. We had a place in the town of Ontonagon near the beach, with a view of the Porcupine mountains in the distance.

During the day, we had some really fun times playing on the beach and swimming in the water, although the boys did much, much better with the chilly lake temps.

At night we had fires on the beach and truly spectacular sunsets over the lake.


The Porcupine Mountains have some fun hiking trails. One of our favorites is the Lake of the Clouds, where just a little walking takes you above the tree-line to see expanses of forest and the placid lake waters spanning out below. Pictures don't really do it justice.

We visited the Presque Isle water falls, and took other, similarly beautiful forays into the forest.

On this trip we tried kayaking for the first time and really enjoyed it.

Another experience of note was a close encounter with the meditating bear of the Porcupine Mountains (a.k.a., the "Porkies").

On a previous trip, I'd wanted to get a picture of this humorous mile-marker sign.

On a day trip, we traveled to the Chassell Strawberry Festival and stopped off at the Shrine of the Snowshoe priest, which commemorates the first Bishop of the area, who made his way from follower to follower on snowshoes. To me, it looks like he's suspended atop a giant iron spider, but I've been known to misinterpret these things.

On July 8th we spent the day in Ontonagon visiting the town's lighthouse for a tour. 

That night before bed, I was reading a book about supernatural events associated with Lake Superior. Imagine my surprise when several pages covered supposed haunting events at that very lighthouse! To take it even further, on one night a year ghost lights are supposed to appear near the Ontonagon Lighthouse. Which night? Why, July 8th, the very night I was reading the book. Creepy!

To match our experience going through Wisconsin, we watched a squall line blow in across the lake, which really puts your own tiny existence into perspective.

That night, during the storm the front above produced, we played Takenoko a new board-game acquired at a really unique toy store in Hancock, MI. As the waves crashed and thunder rumbled, we did what anyone who knows something about Lake Superior storms would do: we played "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" on Youtube.

Vacations teach you a lot about yourself. Growing up, I was always very fortunate to have parents who made visiting different parts of the country a priority. At the time, I had almost no appreciation for it - all I knew was that my lazy summertime routine was going to be disrupted and I would have to go hiking in the hot, insect-ridden wilderness. Though some of those hikes were pretty tough for a kid, now as an adult, my perception of those times has changed 180 degrees. They were invaluable experiences and, especially when I became a teenager, crucial times of self-reflection when I could be apart from my everyday circumstances to contemplate life and recharge mentally, physically, and spiritually.

The concept of the "vacation" has been around for a very long time in Western history. Interestingly, as an NPR interview from about ten years ago notes, the purpose of self-discovery has long been part of vacationing. With widening income inequality in America, a shrinking middle class, and the continuous pressure for efficiency and productivity at the expense of leisure, fewer and fewer people in this country are willing and able to take time off from work. According to the subtitle in one article, "Americans are expected to work like robots." 

The part of me that is terribly cynical about our culture does not find this surprising: vacations are wonderful opportunities for contemplation, which gives one time to think, and our culture does not like to spend time thinking. American capitalism and consumerism encourage the busier, faster, more distracted lifestyle. We live in fast-forward when we need to hit "pause" far more often in order to get a really good look at ourselves. 

Another part of me feels a mix of gratitude and guilt: I am extremely fortunate to be able to have been able to spend this time with my parents when I was younger and now with my wife and children. So many do not have that chance. Humans need space to figure out --- or perhaps more accurately, simply remember -- who they are. Vacations have always served that role for me. I remember one summer (1996, to be exact) when I did not really feel the greatest about life or who I was, looking out at the clear,  star-filled Wyoming sky and thinking, "You know, it's not all bad." Hitting the "pause" button gives you a chance to figure out -- no, remember -- what's really important. There is no debate for me.

The Upper Peninsula, Lake Superior, the Porcupines, and Ontonagon have become special places for us. It was tough to say goodbye to them, but hopefully it will only be for a little while, and then we can go back to the spot where we remember ourselves.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Willy Wonka: A Comparative Religion Analysis

Last week I had the opportunity to see a children's production of Willy Wonka. I've always found the story interesting and read Roald Dahl's original novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) to my sons years ago. The character of Willy Wonka has multiple layers, and in this post I want to analyze him, and by extension the story, through the lens of Comparative Religion.

Gene Wilder famously played the part in the 1971 version of the movie.

Johnny Depp took on the role in 2005, though with much less impact, as I will discuss below.

The story itself is an obvious morality play. The children who tour the faculty are all guilty of some sort of vice of excess. Augustus Gloop is gluttonous, Violet Beauregarde is obsessed with chewing gum, Veruca Salt is materialistic, and Mike Teavee watches too much, well, TV. On the other hand, Charlie Bucket, the impoverished and goodhearted child, is rewarded for his honesty and virtue. In this way, the story is a morality play, much like other famous works, such as Everyman, a Medieval play that espoused good deeds as the only thing that lives on after you die.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory also has similarities to that towering epic of Medieval poetry, Dante's Divine Comedy. In that work, specifically Inferno, sinners dwell in Hell, embodying their sins with contrapassos, punishments that act out the offense. The Lustful are blown about in violent winds, just as they allowed themselves to be blown around by passions; those who bred Schism and Discord are cut apart by blades, just as they cut apart society; and so on. 

The vice-ridden children are unable to resist temptations in Wonka's factory that lead them to expose their latent flaws. Augustus Gloop, who cannot stop swallowing food, is swallowed up by chocolate.

Violet literally becomes the bubblegum she is chewing.

Only Charlie emerges from the journey unscathed. The fact that the story is a journey from spot to spot in the factory, each with its own lesson to impart, resembles not only Dante's journey through the levels of the tripartite Medieval Christian afterlife, but also some other religious works. In the Buddhist tradition, the Gandavyuha Sutra (just one chapter of the longer Avatamsaka Sutra) describes the disciple Sudhana's journey from teacher to teacher, learning one lesson at a time as he approaches awakening.

Aside from the larger story, the character of Willy Wonka invites even more scrutiny. There is a reason why Gene Wilder succeeds in bringing Wonka to life where Johnny Depp failed: Wonka is both whimsical and sinister. He is a jester-like, trickster-like chastiser of wrongs as much as a rewarder of virtue. He rests on the border of dream and nightmare. Wilder captures this paradox while Depp just comes across as an emotionally-stunted eccentric. A figure that tests and punishes children has to have a touch of madness to him, and even revel in it. To see what I mean, check out how he delights in tormenting his guests during the boat trip scene:

Willy Wonka's costume also communicates his dangerous stature, especially, oddly enough, his trademark hat.

Far from standing for refinement or urbaneness, as one would suppose with a top-hat or bowler hat, such headwear often signifies its opposite, namely the intention to undermine the prevalent social order. Think of Baron Samedi of Vodoun (discussed in an earlier blog).

Or Alex from A Clockwork Orange.

How top- and bowler hats became signifiers for rebellion and madness is not clear, although one promising hypothesis deals with "erethism," a nervous system disorder that can be caused by repeated exposure to mercury. Erethism is sometimes known colloquially as "mad hatter's disease" as those who worked with hats back in the day used mercury to attach the felt.

Wonka is also set apart by his diminutive, orange-skinned, green-haired minions, the Oompa Loompas. They are curious creatures who do not fit into any set classification. They work for Wonka, do his bidding, and take turns announcing the moral failures of each respective child after he or she has been revealed as a glutton, television addict, and so on. 

The Hindu god Shiva, also a category-breaker and challenger of the social status-quo, has a band of small-statured followers (called ganas) who form his entourage.

Mara in Buddhism also has an army of misshapen beasts, primarily seen when he attacks Gautama at Bodh-Gaya. Here they are in a carving on a railing at the Sanchi Stupa in central India.

In at least one instance, Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, the Batman villain the Joker employs tiny, violent creatures to do his evil will, as seen in the excerpt from the comic below.

If you look in the bottom lower right of the image above, you'll see the Joker himself, wearing a purple suit, a hat, and holding a cane. To make the resemblance obvious, here again is Willy Wonka.

What all the foregoing comparisons reveal is that Willy Wonka does not function as a benevolent children's character, but inhabits a space closer to the category-breaking trickster figures of religion and mythology who dish out pain and punishment far more than rewards. He is an embodiment of Victor Turner's concept of "liminality," also called "anti-structure."  Turner used those terms to describe how societies used ritual to move individuals through different life stages. Adolescents, for instance, exist in a liminal (i.e., uncategorized) state of not-child but not-adult, and are thus ritually moved to adulthood by coming of age ceremonies. The psychedelic world of the Chocolate Factory, the Oompa Loompas, and Wonka himself (in dress and behavior) exemplify the uncategorized nature of liminal anti-structure. 

The book and the movie(s) follow Turner's ritual structure. In the beginning, the world is the inverse of what we would hope for: the bad people are prosperous (the "naughty" children) and the good (Charlie and his family) are poor. We enter the Chocolate Factory, the liminal space, and chaos reigns and the usual rules are suspended, allowing for unconventional means to punish vices of excess and affirm virtue, in the form of Charlie Bucket. Leaving Wonka's Factory, the world is now ordered much closer to our moral expectations. Wonka's anti-structure has actually been invoked to defend social structure: Madness has been employed in the service of sanity, and our guide has been Willy Wonka.

Such is my reading of the character and the story. What are your thoughts? Feel free to share.

Until the next time, take care. 

Regeneration - My Last Post

This will be my last blog post, at least for the foreseeable future. Why? I'm going to be pretty busy with the new post I just accepted...

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