Ya Gotta Keep ’em Separated

I sat down a couple of times over the last week or two to write a blog post about religious beliefs and their place in society, but I just haven’t managed to do it. I saw a great article about Obama’s important speech, and I greatly enjoyed Sam Harris’ approach to the issue (h/t to Colinski for the link). I first realized that I was not a Christian as a teenager, and quickly found it shocking to look at our society from an outsider’s perspective. One of the most troubling aspects of the extent to which Christian ideas pervade every element of our social fabric is the fact that it goes completely unnoticed and unquestioned by a considerable portion of the American population. I have had plenty of decidedly non-Christian friends (Jewish, Hindu, etc.) who probably had no idea how deeply Christianity informed their perspectives on the world around them.

But the simple fact that ideas from Christianity inform many completely unrelated elements of our popular culture doesn’t bother me too much, as long as people are receptive when their assumptions are challenged. The thing that has bothered me most about Christianity since I first realized that I wasn’t a Christian has always been this attitude that “we’ve gotta fix you,” or “you’ll get it, eventually,” or “I pity you, nonbeliever.” So when I see the same “must-convert-the-heathens” attitude in atheists, I have been completely turned off. I agree wholeheartedly that religious beliefs of all stripes have served as excuses for great injustices and atrocities committed against humanity, but it seems like a big mistake to seek to fight those belief systems with another belief system such as atheism. Everyone must be permitted to believe how they see fit to believe. It is perfectly acceptable, and even necessary, that atheists who come into the public sphere demanding a right to believe as they see fit. But shaming and ridiculing other belief systems doesn’t seem like an effective way to create a society that values the free exchange of ideas. It seems to me that people don’t need to cite their belief systems to support their efforts to fight for freedom to/from religion. It seems that putting our belief systems on the forefront of the discussion, we’re no longer arguing for freedom to believe, but instead seeking to convert the nonbelievers.

But enough of that. I just wanted to say that there is a group called First Freedom First fighting for exactly what I was just talking about–the freedom to believe as we each see fit. Tomorrow they will do a simulcast event in support of the separation of church and state. I highly recommend that people look for a local showing to attend.

Anyway…if you’re looking at my website you’ve probably noticed a couple of changes. I got sufficiently bored in my time off in Illinois to go ahead and rearrange/redesign a few things around here. I made graphics for the header logo so people could see that there’s more than just a blog here. I also darkened up the post text and lightened the background logo to allow for easier reading (thanks, J). But one of the most exciting changes, I think, is that I’ve decided to turn the fiction, poetry, and essays pages into blogs, as well. I’m thinking that it might encourage me to continue working on other things if I post them like blog entries where people can subscribe/comment, etc. I have already managed to transfer all of the fiction work over to the fiction blog, but the poetry and essays might take a little more time. On the fiction, and I might be able to do this for the poetry/essays as well, I have done my best to edit the post dates to match the time when pieces were actually written. Sometimes the dates are embedded in the document properties in Word, but I think that I may have changed the dates on some of those during revision processes by using the “save as” function. Nonetheless, it is now possible to get a rough idea of how my progress as a writer has come along over the years, if you really have that much time on your hands.

As far as the whole post concussion syndrome thing goes, I think the rest I’ve been getting in Illinois has been helpful. My mom, a nurse, was a bit troubled on our first visit by my behavior, which she attributed to the medication I was taking. I believe that the neurologist thought I would have my tests (EEG and MRI) done before I reached full levels of medication in my blood, but between his office staff’s questionable competence and the HMO’s refusal to allow anything to happen without their knowledge, I waited weeks to get the MRI and am still waiting to get an EEG. Mom insisted that I see a local doctor she really trusts, even if my insurance refuses to pay for it (I’ll probably find out when I return to California). The Illinois doctor verified the concerns that too much of this medication could have unwanted side effects, such as hyperactivity. I did notice that I was more animated and easily excitable, but the only thing that bothered me was when people looked at me funny when I acted funny. The Illinois doctor told me to step down the medication over the next week until I was off, and then to wait a week off the meds and go get an EEG here in town. The results could be sent to my neurologist back in California so he could make an informed decision about my future treatment.

Since I’ve been off the meds, I’ve felt more like myself than I have for a while. In retrospect, I think that I was probably acting almost as oddly on the medication as I was when my friends first suggested that I see a doctor to make sure I was okay. It seems like it could very easily be one of those situations where the best treatment for my symptoms is time and rest. (and I’ve been getting plenty of that!)

The doctors and insurance companies haven’t been the only ones seeking to make my life difficult lately. The folks responsible for disability benefits in California have been really reluctant to come off those pennies, which has been an entertaining twist on my Spring Break vacation to snowy Illinois. Between them and my surprise at learning that cell phone providers charge for toll-free calls and calls to voicemail, I’ll be quite surprised if my phone doesn’t end up shut off in the next couple of days. If it does get shut off and you want to reach me, just yell. I’ll hear you.

I’m Never Signing an E-Petition Again

I just signed an urgent petition calling on the Chinese government to respect human rights in Tibet and engage in meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

Then my friend Colinski tipped me off that it’s all vanity. Don’t I feel like a friggin’ idiot…I’ve signed tons of well-meaning but useless online petitions! All for naught. Ugh.

The good news is that they’ll never make a fool out of me again! Thanks Colinski!

Back to the Blog

New Toshiba laptop
New Toshiba laptop

As I might have mentioned before, I broke my Gateway laptop by knocking the breakfast-in-bed (turned laptop-in-bed) tray out of my bed while sleeping one night. The only damage to the laptop was that the screen was broken, so I have been able to continue using it. The only problem here is that it will never again be a true ‘lap’ top computer, seeing as how I had to connect it to a separate flat panel monitor in order to continue using it. I had experienced a certain level of buyer’s remorse over the thing, anyway. I had tried to explain to the guy at Best Buy that the most important concerns for me were portability, battery life, and lower running temperatures. He managed to convince me that the cheaper Gateway was the way to go, as he claimed the Turion(r) processor ran at lower temps and used less battery life. Those facts would make up for the fact that it was still 15.4″, which I considered too bulky for travel. I soon found that his theories about Turion(r) were a bunch of crap. The laptop always seemed to be hot, and the battery life was far from impressive. And the damned “laptop” computer weighed something like a million frickin’ pounds. Garbage, man. Garbage.

To further entrench myself in my overwhelming infatuation with all things Japanese, I finally managed to take it back old school with a Toshiba Satellite. My first real experiences writing began on a Toshiba Satellite my mom got from her school as she was working on her BSN. I began my memoirs on that machine, certain that they would be a compelling read for anyone interested in the angst of a star mathlete living through his own personal spell of Reefer Madness (follow this link when you have a chance, for serious). Those earliest writing experiences revived my childhood dreams of being a writer, which began to play a much more formidable role in my sense of identity. When I went off to college to study English, mom let me take the Toshiba Satellite with me, even though it was three or four years old and beginning to act its age. The rest of the known PC world was using Windoze 95(r) at the time (seeing as how it was almost time for Y2K), but the Satellite was still kickin’ it with 3.1, like a true old school player. Nevertheless, I wrote many a mediocre paper on that reliable old machine and managed to still get $100 resale value on it when I finally broke down and bought a used desktop. (Don’t tell my mom; I never gave that hundred bucks even though it was technically hers!)

Each time I’ve considered a new machine since then, I’ve thought longingly about Toshiba models. They tend to cost a little more than I can usually scrape together at any one given time, so I’ve settled in the past for the more affordable Dell (which, once you calculate all the interest and finance charges involved in purchasing one of their machines on their highway-fucking-robbery APR, is much less affordable than *any* Toshiba on the market) or the sub-par Gateway Turion. I arrived home (to Yuka’s place) yesterday after an entertaining experience with CU mass transit (read: long walk carrying a new laptop in the box with semi-healed broken wrist and fractured elbow), I was amazed, utterly spellbound by the beauty of this new machine. See, I found the price listed at circuitcity.com, and the Champaign Circuit City didn’t have any display models, so I simply guessed about its appearance. Yuka and I visited Circuit City two nights ago to have a look-see, and saw that they had only two in stock, both in the box, and no display model. I knew that it met all of my specification requirements (small, lightweight, ample memory and storage, and made by Toshiba). I managed to refrain from purchasing that first night, thinking it would be prudent to check around online for better deals, just in case. I was pretty sure at that it was the best deal I would find, but there’s no harm in checking. The folks at Circuit City told me that it would be on sale until Saturday, so I decided it best not to be too hasty. After a night of looking around online, I returned yesterday to make my purchase. The store only had one left in stock, so I was glad I hadn’t waited longer. And, like I said, when I got home and opened the box, I was simply amazed at what a great deal I’d gotten. This new laptop is designed *much* better than any of the other laptops I’ve used, with great Japanese simplicity, functionality, and intuitiveness. I’m in love. And it’s got a built-in webcam for much wonderful video blogging goodness to come (once I learn how to work the webcam).

The whole experience, in combination with my recent Scion experience, takes me back to those final days of high school when I was writing on Mom’s Toshiba and driving Dad’s Tercel. Both were much too old for any self-respecting American to use, and yet they were both still in wonderful shape and worked perfectly. I should really stop here before I begin to get into the issues that I intend to raise in another blog post, talking about the shameful fact that America sold out all of the principles upon which it was built when it legitimized corporations. More to come on that, as well as on movies (including Repo Man: A Genetic Opera), on mass transit, and on my problems with believers, be they of the religious or atheist persuasion. And if I don’t get all of those entries written and posted, either take me to task on it or buy my book.

Okay…

So maybe the slimy salespeople at Northridge Toyota helped screw up my enjoyment of the recent lunar eclipse, but I’ll be sure to steer clear of them on 1 August.

**UPDATE** It would probably be wise to cruise the sites I link to on this blog and find out if I know what the hell I’m even talking about. It looks as though the eclipse, and someone who can better comprehend NASA’s incoherent ramblings might want to check me on this, will only be visible in the Northeasternmost parts of North America. Personally, I think that’s total bullshit. But I guess I should at least consider myself partly redeemed by the fact that this supports my longstanding theory that the Universe conspires to piss me off.

A Real Live Post, with Text and Everything

Of course I had to include a picture still! This painting by my future brother-in-law (fiancee’s brother Satoki) apparently won some sort of award, and for obvious reasons. I mean, for real…how do you do that?! But anyway. It’s just another tiny reason that every time I see an ad for teaching in Japan, I wished that I didn’t absolutely love everything about my job. I mean, at least if I had bosses who didn’t continually surprise me with their competence and generosity, then I could more successfully convince myself that it would be right to move in with my future parents-in-law, learn Japanese from them, and teach kids how to say “white boys can’t be ninjas.” Watashi wa gaijin desu!! (Tell me if I got that wrong, Yuka…as I’m sure you will!)

Anyway…as I may have suggested in other entries, but I’m not going to go back to check, one of my recent symptoms has been that I wake up at ungodly hours of the morning. Today was a bit of a relief, as it was between 5:30 and 6 that I woke up, and not 3 or 4 as it was on Sunday and Monday. I think it’s actually fault of the medication I’m taking. Or all the crack I’m smoking. But I’m not a doctor, so how should I know.

On the subject of symptoms, I’ve got an interesting few. I mean, I’ve got a body that seems perpetually sore. I haven’t yet figured out if it’s my brain or my arms or my bad back or what that cause this, but I seem to have a hell of a time sitting down on or getting up from the floor. When sitting down, there’s no telling for sure whether I’m going to fall to one side or the other, though falling is usually a guarantee. When I get up, I have to summon all of my strength to do so and use my arms to keep balance. That’s especially difficult when I have nothing to hold on to, and even when I do it’s not like I can pull myself up with these weak-ass arms. It all is getting better every day, with the exception perhaps of the balance-when-my-center-of-gravity-is-low thing. But even that is probably getting better. I am pretty good about not letting myself drool most of the time, too, which makes me feel rather accomplished :-D

The memory and focus is usually alright for the most part, but I’m beginning to see myself losing clarity as it happens. That seems like an improvement, as it usually wasn’t until I was either became incapable of thinking or until someone lovingly pointed out that I was acting funny/off that I noticed these things. Seeing them for myself before they happen is a definite improvement. Perhaps the most irritating element of the thing is the difficulty in discerning the actual neurological symptoms from the parts of my sometimes unusual personality and slightly warped (maybe oblong?) sense of humor combined with the boredom of not working. I have told a few people, I was weird before the accident…the Post Concussion Syndrome has simply made that weirdness slightly more externalized that it was in the past. Case in point, I’ve been talking a lot more to strangers in public, whether that is people who are ringing up my frozen dinners at the grocery store, making my grande 3-shot soy 130 latte, driving my bus, or simply the people waiting in line or sitting on the bus with me. I mean, I have always been one of those strange guys that made small-talk with strangers when others would be uncomfortable with the prospect of doing, but now I feel as if I might be doing it more, or sustaining the conversations longer. Again, I say never underestimate the effects of sheer boredom of not being at work. But, on the other hand, maybe my brain got knocked around a little too hard. I tend to think that I’m very sensitive to when people are like, “okay, small-talk isn’t going to happen with me…” or “alright, that was fun for a minute, but please shut the hell up now.” I haven’t been getting those sorts of indicators from people, so I don’t see this symptom as much of a problem at the moment. I still couldn’t talk to Michael Madsen when I saw him in El Pollo Loco last week, at least not until I said “Take it easy bro” when he walked out the door after conversing with one of my friends for a moment about her tattoo. (And no it definitely wasn’t one of those creepy, “hey girly, nice tattoo” sorts of things, unless he’s into the BBW-who-plays-for-the-other-team sort of thing.)

I feel like I’ve been slightly more creative and inspired than usual, too. Again, very difficult to tell if I’m brain damaged or just bored out of work. Nevertheless, I have lots of ideas, and have even managed to get some of them down/out. Writing is a challenge, unfortunately, because I still haven’t figured out a comfortable way to set up my computer, and probably part of the problem with typing is my left wrist which is only about a week and a half out of the cast and is still quite stiff. Incidentally, I sort of suspect that I typed better with the cast on, though it really pissed me off to no end when the damned cast hit the CTRL, ALT, or windoze buttons. And when I write by hand, it looks like the scratchings of a chicken high on crystal meth with ink dripping from its large talons. Sure my handwriting wasn’t the best before, but now it’s damned near worthless. I can sort of read it, if I take lots of peyote or mescaline (both of which are okay since I’m on disability, as long as I’m only taking them to be able to read my handwriting, not to feel high).

Anyway…I’ve distracted myself a couple of times now with emails and bathroom trips and whatnot, so I don’t know if there were further points I wanted to make. I guess if I had to sum it all up for you, it would go something like this: I’m experiencing a range of new stuff right now, some of which might be due to boredom/exhaustion, the rest of which is because my brain is decomposing rapidly due to a flesh-eating virus that got in there when those aliens abducted me and made it look like a motorcycle accident. True story.

Finally, the motorcycle repairs ought to be done very soon. Lucky I have a friend who can go pick it up for me. The hard thing has been selling it. I owe ebay $73 for two failed auctions and have posted for three weeks now on Craigslist. I’m eventually going to look into the CycleTrader thing that the guy at the shop suggested. But since I’m leaving town on Friday, I might need to wait until I get back from Illinois in April, unless my friend is willing to try to sell it for me. We’ll see.

And I absolutely love love love the Scion xD. I did only get to drive it for two days before my coworkers recommended that I ask the neurologist if it was okay to drive (and that bastard said no…WTF?!!?), but I loved every second of it. In addition to having more engine than the xA, it’s got an obscene amount of storage space for a subcompact vehicle. Seriously, you could fit more dead hookers in this thing than you could in the rusted out 70s-model merlot Coupe De Ville my mom bought for her boyfriend to live in when she kicked him out of the house. He actually had a TV in his, though, which I don’t have. But this car is pretty. And pretty in a “I’ll beat you down if you call me pretty, but I’m pretty” sort of way. I love it…so much that I’m refusing to put any bumper stickers on it, other than the kinds that go inside the windows.

Okay…I guess that’s all for now. I have two video blogs in the works, neither of which feature me eating breakfast, but I just have to try to work out a couple of technological bugs. And I lost my damned camera on a bicycle ride the other day, too. I mean, my phone takes both video and decent pictures, but come on! I even had my business card in the camera case, so whoever finds it (provided it wasn’t obliterated by traffic) knows how to contact me. Leaves me to think someone got a free camera, or it’s in camera heaven. So we’ll see what happens.

Oh, dammit, so that reminded me of the other thing I wanted to mention…related to my difficulties typing. I fell asleep one night with my laptop sitting on my bed on the little breakfast/blogging in bed tray that I bought to keep the laptop from overheating in my lap when I’m writing in bed. The tray fell to the floor around 3am or so, and the laptop screen was busted. So now I’ve got my laptop running through a flat panel monitor. I have experimented a number of ways, but I just can’t make it comfortable to lay in bed an type now, so I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor next to my bed, blogging in roughly the same position that it is customary to eat good soba or ramen or sashimi in many homes and restaurants in Japan. And toward the end of the blog post, I finally caught on to the idea of folding up one of my old pillows to use like a zafu, which makes things much more comfortable, and probably much better for my back. Hopefully I can get a new laptop before too long so I don’t have to hold good zazen posture just to write a damned blog entry.