“The object of a question is to obtain information that matters to us, and no one else.”
- Sean Connery as William Forrester in "Finding Forrester"

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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Stories to Tell

On my drive back from Montreal last night I came across a CBC radio show called Wire Tap. The website describes it this way:

Host Jonathan Goldstein invites you to tune in and eavesdrop as he talks over the phone with some of [Canada's] best storytellers. Sometimes he catches them on their cell phones making late-night trips to the emergency room, sometimes he finds them at home on a Sunday afternoon, flipping TV stations with Mexican take-out on their lap. Whether funny or emotional, their stories are guaranteed to keep you engaged. Each episode swings back and forth between Goldstein's monologues and phone chats, and it all plays out to a moody, ambient soundtrack.

Last night his topic was "Man and Beast." The first one was about a guy who let the relationship of his dreams slip through his fingers because he thought the pheromones he bought were the only thing that attracted this woman to him and when he ran out and the company he bought them from went out of business he never called her back.

The next story, though, was one I found to be somewhat profound at times, making me think about myself. It was a story about a man who drove from Ottawa to Montreal with his girlfriend and a potbellied pig they were taking to an animal sanctuary. (This is not the part I identified with.) Along the way the pig became restless and started raising havoc in the back seat. The girlfriend found it funny, he got pissed off. When they returned home they had a huge fight over how he apparently wasn't the man the animal-lover girlfriend thought he was and they broke up. He felt so lost afterwards that he would just wander around at night looking for fights to start - learning quickly that street fights with drunken Canadians isn't the best of ideas.

What spoke to me was his reasoning for doing this. He spoke of how boring his life had become that whenever he talked with anyone he found that he was repeating a lot of the same things over and over. He had run out of stories to tell. So, he would go out and look for trouble so he would feel more occupied, more interesting, more alive. I don't go out looking for trouble, but sometimes I feel like somewhere behind the joy I derive from travel or hiking or watching movies or whatever, is the thought that maybe it will make me seem more interesting. It's as though my now annual adventures make me seem more worldly and exciting than I really am. Or the fact that I write in a journal or go commune with nature from time to time makes me just the right balance between a masculine outdoorsman and a sensitive, reflective person. Or that my knowledge of movie trivia might be impressive in some way.

I'm not a spontaneous person. And while I have a good sense of humor and a certain sense of comfort in who I am, I don't carry around the type of confidence that people are drawn to. So, while I found it fun to drive up to Montreal for an afternoon on a whim, part of it was so I would have a good story to tell.

Well, it's the end of another calendar year. Tomorrow marks a fresh start, a new beginning for all of us. I'm not making any resolutions but, as is my constant hope, I will do my best to be me and to strive for those things which matter most: love, family, friendship, inner peace, and joy. May we all find what we seek, hold on to what we have, and look forward with hope and anticipation for that which awaits us in the coming year.

Happy New Year Everyone!


As you may know from reading my website or from various posts over the last 6 months, I like to travel. I like going to places I've never been to experience a slice of what life is like elsewhere in the world and to see things I've only read about or seen in movies or some travel show. Towards the end of this past season of The Amazing Race, the teams stopped in Montreal as they made their way to the finish line. One of their tasks led them to the Parc Olympique. I thought it was a very interesting design, very fluid. As I looked around at that site I found another for the Biodome de Montreal - a different kind of zoo/botanical garden that is divided up by the many climate zones found in the Americas from tropical forest to the arctic.

Satisfied that I had enough destinations to make the trip worth it, I hopped in the car to make the 4.5 hour trip up to our neighbor in the cold north for an afternoon of being a tourist. Though it took a little time to figure out my way over to the Hard Rock Cafe - my brother collects shot glasses - given that it was after dark by the time I got there, I don't know the city, and my memories of high school French are fleeting, I had a nice time and it felt good to be so spontaneous for once.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Time Off

Knowing that the time between Christmas and New Year's is often extremely quiet at work, and remembering that I still have a few vacation days left this year, I am taking some much needed time off. Tuesday into Wednesday is taken up by the annual CCYM reunion being held at Beth's church. And because my brother and his family are spending the next few days in Omaha with my grandfather, my parents and I are going over to their house on New Year's Eve, instead, to exchange gifts. But that leaves half of Wednesday through the first half of Saturday, 3 days of unscheduled time, with which to do whatever I want to do.

I generally don't make resolutions - partly because I know that I'm not disciplined enough to follow through - and I'm not planning on making any this year. However, as the year winds down so does another whole year in my life leading up to my own personal New Year's. So it might make sense, as I approach my quarter century mark, to just take those few days to find some rest and renewal.

I haven't decided on what to do yet. I thought about maybe spending a couple days at an inn up in Ontario - I had planned on going up there a couple of years ago as a birthday present to myself but my plans had to change a bit - but I'm not sure I want to spend the money since I'm starting to save for my real vacation at the end of May. I might just take a day trip somewhere I've never been, or haven't been to in a while. I mean, Niagara Falls and Montreal are only a few hours away. I don't feel the need to drive back out to Boston since I was only there in September. There's a friend I've been trying to get in touch with again that would be within a few hours' drive but I'd rather have plans first than drive down there for nothing. Or, I could just live like a hermit for a few days.

In any case, this needs to be a time for rest and for rediscovery of myself. January 1st is the beginning of a new calendar year. But, as I've said before, my birthday is my real New Year's. As I approach this nice round numbered age I will make no resolutions, but in many ways I hope it is a beginning that will leave me with hope and joy and love and peace that will last.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Film Review: King Kong

Last weekend as a part of our "executive Christmas party," my parents and I went to see King Kong. There are certainly pluses and minuses to it, as there are with all movies, but overall it was I found it to be worth seeing though it did not live up to the hype or the caliber we have all come to expect from director Peter Jackson.

The special effects were great, without a doubt. Though the dinosaurs and giant bugs could still be picked out as being CG, for the most part Kong himself was realistic enough for me to suspend my powers of disbelief for the length of the movie.

Jack Black played the part of the desperate filmmaker in search for something new and exciting quite well. It is a bit over the top at times, but it is his obsession that drives the underlying tragedy of the plot. And Black is just crazy enough to pull it off.

Naomi Watts is certainly a beautiful actress and her wide blue eyes really captured the range of emotions that her character, Ann, goes through during the course of the film. She brought vulnerability, whimsy, and compassion to the role with her adventurous spirit and her special bond with the large ape.

There are a few scenes in the movie which I found to be especially brilliant. They aren't really spoilers but if you want to skip this part just scroll on down to the cons portion of the review. First, when Ann is taken away by Kong and is faced with her almost certain death she can do nothing but revert back to what she knows, comedy. So after going through her routine, complete with juggling and Pratt falls, Kong is literally rolling with amusement. When she refuses to do any more, Kong throws the biggest tantrum and goes blazing through the jungle like a little boy who just had his favorite toy taken away.

Next after Kong escapes from the "freak show" he stars in, he and Ann make their way to Central Park. Without realizing it, they come across a frozen pond and Kong slips and falls. The utter joy that overcomes them both is just beautiful as they continue to go sliding across the ice, spinning and rolling around like a pair of kids on a snow day. The couple got to share a dance and show that laughter really can cross great divides. Sure, it's hard to believe the ice was actually thick enough to hold his weight but you can get so caught up in the moment that it doesn't even matter.

Right at the end, atop the Emipre State Building, Ann and Kong watch the sunset as they did earlier in the movie. Remembering a motion she had made for beautiful - describing the sunset previously - Kong looks at Ann and repeats it describing her. I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that Ann thinks he's talking about the sunset and totally misses his really message, but to me the more important thing is showing the tenderness of Kong and seeing how he has learned - though simply - how to communicate his feelings.

Too long. Can Peter Jackson make any movie in under 3 hours? I'm not opposed to long movies in general but the story should be strong enough to make it flow throughout that period of time so you don't even notice it. It takes over an hour for them to even get to the island where they find Kong. Again, this wouldn't be so bad if they tightened up the script some and did away with a couple of substories that were pretty meaningless.

An example of that is the friendship between the first mate of the ship and a stowaway-turned-deck hand. The deck hand tries to make off with one of Adrien Brody's pens, the first mate catches him in the act, apologizes to Brody and proceeds to tell him the boy's life story. It was, frankly, rather awkward and didn't serve the story much at all.

It's a small thing but while they are at sea I noticed that they used the same (or very similar) shot of the ship going by a number of times as a way to show a passage of time. For the editor in me it was just a little distracting.

Too many bugs and dinosaurs. Yes, this is the film that inspired Jackson to become a filmmaker and he wanted to be as true to the original as possible, but it got to be a little much.

Once Kong is finally knocked out and ready to be taken back to NYC, how do they get him on the boat? No explanation. They could've taken out the time it took to develop the unnecessary storyline above to show even the slightest bit of that part of the plot.

The last line. Coming in at #84 on AFIs Top 100 Movie Quotes, the movie closes with the line "Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast." Sure, it sounds good with that whole "Beauty and the Beast" reference and it's rather poetic, but it's wrong. It is not Kong's love for Ann that led to his demise - apart from his attempts to take her back from the other humans who "saved" her. Rather, it was the greed and exploitation of those who captured him and the fact that no one would just leave him alone. Plus, to be honest, doesn't Kong maim or kill a number of people throughout the film?

All in all, though, I felt that this was a decent movie. I wasn't totally disappointed, but I wasn't blown away either. Not as epic, or as well written, as it could've been but it's worth seeing.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Holiday Reversal

As I mentioned in a previous post about Christmas traditions, one of the ways my dad would make Christmas a little more fun and to make the festivities of the day last a little longer would be to create a scavanger hunt where my brother and I would have to decipher clues to find our major presents.

This year, as I am playing host to my parents, I have decided to make up a scavenger hunt for them. It's not going to be as long or elaborate as the ones my dad came up with, after all, my apartment isnt' so big as to allow me to hide a clue in a vast number of places. However, I think it will be a special part of the day.

Now, if you promise not to tip off my parents about the clues I'll share them with you.


Ok. Here it goes:

  1. Look for some "expired marine documents."
  2. Who won the Oscar for Best Director in 1986?
  3. Find a Tibetan Meditation aid.
  4. "It was many and many a year ago, in a kingdom by the sea..."
  5. The Kaufmans enjoyed life here for awhile.
  6. Now split up: Mom - #9 on AFI's Top 100 list (hint: 1993 Best Picture); Dad - "I'm from Japan."
  7. Mom - Ernie's little yellow friend makes time lots of fun here; Dad - Not between a rock and a hard place but between a hot and a cold place.

Without looking up numbers 2 or 6, can you figure out the clues? I'll post the answers after we have a winner.

Good Luck!

Update: Each clue leads to the next one on the list. They aren't all a part of the identity of the gift(s). For example: I will first give clue #1 which will lead them to a place in my apartment where they will find clue #2 which will lead them to another place to find #3, and so forth, until they find what they are looking for at the locations identified in #7. Just wanted to make that clear. Also, for the movies, they would look among my collection to find the clue inside.

Believe me, I'm being much nicer to them than my dad was to me. Once he gave me a matrix of numbers and an obscure clue to find the book he used and I had to search by page number, line number, word number and letter number and then figure out the jumble of letters to find the next clue. Good times...

Monday, December 12, 2005

Cross-Cultural Exchange

For two out of the last three years my friend Laura has been living, studying, and working in Kyoto, Japan. Laura and I became friends in college and we both spent most of our time studying religion - well, not most of our time. While I took a broader approach to religion in general, spending more time with Islam than Eastern philosophies, Laura focussed in on the language and religions of Japan - during her breaks from singing in the choir and playing ultimate frisbee.

During the fall of 2002, we both left to study abroad: me on Semester at Sea, her with the Stanford in Kyoto Program. As it turned out, my first port of call beyond our point of departure was Kobe, Japan. Laura and I were able to meet up and spend the day touring around Kyoto, visiting the beautiful temples, sampling green tea ice cream (better than I expected), and sharing some sake by the river as the sun set and locals played soccer and shot off fireworks. It was a great day! And I definitely hope to make it back at some point.

Since then, Laura came back to the US to finish out her college requirements and has recently completed yet another year in lovely Kyoto as a Fulbright Scholar. After a short visit home, Laura is now teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren and having adventures that make the world traveler in me very jealous.

Recently, Laura has been asked to be the "token foreigner" at the Christmas parties of English teaching schools for kids. Despite her wonderful photographic talent - which can be found on her website and in the archived sites (1,2) - she has asked me to look around at the many images of Christmas that appear throughout this season and send her some that illustrate how we do Christmas here in the US.

So, tonight on my way home I periodically hopped out of my car and into the cold air of Central New York to capture various decorated homes - no artificial snow here! Of course, I am more than happy to do it. At least the lake-effect snow was taking a break for a little while!

If you are interested in a thoughtful, entertaining, and unique take on life in Japan I encourage you to check out Laura's blog. Sure, it's a shameless plug for a friend's site, but in all honesty it continues to be one of the sites I visit a few times a day for the adventures, the insights, and the stories that come from half a world away.

Take a look!

250,000 and Counting!

As of about 2:45pm today, my website, including this blog, has received 250,054 hits in 2005!

Time to do some celebrating!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Christmas Traditions

Growing up as a PK I had the chance to attend a great number of Christmas Eve services. As my brother and I got older we were able to choose which service(s) we wanted to attend. Though, some years we would be helping out or singing with the choir or playing bells and had to go to all of the services. One year when I was in college, before my dad retired, we created a candle-themed background for all the hymns so people wouldn't have to wrestle with a hymnal while dealing with their children and lit candles everywhere. That year, since I ran the PowerPoint, I had to go to 5 worship services on Christmas Eve. I love candlelight and the stillness that comes at an 11 o'clock service when all the lights are down and the yellow glow on everyone's faces is just wonderful.

After all the services were done and all of the expectations and we had the chance to get out of the fishbowl that is the church, my family would just like to settle down and have a nice relaxed Christmas day. Though, when we were younger, my brother and I would rush to get up and start this day of days as soon as humanly possible, we now tend to get up at a more reasonable hour to allow for sleeping in and making the gift-giving portion last a little longer.

Once everyone was up - still in the pajamas or sweats that we were given the night before - we would put on some holiday music, get our stockings and sit around the living room taking turns opening a single item until we were all finished. After stockings were over, we would get to share in one of my favorite of holiday traditions: my mom's cinamon rolls!They aren't anything fancy, just some frozen bread dough rolled out with cinamon and sugar inside and some frosting, but they're really good! After breakfast we would move on to the bigger presents, likewise taking turns.

My parents never had tons of money to buy lots of presents with but we always felt that we got a good mix of things on our lists and some surprises too. We always felt loved. Not only to avoid a free-for-all, opening presents one at a time helped us to enjoy the day a little longer too. It added a quality to the experience even when there weren't tons and tons of presents under the tree.

Another thing my dad did to make the day last and to add excitement and anticipation was to institute our annual Christmas scavenger hunt. He would hide our big present somewhere and we had to follow the clues to find it. When we were younger the clues would be simple ones like, "look under the toaster," which would then lead us to the mailbox, and so on until we found our gift in the closet or "magically" under the tree. As we got older the clues got harder. They would be written in code or something that made us really have to work for it. When we lived next door to one of the churches my dad served he would plant clues in Bible passages in a particular pew or in a book on the shelf in his office. Then there was the year, once I could drive, when he had church members put clues on their back doors or under trash can lids and we would have to drive across the neighborhood searching just to end up back home where the gift would be waiting for us behind the couch.

It was always so much fun! I know my brother has already started with a simple version for my nephew and when I have a family of my own I know I'll do the same for my kid(s).

As for the main meal, I know some families have a meal that would rival Thanksgiving in its scope. In the same spirit of keeping the day relaxed and casual, we would simply set out snacks and chips and Chex mix and sandwich makings as a buffet so we could nibble throughout the day instead of going through all the effort of making a large dinner.

Only occasionally have we had extended family over. My brother and his family have spent the morning with us before heading to the in-laws' house, or vice versa, but we generally have set aside some time before or after Christmas to exchange presents; and we'll do that this year since they are going out to visit my grandfather in Omaha. I will be having my parents over to my apartment this year for Christmas. They came over a few years ago for my first Christmas at my old place so it's time for me to host them again.

What are some of your Christmas traditions?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Little Holiday Math

I complain about this every year so I thought I'd get it over with. Now is a time when my materialistic consumer side comes out, for which I will be reprimanded, I'm sure. I can actually be a pretty generous person who doesn't seek anything in return. (Of course, it's always nice to be appreciated.)

Christmas is a time for giving. We all know 'tis better to give than to receive and we should focus on the spirit of giving rather than on the physical gifts themselves. After all, it's the thought that counts, right? As a single person, I find that I am often at a disadvantage to the rest of the gift-giving community. You see, once you're in a relationship of some sort you can go in on gifts together. "It's from both of us." I don't think it's always fair that a couple - with presumably two income streams - can get away with giving a single person one gift "from us" when the general conception is that the single person - with one income - should give one gift each. Sure, there are the restaurant gift certificates or movies or other things that become community property. I could go that route - and, being a movie person, I occasionally give them as gifts - but I like to be more personal. Even if I do give a movie, for example, I only present it to one and present a separate gift to the other in the pairing.

Another conversation I had with some other single people revealed how this type of thing is extended beyond the holiday season. After all, aside from birthdays and Christmas, singles don't have other times when they traditionally get gifts (maybe graduation too), whereas others get engagement gifts, wedding gifts, baby showers, anniversary gifts, and on and on. Yes, when new members are added to the family it is a joyous thing and it isn't a chore and it isn't about the money when we give them presents. But the exchange seems a bit lopsided to the disadvantage of the single.

As for me, I get hit doubly hard. You see, my birthday is just a few short days after Christmas so it's not uncommon for me to get a solitary present with the explanation "this is for both Christmas and your birthday." Sometimes it's a more expensive or multi-part gift - like when I got money for my vacation last year - and it's understandable, it can be a significant expense this time of year. However, there are those times when I get a single gift from a couple or family for the pair of occasions. So now it goes something like this: "this is for both from both of us." A time when I would normally get 4 separate presents (in gift-math) ends up producing only one. It wouldn't be so tough if the present count was reduced by 1/2 when a couple is doing the giving - it's not about the number after all - but when you only get 1/4 of the gifts you are "expecting" to, it's a little bit of a downer, particularly when you buy them the gifts for their special days.

I know I've gone on and on about the material side of gift giving, and I know it's bad. I'm not even that materialistic of a person and I am generally content with the thought alone. I'm not out to accumulate stuff or to keep score. In fact, situations like this in no way affect the spirit with which I give nor the nature or scope of that which I give. I just think there should be a certain amount of equity there. And a single person, such as myself, shouldn't be "penalized" for being single, nor for having a birthday less than two weeks after Christmas.

*To their credit, my parents have always done a good job of setting my birthday apart as its own special day. Even though some people keep their Christmas decorations up until after Epiphany, my parents always made sure to have the decorations down shortly after the New Year so they wouldn't still be up on my birthday. And, thankfully, they used birthday wrapping paper instead of the extra holiday paper they had left over. It's the little things that make the real difference, isn't it?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Version 3.0?

I'm contemplating a little change here. At first I just had my web banner with my url on it for my bolg environment - probably just to keep it tied in with the site. Then, thinking that I should come up with something different and unique I came up with "Soup Questions." But the more I think about it I think I should change it yet again.

My blog is still relatively young - just over 5 months old - and, being in its infancy, it is still trying to figure out it's identity. Since it is a mishmash of a little bit of everything in my life, full of my trials and questions, my joys and my uncategorizables, I thought something more fitting may be a title borrowed from one of my poems: "Uneven Dexterity." It's a poem written from the point of view of a painter who is trying to create something amazing but can't seem to make the lines as perfect as s/he would like. But, in the end, by just letting the painting become what it will it takes on it's own form and is a reflection of the artist and all the beauty that was burried deep within.

I feel that way sometimes, like I'm trying to be the best version of myself but I can't seem to get it right. But, when looking back, I find that being who I am is all that I need to be, no more, no less. And that's enough.

So, what do you think, loyal readers? Change or no?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Not Quite Christmas

I know it's only December 4th but I'm not quite in the holiday mood yet. I'm not sure why but over the past few years a trend has developed where I haven't gotten all that excited. I'm not a scrooge about it or anything, I just haven't felt as moved by the season.

I remember when I was a kid how anxious I would be for Thanksgiving's approach - partly for the food - because it meant that Christmas would be coming, then New Year's, and then my birthday all within a 10 day period. Now that they are each less than a month away I find myself, in part, somewhat indifferent.

Don't get me wrong, I always have a nice time with my family and there's nothing that compares with my mom's cinamon rolls. But for the past 2-3 years or so I haven't been enveloped by the holiday spirit as much as I would like. Maybe it's just a part of getting older and losing some of that child-like innocence. Maybe it's been a busier fall than usual and I missed out on some of the environmental cues that help to establish the season. Maybe it's early yet. I'm not sure.

It was nice to put my tree up last week and to see all the white lights sparkle in the dark providing the only illumination for my apartment. Though I hate driving in it, I like the snow and the cold: the way the snow blankets everything and the way the cold gives me an excuse to bundle up and be cozy.

I don't want to turn this into another "woe is me" post but I'm sure some of the same things are playing into my emotions this time of year. Yes, I've had a great couple of weeks spent with my family and I've spent an uncharacteristic amount of time with friends. But this time of year makes me feel a little lonely too. I don't know if it's the commercials featuring happy couples making each other even happier - as though all it would take is a nice necklace, a seat by the fire, and a new car with a bow - but I feel a little left out.

I'm planning on spending this Christmas with my parents. We'll have our traditions and our afternoon of napping and watching our new movies in our pajamas and it will be nice. New Year's is up in the air - my family and I usually spend it playing games. And who knows how I will mark my first quarter-century to make it more special than any other Wednesday.

I just hope that as these next three weeks march on I begin to feel it return a little more each day.