Thursday, July 22, 2010

Inspirations of a Soul Stealer

        It is Sunday morning and the park is the epitome of harmony. The world is a bright and cheerful place, or so it would seem. If you were looking closely, really closely, you could easily see that sinister acts were unfurling everywhere.
        For instance, in the branches of an old maple tree a squirrel dreams of being an arsonist. Of flames dancing over the trees as it looked on and cackled. But he did not know how to start a fire. Anyways, there were even more nefarious plots being acted out in this park than the mere aspirations of a would-be felon.
        For instance, a group of ants had assembled a motley crew of gentleman thieves and were preparing to execute a fiendishly clever plan to liberate a fortune from a picnic basket. The haul was big enough that they could finally afford to get out of the business for good. Yet there were even more underhanded undertakings being perpetrated in this park than small-scale grand theft.
        Kids were being bullied, bikini clad beauties were being forced to fend off the unwanted advances of overeager suitors, and joggers were desperately trying to fix their self-images. But the most suspicious of all the park's happenings was going on by the water fountain where a man named Paul Diebs was stealing souls.
        Paul Diebs wasn't a demon or even a monster. He was just a pudgy man in a floppy hat. He liked getting up early and the discounted breakfasts that came with it. He had never gotten the hang of cooking. When he turned 10 years old his father gave him a camera and a roll of film. Now every Sunday morning he would go to the park to steal souls.
        Children, mothers, and lovers: no one was safe. Although, in his defense, he wasn't stealing whole souls. He was just snipping off little bits and pieces and preserving them in a chemical bath of film. In his mind he wasn't doing anything bad. As long as these photos were around these people would live forever. They would never die. They would never be forgotten.
        The sparkle in the eye of a child reaching for the sky by means of swing-set. The caring look on the face of the mother who deals with the aftermath. The gentle embrace of two lovers completing one another. When someone looked upon these photographs, when they stared into the pieces of these souls, these would be emotions they would see. These would be the souls they would touch and these would be the souls they would be touched by.
        It is Saturday night and a dim glow is fighting off the encroaching darkness. Paul Diebs lies in bed holding a well worn photograph as his gaze refuses to leave it. A young women in a yellow sundress has her arms wrapped around a lanky young man in a floppy hat. It was an old photo and the colors were dulled, but even so the woman seems to carry a joyful radiance that seems to surpass the aged nature of the photograph.
        Paul Diebs is crying; his tears make their way over the crinkled terrain of his smiling face. Sorrow and joy have achieved a sort of coexistence. When he finally turns off the light he can still feel the souls in his hand.
        It is Sunday afternoon and a lens cap gives a little snap as it clicks into place. Paul Diebs puts his camera into its case and gets in his car. As he drives home he thinks back to all the specimens his camera now contains: imaginations running free, nurturing natures in action, love spreading out in ever expanding circles. It is all still out there, even if you sometimes have to be looking for such things in order to see them. A knot in Paul Diebs' stomach undoes itself and he feels better.
        It is Sunday evening and the living room is filled with laughter and talk. Friends sip wine and catch up. Someone asks Paul what he did that day.
        “Nothing much. I just went to the park for the usual round of soul stealing,” he said.
        His friend looked at him quizzical so he motioned towards the old camera sitting atop the bookshelf.
        “Oh! You mean you took some photographs?” they asked.
        “Who's to say you aren't doing both?”

Friday, July 16, 2010

I Know That Number. Let's Celebrate!

        As of this moment I have tweeted a total of 365 times. I can't help but think that's a little bit cool. You could read one of them every day for a year! Heck, you certainly couldn't do that with these blog posts.

        In honor of this abstract number, I've just read all of them. It turns out most of them are really dumb. For quite awhile it seems I just informed the internet of what I was up to. "Making a massive cake!" Thanks for sharing! But slowly they have become less about what I'm doing and more about what I'm thinking about. I suppose it depends on who you ask, but personally I find this kind to be a lot more interesting to look at later on.
        To celebrate this random occasion I have ducked out of the responsibilities of creating something original by assembling a list of my Top 10 favorite Twitter posts. Not counting the ones where I'm quoting someone else, because that wouldn't seem fair.

10 I just inhaled a fair amount of orange freezer pop syrup.

9 I need to get a buddy to take naps at the same time as me. That way napping will seem like a bonding exercise instead of sheer laze.

8 Oh, heated seats! Like the sweet caress of a fiery angel across my buttocks.

7 Pro: Being productive and fixing the lightning rod. Con: Your productive decision leads to a shockingly conductive result. You are dead now.

6 If NASCAR sold tea at their events I can only imagine they'd call it NAS-Tea.

5 I think superstitions about bad luck were all created by the exasperated mother of a mischievous child.

4 An animated being on the hunt for brains+a metal monster who wants to fill its empty chest with organs+a deranged lion = The Wizard of OZ.

3 Flossing is like digging for buried treasure, except the treasure is disgusting and if you aren't careful your gums will bleed.

2 Meeting a pretty girl is like meeting a famous celebrity. It is exhilarating and rarely ends the way you would have hoped.

1 I have never once been ashamed of my physical inability to kick myself in the head.

        And there you have them. Your picks may have been different and if you had thought ahead and sent them to me it would saved me the trouble of reading 365 messages of 140 or less characters. But you didn't. So we are stuck with these ones.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Jesse Reviews "Parasite Rex"

        Have you ever seen the movie The Matrix? If so I'm sure you remember that antagonistic Agent Smith, the computer program with an ego. In one of his many memorable lines he delivers a little monologue about his take on Homo sapiens:
“I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure.”

        The line is a rather philosophical look at the role humanity plays in the world. A hardboiled comment on the path we've taken. It's hard to think about the truth behind that statement without becoming a bit ashamed. At first we were convinced we were created separate from the animals. Then science told us that we were more alike those animals than we ever thought possible. Now we might be even lower lifeforms? Mere parasites sapping the life from our hosts? But luckily for us Agent Smith and other would-be philosophers haven't studied enough biology and clearly don't understand the importance of parasites. Actually most of us don't understand the importance of parasites and yet they are a crucial player in the game of life (of course I mean life on earth, but my childhood would have certainly been a lot more enjoyable if that statement held true for the Milton Bradley board game as well).
        I've just finished Carl Zimmer's book Parasite Rex. Reading this book is just like driving by a car accident: it is wholly unsettling and yet powerfully fascinating. All the things we learned in biology class, from the food chain to the intricate dance between predator and prey, were missing a huge link in the chain. As it turns out parasites have a bigger role in ecology than I could have ever imagined.
“Discovering parasites at work in ecosystems can feel a bit like watching in terror as a bank robbery unfolds and then looking across the street and seeing a movie crew with its cameras and boom mikes. Birds are being guided to their meals, and fish are choosing their coral polyps, thanks to the advertisements of flukes [a type of parasite]. Uncovering these effects is hard work, and only a few examples have been documented. But they're enough to suggest that parasites can cast some of the hoariest notions of ecology into doubt” (pg 110).

        The books starts out with the entrance of parasites into the world of science and leads into what they are, what they do, and how they do it. It slowly pulls back and encompasses a bigger picture. Not only are ideas of how parasites came to be discussed, but how parasites have affected the evolution of their hosts as well.
        It is all horrifying at first, I'll admit. Learning what kinds of parasites are out there and what they're capable of is a little bit frightening. Okay, it's a lot a bit frightening. But you quickly begin to realize that parasites play a huge role in the world. A role that is often overlooked. Zimmer's greatest accomplishment with this book is being able to avoid the trap of settling for shock and awe. He could have easily just written a book of bizarre and disgusting anecdotes detailing the more gruesome exploits of parasites. However, he instead manages to endear them to you with a graceful subtlety. Before you know it you've moved on from abject revulsion and moved on to distanced amazement.
        Maybe Agent Smith was right. Maybe human beings are just another type of parasite. If that is the case, I think I'm okay with that. And to be able to come to that conclusion after starting off disgusted and horrified of parasites is a testament to the book. The author says it best himself:
“There's no shame in being a parasite. We join a venerable guild that has been on this planet since its infancy and has become the most successful form of life on the planet. But we are clumsy in the parasitic way of life. Parasites can alter their host with great precision and change them for particular purposes: to take them back to their ancestral home in a stream, to move on to their adulthood inside a tern. But they are expert at causing only the harm that's necessary, because evolution has taught them that pointless harm will ultimately harm themselves. If we want to succeed as parasites, we need to learn from the masters” (pg 245)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

1 Man Competition: Everyone's a Winner

I think I have a sickness of some sort. Not a physical one, but a mental one. For you see, I can't help but to try and top other people's birthday greetings on Facebook.

It first developed from a dislike of duplicates; there really isn't much variation for wishing someone a happy birthday. And, really, if it's your birthday you could care less. Your friend wished you a happy birthday? Awesome! I love friends!

However, I never buy store-bought cards, I'll be damned if I'll kneel before the throne of conventional well-wishing. Actually, I'm just cheap, but that's not the point. This simple practice has leaked into how I think of the little posts on people's Facebooks and has evolved into a one-sided competition. "Let's see those other friends try and top that one!" I'll cry triumphantly, to no one in particular, after completing a new one. Sometimes I can almost believe that these other friends are actually sitting there going, "Damnit! Who is this fiend! I'll get him next time...mark my words." All the while shaking their fist menacingly.

In reality, or at least in my construction of reality, most people probably don't look over what kind of birthday posts their friend has gotten. They're just there to wish their friend the best and then be on their way. But not me. Oh, no. Not me.

I will research various historical events for that particular day:
This day in history: Madagascaar claims Independence from France, Pied Piper leads 130 children from Hamelin, Indira Ghandi receives enormous political powers when emergency rule is declared in India, Christmas declared federal holiday in the USA, oh and did I mention SARAH SAMSON'S BIRTHDAY?! Which is clearly the most historic of these events. At least it is in my opinion.
I will craft poems:
She's a force that makes the Earth pray,
just to hear her mirth sway,
for in that sound,
a joy renowned,
so let's celebrate Marge's Birthday.
If they have a particular interest I'll sometimes try to make something tailored to that, like ornithology for instance:
I hope your birthdae is sibley wonderfowl.
And if I don't have a lot of time I'll make do with saying the standard "Happy Birthday" in a slightly different way:
7 Down: Chipper
15 Across: Annual creation celebration
86 Sideways: Chesterfield-Branson
Or with less work:
((√(birthday+cake))^age)*presents = 2(Happiness)
And with even less work yet:
You. Birthday. Happiness.
I think you've got a pretty good picture of the situation now. Just one more example of the odd ways in which I invest my free time. Some people would say this is a sign that I need to get out more, but those people...would probably be right.

Although, since there isn't an official ref or anything, I'm just going to declare myself the winner of Facebook birthday greetings.

Take that friends of my friends!