Smorgasbord* of Awesome!

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how I had bought an original Arlo & Janis comic strip. Not long afterwards, I mentioned that to my counselor, Devry Coghlan (in passing, not seeking help for it, thankyouverymuch). And she said that she and her husband had one as well. Her husband is Huntsville Times managing editor Curtis Coghlan, who spent a fair bit of his career in Mississippi, where he got to know A&J artist Jimmy Johnson.

So last week, Johnson starting posting on his web site the strips he drew for a comic he pitched unsuccessfully, Lost Key. And with one of the strips, he wrote this:

Yes, I misspelled Mr. Buffett’s surname. I blame my old friend Curtis for that. My first serious exposure to Jimmy Buffett’s music was from a collection of cassettes Curtis copied for me from his vinyl albums. In the process of labeling the cassettes, Curtis misspelled “Buffett,” and I went on to compound the error. Not only did I listen to Jimmy’s music without paying, I didn’t even spell his name right. I believe I subsequently have purchased enough legitimate Jimmy Buffett music and merchandise to atone.

Now, Curtis isn’t that unusual a name, but, even so, I was curious enough to check with Google, and, sure enough, found this older post on Johnson’s site:

Speaking of music. Yes, yes, yes, I know. I misspelled Jimmy Buffett’s name. At the time this was drawn, 1985, my entire collection of Buffett music consisted of cassettes copied from the albums of my friend, Curtis Coghlan. Somebody, I honestly can’t say whom, wrote the name down incorrectly on the blank cassette labels. So, that’s how I thought it was spelled. That’s my excuse, anyway. I don’t know the excuse of my editors at United Media. For what it’s worth, Mr. Buffett has the distinction of being the first musician ever mentioned in the strip.

My counselor’s husband is the guy that introduced Jimmy Johnson to Jimmy Buffett’s music. That’s kinda cool. Like meeting the brother of that girl that told Abraham Lincoln he should grow a beard.

*See what I did there? Since a smorgasbord is like a “buffet”? I mention this only so that I can tell my favorite buffet-synonym story, in which a much much younger David went to some buffet restaurant that called their buffet by a term I’d not heard before, and so I unknowingly misunderstood it as a word I was familiar with. It says something about young Dave that I misinterpreted “Country Sideboard” as “Country Cyborg,” which I picture as a mix between The Six Million Dollar Man and The Dukes of Hazzard.

Quote Backlog

I keep a folder of quotes that I like to use in my sidebar, but I come across them more frequently than I can use them, and some just never really fit where I am when I update. So here’s a whole bunch of them I haven’t used.

“Life is rarely about what happened; it’s mostly about what we think happened.” — Chuck Klosterman

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.” — Henry David Thoreau

“I’m not perfect, but you should’ve waited. I’m worth it.” — Lee Christmas, “The Expendables”

“Only a growing man can help other people grow. Therefore the first qualification for leadership is not having arrived.” — @immanuelnash

“You often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.” — The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

“There are honest people in the world, but only because the devil considers their asking prices ridiculous.” — A Fine And Private Place by Peter S. Beagle

“Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.”
— The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov.

“The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly.” — A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” — Henry Ward Beecher

“The secret of patience is to do something else in the meantime.” — Anonymous

“You let your past destroy you, or you use it to create something better” — Tyler Perry

“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” — Malcolm Forbes

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams

“Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.” — Confucius

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be.” — Douglas Adams

“Life is not the sum of what we have been, but what we yearn to be.” — Jose Ortega y Gasset

“Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.” ― Zelda Fitzgerald

“As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson

“If He who in Himself can lack nothing, chooses to need us, it is because we need to be needed.” — C.S.Lewis

“Loving someone does not simply mean doing things for them; it is much more profound… To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth and their importance; it is to understand them.” -– Jean Vanier

“Every breath is a second chance.” — Switchfoot

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” -– Confucius

“The most important time in your life was the time you spent with these people. That’s why you all are here.” — Christian Shepherd, “LOST”

“Life is too short for drama and petty things, So kiss slowly, Laugh insanely, Love truly, And forgive quickly.” — Anonymous

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable.” — C.S. Lewis

“It’s your fault; I just wanted to say I’m sorry.” — James Rhodes, “Iron Man”

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” — Mother Theresa

An Ill Wind (Katrina Musings)

(I originally posted this on my blog last year; I’ve updated it slightly for this year.)

Me, at the Walls of Jericho

Me, at the Walls of Jericho

I feel a bit guilty for enjoying the experience.

I remember being outside that night. I remember the wind and the rain. I remember how glorious it was — the storm was the embodiment of the raw experience of being in nature, with all its power and majesty. I remember the feeling of the driving wind and the pouring rain, and it seeming glorious. I remember enjoying it.

Elsewhere, people were losing their homes. Elsewhere, people were dying.

That night was Monday, August 29, 2005. The day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Five years ago today.

Five years ago, Katrina was the most remote thing in the world. Sure, it was a big deal, but not one that affected me. It was a tragedy, but that tragedy was other people’s problem. When I realized where the wind and rain had come from, I felt somewhat guilty that I had enjoyed something — the remnants of Katrina that blew over Huntsville — that had caused such devastation elsewhere, but that was it. It just wasn’t part of my life.

I first felt the wings of the butterfly that weekend, in the smallest of ways, and, looking back on my attitude, the pettiest. We had made plans for friends in Jackson, Miss,. to come visit that weekend. Given the situation in Jackson, which was still without power and would be for a while, where gasoline was a precious commodity when it could be found at all, and where people were, even that far inland, dealing with substantial damage, my friend decided not to come to Huntsville, and to try to help out there instead. And I, I’m ashamed to admit, was annoyed by the inconvenience. In my defense, I still didn’t get it; still didn’t understand the scope and magnitude of what had happened.

I’m also a bit embarrassed to admit that the next time Hurricane Katrina blew into my life, it was in a positive way. My then-wife Nicole got a job on a state contract working with Katrina evacuees in north Alabama. These were people who had been transported out of New Orleans; basically, they all boarded a bus, and were driven up Interstate 65. Along the way, they were dropped off basically randomly based on how many people could be housed in a given location. Based on the luck of the draw, they might end up somewhere like the cities of Birmingham or Huntsville, or they might end up in a small Alabama town somewhere like Cullman. Nicole’s job was to help those people adjust to life after Katrina, either by helping them get settled in Alabama or by helping them move back home. (I joked at the time that her job was to go around and be Tom Petty for her clients: “You don’t have to live like a refugee.”) It was a good job for her, and a contract that paid rather well.

The next significant time Katrina and I crossed paths was in October 2006, when I visited Stennis Space Center, the first time I’d been to the coast since landfall. It was very odd seeing the changes in Biloxi and Gulfport, where I’d visited several times during my Mississippi days. In some ways, it was hard to believe it had already been a year, in others, it was hard to believe it had only been a year. Some buildings looked like they must have immediately after the hurricane, while others (like, of course, casinos) had impressive new structures designed and built from nothing post-Katrina. It was interesting talking to people at Stennis about how their lives had been, and continued to be, different after Katrina.

Katrina would arguably affect my life substantially at least one more time — the hurricane played some role in my ex-fiancée Susanna moving from her family’s home in Louisiana, and thus very possibly some role in her ending up in Huntsville. Without it, who knows whether we would have ever met. And the wings of the butterfly keep flapping …

So why did I start this post with a picture of me hiking? In the picture, I’m holding a hiking stick, one I bought in May 2006 in Jackson, Miss. I was on the only week-long vacation I had then ever taken in my career, the time and money for which were made possible by Nicole’s state contract job. In an independent coffee shop there, I saw the stick for sale — handcrafted from wood felled during Hurricane Katrina. Given the circumstances that had led to us being there, we just had to buy it. At the time, it was just a memento. I never used it as a hiking stick until last April, when I went for my first real hike, a week after Susanna called off our engagement — the wake of a further ill wind that Katrina had helped blow into my life, years later.

The stick is a reminder — of Katrina, specifically, and all the ways it touched my life, and, in general, that no man is an island, of how something that seems completely remote and unconnected can end up changing one’s life in ways you could never anticipate.

And that even when the winds and rains come, it doesn’t mean it can’t be glorious.


Today is International Read Comics In Public Day.

And while I did buy a half-price copy of 24 Hour Comics Day Highlights 2004 yesterday when I went to The Deep to pick up my books for this week, specifically with the purpose in mind of participating Saturday.

However, I don’t know for sure that I’ll be able to, so I’m posting this, and at least being public about my comics reading.

I’ve posted on here before about my love of comic strips, but I haven’t talked as much about comic books. But, yeah, I’m geeky enough that I still read comic books. I go to the comic shop every Wednesday between work and Bible study to pick up the new books, and usually read them that night.

I read the random rare issue of this or that infrequently growing up, but didn’t really start reading comics regularly until college, inspired by my editor, noted journalist and author Jesse Holland, and fellow Daily Mississippian staff members Rodney Crouther, Lain Hughes and Joe Gurner. For a while there, a comics run up to Memphis was held pretty much every week.

Back then, my consumption was pretty mainstream, and very DC — Superman, Batman, Flash, Justice League, Green Lantern. It was the era of the huge event, kicked off by the death of Superman. That was a redefining moment, and every few months thereafter, Batman got replaced, or Green Lantern turned evil, or Superman came back to life but Clark Kent died. Metropolis, Gotham and Coast City were destroyed so frequently that I can’t imagine there are any extant insurance providers in the DC universe today.

Today … well, I’m tempted to say I’ve very much become “that guy” when it comes to comic books, except that there are so many “that guys” in comics that it means nothing. There’s “that guy” that wears nothing but superhero logo shirts. There’s “that guy” that will have heated debates about who would win in a fight between heroes. There’s “that guy” who will explain ad nauseum how your favorite book has never been the same since Chris Claremont wrote it.

I’m “that guy” who thinks that mainstream superhero books are mindless pablum, and any intelligent reader should only be reading books by smaller imprints (or by the “indie” imprints published by the Big Two).

I’m all about some Astro City, or Fables, or Echo, or Elephantmen, or any number of books the average person hasn’t heard of. If I’m talking to you about comics, that’s what I’m going to talk about, that’s what I’m going to recommend. In fact, right now, you should order a cheap used copy of Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile. It’s easily accessible to the non-comics-reader, and greatly entertaining. OK, you back? I also heartily recommend Astro City, though reading it benefits from some familiarity with the basic conventions of superheroes.

And then there’s something like Localthat doesn’t have any superheroes or fairy tale characters or anything, just a young woman growing up as she travels around the country. Or there’s True Story, Swear to God: Chances Are,a writer’s true story (of course) about how he met his wife. You can buy a used copy on Amazon for a penny. I mean, OK, really, what’s stopping you?

And I could go on and on. Just picking those four seems woefully lacking, and I’m positive there are far better things I should have mentioned.

In the interest of full disclosure, however, I should note that, despite the fact that I’m continuing to gradually decrease my weekly reading, I still pick up the occasional mainstream superhero event book. Even as we speak, Daredevil’s taking over Manhattan and the Green Lantern Corps is …

… well, you’d just have to read it.

Home Movie Watching Poll

So I saw in the newspaper last Sunday that Best Buy was running a sale on the awesome Jeff Bridges country music movie Crazy Hearton Blu-Ray. Now, I don’t necessarily want to watch it right now, but it’s definitely a movie I could see myself wanting to watch and/or inflict on others in the future. So there’s some temptation to go ahead and buy it now to have when that day comes.

The problem with that is this that I’m beginning to fear that I made a mistake. I watched the format wars between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD with great interest, planning to upgrade from DVDs the moment there was a clear winner. By Christmas two years ago, it was obvious Blu-Ray had one, and I got a Blu-Ray player.

I wanted to switch as early as possible because I buy a decent number of movies, and didn’t want to keep investing in DVDs, which at that point were clearly an obsolete format. But now I’m wondering if I’ve done the thing I was trying to avoid doing. I was so focused on which format was going to come out on top that I never stopped to consider that the issue of which physical medium would win was beside the point.

Online digital streaming and downloads are becoming increasingly common. To be honest, even after investing in Blu-Ray, I probably watch more television shows that I download from iTunes than I do movies that I buy on disc. And it sounds like Apple is about to take things further with Apple TV (iTV?) soon, which could further the balance.

So, yeah, if I buy Crazy Heart on Blu-Ray this week, am I doing exactly what I tried to avoid doing with DVD two years ago? By the time I want to watch it, will I be wondering why I was still investing in physical media in late 2010?

I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Livin’ On A Prayer

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “The Leaders of Your Church.”

You want to know what’s wrong with the church today? Pastors.

Well, not pastors, really. Pastors are great. We need more of them. It’s the preachers you’ve got to watch out for.

Of course, the actual preaching is only part of the problem. It’s what those preachers do when they’re not preaching that causes problems.

And it’s not their fault. I don’t really blame the preachers, per se. They and the church are both victims of a system centuries in the making.

First, I’m not entirely sure there should be a preacher. A preacher is basically just someone with the gift of teaching, of which there should be more than one in a body of any size. Paul tells us in Corinthians that when the church assembles, everyone should bring something to the service. The church should have room for all of those with the gift of teaching to teach. Instead, we pick one teacher, call him the “preacher” and disenfranchise the rest of the members of the body from participants into spectators.

Second, I’m not entirely sure why the preacher should be, effectively, the Chief Executive Officer of the church. Generally speaking, the person who delivers the messages on Sunday morning is the one with the greatest single responsibility and authority for setting the direction of the church. We assume that because someone has the gift of teaching, we should give them responsibility for leadership and administration as well. Granted, there are people who have all three gifts, but it’s a heavy burden.

Third, and to me most importantly, neither a preacher nor a CEO is the same as a pastor. A pastor should serve as shepherd to the members of the body, and that can’t be done effectively without a personal relationship. Unfortunately, most people never get that. We talk about THE pastor of a church, as if its a unique position. Instead, just like teachers, there should be several in a body with that gifting, enough to interact directly with all of the members. Instead, we take the one teacher we call the preacher and place in charge of the church’s direction, and we give him the title of pastor as well, robbing the members of actually having a true, personal pastor. And that’s extremely unfortunate.

Fourth, this is unfair to the preachers. You take someone with the gift of teaching. And you give him the burden of carrying a huge part of the teaching in the church. And then, on top of that, you give him the responsibility of also being the church’s CEO. And then you call him pastor, giving him a burden that there is no way he can bear. Most try, responding to the needs of their parishioners as best they can without the time or relationship to really help. Preachers today are set up to fail. They’re given a job too big for any person to hold. That’s probably why the first-century church was so much less top-heavy than today’s. The preachers suffer. It’s more the rule than the exception that their families suffer. Their congregations suffer. And the system continues.

That said, while I believe very firmly the church should be much less top-heavy, clearly there is a Biblical call for church leaders — bishops, overseers, deacons, elders, whatever terms your translation uses. And I’ll admit that it’s an area that I need to study more. I tend to believe that those are the people who are recognized as the go-to people. If you need someone to talk to, if you need something explained, if you need a dispute settled, then that’s who you talk to. But I’m open to being wrong about that.

But leadership isn’t about being a pastor or preacher. Let those who can teach, teach. Let those gifted to be a pastor, be a pastor.

“When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.”

Only Life

It’s been a while since I’ve written just a general “what’s going on in life” post, but I’ve written enough topic-specific posts about different things that I thought I should do a catch-all catch-up post.

My brother Jonathan came in fourth place in the election. He was only slightly behind the third place candidate, but both of them were well behind the two candidates who made it into the run-off. He had a pretty decent lead over the bottom four candidates, however. It was, of course, disappointing that things didn’t go better, but he did a good job making a name for himself, and he ran a respectable campaign. The other candidates took him seriously as a contender, and he received some notable endorsements. I don’t know what he has planned for the future, but I think he built up some political capital this summer should he choose to use it.

For the first time in months, we had to cancel an improv show Tuesday night, because only one person showed up. We told him he can use his ticket for a future show, and, as a bonus, used him as a test-market for trying out a new game that we’ll probably bring back out in a couple of weeks. I’ll be in a show tomorrow night at Kenny Mango’s Coffee Shop in Madison (Buy tickets here and save!) and will be playing in the show at Sam & Greg’s next Tuesday. Come check us out!

The mission trip to Costa Rica that I wrote about a while back has been indefinitely postponed.

The deadline for the shuttle book I’m co-authoring has been postponed, but not indefinitely.

I got my Arlo & Janis strip in the mail last week, and it’s awesome.

Heather’s NASA blog has finished its initial pilot phase, and, rather than going into normal operations, is instead going into a second pilot phase in which we test a version with even more awesomeness.

I’ve still only taken my kayak out once. Sad, really. Of course, the weather is getting to a point where it should be more agreeable to do so soon. Probably not this weekend, though.

I’ve worked at Marshall for eight years, as of a week ago today.

OK, I guess that’s enough.

Religiously Spiritual

Modena cathedral

"Would you describe yourself as spiritual, religious, or something else?"

Not if I can possibly avoid it.

It's amazing how much weight those terms have come to carry as buzzwords today.

In my primary congregation, the term "religious" has come to carry a very negative connotation. A "religious" person is one who is focused on the trappings of church and religion, someone who is caught up in the "thou shalls" and the "thou shalt nots" to the point where they see that as the measure of their spiritual worth. A "spiritual" person, on the other hand, is one whose focus is on relationship and redeeming grace.

On the other hand, in other circles, you run into the idea of someone who is "spiritual but not religious," someone who doesn't subscribe to any organized religion, but believes loosely in some higher power in a way that doesn't actually involve doing anything.

Telling the former that I'm "not religious" tells them that I'm focused purely on my relationship with Christ in a non-legalistic way, telling the latter that I'm "not religious" means that I don't believe in him at all.

I suppose I could say I'm "relational," but, while that lacks the confused connotations of "spiritual" and "religious," that's only because, really, it means nothing at all.

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Expendable Pilgrim

I was interested in watching both Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and The Expendables.

I had to pick one to watch first, knowing it meant I might not get around to the other. Scott Pilgrim won, which in retrospect was the right choice. But when I watched Scott Pilgrim, I wanted to write about it. And based on what I wanted to say about it, I wanted to watch The Expendables, too, and review them both together.

That was the weekend before last. This past weekend, I watched The Expendables. And I watched Scott Pilgrim again.

I rather liked Scott Pilgrim, in case you didn’t get that.

Scott Pilgrim, you see, was a lot of fun. It had a good story, and that went a long way, but it was made well, in a way that was enjoyably whimsical. It was made in a very particular vernacular, to the point where, if you’re unfamiliar with that vernacular, you might as well be watching a foreign film. But if you are, it provides the comfortable intimacy of a story told by someone who knows you.

And that was why I wanted to go ahead and watch The Expendables, as well. My theory was that it, also, would involve its own vernacular, and might resonate in the same way in its world.

I should note, here, that while both movies are rooted deeply in the culture of the ’80s and ’90s, and while I’m very much a child of the eras they’re rooted in, I myself am much more a part of the Scott Pilgrim culture than The Expendables culture. To be honest, I’ve never even watched a Rambo movie all the way through.

Scott Pilgrim is rooted heavily in pop geek culture of that period — in video games and sitcoms and comic books and indie bands. There’s hardly a frame of the film, to use an archaic colloquialism, that isn’t fan service for citizens of that world. The Expendables is written in exactly the vernacular you would expect of a movie that includes Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Steve Austin. (And doesn’t feature a baby in a key role; that’s an entirely separate genre.)

I would say it’s a credit to The Expendables that it’s not quite as slavishly devoted to its vernacular. The scene with “The Big Three” is handled with just as big a wink as you would expect, but then, later in the film, there’s a point where I thought, “They should totally have had Rocky fight that guy instead.” The problem, however, is that the entire point of The Expendables is that vernacular; it exists pretty much solely as a super-potent distillation of the ’80s over-the-top (no pun intended) action genre. Arguably, it would be hard for the film to have gone too far in that direction, since that’s pretty much its entire raison d’etre. It’s a movie, written in a particular vernacular, about that vernacular. It’s fun and entertaining, but very WYSIWYG.

Scott Pilgrim, on the other hand, uses its vernacular as a medium for telling a larger story. It’s a story about relationships, and uses its very contrived world to tell a very real story. I identified with the movie in two ways — both the ambient references to a culture I was very familiar with, but, even more so, its musings on love and relationships. I lived more than a bit of both the context and the content. It was a film with heart, and not just the little eight-bit ones that show how much life you have left.

The Expendables was a couple of hours of fun viewing, Scott Pilgrim will earn a place on my Blu-Ray shelf.

Distinguished Company

Last year’s Space Camp Hall of Fame prompted me to write a post on my blog about costume party moments, times when I get to go out and pretend that I’m this cool person. The 2010 induction Friday night was definitely one of those moments.

The picture above of six of the eight people at my table at the event was taken to send to the editor at the University of Nebraska Press of the Outward Odyssey series that includes my Skylab book and forthcoming shuttle book.

At right is:

Heather R. Smith, NASA education writer and creator of the NASA Taking Up Space blog, and co-author of the forthcoming Outward Odyssey volume Bold They Rise.

From left are:

Robert Pearlman, author of the epilogue of Footprints in the Dust, creator and editor of the collectSPACE, and 2009 inductee into the Space Camp Hall of Fame.

Francis French, co-author of Into That Silent Sea and In the Shadow of the Moon, Director of Education at the San Diego Air & Space Museum, and 2010 inductee into the Space Camp Hall of Fame.

Owen Garriott, co-author of Homesteading Space, Science-Pilot of Skylab II and mission specialist for shuttle mission STS-9.

Al Worden, Command Module Pilot for Apollo 15. Which, lest you miss it, means that he spent days solo-orbiting the moon and holds the record for the deep-space EVA furthest from the Earth.

Without question, the coolest, most-distinguished table at the event. And, somehow, I got to sit at it.

Yeah, I’m blessed.