vicarbrench: (Prayer)
At the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, March 1st, I cut off my hair. It was the first complete haircut I'd gotten for about 24 years. I had been thinking about doing that for several months in advance, decided in December to go through with it, and by the beginning of 2017 had chosen Ash Wednesday to do it.

The strangest thing was that even when I finally went to the barber, I still didn't quite know why I was getting my hair cut off. I knew I had changed a lot in recent years, and I "felt" like I needed to change my hairstyle too. The basic ponytail look that I sported for most of 24 years was so... me. It was strongly caught up in my identity and self-perception. A few years ago I got surprisingly emotional at the mere suggestion that I'd "look good" with short hair! Perhaps ever since then, the suspicion was growing in the back of my mind that perhaps I was a little too attached to my hairstyle. It's one thing to be confident in oneself - well and good. To be proud of one's looks is perhaps a vanity that can be considered excessive, even sinful. But to be attached to one's appearance to the point of fearing change, well, surely that is unhealthy?

But that wasn't the whole story; I knew it wasn't adding up yet. Even trying to add a religious layer to the whole deal wasn't quite right - one could argue, through the self-image and vanity line of thinking - that I had made my looks into an idol. Perhaps my attachment to my long hair was rivaling my attachment to God? No, that argument was a bit far-fetched, too.

The answer to the big question - why I had cut my hair - turned out not to be a religious one, though a religious context and imagery gave me the breakthrough I needed to find the answer. The answer was that I had been undergoing a major shift in lifestyle and outlook, and it was well past time I embraced that change in myself. Cutting off my hair wasn't a necessary move; I didn't need to cut ties with my past, or let go of my old look, and re-create myself in a new image. But it was an appropriate move: it served as an outward physical sign of an inward invisible reality.

To borrow language from Doctor Who, it was time to regenerate; to let my old self "die" and embrace the new incarnation. I, as an idealistic and a romantic (in the general sense of the term) was not the center of my personality and outlook anymore. Becoming a parent, and particularly becoming a stay-at-home Dad, has pushed me into a different situation. Life's ideals are beyond my capacity to chase; wishes and dreams have to play side show to the ordinary grind of making sure my 2-year-old doesn't fall head-first off the couch or wander into the street. I don't have time to pursue big writing projects because I've got dishes to clean and diapers to change. My station in life has shifted, and I have to emphasize different aspects of my personality in order to survive and thrive under these new conditions.

And so the season of Lent was a real time of despondency for me; I was mourning the death of my previous self. It was also a time of preparation: who is the new me? What am I going to be like now? How will I understand myself? The religious contour of that liturgical season matched perfectly my introspective situation.

But then Easter arrived. After six and a half weeks, I had gotten used to having short hair. I finally stopped having to look at myself in the mirror in bemusement. I finally stopped regretting the haircut. I even had begun to like it, in its own way. Easter - the season of new life - it's the time we celebrate the resurrection of Christ Jesus, and remind ourselves of the new life we also have received in Christ, particularly through Holy Baptism. In that context, I'm finding myself with a new sense of peace with myself. The new me is still new to me, and I have much to learn and better habits to develop... but I'm happy now. The regeneration process has completed; the season of resurrection has gotten through to me.

So now I'm short-haired Matt. Still an Anglican priest, still married, still a dad, still a nerd in my own (endearing?) ways... but now a bit less idealistic and a bit more duty-oriented.
vicarbrench: (Default)
Hello, DreamWidth.

I used to blog on Live Journal, mainly in college. That was ten years ago and counting. As a grad student (in seminary) that kind of petered out. Facebook is largely responsible, I suspect.

I also began religious blogging on WordPress in 2010. I'm still active there, posting sermons, teachings, the occasional devotional snippet, explanations of various Christian practices, and so on. As I am an ordained priest in the Anglican tradition, that's kind of my "work" blog. From the beginning it has always been an intentionally impersonal blog. My personality is there, of course, but I keep my personal life out it. It's supposed to be a resource of learning and devotion for anyone to browse; personal journaling would get in the way. Feel free to follow me there, if you're into Christian teaching from an Anglican perspective: Leorningcnihtes boc.

So now I'm setting up shop over here where I can write about more personal or random things. Things like my own spiritual life, or what Doctor Who books/audios/shows I've been going through lately, or what music projects are on my mind, or how I feel about being an at-home dad. Some of this will be friends-only, because I'm not a carefree college student anymore. But don't be shy to send me a friend request, either. :)
vicarbrench: (Farewell)
A couple posts ago (Feb 1st) I mentioned that the pump organ broke.  Well today I fixed it!

Got some duck cloth from a friend, took apart a few pieces to replace the old ripped canvas, and voila!

Oh right, details, yes.  The way these old things work is that you pump two foot-pedals which control the bellows which blows air through the pipes.  A canvas strip connects the pedal to the bellows (going around an axel to get the angle right), and it was one of those that had ripped nearly a month ago.  At first I couldn't figure out how to get to where the canvas connected to the bellows, so I thought I wasn't going to be able to repair it.

But finally last week I plucked up the courage to pull out a U-nail  that held one of the rollers in place, and found that I had perfect access to the bellows end of the ripped canvas!  There was just enough room for me to unscrew the block holding down the canvas, and attach a new one.

I guess this would all make more sense if I provided pictures, but alas, I didn't think to catalog this process at all.  I'm not much of a camera-at-home person to begin with, and I was a tad too excited about the possibility of solving this problem to stop to think how I could share this victory with others.

Amazing that the only things I needed throughout this whole process was a flat-head screwdriver and a replacement strip of cloth.  It's so much less complicated than electronics... so refreshing to have a piece of technology that I can actually begin to understand and repair.
vicarbrench: (Farewell)
Yesterday was a terrible day - three important things broke: Becca's car, my pants, and my pump organ.

For those with dirty minds or otherwise clouded by what I like to call "the morning sleepies," a pump organ is a musical instrument.  It isn't electric, but is powered by two pedals that you pump with your feet to get the bellows working.  It's an odd relic from the 19th century before electricity, but when portable keyboard instruments started becoming a thing.  Apparently they were popular for traveling West - they're surprisingly light.  Other than that their claim to fame is being used in small old-timey churches in Maine.

How did I get one of these antiques?  Once again, my Grandma.  It was from her that I got my first mandolin several years ago, and now she's gotten rid of the organ too.  My parents took it to their house in Texas a couple years ago, and then when they moved back to Stow the professional movers took it up here.  Finally, a couple weeks ago, Becca and I took it from my parents house to our own apartment.  And not two weeks later, something breaks!

It is easily repairable - an old canvas piece ripped.  I can fix it.  The hard part is figuring how to reach/get inside the organ.

But three good things await us today: at long last one of us has a job interview: Becca's going for a bank teller job.  (Yes we've both remained unemployed since my post about it in the summer!)  So that's exciting.  Secondly, I meet with a student on Fridays to talk about Anglicanism.  It's like confirmation class or CCD, except voluntary and awesome.  And in Dunkin Donuts!  Thirdly, we're going to a healing prayer service at a church in New Hampshire this evening with a friend.  I've been meaning to connect this friend with someone who's experienced in healing prayer in the non-crackpot variety for a while, now.  Figures that when I finally get it together, I'm in need of healing too.  Thanks, God; thanks.

So here we go, Friday.  Let's make it a good one.
vicarbrench: (Farewell)
Amusingly enough, I have a new D&D group!  That answers one of my questions from a few months ago: http://edders.livejournal.com/284715.html

Becca has taken interest in D&D over the past couple years, I found a couple friends in relatively-nearby Boxborough who like RPG's, and through them another guy from my old church who used to play, and through him yet another guy who used to play.  Actual paper & pencil D&D in 3.5th edition is new to all them (except Becca, at this point), but they've adapted well and the group is actually pretty sweet.  I get to DM for:
* a grumpy old dwarf fighter
* a gnome cleric of Garl Glittergold
* a human rogue
* a human ranger
* an elf wizard

Joanna was also around for winter break and played in the prequel game (like the pilot trailer to a tv show) with a gnome bard.  A real bard this time, mind you, not a fighter/rogue/wizard specializing in enchantments.

Anyone remember the game in college when someone told us to surprise the DM by making a party full of bards?  And then how even though we all agreed, most of us ended up making fake bards?  I still laugh when I remember that.  Good peoples, good times!

And hey, although five players is a good party size, if any of you folks want to join up regularly or occasionally, feel free!  Just let me know.  We play once a month on the 3rd Saturday of each month from 7pm to 11, in Boxborough.  Probably a bit of a hike for many of you these days, but just in case...
vicarbrench: (Farewell)
I've been re-reading a lot of my old LiveJournal posts here in the past week or so.  It's really weird.

In some ways, LJ and FB are very similar: both were often filled with inane pointless fun social banter, mixed with the occasional serious stuff.

But the differences are great.  LJ is a blog world.  Its very format gives priority to the original poster, encourages longer initial posts, makes conversations more trackable, and was not quite as wildly trite and random as Facebook has since become.

In short, I rather miss the LJ community I had in college.

Y'all were a fun bunch of people.  Becky, Amanda, Scottious, Mr. Mike, Matt, Ryan, Emily, Kristen D., Kristen R., Marissa, Jen, Jenn, Joey, Marge, Tiffany, Mel, Ali, Barb, Tea, Ginny, and a few other people from time to time.  A few of you still actually use LJ, and I actually do still read most of the posts that show up on my friends list.  Not having seen most of you (or actually, any of you) for a few years has made it difficult for me to keep up with your lives.  I like written communication a lot, but in terms of relationships I thrive on presence.  Without being around people, it's hard for me to keep that connection active.  I do feel fiercely loyal to a number of friends who were once close, and that does feed a desire to rekindle old friendships, should the opportunity arise.

Yeah, yeah, I'm basically Mr. Nostalgia.  I have a thing for looking back fondly at the past, regardless of the feasibility of bringing any of it back.  I long for eternity in ways that are sometimes silly and arbitrary.  We have our quirks, eh?

I still write, including blogging.  Mostly it's the "professional" kind where one talks about one's job, life calling, or whatever.  For me that's Christianity, spirituality, the Bible, history, religion, and the subjects that occur when these topics are combined in various ways.  It's satisfying, it's fun, and it helps me learn and grow.  But it's not a social scene of a group of friends like LJ was/is.  (The simultaneously fun & frustrating thing about Facebook is that it combines both of these features.)

As such, I've been pondering making a point of returning to LiveJournal.  Things won't be what the once were, obviously, but I can't help but wonder what might happen if I try.  I know a couple friends are intentionally gone from LJ and a couple friends are actively still around.  As for the many in between... hi!  I've missed you :-)
vicarbrench: (Prayer)
Becca & I have settled into our new home in Fitchburg!  We've got the first floor of a house built in the 40's, so some of it is kind of old and strange (for example the dishwasher has its own light switch on the wall), and some of it is old and annoying (the carpeting has seen better days).  The neighborhood is nice, though some sketchy parts of town are nearby.  We're just around the corner from Fitchburg State University, as well as Campus Pizza.

People always shout "PICS!" at times like this, so I came prepared.  Here's one of my 'office':

It's really nice living in a house-based apartment, so far.  The bedroom is separate from the living room, the living room is separate from the kitchen, the dining space is even separated from the kitchen space, and there's an extra room for my office / our library / Becca's crafts desk.  In our last place in Beverly, there were no doors; the whole apartment was a giant horseshoe flowing straight from kitchen to dining/living space to the bedroom area.  You had to go through our bedroom to get to the bathroom, which made having overnight guests a little undesirable.  But now we've got a more normal place.  It has its quirks, but they're mostly inconsequential. 

Oh, and we're allowed to have cats!!!!

=^._.^=

Once we're both safely employed, perhaps we'll get ourselves a shelter kitty.
vicarbrench: (Default)
The precious few people who actually still read my LJ probably saw this already.  But I can't help but comment that one of the only majors not mentioned was music.  So between that and the fact that the whole thing was musically set, it would seem that music was indeed the way to go.  Huzzah!


Originally posted by [livejournal.com profile] xkcd_rss at Every Major's Terrible
vicarbrench: (Farewell)
At the end of one of my last classes in seminary, Dr. Stuart gave us a brief presentation, "How to keep your Hebrew hot in just 3 minutes a day!"  The idea, quite simply, was to give us a manageable method for keeping our language skills alive in workable order.  Basically, all that's involved is:
  • read from the language out loud, maybe write it out too
  • spend two and a half minutes translating it thoroughly, not skipping any words
  • use any resource you need to figure it out (dictionary, lexicon, grammar text, etc.)
  • spend the last half-minute reviewing what you just read/translated (repetition=important)
  • take Sundays and holidays off (missing a day or two now and then won't kill you)
Although this was in a course that dealt with biblical Hebrew, he assured us that this is a good method for keeping any non-native language alive.  And that means something coming from him, because he knows more than 10 languages!  Plus, he has been teaching for well over 40 years, so he's had plenty of feedback from former students about this system.

I share this partly because many of my friends are also language fans, both professionally and academically.  The other reason for sharing this is that I've started trying this out.  I've got four languages that I want to keep usefully alive: Vulgate/Ecclesiastical Latin, Old English, Biblical Hebrew, and Koine Greek.  Luckily for me, I've got at least partial Bibles in each of those languages so I can link my daily Bible-reading to a daily language refresher.  What I've decided to do is take one verse from the Bible for each language and spend up to five minutes on each.


I wrote out Jeremiah 17:27 in Latin, John 7:1 in Anglo-Saxon English, I Chronicles 8:1 in Hebrew, and Romans 9:30 in Greek.  It became clear pretty quickly that my competency varies from language to language.  I needed extra time to get through just 8 words in Hebrew, while I completed an entire compound sentence in Old English.  My knowledge of Latin also has a very limited vocabulary (and the verses in Jeremiah and the prophets in general are quite long as it is).  So when I give this another round this afternoon I think I'll keep the Latin & Hebrew excerpts short so I don't feel like I need to rush through lots of words.

Obviously this system won't make me fluent in any of these languages, but it should at least keep me from losing what I do remember, and challenge me every now and then to re-learn things I have forgotten. 
vicarbrench: (Cheers)
I think this may be the first time I got Valentine's Day completely right.  I was very sick on Sunday and still recovering on Monday, so I couldn't do anything really in terms of planning ahead.  But after work I bought a rose and a chocolate rose for Becca (flowers & chocolate, why not combined?), and brought them home.  It turned out that Becca had also been busy that morning making red and pink heart-shaped rice crispy treats!  So put it all together on the table and took a picture:


Sure, Valentine's Day is a big day of cynicism for many people - disliking the hallmark phenomenon of big businesses cashing in on an otherwise meaningful celebration, disdainful of an over-sweetened vision of love, or simply bitter at how "everyone else" has a partner.  I do resonate with the first two concerns, and I don't appreciate the idea of societal coercion to be extra nice to my gal on one 'random' day of the year.  But on the other hand, love is a good thing, worth celebrating, and there isn't really any good reason not to 'randomly' celebrate it in a special way every now and then.

So forgive me for sharing this cutesy moment.  It shouldn't be any surprise to anyone that I do love Becca and I'm thankful for her.
vicarbrench: (Default)
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Tangerine Dream
electronic band from Germany - These guys pioneered electronic music in the 1960's through 80's, doing stuff with synthesizers before hardly anyone else had figured them out yet.  (The original synthesizers didn't have keyboards; you had to generate sound from scratch, requiring a hefty working knowledge of physics!)  They're still around today, doing neat things, but their earlier work is the more revolutionary stuff.  Hyperborea is a more melodic example of their work - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_KBTJ_SW6g - and Monolight is a good example of their older style - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTUn2paI-cI

Steeleye Span
folk rock band from England - The folk music revival in the 1960's and 70's really took off in Britain with a few key musicians and bands, and Steeleye Span was one of them.  They were a big hit even on the pop music charts with All Around My Hat - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqInvZ9hY9Y - but are still around today, still mixing traditional folk music with modern settings and lyrics, such as They Called Her Babylon - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCEtIBRG5W0

Show of Hands
folk duo/trio from Dorset, England - this is another mix of traditional folk tunes with modern covers & original songs, but rather than in a rock setting, these guys are an acoustic band.  They started out as a duo, just two guys, but for the past couple years a double-bass player has been recording & gigging with them too, so their sound has been filling out of late.  I can't help but offer three examples of these excellent folks.  Arrogance Ignorance and Greed (AIG) is an original song lamenting our recent insane banking bailouts - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-n8ITk6UWM - Country Life is another original song calling out the erosion of English countryside culture - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78Y7cBLJWgI - and Galway Farmer is an example of a traditional song in their early duo setup - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXIGQi_Q2NY

Gryphon
"medieval punk" / progressive rock band from England - These guys started out as a medieval band playing medieval and renaissance music on instruments from that period of history (harpsichord, crumhorn, shawm, bassoon, recorder, etc.) and after a while started writing their own experimental/progressive rock music, but keeping the same collection of instruments.  Well, drums and guitars and electric organs were brought in too, but the recorders and bassoons never went away.  On their more traditional end I'd recommend Kemp's Jig - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngm8Mz1hRAU - and among their original work I cannot understate their masterpiece Midnight Mushrumps - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzdr1YKHXCQ

Heinrich Schutz
This guy is one of the earliest German composers of sacred music, and he set the standards for virtually everyone to follow, including the more-famous J. S. Bach.  Though Schutz himself has fallen into some obscurity from popular awareness, his music that we still have today is pretty fantastic, and among my favorites is the Musicalische Exequien - http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLF35AA2F1C569C899

There are plenty of other bands and composers I enjoy - L. van Beethoven, Foo Fighters, Journey, Queen, Goo Goo Dolls, Vertical Horizon, Fairport Convention, Renaissance, Solas, J. S. Bach, Rimsky-Korsakov, to name a few.  But I think I've about beaten this question to death for the most part.
vicarbrench: (Angst)
I wasn't planning on writing a eulogy, but it turns out that's what I've done:

George N. Parks, 1953-2010

Interestingly enough, I'm sitting exactly where I was sitting a year ago when I saw the news that GNP had died unexpectedly overnight on a band trip.  I'm at the same desk in the IT Help Desk where I was sitting back then.  It was a Thursday, this year's a Friday.  Today I've joined the however many former (and current) bandos in wearing my maroon P&C for the day in his memory.  It's still a sad memory, reliving the flood of emotions that hit me that morning.  I found out at work, fairly early in the day, so it was a little awkward trying not to cry in front of my coworkers.  I did manage to excuse myself a little early to be alone for a bit.

Marching band was a good time; some unique experiences I'd never have gotten anywhere else; some crazy bus trips to places I'd never have gone to otherwise; some awesome friends whom I may never have met in any other setting.  It also did weird stuff to my social development - spending 1hr 40min with the 30+ ladies of the flute section for an average of six days per week for four months for five years.  Not that it was particularly drama-filled, mostly just fun.

George Parks was one of those people who was in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.  Too often, we let the world misdirect us with visions of grandeur at one extreme, or of self-hate at the other.  We think that in order to make a difference we have to aim high, do something spectacular, and be the best at something.  Or we think that we're worthless and insignificant and never try to excell at anything, living the lie that we're nobodys.  But Mr. Parks was living it right - he didn't try to seek out the best job possible, he went where he was needed.  He didn't jump from school to school, trying to get better pay and better students, even when UMass shut down the Old Chapel, with all the band offices and storage in it.  He carried on, furthering his investment in the program and students of the Umass Marching Band, trying to make it the best it could be.  This didn't even include auditioning people for the band and kicking out those who weren't good enough, because part of his job was to make every member the best that they could be.

Of course, he couldn't directly work with everyone in the 300+ member band, and that's where another major success was had: he invested specially in the student administrative staff and field staff, who in turn passed on the same values and qualities to everyone else in the band.  So in once sense, when a new class came in, and they learned those of us on field staff, they were vicariously learning from GNP himself, through us.  And it was his continuous involvement in as much of this as possible that kept it all going so effectively, so that when he died, over 1,300 alumni appeared at Homecoming the following month to honor his memory.  Being a Christian, I can't help but notice a parallel with Jesus - he too invested in a few people, and worked through them to leave a positive impact in the lives of hundreds and eventually thousands of others, too.  And something I observed in the last couple years at Umass was how GNP seemed to exude much the same qualities of love and respect for one another that Jesus taught: don't badmouth other sections of the band, show respect for others, represent the band & the university well while in uniform (especially while on trips off campus), persevere through difficulties like exhaustion and rain and snow, and so on.  I'm really glad I made a point of telling him this before I graduated; he appreciated the compliment.  And being the busy high-energy guy he was, he probably needed encouragement like that from time to time.

It's ironic, in a way, that he died just as the band building he'd spent years working to get for the program was finally approved and started.  Now it's up and in use; the band has a "home" at last.  But what's fitting is that it's been named after him.  He is gone from us in the flesh, but his legacy remains in the spirit of the program and the physicality of the building.  The building will last for a while.  The spirit of love that he taught which held the band together in that special way, though, will have to be continued by the students and new director.  There are a lot of strong traditions in the band which will help continue this legacy, so I've got realistic hope to this end.  I've yet to see the building, though.  If I can, I'll go to Homecoming this year and check it out.  There probably aren't any students left in the band who were there when I was, unless any of the freshmen from my last year are now super-seniors.  It's possible.

So, from the same desk where I sat when I heard the news of your passing, George, and in my khakis, maroon P&C, and UMMB fleece, I'm proud to report that my eyes are still with pride.  Cheers.
vicarbrench: (Default)
Cars are wonderful things. Without them, life would be completely different. The mobility afforded to us by cars have allowed us to build towns and cities that would be otherwise impossible. The "convenience" store just around the corner can be ignored in favor of lower prices at a supermarket in the next town. As a result, local towns have less coherence. Proximity of places to shop, hang out, worship, and work has a completely different meaning now. People can commute for many many miles every day now, when without cars only a couple miles was reasonable. It changed our "default" social circle to be no longer our local town, but a more scattered network of coworkers, (former or current) classmates, and friends and acquaintances from the various activities one does. It does open one up to meeting more people and making more friends, but it also has great potential to make one far more lonely.

Think about it, when one's social network is a scattered collection of different groups which often don't overlap, "home" becomes a much more abstract concept. One's own house or apartment is where one sleeps, takes time off, and invites friends over for dinner, but it's also an island. One's immediate geographic neighbors are not necessarily part of one's various social networks, so unless one gets around the local neighborhood the home could be quite isolated.

As an aside, I think this is what makes college a particularly amazing experience for a lot of people these days. Living in dorms among one's fellow classmates fosters an atmosphere of community. This isn't always the case, obviously, especially in terms of having different degree programs, no classes in common, and so on, but when the extra-curricular fields are thrown in, as well as dining halls, and the broader on-or-off-campus social scene, a college campus can be a really close community, much like small towns would have been before the advent of the automobile. (And the difference between colleges with ample housing and commuter colleges I think illustrates the vast change that takes place.)

The same principle of freedom of range increasing alongside loneliness applies to road trips. Think about fantasy stories, historical novels, or any old-timey tale - people travel down roads by foot or by horse or whatever, and they meet people along the way. This is impossible in car. If anything, it's ideal not to meet too many people along the way, lest the traffic prove inhibiting and the journey is slowed. Highway rest stops could potentially be exceptions to this trend, except for the fact that by the time one actually stops to rest at a rest stop, the mindset of being on one's own (or being committed to/stuck with one's passengers) has set in and there's little motivation to socialize with strangers. So even though one is especially isolated, the impulse is to get back into the car and get moving again.

I've tried to describe this as neutrally as possible, because it's very easy to say the old ways are better, and we need to focus on our local communities more. I don't want to sound like a townie, necessarily. Things have changed, and that's not necessarily all bad. Yes the town-focused system of sociality which has endured since, well, towns were first developed, is being torn down. We arelosing something here. So that is bad. But we're also gaining something different - a type of social life which connects us to various different groups which don't necessarily connect. It's a great way to get more exposure to "the world out there" compared to the town-based lifestyle, but it presents some challenges such as difficulty to commit to a deeper more permanent relationship. By this I mean that if these disparate groups are treated as entities which we connect to solely by our own will and whim, then there's hardly any sense of obligation to them, and relationships can only go so far. But if we are able to commit to these disparate groups more wholly, and really grow into them, and through them, then we've gained something potentially as valuable as the town-based system.

Whateverso, it's important to give thought to this sort of thing. If we want to live healthy and fulfilling lives, it's good to be aware of what we're doing to ourselves through our very lifestyles. A lot of habits like drugs, alcohol, smoking, exercising, and reading get a lot of press and attention, but there are also these things that we consider 'social norms' which are actually completely abnormal from an historical perspective which we ought to analyze and consider with equal caution and concern. Where do I go in my car? Where does it "prevent" me from going or what does it "prevent" me from doing? Of course I can go basically wherever I want, but why do I go where I go, and don't go where I don't go?

Food for thought; feast your mind.
vicarbrench: (Angst)
I got my desktop computer in 2004, early in college, and it has served me well for over 7 years. I kept it running well, almost perfectly virus-free, occasionally upgrading it with a DVD burner, more RAM, new video card, extra HD, and more hefty power supply. Back in December the HD with the operating system stopped booting up. It was finals week, so I didn't have time to figure out why. Fortunately I had another computer (identical model) which I'd snagged from the trash piles at work, so I was able to replace the HD with another one and run the machine off of that. But even still, some of the weird quirks that my computer had developed remained: occasional crashing of normal programs and windows processes, occasional spontaneous reboot, stuff like that. Replacing the HD with the OS made it clear that these problems weren't to do with my installation of Windows XP, it was more likely the motherboard getting old. Running a P4 processor with 1.5GB of RAM is a bit deficient for this day and age, anyway.

My parents, meanwhile, are consolidating their collection of old computers, and among them is a 3-year-old tablet with a broken screen, thus only working with a monitor plugged in. It came with Windows Vista, but my dad has since re-loaded Windows 7 onto it, so it's not a piece of junk. Since they don't need it anymore, and it's faster and newer than my old desktop, they pawned it off to me and I've been checking it out, and have decided to replace my desktop with this newer tablet-that-only-works-as-a-desktop machine.

I've gotten used to using Windows 7 at work on campus, so that learning cure has already been dealt with. I must admit even after a year to get used to it, I still don't actually care for the aesthetics of Windows 7; it may be better in terms of efficiency, I don't know, but I honestly just don't like the whole band look across the top windows, replacing the classic file menus. I've had plenty of time to get used to it, so I know it's really just my old-school taste speaking here.

Nevertheless, I've found it's remarkably distressing changing my computer. It would seem that my computer is like a home of sorts - the place from which I interact with the virtual world (internet), and do all sorts of work from schoolwork to sermon prep. It's silly in a way, because computers are tools, and they're generally all the same, allowing for customizations. But somehow, one's personal computer, especially after several years of ownership, seems to become more. Like a home or almost like a pet, it's a part of one's life, a stable object of work & entertainment, over which one has remarkable control to customize according to taste.

After work today I begin the ever-so-fun task of copying my files over from external drives to the new computer. It's going to be like moving from one apartment to another - the furniture will be the same, and it's a good opportunity for me to rearrange it if I wish, to make more optimal use of the new living space (aka file folder structure of Win7). It'll be my new home in the computing world. Yes it'll be faster and will run programs better, especially Lord of the Rings Online which I couldn't even install on the old computer, but the biggest point is that it'll be different.

And for a remarkably sentimental person such as myself, different is not an attractive prospect.

But that is what this life is all about. You grow up, life becomes irrevocably different. You get married, life becomes irrevocably different. You have a child, life becomes irrevocably different. Granted, the 'death' of a computer is not remotely as significant, but it's one change among many that I've had to go through in the past year, and it's strangely stressful.
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As the title suggests, Becca and I have moved into a new apartment. It's the first place either of us have ever lived that isn't college/university/seminary housing or our parents' houses. It's a beautiful, somewhat rustic apartment over a barn/garage attached to a 1930's house in Montserrat, Beverly. The hardwood floors and walls show off a nice old-fashioned feel, and much of the furniture we've accumulated through craigslist free postings match the setting quite well! Becca took a bunch of picture, though it seems they never made it to Facebook. We'll have to get on that ASAP. We began moving on the 23rd of May, and only have a few boxes left to empty out. One of the most handy features of this place is that we get our own attic over our living space in which we can store winter clothes, moving boxes, and whatever else we don't need on a regular or seasonal basis.

I don't know if this is true for everyone, but I find it very easy to link living habits to living space. When I was in college dorms, I formed certain habits, and when I moved to a seminary dorm they were modified, and when I visited my parents' home I reverted to high school habits, and in seminary married housing I developed yet another set of living habits. But because I'm a creature of habit, it's very hard to change once I've gotten started.

At first, I think Becca & I were trying to live in the new place the same way we had on campus this past year, but there was a major interruption which allowed us to shake things up dramatically: the North Shore 10 Days of Prayer (link), in which we participated to the full, including juice fasting. Juice fasting = eating nothing, only drinking water & juice. We also abstained from most forms of media & entertainment. The spiritual benefits were noticeable - we were more attentive to and focused on prayer, the quality of our relationship with each other increased, and we also felt closer to God eventually. But there were secular benefits too: playing no computer games and spending less time online in general allowed me to get a lot of paperwork done (namely a 15-page ordination application), spend more time unpacking, and the fact that we weren't eating meant no dishes to clean! <3 So we also had more time to read, which I'm typically very bad at doing.

But that fast ended yesterday; we're easing back into eating again. We're at a crossroads now: nearly half the time we've spent in our new place thus far has been food-less and media-less. I'm not saying that we're gonna fast all the time now, but that now I'm feeling so much freer to change my living habits before they start solidifying. The simple act of saying "no" to gaming, food, tv, and movies for ten days has really helped me to reassess some of my priorities and examine my motives and desires. In no particular order, these are some of my thoughts and goals:
* continue cultivating my childhood tendency of being a morning person, getting up at/by 6:00
* having a cooked breakfast far more often, like 2-3 times a week (I love eggs and pancakes and bacon, etc.)
* stick to a daily commitment to the daily office (Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer)
* wash dishes more frequently (preferably daily, since we've got no dishwasher again)
* read a little bit almost every day, sometimes study/spiritual, sometimes relaxing/light
* eat more salads & snacks (particularly in diversifying my lunches)

I so often feel guilty when I update livejournal, because I'm acutely aware of the fact that I so rarely update anymore. I kinda want to blog more too - both here and at leorningcniht.
vicarbrench: (Default)
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Hmm, almost all of the 8th Doctor Adventures Dr. Who books would be awesome movies. I hope I can get back to reading them later this year when seminary work is totally done.

I'm not sure I've mentioned lately here what's going on. I get to participate in graduation this May, alongside the class (more or less) with whom I began seminary. It's an interesting contrast to what I experienced at Umass, where I had a full extra year to finish off my degrees. Here, I'll be mostly finished with my MDiv degree - there'll just be one class to take online and one class to do a little extra work on to get waived from the Anglican Track requirements. This means I'm an "October Graduate" - finishing my program by then. But I still get to participate in the commencement events in May. So rather than having a full-year epilogue like I did in college (which was mostly awesome), my seminary experience is going to fizzle out.

I rather enjoyed having that full fifth year at Umass. On one hand it was difficult to rediscover my place there, surrounded by mostly new friends who were two years behind me, so they didn't graduate with me, but after me. It made me feel like I was leaving too soon when I did graduate. Those were downers for me. But the upside was a 5th year in marching band, an extra year to get more involved at the Newman Center, an extra year to learn Old English, and I made some wonderful new friends through that time.

Here, though, I made some friends at the seminary (with some difficulty), but then last year started making friends outside the seminary which helped transition me (and later Becca) to our new church home. So now we're much better connected to our church than the seminary, which is good for transitioning out of seminary life into whatever comes next. The nice thing about being a student for a little while after graduation is that I'll be able to keep my on-campus student worker job until my last class is complete, so that takes the immediate pressure off of the job hunting that I'll have to begin later this year.

And BTW, car repairs are expensive. Fortunately our tax refund will recoup our losses. God provides in mysterious ways. :-)
vicarbrench: (Cheers)
Many of you may know that it was a (late-) childhood dream of mine to be an author, and that this dream had a bit of a resurgence as I finished high school and entered college. Intensified study in college and especially in seminary have put most of my writing projects and interests on a distant backburner again, but never quelled it.

I finished The Twelve midway through college, but never finished editing it. I still have a few text files of edits offered by friends, mainly Matt Brown, so one of these days (later this year) I'm gonna re-read the whole story, editing along the way as best as I can, and then applying Brown's edits, and whatever other old input I've got sitting around. Then I'm going to ask other people to give it another round of reading & editing, and then I'm going to publish it.

Publish!? Yes, it's pretty easy to do these days thanks to lulu.com. Emily introduced me to it in 2006 when I finished writing The Twelve and thanks to that there are approximately 6 or 7 hardcopies of that book floating around the world. I've actually lost track of them all, including my own copies. They were loaned & given to sundry people: Emily, Tyler, Mr. Mike, my parents?, my sister?, Scott?, and surely a couple other people whom I can't remember. No, I'm not asking for any back; I have the original computer files. :) But I've decided that after I finish graduate studies I'm going to start working on this again and get it published publicly on lulu.com.

What brought all this on, you may ask? Well, I've gotten into homemade bookmaking this past year or so, as some of you may've noticed on facebook. I'd made a collection of prayers (mostly taken from the Book of Common Prayer, but in my own order and better-organized in one source together. I'd made my own psalter (same Psalms from the Bible, just re-arranged for a three-times-per-day-for-four-weeks cycle). I'd made my own collection of songs & prayers from the Bible itself. And all of these I'd been using to rebuild the Anglican Daily Office into a slightly different flavor - keeping the same format but expanding the content. I eventually realized that it'd be much easier to put all these pieces together into one book, especially if I want to do this with someone else. The problem with that was that it'd have to be huge - 466 pages! That's a bit too long to stick together a homemade book the way I'd been making them, so that's when I turned to lulu.com and published it there.

So now if you search for "A Pocket Prayer Book" on lulu.com, you'll find an old-school-looking book like this: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/a-pocket-prayer-book/15262439
I fear there are a few typos still in there; I was a bit excited at the prospect of publishing it and rushed a bit more than I should have. I was also trying to get it done before a sale ended, so I could buy a bunch of copies without having to break the bank. (Becca's car had some running issues recently and we spent over $400 on repair work!) And because this pocket prayer book is so long, it's not as cheap as I would've preferred. At least for its length, $15 isn't too unreasonable.

So I am excited to present to you A Pocket Prayer Book, by Matthew Brench; my first public publication! Hopefully later this year I'll be able to roll out the Twelve too. Incidentally, if you have any cover artwork ideas for that story, I'd love to hear them.
vicarbrench: (Prayer)
I just re-read bits of The Twelve, that super long story I wrote starting senior year of high school and finishing in/by junior year of college. Apparently it's well over 100,000 words! I didn't remember doing a word count before, cos I definitely thought it was half that number. But wow, that was an accomplishment. And it was a lot of fun at the time.

Something very uncanny about my experience this evening looking at it, though, was that almost all of the main characters are based off of friends of mine - or at least their D&D characters - one of whom died last year. And yet I open this ginormous Word file, scroll down towards the end of the document, and there he is, Malthew the halfling rogue assassin. Based on Malbar, Matt Brown's classic evil assassin D&D character. I enjoyed writing an evil character as one of the twelve protagonists of the story; he was so different from the others. Tehran and ReĆ­an were somewhat self-centered and mischievous and disinterested in the moral aspect of the quest in the story, but only Malthew went out of his way to put down the other characters, exalt himself, backstab others, and make unwanted sexual advances (not even with real intent, but simply to piss off the good guys)! I guess that's the sinful aspect of human nature showing through; I was able to tap into that built-in sense of evil corruption in my own heart and experience to create an evil protagonist.

And that's kind of surreal-feeling now, because the real person behind that character was (obviously) not really an overtly evil guy. Matt did have an arrogant streak which ranged from comical to annoying depending on the day. But he wasn't a serial killer or a sexual pervert. He was a decent normal techie kind of guy. And actually, he was one of the most supportive people to me in the process of writing The Twelve. I can't deny, Emily was my top supporter in that project; she eagerly read my updates, gave me positive feedback, brainstormed ideas when I was getting stuck, provided name lists for the countless incidental characters I (for some reason) felt the need to include, and she made me feel like what I was doing was valued. And that's such a basic need that almost every artist needs to feed on in order to keep going. But Matt Brown was probably #2 in supporting me. Not so much through eagerness, but through technical support. He had a keen eye for continuity, as well as grammar and spelling. Not that I was bad on those fronts, but it's always invaluable to have an objective observer. In fact, I still have a file or two of corrections from Matt that I have yet to implement.

This is a legacy he left behind in my life. I've not touched this story or even looked at it for a few years, now, but now that Matt's gone, I feel like if I ever do anything further with The Twelve, it's powerfully in his memory. It's just a little awkward for me that within the story, his alterego is one of the most despicable 'good guys' ever. But he knew it wasn't something I did because I didn't like him. Heck, he enjoyed it. I distinctly remember him laughing (albeit over AIM) at how well I re-created his evil D&D character. So at least that is something.

Matt Brown, you were a fun friend to have. Thank you for your help in making The Twelve a better story, for your encouragement in the character development of Malthew, and for being a good friend to me for the eleven years I knew you. I can't believe it's already been nearly a year since you left.

Matt Brown, 14 July 1985 - Tuesday 23 March 2010
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I've been visiting a starting church in Fitchburg - not too far from where I grew up, though an hour from where I live now - bringing music to lead in their monthly worship services.

As this new Anglican church gets up on its feet, there are many parishes that are small and understaffed, and Fitchburg's Grace Anglican Church is one of the smallest of them. I go to Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church, in Danvers, and it's by far the largest parish in our diocese (New England), not only in number of congregants, but also in number of clergy. There are about 6 priests and 3 deacons based there! Only half of them are actually on staff, and an overlapping half are fairly aged and close to retirement, if not already retired. But that gives us a great situation where they have a long rotation for leading worship & preaching at our church, and easily spare a priest to celebrate communion with other smaller parishes nearby.

But now, I'm able to tag along with our visiting priest and bring another dimension to their worship: music! I get to pick the songs (both hymns and contemporary; they want both!), play them on my electronic keyboard (one of the most useful presents I ever received as a kid!), and also lead them in singing. Many of them are shaky music-readers, if they can carry a tune at all, so I actually am needed both to sing and to play. That's been a challenge for me in the past, so now I'm actually getting stretched in my musical skills. For the most part, I thought I was giving up my musical career when I chose to go to seminary, so it's wonderful to have this opportunity to bring the music back into my life some more. I mean, yes, Becca & I are in our church's choir, and that's been a wonderful musical outlet for me, but what I'm doing for Fitchburg is more involved - choosing the right music and preparing to lead it in the group is a very different game from choral singing.

When the Spring semester starts up, this project will be the major component of my Mentored Ministry, so I'll actually be getting seminary credit for it, too, which is fantastic :)

Oh, and since Fitchburg is closer to my old home than where I am now, it means that more of my old friends can visit there with me. I'll be seeing my sister there later this morning, and possibly also Ben Holt. Good times.
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The positive spin: I've got a nice quiet weekend to myself wherein I can get a lot of homework done and also clean up some of this apartment.

The downside: No Becca around until Sunday night.



Originally, I was intending to go to Grove City with her this weekend to attend her former roomates' shared senior recital, but between Umass homecoming being two weeks ago and the fact that I'm overloaded with homework, it's just not a smart idea for me to spend an entire weekend racing about the Northeast US. So she went - leaving about an hour ago - and I'm staying put. This'll be our first weekend apart in marriage, shock horror, and it'll happen again in another two weeks when I go on the retreat weekend with our church's Youth Group as part of the Alpha course we're taking them through. Both this weekend and the upcoming retreat weekend it's a Friday to Sunday trip, so we'll be even :P Not that this is a major problem for us or anything, or that I'm complaining; it's just weird - real life is happening! Who'da thunk it?

Read more... )

Also, I discovered that I don't have as many classes left as I thought - only 5 rather than 6. One of them isn't offered in the Spring, though, so I'll still need to do an online course, which I'll do over the summer. The result of this is that I will not graduate in May, sadly, but that's not really a big deal. The goal of this education is to qualify me for Ordination, so if I don't get the diploma for an extra 6 months or year, that's not a big issue. Only my pride will be hurt, and that's not the sort of pride one is supposed to have.

Although, things are slightly more complicated than that. There is a sixth class which I haven't taken for the Anglican track of the MDiv degree. I thought I'd be able to get a hand-wave-move-along for it due to other classes I've taken (Medieval Spirituality in place of Ascetical Theology). In talking to the director of the program yesterday, however, I discovered that it mightn't be so simple. I'm going to email her the course syllabus from the Medieval class so she can see what we did cover, and then she'll give me a reading list and we'll do kind of a Directed Study to make up what I didn't learn already, and follow it up with a summary paper. So I've got some work to do with that, but at least it's not the equivalent of a full sixth course.

Over the course of my time, here, of course, I've come across a few books that I figure ought to read at some point. A couple of them are course books that I was supposed to have read, but didn't, or only skimmed a little. A lot of them are just other books that I heard about and thought would be important for informing me on various theological or pastoral or other topics. Two of them are Icelandic Sagas. I get around.

Oh, the point of saying that was that if there are books you think I should read that'd help me learn about the world, history, the Church, or anything else, suggest them! :)
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