Friday, February 8, 2013

Bad is Ephemeral; Good is Eternal

A little bit of introspection I'd like to share.  It doesn't really have much to do with ponies, though I do talk about the blog a little bit towards the end, I guess.  And there's some stuff about friendship in there, so it's practically related!  Anyway, click below for a few thought on the title thesis.

There's a lovely passage from The Silmarillion which I'd like to begin by quoting.  In it, Illuvitar (the capital G-god in Tolkien's mythos) addresses Ulmo, god of the waters, shortly after the creation of the earth, and its marring by Melkor (Satan):

"[Melkor] hath bethought him of bitter cold immoderate, and yet hath not destroyed the beauty of thy fountains, nor of thy clear pools.  Behold the snow, and the cunning work of frost!  Melkor hath devised heats and fire without restraint, and hath not dried up thy desire nor utterly quelled the music of the sea.  Behold rather the height and glory of the clouds, and the everchanging mists; and listen to the fall of rain upon the Earth!  And in these clouds thou art drawn nearer to Manwe [god of the skies], thy friend, whom thou lovest."

Then Ulmo answered: "Truly, Water is become now fairer than my heart imagined, neither had my secret thought conceived the snowflake, nor in all my music was contained the falling of the rain!"

One of the repeated themes throughout Tolkien's writings, especially his posthumously published ones, is that, however much it tries, evil cannot destroy the beauty of the world, nor the wonders therein.  At most, it can prove a stumbling block, and a powerful one at that, but in the end evil shall find itself confounded, and discover that it has served only to bring greater beauty into the world.

Powerful stuff, that.  Some (perhaps many) would say that The Silmarillion isn't the best place to go for theological insights, but I think the idea that all will turn to good, in the end, has colored my view of the world more than any religious service I've ever attended.  It's something I often find to be true in my day-to-day life, and I had a small epiphany along those lines this afternoon.

Let me begin by setting the stage: work has been stressful the last two weeks, for a variety of reasons; we're prepping for some high-stakes (budget-wise) testing, and I'm having to take on extra hours (paid, but still) to get ready for it.  That, along with all the usual sources of frustration from my job.  I've also got a pair of friends who were semi-entangled with one another, and have since had a falling out.  Since I'm friends with both of them, I've gotten two earfuls about that one, when I'm not refusing to tell them what each said about the other to me.  So that's been fun.  Plus, I haven't been sleeping well the last few nights, so add tired irritability to the mix and stir.

So today, I got home from work, and was going to have a bowl of cereal because I was feeling too tired to fix anything that was going to require any effort.  A quick look in the pantry revealed that I was out of cereal, so I grabbed a bag of Cheetos and decided I would make a snack of that until I'd had a chance to recharge, and maybe think about not eating like a college kid.  I poured some Cheetos into a bowl, grabbed the milk out of the fridge, poured it on the Cheetos, and it wasn't until I was reaching for a spoon that I realized what I had done.

I stood there for a moment, just sort of looking at the bowl.  And then, I started laughing.

Because really: work's stressful right now, but that's nothing new.  And I love what I do, even when it makes me want to pull my hair out; how many people can honestly say that?  The tests are important, but I'm already doing what I can; no sense worrying about them.

Whatever happens with my friends, they will both still be my friends when all's said and done.  Breakups are stressful, but they're both basically good, pleasant people, and if getting caught in the crossfire of that breakup for a bit is the price I have to pay for bridge partners, bowling buddies, designated drivers... for friends... then that's not really so bad, is it?

Sure, I'm tired now, but the weekend is almost here.  I've got two wide open days where I can lie in bed till noon if I want to, and I don't doubt I'll feel better once I've caught up on my sleep a bit.

And yes, it's hard to see the humor in the situation when you've just filled your bowl of Cheetos with milk and you're tired, frustrated, and want nothing more than to sit down on the couch, get some food in your belly, and just not have to deal with anything for a few minutes.  But as I was standing there, looking at the bowl, a thought ran through my head:

"I can't wait to see the look on Dad's face when I tell him about this!"

And I laughed, because it's true: I felt stupid, and frustrated, and just plain terrible right then, but before long I was going to retelling the event over and over for my friends and family, because it's too funny a story not to tell.  From a minor kitchen disaster comes a bit of comedy that will be repeated at least a dozen times by me.

I don't think milky Cheetos were what Tolkien was thinking about when he wrote that passage up above, but that's what I got out of it.  And now, a few hours later, I'm sitting at my computer, telling this story, and thinking about the fact that I have a blog visited by hundreds of people every day, with dozens of active and semi-active commenters.  People have told me that they visit this site at certain times every week, which when you think about it is astounding: there are people out there who specifically schedule time every few days to read what I have to say.  Who go out of their way to make sure they check on my opinions, my reviews, and occasionally, my over-long ramblings.  It's accurate, if insanely hyperbolic, to say that people are structuring their very lives around my blog, in some small way.

It's hard to feel bad when you start thinking about things like that.  But that's the amazing thing about life: when you think about it, it's pretty great, most of the time.  And when it isn't...

Well, I won't pretend that everything turns up sunshine and roses if you just wait it out; I know better than that.  But there's an awful lot of awful things that, in the end, are only fleetingly bad.  Good things, on the other hand, are with us for as long as there's life in our bodies.

The stress and exhaustion and frustration?  That's all temporary.  But the story of the Cheetos with milk?  That I'll remember until the day I die.

And that is a trade I'll make any day.


  1. As one of said readers who sets aside time to read your blog posts, sometimes within minutes of you posting them, I thank for sharing this bit of wonderful optimism that will be the perfect end to my day before I head to bed. Bless you, Chris!

  2. >People have told me that they visit this site at certain times every week, which when you think about it is astounding: there are people out there who specifically schedule time every few days to read what I have to say

    With wonderful posts like these, it isn't much of a surprise. Keep doing what you're doing and stay awesome.

  3. Wait, milky Cheetos are a bad thing? I've been living a lie this whole time!

    I wish I could share your optimism. I haven't had a regular job in almost a year. The last one was just a couple months for Christmas, although I apparently would have been kept on permanently had a Wal-Mart not been opened across the street and killed our business. Throw in everything in my life going wrong at once lately, and...well, it's hard to see good winning out on this one.

    Sorry, sorry, slipping into whiny mode. I'll stop.

    Also, I wish I was half the blogger you are. Your posts are always so wonderful, so educational and full of wisdom, that I always look forward to reading them. All I can do is scribble some half-baked nonsense on Fimfiction and still screw that up.

    ...Sorry, sorry.

    1. I was unemployed for more than a year after I graduated from college, and... honestly, it wasn't a great time for me. I wouldn't have gotten into my current field, though, if I'd found a job right away, and I would have missed out on discovering something that I'm passionate about. Maybe there is no upside to your current situation--I won't pretend that life is a movie where everything comes out hunky-dory at the end--but I hope there is, even if, as it was in my case, that upside isn't obvious until years later.

      As for your blog? Remember that we are often our own worst critics. I often find myself looking back on my own reviews with a vague sense of horror; "Oh God, I can't believe I thought that was good enough," and so on. I've found that in blogging, as in writing, it's often best to take criticism to heart, and praise at face value, even when you don't agree with either.

      As for the milky Cheetos? I dumped them out without even tasting them, so I guess I don't actually know that they're a bad thing...

  4. Your blog's one of the things that gets me through each week. Up until a few months ago, I read each one as soon as it was posted. Now I have to wait until I finish work (slightly early today!), but it's something to look forward to, especially when I'm having a crummy day

    It's funny, I haven't read most of the stories you review, so I can't add much to the discussions in the way of specifics, and I only end up reading a select few, but that doesn't matter. I actually enjoy reading your reviews more than the fanfics themselves. Getting the occasional Memories or Study in Rainbows out of the deal is just icing on the cake!

    Unrelated to your point, but still kinda relevant: I've been thinking a lot about Tolkien lately. I'm never fully sure how I feel about the guy. As I've mentioned before, I loved The Hobbit, but I could never get into Lord of the Rings (and I've never read The Silmarillion, despite having the opportunity last year). I love how his whole mythology from language approach to world-building, and the meaning in each character's name - something which I think every story should do. But his influence on D&D... it's just maddening! So many great monsters, and the original - before Drizzt - Ranger, but then you have all that high fantasy crap that's been killing the game. And there's no doubt that he's influenced the move to make D&D a storytelling - as opposed to role-playing - game. I don't fault him for that, though, as he was just being a good author. No, the true culprit was Douglas Niles... but I digress

    Sorry, I just needed to get that off my chest. Really, you were asking for it, referencing Tolkien like that. You should know better

  5. Well, that sure was uplifting. :D I've been having sleep issues too lately, which has pretty much never happened to me before, and I wish I could find the upside to that. I am so definitely sleeping in both days this weekend. I hope it helps us both.

  6. Personally, I've always lived by the old adage that pessimists are never disappointed when things turn out bad, but pleasantly surprised when they don't.

    I wouldn't say it's a philosophy everyone should live by, but it definitely works for me.

    1. I subscribe to that world view as well, but it's not without its bright side. Preparing for the worst while hoping for the best, yes? And isn't hoping for the best still a sign that we know things turn out well often enough that it's worth hoping?

    2. Treating all the good things in life as unexpected gifts? That sounds like a positively optimistic attitude to me :)

    3. Well played, you two. Well played indeed.

  7. Life is like a bowl of cheetos. You pour milk in them and they get all soggy and then the orange cheesy stuff kinda clumps and floats on the surface a little bit, and when you eat them they taste kinda weird and your milk is salty.

    Still food, though.

    As a wise woman I knew once said, this too shall pass. There ain't no point in worrying about shit if you already got it sorted out and can't accomplish anything more by harping on the issue. Whatever it is that's stressing you out, it'll be over eventually, and then what comes after is up to God. Or chance. Or whatever you believe in.

    And may your life stay food!

    1. I know the long hair makes this confusing, but George Harrison was a man :}

      I thought it funny you should use that phrase, "this too shall pass". There's this old story, I believe it's the phrase's origin, that tells of a king who orders the manufacture of a magical ring: one which can reverse the mood of its wearer. "This too shall pass" was inscribed onto it. Kinda reminds me of Lord of the Rings, which brings us full circle

    2. I always thought the origin was a middle eastern story described by Edwin Fitzgerald: "It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: 'And this, too, shall pass away.'"

      Apparently, it goes back a lot farther than that, though. The more you know!