Thursday, January 20, 2011

Life Is A Stage, Stories of Your Life and I'm Reading A Book, Man!

Another week draws to an end. 'Tis odd, how inexorably time pushes on, eh?

I was leaving Target the other night, heading into the parking lot toward my car, when I had one of those disorienting, Twilight Zone moments... I've had them before - the same thoughts, too - to the same effect, but it never ceases to catch me off-guard and bring me up short.

Every now and then, I get this feeling -- as cliché as it sounds -- that life is merely one large stage, and that I'm surrounded by actors, and being watched by a huge, invisible audience. Sort of like that Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show. Sounds thoroughly Narcissistic, doesn't it... but, really, the feeling I'm saturated with is that of a bizarre mix of "relief" and "adventure". Think of it - if life really is like a big play, then we can each improvise and cater our actions accordingly! Play it up for the crowd! Do right, when no one is watching... since really, a jillion people really are watching! Absorb each challenge as though it's a scene in a play - a scene in which you, the lead actor, can have a certain direct impact on the way it plays out, and the resolution.

As Christians, we seem to be big on saying that "God has a plan for us", and that He crafts our days so that we face certain challenges, and go through things for our benefit, so we can learn and grow. So why not embrace that concept, and go into each conversation and situation thinking, "OK, Lord, what is going on here? What are you doing?"

I tend to close myself in, so to speak, and cruise through my day on auto-pilot, not wanting to rock the boat in any way, content to soak in my comfortable routine. It's safe, in that it's what I'm comfortable with. And it's safe, in that I can avoid the potential big mistakes that are inherent in doing things out-of-the-ordinary... while also apparently being willing to forgo any potential joys and rewards that are also inherent in risking like that.

All that to say, every now and then, I'm jarred from my introspective routine and mindset by this wild and ultimately-appealing idea that life really is a big play, and that there really is no reason to keep playing it safe, comfortably ensconced in my own little world... all Heaven is watching us! And we will be rewarded for our actions (we reap what we sow)... and that those who sow sparingly will reap sparingly, while those who sow abundantly will reap abundantly...

Does any of that make sense? In my head it does...

Now THAT is a dream bathroom! Look at that magazine rack! Holy mackerel! 

So I've been reading a book. I wanted to finish it first and spring a surprise book review on y'all, but I can't wait that long. It is a collection of short stories by a jaw-droppingly good author named Ted Chiang, and the collection is called "Stories of Your Life: And Others". Now, I realize I have gushed shamelessly over certain authors and books in the past, and that sometimes a few of you will read the objects of my praise and have different takes on them, which is fine. Tastes in writing vary from person to person, and that's understandable, people being different and all. That having been said, I shall now load up my Shameless Praise Shotgun again, and fire off a blast in Mr. Chiang's honor.

I first heard of this book over on A Dribble of Ink, where Aidan included Stories of Your Life among the very best books he read in 2010. Further investigation revealed universal praise for the author and his works - including numerous Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards (no small feat!). So I bought the digital version of it on Kindle and dove in.

The first story had such a ridiculously cool premise, I gobbled it up in one sitting: imagine that the Tower of Babel had actually been finished, and mankind had reached into Heaven. Trust me - I don't know if that premise sounds cool to you or not, but it is a fantastic read. The stories that followed were, quite simply, stunning examples of the smartest writing I have yet to encounter. Division By Zero features a brilliant female mathematician as she faces the stunning (and demoralizing) realizations that accompany her discovery of a mathematic formula that proves irrefutably that all math is meaningless. Lol, it is so good. But as good as it is, it pales beneath the sheer brilliance of Understand, which features a man who was trapped under a frozen lake, revived with severe brain damage, given an experimental treatment to repair his damaged brain, and has to handle the unexpected side effect of a MASSIVE intelligence gain. I mean, Chiang made me contemplate things I've never even had an inkling of before, developed them so far and so fast, I could barely keep up, and wrapped it inside a thrilling tale that is in parts a spy thriller, a superhero-esque confrontation and a study in the perils of not just over-reaching the limits of one's intelligence, but blowing by the limits like a bullet. Please believe me when I say, Understand is one the most intriguing, satisfying and brilliant pieces of writing I've ever injected into my brain via my eyeballs...

The latest story from the book that I read was Story of Your Life, which is an equally fascinating take on a female linguist who is charged with trying to learn to communicate with a group of aliens that show up one day in orbit around Earth. It's hard to believe by the sound of it, but her journey to document - and ultimately become proficient in - both the spoken and written forms of the alien language, and the profound impact it has on her outlook on life, the world, and her future, is both amazingly fascinating and thought-provoking, as well as entertaining.

I had never heard of Ted Chiang before catching wind of him on A Dribble of Ink. He mostly writes speculative science fiction, which is likely the reason. But I am so glad I heard of him, and that I have his stories to look forward to as I head off to sleep each night. The Kindle edition is only 8 bucks. Get it, read it, enjoy it.

WARNING: The following song will get stuck in your head!

Sooo funny. Dang, I love that video. Julian Smith is officially on my short list of People I'd Like To Meet Someday So I Can Shake His/Her Hand.

Hey, I have an idea! Let's all have a great Friday! Whadaya say! Is it a deal?

One last Funny Picture...

Come on, admit it... that's funny...

Adios y'all. Back soon with more...



logankstewart said...

Gah. Many things to comment.

First. The color scheme is killing me, especially the red links. White text is easy to read, but the red just disappears.

Second. Equally appealing is thinking that we're all our own actors on the stage and no one is watching us (apart from God) screw up, goof up, fall down, and make mistakes. This is especially great for people with agoraphobia or folks that are easily embarrassed.

Three. "...I've ever injected into my brain via my eyeballs" is especially perfect, capturing the nuances of reading and the mechanism in how we do it.

Four. That video is way too funny and catchy. And the ending especially caught me completely off guard.

Five. My library has a copy of Ted Chaing's book set aside especially for me.

Six. I used the word "especially" in each of my previous parts to this comment.

Anonymous said...

The bathroom owner has some serious issues...hee hee

I promise to play my turn in Scrabble today!

Beth A.

Rebecca said...

Dang Dave, you beat me to posting the Julian Smith video! I wrote a post about it last night, but was on the hunt for a certain picture so I just saved the draft to be posted at a later date : (
Love that video by the way...

I'm a in-and-out kind of bathroom girl. So stacks of books and mags don't appeal to me.

And in regards to the life is a big play idea, I toatally agree. I always assume someone is watching...either invisible or visible.

logankstewart said...

Follow-up. A missed opportunity.

You said, "... to say, every now and then, I'm jarred from my introspective routine and mindset by this wild and ultimately-appealing idea that life really is a big play, and that there really is no reason to keep playing it safe, comfortably ensconced in my own little world... all Heaven is watching us!"

You should have said, "... to say, every now and then, I'm jarred from my introspective routine and mindset by this wild and ultimately-appealing idea that life really is a big play, and that there really is no reason to keep playing it safe, comfortably ensconced in my little corner of the world... all Heaven is watching us!"


Abbie Josephsen said...

haha, I love that the Julian Smith video is everywhere :)
And that Stories of my Life book sounds great! I should check it out from the library.

Paula Titus said...

I guess comfort breeds complacency. I'm glad you're still getting jarred, and that you notice. That counts for a lot.

Thanks for writing something I'd enjoy, for a change. Geesh.

David Wagner said...

Logan: Thanks for the heads-up on the color scheme. Still experimenting. The reds show up fine for me - but if it's buggy for others, I'll change it. Let me know if you like Chiang as much as I... it's really smart writing, you should dig it.

Beth: lol, I thought my transitional bathroom pun (made sense in my head") was a zinger, but your "has issues" pun has mine beat. Thanks for the laugh. And thanks for being so hard to beat at Scrabble... it makes the occasional victory really meaningful!

Rebecca: Love that video! The first time I saw/heard it, it was stuck in my head. Never had a song stick in me so strong before. Besides, it's hilarious. Post it to your blog too! You have fans that I don't, and they need to see it too!

Logan #2: I actually typed that when I was writing it, but I changed it since I felt it would be too corny... guess I was wrong!

Abbie: Great video. He has some other good ones, too... and if you read Chiang too, let me know what you think!

Paula: Whew! This post passed the Paula Read-worthiness Test! That was close... :) That reminds me, I better go see if you've updated again, since your last brilliant post...