Friday, April 24, 2009

Wait . . . is this all, like, my doing?

It's well known that seemingly inconsequential actions can have unexpected, far-reaching consequences. Most of the time we never find out what effects our actions will have on the universe.

Sometimes, though, we do. Here's an example.

My senior year of college, I lived in a co-op dorm, in which we shared communal responsibility for cooking, cleaning, etc. I was in charge of job charts--making sure everyone did a certain number of jobs per week. Over the years, a tradition had developed of including various "fun" jobs that people could sign up for: masseuse (had to accept random massage requests from other co-op residents), baker (had to provide baked goods at various times during the week--extra substances with the purpose of making one "baked" purely optional), and . . . streaker.

Spring semester, we had a problem. One of our residents kept signing up to be the dorm streaker, but as far as any of us could tell, he never actually streaked. Essentially, this meant that he was getting out of doing an hour of work each week.

And so, the task of enforcing our "streaker policy" fell to me.

Our conversation went something like this.

"Hey, Matt, the other co-op officers and I have noticed that you keep signing up for 'streaker'."


"Yeah, well, we've also noticed--that is, uh, have you actually, like, streaked at all?"

"Oh, yeah. Last week I walked naked from my room to the bathroom once."

"Okay, well, that doesn't really count. Look, if you're going to keep signing up as streaker, then you have to actually streak. As in, someone has to actually see you."

"Oh. Okay, no problem."

My duty was done. I'd given him a clear choice: sign up for a real job, or actually do the whole streaking thing.

He chose the latter. The following evening, as I sat in my room struggling with the details of a proof involving mathematical group theory, I suddenly heard a booming voice from the hallway:

"Greetings! Let it be known, that I . . . am STREAKING!"

And so he was. He sauntered casually* down the hallway, continually announcing his presence, then wandered out into the floor's lounge and into the next hallway, as all the while girls peeked out of their rooms and giggled.

*Incidentally, he had red hair--everywhere.

He continued to do this a couple of times a week for the remainder of the semester.

Evidently, he really enjoyed it.

Soon, our dorm was no longer a big enough arena. He started streaking various locations on campus, and recruited some of his friends to join him.

After he graduated, his friends continued the practice--and apparently, for them, even the entire campus was not enough.

The eventual result of my conversation with Matt?

See for yourself.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I guess it's official: castlerook's a pescetarian

"So, do you want a real burger or a veggie burger?"

It was Easter dinner* at my parents' house. My parents, knowing that I had been thinking of continuing my Lenten diet, had graciously purchased some veggie burgers. Now my mother was asking me the question: it was time to decide.

*Well, Easter lunch actually. And yes, the menu was burgers, fresh from the grill, with fancy side dishes and on fancy plates.

I looked over at the raw burgers, not yet put on the grill. I contemplated eating one and felt a slight queasiness in my stomach.

"I'll have a veggie burger, please."

* * *

The meal arrived and I was happily eating my veggie burger* and reflecting on whether my decision to have the veggie burger today was really the decision, if it meant that I had just decided to give up eating meat for good, and if so, if I was okay with that. Then my mother, who so far had said very little about the subject, declared:

*which, I have to say, wasn't very good--I think I'm not a fan of "fake meat" and would much rather have plain old "non-meat."

"I have to say, given your family history, this is probably a really smart thing for you to do."

My mind stopped for a second. Family history? What was she talking about? What did my family history have to do with the ethical ramifications of animal-eating?

My mind restarted and I instantly understood her meaning: heart disease. My family history includes a high rate of heart problems. The strange thing was, while I knew that I was technically "at risk" for heart disease due to genetic factors and that one's diet could play a major role in preventing heart disease, I'd somehow completely failed to make any connection between my Lenten discipline and the future health of my heart.

"Thanks," I said, as though this had actually been a factor in my going meatless.

Over the course of the meal I reflected on the disconnect between my reasons for abstaining from meat and what, apparently, were my mother's assumptions regarding my reasons. As I mentioned in my last post, I have felt healthier since giving up meat, but this honestly played no role in my initial decision-making. Should I set her straight? Tell her that actually this had nothing to do with my health, but that I just didn't want to eat all those defenseless animals?

Then again, maybe it should be about my health. Or at least, partially so. If abstaining from meat now can save me from a heart attack twenty years hence, that's a good reason too.

Earlier I had conceived of the dilemma of whether or not to eat meat as a choice between personal taste and enjoyment, and the rights of animals. Not possessing the knowledge of presicely what it means to be an animal, I haven't exactly been able to resolve this dilemma.

But if it's a choice between personal taste and enjoyment on one side, and the rights of animals and my individual health on the other, well, that's a clearer picture.

So. My Lenten discipline continues.

And you know, maybe it always has been about my health, whether I knew it or not. Maybe my questioning of the ethics of eating meat was a sort of divine providence, a spiritual push leading me to change my behavior in a way that, ultimately, would save me.

Regardless, I still don't know whether abstaining from meat is "right" or not.

It would appear, though, that it's right for me.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Whoa, Lent's Over Already?

Tomorrow is Easter.

That means Lent is nearly over.

That means I should probably come to some kind of decision about whether this whole meatless diet is something I want to continue.

To recap: I gave up meat for Lent, while allowing myself fish (Wikipedia informs me that the proper name for such a diet is "pescetarian"). Apart from one instance in which my wife and I had pierogies for dinner and also realized afterwards that they contained pork, I've stuck to it.

Now what?

I don't think I'm any closer to resolving the ethical questions of meat-eating. I can, however, reflect on how my dietary change has affected me.

First of all, abstaining from meat has been easier than I thought it would be. Certainly it has been psychologically difficult at times, but somehow I anticipated it being more difficult physically, that I'd be hungry all the time or something. After an adjustment period of no more than a week, that wasn't the case.

And yet, I am eating less--my appetite has simply shrunk. Indeed, the most exciting result from my Lenten experiment has been the loss of a couple inches from my waistline. I suspect this is attributable mostly to a significant reduction in fast food--a natural consequence of my meatless diet. Also, my lighter diet seems to result in my having more energy throughout the day.

As far as negative effects, there may be a couple. Over the last month and half, I have been sick multiple times--weird cold/flu bugs that haven't gone away easily. Is this at all connected with my change in diet? I don't think so (a lot of people around here have been battling similar illnesses), but I suppose it's worth considering. When I haven't been sick, though, I've felt great.

I should also mention that I seem to have used my dietary change as something of an excuse to engage in other indulgences. Remember that post about giving up online poker? Yeah, I started playing again a few weeks ago. I've also indulged in more alcohol than usual. Neither activity has been really excessive, but I bring it up here because my inner thought process has sometimes been along the lines of "Hey, you're already abstaining from meat--give yourself a break!"

These concerns aside, though, the meatless diet seems to have been good for me. So, does that mean I'm supposed to continue with it after Easter?

The thought of never having chicken again is sure not a happy one. For that matter, the thought of never having bacon again is really not a happy one.

It's possible that my Lenten discipline has served its purpose. That I can go back to eating meat and keep the benefits that this time has given me.

Then again, the ethical concerns that prompted this experiment in the first place are still there.

I don't know. I simply don't know.

So. Tomorrow, I will give myself permission to eat meat, if I choose to. A moment may come when I have to make that choice; once in that moment, if I listen well, perhaps I will know the answer.

Friday, April 3, 2009

It's the End of the World as I Know It . . . My Mom Just Joined Facebook

I remember when I joined Facebook. In that ancient time (er, a year and a half ago), the Facebook universe was populated almost entirely of people my age or younger. I could reconnect with friends from college and high school and others with whom I'd lost touch, and we could all poke each other and buy virtual drinks for each other and leave flirty messages on each other's walls and there was the sense that, even though this was all semi-public, it was somehow a safe, closed community.

Of course, the population of Facebook users has expanded: first gradually, then, uh, less gradually. Then exponentially. I suspect that soon the population of Facebook users will outnumber the population of humans on the planet.*

*I'm serious. With people setting up Facebook profiles for their pets, fictional characters, etc . . . soon Facebook people will outnumber real people. They'll be able to overpower us in battle, if it ever came to that.

With the population explosion of Facebook users, the feeling of a semi-closed community has naturally faded. Now, this isn't altogether a bad thing; indeed, I suppose it's sort of the point. Greater networkability and all that. And in fairness, I was only able to join after Facebook opened itself up to non-college students, and no doubt many users felt their sense of community threatened when people like me starting showing up.

So I haven't really minded. Occasionally I've had friend requests from older relatives and think, "That's a little weird. He/she is on Facebook?" But no big deal.

Alas, I can ignore the demise of the old, somewhat contained Facebook universe no longer: My Mom is on Facebook.

Apparently, her brother e-mailed her and the rest of her family and said that they should all join Facebook. So she did. This led to a conversation yesterday evening in which I tried to explain the intricacies of Facebooking to her, with little success.

castlerook's Mom: So, how does Facebook work? What are you supposed to do?

castlerook: Well, Facebook helps you stay in touch with people. You friend people and then you can see each other's profiles and send each other messages and stuff.

castlerook's Mom: Isn't that like e-mail?

castlerook: Well, yeah. But you can also leave messages on people's walls, messages that other people can see too. Not only that, but you can see what other people are saying to each other!

castlerook's Mom: Oh. And, you're supposed to put photos of yourself up, right?

castlerook: Yes, you can put up lots of pictures of yourself for eveyone to see, and videos too. Plus you can play games with all your Facebook friends--Scrabble clones and Boggle clones. You can even take lots of quizzes that will tell you things about yourself, like What City You Are or Who You Were in a Past Life.

castlerook's Mom: I see.

castlerook: Does that help?

castlerook's Mom: I think so. Oh, one more thing (she pauses and her expression becomes very concerned and serious): What does it mean to "poke" someone?

So now I have a friend request from my Mom, and of course I will accept, but I'm delaying doing so for a few more hours, at least. I need time to scour my profile for any embarrassing content. Hmm, how will she feel about so-and-so "sending me a Red Kool-Aid?" Do my lists of favorite music and movies pass parental scrutiny?

Okay, maybe it's not so bad. I lead a pretty clean life, after all, and my Facebook profile generally reflects that. Nothing too incriminating after all.

Oh, except for this: my profile contains a link to this blog.