Thursday, September 12, 2019

Elsie's Rule

Home on a brief reprieve from my job in the military, I couldn’t really understand what was happening.  I was in my early twenties and ran mostly on the instinct that a young human male does.  Most of my concerns were about how to meet my own needs, and any planning or thinking about the future usually didn’t go much beyond a day or two.

Which is what made this kind of surprising. 

Walking out of the small building where the rest of the family was gathered, my aunt put her arm around me and explained the natural attachment between a first grandson and his grandmother.  I wondered for a second why she felt like now was the right time to help me see that, then realized - I was sobbing. 

Elsie was a fixed part of reality.  Her admonitions to think about what Jesus would do minutes after seeing me treat one of my sisters poorly, her masterful execution of the details of creating a perfect stack of Swedish pancakes, and her soft, sweet manner were a huge part of my foundation.  A foundation that shouldn’t have been, but was unexpected in its passing into eternity.

The moment helped me to open my eyes. 

And in retrospect with a number of years separating me from it, I’m so grateful for that moment, and hundreds of others that embodied the heritage of wisdom and faith that Elsie passed along.  I certainly have never been deserving, but I’m so thankful, regardless of that fact.

Elsie always had a thing she was working on - she was quite creative.  In my lifetime, I saw her tend to her beautiful garden, and to her family; play organ for her church; and take care of her house - painting it, decorating it, filling it with music.

Her rule for creativity (at least the one I remember the most) - though simple in its far-reaching meaning - was that “sometimes you have to throw it in the corner”.

If there is any single thing I’d want to pass along from her heritage to any creative, it would be this.  And that is regardless the particular outlet - whether you are a graphic artist, musician, computer programmer, or writer, sometimes…..sometimes you have to throw it in the corner.

Using the advantage of time, to counter-balance the curse of over-familiarity allows creativity to blossom.  As time-crunched and busy as we are today - misunderstanding our human machinery, and the maintenance that it needs will keep us from reaching our fullest potential.  But more importantly it will rob us of the sense of peace that we are born to possess.

So as you create today or in the future, remember Elsie’s Rule - “sometimes you have to throw it in the corner”.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Texodus

My family - we have a quirky sense of humor.  Which my father takes responsibility for - even when it is used against him.  The rest of us don’t know whether to be grateful or maybe consider some kind of legal action at some point.  Though - I’m not sure who we’d be without it. 

We love each other - and we show it emphatically with our sarcasm, bad references to movies from the 80’s and 90’s and (in my case) beating up on my little sisters. 

One of the interesting things that I’ve realized in the last couple of years is how much more alike we are than we are different.  We have a shared history and vocabulary (again mostly comprised of references to our favorite movies).  And we all think a lot more alike than any of us would have cared to admit when we were all living under the same roof.

Speaking of that shared roof - my parents recently sold it….along with the rest of the house.  The story leading up to this is what I want to explain.

Several years ago - during one holiday or another, we were sitting around, probably with some unwrapped Christmas presents on the floor and full of ham or turkey and probably some of Mom’s famous asparagus - we started to talk about moving away from Poulsbo, Washington - where we all grew up and where we had all been more-or-less close to for the last 5 or 6 years.  We had lived in Texas when Dad was in the Army - and we’d all developed a natural affinity for the place.  And so - it became the natural destination, with its wide open spaces, and warmer climate.  For years we joked about buying a compound so that we could all live on it.  I’m notoriously not handy - so many jokes were made whether I’d be able to survive in the wilderness compound that we were jokingly planning.

Cut forward a few years - through life change, some personal growth on all our parts, and a different perspective that came with a few more years of living, some things began to change.  My wife and I began thinking about other opportunities and adventures, either locally in Washington, or even elsewhere in the US.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the same thoughts were going through the hearts and minds of my sisters and my parents. 

Then things really began rolling in typical Rowland fashion.

I had breakfast with Dad down at the bowling alley in Silverdale.  It was the first time I’d eaten there - the pancakes were sooo good.  I drank several pots of coffee.  And we chatted about everything - probably about politics, and history - our favorite topics.  And then he said, “I’m not supposed to tell you this…but…”  It turns out my sister and her husband and my parents had a plan together to move to Texas, contingent on a job opportunity. 

This sparked a conversation with my wife - as I said we’d been planning on looking for some new adventures somewhere.  So we began looking for a place to live, and for work for me in Texas - just to see what was available.  And it turned out that the economics and the job opportunities were VERY much in line with what we were looking for. 

At the same time - my youngest sister, her husband decided to and pulled the trigger to join the Army about 4 days before the age limit cutoff. 

The rest is mostly details - some of which was how much to communicate to each other, so as to keep us all on the same sheet of music, without unnecessarily raising hopes in case things didn’t work out.

So far my parents, my wife and I, and my youngest sister and her husband are all living within 2 hours of Austin, Texas.  The Texodus is still ongoing, but this has been the beginning of a great adventure, and we’re so glad to have made the leap.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Just One Olive

....a duet with my beautiful and talented niece....enjoy!

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Adventures of Ked: Twister

“The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you'll never have.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

The explosion tore through VisiCup - glass, coffee mugs and shattered bodies lay throughout the collapsing structure.  Before the walls finally buckled and gave way to the weight of the roof, Ked’s last regretful thoughts rested on the wretched glowing device.  

Ah - what a morning, Ked thought, as she stretched her arms out.  Anticipation for the perfect VisiCup Mocha making this perfect weekend morning that much more exciting.  Adding to that the 70 degree temperature and slight breeze, Ked was sure things just didn’t get much better.  

As if on cue to bring her back to reality, the greasy Mr. Lode walked up beside her and matched her stride.  Come on man - not today, she thought.  The really impressive thing was that without even saying a word - he seemed to be gloating, dripping with a sense of being entirely pleased with himself.  “How does he even do that?”

He pulled a glowing object from somewhere - looking even more pleased with himself.  “Have you seen anything that matches its beauty??” Not waiting for an answer.. “It’s going to change everything, starting with this meager city.”

“What are you even talking about?”  Ked retorted, “Your little toys aren’t going to make people forget all the evil things you’ve done..don’t you have some puppies to be torturing somewhere?”

“You mock me now - but tomorrow you will be bowing to me.  Or should I say yesterday you will be.  BAHAHAHAHA”

Ok he’s completely lost it now.

“You can roll your eyes all you want - but are you aware that we’ve just had a mayoral election?”

“Sure - so what?”

“Well I’ve discovered the secret location where the ballots were kept prior to the official counting - if I would have been able to get to that, prior to the count, I could have changed the ballots - and made myself Mayor - the first step toward becoming Supreme Commander and Overlord of the Pacific Coast.”

Geez. “Well you didn’t - so I guess we’re all safe this time.”

“That’s where my toy comes in - I call it Twister,” he said with a surprisingly straight face, “Imagine spacetime is a piece of fabric that you might use to make a piece of clothing out of.  If we play Twister - it will create a twist in spacetime, as if you had grabbed on to a piece of that fabric and rotated your hand repeatedly.  And instead of constantly moving forward along the time axis, I will be able to hop one of the folds, and find myself back before election night.”  

“you’re insane.”

Ignoring Ked’s undoubtedly accurate feedback, Mr. Lode continued, “The only problem, is that hopping through folds in spacetime means naturally, that when I arrive, I will mostly have reverted to my state prior of the time that I arrive in.  This in turn means that I won’t have the knowledge to act on my advantage.  And this is where it gets good - I’ve discovered how to get around this.”

“Some matter travels mostly through space, while moving slower through time; while some travels faster in time and slower in space. If I come into contact matter that comes directly from the future - that isn’t moving in time - it will bring parts of my memory back - and BAM before you know it - YOU’RE BOWING TO ME!!!  BWAHAHAHAHA!”

At that Ked and Mr. Lode arrived at the front door to VisiCup.  Ked had to reflect, it’s amazing how time flies when you’re listening to a megalomaniac teach you about the intricacies of time travel.

Looking at Lode directly in the eyes, so as to get her message across as clearly as possible, she began, “you’re crazy.”   

To add emphasis and to show how serious she was, she put her hands forcefully down on his beloved Twister.  Before she could continue - she was overcome with what might only be described as a feeling of electricity flowing through every cell of her body.  Her head spinning, and sure that her skin was glowing, she continued, “But even if your toy does what you say - you will never get away with this - I will stop you!!”

“Yeah, whatever, all I need are a couple of Double-A’s and this bad boy will be ready to go.” 

“Double A batteries?  Seriously?”

“Yeah, of course, to power the matter/anti-matter regulation.”

“Whatever” … “Hey Topher!!  I’ll take a double….no triple mocha please” — a conversation like this requires a little bit of recovery caffeine.

Lode, standing next to her, placed his order.  After Topher had taken his order - he made Ked’s Mocha, and was just about to hand it to her when she had a memory - a memory of what was about to happen.  She saw Mr. Lode turn to the side with his Twister in hand, spilling Ked’s mocha all over it.  After the Mocha spilled there was a massive explosion that left most of the building a wreck, and - as the memory came rushing in - Ked realized it left her breathing her last.

“NOOOOOO!” she yelled - as she shoved Lode as hard as she could away from the mocha.  She saved the spill, though Lode went crashing out the window.  

Walking slowly to the broken window - she glanced outside, expecting (nay hoping) to see a huddled mess of a man.  Ked was shocked to see nothing but a crater.  Topher joined her - and gazing in wonder breathed, “You’ve saved us again Ked - I guess his time was up.”

The End

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Science Is Dead...

It may have been accidental, it may have been cold-blooded murder - but one way or another - the corpse is laying bloody and broken on the filthy floor of our public discourse.

We have two gifts, each of us.  We have gift for thought - for starting with things that we think to be true, and then deriving other true things from them - that is, we have the capacity for reason.  We have a gift for feeling - for having deep, passionate drive for a variety of things - freedom, love, the empowerment of others, to name some.

Reason and passion interact in very complex ways.  With reason we seek to understand the world around us and how it could be different - with passion we drive ourselves toward making those changes.  With reason we choose our path - with passion we move along it.

In the short term - it can become difficult to discern whether passion or reason leads us.  If we reverse things and allow ourselves to choose our path with our passion and then try to follow up with our reason, we can land ourselves in a world of hurt.  Passion - while energizing, if it isn’t directed intentionally with our reason, can switch from end to end rapidly, ensuring that we make little progress in any direction.  Or worse, since passion can be stirred by many things that are not in our own best interest - without reason to act as the guide - it is likely that we will end up doing things that harm both us as individuals and as a broader society.

Over the centuries we have discovered habits and systems that have helped us to keep the relationship between reason and passion in the right arrangement.  For many years most governing authority in many countries was placed into the hands of a single individual, with minimal check in place for short term passions that, by the power that the individual held, could lead to very wide-spread but very unreasoned changes in direction.  Around the time the US government was being framed, we as a race were beginning to understand the necessity to check the passions of the individual by building systems - governments with the particular end in mind of making passion subordinate to reason.  

On the smaller scale, the discipline of subordinating our passion to our reason is the idea of faith.  We convince ourselves rationally (either empirically or through the word of a trusted advisor) that the stove is hot when turned on, then we have the faith that that continues to be true, no matter how tempting it might be to lean on it with our hand on the surface.  Or maybe to illustrate passion a little more carefully - we prove to ourselves that imbibing large quantities of pizza and soda doesn’t do good things for our pant size.  And no matter how good that pie looks and how passionately I may want to eat the whole thing - I subordinate that sense to my previously arrived at conclusion.

To get back to the unfortunate death of science - lets make a quick, simple definition of science.  It is the act of discovering things through observation and reason.  And again to connect all of this - reason is what gives purposeful direction to our passion.

So how did this murder take place? 

Well it was cooperative in part - to start with, we find it very difficult when things are of the utmost importance to continue to lead with reason.  Passion jams its way to the front, and can drive to conclusions that have no real logical connection to the facts that lay around us.  This can be seen in public debates about climate change, abortion, and equality of sexes, races, etc. 

The second part is that we have fallen prey to abstraction when it comes to science.  We come to believe a thing, based on a rational analysis of the facts, and we have the faith to continue in that - and when we begin to engage with other people we make the argument, “you should believe this because it’s science”.  But we fail to actually speak to facts and the reasoning that carries those facts to the conclusions that we’ve reached.  We’re using science in the way that those in years past used religion - to manipulate, to control, and to get our way without doing the hard work of thinking and reasoning with others.   We’re accomplices.  We have the bright red blood of science dripping from our shaking fingers.  


Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Societies exist under three forms sufficiently distinguishable. 1. Without government, as among our Indians. 2. Under governments wherein the will of every one has a just influence, as is the case in England in a slight degree, and in our states in a great one. 3. Under governments of force: as is the case in all other monarchies and in most of the other republics. ... It is a problem, not clear in my mind, that the 1st. condition is not the best. But I believe it to be inconsistent with any great degree of population.

- Thomas Jefferson

He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants…He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves…and in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves...

- I Samuel, Ch 8.

There is a singular challenge that we face as human beings, living, working, and being together. A challenge that, as Mr. Jefferson points out, starts as soon as there is any degree of population. Or probably to be more accurate, any degree of sufficiently dense population.

The challenge is that we want to (rightly) optimize for freedom – the latitude of control over their own existence that a given individual has. This optimization needs to be balanced against the potential for this given individual to encroach on the freedom of any other individual. It’s not immediately apparent for a small number of people in close contact, but tends to become more and more obvious the greater the number and proximity of individuals are within a population.

In the time of Samuel, prior to choosing its King, Israel began asking for a government “like everybody else has”. They wanted to have a consolidated point of control – a single individual actually - since that was the hip thing to do at the time. In my view, this really shows the immediate pressure they felt to have a government that they could readily see and put their faith in. God’s design for them was a minimal human government – with him as the ultimate authority. This lines up with Jefferson’s idea of a perfect situation, but carried with it the caveat that it required a degree of faith that Israel was ceasing to measure up to.

That’s not to say that God is making the same offer to us today. But he was to Israel at that time. And in a way Israel was and could have “cheated” a bit – having very sparse government (and thus high degree of individual freedom) due to the fact that the one who had his eye on the ball was actually omniscient.

Looking back at that quote from Samuel – we see that a King will “take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves…” Undoubtedly, autocratic rulers for a very long time have been enriching themselves at the expense of the people they are charged to rule. Jefferson and the other founding fathers understood this paradox – that in order to provide freedom and latitude for a dense group of people, it is necessary to consolidate power to a certain extent. But at the same time, consolidating power almost inevitably creates corruption in the individuals that hold it (in the case of human beings anyway). That is – the Freedom and Safety that we want usually come at a price in terms of both Freedom and Safety.

The wisdom and genius of our founders was in creating, under some serious pressure I might add, a system that was controlled enough to distribute authority as widely as possible while at the same time consolidating it enough to keep things from flying apart.

The thing for us to remember in our time – is that this isn’t a static system. We are ruled by ourselves and the more we forget that or rely on others to rule us, the more consolidated power becomes. The more consolidated power becomes – the more corrupt we are. The more corrupt we are, the worse our lives get, but more importantly, the further from God we become.

The responsibility of participating in our government isn’t just a platitude that our grade-school teachers talk about to help us honor the long-dead geniuses that built the foundations. It’s a moral imperative that we all must square ourselves with.

To ignore the state of our own freedom is to create the corruption that would destroy us.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


“Virtue…I find you at last but a shade” - Euripides

We’re caught in a trap that we’ve inherited from our forefathers.  It’s an unquenchable hunger - a desire so deep, so intimately woven into the fabric of our souls that we have no hope of ignoring it.  No hope of medicating it.  No possibility of deceiving ourselves that we’re of the caliber of person to meet it, or that it doesn’t exist.  We are without hope, damned to starve in this barren wasteland of our own moral creation.

What are we to do?

Are we to strive to cover up our own perception - with drink or sex or stronger things?  It won’t work - we can’t outrun our own conscience - even our biology will adapt to the sensory distraction - such that we will need ever increasing doses to provide the same limited relief.

Are we to strive to live up to our understanding of virtue - using every last bit of our strength - denying ourselves anything that could possibly distract us from our singular goal?  No matter how focused we are and how valiantly we strive - we will fail.  Every violation of virtue will remind us of our utter inadequacy.

Every appetite that we suffer is meant to be combined with our reason - to lead us toward the future that we were meant for.  When we are hungry - it drives us toward the food we need to survive - though combining that with our reason we can also  choose to not eat things we’ve learned to be poison - or we can ration food for the future if we find more than our immediate hunger seeks. 

The obvious conclusion here, that shouldn’t escape our intellectual capacities, is that this particular appetite should drive us toward virtue but further than that, it should drive us toward the only One with whom we can meet our inbuilt desire.

Your Friend,