Posted by: topher274 | July 31, 2011

The Undiscovered Country

William Shakespeare once described death as the “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” Indeed those things that come after this life are mysterious and hidden, and it seems that only on the rarest of occasions do we glimpse bliss in this life. Sometimes, God, in his mercy, love, and delight, shows us his heart in ways we don’t quite expect.

I was born and raised in Connecticut. Raised in Connecticut and now I live in Texas. I’m not gonna lie, it was kind of demoralizing. Texas has a reputation for many things, but for me these were mostly negative connotations: bigness (compensation?), friendliness (shallowness?), traditional gender roles (oppression?) Republicanism (republicanism?), etc. I’ve lived here for 7 months now and I have felt and kind of a perpetual uncomfortablity here that sometimes manifests more strongly, sometimes less.

The majority of Texans I’ve met have been normal people, probably because most of them are from urban/suburban Dallas, which is just like any other city. Few of them are the stereotypical Texans like those for whom I’d felt cultural antipathy. In my whole life, I think I’ve only met 3 such people who first seemed like they belonged in that box. And in getting to know them, everything has changed in my feelings and understanding of this place.

David, Diane, and a girl I met many years ago in Kansas City whose name I cannot recall are… well, they are the real thing. In each of my conversations with them over the months I’ve known them (Dave and Diane, that is – I’ve never seen that KC girl again), I have found them to be characterized by something I could not understand: deep, strong, guileless love for Texas. I could hardly relate to how a person could feel that way about a place. Where I come from, patriotism itself is looked down upon, and love for one’s state is pretty much unheard of. When I listened to what sounded like sincere gratitude for being from this place, I felt very much like someone on the outside looking in.

Until tonight.

After a 2 hour lesson in the Texas two-step, we headed up to Fort Worth to an authentic, albeit touristy area called the Stockyards. It was like walking into another country. The sights, smells, the dress of people was just, well, so foreign-looking to me. I was doing my best to drink up all the culture like a good Intercultural Studies major, but I could still feel my own internal resistance to it.  I saw a life-sized cast statue of a cowboy riding a steer. Not far away there was a real live Longhorn steer with a little saddle for children to get their pictures taken. There was a barbecue restaurant where I had half a pound of brisket and some blackberry cobbler. But then it was time to stare down the biggest cultural monument of them all.

We walked up to Billy Bob’s: the world’s largest honky tonk. Inside, there were hundreds, even thousands of people. There were giant screens playing a baseball game. There were glowing neon signs for beer. There was (of course) country music playing. There were men and women in cowboy hats and boots. And people everywhere, some playing pool, some by the multiple bars, but most surrounding the dance floor where two or three couples were impressively dancing with fast twirls and tricks to the recorded music before the live band started.

I felt so overcome by the differentness of it all, feeling almost threatened by the smells, the music, the neon. I looked over to Diane, my cross-cultural broker for the evening, almost half-expecting (hoping?) her to soothe my cultural claustrophobia and say that this place was too crowded or loud or weird or strange or touristy or anything – anything that could have amounted to a splash of ocean for this fish out of water. I looked over and saw something quite different.

With flashing, keen, wide eyes she leaned over in a half-whisper half-yell (over the music) to tell me in a surprisingly thoughtful, reflective way that all of this: the music, the people, the boots, the cowboy hats, the big screen tv playing baseball, even the neon beer signs at the bar, all of this was home to her.

Home. In that one unexpected word, everything changed. The hostility I felt toward the place, my defensiveness and suspicions gave way to an experience of open-hearted love for this culture and people. I stepped out on that dance floor and started to dance my faltering two-step with each of the different girls in our group and my heart started to swell. I was no longer in a foreign country; I was in the home of my friends.

I wish I had it in me to talk about the indoor bull-riding arena where I saw my first bull-riding (amazing and terrifying are two words to describe it), to talk about my amazing dance partners one by one, talk about the rich conversations and interchanges all evening, but there’s just so very much.

Suffice it to say, this morning I had just as much dislike and/or apathy for this state, people and culture of Texas as ever. But now, after a downright spiritual experience at the world’s largest honky tonk, I have come to know the joy, acceptance, fun and pleasure that truly images what we all are looking for in life.

Tonight, I have befriended Texas. I have found it to be a glimpse of that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.

Posted by: topher274 | July 23, 2011

Summer is over. I’m ready (part 2)

About two weeks ago, I received a message on facebook from my co-worker at the symphony named Meaghan. I had learned that Meaghan, though a woman a few years younger than me, not just worked at but manages her a Starbucks downtown. After sharing some old Starbucks stories at work, I told her in all seriousness that if there was ever an opening at her store I would be very interested. Well that day came.

I have just finished my second week working at this downtown Starbucks, working the 6 am to 11 am shift every weekday. This brings my job count to four (in addition to the symphony, I work in the library at my school and I work as an editor for a scholarly linguistic publication, the Ethnologue).

Although getting up at 5:00 in the morining every weekday is an adjustment all its own, I could not be more happy and grateful to have this new addition to my life. My heart is so happy to be meeting not just one or two, but dozens and dozens of people who come in as customers (the vast majority of whom are regulars who we see every day) and starting to get close to the other 3 baristas who work there (it is indeed a very small store). I receive my first paycheck and start getting tips only after my third week, so the money has been super tight, but life is seriously looking up in this arena. I’m so glad.

But one big change was not quite enough :) This past Thursday, the new semester has started at GIAL. And all of a sudden here is another half-dozen or more fascinating, beautiful linguistics-loving men and women, eager to strike out in all that God is calling them to.

It seems so strange that adding a few people such as these would make such a difference to my life, but it really does. Last night a bunch of people got together for a Wii party at about 7 pm that was a kind of a welcome for the new students. The party wrapped up around 8:45ish, but after cleaning up, we all just stayed in the corridor talking, laughing, and sharing with each other.

After about half an hour or so, one girl mentioned that she had freezepops in her freezer, so we all trekked over to her apartment and spent another hour or so telling stories, enjoying each other, and continuing to start these new relationships. We left her house to retire back to the guest house around midnight. But instead everyone going up to their respective rooms, we sat on the couches and talked and shared even deeper things on our hearts until about 2 in the morning. The night finally ended with a plan for a breakfast of waffles together the next morning. I walked home and my head hit the pillow at about 2:30, contented, excited, and at peace.

This morning, the waffles did indeed happen. We cooked and talked and laughed and asked each other questions all the more for more and more hours. One texan gentleman reccomended a barbecue restaurant for lunch and soon we all trucked out to Arlington for a long, wonderful meal that no one quite wanted to end. We adjourned eventually and went back to the dorm, where I left at 4:45 to get going to work.

7:00 pm last night to 4:45 this evening of sharing life together with friends new and old. My heart sings for joy in a way I haven’t felt in quite a while. God is good and I’m ready to jump into the second half of 2011.

Bring it on.

Posted by: topher274 | July 23, 2011

Summer is over. I’m ready. (Part 1)

It seems a little strange to say that summer is over. Indeed, we’re only about one month into it! But due to some strange circumstances and stranger scheduling, it’s done. My school, GIAL has 21 week semesters, so we’re in classes from the first week of January to the second week of May, and the third week of July to the second week of December. Not a whole lot of time for dilly-dallying ;)

The summer has been a little rough with roommate troubles and even tougher money troubles, but the hardest challenge of all was that most all of the dearest friends I’ve made over the last six months being gone. Just gone.

In line with that, I took a great trip up to Kansas City for what will surely go down one of the most important weddings of my life. One of my very best guy friends, Matthias, married one of my very best female friends, Tineke. I was up there for a week, visiting all my dearly beloved kith.

I feel like I have a lot to reflect about. It’s amazing to see beautiful and wonderful friends, and then to make new onese besides, but it seems like our lives tend to be characterized by leaving. There were even some friends who no longer live in Kansas City, but drove down from Minnesota! Then they left. Matthias and Tineke, after the week of wedding preparations (not to mention the months of planning), there was a beautiful ceremony and reception. Then they left. I even found myself able to stay two more days on top of what I had originally planned. Then I left.

I drove back down (after much monies had been spent on various car repairs) and arrived back at my house in Dallas. The guy with whom I’d gotten along with the best (and kind of moved in the house to spend time with) had left after he graduated. My old roommate had left and in his place someone with whom I have had a very difficult time getting along. My fellow students had moved out to their own corners of the world: Pakistan, Tanzania, Sudan, various places for more schooling and preparation. They were gone. All I had left was one or two people with very busy schedules, often out of town, and very little community in a hot, sad Dallas. Summer.

And now, perhaps, it’s over.

(continued in part 2)

Posted by: topher274 | June 12, 2011

A New Spring – Come and Gone

A fleeting glimpse of life in Dallas. Almost all of these friends have left for good.

Well, it’s been about six months, time for another attempt to restart the ol’ blog. Each of these paragraphs should probably be its own post, but if I did that, I probably would get up the momentum to restart, so it’s a number of vignettes.

I have just finished my first semester at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics in Dallas, Texas. It was a bit of an experiment in coming down here to Dallas, starting a new phase of life and education and it has been a bit of a bumpy ride, but that’s how it goes :) I suppose I should talk about school, employment, and PMI.

After moving down in January, I found it exceedingly difficult to find good work, and ended up working a night or two per week in the school Library while looking for more options. I don’t need to tell you that the library of a linguistics graduate school some kind of a wonderland for me. I remember one night, I was reading the Wikipedia article about the !Xóõ language which is one of those fantastic click languages in Namibia. I looked down to the bottom of the article for the references, and sure enough we have the monograph on our shelves! I read up on the phonotactics to my heart’s content. So it has been a wonderful job.

Also, through a friend, I found out about a job in the box office at the Dallas Symphony. She recommended that I submit my resume, along with a cover letter. It’s funny – I’ve never used a cover letter and it made me stop to think about how something so small and simple could mean the difference between getting called back for an interview or not. I was called back for an interview, and was informed that it would be a “group interview” – though I wasn’t quite sure just what that was supposed to mean.

When I showed up, there were about ten interviewees and four interviewers. The interviewers sat against the walls of the large conference room, and had us sit around the sizable conference table. They then threw out questions which we were to answer, in any order – and not to address the interviewers, but to our fellow interviewees around the table. It was a truly bizarre experience. The interviewers wanted to know how we communicate and relate, so everyone was really considerate and kind to each other, even though we were all competing for the same two or three openings. I believe it was on a Wednesday or Thursday evening, and they told us that they would let us know who had the job the following Monday night, then start training on Tuesday. Well, all’s well that end’s well: I received the call on Monday that I was offered the job doing patron services/customer service/taking phone orders along with 2 other wonderful folks, and our training and employment began. It’s been great!

Classes were good, though I was unable (for financial reasons) to take as many as I would have liked. I took Semantics and Pragmatics (one course) and also Advanced Grammatical Analysis. It was a wonderful to get back into the academic lifestyle, and to study linguistics: the academic thrill of my life. The classes went very well, but I will spare you the terribly long winded technical details of my work. Let’s just say that the final papers of each course were the longest papers I have ever written in my life :)

What I’m really thinking about these days, though, is my last week at the Pioneer Missions Institute (PMI), where I learned about Pioneer Bible Translators (PBT). There is really a lot for me still to process and work through, so more information and thoughts will probably be in a post to come. I have certainly thought long and hard for years about becoming a linguist-translator for a missions organization, and this might be the very one. So I’m thinking and praying about that now.

Other things that may or may not find their ways into future posts include: Whether attraction is needed for a relationship, my other job working for the Ethnoloɠue (!), and what to do when you just can’t find a wife. Stay tuned!

Posted by: topher274 | January 5, 2011

My Third Bubble Town

Well, today has been my first day at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics (GIAL) in Dallas, TX – a city that is brand new to me.

It is, in so many ways, an odd, odd place. I remember when I was at Houghton College, or when I was at the International House of Prayer, people would talk about the ‘Houghton bubble’ or the ‘IHOP bubble,’ referring to the way these communities were so focused on their daily, in-and-out business that it was like they were living in a world cut off from everyone else. GIAL and the whole multi-faceted center here is another bubble town.

I don’t quite mean that GIAL* is oblivious to the world around it or that the people here are somehow out of touch, but it is striking to see so many people – young and old alike – with such a vision and focus so different from anywhere else I’ve been.

Truly it’s a little town of missionaries. Practically everyone has spent time overseas, has lived on support for years (even decades), and has the firm conviction to spread the Word of God in real, practical, and tangible ways.

The main aspect of this community which I find myself thinking about now is that very many people who have spent practically their whole lives as members of Wycliffe have retired and are spending their golden years here. So many older men and women with tender hearts, unbelievable stories, and zealous excitement for the young people who keep coming in… that is the biggest difference between this bubble and the last two. This is a beautiful place to be.

*I really don’t quite know how to refer to this campus which is home a graduate school, two missions organizations, a museum and an international NGO

Posted by: topher274 | December 23, 2010


Well, thought I’d rattle off a quick post before work today.

Indeed, this is my last day of work at K-Tech International, Inc. (a fine maker of Emergency Telephones for elevators, and a few other elevator related products).

Today, Thursday is my last day of work. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Saturday is Christmas, and I drive out on Sunday morning early.

(an explanatory paragraph: I am moving to Dallas, Texas to attend the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics. Along the way, I will be stopping for a night with my brother and his family in Celina, Ohio, then for about a week with my dear friends in Kansas City.)

I’ve been getting up around 5 a.m. every day, so that’ll probably be when I leave. Yep.

Especially since all the money has come in (!!!), I am filled with a sense of great Adventure when I think about the days ahead. I love to drive. I love the open road. Long hours of reflection, music, audiobooks and seeing the country.

Since Houghton, I’ve never been great at staying in one place. It’s not exactly a pioneering spirit – I don’t want to blaze new trails for others to follow in my footsteps – No, it’s always been all about the people, the culture, the life of common humanity we share on this earth – Be it in Connecticut, New York, Kansas City, Tanzania, South Korea, or even Texas!

Even so, this new move is a temporary one. If I were to be attending this program full-time (though that’s a little too rich for my blood), it is only 18 months for the Master’s Degree program. Then it’s off to who knows where.

Well, that’s me pounding out a few thoughts during this time of transition for me. I am so grateful to all my friends and relations, the kith and kin who love and care for me so much. I love y’all very, very much.

P.S. Even though I have been using ‘y’all’ as part of my active vocabulary since 2004, I am only now moving to Texas.

Posted by: topher274 | August 4, 2010

Book of Cookery

Well, I’ve settled on a cookbook. After a weekend away, I went to the bookstore after work yesterday and browsed the hundreds of different cookbooks.

It was truly a wide array. From the classics of Betty Crocker to the hallowed texts of Julia Child, I found myself a little dizzied by the choices. It seemed like every personality on the Food Network had their own volumes as well.

In order to narrow down the search, I developed several criteria to get exactly the sort of book I was looking for.

1. Short – Some of these books were hundreds and hundreds of pages. I was looking for one with relatively few recipes so that I could make all of them and “graduate” to a more sophisticated cookbook.

2. Simple – Though I do have a happy faculty for following complex directions, I thought that I would start out recipes that were simple and straightforward, if I could.

3. General – I actually didn’t find the general cookbooks first, instead I just saw the sprawling shelves of Appliance cookbooks, Breads, Desserts, Foods by ethnicity, and fad diet cookbooks. These would just not do. I as much of my daily food intake to be from food I make myself, and that means a cookbook with all different sorts of meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the very least.

4. Inexpensive – Some of these cookbooks are quite pricey, and though I am a strong believer on paying for valuable things, I really was shopping for an introductory text and price was an easy way focus my efforts.

So, after a good deal of careful looking, I found this:

Apparently, this cookbook is written mostly for college students cooking in dorm rooms or college housing. What could be more basic than that? The recipes are good and simple, and it even had the added bonus that it not only has pictures of the foods, but of every step of the cooking process. This interesting layout makes the book more spread out and I found very helpful.

The other thing that recommended this book to me was that since it is written for a college student, most of the recipes are for serving sizes that serve one person. Cooking for other people, however enjoyable, can add a layer of stress that is completely absent when cooking for oneself. So that’s nice.

Well there you have it! Umm.. I mean: There I have it. So I suppose I’ll let you know how it goes!

Posted by: topher274 | July 28, 2010

What I’m going to do about it.

It is a basic truism that loosing weight involves the proper mix of taking in calories and burning calories in such a proportion as to burn more than you take in: about -3500 calories per pound. The shorthand for this is “exercise and eat right”.

Someone once told me, and I have found it anecdotally supported, that women tend to focus more on the intake part of the equation and men tend to focus more on the exercise part of the equation. So it has been with me (though my own exercise plans have been haltering at best).

So, I think that I am going to focus on my intake (I am, as you can see, intentionally avoiding the word diet). As I said in my last post, I am particularly annoyed by the tens of thousands of food choices and even more opinions about what to choose, what to prepare, how to prepare, and a host of other labyrinthine and byzantine issues I’m not even aware of.

So, in order to simplify, I’m going to try to cut down these choices to one big choice at a time.

My dear old friend and now brother-in-law Zach once gave me the following food advice, when I told him (some time ago) that I wanted to start cooking for myself better instead of the take-outs etc. of life. He suggested that I buy a cookbook, and just work my way through it, one recipe at a time, from beginning to end. As I would work my way through, he said, I would start to build all the sundries of a pantry and keep a well stocked kitchen, just by buying all the ingredients for each recipe.

So that’s what I’m going to do. My first big choice will be to pick out and purchase a cookbook, and start working from it. I can think of no better place to share my experiences in this new journey than here, in public, on my blog.

Posted by: topher274 | July 27, 2010

I’m upset that I’m obese

It is an upsetting thing to be obese. A conflation of factors all seem to come together in a perfect storm to make my life into an obese one. And that’s not remotely cool.

Now it seems clear that obesity is no one’s goal (except Homer Simpson in that one episode), and that everywhere we look in advertising and movies that the social pressure is to be, if not thin, of a healthy middle rage of weight. I know that the standards are different for women as for men, but for a man, the ideal is not to be too small, nor too large.

But this social stigma is not really a problem for me. I dare say I am quick-witted enough. outwardly focused, and friendly so as to make my way socially even if I don’t ‘look the part’ so to speak. My real concern is for my health.

I have a family history full of cancer and diabetes, and being obese very much increases my already high risks. I read today on WebMD that being obese as I am, I am 50%-150% to die of any cause as someone who is in a healthy weight range. I really would love to not die young, but I suppose I’m frustrated by a number of factors:

1) Genetics. There are some people who just come from thin families where obesity isn’t really something worried about. A professor of mine in college once told the story that is stick-thin wife had freaked out because she had gained 10 pounds. He didn’t quite know how to console her because many in his family were morbidly obese and 10 pounds coming and going meant nothing to them. That some have to work harder than others for the same physiological result is annoying.

2) A Culture of fat-ness. As is well known, the US is (for all intents and purposes) the most obese country in the world. The more and more we have gotten away from, y’know, actual food from the ground, and have applied the lessons modernity to food-making, processed food and all its health-terror is the most cost-efficient and convenient sources of food around. That is also frustrating. The pull from doctors on the one hand, and the hawkers of happy meals and fast food, with all its convenience and deliciousness on the other – that tug-of-war is an uncomfortable feeling to say the least.

3) Everywhere health-quackery. As there is no shortage of Dollar Menu items, so there are no shortage gimicky and scammy weight loss and fitness pills, machines, diets and infomercials. The body is a complicated thing, and trying to figure out just what to do to get it in line seems a subject everyone wants to chime in on. And, being a form of news, nothing delights health writers more than debunking “myths” a.k.a. what the last expert told you to do. I once read a whole 10 page Newsweek article about how a vigorous exercise regimen causes you to gain fat instead of loosing it.

So what conclusion is there? The basics of weight loss are simple. Burn off more calories than you take in. Adjust intake and workout to net a loss of 3500 calories per pound. I suppose I am just taking a moment to step back with furrowed brow at the masterful co-ordination of grocery shopping, meal preparation, bankroll, schedule manipulation, gymnastic perseverance and the mental fortitude to reject the pervasive torpitude of the internet age.

Whew. I think I need to go outside

Posted by: topher274 | July 14, 2010

Cheating Statistics

Yesterday, I read a fascinating article about statistics that predict the likelihood of a having an affair. This article from The Daily Beast gave short blurbs and full references for each study, but I would just like to list them all out even more concisely.

Here they are, 15 indicators predicting cheating:

  1. If you’re a man, you’re 7% more likely to cheat than a woman.
  2. If you live in a large city, you’re 39% more likely to cheat than if you lived in a small town.
  3. If you make $70,000/year, you’re 150% more likely to cheat than if you made $30,000/year or less.
  4. If your husband spends 10% percent of his time or less on you, there’s at least a 10% chance you will cheat on him.
  5. If you think about sex every day, you are 22% more likely to cheat than someone who only thinks about sex a couple of times a week.
  6. If you and your partner lived together before marriage, there’s a 39% chance that one of you will cheat.
  7. If your identical twin cheated on their spouse, you’re 200% more likely to cheat than if they hadn’t.
  8. If you’re African-American, you’re about twice as likely to cheat than men of any other ethnicity.
  9. If you’ve never attended religious services, you’re 250% more likely to have extramarital sex than someone who attends services more than once a week.
  10. If you have an advanced college degree, you’re 175% more likely to have extramarital sex than someone who never graduated high school.
  11. If you’re a woman whose husband has a college degree, you’re 3% less likely to cheat than a woman whose husband has no degree.
  12. If you’re married at age 16 or younger, you’re almost 400% more likely to have extramarital sex than someone who got married at age 23.
  13. If you’re an unhappy man, you’re 13% more likely to cheat than a happy man.
  14. If you have made use of online porn, you’re 300% more likely to cheat than someone who has never looked at online porn.
  15. If you enjoy spending time with your spouse’s relatives, you’re 24% less likely to have extramarital sex than someone who dislikes spending time with their in-laws.

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