01 December 2006

the face of death

It's time to make it official: Kris and I are professional house-sitters. When we move out of our Mapleton location mid-December, we'll be moving to my Gabby's Provo home for 4 months (while she enjoys the warmth of Arizona). Many thanks to a sweet, thoughtful Gabby who always takes good care of her grandkids. If anyone is looking for a professional house-sitter in April 2007, the Woods are now accepting applications.

While we were moving some boxes into Gabby's garage, I came across a book called How We Die, by Sherwin B. Nuland. The book gives a physician's view of some of the most common causes of death, unveiling them in a way. A major premise of the book is that death is either romanticized and brushed up through sentimental accounts of peaceful passing, or hidden behind the closed doors of hospitals and rest homes when things get ugly. According to Nuland, they usually do. He goes into detail about cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, AIDS, murder, suicide, and old age. The chapter on heart disease scared me. The chapter on Alzheimer's made me cry. Interestingly, the most peaceful death described was that of murder. The human body has developed a defense mechanism against the sheer terror that should grip anybody who is suffering a violent death. By the time the situation is understood, endorphins have already pulled the victim into a sort of peaceful shock. Of course, murder is the cause of death that is perhaps hardest on loved ones who are left living. At any rate, now that I'm almost finished with the book, I'm seriously tempted to try my hand at medical school. At the very least, it has inspired me to pursue some lines of research that are less concerned with understanding my own experience and more concerned with alleviating the pain that other's experience.
Death has many faces. If you want to glimpse the one that will probably greet you at the gate, read this book.

Not to be overly socratic (Socrates often spoke of "practicing" death), but I think this is one of those lessons that time will keep teaching me: life is most meaningful when death is in the picture.

27 November 2006


So I was just sitting here responding to emails when all of the sudden, out of the clear blue sky, I thought of the old TV series "Alien Nation." You know, the one with the people (aliens, I mean) with leopard spots on their heads. When I said the title to myself, it dawned on me: alienation. How could I be so stupid? Poor aliens.

13 November 2006

The Monkey Wrangler part 2

This is half of my dream pet.

I rarely vote for anything, but I like the idea of putting this question to the polls.

"Do you think animals have self-consciousness?"

Please reply to this post and vote. Please give a reason for your vote.

The Dangers of Swinging Zippers

Here’s a rundown of Europe. First, Germany. We stayed with my awesome sister Elisabeth, who showed us Berlin in spite of her busy schedule. What a great town. I love you Lisa—and thanks for letting us sleep in Nikki Sudden’s old bed while you slept on the ground! And thanks for moving out of your scary old place before we visited you! I don’t know why this struck me as funny, but in Germany, there are droves of German Shepherds. I’d laugh and point every time I saw one. Man, don’t be so predictable! To be fair, we also saw a French Poodle our first day in France. That pretty much sums up Germany.

On to Geneva. Don’t get me started. I want to move to Montreux and join the circus. My talent would be . . . taming lions. Daniel, duh.
We really did see a circus. I went mainly because of the prospect of primates. We almost got kicked out because I was videotaping the performance in spite of the apparently obvious request (in French) to not do so. Oh, and since I forgot to bring some hiking shorts, I was forced to purchase some capris (I prefer “man-pris”) for 50 euros. That’s getting close to $70. It was that or the pseudo-speedo.
Another highlight of Geneva: me using the reflection on the window of a really nice car to pop a zit while the owner of the car was, unbeknownst to me, approaching the car. And me in my man-pris. Oh, the embarrassment.

Paris was pastries, cathedrals, and museums. I also have some incredible footage of a guy sitting on his karaoke machine in the subway, reverb cranked to full blast, closing his eyes while belting Elton John tunes—with the heaviest French accent possible. I still haven’t nailed down the reason why I cry every time I watch the clip.
It was great to spend time with some old friends (Bap and Mer) and spend time making new friends.

I think they should convert Rome into a theme park. Luckily, the insane crowds weren’t so infuriating that they overshadowed the breathtaking art and architecture. I don’t care how many pictures you’ve seen. Actually seeing Rome expands one’s sense of what is humanly possible. Another thing it did (and Paris did this too) was draw as clear a line as possible between places and things that are meaningful and those that lack meaning.

Highlight from the airports: When we arrived in Germany, we were taxied from the plane to the terminal in a hydraulic-bus. The bus was able to raise itself to the level of the plane exit, board the passengers, and then lower itself to a reasonable level. The hydraulics, however, made for a squirrelly ride. Since all the seats were taken, I was standing up in the aisle, one backpack at my feet and the other on my back. After a particularly large lurch, I happened to notice that the woman sitting to my left wore the most horrified expression I’ve ever seen on a human. Her eyes bulging, her jaw clenched, her nostrils flaring. I watched her for a moment and noticed that every time the bus swayed and my backpack got within a foot from her face, her face would scrunch up and she would violently pull her head back.
“Is everything alright?” I asked.
“Is my backpack frightening you?”
She sighed deeply and then nodded to the man beside her. “Last time we were on one of these things a zipper from someone’s backpack whipped him right in the eye. He had to go to the emergency room and it ruined our trip.”
The man next to her, clearly nervous and with perspiration on his brow, tapped his thick glasses and said, “I have to wear these now. And I had to wear a patch for a few weeks.”
“Sounds pretty traumatic,” I said.
“It was.”
“Would you like me to remove the backpack?”
“Yes, please,” they replied in unison, visibly relieved.
Kris and I are now acutely aware of the dangers of swinging zippers.

Favorite quotes from the trip:

“Kris, I’m glad you don’t urinate in stairwells.” – Daniel

“Oh, yes, the fountains . . . uh . . . otherwise known as trees.” – Kris

“Boo.” -- Daniel, whispering in Kristen’s ear in the middle of the night, for reasons unknown to him.

Daniel: “I wish I had a German-English dictionary!”
Kris: “I wish I had an Italy sweatshirt.”
Daniel: “An Italy sweatshirt would be extremely useful right now.”

“Do I have disco butt?” – Baptiste
(FYI, “disco butt” is a condition of the pants, brought on by excessive wear, in which the fabric of the bum region takes on a shiny, disco-era quality.)

“Can someone please urinate in my nostril?” – Elisabeth, referring to one particularly ubiquitous aroma in Berlin.

“Yeah! You spread your righteous seed!” – Elisabeth, spoken to a spider. We were walking in a cemetery when we noticed a web that was beautiful, ambitious, and in a highly conspicuous location. The spider stood defiantly in the center of the web.

14 August 2006

Caninity and Felinity

You'd be mad too if your brain was exteriorized.

I’ve recently noticed that I have a tendency to ridicule animals. Well, maybe “ridicule” is going too far—I definitely like to laugh at them, though. This explains the monkey obsession. Monkeys are just too much like humans for me to let it go unridiculed. Anyway, the other day I was trying to convince Kris to get a dog.
“It’s either a kid or a dog,” said Kris.
“Okay, a dog.”
“But we need to wait until we have a big yard. I don’t want an inside dog.”
“Oh, come on. We can get a French bulldog. You like French things, don’t you. Here’s a picture of one.”
“It’s hideous. And our apartment is what? Close to 100 square feet? What will the dog do?”
“You don’t buy a bulldog because it does things. You buy it so you can laugh at it.”
“Laugh at it?”
“Yes. Because it’s so hideous.”
“Let’s just have a kid, okay?”

Lately Kris has been laughing at me because I talk to the cat. One of the cats (at the house where we are house-sitting)—her name is Princess—has recently taken up the effort to establish an open dialogue between herself and her new caretakers. Whenever we crack the windows on cool nights, Princess will poke her head through the crack and begin talking to us. Of course, the only word she knows is “Meow.” But Princess has a bit of a nasal quality to her voice, and it ends up sounding like “Now.”
So when she initiates the conversation, I just barrage her with questions like the following:

“When do you want me to do some jumping jacks?”
“Okay. When do you want me to give you some smoked salmon?”
“Got it. When do you want me to bodyslam you?”
“Are you sure? Let’s wait a few minutes.”
“Whatever you say. And when would you like us to remove your vocal chords?”

At this point, Kristen has had enough and closes the window.

02 August 2006

Keep them dog(g)ies rollin'.

This is my dream pet.

Time for an update:
I slipped a disc in my spine last Sunday. It happened as I was bending down to pick up some books before moving to the front of the class to teach a lesson at church. “Hi, for those who don’t know me, my name is Daniel Wood. My wife and I are house-sitting for the Wrathalls until December. I think I just slipped a disc. Today’s lesson is on the Holy Ghost.” That’s how it went. The only way I could abet the pain was by clenching my stomach muscles as hard as possible. You can imagine what I looked like as I tried to teach about a member of the godhead. So I finish the lesson and discover that one of the guys in the class happens to be an osteopath. Incredibly nice guy. He treated me twice for free and wrote me a prescription for some pain killers.

What else? I got a job selling guitars at a music shop in Orem. I’m graduating in two weeks. I’ve been taking advantage of the extra time by reading more than usual. Just finished “Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco (amazing book!). Just started one book by Viktor Frankl, “The Doctor and the Soul,” as well as two books by Oliver Sacks: “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” and “The Island of the Colorblind.” I’m starting GRE prep this week. Leaving for Europe for two weeks in mid-October. We’ll hit Berlin (to visit my sister Elisabeth), Paris, and Rome.

On a sad note: It looks like Auburn, the band I’ve been playing with for the last 2 or 3 years, is dissolving (at least for a while). It was discovered that the singer has nodes on her vocal chords. She is undergoing vocal rest and therapy until things improve. I guess every day must end.

On a happier note, here’s a joke I used to make Kristen laugh today (I have a daily quota): What do you call a Russian who is hesitant to finish school? A stallin’ grad.

17 July 2006


Bonding with the dog.

We moved, so we're back to stealing bandwidth from our neighbors. We roam from room to room, holding up our laptop like an offering to the internet deities, hoping for a strong signal. Honestly, it has gotten to the point where I’m convinced that if someone comes into the room when I’m online, they’ll block the signal and I’ll lose the connection.
We’re actually house-sitting for a BYU professor who is in London overseeing the study abroad program. It is a nice 3-story home in Mapleton in a very quiet neighborhood. Aside from the basement flooding and part of the lawn dying during the first two weeks, things have gone pretty smooth. They have a dog named Miksee who gets really annoyed and starts growling when you don’t pet her.
They also have two cats whose existence we just recently confirmed. For the first month, we noticed something funny: the cats were absolute pigs and the dog was anorexic. At least that’s how it looked. The dog refused to touch its food and the cat food never lasted more than a couple hours. Last week, though, Kristen went into the garage and found Miksee on a cat food binge, looking quite guilty, with two dejected cats sitting side by side, watching dolefully as their food was stolen. Nature can be cruel, but hey, I said to the cats, survival of the fittest is still a law last time I checked.

10 June 2006

28 reasons why I finished my thesis

This is one's proverbial "ox (or bull, in this case) in the mire."

Halfway through the writing of my thesis, I thought of changing the topic to "The Hallucinagenic Properties of Red Bull," since I seemed to know a lot more about that than I did about what I was trying to write about at the time. A few days later, I was tempted to change it yet again, but this time the topic would be, "The Amelioration of Taurine and Caffiene Poisoning Through the Administration of Bismuth Subsalicylate," but the results of my experiments were a-Bismol (abysmal). One other idea was "Democratman Forever: The Political Writings of George Clooney During the Batman Years," but I think that was part of a hallucination, so I scrapped that one, too.

I decided to stick with my original boring thesis.

Oh, and by the way, Red Bull doesn't give you wings. It gives you 10 hours of sleep a week. Which may be exactly what the Doctor ordered.*

* Of course, no good doctor would order such a thing. I was referring to an evil doctor, like a witch doctor.

05 June 2006

My wife does NOT look like a trilobite

A handsome trilobite.

In March, my wife and I attended a conference in Portland. The first lecture we attended was on the concept of authenticity in the writings of Heidegger--pretty dense stuff. Kristen, being the amazing person she is, was trying her hardest to support me and connect with this aspect of my life. The discussion took a turn toward the topic of ontology. When she heard the word "ontology" her face lit up and she whispered to me, "Ontology recapitulates phylogeny." Of course, she meant to refer to the dominant biological theory that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. We had a good laugh over it.

Tonight we resurrected the discussion and debated whether ontology actually does recapitulate phylogeny or not. I explained that the meaning of the original theory was that in the process of development from zygote to fetus, an organism roughly displays all of the phylums through which it passed on the road to evolving up to the phylum that it now inhabits. Her apt reply: "I have never looked like a trilobite." What could I say? In my opinion, that is a solid refutation of the theory.

01 May 2006

Big Band Theory

This is a Big Band.

I received a comment from Pictoris ab Lumen on my post about situational digestion (Intermission). He made an attempt to account for my strange digestive and sleep behavior by appealing to the Big Bang Theory and String Theory. Immediately after reading it, I realized that I had accidentally said that these disorders of mine disprove the Big Bang Theory. Here is my response to Pictoris ab Lumen:

I meant to say that they disprove the Big Band Theory. You haven’t heard of it? I’m surprised you haven’t heard of it since it is so closely related to String Theory. It turns out that there are relatively few fundamental frequencies at which strings vibrate, there being many derivates of these fundamental frequencies, of course, but absolutely no anomalous vibration in the in-between frequencies. Believe it or not, if you take the complete works of Glenn Miller, arrange them in chronological order, and take the respective tempos multiplied by the number pi, you can perfectly map them upon these fundamental string vibration frequencies. Once this connection has been made, other obvious correlations emerge. For example, was the title “String of Pearls” just a coincidence, especially considering that the elemental resonation frequency of the elements that make up pearls happens to be exactly the product of the suggested tempo and the number pi? It is obvious that Glenn Miller was a closet string theorist.

In spite of its merits, the Big Band Theory has its anomalies. For example, my digestive tract and my hypothalamus. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I believe that my situational narcolepsy and situational digestion disprove the Big Ban[d] Theory. Most proponents of this theory would try to account for these apparent anomalies by noting that the constructive interference between the resonation frequencies of the bookstore and my stomach (or the chemistry book and my circadian rhythms) gets my stomach (or hypothalamus) “in the mood.” I disagree. Even if it were the case that there was constructive interference, it isn’t clear that this interference would have the adverse effects that I’ve described. The only thing that is clear is that my stomach and hypothalamus simply march to the beat of a different drummer. Maybe Gene Krupa?

30 April 2006

Demon Dog has a heart

This is Demon Dog.

The other day I got out of my car and noticed that the neighbor's pit bull was staring at me. I've always had this thing with animals and babies -- I always try to get into a staring contest with them. At the supermarket, it's amazing how many babies I can get to smile at me just by maintaining eye contact with them. Sometimes the moms give me dirty looks, but most of them smile, just being happy that someone is noticing their offspring.

Back to the dog. So this dog and I get into a staredown to end all man-beast staredowns. I thought he had me for a second when I felt a smile trying to crack through my mask of pure intimidation, but he barked first. And just to punctuate my victory, I did my little intimidation move (a kind of jerky forward thrust of the shoulders).

It was then that I noticed that my wife Kristy had been watching the entire exchange from the balcony.

We've been calling him "Demon Dog" since he is a pit bull and he spends most of his time thrashing a doll that resembles a very lifelike toddler. Disturbing. However, I've been watching our demonic canine friend from the balcony while I study and I've recently discovered that he's not demonic at all. He's rather quite the child. He derives such intense pleasure from thrashing the entire backyard that I can't help but smile myself as I watch his innocent masterpiece of mayhem unfold. No, he's no spawn of beelzebub. He's just really good at what he does. Everyone, meet Demon Dog.

22 April 2006


Avoidance behavior.

This blog is becoming quite useful in its facilitation of avoidance-behaviors. I'm very pleased.

I may or may not be engaging in avoidance behavior at this very moment. Has anyone else had the experience of situational narcolepsy? There are certain activities that, no matter how interested I think I am, always throw me into an epic struggle to stay awake. What an unfortunate conjunction of circumstances when such an activity is absolutely necessary at 3:00 a.m.
It's not that reading my chemistry book just makes me a bit drowsy. No, it mechanically shuts my body down. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I only read my chemistry book in the middle of the night before a test.
But my body has other similar behaviors that couldn't be explained by mere association. Take, for example, the fascinating reaction that my body has developed in the context of bookstores and libraries. Whenever I visit a bookstore, without fail, I have to visit the restroom. It's rather embarrassing, now that I mention it.
So, we've got situational narcolepsy and situational digestion, both mechanically induced by activities that seem removed from sleeping and digestion, respectively. I don't have the time to elaborate, but I think this proves that the big bang theory is wrong.
Well, I'm fully re-invigorated. Back to the chemistry books!

21 April 2006


What can I say? I'm a lucky man. This is immediately after the wedding ceremony in Brampton, Ontario. As you can see, it's a bit windy. The temperature outside was -14 degrees F. Getting married in Toronto in February? Advice: only if absolutely necessary.

19 April 2006

on language

I've launched an effort to avoid studying for a stats quiz tomorrow, and it's reaching heroic proportions. I've been thinking about language.
One of my favorite philosophers, Merleau-Ponty, thinks of language as another sense organ. It is something that makes the world around us more concrete; it helps us get a grip on things, helps us apprehend the world(in both senses of the word, perhaps). He has an interesting story about the development of language where, among other things, the babbling phase in children corresponds to pre-vocalized thoughts and dreams in adults. There is a reaching for (but not quite a grasping of) a thing or situation that remains fuzzy precisely because it isn't fleshed out with language. Accordingly, he also says that the word is the flesh of the thought. The use of the word "flesh" in this context means that Merleau-Ponty is trying to say that the word makes thought both something sensible and something we sense with.
We've all had the experience of having a brilliant thought that we try to express in words. I know I've had my share of brilliant thoughts, oh yes. As soon as I open my mouth, however, my brilliant thought seems downright silly. This is a general rule for me. I've also had the experience of describing my dreams to others--I feel like I'm half-reporting and half-creating-on-the-spot. And when I'm done describing the dream it always feels like I've left something out and put something in that wasn't there before. These are the experiences that hint at the sense of language that Merleau-Ponty is giving us.
I'm fascinated by this account of language. I still have to suspend my endorsement of it since I haven't had the time to consider all of its implications. But as a practicing member of the LDS faith I get the feeling that it is right. In the church we often talk about "bearing" our testimonies. This refers to the practice of avowing a conviction that certain doctrines of the gospel (and certain historical facts about the church) are true. One church leader, Elder Boyd K. Packer, is well-known for encouraging members to get up and bear their testimonies even when they aren't so sure what they believe. He says (paraphrasing) that "a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it."
For a long time I've thought that this statement is best understood from two different perspectives: (1) as a statement about cognitive conditioning, from the perspective of a non-believer, and (2) as a statement about the kind of spiritual knowledge that results from taking a leap of faith, from the perspective of a believer. For the non-believer, this must be a frightening statement. Somehow, if you want to believe in something and you say you believe in it, it suddenly becomes true to you. I've tried this on multiple occasions and my experience has always confirmed Elder Packer's promise. But now we're led to ask ourselves if we're only deceiving ourselves.
Not from Merleau-Ponty's point of view. By putting some sentiment (or maybe even a pre-sentiment) into words, we are giving it flesh. But this creation, the word, now acts as something with which we can try and grasp at the world. If these words fall flat and fail to hook up meaningfully with the rest of our world, they become a negation of themselves and we realize we have said something wrong. But if, by hearing these words we speak, the world becomes sharper and more focused, then these words become evidence for us that we have spoken truth. This, of course, is more of a phenomenological assessment, rather than a logical one. Logically speaking, all of us have had our worlds "focused" by a logical fallacy, or even by something that was, in some respect, untrue. But this is no problem if you consider that even a logical fallacy or a "partial truth" can bring us closer to truth. After all, the whole history of science is a story of partial truths bringing us closer to what we hope is a particular realm of truth.

18 April 2006


This is a grub.

This is my first post. Once I was talking to a friend who had a blog and I was like, "No offense, but who in the world wants to spend time reading what you have to say?" I was almost offended at the very idea of blogs. So here I am, blogging away.

I think "blog" is a great word precisely because it is so ambiguous. It is a verb? "Yeah, I blog now and again." Is it a noun? "Hey, dude, check out my new blog." Is it an adjective? Nope. Is it a definite article? Certainly not. The word "blog" is up there on the top of the list with other ambiguous words, like "grub." Grub is an adjective, a noun (in more than one sense), a verb, perhaps more. It can be subject, object and modifier. Behold. "The grub grubbed on some grub grub."

Allow me to take this opportunity to disabuse you--I'm not under the impression that my life is any more interesting than the next guy's, unless the next guy happens to be my nextdoor neighbor, in which case I'm pretty sure my life is more interesting than the next guy's. Just kidding, my nextdoor neighbor is very interesting.

Guess what? I love my wife. We just got married in February and today is our two month anniversary.