Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2013 in Review: Miscellaneous

This is the sixth and final entry in my blog series reviewing 2013. Previous entries included television, books, movies, music, and food.

After reviewing TV, books, movies, music, and food, there isn’t a lot more to write about. Or nothing I want to write extensively about, anyway. So, I’m going to wrap up my review of 2013 by going over a few things from a wide selection of categories. Here goes.

Kindle Apps
I don’t use my Kindle nearly as much as you might think (and I know you’ve thought about this extensively), but sometimes my school schedule affords me greater opportunities to play. It all depends on the parking situation. Yes, parking. You see, unless my schedule is such that I’m arriving to school quite early in the day, parking can be a gigantic pain in the butt. If I want to make sure I have time to hunt down a parking spot, which often involves circling the same parking garage for 30 minutes until somebody leaves, I usually leave for school much, much earlier than I’d need to if I were guaranteed to find a spot right away. If I get a spot sooner than later, I’m then left with a good half hour (or more!) to spare before class begins. This is when I’m most likely to use my Kindle. I’d say 80—90% of my personal Kindle usage has been during such moments. And while I have read a couple of books on the Kindle, I’ve spent most of my time on game apps. Early in 2013, I learned for myself what the Plants vs. Zombies craze is all about and devoted many hours to it. A couple of months later, I became somewhat obsessed with Cubistry, which is basically the video game equivalent of Mahjong but with the tiles arranged in a cube. I also had brief love affairs with the games Temple Run 2, Zombie Road Trip, 7 Little Words, Backgammon, and FlipPix Art. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that these are the best apps I discovered in 2013, but they are definitely the ones I devoted the most time to. Other apps are probably more impressive—I have Sonic the Hedgehog on my Kindle, for crying out loud!—but I found the aforementioned apps better suited for concentrated and/or repetitive gameplay. So there.

Early in 2013, I tried to keep track of all of the podcasts I listened to and what were the best of the bunch. I did a pretty good job of this for a couple of months, and then I quickly abandoned the practice. I was simply listening to too many podcast episodes to maintain a list. For that reason, the particular podcast episodes I can now recommend are ones that I listened to either early in 2013, or not that long ago. These are the only ones I remember well, either because I wrote them down or because they are still relatively fresh on my mind. All of the podcasts mentioned here are Mormon-themed, as those are the only podcasts to which I’ve been listening. (I’ve had something of a one-track mind over the last year, as I explained when I posted about my reading habits of 2013.)

If you’d asked me during the first half of 2013 what my favorite overall podcast is, I would have said A Thoughtful Faith. Three of the very best podcast episodes I listened to last year were from A Thoughtful Faith: an interview with Terryl & Fiona Givens, an interview with Rock Waterman, and an interview with James McConkie. (The Givens’ son Nathaniel was the spotlight of another great podcast from A Thoughtful Faith, on epistemic humility. It’s also worth a listen.) Anyone who is even remotely interested should listen to the Terryl & Fiona Givens and the Rock Waterman interviews. The Givens interview features so many quotable and beautiful descriptions of Mormonism, all from a very faithful yet informed perspective. The Waterman interview strikes hard at the often-blurred line between Mormon culture and Mormonism proper. While Waterman’s interview can be seen (heard?) as somewhat antagonistic, there is very little of what he says with which I don’t wholeheartedly agree.

Some behind-the-scenes management changes take us from A Thoughtful Faith to the birth of Exploring Sainthood. The same person running the podcast for the former created the latter. Consequently, the initial spat of podcasts from Exploring Sainthood were all top-notch, featuring interviews with Steven Peck (on evolution and Mormonism), James Faulconer (on philosophy and theology), Devery Anderson (on the development of LDS temple worship), and more. Another shift in management put the Exploring Sainthood podcast on hiatus, but it has recently been resurrected. I haven’t listened enough to the new version of the podcast to say how it compares overall to its original incarnation, but you won’t go wrong with those early episodes.

Mormon Matters is probably my favorite podcast overall right now. It features a more topical approach to Mormonism, exploring such varied subjects as patriarchal blessings, the notion of Satan in Mormonism, near-death experiences, and C.S. Lewis. Many of the episodes have been incredibly fascinating. Recently, Mormon Matters began a series on the Old Testament that has been richly rewarding. Speaking of which, the podcast to which I have listened most consistently over the past year is Engaging Gospel Doctrine. Engaging Gospel Doctrine supplements the lesson manual for LDS gospel doctrine classes and delves into its subjects much more deeply (and, where appropriate, academically). Paradigms and assumptions can be challenged, but as a seeker of truth and enlightenment, I find this more beneficial than not. One of my favorite episodes of Engaging Gospel Doctrine featured a discussion of Joseph Smith’s First Vision and the differences in the various accounts thereof. Good stuff.

Personal Growth & Development – or, Life in General
In certain respects, 2013 was a monumental year for me. I learned a lot about myself—about what I believe, about what I value, about what I want to do in the future, etc. By making only brief mention of these things, I will unavoidably be downplaying their significance. Nevertheless, I will now cite a few of those key events from 2013 that have had a profound impact on me, in one way or another, whether directly or indirectly.

Early in 2013, I was offered continued (and increased!) funding to remain in my doctoral program for the 2013-2014 academic year. I’m incredibly grateful for this, as I’d be up crap creek without it.

January 2013 saw the unfolding of a chain of events that I regard as miraculous. There are too many details to share them all here, but they ultimately led to my writing first for the A Thoughtful Faith blog (which quickly disappeared) and then for Exploring Sainthood (for whom I still write). This has been a rewarding experience for me. Part of why this is so important to me has to do with how it came about, which I’ve touched on briefly in a previous post. I won’t say more about that here, but I’ll mention that the entire Exploring Sainthood community—those I’ve met and connected with as a result of joining the Exploring Sainthood team—has become a kind of family to me. That may sound overly dramatic, but my participation in Exploring Sainthood, including interactions that are limited to private Facebook groups, has been essential to my spiritual growth and development over the last 12 months. I feel like I am thriving, which is something I hadn’t been able to say for several years prior.

Melanie and I developed some friendships in 2013 that have been very important to us. The reasons are varied. Friends are always a good thing to have, but it’s more than that. For one thing, this is a friendship between our whole family and their whole family. It’s not that Melanie is friends with someone, and because of that friendship, our families occasionally get together and tolerate each other reasonably well. No. It’s that we’re all legitimately friends. Our kids are great friends with their kids, and Melanie and I are both great friends with both of the adults of the family. Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at this, but this is new for us, to have our entire family click with another entire family. Anyway, it’s been a good experience. The parents in this family have a lot in common with Melanie and me. They enjoy talking about religion and music, which right there means I’m unlikely ever to run out of things to say to them. If that weren’t enough, this friendship has led directly to another great development of 2013…

…I am taking piano lessons! As I’ve tried to make clear in a previous post, this is very significant to me. It has gotten a ball rolling that I intend to let roll for the rest of my life! I’ve really been enjoying it. Despite playing the guitar (in a manner of speaking) for approximately 20 years, I’m tempted to say I feel a greater affinity for the piano. There’s something that feels more natural about it. The connection to what I’m playing feels less mediated somehow. I’m sure I’m not making myself clear, but I know what I mean. And the cool thing is, while I’m still a newbie at piano, I feel like I’m already developing some piano music of my own that isn’t too shabby. Considering my lack of experience, I’m proud of the little tunes I’m plunking out. The only downside of all of this is that I’m now feeling a greater sense of regret that I didn’t do more with piano earlier in my life. Or even with music in general. I could probably go on at length about this, but I’ll spare you.

And I suppose that’s as good a wrap-up of 2013 as I could provide. In keeping with the egocentric theme of this blog, I haven’t tried to share any of the major developments in my family’s life—Peter starting Kindergarten, Melanie’s increased battle with migraines, etc. Obviously, I could make a review of 2013 quite extensive if I wanted. But I don’t, so I won’t.

The end.

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