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Boring AND True!

Dec. 29th, 2009 | 12:24 am

Things keep happening all right. I'm on vacation this week but have yet to have a day where I've been able to just relax and do nothing. On the day after Christmas, we were at IKEA for most of the day spending our Christmas money. The next day we were busy obliterating any sign of Christmas from our house. I cut the tree apart using my Swiss Army knife and a bow saw, then shoved all the pieces into the garbage bin, but not before we found one last Christmas present.

For the past two weeks my cat has been having diarrhea problems. I won't go into details, but it has involved me crawling on my hands and knees with a bottle of Nature's miracle over every inch of carpet in the house. When we moved the tree we found a piece of ribbon that she had passed. It was over a foot long.

Cleaning that up, cutting up the tree, taking down the lights, and rearranging the closet to fit all the new crap we bought ate up most of the day, so we decided that today was going to be a lazy day, and the first half was. Then for some reason I decided to check my work voice mail and got a message that our IT Department had migrated the server that hosts all of my databases over to a new server. The result, of course, was that nobody could get into anything, so I had to go in and update all the references in all the databases to point to the new server. I thought it would only take about half an hour, but it ended up being closer to three.

Still, it wasn't so bad. I actually like the people I work with, so it was nice to go in for a little while. Hopefully that's the end of it though. Tomorrow we're going to Knott's Berry Farm which holds its own bundle of anxiety deep within my soul; I don't need database anxieties on top of it.

I realize this isn't very compelling stuff but it's the best I can do at the moment. But then life isn't usually that compelling so let's just call it an attempt at verisimilitude and be done with it. I'm sleepy now.

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Living In Limbo

Dec. 27th, 2009 | 12:40 am

So far, so good...almost. I didn't write anything on Christmas, but it was a holiday after all. Today was that odd sort of somnambulist day when everyone seems to have recently woken from one of those dreams that lasts only fifteen minutes but feels like a lifetime. People move for the sake of moving but time essentially stands still. The year is over, but still must make a few last feeble gasps.

In the Roman calendar there were originally only ten months, which is why the last month of our calendar is December instead of Duodecember. The last 61 days of the year didn't belong to any months and so essentially existed outside of normal time. The closest thing we have today is the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. Many people take this week off as a convenient way of linking the two holidays (I know I do), and those that do go to work don't seriously expect anything of importance to happen until January. Everyone is just marking time, waiting for the end so they can get on with the beginning.

And yet, things still tend to happen. On December 26th, 2008, Israel invaded Gaza. On the same day in 2004, Tsunamis in the Indian Ocean killed 230,000. On December 27th, 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. On the same day in 2007 Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. On December 29th, 1989, Václav Havel became the first democratically elected President of Czechoslovakia since the end of World War II. On December 30th, 2006, Saddam Hussein was executed. On the same day in 1922 the USSR was formed; on December 31st, 1991, it was officially dissolved. On the same day in 1999, Boris Yeltsin resigned as president of Russia, leaving Vladimir Putin in power. And of course there was that little terror plot thing yesterday. To (poorly) paraphrase John Lennon, stuff generally happens while you are waiting for other stuff to happen.

Of course time doesn't stop just for some dates on a calendar. These are arbitrary distinctions and the forces that propel history care nothing for them, just as the world failed to change dramatically on January 1st, 2000 like everyone was expecting; it waited until September 11th, 2001 to do that. Such is the case with life. There are two fixed points: the end and the beginning; any reckoning of the time in between is essentially arbitrary. Really we are all marking time, waiting for what we know will happen but which hasn't happened yet. However, in the short time we have to wait, things happen—life happens—and though it may seem transient to us, these passing happenings become fixed points in history; they become real though at first they may seem to be the phantasms of our waking dreams. What we think is ours slips from our fingers to be absorbed by the universe.

The holidays are the perfect time to see this process in action. They represent regular points on a graph that the lines of personal history pass through in order to form collective history. We visit our families, we take note of births and deaths, we adjust our own sense of selves to accommodate the new exigencies brought about by all the events the past year. We take stock and remember; we wonder what the future will be like. We see the children sitting around their table growing up and taking the places at the adult's table vacated by those who have passed. We try to calculate just how far we are on our own journeys.

We are together, and so we are happy; and yet we are more keenly aware of the passage of time than we are at any other time of the year, so our happiness is tinged by melancholy for knowing that it is temporary. But this is life. Though we may not pay as close attention to it during the rest of the year, each moment of joy has sadness just beneath its surface; and yet it is this awareness that happiness is transient that makes it so very precious.

And so we hold each other close and laugh loud and long. We shine as brightly as we can to hold the darkness at bay for as long as we can, because what else can we do? The damage is already done. We are here, and there is nowhere to go but forward; so we march on through the years with no time to rest, always moving forward even when the darkness closes in around us and it feels like there is no point to anything anymore because, as the old folks always say with forced mirth: “It beats the alternative.”

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More Words

Dec. 17th, 2009 | 11:06 pm

Oh I know it's been plenty long, and I know no-one is listening anymore, but that's OK with me. I'm starting my commitment tonight—a commitment because a resolution sounds so trite. I'm starting it early to avoid any association with the New Year and all the inevitable failures that come with it. Rachael and I did the same thing last year when we decided to start eating better and exercise more. That was a success; although we have a ways to go, we succeeded in making our good habits more habitual than our bad ones. And this is the crux of my current commitment.

The bad habit I'm trying to eliminate is laziness; particularly intellectual laziness. It's been so easy lately to just plop in front of the TV and melt into the fibers of the sofa cussion, a blissful non-entity, but then comes the guilt and the frustration because I'm not doing what I should be doing, which is writing. I know I'm beating a dead horse here. I know this blog is full of frustrated posts about my inability to write anything, but for the most part, that's a lie. I've written lots of stuff--more than is necessary in most cases--my problem is being unable to bring any of it together into a cohesive story. This is mostly due to my fear of failure, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is usually where the self-pity sets in, but I'm determined to keep that to a minimum (That's another bad habit that I need to make less habitual). Instead, I am going to start small, like I did with exercising. At first I just ran one day a week until that became habit, then increased the days gradually to the point that I am now running five days a week. In that spirit, I am keeping my commitment small: just to write something every day. This might seem like a lot to bite off at one go, but I don't mean I have to post a blog entry or work on a story every day. I just have to write something. It could be a paragraph of stream-of-consciousness blather, the point is to just get something out; to make the act of creation habitual and thus remove it from all the feelings of anxiety and self-loathing in which it is currently encapsulated

That's the immediate goal. The larger goal is to complete the six short stories that I've been working on off-and-on for the past five years. Hopefully the larger goal will emerge organically from the immediate one, but if it doesn't that's fine. Right now I just need to focus on getting as much on paper as possible. My current writing process has grown so overwrought and convoluted so as to completely paralyze me or keep me so bogged down in pointless digressions and overly-verbose descriptions that I am nearly paralyzed. In any case, nothing happens and I remain frustrated and angry of myself.

It hasn't always been this way though. In school, when I had deadlines that actually mattered, I got things done, even if I had to do it at the last minute, which happened more often than not. There was no time to hem and haw over the details, so I got out what I could, and the vast majority of it was much better than what I've produced now that I have all the time in the world. What I am hoping is that by committing myself to writing something every day I can get back to that sense of urgency. I have six stories, which will be enough for a short book once I'm done, if I can just get out of my way and finish what I've started.

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Dispair of Freedom

Jul. 18th, 2009 | 02:30 pm
music: Unitled 1 - Peter Brotzmann, Fred Van Hove & Han Bennink

Oh, so mute; so open, yet stifling. How the limitlessness of potential oppresses me. Sometimes I think I possess no imagination at all. And yet I'm compelled to keep doodling in ever-widening circles, going nowhere. Expanding self instead of transcending it. The only way out is in, but I am unfamiliar with that direction, like a two-dimensional creature on the precipice of a great chasm; I can only skirt the edges and wonder what it could mean to move beyond.

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Oct. 16th, 2008 | 10:53 pm

It's been a while since I posted anything, so here's something extra. I was asked to provide a short bio for the San Diego Tracking Team's upcoming newsletter. Here's what I submitted:

I am a computer programmer with an English degree, which means that I'm kind of mixed up, and that I've spent a significant portion of my life staring at computer screens. As a kid, I associated the outdoors with two things: yard work and poisonous snakes; both of which were to be avoided at all costs. However, despite my best efforts at remaining sedentary, my dad would often take me out hiking at Torrey Pines. At first I regarded these outings as pointless drudgery, but eventually I came to appreciate the beauty of the place and to enjoy the time that I spent outdoors.

It was there that I got my first taste of tracking. My dad pointed out an oddly-patterned shoe print on the trail and asked if I could find the next one. I found it; and the next one; and the one after that; and we followed the trail all the way down to the beach, where a group of people were sitting on some rocks. My dad asked one of them if we could see the bottom of her shoe, an odd request now that I think of it, but she humored us and showed us the sole of her shoe, which had the exact same pattern that we had been tracking.

I was impressed, but I didn't pursue tracking further at the time because I didn't really think of our shoe-print hunt as tracking, which I associated more with quasi-mystic mountain men trailing grizzly bears through unending miles arctic wilderness than with anything that could exist within my own mundane life. My dad and I continued to visit Torrey Pines, but as I got older, I went hiking less and less, and, for the most part, reverted back to my sedentary ways. After college, however, I decided to spend more time outdoors. I took up birding because it gave me an excuse to get out of the house and get some exercise, and also because the process of identifying birds by field marks appealed to my logical and occasionally obsessive-compulsive personality.

One day, while I was birding at Daley Ranch, I saw a flier for the Tracking Team and decided to sign up for the Beginning Tracker/Naturalist class. I really enjoyed the experience, and was interested to find that tracking was not some sort of voodoo, but rather an ordered, logical process, much like birding, so I signed up for some transects and eventually completed the Intermediate and Advanced classes as well. Now I try to do both Carlsbad Highlands transects each quarter, as well as at least one with the Mount Woodson Wildlife Trackers, from whom I borrowed the idea of tracking wood rat nests via GPS, which we have recently implemented at the Preserve Calavera Tracking Team.

What appeals to me most about tracking is that, like birding, it is primarily an exercise in recognizing patterns as they occur in nature. In the beginning there are a lot of details that can seem daunting, but as you gain experience placing these details in context out in the field, they begin to fit into larger patterns that are much more intuitive and easier to recognize. Of course, there are still those maddening situations where a one-legged, seven-toed mutant decides to leave a single track in the middle of the trail, then pogo jumps off into the bushes to laugh at us while we stand around scratching our heads, but even these supposed exercises in futility serve to reinforce in our minds the overarching patterns that we see in nature.

Our brains are designed to recognize patterns, and although we can and often do use this ability to create more and more artificial and arbitrary abstractions, its roots lie in the patterns of nature, which have shaped the way that our minds work. By approaching nature from the standpoint of a passive observer, I think that we can in some way reconnect with an older sense of being; a world in which we belong, but which does not revolve around us. It might bruise our tender, over-swollen human egos to realize that such a world could exist, but doing so can help us find our place within that strange world otherwise known as reality. Though I spend the majority of my time living within the self-absorbed fantasies of mankind, the time that I spend tracking, birding, or just sitting quietly and enjoying nature, brings me closer to that place.

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A Place To Be

Oct. 16th, 2008 | 10:50 pm
mood: tiredtired

Looking out at the ocean, it's easy to imagine wanting to go to the beach. It has been so long since we've gone, even though we only live a few miles from the coast. In theory it's something we would like to do, but the people are swarming over the sand like violent insects, and the surfers are floating like coffee grounds that would cling to us if we went into the water. There was a time when we stood on the beach wearing black suits and white dresses in front of the cooling tower of the Encina power plant, toes wiggling in the soft damp sand, while the little girls chased squirrels across the jetty and my grandfather pretended not to cry. It's been a long time since we've been there, but sitting on this train, with kids screaming in my ear and Rachael holding my hand across the table, reading her book, her hair glowing auburn in the sun, and the sea impossibly large and blue and bright outside the window, I feel like I've never left that place, and I am happy.

We pass through Leucadia, a strangely shabby laid-back community of generally more high-end Encinitas. It is quintessential San Diego: a string of restaurants, bars, surf shops, head shops and organic markets surrounded by a hodgepodge of houses in various states of decay and restoration. It's a reflection of what Southern California might have been: a golden dream of sun, surf, and self-realization, gently diffused by a gossamer veil of marijuana smoke. These are just ideas, though; ways of imagining what could be; surface textures. In reality, I suppose it's like anywhere else: people always moving, trying to forget the things that they can't. In this sense, it is spectacularly beautiful, as only heartbreak can be; or spectacularly heart-breaking, as only beauty can be.

All that we dream reminds us of what is. All that is reminds us of dream; of what could be and what isn't; Of time slipping through a hole in the floor; melting through our fingers; dripping through the atoms of our fingers; eroding us like wind beating against sandstone cliffs. How easy it would be to play it all in reverse! All the scattered specks drawn together, coalescing into being, becoming younger, stronger, full of life. How simple, yet impossible! Even if we could, our candle burns at both ends, and the beginning in reverse is much worse than the end: gradually becoming smaller and more helpless until we are gobbled up, against our will, to be slowly consumed over a period of nine months. The reality of our plight is that existence is defined as a duration through time, and so is necessarily finite. Play it forwards or in reverse, you still run out of tape.

If only there were a place to be. If only we could wrap ourselves within one moment and reside there forever—static, yet alive. This, of course, is a logical absurdity: simple to conceive, yet impossible to imagine. Either we live, or we remain; there's no way to have both. How inadequate dreams are to us, mired here in reality. How inadequate reality is to us, intoxicated by dreams.

Rachael's parents had a dream of moving to Leucadia, back when they were young and drunk with the possibilities of life, but as the the inebriated haze faded, and the edges of the world grew clearer and more defined, they rubbed their puffy eyes and found themselves back where they started, in LA. Rachael wonders out loud if she would have been different if she had grown up in San Diego.

"You probably wouldn't be such a jerk," I tease her, "Or at least you'd be a passive-aggressive jerk."

“I'd probably be some dirty pot-head, who says 'hey man' to strangers on the street.”

“That's what we call being friendly down here. I know you wouldn't understand that, being from L.A.”

“At least we know how to mind our own business, and not bother strangers in the street”

“Unless you're mugging them, right?”

We like to insult each other's home towns as much as we like to insult each other. These little pinches that we exchange are part of the thrill of vulnerability that comes with closeness. We are hedgehogs, tickling each other with our spines instead of poking. Of course, sometimes we do poke, inadvertently, and one of us gets our feelings hurt. Part of the thrill of vulnerability is the possibility of being hurt. But today is a good day, and we both laugh it off and go back to our books.

Off the train and into Old Town, sandaled feet, dirt between our toes, through the haunted house, up the stairs and down again. No ghosts this time, just rattlesnakes in coffins, and rats crawling over pineapples. Street performers juggling knives, tourists gawking, sweating. Sitting in the shade, sipping absinthe, sparrows in the lattice above. Street performers still juggling, sweating, selling. Words getting fuzzy around the edges. Food shoveled in, words spilling out. Laughing, touching, kissing. Smoking clove cigarettes in front of the cigar store Indian. Stumbling through the shops, finding things we never knew we needed; needing things we never knew we'd find.

What I learned: The devil has one hoof and one foot to remind us that evil comes in many disguises

What I believe: Life is a glorious explosion of color and motion and noise. The edges are jagged, the composition is not particularly elegant, and there is no logic of design whatsoever, but it is an expression so unique and brilliantly absurd in its slap-dash, thrown-together aesthetic, that any attempt at perfection must necessarily diminish the whole, and thus stifle the limitless creative energy contained therein.

What I hope: That this restless, schizophrenic beauty of life is something real; something tangible, and not just the lucid dreams of a few billion specks clinging to a pale blue dot floating lazily through a sunbeam. I hope that the experience of being human, of being alive has some resonance beyond this tiny little mote that we call home. I hope that we are not alone in our hopes and our fears; that we matter in some small way to the universe as a whole; that the universe would somehow be irreparably incomplete if we didn't exist. I hope that this hope is not just the result of the boundless arrogance of humanity. I hope that hope isn't just another torment that escaped from Pandora's Box.

Now we're sitting on folding chairs, waiting for the northbound, listening to some middle-aged white guys attempting to play the blues. All of the notes are in the right place, the rhythms are a reasonable facsimile, but result is lifeless and slightly revolting, like those ultra-life-like Japanese robots that succeed in resembling nothing so much as an animated corpse.

This doesn't stop the lead singer from hamming it up as much as he possibly can. He grins, sways, and rolls his eyes so much that I expect him to get down on his knees any minute and tell mammy he's coming home. He's singing a song about a terrible flood, groans slipping through bloated fish-lips, voice engorged with affectation, barking out phony lamentations about hard times that he can only imagine.

I see him sitting in his underwear, stuffing his face with jelly donuts as the storm drowns New Orleans. I see the pleased look spread across his trembling jowls as the idea dawns upon him. Yeah! That's what we need, a good flood song! That'll give us that authentic down-in-the-delta blues sound that we've been looking for! Then everyone will think we're so great! What a slime ball. What a hypocrite.

I'm sitting at a stop light on my way to work, listening to the storm updates . This is the doomsday scenario that all of the experts had been warning us about for years. Total annihilation is imminent. How exciting! What if the storm just blew everything down and nothing was left? All those people in the Super Dome, eggshell cracking, bodies tossed like matchsticks into oblivion. What a sight that would be!

I hear the news report saying that the storm has passed to the east, along lake Ponchartrain, narrowly avoiding the worst-case scenario. I slump down in my seat a little bit. Oh well, it was almost something spectacular. I guess it's good that everything turned out all right.

But it didn't. As I shove two Big Macs into my chubby fish lips, the levees burst with abundance, and the water rushes into the city. A cup running over. A wound pussing over, throbbing and unrelenting. As I stuff my bloated belly with an abundance of fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar, the masses are gathering on the overpasses, huddled together, starving, a scrambled broadcast of a Sunday-morning commercial asking me to sponsor a third-world child. A reflection of all the suffering that I wish I could ignore.

This is not the spectacular Jerry Bruckheimer-produced disaster that made my heart swell to bursting with indignation on September 11th. This is just a sickly wasting-away. A molding, mustering, rotten stench that makes my stomach wretch. It's an endless hot sticky night, where frustrated dreams keep you awake. You want it to be over with, but it just lingers on. It still does, despite the fact that I have long forgotten all the images of bodies floating face-down in the shit-soaked water. It lingers on as I stuff my face with roasted macadamia nuts and think about what a disgusting hypocrite this fat white guy is, standing on stage, groaning about troubles he'll never know, as I sit on my folding chair, on public land that was gained by murder and subjugation.

If only there were a place to be. Of course, I could just pack up my things and move to Europe, but there is no place there for me either. I could dive further into the ancestral past and relocate to Africa, but there is no place there for me either. If I threw off the yoke of civilization and became a hunter-gatherer on the savannas, would there be a place for me? These foolish questions are the product of living within an agricultural society. The notion of a place to be only matters if you have a specific interest in a specific piece of land. The place where you grow your sustenance is the place where you belong. But the nomad belongs nowhere, always occupying a place between here and there. Never lingering, but always pushing on. To a nomad, the place to be is always where you are.

But then we are all nomads within our own lifetimes. There is no moment in which we can take up residence and declare we belong. There is no self that we can shackle to a point on a time line and say, this is me; this is the true me. As soon as we pick a moment in time, it has already passed. As soon as we choose a singularity to designate as the self, that point widens, diffuses, gets blurry around the edges. I am not who I was five minutes ago. I am not who I will be thirty years from now. We occupy the space between two points along the axis of time. But if I add up all the “me”s between the point of life and death, do I end up with my true authentic self? Or am I just left with an endless series of points, each one wholly occupied with the delusion that it is complete unto itself?

But this way of thinking is also skewed by the society in which I am immersed. Western philosophy is preoccupied with questions of the self, but in eastern philosophy there is far less emphasis on the individual. The problem of finding an authentic, “true” self is less important than finding one's place within the group. In a way this seems liberating, but mostly it seems frightening to my over-nurtured ego, a way of being dead while your body is still moving; of having your will dissolved into the sea of the collective will.

I'm sitting on my stylish, yet surprisingly affordable Swedish-designed couch watching opening ceremonies of the Olympics in a half-conscious stupor. So many people moving with perfect precision and timing. Bob Costas is beside himself with adoration. The stage opens to reveal a grid of metal blocks that churn like an industrial machine, forming a series of animated images. Through all of this we are led to assume that the blocks are being controlled with computers and hydraulics, but at the end, people pop out of the cubes, waving, with big goofy smiles on their faces. A thud can be heard off-camera as Bob Costas faints away at the majesty of it all.

Granted, it is an amazing performance, but the juxtaposition of human and mechanical imagery only serves to reinforce my suspicion as a westerner that, to the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China, people are analogous to machines, just a means of production, and that the people in this show are just a means for producing the kind of awe and wonder that further legitimizes and strengthens the party. How terrible for a government to deprive its people of their individuality! What a blatant abuse of human rights! How can an entire society fail to recognize the absolute, inalienable, unimpeachable, God-given, self-evident, incontrovertible supremacy of the individual? It fills me with outrage and indignation as a freedom-loving American, as I sit in a half-conscious stupor on my stylish, yet surprisingly affordable Swedish-designed couch that was manufactured by these human machines; by these human machinations.

If only there were a place to be.

The lagoons roll past the window as the sun dips toward the ocean. The light grows softer around the edges, golden like a toasted marshmallow. We are tired, but we are happy. A long day stretches out behind us, and a cozy evening on the couch is before us. It has been a good day. Why do I let my cynical thoughts intrude on this simple happiness? Why can't I just appreciate things for what they are, instead of mourning what they can't be? If there is a place to be, it must be within a single moment, before the mind can wander, when all there is is what is, and nothing else can be.

I look over at Rachael, reading her book. It's been a good day, and I am happy.

I go back to my book: The Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient story about a man who cannot accept the death of his friend, and so embarks on a quest to bring him back to life. At the end of the story, after he finally finds a plant that can bestow eternal life, rather than trying to summon his friend back to life immediately, Gilgamesh instead decides to take a dip in a pool. He leaves the plant unattended on the shore, where a snake eats it, at which point Gilgamesh promptly gives up his quest and returns to his city.

I find this very unsatisfying. The whole purpose of Gilgamesh's quest is to find a way to overcome death. At the outset, this seems to be a quest doomed to failure, given the sum of human experience, but in the end he actually finds a way to do it. This should be the great victory of the quest: to find a crack in the dark, hopeless substance of human existence, and drive a wedge into it; to prove that there is hope. So why does he give up as soon as the snake eats the plant? That such a plant even exists proves that our fate is not absolute. This is the single greatest shining hope that mankind could ever desire, and yet, it is at precisely this point that he abandons hope and admits defeat? Surely that couldn't have been the only plant of its kind. Why not go look for another one? Even if the plant was unique, its existence proves that death can be overcome, so why not look for another way to overcome it? This is a quest, after all. In a world where death has been proven not to be absolute, there is always hope. But he gives up in spite of this hope, as if to suggest that, even so, we humans must still accept the fate that we were assigned by powers greater than our own. What an impotent hero. He seems strangely modern for an ancient Babylonian. He'd fit right in with Jake Barnes and Jay Gatsby.

“Ugh, why would people build their houses around this little brackish pond? It looks dirty.”

I look out the window. The brackish little “pond” that the woman behind me is referring to in her ignorance is actually a basin of the Buena Vista Lagoon, one of just 10% of remaining coastal wetlands in Southern California. Although, I suppose she's technically correct, in that the lagoon has become a freshwater pond precisely because people decided to build their houses around it. These houses are part of St. Malo, a housing development that contains mostly vacation homes that lie vacant for much of the year. The developer that built the community dammed the inlet to provide flood protection for the houses located along the edge of the lagoon. In doing so, he cut the lagoon off from tidal flushing, which changed it from a saltwater to a freshwater lagoon, thereby destroying the native salt marsh habitat.

Of course the woman behind me has no idea about any of this. She just thinks it looks “dirty;” she doesn't realize that the blocked inlet has caused the lagoon to silt up, or that less than a year ago there was a huge sewage spill. She doesn't care that there have been plans for nearly twenty years to restore the lagoon, if the agencies could just get funding. She, like most of the public is only concerned about what the natural world means to her, what she can get out of it, never stopping to consider that something could exist simply for itself, without regard for what people think, perfectly content to ignore our existence entirely.

It was this kind of thinking that led a developer to change the entire ecosystem of a lagoon just so he could build his exclusive housing development, which, might I add, I really enjoyed visiting when my parents' friends would invite us for the Fourth of July, but that's not the point. The point is that it was this kind of thinking that caused the train tracks to be built across the lagoon, then the Pacific Coast Highway, then the I-15, all of which have choked off the natural flow of the lagoon, and all of which I have traveled across at some point in my life; one of which I'm traveling across at this very moment. But that's not the point. The point is that it is this kind of thinking that leads people to look at land only in terms of its monetary value, rather than its value to the native species that depend on it, which is what led land developers to over-develop coastal Southern California, where I have lived my entire life, on land that has been developed, scraped flat and paved over. But that's not the point. Even if I didn't live here, someone else would take my place. That's why developers keep building. The climate here is perfect, and we're just minutes away from the beach. People are willing to pay extra for that; I guess I'm willing to pay extra for that too, even though I can't remember the last time I've been to the beach, and I can't stand endless sunny days. And yet, here I am, for no reason other than the fact that I was born here.

If only there were a place to be. If only I could take it back, send the settlers back east; pack them all up in their ships: the English, the Spanish, the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, and send them back across the Atlantic, send them from the docks down the cobble-stone streets to their homes, to their wives and children, content once again to take comfort in unambitious domestic bliss. But then where could I be? There is no room in Europe for the hundreds of millions of people of European descent now living in the Western Hemisphere. If I could will all my ancestors to just stay home and leave the rest of the world alone, I would be willing myself out of existence. And would this be such a tragedy? Only to me.

But that's not the point—I didn't choose to be born here, this is just where I happened. At least I feel bad about it; that has to be worth something, and even if it it's not, that's all I have; it's all I'm capable of. At least I'm not like this ignorant woman sitting behind me flapping her gums about things that she doesn't even—

Outside, two guys pull down their pants, bend over, and shake their pale asses at us.

“Hey, they're mooning the train!” I say, laughing in spite of myself. I look over at Rachael; she's laughing, though she's pretending not to. The woman behind me is laughing. The scary guy in the corner that I'm pretty sure is a gang member is laughing. Laughter reverberates and expands, and for a moment, it fills the train until there is no room for anything else.

It's been a good day, and I am happy; and at this moment, sitting on this train, traveling north through Oceanside, surrounded by all these people, with Rachael sitting across from me, there is no place I'd rather be but here.

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Jul. 31st, 2008 | 10:42 pm

Shemm has a lazy eye

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Jul. 31st, 2008 | 09:47 pm
mood: confusedconfused
music: You Lost By One Point by SHEMM

What a load of garbage. Who says I'm at a point of transition? Do I say that? What is the evidence? How am I changing? Who am I becoming? Of course stagnation is a possibility, it is always the most readily available possibility, the path of least resistance. The last paragraph, however, makes sense:

"Not-being, that is remaining static is being only within the actual, cut off from all potential."

I am wholly within the actual, and therefore in a state of not-being. However, being wholly within the actual also denotes an absence of abstraction, which in a sense is a higher form of being, or at least a more immediate form. For instance, a stone is not conscious, but acts according to the forces that act upon it; therefore, if you drop a stone, gravity acts upon the stone and it falls until the ground stops it, at which point the pressure of the ground pushing up and gravity pushing down equalize and the stone remains at rest. There is no abstraction in this; the stone does not contemplate its journey, or the universal laws that bring it about; it simply does what it must do according to those laws.

By contrast, humans, though subject to those very same laws, are not content to merely act according to them, in the actual, but to contemplate the possible in order to understand these laws in the abstract. It is not enough that gravity keeps us anchored to the ground; we must understand why it does so. This abstraction creates its own reality within in the mind that becomes inseparable from the actual, and thus we are left with the mind-world/non-mind world dichotomy. Though we exist within the actual, we cannot exist outside of our own abstraction, and so our reality is less "real" than the reality of a stone that is singular and unambiguous.

So which is preferable? Ideally, the goal of seeing reality as it really is would suggest removing all abstractions and leaving only the actual, but then we would be little better rocks to be kicked around. It is part of the human condition to exist within the uneasy dichotamy of the actual and the possible; it is the source of all that is good and all that evil about humanity, and so, as a biased human, I must conclude that it is a good thing.

To quote George C. Scott from the film They Might Be Giants, in reference to Don Quixote's delusions about windmills being giants:

Of course, he carried it a bit too far. He thought that every windmill was a giant. That's insane. But, thinking that they might be... Well, all the best minds used to think the world was flat. But, what if it isn't? It might be round. And bread mold might be medicine. If we never looked at things and thought of what they might be, why, we'd all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes.

Indecently, I've never seen this movie. The only reason I am aware of its existance is because of the band with the same name. Also, I just finished reading Don Quixote, and the Wikipedia article links to the movie.

So, maybe my point is that it wouldn't be so bad to be in the tall grass with the apes. Or maybe my point is that I'd rather be human with all my flaws than give it up for any ideal existence. It may not be better to live with the knowledge that your life is temporary than to never exist, but just think of the probabilities involved: First there is the improbability of a planet having just the right conditions for life. Next, the improbability of life springing spontaneously from inorganic matter. Finally, the ludicrous improbability of an unbroken chain of live stretching from that first spontaneous spark, descending down through time to you. Think about that. If that single-celled cyanobacterium relative of yours, sitting on a stromatolite two billion years ago had bit the dust before it reproduced, there would be no you. Add up all of those improbabilities, and one can only conclude that life is something special, to be cherished for all of its flaws and imperfections. Life is something wonderful; Life is something terrible, but it is all we have; and that is something.

You know what I'm sick of? All of this philosophical junk. I mean really, I don't update in a year and all I can manage in the past four months is four posts? Two of which are philosophical ramblings that make no sense, and one crappy attempt at political commentary. Sometimes I think I complain too much in this blog. It's probably because I don't complain enough in real life. I have no satisfactory way to end this.

I should have just ended with that bit about life being all we have. Yeah, that would have been a good place to stop. Like in A.I., when the robot kid is begging the blue fairy to make him a real boy. That's where it should have ended, not with the crap at the end where the aliens reanimate him and bring his mother back to life. There's something to be said for knowing when to quit.

You know what resonates well? Short, declarative sentences. That's what Hemingway taught us. He also taught us that it hurts so bad to be a man, to really be a manly man and own all your manly weaknesses along with your manly manliness, that it's just better to put a bullet in your head and end it all, rather than to have deal with all of those manly emotions.

Fact: Mumbo Jumbo is the name of a novel by Ishmael Reed
Fact: It is also the name of a song by Shemm, a fabulous public access singer. I couldn't find this song on you tube, but I did find this one, which is equally hilarious.
Fact: I'm tired, and typing nonsense at this point

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Being and Becoming

Jul. 4th, 2008 | 01:04 pm
mood: contemplativecontemplative

I think I am at a place of transition. There is potential for progression or regression, but remaining static is out of the question. Of course, life cannot remain static by definition. Life feeds off of entropy and so must always be in a condition of flux. There can be homeostasis, but this not a standing still but a confluence of forces that is brought into balance. When a system is out of homeostasis, it must change until it is brought back into balance. I am out of balance. Therefore I must change.

Words are good ways to express things in order to forget them. I have lots of journals filled with thoughts that I happily exuded then swept under the rug. The mind is a place where nothing ever disappears. It is in direct opposition to the forces of nature in that the more that something is used up in the mind, the more there remains of it. If I eat a cake in the non-mind world, I am left with a not-cake and stomach ache. If I eat a cake in the mind-world, the cake grows and changes develops different textures, becomes other cakes that I once ate, imaginary theoretical cakes that could never physically exist in cake-form. There are an infinity of cakes in the mind-world.

The mind-world is limitless, and yet it becomes defined and finite when brought into the non-mind world. This is a process which human invented and which they are the sole purveyors of: It is called art. Why are humans the only creatures that practice art? It is not that we are the only creatures in contact with the mind-world. Watch a dog chasing things in its sleep, and you can see that all things have a limitless potential within them. The human, however, is the only creature that has such faith in the mind-world that he believes that he can make it tangible by bringing it into the non-mind world. Humans are the only creatures that make art because we are the only creatures that put faith in the impossible.

In a sense the mind-world can be likened to Plato's ideal forms, but it is less defined than that. Plato thought that the shape of the non-mind world was merely a reflection of eternal ideals. These ideals were organized within the mind-world in essentially the same way that they were organized in the non-mind world. Thus, a chair possesses a particular “chair-ness” which is a reflection of an “ideal chair-ness”. The truth, however, is less easily defined.

The chair possess some innate nature imbued in it by its creator; however, before the first chair was created there was no ethereal “chair-ness” that only had to plucked out of the mind-world and made manifest in the non-mind world. Rather, there was a need to sit, for comfort. Something that can be imagined and visualized in the mind-world, but must be made manifest and concrete to inhabit the non-mind world. So, someone translated that idea from the mind-world into the non-mind world. But the ideal for comfort does not exist solely in the form of a chair, or even the ideal form of a chair, whatever that may be. In the mind-world the concept of comfort is a continuum, any of its infinite aspects can be translated into a non-mind world counterpart. Therefore, you have sofas, chaise-lounges, beds, poufs, tatami mats, barcaloungers, hammocks, air mattresses, Swiss memory foam, barley pillows, and any of an infinite manifestations of the mind-world entity known in physical tangible terms as “comfort.”

The same is true of less practical forms of art. An entire world can exist as a subset of the mind-world, inhabited with creatures and places, each with their own history and their own thoughts and emotions. They are free and unlimited while they remain within the mind-world. Their stories can be told again and again, and never lose any of their force, never become stale and boring because they are always changing, always becoming something new. When these people and places and ideas are made concrete by means of the device that we humans have invented specifically for this purpose, that is the pen, the potential is carved away leaving only the actual, which is flat, lifeless, and dead.

In a way the limitations of the pen are a reflection of our own limitations at bringing the mind-world into the non-mind world. However, the faith that we put in this limited device is also a reflection of the faith that we put in our ability to transcend our own limitations. And sometimes, in a limited sense, humans are capable of the impossible. Of course the dead words on a page cannot reflect the full spectrum of the mind-world. The mind-world by definition cannot be contained within the constraints of the non-mind world. However, if the dead, flat actuality faithfully preserves within it a a mere facet of the limitless potential, that facet can be expanded by another inhabitant of the mind-world until its potential is again limitless and free-moving. This, in essence, is the process of creation in reverse: The actual becomes the potential; but it is no less a work of creation than the artist creating the actual from the potential. In fact, it possesses within it limitless possibilities beyond the initial act of creation because the potential induced from the actual will necessarily be a slightly different potential than that which the actual was originally a reflection of, but it will be no less infinite.

This loss in translation, though an artifact of the process of manifesting objects from the mind-world into the non-mind world, is actually the true value of that process. If we could be present within one another's mind-worlds, there would be no reason to understand each other ore interact with one another because we would all be a single entity, and there would be only a single unambiguous, objective reality. Everything would be understood by its very existence, and so, paradoxically, would not need to be understood. But, since we are forever sealed within our own mind-world (or subset of the larger mind-world, though this calls into question whose mind-world we are inhabiting), we are forced to project our understanding across layers of consciousness that enrich our existence in a way that nothing else can.

Knowing is being, but not-knowing is becoming. Becoming is changing, and changing is being in the true sense. Not-being, that is remaining static is being only within the actual, cut off from all potential. Becoming, that is true being, is the constant, eternal manifestation of all potential, and the only way to know that potential is to become it. Therefore, becoming is knowing. Sometimes contradictions make the most sense.

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We've Got Issues

Apr. 12th, 2008 | 08:09 pm
mood: tiredtired

I've been considering submitting articles to local free newspapers in order to get my foot in the door as a "real writer."  In order to come up with sample articles to submit, I've set a goal of writing one article every week to be posted on Fridays.  This is my first attempt (a day late):

I was listening to NPR the other day and there was a story about the new ads that Hillary and Obama are running in Pennsylvania. Hillary's was essentially some schmaltz about her childhood vacations in Scranton, PA served warm in an attempt to thaw her ice-woman image; Obama's was centered around another of his vaguely inspirational speeches on the nebulous topic of “change.” The thrust of the story was that both ads, while appealing on an emotional level, contained no real information on where the candidates stood on the issues, or why either would make a good president. This got me thinking: how is a candidate's stance on a set of issues any better of an indicator of what kind of president he or she will be than our initial emotional reaction to that candidate?

It is a well-known fact that politicians are excellent liars; they will do and say whatever is necessary in order to win elections. This isn't their fault, it's just the game that they have to play in order to be successful in politics. In order to get elected to office, they must appeal to as many voters as possible while alienating as few as possible. Politician's present their campaigns in terms of ideologies and values, but what makes a successful campaign usually comes down to simple economics.

Issues are useful because they easily divide the voting population into manageable groups so that politicians can carefully target who they are appealing to and who they are alienating. They constitute a zero-sum game: either you are pro-life or you are pro choice; a hawk or a dove; for gay marriage or against it—there is no overlap. Issues also sell well to voters because they remove the burden of critical thought. Most political issues are selected because they elicit knee-jerk reactions from people based on their preexisting ideological beliefs, so that choosing the right candidate is reduced to answering questions on a survey; The candidate with the most answers that match yours is the one you should vote for.

There are actual surveys like this online. I took one and it told me that I should vote for Dennis Kucinich. Does this mean that he would be my ideal president? I hope not; he's got about as much charisma as a pile of dung. What I'm looking for in a leader is not necessarily someone who shares my particular ideology, but rather someone with the ability to cope efficiently with the exigencies of leadership; a quality much more ephemeral than a simple stance on an issue. If the current president has taught us anything, it is the danger of blindly leading according to an ideology with no regard for empirical reality.

So how does a candidate's stance on an issue give us any more information about their leadership abilities than a superficial emotional appeal does? At least the emotional appeal gives us an idea of the candidate's charisma and persuasive abilities; qualities that are much more important to good leadership than, say, whether a candidate believes a universal health care plan should be voluntary or mandatory.

Ultimately, the presidential election will come down to a single issue: if you are happy with the way things are going or you are too afraid to change them, you will vote for John McCain; if you aren't, you'll vote for the Democratic nominee. Since this is a foregone conclusion, the real focus has been on who will win that nomination. Both Obama and Clinton would be significantly different leaders than George Bush, and both would probably do just as good (or bad) of a job, but they are still doing their best to differentiate themselves from each other so that we will care enough to go out and vote in the primary. Still, regardless of what the candidates say, it probably doesn't matter who wins the nomination. The candidates are currently mired in a stalemate with neither able to garner the 2,024 delegates required to win outright, so the nomination will most likely be decided by the superdelegates. The voters have decided that they can't decide—It's essentially a wash.

The closest economic parallel to the 2008 Democratic primary are the Cola Wars of the 1980s. We have two nearly identical products fighting for dominance in a narrow market sector. Since both products are essentially the same and cost the same, the only way to build a distinctive brand image is to create an emotional connection between the consumer and the product; to connect the product to a particular lifestyle that appeals to the consumer, so that when asked which product they prefer, the consumer will automatically be able to choose their favorite, even if they are unable to explain why it is their favorite. In the absence of any real difference between the products, differences must be manufactured in order to make each product marketable to consumers.

I voted for Obama; not for any specific things that he has said, but rather how he said them; how he made me feel when he said them. Most importantly, he is too young to have had his political views shaped by the Vietnam era, so he represents a break with the past. This is not to say that I think Obama is America's savior, or that he will tear down the Washington political machine and finally restore government that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people. I just think he's the most likely to do the least amount of damage. If we get lucky, maybe he'll do some good. Do I have any rational reason for thinking this? No, but in an election where none of the remaining candidates have held an executive position, no one can really tell what kind of leader a candidate will be until he or she is actually in office, so I did the next best thing and voted for the candidate that best connects with me on an emotional level.

It should come as no surprise that Obama appeals to me. As a twenty-something, I am precisely the kind of person that he is spending millions of dollars to appeal to. Do I feel manipulated? A little, but I've gotten used to being manipulated by politicians, which is why I'm in favor of change, whatever that means. What I do know is that Obama is the candidate that best represents this vague concept of change, a fact that he has so mercilessly beat into my skull time and time again. I am not alone, there is a whole new generation that is demanding change, and is equally hazy on what that change should be. Obama may have just as vague an idea about what change actually means, but he believes in it, which is why he is the choice of a new generation. But is he the real thing?

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