Friday, July 31, 2009
The first notion is that of the Underworld. No, I do not refer to the enjoyable ridiculousness that is a trilogy of horror-action movies, nor do I refer to any obvious notion of the afterlife, despite the term underworld and afterlife often having traditional interchangeability. By Underworld, I mean just that: That a or many worlds coexist simultaneously beneath the most empirically obvious one. In some ways, this in misleading or arbitrary terminology, because such realms may exist adjacent or above, behind or in front of this one, but vocabulary such as metaworld do not readily appear in everyday usage; so underworld it is. Recently, I have spoken of experiencing the skin of experience, of the world-as-usual, which in itself suggests the great depth, the muscle, sinew, bone, marrow, organs, and the like that simultaneously exist in the body that composes a more complete world than just the flesh of our usual understanding. When Spinoza attempts to explain why we are ignorant of the omnipresence of God/Nature, he describes a worm floating in the bloodstream, completely unaware of the body in which it exists. This is a parallel if distinct narrative to my present subject. Mythologies concerning divine and daemonic realms, the coexistence of terrible and foreign cosmic forces, and the movement of unseen animals or spirits or adversaries also provide rich, cross-cultural examples. I am not arguing for everyday battles between angels and demons, nor do I think sleeping Cthulhu is inspiring madness in unaware disciples, or that Tibetan Buddhist demon manifestations ever walked with humans. What I am saying is that these are narratives that do express a set of meaningful foundational assumptions about the multi-layered existence in which we find ourselves and of which we are sometimes made aware.
The other is synthesis-hybridity. Though this is probably highly rooted in Bruno Latour's writing about hybridity, I first picked it up in critical and fictional writing on cyborgs which plays up the notion that experiencing, living entities are never deducible to a single, primordial unity, but to distinct, but mutually intelligible units in the midst of synthesis. Donna Haraway writes beautifully--and sometimes painfully--on this notion, but it is the subject of Marge Piercy's He, She, and It as well as abundant other feminist science fiction. These narratives challenge the highly romanticized primal heritage of simplicity and solitary being-ness of early persons, which have become convoluted and confused into multiplicity (think Adam & Eve); where the dominant myth supports singularity, universality, and god-like objectivity, the challenging myth supports mulitplicity, subjectivity, cooperation (natural, necessary, and unwanted), and--of course--synthesis despite substantial differences. (I use "substantial" here in multiple ways, suggesting both significance and constitution or material; the new myth is often allegorically the cyborg, most obviously the techno-organic person, whose "humanity" is neither built from machinery nor encoded in genes and tissues, but the result of both of these realities and the process of cooperation.) Hybridity is one aspect of the fundamental importance I place on creativity in expressing personhood and has much to do with how I have written (in my still incomplete) senior thesis on intellectual property; that is, personhood manifests most obviously when an entity acts by reassembling aspects of the environment into novel, intentional, and/or metaphorical ways. Without the synthesis between different subjects and objects in the world, then invention, art, and discourse dissolve and our ability to struggle, puzzle, and become impassioned over them is destroyed. Therefore, my notion of character is one that supports the ability and passion for creative synthesis in others as well as one self--or put differently, being both a creativity educator and a student of one's own passions.
Sometimes my friends express confusion or befuddlement about my rhetoric or connections and I think that that is often because these ideas are not as fundamental with others as they are with me. I cannot say exactly how these two ideas in particular landed themselves--or, more likely--insinuated themselves--into my worldview, but here they are, sitting around and looking me straight in the face or putting themselves up to my eyes and forcing myself to see through them. In Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, the first character introduced dreams of people walking past and picking up one idea, or sometimes many, until those ideas weigh heavily on the appearance and behavior of those persons until they become grotesque: bizarre monsters of themselves, warped by their attachment to these ideas that have become weapons and curses. I do not know if I have become a grotesque in this way, but think and hope that Underworld and synthesis-hybridity continue to function in explicatory and illuminating ways. For the moment at least, such aesthetic grotesqueness will have to suffice.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Now, at a quarter past eight o'clock, drinking a New Belgium Skinny Dip, listening to a compilation I believe given me by Miss Lisa Skarbakka, and having just finished reading Volume 3 of Garth Ennis's Preacher, I find contentment. Contentment I usually reserve some psychopharmaceutical or personal disinterest in engaging behavior or new tasks; which is not presently the case. Rather, I recognize the limitations on my schedule, the needs of my body and my health--though those of my mind remain hazy--and have discovered myself in a situation of occupational satisfaction. As far as I can tell, training at Great Harvest is going rapidly, a few extra shifts at Ivanna Cone provide further savings and spending money, work for my mom is intense but with good company and pay is well worth it. I have been able to play with the new computer--whose name I have not yet settled on, but something classical and Greek would be in tune with my other electronics--and happily fall to sleep thinking of friends and future plans, or, perhaps, the new pot of Tazo Organic Chai with honey.
Something else is in order, as well. I have caught wind of some of my lovely friends who are, at least attempting to, keep track of this space and I have a query I wish to set forth. This arose during white board sessions with Gretchen, Stephie, Jerricho, and has been entertained with others. When discussing relationships with friends and family, we fell into using terms like "owe" and other such metaphors that I coined the language of transaction, which I found unsettling and inaccurate. What does it mean to "owe" or "deserve" something in a personal bond? How does that relate to its usage in contracts like business or legislative dealings? (Such as, "If you build me a house, I will pay you money;" or, "If you perform community service, then you do not have to pay a fine for your legal transgression.") How do you consider your relationships with others and the obligations or responsibilities those entail?
Here is the heart question, that which includes and makes sense of the other: Does the language of transaction accurately describe how relationships work or, as I assume, is it misleading in how we actually relate, feel, and work toward or with others? My response is that the language of transaction is misleading and a poor way to consider personal bonds--that is, bonds are tacitly contractual and are similar to marketplace dealings--which function more like building or growing than "deals." Such language of building would mean that in building a family, friendship, romance, or whatever, the construction requires cooperation but, given strong foundations and the passion of participants, it can withstand disuse or forget for some time while being readily recovered (which is based on my personal relationships that are too frequently neglected only to be happily discovered again later). If, for example, a house of friends work to make a special bond amongst the housemates, then the lack of cooperation by a member or two does not nullify the relationship, it only makes their role in its success less significant; as a result, the responsibility or commitment to maintain for non-cooperators is slackened because those "structures" of the house are more vestigial than those of the hardworkers in the group.
Anyway, I want your comments on the language of transaction, that of building, the rhetoric involved, and any thoughts or alternatives. I want discussion! How would you change your linguistic metaphors to more appropriately describe your relationships? What verbs describe the creation and maintenance of relationships? Help me out!
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Also, I start baking at Great Harvest tomorrow morning at four a.m. If you want to congratulate me, don't call after nine p.m., I will be trying to sleep.
From Lovecraft & the Weird (21 July)
I am in the mood to write which is, coincidentally, in conjunction with the mood to read. During my time in Minneapolis, at Magers & Quinn, I purchased a lovely tome: The Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft, bound wonderfully in faux black leather with a rendition of dread Cthulhu on the cover in gold script. I am tempted to extrapolate upon the literature of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, with his fantastic and macabre tales of the edges of human reason as well as the far borders of the Void. His world is as full and almost more meaningful than the endless mythologies of humanity's many cultures, but seeps mystically into the conceivable, into the potential realities we hold dear. It fills me with terrible elation.
Presently, I write my own weird tales focused on a town in Louisiana named Delafourche, rich in its own mysteries and macabre tales which only slowly grow into their own. My apparent protagonist is Alexis Tournette, an educated and overly curious local with connections to some of the young people and a penchant for the potentially deleterious. Already he reminds me of John Constantine's tendency to get his friends into danger, though he draws more heavily on Lovecraft's Randolph Carter who explores the dream realms and the earthly abysses—though I am under the impression that Lovecraft does not exactly distinguish the two.
What Lovecraft's characters stumble into is a world immersed in cosmic and psychic conquests in which humans are usually negligible or temporary pawns. He hints at the Freudian fears of our ancestors, the subconscious pulls and directions that can consume us, the ultimate draw of fate and doom, as well as the undeniable richness and mystique that fills our minds and worlds. Many stories function as personal and open allegories for his own experiences or function as our own—my mother commented that the tale of The Outsider mirrors the rough conditions of Ph. D. work and completing one's doctorate—while others explore Kantian sublimity and the horror beyond the realm of reason, similar to Kierkegaard's leap of faith but suggesting the presence of alien mysteries on the far ledge—I can think of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath in which the Dreamland holds both earthly and alien horrors, the vacancy of the divine, and the strength of home.
When I write in such a style, the worlds within ourselves becomes the open field of potential; sometimes it feels playful and childish, but like all childish things it potentiates a dark and cruel side, the world in which answers come from suffering and mystic uncertainties. Indeed, it also brings to the fore notions of which I am at first unaware, notions like a terrible but immense underlying reality, the rich spiritual realms beneath and above the skin of straightforward experience. Eihei Dogen describes the spirits of air, the stone mother, the beings in water; and after my stay in India, I cannot deny that “[the] blue mountains [are] constantly walking” (from the Mountains and Waters Sutra). Lauren commented that Lovecraft's Beyond the Wall of Sleep is a description of a DMT trip, and following reading Breaking Open the Head, I am inclined to agree even though it was written before the derivation of DMT and I sincerely doubt the straightlaced New Englander ever sampled such exotic fare. Any of these sources, literary or pharmaceutical, reveals a nature of the world as richly layered and interwoven, lived in more realms than are necessarily obvious or humanly perceptible. (DMT trips usually involve “visiting” highly geometric and mathematical urban centers in which I higher, luminous, even divine logic is apparent to the tripper.)
To see my reading list these days (more Lovecraft and Dogen, finishing We Have Never Been Modern by Latour, eventually some Claude Levi-Strauss, some environmental activism, and so on) may look like an exercise in absurdity, but feels more and more like connectivity, relationality, and contextualization of the my world in the world. Ultimately, I am making sense of living and experience in a reality that continues to elude and befuddle, much in the way thay Lovecraft's protagonists are eluded and befuddled by their discoveries. Latour, Lovecraft, and Pinchbeck (writer of Breaking Open the Head) are very much involved in seeing the world for its unending and rejuvenating novelty, its perpetual newness and madness. While Latour breaks down the social, rhetorical, and philosophical paradigms that apparently pollute our perceptions; while Pinchbeck delves deep into and beyond the boundaries of his own cranium; Lovecraft searches for the far limits of episteme and perception, of metaphysics and theology, by disassembling the world we know into the terrifying world of which we were never aware that we were always in.
A House That No One Wants (22 July)
It terrifies me that my mother, after long decades of familiarity and communication, does not know what to do with the difficulties her siblings—her sister and half-brother—present her with in the management and sale of their father's home, a man I myself never knew. In the midst of household refurbishing and renovation, she happily received a phone call that this house that no one wants has an interested party. Both of her siblings live near to this house, in the same town in fact, but are disinterested and seemingly unable to arrange the dispensing of its furniture and other goods, or checking on the condition of its water and electricity. In an uncomfortable moment of reflection, I realize that very little of this matters because the house will either become gutted or demolished for its new purpose as an additional property to a nearby church.
So far, I am blessed when it comes to the cooperation and functioning of my siblings and I. We do not often agree about issues of politics, religion, or occupational satisfaction; but when it comes to conversation, we readily resolve into consensus, conceding that what each of us wants is not necessarily likely for any other of us. This, I suppose, has evolved from our long years of torture and near bloodshed in our childhood and youth. My sister went through a period of a few years during which she emotionally tormented me by dealing with me the way one would deal with a bothersome puppy; if it has something you don't want him to have, hide it or destroy it, and if he continues to bother you, namecall and shew incessantly. This was, for the most part, preceded by a long period of mild physical abuse from my brother, though as I was always large for my age and he always small, it quickly became an even match, such as the time when we tried to drown one another in a hotel pool. I can still vividly recall a dream that must have followed the event in which I swam deeper and deeper into a pool, discovering and endless, terrible, and increasingly abyssal realm of lifeless homogeneity.
I hold none of these events against my siblings and am happy to see them when one of us visits the other. When my mother expressed her concern that we would not keep in contact with each other without her personal labor, I immediately felt the reality that Dustin will show up on Erin and subsequently my doorstep for a place to stay; perhaps stupidly, I do not in the least doubt our willingness to house him. Our care for one another is strange, built more out of sudden necessity and and a subterranean maturity for which cannot be easily accounted, it just is. Real conversations with my siblings are few, but potent illustrations of our bond, and the spaces in between the stark contrast with them that, ultimately, makes our togetherness more obvious.
My mother and I have been tearing apart the carpet in the upstairs bedrooms (I, conveniently, live in the basement) for new carpet. As my present project is to encourage recycling in the household and at some point pursue composting, I have neglected to educate my mother on the environmental consequences of carpet manufacture and waste, content in the regulatory disposal of old paint. All the same, the project has been enlightening and frustrating. It wears me out. Particles of dust, nylon, glue, foam, and so on fill the air and exhaust me; I cut and yank free chunks of carpet and foam that overfill our garbage cans; and I become increasingly confused by the functioning of space in this room that looks more forgotten than novel.
Yesterday, my brother's old bedroom felt larger without its furniture; but this morning my mother commented that without its carpet and foam, it feel smaller. I am inclined to agree and wonder at how dimensions change, how perception and reality impact the actual length, width, and depth of a space. I feel that, like the motion of time during joy or sorrow, space fluctuates depending on its context. The work and emptiness of my brother's old room now oppress me, the bare floor looks like disaster recovery, like the house is sick and in the midst of surgery. I am left grasping for energy in stale, sickly air. Now, I write in my old bedroom, dressed in my sister's old furniture, in late afternoon, debating on how best to transfer everything in one bedroom—which appears livable, even friendly—to another—which is mocking and vacant. My back aches and arms are tired, but what I feel like I lack most in that raw energy, that comfort and motivation for moving because I fear making more space that is inhospitable.
This, I suppose, is the awkward project of my mother and her siblings: making a livable space inhospitable, blank, even barren. An undressed mattress, books and clothing in bags, the contents of a desk in boxes, records stacked on a closet shelf are not the pieces of construction, at least not in comfortable construction. I recognize, even endorse destruction as part of creation, that to make is also to destroy; but perhaps it involves strange, unforeseen roots or it touches on the connections that I feel but do not understand between my own siblings and I. My sister prohibited the use of her room until she married at the close of her college career. Now, my brother's room is undergoing a similar transformation only scant weeks after his wedding. I do not know what all of it means, only that it means something.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
First, the philosopher in the room ought to resolve the problem of representation. In discussions where like-minded people are involved, issues like group-think, under representation, misrepresentation, and scapegoatism can develop and go unnoticed. Such is easily considered as a political issue--having to do with the relationships and interactions of people--that John Rawls attempts to handle with his "veil of ignorance." These and similar situations I refer to topically as problems of representation because they develop from the exclusion of particular parties that will be impacted by the decision and the progress or management of the conversation. For example, Professor Deane Curtin once shared this story:
An international aid organization was determined to help a community of women in a village. After observing the women in the village, the aid organization decided the women would benefit from solar stoves so that they would not have to search for firewood. The organization delivered the stoves and explained how they worked to the women of the village and how they would be beneficial; afterwards, the women wandered off and, perhaps, chuckled at the stoves and their would-be beneficiaries. The women, in turned out, could not use the stoves because the women cooked at night after their other work was done and they could no longer see to finish remaining chores.
The intentions of the aid organization were well-intended, but because no one cared to pay attention to the needs and voices of the women--i.e. no one represented them--the work was for naught. Here is one situation where someone needed to step in and actually ask questions; or, more specifically, ask the questions to the right people. Through the rigors of critical thinking and problem evaluation, a philosophically minded and trained person is better suited to understand and realize the importance of asking the right questions, asking them to the right people, and presenting the answers in the most meaningful way.
This sort of role leads into the problem of category, in which the argument or discussion at hand involves perspectives or terminology that characterizes distinct categories and how they relate to one another. Aristotle and Ludwig Wittgenstein spent a good deal of time and effort describing the notion of categories. Even given an utterly chaotic situation (a child's playroom, a legislative meeting, or certain descriptions of the universe), humans must undergo a system of categorization in order to act in the world effectively. These categories may be ultimately descriptive and characteristic of the world, such as the taxonomy of species, or simply organizational and arbitrary, such as all red toys go into one crate and all yellow toys go into another (the toys having nothing to do with one another except the wavelength of light they emit; a counter organizational method may be grouping by intended age group or source of origin, which would say something about their function or identity).
Professor Lisa Heldke once shared some insight concerning a food-based online discussion with my class. I do not recall the exact nature of the discussion, but the contention that needed resolution involved the articulation of distinct definitions and categories that were used by the interlocutors. In an involved discussion, it is important to describe the bounds of a concept or, in other words, define the term in an intelligible way. If someone posits a statement based on the definition of a term, but that definition is not itself explained, then a competing and simultaneously unstated definition may be used to argue against the other claim; in such a situation, it is less likely that the two or more parties are arguing than they are misunderstanding one another. This is another situation in which a philosopher in the room can resolve tension by deriving functional definitions from each party in order to explain the differences between one another.
In a more simple context, two young men came into Ivanna Cone (my place of ice cream scooping employment) and were debating about how one is evil. More explicitly, the question was, "Can someone be a little bit evil?" One young man was attempting to affirm the position, the other was attempting to deny the position. What occurred to me, and I added to the conversation, was that someone may be characterized in more specific terms, such as mischievous (one who enjoys causing annoying or complicated problems for others, but may or may nor make explicitly good choices in a moral sense) or opportunistic (one who pursues a situation that would provide a benefit for him/herself without likely repercussions, usually within the bounds of a certain system of law or honor; like a shrewd businessperson); these ultimately describe how a person may act in certain situations.
Evil, then, is the person with a series of overlapping negatively characterized characteristics, such as being cruel, thieving, arrogant, and the like. When one of the young men considered someone who had been good all of his/her life and then chose to kill someone, I suggested that that person had undergone a major character shift, perhaps the result of trauma or injury or heartbreak, which ultimately changes that person's identity (such a position is most coherent within virtue or character ethics). Another person may make immense contributions to charities--such as a philanthropic businessperson--but, perhaps, beats his/her spouse and children; or a business that provides healthcare and benefits to all of its workers but denudes forests and pollutes streams where it works, is another example. This, I would describe specifically as forms of fraud, deception, and/or greenwashing, given the specific nature of the example.
And finally, the issues that are effectively refered to as issues of causality or issues of heritage. These are, effectively, the same issue related to how subject x was derived from a, b, and c. (The causal or inheriting sources are, in actuality, a set that may end uncertainly in an ellipsis, just as the subject is part of a potentially infinite set of subjects.) Friedrich Nietzsche handled this sort of issue in the Genealogy of Morals, in which he traced the etymological roots of good, bad, and evil in order to place his ethical examination (that is, the positing of the amoral Ubermensch) within a meaningful theoretical structure (though that structure is very different than most philosophical writing). By tracing a notion backward--through causal time or inherited genealogy--that notion's reality in the form of its definition, function, coherence, or relation to the subject at hand can be made more understandable. With the example of Nietzsche, he ultimately argues that the notion of evil has nothing to do with the notion of good because evil is a fiction created to subvert the sociopolitical power of the powerful. In a more everyday example, I decided to start using kerchiefs because I realized that tissues were wasteful and it occurred to me that the "outmoded" kerchief provided a perfectly suitable function with less waste and more sturdiness.
I don't know if Nietzsche would appreciate that sort of comparison.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Things to come:
A discussion (meaning any readers as well as my own musings and memories) on the language of relationships (family ties, friends, intimates, that sort of thing),
A list of things that generally fascinate and thrill me and why, and
Some more reflections on dreams (because they haven't stopped coming).
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Other dreams, such as an archaeological hike up a palatial or ceremonial waterfall at high altitude, also hover and bob about my consciousness. I am under the impression--particularly after reading Breaking Open the Head--that the past and future are somehow making themselves known in my dreaming. I have stumbled upon a vibrant and potentially pivotal point in my life, a station that would lend itself to susceptibility to intersection with other joints and twists in my life, lived and yet-to-be. Perhaps this sounds more like hogwash than my friends usually expect from me, but last night I described the present moment as an anchor, pulling me to it from both sides, perhaps from many other less obvious directions. If that is the case, then the role of dreams is just another sort of evidence of the present as a powerful anchor on my life.
Such a reality--one of tides and currents, anchors and islands, of tradewinds and flowing rivers--is not one I expected just a few short months ago. I have had the temporal nature of my life challenged in an uncommon and exciting way. If anything, this new outlook provides a much more contiguous and self-reinforcing structure to my history, to my living than I would have posited on my own. Now, I can expect to circle back and uncover the past as well as the future, that what is ahead is potentially familiar, likely warm with the feelings of amicable hands and the echoing of laughter, happily flavored with deja vu.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
First, a recipe:
Cranberry Scone Bread
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon yeast
Mix and let sit.
1 & 1/2 cups white flour
1/2 cup oats
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2-3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Stir in starter to flour mixture; when smooth, turn out and knead for five minutes. Let rise in a loaf pan somewhere warm for at least thirty minutes or until it doubles in size. Bake at 350 F for 30-45 minutes, depending on the oven and pan.
My compatriots, Linnea and hostess Lydia, enjoyed the bread, though my scones this morning were burnt and chewy.
Now, I posted two entries that I have written while I have been here. My wireless connection is somewhat problematic. All the same, enjoy!
My time, the experience I have of living and memory, does not follow straightforward linear parameters. I feel closer to many specific, vibrant, and distant events now than I do to graduation, which already feels incredibly distant while my time in India and in Brazil have been brought to the fore. Other episodes—I am staying with Miss Lydia Davitt and Miss Linnéa McCully—from freshman year when I met my current compatriots, or the time with my sister last summer when I visited Linnéa and others, spring to mind.
One may suppose that this is more the functioning of memory than it is of time, but such a claim puts time ahead of the game. I definitely allow time to have dimensional characteristics the way space does, but time is more and also less than that. Time is more often a tool we use to catalogue and articulate reality in the same sort of way I can describe the spatial dimensions of a tree to make it meaningful to you. If I worked at Duke University for the summer of 2007, that articulates a certain consensual reality that makes the dimensions of my life more obvious to those who have not lived it; which is similar to saying I worked with thirteen other counselors there or that the campus has so many square feet. These characterizations are used to describe and articulate meaning where it is not at first obvious.
Now, back to time. I considered the possibility of recalling, episode by episode, my young life to the best of my ability. (Don't worry, I wasn't planning on recording it here, just as a practice of my own recollective and cognitive physique.) When I postulated such a project, it occurred to me that my life does not run in that sort of manner, it does not follow a straight line; rather, it loops and spirals back upon itself in curlicues and switchbacks. This is in part because of the structure of my personality development, mutation, recreation, and rediscovery. That may require a bit more detail.
As a child, I was extraordinarily outgoing. My mother once recalled when some sort of incident in our neighborhood in Norman, Oklahoma resulted in police officers coming to our door. I woke (I was probably three or four) and answered the door and began to speak, probably quite sleepily, to the police officers until my mother came to the door. I was interested and communicative with strangers and friends. Later on, due to the social life of the school system and the reality of moving at a young age, I became reserved and quiet. I walked the halls of my middle school in Lincoln with my nose in books and I failed to understand that friends could be generously shared. I was remarked on befriending Andrew Brinkman, that he was already friends with Brendan McCauley, and therefore silently concluded that he would not be my friend. It was only later, in part because of my first girlfriend Whitney Majors and also because of the generally warm and safe environment of Arts & Humanities, that I explored a much richer social circle and redeveloped the atrophied skills of a wide circle of friends.
Just yesterday, Linnéa poked fun at me for my “Fortress of Solitude”—also known as the basement floor of the Folke Bernadette Library at Gustavus—where I spent a good deal of my time my freshman winter at school, and for spurts in future winters and early springs. All the same, I had clearly become something of a social butterfly as I learned to host movie nights in high school and to have ten or more people over to watch The L Word in my freshman dorm room. It became much easier to approach and appreciate new situations and new people when I uncovered that I was practicing old skills, exploring old interests and not starting from scratch. I have been exploring both consolidation and equilibrium between the multiplicity of roles and characters I have come to acknowledge in myself.
Perhaps it all feels more like a river, the more tributaries flowing in with their own waters and wildlife, their own soils and nutrients intermixed. Each one has a different sort of reality and at times the river is dominantly one or another, but most of the time the river is establishing something new with the resources upstream. That novelty is strict, but rather rich in the biota and qualities of the streams that precede it, but those tributaries are constantly changing and developing in their own ways. Rivers do not only move water, but they cut into the soil upstream and deposit it downstream, they explore and meander, they flood and change course. A river is change, changing by season and year after year, mutating to fit and adapt its landscape, its ecological responsibilities and needs, and is also the subject of others' use and modification. In the process of flowing into and of myself, perhaps I will discover the reality of a greater stream, flowing with many other tributaries from which I will glean their qualities and into which I may lose some of my own.
I flow backward and forward, moving in time in many directions at once. Space is a boundary, a description worth exploring, but it is a limitation as well. One must be careful to move, at times, beyond the thinking of space and dimension, to understand quality and quantity can only say so much. A river is synthesis, is overlap, is a quilt of the realities of itself and around and within.
Gretchen is a Christian. I know that she experiences divinity frequently, not just in prayer or meditation, but in her life. For many people, for many friends, this is true; but I have never met someone for whom it is more outstanding than for Gretchen. I do not subscribe to similar beliefs, but neither are our beliefs inconsistent, at least in the moral or dogmatic ways; that is, we get along very well and can easily agree about the sort of course of action to take, as well as benefit on discovering that course of action together. These conversations on death generally and her father's passing more specifically, especially when handling the reality of my grandmother's death, was enlightening.
Gretchen then shared with me that she felt that her father's most outstanding quality, the spiritual reality of his core, was his music-making. This, we supposed, would be the attribute most likely to be carried with him into whatever was ahead of him. For Gretchen, death and the heavenly afterlife involves unification with God, God as active savior and creator; therefore, her father would then be part of this salvation and creation that is essentially divine. The most primary attribute, the music-making, of her father would persevere into the ecstatic music of the universe and in fact be part of the creation and re-creation of the universe's layers of rich harmonies. His passing, then, would not result in the conclusion of her interaction with her father, but be suffused with the joy of musical accompaniment, of the sounds of wind in leaves, or grass rustling together; the crash of thunder and the tapping of rain; the intonations of a choir, the echoes of voices in a chapel, or the rhythmic chatter of happy attendees. Music already suffuses the world, but now it is enriched by the spiritual reality of another participant.
Now, I have finished reading Breaking Open the Head and I return to the reality of death. I wonder about the occurrence of the Dead in dreams, the impressions of someone in a crowd, the whispers of a familiar but absent voice. I wonder about the presence of the Dead here, not in a spooky old house or in a séance, but the way those who have passed guide, mislead, accompany, and haunt us. I am less certain of an afterlife “out there,” but Gretchen's notion of the universe and the afterlife is not “out there,” it is dramatically present. Frequently, deaths do not come happily packed up with conclusions and, as a result, we encounter the attempts of ourselves and our intimates in reaching or synthesizing closure. A psychiatrist or even a priest, as well as the usual layman, likely would posit that our psyches are attempting to consolidate the character who was, with the present realities of that person's death and our own lives. This is inadequate, though I am unsure if I can say exactly why.
I lie to myself and, less often, I lie to those around me. Such transgressions or innocent omissions usually initiate feelings of uncertainty and perhaps even distrust. I have come to appreciate and discern honesty or self-honesty with trust or self-trust. Dishonesty in one form or another, results in tension that I want to resolve; whereas trust underlies and founds the realities of honest and dishonesty, without it, honesty does even come into the equation. I am trying to trust myself more, trust my thoughts and my behaviors and my intentions; but the reality of trust, or the potential to trust myself has allowed me to be harshly honest with myself for some time now.
When it comes to the stories of the Dead—dreams, sounds, “haunts,” et cetera—they are more often about establishing balance and resolving tension than they are about creating and breeding problems. The scenes of the King's Ghost visiting Hamlet come to mind: What is at stake in the conclusion of the tension Hamlet, the Queen, and Hamlet's Uncle feel toward one another, as well as the confusion and social coherence of kingdom as a whole, which is marked by the emotional, psychic, and political uncertainties of the supporting characters. The conflict within Hamlet begins before the play starts and it is the motion of the tragedy to resolve that conflict, which is successful but in a markedly unfortunate manner. It is not in the wishes of the phantom of the King to have things fall out in such a way, but he even attempts to guide and limit Hamlet's actions to minimize the damage that has already been done. Here, we see that the Dead are involved in resolution, not in conflict.
If the Ghost of the King is only a delusion—which the attention of the guards suggests otherwise—then the confusion of the play, the personal dreaming and doubt of Hamlet would begin here rather than before. Instead, the presence of the Dead is functionally in support of harmony and resolution amongst the living. Hamlet is not dishonest with himself when he speaks with the Ghost, rather he is expressing his love to a manifested entity. This entity evades materialist thinking, it even avoids contact with contemporary incarnations of Abrahamic faith traditions, but we undergo conversation and even cohabitation with the Dead predominantly to resolve, even to re-establish self-trust and honesty with family and friends. It is through the conclusion of earthly and mortal troubles that the Dead may participate in unification rather than division.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
A giant loaf of whole wheat basil cheddar bread
prep a yeast starter:
a tablespoon of yeast
1/3 cup flour
3/4 cup warm water
half teaspoon salt
Mix ingredients and let sit, overnight if possible.
3 cups whole wheat
2 cups white flour
dash of salt
4 tablespoons (half a stick) of butter, warm
Mix the dry ingredients, then stir in the butter thoroughly.
1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh basil
3/4 to 1 cup cheddar cheese (I used a local New York style cheddar)
Add in the basil and cheese. In the future, I might throw in some walnuts as well.
Then, stir in the starter, mixing well, before gradually adding in more warm water, probably around 2 cups.
Turn out and knead (on clean surface dusted with flour, of course) for five minutes, let rest in a warm place for at least 30 minutes, turn out again and knead further. When smooth, shape into loaves (I suggest two or more because this wasn't at first baked in the middle it was so big) and place on a greased baking stone or cookie sheet. Let rest at least forty minutes before baking at 400 F for about thirty minutes. You may need to cover the bread with foil to prevent the crust from burning. As I baked it in one loaf, the time needed for smaller loaves is likely less, but all ovens are unfortunately variant in their own way.
Baguettes with cornmeal
Begin with the same starter
4 cups white flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon sugar
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons butter, warm
Blend dry ingredients, then mix in the butter. Add starter, then gradually mix in more warm water as needed (about one cup). Knead well about six minutes. The cornmeal makes the dough less sticky to your hands and counter, which means kneading and clean up are much easier. Let rest for thirty or more minutes, then turn out and shape into long baguettes before placing on a greased baking stone or cookie sheet. With the cornmeal, shaping is similar to playing with clay and is pretty fun. Let rest in a warm spot for at least forty minutes, bake at 400 F for about twenty minutes (that is, in the warm spot of the oven, in the middle top). I slashed the top in diagonals before baking.
This bread is beautifully colored and slightly sweet, but generally neutral and flexible for sandwiches or just munching. The wheat is definitely hearty, though mine rose magnificently giving it a happy levity, and can be served on its own. Both of these turned out really well, but baking had a few issues due to the size and variations of the oven.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Some people drive to the gym to spend some time working out. Every fitness club I have visited has some variety of stationary bike, many have two or more varieties. I do not bike around for fitness, but bursting with juice up the hill just north of Old Cheney on 27th Street or having to stand and scoop ice cream for three or four hours are endeavours made easier, possible, or enjoyable by a moderate level of fitness. I don't have to spend time anywhere special when I get around on a bicycle.
A more meaningful reason for bicycling is because it is something I know I can do tomorrow. That is, I can get somewhere on my own feet--or through the medium of wheels--to the places I want to get to. Driving requires many layers of dependency that I am not particularly fond of: vehicles are created from metals and plastics made from ores and oil from all over the world, mined and shipped from the ends of the world to other ends in order to be changed and shipped again; the gasoline and oil needed for running the vehicles is often part of funding regimes that do not respect the rights of women, indigenous peoples, the environment (if you accept such claims), neighboring countries, and so on; when one uses a vehicle, the optimal impacts are non-localized and negatively impact the functioning of ecological and social systems broadly; under negative conditions (cracks, spills, breakage, improper disposal of wastes), localized problems arise like poisoned waters and soils, impaired life systems of plants and animals, cancer and other diseases.
Now, bicycling does not mediate all of these problems. As with most modern commodities, the construction and sale of a bicycle requires international, transboundary cooperation and has similar impacts in the case of positive, proper or negative, inappropriate business practices. With a bicycle, the results of either of these are more obviously demarcated than with a commodity like a vehicle that requires more inputs for the same function; this function is usually called efficiency, which the motor vehicle lacks while the bicycle seems to accomplish.
When I use my bicycle, I hope--in an active, participatory manner--to support community, economy, work, and transportation that my future nieces and nephews, my cousins, and--potentially, at some point--my children might emulate. The passions my friends and I most enjoy are simple. What I most like to do when time allows is read, write, bake, and converse. Even my mother might admit to reading, listening to music, and sitting down over dinner with friends over traveling and buying; though I can't say that they outrank purchasing her impressive television. I guess my conclusion is that I have come to witness a resounding affirmation, almost coincidentally, in simple tasks over complex ones, in doing something we put our own hands into.
Often times, I worry endlessly whenever I think too much about politics or the landscape or, to a lesser extent, my friends and family. I don't know how to end this exactly--I wasn't sure where I was going when I distractedly sat down to write--except that I can return to the excitement of Lauren to farm, Kate to bake, Linnea to teach, and so on. We are finding out how to get out of these conundrums by doing the things that make us happy, and as I discovered junior year, these usually make one another happy as well.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
My neighbors tend toward the overboard during the celebration of our nation's anniversary. The tendency for the pyromaniacally minded in southeast Nebraska is to drive to Missouri and purchase an abundance of discounted explosives that are expensively if at all available in Nebraska. These include weighty artillery shells and rockets on top of the usual sorts of roman candles and bottle rockets, Black Cats and M-80s, whizzing spinners and smoky or sparkly orbs. For those who make their pilgrimage to Missouri, the scale of their purchases and celebrations tend to overwhelm those who make local purchases, despite the discounts involved. Fireworks are only legal in Nebraska, or at least the Lincoln city limits, for the two days before the Fourth of July and as a result, booms and their echoes reverberate throughout the town from late morning or afternoon into the night; but on the Fourth, many continue to fire past midnight.
On the night of the Fourth, when I first planned on writing this, my mother and I hosted a get-together of friends and co-workers, favoring the pyrotechnic displays of our neighbors to those provided by the city. It must have peaked between 9:30 to 11:00, but it was hard to tell as different families traded the responsibility resulting from their cache of rockets and shells. My mother once told me that her priest condemned the use of fireworks because they simulate war and inspire ignorance to the trauma of combat. Biking past driveways scarred and littered, hearing the buzzes and whizzing and booms, I felt more in the presence of a tribal ritual, of a pagan fête than of patriotism. I felt the subtle yearning for an effigy or sacrifice, the wavelength of thought related to collective, focused aggression against some simulacrum of enemy or villain or demon.
Neither my mother nor I partake in the explosive festivities ourselves. Perhaps I think this excludes me somehow from the excitement from which others partake. Personally, the sharp blasts of light and chorus of bursts perturbs and aggravates me more than entertain. All the same, I pick out my favorite sort of firework—this year was the sort that would burst in white, then have a sudden bundle of secondary bursts in a dual conical shape, joined at the apex, that somewhat inspired a black hole—and partake in the playful criticism of my guests and mother; but it is difficult to attach myself to the events at hand.
The new-found tone of sacrifice remained for me, distancing me further from the exhibitions of the evening. Though we ate plentifully, conversed amicably, and played a little bit of my mother's board game “Smart Ass,” I mostly wanted to laugh at the lack of ceremonial climax. All of these families, neighbors and fellow Lincolnites across town (we can see them clearly and quite beautifully from our roof), participated in this disorganized orgy of systematized aggression but were denied the moment of collective satisfaction, communal identification in the destruction of an identifiable “other.” With the dissolution of a community action or moment, then the attempt to capitalize on the event vanishes, fading grumpily away with the sweeping of shrapnel and debris.
The Fourth of July seems to be the most explicitly pagan—or, perhaps savage—of recognized American holidays. It smacks of the violence and visual displays that can unify people in excitement and awe, while incorporating the popularized brand of religious patriotism, and originates in an organized event for the public led by a select group. Without any obvious moment of unification, particularly when one-upmanship is part of the neighborly partying, then it very well may divide as readily as it could bring together. I felt somewhat scared amidst my neighbors, most of whom are perfect strangers, with all their celebratory virtuosity and with it all over, I am happily relieved.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
These, I admit, are musings. All the same, I am interested in examining demographic characteristics of those periods and places when activism was crucial in sculpting the political and cultural (not just one or the other, but both) landscape of that historical moment. I am not shying from the fact that history is developing in the streets of Tehran and how Obama responds to Honduras will prove the first testing ground of his policies for Latin America.
With an aging population in most industrialized, high-tech nations, does this mean that they will--by simple demographic factors--politically stabilize? I certainly hope not; but after a conversation with my new sister-in-law's father, it seems that the perception of the malleability of society, the mending of its faults, and the transformation of its politics changes. Now, anyone can also point out the significant activists and intellectuals, that I am not contesting; what concerns me is the ideology of political dynamics for a demographic generally speaking, which very well may follow trends that impact the sociocultural milieu in important ways. (You may notice some dodging of the question, which is not intended to deter critique, but demarcate my query.)
Anyway, something to research more...
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
This has quite a bit to do with my thesis about intellectual property and craftwork. Imagine: A new surplus of government data that can be put to use building, programming, planning, writing, critiquing, exploring, and developing a new generation of useful tools, reliable plans, social and political experiments, and so on. Kundra has the right idea and, if it continues in this direction, has my backing.
Hopefully Kundra's model of transparency infiltrates the rest of the Obama Administration now that they have assumed some of the most frustrating and destructive informational policies inherited from Bush II.