Monday, 28 December 2009


This is sort of new. I'm restless, so I'm trying to write it out to get myself back together, rather than with a real idea of what I want to say. The newness is that it's going to the blog rather than to another of my overwritten notebooks.

I was speaking to a friend yesterday, about the usual topic - individualism vs. others' perceptions and expectations - and at one point, presumably when I was beginning to bore him, he said "I reckon you just choose a personality and stick to it."

Which I thought then was a kind of bland "stay true to yourself" statement - because how can you "choose" a personality? You only have one in the first place - but later what I thought he meant (and it doesn't even matter if he didn't because it's an interesting thought) was that you choose an image and cultivate it exclusively.

This is a very new concept to me because pretty much since I remember myself I've been in denial of the fact that my image - people's perception of me - matters to me. It always felt like an affront to my indepedence; "What do you mean I need people to approve of me? No I don't!"

And I'm still not sure I do, but if I care about people at all, I care about their relationship to me, and if I care about their relationship to me, I need their perception of me to be representative, even if it can never be %100 accurate. I need to be recognised, in both senses of the word.

And I think, or I guess agree, finally, that this effort to represent yourself needs to be, if not exactly engineered, then deliberate. You have to stop and ask yourself "how am I being perceived by people right now?" which is an idea I still find deterrent, but which I think I'll need to try and get used to. The idea is to exaggerate your own characteristics, as it were, so as to both facilitate your relationships with people and strengthen your sense of identity. If people knew, for example, how embarrassingly much I loved Neil Young, this would make me an immeasurably healthier and happier person. And this is probably news to nobody but myself, but I'm still having trouble swallowing the concept.

In relation to this, or possibly not, I noticed today - or it bothered me today - that I have no professional pride, and no professional excitement. It is true, of course, that I am not exactly a professional, but even just the other guys in the apartment, who are also only doing one or two years of qualification-less national service, seem very anxious to do what they're doing well, because - I think - they perceive their work as being part of who they are, which kind of makes sense, considering that it is completely fucking voluntary.

It's not even true to say that I'm bored at work. I've been finding it very intriguing, but I feel more like a passive observer of a sociological experiment (it's a kindergarten) than an active participant, even when I'm actively participating.

It's to do with considering what I do with people as separate from me. The work I'm doing is terrible? Okay, it's just work I happen to be doing - it couldn't possibly say anything about me as a worker. I'm as good a worker as I feel I am. Sure.

Your image is the rubber of the balloon. While it is true that it's mainly about the air, if there's no rubber to contain it then it's kind of a futile exercise. Just walking around breathing on people isn't nearly as pleasant. The air is the content, but the fact that you choose to pack it inside of the rubber is what tells the person you're giving it to that you love them. It's like the gift and the gift package. Saying it's only about the gift is kind of cold.

If you care about people then you owe it to them to attribute meaning to your interactions with them, and to consider who you are with them who you are as a person. It's not about trying to impress them. It's about respecting them enough to recognise them as part of your life. It's not about what they say or even think about you; it's about how they experience you. Less good/bad than real/fake.

And after so much inane babble, you deserve some Neil Young.

Saturday, 26 December 2009


^ A balloon.

So I've been thinking about balloons. Life seems to effectively be about giving and receiving balloons. You take who you are, blow it into a balloon, tie it up, and give it to somebody else to add to his collection, so that we're all walking around with scores of balloons above our heads, holding them with strings, which I guess would now make them helium balloons, but the image still works for me.

The problem with handing somebody a balloon containing yourself, is that there's no guarantee he won't take a pin out and pop it. There's nothing protecting it except a thin layer of rubber, and there's nothing supporting it - the very essence of our relationship with people - except for what has to honestly be described as hot air. It survives entirely on good faith and a common willingness to accept what is essentially a virtual reality.
These balloons only support a civilisation so long as the civilisation chooses to respect their integrity - not only by not popping them, but by treating them as if they have a say, as if they have weight and authority.

I'm very good - way better than average - at receiving balloons. I'm even very good at making them. But I'm not very good at tying them up and handing them to other people.

This raises the question, which I'll try to address fairly briefly, of whether it is about the giving or about the receiving of the balloons.
Obviously it's about both, but I think they serve very important but distinct purposes.
When you receive a balloon, at least if you're properly alive like a child, you get excited. You're moved and grateful and jumping up and down in a frenzy.
When you give a balloon, or, more precisely, when you're in the constant habit of handing out balloons, your life is imbued with a sense of meaning, because you are actively contributing to what life is about.

One is about joy, and the other is about happiness - that is to say, one about visceral rushes and violent aliveness, the other about a quietly glowing contentment. Thrills and satisfaction.

I'm not sure I can say it's more important, but you definitely need the second as a basis upon which to make the first meaningful. There's no use in enjoying things if you never have a second of inner peace. This might explain why I and similarly oriented people sometimes surprise people when we say we're deeply depressed, despite what is an outwardly - and genuinely - joyful appearance much of the time. We're just not giving out enough balloons.

The specific problem with my prospective balloons is that the air that would fill them is an unusual blend of anxiety, righteous rage, blathery metaphysics, and directer proclamations of love than people are used to.

What happens is this: I'll begin blowing up a balloon, stop to sneak a look at the intended recipient, decide he doesn't look receptive enough, and release my hold on the balloon, letting the rubber fly randomly away, pretending it only ever got to my mouth by accident.
Alternatively, and recently, I'll be almost completely out of air, but decide I ought to give people balloons anyway. So I'll dutifully take a balloon, drench its insides with spittle and phlegm, somehow manage to tie it closed, and hand the dilapidated, disgusting wet chunk of rubber to whoever it is, who'll usually take it anyway. But it's not a balloon, and would only look like a balloon if you were willfully ignoring the evidence of your senses and using a very selective and frankly idiotic definition of the concept. It's about the air, not the rubber.

The solution is to be less fearful, and then obviously less compensatingly frantic. Only arseholes pop balloons, and these are less common than people'd have you think. And even those who aren't trustworthy in this respect, aren't likely to mistakenly strike you as trustworthy. If somebody seems worthy of your balloon, you just give it to him. At worst, he'll just politely and bemusedly add it to his collection, without fully appreciating the significance of your gift. But he's not going to spit in your face.

So happy ballooning.

As a side note, this is the first blog entry, and piece of writing in general, to be (partly) written on Shabbat, so I reckon I deserve some kind of congratulations, so here I am giving them. I'm not sure how to explain it, but this is an important act of unshackling and reprioritisation. Writing, specifically.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Restatement of Mission

Which, wow, after almost five months of blog silence has probably been quite a long time coming.

I've just seen this film:

I'm not going to go into it except to mention that you should watch it, as if you're going to listen. It is, as the poster and tagline imply, about life and death and trees and a bald guy floating around in space.

I was watching it today for something like the fifth time since it came out, and it didn't shake my world as much as it had some of those previous times, except for what I later understood to be the surprisingly novel sensation of giving serious consideration to metaphysical issues.

My mind has been occupied, when it in fact had been occupied, by moral issues instead. It had and still does disturb me how ignorant people are of the moral consequences of their general complacency.

I do still mean what I said a few posts and more months back about our collective thinking being hijacked by self-impelling institutions like nationalism, orthodoxism, and fascism (as expressed by adoration for the strong and contempt for the weak - a trait very prominent in capitalism, for one).
People have a general tendency to accept that what serves the nation, custom, or unrestrained enterprise is good, without pausing long enough to consider who this kind of thinking serves and who it causes untold suffering to.

So I've been trying very hard to keep my mind clean of this, and it's even managed to spill a little into my behaviour and conversation, but what I've only noticed now is that it appears to have taken over the whole of the area of my brain devoted to "serious issues" and to have pushed out almost all of my previous musings about spirit and beauty and love and emotion almost clean out.

I stopped being religious close to a year ago now, essentially because of the moral issues I occasionally try to explain here. Its spiritual aspect seemed genuine but not exclusive enough to itself to warrant the intellectual subjugation that it by definition demands. So I'm left now with a fragile but sincere and workable moral framework in its stead, but almost none of the presumedly much easier to get hold of spiritual take on the world.

Because I haven't been looking. It's difficult to speak (or even think) metaphysical mumbo jumbo without having a very rich religious tradition backing you up. The fact is, on this subject, you are always blowing up a bubble. You can be made to feel comfortable inside it if other, "respectable" people have tried to blow it up before you, but otherwise, I guess you just have to feel less comfortable inside it.

Or you could try to find more about the non-denominationally affiliated people whose work you're continuing. I'm not the first secular man or even just non-frothingly-exclusivist-Jew (Rav Kook comes to mind) to take the issue of spirit seriously. So I guess I'm setting myself some rather vague reading assignments, as well as reminding myself to write here more often and allow and actively encourage myself to think seriously too about matters not involving morality and nefarious forces' relentless scramble for my brain.

Neil Young is not really relevant to any of this but he is awesome, so have a song:

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Rantings and Ravings

Another thing I wrote not originally intending to post here. Apologies for the total lack of diplomacy present. I never say these things and I need practice:


I am plagued by the spectres of religion and nationalism. These are inescapably moral reflections. It strikes me as not only intellectual but also (consequently?) moral laziness – one might almost say negligence – to adopt your freeze-packed “religious and national identity” and thereby forestall all major ethical preoccupation. Who needs sober appraisal of situations when you can accept Christ as your saviour or Israel as your redemption and be done with it? Social injustice? Public corruption? Political repression? Never mind, let’s just sing the national anthem and celebrate the fact that our ancestors may or may not have shared an approximation of this patch of land, a language, and terrified xenophobia for an endlessly prolonged miserable and meaningless collective existence. We must proudly continue in their tradition of supremacist indifference to the suffering of anybody who looks different.

I suspect that “ethnicity”-based nationalism is simply the evolution and modern disguise of race-based nationalism. Both involve the attribution of worth – of “belonging” – to inborn, unchoosable and unchangeable characteristics. It denies a person the right to carve out his own identity and destiny. The fact that this time the focus is on shared history rather than genetics makes absolutely no fucking difference.

What ostensibly does is “ethnicity”’s focus on shared culture, language, and religion. Religion is of course a whole different, probably larger topic, but all three of these things can fall under the general heading of culture.

“Culture”, as per the broadest and most concise definition I have so far encountered, is a set of shared behaviours and beliefs. Behaviours can include language, artistic and culinary preferences, festivals and customs. Beliefs can include of course religion, and generally the philosophies with which a society naturally and probably even innocently indoctrinates its members.

I am more partial to culture because it doesn’t make any sweeping judgements about who you are and what you deserve. If you grow up in a society from an early enough age, you inherit its culture. That’s all there is to it.

I say inherit its culture, but I mean up to a point. Hopefully, at least. Language is the most straightforward of these, but even if I grew up in Israel and can speak Hebrew perfectly well, that doesn’t mean I should hold it above English, or French for that matter, once I learn and master it. The rest are way worse. Because I’m Israeli doesn’t mean I have to like falafel, mizrahi music or “canonical” literature, celebrate Purim or Hannukah or Succot, or have a propensity to hike across the land or clap when the airplane lands. None of these things are exactly bad, but their marking the culture is simply a cold, statistical observation about what happens to be the state of things in today’s Israel. It’s retrospective rather than prescriptive. If in the next 50 years we for some reason get a huge influx of millions of immigrants from Ghana and Vietnam, the definition of Israeli culture will drastically change. That’s just a fact. A country’s culture is defined by its people, not its people by its culture.

Which is of course a gross oversimplification. The inhabitants of a society are strongly affected by the cultural mood of their surroundings, but, unless there’s malicious governmental involvement, the cultural hegemony is not complete. It irritates me when I’m told that because I’m an Israeli, I should be familiar with certain definitive cultural entities. Implicit (and often explicit) in this assertion is the suggestion that if I don’t do this, I’m not really a true Israeli. This is ethnic pride at work, and where it begins to be stupid and annoying, if not yet dangerous.

What people seem to fail to realize is that this cultural baggage, for all its richness, is a limitation. We (at least in the affluent countries) live in a globalized world. One of the awesome things about that fact is that we’re exposed to the treasures of so many other cultures. In times past we were confined to our own country, if that, and had access only to our language, art and food, holidays and traditions, to return to my previous list. We only had that to choose from and enrich our lives with. Today as an Israeli there’s nothing stopping me from making American movies, British music, Chinese food and the aforementioned French language a major part of my life. There does, though, apparently, seem to be something preventing me from taking on the holidays and traditions of other cultures. Why? If I enjoy Halloween or the regular employment of geishas (I can’t think of a proper example for cultural customs), why not make them a part of my life? Why do they belong to the British Commonwealth and Japan? Why do you have to have historical justification for taking part in an activity which you enjoy?

I don’t think you do. I think it’s a totally arbitrary misconception. We accept societies’ cultural exclusivism because we buy into the myth of ethnicity. We actively perpetuate the distinctions between cultures out of a misguided, haughty idealism. We encourage individual conformism for the sake of cultural distinctiveness, so that instead of “ethnicity” providing us with an identity, it robs us of it and blends us into the background of a proud, effectively faceless collective.

The really problematic aspect of all of this is, of course, the shared beliefs. That a society will instill into virtually all of its members a measure of intellectual conformity is unfortunate and probably unavoidable. That this will be seen as a virtue by intelligent people boggles the mind, or at least my mind. We have a wealth of knowledge and speculation at our disposal. There is no longer any excuse to be narrow-minded and frugal in our thinking. We have fully sufficient resources and capability to make up our own minds. This terrifies us. We latch on to soothingly simplistic and ideologically comprehensive organized religion and idealistic nationalism. Who needs to distinguish right and wrong or take a stand when instead you can follow your edicts, glorify your country, and cheer for your football team. Everything is A-OK.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009


I can't guarantee you'll understand a word of what's going on here, and I'm not even sure that I'll like this in the morning, but I've just spent way too long writing this thing, so I'm here showing off before I change my mind:


He sat in front of his computer keyboard, totally at a loss. He didn’t entirely understand what he was doing here in the first place. He’d felt an irresistible compulsion to sit down and write, but how could you feel compelled to write when you didn’t have any specific thing you were anxious to write about? Could he be deluding himself – attempting to pigeonhole himself into the role of “writer” for the sake of some kind of smug self-satisfaction?

He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms, staring defiantly at the computer screen. And why not, he asked himself? Was anything worthwhile ever done not out of emulation and an aspiration for self-realization? Why must everything be justified? Why must the justifications he is only making to himself be so protracted, so clinical, so scientific? He seemed enslaved to the judgements other people weren’t even making. He felt oppressed.

He squinted at the blank screen and bit his lip thoughtfully. There’s a thought – can you be oppressed without an oppressor? It would require you to inhabit an alternative, virtual reality. Staring at the virtual page under his proverbial pen, he wondered what to make of the fact that this was the very method he intended to use to get himself out of his virtual prison.

He was getting a little confused by now. He gazed at the screen for a little while longer, rubbing his temple and forehead, then abruptly got up. He walked over to the fridge to get a drink of water.

Bent down, peering inside it, he paused. What did he need? What are you looking for when you find writing? He searched the bowels of his refrigerator and was embarrassed to be actually surprised they didn’t provide an answer. He stood back up and closed its door distractedly. He looked around in confusion. What was he doing here again?

- - -

Back at his computer, cup of water firmly in hand, he stared intently at the forbidding whiteness of the page in front of him – at the surgical lines, dull grey, and vaguely mathematical-looking implements encompassing it – and realized for the first time how dead it all looked. At the same time he noticed how representative it was of his own state of mind and spirit. He sipped at his water, then laid the glass down and placed his hands resolvedly on the keyboard.

He licked his lips. There was something wrong here. He was trying to fight fire with fire – self-suffocation with self-analysis. It was not a study and exploration of himself that he needed. What he needed was emancipation.

He breathed in deeply and shook his head. A familiar restlessness was beginning to take him. He shrugged wearily and supposed he’d walk it off.

- - -

He closed the door behind him and looked around, and up. It really was beautiful, being outside. He admired how the sky and the trees and the wind and the anonymous smells floating towards him seemed to just happen, with a graceful effortlessness. It was a pity that he only let himself enjoy them when an emotional disquiet more or less forced him out of the house.

But kind of representative too, on second thought. He wasn’t effortless. He’d never been even remotely spontaneous. If he didn’t make a conscious decision to go enjoy himself he simply wouldn’t. That wasn’t the way he was. He was methodical and analytic. It was, as they say of superheroes, his gift and curse. It was his identity.

He walked over to a patch of grass and bent down in it. He put his fingers to a blade of grass and felt gently around it. He scowled at it in confusion. Wasn’t the fact he saw value in this conclusive proof that he was not, in fact, a soulless automaton? The anemic language he seemed enveloped in appeared to obscure something fundamental to his experience of life.

He stumbled over to a nearby bench, now completely exhausted. He leaned his head back and breathed deeply a few times. Then he leaned forwards with his elbows on his knees and his hands joined together, staring underneath them at the grass again.

His mind was the mind of a mathematician. If he could convert ideas into numbers, he’d probably do it – it would make it that much easier for him to know his way around. This was simply how he understood the world. It was not, however, how he enjoyed the world.

A sudden burst of restless energy sprung him up from the bench again. There was a discrepancy here, between how he thought and how he felt – how he talked and how he lived. This was not an insurmountable discrepancy, but it made him uncomfortable and so he ignored it. Instead of keeping his innards and communications separate, what he should be doing is expressing himself.

But the coupling of these two modes of existence seemed so absurd! His “soul” was irrational, visceral, impulsive, and violently alive, while his thinking was cold, calculating, and intensely discriminating. The two seemed antithetical. Yes, the goal here is to express yourself, but can you express yourself in what are essentially mathematical formulas?

Yes, he decided suddenly. Yes. You can do what you want.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

God Is in the Spaces between People

I didn't even like this movie that much, but I'm hoping it might provide a modicum of context for what is on my brain right now. This does, of course, only even have the chance of working if you've actually seen the movie, but hey.

These two people get on my nerves a little. They're conceited and cynical in the most infuriatingly cheerful way. They're quietly very smug about their half-baked intellectualist ideas of the ways in which the world revolves around them. They irritate me probably quite substantially less than the impression I'm giving here, but what I'm trying to say was that it wasn't the personalities or themes that got to me in this movie. Something got to me quite plainly in spite of them.

It's the way this film seems to define communication. When these two talk, it's not as if they even listen to each other particularly - they just seem to generally inhabit the same thematic universe inside of the same conversation. This leads me to induce that what constitutes true communication, is you going on and the other person actively encouraging you. He doesn't even have to take it in - he just needs to genuinely enjoy being a part of the interaction, and hear you out with something more than politeness.

I know that politeness doesn't cut it because I'm uber-polite, and over the past few years I have had ample occasion to observe that this is generally not enough. Even when I was actually actively listening to people, out of some weird misplaced sense of duty, when the subjects they were talking about did not excite me on a fundamental level, despite my alert attention, their own excitement and the conversation would fizzle out.

Another thing that annoyed me about these characters was their constant insistence on the transitoriness and ethereality of this night, when it seemed quite clear to me that all it was was chemistry between two human beings, which along with being awesome has the convenient advantage of being incredibly earthy and recreatable.

So, taking that into consideration, it puzzles me that I almost never try to communicate with people. I might not have the same level of chemistry with someone in my life as these two characters have, but I certainly share enough "themes" with people to be easily capable of communicating about them. I just keep it to myself. I think this is something I've begun to do fairly lately and I don't really know why.

I doubt it's for a good reason, though. If I recognize that communication with other people is pretty much what makes life worth living, shouldn't it follow that I would try to attain this? Is there anything holding me back except cowardice?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Sunsets and Community

In the bus, today, out of the corner of my eye I was a little startled to find an unusually bloody, stunning sunset covering most of the sky.

Besides being generally impressive to look at, sunsets seem to create a very particular atmosphere. Lately I've wondered what stands behind this, and if there are any generally accepted theories on the matter. My rash pop-psych suggestion is that the twilight of the sky leads to a kind of twilight of the mind, where you're suddenly both more secure and more questioning - more open, in a word, to whatever may come.

What came was a flashback to Shabbat evening meals in the Kibbutz. People from different families gathered together in the dining room, singing Shabbat songs and psalms. I remember the rabbi being particularly into this. It's a beautiful, mellow memory, and would usually take place when the sky was similarly lighted.

The reason this would require openness is that, the sweetness of this memory notwithstanding, it has been years since I've entertained the notion of community as anything beyond an enormous evil.

Community, to me, means conformity, hasty hurtful judgement, mob mentality, dissolution of the self. I'm not even seriously reconsidering this assessment, but it seems to me I've ignored some of the other things community is.

I've always gotten stuck on community pretending to be love, because I don't like lies in general, and like that specific one even less. Community is a partnership of convenience. That's all it has been and probably all it can be. A community cannot be a family, but what can it be?

Perhaps just a collection of moving human moments. A sunset isn't love either, and doesn't "mean" anything, but that doesn't lead me to disdain it. You don't need to justify enjoying things. What you need to justify is moral convictions.

It's the moral convictions attached to the concept of community that disturb me. Conformity, tribalism, jingoism, even a kind of enthusiastic obedience - in short, the collectivist idea that the group is more important than the sum of the individuals that make it up.

But this doesn't have to be the only way of setting up a community. What's wrong with the idea of an ideologically neutralized community of convenience? A place where people live together for the sake of company and nothing else? I suppose small agricultural settlements are technically like this, but my understanding is these places aren't usually very communal in character. People keep to themselves unless they feel they share an ideology with their surroundings.

I don't know exactly about Islam, but it seems that one of the major things that have kept Judaism and Christianity alive even after the secularization of the political and professional world is the synagogue/church which implies a community - one that even many fervently secular people are eager to take part in. It seems a lot of people feel comfortable refraining from thinking too hard about the religious ideology they're purporting to follow, because what they're really after is the community that comes as a major unexpected perk, as it were.

So what we need is a new religion. A more sympathetic one, with less absolutism. One that recognizes our spiritual, emotional needs and doesn't promulgate any far-reaching moral assertions.

Why do we always have to mix spirituality and politics? The only ideology a community needs is that which involves the way the members deal with one another - whatever can neutralize the dangers that a community represents. A community needs to consider the emotional and spiritual welfare of its members. Otherwise it just needs to enjoy itself.

Community is positive in enjoyment and in action; it is repugnant in thought and in feeling.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Historical Overview (of Western Civilization)

My historical knowledge is fairly limited, but it appears that traditionally, we regular folk have had our shit ruined by the monarchy, the Church, and the aristocracy.

For some sort of bizarre reason we thought it sensible to give our allegiance to the king, our fealty to the Pope, and our deference to those of bluer blood and larger stacks of cash.

The innate idiocy of this can be readily recognized by most in at least the free parts of the world today, but I'm not entirely sure we as a society have fully internalized this understanding.

I still see the aristocracy ruling through capitalism, the Church through the way we assess morality using terms like "appropriate", "unnatural" and "vulgar" rather than exclusively equality, and the monarchy through patriotism.

This last point probably needs elaboration. The monarchy doesn't even exist in any real way in the Western world any more.
I think most of us can agree that the reason to support the monarch - if any - was pragmatic rather than romantic or idealistic. A king must rule not because of his "divine right" but because in his absence we'd have anarchy and people would eat each other.

But when you think about it, what more reason do we have to support "the country"? What is "a country" anyway? The land and the people who live on it. To love your country is to love your countrymen and a patch of soil up to some arbitrarily decided line. I'm all for fraternity of man (which is here suffocated into fraternity of citizen), but other than that all the things we get excited about - flag, symbol, anthem - are abstract concepts as arbitrarily invented as the divine right of kings.

This leaves us with ethnic identity - and granted, history, language and culture are not (entirely) arbitrarily invented - but I still can't see how you can love them. I don't even see how you can be proud of them, seeing as you weren't personally responsible for any of them, but never mind that. There's all this love and passion and allegiance going on, and it's unclear whom it's directed towards.

Some would say that it's directed towards your countrymen, but I don't buy that. "Your countrymen" aren't an interested power - they're not the ones who instituted this attitude - that was the government. To love your country is to love your government. Maybe not even this specific incarnation of the government - but the government in general, when it comes into conflict with any out-of-state element, regardless of the legitimacy of the actual claims of either party. You side with the one you love.

Instead of a royal "office" to swear our undying loyalty to, we now have a democratic, rotating bureaucracy to which we do the same thing. What once was justified in the name of "the divine right of kings" can now be justified in the name of "the divine right of nations", and patriotism has become the new royalism.

I realize this isn't being entirely fair, as democracy of itself gives a government incomparably greater legitimacy than any autocracy can hope
for - but what bothers me is the almost holy aura surrounding "national missions". I can accept (reluctantly and tentatively) that a nation might have needs, but to imbue this with quasi-religious, supernatural significance is akin to mistaking the monarch's role of maintaining order for a divine right to do whatever the fuck he wants to the country.

And as for that fraternity of man argument I shrugged off a little too quickly earlier - that seems to me akin to deciding that Church-directed religious coercion is necessary for people to behave decently towards one another. We're not children. We're civil to one another because we have internalized principles of behaviour. We can love each other through understanding we are all brothers - all - not just those within the state borders. Nobody's claiming we're there yet, but the enforced national distinctions certainly aren't helping.

To summarize my point - in what might have been the fifth paragraph of this entry - it seems that in order to be free men and have a chance to advance spiritually, we must free our moral judgement from organized-religious notions like obedience, our politics from knee-jerk chauvinism, and our assignation of value from attributes of money and property.

Where does this leave us? With a Marxist revolution, so it appears. If we are to be free from repression, it's certainly not enough just to go vote every few years. It's not sensible to not be political if you're not completely free. The advantage of living in a liberal democracy is that it allows you to be political at very little risk; not that it erases the need. It may not be strictly necessary to take up arms and revolt, but it becomes patently ridiculous to be even remotely indifferent to political developments.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The Importance of Being Self-Important

This summer, 11 years ago, awesome had a new name:

Max Fischer.

I'm a little giddy. This movie's made me happy. Made me smile inanely as only a movie can.

I'm not going to pretend too hard to be reviewing this movie. It's about a 15 year old painfully precocious kid whose life revolves completely around his attendance (by scholarship) of his elitist private school - not actually the studies, but all the politics and clubs and school plays - and his relentless pursuit after the unattainable affections of a 1st grade teacher there, and this ridiculously long sentence doesn't come even remotely close to describing what this movie is actually about.

Let's see if I can. First off, drop everything and rush off to see it. Not even my earth-shattering sagacity is reason enough to have this film (or even its themes) spoiled. Plus the following frothing gibberings would make even less sense than they otherwise might.

Oh well.

It's curious how whenever I'm beginning to consider an idea, some work of art comes along and highlights and emphasizes the point out of any doubt.
The magnificently, flabbergastingly awesome thing about Max Fischer is how unabashedly head-over-heels in love he is with himself.

Realistically, he's probably an arsehole. He actually destroys a guy's car brakes at one point in the movie, so realistically he's an attempted-murderer. This isn't a realistic kind of movie.

Max realizes that if something's important to him, then it's important. The word "pretentious" does not feature in his considerable, wildly over-elaborate vocabulary. That's a good thing. I realize I just had a go at whoever translated The Count of Monte Cristo for pretty much the exact same thing, but I guess this is the flipside. Hell, I myself am the flipside. If "pretension" serves not to cultivate our feelings of superiority over others but instead to allow us to plunge head-first into whatever gets us excited, fuck what people think - then instead of disgusting it becomes something closer to heroic (in continuation of my My Left Foot thesis).

It's not just Max. This whole movie is saturated with this. Max's young protégé Dirk being a prime example. These guys have no sense of humour whatsoever, and this enables them to not observe how ridiculous they look. How ridiculous they are, I suppose. Nothing would be easier than ridiculing these dudes. But they're amazing. They are forces of life. They put us all to shame. They realize fully the importance of being who they are.

This is a little long (6 minutes), but it's too on-topic and astonishingly brilliant to not be posted:

Tuesday, 9 June 2009


It's probably not quite reasonable to assume that you will find this as amusing as I did, but I'm going to anyway.

I am currently trying a little harder than I should be to read The Count of Monte Cristo. The context is that my writing sometimes seems to me a little unnecessarily and obscurely verbose. So it comforts me to know that I'll probably never sink to the level of this translation's glib pretentious assholery.

Exhibit A:

"'...Am I not right, Villefort?'
'I beg your pardon, madame. I really must pray you to excuse me, but - in truth - I was not attending to the conversation.'
'Never mind, dearest mother,' said a young and lovely girl, with a profusion of light brown hair, and eyes that seemed to float in liquid crystal, '`tis all my fault for seizing upon Monsieur de Villefort, so as to prevent his listening to what you said. But there - now take him - he is your own for as long as you like. Monsieur Villefort, I beg to remind you my mother speaks to you.'
'If the marquise will deign to repeat the words I but imperfectly caught, I shall be delighted to answer,' said Monsieur de Villefort."

Otherwise known as "Sorry, didn't catch that."

That's actually been one of the highlights of my day. It's almost funny enough to not make me want to punch the translator in the face.

I suppose Dumas just might actually write like this, but if so, fuck him too.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Gender Politics

I'm probably barking up the wrong tree with this, but I'm reading The Importance of Being Earnest, and a short while back I read The Great Gatsby, and I'm getting a similar picture from both about what seems to have been a Victorian feminine ideal.

I call it the witty idiot. It's an intelligent, presumably capable woman, trying very hard to pigeonhole herself into a position inappropriate for her. Presumably all young women would behave like little girls - such is the fashion - but when these women go girly and faux-innocent, what I find jarring the Victorian man apparently finds attractive. Oooh, it's a 20 year old pretending to be 9! How charming!

We needn't necessarily stray as far as the Victorian era. I get similarly irritated whenever I have the misfortune of being subjected to Gilmore Girls. It's the same idea. Unusually intelligent and mature women behaving and talking like little girls -ostensibly for the sake of wit and humour, but the performance is pursued so relentlessly and comprehensively I just don't buy that that's all it is. It emits the sour reek of infantilization.

Why do I even care? I'm a man. Well, first of all, this might be a good opportunity to come out of the closet: I am a raving feminist. I wonder how many of my friends know that. However, I suspect that there's something more than a desire for social change driving me here. It seems to me that the same way too many women seem to be just girls with curves, a whole lot of men are just boys with muscles. That's where I come in.

It takes - or should take - more to be a man than just self-sufficiency. What women seem to lack in independence and accountability, men appear to lack in active compassion. I don't know what I'm basing this equivalization on but I'm going to stick with it. It's almost as if one sex manages the doing and the other the caring. I suppose there's an evolutionary logic behind this, but that doesn't really make it any less pathetic. Being an adult - here's that word again - means being an active, involved human being. In order to be active you've got to be able to stand your ground; in order to be human you've got to be able to want to for reasons other than your own advancement.

I'm getting ahead of myself. What upsets me is how little room I allow compassion in determining my actions. This isn't to say I'm a boorish, unthinking thug. I've just recently described how timid and ridiculously inoffensive I tend to be around people. But I'm almost never motivated by love in my actions. It's always a decision - sometimes with an "ethical" rationale - but never engaging people or taking an action towards them because I love them. It's like I don't consider it a good enough reason. I don't have sufficient respect for love. I end up a deficient man.

In other news, remember that plastic bag scene in American Beauty? I had a moment like that today. With an actual plastic bag. I was a little transfixed by it; so much that I didn't even bother to pick it up like I usually do, loyal citizen and civil servant that I am. I do genuinely believe that from the right perspective anything in the world can be dazzlingly beautiful, but in truth the incident itself wasn't so deeply moving as it was amusingly reminiscent of that awesome, awesome flick. And it's a good excuse for a clip:


A curiously widespread phenomenon, considering what the word technically means. Or maybe it isn't technical, but what immediately comes to my mind when I hear the word is the feeling that most people share something that you don't.

I've been excruciatingly lonely for the last 6 or so years, ever since essentially deciding upon it as a sort of buffer against life. This loneliness had continued pretty much unabated and independent of the number of people, interactions and even full-on conversations I'd found myself around and in. I made a pact with myself fairly recently, to keep this fact in mind and stop freaking out every time my immediate loneliness is somehow more palpably demonstrated to me - I'm lonely, and have been for a long time, but apparently I can take it, and in any case I have discovered that there are no immediate measures I can take in order to remedy it.

And this pact worked, most of the time. I don't know that I'm rethinking it right now, but the fact is I am freaking out, and I suppose the least I can do is try to figure out why and what more precisely about.

I'm wondering, for one thing, whether my loneliness truly is of the same kind universally recognized and lamented. I mean to begin with, most people probably wouldn't describe their loneliness as excruciating, but that doesn't necessarily indicate anything beyond my occasionally somewhat melodramatic disposition. On the other hand, the "universally" lonely seem to get a little frantic whenever it gets quiet enough for them to hear their own loneliness, whereas with me it is almost never the quiet that does it - it's usually seeing other people seeming to share something which I do not have, which brings us back to where we started.

Okay. It's specifically this: Other people talk about that which is on their minds. I don't think it's contingent on their company being interested or even listening; it's how people can find other people boring. I can't know, but I'd hazard a guess that the only people who've found me boring have been those convinced I couldn't actually speak - and not because my conversation when it did happen was transcendentally scintillating - but because I'd never told anybody anything I wasn't quite comprehensively certain they wanted to hear.

I seem to have been asked quite a lot recently "what have you been doing lately?" - responding with "well, not much," when what I really meant was "not much that I expect you to understand or relate to," which is a rather pompous and unfair attitude to take towards people genuinely trying to be friendly.

I haven't been doing much recently, but a lot has been on my mind. I've been moving away from a religion I've followed with a consistently high level of ardour for 20 years; I've been moving so far left in my politics I'm no longer completely clear about this country's right to exist; I've been obsessing over Taoist spiritual ideas with an enthusiasm that continues to surprise me; I'm grappling painfully (and really for the first time) with notions of adulthood and responsibility and accountability (and functioning); I continue to be deeply concerned about the games I play with people instead of communicating with them; and all the while I froth over stupid stuff like movies and words (I've recently come to the conclusion that my fascination with the latter is more linguistic than literary).

There's been a bit of an influx of these recently - of the overwhelming, distressing stuff I mean - and I think what bothers me is that I don't even feel the urge to discuss this, or raise it, with anyone. I don't even feel the urge to bring it here; this was a dry, rational decision. I feel the lack but I don't feel the impulse to fix it. That's just bloody weird. I think it means I don't listen to myself enough.

This is where writing this blog approaches coming in useful. I assume there's an audience here and yet I don't make the slightest effort to be remotely understandable. My real life should be a little more like that. I guess my message to myself is to not be afraid of boring people and for fuck's sake not to try and be comprehensible. Because you guys are my oyster. You are my fucking oyster.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Virtual Judging

I've had the feeling all day that there's some kind of momentous realization I was about to reach if only I could get around to thinking about it properly. It made it kind of hard to really focus on anything else. Here's hoping this is it.

I noticed today that there's a lot of phantom judging going on in my life. Whenever I enter any borderline technically halfway social environment - this is especially noticeable at work, which "borderline technically halfway social" is actually an extremely accurate description of - I immediately assume that everybody there is judging me (in secret - in thought and feeling) and proceed to do my utmost to convince them that I'm judging them back. My method is a sort of technically inoffensive extreme nonchalance - a kind of "I am genuinely unaware of your existence." People have actually had occasion the past year to deny being offended by this, but I don't believe them, which is actually strangely arrogant, but what can I do. 'Tis the truth.

The point - presumably there is a point - is that neither of us actually gives a rat's arse. They have better things to do with their time than surreptitiously considering my faults and merits, and I am indeed aware of their existence - perhaps a little over-conscious of it in fact - but I have nothing against it, and I'm not holding up any standards they're not meeting. And yet, my life is completely dominated by the aura of judgement. What - as they say - the fuck?

But we're not at the momentous realization yet. We're merely noting with some befuddlement that I would choose to imagine into existence what by most people under most circumstances would be considered a disadvantageous situation.

The rationale, I suspect, is that if you see judgement where it doesn't exist, that saves you the trouble of ever having to actually meet it. The self-wrought atmosphere of hostility and fear prevents you from ever foolishly presenting any prey to the ravenous predators apparently surrounding you. You are entirely spared any actual substantive negative response.

And what does this actual substantive negative response constitute? My momentous realization is, or at least should be, that extremely little. I have told myself before that I am not the sum of people's reactions to me, but I seem to have neglected to appreciate how often and how comprehensively I make this mistake. I suppose most people do, but I don't think that to quite the same extent as I.

Where most people would be seriously shaken if somebody they knew came up to them and said they thought they were a bad person, I would be similarly shaken if in reaction to me someone expressed mild annoyance, boredom, confusion, embarrassment, or just suggested in any way that he had been slightly inconvenienced. I'm not kidding.

It's this idea that how people react to me is actually what defines me as a human being. That if they say something's wrong with me then it is. I seem for some reason to be convinced that they know something that I don't. I suppose that's my epiphany in a nutshell: they don't. If you are in disagreement with another over yourself, assume you're right until presented with an actual argument.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Practicality vs. Emotion

I'm not sure how much of this I've mentioned previously - though it probably doesn't matter, considering most likely you do not actually have all of this memorized - but for the past few years I have been living in a sort of state of enforced autism.

It started as an angry, confused reaction to the surrounding groups' behaviour scaring, hurting, and disappointing me, and continued for the same reasons, but under the guise of practicality. Where before I had sterilized my behaviour of emotion because it made me more vulnerable, an easier target, and people weren't worth it, I now stumbled through life like a soulless droid because I discovered that I could, it made everything much easier - at least in any immediate way - and seemed on the whole a more "practical" way of approaching things.

So yeah, I call bullshit. While being dead outside might make some specific things mildly easier, it doesn't justify itself in the long run, "practicality"-wise, simply for the fact that if it did, many, many more people would be doing it - and not just the neurologically inclined. No, the benefit of leading a diluted social existence is that it prevents you from having to actually deal with other human beings.

I am no longer stupid enough to think that personal vulnerability and people's foibles constitute a good enough reason to refrain from living life, but I'm still sufficiently emotionally stunted to feel they do most of the time. And I still use "practicality" as a rational pretext for this kind of diseased thinking. I mean, you can mathematize till the cows come home but who'd give a shit? Only the people who feel enough to care.

So that's what I'm trying to do lately. Let go a bit of the practical/rational/anal absolute fucking control over everything and have a little more faith in myself and what I'm doing and trust in people and my instincts.

The thing is, about this process, that it's very difficult to measure. Only today it occurred to me that this is in the very nature of what I'm trying to effect. It's not measured and calculated - it's done and you hope that it's done enough. Not every action has to be immediately hermetically sealed if you have faith in the general spirit of what you are trying to do.

What's occasioned this was an in retrospect rather amusing meeting with the psychologist where I tried to communicate my wish to move from a practically-minded approach to these meetings to a more emotionally-based one, all the while being frustrated by the fact that my emotionally-motivated blabbering (confusion, specifically) seemed to render the attempt impractical. It was he who suggested you can't take a practical approach to reducing practicalness. Good point. What I can practically do is instruct myself to just chill out a little. Have a little faith and don't feel that the onus is on you to complete everything you're immediately doing as flawlessly and completely as possible. You need to put your heart into it; not your sharpened critical faculties.

I'll be surprised if anybody understands the last bit of that last paragraph, but that's the third consecutive one I'm closing with gushings about faith. So, in the hope I get the message, I will conclude.

Have a vaguely related awesome song from an awesome movie:

Saturday, 23 May 2009

My Left Motherfucking Foot

This is a movie, by the way. That's not the clearest poster. How's this?

Yeah, not much better, I know.
It's true though. It is a great, exhilarating movie. I know I had a point here at some stage.

First of all to just give this film my blessing and recommendation. It's as awesome as they say it is and worth it even if you're strongly averse to schmaltzy stuff - so is Christy Brown.

I'm not even going to attempt a proper synopsis because hey why the hell should I, but what this movie's essentially about is a person whose life other people found it easy to compromise on, and his relentless, fierce battle for equal treatment - for dignity.

It is about the triumph of the human spirit, but what's interesting is that the film seems to suggest Brown's greatest adversity is not his neurological-physical condition (near-complete quadriplegia) - he can overcome that, in all meaningful ways - but other people's reluctance to accept him as an equal. People lower their expectations of him in what they perceive as an act of kindness, and he's relegated to the fringes - interacted with out of "kindness" rather than out of respect.

Christy Brown is in a constant battle for the survival of his dignity, and that leaves him very little time for anything else. He's a bitter, egoistic bastard, not to put too fine a point in it, and while some people apparently find this makes him harder to relate to, I was somewhat surprised to find that for me it doesn't, not remotely.

Christy Brown's life revolves around Christy Brown. This isn't because he's a bad person. He cares deeply about those he loves, and is incredibly strongly principled - it's just that his principles assert that he deserves more than the bones other people are willing to benevolently throw him. If he doesn't fight viciously for what's his, he will not get it.

And Brown's struggle is a heroic one - I do think that's the right word here. The same way a moral obligation towards others sometimes justifies self-sacrifice or the risk of it, your moral obligation towards yourself sometimes justifies "sacrificing" others, in terms of preventing them from having an easy time.

It is this equivalization that is mainly on my mind. The movie is actually about quite a few other things, but the notion that what you owe yourself morally overweighs that which you feel you owe others is one that, while I entertain, I never give much credence to. Not giving yourself the opportunity to live life fully and unabashedly is evil, callous, hateful behaviour of the worst kind. Being nice is so overrated.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Thinking, Waiting, and Fasting

I'm reading Siddhartha. Siddhartha says:

"Listen, Kamala, When you throw a stone into the water, it finds the quickest way to the bottom of the water. It is the same when Siddhartha has an aim, a goal. Siddhartha does nothing; he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he goes through the affairs of the world like the stone through the water, without doing anything, without bestirring himself; he is drawn and lets himself fall. He is drawn by his goal, for he does not allow anything to enter his mind which opposes the goal. That is what Siddhartha has learned from the Samanas [wandering ascetics]. It is what fools call magic and what they think is caused by demons. Nothing is caused by demons; there are no demons. Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goal, if he can think, wait and fast."

An interesting idea. Possibly I will elaborate more when I'm finished with it. This has been on my mind anyway. I suppose if you're interested and have a little time on your hands I can point in the direction of wu wei.

Oh, and a one minute clip of The Simpsons reminded me of this song, which I've never listened to properly.

I'm not sure what that saxophone evokes for me, but it's all kinds of awesome.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Star Trek Rocks my World

If mainly for reminding me of how much I used to dig the original series. The movie was good – not amazing – but the kind of stuff that’s always pure pleasure for the fans (not all bitter, hostile trekkies fit into my definition of “fans”). I had already had an idea that the moviemakers were serious and knew what they were doing, but it was still a pleasant surprise to find that actually pretty much all of the actors were bloody good. I’m going to assume Kirk and Spock’s successfulness is common knowledge by now and give a special shout-out to Simon Pegg’s Scotty and Karl Urban’s Bones McCoy. Eric Bana was completely unrecognizable but otherwise a fairly unremarkable villain.

This is the second J. J. Abrams movie I’ve watched in the cinema (after M:I:3) and I’m having a kind of similar reaction; it seems that the same way Abrams makes cinematic television, he makes kind of televisual cinema. This sounds like a bigger put-down than it should. This movie feels like a long, good episode of Star Trek – kind of similarly to The Simpsons movie – and I think that’s great. Still, cinema has a potential that TV can never fully approach – here’s hoping that next movie (for which I wait incredibly eagerly) makes fuller use of the media in which it’s presented.

But the thing is, this isn’t really about cinema. I was a fan of Star Trek for different reasons than I am a fan of movies. It’s the excited, giggly type of fanhood – the type where you fawn over the characters and the mythology and become really stupidly happy whenever you get to come back to it.

I really dig this new “reboot” era. It’s awesome how so often along with rebooting a franchise a movie can also reboot your excitement. It’s a kind of bizarre and unreasonably enjoyable experience. The best example of this is still Casino Royale. There’s something almost mystical (humour me) about the way it taps into something really great from your past, and then proceeds to claim, convincingly, that it can do better. I know I’m getting carried away, but it seems to embody a kind of universal, deep message of hope: What was good about your past will be even better in your future.

What’s kind of taken for granted here is that your present and recent past really suck. This is probably usually the case for most people – I know it is for me. But there’s no reason at all why you shouldn’t be able to make your future like what you’ve enjoyed of the past – at least to insert that which you have enjoyed of the past into it. I, for instance, would like to see more Star Trek. That’s the main thing I’m trying to say here. It seems kind of bewildering to me that I could forget how much I used to enjoy this stuff. I am obviously not even remotely attuned to what makes me tick, in terms of planning. The past’s a treasure trove. Use it. Pop culture’s just the easy stuff. Most likely what you’ve enjoyed and liked and appreciated in the past you still will today. We don’t change that much.

Additionally, and entirely unrelatedly I suppose, I figured out what connects religiousity and Zionism. Religion had been my excuse for never seriously considering Zionism in any critical capacity.

Being Jewish (which requires a very active effort) has always seemed to me kind of idiotic if you're not even going to bother to be a part of the Jewish state. Being Jewish means refusing to be a full part of the country in which you live, by segregating yourself from it to one degree or another - from self-imposed ghettoes to refusing to marry into the general populace. It's always been separation for the sake of future self-determination. This separation, in turn, would be justified (could only be justified, as far as I could see) by the wish to keep to a very strict religious standard.

The religious standard has ceased to cut it, for me, in terms of a reason to be apart from the rest of the world, and following that comes the inevitable - at least to me - question of what is actually the point then of being Jewish? I'm not talking just about keeping a bunch of customs and celebrating religious holidays with the family - but also about the by any standards fanatic commitment to keeping the Jewish people going as a powerful and distinct "ethnic identity".

Most of the world seems to take it for granted this is a positive and important thing, but I can never understand why. More than any other ethnicity, Judaism (or Jewishness?) emphasizes in its members the quality of not being part of the general environment or the world - it's always in conflict with the temptation to become a fuller part of the world. And what's fucking wrong with this temptation? What does Jewishness have that could possibly approach it in aspiration?

I don't know, and yet I can't disregard it out of hand. I feel like I'm missing something. Are they only delusory comfort and laziness that are keeping me from breaking free from this imprisoning paradigm, or is there an actual, sensible reason to continue being a part of this, as I so far am? Why can't I see it?

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Zionism and Aesthetics

And before you ask, no, the two subjects are not related. I've just been rather lax on my blog discipline. I've been thinking things and thinking "okay, I'll address that in the blog later", which has ended up as making me think less rather than more about these subjects.

Zionism first because it's more recent and briefer and I'm not as sure about what I want to say about it. It is the eve of Independence Day, and I can't help but feel averse to this whole setup. I'm taking issue not so much with the idea of a Jewish state here as such (at least not yet), but more with the sheer simplemindedness of the enthusiasm.
I spoke very briefly before of tribalism in religiousity. This is the same thing here. It's right because it's us versus them. No it isn't.

Fact is a Jewish state in Israel will always victimize those unfortunate enough to not be Jewish - pretty much unavoidably - and Israel's consensual definition of itself as both democratic and Jewish is more than a little bizarre. Democratic societies don't speak as readily as we do about their ethnic minorities as "a demographical threat". It's not that there aren't still good arguments to back this Zionism thing up, but I think it's reasonable to expect a little bit more honesty. Waving a flag around doesn't make everything okay. At the end of the day this country will always be an enormous compromise on human values. I'd feel happier if I saw this issue less consistently and comprehensively ignored.

We have the Remembrance Day for Israel's fallen soldiers and victims of hostile actions the day before Independence Day - today, that is. I suppose the idea was to temper the celebrations with a reminder and an honouring of the human cost, but instead of the spirit of remembrance penetrating into the jingoism what seems to happen is the opposite - I was at a memorial today in my old highschool, and the place was so stuffed with flags you could hardly see anything. Somehow, this year, it felt obscene to me. Instead of focusing on the human tragedy we were celebrating the nobility of dying for the flag. It's disgusting.

I'm not even sure I have a point. I suppose I'd like to see myself less resigned to this sort of thing in practice. Not being a fervent Zionist pretty much makes me a stranger in this land. It's time to begin to deal with the reality of that. What, in practice, should change, I'm not quite sure. I guess we'll see eventually if I don't completely disregard this above-mentioned aversion like I have thus far.

Aesthetics, then, if I must. It's a funny name for what I'm trying to talk about. I came up with it in half-jest. Essentially, it is the issue of real, responsible, day-to-day life - being fucking ugly.
Not in terms of any ideology or anything - just gray, dull, boring.

I'm not sure if it's relevant, but it was reading the lyrics of a specific Nick Drake song - At the Chime of a City Clock - that got me thinking about this. It was reading poetry in general, and being reminded of Impressionist paintings. I can tell I'm not communicating this very well, but it seems like you have the power to apply your own aesthetic sensibilities to the world, and that this power is reduced the more you try to conform and integrate into regular society. Throughout the past years, I have been very conscious of this as a reason not to seriously engage people.

Today's a little different. It has become blindingly obvious that it is necessary, to me, to engage people - that it's not something I can really decide not to do - but I still have no idea how to do that and at the same time experience life as beautiful. And I'm far from sure this premise is even true - who said that engaging people had to dilute your experience of the world? The fact that I do it and many others do it doesn't necessarily mean it is inevitably always done.

It's basically a problem with getting visibly excited about anything. It goes against my instincts. I could never quite figure out why. I suppose it exposes you to ridicule, but I have trouble believing I'm really that afraid of looking ridiculous. I think that your subjective passions, along with your convictions, are what makes you who you are, and I suspect what I'm really trying to do is postpone coming to grips with who I am, more out of a long habit of procrastination than anything else. Don't do anything today that you can do next year. I can no longer really say I'm waiting for anything. This is my life here and if I won't make it beautiful now nobody else will.
That's probably, come to think of it, the main thing this blog is supposed to be - a chronicle of all the things I found beautiful recently. If nothing else, it can be an exercise in "visibly" reconciling myself to who I am. Good luck with that.

As a symbolic first step, this:

A city freeze
Get on your knees
Pray for warmth and green paper.
A city drought
You're down and out
See your trousers don't taper.

Saddle up
Kick your feet
Ride the range of a London street,
Travel to
A local plane
Turn around and come back again.

And at the chime of the city clock
Put up your road block
Hang on to your crown.
For a stone in a tin can
Is wealth to the city man
Who leaves his armour down.

Stay indoors
Beneath the floors
Talk with neighbours only.
The games you play
Make people say
You're either weird or lonely.

A city star
Won't shine too far
On account of the way you are,
And the beads
Around your face
Make you sure to fit back in place.

And at the beat of the city drum
See how your friends come
In twos or threes or more.
For the sound of a busy place
Is fine for a pretty face
Who knows what a face is for.

The city clown
Will soon fall down
Without a face to hide in.
And he will lose
If he won't choose
The one he may confide in.

Sonny boy
With smokes for sale
Went to ground with a face so pale.
And never heard
About the change
Showed his hand and fell out of range.

In the light of a city square
Find out the face that's fair
Keep it by your side.
When the light of the city falls
You fly to the city walls
Take off with your bride.

But at the chime of a city clock
Put up your road block
Hang on to your crown.
For a stone in a tin can
Is wealth to the city man
Who leaves his armour down.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Being an Adult

There's this vague subject that's kind of been troubling me for the past three days. That is to say, it troubled me greatly and acutely three days ago, until I'd resolved to write about it here, and then I never got around to it and it kind of hung on. It is this: Adultness. Responsibilities. My duties towards others.

It's too long after the fact for me to remember precisely where this very broad subject met me, so all I can do is try to take this on in an organized way, chronologically. So, context:

As most people who know me know, I've been inside of variants of clinical depression ever since four and a half years ago. "Been" rather than "am" because (since probably not much more than a month ago) I now consider myself to be out of it completely, at least as far as I'm concerned.
But I was definitely in it for quite a long time. My depression could probably take up more than a few blog posts all by itself, but I want to address a very specific thing that happened during it; it was The Shedding of Obligations.

Everything was becoming exceedingly difficult to do, and I decided to focus most of my efforts on just getting through the day to the night. I felt, and thought (and I still feel and think this was right at the time), that there was need for some urgent prioritization as far as my mental energy was concerned, and I stopped doing things. Quite early on I stopped going to school. I stopped hanging on to the vestiges of what very technically constituted my "social life". I stopped a bunch of the more ritualistic "binding" religious activities, without at the time doubting for a moment that they were indeed incredibly important. I stopped even trying to do housework. I stopped worrying about hygiene to some extent, but even just mentioning it like this is probably already a little TMI. And I stopped even trying to care about matters that did not immediately concern me - by which I mean my life-long obsession with ethical philosophy and politics. It's not that I washed my hands clean of these things completely - more that I indulged in them occasionally when it took my fancy, without feeling any sort of responsibility towards it.

It is, obviously, this last "shedding" that is on my mind lately. I have, largely, started again all these things that I have stopped, but my - let's call it "ideological passivity" remained curiously stable. It has kept on the level of a hobby, rather than that of a duty.

Now, a part of me says this is nothing to worry about - it's normal - nobody obsesses about abstract concepts and the dealings of their government, because they're all too busy trying to eke out their own living. But another part of me says bullshit; the fact that "everybody does it" never makes anything right and it doesn't necessarily mean it's even advantageous or sensible in any way. And it's simply untrue that I'm too busy to care. These issues - mainly violations of human rights and casual (and complicit) indifference to suffering - genuinely boil my blood. I'm not not caring. I'm just not doing.
I'll break the suspense here. The second part is right. My apathy towards the affairs of those not in my immediate vicinity is a distant relic of a bygone era.

Which is wonderful, and an observation I expect of myself to act on in the near future, but it seems only to touch the tip of the iceberg.
I have thought a lot in past months about being a citizen - voting in my first elections, etc. I feel that a state of democracy and freedom confers a duty upon the citizen to do what is in his power to ensure that his country is doing what he believes is right, as what the government does is now his responsibility. This is a very sound concept, and it may be why my present total inaction is so patently absurd, but I wasn't a citizen at 16 when I stopped caring. I hadn't stopped doing my "citizenly duties" - I had stopped doing something else.

I suspect that what's brought this on was my recent reacquaintance with Doctor Who. I was a fan before, but I'd just found a site where I could download full episodes, and I think the good Doctor has been knocking about in my brain ever since.
The Doctor seems to me a kind of spookily flawless moral prototype. He has his very clear ideas of right and wrong, which fairly often seem to me to err on the side of kindness and empathy - that put trust in what are very clearly untrustworthy people - but the fact is he walks the way he talks. He walks. He's a man of action. Men of action inspire me as a rule, complacent and inert overthinking slob that I am, but The Doctor somehow towers far above the rest.

I think I know why. It has occurred to me, that what is striking about The Doctor is the way he treats everybody he meets like human beings, even when they're aliens. Which says it all, really. The Doctor sees people, wherever and whenever he meets them, without prejudice, without anger - without even fear getting in the way. He is always forcefully aware of the humanity of the person before him. I'm not. Most people aren't, but that is simply not good enough. It's the coward's way out. We deal with people in our day-to-day. If we can't come to grips with that then we've never really become adults. We're still impulsive, self-centred children.

That's what I'd stopped doing. I found the strain of dealing with people too much to bear, so I both limited it and diluted it. It is possible that this was justified at the time - if doubtful - but it certainly is not justified any more. I should be aware of the fact that a human being is standing before me even before it is somehow emphatically illustrated to me. It's not that I'm insensitive - trample over people and humiliate them and insult them and whatnot - I'm probably too passive in my dealings with people to even be able to do that. It's just that I forget about their existence when they're not in front of my eyes talking to me very candidly. Generally speaking, if I can't see you, deeply - if I can't penetrate into the depths of your soul - you might as well not be there.

So that's the problem - overlooking my responsibility to recognize a person's humanity in fact always no matter what. Everything else is derived from that. From my interactions with friends and acquaintances to any kind of political activity (including mere discussion) I might feel compelled to take part in. It should all follow naturally. If I want to truly be able to call myself an adult - a basic decent human being - I'm going to have to learn to recognize the constant and continual existence of people outside of me. Once you realize that they get inside of you anyway, but that's metaphysical babble again, and while enjoyable it's probably not the best thing to do if I'm actually trying to communicate something discernible here.

It feels like this post is badly missing all of the reasons why it's good to be a child. That's what I think about most of the time. It's probably most of what this blog will eventually be about, though who knows. Generally speaking, I believe we need to be adults towards each other and children towards ourselves. I don't doubt I will elaborate on that later. The stuff I've been talking about in the previous two entries is to do with "being a child".

The holiday went perfectly well by the way. I didn't feel like I was lying to anybody this week about anything. I didn't do much, as it happens. I've been rather sick, and that's been occupying most of my time and energy. Here's hoping healthier and more eventful times are coming.

The last thing I want to mention, apropos of this recent inactivity, is that the fact that I hadn't watched a good movie in ages was really bothering me, and finally today I took action and went to see Gran Torino. It was awesome. I feel a need to pass on the word that it is indeed awesome.
I've also just watched the latest episode of 24, and that's completely ridiculous.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009


It's too bloody late at night to be doing this, but I'd sort of expected myself to do this before Passover, and that's tomorrow, and tonight is the last time I have internet access before it's over.

How to begin? Two or three weeks ago. Or was it four? No, I'll give you a general overview first.

I was born an Orthodox Jew. What sets us apart from other Jews is the fact that we wear a little piece of cloth on our heads. You may have heard of it. It signifies, essentially, our membership in the social club of cloth-wearers, though ostensibly (originally?) it's supposed to communicate that we accept the general body of Jewish religious law (aka "Halakha"), and generally speaking rabbinical authority over us.

I have long had issues with the social club aspect of it. I don't want to be set apart from other Jews. I don't want to be set apart from Gentiles. I'm still waiting for someone to come up with a convincing argument for how tribalism is not all bad in every aspect.

The revelation - of however many weeks ago - was that I don't actually like the rabbinical authority side of it either. It is difficult to explain how this would be news to someone either non-believing or believing. It is an issue you would usually have faced many times before. It's not that I haven't. My view had been that there exists a G-d (though I'm not sure how long I'm going to keep up this rather bizarre habit of not fully spelling out his denotation), and that it would make sense for there to be a spiritual discipline he'd like us to follow, and that from my personal experience religious Jewish life contains at least some of it.
What I discovered, to my considerable surprise, as it happens on the last Jewish holiday (we're on the eve of the next), was that rabbinical authority and traditional Jewish law have little to do with this. Some of the commandments of Judaism I keep because they seem or feel important, but I really, truthfully, sincerely couldn't give two shits what the rabbis think about it. It's not dependent on them. I'm not dependent on them. Haven't been for a good few years.

No, the reason keeping me wearing the piece of cloth on my head had all along been the first, more immediately stupid one. I wanted to feel I belonged, and maybe more significantly, I didn't think it was a problem for me to mislead my surroundings, because how is it any of their fucking business how I live my spiritual life?
Well, it isn't their business, but it's still a problem, for that reason I mentioned in my previous post - separation of inner and outer worlds. I could explain, but it would take a while. It's to do with the doctrine of Taoism, which I'll doubtless endlessly expound on if I ever get this thing going.

So I took my piece of cloth off, three-odd weeks ago. This is technically a dramatic, drastic move for someone of my religious/cultural/whatever background, but to my surprise it didn't have nearly as profound an effect on my life as I'd expected; I'd just started work with people who didn't previously know me as Orthodox, I am no longer in any real contact with Orthodox friends, and due to a general frankness between us nobody in my family really got excited, except for my dad who I'd previously sat down to try and explain this to (about as successfully as I'd just attempted to explain to you), and he was upset, but in any case did not react the way a religious father is "supposed" to, in terms of hysteria and antagonism. The only place where it might have caused some raised eyebrows was the religious community, as symbolized mainly by our synagogue - which I have generally shunned, seeing no reason to break this custom now. I guess I just don't know anybody sufficiently stupid for my removal of a piece of cloth to mean the shit-storm that it traditionally does.
When asked, or occasionally voluntarily when I felt the issue was coming up, I'd say that I haven't actually changed my religious outlook in any way - I'd just removed the kipa from my head (some call it a yarmulke; we call it a "kipa", which means a dome, for what it's worth).

The cause of this latest crisis, has been three days ago, when I realized this isn't actually true either. I am not partial right now to Judaism. I'm not even neutral. I'm not even indifferent.
Every time a Jewish religious issue has come up - especially when we were meant to consider it "binding" - I have been filled with a sense of acute latent ridiculousness. It has felt bizarre to even be expected to humour these notions. I'd hear people going on about Judaism and be completely bewildered. The unfailingly persistent sentiment has been "what have these people been smoking?"

Because, and this may not make sense to a non-believer, or someone who has never believed, the ultimate "proof" for religion has never been logical, but more a sort of atmosphere you'd inhale by participating in it. And no, I'm not talking about the feeling of belonging. That's there too, but there's also a legitimate spiritual feeling that is in the end stronger than any logical argument. I do still get this feeling - quite often in fact - but pretty much never from Judaism.

And the question I've been asking myself, is where has it gone? Where the fuck has it gone? If a spiritual feeling is a genuine, essential component of something, that is stronger than any logic, then how can I feel it there one period of my life and not the next? It's like it's jamming a wedge through my whole metaphysical pseudologic. And I need that! It may seem to you like I'm speaking spiritobabble, but I'm not usually inclined to leave my sharp, dry, proven analytical skills behind and go for esoteric ways of thinking. This makes sense to me. It's making sense of my life in a way I've never experienced before. When you actually, deeply feel something, that means it's there.

The obvious logical answer, is that it belongs to some of Judaism but not to the whole package. Orthodox Judaism is more packed with rituals and dogmas and precise pedantic rules than anyone not familiar with it could imagine. None of the other recognized religions come close. There are heated, in-depth discussions of subjects beyond your dullest imagination. It requires a fervent faith in the system to not stare gape-eyed at these proceedings and be boggled by how these people could for a moment consider these subjects remotely significant to anything at all. I wish I had some examples to give you but the hour is late. The bottom line is, I do not have this fervent faith. I no longer believe in "the system".
I may still be some form of religious Jew, but I have long been out of the Orthodox school and sect. It is time to come to grips with the fact that this is part of my identity - or more precisely, that Orthodox Judaism is no longer part of my identity. I need to stop hanging on to its festering remains as if they mean something. They don't. They mean that I don't walk the way I talk, or in this case that I don't talk the way I think.

It is about authenticity, to neatly sum things up. It is important for reasons that seem readily apparent to most people but haven't to me until recently (and which I may yet go into in the future), that what you do and say represent who you are - what you want, believe, and feel. It is important that who you are in your interactions with people is not removed from who you are in how you perceive the world.
You do what you do because you want to do it; not because it is expected of you and it seems prudent and "beneficial" to play along. That's bullshit. I cannot stress enough how much that is bullshit.

And the major Jewish holiday of the year is coming up. It is important that I don't pretend to care more than I do about that. I'll know by next week how well I've handled that task.

Sunday, 5 April 2009


Before I say anything, perhaps I should clarify that I don't really know what I'm doing here. That is, I'm trying to do something very specific, but I'm not quite sure yet what it is. I'm planning to kind of live and learn. Hence, I guess, the blog's title, though more than anything else it seems to make me sound like a schizophrenic.

I have been journalling privately, off-and-on (though mainly on) for something like three and a half years, quite intensely. I've always been a fairly bizzare combination of stiff upper lipped introvert and uninhibited attention whore, and in the past months it has occurred to me that this makes me rather an ideal candidate for keeping an online journal. Perhaps this could and should be reason enough in itself, but something else is drawing me, a little compulsively, to do this. There's no real way I'm going to be able to explain this summarily, but it's to do with traditionally keeping my inner world and outer world apart, and with recently deciding that this is probably the cause of most of what is wrong in my life.

So I'm making a step - a symbolic one - and putting what normal people and I in the past would usually consider intimate details of my inner life, up for "the public." Whether this requires an actual readership I'm not sure. I'm going to start with making this symbolic and writing as if for any random reader who chances across this page, and as we get this going I'll see if there are more practical directions I can take this in.

What this blog will attempt to chronicle, is my spiritual life. It will be a "spiritual blog." My definition of "spiritual" is rather broad so this will encompass more than you might think, but that is essentially what I intend to write here about.

Anything else? Probably. I'll have to complete this as I go along, if I ever do get this thing going. I should have my first proper entry up by tomorrow.