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.