Monday, 27 December 2010

Pondering Ponds

So I just ran away from class and am sitting instead in the university botanical garden next to a pond. I get ponds. Vaguely dirty looking bodies of water where it seems ducks should be even if they aren't. There's a bunch of plants around with little tags informing me what they are but they're not interesting - surrounded by them is a pond. I don't know why or even how I get ponds. It's not as if they're a mathematical equation. But they make sense. They don't bewilder me.

Something is missing. I'm constructing this life around me and being a grown-up for most intents and purposes and by any sensible standard things are going really well. But it's still a substantial struggle getting up in the morning and I still come back to the dorms more exhausted than it makes any sense at all to be and stare at the ceiling for hours or go out to stare blankly at other stuff if my roommate's in. Those are my more concrete "something is missing" credentials. The actual, more pressing ones are that none of what I do with myself during the week makes anywhere near the amount of sense as does my sitting down here now next to this pond.

There's a kind of understanding that has nothing to do with intelligence or analysis or persistent investigation. At least half the time I don't understand what the fuck people are on about and why they react to things the way they do. I keep trying to make it make more sense to me, but I'm beginning to think it's pointless if not actually counterproductive. It's not a question of comprehension - it's a question of identification. Maybe you need to own your alienation. To express, even if not outright say, that you could only understand what the person is saying or doing through a kind of ad hoc mathematical formula, which you wouldn't necessarily be inclined to create. I see people doing this all the time and I feel a kind of envy I only fully (well, better) understand now.

Some things mean something and most things don't. The fortunate thing is you actually have a wide degree of choice, which it is entirely possible to not exercise stupidly. It gets more complicated, for me at least, when I try to figure out where other people fit into this. I'm thinking maybe that's a minor consideration. People will fit where you have room for them. You can't spend your time being bored out of your brain for the sake of being friendly. It's not like it's actually difficult for people to be interesting. You just need to stop being full of shit for a few seconds.

What's missing? An insistence on "this means something to me" and "this doesn't", regardless of how people wherever will react to this. It's not really something you can sweep under the carpet. I'm also annoyed with somebody or something and it'd be nice if I could blame somebody for it. Fact is I probably could and I just don't notice. This isn't supposed to be who I am. And I'm pretty sure I'm not just imagining the pressure not to play duplo on the campus grass. Maybe I need to start feeling as well as just saying that most people suck. Whatever the insecurities and anxieties that go into people's being judgemental arseholes full of ridicule, it's not actually something I can deal with or brush off right now. If I was serious about making this more than big talk I'd start giving people the opportunity and crossing names off my list - maybe it really isn't as widespread as I think. Mainly, the effort I associate with "being friendly" is actually the effort to understand what the fuck is going on and how I'm supposed to fit into it. No need.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Bonnie and Clyde and Jake

The pride that I feel - being a little behind in my studies as I am - at having further neglected them by going out tonight to the cinematheque to see this film and now by writing about it, is kind of thematically appropriate to what I'd like to talk about.

Watching this film tonight (this wasn't my first viewing) I was suddenly very forcefully reminded of Raging Bull. For one, both movies are very commonly misrepresented. They call Raging Bull a boxing film and they call Bonnie and Clyde a crime adventure. They're not. They're both individualist tragedies about bad people - or at least people who do very bad things - but who "at least ain't no liars", as Clyde says of himself at one point. These guys are real. They have no lie in them. For Jake La Motta this is possibly his one, solitary saving grace; for Bonnie and Clyde this makes them veritable heroes - it exonerates them in the eyes of the audience from the fact that they actually kill people, without having these killings glossed over.

All three of these people are, frankly, stupid, impulsive, destructive individuals. They seem about as close as you can come to being human trash without being actually evil. But they're not phonies. They're not that type of person whose very existence is exhausting and depressing to contemplate. In this film particularly, every authority figure - every representative of the "establishment", whether he's actively trying to repress them or not - is Nurse Ratched. Let them be murderers, but don't let them be so fucking fake.

I don't actually think killing people is alright. But it's a good image, especially for a tragedy. Beating up women, for instance, is less successful (or relatable) as a metaphor for breaking out of a repressive society, which is probably part of the reason it isn't. I think the place where we relate is in the reaction of people to these behaviours. Bonnie and Clyde and Jake would be good people, if they weren't so stupid and childish and irresponsible. They try to be who they are, presumably because that's the only thing they know how to be, and society reacts with disgust - a disgust mingled with a measure of primitive admiration, but still essentially disgust, with no actual respect.

And this reaction is appropriate here. Jake La Motta is a thug who abuses his wife, and Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are murderers who seriously jeopardise the rule of law. And these are historical people who actually did these things. BUT - to come to what will stand in for my point here - it is not only destructiveness such as this that is responded to in exactly the same way, under the same paradigm, with the same feeling of sanctimonious justification.

My experience of human beings is - and I'm sure many would take issue with this claim - that all expressions of eccentricity are generally met with an essentially moral condemnation - an implication and accusation of childish, untenable, dangerous recklessness. Most often this will come in the form of mockery - of casual de-legitimisation, but sometimes it will be more honest and, at least to me, more immediately ridiculous. You'll be told you're not a part of the group enough, not Jewish, Zionist, leftist, cosmopolitan, anarchist enough. Still, more often mockery. The people who have the courage to be who they are without dousing themselves in bullshit expose themselves to ridicule. They will tell the world who they are and the world will respond with a hearty condescending smugly disapproving laugh.

This is where I get stuck. I can't decide whether I want to or can have anything to do with the people who respond to things this way. There's got to be a better option than shooting at them until you are outshot. The least you can do is not take it lying down. To learn, as I keep trying to practise in this blog, to say "fuck you then".

Monday, 25 October 2010

Give Me Back my Fucking Toys

This song has been fucking with my mind for the past two weeks and especially throughout today. This time I'm going to post it first and then pontificate about it, because then there's the off-chance you'll actually listen to it. Aside from everything else, it's kind of short:


Lather was thirty years old today,
They took away all of his toys.
His mother sent newspaper clippings to him,
About his old friends who'd stopped being boys.

There was Harwitz E. Green, just turned thirty-three,
His leather chair waits at the bank.
And Seargent Dow Jones, twenty-seven years old,
Commanding his very own tank.

But Lather still finds it a nice thing to do,

To lie about nude in the sand,
Drawing pictures of mountains that look like bumps,
And thrashing the air with his hands.

But wait, oh Lather's productive you know,
He produces the finest of sound,
Putting drumsticks on either side of his nose,
Snorting the best licks in town,

But that's all over...

Lather was thirty years old today,
And Lather came foam from his tongue.
He looked at me eyes wide and plainly said,
Is it true that I'm no longer young?
And the children call him famous,
And the old men call him insane,
And sometimes he's so nameless,
That he hardly knows which game to play...
Which words to say...
And I should have told him, "No, you're not old."
And I should have let him go on...smiling...babywide. 


Onwards then. I'm suddenly less sure of what I wanted to say. Except that I get this; I don't know if I prefer the image of a 30-year-old man having his toys taken away or of him lying about nude in the sand - I understand the importance of this. So I don't really understand why I never live out this idea.

Walking around the campus today I suddenly had the image in my mind of me sitting down on the grass with a box of Duplo. If I actualised that, I'd be so proud of myself I'd probably burst.

I don't want to bore you too much with my vacillations about which subjects to continue studying in the university, but it's worthwhile making the general point that you can either do the sensible thing and study Business Administration or Law or Political Science, or you can go do something interesting and completely pointless like studying literature, or philosophy, or history, or maybe you're one of those weirdos who enjoy physics. So I'm taking philosophy, and discovering (to the surprise of none of my more faithful or recollective readers I'm sure) that I have absolutely no sense of humour about it at all. Secretly, I don't actually think of it as pointless, or irrelevant.

See, it appears to me, that grown-up children like myself have to make a choice at some point - am I going to be serious, or am I going to be alive? It may be necessary to spell out the subtext here, so just in case it is - people tell themselves they've grown out of their childish passions, but it's very obvious that in fact what they've done is died out of them, or, possibly, worse (or at least stupider) - are actively killing themselves out of them a little more each day.

But on the other hand, and as opposed to actual physical children, they can be serious people and devote their time to serious causes, and this really isn't something I take lightly, like most of my artistic heroes seem to (last case in point being the nonetheless very good Adventures of Baron Munchausen). So I think you really gotta do both. As serious a person as I may try to become (today I spoke for a while with a political "student cell" and considered participating in its activities, which felt a little bizarre), it shouldn't prevent me from devoting my time to something stupid. But really stupid this time. An equivalent of duplo or lying about nude in the sand that actually speaks to me. Finding it is my next mission in life. And yours too, for fuck's sake.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010


I'm always bugged by noise pollution. People, pretty much everywhere, usually seem to me unduly and kind of desperately loud. I still think this is the main reason people seek out and enjoy large groups - the sound of laughter and shouting and whenever possible the deafeningly blaring anonymous and characterless music helps them block out who and what they are and how unpleased they are with their general lot in life. Not that I can look at my life in silence in smug self-satisfaction, but I generally prefer knowing what's missing to ignoring it - it seems like the logical first step towards changing things for the better.

So it confused me a little today when in a bit of internal dialogue I characterised my excessive preoccupation with myself and whether my stuff was going well as "noise" - isn't it exactly what "noise" is by (my) definition out to prevent?

So I started building this scheme that began getting complicated enough to need to be written down. To my mind, there are three layers of noise under which most of us are usually submerged:

1) Conformism: Peer pressure striving to control our whole identity and striking spectacular successes at least insofar as our actual behaviour is concerned - we do what others do because they do it, and don't try particularly hard to find our own way. On the rare cases that we do, the group will often go into direct-rather-than-implied pressure mode, creating the most clear-cut instance of repression - but most of us will never even go there (at least not beyond adolescence).

2) Busyness: The impulse to keep on the move, to keep active, to be perpetually stimulated by a hectic life - whether this is expressed in workaholism, partying, television, drugs (even soft ones) or mere extroversion - this is what I have traditionally referred to as "noise", and see as ultimately concerned with not letting you hear yourself think. When I was overwhelmed by my moods people kept telling me "you think too much" and "you just need to find something to do" and I'd be at a loss because to me these counsels conveyed a far deeper desperation than what even I was feeling, and suggested that the solution was to never listen to yourself ever again. This "busyness" impulse terrifies me because it's so pervasive and accepted, and yet so obviously nihilistic and suffocating - so much in denial of life and aliveness. It's a whole institution powered by a self-righteous intellectual timidity.

3) Intellectualism: Or perhaps "Analysisism" would better describe what I mean: In retrospect it may not apply to "most of us". Excessive analysis is a syndrome reserved for relatively few, but it's self-denial's last line of defence. Even once we've broken free from conformism and busyness - once we are ostensibly free do what we want and to know what we think - the intellectual independence that brought us this far threatens to betray its own purpose by so frenetically cultivating itself as to drown out what we feel, which is what all of this noise excavation was about in the first place. Sometimes we think about things not because they're worth thinking about, but to serve the same impulse of repression that ever made us consider for a second that conformism or busyness might be good ideas. They don't actually "make sense", but they have an inner momentum that comes from the deep-seated fear that there is actually nothing there, so we better not look too directly into ourselves.

Though probably quite few of my friends and acquaintances fit this criterion, I don't think I'm just talking about myself. It appears that Western intellectual tradition in general, and certainly most of its moral philosophy that I've encountered, is deeply infected with this fetishistic "scientific" attention to irrelevant detail and structural considerations. The pursuit of objectivity has us discussing "objects" and their relation to one another while ignoring as much as we can their relation to us and our feelings. Even our "appreciation" of art has more to do with what it makes us think than with what it makes us feel, which to me seems ridiculous but to the world in general appears to seem obvious - much like our differing stance on busyness.

The alternative to the last of these noisinesses can be found, I think, by examining what is at the heart of all these exercises in repression. Namely, pressure. We are under pressure to meet the group's approval as we are under pressure to find something to do as we are under pressure to conform to our own standards to the letter. The alternative to pressure, is Taoism.

If Buddhism asserts that we don't need desire to live a good life, Taoism (more sensibly, I think) asserts that we don't need pressure. The idea is that if something is good, it should be done, and if it's bad it should be avoided, and that it shouldn't really get complicated beyond that. There is no sensible reason to avoid the good and to pursue the bad - only pressure, from whatever source, to do so. Taoism would tell the pressure, in general, to go fuck itself, much like the "intellectual" told conformism and busyness to sod off. Instead of pitting a better pressure against a worse pressure, the idea is that pressure is fundamentally unnecessary, and that truly independent and truly sensible conduct can be achieved by simply doing what you want and avoiding what you don't. We are not children who need to meet parental pressure without which we will not get for ourselves what we need; we are adults who know what they want and usually how to get it. Forwards planning is fine - backwards examination does little beyond distracting us from ourselves, at least when it's done not from the position of relaxed contemplation but from a sense of duty.

You need silence in order to hear yourself. Noise as expressed in any and all forms of pressure is designed to prevent precisely that, for reasons that are sometimes extremely bad and sometimes only a little. Possibly you need to read through the Tao Te Ching before this statement becomes convincing, but there is nothing appeasing others can get you that you can't get from listening properly to yourself instead.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Vikings, Dragons and Arabs

I wrote this probably over a month ago, but I intended it to go here so go here it will.


So I've just seen this film, and I'm kind of bowled over by how perfectly it seems to encapsulate my new general political attitude. Properly speaking, it is another one of these familiar exercises in bland, knee-jerk liberalism, but somehow it still managed to strike a chord with me, and even to seem to pertain specifically to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This is a really good film, and I hereby formally dispatch you to watch it, but I'm going to talk about it freely, without worrying about spoiling things. Mainly because this movie proceeds in precisely the way you'd expect it to - its plot's not the attraction - but here you are warned anyway. SPOILERS ahoy.

How to Train Your Dragon tells the story of Hiccup, young Viking boy in a village regularly ransacked by dragons. Hiccup can't quite get his Viking thing going. He's small and clumsy and generally inadequate in terms of dragon-hunting macho-macho-man-ness, and when he more or less accidentally comes across a wounded dragon and gradually makes his acquaintance, he begins to have second thoughts about the attitude he's supposed to have towards these creatures. 

So yeah, we've already seen this story anywhere from Pocahontas through Shrek to Avatar, and often in sharper terms, but this movie seemed to highlight for me in a much more powerful way the ideology, collective passion, and societal convention that facilitate and enflame this kind of stubborn, hate-filled, and mind-bogglingly blind aggression.

To reiterate the point I've been making and this film has been strongly implying possibly without fully realising it - nationalism is a disease. It poisons our psyche and corrupts our souls, divides us into tribes and has us see monsters where humans exist. Usually deeply flawed humans - often humans with whom we've shared a checkered past and that we have good cause to be wary of - but humans towards whom having a poisoned, hysterical and demonising attitude contributes absolutely nothing at all.

Before I go on conjecturing and allegorising this film out of all proportion, I want to mention a scene: Enraged Viking village leader Dad tells exposed-as-traitorous-dragon-fraterniser Hiccup "You are not a Viking. You are not my son."

Yes, unpleasant, and the pain is what this scene's mainly about. But, there's an obvious implication many (most?) people even in the genuinely advanced Western World don't see here; you don't have to continue being Jewish any more than you have to become a carbon copy of your father. These are things you are born into, and that your surroundings would be glad to see you carrying on, but, with respect, fuck the surroundings. Fact of the matter is I'm not my dad, and even less than that am I my "people" and their history. Nothing wrong with either of them, but contrary to popular confusion, they are quite simply entities that are distinct from me. They just are. I didn't promise anybody to be my dad and I didn't promise anybody to be Jewish. These things are too important to be determined at birth, and the fact is they aren't. They are artificially preserved by social constructs, because society is fucking stupid when it's not very carefully engineered not to be.

The truth is Hiccup isn't a Viking, and neither is he is father's son the way that marauding explosion of violence intends. The movie takes both these sentiments back later on in the proceedings, but it is a kids film after all. Part of the tragedy of real life is that sometimes your surroundings can't deal with who you are and what you're not. The confrontation can be ugly, but it's unavoidable if you ever want to truly "break out" - step out of the shadow of your predecessors and come into your own.

There's more to this, though, than just fulfilling your individuality. As bland as the message is, it's not really obvious, at least not in Israel. When you tell an Israeli we don't have to be at war with the Arabs you're likely to get much the same reaction as a Viking's when you tell him there could be peace with the dragons. Both of the conflicts didn't just spring out of thin air. In both it is somewhat counterintuitive to learn which of the parties is responsible for by far the greater amount of devastation and death. Both the Vikings and the Israelis are fighting what is at its core a war of self-defence, but they're doing it so zealously, so excessively, that they begin to lose both their moral compass and their ability to think straight about their own interests.

The most potent bit of symbolism in the movie, which appears to have been created more or less by accident and to serve for plot rather than thematic purposes, has to do with how the conflict was created:

The dragons live in a large cave. Down in its depths lives a kind of quasi-queen - a titanic, astronomical beast that makes all the others look like flies. When the dragons don't feed it stolen produce or livestock, it eats them. The movie implies that only together can the Vikings and dragons stop it, but before that it briefly toys with the idea (being a kids movie, again) of the catastrophical consequences the premature and frankly unnecessary rousing of this largely pacified giant might have.

This works for both sides of the long-going war. If we're not careful - if we keep on with these superfluous violent, repressive, and brutal adventures - we could awaken the rage of the humiliated post-colonialist Arab and Muslim world that originally started this conflict to such a level it will no longer be possible to hold it back and prevent a full-blown psychotic culture-war. The effort of "deterrence", though doubtless working, is also bringing the bad blood constantly closer to its boiling point. We are playing with fire.

Conversely - and this is more a dangerous musing than an actual opinion - the giant that is Israel has in many ways already been awakened. At the end of the movie the dragons join forces with the humans to kill this huge beast despite it being one of them, because (presumably), though just like them it is only acting in self-preservation, it is simply causing too much damage. Now, I am not disputing Israel's claim of always acting ultimately in the interests of self-defence, but as well as being a nuclear power Israel is the world's fourth largest exporter of arms, so what does that mean? I'd like to think that all of Israel's destructive international (non-Arab-related) behaviour is the result of evil, callous individuals whose actions weren't truly necessary for Israel, but what I'm worried about is this - what if they were? That's not a rhetorical question. I don't know what to think about this.

What I do know is that tribal identification is irrelevant. I don't think you can really start seriously thinking about these things without that.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Religion is Clinical Depression

When I walk into a classroom, or a bus, or a cinema, I avert my eyes from the people already seated. Like a nun.

Timidity. It's not exactly fear - you don't expect a negative reaction - you just feel a need to keep to yourself, to stay out of people's way. Like it's part of being okay.

Nietzsche characterises religion's submission and innate shame culture (in the paraphrases I've read of him) as the downtrodden's resentment and outrage at their situation directed inwardly. From a common sense historical and psychological perspective this seems plausible, but what's more noteworthy and more unequivocal is that this is also a a widely accepted and from my experience accurate characterisation of clinical depression.

Whether this was how and why religion was formed or not, this is the expression of the "organised" religious experience today. It's about finding faults in yourself and redemption in what's outside you. This "slave morality" as Nietzsche calls it, extends beyond the content of out interaction with people and into its style. The true religious devotee sees himself as basically inadequate, and approaches all in life with humble trepidation, like a scared nun.

I am resentful. I am outraged. It's not as simple for me as for the truly enslaved to find my oppressors, and it's far from certain that they exist to the extent that I imagine them, but I channel all this rage almost directly into my timidity. Force of habit, I figure. A little like channelling religion's fervour and revolutionary passion into conservatism and insularity and abstention from things that are for ridiculously irrelevant reasons considered bad. Angry?; Shut up.

The "master morality", which I keep fiddling around with on this blog and pronouncing bombastically about without implementing, would have me walk into a room surveying all its occupants as if they were more or less my minions. This doesn't actually require disrespect. It requires cheek, which isn't quite the same thing. It requires a basic approach of "bring it".

Are you a man or a nun Arthur Pewty?

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Agnon and Nietzsche on Enthusiasm and Religion (respectively)

Two things I have come across today that excited me were texts. The first is translated by me and the second is randomly plucked from the internet, with me unfortunately having to translate from my own Hebrew translation the last sentence.

S. Y. Agnon seems to me pretty much the epitome of untranslatability, so possibly this will not work, but we'll consider it a challenge and experiment. From his "Oath of Allegiance", this passage is about Reknitz, an Austro-Hungarian marine botanist recently arrived in early 20th century Jaffa. I can think of very few things less exciting than botany, so it's kind of awesome to me how he can't. Have at you:

"Every day he would go out and take what the ocean gave him, and if the time was right he would hire a dinghy, and the attendant Ichyeh would mediate between him and the Arab dinghy owners, and he'd set out to sea and say let's sail to the place where Adam's forebears lived. And holding in his hands a brand of fishing net and iron instruments, he would draw out a host of algae that do not reach the surface, his heart thumping like a hunter pursuing his prey.

Never had Reknitz gotten seasick; to the contrary - the mysteries of the ocean, the wonders of creation would give him strength and fortitude. Burgeon these plants inside the sea, like gardens of bloom, like thickets of bush, like a grove shaded in the water, and their eye like the eye of the yellow sulphur; like crimson; like the living flesh; like ivory pearls; like the eye of the olive; like corals; like the peacock's feathers; cleaved to the crags and rocks and cliffs.

From fondness of the sea and love of its plants he'd call it my orchard, my vineyard, and other such names of affection. And coming back from the sea he'd wash his algae in sweet water, to take out the salt - salt that bloats and enlarges - and lay them down on a flat plate. Anybody seeing him tending to his weeds will think he is preparing a salad for himself to eat, while Reknitz will forget to eat his bread because of these weeds.

Once the algae are taken out of the plate he would go and lay them out on top of a thick paper, their mucus serving as an adhesive. Of all the botanists of the world none deal with sea plants but a few, and of the few dealing in sea plants none deal with the land of Israel's algae but Reknitz. Reknitz examines their ways and their methods of developing and multiplying. Some researchers do their work with the sea now and again, as on days off from the university. But Reknitz is there all days of the year, days of sun and days of rain, at day and at night; when the sun boils the sea and when the chill freezes it; while the ocean is quiet and while it's tumultuous; as people sleep and as they scurry after their business."

Entirely unrelatedly, and needing no exposition, my new main man Nietzsche just jumped way up my reading list with this, from "Ecce Homo":

"The concept of 'God' was invented as a counter-concept of life — everything harmful, poisonous, slanderous, the whole hostility unto death against life synthesized in this concept in a gruesome unity! The concept of the 'beyond', the 'true world' invented in order to devaluate the only world there is - in order to retain no goal, no reason, no task for our earthly reality! The concept of the 'soul', the 'spirit', finally even 'immortal soul', invented in order to despise the body, to make it sick - 'holy'; to oppose with a ghastly levity everything that deserves to be taken seriously in life, the questions of nourishment, abode, spiritual diet, treatment of the sick, cleanliness, and weather! In place of health, the 'salvation of the soul' - that is, a folie circulaire [manic-depressive insanity] between penitential convulsions and hysteria about redemption! The concept of 'sin' invented along with the torture instrument that belongs with it, the concept of 'free will', in order to confuse the instincts, to make mistrust of the instincts second nature! The clear trademark of degeneration - enticement by all that is harmful, loss of the ability to find personal good, self-destruction - all these achieve the level of a moral value in the concept of the nullification of selfishness, in self-denial, and become a duty, a holiness, a Godly element in man!"

Bottom line is, believing in religion is believing it's up to somebody else, whether it's God or his priests or his ordained earthly leaders. It's meant to keep us pacified, and it winds up keeping us dead. Ashamed, frightened, anaemic and dead.

May the 24th

A kid passed me on a scooter today, and I wondered to myself what it would be like to kick him into the air. I found that noteworthy because usually this kind of thing only occurs to me with cats.

It is ten past one in the morning and I would very much like to sleep but I feel a restlessness that I think has to do with me not expressing myself in front of anyone today. But not much occurs to me beyond what's in the previous paragraph. It was a busy day. I studied a lot. I spent longer than I would have liked on prosaic errands. I refrained from violently assaulting random children, but that was probably a good thing. It wasn't a bad day, but I'm not sure I necessarily have anything to say about it.

I would like to write more or less every day, even with just very very short installments. It'd be nice if I could do that without falling over myself apologising and analysing and obsessively defining.

Look, world - I want you to know that I would like to be a part of you. That I'm working on it. It occurred to me today that I don't actually like doing things. I will put them off for as long as possible and then when finally it reaches a level of ridiculousness that even I feel uncomfortable with, I will proceed to largely pretend to be doing them, like someone pretending to be working at a job for the sake of the money. I realise that the job is the money in this case, and I would like to like to do it, but it gets a little confusing, obviously. I'm sure worlds get confused too.

I am told quite often that I should do things more, or do more things, but that always kind of rings false. The people telling me this actually mean to say that I should play along with more, when to me doing and complying - or indulging - are two very different things. It's not "things" you should be doing - it's your things. Doing other people's things will naturally put you off things altogether. And things can be good.

You need to be an adolescent before you can be an adult. You need to free yourself from repression by and subordination to external forces before you can begin to make your own way. And making other people's ways is kind of a waste of energy. So I'm doing a second, proper adolescence this time. My apologies to the universe. I hope it and I can respect that and stop being in such a fucking hurry all the time.

Sanctimonious diatribes notwithstanding, I would certainly like to do and say more. Of the things I want, obviously. I would like to have myself stand behind things more firmly and say "I want this" and "I believe in this" and above all "this is mine", even if I do share it and sometimes compromise on it with others. So the thought of kicking the kid into the air was actually mine, and maybe it should be voiced even if there isn't and very nearly couldn't be a context in which to mention it. It amused me. Therefore it's important. Therefore it deserves my immediate attention and acknowledgement and affirmation. On May the 24th I was amused by the thought of a helpless child hurtling through the sunny Monday air.


Sunday, 23 May 2010

A Past of Withered Weeds or: My own pet PTSD

These flashbacks always get to me.

It's about four and a half years ago. I'm out on a kind of field trip to the Wailing Wall with a few other unlawful high school dropouts on part of what passes for our year's program.

I think most of the kids are off at the wall. A few of us are sitting down closer to the entrance of the complex, overlooked by the wall about a hundred metres off. They're sitting on one of those concrete seat-type slabs. I'm sitting a few metres behind on the thematically appropriate dead dry earth.

I want to talk to one of the girls there. Brief previous (almost accidental) exchanges tell me she's into films but doesn't give the American stuff the credit I think it's due, seems generally curious about the world, compassionate, and gives the impression she's dropped out for more interesting reasons than the rest of these guys (also she's pretty). I briefly consider braving the metre and a half separating us but reject it almost out of hand. It is an unbridgeable chasm. Sitting down next to her will communicate unequivocally to her and anybody else watching that I am interested in talking to her, as opposed to entirely oblivious to her existence. I don't think I can handle that.

She seems frustrated by my apparent lack of interest and, I suppose, the mixed messages I'm sending. I can actually see this (and am not likely to be imagining it at this state in my self-esteem), but it fails to make a dent in my fiercely resolved timidity.

It almost pains me to admit this, because I've found myself arguing the opposite point with people more than usual lately, but things have really changed since then. Improved. If I was in the same position today I would definitely talk to her, and we'd likely end up at least giving a chance to being together

It's not often that I find myself interested in a person that way - that is to say, genuinely interested in any way, romantic or not. On the rare occasion that I do, I fail to notice that the polite, feigned, delimited interest I show towards everybody everywhere actually holds me back in their case rather than bringing me forwards like it does with all those people I wouldn’t for a second miss if I never saw again.

I have tried to avoid being in this position again, of pretending to be indifferent when I’m not, because it’s a situation I find shocking and obscene in a way and to an extent I don’t feel I’ve ever managed to properly communicate to anybody, but this attempt, as usual, has flown straight into overkill.

I now pretend to be interested even when I’m not, but the effort is so exhausting I can only afford a certain minimum of phantom interest, and it doesn’t even occur to me to bring more when there’s actually somewhere to put it.

There are two aspects (at least) to not being full of shit. One if to not waste your time on role-play and general attempts to appease everybody and everything; the other is to actively pursue that which you want once you figure out what it is. I’m putting a lot of energy and effort into the first of these lately – I’m sick to death of being the doormat of people who didn’t even ask for a mat – but I need to keep a closer eye on what and who actually interests me. That’s something it’s generally good to pay attention to.

^ Because I still like this picture.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

A Future of Green Grass

There's an experience I've never had - sitting down in the grass enjoying the company of friends passionate about the same things (or even just some of the important ones). Not an unduly ambitious aspiration I think, but one that I have substantial trouble imagining actually happening.

There's a reason why the grass is in the title of this post. The grass is important. I'm not quite sure why.

Possibly it's a more picturesque scene and emblem of good social times than pubs, clubs or cafés, however memorable the times at these might be. There's definitely some kind of cinematic logic to this and to why this particular image seems to knock me around.

Not so long ago I spent a year in a sort of commune, constantly surrounded by grass where we lived and in most of the places we went to. That's kind of how the non-super-urbanised world is built I suppose. In the foreseeable future I'll be starting university, which is a place traditionally with grass, though this particular campus for some reason pretty much isn't. Grass.

I'm not making much headway here am I?

Grass is good because it's one of those mundane everyday objects - even more so than twilight or the starry night sky - that is actually stunningly beautiful. It keeps a kind of routine of awesomeness. This fits, thematically, with the prospect of an awesome social situation. Of people I get a kick out of knowing and being around. The social environment in previous years has only ranged from earth to mud. Sometimes you could safely sit on it, but why in the hell would you want to?

So who are these grassy people anyway? I think I've answered this question in the first line of this post by having them "passionate about the same things", but is that it? Is that that hard, that rare? The truth is, since myself getting excited about things, I have only had the experience twice of knowing for certain someone (outside of my family) shared one of these passions with me, to the same or at least similar extent. This endeared them to me to a certain extent surely, but still wasn't exactly the grass experience we're talking about. Possibly because I didn't sit in them.

The question I'm dancing around is whether it's possible to be passionate about the right things but tedious and inane. Probably not. Not unless these things are mathematics or neuroscience or even just moral philosophy, which actually is one of the passions. It probably is important that I find people I can philosophise about morality with, but, being a man of many (or at least several) interests, I can babble more aimlessly about books and movies and TV shows and even politics and the more specialised creativity and individualism and "metaphysical" beauty and love and mystery and general childish spirituality without losing much. Granted, these specialists probably won't be that easy to find, but once they are, it won't matter so much what they or I say as much as that we say it to and around each other, à la Before Sunrise.

And then life would rock.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Lisa Challenge

I'm not sure how to describe this, because I don't know how common the experience is, but quite often I find myself "flashing back" to The Simpsons' rendition of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven.  Inextricably tied to this, somehow (she's largely absent from the sequence), is the image of Lisa Simpson.

Lisa actually has an episode where she recreates (and relives) another Poe piece - this time the story "The Tell-Tale Heart". That episode too has a similar kind of poignancy to it. Something about the combination of Simpsons and Poe that sends me into adoration overload and is probably ultimately a far more decisive source of Americophilia for me than all that democratic stuff I keep going on about.

I've already worshipped here briefly at the altar of Poe. I'm going to try and honour Lisa now.

Occasionally I've heard (well, read) it discussed who was the real hero of the show - Homer or Bart. The answer of course is Lisa. Homer's the super-everyman and Bart is the quintessential free spirit, but Lisa is the conscience and voice of wisdom and greatest source of lust for life - in other words, the heart and soul.

Many people say this makes her boring. They should be shot. Their death notwithstanding, I feel it my duty to point out that Lisa constitutes more than the stories' straight woman. She is as colourful as all the rest, what with her knee-jerk liberalism with complementary vegetarian Buddhism and partiality to Malibu Stacy dolls and ponies and that teen idol Corey and, above all, the fact that in many of the show's best episodes, especially back in the earlier seasons when it was actually good, Lisa is very clearly in quite intense and seriously considered pain, a position only ever truly shared with Marge - everybody else's pain is little more than a plot point when it pops up.

Lisa is the person people ought to be. Not actually even remotely perfect, but serious in her attempt to live life, compassionate, and, above all, childishly excited about grown-up things.

A word about "grown-up things" then. It's a rather sad commentary on how we process words and ideas that what's immediately evoked is X-rated material. Grown-ups have done more over the years than create works that had to have access to them restricted by age. Everything that isn't total fluff is adult. Everything. Art, morality, spirituality, science, friendship, love, dignity, community. All these things, especially when you participate more actively in them, are what makes adulthood infinitely better than childhood. But adults, when they find time off their busy schedules to dabble in any of these things, do so quietly, equivocally, almost indifferently. They accept on some level that these things are good but then go about them almost as if to satisfy somebody else. Lisa dives in head first, without even checking if the pool's been filled.

Poe is similarly occupied by the artistically macabre or otherwise melodramatic, with an enthusiasm and sometimes it seems the intelligence of an 8-year-old. I think it was Yeats that said that Poe's writing was vulgar. The little I've read of Yeats actually isn't bad, but brimming with enthusiasm it ain't. Let the sophisticates be adult about their adultness. I want to attack the exciting things in life with the ravenous appetite of an 8-year-old girl.

Instead of walking through life like some unholy hybrid of businessman and politician.

Friday, 23 April 2010

I Am Larry Gopnik

How's that for a new heroic figure?

Perhaps this is not the best possible example of what I'm talking about. I'm not a Job figure. My life is okay. But this happens to be what's occasioned this thought. Not the story, but the actual character himself.

I have spent most of the previous years trying to be a good person. Largely succeeding too. Big whoop.

Having the appropriate, "gracious" emotional reaction to people and events means very little when they are background noise to you and you are background noise to them. It's an assumption that if you are "okay" somebody will make things turn out right for you.

The only thing that can be reasonably expected of life is that it will go to hell in a handbasket. You can hope you'll get lucky but you can't expect it.

I think this is what's at the bottom of the differentiation between religious and secular (truly secular) thinking. It's not up to you to be a good boy so that somebody up there will take care of things for you. It's up to you to take care of things. All of them. All of what matters to you.

Larry Gopnik is comfortable in his job, in his marriage, in his pretty suburban house. But he doesn't bother to publish any work to further his academic career, neglects his wife and doesn't lift a finger to try and stop the divorce once the ball starts rolling, and then lets her and her disgusting new boyfriend smother him in their collective slime, humiliate him and send him out of his home - all with unending graciousness and with all the good humour he can pretend to muster.

Throughout all of this Gopnik will occasionally throw up his hands in exasperation and demand of the universe, "But what have I done???" Very little, Larry - in fact virtually nothing. It's not that he isn't a good person. He is. But shit happens. And he does nothing to prevent it.

Even without shit happening on a massive scale, if you watch life go by you, life will watch you go by it. It's not a question of avoiding sin. It's a question, if you will, of achieving virtue. And more than that of making your own way.

It's not about understanding the universe and thereby finding your place in it. It's about creating your place. Finding somebody to love, as this movie keeps implying, and telling anybody who gets in your way to go fuck themselves, as this movie appears to completely overlook.

I'm not sure if these little vignettes actually serve the inspirational (shaming?) purpose I intend for them, but part of the reason I'm writing is because it suddenly bothers me that I haven't written for quite a long time. I have been busy, in truth, at least relative to myself, but this still indicates a skewed set of priorities. Writing here is the closest I get to a consistent meaningful give-and-take with the universe. Everything else is just passing along time, hoping I don't do anything "wrong", and generally trying to have a quiet time.

So fuck quiet. I hereby recommit to finish my Tao Te Ching summary, for starters. Not because I said I will, and not because I think I ought to, but because I want to. Because being yourself is a constant effort requiring active participation. Because to want to do something and yet not to do it is almost a logical contradiction. It's possible, thanks to our wonderful human capacity to ignore practically everything about ourselves and the world at our convenience, but it is a silly thing to do.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Touchy-Feely Man and Beast

So I'm lying in bed with my reading lamp at my shoulder, and I'm distracted from my reading by seeing silhouetted on the wall a frankly ridiculous profusion of my chest hairs, thinking, I'm totally a man these days.

But I don't feel much like one. I lay awake at night - every night - with the oppressive feeling that the day is over and I have not been a part of it. The past two years or so have found me, for various reasons, mostly in a state of general indolence, but when I was occupied with work or study, this feeling got far far worse, which doesn't really seem to make sense, but probably because I, like most people, am looking at it the wrong way round.

As much as cleaning the house and selling fast food and wrestling with bureaucracy are important, and as much as I don't do these things enough and would like to, they are not traditionally the things that fill you with self-determined, grown-up manly (or womanly) pride. They are, actually, the minor humiliations you have to and can go through, for the sake of the actual benefits adulthood brings with it.

Most instances of my feeling like an adult, like my own man, like a part of the world, have had to do with writing entries much like this one. Which isn't what immediately springs to mind when you think of responsible, involved and productive community-aware grown-upness. How people are actually affected by my behaviour has little to do with this feeling - that's a moral consideration - all my drive for adultness is about is having my voice heard.

Specifically, feeling like something should be done and therefore doing it. Motivated by the emotion. Writing entries, saving dolphins, jumping off buildings, killing nuns, getting an earring, learning belly-dancing, eating ice cream - anything so long as you're doing it less because it's sensible than because you're into it. Done in spite and by virtue of your being a responsible adult in charge of his own destiny. There's no point in being a functioning member of society if you don't get to do stupid shit just because you want to. Eventually philosophers will realise this is the apex civilisation has always been striving towards. I have a vague idea that Nietzsche already did.

Stupid shit is only a part of this, of course. While the world does need to hear your stupid statements about things, it also needs to hear your intelligent ones. If I think - no, feel - that Israel should open up its gates to asylum seekers and take care of them, I don't need to have figured out how to deal with the ensuing economic burden or stop the migration from becoming a massive influx before I express my opinion - sorry; feelings - on the matter. They need to hear I'm against it even before they hear why they should be too. In this case it's not even so much for the sake of the refugees as it is for my own basic dignity and sense of existence.

If my emotions have no clout with my behaviour, I have no clout with anything.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Memories of Canada

I cannot be expected to accept the fact that I am not Neil Young. There is a gross and continuous injustice involved in this state of affairs.

Neil Young makes me cry. Not the songs of Neil Young, mind you; not the story of Neil Young - his existence.

His disposition, I suppose. Neil Young evokes for me, and I know it's a somewhat incongruous image, a sense of religious devotion, of the kind I haven't been able to properly relate to and embrace in an organised religious setting for years. It's not piousness, or enthusiasm, or even kindness, but, I think, a kind of naked vulnerability. An "I am coming to you because I need you."

Apart from functioning as a sloppy paean to the man and the legend, this is an attempt to discover what it is about him or the impression I have of him through his songs and fragments of interviews that reduces me to a blob of goo.

My sneaking suspicion is that, besides his mastery of the guitar and ability to write beautiful songs and mountains of cash in the basement, we are not at all so very different.

I know nothing of the biography of the man, so bear in mind I'm only talking about my mental construct here, but he seems to second-guess himself much less than me. And ultimately respect himself more than me. And, above all, to play-act far far less than me, despite being an international superstar under the vicious scrutiny of the blood-sucking music and celebrity press. He shies away, so I'm told, but he doesn't put up a front.

I put up a front. I pretend I don't feel things, especially the need for people. For attention, for respect, for love, for sympathy. Neil Young doesn't have trouble saying, never mind implying, "I need you", pretty much regardless of circumstances. The chorus to one of my favourite songs of his goes:

"But if crying and holding on
And flying on the ground is wrong
Then I'm sorry
To let you down
But you're from
My side of town
And I'll miss you."

I can't even say that out loud, but he sings it, and then distributes it to millions.

What I think we have in common is that intensity of feeling. I am devoted religiously - to people, to God, to myself - but I'm so terrified of betraying this it rarely ventures beyond sentiment into the realm of activity, never mind conversation.

Sing it out from the rooftops. This is the challenge of near future. I need you.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

A Short Summary of the Tao Te Ching Part I: Nature of the Tao

It didn't actually take me this long to write this, but it took a while to get back around to it. I suppose I'll forgive you if you don't read it all at once. I've conveniently divided it through pictures into three separate chunks. Have fun.


"Tao Te Ching" can (apparently) be very loosely translated as "Book of the Way and Virtue". Ching is fairly straightforward, though the more pretentious sometimes prefer "tome" or "classic" to book. Tao does actually mean "way", both in the meaning of "fashion" or "method" and in that of "road".

Te is already a little more complicated. It's some kind of amalgamation of "virtue", "power" and "excellence". Apparently it's quite similar to the ancient Greek concept of "arete", for which I've linked a wikipedia article I haven't myself read, and it can also be likened to the concept of "Quality" which a certain Robert M. Pirsig spent a whole Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance trying to demonstrate.

The Tao Te Ching is about harnessing the power of the Tao for, among other things, the purposes of Te. Te appears to be the active and insistent aspect of a generally passive and indulgent philosophy.

So what is this so-called Tao anyway? It's the name given to the supposed spiritual force behind everything that's alive in the world, also sometimes known non-specifically as God or Buddha-nature, but appealingly absent any attaching dogmatism.

The Tao is the organic fuel that moves everything. It's not that things can't be moved without it, but the idea is that they're then not moved nearly as well. Possibly the major notion in Taoism is the attempt to keep the Tao unpolluted. You observe how it works, and you try to emulate it. It is "The Way" - the more you try to follow it, the more you'll get to where you need and ultimately want to be.

The Tao Te Ching is basically a collection of musings about the Tao. I have tried to identify the major recurring themes and have separated them into three different categories, which will take three separate posts. Today we talk about the nature of the Tao - what it's like in relation to itself, even before it actually affects and interacts with anything else. This is about its composition, and the things important to know about it before we go into its actual significance, which in effect makes this a second introduction. Whaddayagonnado.

Obliqueness and Paradoxes - "The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao / The name that can be named is not the eternal name"

So opens the Tao Te Ching, generally causing a reaction either of adulation and self-important consecration of this impenetrable mystery as institution, or of disdain and irritation at this book effectively proclaiming that it has nothing to say and that reading it will be a waste of time.

As you may have guessed, I agree with neither approach. It seems to me, based on several passages from the book, that the abstruse nature and sometimes paradoxical aspects of the Tao are unfortunate and serious difficulties that are mentioned so that they may be overcome, rather than to rub in our faces how little we can know about the truly important and how small and useless we are.

It seems to me less about an innate mysteriousness and ambiguity than about the fact that the Tao of people is different from the Tao of the world, and the Tao of people sucks. We've been raised speaking the wrong language, as it were, and we need to learn a new one in order to harness the Tao.

The first issue in dealing with the Tao is that of dealing with any spiritual concept - it is difficult to fully internalise its lack of corporeality. It's more than not being able to physically grasp it - Taoism, like the Indian religions, suggests that it is impossible to even mentally grasp it. You have to make do with a spiritual grasp of it.

This is one of the most problematic points though for generally discerning people with Taoism, and largely where Eastern and Western philosophy part ways, so I'll forgive you if you don't accept it just yet. It smells of religious charlatanism, but Taoism's obvious and complete benignity as well as its complete lack of dogma managed to put at least my mind at rest on this point.

The second issue with the Tao is how inconspicuous and even underwhelming it is, on an emotional level, when it does show up. It demonstrates a complete failure in calling attention to itself. It will make things better, but it will not make them bigger and brighter and louder.

The third issue, as extending the first two, is to do with the general behaviours that Taoism considers conducive. It is a good thing to follow the Tao even to places that seem to contradict your understanding or your emotional reactions. You'd sometimes - not always - find yourself doing the opposite of what you'd have thought you should do.

The fourth issue, which I only remember mentioned twice but seems to me significant enough to warrant a mention, is that this paradoxical relationship with the world and society also takes its toll. Only in the striking 20th chapter (or for a better translation scroll to 20 here) does the author seem to let go and talks of loneliness, alienation and weariness before concluding that the Taoist lifestyle is worth it anyway, which I find noteworthy mainly because it seems you very rarely find these kinds of admissions of difficulty with the lifestyle in religious texts. The actual effort itself is painful. It is important to recognise this. More after this monkey:

Oneness/Holism and Dynamism - "Do not wish to be shiny like Jade / Be dull like rocks"

Western life is all about distinguishing yourself. Excellence is measured by and synonymous with "distinction". It is very very important to be different. I'm not sure Taoism would outright oppose this inclination, but it would emphasise that, however different you try to make yourself from other people, you will remain essentially the same, because we all have the same Tao flowing through us.

More than that, though - the artificial severance and division of what is essentially one contradicts the Taoist mission and lays obstacles in its path. Whether it's trying to make yourself distinct, or veneration of the extraordinary in others or in nature or whatnot, it amounts to a delusory preoccupation with shiny things, under the assumption that anything that doesn't call attention to itself - anything that's "dull" - is not worth considering.

It is exactly this "dullness" (by which, I must clarify emphatically, I do not mean "bore" or "lack") that Taoism promotes and supports - in which the Tao itself germinates and flourishes. The moment you cleanse yourself from egocentrism and dichotomism, you open yourself to the cosmic harmony and its accompanying dynamism, because you are connecting to the Tao at its source.

It is this "dynamism" then, when harnessed, that Taoism claims outdoes any "shininess" in terms of utility and eventual satisfaction. Through the cosmic harmony and the Tao (which are the same thing), you can do and thereby become more than you ever could by personal distinction. A kind of transcendent practicality, if you like. The practicality is crucial, as we'll see when we go on.

Yin and Yang - "Know the masculine, hold to the feminine"

The masculine being yang and the feminine being yin. This is probably the most famous Taoist concept and the one I feel I understand the ramifications of the least. What we are definitely talking about, though, is two complementary opposites - interconnected and interdependent essential parts of the same whole. This touches again on the paradoxicality I spoke of earlier. Despite and against intuition, the disparities merge into a coherent whole, as popularly represented by this the "taijitu" (white representing yang and black yin, if it matters):

The Tao appears to be a result of the dialectic between these two forces, the masculine pushing for power, utility, and complexity, while the feminine pushes for softness, connectedness, and simplicity. The guidance appears to be to know the yang/masculine/white as a supportive construct and means of damage control, but to hold to the yin/feminine/black as the thing itself - the means to spiritual exaltation. It's somewhat analogous to the concept of body and soul. Not much use having one without the other.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Catching Children in the Rye

I'm writing a few hours after the ordeal that is (the amazing) Grave of the Fireflies - involving a young teenager and his impotent effort to look after his little sister in WWII Japan - and about a month after the termination of my National Service job in a special needs kindergarten - involving the abrupt desertion of 8 children who'd gotten very attached to me after barely two months with them.

These two things are doubtless incomparable in terms of the circumstances and the actual trauma suffered, but they share a common theme, and both seem to have similarly hit me rather harder than the substantial forcefulness with which they usually do or would have done most people. It messes me up from the inside out.

I'd make a pretty shitty dad at the moment, and that's upsetting, as is the less hypothetical letting down of kids who did and still do need me, but it's not that upsetting. I can recognise and accept my extenuating circumstances even if nobody else does, and the fact is people do, so it's not really, or at least not overwhelmingly, guilt for this situation.

It touches on something. It strikes some super-sensitive chord somewhere. Something to do with protecting children, or being childish, and maybe that's the same thing, but something to do with children anyway.

Protecting childishness, I think, in yourself as well as in others. Protecting childness, if you like. The quality of not feeling like you're supposed to appease others, or feeling it but not attributing much significance to it, not internalising the repression.

People talk about and idolise childhood as this innocent and carefree time, but as anybody who's ever actually met a child can testify, this is blatantly untrue. They are conniving bastards and highly strung prima donnas. We look after them and envy them not because they're sweet and serene, but because they're vibrantly, violently alive, with an aliveness that renders them even more vulnerable than they'd already be with their inability to fend for themselves, to organise their world.

Vulnerability provokes empathy, or at least it does with decent people. The more vulnerable the person or situation, the more compassionate the empathiser.

I had a thought the other day. I noticed that when I'm speaking to people, mainly when it's strangers I'm exchanging more than businesslike formalities with, a benevolent, maternal smile and expression transform their face and body language, even if they're men. At the time I was insulted - it made me feel like a puppy - but suddenly I'm thinking that maybe this is part and parcel of being alive. Just like some will look at you contemptuously, others will look at you with a king of sweet condescension. It ought to be worth it still.

Where am I going with this? I think I do empathise and respect and promote vulnerability in others. I will maintain, despite knowing at least one person disagrees with me, that I am excellent at receiving balloons. I think what I'm trying to tell myself right now is that I'm atrocious at receiving my own, even before they're offered for anybody else's consideration. I have no indulgence for my vulnerabilities at all. I'm ruthless with them. If anybody acknowledges them I feel like a puppy.

I show no compassion to myself. There's lots of love, and goodwill, and patience, but there's no acceptance. No indication that it's okay to either run in the rye or fantasise about catching children in it - just a cold, judicious, paternal guidance. I focus all my time on being an adult and almost none of it on being a child, an eventuality I remember warning myself against early on in this blog.

Many will say that is natural for a man beginning his 20s, but I do genuinely see both "grown-up" and "child" as institutions rather than stages of development, and I'm going to keep trying for both. The fact is I encourage both in others - I just need to be consistent and include myself.

Sometimes something is good and worthwhile just because it's important to somebody. That somebody's allowed to be me.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

I Ought to Tell You Something

I sure wish I knew what it was. This refrainment from doing so is seriously messing me up.

It actually probably won't be you specifically who's the answer to all my troubles, but, as you're here as the elected representative of the Society of People Who Are Not Me, I shall practice communing incoherently with the universe through you. Consider it a sacrifice in the name of science.

Metaphysics. It's definitely got something to do with metaphysics. More specifically with the connotations that the word "metaphysics" has for me, surprisingly jaded considering I spent all my life as a devout Jew and only stopped once I became a devout Taoist. I feel like I ought to explain myself if I say something unscientific. I can kind of see where it came from but not really where it got so intense. I am more than willing to hear this kind of talk but I am terrified of creating it.

I very rarely talk with anybody about anything. Ever since 13 or so, I've moved from being pointedly quiet through being inconspicuously quiet through reciting sentences calculated to get me through conversations with the impression of being friendly all the way to this strange place I'm at now of talking with people truly unfettered, but with a draconian self-censorship so extreme it renders all conversations virtually meaningless.

I am excited about Taoism. The previous sentence is simply not something I can picture myself saying in any context outside this blog and my family. This is an impossible situation. You cannot be timid in your religion, and it is a religion - I'm not even close to kidding.

I've tried to build my confidence in it through a "scientific" examination of its core text that is being delayed for annoying, prosaic reasons, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that, but my adoption of Taoism shouldn't be contingent on my completion of a scientific project - or, more precisely, as the fact is it isn't, regardless of whether this is "wise" or not, I shouldn't pretend that it is, I shouldn't be afraid of saying out loud "I am excited about Taoism". Even "I think you too should become a Taoist". It's not a political statement; nobody's going to get harmed if I'm wrong - the only problem with it is the risk some people will respond in a way I do not consider respectful.

Now, when people show disrespect towards something that is backed up scientifically, it is easy to show to yourself and often to them and anybody else who's watching, what idiots they are. Because stupidity, presumably, invalidates a judgement. We live in a (appropriately, I think) science-worshipping time and culture, so this is comprehensively accepted and so if I prove a person's irrationality I win.

But what's the big deal about winning? I would maintain that maliciousness and narrow-mindedness and arrogance do far more to invalidate an opinion than deviations from scientific standards, even if this view is far less widely held. We all reject what is disrespectful of the scientific method, but what I'm talking about here is disrespect for people. If mocked, I may not be able to conclusively demonstrate that this mockery is the result of misinformation and faulty reasoning and general incompetence, but I can tell the person, or even just myself, that he's being a sack of shit and hasn't got a leg to stand on, because mockery by definition hasn't got a leg to stand on. It's a technique resorted to by infants of all ages when they want to criticise something for whatever reasons and have no actual arguments with which to back themselves up. It's actually a battle you can't lose at, no matter how feeble your metaphysical speculation or remark. It will never be wrong for you to say it, so long as you don't attribute any non-existent scientific value to it.

My eyes are drooping so I'll finish up. I ought to tell you how much and in what ways I am excited about Taoism. I haven't really gotten into it yet, but Taoism is really far less about itself than about people and the world and essentially respect for what exists. I ought to not be held back by scientific assessments of what I want to say. I ought to share with you specific examples and general riffs on life and the universe, instead of examining and explaining why I don't, or at least in addition. I ought to do this all the time and with all people I see of my own volition. Specific examples maybe not, but riffs? We talk about what interests us. If something interests me then it is at least possible it will interest someone else.

I've just gone through a few of my previous posts and it seems I keep revisiting this concept of science-reliance, under different guises. I don't want to be boring, incoherent, pretentious, ridiculous, smug, offensive, unfamiliar, impractical, or generally "wrong". The solution to all of these things is a strict reasonableness, but none of these things is actually a problem. "Smug" and "offensive" come closest, but if I'm expressing excitement about something then these characterisations are simply imagined, mostly by me and possibly also by other owners of overactive imaginations. We'll all have to get over it.

Sorry about this post, but writing these really is good for me.

Monday, 15 February 2010


My philosophy (pretty much conclusively, actually) is that if you're not busy doing or saying something important, you should be concentrating your efforts on listening, and learning. So I'm always "learning", even when I'm supposed to be busy doing things. And I say things more or less by accident, except for when I force myself to write, like here.

This is going to be one of those tangential posts I warned you about in the title of this blog and in the introductory post but then never really delivered. I am a total mess, and I would like to now try and explore this mess, in as unmethodical a way as possible.

William Wordsworth wrote a poem once. It was called Ruth, about a six-year-old of the same name, and a stanza from it got me focused for a while the other day on what was upsetting me:

"Beneath her father's roof, alone
She seemed to live; her thoughts her own;
Herself her own delight;
Pleased with herself, nor sad, nor gay;
And, passing thus the live-long day,
She grew to woman's height."

I like the fact her whole childhood is spent in this reclusive independence - that she never recovers from the insult (her mother's just died and been replaced); I like the matter-of-fact way in which it's presented. To me she's a heroic figure, a little reminiscent of Vincent (bottom of page) in terms of her blunt unwillingness to "accept" reality at the price of rejecting parts of herself.

Edgar Allan Poe himself (who features prominently in Vincent) seems a very good example of what I'm talking about. His claim to fame was, apparently, his mastery of the recurring themes of the macabre, mystery, and melancholy in his stories. But, read today, his terror tales are quaint, his whodunnits frankly stupid, and his stories of human misery, though not exactly unaffecting, more noteworthy for their general grandiloquence. Or maybe that's just me.

In any case, he gives the distinct impression of a young boy very excited about his ability to use big words, show off his deductive skills and tell scary stories over the campfire with the flashlight half under his chin. In other words, he gives enthusiastic voice to what most of us adults only secretly want to do, both by what he conveys and by what he occupies his time with, much like Vincent, and Ruth.

These people, more often fictional than not, truly inspire me. And the thing is, it's not so obvious that I shouldn't be one of them. I was a prime example of everything this represents until about the age of 14. I had something of a crisis of identity when I discovered that other people and my effect on them are part of what makes me who I am, and have spent most of my time since trying anxiously to make sure I notice people, and their reactions to me, hence the "listening" I mentioned earlier.

But the truth is I can't do it. I don't particularly care about "people". I'm not talking about misanthropy - or I guess if the previous sentence was misread the way I mean I'd actually be implying sociopathy, so not that either - but about the level of attention and place in my heart for the reactions of the anonymous collective, of strangers, of "the general public", of any group. I couldn't give a flying fuck. It's probably inborn. I can't help not giving two shits about facile appraisals of my character and conduct. That's why it never makes any impact no matter how positive and is so extraordinarily simple to deflect when it isn't. It's all just a mental construct, with no impetus of its own, kept alive purely on my stupidity.

The idea behind writing this blog was to inch in the direction of presenting myself - of introducing myself, really - through what makes me who I am rather than what makes me easy for other people to deal with. I think the mistake was in the decision to go in inches. It's not a question of balance, like people keep telling me. You don't divide your life between being alive and pleasing other people. The situations that require outright fakery are rare and extreme. A lot of the time you'll obscure the truth or embellish it because it seems useful to get a certain reaction out of people, but it's almost never something you owe them. You do and say what you want and refrain from doing or saying that which you don't.

Basically, fuck everybody.