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Have you ever read gender theory?

sweet mother of

 

oh god make it stop

Now, this is not exactly “gender theory”; this is feminism in a raw, elementally academic form.  This is not just any feminist theory: this is Judith Butler.

Judith Butler, whose Wikipedia picture stares out at you with the piercing gaze of Galadriel, has written extensively about gender theory–and identity at large–including Bodies That Matter: On The Discursive Limits of Sex.  She has produced many brilliant pieces, which are just as easy to read as other writing we have previously discussed, like the Outline of a Theory of Practice:

oh please not again

oh please not again

Why is that? It’s not just Butler (who, I stress again, is brilliant).  Gender theory at large is permeated, saturated with big words.   I’ve discussed this before.   If you haven’t read Bodies that Matter, you should. Butler’s writing is fantastic, and mind-blowing, and meshes well not only with gender theory but with contemporary phenomenology.

Unfortunately, Butler is also somewhat impenetrable.  No worse than Bourdieu or Foucault or Husserl or any number of other academic writers, but then the purpose of feminism is not “merely” academic, is it? It should not seem too much of a stretch to suggest that feminism is concerned with theory only as it relates to the achievement of certain stated goals; I.E. the advancement of a political perspective which co-opts the affectations of academic discourse to further its own propagation.  Thus, authors like Butler infiltrate the larger ongoing discussion of identity by using the regular linguistic patterns of “academia”; a subversive approach to feminist writing.

Partly that’s because it’s JUST SO EASY to slip into jargon.  We (and by “we” I am broadly generalizing about anyone who has been taught to talk about gender) have learned certain words, and we have trouble thinking about the topic in other words, let alone speaking about it.

But “the academic discourse” is not the only conversation.  And for every person who finds Butler’s work illuminating, there are lots more who find it inhospitable.  The language which feminism has learned can integrate it into academic discourse quite effectively, and more’s the pity; many promising fields and causes have failed as a result of being entirely integrated with academic discourse.

For feminism to succeed, it needs a voice that can be understood by everyone, not just by academics. For a broad cultural change to take place, feminism must permeate to every level of this big Marxian layer cake called “society.”

When I say “feminism must do x to succeed,” of course, I am drawing on actual stated feminist goals, which tend to exist either in the short term (I intend to use this paper to show the production of gender in interaction, I intend to challenge the perception of the body as a single entity, etc.) and also in the longer term (reshaping society, dismantling the patriarchy, creating cultural change).  To both of these types of goals, the academic voice is, of course, crucial.  We learn from the academic voice.

But we also need feminists who speak plain English.  Who can explain that gender is not quite as solid as it seems.  It isn’t an impossible task, but it is a challenging one.

For example, we can explain that (although we use it to define ourselves, identify ourselves, give ourselves shape and solidity), gender is like a handshake.  A handshake takes place between two people.  The handshake exists only in the interaction between the two people, and everyone involved in the handshake thinks about the others based on what they observe in the gesture.  Let’s slow that down and repeat: The handshake exists in the interaction between two people.  The handshake does not have an independent existence above and beyond two people.  It is not a “thing” you can point to.  It is the product of interaction, and it is created each time two people grab each other’s fingers and squeeze.

Now, no one identifies themselves by their handshake (except perhaps used car salesmen from the 1950s), but you could. You could define yourselves as a soft shaker or a hard shaker (shut up).  And you judge other people based on what you learn from that quick interaction: Do they have a strong handshake? Do they have a good grip? How are they holding their fingers?

Gender is the same way—we make decisions about ourselves and other people based on what we see, and what we do.

Are they wearing a dress? Makeup? What’s their body language like? And we can define ourselves as a dress-wearer, or a feminine-body-language-have-er—or, to use shorthand, a woman.  True, there are more moving parts in gender than there are in a handshake.  Handshaking involves how you hold yourself, your shoulder, and your hand.  Gender involves how you hold yourself, how you use your body, how you talk, how you think, what you wear, what you say, when you say it, whether or not you are comfortable saying it–and more.

Have you ever found yourself being more of a “dude” when surrounded by dudes? More “womanly” when surrounded by women?  Have you ever “dialed back” your gender (or heck, any other identity) in order to fit in?Have you squeezed harder on someone’s hand because their handshake was firm? Did you begin to make nerd culture references because you were talking to nerds? Have you changed what you do, to change what people think of you? Yes you have. What we do changes when we talk to different people. We’re human.  We calibrate.

shut up, Garrus

“Hey! That’s my job!”

In turn, when we have figured out who we are, when we make that apparent in our gender “handshake,” other people take that and interpret it in their own way.  You do that too.  It’s how we understand people.  Is someone wearing an Attack On Titan hoodie? Are they whistling a song by Fleetwood Mac? What other people are doing changes who and what we think they are.

Slowing it down; what does this mean? Gender is like a handshake.  A handshake consists of things we do (sometimes unconsciously–have you ever given a handshake without really thinking about it?) in interaction with other people.  It doesn’t exist outside of human context.  A huffy anthropologist once said “Human thought is consummately social.”

What does that mean? Gender exists only in human interaction and in human minds, not as a thing unto itself.  Does that mean gender isn’t important?

Not in the slightest.  Some other time, I’ll address the idea that just because something exists only in the human mind, it isn’t real, but for now we’ll bracket that issue and set it aside with the comment that it’s dumb.

Gender exists only in the interaction and performance of people.  Gender isn’t important?

Then why do we still shake hands?*

*You can replace “handshake” with any other reflexive, person-to-person cultural gesture, like bowing, high-fiving, greetings, language, the NHL…)

 

Gender is fundamentally important to us all.  The history of the world agrees.  But what is it? I am beginning to discover that it is much more than it seems.  And it is only by understanding that, that we can begin to talk about gender in any productive way.  Only by realizing that gender perpetuates itself in what we do, consciously and unconsciously, every second of every day.  Gender is something we do, and something we have done since childhood.  It is habit many times over.

That is what feminism is up against.  “Patriarchy” merely refers to billions upon billions of habits across billions of people, all placed below the level of consciousness, which have the final, practical, real-world result of destroying, oppressing, and handicapping human development. 

That’s a big job.  It’s not one you’ll finish just by controlling academia.  It needs to be the groundwater.  Feminism needs to be ubiquitous.  So if you’re still reading, and you’re a feminist, I would say this:

Take feminism everywhere. Not even in your overt actions, but in your thoughts.  Feminist theory can be at its most potent and most subversive when it is behind the scenes, when it is upsetting the foundations of the world and pretending to be business as usual.  When it seems to be the most natural thing in the world, feminism has the upper hand.

We have a big task.

Time to get cracking.

Hey nerds,

I’m back.

You can blame my anthropology teacher for this one, guys.  No, but seriously.

Well, among other people.  Brain Trust, Horsemen, y’all are in there.  And youyou are in there twice.

AS YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED, my blog was on a brief indefinite hiatus for most of the school year.  But thanks to a perfect storm of schoolwork finishing, work ending, and my own life kicking things up a notch, I’m BACK, BITCHES, and better than ever.  Also, fair warning, some profanity.

A new year is a perfect time for reflection, and that’s what I’m doing.  I’M GONNA BE LIKE A GOD DAMN MIRROR UP IN HERE.

There will be posts occurring with nigh-weekly frequency once again! I’ve said that before.  But just like the bad half of an abusive relationship, I TOTALLY MEAN IT THIS TIME.

That was in poor taste. Oh well.

Blast from the past time:

Let me be the first to welcome you to Jung, Wilde, and Free—a blog which relates the life of an American teenage dude, homeschooled and obsessed with C.G. Jung and Oscar Wilde. Expect frequent discourses upon the topics of marine biology, internet memes, music, films, Dungeons and Dragons, and astrophysics. Beware of frequent rants related to politics, lax food safety standards, or the rampant emotional retardation sweeping whichever benighted metropolis I happen to inhabit at the time.
And, bring your thesaurus—the words will fly fast and thick. Most of these posts, I hope, will be family-friendly—but if you’re going to show them to younger siblings or children, please screen them first, as sometimes I get a bit carried away.

I was a precocious eighteen-year-old.

Many things have changed since that first post four years ago.  I am no longer entirely homeschooled—now, I am a college student at a prestigious college located in a warm, sunny part of our country.

hell froze over

 In the last four years I’ve had great successes (like my enthusiastic and headlong involvement in the Sustained Dialogue movement) and equally exciting failures (the reason I can make relationship jokes in extremely poor taste).  I’ve made great friends and people who rate too low on the food chain to be allowed to breathe.  I’ve learned many things, forgotten things that were once important to me, and rediscovered them with great enthusiasm.  I’ve fallen in and out of fortune, favor, and love. It’s been a hell of a ride.  

In the course of those years, I’ve come to realize a few things.  Things which I wish I had known before.  Things which I think I could always stand to be reminded of.  So without further ado, here they are: the top five things I’ve learned in the last four years, accompanied by COOL MOVING IMAGES.

5. Go for the throat.

Do you want something? Then go after it full throttle.  (get it? Throat, throttle? Ha ha ha. I’m hilarious) But seriously.  As long as you’re going to do something, do it all the way.  Whether it’s something long or short-term, there’s no reason to do it if you’re not in it to win it.  You’ll learn the most (and grow the most) if you’re working at the very edge of your own ability.  So fling yourself headlong into work, school, life, or love.  If it’s what you want to do, then fucking do it.   Only lesser life-forms hesitate.  Trample the shit out of them.

4. Who gives a shit?

I loathe the term “guilty pleasure.” Despise it.  Don’t be ashamed of what you enjoy.  Do you like “girly” music? Do you like a movie that’s “problematic?” GOOD.  ENJOY IT.  Love it intensely.  Know its limits, learn it inside and out.  Take true pleasure in it, and take pride in being able to explain why you love it.  What is your guilty pleasure? Drop the guilt.  Keep the pleasure.  Especially when it comes to fashion, music, and film. Example from my own life: I love shiny things. Of every variety.  One of the sparkliest, shiniest things I own is a lavender-purple bracelet studded with rhinestones.  I wear the shit out of that bracelet, and it looks damn good.  I love nerdy clothing, and I have one of these fuckers.  No “normal” person owns one of those.  Do I care? No.  I love that damn jacket.  And guess what; it looks amazing, because when you’re doing what you love, that passion radiates from your every pore.  Leak passion everywhere. Get it all over what you love.  Own your happiness.

3. The worst thing you can do when you’re unhappy is stand still.

Feeling down in the dumps? Depressed? Lonely or sad? Move. I don’t care if you don’t feel like it.  I fought my own god damn brain every single day for the whole of last semester, fought tooth and talon to keep moving. Did I “feel like” getting up every morning? HELL FUCKING NO.  Did I anyway? FUCK YES.

This is ESPECIALLY important if you have any kind of tendency to depression or rumination—any kind of tendency to sit and get lost in your own thoughts and insecurities.  We ruminators are like sharks—if we sit still too long, we will sink and suffocate.  Get OUT of your head.  Play an instrument.  Find a new job.  Exercise. Dance.  LARP.  Do something.  Don’t worry too much or sit still too long; this world can’t afford to lose even one of us, for we are the thinkers, the sensitive ones, the artists.

2. You’re yourself, and your self is awesome. Do you know what happened when you were born?

Oh, not much, just a COSMIC SHIFT.

The entire fucking universe aligned itself for you.  The stars slid into place, the galaxies turned into position, every planet set itself along its course, and all the billions of humans in the world ran madly through one another’s lives so that your parents could meet and produce you at the exact second of your birth.  You are the child of the universe and its heir both, and the fire of your life-force is the fire of creation.  Don’t hide or apologize for that fire; wear it proudly.  There is no reason to be ashamed of who you are, and if anyone tells you differently, burn them to the ground.

 

And last but not least:

1. Say what you feel.

Humans are very good at social interaction—but none of them are telepathic.  The most important thing to know about a relationship—any relationship, be it family, friend, academic, workplace, or romance (or all five, bow chicka wow wow)—is that you are responsible for what you do and what you say.   How you feel is independent, and while you should never apologize for how you feel, you should always try to convey how you feel as accurately as possible.  Is your love going “unrequited?” I’ve got news for you; that shit would get a whole lot clearer if you just told them.  Does another person keep saying something that hurts you? Explain why.  Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself—especially with those close to you.  You should never be afraid of the people you love, and if they love you back, they won’t want you to be.

This goes for everything.  Explain how you feel.  Explain it using that most potent and misunderstood word: “I.”  That “I” will take the edge from your anger and give warmth to your reassurances.   It’s scary as hell to talk about your feelings, but it’s a skill that will serve you well.

There is more I could say, of course.  More I could say about each of those, and more things that I’ve learned.

I’ve grown a lot in the last four years.  But the core of this blog—and the core of myself—remains unchanged.  I am still me, a unique face of the universe playing at an individual life. And I’m having loads of fun.

And this blog is still the site of discourse on biology, psychology, anthropology, Dungeons and Dragons, comedy, and astrophysics.

So ave, lector, and strap in; it’s gonna be a wild ride.

Until next time.

SUP NERDS

I’m not even gonna pretend that I’ve come back permanently for any predetermined length of time.  Just keep checking; I’ll post something at some point in your life. But onward to the point!

My school has an anonymous ‘Confessions’ page.  This is basically what it sounds like.  It’s a Facebook page run by an unknown individual at the college (theories abound, but we won’t investigate them at the moment), with a link to a survey site.  Fill out an anonymous survey and the page admin reads it (anonymously) and posts it on the site without your name ever being involved.  Anyone who sees the page can post on it, write on it, read it, whatever.  Many colleges have this exciting feature.

It’s a shit show.

We can pretend otherwise, I can dress it up with fancy psychological terms, but it’s basically a shit show.  People talk about booze, bowel movements, pet peeves, relationships, and personal problems.  The audience is sympathetic to the first two and the last one.

It interests me.  First because some of the commentary is hilarious, to say nothing of the posts themselves.  The usual anonymous online dickery ensues—people passive-aggressively calling one another out anonymously for being too passive-aggressive, and so forth.

Sometimes, someone will post something that looks serious.  They’ll talk about their self-harm issues, suicidal ideation, PTSD, body image problems, etc.  And by and large the response to these is good—not a lot of people shaming, condemning, hating, lots of people encouraging, offering phone numbers and emails and websites.  My school still seems to have nice people.

The other day I read a post on there.  I don’t remember what it was about—some personal issue.  I was about to join the chorus of positive responses, but I thought to myself, “You know, I don’t know who this is.  I know who it might be, though.  It might be someone I don’t know.  It might be someone I don’t like. It might be one of the people who, were I to meet them, I would strike repeatedly with a blunt object. I don’t know if I want to let this person know I care about them when I don’t know them.”

I then immediately felt uncomfortable.  I wasn’t quite sure why, but I felt repulsed by the thought.  I replied to the post, encouraging, positive—after all, they were going through something rough.  Fast forward a few weeks.

The other day I watched Les Miserables. The film adaptation is a remarkable and striking experience.  It’s intimate in a way a stage production cannot be, and arresting in a way the novel cannot be.  The writers did a remarkable job of fine-tuning the story, and granting it an arc which seems much more plain in the film than it did in the novel.

Les Miserables, to give a quick, bare-boned sketch for those who have not seen it [SPOILERS] is the story of a convict named Jean Valjean.  He is released on parole and commits a minor theft—for which he could be returned to prison for decades.  However, the victim intercedes for him, corroborating his alibi, and enjoins upon him to “become an honest man.” Valjean, his life spared and his moment of wrongdoing revealed, is stricken with shame and uses the stolen goods to become an honest man—a very honest, wealthy man, in fact.  But he is still haunted at every turn by the constable who released him from prison, a man known as Javert.

A man is captured who resembles Valjean, and this hapless lookalike is set to be tried and sentenced in Valjean’s stead.  The disguised convict is transfixed by this moral quandary—does he give himself up, or allow the innocent man to be condemned?

But he does the right thing, regardless.  And this is a theme that repeats throughout the novel—Valjean is faced with a dilemma, to save himself or to help another, and each time he chooses to do good.  And each time it turns out better and better.

This is what we call ‘fiction.’

(if you’re a Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder nerd, keep reading—otherwise, you may want to skip this paragraph; it has a distinctly nerdy flavour)

(then again, if you’re not a nerd, why are you reading this blog?)

The conflict between Valjean and Javert is not one of good vs. evil, morality and immorality—for Valjean and Javert are both potent forces for good in the world (even more so in the novel).  My brother likes to complain that Javert is one of the irritating paladins, the lawman who sticks to the letter of the law and seeks to bring all to salvation through enforcement of his code.  But my response is that Valjean is also a crusader, a paladin, but with his code being one of pure good.  He desires only to help everyone and be as good and honest a man as he can (while protecting his daughter).  And in this clash between Good and Law it is (in the end) the Good that wins out—for Good can adapt and change to whatever form it finds itself in, but when Javert finds himself in a scenario for which no law has been written, he self-destructs in a moment of existential crisis.

AND THE POINT OF THIS LONG DIGRESSION IS

We watch throughout the (film/operetta/novel) as Valjean helps people.  Some of them deserve it.  Some of them don’t.  Some of them wish to do him harm. Some of them want to bang his daughter.  He helps them all indiscriminately, because that is how he rolls.  He doesn’t make judgments about who he helps and who he doesn’t.  Homey don’t play that.

And when I watched Les Miserables the other day, my intuition about that pesky train of thought came clearer.  “I don’t know if I want to let this person know I care about them when I don’t know them. It might be someone I don’t like.”

But it doesn’t matter. There are people I don’t like.  There are people I don’t know.  There are people who I want to strike repeatedly with a spoon.  But they’re people. They’re human, as most people are. The ones that aren’t human (a) kill people and eat them or (b) think they’re a macaque.  Hitler liked to talk to children, hold dinner parties, and dick around with oil paints.  The people I don’t like are people too.  And I don’t dislike people all the way through—how could I?? You can’t dislike everything about a person! We share the same basic, fundamental needs and wants.  That’s how empathy works, understanding how your desires are similar to the desires of others.

In real life, there are people I would throttle with a mink stole or beat with a spoon.

But in real life, if they came to me for help, or told me about a problem, one that was life-threatening and miserable, then no, I would not hit them with a spoon.  I might lecture them, loudly and repeatedly, but I would do it while helping them, while directing them to the nearest counselor or tying on a tourniquet. And a couple of you know that’s true, so don’t scoff at me. Nerd.

No human being deserves absolute condemnation—and that’s why I think this article is amazing. It’s about a revolutionary new approach to school discipline being implemented in Washington—not yelling at troubled children. It sounds so obvious when I sneer at it like that, but GUESS WHAT, our school system today pretty much consists of doing just that. And, funny thing, turns out when you give troubled children a safe, supportive, caring, stable environment, THEY DO PRETTY WELL.  And not just in terms of grades—socially, psychologically, emotionally—across the board, better.  “Problem children” improve, become nicer.  Formerly ‘delinquent’ children, ‘troublemakers,’ stop lashing out.

Prison systems in Norway are the most humane in the world.  Guess where some of the world’s highest rehabilitation rates are for criminals? Did you guess America? Not quite, but thanks for playing—the answer’s NORWAY.

Now, I’m not Jean Valjean.  For one thing, I’m not French.  And I can’t sing.

But what I can do is do good.  And do better.

I’m not proud of the thought that came to me some weeks ago as I sat before an anonymous confession page, but I’m not ashamed of it either.  It led me to a (slightly) deeper understanding of myself, and now I’ve inflicted it upon all you lot as well.

So I suppose the moral of this story, this little blog post about doing-good-no-matter-what, the moral of this story is READ LES MISERABLES.  YES, YOU.  It’s magnificent.

COMING UP NEXT TIME, an EXCITING RANT about why IGNORANCE IS NOT IMMORAL.

LATER NERDS.

The other day I was engaged in conversation with some female friends of mine.

This is in itself not remarkable; as most of my friends can attest, I do tend to engage in conversation.

But, as we were talking, we suddenly ended up on the subject of ‘the wingman.’  And I was hit by an unexpected request—to explain exactly what it is that ‘the wingman’ does.

Well.

The concept of a ‘wingman’ might not seem to be the most politically correct one.  It gives to the dating scene a bizarre, military overtone that indicates that all steps taken lead up to a single, obvious objective.  There are also ways in which it overlaps with pickup culture, a place I don’t want to spend more time in than I have to.

But, there was the question.  What does a wingman do? What is the difference between a good and a bad wingman?

So setting aside connotations and complications, and looking at the term right now, let’s give this question an answer IN THE FORM OF A BRIEF GUIDE.

SO YOU WANT TO BE A WINGMAN.

[also the title of a lesser-known book series by Diane Duane]

Let’s start with basics.

What is a wingman?
Despite the overtly patriarchal terminology, a wingman can actually be a gender-neutral term.  It is not often utilized as such (and so an argument can be made over actual usage vs. actual meaning, etc.).   A wingman is any reasonably intelligent entity who will accompany you through the process of getting to know another person, whether romantically or platonically.

So.

What is the purpose of the wingman?

To put it in the broadest possible sense, the purpose of the wingman is to manufacture synchronicity.   Or, in English, to make convenient things happen.

Breaking Circles:

Human beings are social creatures.  We form social or conversation circles by habit—you can observe this at any party, at any gathering.  Breaking into these circles is a simple thing—nowhere near as hard as you think—but the wingman’s purpose, in part, is to facilitate that.

The wingman does the heavy lifting of initiating social contact and then quietly bows out, letting their comrade swoop into the opening, whether subtly or obviously.  You may have had this moment in one context or another—asking a friend to “go talk to that person for me so I can come talk to them too.”   This is traditionally one of the purposes of the wingman because, to just about any person on the planet, there is nothing more terrifying than the person you are crushing on.

In other words…

Manufacturing Coincidences:

The wingman’s job is also to make things happen.  If there is an obstacle, the wingman will help overcome it, in a way that is highly contrived but ends up seeming completely accidental.  [#sprezzatura]

This is where the line between wingman and good friend can get blurry; the differentiating element is the shared objective: facilitating some social goal.  For example, if you happen to be really good at playing the harpsichord, good wingmen might take it upon themselves to find a location wherein your harpsichord skills can really shine.

The wingman’s purpose can be likened to stage lighting; to make you look good from whatever angle, at whatever time.  To make sure the audience knows when you’ve entered, and that you’re the star.

Except that the wingman has a final, crucial role that is far more active than a spotlight.

Get Your Lazy A** Out There:

Did you spot that perfect 10? The drop-dead gorgeous human being that makes your knees knock? The most fascinating person you’ve ever seen?

Feel that temptation to flee under the nearest carpet? The jelly in your spinal chord?

The wingman’s job now is to CRUSH THAT and get you back in the game.  To provide the push to go talk to the cute person in the corner.  To remind you that you are actually a sexy beast with a wingman close behind to save you from any awkward situations.

And that, [I hope] is a brief, but accurate explanation of the ‘wingman’ concept.

This isn’t intended to be a guide in a prescriptive sense.  This isn’t what you should do…this is probably just what you already do.

I hope this answers your questions…and if you have further questions, well, there’s a comments section for a reason!

 

Today’s SPAZZY subject,

RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE

What is religion?

I’ve asked this question before, and the answer depends on who you ask.  As usual.

However, because it makes my arguments easier, we’re going to talk about religion as a moral and spiritual force.

What is the purpose of religion? In this definition, the purpose of religion is to provide man with a way to communicate with the spiritual, and to establish a system of ethics by which man interacts with the world.

What does this mean?  This means that religion provides us with a way to understand our spirituality, and grants a certain responsibility and purpose to our being-in-the-world.  In this context, everyone has a religion, and this fact is something I will maintain fiercely against all comers.

Something I say in conversation as a joke, but mean perfectly seriously: “I have my own religion, of which I am the only member.”  But for the purposes of this blog post, we’ll focus on the latter, so that we can begin to talk about religious intolerance.

So what is religious intolerance?

Religious intolerance is what happens when religion’s dictates clash with reality.  Any ethical objection to an action based wholly or in part on religious teaching is religious intolerance, if we want to be irritatingly technical about it, but we tend to think of it as less problematic if it doesn’t clash with our own personal norms.  For example, you don’t see murderers gathering in large numbers to protest the religious intolerance they face every day, because even they share sufficient cultural context with us to agree that murder, by and large, is generally a bad thing that people do.  

Also, just like Aristotle, I’m preaching to a choir…so if you’re not of the impression that murder is by and large a bad thing that people do, you should maybe stop reading and go back to 4chan.

SO RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE, THEN, is when people don’t feel that they can tolerate an action due to the dictates of their religion.  This is more or less caused by what we refer to as COGNITIVE DISSONANCE, which is that feeling in your brain when you really want to date two guys at the same time or when you try to think of a round square object that is both white and orange at the same time.

[For extra fun with cognitive dissonance, try this: imagine a four-dimensional object.  It’s just like a three-dimensional object, except in addition to height, width, and depth, it has a fourth dimension that is just as perpendicular to all of those as they are to each other. It’s a weird, uncomfortable mental sensation, isn’t it?]

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE is what happens when two beliefs clash.  In the simplest of cases these beliefs are polar opposites, like this:

“Thou shalt not kill.”

“I believe I just saw Jeff shoot Tim in the face. That is killing.”

The two belief systems (Killing is wrong; someone just killed) clash, and in the clash they produce cognitive dissonance and then a resolution that is usually semi-logical (Ergo; Jeff just did something wrong).

The logic point is something I want to emphasize, because when we’re yelling at people we want to make this clear.

EVERYONE MAKES SENSE INSIDE THEIR OWN HEAD.  Even crazy people follow their own zany logic; what makes them crazy, by and large, is that they’re a minority.   I follow my own zany logic; at times this makes people look at me oddly and ask if I was just talking to an inanimate object.  And I was, and his name is Phil.

So, shifting gears here and talking about intolerance in general.  What is intolerance?

The best way to define it, in my humble opinion, is as an inability to allow behaviors to proceed unopposed.

So loony religious types will not allow nontraditional marriages to occur in their country, assuming that it will pollute everyone with its terrible, terrible horribleness.

Rabid atheist types will not let even the faintest hint of religion escape their ravenous rationalism, lest everyone suddenly burst into gospel music and flee to the hills before the oncoming flood.

Why do we think this is problematic?

Because here in AMERICA, we tend to think that people’s actions should be unrestricted.

And, you know, also in other countries, where other stuff happens.

But these are systems of morality.  By definition they are meant to stand for what is right and what is wrong.

So how can systems of morality be wrong?

Well, because they are inflexible.  By and large, the moral systems that drive more problematic forms of intolerance tend to be eager to give us a hard-and-fast ruling.  In philosophical terms (HOLD ON TO YOUR HATS) they are DEONTOLOGICAL.

HOLY SH*T.

THAT’S A HUGE WORD.

SLOW DOWN.

Quick definition, for those lucky few of you who haven’t come across this term.

Something deontological is rule-based. Actions are judged on whether or not they conform to a system of rules, and based on that they are assigned a value.  An example of a deontological system is a legal code, where, for example it doesn’t matter why you do something—as long as you don’t break any laws, it’s not wrong for you to do it.

 

But though most legal and religious systems are DEONTOLOGICAL, we don’t actually tend to function that way.  Life is rarely convenient enough to fit into a system of hard and fast rules. Lying is a great example.  We obviously think there is a spectrum of lies—that telling someone you killed their parents is a different sort of lie from saying you’ve got homework to do and won’t be going to the party (when the actual reason is you don’t like the people that are throwing the party).

What separates the two? Well, motive, for one.  In one example, you’re telling someone you killed their parents because…well, I actually can’t imagine why.  You’re a sick bastard, whoever you are.  But your motive is probably to cause them pain, because it’s difficult to imagine a situation where that would turn out well (though I’ll explore that in a second).

In the other situation, you’re trying to spare someone’s feelings by not telling them you hate their friends and want to stab them in the eyes.  It’s a delicate balance to strike.

But what if you were telling someone that you killed their parents to help them? If, for example, their parents had actually been killed by a giant death monster that was hiding in the other room and you were trying to get them to chase you so that you could lead them out of the house and into safety?  Well then, we might say that the ends justify the means—which, our legal systems notwithstanding, tends to be more often the way we look at the world.

A system of ethics that looks at the intended end of an action rather than the means is called a TELEOLOGICAL system.  Telos is Greek, or some sh*t like that, and it is basically the end or good—essentially, it’s whatever you’re trying to accomplish with your actions.

SUDDENLY, ARISTOTLE.

Sup.

ARISTOTLE’S ETHICAL SYSTEM IS TELEOLOGICAL.   It’s more guidelines than actual rules, and in fact he recognizes that “it is a hard task to be good,” because “in every case it is a task to find the median.” [1109a24, if you want to whip out your Nicomachean Ethics and follow along].

So where moral decisions are involved, then, we don’t actually often follow hard and fast rules, because doing so tends to drive us pretty reliably right back into the stone ages and seems to make us act in a way that is creepy and robotic.  Ethical systems should have flexibility, right?  We are only human, and we err.

SPEAKING OF MAKING HORRIBLE MISTAKES,

RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE IS A THING.

And I’ll be addressing it in a later post, now that I’ve laid some groundwork, but I think that’s enough information to spew for now.

And for now, if you are a person who would condemn others for their creed, their body, or their love, I’ll just suggest that you look at the ends of your actions.

Is your condemnation done for their sake?

Do you think of them and their feelings?

If not…maybe you should.

Because all people are people too.

And on a more high-level blog post summary:  Think about your own personal system of ethics.  Do you have hard and fast rules? Or do you just make sh*t up as you go along?  Reflection is the key to making sure you’re at least coherent in your ethical protestations.

So today we started talking about the idea of the elusive “liberal arts education,” and exactly what that meant.  And people started talking about things like “building skills” and “learning a work ethic,” and I got slightly agitated, because—well, let me back up.

This was in class—actually the last day of class—in a philosophy course.   Over the course of one semester we had read Plato and Socrates (or…you know, Plato), brushed over some secondary literature, and spent a good deal of time reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics.  Now, with these in mind (especially his Ethics), we were thinking about how this class (or, more specifically, how Aristotle) affects our lives after the course is over.  Which is now.

The customary apologetic defense of philosophy was offered: that philosophy doesn’t actually help your life directly, but that reading philosophy builds skills and shit, and makes you a better logical thinker, and all of that rubbish.  Which is all completely true, but that’s pretty much like saying “I go to lifeguard training so that I can learn how to swim.”

YOU CAN LEARN TO SWIM VERY EASILY. IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE.

SIMILARLY, ANALYTICAL THINKING IS NOT VERY DIFFICULT.  It’s a skill, and you can train a skill by doing other things beside philosophy.

So what does this mean, then? Does it mean that philosophy is not useful?  WHAT THE HELL IS MY POINT?

Well, what exactly is “useful?” We are discussing no small matter, but how we ought to live.  The great philosophers—especially the ancients, the ones who hover outside of the analytical tradition—don’t just talk about one sphere of life.  They talk about all of life.  When they talk about one thing, they do it by talking about everything, because they have a concise view of everything that can be easily used to explain just one thing.  I believe Chesterton wrote some words on this subject, but since he already said them, there’s not much point in me waxing eloquent here.

THE POINT I’M TRYING TO MAKE IS: you can apply Aristotle directly to your life, straight away.  You must apply Aristotle directly, consciously or unconsciously, if you live a productive life, because Aristotle’s theory encompasses what happens when you live a productive life, and thus if you live a productive life you can explain that in terms of Aristotle’s theory.

Apply directly to the forehead!

LET ME BACK UP HERE AND EXPLAIN.  Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is possibly one of the more famous and influential works ever written by anyone ever.  It can be quite literally said to be the foundation of Western conceptions of morality and a pillar of philosophy in general.

What is the Ethics about? It is about ethics.  About making the choices of your life.  It is a book written for the education of young adults, with the intention of teaching them not to be so goddamn stupid all the damn time and showing them how to not fail at life.  And if you read it that way—if you listen to what Aristotle says and think about how you can apply that to your own life—then you get a whole hell of a lot more out of the book than just learning to “think critically,” FFS.

There is this banausic trend in the west to ask “what good is this?” as if every bit of knowledge learned had to be a new cog in a mechanical man.   A paragon of this trend is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes, who you may remember was retroactively inspired by the BBC miniseries of the same name.

We might not remember, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘you’ because I read the book, thanks very much, but Sherlock Holmes was the penultimate scientist and a terrifyingly mechanical thinker.

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic,” Sherlock says, in A Study In Scarlet (our introduction to Sherlock Holmes) “And you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it.”

“Now pass me a credit card, Watson, it’s time for me to do my morning line.”

In contrast to the average man, Sherlock proudly says that his attic is in the very best of order, that he takes into his mind only those facts and theories which can help him in his daily life.  When we first are introduced to him, he has not even been bothered to learn that the earth revolves around the sun (oh, for the days when you could avoid learning that!), and when he is told this fact he promises to forget it as promptly as possible.

Sherlock Holmes is problematic.

This man operates only on what he can know for certainty, and knows nothing outside of his field.  He is mechanical, scientific in the extreme, highly specialized.  He can provide a citation and a justification for everything.

So why am I talking about Aristotle and Sherlock Holmes in the same post?  Because there is an upsetting push toward the ideal of Sherlock Holmes—toward the ideal of the consummate scientist, in every field.  Everything is being reduced to a science, to a formula, to a specialization.  For psychology it is already looking grim—for anthropology some hope remains.  Anthropology gets it—because anthropology can never be an objective science again.  The question has already been asked “what is objectivity?” and with that we plunge off the precipice, never to look back, because NOTHING IS OBJECTIVE.  Anthropology gets it in a way that few other sciences really do.  Try bringing up “nothing is objective” with a biochem major.

Even philosophy has become scientific.

Analytical philosophy has risen in the west like a Barad-Dur of tinker toys—intimidating, needlessly complex, and unassailable.  It is the process of jumping through hoops with logic for the purpose of reaching a conclusion on a specific subject—for example, the ethics of war, or of abortion, or of assisted suicide.  These conclusions are supported by citations, links to things which have already been proven, and they are mostly applicable—although a number of these conclusions in turn have points at which they break down.

Why do we seek these conclusions?  Why answer such specific questions? So that when we have a solution we can declare a question answered and move on? Are we then building a comprehensive theory of the world even in philosophy?  Why do these conclusions break down?

Like Chesterton, I stress the importance of a worldview.  But a worldview cannot be specific, because every specific theory breaks down at a certain level of detail. The world is not our theory, and our theory is not the world.  Sometimes we forget that fact—that modern science and the entire intellectual basis of Western knowledge is a massive construct built to model reality.  Theory is not reality itself, and thus, as Hume also points out, we can’t actually ever be sure that our experiment will go as predicted, because they universe doesn’t run on zeros and ones.

Aristotle gives us detail, and a lot of his details are wrong, yes, but we can forgive him that, because through and around that detail run sweeping generalizations as broad as rivers.  His warning in the beginning of the Ethics should be written in stone.

“Our discussion will be adequate if it achieves clarity within the limits of the subject matter.  For precision cannot be expected in the treatment of all subjects alike, any more than it can be expected in all manufactured articles.  Problems of what is noble and just, which politics examines, present so much variety and irregularity that some people believe that they exist only by convention and not by nature.  The problem of the good, too, presents a similar kind of irregularity, because in many cases good things bring harmful results.  There are instances of men ruined by wealth, and others by courage.  Therefore, in a discussion of such subjects, which has to start from a basis of this kind, we must be satisfied to indicate the truth with a rough and general sketch: when the subject and the basis of a discussion consist of matters that hold good only as a general rule, but not always, the conclusions reached must be of the same order.  The various points that are made must be received in the same spirit.  For a well-schooled man is one who searches for that degree of precision in each kind of study which the nature of the subject at hand admits: it is obviously just as foolish to accept arguments of probability from a mathematician as to demand strict demonstrations from an orator.”

“Now calm yourselves the hell down and let me finish my goddamn lecture.”

My philosophy teacher used to complain because people would ask her stupid questions when they learned she was getting a Ph.D.  Apparently at least one person asked her “What’s your philosophy?”

Which is hilarious because let’s be honest, that’s a REALLY DUMB QUESTION.

But in a way…it’s also not, because in my not-so-humble opinion philosophy is not just about logic.  It’s not just about thinking analytically and understanding when someone is making a stupid-ass argument based on logical fallacies.

Reading philosophy is about having a philosophy.  It’s about reading Sartre and hating him and then UNDERSTANDING WHY.  It’s about reading Aristotle and loving his ethics and hating his weird treatment of slaves and understanding WHY.  It’s about taking that understanding of WHY things agree with you and internalizing it, of developing the practical ability to recognize what fits into your worldview and what doesn’t, cultivating that phronēsis to the point where you have a coherent, functional view of the world.

So what do I take away from a philosophy class? Yeah, I take away analytical skills and all that bullshit, but that’s sure as hell not why I took the class.  I take philosophy to understand my way of being-in-the-world.  And what I take away from Aristotle’s Ethics isn’t “an understanding of the framework of modern ethics in the western world,” it’s a knowledge of the fact that I agree with Aristotle in many points—including his definition of virtue:

Action.

With.

Intention.

And THAT is something I can (and will) use, every day of my life.

“Word.”

Have you ever had one of those conversations?

…I feel like I should qualify that statement.

First off, have you ever had one of those situations where you used a word, and then someone else used a word, and you get the sense that you’re using the word in completely different ways?  This happens to me a lot, and it is probably somehow related to the fact that I really don’t understand people sometimes.

Like for example the phrase ‘in a sec.’ What do you mean when you say ‘in a sec?’

In a literal sense, the phrase ‘in a sec’ is not very helpful.  It means “in a second,” and very few things that we do in our interactions can be literally spoken of that way—especially with a phrase that takes two seconds to say.

Now, when I say ‘in a sec,’ it means a frame of time less than two minutes.  Because if it’s going to be two minutes, I say ‘two minutes.’  I’m really painfully punctual that way.

But not everyone is.  Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes ‘a sec,’ and it varies from day to day.  So when I say ‘in a sec,’ and then do something ‘in a sec,’ the other person might be surprised at how quickly it was done.  Or at how slowly it was done.

This is a relatively simple concept, the idea of ‘in a sec.’   So imagine how difficult things can be when we talk about a more complex idea such as friendship, virtue, or justice.

In part, this is an issue that plagues philosophy.  It is sometimes very easy to equivocate and shift the meaning of a word accidentally by virtue of your own ideas on the subject, possibly by virtue of your own prejudices on the issue.

So I had one of those situations slowly unfold, where I didn’t know whose definition was what.  So I guessed, which I do often, and I assumed that the more common (and technically literal) definition of the word was at play.  But then confusing things started to happen.  Eventually, the confusion built to a head and I asked for a straightforward definition, and it turned out that it pretty much was my definition, and not necessarily a more widespread one.  So that was awkward.  Hilarity ensued.

I like people.  A lot.  But sometimes they confuse me.  I never really understand what’s going on—if I seem to at any point in time, it’s just because I’m very confident in my ability to continue not understanding with relative success at the act of not dying.  Mostly it’s because I’m still very much figuring out how to reconcile everyone’s definitions.  The best I’ve figured out so far is that it gets better the more you know the person—rather like learning a tiny language.

It’s very interesting to learn people’s languages.  Idiolects, they’re called in linguistic anthropology.  It tells you a lot about people, learning how they use language.   Or at least I think it does.

To be more precise, it tells me a lot, but I don’t know what all that lot means.  It’s rather like being shouted at in Latin by a very angry Arnold Schwarzenegger: You can usually pick out something intelligible here and there, but you’re too overwhelmed to make much use of it.

I have noticed that I tend to be more spare with universal emotional state descriptors—although that has started to loosen of late.  For example, there was a long stage where I didn’t use “love” outside of a romantic context, because any other use simply didn’t mesh with my views.  Now, the idiolects of other people and my own experiences have morphed my definitions, and the word ‘love’ comes into play a great deal more in everyday speech—and a good deal less in the context of a relationship.

I rather suspect everyone finds it a scary word, and perhaps that’s why it’s so comforting to use it so widely—because to use it for things like pizza and dogs dampens it, spreads it out, dilutes the swift, bright sting of it.  Movies like Scott Pilgrim Vs The World give us surrogate code phrases we can use (“I’m in lesbians with you!”), to avoid having to hurl love out into the air.  It’s a heavy word, laden with history.

And on an unrelated note, emotions confuse the hell out of me.  The constant fluctuation between mood states, the random-ass things that set them off—I don’t even know sometimes.  You can carry something for weeks, haul it along with the intention of laying it out at the perfect time, and it feels heavy and granite-solid and enduring, and then you lay it down in all its gravity and the Sisyphean burden you’ve carried completely dissolves, leaving you completely free and wondering why it weighed so heavily on you in the first place.   It’s a fickle bastard.

Coming off of a tangentially related note to the last, hi.  If this is the first time you’re reading my blog, welcome.  This is my blog.  On it I write things, things which are usually related to anthropology, or to philosophy, or to psychology.  Because I love all those things.   Sometimes, if you are an important part of my life, you will recognize in my writing things which have happened to me.

Just kidding—you’re all important parts of my life.

Well, except you.

I’M JOKING.  Moving on.

SPEAKING OF PYSCHOLOGY, I love using psychological disorders to define characters.  Diagnosis with a personality disorder or a psychological disorder has many negative social and personal effects, which I have discussed previously.  These labels are incredibly weighty and, like every other label, they clamp down hard on a person’s sense of self, changing their identity for good or for ill (usually ill).

But when I’m making a character, I harness that.  Because interesting people are, more often than not, somehow unhinged.  And so when I want a character that interests me, such as one of the three that appear occasionally in all of my stories, I build their personality, choose their history—and slam a disorder down on top of that to define what makes them unique.  It’s not a particularly elegant or even necessarily a politically correct way to build a character, but it works for me.

Personality disorders in particular are sticky things for me.  I wish people would call them personality types, because they’re not really disorders until they become dysfunctional.  But when they do become dysfunctional, hoo boy.  Damn are they dysfunctional.

I built a character a few months ago for a story I still haven’t written yet.

Well, technically I already had built the character.  He’s an old character of mine.  We’ll call him Tor for the purpose of this blog, but he’d probably hate that.  His first appearance was when he was in his old age—I was building him here for a story about his teenage years. So I already knew him well, but I wanted a way to describe him—because Tor is never very involved.  He has his friends and he has his goals, but he has few of both, and we rarely see an emotive side to him.  And I wanted a phrase to stand in for his behavior, for that rich, intricate inner life that drives him and the cold, inexplicable air that he gives off.    Because I’m lazy and I don’t want to type all of that each time.

So I gave him a schizoid personality type.

Since he wasn’t entirely dysfunctional, it isn’t technically a disorder, but it did provide a conflict that helped develop the character and drive his actions—namely, the balance that he has to strike between his own enjoyment of solitude and the social pressure to spend time with people.  It’s a story that you might be tempted characterize as sad, because in the end Tor is profoundly, completely alone.

But it’s not sad.  He still has his connection to the world, in the end, still walks through it, though he doesn’t interact with it.  It doesn’t trouble him, because although I write his dialogue, Tor and I are not the same person.  We’re built differently, geared to different things.  He doesn’t get lonely as quickly as you or I might, and when he does, it takes very little to comfort him—a spider, a bird, a quick word to a friend.

It makes me wonder sometimes, about characters, and about personality.  It makes me marvel at the differences between people, because schizoid personality disorder is a real thing.  And possibly something that you could diagnose Sherlock with.  Perhaps I’ll make a post about it later. =

To clarify; I’m not saying that you can define a person through a single label.

But what I am saying is that when I try to define a character,when I am literally building a person, it often helps immensely if I can put words down to describe their personality.  And psychology, anthropology, and philosophy give me the tools to do so.

So hey, internet.  I’m back.

I’ve come out of a rough patch recently.

And by recently I mean “this afternoon, at 2:57 PM, while standing in a cluttered dorm room and staring out a window.”   It was pretty bad while it lasted—lots of brooding and yearning and writing bad poetry and listening to Linkin Park, but I kept my chin up, used the positive explanatory style, fought the urge to attribute everyone’s actions to malice and neglect, surrounded myself with wonderful people and gave myself up to my work and my community.  I tried to walk the line between being honest with feelings and not whining about everything.  I failed a few times, in both directions.  But now a lot of the things that have held me down have just…evaporated.

I’m free.

Free to move in any direction, unfettered.  And I don’t yet know where that will take me, but I have some ideas.  And of course I have some hopes and dreams, because I always have hopes and dreams.  So as this semester winds to an end, I can promise only three things:

One: I’ll keep blogging.  You’ll see things pop up here, at least twice a month (every other Friday), hopefully more often than that.

Two: More funny things will come.  I haven’t written a purely ridiculous post in a while, and that needs to change.

And three: I’m still following my dreams, fighting my fight, standing for what I believe.  I lose sometimes, I get lost sometimes, I am confused always, but I am always moving forward.  And I can promise you that that won’t stop, internet.

So join me again, if you will.  Let’s move forward and see what the future has in store for us.

Ave, lector.

What does it mean to know somebody?

How well can you know somebody?

No, seriously, think about it.  How well do you know everyone in your life?  Think of the person you consider your best friend.  Or people, if you’re one of those wierdos who has more than one best friend.

What’s their favorite color?  What was their fondest childhood memory? What were their first words?  What do they think about the fact that blue is a more soothing color than red?  Do they care about golf? Does anyone? How many instruments can they play?  Would they save a bug if they saw it drowning in a puddle?  What do they think about when they’re putting on their socks?

The point isn’t really whether or not you can answer any of the above questions or even all of them.  The point isn’t raw informative content—that’s something we get far too much of as it is in our society.

The point is, no matter whether or not you can answer the above questions, there are always more informational questions that can be asked.  Even if you spend every day with a person who continually talks about themselves, to really, completely ‘know’ somebody in an empirical sense, you would have to rehash every minute of their existence with them—which would be impossible, because only about five people in the world can remember every minute of their existence.

So we can’t really know anyone, not on a purely informational level.  Does that stop us from assuming we do? Not in the slightest.  Think about the people in your social circle.  If you’re like me, your social circle trades stories and jokes about one another, tell stories of highly complex behaviors that usually surprise no one.  If we can’t know people, speaking from the point of view of raw information, then how can we talk about them with such confidence?

One answer is in face or persona.  We all present a certain fragment of our self to the world, intentionally or not.  We give certain impressions, say things that might not perfectly mesh up with our beliefs.  We create a rapid sketch of ourselves in any social interaction, a rough web of details—what we look like, how we feel today, how we talk and the way we respond to people.  But these sketches don’t exist in a vacuum.

From the very first instant of your interaction with a person, you create your own sketch based on your impressions of them.  What they’re wearing.  What they look like.  How they talk.  How they carry themselves.  How easily they express emotional states, and how quickly they pick up on yours.  All of these details that you don’t even consciously process go into your first impression.  A few are rejected and some are confirmed in the second impression.  And though you may not interact much with the person after that, when you think about them or talk about them you are making judgments based (in part) upon the impression of them that you have both constructed.

Does this mean that we are eternally alone, wandering a cold empty void speaking to figments of our imagination, shadows of strangers that we can never know?

Fortunately not.

Because regardless of how well you know a person, unless you are a sociopath or otherwise devoid of empathy you are capable of forging an emotional connection with someone.

What does that mean?  ‘Emotional connection’ is a phrase lots of people throw around.  But what does it really signify? Can I even create a description of an emotional connection?

Well, I’m gonna try.

To make an emotional connection with a person means, among other things, that you give them your undivided attention.  Now, this is certainly not the only thing you have to do, but it is a key point.  Put down the cell phone, stop swordfighting, close the browser, whatever, and make sure they know that they are the center of your focus.  There will be a notable shift in the tone of the conversation when you engage with someone in this way—when you lean forward and listen intently without distraction.  Don’t stare glassy-eyed at them—that becomes creepy after a while.  And don’t just look at them and zone out—people can usually tell when that happens, even if it’s only on an unconscious level.

Pretend they’re a very interesting television show, and you’re trying to watch it on a small laptop, so you have to lean in to hear the sound.

All right, now that you’re only paying attention to them, observe them.  Not in a creepy way.  Stop it.  What is their facial expression?  How are they holding themselves?  How energetic do they seem to be?  Don’t bother trying to make judgments or interpretations of these things at first.  Just observe them.  The ability to interpret them will come with practice.  Or that’s what I hear, anyway.  I’m still waiting, myself.

Listen to what they’re saying.  What’s the informative content of the sentence? How are they expressing that information? Are there any oddities in their discourse?  Again, don’t try to judge, just listen, and I mean really listen.

And most importantly, don’t think about any of this.  These are guidelines to get you into an emotional connection, a process that should take about as long as it takes you to look up.  Once that conversation starts, throw all of this shit out the window and just be there.  Listen to them.  Ask them how they’re feeling.  Presumably you have an interest in them as a person, so learn about them as a person.

Get to know everyone all over again every day, because no matter how well you know them, there’s always something more.  

…NANOWRIMO.

It’s an abbreviation I am now seeing almost daily.  Especially now that several friends have gotten T-shirts with that logo emblazoned across the chest.

It stands for National Novel Writing Month, in case you’ve been spending the last few years under a rock (or in another country, which is a far better and more likely option and in fact I envy you).  And it is basically as follows:

November is national novel writing month.

If you want to participate, you:

(1)   Write something.

(2)   Write something during November.

Pretty simple.

Of course, you can register on a website http://www.nanowrimo.org/ and “complete” NaNoWriMo by writing 50,000 words. And you have to start from scratch—you can’t technically write the actual novel (though you can outline to your heart’s content) until November starts. And things and other stuff.

THIS BRINGS ME TO THREE ANNOUNCEMENTS.

Announcement 1 is that NEXT WEEK IS A BREAK FOR ME, and I will not be updating my blog THIS FRIDAY (and probably not next Friday, either).

Announcement 2 is that I will be DOING NANOWRIMO and THUS my blog posts will become sporadic for the month of November.

And ANNOUNCEMENT 3:

My plan for the novel.

So this year has been an eventful one.  To say the least.  The first year of college, etc., etc.  But throughout the year there have been central themes and a certain continuum of story, especially in the relationship I’ve come out of in the last few months.  The last year represents, in a way, the culmination and termination of my childhood, I think, and so before time steals away the memories and seals away the emotion, I want to commit it to paper.  Or to the computer.  Whatever.

However, I can’t start this project now without violating the rules of NaNoWriMo, so I’ll also be creating a second story (a fantasy/comedy story; imagine Boondock Saints but with wizards) and writing that at the same time.  Because that makes life so much easier.

I don’t know what I’ll do with either novel.  No idea.  I’ll probably try to publish the fantasy, and possibly post excerpts from one or the other here, but the primary story—the story of my last year—will be the first really, fundamentally non-science fiction/fantasy story I’ve ever written.

Possibly no one will ever read it.

HAH.  No, probably not.  My life is more interesting than that.  I hope.

But I’m looking forward to this novel—to both of them.  One because it’s funny and entertaining.  The other because it’s a reminder of everything that’s happened in the last twelve months.  Because as I write it I’ll be able to look back on and reconcile the last trace of the old memories.  I’ll be delving into all my notes, all my journals, all my rumination, and it will be…well, not difficult, because as my father pointed out, things in my life are only difficult relative to other things in my life.  Because as melodramatic as my brain sometimes is (I swear, there’s a thirteen-year-old somewhere in my brain trying to give me angsty advice), my life is pretty easy relative to other people I know.

So if my blog posts start getting spotty, that’s why.  Because I’m writing a novel about life and existence.  About sanity and love, parkour, righteous fury and the nature of existence.  About academia and music.  And brownies. SO MANY BROWNIES.

I’m not writing it to impress anyone.  I’m writing it for me—this first draft, at least.  Later drafts…well, we’ll see.

And my b**** alarm is warning me that I’m drifting too far into thirteen-year-old angsty vagueness again.

It’s a nice thing to have, by the way.  It’s apparently a function not everyone possesses.  WHOOPS DRIFTING INTO ANGST

SO anyway.  This has been your blog post for the day.  It’s a relatively short one, and doesn’t contain too much ranting.  TO SUM UP:

NaNoWriMo: You should give it a try if you’re the writing type.

My blog posts will be interrupted for the next month and a half.

I’m writing a novel about my life, because HEY LOOK I FINALLY HAVE SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT AND IT ONLY COST TWELVE MONTHS OF MY LIFE.

ALL RIGHT.

Life runs on (and so does time) and I’ll be back here soon enough.  May everything be wonderful until we meet again.

Peace.

OH MY GOD

INTERNET

DUDE

BRO

DUDE

BRO

DUDE.

MUSE’S NEW ALBUM CAME OUT.

IT’S AWESOME.

I WAS GOING TO WAIT UNTIL FRIDAY TO POST AGAIN

BUT MUSE HAPPENED AND THEY WERE AWESOME.

Well, parts of it are awesome.

Muse is always a mixed bag for me.  I mean I love everything they do in a really sappy way.  But some songs of theirs just don’t stick in my head—I honestly forget they exist.

But there is a very specific subset of Muse’s songs (and it’s a constantly changing pool) that speak straight to me.  Which songs they are change from day to day, but there is never not at least one Muse song that resonates with me on any given day.  And thinking about this gave me an idea.

I use music in a way that…well, I don’t know if it’s unusual or not because I don’t really know how people normally use music.  But to me music is more than just something pretty to listen to.

I mean, it is that.  Obviously.  I listen to music offhandedly, casually, absently, and when I’m doing homework.  I listen to music when I’m cleaning, or when I’m writing, or when I’m relaxing.  Whatever I’m doing, ideally, there is music involved, except for two very specific fields which I won’t go into here.

But I listen to music for its own sake.  Music is my mantle, my shield, my healing salve.  I surround myself with music and draw strength from it.   On a stressful day, I hammer on a piano until my fingers burn, crank up my stereo and sing until I start coughing.  I recharge with music like a battery charges off electricity—if I can play a piano before a trying event, I go into it at 210% emotional capacity.

I put great personal significance into my music.  Now, of course, sometimes a song is just a song, and I’m aware that to the rest of the world the songs that resound into the deepest depths of my soul are just songs unless I point out otherwise.  So when a song means a lot to me and I want someone else to know that it does, I say so.

But what do I mean by ‘great personal significance?’

Well.

I’ve been known to say things with music that I can’t otherwise.  Instead of an entire email full of MASSIVE FEELINGS I’ll just send a Youtube video and call it a day.

I always have a theme, a song that follows me through the day, something I sing under my breath walking to class, sitting alone, between songs.  When I’m frustrated, I shout along with Ok Go’s ‘Get Over It’ or wail to Muse’s ‘Hyper Music.’  When I’m angry, as in furious, and deliberate malice is boiling over in an undesirable fashion, I sing (don’t laugh) an Appalachian folk dirge titled ‘O Death.’  Supernatural fans might recognize it.

When I’m happy, out comes Imagine Dragons with ‘I’m On Top Of The World,’ or Frank Sinatra with ‘I’ve Got The World On A String,’ or (dependent on context) Katy Perry’s ‘Hummingbird Heartbeat’ or ‘Firework.’

And then there’s the songs that I really love.  Songs that put into words something that I always feel and can never express, songs that let me telegraph myself to the world, songs that I always sing, hum, or finger-tap along with.

Songs such as the one I’ve just discovered on Muse’s new album 2nd Law: Specifically, ‘Follow Me.’

That song.

Now, obviously, it’s just a song to y’all.  And it’s in the context of ‘just a song’ that I’ve posted it on various websites to various friends—because when I want to post a song meaningfully I usually do it in a one-on-one context.  And it’s pretty damn unambiguous if I do say so myself.

But it’s more than a song to me.  And feel free to laugh at how intense I get, because I’m laughing at it now and I’m writing it, but that song.  THAT SONG.

When I sing ‘Follow Me,’ what comes out is just my voice, but what goes into it is how much I care for my friends and family.  What comes out is just a slightly hoarse twenty-something’s untrained singing, but what goes in is every moment of frustrated compassion when someone’s having a bad day and I can’t do anything.  And when I hurl all of that into the song, it comes back as I listen, and the result is a song that gets me very emotional.  As in I shivered the first few times I listened to it.

For me, when a song is ‘my jam,’ it’s not just music that I like to listen to.  It’s armor.  It’s medicine.  It’s an implement in my arsenal, something I carry around and break out when it’s needed.  I will sing, hum, or tap out the appropriate song before going into a test, before going into a deep conversation, or as I prance about having a wonderful day (and as people who know me can attest, I do literally prance when I am having a wonderful day, which is most of the time).

The only thing music is not (for me), not yet at any rate, is a weapon.  And I’m sort of fine with that, but only sort of, and I’ll explain why I feel this way.  On the one hand, I am not a violent person.  I am [HAH] soft-spoken and polite, I feel bad when I make people feel bad, I try to be nice and polite to everyone.  My first reaction to bad events is to offer support to everyone around me.  I like that music has no offensive aspect, that when I play piano it most often has a nurturing, uplifting effect (if I can be so pretentious as to assume that my shitty piano playing is uplifting).

However, if you hurt my friends I WILL END YOU.  That is my one berserk button and it is not pressed often, which is to say it’s been pressed approximately four times in my life.  And it does frustrate me at these moments that music, my shield and my go-to method of offering people support, cannot also be a sword.  And it’s from that frustration, in part, that I get my driving interest in rhetoric, in the skill of speechcraft, in the psychology of how to use a word to draw blood.

That got intense.  Ahem.

So for me music is more than notes on a page, more than sounds in my ears.  For me, the crazy chords of Muse, the profoundly cheerful Katy Perry and the thunder of the Moonlight and Tempest sonatas echo the zany up-and-down of my emotions, the moments when I’m ridiculously happy—when I want to radiate cheer to the world and remind everyone what a special snowflake they are.  The times when I’m loopy and flamboyant and go to class wearing a cape just because.  And the times when I’m gripped by an emotion that shakes the edges of my vision, positive or negative, when I want to flip a table for joy or for anger.

Which leads me to wonder.

What is music for you?

How do you listen to music?

Do you use music for a purpose? If so, what?

What is it that resonates with you? Is it music? Poetry? Pottery? Painting? Writing? Dance? Martial arts?

How do you deal with life?

And finally—

Are you aware of how awesome you all are?

Toodles, internet!