One Year

The wind in New Rochelle sucks.  Which is to say, if I had a choice, I'd never come back to this blustery town based on that single criterion.  Walking from the train in the morning, climbing the chain-link enclosed stairs to street level, everything seems fine.  And then, just as I turn the corner on the Trump Tower monstrosity on Huguenot Avenue, the wind slaps me in the face, as if it's been laying in wait to ruffle my wet hair and invade my body's every nook and cranny for the entirety of the walk to the office.

But today, as I made this irritating trip, I remembered that in its sameness, today is different.  As of the 31st (Sunday), I will have been in New York an entire year, and this day marks my one year anniversary at the company towards which I trudge through the wind daily.  As people, I think we tend to make a bigger deal of these occasions than is deserved, but in my case (as I'm sure is true of all specific cases), I think it represents a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon the ups and downs of the past year.

Perhaps most present in my mind is the concept of freedom.  I've been away from home and on my own for a full year, free from the influence of my parents (which was never really an issue, to be honest).  I pay my own bills.  I'm free to make my own decisions.  I'm also reading Freedom by Johnathan Franzen, a primary theme of which is the double-edged sword freedom presents to our lives.  I've also been free of health insurance, a car, and large amounts of discretionary spending this past year, which many will recognize as purely optimistic phrasing of a pretty frustrating situation.

It's been incredibly stressful, uplifting, and growth-inducing to be on my own.  I came to this city full of hope and with a heart open to change and malleable to the influences I might find here.  I also arrived with a deep depression fueled by personal uncertainty, various life events, and almost entirely empty pockets.  In a lot of ways, it's one of those typical "kid moves to the city" stories, but that would be simplifying things greatly.  I remember the fear with which I stepped onto the subway platform for the first time, the confusion at seeing such high prices on such simple grocery staples as bread, and the anxiety of being the only polite human being within a ten mile radius (I was raised in a small town, in the South).  All that changed, and quickly.  Within two months I was in the full swing of things:  I became rude, learned to advocate for myself in tricky situations, and had managed to quell my depression with music, writing, and personal exploration.

I would be hard pressed to find a dull moment in the last year.  From the all-night parties, to the days spent in my dear friends' garden, to the moments swiftly riding my bike through the green wilderness of Prospect Park where I thought I might cry from the beauty and transience of all life and all things, my life has been absolutely filled to the brim.  Had I known what I was up against by moving to the North, I might have decided against it to avoid the stress, the perpetual fatigue, and the frequent emotional suffering, but looking back, I know it was worth it.  Trite though it may be, it's impossible to put a price on friendship, on human connections, or on life lessons that are felt and experienced rather than taught second-hand.  And I know, with all my heart, that the experiences of the last year will stay with me forever.

I still remember the wonderment of reconnecting with old college friends after a full year of absence, of taking my little brother with me to a New Years celebration where hugs were exchanged and lives were changed forever by the new faces and names I became acquainted with.  The following months constituted some of the most severe ups and downs of my life:  love found, lost, and finally cemented into eternity, personalities of friends expounded upon and appearing more and more nuanced, and the discovery that within each of us is a stable core capable of withstanding the sharpest pain of humanity's inadvertent cruelty.  We are all fragile beings, each one of us, and sometimes we make mistakes that shatter the glass surrounding another's heart.  Ultimately, however, we all have the tools to redeem ourselves and to redeem those who have harmed us in the past.  In the past year, I learned true forgiveness.

And more recently, from within the ever-branching circle of friends and loved ones that has captured me in the center of its ever-so-sticky web, I found devotion and heartfelt human compassion in another human being.  The connections that led me to arrive where I am today make no sense and point to a unique human randomness that operates not on the principle of a simple lack of order, but rather chooses indiscriminately from the relevant and useful aspects of your life, illuminating a path that you can choose to follow if your mind is attuned properly.  In one of those rare moments of clarity, I stumbled upon a person who has become one of my best friends and a better conscience at times than I can provide for myself.  She knows that as much as we pretend to, none of us truly stand tall on our own, not without the love and positivity of others.  I learn new things from her each day, with one recurring lesson:  there's nothing better in the world than another human being who you can connect with deeply and without fear.

So, that dear readers, has been my year.  Somehow, by being far away from my roots, I've grown closer to them.  My family has become dear to me in a new and more profound way, and my own life has been an exercise in juggling the responsibilities and privileges of being free in a society that generally discourages such nonsense.  And on the cusp of my second year in New York, all I can say is:  bring it on.  Bring it all, however quickly, irritatingly, or frustratingly you want to, because I think that despite my complaining (sorry to those who have had to endure this!), this city has made me a stronger, better person.

Although, I honestly could do without the wind.


Open Hardware Blog

http://open-hardware.blogspot.com/

GO THERE FOR OPEN HARDWARE DISCUSSION YES.

A long hiatus. But I'm back!

Well, it's been a very, very long time.  I feel like it's going to be really difficult to get "back on the horse" with this blog, but you can really only take it one step at a time.  I feel like this blog has sort of lived out its usefulness, and since I'm spending so much time focusing on my budding amplifier business, I'm going to start a new blog on that very subject!  Stay tuned, as later today I will be launching it and spreading the news.

The Politics of Music: Part two [music]

I'm BACK!  I mean, for now.

Last time I introduced the idea of music being a historical record of political movements and trends in our society.  Today I'd like to discuss what that has contributed to my generation in particular.

First, which generation do I belong to?  We generally define generations narrowly, but for our purposes, I'd like to use a broader brush.  My generation is defined by a proficiency in technology, the expectation that information be available quickly and constantly, and a desire to be fluent in the social memes of today.  This includes anyone from high school age to those in their mid-30s.  It can easily include those older than that, but because there is a higher chance of these individuals having actually lived the history being referenced in music, we will put them in a different category for now and discuss their experience a little later.

So, we have this broad swath of society that has the capability and desire to be exposed to the intensely diverse variety of music in the world today.  Mp3 players allow us to bring this music with us everywhere we go, and the internet gives us access to crowd-sourced databases of information on bands, albums, and lyrics.  The ability to download large quantities of music (legally or otherwise) means that if you want it, you can get it, period.  Availability of music has almost made obsolete the radio and other services that don't allow the end-user to choose which song they are listening to at what time.

sorry.

The culprit behind my inability to write:  work.  My mind is bound up by the futility of resisting the pull of complacency that is so deliberately laid out for my eyes to gaze upon.  This is not the life I want.  This is not the future I foresaw, nor the future I will inherit.  Stay strong, fellow resisters.  Don't give in to the allure of the 9-5 time-waste.

The Politics of Music: Part one [music]

I have lost my gumption to write on this blog.  This is an attempt to reclaim said gumption.

I am supremely interested in the question of how people receive their perspective on politics.  Every generation has their defining moment, or set of moments, that catapults them from political adolescence into political maturity.  My generation was framed by 9/11 and the political reactions that preceded and followed it.  Our parents generation was framed by the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, and the cold war.  [Editor's note:  this is a clear generalization, possibly very inaccurate, and is not the point of the post!]

The point is, our political consciousness tends to crystallize at a certain point based on the experiences we have, and this consciousness is organized generationally to some degree.  We tend to think that our political knowledge comes from books, school, and teachers.  This is true to an extent, but what about other media sources?  Print media certainly has a large effect on the ways we view current events and those past events that remain in our cultural consciousness.  Television and the internet both provide us with the same scrolling, up-to-the-minute source of news such that anyone in our society is almost forced to be aware of SOMETHING current, whether it be political or not.

I'm purposely eliminating media sources here in order to arrive at the one I believe has the most impact on us:  music.  Like art, music possesses the quality of being "timeless," which is to say, able to be enjoyed in a context other than the one in which it was created.  Unlike art (of the painted or sculpted variety), music made in the last 150 or so years transmits its message without a necessity for an education dedicated to its appreciation.  It does so using familiar tropes, mechanisms, and above all by using lyrics that we can understand simply by speaking the same language.

Songs about war have always existed, but as of late, they have taken on more and more political undertones.  Songs about sex have reflected the way we think and talk about sexuality, and also the sub-cultures within our society and how these specific slices of people in a specific time comprehend it.  We can sing about feelings and sensations using similes and metaphors to current events that later fade into history, thus informing future listeners to the way in which we think about love, hate, loyalty, and so forth.

In the next parts of this topic, I want to talk about the ways in which music contributes to political movements, collective memory, generational forgetting and political apathy.  Those will have to wait for tomorrow, though.

Stay tuned!!

The Increasingly Delicate Nature of Reality [scope]

Today, we take a trip into scary territory.  Reality, as a concept, is integral to our understanding of the universe.  Philosophies that explain away reality are explaining away the very basis of existence--without it, we exist only in theory.  I'm not interested in proving what is real.  Most things I write, think, and do are based on the assumption that SOMETHING, however trivial, is real.  Surreality can substitute for reality in a pinch, as well, so that's on the table at all times.

What's interesting, though, is the nature of our present reality versus the reality of a citizen of the British Empire in the mid 1800s.  Our ideas of permanence would differ very drastically from theirs, and by association our sense of time and progress.  Let's take the example of the computing device.  In the 1850s, this would have been a slide rule at most, an abacus if you lived in the east, or simply a pen and paper.  If you were really lucky and knew a Mr. Charles Babbage, you might have gotten a glimpse of the future in the form of a "difference engine," the precursor to the modern binary processing computer.  The devices of this age were robust, easily integrated into life, and generally relied more on a person's ability to manipulate numbers rather than a device's ability to perform without error.  Thus, the computing device of the mid-1800s was relatively slow but ultimately reliable and did not require repairs on any grand scale.

Privacy: Sam Starts Writing Again Edition [privacy]

Well.  It's been a long time since I've written about the news.  So, this might be a little rough (or just a little short).

If you haven't heard, the Lower Merion School District in the suburbs of Philadelphia has installed a mandatory spying program on the laptops students are required to purchase.  The spyware is capable of monitoring students both at school AND at home, and can hear conversations and take photos and video via the built-in webcams (reports indicate that the school uses Macbooks).  This was discovered when a student was reprimanded for eating candies that looked like pill capsules.  He was doing this AT HOME, but the computer took a photograph of the activity and sent it to the school, which then found it necessary to mention it to the student.
    
Since then, the school has since denied spying on students, and then was interviewed by PBS and seemed to know VERY WELL what was happening.  The ACLU and EFF have taken up the case of the student's parents, who are suing the district for spying on their child, and the FBI is on the criminal case as we speak.  Since the lawsuit was announced, several other school districts have been called out for using similar tactics.

Hair

My mother came to visit for the last few days.  I had to work during the day, and she was in meetings, but we spent the evenings together, went out to dinner, she met important people in my life, saw my new living situation, we went shopping at Macy's, and we went out to a Broadway show.  We had deliberated for a good week or so prior to buying tickets, and finally she made an executive decision that we would be seeing Hair.  I felt a small amount of trepidation about this, as Hair is known for having extensive nudity and sex, neither of which exactly fit in a show being viewed with one's mother.

But, as with all things, nothing really pays off if you're unwilling to see past the possible negatives.  So we went to the show.  I came straight from work, and after blitzing through a juicy diner burger and several diet cokes we took a cab to the theater, anxious about being late.  As usual, we were about 10 minutes early.  I love the theater, especially theaters in NYC, but the seats are WAY TOO SMALL.  This usually detracts from the show itself, but not this time--not even the giant of a man in front of me with the tall gelled hair distracted me from the show itself.

It was clear from the comments my mother made and the way she reacted that it was a significant performance.  She was involved in the counterculture movement at its tail end, but the hippy lifestyle was her own.  She cried at the end of the show.  I came close, not for times past, but for the fierce revolutionary spirit that burned within people of that caliber and seems to have died out in my own generation.  Our response to the negative aspects of life has been to become apathetic and ignore as much of the world as possible.  At least, that's how I see it.  The activists among us are a rare breed and generally thought of as too radical for the mainstream to adopt their ideals.

But, there is always hope.  We can change the way people think simply by providing a viable alternative at the right time.  Just like at the end of the show when the audience was asked to come dance on stage to "Let The Sun Shine."  We would have been unwilling to do so before the show, but afterwards, full of pathos and empathy for a bygone era of free love, marijuana, and awesome clothes, we were more than happy to oblige. And we had fun doing it.

Heads up: Sam is goin' offline for awhile

Well,

I have a LOT of meetings this week, and my mom is visiting from VA!  I will not be able to update the blog because I'll be super busy during my usual writing hours.  Stay tuned, though, I'll be back in full force as soon as I can be.

NaBloPoMo: My Siblings [ties]

Oops.  Forgot to finish this yesterday

It's only been in the last year or so that I've gotten close to my younger brother (19) and my older sister (27).  Perhaps my only regret is that it didn't happen sooner.  But, as with all things in life, it happened because it should have, and it happened at this time because we all needed each other.

We grew up together, of course, went through the same traumas and the same vacations and had the same parents.  But we were always so far apart in age that becoming "friends" seemed like it might never happen.  My sister was the rebellious one--taking risks and never being afraid to do what she thought was appropriate and right, and as a result my brother and I had a MUCH easier time with our parents as we went through the same trials.  Thank you, Rachel!

My brother Will is the baby.  Smart as hell, and metabolically blessed (he's 6'4"), he deserved to be treated much better than I treated him when we were little.  It's a wonder he doesn't still hate me for all the times I locked him out of my room or punched him in the shoulder for tagging along with me.  But, apparently this is what siblings do to each other (WHY??), and we now share an amazing friendship.

I can actually remember the moment when it seemed like we were finally going to be a sibling unit instead of three people with three very separate lives.  We were in West Virginia with my dad, step-mom, my sister's boyfriend, and my ex.  The trip was an end-of-summer celebration and a last opportunity for a big family vacation before Will went off to school and my sister and her boyfriend went to Guatemala for six months.  We were staying near the New River so as to facilitate a day-long white-water rafting trip down a stretch with several challenging rapids.  Our guide's name was Graham, and most of us had NO clue what we were doing (my ex and I had gone rafting in Ecuador, and I'd been once before that).

It was a bonding experience for everyone involved.  Lots of team-building, laughs, and terrifyingly exciting moments.  We saw an entire raft flip in front of us, spilling all its passengers.  We joked about pushing each other out and laughed when we hit each others' paddles during critical moments.  And at some point, Rachel Will and I recognized that we are all grown ups, and we like each other.  It's weird and perhaps obvious to say that, but then again, loving your brother and liking him are two separate things.

So here we are, today.  Rachel is still in Guatemala.  We email and communicate via facebook and the like.  Will is at school, fratting it up big time.  I'm in New York, as you know, working and living my life in the best way possible.  We're far apart physically, but the connection remains.  Through good times, like now, we feel validated by each other's praise and vicariously-felt excitement.  Through bad times, we're there for each other, allowing pain to be felt and providing healing words.

And beneath it all is the sensation that this is just a beginning.  The future is wide open.

Break from NaBloWriMo: What I'm gonna build

I am going to turn this:

into this:



and make it sound like this:



NaBloPoMo Comfort [ties]

It is swelteringly hot in my office right now.  It was like this last Friday, too.  Come to think of it, there hasn't been a day in the last few weeks when it hasn't been extremely hot in the afternoon.  Very few other people seem to mind, but I'm sitting here sweating up a storm.  It's like this on the Subway, too.  Everyone wears their coats, scarves, and gloves while I am forced to immediately rip off all outerwear and still end up sweating a fair amount.  I've tried meditation, deep breathing, drinking cold water, and wearing more breathable clothing, but I just cannot keep from getting overheated.  New Yorkers are crazy!!

At least, that's what it seems like from the outside.  I also thought that Peruvians were crazy because they rode buses for 7 hours at a time with no ventilation whatsoever.  Argentinians liked their air conditioning, so they were OK with me.  This highlights the relative, cultural nature of what it means to be comfortable.  Sometimes we chastise individuals for not being "tough" enough, or not being able to adapt to changing situations, but the truth is, sometimes we're not really able to do so.  It's a bodily response to sweat profusely.  I'm sure I'll get over it eventually, but until my body figures out how to cope, I will continue to do so and I will continue to be uncomfortable.  There's really nothing I can say to myself to make comfort suddenly spring from the stagnant, humid air and burst into my lungs, filling me with refreshing and revitalizing Comfrons (the quantum unit of comfort).

It's the same for food.  We are encouraged in foreign countries to eat the local fare, but more often than not our bodies tell us otherwise.  Preparation methods, local bacterial flora and the like keep our bodies from "going with the flow" (actually, this is usually the problem) and we end up miserable for a small amount of time until we either switch back to Americanized food or push through until our bodies adapt.  Neither way is necessarily better than the other, but it's important to recognize that it's not simply a matter of interest or cultural sensitivity.  Bodies are different because they're used to different things.

And I'm comfortable with 68 degrees everywhere, all the time, dammit.

NaBloWriMo: Empathy [ties]

I am sitting with my computer, doing some work, relaxing on a saturday, and contemplating the meaning of empathy.  I think there's this huge component to my life that involves wanting and feeling like I need to help other people.  Sometimes, this means just going a little further for complete strangers, helping them on the subway, giving up my seat if they look uncomfortable, or offering to pay the extra 50 cents in a grocery store line when it is clear that someone doesn't have the correct change.

Other times, it's more selfishly motivated.  When you care for someone, I think the concept of altruism ceases to apply.  You do things for that person for many, many reasons, but many of those reasons are not selfless.  For instance, I spent yesterday evening taking care of my very good, quite sick friend.  I did it because it made me feel good, but also because she was upset about it and she doesn't deserve to suffer needlessly.  But that's just it--I made the decision that suffering more than X amount is unnecessary, and because it makes me feel bad to see someone suffer more than that, I stepped in, let my pre-med skillz out of the bag, and she is now on the mend, napping and recovering while I learn how to make KMLs show up on a google map API.  Oy.

And that makes me reflect on what it means to love, or to care, or to be there for someone.  Does it make a difference if you are there for yourself as well as for the other person?  I'm not sure it does.  Show me an instance where a person comes through for another person, really sticks their neck out in order to help someone out, and I'll point out how that person is also getting something important out of it.  It's just the nature of the universe that all agents in a situation are able to glean SOMETHING (good, bad, important, subtle) from every interaction they have.

Which I guess makes it all OK in the end--if we're constantly holding ourselves up against this unattainable goal of altruism and betterment for the sake of betterment without any personal gratification, then we may never find emotional fulfillment.  I think it's much better to accept the reality of the situation than try to change it.  In this case, this means indulging my desire to help others until I no longer want to.  It means letting people count on me to the extent of my abilities and desire, but no further.  Really, it's about knowing who you are as a person and letting that come out, instead of some reflection of who you are based on what you THINK other people want to see.

Hmm...

NaBloPoMo: caffeine [ties]

Caffeine has got to be one of the most addictive substances on earth, and to complicate things further, we believe that we NEED it to wake up in the mornings.

And it makes you feel good.  Mainly because of its similar excitatory effects to alkaloids of similar structure, such as cocaine, nicotine, and the like.  It's quite odd that we tolerate this substance, which occurs naturally in coffee and tea and can be extracted from tea leaves and coffee beans in the same manner as cocaine is extracted from the Coca plant, but we have a strong social block against cocaine.

I'm not advocating for cocaine.  I'm not advocating against caffeine.  They both have their place and have contributed a huge amount to our social awareness and the way we live our lives from day to day (recall:  cocaine derivatives include novocaine, benzocaine, and other numbing agents).  But I wonder about our relationships with addiction and whether we can truly get away with pooh poohing such actions as smoking cigarettes while championing a good hearty cup of Joe every morning.  Granted, smoke is more visible, irritating to non-participants, and causes more obvious side-effects, but in terms of long-term effects, there are millions of smokers WITHOUT emphysema or lung cancer, and millions of coffee drinkers who suffer from heart palpitations, panic attacks, vitamin deficiency (you pee most of it out), and insomnia.

I'm not giving my coffee up.  I like it.  But I think the next time I see someone chastising someone else for smoking or eating poorly, I will splash a big ole cup of hot coffee in their face.  Just kidding.  But I will probably say something.  

NaBloPoMo: Writing [ties]

It was only a matter of time before this became a meta analysis.  Clearly, I have a love for writing.  I think what has eluded me over the years, though, is being able to set up a routine whereby I write regularly and extensively enough to get my ideas down on paper.  This has changed in the last few months, and I've begun writing the blog every day, plus writing in my own personal journal, plus writing to friends and family on a more regular basis.  It's this variety in subject matter that keeps me going, I think.  The ideas keep flowing because there's always a medium through which to express them.  Nothing gets clogged in my head anymore.

I could probably go on for pages and pages about how writing makes me feel, but I think if I said it makes me feel "good," most of you will be satisfied.  I think instead I'll just touch on the importance of developing your own style, if writing does become something that you personally want to pursue.

And that's sort of the point of this month in the first place:  "ties" is simply an ambiguous way of talking about the connections or affinities we feel for the different things in our lives.  It's sort of impossible to have a tie to something that doesn't mesh with your way of thinking in some way.  Writing, expressing thoughts through mutable yet concrete and recognizable words and phrases, is a perfect example of this.  Many disciplines force writers to conform to a certain set of stylistic criteria (journalism, science writing, grant writing, instructional writing), and the writer is forced to find their voice within a rigid framework.  This can be fun, challenging, even rewarding, but is rarely about building an outlet of expression.

Building your own style, or simply using conventions that you want to use, can be liberating.  It can also be catastrophic.  I for one don't want to read these cell phone novels, written entirely in contractions and abbreviations.  You might, but it might be better suited for a personal journal than for public consumption.  This highlights the flip-side of building your own fount of self-expression:  writing, at its heart, is also about communication.  It's very difficult to communicate ideas and thoughts effectively if your audience has NO IDEA what you're talking about.  But everyone's balance has to be different, because everyone's ability and perspective is different.  Go figure.

I know, it just wouldn't be me if I actually ANSWERED a question.  That's just my style, though.

NaBloPoMo: technology [ties]

As a tinkerer, a maker, and an all-around fix-it type, I have a healthy respect for the technology that exists around me.  I think, though, that I also revile it more than most.

It's this ambivalence that has struck me lately more so than earlier in my life.  I think that as I was growing up, technology (specifically computer tech) grew with me and I integrated it into my being.  That gave me the skills I needed to effectively become an "expert" without actually attending a single class or having any formal mentoring.    At some point, though, I stopped taking the existence of technology for granted.  I think at that point, maybe at the age of 18 or 19, tech started to wear on me rather than boost my energy levels.

And that's where I am today.  Sitting in front of a computer all day definitely drains me.  I find myself scouring the internet for new ways to be more productive and to make things more exciting.  I am just as caught up in the craze of having the best and shiniest new gadgets as soon as they come out, although I tend to build rather than buy these when possible.

All this has me asking myself, where does this road end?  It seems that our landfills are filling up faster and faster with the useless, disposable crap we build and sell and then throw away.  That doesn't take anything away from the fact that these tools have revolutionized our way of connecting to each other.  And it doesn't de-legitimize their usefulness in any way.  But it does beg the question:  is it worth it?

This love/hate relationship must resolve itself, I think.

Signed,

a tech lover.

NaBloPoMo: Music (Well, guitars) [ties]

I was in eighth grade when I got my first guitar.  I didn't know what I was getting into, but it just felt right somehow to ask for an electric set for my Bar Mitzvah present from my dad.  He bought it from a friend of mine.  It was an Epiphone Les Paul Special, the cheapest guitar in the product line.  That night, I learned "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix and played it constantly over the next few weeks.  I was awful at it, and I appreciate my parents' patience with my learning process.

Eight years, four guitars (acoustic, electric, another acoustic, and another electric.  I only kept the last two, though), uncountable amplifiers (well, more like 6), and LOTS of lessons later, I'm a passable musician with enough skills to play in a wide variety of scenes.  That really doesn't interest me, though.  What does interest me is the way the guitar feels in my hands when I pick it up off the wall, its weight and the balance with which it hangs off my shoulders by the strap.  The vibrations through the body and neck still give me chills, and honestly there are moments when sitting still and plucking a single note over and over is enough to please me.

As readers are beginning to realize, I am easily made wide-eyed about small but significant aspects of my life.  I think my relationship with the guitar is an archetype for this sort of experience.  Every now and then I spend several hours simply touching the guitars, polishing them and inspecting them, tuning them and changing the strings, never actually playing them.  Like anything in life, if you treat a guitar well, it will treat you well in return.

An instrument is a conduit to another dimension, a set of feelings and sensations not accessible through non-musical means.  It can facilitate friendships, long nights spent playing and learning and creating, and it can foster romances, spreading feelings unknown to that point, or providing a connection upon which to base affection and embraces.  Learning how to play the guitar is the most rewarding, frustrating, and affirming experience in the world.  I will never stop learning, because there is no end to what you can know and do with those six strings.

NaBloWriMo: Creation [ties]

I didn't write yesterday, mostly because I was on the phone all day with the cable company.  They are terrible.  


I had wanted to write about Music.  That will have to be another day's post, though, and will probably take several days to cover.  Today, I'm going to tackle my interest in building and creating.

When I was five, my grandmother gave me an electronic fire engine.  It had a wired remote with buttons on it to raise and lower the ladder, sound the siren (there were several varieties), move backward, forward, and each axle was independent.  It must have cost a fortune!  Within two weeks, I had taken it apart, disassembled the remote, and re-routed it to my model rocket launching system so that you could launch at least 15 rockets at once, if you so chose.

My parents were furious.

By the age of ten, I had boxes of broken toys and old computers under my desk, mostly useless, ready to be repurposed into whatever projects I could think of.  By thirteen, I had built my first computer and knew the purpose of each component and how they interact on a relatively basic level.  I still have parts from that original machine in the latest iteration, which is now sitting in my closet, waiting for the financial freedom I will need to upgrade it to a serviceable level.

I have always been fascinated with how things work.  The interactions of electricity, a "substance" we cannot see, within visible components that are constructed with specific behaviors in mind just interests me to no end.  I am entirely enamored with the idea of building things from scratch rather than buying them, and I do so at every possible occasion.  There is just something so powerful about working with your hands, using the tools available to YOU to build something that YOU can use.  It is freeing and enlightening and it keeps me sharp.  I learned more from a year of tinkering with guitar amplifiers in college than I did in most of the courses I took that year.  The culmination of that year was this:


That's a Fender Vibroverb.  I converted a newer "Custom Vibrolux Reverb," repaired the cabinet, and recovered the amp.  It sounded amazing, and it fetched me about a $400 profit.  Not bad for my first project.  I played it at one show and was totally hooked.  I have not stopped playing with musical toys since.

Today, I built my friend Cait a Fuzz Face pedal.  That's a distortion effect for those of you non-guitar nerds.  I can still smell the solder in the air, and while I am happy with the job I did, I am already aching to build something else.  Luckily, I am building a guitar for a friend in exchange for a bike, so I am busier than perhaps I should be.

I am not emotional about my building and my creating.  I am all business, all the time.  I am connected viscerally to my work and the job at hand.  It's the most zen-like I ever get, I think.  There is the work, and there is you, but you are one with the work.  You speak to the work, and it speaks to you, but there is no speaking.  At this point it is easy to see how it all fits together, and suddenly you're in it, entirely in it, dualistically aware of how each intricate move will affect the finished product.  You strive for perfection, but rarely find it.  That's the game.  And it's a fun one.

NaBloPoMo: The Outdoors [ties]

Nature is where I belong.  I belong to nature.  I am a part of nature.  Nature is a part of me.  The world exists around me, and I exist inside the world.  I did not create the world, and the world did not create me.  I inhabit the earth, and the earth inhabits me.

Cities have their place in our world--I'm living in one of the biggest ones on earth right now, with the most wealth and the most poverty and the most opportunity and the most disappointment--truly a place of extremes.  And that's just it.  Cities are great ways for people to come together and enhance their social, economic, and intellectual lives.  We move to cities to find wealth, love, and answers.

In that way, being outdoors is almost the exact opposite to being in a city (despite the existence of large parks and the prevalence of public transportation).  I feel connected to cities, but I feel born of the earth, akin to nature, and at home without need for shelter or internet or phones.

Sometimes, I like to take long hikes.  Other times, I enjoy just sitting in the woods, no matter what time of year.  And I can almost always make a case for building a fort out of dead limbs and pine boughs, sitting inside and reading for hours at a time.  In my travels, I've seen forests and deserts and mountains and oceans and rain forests and high plains and subtropical rivers and so many more ecosystems than I can count.  I think even seeing the million varieties of a single species of tree could excite me in the same way.  What matters isn't how, why, or how much, but just that there IS nature left in the world.

My world is the world of the outdoors.  They are one and the same, and yet separate.  I can live in the city and have my mind be perpetually in the clouds, the forest, or the cloud forest.  In my head I am frequently walking through the underbrush, rafting down a raging river, or wheezing at the top of an Andean summit.  I doubt I will ever tire of these experiences, and I hope against all hope that I will have the ability to go to these places and walk these ancient paths until the day I die.

NaBloPoMo: The Internet Died Edition [ties]

My internet was dead yesterday at home.  I kept putting off writing, and then it just became impossible.  I was only going to write a tiny, tiny bit anyway, so here goes:

I live in Brooklyn.  I have become so attached to this place, how it works and feels, and how it makes me feel.  I love it.  And so I wanted to share a lyric from an Avett Brothers song:

Brooklyn Brooklyn take me in
Are you aware the shape I'm in
My hands they shake my head it spins
Brooklyn Brooklyn take me in

It's a simple lyric, but it gets to me.  I came to Brooklyn broken, alone, and lost.  Within weeks I'd found a community, reasons to live and love, and peace of mind.  I could not be happier.  So, thank you Brooklyn, for providing for me what small towns could not.

NaBloPoMo My Home [ties]

I grew up in the woods outside of Charlottesville, in Virginia.  I wasn't born there, but all my childhood was spent in this house:


Seeing this photo reminds me of the incredible springs, summers, and falls I spent outside at home.  This house is on a 5-acre plot, with a pond (behind the camera), a stream (to the right) and woods extending all around.  In the summer, when the leaves are the thickest, you can't hear the road.

I used to spend every free moment outside, making forts, walking trails I blazed with my father the summer we moved here, and fishing down at the pond.  I developed an active imagination, and I created mythologies about the animals that lived in the woods.  Friends and I built dams down by the stream, dug caves, hid from my brother, and planned new Utopian societies that would form just feet from a major road.  It was bliss.  I had such a connection to nature, the elements, and what it means to be alive in a world almost completely overtaken by pavement and development.

We had a garden, fenced off to keep out the deer.  That didn't last long, because deer couldn't care less about a fence (they jump).  We also had beds upon beds of lilies, lamb's ear and other inedible and edible herbs, all maintained by my mother, the nourisher (my father was more of a "let's make sure everything's working well" kind of person).  We would help her for maybe 15 minutes at a time, then run away to swing on the rope tied to a Mimosa tree nearby.

A lot of change has touched my life since then, but I never forgot the beauty and the solitude of the woods below my house.  To this day, when I am troubled and at home, I take a walk down to the stream.  The only difference between now and then is that now I know I'm just visiting the places I used to inhabit.  The mystery, mythologies, and harmony of that places still exist, just temporarily.  Getting used to that was hard, but I will never be too old to feel that way again.



NaBloPoMo: Trust [ties]

Today, someone told me they trusted me.  I cried.

That moment was powerful.  It was important for reasons I won't go in to here, but also simply because it highlights how beautiful and intrinsic the concept of trust is.  For the most part, we are individualistic creatures.  The cultural differences that exist across the scope of humanity do little to dim the light of unique individuality that exists in each of us.  We tend to consider our opinions to be most valid, especially when applied to ourselves, because it's assumed that we know our own self in more depth than anyone else can.  Similarly (but significantly distinct), we tend to believe that we are most suited to making the decisions that affect us personally, both important and trivial.

We are outraged when someone assumes they know us better than we know to be the case.  Sometimes, we're wrong, and the object of our outrage is actually speaking from wisdom and experience and careful, loving observation of your own life.  This is the case with parents and their teenage progeny.  We have all experienced wondering how the hell our parents can be so wrong, and most of us have the good fortune of laughing about how silly it is to think such things about people so close to you.

We live in a world where trust is the exception, not the rule.  I think a lot of people wish this were not the case, but it is often so difficult to determine whether a person has your best interests in mind while they make decisions that affect you.  In most cases, we'd rather be safe than sorry.  And then, sometimes, rarely, someone comes along.  This person may be a friend, a relative, a stranger, or anything in between.  What connects us to this person is typically undefinable, but there's an affinity almost at once.  Maybe we feel inexplicably that within moments of meeting this person it's safe to tell them more than perhaps we should, or maybe it just means they put us at ease.

Whatever the case, when those seeds germinate, they put roots down into your soul and push shoots up into the world.  Trust is grown, cared for, and harvested by those who notice it.  It nourishes and inspires those who understand its intricate subtleties.  And sometimes, it just makes you cry a little bit.  However it manifests, trust is organic and irreplaceable.  There is no substitute, in a romance, in a friendship, even between enemies.  Those people who you know the best may not be trusted most, but those trusted most will soon be understood best.

After all, what is trust but unconditional and universal love for the way we interact as human beings, spinning at a million miles an hour through the vastness of space, alone, or not, but always surrounded by the potential for understanding our place in the world.

Trust ties me to people.  It ties me to myself.  Trust is the force that holds us together, and when it breaks, we become unglued.  Heartbreak is nothing more than a loss of trust.  Betrayal is the result of misplaced trust.  And when trust continues unabated, evolves and grows, puts down new roots and regrows season after season, we call it love.

NaBloWriMo: Hair Models [ties]

Wow.  What an incredible weekend.  And it's not over.

Friday I went to a meeting with a newly signed metal band.  If you know me, you understand how odd that is.  They are going to PAY ME to start rowdiness at their show.  Oh, and free booze.  Freaking great.

Oddly enough, that was the least eventful part of the weekend.  Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be a friend's Hair Model at the Aveda Institute in Manhattan.

When I first agreed to it I was just happy to be getting a free haircut, from a friend, at a nice salon.  That was really all the motivation I needed.  It turns out that Aveda is all about natural ingredients and the organic integration of meditative techniques into their services.  If you know anything about me, you know that this, unlike the metal band, is very much what I'm in to.

The entire experience was zen-like, concentrating on a perfect process and the true immersion of self/universe duality into every moment.  It started with a licorice/mint tea, designed to relax me, continued with a scalp massage which incorporated shiatsu techniques and some amount of energy balancing, and then we were off on the 3-hour process of cutting my hairs.

My friend Lindsay is a student at Aveda, but she's talented, to say the least.  She came right out and told me that the way I was used to wearing my hair was pretty ridiculous, and she was right.  It looks great.  It really does.  And just in time to start some pits at this metal show.

The three hours of hair cutting were inspirationally meditative.  Thoughts kept passing over my mind in ways that I have trouble initiating when alone in my room and putting my mind to only meditation.  Realizations and priority reorganization occurred quickly and without interruption, and the typical distractions that occur stayed only long enough to alert me of their presence and then fled as my mind was again taken over by the mindless mindfulness of meditation.

It was great.  I couldn't have asked for a better haircut or company.  Kudos, Lindsay, you're going to go far!

weekend plans to rival those of the stars

Tonight:

paid gig to be in the audience at a "hard rock/metal" show and be included in a music video.  No idea who the band is (they haven't said) but the space is in midtown Manhattan and quite famous.

Tomorrow:

being a hair model.  Yes, you read that correctly.

Sunday:

Superbowl.

Yes, I know, lame post.  I can't think of anything else to write today.  Sorry.

NaBloPoMo: My friend Seth [ties]

There's a lot of soul-baring going on around these parts lately, and I figure I should keep it up.  Today's post is about my friend Seth.

In a lot of ways, Seth has been a brother to me.  I know, I know, I have a brother, but Will, for all his current wisdom, charm, and maturity, was not always that way.  In fact, when we were younger, we didn't get along due to the age difference (4 years).  I was mean to Will, too mean, and I am trying to make amends for that now.  There will be a post in the near future about that.  What I mean, though, is that Seth filled the role of compatriot and partner-in-crime from the time we were 7 until now.  I assume this will continue into the future, even as our lives take us in different directions.

How we met is sort of irrelevant, because it didn't make a difference how long we had known each other--it was like we had always been friends.  I think I spent about three quarters of my weekends in middle school with Seth, either at his house or mine, staying up late, watching rented VHS's and eating popcorn made in a cast iron pot topped with soy sauce.  We would laugh, talk about poop and farts, as young boys will do, and go to sleep usually after several reminders by parents to shut the hell up.  We were not a quiet pair.

Over the years, Seth has been one of the very few people I have always been able to go to for advice.  And more often than not, the advice given was truthful, hard to swallow, and abusively delivered.  This has always been the way we worked.  Somehow we are always able to vent our frustration with the world on each other and allow it to build us up, not tear us down.  Seth has always been the "friend approval" I look for when I embark on relationships, and lacking this I inevitably feel as if I might be doing something wrong.

From the moment we first got in trouble for making faces at each other at Seth's sister's Bat Mitzvah (he was in the front row, I was up behind in the mezzanine, how the hell did we think other people wouldn't see?), we've been partners in crime.  We've broken every type of furniture known to mankind, had some rough mornings after nights of drinking, played pranks on each other and our siblings, And one incident that went like this:  "Hey, if we open the window when we play music it won't be as loud in here!"  Cue complaints by neighbors.  We've worked together, gotten in trouble for laughing too much, playing chess not during lunch hours, complaining to the wrong people, and generally being screw-ups.

And yet, we both got into great schools, different schools, and excelled academically (probably because we weren't around to distract each other).  I remember the day I left for college, anxious as hell that this might be the end of our friendship.  It wasn't, and I was pretty stupid for thinking so.  Friends like that only come around every now and then, and they stay with you for life.

Right now, Seth is in Korea, and I'm in New York.  We've seen each other only once or twice in the last year.  It's been rough, what with my own troubles (travels, breakups, depression, new jobs, new living situations) and his own (dissatisfaction with  Korea, women, and the like).  But, as always, we make it work.  Skype, AIM, and the occasional Facebook hijack (check his wall, kids) have kept us close.  When he gets back, even if he doesn't know it, he's moving to Brooklyn.  We're going to start a music shop that sells a very specialized type of spoon, and Baba Yetu will play constantly in the background.  Life will be great.

Until then, Seth, thanks for being a best friend and brother throughout my life.  And yes, this is, in fact, a bromance.  Get over it.

NaBloPoMo [ties]

Ties.

I love my family.  In fact, especially recently they've become the most important people in my life.  So, here's a quick shout out to each one of them:

M:  Here's to your unbridled courage in the face of your struggle, and a fighting spirit that you've passed on to me.  Plus, even though you're self-conscious about it, you give great advice.

D:  Thank you for instilling in me the need to learn and to know what the world is like.  Without this, I don't think I would stand a chance.  And, when it comes down to it, you're the smartest person I know.

R:  You glow with healing energy.  No joke.  Please, never change, the world needs such a wonderful example of what it means to care.  You have my utmost respect and love.

W:  Every day you turn to me and tell me something new you've learned.  Sometime this isn't conscious, but buddy, you've got the makings of an amazing human being, and each time I turn around you show me more reasons why I should have been nicer to you when we were growing up.  You can always talk to me, you know that.

...and not to leave out the newest members of the family:

C:  You bring much-needed humility and perspective to a family that thinks a little too much of itself.  Thank you for teaching me the power of humor and the healing power of loss.

D:  Your unbreakable calm soothes souls.  Nothing can perturb you, and that is not only rare, it's downright amazing.  Thank you for bringing happiness, support, and hope to my mother.

I love you all.

National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo)

In an effort to promote myself, I'm participating in the NaBloPoMo this month.  it actually occurs each month, but this month's theme is "ties," whatever that means.  I will be writing every day (but I do anyway) about neckties, bowties, twistie ties, and so forth.  Not really.  Because I'm pretty sure ties means something else here. Almost positive.  More to come.

More writings [Writing]

I'm on a publishing kick.  Funny, because I work at a publishing company!  Ha Ha Ha!!!!1111one!


This is a short story.  It's not finished.  But I think that's part of the charm.


To answer your inevitable questions:


1.  No, it's not about me, although there are bits and pieces of me in the story.  How could there not be?
2.  It's not as hopeless as it sounds.
3.  I can't really make risotto.

Something reeks of repression.  Heavy curtains of muffling wool settle lethargically against the window trim.  I could move them, look outside, see what could be making that noise, but I don't.  I tell myself it's just because I'd rather imagine than spoil the surprise, that schrodinger and his cats would be proud.  The curtains know differently.

It sounds like someone is cutting down a tree with a chainsaw, but it's too quiet and yet very present.  Could there be an animal outside?  None that sound quite like that, and at noon in summer in a crowded neighborhood, I doubt the poor critter would stick around long enough to try.  Here, I'll lift my arm, force my hand to draw the curtains to one side.

Or not.  A breeze tries to ruffle the curtains but succeeds only in producing a long, low sigh as barely lifted it falls back into place.  I hear a car out by the road.  It's saturday, and not many people are out and about.  If I had to guess, I would say this one was a sedan.  Two 30-something adults in the front seat of assorted genders.  It doesn't sound like the back seat is full.  The vibration seems too light, too carefree to be carrying baggage.

I should go do my errands.  There's no food in the house, and no clean dishes.  I can smell the mold from last month's leaky roof all the way from the bedroom.  I feel the air change temperature against my cheek.  Another breeze.  This one can't seem to move the curtain at all.

songs [music]

I do this ever so rarely because to be honest, I'm terrified of feedback on my own work.  Here's two songs I've written in the last month.  Don't read too much into them, though.

Enjoy!

These feet ache for the open road
for calluses and the thrill of bedtime heartbeats
waking up to a world larger than love
and flowing ice from winter cold
you lean in and I drop my guard
hands tremble, arm against arm

I've spent years living tomorrow instead of today
loving like we'd have forever or even more
you drag your hands through your hair and you were rid of me
without you the sun still rises, deep red smiles
**************************************************
So we ride the rails clickity clack clickity clack
feeling the high-tide energy building rising
high-rise jump and our feet leave the ground
our words reach other suns but we remain unsurprised

I've got these arms strong from years of raising them
against the tyranny rained on those who march out of time
and a chest with a scar straight down the middle
appeared just the day after we committed our crime

Don't brutalize that which you don't understand
we rise, harmonize high above those so tiny-minded
the ever-tempted white man crusading for yesterday
forever minor players under our study

The Logical Conclusion of (some types of) Critical Theory [Scope]

I have a feeling that this post is going to raise some eyebrows and heat up some tempers, so let me state up front:

This is by no means a definitive account of ANYTHING.  I am open to criticism.  Please, give me feedback, as this is my own theory and by no means a reflection of all my beliefs.


Phew.  I dislike disclaimers, but the internetz require them sometimes.

Sociology is, at its core, an objective discipline that strives to describe and collect data regarding the inherently subjective experience of social interactions within a given culture.  In its purest form, Sociology is akin to the "hard" sciences like Biology and Physics, following the scientific method by requiring the testing of hypotheses and the replication of results under similar conditions.  Theories arise in Sociology that are quickly disproved, just like in any other science, and those that do withstand the test of time are rightly brought into question as our understanding of society evolves and changes.

While intellectually valuable, Sociology, like other hard sciences, needs a branch dedicated to applying itself to the issues it tackles.  Over the years, this branch has spawned multiple movements working towards equality in society including certain forms of Feminism, parts of the GLBTQ movement, and has raised awareness regarding continuing racial, gender, and socioeconomic disparities.  Most recently, Sociology has given rise to the field of Critical Theory, which strives to look at every social interaction through the sociological lens, thus providing constant feedback and an informal platform for dialectic exchanges.

When formalized, Critical Theory observes the situations of many different types of people and assigns them an amount of privilege as dictated by their social location.  A good representation of this is given by Patricia Hill Collins in her essays on the intersection of different social oppressions.  She states that we all have a location within an oppressive "matrix" (dubbed the Matrix of Oppression) that gives every individual a unique level of privilege, and conversely a unique oppressed status, thus making comparisons of oppression irrelevant and unhelpful to the continued objectification of oppression as it relates to a person's experience.


apologies

All,

I've been absolutely slammed at work the last couple days building a social networking cluster for my company.  Oy.  Sometimes the things that SHOULD work together just don't.  I'm following the Phaedrus method as pioneered in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which states that when you are put up against a roadblock, step back and readjust your perspective.  Perfect!

Anyway, hopefully tomorrow I'll have time to write a post about the logical conclusions of sociological reasoning.  It's a gem.

Makers: Yesterday Meets Tomorrow [Social Change]


In the late 1950s and early '60s, young people everywhere began to get fed up with the lifestyle of their parents' generation, and the counterculture was born.  We all know about the great legacies championed by these young people (the civil rights movement, environmental reform, war protests, art, music, drugs) and the avenues they opened up for us today.

Something we tend to forget is that the counterculture generation was perhaps the last to grow up learning a set of valuable skills most of us today never really think about anymore, things like woodworking, baking (from scratch!), sewing, metalworking, and general craftsmanship.  It's weird to imagine this, but the consumer-goods boom really only started around the time the counterculture was forming, and it was against this consumerism (and many, many other factors) that the counterculture formed its governing principles.


Cue the 21st century.  We were thrown into the "future" with promises of flying cars, Star Trek style interactive computers, and faster-than-light travel.  None of these really panned out (YET.  I'm still waiting for my jetpack), but in the race to innovate, companies have used lower and lower quality materials, QC procedures, and generally have lowered the standards of manufacture while increasing the price with the justification that as commodities, they are obliged to charge what the consumer is willing to pay.

And this place we're in now, where technology is largely proprietary and owned not by the community but by private corporations, is precisely the location from which the counterculture was trying to push us away.  Unfortunately for that philosophy of quality-above-all-else, the counterculture has largely assimilated itself into the mainstream, and its members have families, jobs, mortgages, and practical problems of their own, seemingly erasing the possibility of accomplishing this goal.

News, news, and a solicitation

What The Fuck. Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States of [Corporate Free Speech] decided that Corporations are people too, and thus they are allowed the same right to free speech as individuals, thus making laws that limit their spending on political campaigns and political advertising unconstitutional.

John McCain sipping a thirst-quenching Coca-Cola, Sarah Palin human-hunting with a .50 caliber Barrett rifle.

What the fuck have we become?  This has got to be closest to the "jumping-the-shark" moment in this country since the institutionalization of slavery.  Basically, the court has decided that corporations don't have enough legal protections and thus we should give them our first-born as payment.

Oy.  Sorry for the inaccuracy and hyperbole, but I'm pretty pissed.  Let's see what it would cost to move to Canada...

IN OTHER NEWS:

My wonderful, thoughtful, talented sister Rachel will be contributing to the blog in the near-future!  I have instituted a no-edit policy, which means that whatever she writes I will keep my hands off of entirely!  This is in the interest of exploring the creation of a small, individually-autonomous community in which each person's beliefs are as important as the next.

RELATED:

I am looking for authors!  I want thinkers, writers, photographers, anyone, really!  This is a space for sharing ideas and beauty and your deepest darkest secrets (if thats what you want to talk about).  There are no rules, except that the content be original and "future-seeking."  The interpretation of that is up to you.

So, if you want to write, just drop me a line, leave a comment, etc.  Hope to hear back from some of you!

test post to twitter

Right now I'm setting this blog up to go straight to twitter.  Let's see if it works.  Twitter witter itter tter ter er r re ret rett retti rettiw rettiwT

retesting

A little excerpt by a very obscure author [excerpt]

I wanted to share this little bit from a story someone near and dear to me wrote about 3 months ago:

14th Street

Electric sentries hold their small orange-bright domains open for the clean masses to pass through on their way to forget their sorrows.  Green dresses flutter by worn by blondes, all so sure they are the only ones to look that particular way tonight.  I am relieved to find that despite the repetition, each person manages to carry herself with autoamory, eking out a smile for her clones.

No one looks at me.  They look through me, seeing a plaid shirt, a pint of mediocre beer, and the tired insecurity of a person whose thoughts are constantly elsewhere.  I smile.  I lie.  The sentries stand tall in amused silence, never judging but providing no support for shaky hands and sweaty brow.  This is my fight, my life.  Not a one will malfunction tonight, not a one will hand me the opportunity I need to escape in embarrassed darkness into the quiet street, cloaking myself in the smoke of past suffering and current pain.

There is no room for introspection here, only big blue eyes, half-revealed breasts in the streetlights, and the cheesy excuses made in order to utter words to bodies made uncomfortable by the language of my smile and face.  There is no success tonight.  No nakedness and heavy breathing barely audible beneath iPod soundtracks.  No new friends who wish only for closeness and whose desire is masked by morals and fear.  Tonight, there is only the discovery that I can be heard over the thousands of angry bees and the constant drone of bass, and of love for all people, no matter how small, dishonest, or beautiful.  Tonight is a time for exploring the dark, dusty corridors of personhood, the entryway to humanity, the gateway drug of health.

Nothing

I got nothin' today.  so here's this:

http://niccageaseveryone.blogspot.com/

The Culture of Most Harm [Scope]


Sometimes, an idea pops into your head so suddenly that you wonder if someone didn't put it there.  We call these thoughts epiphanies, and they have led to some of the greatest discoveries of all time.  It's as if our instincts, when coupled to a conscious motivation in a specific and delicate manner can form new ways of thinking without our direct input.

The whole concept is pretty bizarre, but perhaps more bizarre is what I just experienced while reading Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn (Yes, I'm on a Quinn kick this week).  Some of Quinn's ideas are of that perfect, epiphany-esque quality and must have given him great joy and exhilaration during their creation.  What's more amazing is how perfectly these ideas resonate in my own brain.  In this case, someone HAS put this idea in my head, very directly via the written word, and it feels as if I've been thinking it for years and years.

Featured Blog of the Week: Hoostown [Featured Blog]

"What a [cutting-edge] piece of [art]" is the greeting/subtitle on this witty, fun, and utterly nerdy (in a good way!) blog.  Hoostown chronicles the exploits of a Charlottesville, VA-to-Houston, TX transplant (those in the know will not understand the meaning of the title) in the pursuit of a Masters in Fine Arts.

More importantly, it's written by a very dear friend of mine, sister of my BESTBEST friend, and herself a BEST friend (um, that's a bit arbitrary, but i can only have one BESTBEST).  We grew up in each other's lives and I started reading the blog out of a desire to keep in touch.

However, the familial focus ends there.  I CONTINUE reading because this shit is hysterical:
This Just In
Domestic Situation
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down (I went to school with 2 of these people)

So anyway, I encourage you to read this excellently written, hysterical, always grammatically correct blog.

The Rise and Fall of... [Scope]

If the world is saved, it will not be by old minds with new programs but by new minds with no programs at all.
-Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization
Today on the train I had a bizarre moment where I burst out laughing, burgeoning with energy over the clear reality that our society is much further gone than we think it is.  The irony of this thought as I rode to a 40-hour-week job was just too much.  The excitement I experienced was in reaction to the confirmation of a feeling I've had for some time now, that our society is ultimately unsustainable, and continues to worsen.  Mondays can do that to a person, huh?

For those of you who have read his other books, the above quote from Daniel Quinn (Ishmael, The Story of B, My Ishmael) is somewhat old-hat.  For those of you who have not, it may not make a whole lot of sense, so let's break it down quickly:

Quinn's M.O. is the salvation of humanity through a radical paradigm shift away from civilization as we know it and towards something more resembling tribalism (don't knock it until you've read it!).  Here he is describing the difference between vision (unified cultural memes that we look back at and declare, "there's no other way that history could have gone!") and programs (solutions that work to change the flow of vision by impeding its progress or diverting resources).

What he's saying here is that programs, while helpful in a way similar to the paramedic at the scene of an accident, are no replacement for a unified cultural infrastructure (analogy:  hospital with its resources and doctors and nurses and so forth).  What we need to "change the world" is a new Vision, a unified idea of what it means to be Humanity, NOT a series of better-funded or more-radical programs whose stated goal is to fix social ills.  Another way of saying it is, we need to create a new future, not fix an old one.

That's actually not ALL that radical an idea, but Quinn is entirely correct, we will need new minds, or at least changed minds.

1951 Silvertone 1342 Amplifier [Build]

Today, I took apart the guitar amplifier I bought last month.  It's a 1951 Silvertone, model 1342, that I honestly believe belongs in a museum.  So, because I am who I am, I took it apart!

The neat thing is that there is no schematic of this amp online, no real information on it other than anecdotal stuff by old-timers and collectors.  For the most part, it has fallen through the cracks in history and into my hands via a very fun, very interesting older gentleman by the name of Dash who lives in the east village, still bikes around at the spry age of 60-something, and invited me to jam with him whenever I get a chance.  Cool cat, for sure, and yet another awesome Craigslist experience.

A Need to Lighten Up [Humor]

I am always telling myself to "lighten up."  Mostly that stems from some anxiety issues I have, but recently it's also been applicable to this feeling that there's really no reason to get worked up about anything, because the honest truth is, tomorrow will come as it may.  Needless to say, the situation in Haiti has gotten me very, very upset, and there's nothing we can do from here other than send money to reputable charities, pray, and wait for enough infrastructure to come back online to make rebuilding a possibility.

So, if any of you are feeling the way I am, I invite you to fill your hearts with laughter and lightness in order to replenish your emotional reserves and be your strongest for the struggles sure to crop up in the future:

Help Haiti Recover

Today, I have no thoughts of my own.  I am utterly stunned by the situation going on in Haiti, and I want to reach out to whoever is reading this blog and say, please, pay attention, find a reputable charity (see below) that will funnel its funds to those who need them most, and keep sending messages of healing and hope into the ether.

Here we have another opportunity to show what we're capable of as a civilization.  Let's not screw it up this time.  Let the world see how big our hearts can be.

This is a list compiled by MSNBC of all the charities known to be operating in Haiti.  I cannot attest to the legitimacy of ANY of them, nor do I know which ones give the largest percentage of funds to the actual cause versus advertising and recruitment efforts.  I urge you to check out the web pages and find out for yourself, and then donate.

I've donated $25 to UNICEF, and I intend to donate as much as I can afford.

How Big Is Your Picture? [Scope]

Today let's talk about scope.

I was tickled/annoyed the other day by a woman calling in from an AIDS research society who was unaware that there were style standards for writing scholarly papers.  Oy, vey.  I thought to myself, there is NO way she got through school without learning that!  And I have quite a bit of evidence that this is the case.

As I sat back and marveled at her seeming ignorance, I of course began to recognize that there were many, many reasons why despite having this drilled into her skull, this person with a PhD was oblivious to the concept of standardized writing style.  She was simply coming at the question of writing a paper from a different perspective, and it was outside the scope of my job to consider hers as a valid way of being.

Featured Blog of the Week: Lifehacker [Featured Blog]

Lifehacker is pretty much the best resource on earth.  Delightfully geeky, yet incredibly useful, the website is at its heart a blog dedicated to providing resources for those confused or overwhelmed by life today.  The writers are of the mind that technology should be used for good and in a way that increases productivity, rather than as a distraction or just as a source of entertainment.


Included on this frequently updated blog are the following sections:
-How-To: LOTS of different projects, tips, and DIY paraphernalia for the Maker in you.
-Tips:  Specifically user-submitted tips, running the gamut between tech how-to's and recipes for scrumptious meals.
-Downloads:What you'd expect, but these are mostly low-budget, open-source tools

And my personal favorite:
-Featured Workspace: Home offices of the productive and not-so-famous.  These are incredibly well-thought-out workspaces that inspire me every day to be more productive simply via organization and feng shui.

So, I encourage you to give this blog a look.  I subscribe to it via RSS because the layout can be confusing.

I honestly end up with a new useful tip from Lifehacker almost daily! (for instance, my new tagging style)

With Whom Do I Agree?

I was asked today by a coworker whether I am a die-hard democrat.  I laughingly answered, "no!" and proceeded to clarify that I'm not a die-hard anything, and that I disagree wholeheartedly with almost all political actions that are taken (or not taken).  The resulting question, after a short pause, was "well, what do you find so objectionable about Objectivism, then?"



Oh, boy.  I was somewhat blindsided by this, because as I see it, I'm diametrically opposed to Ms. Rand's philosophy on life, its celebration of selfishness, and its equating of personal pursuits with the common good.

comment malfunction (UPDATED)

It seems like comments aren't working...

...on that note, I guess I might as well tell you, I dislike greatly the Blogger service.  I will be exporting this blog to wordpress soon, I think...

Update:  It seems that it wasn't blogger, it was the custom template I had installed.  I've changed it (I like this one better) and the comments are working again.  Enjoy!

Levity [Humor]

A quick perusal of this blog makes it seem like I really don't have a sense of humor...

That's unfortunate, because I really feel like the crux of what I'm after in these posts is to help myself and others like me be at peace with the world, and I think that happiness, laughing, and general buoyancy of spirit are ESSENTIAL to letting the world wash over you without negative effects.

So every now and again I'm going to tag something with [Humor] in order to lighten the mood!

This guy is Awesome!

You can check out the story, but this is an adorable 8 (i've also read 10) year old boy who was banned from youtube after he got popular enough for the site admins to notice he was under the 13-year-old minimum.  So, of course, 4chan fights back with a viral campaign of porn clip mashups.  Apparently it was wildly successful, and hilarious.

Other, equally successful retaliations:
-repost all videos of parkour with naked performers
-find a way for this guy to repost his amazing videos : http://www.wired.com/underwire/2008/02/parody-videos-s/
-1-for-1 legit video for rickroll exchange.  Trust me on this one.

How would you mess with youtube?  Honestly, the possibilities are endless.

The Outsider Perspective

Observation is a powerful tool, and we use it from the moment we're born until the moment we die as a way to gather information. Our culture has formalized observational technique into multiple disciplines such as anthropology, behavioral biology, quantum physics (paradoxically), sociology, and so forth. The list is long because of how important observation is to our ability to gather information, and our senses seem designed to operate in a way that allows us to be absent as an agent but present as an observer.

Some will state that it is impossible to be an observer in our society, that we are all influenced by the situations we see and the way in which we process them. This is absolutely true, but only to a point. For the most part, the faculty most incapable of remaining impartial is our emotive capability, and the influence of our emotions seems directly tied to our investment in the situation at hand. To put it another way, the further removed from a situation you are, the better you will be at observing it impartially.

This premise is difficult to argue with; it is relatively clear that emotions and logical processes inhabit separate locations in our minds and while they certainly create feedback, noise, and difficulty for each other at times, it is theoretically possible to distill one without the other. Philosophy finds this as the ONLY method by which to approach problems of life, the universe, and everything.  The scientific method is based on this idea, on the assumption that there are facts and laws and mechanisms that can be known and understood based on observation and variable elimination.

And yet, almost to a person, we believe that the most essential way of knowing a person or a group of people is to be that person or a part of that group of people.  The distinction is incredibly important, because there are intrinsically subjective elements to being a unique organism or being part of a unique culture that cannot be understood from a separate context.  We have words to describe the inaccessibility of this knowledge, the most notable is Empathy.

To be empathetic is to have, for a split second, an understanding of what it means to be a part of the situation being observed.  This point of reference is used from that point onward in order to alter the situation, but at no point has the observer become the observed.  This is akin to our forays into astrophysics, which are based entirely on snapshots--generally stationary--of systems we cannot touch, feel, or measure directly.  We know that in all reality, this is the closest we'll come to a true understanding of the cosmos or of each other.

Interestingly, there are cases in which we do trust others to have more knowledge about ourselves than we do.  Psychotherapy is a perfect example of this, in which a total stranger is asked to help illuminate things about ourselves that we would otherwise be relatively blind to or in denial about.  The methodology surrounding psychology/psychiatry is such that rather than building a catalog of all the possible personalities, a good therapist will look for markers that indicate more common TYPES of personalities or ways of coping with life.

All of this is just a lead-up, though.  I want to talk specifically about efforts to "improve" the world (quotes for subjectivity).  Activist groups are a special breed, passionate to an intensity head and shoulders above the rest of their respective cultures and generally interested chiefly in solving problems that affect them at their specific social locations.  Western progressive activism tends to center itself around the concept of intersectionality, under which characteristics of a person decide their unique social location and end up creating subtly different communities underneath the larger progressive umbrella.

Race, class, gender, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, body type, educational level, and geography all play into this matrix of forces that influences us every day.  People at certain locations have more privileges than others due to history, context, and the Isms that describe the multiple types of discrimination faced by regular people every single day.  And thus, activists tend to rally in order to overcome these Isms.

(Full disclosure:  I'm white, male, well-educated, generally straight, without any disabilities)

The general feeling within these activist groups is one of emotional support, empowerment, re-education, and direct action.  There is not a huge amount of room for scientific discovery, which is in part due to the rejection of science as a valid way of describing human society (see this post).  However, there also seems to be a general sentiment that empathy is not enough.  To effectively  fight an Ism, you have to be affected by it.

And that's fine!  I'm not whining that I can't participate in empowerment campaigns for groups I don't belong to.  Being a progressive, forward-thinking individual, though, I do see room for improvement.

Activism could benefit greatly from a big dose of Outsider Perspective.  Not the hostile, "what are you whining about?" type, because this is given all too willingly and all too often.  I'm not even talking about the sort of white guilt that results in somewhat well-intentioned but ultimately doomed efforts to "save the children" of poorer, less-western, less-white cultures.  What I'm referring to is the perspective held by those of us who empathize with the cause but cannot participate due to the hypocrisy that would result.

And this is where I tend to get into trouble.  How do you approach a group of legitimately marginalized people and tell them, here, my privileged life has yielded a more helpful way of doing things!  I used to do this as a kid, before I understood the error I was making, by questioning the submissiveness and lack of academic integrity embraced by many young girls my age simply because they were girls.  It just wasn't my place to tell them that something was off, but it didn't change the fact that I knew.

Rather than end with a resolution, I end this post with a dilemma:  how do the well-intentioned, entirely devoted outsiders of a cause make a positive impact?  There has to be a way, just as there was a way to overcome the problem of powered flight, just as there was a way to fuel the civil rights movement in the 1960s, just as there now is a way to communicate nearly instantly using invisible ones and zeroes over thousands of miles.

tiredness

I can't write today. I'm just too tired. But I am forcing myself to write SOMETHING every day, so, this is it. An admission of physical weakness. I'm giving up coffee and caffeine until my insomnia resolves itself.

I've got some new ideas though. And some great improvements to make to the blog, like references, links, pictures, and videos. That should really get it jumpstarted, eh?

see you tomorrow.

Corporate Responsibility

This is going to be a short one, because like yesterday, I'm just too tired to actually write anything worth sharing with friends.

I just wanted to touch on the ways in which we think about corporate responsibility. Opinions vary wildly depending on where you are in the world, if you are part of a corporation (and sense are both dulled and sharpened while being part of the machine), and so forth.

So, what does it even mean to be responsible? Is that something that's applicable to corporations, which by their very definition operate on the principle of the free market? Most people think that yes, there should be a guiding dogma for all corporate entities, and that this dogma be based on some amount of regulation. And yes, I'm including even the most radical laissez faire advocates in this analysis: even these individuals agree with holding companies to some amount of international law (like not killing people, for instance).

In our country, we try to regulate heavily based on the principle that corporations have a responsibility to consumers, investors, employees, and when large enough, the general public. The specifics of these regulations and the logic behind them differs from state to state and from market to market, but for the most part, our government seems to get that we want safe products made by workers who are treated well.

However, this is entirely at odds with corporate philosophy. Most, if not all, corporations operate on the principle that if a venture is profitable in the end, then steps along the way are justified. On the more responsible end of this continuum are companies that try to make ends meet, and when they can't, ask for input from employees and make changes based on collective bargaining. On the sleazy end are companies that perform massive layoffs, lower the quality of their products (or the quantity per dollar), or ship their industry to places where they are tax-exempt or where labor is cheaper. The degree to which they are motivated by Machiavellian economics varies, but the guiding principle is the same: the bottom line defines success.

And there are many in our country who believe that this is the way things should be. After all, we were founded on the principles of capitalism, meritocracy, and Locke's idea of equal starting points. Why is it then that companies with worse business models, practices, and products become more successful? Why is it that despite massive regulation, most industries find way to bypass the law? And why is it that despite a call for new jobs in the United States, a record number of positions are being shipped overseas?

I don't have answers to this. I personally think that capitalism is crap, an educated white man's justification for retaining the purse strings of an entire globe in the face of widespread poverty, violence, and intolerance. To me, the corporate structure reinforces the hierarchical structure of our society and maintains the perceived integrity of those on the top while dooming those at the bottom to obscurity.

But, like any person with an opinion but without a solution, I can't say that my perceptions are all that valid. I know I don't like what I see, but is there any way to successfully communicate ideas of frustration and disgust without an alternative in mind? For the most part, this is what gets those with a social conscience (some call us progressives. that was a joke.) are accused of on a daily basis: having criticisms without being able to forge a new paradigm from the decay all around us.

What do we need in order to do that? Collaboration? Better ideas? A new perspective? More power? LESS power? Inner peace? Inner pain?

Who knows?

No seriously. Who does? Do you?

The Science of Sleep

Boy, am I tired today. Sometimes, even well-intentioned people can be loud until midnight when you need to get up at 6:30 the next morning.

I woke up and did a quick analysis of my condition. Eyes barely staying open. Arms lethargic, legs like lead weights, coordination entirely off. 5 hours of sleep, after a weekend of extreme, strenuous, exhilarating fun (New Years, visit from my brother, a great evening with a new friend, and today, my birthday!). I'm about 12 hours in debt to myself, and there's really no sign that this deficit will be repaid any time soon.

But, as I arrived at work, buffeted by the bone-chilling Westchester Wind (I've anthropomorphised this Beast of Winter), I remembered something incredibly important that is honestly quite easy to keep in mind while I'm feeling well. In fact, it's become second nature to me, except when I'm cranky, anxious, or tired. Unfortunately, those are the times when advice such as this is most necessary. Bandages aren't that useful when you don't have a wound in need of dressing, and therapy is generally lost on even the most damaged of individuals if they happen to be in a good mood at the time.

But I digress. I walked, and I thought the following: at some levels, both the highest level of being (the Observer) and the lowest level (the Reactor), we need only BE. There is no need to engage ourselves in every distraction that comes our way. As long as we are engaged in our own existence, we are safe no matter what happens to us.

So today, I'm exhausted. I really would rather be at home and asleep than at work, but I know that focusing on that will only make my estrangement from bed all the more painful. As a culture, we tell ourselves all the time that focusing on the negative is not helpful, but in general our solution is to distract ourselves in some other way. For instance, I could focus on work or writing this post, but in the back of my mind, I will always be thinking about wanting to go to sleep.

This method sucks (at least for me). And I know I'm on a Zen-Heavy trip these days (sans the dogma and doctrine), but in a lot of cases, the Zen answer is the correct answer. In this particular case, we find that rather than distracting ourselves further, the healthiest course of action is to acknowledge the discomfort, let it be felt, and let the thought dissipate naturally. Don't dwell, but don't try to artificially replace the thought either. And voila! You're out the other side, on your way to some sort of sleep-deprived enlightenment!

Every moment of my life in which I deal with thoughts and experiences AS THEY COME is a successful moment for me. Every moment in which I succumb to distraction is slightly annoying, but not sinful. There is no sin in this world, and that's what makes it so powerful. Sin is just another distraction from self, a roadblock that must be overcome in order to be truly OK with the world from moment to moment.

And, that, my friends, is how you write a barely cogent blog post. It feels good, though.

A blog about social change, written from Brooklyn, New York. Currently looking for contributors.