Oregon Trail Day 1.2


Day 1: On the Road
Date: April 18, 2012
Journey: Chicago, IL to Lincoln, NE
Total miles: 529m (40.5mpg)

… continued from part 1

IV. Agri-Cultures of Animals and Machines (Illinois)

It had been a while since I had driven through western Illinois. I used to travel in this region on my way to and from college during vacations, but never this far west. Past DeKalb, were several egg confined animal feeding operations [CAFOs], or what people call “factory farms.” This would be the last I would see of land animal life in a long while. Animals were absent out here. I wondered how many drivers ever thought to notice. The replacement of companion species and wildlife by machines had become so common place, that this was once the home of other life besides humans and corn, wheat, and soy had been lost. It reminded me of Aldo Leopold‘s hard words on Wisconsin’s relationship with a prarie plant:

In [the cars] there must ride at least 10,000 people who have ‘taken’ what is called history, and perhaps 25,000 who have ‘taken’ what is called botany. Yet I doubt whether a dozen have seen the Silphium, and of these hardly one will notice its demise.

Yet animals as a general class of beings ought to be a much more noticeable absence. We interact with them everyday at restaurants, grocers, and in the kitchen, but their lived existence has become all but part of a mythical past or never never land. One does not think much of animals until someone brings up an argument of their “rights,” and then comes out the argument that if we did not kill them, where would all the animals go. If only they got out to the country and witnessed that the animals are gone, stuffed into warehouses and feedlots, their wild cousins extinct or displaced from the land presently devoted to feeding “livestock” with unsuitable crops. The crisis between our relationship with animals is one of space and ethos. We no longer dwell with, amongst, or on them except in the abstract field of debate and internet memes.

 

V. The Poetry of Place (Illinois, Iowa)

Wind turbines stood like giants in the horizon. Were they the herald of a new age of sustainable technology or an ominous signpost of an age where the land would no longer be inhabited by humans and animal others? Their was something so foreign about them, as if they were artifacts of an alien civilization.They were so elegant, but also so sterile. The land looked even more efficient and productive under their whirling shadows.

Yet, even the tallest of the titans paled in comparison to the sea blue dome above. Was it just me, or was the curvature of the Earth clear as day under the concave sky? Outside of the city one could experience the vastness of space, the stretches of what was once a sea of prairie. It was humbling to drive through such an expanse. The churches seemed fitting. The mosaic of soft clouds above beckoned some form of worship or at least a moment of reverence. Compelled to narrate my excursion through analogies, I could not make sense of my experience otherwise. The open road has poetry at its essence.

The Ronald Reagan fed into I-80 like a capillary into a vein. The road is the circulatory system of modern America, part of “the American experience” and its commercial excellency. Capital circulated through this vast system, and so did people.

I popped out on the other side of the Mississippi. I was in the West–sort of. Often people bash Iowa. They say it is a bore to drive through, but they are probably just not paying attention, or perhaps I arrived during the right season. On I-80 there were not so much of corn fields in sight, but there were undulating paved roads banked by lush green fields and trees. Catbird breezed up and down as if it was her first flight on the road.

As the road conditions scrapped-off some of my car’s fuel economy, I thought about the interstate highway system. It’s designed to transport people and capital from point A and B as efficiently as can be. But was efficiency the ultimate value of an open road? They could have flatten out I-80 for a little extra dough to save that much more fuel. It would have perhaps saved money and resources over the long term, but it would have eliminated the geography and history of the land. The tides of traffic and and ebbs and flows of the road gave testimony to the land and its inhabitants. To iron out these inefficiencies would be to erase the land of its personality and the experience of place. Agriculture had already butchered the land up into a grid, each piece having become property, and not much more. The obstacles to efficiency was a reminder of the alterity of the earth, which prevented us from getting too caught up in our narcissistic narrative of our mastery over it. The winds and bombs forced us to look and perhaps even respect that we were traveling not only in between landscapes, but through a living history of meanings and beings.

 

VI. Half-way Stretch (Iowa, Nebraska)

At a rest stop before Des Moines, it had not been more evident that I would have to make this a two day trip.  And I definitely wasn’t going to make dinner at McFoster’s Kind Cafe (which i had been looking forward to reviewing for at least a week). It was at least four hours away from Omaha–the midpoint to Greeley from Chicago–, and I had just woken up from an accidental nap. I couldn’t just show up somewhere at midnight and expect a place to stay and I had made a rule not to stay at motels/hotels/hostels during my trip, so I searched for campsite on Galaxy and found one in Lincoln, Nebraska that got good reviews. They had spots open for cars and tents and would allow me to pay in the box when I arrived so I would not have to pay up front if I decided to travel any more or less.

Although the drive was beautiful, the repetition on the road offered a lot of time for self-reflection. In fact, I had so many during the drive about love, sex, and death (including my mass murder of insects) that I decided to dedicate a whole post just to them. There were, however, every now and then breaks from the common scenery such as the “World’s Largest Truck Stop” outside of Iowa City, equipped with a parking lot of spaces the size of semi’s and a gas station with several fast food chains inside. You’d think you were in Texas. I entered Des Moines after nightfall. The city was lit up and the Capitol looked beautiful. I had never been to Des Moines, but wish I had some time for a visit after seeing all the pedestrian bridges over I-80.

Nebraska was not as hilly and lush as Iowa, but had its own natural beauty… at least on the other side of the windshield. Then I rolled the windows down it smelt like beef jerky and burt tires. Omaha also looked like a cool city, or at least they wanted you to think that from I-80. It had a bridge decorated in giant heart art and an epic welcome sign three stories off the ground next to the beautiful engine train car. Outside of Omaha, I fed my second tank ten gallons of what might be called “corn oil,” the Midwest’s finest. It was also the first time I was excited to pay $3.50 for a gallon of gas–$0.60 cheaper than in Lombard.

At midnight, I finally arrived at my $19 a night site at Camp A Way, an RV campground in Lincoln, Nebraska. I bumbled my way around the office and bathroom in the dark to fill out my information and deposit my money for the night, but there were no such forms, no map of the property, and no access code for the bathrooms. I made do with the envelop and pencil I was provided and drove down to an empty site and parked there. I cracked open the windows for some night air and laid awkwardly on the backseats. Sleeping didn’t come quite so easy this time, but it felt darn good  to be on the road with such an extended period of solitude and a bright future ahead.

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Oregon Trail Day 1.1


Day 1: On the Road
Date: April 18, 2012
Journey: Chicago, IL to Lincoln, NE
Total miles: 529m (40.5mpg)

I. Preparation vs. Procrastination

Like the previous 20 years of my life, my road trip was delayed. I had meaninglessly busied my way around the internet during April 17. I intended to leave on the 18th because it was two days after my mother’s and dog’s birthday. This left me Tuesday to finish preparing. But I procrastinated. It’s what you do when you’re anxious.

I had several months to prepare for my trip, which meant several months “wasted.” I wanted to leave for the Pacific Northwest as soon as I returned home upon graduation, but I was naive about winter driving conditions in the mountains as well as access to National Parks. I decided to leave in April, but I still had many more decisions to make. Should I plan the trip or be spontaneous? Should I hang out with friends or strangers? Was I going to get a car or hitch hike? If I got a car, would it be a Honda Fit, Subaru Impresa, or Hyundai Accent? Should I buy a smart phone? Which one: an Android or an iphone 4S? How much should I spend on a tent? Should I get a better pocket knife? A gas, petrolium, or alcohol camping stove? Purification tablets, bottle filter, or ceramic pump? The list of decisions went on…

So much cautionary thinking and over-analysis hindered my preparation and enjoyment. I weighed the costs and benefits of each purchase. I made several visits to each car dealer, REI, and the AT&T store to become more informed. It was all so silly. I knew that whatever I got I would eventually be happy with, but I wanted it to be the right choice! (Eventually, I decided to go with a 2012 Honda Civic LX, a Samsung Galaxy SII, an REI Passenger 2 tent, a Jetboil Flash Stove,  and Portable Aqua purification tablets. I originally wanted to write a post about why I decided to purchase each of these, but that would be a little too neurotic, even for me). As I started to realize all the expenses and planning, I had burts of second thoughts. The closer my departure date, the more I felt in-over-my-head.

II. Goodbyes

The anxiety grew. There was so much left unplanned, but perhaps this was a good thing. I decided to let go in the last several days leading up to the trip. I fit in a few of the final hours visiting the grandparents. They were getting older and sicker. It was obvious they had concerns about their future. They were sad (yet excited) to see me leaving town again so soon after returning from 2.5 years in Texas. I also made sure to fit in some time with Duke before I left. I felt bad I hadn’t spent so much time with him in the last week. I would miss him more than anyone. He was my buddy, and he’d grown very attached while I’d been home. For the first time since my last visit he was taking 1.5 hour walks and playing with that darn remote controlled car in the basement. I felt bad about not spending more time with my other sibling, my sister. I had really intended to, but I got so caught up with my own projects and de-prioritsed her like many other important people in my life. It was a bad habit. I had become accustomed to going into “Dean-land,” as they called it, since I took refuge in my imagination from all the family conflict on the first floor above me.

The two people I spent the most time with during my time home were an old friend from college who had moved to Chicago months ago and a cute gal I met on an online dating site. We had made a date to camp in my backyard to test out the camp gear before heading off on my adventure. The Jetboil worked really well and the tent held up in stormy weather. I took her down Sheridan Road the next morning back to Logan Square on the 15th and then went on a final date with the other special lady in my life. We caught a bite at the Chicago Diner, a favorite of ours.

The next day I celebrated my Mom’s birthday at the Museum of Science and Industry, and on the next I went out shopping again–but in the afternoon. This included picking up my contact prescription with my aunt who was adamant that I replace my scratched-up 5 year old glasses. I told her I planned on leaving at 8am tomorrow, and wasn’t going to wait for them to be made. She said she knew I wouldn’t be reedy to leave by then and that she’d get them for me. Before midnight, I had a chance to say goodbye to my sister and grandma, but insufficient time to pack.

I realized I wasn’t going to make it out by 8am the next morning, so I went to sleep for six hours after spending couple hours finalizing my paper contact list and calendar (a backup). When I woke up, I also recognized that I was not going to be able to make it to Greeley, Colorado–a 16+ hour drive–in one trip. My trip was already getting off to a messy start and it hadn’t even started! I was adamant about making a video of my gear before I left so I spent a good a mount of time organizing it all on a coffee table in the den. Part for fun, part check-list, I made sure I had everything I needed accounted for. I wasn’t too surprised, but I was bringing a lot more gear (mostly clothes and food) than I had anticipated. To think I originally planned on hitchhiking and backpacking! Then again, I was planning on moving out there. Fortunately, it all fit comfortably in the trunk.

At about 11am, I took Duke for a final walk and filmed him running in the park. I could now watch the 12-year old guy thousands of miles away. We stopped by my father’s parents home to say goodbye to them and then ran back home. My mother had just returned home from picking the glasses up from my aunt as I was saying goodbye to Duke. Looking into his sad doggy eyes was almost enough for me to postpone the trip. But I was set in my ways and didn’t want to give my family any reason to think they were right about me not leaving that day.

At approximately 1pm, 5 hours after my original departure time, I turned on Catbird’s ignition and left for the West with a nearly empty gas tank.

III. Hitting the Road (Illinois)

Driving on the the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) was exhilarating. (Never thought I’d use the word “exhilarating in a the same sentence as “tollway” and Ronald Reagan”). Windows down, the crisp Spring air  blew away any anxiety buried under my skin. I felt like a free man. The open road meant an open future. I was as much excited for the past I was leaving literally behind as for the plans I had before me. The West was a symbol of dreams to come. It was a direction. It was an experience.

I got a bit cocky. I pressed my luck, seeing how far I could drive the car with the little fuel I had. I hadn’t filled it up the tank the night before because I was in a hurry to get home, but in the morning I was even more anxious to get out of town. With a half a gallon of gas (22 miles of driving), I pulled off the tollway into Lombard to fill up–a $50 start on my road trip. Soon I hit the tolls. Over $10 in total to make it to Iowa. I regretted avoiding the tollway. A woman at the toll explained the fee doubled a few months ago from $1.80 to $3.60. I was glad I took the extra change my grandmother threw at me earlier. As I pulled money out at a later poll, I grumbled that I remembered when the tolls were $1. “You’re not that old,” said the toll woman.

I probably looked like a kid form the suburb moving into a University of Iowa dorm. My bag of gear and a stash of food (Fritos, pretzels, deluxe nuts, and dates) sat shotgun and my Nalgene accompanied my Galaxy SII under the armrest. Galaxy, in addition to Catbird, would be my travel companions: an electronic 140 horse-powered wagon and a jack of all electronic trades. Depending so much on technology made me ambivalent a week before. I didn’t like the environmental toll and fiscal expenses of having a car and I once despised the obnoxious use of smartphones as much as I had of cellphones a decade earlier before I came to own one. Now that I had a car for the first time in over 2.5 years, I felt empowered. I no longer had to worry about getting rides form others and planning my day around others’ schedule. The smartphone was a handy distraction, but an all-in-one tool.  It took better photos and videos than my last stolen camera and it made texting and managing a list of contacts less of a chore. (More on my thoughts about this to come).

I was getting all too close to my travel companions too fast. Galaxy has become a mobile flirting device. A fine lady from Arcata who I met online invited me to spend a day with her before arriving at my destination of Sanctuary One in southern Oregon–she promised to make it a day I’d never forget. I wondered whether suggestive text messaging with voice command should fall under the category of phone sex–the PG13 version. Meanwhile I had teamed up with Catbird to maintain the highest mpg average won our cross-country adventure. We got off to a grand start: 42mpg! As we hit winds near Iowa, our average dropped to 38mpg. “You know you have a cool car when you’re disappointed it only gets 38 miles per gallon,” I told Galaxy. We were one small family on the road.

 

To be continued in part 2…

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Complimentary Dates


I.

Before I returned home in January to avoid the emotional and social aftermath my ex concocted, I updated my OK Cupid status to Chicago. Although I had some old friends I was excited to see, I didn’t have a community of people to chill with like I did while in grad school, and I wasn’t living in the city so it would be more difficult to make one or find people to go out with. More so, I was looking for some validation that I was attractive dating material… plus, I wanted to bone. The free dating site didn’t do much for me in Texas. There weren’t many rad feminist nerds, and if there were, I was limited because I didn’t have a car and I was swamped with grad school work. To my surprise, I had hundreds of visitors to my profile within the first couple days. By the time I arrived at O’Hare airport, I had several dates lined up and a potential six or seven more. My self-esteem was at the highest since the Spring.

So I spent my first week hanging out with some friends (a philosopher transplant in a Northwestern English grad program, a Texas socialist, an old friend kinky hipster) and some dates. My first date–a microbiology teacher and grad student–in Chicago was promising. We went out twice, but she was too busy to pursue a relationship with someone outside the city. My second date was a different story. We both thought one another was cool, and we both had survived bad breakups and really wanted sexual satisfaction. We met up a couple times, and both enjoyed the sex, but I didn’t feel comfortable afterwards. I wasn’t attracted to her beyond a political level and felt like I was just using her for sex. I went on another 8 or so phone and dinner dates, but most didn’t amount to anything due to a disinterest on either one of our ends. Eventually I became exhausted from my commutes to the city, and I even began to question the point of all the dating. Yes, I was hanging out with cool people, exploring the city, eating great food, and upping my dating experience points. But what was motivating me? Sex? Companionship? Boredom? Procrastination?

II.

A couple months and a couple hundred dollars later, I didn’t feel any better than where I started. I had not much to show for my time at home. I intended to volunteer at a humane education organization and attend couch surfing events to make friends and get referrals, but with little results.  Okay, I had watched the entire series of Battlestar Galactica. This 72-hour accomplishment is quite the feat for someone who hasn’t watched any TV (save a couple series on DVD like Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm). But the show only reminded me of my ex. I couldn’t separate it from her because she would talk about it all the time in the month before the breakup. I couldn’t stop guessing which character she identified as and what she must have thought about the character’s relationship tensions as we wen though our own. It was a bizarre exercise of the imagination. Besides Battlestar, I did quite a bit of reading. It felt great to read novels again after grad school, but I soon became impatient with even this.

In the last six weeks of my stay, I focused less on entertainment and more on planning. I found two incredible WWOOFing opportunities. One northern in Utah at a Hare Krishna Temple and another in southern Oregon at a care farm. My spontaneous adventure had gotten locked in as I worked my schedule around these opportunities. I soon had an itinerary after talking with a facebook friend who I studied with in Australia who had since been giving tours of the country every summer. Now that I had more concrete plans, I felt more confident telling relatives and acquaintances about my road trip.

III.

It was either my new found confidence and optimism from dating and planning, just plain luck, karma, or a flirtatious combination of all the above that set me up in contact with several lovely women. The first was a beautiful blonde who contacted me first. I’m bashful to admit that her references to Pokemon (and interest in vegan donuts) caught my attention. I’m not normally attracted to blondes, but she was cute as a button. We romanced each other over a game of Mario Kart and participated in a victory dance in her bedroom. Afterwards, we cuddled, giddily smiling. Unlike previous dates, I felt something. I did not feel alienated, but connected. There was mutual affection. It was really great. It was what I think I was looking for: emotional and sexual intimacy.

On the next date, however, there was no sexual fruition. I wanted to assume she felt sick from the food and wasn’t interested, but she said she felt fine. After she kissed me goodnight, I felt empty. I thought I had found another person to share intimacy with, but I hadn’t. I felt rejected, but not like the previous times which I accepted relatively easily. I felt like a failure and the fear grew within me that it would be another year or longer until I found another person like my last two exes. I went back onto OK Cupid and looked for other people to meet, one of which was the girl I “fell in love” with. That same week, I was contacted by a woman from the Southeast and got an invitation from someone I had messaged in Arcata, California to spend the day together. I spoke with both over the phone, and each I had a great conversation with. The magnitude of positive attention I had in this one week made me feel accomplished and helped me rebound from my sadness over what I saw as rejection from the blonde gamer.

Actually, I eventually went out with her again several times and we developed greater intimacy. I thought she was being aloof the entire time, but as I reflected on my past relationships, I realized that perhaps it a response to my own aloofness. Was I guarded as much as they were? I was being more private because of my concerns with web privacy and the violation of my social space by my ex in the Fall, but there was something more. I became more conscious that I did not give many compliments. I did not give much at all. And I was just as reserved at times towards receiving. I was suspicious of both ends. Each exposing my vulnerability in different ways. In each I exposed myself as interested and opened myself to either rejection and/or dependency. So I gave her compliments, telling her how I felt about her the whole time. Unfortunately, I was to anxious to do just that, and prefaced them with “I don’t usually give compliments” and end noted “, but that’s not so much a compliment but a fact.” I’m quite the neurotic! Even still, the night ended happily.

IV.

So what lessons did I learn from all this?

First, to capitalize off my positive traits. I could tone down my innate cuteness, eccentricity, and nerdiness, but I ended up dating people who I did not connect with and care much for.If I were to achieve sexual and emotional intimacy, I had to feel comfortable with myself, and I could only do this by having confidence in myself and my innate attractiveness.

Second, to admit I want intimacy. I often find myself between the polyamorous queerisity of some of my friends and vanilla hetero-monogamy of others.  It’s ridiculous that i should feel pressure to be at either end of those spectrum.  I don’t like putting limits on my sexuality and on the number of people I can love, but I also am not turned on by strapping a stranger down to a table and beating them. I want intimacy without a quota. And I don’t have to be  radically queer to be radical or have great sex.

Third, to be direct and honest. I’ve missed out on so many sexual invitations and opportunities because of a sense of futility or a fear of losing a friend. In the long term, I would discover that picking up on an opportunity was far from futile and that my potential friendship with that person was far from secure. By speculating about a future and calculating an approach out of anxiety from acting in the present, I denied beauty from my life. Recently, I’ve discovered how powerful it can for both parties to be to be direct about how you feel about one another, why you are attracted to them, and what you’d like from them. I’ve “fallen” for people who have done that to me, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it works the other way around too.

Fourth, to assert my sexuality. When I was younger, I’d come off creepy because I would be sexually assertive without confidence and sensuality. I became embarrassed of my strong sexuality and afraid of acting on it because of how others may be affected and how I would judge myself. I assumed it was a default intrusion rather than a gift. Now I was discovering, beginning with a cute chicana that I dated after the breakup, how spellbinding my flirtation could be. A writer-sorcerer, I had a away with words. They crawled off my tongue, skipped from my lips, tickled the back of her ear, crept under the skin of her neck, and slid between her thighs. When I paused, I could hear her silent response.

Fifth, to be the top. This may contradict the first lesson I learned, but it is an extension of the last two. I’d describe myself more as a switch. I get turned on more when someone is very expressive and I feel more when I’m able to slip out of consciousness through transcending thought. I am also a heteroflexible feminist and value gender equality. What (generalization) I’ve discovered is that most (or at least many) rad feminists like their partner to be the top, probably for the very same reasons I do! Women are often very self-conscious about their positive body image, pleasing their partner, and getting-off that they aren’t able to do all these things simultaneously. But there is possibly also a gendered component of wanting to be wanted (which I’m subjected to also, by the way). By minimizing my gender privilege (self)confidence during sex, the act becomes more intimate and fluid for all parties, as it allows me to fully unleash the sexual animal inside without guilt and not overanalyze desire.

Sixth, to date vegetarians. This lesson may seem superficial, but I have never had great sex with a non-vegetarian. I don’t know why. It could be because I feel more intimacy with someone who doesn’t support interspecies injustices. Or perhaps vegetarians are more intimate with me for the same reason. Bias or just a coincidence from a smaller sample size, I’ll probably not be making a rule out of this anytime soon, but it’s fun to think about.

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Road Reflections: Sex, Death, and Love


Introduction:

The solitude of the open road can be an experience rich in thought and emotion. Being alone in on the rorad can be a meditative exercise. The zen of driving, if you will.

It’s sometimes surprising how many prematurely ended thoughts bubble up to the surface of consciousness during moments of solitude. Yet, people do not expect this and perhaps even fear it. I’m going to refer back to Sherry Turkle’s TED talk on being “connected, but alone.”  One excellent point she makes is that many of us in smart phone and facebook society are anxious to be-by-our-self. In this condition, people are afraid when they are not connected, afraid perhaps to think and reflect.

My first day on the road was not suffered with the boredom and exhaustion that others thought I’d experience. People were shocked that I wanted to travel alone over such long measurements of time and space. Driving alone seemed foolish to them. How exhausting! How boring! Iowa and Nebraska would surely put me to sleep. There was nothing around to look at and I had no one to speak with. Well, no one but myself.

I put my Samsung Galaxy SII to some good use by hitting the memo and voice command buttons to record short quips, and used the voice recorder to archive longer ones. The following “aphorisms” are more-or-less transcripts of I archived during those first eight hours and 500 miles:

On Insecticide and Responsibility:  As I drive through Iowa, my thoughts lead me to the concept of responsibility as dozens and dozens of insects splatter across my bumper and windshield. Can my road trip justify all this death? Is driving ever justified (if we take these insects into serious moral consideration)? Then again, isn’t death inevitable? Everything comes at a cost. These animals’ deaths seem excessive as I’m not even making use of their bodies, but I’m not sure if that makes much of a difference. In the end, lives are taken in the process of all lived experience.

Responsibility is thinking through that. When we want people to be responsible for killing animals, we desire that humans be social creatures and have in mind the consequences for other beings, which is itself an ethical relationship which is itself a social relationship. How do we inhabit the world with others without the same language? It’s a difficult question to answer. We are not able to talk with them in our language or relate to them in the same social manner as we do with other humans. Nevertheless, there is something already fundamentally social about the effort to empathize with and take others into consideration. Empathizing with animals requires a pre-understanding that we have a social relationship with other animals, but we disavow this at an early age. We don’t take this acknowledgement to its end as veganism. We want to feel good about our responsibility without taking it to its logical conclusion.

Thus, we say we care about animals, but without ever questioning where that care begins and ends. To “care” about animals without an effort toward veganism is mere rhetoric. It’s as if to say “I am human, thus I care… but I don’t care more because I am human and thus have a ‘personal choice’ of whether I care or not.” So care comes naturally as a byproduct of one’s humanity, but the negation of that care is even more decisively human because it’s an exercise of the agency of the liberal individual. Of course, this rhetoric is not “human(e),” because to care in such a way is inconsistent and obstructed by an illogical prejudice (specisism), which is a threat against reason which allows us choice and agency in the first place. In the end, caring-to-reason is trumped by rationalizations against caring, against thinking.

Meaningless Death: Death is just so abstract. How can one understand it? One can understand other things that seem incomprehensible, like the creation of life and life itself. They are pretty absurd, but at the same time we are living life. We see people born, and we can experience the miracle that life is, the unfathomability of chance is before our eyes. But we never live death. It’s never before our eyes. There is no reflection on death. One is just reflecting into the darkness. So maybe there is something profound there, realizing the inability of being able to comprehend death. People fool themselves into thinking they know what death is. There is an afterlife or we return to the earth. Spiritualism and materialism. But is there something beyond both those explanations? Is death incomprehensible beyond scientific and religious discourse? What’s difficult about death is the impossibility of making sense of it. And that’s why death is so threatening: it resists any attempt to make sense of it. It’s like yelling into an abyss. There is no answer, but only the echo of our voice whispering back in our skulls.

Love and the Proximity of Nihilism: I’ve been thinking a lot about the question of love. It seems like it has as much to to do with proximity to a person as their identity. Is that all it is? Is that meaningful? Isn’t our “love” different from the affection animals feel after being fed. We want something more transcendent and deeper, but what if that’s all it is? And maybe that’s what’s sad about it: maybe it’s my realization that that’s all it is and trying to make meaning of it without falling into cultural cliches of thinking “this is my mother so I must love her,” or “this is my mother and that’s why I love her”. There is the difficulty of accepting that if that’s what it is. But it’s very real. It’s not insignificant. Love is sharing one’s life with others. That’s who one is.

I think back to that post I wrote about my grandfather. My concern was that maybe I didn’t love people in my family because I didn’t feel how people are expected to feel as “good people”, and that if I felt anything it was because I could’t get past my narcissism–my sadness for myself that I cannot feel sad for them. But my perspective is changing today. Perhaps I’m afraid of expressing and experiencing that emotion, or maybe I do experience sadness in the face of another’s future death and its a very profound feeling. Perhaps, I understand death more essentially than others, as something more than the superficiality of an end of life. And if so, I shouldn’t assume I’m not capable of feeling love.

Motherly Love. Strangely, I’m prompted to reflect on my relationship to my mother as I listen to the soundtrack for the first Kill Bill. My mom went to see the first film with me, and she knew it would be violent and wouldn’t like it (in fact, she walked out at the beginning because it made her sick). Yet, she wanted me to be happy. She is almost always supporting me and doing everything she can. I would just hate myself if I didn’t appreciate all of it. But I don’t, and this insufficient appreciation is hard for me to accept.

What makes it difficult for me to appreciate is her babying me. You begin to resent someone who doesn’t let you be you. She thinks she always knows what’s better and safer for me. And yes, sometimes I mess up because I didn’t t take her advice. But I’d like be allowed to mess up. And I’d like to be able to discover things on my own and earn things on my own. So I think what I really resent is not her, but any felt dependency on her, the feeling of not being able to be my own person and that all the great things become spoiled by her overbearingness.

And that makes me think of my ex–how I gave her lots of advise and encouragement… like my mom… and could have been overbearing at times… and I feel really bad about it. This is a really profound and dreadful realization. It’s devastating because I was the culprit, and I played a role in obstructing my exes love of me, and now we can’t be friends anymore… And I can empathize with the last person I want to empathize with. What I realize now from all the pain I’ve experienced from my ex is that I need to treat my mom with more respect, so that I may be better (more responsible and empathetic) than my ex and myself. But it’s difficult to do that when someone persistently does not respect your integrity.




Sexual Dissatisfaction: Listening to the sexually vulgar lyrics on the final track on the second Kill Bill soundtrack, I reflect on my childhood and how much I wanted to have sex. My life was so focused around it. Much of it had to do with my identity as a male. I felt that a successful male was someone who had sex with lots of women. It’s now obviously how hetero-normative this narrative is and it’s inability to be relevant for all men. More so, however, I believed in that narrative because I was  really into “science,” especially evolutionary theory: having more sex meant more potential for offspring, which signifies that one is more fit, that one is a better person, that one has been chosen to have a stake in the future. So I felt like a complete failure within the evolutionary and patriarchal narratives by not having any sex.

Even to this day, I sometimes feel unsatisfied with the amount of sexual partners I’ve had. I think people place a great deal of value on their sex lives like I do because of  an insecurity with their self-worth. (So it’s not necessarily a masculinity issue. Today, women are judged for having too few and many sexual partners). So I think my high sexual drive is due to not only a desire for pleasure and experience, but also because of an insecurity with my self. Though, I don’t think these two things are so inseparable because I feel less valuable the more I “miss out” (i.e. the fear of missing out), the less “experiences” I have. But sex is different. It’s not just an experience, its about desire for another and their desire for you.

It feels so good to be attractive to a person you are attracted to and have respect for. It validates your self-worth. And when we discover someone slept with us as a means to an end and not because of the person we are, it feels “dirty,” or rather “meaningless.” We become so vulnerable in the act, emotionally and physically, that we open ourselves to hurt. We become even more humiliated because we feel not only undesired, but cheated and taken advantage of–duped into thinking that someone else thought we were valuable as a person, as a self.

I think back to that previous song on the soundtrack by Johnny Cash called “Satisfied Mind.” As long as I continually compared myself to others and understood myself through others, my satisfaction with life would be contingent upon circumstance and not with life itself. Having more or better sexual partners would never be sufficient. My worth has to be self-sufficient. And it’s that feeling of self-sufficiency that we call confidence, that quality which breeds sex.

Categories: Deep Thoughts, Essay, Oregon Trail 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vegan Wild West Tour


One important rule of thumb for vegan traveling is to research food options in advance. While there are usually some “accidentally vegan” options at fast food joints that populate the exits of interstate highways, finding substantial and delectable vegan munchies can be difficult when traveling in rural territory. In addition to logistics, it is a lesser known fact that vegans love to schedule their travel around food. Taking a detour on a road trip is game when a vegan bakery is a 20 minute drive away.

Last week I took a few hours to search various websites that list vegan(-friendly) restaurants in the various cities I’ll be passing through.  I’ve come up with some pretty awesome results and will be excited to review these joints, some of which are in places less well traveled by vegans.

NEBRASKA:
Omaha:

  • McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe (Sustainable: Blackened Tempeh Dinner)
  • McFoster’s is a vegetarian restaurant that serves free-range chicken dishes and fresh seafood. All our food are free of refined flour and sugars. We use organic produce from Tom and Mary’s garden and greenhouse, as well as other local and organic gardeners, whenever possible.
  • Jade Diner (Chinese)
  • Amsterdam (Middle Eastern)
  • China One (Chinese)

Lincoln:

 

COLORADO:
Ft. Collins:

  • Tasty Harmony (Kentucky Fried Freedom)
  • Tasty Harmony is committed to provide our community with healthy organic plant based cuisine. Most of our food is vegan and most of our desserts are wheat free and sugarcane free.
  • Avogadros (Tempeh Tacos & veggie chili)
  • Maza Kabob (Afghani)
  • Mugs

Boulder:

Denver:

  • Water Course (Vegetarian: Toulouse Scramble / Banana bread French Toast / Mesquite Tofu)
  • WaterCourse Food’s philosophy, like our food, is simple and accessible… We prepare fresh ingredients daily to produce incredibly satisfying vegetarian comfort foods in a welcoming environment served by a friendly and efficient wait staff for a reasonable price… By maintaining a completely vegetarian menu, we believe we minimize our environmental footprint and provide a welcome alternative to many restaurants in the city
  • Sputnik (Ethiopian Sliders)
  • Linger (Eclectic: Waffle Sweet potato fires / Mee Krob)
  • Govinda’s (Hare Krishna)
  • The Rebellion (Pizza)
  • Sweet Action (Ice Cream: vegan Carrot cake ice cream)
  • Beet Box Denver (Vegan Bakery)
  • Crazy Mae’s (Vegan Bakery)
  • Sunny Gardens (Chinese)
  • Vegan Van (Vegan Cart)
  • Atomic Tamale (Vegan Cart)
  • 27 Social Center

 

UTAH:
Salt Lake City:

Moab:

  • Peace Tree
  • Electrica Cafe
  • Love Muffin Cafe

 

ARIZONA:
Flagstaff:

  • Morning Glory Cafe
  • Macy’s

Sedona:

  • Chocola Tree (Veg Co-op: Sedona 2012)
  • ChocolaTree Cafe is 100% organic homemade with a delicious, diverse raw and cooked menu that’s entirely gluten and processed sugar-free..
  • Oaxaca

 

NEVADA:
Las Vegas:

 

CALIFORNIA:

San Fransisco & Oakland:

Arcata:

  • Wildflower Cafe (Vegetarian)
  • Bless My Soul (Creole)
  • Redds (Jamaican)
  • Tofu Hut

 

OREGON:
Medford:

Ashland:

Categories: Oregon Trail 2012 | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Oregon Trail 2012 (a manifesto)


I. My Itinerary:
On the 18th of April 2012, I set sail on the “open road” toward the setting sun to the Pacific Northwest. This is the preliminary itinerary for the first part of my journey.


COLORADO (week 1):
April 18 – the Road
April 19 – Ft. Collins
April 20-21 – Boulder & Rocky Mountains NP
April 22-23 – Denver
April 24 – Breckenridge
April 25 – Dinosaur
UTAH & ARIZONA (week 2-4):
April 26-May 9 – Utah Krishna Temple (& Salt Lake City)
May 10-12 – Arches NP & Moab
May 13-14 – Canyonlands NP
May 15 – Navajo Nation
May 16 – Sedona & Flagstaff
May 17-19 – Grand Canyon NP
May 20-21 – Page, Pariah Canyon, & Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
May 23-24 – Zion NP
May 25-26 – Bryce Canyon NP
NEVADA & CALIFORNIA (week 5-6):
May 27 – State Parks & Lake Mead
May 28-29 – Las Vegas
May 30 – Death Valley NP (and more)
May 31 – June 3 – Yosemite NP
June 4-6 – SF Bay Area
June 7 – Napa Valley & California SR1 / US 101
June 8-9 – Arcata & Redwoods NP
OREGON & WASHINGTON:
June 10 – Sanctuary One
… to be continued …

II. Context Sensitive
Since I was a pre-adolescent I wanted to live amongst the lush green forests on the other side of the Rockies, sandwiched between sea and mountain. The wet, temperate climate, alternative culture, and radical politics appealed to my biophilic sensibilities. It was a long ways away form the arrogance, greed, and consumerism of the affluent north shore of Chicago. No doubt, the Pacific Northwest was the romanticized other–the opposite of everything I disliked about the domesticity of the suburbs.

I was a divided soul. Someone who loved “nature” more than humans, but who actively identified with machines. From youth until my college years I had praised emotional restraint, analytic objectivity, and functionalism over emotional expression, lived experience, and aesthetics. These are the values of the master mindset, the will to knowledge, certainty, control, and power. I learned these values from my father, but had never questioned their origins and justification. They were absolute. And they were daily validated in our misogynistic culture that assigned value to masculinity over and against the feminine. I believe these values subconsciously took such force because they constituted my assigned identity as male, and they had to be performed if I were to sustain what I felt was expected of me as a male. Yet, my desire for wildness was an excess that could not be repressed.

Although I wanted to go on outdoor adventures on rivers and through the woods, I felt isolated and took no initiative to do much beyond video games, Legos, writing, basketball, and homework. I spent my childhood pent up at home, unambitious and sheltered. My family had no interest in the more-than-human world with the exception of my grandfather who kept a hobby garden. My parents had no hobbies outside of their jobs, no love for art, sports, and recreation. Leisure time was devoted to observing new places, attending a constructed space for entertainment, or–what I disliked the most–shopping. These were all meaningless to me. I wanted adventure and wonder.

Years later, I can now recognize and appreciate the wild beauty as well as connect with people on social, moral and political levels in my own (sub)urban “backyard.” However, I’ve spent so long making compromises over what I want to do, where I want to live, with who and how I want to be intimate. After the abysmal Fall of 2011, I needed a moving horizon, I needed a future to go on living, to crawl out of the gravitational pull of Nothing. Pursuing one of my life interests–an outdoor adventure to my new home–is saying yes to myself, yes to a future I want, yes to life.

III. Counter-objections
The very idea of this journey has collected a number of objections. Here I am addressing these common concerns and criticisms not out of a need to justify myself, but to explain why they miss the point.

1. Now is not the time! (you are too old for this)
To this I must ask: when is the right time? How long must I procrastinate on what I really want. When will I not be either too old or too young? I want to live in the present.

2. Get a job! (your priority is to settle on a career and nail a job)
I’ve lived a rather stoic existence for someone from my means. Until the last few years I have drank little alcohol and had not experimented with any drugs. You can save a lot of money simply by not being an addict to drugs and alcohol, but you can waste a lot of time being overly-calculative. So I’ve been able to save some cash over the years, but at a cost to my flourishing and lived experience. No more!

I’m no longer going to feel guilty about spending money, storing away what I have to spend at some later time. The money I’m using on this trip is money I’ve earned since graduating from college. I may not be employed at the moment, but that’s all the more reason I should be doing something incredible. It’s no longer crystal clear what career I want to pursue. Rather than stagnate in a “secure” living situation, I’m seeking inspiration from adventure and experience, letting spontaneity be my guide (more or less).

3. Stop procrastinating! (you’re fleeing from responsibility because you don’t know what you want)
This is the whole point of the trip! I’m finally going to stop procrastinating and second-guessing what I want in favor of security and social expectations. This is what I want and is a better means at discovering myself and my country than slow, armchair contemplation. The adventure is not only an end in itself, but also a means to an incalculable end.

4. Don‘t go alone! (you need help and companionship to be safe and have fun)
When I was a child, I was anxious being with people. I preferred solitude. Since my first love, I’ve become anxious being alone. One thing I learned (again) over the last year is the insecurity of emotional dependency. I need to be able to define and value myself on my own terms without the expectation or constancy of support from friends. After the Fall of 2012, I realize a need to become more self-reliant, more confident in my ability, and more free in my being.

Yes, I’ve thought about how having a companion on my trip could make it all the more amazing. Having someone to share experiences with is validating and can make the experience even more meaningful especially in the future when reminiscing. Having someone along would also bring greater security as if anything bad happened we could work together and protect one another. On the other hand, being alone makes temporal space for more reading, introspection, observation of the more-than-human, and conversations with strangers.

In no way is this trip extreme. Ambitious yes, but Into the Wild no. I’m not Chris McCandless. I’m not seeking to free myself from people or to prove my vitality. Really, what I’m doing is rather tame, just large in scale. I have every intention of preparing myself and I don’t plan on doing anything “stupid,” I’m just not going to cower from life and the risks it presents. The journey is less about self-mastery than it is a course on vulnerability. Vulnerability is a condition we must all accept if we do not want to suffer. By placing myself into a situation where I may be killed and eating, I’m un-sheltering myself from the illusion of mastery and control technology creates. (see “The Uncanny Goodness of Being Edible to Bears“)

IV. Rules of Thumb
A list of rules I plan on keeping more often than breaking to make my adventure a bite more campy.

Existential:
1. No self-denial!
2. No regret!
3. Focus on the Beautiful, not the Bad!
4. Attune to the present with all my senses
5. Meditate every morning
6. Write every evening

Travel:
7. Leave No Trace Behind
8. Learn about a stranger each day
9. Take at least one person for a ride
10. Alternate between local radio & podcasts
11. Read the history of each place I visit
12. Avoid traveling the same route twice

Food & Shelter
13. Avoid sleeping in the same place twice
14. Sleep in a tent or on a couch (avoid hostels and motels)
15. Eat whole foods (avoid eating out)
16. Forage something from the wild in each state
17. Drink one local beer in each city
18. Eat at one (or more) veg*n (friendly) restaurants in each city

Categories: Oregon Trail 2012 | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Family Ties


I. Tied-up in History

I didn’t realize how much history branded my existence until my first major relationship. As different of a person I was from my parents, I did not escape the patterns of their relationship.  I was rehearsing the same stage moves as they had performed in front of me for the 18 years before I left home for college. I caught my breath after every realization that I’d inherited the neuroticism, guilt, and frugality of my mother. My lips clenched amidst realizations that I’d become impatient, stubborn, passive aggressive, and coldly analytic like my father. These are aspects about myself I’d like to crop from the image of myself. There is something revolting to children that they have become like their parents, that they inhabit that which they thought only belonged to the other. We’ve resisted theirs worlds, recognizing their grand faults, yet even after decades of criticism and rebellion, we are unable to escape our fates. We have fantasies of liberation, but history hugs to us like a shadow at dusk.

After researching counselors for my partner (who was diagnosed with chronic depression) to see, I finally decided to see one of my own. I used to think I could reason my way through my issues, but it occurred to me that if I was going to work on my relationship, I was going to have to first work on myself. Almost 15 months later, a year after my partner and I had broken up, my counselor asked me if I could delve deeper into a comment I made about my childhood. I laughed. Are we really going to start digging through that dusty basement of memories? I thought. Hadn’t I already organized the whole damn thing? Hadn’t I grown tired and bored with it? She sat patiently. A chill crept up my chest and released a stale breath from my throat. I haven’t thought about my childhood in years. How odd.

What was I hiding from? What was it hiding from me?

During all the years at school, my family was not something I thought much of.  Aside form calling my parents and grandparents once or twice a month, memories and interests seemed to have just disappeared. I would become so preoccupied with the present and future endeavors at school and work that it’s as if the fact that I even had a family was lost to me.  I was living in so many spheres or responsibility: teacher, boyfriend, scholar, activist, student, local friend, long-distance friend, and family. Each of these identities competed for priority and family lingered at the back. It was the least important spheres of my life, but why?

When I could not meet my standards as a teacher, a student, and a scholar, I stitched myself into my relationship and local friends for security, but the more my partner tore away from me, the more she tore at the string that intertwined my existence with my friends. My quilt had been ripped into patches, and I was left as a pile of worn string. Where was my family in all this? They, of course, were there behind me with a pair of needles to knit me back into their blanket, but it wasn’t a blanket I seriously considered crawling back into.

II. I love you Knot

Well, I tried to anyway. I packed myself up in a box and shipped myself home. There I could un-reel and -wind for a couple of months, teasing out the painful knots of memories that clotted my heart and mind. There I attended family events where the obvious was foregrounded. I couldn’t be loved more by my mother. My grandparents are outrageously generous and the rest of my family is very supportive. Minus some torn seams, we are close knit. Yet, despite all this, I felt just as estranged from them as I had two decades before.

It was uncanny being back. In some ways it’s as if nothing had changed. The same people, the same problems. And at the same time, we were so different. Some of us had gotten new college degrees, a few were starting a family, and others were deteriorating with age. There was the excitement of birth–the first great grandchild and several future husbands–and the looming of death.

My grandfather in particular had become something else. He was the same, but without much of a center. He had lost almost all the power of his sight, hearing, memory, and thought. It was a chore to talk and listen. One had to have an impressive level of patience. When you finished talking, he’d jump to a new topic and had already forgotten what you had just said sot that the next time you’d have to say it all again. Understanding was futile. Whether he had much thought left was difficult to tell, but you could still feel his warm heart. He cared and loved everyone. I watched sullenly as he procrastinated on his goodbyes. He talked at my uncle. My uncle kept nodding his head. It was a pathetic situation. My guess is that my uncle loved my grandfather, but there was nothing else to say, nothing else to do but nod his head.

As I witnessed this and my grandmother and aunt escorting the poor man toward the car, a deep sadness spread over me. Why am I so sad? I asked. It would have been a strange question coming from anybody else. My family is dying before my eyes. Lost memory, sight, speech… life. Am I sad for him, sad for his loss? Or am I sad for myself, that I’m losing my family, my blanket? How can I be sad for either when they hardly pass through my mind?

I’m crying for humanity, I thought.

I‘m sad for our fragile state, the decomposition of our integrity. Death was such an abstraction. I doubted my capability to care about the death of individuals. So I wept for humanity, an even greater abstraction.

Is this not more than a facade for weeping for myself? Yes. I weep for myself. I weep because I cannot feel for him. I weep because I cannot weep, because I am isolated. Alone. I weep from loneliness.

I stand here, an animal-machine witnessing  the impermanence of my family, and I am powerless. I am out of touch. I can’t relate. I don’t know what to say. I fear saying anything, fear thinking. I just want to go, move on, care about something. But I’m almost crying.  Powerless. Alone. Sad because I cannot love. I cannot transcend myself, my narcissism. I am not present. I am crying because I don’t care, yet I want to, but I don’t care enough to do even that. What a sad and pathetic person I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

III. Childhood is messy. When I was a child, I liked to play with string. I would toss balls of brightly colored yarn across the room, watching it unroll, leaving a trace of where it had been before. After a few tosses, I’d wind it back up. The loose strands sprawled across the floor was sore on my eyes and I liked the feel of the ball full and complete, soft in my palm. But I could never wind it up quite right. Loose loops dangled down and slipped off the round surface and knots had begun to form. I carefully tried to pull them loose, but if i pulled too hard, the string would snap, and I’d have no choice but to knot the two ends back together to keep the ball whole. The knots were so tight that I could not get them out, so I gave up on trying and left the ball behind.

Our house was always a mess, string scattered everywhere, all knotted. No one ever seriously tried to wind it back together. When I lost faith in my family after each false attempt, after each night it was thrown across the house, I gave up and withdrew. I found a different ball of yarn to play with fabricated by my imagination. Now here I am, trying to make sense of it all, embroidering this bright screen with ancient, digital characters. A writer, a weaver.

The knots don’t go away, no matter how fast you run, no matter how well you hide, no matter how much you cut. We have left a trail of string and will inevitably cross its path wherever we hide; we will inadvertently snag ourselves the farther we run; and we will never cut ourselves free so long as we live. As far behind us as they may seem, they are the centers of our string. They immobilize our love, choking it off from breath.

To liberate ourselves, to liberate love, we must think through the knots, untangling string with sharp and precise thoughtfulness. But in deep thought we subject ourselves to risk. The risk of freeing secrets and the risk of freedom itself. We even risk knotting ourselves more tightly in. So perhaps tracing string is not the best trajectory. Perhaps we should fabricate new string where the last one’s left off seeing how far we can sew. I just don’t know.

Categories: Essay, Original Writing | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Epic Game Music (part 2)


The following is the second group of songs in a series of epic game music that pulls me out of melancholy and despair by launching me into triumphant hope and joy:

Super Smash Bros: Melee (Kirby) – Fountain of Dreams

Oneups (cover of Katamari Damacy) – Katamaritaino

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I share therefore I am



Over the past 15 years, I’ve studied technologies of mobile communication and I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of people, young and old, about their plugged in lives. And what I’ve found is that our little devices, those little devices in our pockets, are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are. Some of the things we do now with our devices are things that, only a few years ago, we would have found odd or disturbing, but they’ve quickly come to seem familiar, just how we do things.

So just to take some quick examples: People text or do email during corporate board meetings. They text and shop and go on Facebook during classes, during presentations, actually during all meetings. People talk to me about the important new skill of making eye contact while you’re texting. (Laughter) People explain to me that it’s hard, but that it can be done. Parents text and do email at breakfast and at dinner while their children complain about not having their parents’ full attention. But then these same children deny each other their full attention. This is a recent shot of my daughter and her friends being together while not being together. And we even text at funerals. I study this. We remove ourselves from our grief or from our revery and we go into our phones.

Why does this matter? It matters to me because I think we’re setting ourselves up for trouble — trouble certainly in how we relate to each other, but also trouble in how we relate to ourselves and our capacity for self-reflection. We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together. People want to be with each other, but also elsewhere — connected to all the different places they want to be. People want to customize their lives. They want to go in and out of all the places they are because the thing that matters most to them is control over where they put their attention. So you want to go to that board meeting, but you only want to pay attention to the bits that interest you. And some people think that’s a good thing. But you can end up hiding from each other, even as we’re all constantly connected to each other.

A 50-year-old business man lamented to me that he feels he doesn’t have colleagues anymore at work. When he goes to work, he doesn’t stop by to talk to anybody, he doesn’t call. And he says he doesn’t want to interrupt his colleagues because, he says, “They’re too busy on their email.” But then he stops himself and he says, “You know, I’m not telling you the truth. I’m the one who doesn’t want to be interrupted. I think I should want to, but actually I’d rather just do things on my Blackberry.”

Across the generations, I see that people can’t get enough of each other, if and only if they can have each other at a distance, in amounts they can control. I call it the Goldilocks effect: not too close, not too far, just right. But what might feel just right for that middle-aged executive can be a problem for an adolescent who needs to develop face-to-face relationships. An 18-year-old boy who uses texting for almost everything says to me wistfully, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”

When I ask people “What’s wrong with having a conversation?” People say, “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with having a conversation. It takes place in real time and you can’t control what you’re going to say.” So that’s the bottom line. Texting, email, posting, all of these things let us present the self as we want to be. We get to edit, and that means we get to delete, and that means we get to retouch, the face, the voice, the flesh, the body — not too little, not too much, just right.

Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.

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Categories: Social Conciousness, Youtube Shares | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Love is a Beautiful Fiction


I. Why “Love”?

Her soft voice had me falling over her every word. My eyes were transfixed on her smile, my ears tuned into her story. She apologized for talking so much. I told her I love to listen. It’s how we get to know one another, I said.

Something was happening. Not any something, something exceptional. I was not going to censor how I felt. I was going away soon and had been too long bound to fear. Excited and curious, she encouraged me to speak. I said I had never felt this way in a long time. My knees were shaking. I wanted to lunge over the table and kiss her. I had never felt so connected to someone for years, so attracted to who they were. She said she was feeling something special, too. She smiled.

She asked me what I liked about her so much. I didn’t know, but I felt obliged to respond, so I foolishly tried to capture my feelings in words. It was a beautiful story if I ever heard one. A sincere and seductive fiction. She said I was sweet.

Moments later we were making out on Michigan Avenue right outside the thrift store she worked at. She said I was beautiful, that someone should paint a portrait of me. Near the end of our date, she said she didn’t feel the same about me. In the minute I had taken to use the restroom, she lost confidence in her desire. She may have been afraid of being in a long-term relationship, but she was also afraid of feeling used and of growing close to someone who was leaving so soon. She said she needed more time to assess her feelings and that we should get together again another night.

When I returned home, I did what every internet junkie does. I logged onto Facebook and “updated my status:”

 Mutually “falling in love” (or whatever the fuck you want to call knee-shaking intense attraction) with someone you just met is super amazing

Why had I chosen those words, “falling in love”? Yes, I had put them in scare quotes to emphasize my suspicion, but I had never thought the word “love” during the entire experience. Only after it was over did I choose those words. Why?

 

II. Who Loves Who?

By morning, the previous night seemed relatively uneventful. What had just happened? Why had such a powerful event been diluted with a few hour holiday from conscious thought? Was I protecting myself from being hurt, or had I ever really felt those feelings in the first place? Had I interpreted my attraction to her, my shaky knees, and her attraction to me as “love” for the sake of security after heart aching reflection, indecision over a car purchase, intoxication, and anticipation for sexual commencement?

A thought darkened my image of myself: had I only said what I said in order to fuck her? Was I one of those douche bag guys who would say anything to get in a girl’s pants? I was concerned the previous night that that’s what she was afraid of. I reassured myself and her that I was being sincere and I sincerely believed that! But I can be a manipulative person with plans below the surface, acting and desiring to be considerate but not without a more primal underlying desire. Was I unaware of my subterranian agenda? Had I fooled myself the night before that I wasn’t one of those guys? I wanted to believe I was better, but the question presented itself to me: was I?

But that sketchy story is also a fiction, a story just as much as the previous one about falling in love. Just as there is no one ultimate meaning to life and the cosmos, there is no intrinsic meaning to our affect and actions. Whether I narrate myself as sincere and sweet or stealthy and seductive, when it comes down to it, I am both and neither, for all “I” am is a fiction with no author. “I” am but a translator of actions and affect of the practices of my-self-formation. To translate oneself to oneself is perhaps our most fundamental responsibility. Who is self? Not “I,” but self-conscious autopoesis–life becoming conscious of itself, naming itself as such, and narrating itself into existence through its bastard child be call language.

It’s a scary thing not knowing who we are. And that’s why we write. More fundamental than being sincere, sweet, stealthy, and seductive, I am a sorcerer conjuring new identities and worlds to inhabit. These are not my creations, for I do not simply precede them as a cause to an effect. For the very “I” who has crafted these narrative dolls is itself a doll woven by yet a doll before it and the one before it and is contingent upon whatever string and instruments those dolls have been enlightened to use. We are driven to translate our affect and actions to others in conversation, to share our-self-formation and to be recognized as such. So “I” can never be sufficient. There must always be an other who precedes, exceeds, and lives amongst my presence.

 

III. A String Theory of Love:

The compulsion to feel complete and connected is a human one as  is the suffering produced by it. In an impermanent world in which we are all by natural law unraveling, the concept of “love” as that which binds is very securing. But love is not the stitches, nor the stitching. Love is the gravitational force that spins the soft string so that it contacts and caresses other string. It pulls us closer to others while not binding one to the other so that me may slip in and out of our identities, unraveling into and out of one another. There is no inherent meaning to the string of love beyond the pleasure, desire, and joy of love’s contact; and whatever meaning there is, is woven and rewoven.

Love is a craft out of our control. To bind ourselves to ourselves and to those we care about is not always an affirmation of love, but more often an act to protect ourselves from it.  To love self and other is to allow slippage into and out of one another, reducing friction. At times, the discomfort of friction and puncturing is necessary to free others who have been tied up by the hands of others in the cat’s cradle of oppression. To love, then, is not to secure and design, but to ride along the sensual flows of soft fabric that rips, tears, is punctured, and patched up. This is the life of string.

So-called “love” is a beautiful fabrication. It’s not something that exists prior to linguistic craftmanship of the materials and instruments we’ve inherited from past experiences and techniques. It’s an art form of the deceit of security. When I say “I love you,” I am translating my affect and self into existence, weaving the strings that pre-exist me into a doll in relationship to another doll to make myself whole, to complete “me.” So it is true that “love” makes one complete, but only true as a fabrication. The reality that underlies it, however, is that “love” is not love. It is us who does the stitching and the knotting for love is always in motion, not stasis. It is an unnameable excess through which “we” come into existence.

Categories: Essay, Original Writing, Social Conciousness | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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