As I Read On And On About Slavery

27 02 2007

Quote from somewhere in the Internets …

Shouldn’t “African Americans” be apologizing for slavery as well, being their ancestors in Africa sold one another to the white slave traders? As for me, none of my ancestors owned slaves so I am offended by this apology cr**! And instead of whining about the past, people should be thankful they were born in and live in this country…they could be in Africa had it not been for slavery, and some of them wouldn’t have even been born had their ancestors not been brought over here. Think about it….the only people in this country who have a right to complain are the American Indians. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!

When I can find the time, I will try to put together my particular views on individualism, multiculturalism, and the American creed (or ethos).

Fields

“Energy propagating in a fluctuating way,” I hear, “It moves, feels,” no I mishear, “in fields.”

The girl in front of me is taking notes. She has the chapter highlighted already. Her penmanship is girly, but it has a precision, a fixed dedication. There is a persistence in her writing, she is fervently managing to ignore the lecture.

“Electromagnetic waves; the speed is constant is equal to c, three times ten to the what is it class? Eight. To the eighth meters per second. One and a half seconds to get to the moon, one and a half to get back.”

I think about synaptic transmission and how it pales in comparison to light speed. I think about her penmanship, the curls and swirls, and I imagine that the distance to the moon might one day not be so great.

A prose-poem below:

A Story,

I want to turn this relationship inside out, I want to make it all end, break your heart into pieces on the floor.

Why

Because it’s been months

Of this, of constant bickering, but I’m fine, I’m happy – I love you and you want it to go away.

Currently working on a short-story about a girl named Deborah





I Cannot Imagine

11 11 2006

An Excuse To Live

She pretends to be something for tomorrow because she is not anything today. Between the measures of talent and effort, she certainly leans on the latter, but to say she is verdantly alive, struggling against the tides of the world, is only to believe what she would have you believe. She simplifies the present to convert it into something manageable: I am her lover, you are her audience, and the world her vice. Should I say she is alive? Perhaps, the singing voice in the shower tricks me, makes me believe so.

Life is not life, if it is unexamined. Love, too. She walks by, on the street with not so much as a passing thought on what it means to be human, only concerning herself with the style of the day. I see her, and I see what she would be without me, I can taste the lip gloss on my lips, feel my hand on her bare waist, see the mascara that shades her eyes like a second blindness. The tasteless fashion of it all, and none of it her taste – only that preordained by everyone else. Beyond this, I see the expression of an unneccesary individual’s soul, like an imprint, transformed out of nothing.

To be in love, to fully dissolve into another’s soul; a fertile, restless union of souls binding upon itself, clamoring, not man or woman, such love cannot grow from this sort of ghost. She trusts in me, like a blind man led to his execution, but not innocently. It is a perverse trust, one that presumes too much, one that casts off her responsibility. Her emotional fragility, this feminine construct, is merely a guise (unconscious as it is) to draw me closer. In her opinion, the past is irrevocable, mistakes or not, and therefore not worth consideration. But in her future, so fantastically intangible, she finds redemption, glory, and the person she would like to be. Perhaps she has not become this person, perhaps she is not on track to become this person, perhaps because she is, quite simply, not this person.

I asked her today: tomorrow morning, what will you believe is worth living for? She said, “You.” So tragically rehearsed. So mechanical. But her reflex was like yours; why do you live – love, kids, spouse, family. When we are young and therefore immature, we live for ourselves and those around us live for us as well. When we are older and therefore mature, we live for ourselves and pretend we love. We are so secure in our fashions, we believe that no one completely understands love, that everyone experiences it, that no one can judge it, and all so that we never question anything. We fear “cognitive dissonance,” when actions and beliefs conflict, so much that we cannot imagine comparing these two. So we all live for love, a love of others that we cannot define, cannot substantiate, cannot prove, show, or reproduce. Convenient.

She does not live, but merely pretends to, along with everyone else in city, save for a precious few dying souls seeking out each other desperately. These souls, I fear, walk quietly, because to be alive is more than can be seen. To be alive is to ignore what is not inspiring and rise above it, which is I fear not to listen to the noise sometimes. I do not owe her anything, to be bound to someone in terms of a relationship or anything, requires more than a passing shadow to be attached to. And so I pass, under the guise of being a good honest gentleman, privately dating to find another soul worth loving. I cannot imagine a more honest life.





Ice Like Sky

4 10 2006

My psychology textbook reads to me: “To survive, we must know the world around us.” People ask why my stories are depressing; if they could defend themselves, and I am sorry that they in themselves cannot, they would say that they are not sad, but instead real. And in that reality, there is a tangle of light and dark, suppressed joy, limited sorrows. Life is far more suited to sadness; maybe we need to take a deep breath, swallow our pride, accept life’s flaws –that it is innately flawed, and instead seek out the glimpses of perfection that sometimes bleed through the smog. A friend, though I haven’t seen him in so long and he doesn’t respond to my correspondence, once told an English professor of mine, who in turn passed on to me, that he would be content if for just five times in his life he was completely happy. To reach nirvana five times and to descend again. Strange, so strange, so miserably painful, to pass through the years of college. English was a good class (reminded me of high school, except we bought more books, spent less time talking, more time listening). When we write stories, or when we share them out loud over a dying campfire beer in hand with the moonlight eroding into sunlight friends all around yellow haze little fireflies, we have an audience, right? That audience we share with, they the listeners, are touched throughout life by experience. So really a story is just one person’s life trying to cross that gap, the space between, to someone else.

I’m always talking about relationships in stories; the bitter joy of a relationship with another. And so I’ve covered something of a range of “events”: adultery in the woods, a lesbian looking for sense and sensation, a lover looking on at a relationship consumed by fire in the distance, and a girl looking for anything. I have not quite yet explored relationships gone stale, maybe that’s worth going into. Passion lost, however, is not quite as interesting (as happy) as passion found. So I try, but of course, reality sets in and everyone rolls their eyes at my stories. My girlfriend, too, sighs at the stories. “Is this one about me,” she asks. “No, but it’s based on you.” Stories approach reality. And that depresses my readers, my fragile and tired audience. But I’m there too, I’ll finish a story and if I engaged it, I cannot remember how it began, so I read from the beginning. And I don’t want a sad story – my life is enough a sad story, just like everyone else’s. But it has to be real, so when we want a happy story, we really only hope for an escape or at best a nirvana-moment. Relationships are just a platform to explore the monotony of life.

I watch a mother leave her crying child in the alley behind my row. Something in my mind brushed a smile onto her face, some pleasure of the strong washing over her sin. I could not care to listen to her cries mixed with the infants’, instead I shut my window. Disappointed in the thoughts I had read upon her face, I began my attempts at rationalizing her motives. She somehow became detached from the crime itself, and when the police came hours later this is all I could recall. Some pleasure of the strong washing over her sin. I could not identify her. She became another story. And it is in the gaps we divide ourselves with that we find ourselves lost in, looking for life – a fully fleshed, joyous and colored in, intelligent life, one painted in the moment.

Just like a mother can so willingly abandon a child, I too, often abandon my craft, my stories. I let them out, never speaking on their behalf (like every author that maintains their own view of a story but accepts and encourages every one to come up with their own, just because it sells more books if they’ve got to try to get it on their own). And everyone to some extent has to let go of their product, or else they get consumed by it; parents know this lesson best of all. And children too, if they can flee the sanctity of impenetrable innocence, if they allow themselves to be poisoned by maturity (it’s both a blessing and a curse), if they choose to see life for what it is (a teeming swamp of failure attempting to save itself from the dredges) instead of what it might be (a swimming pool where everyone gets their fair share and people ask first before jumping in and no one eats less than thirty minutes before getting in). So to grow up, to embrace story, to embrace what we feel is both never true and potentially true, to embrace sadness and look at it not as some morbid fascination with the negative but instead as a genuinely positive perception of what life is, to embrace such a view and learn from it, to do these things, that would be a lot of growing up, and from what I’ve seen, the adult world has a long way to go.


So thanks to my girlfriend because yes, our problems were sometimes cast in slantways light so that I could record (for myself and others maybe too) what was real to me at a time in my life. Thanks to my dad, for giving me the best lie (or double-talk) I could learn from, that we can be optimistic in looking at every potential problem. Thanks to my mom for teaching me that no one wants to read my stories, but that some will do it out of obligation. And thanks to everyone who’s come up to me and shared how depressing my stories are, and have, out of sheer kindness, worried for my life – for you who have stressed about my depression, thanks. I have only embraced the depressions of life, I promise – nothing more, and am wholeheartedly content in knowing my humanity (my depravity?). To more people, so many more, from whom I’ve borrowed incidences of your lives, thank you and sorry and I-hope-it-all-worked-out and a million little emotions I can’t explain; I’ve used your lives as both a canvas and a mirror.

I’m at a turning point in life, another disillusionment from the inside, from which I’m unsure where everything is going. Part of me wants to sort it out in a sudden collectively perfect day, like I used to back when I was younger (back when I could?), but part of me knows it will be sorted out in odd ways knee-deep in a substance I can feel but not understand. And I’m fascinated by the liquid, could it be life, could I drown in it, or could I breathe it, could I escape and walk above it, or float, or rinse my face, is it clear or sticky, and most of all, a question that should put our post-modern sex lives on hold: is it right to introduce someone else to this, can you ethically reproduce without having sorted out what life is or means, or at least whether or not life is honestly worth living. If I could, you know, go back to being a soul and nothing more, just an angel floating above watching people cry, smile, live, I would. But in pursuit of putting on a good show, I go on, for those lucky enough not to live and those who have suffered enough that they’ve stopped living. Maybe this reads like a suicide note to you, but take it instead as a letter, maybe not a “happy” one, but a real one, from me to you, from a friend, a living friend willing to look at life for everything everyone’s prepared an excuse for; I’m against cynics, inside I’m so much the Romantic: feeling is everything, feel the sad, feel that happy, but feel it all at once, let it dance in the icy skies.





On Learning

7 09 2006

No one knows everything, but allow for the chance that once in a while someone can come across, younger, and know more than you. And I don’t just mean books.

In Good Will Hunting, Sean (Robin Williams) leans over in a “Taster’s Choice moment between guys”, talking to Will Hunting (Matt Damon), saying “So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that.” And so what? “You’re just a kid, you don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talkin’ about.” Even more, Sean seems to have the upper hand. But what makes his understanding so much more precious? Sure it can be said that he has “lived life” or that he’s been there. But if you haven’t gone to Vietnam, haven’t “held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help”, then how could I possibly understand it to that extent? What good is knowledge if it can’t be communicated? A better question, the one I pose to those who feel they know more about life, love, and such because they’ve “been there” is this one:
If you presume to know more than me because you’ve been there, and that all I can know is just from secondhand accounts from books and such, what good is it for you to give me another secondhand account? You’ll still “know” it better than I can, under your guidelines, because I still won’t have experienced it.

So here’s my take. I think you’d much rather I completely see it from your perspective (sort of like trying on your shoes in some virtual reality of sorts), then after I’ve seen it from your way, and just exactly your way, then I can make my own understandings. Let me listen to you, add your perspective, but just because I don’t see it through your eyes completely doesn’t mean I’ve ignored you or not learned. Let it go, and ask yourself if the secondhand advice I hear from you is advice I’ve heard from “They Things They Carried” or “Hamlet” or “Anna Karenina” before you immediately charge into telling me things I “cannot possibly understand.” They inspire soulful discussion, growth. Ask yourself, who communicates Vietnam better: you or a person whose entire career is defined by it. Who can talk about marriage better: you or Leo Tolstoy. Allow for the fact that I just have to experience some things as I go along. But understand that some experiences come before others in your life, and that I may not have to experience such misery to understand pain, or to watch a friend commit suicide to understand depression, or to total a car to understand what it means to take senseless risks.

Everyone’s life is different. A subtle touch more understanding and such. I’m willing to hear, but don’t act so condescendingly. Think, maybe he’s aggregated more information, maybe I can learn from him. And when you all begin to think that too, it might not be so one-sided. Remember those who lecture in the ways of old will never learn anything new. Try to understand these things everyone. Because I’m willing to learn from you.

 [ note: the repetitive, somewhat hypocritical, confused nature of this post is a mistake.  when reading this keep that in mind and fix accordingly.  ]





On Change

25 03 2006

“All Different Now”

Isn’t it just strange the way everything changes? We live two steps into the future, forcing the ignored past to catch up with us, then time slows down, the past and the pending collide, and suddenly everything’s different. I woke up one morning and I found that change itself has a sliding scale. Mathematically, it’s a second-order derivative; there exists a concrete rate of change for the rate at which things change. In physics terms, we’re talking acceleration or deceleration. Changes are inherently linked to perspective and with that, our concept of time. It’s been proven that our mind can actually function faster than it does, slowing down our perception of time enough that car accidents or knife fights are actually perceived in slow motion.

These collisions of the past and the pending constitute change in the larger sense. Change, by which I mean a significant and perhaps largely unnoticed and subtle change in life, is created when the mind no longer ignores the past, thinks in the present, and understands the transient nature of the future. I’m not sure whether or not these epiphanies can be induced consciously or not, but they do occur. Of course time does not actually slow down, not even necessarily in our minds, but what I’m postulating is that the equivalent occurs subconsciously allowing the brain to process everything sufficiently that it appears to be a sudden consclusion.

Life is motion all moving in every direction but summing up to zero. Imagine, however, that you are alive and that as you age things happen at a fairly predetermined speed. You pass through grade levels year by year, you enter the work force and you get your promotions and maybe eventually a pension, then you retire and die. Motivated people speed it up, apathetics slow it down, but more or less, life is a straight line with a few rough edges. When we notice a significant change in life, it is because (again consciously or not) we ignore the linearity of life and our ability to determine what is to come in exchange for an introspective analysis of what has happened thus far. Our perception of significant changes comes in subtle epiphanies that appear to us as understandings that we’ve always had.

Initially, I spoke about changing this life-rate, that it can accelerate or decelerate. Whether that happens, whether or not you change what tedious events will unfold is up to you; no advice will be written here. I am writing about what I believe ‘is’, not what I believe ‘should be’. There is a unique difficulty in perceiving the past and present when we are changing the course of our lives; being so intent on the future eliminates our peripheral vision. This is an acceleration, where we consciously make efforts to break away from what the timeline has plotted out for us, taking an strong will and intense zeal and focus. Another shift in the change of life is a deceleration, where others impact your life (through accelerations or decelerations of their own), unwillingly forcing you into a separate life track. Though the phrase deceleration has a negative denotation and connotation, deceleration is not always bad. However, it is, by my definition, unintended. Decelerations work like the opposite of an acceleration; rather than inhibit our ability to perceive the past and the present, they tend to slow everything down for us. Sometimes, these events are tragic, like an automobile accident or a knife fight and sometimes they are not. Though both accelerations and decelerations are infrequent and perhaps elusive, they do occur, altering our ability to perceive change.

“I went out in the rain suddenly everything changed,” wrote Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes. The Beatles wrote in Yesterday, “suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be”. Change, especially the kinds of change that deal with who we are and where our lives are going, is not always unexpected. We just have a lot of small changes unexpectedly catch up with us. Time slows down, the past and the pending collide.





A Sea of Troubles

9 03 2006

Lost

The world around me is plain, in hues of greys, black and white. What they say to me cannot hold me here for more than moments. I am terrified of the freedoms I possess, the seeming freedoms that do charge me to act, succeed, and live. It would be easier no doubt, to be in life swayed entirely by the tides around me. However I cannot take up arms against this, my sea, because I do indeed have my own strength, an independent will that governs the courses of my actions which flow out of my body and into that indomitable tide. To take up arms and construct anew this earth would be the same as to surrender to the waves; neither makes a difference. But to move delicately admist the waves towards the particulars in life that we desire, that and that alone is life for those who choose this woeful medium.

That, my friends, is where our life begins. At the recollection that all is the nothing you’ve always known it was. Life is not the absence of death, but the intermingling of death in the shape of flow, creation, and motion. The cold, unwedded sea does so toss and turn us that we are like prisoners, trapped. And this is what we have been spoon-fed as life. Life is that distant shore which the tides will not ever let us reach, though by ingenuity we create companions, ships, and sails. There is but death deep below, and life far across, and above there is only sky. Though our life now seems to be this impregnable vessel of despair, we must acknowledge the happy tides that sway and shape us, the shallow emotions we keep breathing for. To arrive at that distant shore is not a dream, but an impossibility.

What then of love, of that appetizing dessert for the cynics? Faith is the substance that keeps us afloat, the empty fear that judgment will impound the soul. A faith in God is but an unnatural belief in the union of the plight of the many; it is a belief in purpose, a trust constructed by the people merely to function. Love, too, is cherishable in that same sense. Love unites the wandering souls in the tide, who by a combination of will, pursue in union their own goals. For many, that is life. A life where we can ignore the tides from time to time and instead rejoice in the perfection of companionship. I will not criticize these people, for I myself am but one of a countless multitude who have experienced such a union in varying degrees. They and by they, I too; love is meaningful, because rather than seeing the woes and struggles of life, we ignore that distant shore and willingly face the tides. Love allows the human race to cope, react, create, succeed, survive, be true, be emotional, be profound, and simply be.

And still I see the world in the fleshless tones of forgotten films, in that inhuman cinescape of black and white.





On Success

18 02 2006

It is one thing to believe in yourself, and another to understand your capabilities, and still another to push those boundaries. The first is raw faith in man’s ability to overcome. Untempered, this belief leads to the eventual and inevitable realization of man’s limitations through some self-destructive drive. Understanding your capabilities on the other hand guarantees safe, secure passage through life. Not necessarily equal to achieving a minimum level of success, a strict obedience to acting in accordance with reason generally leads to apathy as you achieve less and less relative to those who take risks and are talented or lucky enough to succeed. To push those boundaries is perhaps the most reasonable course of action, wagering a small chance of failure against the chance of succeeding.

Success, unfortunately, is not easily found in my vocabulary. Only a very few events call to mind successes in my life. For me I find it easier to account for every action as a failure to the ideal potential of that action or event. Thus, every time I hand in a paper late or disappoint my parents or fail to clean my car I can account for it as a failure the same as when I score an A- on an exam, play music that only appeals partially to my parents, or guess to put in nine gallons instead of ten gallons of gas into my car. Every act, thus, is a failure to some extent relative to the potential. It perhaps makes my days easier to think each event to be a failure so that I can minimize the scope of the action, berate my negative mind-set, and consciously punish myself in order not to face the magnitude large or small of the actual event. When I do “come to my senses” as you might call it, I begin to take pride in my “accomplishments” and grow arrogant for imperfect things; in short, by enjoying what most consider to be “accomplishments” I lower my standards and cheapen the true successes, and worse, I begin thinking that I am nearer to perfection for it. Thus, I have to keep my mind in the dark. Many of my grades are failures, many of my friendships are failures, many of my days are failed, pathetic, and unlived. For to think that my life is at all good would be to compare my life to a perfect life. And heaven knows we can’t have that.

What then is success, if failure is so well defined? Success is the perfected event where consciousness, destiny, time, precision and action mesh; not only is the errand satisfied, there is nothing that could nor will ever surpass it. Generally speaking, the unsurpassable nature of the particular event derives from the precise time that the action was carried out; any other time earlier or later would have marred the perfection. Furthermore, successes need to be momentous. If the event in question isn’t difficult, time-intensive, and well-understood by the general population to be an achievement, then there is no potential for that event to be a success. Thus, regarding my fuel station example above, there is no potential for the event to be perfected. Events such as that one remind us that we are continually imperfect beings bound to a world that does not necessarily give us chances to succeed.

It is my delusion that success exists and that I have tasted it that drives me. If I cannot delude myself, if I realize that man is but a “quintessence of dust”, then I would have to objectively concede that man has no purpose existing. Before you tell me success is impossible under my terms, consider the alternative.

On Success, In Love

At some point, you realize that no level of balance, no matter how many stocks you own, bike rides you take, poems you write, or friends you make will ever lead to a successful life. In response to “On Success”, I contend that poor, laughable, ridiculed reason for existence – love – to be greater than attempting to accomplish near-impossible feats. In love we excuse our shortcomings and praise our successes no matter how minimal. Though love bleeds warmth into action, it does not conceal the shortcomings themselves, such things are obvious, self-explanatory, and (another credo of the love manifesto) reparable. Love allows us to redefine success subjectively as opposed to objectively. Men would contend that this is bitchery, a cheap slide into the feminine nature, however, it is not. A life in love is spent fulfilled not out of that insufferable indefatigable “success” but in sharing thoughts and emotions with others. You could call it changing the rules, and cheating the system, but if you’re living as nothing but a “quintessence of dust”, you might as well not feel like a “rogue and peasant slave” and define your world on your own terms – ones that you can live successfully with.





Calvin and Hobbes

13 01 2006

“Some people are pragmatists, taking things as they come and making the best of the choices available. Some people are idealists, standing for principle and refusing to compromise. And some people just act on any whim that enters their heads. I pragmatically turn my whims into principles.”

Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes is perhaps the single greatest heretofore unrecognized influence on me. Like a J.D. Salinger for the misunderstood child, Calvin oftentimes seemed to speak to me personally. Calvin’s unique blend of cynicism (especially of the adult world) and idealism catered to my world-view. In fact, it still does. The oft-quoted line from the strip is “Reality continues to ruin my life”; his philosophy’s only drawback is that it can’t handle the adult world. But is it really impossible?

God, I hope not. Maybe I don’t have a literal Hobbes, but there are many aspects of my life that I live just because I’d like them to be that way. “Whether or not Hobbes is real or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that Hobbes is real to Calvin” – Watterson. When I read Calvin’s interactions with Hobbes, I see a child with the imagination, vision, and idealism to live in the world he’d like to live in; in Calvin’s case, this is a world with a genuine friend.

“I’m yet another resource-consuming kid in an overpopulated planet, raised to an alarming extent by Hollywood and Madison Avenue, poised with my cynical and alienated peers to take over the world when you’re old and weak.” Calvin, trying to scare a neighbor while trick-or-treating.

It was Calvin’s relentless cynicism that made his strip a banned book in my household. With oblivious parents, lonely school life, and overlapping references of “building character”, I felt I connected to Calvin and Hobbes as close friends. I guess we had a few things that kept us distinct from one another: Calvin was wittier, I did better in school, Calvin had a perfect imaginary friend, I had very imperfect real ones, he wore the same clothes each day, and I did not. I learned from Calvin (maybe too much), and from him I began to do what all kids do at some point or another: question authority. I questioned authority; this doesn’t mean I raised a Calvin-sized uproar. I just mused on it. Either way, I ended up being told to stop reading my anthologies on several occasions.

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart so long. If we’re in each others dreams, we can play together all night”

Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me that a strip entitled Calvin and Hobbes would relate so much with philosophy. Calvin had style, he had grace. His thoughts on the absurdity of art (often portrayed by his beloved and painfully contorted snowmen), his understanding of the power of media (I still remember Calvin informing his dad that, among the household, his poll ratings were falling), and his word play (“As a math atheist, I should be excused from this”) thrilled me.

“Nothing spoils fun like finding out it builds character”

I could write pages upon pages of the adventures I shared, the laughs I had, and the number of times I re-read “The Essential”, “Authoritative”, “Tenth Anniversary”, and other collections at the dinner table. I derive a lot of my personality from Calvin, and at this point I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say it hasn’t hurt me yet. There’s a lot more to Bill Watterson’s strip than meets the eye; as a kid I sometimes missed things and reread them and had “aha!” moments. Calvin’s unmentioned attraction for Susie Derkins and the experimentation with avant garde art, even the entire Hobbes-may-not-be-real story element flew over my head. Even so, the insight stuck. My greatest lesson? Learning about true companionship.

My favorite quote from Calvin and Hobbes:
“The world isn’t fair, Calvin.”
“I know Dad, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?”





Some Lost Design

12 01 2006

Some Lost Design

I think I fell asleep that night, waiting for your star to shine. You said it was the one that hung a little low waiting – the mission’s cold on this side of the window. So if I can remember it straight I’m pretty sure I turned away from the Western sky, I looked and I lay waiting for the escape of the Eastern side. I was only a little dreamy while every other part of me culled my dress-dried body to sleep. I’m sorry; I fell into some ocean before I could rearrange these not-too-many lines into a likely pattern or poetic design.

Not Poetry

I don’t like poems,
They cheat with language,
Poets are cold,
Forcing strange rhymes –
Attempting to manage,

I don’t like poetry,
It’s long and mundane,
Too repetitive,
The meter is off –
And still awkward rules to obey.

I don’t like the poets,
They all break and cry just the same,
A change of mind,
A turn of the head–
I’m just another accidental poet today.

Only So Many Years to Live

I suppose creativity bends
At the pace that the mind is spent,
For once you reach the forgotten heights,
You’re left without time.

Your Web

There’s a collapse in the framework of this web,
Some tangled creature has lost himself,
Tearing the very fabric of time’s thread,
Two empty stories unfulfilled.

On Dying Young

I think it’s strange that I’ve always imagined myself dying young. Not that I think it would be especially tragic- I don’t plan on dying until after I’m seventy at least (I’ve definitely got the health for it). Sometimes I think I’d like to die feeling young, thinking that the adventure is never complete, that given the time, I would have filled more chapters. And sometimes I hope that someday I’ll grow old and wise so that I will be able to come to terms with death. It’s not that I believe I’m invincible now – no one at any age has earned such a mental luxury. Nor do I believe that death and living with a “seize-the-day” attitude are necessarily irreconcilable. I just happen to believe that I’m not going to ever feel satiated with my life – I don’t think I’ll ever reach a point and say “yes, I’ve done what I needed to do”. Like so many, I feel I will die without that sage sense of completion. I will die young.





Dot Com

1 01 2006

The rise and fall of the dot-com industry in the late 1990’s revealed the power of the internet, the effects of hype seen throughout the 1990’s, and ultimately, the continued onset of globalization. The emergence of quick start-ups and the growth of the economy over the course of the decade developed my perception of the world; I came to understand that, using effective marketing venues that attract both impulse and diligent shoppers, earning money can be simple.

The lesson of the 1990’s was: don’t get lost in the hype. Between Furbies, Beanie Babies, Tickle Me Elmos, Pokemon, and Giga Pockets, I learned that the nineties were all about trends. Catching on very early to the Pokemon wave, I set up my first ecommerce venture at the age of eleven, selling cards online. The idea and timing were right, but the implementation was off – and the site was, in business terms, a failure. However, Kevtoys.com taught important lessons – communication, ease of use, and professional looks are key to sales. Furthermore, the site reflected the aftermath of hype – many, many leftover almost valueless cards.

The dot-com boom was the central hype of the late 90’s; its eventual bust, the same as which befell the preceding fads, caught the adult world off-guard. It was a sobering lesson. Though the world had so much to give, you have to be careful with what you take, monitoring exactly what you’re getting, whether they’re plastic playing cards, stuffed animals, or mini-gadgets. Staying in touch is important, but keeping a clear-headed perspective is invaluable. As the world progresses into a global marketplace, entrepreneurs must learn the lessons of the dot-com era: risk-management, diversify, and communicate.





Thought

10 12 2005


Never Quite as Scary
Originally uploaded by Kevin V.

Usually when I talk about myself, I’m confusing. Tonight, I’m going to try something different.

I’m going to talk about thought.

I spend most of the day inside my head. About an hour each way to and from school serves as quality meditation time. I generally listen to music that is poetic, calming, or tied to memories. The music I listen to serves as a starting off point for a chain of thought. Sometimes I ponder about death, sometimes about God, and sometimes about life between dreams. I’ll take a song and draw together a conclusion by pulling it apart. I’ll read the lyrics the night before and in the car, I’ll just think.

My trains of thought eventually go beyond the music. I find myself trying to stretch the song to fit my life. I’ll throw out a stanza, throw out a line or two. I’ll argue with music, trying to find why it shouldn’t fit. Once in a while I’ll make a tune in my head and start simply singing lyrics I’ve never heard before. Sometimes I like the lyrics and many times I find them rambling and repetitive, but either way I forget them by the time I get home.

And there are times I turn off the music and just ponder things. I wonder about chapel sometimes and what people say and whether or not I agree. Like when Matt Furman gave a homily earlier this year about his mother. I agree that it was a touching story, powerful and intense especially to Matt, but he taught the wrong message. He spoke of prayer as if it has physical healing powers. He spoke as if his personal connection with God remedied his mother’s cancer. He believed, and she was saved, and he believed more. And if she died? To me, the lesson isn’t about praying to God for things to get better. Prayer is about reconciling the world around you with yourself. It’s about coming to terms peacefully with adversity and living a better life because of it. Whether or not she was saved doesn’t matter.

Sometimes my thoughts turn inward. I think about how easy it is not to meditate in our high-stress environments. I wonder why, though I enjoy going to church, I’ve found reasons not to go. I guess about how I got to be the way I am. A lot of that has to do with my childhood I think, especially my energy and motivation to simply act. I jumped. I played. I read. I immersed myself in Treasure Mountain. I’ve spent time wondering how (and why) I’m so dedicated to honor and integrity. I’ve thought about why I always turn everything into a personal guilt trip. I think about how I’ve made myself feel like a terrible person for committing an error, a small mistake. How I try to take “learning from your mistakes” to another level. And I think about how I try to hide that whole process.

I can criticize myself better than anyone I know. Personal accountability is an understatement. Idealism is key to my central persona. Anything failing perfection is worth criticizing, worth bringing down, worth a public denunciation. However, I’ve gotten along fine forgiving everyone’s little errors. Drinking problems, drugs, crass comments, mental abuse – I can pass off other people’s mistakes easily enough; generally I just let it go, sometimes by ignoring them. On the other hand, if I let someone down by forgetting to do something, I will try to criticize myself until I can feel like (1) I’ve atoned for my mistake and (2) I won’t make the same error again.

I think about lighter things too. For example, love. Next time you’re at church, meditate on God not as an individual. God isn’t a character, it/he/she is more. When I think of God I see God as more of a Jungian universal unconscious that groups the human race together and not as simply the Zeus-like father. What is this binding force to the human race? For me, it is love. Love for our fellow man. If you read the words on the screen in chapel and substitute “love” for “God”, you’ll realize that our compassion for one another is what we profess. Love can demand that we do better, but its very nature is forgiving for when we fail to share in loving. Love can guide us through the desert. Love for the human race is what separates those we call inhuman (the Husseins, the McVeighs, the Hitlers) from those we deem human. This is just an interesting meditation exercise that produces a range of results.

Most of the time, people don’t think I can possibly have thought something out ahead of time. I do think things out ahead of time because I find time to think it out. Mr Clemmons once asked my English class what is the difference between “house” and home”? I replied with seconds: a house is merely where you reside and home is “where the heart is”. I read from the expression on the faces of my friends that they had not expected that answer so quickly. Granted, a similar answer is found in the movie Garden State. However, I came to this conclusion days before when I just spent time thinking. I spend my time thinking things through, reading about new problems to consider – for example, how best to tackle intelligent design (which I myself believed in years ago). Everyday, I spend time thinking.

By now you’re probably wondering if I just go home and think about things all the time. The answer of course is no. However, I squeeze in thoughts and meditations whenever I can. I memorize lyrics and extensive quotes from movies in order to be able to grasp a question better. I don’t find the time I spend thinking a waste of time. In fact, most of the time I spend thinking I’m doing something productive.

Most of the time, I’m just thinking on the morning drive to school.





Music

17 11 2005

Good music makes you think. Great music is philosophy. There’s a difference. Granted, I don’t have the best tastes in music or even the most sophisticated; if you’re feeling judgmental check out the oft-mentioned excellent report on music snobbery by Chris Knight. I am among the “millions of 13-year-old girls” that found out about these groups through the Garden State soundtrack. And even so, I’d like to muse on music.

Music has to provoke you. It has to stimulate a thought, like a poem – it has its lyrics, but with actual sound is able to produce imagery on a different scale. People have commented that they “can feel the music” when they hear a good song. The words mixed with notes create something unique – and part of what makes a good song good is the impact it gives you.

”Stones taught me to fly
Love taught me to lie
Life taught me to die
So it’s not hard to fall
When you float like a cannonball”
– “Cannonball” by Damien Rice

One night, I walked with Maddy at night in Harvard square with the intent to buy Damien Rice’s album. We walked to Tower Records and in one aisle we found its little packaged canvas-colored case with its simple child-like drawings on the front. Later that night I cried listening to that album. I couldn’t make out all the words (like most of the time I hear a song for the first time) but still I cried. I called it “being emo”. I was sunken, depressed – my good spirits shot for the night.

“And so it is
Just like you said it would be
Life goes easy on me
Most of the time
And so it is
The shorter story
No love, no glory
No hero in her sky”
– “The Blower’s Daughter” by Damien Rice

Music is philosophy. Perhaps there is no better example of philosophy-masquerading-as-music than Jack Johnson. Far from being indie, his popular albums “Brushfire Fairytales”, “On and On” (though I haven’t listened to this album), and “In Between Dreams” communicate his laid-back philosophy. To call such music philosophy has always been a stretch. Music is like a fable – sometimes it teaches to the truth of something broad – say, war – and sometimes it teaches about something very narrowly – losing a relationship for lack of communication. However, because he supplies both broad and narrow ‘truths’ with a consistent theme it would be fair to say there exists a Jack Johnson philosophy. In fact, the two above examples, war and quiet relationships, are specific Jack Johnson songs: “Crying Shame” and “No Other Way”, respectively.

“Well too much silence can be misleading
You’re drifting I can hear it in the way that your breathing
We don’t really need to find reason
Cause out the same door that it came well its leaving its leaving
Leaving like a day that’s done and part of a season
Resolve is just a concept that’s as dead as the leaves
But at least we can sleep, its all that we need
When we wake we will find
Our minds will be free to go to sleep”
“No Other Way” by Jack Johnson

Music, like math, communicates universally. From American groups like Iron and Wine to Spanish singers like Juanes to the Icelandic group Sigur Ros who invented their own language to sing in, we see a combination of extraordinary talent and simple lyrics. In Iron and Wine’s “Naked as We Came” and “Passing Afternoon”, their slow beat and clear words lift the high pressure environments of pop and punk bands where the words are often overshadowed by repetitive beats and either screaming, slang, or senseless obscenity. Juanes’ song “Tu Guardian” has a chorus that sings: “Esta noche te prometo que no vendrán ni dragones ni fantasmas a molestar. Y en la puerta de tus sueños yo voy a estar, hasta que tus ojos vuelvan a abrir”. Translated, that goes something like: “Tonight I promise that neither dragons nor ghosts will come to bother you. And in the door of your dreams I will be, until your eyes open up anew”. And I’ve only listened to Sigur Ros once, but from what I remember Maddy showing me – the music was unintelligible (I learned afterwards it was made up) it was absolutely beautiful. There is no precise language to music except that it speaks to the truth of human experience.

“She says ‘wake up, it’s no use pretending’
I’ll keep stealing, breathing her.
Birds are leaving over autumn’s ending
One of us will die inside these arms
Eyes wide open, naked as we came
One will spread our ashes ’round the yard”
“Naked as We Came” by Iron and Wine

The next step I suppose for music is to communicate visually. Glósóli by Sigur Ros is a perfect example of music combined with video to create a unique experience. I remember one of the first commentaries I had heard on music. It was about a band I liked at the time N*Sync (I liked the Backstreet Boys too – and no, I was far from a music aficionado at that point). The article commented on the then recent resurgence of covers of old songs like “Sailing”. The cover on the magazine read: “Is Music Dead” as if musical creativity had hit some ceiling past which no melodious chords would ever be found.

Far from it.

Music is alive – it is unique – and everyone experiences it differently – some people are comfortable listening to rap, others like me, generally aren’t. But before you jump back into your iPod world, I want to say one last thing. If you truly enjoy music, then you don’t ‘just like all music’. You make your selections, your findings, and your favorites a part of you – and the musical component is actually very specific.

So don’t complain when I listen to both Bowling for Soup and Death Cab in the same playlist.





The Facebook

26 10 2005

Facebook, which I am blogging about because Mr. Allen blogged about an alumni, Chris B’s blog. In particular, I’m posting to Chris (2)’s post about the Facebook, where he writes “If you do not join The Facebook, you become the town leper and you are socially outcast.” .

Chris comments that some people have too many friends. On facebook this tends to be irritatingly true. Facebook, at Least the Harvard section, has a facebook group, titled, “the Facebook Rule Group”. One of the better groups out there, it states:

Since many people do not know how to use Facebook correctly. Here are some simple rules.

[01] You must have a picture. This is not the question mark book.

[02] This picture should actually look like you. Using a picture in which you appear a lot more attractive than you actually are can be misleading and lead to disappointments.

[03] If you see someone in person that you’ve seen on Facebook, say something. don’t just point, and definitely do not poke them. Chances are they recognize you too, unless you have not followed rules 1 and 2.

[04] Why are you drinking in your picture? It doesn’t make you seem cool. Also, your beverage is probably blocking your face.

[05] Are you actually married? If not don’t put that down under your relationship status. Nobody WANTS TO GET WITH YOU!!

[06] Don’t just join every single group ever. Stay focused.

[07] Obviously you check Facebook every 5 minutes, so please respond to your messages in a timely manner. Chances are you’re making the sender of the message extremely insecure.

[08] Don’t just confirm everyone who asks you to be their friend. Good rules of thumb: Would you say hi to this person if you passed them in the yard? No? Are they hott? Yes.

[09] Don’t edit your own wall, it makes you look like a loser.

[10] Just because there wasn’t a question in a message someone sent you, does not mean that you do not have to respond. Since small talk is virtually eliminated through facebook profiles, when there is no question, a comment is definitely in order.

[11] If you are not on Facebook, that does not mean that people will think you are cool or mysterious. It means no one is thinking about you at all.

[12] Don’t be embarassed to check facebook @ the science center or the library. You have nothing to be ashamed of, the people who really matter don’t care.

#8 works always. Would you say hi if you walked by them? If so, friend them. By the way friend is a verb, meaning “to add as a friend on some list of some kind”. If for some strange reason you receive a friend request from someone you would normally walk past with out making eye contact, in such a way that you show indifference to their existence at or near Earth, you should probably click ‘reject’.

Now for some of my thoughts. First off, the SMES high school facebooking is really not put together. Yes, Chris (2), they have high school facebooks, gross I know. So far only Tommy and a few others and myself have joined the high school facebook.com facebook. From most people I talk to, the notion of facebook being a high school thing hasn’t leaked through. Facebooking began small as a way to have tabs on other kids at school. Now, as Mr Allen writes, it is the 5th most frequented site on the Internet. Facebook has expanded to be this myspace phenomenon in college. What’s great about facebook is the lack of html coding. You cant make red text on bright pink backgrounds, grind heavy metal music into your skull, force downloading videos onto your screen,etc.

Facebooking can be just stupid, arrogant high school myspaces, but they can also be good for getting a cell phone number for someone or a way to, like email, send messages, friendly “pokes”, etc. I agree with Chris, Facebook is generally misused by drunken frat boys who couldn’t pull together a website on their own anyways.

Professor Teuber (prnounced TOY-ber), my Harvard philosophy teacher, was a knowledgabele man. In fact when I spoke with him in his office, though he had a class of 130 or so, he knew my name. At first he said – “It’s in the 2nd half of the alphabet.” I nodded, yes. “Last name is towards the end.” Again, a nod. “After T, after U”. By then I realized that, he did indeed know my name. His secret he told me, “Facebook”.





Rosa

22 10 2005

Rosa

What did that nameless man believe when he asked Parks to step out of the bus? What must have run through his mind that day? Did he even think about the rationale for his actions? Of course not. His response ran through his words before he whispered them. It was instilled within him from society, from his parents, from his friends. Everyone contributed; everyone sustained the deeply held prejudices. To break this cycle, people like Dr. King had to accomplish something extraordinary – remove oneself from the patterns of society.

Hatred is not always a conscious decision. It rarely is. Rarely can we look at someone and say, I hate that person because, though he has done some amount “x” for me, he has done these actions “y” to me, and has therefore transcended my fair and reasoned area of neutrality into dislike and into hate. No. Instead, hatred is slow to build. Hatred is a principle that blinds us to the good in people. Hatred comes unconsciously, building through prior experience, learned prejudices, and distorted reasoning.

“Love is the condition in which the happiness of one person is essential to your own”. Hatred is the absence of love; it is the absence of compassion. Where we slip into hatred evolves from a cycle of distortion, vengeance, cultural unity. When this cycle becomes self-propagating, when the distortion is not your own, but your grandfather’s, the escape becomes more and more difficult. The hatred is so embedded into the fabric of society, that to escape from the patterns is difficult. Beyond that, removing part of the lens with which you see the world is just like extracting and separating part of what constitutes you as an individual.

To love, and not to hate, is a hard calling. Much harder than hatred, love calls us to analyze the whys of every belief we hold. Are the reasons valid for the way I perceive this person? What are the lenses that I use to view the world? How can we escape from looking at someone negatively, when we don’t realize that we are doing it at all? I notice that not solely in Christianity, but in Buddhism and other religions as well, that there exists a rule: treat others in the way you want to be treated. I don’t want to lose my audience here by sounding like I am pumping religious views – no, instead, I ask that the rule be taken in a secular and very real sense.

That day when that nameless man forcedly removed Rosa from the bus with the aid of the police, he did not put himself in her position. Were he to have tried, he would have dismissed it and sat down next to Rosa and her two adjacent unoccupied seats (Because a white man was alotted not just a seat but a whole row, two other black people left the bus).

The call to hatred is one embedded within us, formed in part from our experiences and our culture. The first step is recognizing the probability that we are prejudiced in some way that we do not consciously recognize. The second is to go through and think about the reasons for being judgmental about others. And the third is to reconcile those judgments with the moral rule of doing what you would have done to you.

Love is the absence of hate and is the garden where compassion grows and progress blooms.





Censorship

14 10 2005

The best censorship is the kind you do yourself.

Like I could comment on the fact that, at our honor assembly, Geoff spoke, at one point the importance of respecting everyone. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy writes that “Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.” Therefore if we are to respect everyone, that is to say give a complacent acceptance of their ideologies and views, we are not loving someone. Christianity teaches that we should “love your neighbor” – that this is not simply to respect them, but to support them. I understand that Geoff entirely meant this, he meant we should love our neighbors, etc, etc. But I just want to emphasize how difficult it is to truly love your neighbors, to love your enemies. To help them, to understand their interests, to be connected to them is love. And if we are merely going to respect them, to simply acknowledge their existence, then we are failing to truly love our neighbors, which is more difficult, but ultimately more enriching goal.

That probably shouldn’t make the cut. That probably was a waste of space. But they’re my thoughts. And I at one point, I thought that my thoughts were what channel16 was all about.

“Words”
How much can I write in fifteen minutes? What are the words’ value? Did you know that this particular arrangement of 26 characters formed into words which are selected from a vocabulary of 120,000 has never been created before? That it is unique? The first time you really realize this, the first time you’re not stuck writing what everyone else is in the class, it strikes you that (1) it’s original, (2) it represents part of who you are and are capable of, and (3) that what you write has an obligation to being good – you hold it to some standard.

So far I’ve hit one hundred words, though by writing this line I’ve certainly added to it. Words by themselves are as meaningless as randomly organized characters. We, as living beings, inscribe onto these 120,000 to 250,000 words certain connotation, certain meanings. In sophomore year we spent three months revising one paper on the definition of ‘honor’. What does it mean? Who decides honor? What must an honorable act be about, what is one like? Why do we believe in the concept of honor? Part of the answers to these questions lie in the word’s etymology, but the central core to this definition – is where does the universal concept which everyone understands as ‘honor’, even in other cultures, other languages, derive its meaning?

Is it nature? Is it nurture? Is it a Jungian universal unconscious? Is it melded into history books and literature? Where is it?

I’ve run out of time, written two hundred fifty words, to which there may or may not be meaning. But it’s there, they are my words, and they are now alive, this belief, these questions, my personal conclusions are all now a part of me. And the strange thing is, I don’t know whether they were alive or not before I wrote them down.

I wrote that this yesterday, before the Honors Assembly today. It was what I was thinking, just a free writing, see what it is that will come to my mind, force-myself to-write exercise. I understand that it might come across as arrogant as in, “look what I can do in fifteen minutes”. But its not intended to be. I just set a time limit. Well the school did really, I had to make on time to F block AP Government, you know! But nonetheless, my free thoughts almost didn’t make the cut.

“Trust is belief without reason, knowledge is belief supported by reason, and with love you have both, because as Pascal wrote, ‘the heart has reasons that reason does not know’ “

I wrote that a few weeks ago in an instant messenger conversation with an SMES student. Again, I personally liked what I had said, but I felt that it did not quite make the ‘channel16 cut’. Believe it or not, we are limited in what we can say and do. Believe it or not, one student (not me) has begun a blog to post ‘controversial’ SMES student writing. Believe it or not, I can’t generally write about exactly how I feel on politcal issue for fear that I might alienate you, the audience. I don’t enjoy offending people, I derive no sense of pleasure in doing so. But for this ‘quote’, I felt that it simply was too contrived to make it onto my blog. But again, I’ve realized that, like most teenagers, some of what I say comes out as contrived, and because channel16 is intended to be a virtual extension of me, Kevin, a teenager’s contrived words might come out now and then.

No Regrets
By – The Community

What’s done is done,
But the end has just begun,
For some believe,
That school is a we,
And not just a him and a she,
It’s time we see,
That we cannot be,

You stood your ground,
Took a student down,
But some will see,
Some still believe,
That you’ll end it alone,
You threw the first stone,

No blood was shed,
No man left dead,
Only a life forever changed,
And we saw you lock his chains,
You plunged in the cold knife,
A checkmate move on life.

I wrote that towards the end of last year, feeling upset at what I had felt was the school’s overreaction to the actions of one student in my class. He was subsequently expelled. Now I have distance from the event and slightly more understanding – for example, the College Board could have revoked all AP test scores. However, I still feel a bit bitter that such a student can make one error and have so much collapse. Again, this was edited out because I don’t think that (1) it is all that well written and (2) that it is controversial and may incite some administration at the time. However, I don’t mean to offend any SMES administration, rather a critique furthering what other students have called the dissolution of the community – a separation of faculty, administration, and students. Like Johnny and others, I should probably preface that poem with ‘I don’t mean to offend’, which to me is another form of self-censorship.

This being a compilation of deleted works that have been pushed aside, you probably would have been better off not reading it. But maybe you enjoyed it. Maybe you like seeing the parts of me I don’t frequently let out. I don’t know my audience very well, every once in a while someone who I rarely talk to will speak to me about my blog seemingly out of nowhere. It’s refreshing to know people read this. I don’t mean that in any conceited way, but it’s nice to think that perhaps, just maybe, I’ve spoken to the truths and touched on things that people are interested in.

Censorship is something that we do all the time, not editing, but cautious censorship of oneself. The trick to good writing, perhaps, is speaking to the truth in a way people will enjoy it.





Money

10 10 2005

Things you can do with money:

For under $8000, you can read, more or less, every classic book ever produced. The Complete Penguin Books Classics Over 750 lbs of books shipped right to your door! And you’ll look either like a ridiculously well read person, an strange book aficionado, or a rich person who wants to appear educated.

You can, for a mere $15 to 20 million make national news and fly into space. “A full adventure package, complete with jet flights, luxury hotel, charter zero-g flight, VIP service, etc. retails for $179,000. Purchase the medical check alone for significantly less.” Incredible Advenutres(c) .pdf The total flight cost including more than just the training is about $15-20 million. The brochure tells you that depending on your job, they’ll negotiate a price with the Russian Space Agency.

Money can buy almost everything. There are a few ‘priceless’ things. How important are they to a county, Orange County, who has more money than any other in the US? How important do you think priceless things are to people who can afford anything? I believe in the concept of priceless, but I wonder for those who get almost everything they want, from a 350Z to a big screen tv, how distorted is priceless to us? Are we closer or farther from knowing what can and can’t be bought? I don’t know.

“I want a pony”

Are you sure?





The Untitled Life

2 06 2005

The Untitled Life

Almost a wish,

And more the dream,

To be alive,

And to be seen.

On life, Fitzgerald poses the question of whether or not such meaning can be found in a chaotic world where everything exists without spirit; life is but the prelude to the nothingness of the coming train of death. Were we to apply such a meaningless view of existence to a complete world view then there would be no moral rationale against suicide, which would then be viewed not as a denial or escape of existence but an acceptance and compliance with it. We continue to exist, our fallen numbers replenished by the second, but for what? Are we but creatures sent to tread on this planet? This is not the case; underneath the unchanging firmament of an existence without purpose there exists a path towards meaning.

In the Great Gatsby the central characters Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby level a crusade for some degree of meaning in this world. Though both seek meaning in their lives, each is the antithesis to the other, joined by friendship, but separated by class. Carraway believes in pragmatism, to “draw up the girl beside me” (Fitzgerald, 85). In essence, to passively live in the now. Nick Carraway sets no goals, lives on the moment which in turn begets him substantial joy and pleasure by following the lives of others such as Tom, Jordan, and Gatsby. However there are several moments in which his pragmatism falters. His inability to understand that past, present, and future are interwoven is a direct and logical outcome of a completely dogmatic approach to pragmatism. On the reverse side of Carraway lies the Gatsby who believes in the existence of as well as the attainability of ideals. Gatsby believes in the potential for perfection; the dream be it money, self-sufficiency, social class, or love not only exists, but can be had.

We are Jay Gatsby. Fitzgerald transforms the reader’s perspective through the emphatic connection made between Gatsby and the reader through Carraway’s carefully chosen words. “I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known” (Fitzgerald, 64) – Nick Carraway never lies, he only provides his perspective. However distorted that perspective may be is up for questioning, but he does intend to provide us with an accurate telling of what occurred. When we see Gatsby through Carraway’s eyes he does not distance the reader by providing a fact-by-fact account but instead the narrator both subtly and overtly sympathizes with Gatsby. We pain for Gatsby. There is a profound connection to idealism that Fitzgerald draws from within our core beliefs as both Americans as well as in a larger sense as human beings. Fitzgerald draws out the social belief that our society is founded on and holds it to the light and exposes its falsity. Tocqueville commented:

“Among democratic nations new families are constantly springing up, others are constantly falling away, and all that remain change their condition… As each class gradually approaches others and mingles with them, its members become undifferentiated and lose their class identity for each other. Aristocracy had made a chain of all the members of the community, from the peasant to the king; democracy breaks that chain and severs every link of it.” (Tocqueville)

According to Tocqueville, democracy leads to classless society. From this idea of a classless society, Social Darwinists of the late 1800’s had espoused a belief that because we are all under equal environmental conditions at birth, success is achieved on the basis of effort. Out of this epoch came the Horatio Alger stories that bolstered this belief that upon steadfast dedication to work, one could reach the top rung of society.

The Great Gatsby does away with such fantasy. Placing the idealistic view created decades earlier in a realist’s context of social class systems that eliminate the façade of social mobility reduces Gatsby to nothing. Gatsby’s idealism is represented by his consummate desire to have Daisy avow a perfect love for him and never with Tom Buchanan as well as his infinite desire to “climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder” (Fitzgerald, 117). Perfection he desires is not only in love of Daisy but in love of her social class. Daisy is the unwilling ideal that represents his light in a dark moor of questionable social advancement. Whereas shady business deals and his Oxford and military service past have gotten him to the upper echelons of middle class society, he remains a noveau riche, with the shallow “sophistication” of Daisy seemingly his only path towards crossing the social divide. The inevitable question is: why? Because for Gatsby, crossing into the upper class proves that dreams are worth having, that the American dream is real, that absolute success in life is achievable.

Such a transformation is impossible because ideals cannot exist within imperfect human constructs. Daisy dismantles Gatsby’s dream through an admittance of the existence of imperfect love: “Oh you want too much … I love you now – isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past” (Fitzgerald, 140). After Gatsby recognizes the impossibility of completing his dream, Tom debases Gatsby with “magnanimous scorn” (Fitzgerald, 142) stating that “his presumptuous little flirtation is over” (Fitzgerald, 142). Tom Buchanan exposes the illegitimate business practices of Gatsby, reducing his dreams of being the perfect person to shattered glass fragments. When we see Gatsby in Tom’s harsh, unforgiving light, we see that to achieve the American dream, even to a man with “an incorruptible dream” (Fitzgerald, 162), shady business tactics become, while impure, rationalized, accepted, and necessary. His idealism was impossible for several reasons: (1) the upper social class that “conspire[s] together” (Fitzgerald, 153) to absolve itself from crimes pushes the fault inevitably to the lower classes, (2) materialism is not the idealist’s game – making money in the 1920’s as it does today requires illicit business tactics (for example Kenneth Lay of Enron) which compromise the perfection of the achievement, and (3) ideals are intrinsically something that imperfect beings cannot completely accomplish, thus leaving the idealist constantly unsatisfied even in love. The solemn shots fired at Gatsby implicate a resounding no to any notion that idealism is functional.

Neither is Carraway’s pragmatic approach to life. Carraway’s skilled ability to “draw up the girl beside him” though “unlike Gatsby and Tom Buchanan [he] had no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs” (Fitzgerald, 85), leaves him continually empty through three failed relationships. “But I am slow thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires” (Fitzgerald, 64). His inability to allow for impractical emotions like love fails him, forces him to live not only an incomplete life, but also a deluded life that leaves him susceptible to falsities to compromise for the dysfunctional society he witnesses. He holds on to some sense of idealism, such as his undying faith in the sanctity of Chicago and the middle-west. However there are is no indication that the west is any less rigid and amoral; if anything the shady call intended for Gatsby indicates the opposite that the corruption is already there. Carraway’s pragmatic approach is thrown asunder by an overlapping idealism, much like how Gatsby’s ends-justify-the-means business practices undercut the viability of a perfect Gatsby.

Carraway and Gatsby are both proven to be failed by their world views because neither pragmatism nor idealism can reconcile the meaninglessness of the world with a realist path towards the full potential for human beings. Idealism sets the bar to an ideal, out of reach by imperfect human beings, and thus delivers a crushing blow when it becomes realized that we fall short. Pragmatism, conversely, doesn’t set a goal at all, but rather to simply enjoy the moment. The question therefore is to mediate the realization of world without inherent meaning with a rational world-view that provides people with meaning in their lives.

“…I know of no other country where love of money has such a grip on men’s hearts” (Tocqueville)

What Carraway and Gatsby require is a complete redefinition of joy in life. Joy is not derived from materialism, happiness is not contingent upon social class, and elation is not drawn out of shallow lovers. Gatsby needed to realize not that the American dream is simply impossible, but that it is a dream not worthy of fulfillment. Carraway on the opposite side needed to realize that the mired socioeconomic troubles of the east are paralleled across America, that there is no harbor from this monstrous inequality. Rather, Nick needs to confront his life; in essence to seize the day, carpe diem. In order to live a meaningful life, Nick Carraway must realize that drifting through life is inadequate; life is not a spectator sport. An existential approach here would be more in order for both of them: to find joy and meaning not from existence alone, but from the actions and decisions they make. Both need to face reality and embrace it. It is not a meaningless world where materialism provides us meaning because it gives us a quantitative measure of success, but rather we are born into a meaningless start where our actions, our goals, our commitment to life can provide us with a more tangible meaning. Nick needs to embrace his mistakes, to seek out love and let it find him; Carraway must breakaway from the social institutions from within and not solely from the exterior of which there is no real escape. Detach oneself from any sentiment of superiority based on class, and definition of success based on money, any joy from wealth and you have indeed shaped your own American dream.

 

Works Cited:

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 2003.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. “Of Individualism in Democratic Countries”. Democracy in America. 24 May 2005. .

Tocqueville, Alexis de. “In Search of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America”. Democracy in America. 24 May 2005. .





Convocation

16 05 2005

I spoke today on the stress of SAT’s, College Board, and the struggle for students to be perfect and the diffucties in getting to that plateau. We live not in the Information Age, but rather in the aftermath of it. The overwhelming quantities of data including that such-and-such stage performance in third grade, etc that college hopefuls submit make these same colleges look for not so much an easy way out, but rather a rock to cling to, a number that provides a qualification for all this excess data – the SAT.

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CONVOCATION SPEECH TRANSCRIPT

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

The SAT is certainly an important part of school life; it separates us, divides us, and directs our lives into distinct paths. It is a classification for us, something that we are led to believe distinguishes the Ivy Leaguers from everyone else. College counselors who truly know how it works, like Mr. Allen, will tell you that SAT scores are not as important as grades. However, grades are determined over months of interaction that give the teacher time to qualify and eventually quantify the level of comprehension. The SAT, on the other hand, spits out a number in less than four hours.

No other four hours affect our academic lives as much as the SAT, which as the “measure of the critical thinking skills you’ll need for academic success in college” has a new essay section. There are problems with this essay however. Students are not penalized for incorrect facts. “The official guide for scorers explains: ‘Writers may make errors in facts or judgment that do not affect the quality of their essays’”. In other words, you can lie and that’s perfectly acceptable, assuming it’s relevant. One SAT essay writer wrote that the Revolutionary War was fought in 1842 and, according to the rules; being wrong doesn’t undercut the essay at all. But hey, that’s only sixty-six years off.

Dr. Les Perelman, a director of writing at M.I.T., has stated [quote] “regardless of what a student wrote, the longer the essay, the higher the score”. He also said, “If you just graded them based on length without ever reading them, you’d be right over 90 percent of the time”. Just by looking at it. “How to prepare for such an essay? “I would advise writing as long as possible,” said Dr. Perelman, “and include lots of facts, even if they’re made up.” This, of course, is not what he teaches his M.I.T. students. “It’s exactly what we don’t want to teach our kids,” he said.” The National Council of Teachers agrees. “It cautions that a single, 25-minute writing test ignores the most basic lesson of writing – that good writing is rewriting. It warns that the SAT is pushing schools toward “formulaic” writing instruction.”

The College Board feels writers who know what they’re talking about will generally say more. Tell you what, writers who actually think before they write something, you know good writers, sometimes might need more than 25 minutes to write an essay. And maybe good writers only write down a little because they’re thinking too much. But I guess that’s bad.

The SAT implies that college isn’t really about thinking, analyzing, preparing, exploring, writing and rewriting. No, apparently it’s about glancing at the question and scribbling down some quick sentences. According to Mr. Cullinan, in France, students are given three hours to write their university essay. This represents a completely different approach, a different expectation level, a higher bar for literacy. This is not what the SAT expects. No, instead the College Board believes in a McDonald’s literacy level. Can you read the menu? Do you understand where to put the numbers, the dollar sign, and the period? Are you an effective consumer, intelligent enough not to think, but rather to purchase to buy? It is consumer-level literacy. Imagine, for a moment, three hours for an exam. Unless you’re either completely lost, you can probably write an essay which is reflective of your ability as a writer and as a thinker. The essay that gets sent to the colleges of your choice after the SAT wouldn’t be a 25-minute scribble; it would be a quality piece that represents the full level of your understanding and ability as a writer. Just imagine.

In reality, the deepest understanding that we should come to is about ourselves. How, in light of recent examinations, do we view ourselves? Are we just test-takers, trained for SAT’s and AP’s, do we show up, pay fourteen grand, accept our grades as they come, get handed a diploma and a great college? Or are we here for something more? Take some time and really ponder it … who are we as students? I challenge our school community to move past to move past test prep classes and to actually learn the material over time, to grow on it, develop these thoughts in and out of the classroom, to know and understand it, and to realize the testing game that’s being played in front of our eyes for what it is and not for what the College Board and we ourselves have made it out to be. We have to realize that our integrity is at stake; we need to come to grips that the College Board doesn’t determine who we are; we need to realize it’s just a statistic and not a very good one at that. And as a student, I am more than a statistic. I will “play the game, but I don’t have to believe in it”.

The College Board, when it comes to the wire is what makes or breaks us. In the high pressure selection process between two similar students, it is these apparently objective numbers that quickly push one student above another. At such a level, everything becomes so competitive that everything counts, scores are stretched beyond objective levels of importance; it is at that pressure point that such quantitative results reach their limits. Given the enormous pressure for students to keep perfect every single aspect of their lives including grades, conduct, even relationships with teachers, to achieve the select ranks of the Ivy Leagues, should we not call, no demand perfection from the College Board to provide the absolute best possible tool for discernment? All the pressure put into rising above everyone else might cause some people to buckle slightly under the competitive strain, make the slightest mistake and then what … do we condemn those people? Apparently we do. But we shouldn’t. We must be more compassionate, more understanding, and more human to realize that the stress placed on us to arrive at the summit is tremendous; in life, perfection is not required, but consciousness is. We cannot be perfect; everyone makes a misstep and knowing that, we’ve got to do two things: call for the College Board to give us the best tools for making statistical decision-making and be more understanding when we ourselves make mistakes.





Othello: The Devil’s Core

24 03 2005

Note: If you are an English III student (or will be) please realize that (duh) its plagarism to copy my writing without referring to this blog about it. And come on, I know you guys can do better than these essays

Devil’s Core

Iago’s ability to control and manipulate his world does not reflect an arbitrary evil; it instead represents Iago as superhuman. Without regard to the moral nature of his actions, Iago represents the sum potential of control that human beings can exert in their world, uninhibited by morality. William Shakespeare, Othello’s playwright, formulates Iago to be a devil, but in the end exposes Iago to be fully human, revealing that the power that is exerted by Iago is not by some external arbiter of evil, but rather by one who is a human being; not quite deity, but not simply human, Iago explores the limitations of what human beings are capable of doing in society.

**The creation of the devil in Iago occurs straightaway: “I am not what I am” (1.1.71). Iago is here indicating that he is contrast, indeed opposite to God, who to Moses had said “I am that I am” (Exodus 3.14). God, in the Bible, states that he is God, that he is who he is. However, Iago twists this and points that he is the deceiver; indeed we begin to know that this deceiver is the devil.

What does this devilish creation represent? Iago with Shakespeare’s symbolic, direct and indirect, and continual references to Iago elevate (or descend, depending on how you perceive it) Iago to the supernatural status of a devil. Iago is the creation of the definition of evil, the creation of a devil, the creation of an uncontrollable, destructive force in the world. Perhaps the mere fact that Iago lies out of our control, which we seemingly possess nothing with which to combat this relentless evil is what is most terrifying of all. Iago defines fear; fear is what we cannot control, what scares us because we have no control to stop it. Thus with Iago, the fear increases tenfold, for Iago is to be the Son of Darkness, Lucifer, the devil himself, who has decided in his “divinity of hell” (2.3.370) to pummel the people around him into broken men and women; indeed there is a devil amongst us.

And there is not. “I look down towards his feet; but that’s a fable. / If that thou be’st a devil, I cannot kill thee +he stabs Iago+” (5.2.336-337) Iago is human, only human. Othello looks towards Iago’s feet, but does not see the cloven hooves, which by Christian tradition distinguishes the devil. Othello acknowledges that “that’s a fable”, and if Iago were not human, were indeed the devil, then Othello would indeed not be able to stab Iago. However, Othello can, and Iago is wounded, Iago is not the devil, Iago is real, Iago is human.

If Iago is only human what does that reflect on us? How does it change the perspective of the play? Iago’s actions now become human, whereas instead of being a one-dimensional, intrinsically evil entity, Iago is now accountable for his actions morally. Iago no longer retains the veil. His actions incite within us either rage or despair, rage that he chooses to do ‘evil’, despair that we at times, share in Iago’s human choice to do wrong. The question then becomes what does morality matter to this man: “Virtue? A fig! ‘Tis in ourselves that we are thus or / thus. Our bodies are our gardens to the which our / wills are gardeners” (1.3.361-363). Does a ‘universal morality’ exist or even matter? To Iago, morality resides within one’s personal desires; Iago defines ‘good’ or ‘bad’ by the success and failures relative to his personal desires.

Morality, for Iago, is irrelevant, unnecessary, or perhaps his morality is not based on this universal good and bad, but rather like Othello’s militarily based on levels of personal success. Othello, a military general, tends to see everything in terms of black and white, good or bad, success or failure. Othello carefully understands that there is either a true love between himself and Desdemona or there is nothing at all- “I’ll see before I doubt, when I doubt, prove; / And on the proof / … away at once with love or jealousy” (3.3.221-223). Iago cunningly plays Othello’s game. If Othello were to have me “beleed and calmed / By debtor and creditor” (1.1.32-33), to have my position taken by “One Michael Cassio, a Florentine … [whose] mere prattle with out practice / Is all his soldiership” (1.1.21-22,27-28), given to this inept Cassio by “the Lusty Moor/ [that] Hath leaped into my seat [taken his sexual role in his marriage] – the thought whereof … gnaw my inwards, and nothing can or shall content my soul / Till I am evened with him, wife, for wife” (2.1.317-320), if Othello were to so ridicule me, would it not be war? If Captain Ahab can wage war on a whale and call it the fight for his soul, then cannot I, cannot Iago oppose, nay shatter what threatens his soul? “In that ring Cain struck Abel. Sweet work, right work! No? Why then, God, mad’st thou the ring” (Moby Dick, 151). In Moby Dick, a Manxman sailor states that the world is created for conflict; we are meant not to coexist, but to compete. Iago chooses to compete and outclass Othello based on a perceived personal attack on Iago’s character, a revolting assessment of a superior man. In essence, Iago creates his own morality based on Othello’s pathetically limited concepts of morality, and cunningly drives the sword home for a stylish touché on Othello’s own playing field.

Iago’s power over everyone else in Othello may seem to drive himself to his own demise; that the very power he exerts for so brief a period of time in man who has lived “four times seven years” (1.3.353-354), is a personal tragedy because he is caught in the end is just wrong. Iago succeeds, Iago has the final say: “From this time forth I will never speak word” (5.2.356); it is Iago who, in modern terms, has ‘the last laugh’. Iago defines the world he chooses to live in; he plays the game as he wants to play it. Iago is willing to and does make the rules himself in order to succeed. Even his prosecution takes place outside of the play; Shakespeare in so doing reveals its irrelevance in relation to the damage done; what recompense could the world create to rectify what Iago has done? Alas! There is nothing, nothing that is a reversal of the irreversible deaths. Iago is the victor, no one can deny it. Iago revels in his superiority to others throughout the play: 
 “Not poppy nor mandragora
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday” (3.3.379-382);
Iago, who for years has held back his abilities, waiting to be recognized for his talent, finally lets go. To this we empathize with Iago’s humanity; we share in the deep profound pain that is universally human when we are passed over. To be denied desire and choose to perpetuate these inequalities, this deep self-demoralization and breakdown of what in Iago’s terms define our spirit, soul, and virtue- our desires, all this over years of service hardens our hearts. Just as
 “The boy who torments another boy, as we say, “for no reason,” or who without any hatred for frogs tortures a frog, is pleased with his victim’s pain, not from any disinterested love of evil or pleasure in pain, but mainly because this pain is the unmistakable proof of his own power over his victim. So it is with Iago” (Bradley, 213);
Iago acts in order to prove his superiority to Othello, indeed his superiority to everyone in the play; Iago acts to prove not only to the frog, but also to himself who possesses control. Iago is human; Iago shares in a desire to rebel, to shatter the unbroken Moorish towers, to fight with no holds barred, to “be all that he can be”.

The development of Iago as the devil is undercut at the end of the play, wherein Iago’s apparently cruel and destructive actions are shown to be wholly human, thus enlightening the definition of evil, as well as where it resides. Evil is not only external, but internal; our perception of evil does not reside in some immaterial character, but rather in the actions you and I take. In these actions there is no innate quality nor quantity of evil, because the morality of Iago’s (and therefore our) actions are relative to each person’s perspective- actions can never be wholly good nor entirely evil and thus ‘universal’ morality is unfounded- in every action some will prosper while others lose. Iago, then, relative to our ability to our human potential, is not good, but great because Iago can position each of his actions with such poise and precision that each action benefits him. In Iago’s world, seen from Iago’s perspective, Iago is someone to look up to, a sagacious, profound and good man who, without regards to what we (the audience) see as right or wrong, what we see is irrelevant and we cannot judge him on a moral standpoint, because we do not share his desires, who without universal moral regards wins.





My Finite Life Unbound

24 03 2005

I will be beginning a series on posting my essays for classwork… This one is about the human search for meaning in a seemingly infinite world in relation to a small novel Moby Dick.

My Finite Life Unbound

Perhaps the most daunting piece of American literature faced me on one “damp, drizzly November” night. Well, so it wasn’t damp, or drizzly, or even perhaps November, but it was, nonetheless, daunting. Paperback, one inch thick, four-hundred twenty seven pages, infamously complex and dry, this wonderfully wicked wet novel presented to me a paradox of maniacal proportions: on the one hand I was privy to read one of our nation’s most beloved stories about some man who, through some amazing adventure comes across the great White Whale and yet on the other hand lay the fifty-page journal horror stories of last year’s Juniors – a fear only fed by an instinctive, unsaid cry that cautioned me of merciless hours and unknown depths of boredom. We do not read this novel, we face it. And in this confrontation, I realized that this book was both drunk with the gripping story of Ishmael’s out-of-this-world adventure and sobered by its pervasive accounts of whaling and concrete realism. Both existed mutually propelling the importance of each; it was this novel’s intricate blending of paradox, at the literal, physical, and figurative level, that unequivocally led me to confront a question I, frankly, wasn’t prepared to confront. Rather than be confronted with a mere proposition, some unique idea, Moby Dick presented to me a difficult paradox. In life, must we fight to assert ourselves in the face of existence or is it heroic to understand one’s own position in the universe and like a Taoist, allow existence to be? These are two implicitly different ways to view life; and although each appears to make sense, both cannot be true as each directly contradicts the other. In the conscious and unconscious depths of my mind, in the struggle between reason and morality, in choosing an aggressive and a passive approach towards life, I was grounded, lost in an incoherent vortex of heroism, consciousness, and, simmering at the top, the intangible union of paradox. It was me and Moby Dick, and before I knew it, the Pequod had sailed.

Ahoy there, Ahab! Ahab’s “quenchless feud” (152) with Moby Dick is passionate, driven, Promethean, and courageous, albeit arrogant. But this arrogance arrives solely from an assertion of independent existence. Why do I not believe in fate or destiny? Because I choose to believe that I have control over my future; that I am who I am. The unknown future doesn’t only exist for me, but that unless I act, that future will be an incoherent hodgepodge of circumstance and missed opportunity. “I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul” (152). Undoubtedly, I, too became one of that crew, fearing a pointless existence in my soul, but choosing to find meaning existentially, in what I do and the things that I find give meaning to my life. What power dare Reality have?
“All visible objects, man, are but pasteboard masks. But in each event – in the living act, the undoubted deed – there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask!” (140)

Definitely, go for it. Strike at it. Destroy it! Bring that mask down! Perhaps I wasn’t so fervent, but there is no denying that I was settled on Ahab’s side. If I had had my way, Moby would be nobody by the end of this book. Alas! What does Reality think it is? Am I supposed to sit here and take it? No, I felt. I wasn’t going to be someone’s papier-mâché mask.
Ahab, captain of his own accord, concerned me gravely for the stunning implications of this statement near the epic novel’s end:
“What is it … what cozening hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against … Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm?” (406)

If all exists in terms of God (or Reality) then do we exist at all? I mean are we us; do we exist on our own terms at all? Since we know we have some free will, be it perhaps of immaterial origins, we cannot deny our consciousness and thus our ability to alter our existence. Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am”, implying that our existence is defined by its conscious, rational nature. Following Ahab, shouldn’t we dream to differ from the hollow shell we exist in? Shouldn’t we use that which we know to be true to our individuality, our minds, and construct meaning into our existence through assertion of this individuality? Regardless of the fact that we are, like the whale Moby Dick, Platonian shadows of a deeper existence, meaning can be found through a Promethean fight against God, against deeper Reality, and against anything that inhibits my ability to act on my own terms.

Ishmael is a complex hero; most in my class initially said that he wasn’t a hero at all. His heroism is epic, but subtly so. Melville portrays Ishmael’s heroism as triumphant yes, with its tribulations, but unlike Odysseus who triumphs over many physical ordeals, concluding with the destruction of the Suitors, Ishmael triumphs through his ability to use his mind to understand rather than to dominate. Throughout Moby Dick, Ishmael searches to describe the infinity of the realm of Reality through concrete terms; Ishmael seeks to illustrate an infinite totality that, while at times mundane and seemingly useless, conveys the deep personal struggle to assess and evaluate the undefined Reality. Take, for example, the chapter on Cetology, which Ishmael introduces by stating: “Already we are boldly launched upon the deep; but soon we shall be lost in its unshored, harborless immensities” (115). Ishmael acknowledges the profundities of Reality to the extent that these explanations can signify two different meanings and still arrive at the same conclusion. When I read this I thought that he meant to describe the limitlessness of Moby Dick, which I had equated to a physical manifestation of God or Reality. Thus, God (or Reality) transcends the finite boundaries of human description. Later, I realized that my thought on infinity had, in some sense, been quantified; Ishmael only uses whaling and Moby Dick as examples of the infinitude, Melville uses a single real, physical being and shows that Reality is so limitless that all aspects that transcend into reality are only finite constructs of many infinities.

As Alfred North Whitehead stated, “Our minds are finite and yet even in those circumstances of finitude we are surrounded by possibilities that are infinite, and the purpose of human life is to grasp as much as we can out of the infinitude”. To grasp what Whitehead is saying, imagine a walk down the beach. When we lean over and use our limited hands to grasp as much of the seemingly infinite sand, the sand in our hands isn’t meaningless, it becomes ours. Likewise, the sand represents whatever finite amount of Reality that we can possess in our limited understanding. Regardless of the fact that we cannot collect all of the sand, meaning exists within what we are able to collect and comprehend. Whitehead would agree with Ishmael in that meaning in life is not generated from an impossible complete understanding over all the infinite or a destruction of it, but rather found in acknowledging that the infinity exists and understanding as much as one is humanly possible within the limited nature of reality.

Our conscious is all that defines our existence being separate of Reality. As Richard Tarnas writes about Kant, “In the act of human cognition, the mind does not conform to things; rather, things conform to the mind”. Within our processing minds lies the consciousness organizing Reality into a comprehensible reality. It is our conscious nature that allows us to exist independently from this unconscious Reality. There are few courses of action that can stem from a life concretely separated from Reality, and even fewer flower sensible courses of action.

At first, I struggled to understand at first all of the implications of an indifferent Reality when we read the Book of Job. Reality appears to be indifferent – Moby Dick doesn’t attack unless provoked, Job’s God, rather than be kind chose indifference, allowing Job to suffer at the hands of Satan, justifying it solely with “And have you an arm like God; or can you thunder with a voice like His?” (Job 40:9); essentially God can do whatever he pleases with us, just because he’s the higher authority, the creator and the destroyer, the one who wields the hammer and the blade that we cannot see, cannot understand. This was my dilemma: struggle against the power and die trying, or seek to find meaning in other paths of life. “If you do not become what you believe, then you do not believe” – as Soren Kierkegaard said, I cannot believe one and act the other, for that is not true belief. I could not choose to believe that I should live an otherwise meaningful life and think that fighting Reality was the true path for meaning. One or the other.

When I read this novel, I felt strongly that Ahab was right, but that I certainly could not win. However, I felt I couldn’t simply dismiss it just because it was futile. Many things are noble, but perhaps futile such as Achilles’ grand battle at Troy. I liked Ishmael, but that was too passive, not enough conflict, not enough effort required. Then it dawned on me like a cascade of philosophers, sperm whales, and realities on my pool of consciousness: There is difficulty inherent to the journey towards understanding. I surely had not had the easiest ride in dealing with my understanding of God and the nature of Reality; that in and of itself is my heroic journey. My trip to the glimpses of Reality aboard the Pequod, my struggle with Ahab’s philosophy, my toil to understand the integrations of paradoxical realities are indeed difficult and continue to disorient and confound my mind. Meaning in life is found in the struggle to understand life, not in rebellion of God, but rather in the paths we take to learn. The goals have become clearer, the complexity more meaningful, and Reality more beautiful.

Moby Dick hasn’t taught me everything about whales (although I can tell you straight up that it’s already more than I want to know), nor has it taught me to give up and deny God. No, far from it, God exists; and because our unconscious, Reality, God itself, all lie on a different plane of existence from ours, we can find solace with ourselves that we are finite beings continually searching for Truth. Life is not a singular life or death, one-way win or lose proposition as Ahab sees it; no, I venture to say that there are so many more ways to win in life. Ahab, at last I must depart your ship, for I cannot see life as the uphill struggle against God, but as a way to grow in my understanding of that infinite Reality. In truth, the infinity is beautiful; the infinity provides hop that in my finitude there will always be more, that there never can nor will be an end at which further meaning cannot be found. God doesn’t exist to assail us, rather an indifferent God allows us to live positive, meaningful lives searching for an understanding of Reality and of ourselves. Moby Dick is a journey in itself, a disparate paradox that is unified, unraveled, unbound, through understanding, through searching, through living.

Works Cited
Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. 1851. Ed. Harrison Hayford and Hershel Parker. Norton Critical Edition. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 2002
The Book of Job. Literal Translation of the Holy Bible. >.
The Gospel According to Luke. Literal Translation of the Holy Bible. >.
Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View. New York: Harmony Books, 1991.