Monday, August 23, 2010

Morocco, Day 1

I lost my journal in transit back to America, and I was going to let that go save for Mitya's spectacular posts.

What I remember of my first day in Morocco,

Mitya and Paul picked me up from the airport, for which I was incredibly grateful as I wasn't quite ready for the adventure of finding it on my own. It was a bit shocking to see them in what I thought was the marker of a tourist- so-called "native" garb that I don't believe any urban Moroccan of the age of 21 would wear. We went straight into the old city and I'll admit that I believed at the time that the conditions that we saw were typical of all of Morocco. Future exploration would prove this to be false. Morocco, like many, features a broad range of living conditions from western-style urban (Casablanca) to nomadic (the village we passed on the way to Ouarzazate) to crowded and slightly cloudy (the streets of Safi).

On the way there, we walked by the central square which was empty save for an abundance of dates, figs, almonds of every sort and the main prize: fresh squeezed orange juice for about 30 US cents. cents. I was starting to understand the origin of the incredulous phrase "What country is this?".

After downing as much orange juice as possible, we went back to the hostel. It was hidden in a complicated labyrinth that would discourage me from wandering off on my own ;)

The hostel itself was nice. One minor off-putting detail was the layout of the lavatory in respect to the room. No one found it necessary to include a door. The bathroom, which otherwise was "wastern" with a sit-down toilet- was just there, partitioned by a wall. It shouldn't be so weird, I mean, we place our bathrooms right next to our bedrooms and living rooms and kitchens but no door...quite awkward. Later, I'm to be further surprised by seat less installations. These, which were porcelain, plastic and usually quite recent, I believe are cultural. It's just normal to squat. Only in tourist-y areas was this different, particularly nice restaurants, hotels and hostels.

The entirety of the old city was for sale in the form of clothing, tapestries, rugs, cups, tea pots, shoes, hats, glasses, trinkets. Cheap american rip-offs and traditional Moroccan mass-produced goods were sold side by side- I was warned that all I would want to do in Marrakesh is buy things.

I tried some pidgeon french which people kindly put up with a little before switching to english for my humbled benefit. For the most part, people were friendly and inviting, though no one introduced themselves quite yet.

We went on a walk towards the new city, which had wider streets, restaurants, clubs and a McDonalds, amongst other earthly delights. In one of the central squares there was a highly entertaining and quite springy trampoline which Paul and I of course ran to. I did about 17 backflips, some unassisted while we were waiting for the "bungee" part to start. In one of those, I almost fell off the trampoline and hit a pole. T'was fun. Best ab workout you've ever had.

Back in the old city, I quickly learned that I had overwhelming bargaining power, which I found pleasant because I like my rules, prices and fines, like everything else, to all be flexible and reasonable. I don't really know why, but I wasn't a fan of bargaining. It's a bit absurd because I did appreciate the flexibility, but I found myself hard-line nonetheless. I would decide exactly how much I was willing to part with for an object, frequently about 15-30% of the asking price, and state my price. Then, I would go through the routine of being asked to pay more, for which I would simply reply that the most I was honestly willing to pay was what I stated. Most of the time, eventually they would agree. If not, I left. This way I never payed a cent more than intended, although I was never surprised with a cheaper price either. That was all right, because it prevented an onset of the "ah-unbearably-cheap-must-consume" American illness we're all admittedly tainted with.

There was enough surprise when, at sunset, the streets suddenly changed into a giant party. People swarmed the square, while the vendors produced a beautiful haze of smoke above them all. The place was covered in such a blaze of light, rhythm and festivity that we walked all the way back to the hostel to get Mitya's camera to capture the shock live. There was drumming and dancing and a magical apparition of delicious street food, which was excellent because I was starving.

As the night was winding down, we stumbled upon a tiny skeletal kitten which was enough to pull anyone's heartstrings. In a display of affection Paul reserves strictly for felines, he bought some grilled fish and we traveled the streets in a cat-feeding frenzy. When we woke up a sleeping cat with our fruits from the sea, Mitya made a commendable comment "Imagine, you are lying there exhausted, and fish falls from the sky. This is how religion is made".

At the end of the night, I was so exhausted that my first journal entry read something like this:

1st day in Morrocco. Did about 17 backflips. Fed all the cats in Marrakesh :)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

School

My mom has decided that when she retires, she's going back to school. I am so proud of her I can barely speak.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Unfinished IAPC

I entered Gallatin with the goal of becoming the best defense anyone could ever get, and I maintain that intention.

As a loyal member of the sect of absurdity, I, like many gallatin students, feel a slight disconnect with anyone who insists they have mastered reality. More so, I am ashamed to admit a slight scorn for positivist statements; anyone who contents that things should be, and thus are, this way or that.

It has always been very clear to me that people's viewpoints much differ on the subject of what happened, what is happening, and even what will happen, the latter being particularly strange since one wonders how there could ever be so much conflict about events yet unknown.

The best part is, that not only do people have massively different experiences, but they also happen to be subjective and active agents in determining their own narrative.'The mind is, at best, a thing that makes up stories about itself'.

One thing that has always terrified me is my ability to empathize with another person's views, while at the same time understanding that the complete opposite can be true as well.

How can I begin to get any sense of reality, when my existence permits seemingly contradicting narratives to be true? How can I judge what is real when it is all a question of perspective? And lastly- and perhaps of greatest concern- how do I know if I what I am seeing has a stable substance to it (reality, per say) or if perhaps is only my innate conception of it?

If that isn't enough insecurity, when other relate their experience to me, can I trust it to have any relevance to my own? When I come across an unfamiliar perspective, do I dismiss it as nonsense or consider it another angle on the reality before me? Do you put more weight onto what you know, or onto an authority? Do you believe everything you hear? Do you believe a majority of it? Do you believe so much as is comfortably viewed from your place in the world, that doesn't force you to scurry constantly shifting your view?

So, when someone tells you about an object, how do you if the information they are giving you is true? Maybe it is. How do you know if someone is lying to you? Is in inconsistency, through contradiction, can you just see it in someone's eyes? Is there a difference between presenting a different perspective, lying or simply being wrong?

The copious amounts of doubt I feel upon the intake of any information surely stems from my own admitted ability to make things up. Er, twist the facts. Shed new light on them.

In the same way one might understand their own ability to steal or be misunderstood or excluded, understanding one's own capacity to lie opens up a world of vulnerability. One begins to doubt even the most banal of statements, and question the motivation behind even the slightest assertion.

Understandably, this makes human interaction incredibly difficult. Not only does one feel an incredible sense of alienation from the murky, unpredictable figures around oneself, but it becomes difficult if not impossible to enter into any extended course of action with anyone. This includes interpersonal relationships of any sort, small business, sex, study and sitting next to someone on the bus.

At some point in my time at Gallatin, it occurred to me that I could mitigate the discomfort of this murky world, and tone down this alarming state of being simply by resolving to not question my own perception and to never mislabel my statements.

That is, not to lie to myself.

And since there's really no way to lie to others without lying to oneself, I suppose there is necessity to avoid that pitfall as well.

This is more difficult than it would seem, because upon careful examination it seems as if the world is full of people who are just begging for you to confirm their contradicting claims. And even someone just asking you to explain your own perspective can be stressful.

(launching into an explanation oftentimes requires one to pause, parse and parcel their experience and transform it into a narrative work).

Nonetheless, I have resolved not to lie to myself. Not of whim or religious observance, but a logical conclusion supported by philosophical play and scientific research.

In my rationale, I will be presenting two different ways of thinking, all reasonable in my book, though each field of thought often scorned by the other; philosophical and physical.

By physical, I mean to say all that lovely scientific thinking such as physiology and by philosophical, I mean to say all that concerns itself with meaning. I understand that this is rather hazy terminology, but would you expect more accuracy from one who thinks the two disciplines may as well be merged?

In my time at Gallatin, I spent a lot of time examining what different fields think is truth. And though what I've found seems to be grossly contradictory, there have been patterns, ways of being that are strikingly similar and praised throughout the ages.

That ties into the theory of complexity- an approach that branches multiple disciplines, which states that seemingly complex and different systems can have underlying self-serving order, patterns that prevail.

But before these disciplines merge into a flexible way of being, allow me to recall and consider each of the different paths I've taken academically:

At one point of time in my Gallatin career, one summer while not actually in school and looking over some Sartre, I encountered the passage in Being and Nothingness where Sartre describes the relationship between the self and the infinite.

A person is essentially nothing, argues Sartre, but the product of their own actions and thus their own God. If man is made in God's image than anything that man does, God becomes. And anything God does, man is divined to do as well. Thus, if you smile at someone while walking down the street, it becomes so that God would smile while walking down the street, and so that everyone would smile while walking down the street.

I need a far smoother transition into this paragraph, but we could just take a small conceptual leap here (just as if one was writing a mathematical proof, it is not necessary to state all the corollaries of a fact, just the relevant ones). For the past year or two of my life, I've taken up Sartre on his grand been experiment. Hypothesis: What if I'm God? If this is so, then anything I say and do reverberates infinitely and becomes an absolutely truth. Not to you, perhaps. But to me, yes. Very much so.

Anything action I do, I can rest assured in my mind that the rest of humanity would do as well. And as I find exceptions, I mark them as such- exceptions to a grand rule of, overall, people are such. I can even dumb down exceptions as misunderstandings, and let them go as such.

Actions are simple enough, but what about words. What to make of the harsh, simplifying covers we throw over things in order to make them more useful, convenient and commercial? If anything I say becomes an absolute truth onto myself, then there are several things I ought to watch out for.

1. In honor of synchrony, my thoughts, which play in my head, and mix in with each perception I note, should - if not of the most pleasant sort possible- then perhaps the quietest will do just as well.
2. In spite of dissonance, I should avoid interference in my mind as much as possible. It is impossible in my mind to believe entirely in two contradictory things. Or rather, it is possible, but extremely uncomfortable and riddled with conflict. It sounds something like white noise, a painful din.
3. Mirroring the desperate struggle for peace for things outside of myself, I should, in all things and at all times, try not to lie to myself and cast a false rhythm amidst the sounds of my daily life.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tantra

The whole male/female energy thing alienates me faster than the Pope at a Grateful Dead concert.

Let’s say you’re a black girl talking with another black woman. And she’s explaining how Michelle is great because she retains some of her “black” energy when she’s up there.
And you’re like, “uh, what?”
And the older woman says, “You know, sweetie, your black and white energy. Everyone has some of both, and you need to keep them balanced. In this country, black people suffer because we have too much white energy. We need to balance that out with more strong black energy.”
And you’re like “uh….what? black and white energy, uh, what?”
So she says,
“Well, black energy is like….it’s umm…nature, and being passive- sort of being one with Mother Earth, and being ok with that, you know? And white energy is more….active, it’s like….doing….and…energy, you know?
And it’s ok to be a black person with lots of white energy, or a white person with lots of black energy. I'm a black person with lots of white energy, and I'm happy about that. My friend over there is a white guy with lots of black energy, that's why we make a great pair".

Doesn't that sound a bit... off-putting, maybe?

Humans do use a lot of arbitrary labels. There is nothing especially tall about “high” notes in music, or commanding about a “major” chord. The Greeks called our deep, brassy notes “high” and squeaky, chirpy noises “low”. Then again, you rarely hear about “high and low” energy as two separate but equal personality traits, or “tall and short” personas.

Somehow, I feel that it’s not pleasant to be told its ‘ok’ to be black person with ‘a lot of white energy’. It’s just not particularly comforting.

At yoga, they are always talking about being “active” and “passive”. The key is, in fact, balance. I like how you can always relax- relax your jaw, relax your brow line. The best is how there is always something to activate- focus on the breath, stretch your toes if you have to.
But they don't tell you to “female” your toes out or “male” up your core muscles. Imagine that:
“Ok, everybody, male up your arms up towards the sky, and let your shoulders be female down your back”.

They could totally get away with that. Most people have the cultural capital to make sense of instructions like “female your shoulders down your back”. They could use male and female. It's just more precise to say “active” and “passive”. Or “relax” and “firm up”. I guess those prosaic types don't get the same kicks playing with colossal, inflated metaphor all of the time.

For example, I could never believe there's anything male about an overblown ego.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Experienced servers needed

So, I'm going out to a private party in Long Island to serve hors d'oeuvres. The woman that hired me says she'll meet me outside to pay me. She said she drives a truck with the name of her company on it. I said, "Uh, that sounds sketchy".

eek.

Yoga

Yesterday, there was this incredibly aggravated woman at yoga class. Jenny, I think it was….. not a frequent flyer, I bet, tense as hell, with a peak nose and messy bleached hair. She jumped a rant on the unfortunate instructor, right at the door after class. The girl who taught that day had a soft, dreamy voice and a pleasant disposition, and I guess it’s natural that she was mistaken for a therapist.
Jenny’s angry because her friend blew her off to hang out with her boyfriend. And, like, she hangs out with her boyfriend all the time. Jenny asks her friend if she has five minutes, but she does not, because she’s hanging out with her freaking boyfriend.
“Well,” says the soft instructor, “sometimes when people find each other and really like each other, it overwhelmes them a lot”.
“But, like,” says Jenny, “I’m not like that with my boyfriends. Of course, the guys I’ve dated have all been assholes, but…”
“Someone for you will come along…” the yoga instructor croons, in an attempt to interrupt no doubt.
“- Yeah, but I don’t want my boyfriend to be hanging out with me all the time you know. I’d like him to have his own friends, you know?”
“Yeah, friends are good,” the instructor says with a sigh.
“One day, though, I’d like to get married. But it’s just so annoying now because all my friends are hanging out with their boyfriends, and it’s like ‘where’s my guy?’, ‘why aren’t you dating anyone’, you know?”
“Yeah,” the instructor says sweetly, “I’m sure that will happen for you one day, and you’ll meet someone like that. Just remember that these things take time, and relax in the meantime; it will happen.”
“I guess,” says Jenny, “I’m just so mad at my friends”.
“Well, they’re distracted…”
“Yeah, it just pisses me off.”

I’m glad she didn’t ask my opinion, though I was changing nearby. Most likely, I would have blurted out the following;
“Yeah, you’re probably annoyed because you’re buying into an oppressive gender binary based on sexual scarcity and competition. It weakens human connection with one another, and generally makes people feel helpless, bitter and cheated.”

This is why I would make a bad yoga teacher.