2012-12-23

Convenience

Here's the thing with humanity: we only become attached to what inconveniences us, and yet most of us spend all our time trying to eradicate all inconvenience. No wonder we're lonely...

2012-12-20

Sexuality, further.

I'd like to go a little bit further into one particular idea expressed in my previous post on sexuality. That is the idea of repression. I think the idea of repression in our society goes far beyond sexuality, but it is very applicable here, as well. Keep in mind that I will be speaking in generalizations somewhat here, in order to actually be able to begin to get my mind around all of this, and present it as something you might get your mind around, and I can think of exceptions to many of the things I'll be writing; but I do feel they hold as general principles.

I suppose first I had better say something about my views of what sex is, and how physical touch and sex factor into a relationship. I feel like touch is one aspect of communication. Sex is a form of intimate communication. I stated this to some extent in my previous post, but I wanted to say it more explicitly. Touch is an aspect of communication, one of the many that humans have at their disposal. Having sex with someone is conversing intimately, similarly to how having a deep discussion about your personal fears or beliefs or desires is. It's a means of relating to each other.

As I said in the previous post, our body is simply one aspect of our selves. Therefore, relating to each other physically is one aspect of human relationship. We do (or should do) this more or less intimately based on the intimacy of our relationships, as a general rule, but we often tend to remove touch from non-romantic relationships, because we believe touch only means sexual interest.

Ok, on to repression. I'm not a U.S. history buff, and I haven't taken the time to study the question of why, but the U.S. as a general rule has a very difficult time with physical affection. Perhaps it comes, still surviving, from the puritanical roots of the early settlers (see The Scarlet Letter and other similar writings). Perhaps it comes, still surviving from the puritanical belief (which I heartily disagree with) that the body is the impure vessel of the pure spirit, and must be purified through discipline and denial. In any case, wherever it comes from, it is clear that we are uncomfortable with our bodies in many, many ways.

We don't like being touched, we don't like seeing people touch affectionately. Our friends from Lithuania who came to Portland to work a couple of summers thought it was hilarious that people would apologize profusely for just brushing against them lightly in a grocery store or on the street. We feel uncomfortable showing any physical affection in public, and for good reason, because we often scorn, insult and degrade those who do it.

Men, especially, often view physical affection as suggesting anything from weakness to homosexuality (again, see my thoughts in the previous post about our bodies, and particularly women's bodies being seen only as sexual objects, and therefore conveying only the desire/need for sex). We see, I think, physical affection as being overtly sexual, and therefore feminine, and therefore, to some, weak and not 'manly'.

In the same way, seeing physical affection as only implying sexual attraction, many people are afraid to touch a person who is married or in a relationship, afraid they will imply to the other person's spouse/partner that they are cheating or would like to be.

In this way, we are encouraged to repress our communication through physical touch, which is and should be just as natural as our communication through voice or any other medium.

Wherever it comes from, the undercurrent that physical relations with another human are bad, forbidden, or inappropriate has many effects on our other means of communication.

For one thing, we simply miss a dimension of intimacy in our friendships that should be completely natural. In much of the world, it is completely normal for friends and family members to kiss each other at greeting and parting, to convey that they are important to each other. In much of the world, it is common for friends, even multiple male friends, to hold hands or link arms while walking along, as a sign of connection, togetherness, and friendship, nothing more. We miss this whole physical dimension of relationship by being afraid that we are being 'bad' by touching other people - and usually we don't even really have any rational reason behind it, it is simply a strong undercurrent, a general uneasiness, a feeling that we're somehow disobeying someone.

In terms of less-platonic relationships, we are often embarrassed to be physically attracted to another person, we are embarrassed to and feel guilty about wanting to have sex, and therefore we often have significant trouble vocalizing anything we think and feel about it.

This often begins very early in life, but can often last much later in life, once a person is in a committed, steady relationship. For many people, it is very difficult to talk about what they want in terms of a physical relationship, and that means inevitable misunderstanding, and as a result, a lack of fulfillment. If you can't express to someone your wants or needs, how can they fulfill them? We all know where an extended lack of fulfillment can lead, even if it is somewhat subconscious - maybe even especially if it is subconscious, because you don't have the rational understanding to curb it. It leads to 'outbursts,' so to speak. You will feel that you are unfulfilled even if you don't consciously realize it, and if you are unable or unwilling to bring that to the table with someone and hash it out together, it will only get worse over time.

Repression follows us into relationships as well, and discourages us doing certain things with our partners, because they are viewed as dirty or perverted or inappropriate (sometimes making us afraid or adverse to having sex at all unless it's for the purpose of procreation). But here's the thing with communication - given two or more people as adults, capable of making responsible decisions for themselves, why should physical intimacy, or some particular sub-categories of physical intimacy, be forbidden, given everyone involved is making the decision to participate of their own free will? Do we tell adults "now, don't be honest and forthcoming with each other in this discussion, because you might deepen your relationship."? No, of course we don't. Do we say that to a married couple, or committed partners? Even less so. So, why do we feel, even in a committed partnership or marriage, that some forms of physical intimacy are dirty, inappropriate, or forbidden?

Note that I said everyone involved. I feel like many people, when you suggest that sex is ok, also assume you mean promiscuity is ok. That is not necessarily what I'm saying. If you are in a romantic relationship with another person, you have to work out the boundaries of your physical interactions with other people, just like you have to figure out all the other boundaries of your life, which become somewhat smaller by way of your relationship with this one person to whom you are committed. This varies on a case-by-case basis, depending on what each person is ok with, and it can change over time as those people change. Or you can give up the relationship in favor of expanded boundaries. That is your choice to make.

You are free to talk with the people you are in relationship with, at a point if/when you feel it is appropriate, about what you feel you want or need physically, and if you are both willing, to try it out. Just like any other experience (eating, shopping, entertainment), you may find either one or both of you doesn't like certain things, and that's ok; you then agree not to do them, or you agree to lay off and try them again in the future sometime, or, if you feel that thing is essential to you, you can again choose to abandon the relationship. You are free to be specific, both in casual discussion, and in the heat of the moment, about what you want. The other person is free, both in casual discussion and in the heat of the moment to either agree, or disagree, to indulge you or refuse to do so; just as with any other aspect of your relationship. You have to find the boundaries you both are ok with, the things that bring you closer, and the things that drive you apart. It's a natural process feeling out your boundaries with another person by trial and error, this is just one aspect of that.

I feel like this is really important, because in much the same way that relationships often waver and fall apart, or can even simply not be as strong as they could be because the emotional and/or verbal connection is weak, relationships can waver and fall, or can simply not be as strong as they could be because the physical connection is weak. In any relationship with any person, the way you interact physically is a part of that relationship, and therefore working out the boundaries that are appropriate for that relationship is important, in order for you to be able to fully relate to that person. Explore the boundaries as far as you need to in order to discover the end, just as you would in sharing activities, thoughts and feelings with that person, and don't be afraid any more than you would be making an emotional or intellectual connection with a person. The process of forming a relationship with another person is a process of developing connection, respect, care and dependence, to varying degrees depending on the type of relationship. We all need these things to be fulfilled, and we do ourselves no favors by intentionally denying ourselves and others out of some vague sense of guilt which we can't even explain.

Anyway, thanks for sticking around for Part II, hope you found it insightful, or at least interesting.

2012-12-19

Comfort

I love this woman so dearly.


Comfort.

2012-12-13

voor Patrina

I would like to return

my insides to outside, for just a moment

it's somewhat futile, I know
unless you ingest them

but hear me out

every time I have damaged
ruined, broken or crushed

because I didn't understand

has become a piece of a pattern
carved into my flesh, healed over

you can see them all now, exposed

I have become the most beautiful
documentation of pain

why have I shown you this?

your heart is written on me
in details not even I can comprehend

and can never be removed

Calm Down

It drives me crazy that so many people feel like it is completely reasonable to literally floor the gas pedal to pass me at 35-40mph on a small, 2-lane city street, in the oncoming traffic lane, across a double yellow line, just because I happen to be on a bike and they're impatient. You don't see people passing other people in cars like that, but it happens to me once a week on a bike. I could write a very long post about why this is so wrong, but suffice it to say, they could easily rear-end me on accident at 35-40mph, and I would never get up. Death by impatience. It happens all the time.

2012-12-11

Inside


human interaction inherently
is violent;
in order to relate to a person
you must enter them.
it's not simple, but it can be done
in many ways

none of them leaves the person undisturbed

the external openings are
most obvious, of course.
we kiss, touch, fuck, and float words
in a desperate hope that we

transmit more than bacteria, saliva
and other secretions

we suffer a thousand little deaths and rebirths,
yet these are all foreplay to the grand act -
a pounding on their chest

before plunging your hand
through skin, muscle, ribs and all
tearing through all the layers of protection
until you reach it

the first touch is almost their death, the squeeze
seals it with a rapturous scream

as the beating stops, you are jarred back to sense
you pull your hand back, horrified
watching the blood drip from your fingertips
puddling on the floor

one last ecstatic shiver, moan, and their body collapses.
you stand, stunned, a bit numb

after some minutes, the corpse begins slowly
flexing, moving, testing itself

reanimated, rising to their feet, slowly raising their eyes to
meet yours with heated gaze
their hand rises to your cheek, gently.
you feel through their fingertips:

"my darling, you have spilled my blood,
it is yours now"

and then your eyes widen in shock, your head
dizzy with everything you've ever felt
as the other hand tears into your chest
repeating the bloody ritual

you realize this is not death, but the intersection
of everything with everything

vision white, mind seething too much to understand
you collapse to the floor
lying for some time, unable to channel everything
intersecting with everything

as bits of your mind slowly start to return,
your eyes open heavily

and find standing above you, timid, slightly afraid;
a creature who shares

parts of the same inside

2012-11-25

The Little Prince

If you want to read a relatively brief summary of basically everything I find really vital in life, read The Little Prince.

Divides

One thing I sometimes feel like many people are unable or unwilling to really believe, is that something that right now is not, could be. That something one hasn't experienced could be possible. That in very concrete terms, a dream could become reality.

I am all about the impossible.

2012-10-29

Sexuality

I feel like in a lot of ways, America is rather twisted up when it comes to sexuality. I think this drives a lot of wedges between people, has a lot to do with the sexism we're still battling, and creates (or helps to create) a lot of strange and dangerous viewpoints in people. The stuff I'm going to talk about here is of course general, and there are many exceptions, but I do feel there is an overarching view towards sexuality in America that is rather backwards and very unhealthy. This is also really just the beginning of my trying to put these thoughts into words, so please bear with me if there are incomplete thoughts or not everything fits together perfectly.

To begin with, the human body, and especially the female body, is too often sexualized. In the minds of many Americans, the human body simply exists as a sexual object. Sometimes it is also something else (usually a tool for productivity: that is, work; or physical achievement, such as sports), but it is always a sexual object. Therefore, it is morally wrong to display it (because somehow sex is also morally wrong), and if it is displayed, it must be a sexual provocation (because it is a sexual object, what other reason would you have for displaying it?), and a moral degredation.

I've seen this latter viewpoint in action firsthand, in a mild way. Taken to the extreme, it would be pretty frightening. I believe this is the precursor to the "she wouldn't wear that skirt if she didn't want it" type of thoughts. The objectification of the body to such a level that the only purpose for it is sex.

This also applies to depictions of the human body in advertising, and in public in general. For instance, when we lived in Lithuania, we noticed in the grocery store one time that there was a bottle of cellulite cream, and it had a picture of a naked woman on it, rubbing the cream on her leg. It was obvious that this was not a sexual provocation, it was not meant to arouse you sexually when looking at the bottle, but was simply a photo displaying the use of the cream in the bottle. It's pretty hard to demonstrate applying a cream to your leg if you've got trousers on. However, this would not fly in the U.S., because that depiction of a woman would be seen as sexual provocation. In terms of art, as well, we tend to see any kind of nudity as sexual provocation, because once again, the body exists as a sexual object and the display of it therefore is sexual provocation.

As with many things, this is skewed towards the female body. For instance - why is displaying a female nipple so much worse than displaying a male nipple? Because there is a breast attached? Why is a female breast so much more inappropriate than a male chest? Why is it that if a woman's blouse is low-cut or her skirt too short (and by whose standards?), she's asking to be raped, but if a man wanders around with their shirt off, or even naked, there is no such reaction (there may be a different reaction, such as mental derangement, but not that the man was asking to be raped)? Why is it that a woman's body is inherently a sexual object any more than a man's?

To compound things, not only are we twisting our views of sexuality, but by being so repressive - by pushing the human body into that 'bad' moral category, and trying to hide it away, we are both unnecessarily titillating and repressing ourselves at the same time. This has much the same effect as a drunk man at a strip club who is not allowed to touch the girls, but is getting really turned on for some period of time. We build up the body as a sexual object to such an extent, and forbid it to such an extent, that we can kind of whip ourselves into a frenzy. Some people can keep this up for a very long time, but just like bottling up anger and frustration in a relationship, it doesn't just go away if you ignore it, and eventually it all comes pouring out.

What I think is a more healthy perspective is this. We are everything that makes us up. We are a body, emotions, mind, a spirit - however you want to call all those things. They are not separate, they are different facets of the being that each of us is. In the same way that your mind and emotions can, but are not always, used to connect and be intimate with another person, your body can be, but is not always used for this purpose. In the same way we use poetry, prose, music and other forms of expression to expose, but not completely expose, and to adorn our mind and spirit, we use cloth, metal, leather, paint, etc to expose, but not completely expose, and to adorn our bodies.

We do this, because we want to know and be known. We do it because we appreciate beauty, and humans are beautiful. The human body, in the same way as the human mind and spirit, should be appreciated as a facet of a person. In much the same way we read a very personal poem by a talented author, and feel a sense of awe and admiration and even personal connection, so we can see a person who has artfully displayed their body with a similar sense of awe and admiration and personal connection - they are able to take the being that is themselves, and express what they see fit of it to the rest of the world in a creative, beautiful manner. Sometimes we interact with what they are expressing, and it resonates with us.

This relegation of the body as a sexual object also, I believe, contributes to the creation of a personal divide in our culture. We lack companionship and an ability to fully relate to each other, partly because of this view of the body as a sexual object. We are afraid to appreciate each others' bodies, we are afraid to touch each other, we are afraid to be physically affectionate, because we feel like these things all imply sexual attraction. And, sadly, due to the aforementioned titillation and repression going on for many people, this becomes the case after time, and it takes some real work to come back to a more healthy perspective on this.

It also conditions us to fashion ourselves as sexual objects, to represent ourselves in such a way as to get sex, because we believe that is the fulfillment of the body, its purpose.

Despite all of this, I'm not trying to de-sexualize humans, either. Of course, amongst all of the other things we are, we are sexual, and we desire that level of physical intimacy. However, just like you don't sit down with every other human being and pour out your whole soul to them over coffee (if you do, you may have some boundary issues), you also don't engage in sex with every human you come in contact with. Just as, after reading one of Wendell Berry's poems, you are not entitled to know everything about him and his life - so after seeing a beautiful person walk by, you are not entitled to have sex with them. Just as you may, at some point in your life, share too much of your thoughts and emotions with the wrong person and regret it afterwards, you may share too much of your body with someone and later regret it.

What I'm getting at here, is that our sexuality is simply a part of all that makes up who we are, and that a body simply serves as the physical piece of what a human is. If we look at things a bit more holistically, I think we come to a better understanding of how to treat each other, and are able to more fully interact with each other, with less room for misunderstanding and abuse.

Anyway, that's about all for now. I'd love to have a conversation about this as long as it stays respectful, honest, and constructive.

2012-10-12

a desire for rest

The darkness sits
A bit like a fog
Or the silence of
A mind at peace

It feels soft
Against the skin
And moves slightly
Intimating presence

Caressing tired eyes
Fronting a tired mind
Keeping a tired heart
Pumping

Everything slows
Nothing is required
Loss is gained;

Do nothing but be, now.

2012-07-27

let it go

Please excuse me
I sometimes get caught up in fights,
Lost somewhere in the periphery
With people who otherwise
Swing endlessly at the air
It's not that I like it,
The swinging just catches my attention.
Before I know it, I've walked into a punch
Then, offended, shout dignified
"Why are you here throwing punches at me!?"
Nevermind I saw it a mile away.
Nevermind I put myself there.
Nevermind I am not the same thing as open air.
So, I hereby vow to attempt
To let the punching automatons alone
Continue my walk through the woods
Unconcerned, if somewhat amused
Unfettered by offense
Unfettered by the loss
Of transmuting freedom into responsibility
To be hung on someone else.
Who turns gold into mud,
Then throws it at someone's face?

2012-04-23

Recovering

Well, I spent most of last week on my back in bed moaning and sweating, and just as I was getting better Thursday and Friday, Patrina started feeling sick, and she spent Friday and Saturday totally knocked out as well. Sunday was gorgeous, and she was feeling well enough we decided to go out on a short walk, and then we decided to go lay outside under a huge tree in our courtyard. I ended up running downtown briefly as well.

It felt amazing to just be outside for so long, to soak up some sun, and then make a leisurely dinner and finish up the evening with all the windows wide open as the sun went down.

Here's Sunday in photos:

SW Alder Park Ave. IMG_0451 IMG_0470 IMG_0482 IMG_0485 IMG_0486 IMG_0488 IMG_0490 IMG_0494 IMG_0496 IMG_0500 Tasty Asparagus, Chickpeas and Brown Rice Tasty Asparagus, Chickpeas and Brown Rice Tasty Asparagus, Chickpeas and Brown Rice Tasty Asparagus, Chickpeas and Brown Rice Tasty Asparagus, Chickpeas and Brown Rice

2012-04-13

Kahlil Gibran - On Freedom

And an orator said, "Speak to us of Freedom."

And he answered:

At the city gate and by your fireside I have seen you prostrate yourself and worship your own freedom,

Even as slaves humble themselves before a tyrant and praise him though he slays them.

Aye, in the grove of the temple and in the shadow of the citadel I have seen the freest among you wear their freedom as a yoke and a handcuff.

And my heart bled within me; for you can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom becomes a harness to you, and when you cease to speak of freedom as a goal and a fulfillment.

You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief,

But rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound.

And how shall you rise beyond your days and nights unless you break the chains which you at the dawn of your understanding have fastened around your noon hour?

In truth that which you call freedom is the strongest of these chains, though its links glitter in the sun and dazzle the eyes.

And what is it but fragments of your own self you would discard that you may become free?

If it is an unjust law you would abolish, that law was written with your own hand upon your own forehead.

You cannot erase it by burning your law books nor by washing the foreheads of your judges, though you pour the sea upon them.

And if it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed.

For how can a tyrant rule the free and the proud, but for a tyranny in their own freedom and a shame in their won pride?

And if it is a care you would cast off, that care has been chosen by you rather than imposed upon you.

And if it is a fear you would dispel, the seat of that fear is in your heart and not in the hand of the feared.

Verily all things move within your being in constant half embrace, the desired and the dreaded, the repugnant and the cherished, the pursued and that which you would escape.

These things move within you as lights and shadows in pairs that cling.

And when the shadow fades and is no more, the light that lingers becomes a shadow to another light.

And thus your freedom when it loses its fetters becomes itself the fetter of a greater freedom.

2012-01-30

The Roots - The Other Side

Yo, we obviously need to tone it down a bit
Running round town spending time like it’s counterfeit
Everybody catching hay fever like sinuses
Step in my arena let me show y’all who the highness is
You might say I could be doing something positive
Humble head down low and broke like promises
Soaking and broken in a joke like comics is
Not enough paper to be paying folks compliments
But when that paper got low so did my tolerance
And it ain’t no truth in a dare without the consequence
Listen if it not for these hood inventions
I'd just be another kid from the block with no intentions
On the dock of that bay serving a life sentence
Even if I’m going to hell I’m gonna make an entrance
Yeah let em know I’m getting cheese like omeletes is
But I’m the toast of the town like Thomas'

We’re all on a journey
Down the hall of memories
Don’t worry bout what you ain’t got
Leave with a little bit of dignity
Never loved what I had
Always felt like I deserved more
But when I
Make it to the other side
Make it to the other side
That’s when we’ll settle up the score

Yo, we did this in remembrance of
Faces from the past we no longer have an image of
Carrying cold blood hearts that never been for love
Brothers keep going for theirs but never get enough
World travelers that seen it all and did enough
Only to return to learn the world wasn’t big enough
Damn, how long has it been? I guess the jig is up
Now all I know is I’m about to wake this nigga up
Yeah that hindsight, 20/20, now niggas dead on the money
Trying to take something from me it’s a wrap like a mummy
Undun I am becoming and when he’s tired of running
Through the layers of the onion
He’ll probably shed a tear cause they’ll be no more fast times
Just his weak mind scrolled out like a bad sign
He never had enough and got confused when they asked why
Life is only a moment in time and it passed by

[Hook]

I’m sitting on top of the world ready to jump off
Thinking of various ways to breaking the law
Thinking that enough is enough but still I want more
Thinking of how I’m playing with fire that burned my young boy
By any means necessary, don’t give a damn
So every night I’m on a flight that never lands
Be an asshole when the shit hits the fan
Or bet your life on a bluff and a bad hand
Can’t win, can’t lose
Get 'em gassed, leave em leaking fuel
Either way the market moves
Cash rules kings, queens, prince and princess
Every night I’m crossing a line that ain’t the finish
Every thought is dark as a glass of fucking Guinness
Too far gone to come back to my senses
Now I’m on the edge of my bed making love to my meds
Every moment's like a pistol to my head
When I’m getting mine

[Hook]

2012-01-26

Kanye West - Jesus Walks

[Intro]
We at war
We at war with terrorism, racism
But most of all we at war with ourselves

[Hook]
(Jesus walks)
God show me the way because the Devil trying to break me down
(Jesus walks with me)

You know what the Midwest is? Young and restless
Where restless (niggas) might snatch your necklace
And next these (niggas) might jack your Lexus
Somebody tell these (niggas) who Kanye West is
I walk through the valley of the Chi where death is
Top floor the view alone will leave you breathless *gasps*
Try to catch it *gasps* it's kinda hard
Getting choked by detectives: yeah, yeah, now check the method
They be asking us questions, harass and arrest us
Saying "we eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast"
Huh? Y'all eat pieces of shit? What's the basis?
We ain't going nowhere but got suits and cases
A trunk full of coke rental car from Avis
My momma used to say only Jesus can save us
Well momma I know I act a fool
But I'll be gone 'til November I got packs to move I hope

[Hook]
(Jesus walks)
God show me the way because the Devil trying to break me down
(Jesus walks with me)
The only thing that I pray is that my feet don't fail me now
(Jesus walks)
And I don't think there is nothing I can do now to right my wrongs
(Jesus walks with me)
I want to talk to God but I'm afraid because we ain't spoke in so long

To the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers, even the strippers
(Jesus walks for them)
To the victims of welfare for we living in hell here, hell yeah
(Jesus walks for them)
Now, hear ye, hear ye: want to see Thee more clearly
I know he hear me when my feet get weary
Cause we're the almost nearly extinct
We rappers is role models: we rap, we don't think
I ain't here to argue about his facial features
Or here to convert atheists into believers
I'm just trying to say the way school need teachers
The way Kathie Lee needed Regis that's the way I need Jesus
So here go my single dog radio needs this
They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, videotape
But if I talk about God my record won't get played, huh?

Well if this take away from my spins
Which will probably take away from my ends
Then I hope this take away from my sins
And bring the day that I'm dreaming about
Next time I'm in the club, everybody screaming out

[Hook]
(Jesus walks)
God show me the way because the Devil trying to break me down
(Jesus walks with me)
The only thing that I pray is that my feet don't fail me now

2012-01-24

Mos Def - Priority

Top priority
Peace before everything, God before anything
Love before anything, real before everything
Home before anyplace, shoot before anything
Style and state radiate, love power slay the hate
Truth killer flaky face, players say it to they face
Ain't afraid to major straight, race at the table straight
Flow greatest like the greatest lakes
Capes all greatest states, quiet water major waves
Steer the course, make a way
And come ashore on a greater day
Home grown from the greatest grain
Full flavor in the native strain, now put that on your brainy brain
Full exposure to favorite slang
Minimal wage and major gangs
Y'all seen dog take the bait
Later night from day to day they came to play
You came to stay, get out the way
Be-otch sons buy heat rocks
Brooklyn finest, preservation to beat-box!
Front a full poison to detox
When we rock the people I respond: priority
Peace before anything, God before everything
Love before anything, real before everything
Home before anyplace, shoot before anything
Style and state radiate, love power slay the hate
Priority! Love power...

2012-01-23

Outkast - Return of the 'G'

This one is by a great Hip-hop duo, OutKast, and is talking about being pulled into violence and gang activity unwillingly, because those involved in it won't leave you be. Though you are passionate about your music and being an artist, people don't want to hear it, and would rather be 'bouncing and shooting and killing and bouncing and shit'. People with ignorant ideas. People who have enough money to 'buy an ounce' but not to take their kids to the zoo or the park, and as a result, the kids grow up the same as them - with a twisted view of the world.

They don't want trouble, they want to live with their families, raise their children, practice their art - but good luck can't be bought, you have to fight for it sometimes. You never know when trouble could be coming, and you have to be ready for it.

Part of being ready for it is sticking together to push back, even though this kind of thing isn't what they want to do with their lives - if it comes to them or their families being threatened, they'll have each other's back.

I think this also has a more personal, metaphorical aspect to it as well - personal attacks and misunderstandings will also be shot down as needed.

[Andre 3000: Intro]
Yeah
Yeah it goes like this right here
Like uh, niggas always be hollerin 'Peace'
You know what I'm saying, "Peace my brother"
Peace this, peace that, you know what I'm saying but
Everytime I uh try to get a piece of mind
Niggas try to get a piece of mine
So I gotta grab my piece

[Dre: Verse 1]
It's the return of the gangster, thanks ta'
Them niggas that's on that blow
That run up in your crib
Which contains your lady and an 8 month old
Child to raise plus you true blue 'bout this music but
They do not want to hear it
Because they'd rather be bouncing and shooting
And killing and bouncing and shit
Get down

Return of the gangster, thanks ta'
Them niggas that think you soft
And say y'all be gospel rappin'
But they be steady clappin' when you talk about
Bitches & switches & hoes & clothes & weed
Let's talk about time travelin' rhyme javelin
Somethin' mind unravelin' get down

Return of the gangsta thanks ta'
Them niggas who got them kids
Who got enough to buy an ounce
But not enough to bounce them kids to the zoo
Or to the park so they grow up in the dark never
Seein' light so they end up being like yo' sorry ass
Robbin' niggas in broad ass daylight get down

Return of the gangsta thanks ta'
Them niggas that get the wrong impression of expression
Then the question is Big Boi what's up with Andre?
Is he in a cult? Is he on drugs? Is he gay?
When y'all gon' break up? When y'all gon' wake up?
Nigga I'm feelin' better than ever what's wrong with you
You get down!

[Big Boi]
Man a nigga don't want no trouble
A playa just want to kick back with my gators off
And watch my li'l girl blow bubbles
But still ready to rhyme
Standin' my ground never back down
Willin' to rob steal & kill any thang that threatens mine
But good luck couldn't be bought see
Many a fights had to be fought G
For a nigga to ride these Vogues
Oh so close to the sidewalk to be gawked at
Watch your side my nigga cause we got gats
The first nigga to buck gon' be the first nigga we attack
Don't want that but it comes though
Most of the time when you don't know
Stickin' together like flour and water to make that
Slow dough we worked for everything we have
And gon' stick up for each other like we
Brothers from another mother
Kinda like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover
Strictly for the Caddy lovers and never the
Nut huggin' punk motherfuckers

2012-01-20

Social Media, Journalism, Opinion.... What Is Truth?

This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately. The current state of journalism here is pretty ridiculous, and the way we communicate with each other and pass information around has also been completely changed by social media, and I think it's really changing the way we see truth. This has all given rise to sites like Snopes, which do factual research on commonly spread 'truths', and report back on whether they are likely to be true or not.

I really started thinking about this during our last presidential election, when Obama was elected. Going through the campaign process, I felt like much of the campaigns of both candidates were simply floating misinformation about the other candidates, without any basis for the truth of the information, and people just gobbled it up. So much so that McCain and Palin had people at their rallies threatening to kill Obama.

We've gotten used to receiving our information about the world in different ways as well. It started with chain emails about one thing or the other, and people would just see it, believe it, and pass it on, never stopping to wonder if it's true or not. Then Twitter happened, and now it only takes one click. You don't even have to read it first, you just have to see a title or something that you initially agree with and click. I'm guilty of having done it myself a few times.

The point is, with the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc - we've gotten used to receiving our news about the world in different ways - through what our online acquaintances are saying. Google has even added this to search results now - if you search for something on Google, and you're a member of Google+, you get results from your circles' Google+ profiles, interspersed with the normal Google search results.

Digital media has played into this as well. I was watching an interview with Talib Kweli, where he was talking about the rumors of people like Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Rihanna being involved in some kind of Illuminati group trying to take over the world, and he was talking about how most of the 'proof' given for these kind of conspiracy theories is doctored up YouTube videos, where it's obvious they've been screwed around with. But people don't know, so they buy into it.

And it seems like our actual journalism organizations are following suit - much of what is written is actually just opinion articles, but presented as real journalism (that is, researched fact, or at least stories with factual basis). These stories are presented as if the journalist knows exactly what they're talking about, and are spun around the globe via the internet, only to find out that, once again, this was just their opinion, and has nothing to do with reality.

I think this is a really important thing to reign in, as our culture can be violently swayed by small un-truths, as simply as having someone famous Tweet it. Sometimes it's not even intentional - you just get ahead of yourself and say something without basis, and it's already too late before you realize it isn't true.

Anyway, I guess the main point is, when you see something, think about it. If it seems odd, or inflammatory, or derogatory or gets you excited to go badmouth someone, check it out first, please.

2012-01-12

New Day

Just as a bit of explanation for the first verse, because I feel it makes it more potent - Kanye West has often been criticized and vilified for having a huge ego, despite, I think, being a very sensitive and caring person in reality (despite a sometimes put-on-bravado in public). He had a moment on a telethon during Hurricane Katrina, where he famously commented that George Bush didn't care about black people, and there was a major public uproar over it. You can look up more about that if you feel like it. Yeezy is one of his nicknames.

Yeah, uh
(Sun in the sky)
(You know how I feel)
Me and the RZA connect
(Breeze driftin’ on by)
Yeah, me and the RZA connect
(Breeze driftin’ on by)
(It’s a new life for me)
(For me, for me)
(Oooh, oooh)
(And I’m feelin’ good)

[Kanye West]
And I’ll never let my son have an ego
He’ll be nice to everyone, wherever we go
I mean, I might even make ‘im be Republican
So everybody know he love white people
And I’ll never let ‘im leave his college girlfriend
And get caught up with the groupies in the whirlwind
And I’ll never let ‘im ever hit the telethon
I mean even if people dyin’ and the world ends
See, I just want ‘im to have an easy life, not like Yeezy life
Just want ‘im to be someone people like
Don’t want ‘im to be hated, all the time judged
Don’t be like your daddy that would never budge
And I’ll never let ‘im ever hit a strip club
I learned the hard way, that ain’t the place to get love
And I’ll never let his mom move to L.A.
Knowin’ she couldn’t take the pressure, now we all pray

(Sun in the sky)
(You know how I feel)
(Breeze driftin’ on by)
(Breeze driftin’ on by)
(It’s a new life for me)
Me and the RZA connect
(For me, for me)
Me and the RZA connect (Oooh, oooh)
(And I’m feelin’ good)

[Jay-Z]
Sorry junior, I already ruined ya
‘Cause you ain’t even alive, paparazzi pursuin’ ya
Sins of a father make yo’ life ten times harder
I just wanna take ya to a barber
Bondin’ on charters, all the shit that I never did
Teach ya good values, so you cherish it
Took me 26 years to find my path
My only job is cuttin’ the time in half
So at 13 we’ll have our first drink together
Black bar mitzvahs, mazel tov, mogul talk
Look a man dead in his eyes
So he know you talk truth when you speak it, give your word, keep it
And if the day comes I only see him on the weekend
I just pray we was in love on the night that we conceived him
Promise to never leave him even if his mama tweakin’
Cause my dad left me and I promise never repeat him
Never repeat him, never repeat him

(Sun in the sky)
(You know how I feel)
(Breeze driftin’ on by)
(Breeze driftin’ on by)

(It’s a new life for me)
(For me, for me)
(Oooh, oooh)
(And I’m feelin’ good)

(Sun in the sky, you know how I feel)
(Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel)
(Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel)
(It’s a new life for me)
(It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day)
(It’s a new life for me)
(Oooh, oooh)
(And I’m feelin’…)
(Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel)

The song sampled in the background is Nina Simone's Feeling Good.

2012-01-09

On Language

I just finished reading Jay-Z's book, "Decoded". It was a great read, very interesting and insightful. In any case, he brought up an interesting point about language in the Epilogue, quoted below:

Rap, as I said at the beginning of the book, is at heart an art form that gave voice to a specific experience, but, like every art, is ultimately about the most common human experiences: joy, pain, fear, desire, uncertainty, hope, anger, love - love of crew, love of family, even romantic love (put on "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" some time and tell me rap can't be romantic - or if you want to keep it street, put on Mary J. Blige and Method Man's "I'll Be There For You/You're All I Need To Get By"). Of course, in the end, it may not be the art form for you. Oprah, for instance, still can't get past the n-word issue (or the nigga issue, with all apologies to Ms. Winfrey). I can respect her position. To her, it's a matter of acknowledging the deep and painful history of the word. To me, it's just a word, a word whose power is owned by the user and his or her intention. People give words power, so banning a word is futile, really. "Nigga" becomes "porch monkey" becomes "coon" and so on if that's what's in a person's heart. The key is to change the person. And we change people through conversation, not through censorship. That's why I want people to understand what the words we use - and the stories we tell - are really about.

This reminded me of a section of George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," in which he talks about the decay of the English language, specifically when it comes to political language, and how some believe that we cannot directly influence language to reshape words or redirect the usage of language back to a more reasonable place. Orwell believes, however, that language can be intentionally shaped, and makes the following statement:

"What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them.

What I believe he's getting at is this: he talks earlier in the paper about different ways in which the English language has decayed, and one of them is that of certain words or phrases coming to have implicit meaning through common usage, completely apart from the actual meaning of the word or phrase. We then simply use that word or phrase as a pre-packaged idea, without thinking about what we are really saying. Some of the examples of this idea which he gives are "toe the line", "the hammer and the anvil" (common usage being that the anvil takes a beating, but actually, the anvil always breaks the hammer), "swan song", and "ride roughshod over". The idea is that, in this case, you are choosing the words first, and the words then define the meaning - because the meaning is pre-fabricated and attached to those specific words. He lists cases in which authors using these pre-fabricated ideas often mix meanings and metaphors, showing they don't actually understand what they are saying, but are simply using a set phrase which is understood a certain way, apart from its actual meaning.

What he is advocating, is that you decide the meaning you want to convey first, and then choose the right words to flesh out that meaning; that you understand the idea you wish to convey and choose words for it, rather than allowing the pre-set arrangement of words to define your meaning.

So, how does that relate to Jay-Z? The most important part of the statement I quoted in relation to this is the following:

To me, it's just a word, a word whose power is owned by the user and his or her intention. People give words power, so banning a word is futile, really. "Nigga" becomes "porch monkey" becomes "coon" and so on if that's what's in a person's heart.

What I have seen in hip-hop music since getting into it is a very intentional usage of language, which is a big reason it is attractive to me. Good rappers use language in a way that suits their meaning, and sometimes even take advantage of pre-defined phrases or words that have certain cultural connotations to obscure their true meaning, forcing you to really give their lyrics some thought to work them out, or simply putting off people who aren't interested in taking the time to discover what they wanted to say. Much like poetry, in fact.

Specifically in terms of the word "nigga," Jay-Z says that they have taken a word which was hurtful, and turned it into a term of endearment. Rather than surrendering to the word, they made it their own. His comment that people give words power, that their ideas will come out using different words; that if we ban "nigga", we just get "coon" instead, speaks to the idea that we can, in fact, change language; that we can do what Orwell recommends, and find our meaning, and then choose the words which best express that meaning.

I think Orwell and Jay-Z also both offer an important challenge - to really think about the language we're exposed to. Don't just hear someone call something "communist" and assume it's malevolently oppressive, think about the context and whether the comparison even makes sense. Don't just hear someone use the word "freedom" and get warm fuzzies about whatever they're referring to - think about how they are using it, whether what they are using it to describe actually merits the word, and don't allow them to handcuff you with it by convincing you that you're really being "freed".

Language is incredibly important, and I think we all would do well to be intentional both about how we use language, and how we take it in.

2012-01-05

Kanye West - Power

These are some of the lyrics from a Remix of Kanye West's song Power, on which Jay-Z appears as well. Good stuff.

Rumble, young man, rumble
Life is a trip, so sometimes, we gon’ stumble
You gotta go through pain in order to become you
But once the world numbs you, you’ll feel like it’s only one you
Now you got the power to do anything you want to
Until you ask yourself, "Is this what it’s all come to?"
Lookin’ at life through sunglasses and a sunroof
But do you have the power to get out from up under you
Fuck all these labels, fuck what everybody wants from you
They tryna Axl Rose you, welcome to the jungle
To be continued, we on that Norman Mailer shit
In search of the truth, even if it goes through Taylor Swift
Tell her this

No one man should have all that power

Now when I walk in, everybody do the “Power” clap
Clap, clap, clap
Fresh for the club, I just took a half an hour nap
Clap, clap, clap
I seen people go crazy when the whole world in our lap
Clap, clap, clap
My socket was out the plug, now it’s time to get the power back
Clap, clap
I seen people abuse power, use power, misuse and then lose power
Power to the people at last, it’s a new hour
Now we all ain’t gon’ be American Idols
But you can least grab a camera, shoot a viral
Huh? Take the power in your own hands
I’m a grown man, doin’ my grown dance
I don’t stop until I see the end, my vision clear, bitch
I’m on my Van Gogh, I don’t hear shit

Now everything I’m rhymin’ on cause a Ramadan
Been a don, prayin’ for the families lost in the storm
Bring our troops back from Iraq, keep our troops out of Iran
So the next couple bars, I’ma drop them in Islam
They say as-salamu alaykum, say wa alaykum as-salaam
That’s no Oscar Mayer bacon, you should run and tell your moms
Now the question is, how we gon’ stop the next Vietnam?
Keep Flex out of Korea, ’cause you know he drop bombs

2012-01-03

On Drug Addiction and Criminalization

"[T]he truth is that drug addicts have a disease. It only takes a short time in the streets to realize that out-of-control addiction is a medical problem, not a form of recreational or criminal behavior. And the more society treats drug addiction as a crime, the more money drug dealers will make "relieving" the suffering of the addicts."