2013-12-30

The Convenience of Closeness.

As I tend to do, I've thought about a lot of things with relation to our life since we've moved to another part of Portland. We're now living in the only part of Portland that is still really dense mixed residential and commercial (the strict downtown core is still mixed residential and commercial, but not that many people still live there, relatively).


What this means is that, for instance, I took the streetcar home from work the other day, and on my way walking from the streetcar to our apartment, I stopped by three different stores that are all directly on the way to our apartment to get food for dinner, some staple pantry stuff and cold medicine. By foot, it only took me 30 minutes to do all that shopping and get home.

This doesn't apply just to groceries - there is a good kitchen store, a cobbler, hardware store, several dry cleaners, restaurants, two movie theaters, bars, shops all within about 5 minutes by foot - we even got our Christmas Tree two blocks away and walked it home. There is nothing that is necessary for our daily lives that is more than 5-7 minutes away by foot (except my work, a 20 minute bike ride).

Here's what this has made me think about as I have lived this way for about a year and a half now:

I think about time differently. When I can run all the errands I have in a day in 30 minutes by foot, or just easily do them on the route I would normally take from work to home, they are much less of a time-suck on my day. I used to set aside a good part of a weekend day to run errands, now it takes 30 minutes and I can do whatever I want with the rest of my day, or I can often just fit them in on my way home, take an extra 10-15 minutes, and then not worry about them after that.

I'm in less of a hurry. Because I don't spend hours just trying to go between places, I don't worry about time spent traveling. I'm happy to give the things I need to do the time they need, because I know it won't be burdensome on my schedule. I also know, because I'm not worried about traffic, that the things I do will basically always take the exact same amount of time, every time, and I don't have to plan ahead for getting stuck along the way.

Traveling long distances takes energy - even if you're driving, the attentiveness required to drive is draining. Only having short distances to travel has proved an excellent benefit many times - such as this past week when we were both sick with nasty colds and could basically just walk around the block and get cold medicine, and just a few minutes to get food stuff to cook. That was about all the energy we were capable of expending, and we were still able to get done what we needed with that very small reserve.

Living this way helps my own stress levels, helps me have more energy, time and resources for things I want to do, as well as making me less of a public annoyance and threat - because people have a tendency to behave much less humanely when they are stressed and in a hurry, and I'm not exempt from that.

Of course it's a matter of priorities. This type of area may not be the best place to live if you love gardening, for instance, unless you have a lot of money to spend on a house in a place where real-estate is expensive.

But for us, it is exactly what we want out of life - to live in a small, beautiful apartment in a city, and have this kind of daily life - simple and basically self-sufficient, with time and resources to expend on things we love doing, people we love, enjoying life.

2013-12-19

Responsibility.

You'll never teach anyone to be responsible if you always let them off the hook for being irresponsible, just because they weren't being maliciously irresponsible.

2013-12-17

A Night Out

The other night we went out for dinner with my parents at a fantastic place called Via Tribunali. We had a delicious dinner and desserts, and after we bid my parents farewell at the MAX stop, we decided to make our way over to Pioneer Courthouse Square and see the Christmas Tree.


It just so happened that there was a roasted chestnut stand in the square as well, so we got a little cone full of piping hot chestnuts, sat and ate them watching people in the square, and then walked over to the Pioneer Square mall to do a little Christmas shopping before heading home.


A Night Out. A Night Out. A Night Out. A Night Out. A Night Out. A Night Out.
It's pretty great to live in a place where you can make spontaneous decisions to do things like this without any preparation - just walk or hop on a train and you're there in literally a few minutes, then just a few minutes again and you're back home.

2013-12-16

Hello Again!

Well, it's been a while, hasn't it?

We just moved to a new apartment - not very far away from where we were previously, only a matter of blocks - but still, any moving process is a lot of work.

We've now come out the other side, and have our place mostly in order. It's a studio apartment, approximately 390 sq ft (36 sq m for you non-americans). It might be our favorite apartment to date, in fact.

Aside from that, there's not a lot to say about it, so I'll show you a few photos, how about that?


We like foxy knockers. Gettin' Shit Done. Gettin' Shit Done. Twin loaves. Gettin' Shit Done. Getting set up. Getting set up. Shepherd's Pie and Christmas. Stanley 2013. Home. Details. Our view.

2013-09-27

Law vs. Responsibility

I've been thinking a lot over the last few years about the idea of law versus responsibility. In our society, the lines are often very blurred between the two, and we are encouraged to think of them as the same thing - that if you are following the law, you are being responsible. That if you are breaking the law, you are being irresponsible. In fact, that following the law is the definition of being responsible, and that breaking the law is the definition of being irresponsible.

I think that this view of things is, in fact, very harmful. There are several effects it has that cause a lot of problems in society, make us feel justified in harming each other, and provide a lot of power and profit for the people making up the laws.

Firstly, this view is based on the assumption that all the laws were written with the best interest of the least of humanity in mind. This is simply not the case. Many laws were written specifically to put money in certain peoples' pockets. Many of them were made to support a societal paradigm that, in the end, is harmful to society. Many of them were well-intentioned, but poorly written, or weakened by strong opposition or societal conditions that prevented them passing any other way.

Secondly, it causes us to forget our conscience. We have an innate sense of whether what we are doing is harmful or helpful, whether it is responsible on some level, or reckless. However, when we learn the viewpoint of law as responsibility, we come to simply ignore this innate sense, because it's much easier to just follow a set of rules that tells us what we can and can't do. This has the extremely negative effect of making people perfectly comfortable doing things that should repulse them, because someone either made a law that says it's ok, or someone who has the power or influence to set social rules and norms seems to be saying it's ok.

Thirdly, because we are not tuned in to our conscience, but rather simply following the instituted laws or social rules, we become unable to respond, to resist, to critically evaluate what we're doing. Essentially, we become lemmings, and whatever the political and social norms tell us is ok, we go and do, thinking all the while we're being good, responsible humans, when in fact, we could be causing people irreparable damage.

I'm not saying the law has no value, or is all bad. I do believe it is generally a good idea to follow the law, but I also believe it is critical to think about it, evaluate it, and break it sometimes when it would force you to do something you should not do. I think it is critical to be able to separate following the law from being responsible, so that you can see that, while they sometimes overlap, they are not the same thing.

This applies to political, social and religious law. Any system set up to govern behavior. Because, frankly, nobody has it all right, and everyone has ample opportunity for harboring ulterior motives.

2013-09-20

Swifts

Swifts!
Last night we watched approximately 4,620 vaux swifts swirl around the air and then dive into the chimney of the old boiler at Chapman School in NW Portland.

At one point, a hawk came looking for dinner, and the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of people sitting on the lawn to watch sat in rapt attention as the hawk dove through the cloud of swifts over and over, only to be chased away by the swarm, harried on all sides. Flying past the outer edges of the cloud of swifts, it would then swing around widely and make another impossibly fast dive through the scattering fray. I've rarely seen a crowd so enthralled at any film, drama or music event I've been to. 

As the hawk was attempting to find dinner for itself, the swifts started, in small groups, swirling down the chimney like a genie being sucked back into its bottle. The remaining large group of swifts continued to fend off the hawk, as if the group were sending escape pods into the chimney.

After about 10 minutes of diving, being chased, retreating, diving again, the hawk finally caught its dinner and retreated.

The remaining swifts continued swirling around the air for some time, continuing to send small groups down into the chimney, and finally larger and larger groups would spiral themselves into the small opening. At last, just as it was almost so dark you could no longer see them, there was only a small cloud left high up in the air that you could just make out against the darkening sky, like the cloud of gnats you see across the room in the summer, lazily buzzing away and seemingly doing nothing in particular.

As the last remaining swifts retreated to their evening rest, the crowd clapped and cheered, as if the actors had just taken their bows, and the curtain had returned to gently brush the stage floor.

We walked home in the cool darkness through the quiet, suburban neighborhood, to arrive back to the almost jarring lights of NW 23rd Ave. On one street corner, a banjo and fiddle playing, and on the opposite corner, a man with a guitar interpreting Prince's Kiss for the massive crowd at Salt and Straw ice cream (how do they always still have a 30 minute line at 9pm?).

Portland has its moments.

2013-09-09

Unorthodox Bicycle Repairs

My Bicycle Broke.
Just about a month ago, I was riding my bike over the river to go take in a couple rolls of film I had shot. Just as I was coming off the east side of the Hawthorne bridge, I felt the bike start to shimmy in a weird way, so I got off and looked at it, and after a couple of minutes, noticed that the seat tube was cracked just above the lug where it meets the top tube.

This was obviously distressing, but I had to get my film in, so I locked it up to a bike rack and walked from there. On the way back, I picked my bike up and took it on the streetcar back home and brought it inside.

I spent a little time asking around about possible repairs, and the response I got was all "If the tube is cracked, the frame is trash."

So then I started looking around at bike replacements, and there was nothing in terms of similar bicycles for less than $1000, which we simply cannot afford by any means right now.

At this point, I started getting really sad, and decided I had better strip my bike and try to get rid of some of the parts and and least make some money off of it. So the bike slowly came apart, piece by piece.

Stripped Down.

Going to pieces.
Then Henry Cutler, who owns WorkCycles in the Netherlands, saw my photo of the cracked tube, and suggested taking a seat post (since it fits exactly inside that tubing already), sand off the chrome, jam it down into this joint, and plug weld it into place. This appealed both to my love of this bicycle, and to my love of repairing and re-using things, so I got excited about the idea. Plus, I kind of like just trying things that most people say are impossible or crazy, so I was sure we had to do it.

We happened to mention this while out to dinner with a friend who is a carpenter, and he mentioned that he had a good welder contact in town. He gave us the contact info, and I wrote the welder and asked him about it, and he said the repair made sense, and he'd be up for giving it a go, so we went and bought a used steel seat post from City Bikes for $2, took that and the bike in to the welder, and a day later and $140 shorter, I had a bike frame again.
She's Back!
So, I put the bike back together (thankfully, I hadn't sold any of the parts yet), and rode it to work the next day, and I've been riding it since (over two weeks now).

I got a little can of oil-based enamel paint to touch up around the weld (unfortunately I accidentally got matte, so I'll be getting some gloss paint at some point in the near future and doing a coat of gloss over it).
Back In Action!
I decided not to put the front rack back on, as I'm just not using it nearly as much for carrying things since we've moved to NW Portland. The headlight had previously been attached to the front rack, so we had to find a way to re-attach it without the rack on, as I had gotten rid of the Raleigh mounting bracket that was there for the original headlight some time ago.

I took it into Clever Cycles, since they are fantastic, and Jeremy not only went looking around at other shops to find a Raleigh headlight mounting bracket, but since he couldn't find the piece that slips over the bracket (the piece that the light attaches to), he made one out of other pieces of metal they had sitting around the shop. How's that for full-service?
Headlight!
So, at least for now, all is well in bike-land. According to Henry and the welder, this repair should actually be at least as strong as the original frame, if not a little stronger. So, hopefully I'll be riding this bike for some time yet. We shall see!

2013-08-25

Haruki Murakami - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Hi, again, Mr. Wind-Up Bird,
It's three-thirty in the morning. All my neighbors are sound asleep, but I can't sleep tonight, so I'm up, writing this letter to you. To tell you the truth, sleepless nights are as unusual for me as sumo wrestlers who look good in berets. Usually, I just slip right into sleep when the time comes, and slip right out when it's time to wake up. I do have an alarm clock, but I almost never use it. Every rare once in a while, though, this happens: I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep.
I'm planning to stay at my desk, writing this letter to you, until I get sleepy, so I don't know if this is going to be a long letter or a short one. Of course, I never really know that anytime I write to you until I get to the end.
Anyway, it seems to me that the way most people go on living (I suppose there are a few exceptions), they think that the world or life (or whatever) is this place where everything is (or is supposed to be) basically logical and consistent. Talking with my neighbors here often makes me think that. Like, when something happens, whether it's a big event that affects the whole of society or something small and personal, people talk about it like, "Oh, well, of course, that happened because such and such," and most of the time people will agree and say, like, "Oh, sure, I see," but I just don't get it. "A is like this, so that's why B happened." I mean, that doesn't explain anything. It's like when you put instant rice pudding mix in a bowl in the microwave and push the button, and you take the cover off when it rings, and there you've got rice pudding. I mean, what happens in between the time when you push the switch and when the microwave rings? You can't tell what's going on under the cover. Maybe the instant rice pudding first turns into macaroni gratin in the darkness when nobody's looking and only then turns back into rice pudding. We think it's only natural to get rice pudding after we put rice pudding mix in the microwave and the bell rings, but to me that's just a presumption. I would be kind of relieved if, every once in a while, after you put rice pudding mix in the microwave and it rang and you opened the top, you got macaroni gratin. I suppose I'd be shocked, of course, but I don't know, I think I'd be kind of relieved too. Or at least I think I wouldn't be so upset, because that would feel, in some ways, a whole lot more real.
Why "more real"? Trying to explain that logically, in words, would be very, very, very hard, but maybe if you take the path my life has followed as an example and really think about it, you can see that it has had almost nothing about it that you could call "consistency". First of all, it's an absolute mystery how a daughter like me could be born to two parents as boring as tree frogs. I know it's a little weird for me to be saying this, but I'm a lot more serious than the two of them combined. I'm not boasting or anything, it's just a fact. I don't mean to say that I'm any better than they are, but I am a more serious human being. If you met them, you'd know what I mean, Mr. Wind-Up Bird. Those people believe that the world is as consistent and explainable as the floor plan of a new house in a high-priced development, so if you do everything in a logical, consistent way, everything will turn out right in the end. That's why they get upset and sad and angry when I'm not like that.
Why was I born into this world as the child of such absolute dummies? And why didn't I turn into the same kind of stupid tree frog daughter even though I was raised by those people? I've been wondering and wondering about that ever since I can remember. But I can't explain it. It seems to me there ought to be a good reason, but it's a reason that I can't find. And there are tons of other things that don't have logical explanations. For example, "Why does everybody hate me?" I didn't do anything wrong. I was just living my life in the usual way. But then, all of a sudden, one day I noticed that nobody liked me. I don't understand it.
So then one disconnected thing led to another disconnected thing, and that’s how all kinds of stuff happened. Like, I met the boy with the motorcycle and we had that stupid accident. The way I remember it - or the way those things are all lined up in my head - there’s no “This happened this way, so naturally that happened that way.” Every time the bell rings and I take off the cover, I seem to find something I’ve never seen before.
I don’t have any idea what’s happening to me, and before I know it I’m not going to school anymore and I’m hanging around the house, and that’s when I meet you, Mr. Wind-Up Bird. No, before that I’m doing surveys for a wig company. But why a wig company? That’s another mystery. I can’t remember. Maybe I hit my head in the accident, and the position of my brain got messed up. Or maybe the psychological shock of it started me covering up all kinds of memories, the way a squirrel hides a nut and forgets where he’s buried it. (Have you ever seen that happen, Mr. Wind-Up Bird? I have. When I was little. I thought the stupid squirrel was sooo funny! It never occurred to me the same thing was going to happen to me.)
So anyhow, I started doing surveys for the wig company, and that’s what gave me this fondness for wigs like they were my destiny or something. Talk about no connection! Why wigs and not stockings or rice scoops? If it had been stockings or rice scoops, I wouldn’t be working hard in a wig factory like this. Right? And if I hadn’t caused that stupid bike accident, I probably wouldn’t have met you in the back alley that summer, and if you hadn’t met me, you probably would never have known about the Miyawakis’ well, so you wouldn’t have gotten that mark on your face, and you wouldn’t have gotten mixed up in all those strange things… probably. When I think about it like this, I can’t help asking myself, “Where is there any logical consistency in the world?”
I don’t know - maybe the world has two different kinds of people, and for one kind the world is this completely logical, rice pudding place, and for the other it’s all hit-or-miss macaroni gratin. I bet if those tree frog parents of mine put rice pudding mix in the microwave and got macaroni gratin when the bell rang, they’d just tell themselves, “Oh, we must have put in macaroni gratin mix by mistake,” or they’d take out the macaroni gratin and try to convince themselves, “This looks like macaroni gratin, but actually it’s rice pudding.” And if I tried to be nice and explain to them that sometimes, when you put in rice pudding mix, you get macaroni gratin, they would never believe me. They’d probably just get mad. Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you, Mr. Wind-Up Bird?
Remember when I kissed your mark that time? I’ve been thinking about that ever since I said goodbye to you last summer, thinking about it over and over, like a cat watching the rain fall, and wondering what was that all about? I don’t think I can explain it myself, to tell you the truth. Sometime way in the future, maybe ten years or twenty years from now, if we have a chance to talk about it, and if I’m more grown up and a lot smarter than I am now, I might be able to tell you what it meant. Right now, though, I’m sorry to say, I think I just don’t have the ability, or the brains, to put it into the right words.
One thing I can tell you honestly, though, Mr. Wind-Up Bird, is that I like you better without the mark on your face. No; wait a minute; that’s not fair. You didn’t put the mark there on purpose. Maybe I should say that even without your mark, you’re good enough for me. Is that it? No, that doesn’t explain anything.
Here’s what I think, Mr. Wind-Up Bird. That mark is maybe going to give you something important. But it also must be robbing you of something. Kind of like a trade-off. And if everybody keeps taking stuff from you like that, you’re going to be worn away until there’s nothing left of you. So, I don’t know, I guess what I really want to say is that it wouldn’t make any difference to me if you didn’t have that thing.
Sometimes I think that the reason I’m sitting here making wigs like this every day is because I kissed your mark that time. It’s because I did that that I made up my mind to leave that place, to get as far away as I could from you. I know I might be hurting you by saying this, but I think it’s true. Still, though, it’s because of that that I was finally able to find the place where I belong. So, in a sense, I am grateful to you, Mr. Wind-Up Bird. I don’t suppose it’s much fun to have somebody be “in a sense” grateful to you, though, is it?

So now I feel like I’ve said just about everything I have to say to you, Mr. Wind-Up Bird. It’s almost four o’clock in the morning. I have to get up at seven-thirty, so maybe I’ll be able to sleep three hours and a little bit. I hope I can get to sleep right away. Anyhow, I’m going to end this letter here. Goodbye, Mr. Wind-Up Bird. Please say a little prayer so I can get to sleep.

2013-08-10

An Example

As an example to go with my last post, today we happened to be driving, we had to go way across town, and the bus routes are really inconvenient. At one point, we were approaching an intersection. We had a stop sign, and we stopped and waited because a woman and a young girl were coming up the cross-street from our right on bikes. A car full of young boys pulled up behind us, started honking at us, and then floored it around us into the intersection as we were trying to yell at them that there were people coming. They came within about a foot of nailing the woman, with the girl who was probably her daughter right behind her. They then accelerated and went around her, leaving both her and the girl frightened, stopped in the middle of the street, stunned.

This is not abnormal. This happens daily. Not only young boys do this. Grown men do this. Old women do this. Much of the population is willing to risk the lives of other people to shave a few seconds off of their travel time, and this is seen as rational, acceptable behavior by many people.

Fuck that.

2013-08-09

Riding a Bicycle in America

Taking the kids home

It's hard to explain the stress of riding a bicycle in America. The danger is often measured simply in number of deaths of people riding bicycles, and it is assumed that if that number is low, that it is safe, and that people riding bicycles are therefore well-accommodated. But the actual stress of riding a bicycle for transportation in America is much more complicated.

In thinking about this, I'm reminded of a story I heard about Billy Corgan, the lead singer of the Smashing Pumpkins. When he was growing up, he lived with his father and step-mom. His step-mom was violently abusive of him, sometimes. Other times she was fine. He made the comment that the real emotional trauma for him didn't come from the abuse itself, which was infrequent, but from never knowing when it was going to come. The constant tension and uncertainty.

That is what it's like to ride a bicycle for transportation in America.

You constantly know that:
  1. All it takes for you to die or be seriously injured is for one person to not be paying attention for 5 seconds.
  2. The majority of the population believes that they are in complete control while driving well beyond their ability (often doing multiple other things at the same time), and that of course nothing like killing or seriously injuring someone could ever happen to them.
  3. The majority of the population sees you as an inconvenience, to be passed by whatever means necessary, including breaking the law dangerously. This happens to me almost daily, being passed illegally. Not infrequently, the person in the car passing me illegally nearly collides with other cars, people crossing the street ahead of us, etc, who are all following the law.
  4. The infrastructure (roads, intersections, parking, signage, etc) often creates conflicts between people driving and people riding bicycles or walking. For instance, bike lanes which, by law, a person on a bicycle has to use, that end on the near side of an intersection, and force people riding bikes to merge illegally in the intersection with traffic going potentially 20mph faster than them. Or on-street car parking that blocks the view of everyone on the road or sidewalk at an intersection, and makes it frightening to even pull or walk out into a road at times, since you don't know what's coming, and it makes it a surprise for people in the road when you do pull or walk out into traffic, because they couldn't see you sitting there waiting.
  5. The law is lenient towards people driving, as long as they are not drunk, and as long as they don't hit-and-run. If they are sober and stay at the scene, they are not likely to be cited with much, even if they seriously wound or kill someone. This means that 1.) people only associate irresponsibility with drinking. If you're sober, you feel you're being responsible regardless of how you're driving, and 2.) people have no motivation to be careful, because they know if they cooperate, they probably won't be held responsible for much. It is, for the most part, the responsibility of the person walking or riding a bicycle to make sure they just stay out of the way.
It's not that people walking and riding bikes are dying left and right (actually, most of the people who die on the roads each year - 35,000/yr in America - are in cars), or even that it's very objectively dangerous to ride a bicycle or walk around, it's just that you know that nothing is in your favor when it comes to avoiding injury, except your own vigilance and skill, and that a simple mistake by someone going 35mph could result in you ceasing to exist. The majority of the people driving are doing nothing proactive to prevent injuring themselves or other people, nor is the physical environment around you built to prevent or account for mistakes by the people using it, however good their intentions may be (we all make mistakes, have lapses in attention, etc).

That's simply how it is. It may not be objectively very dangerous, but it is stressful, and mentally and emotionally taxing.

2013-08-07

Karuta (かるた)

Karuta is a Japanese card game, often played by children for educational purposes, but also played by teens and adults competitively.

The most common form played competitively uses 100 poems by 100 different poets. Each of these poems are split into two parts. The second parts of each poem are written on 100 different small cards, making up a deck.

The match is between two people, and one deck of cards is used. Each player lays out 25 cards randomly, so a total of 50 cards are laid out in the playing field. There is a reader, who reads each poem (all 100), both the first and second half, with a pause between each half.

The players must listen carefully to the poem from the first half, and as soon as enough of the second half has been read to uniquely identify the poem, each player must try to hit the card with the second half of the poem written on it before the other player does.

Because Japanese is a very syllabic language, the cards are referred to as one, two, three, etc syllable cards, meaning they are uniquely identifiable after one, two, three or more syllables. This classification may change depending on which cards are on the playing field, and which cards have already been read, since eliminating all cards but one that start with a particular syllable then makes the remaining one a one syllable card, when before it may have been a two syllable card.

The goal is to eliminate all the cards on your own side of the playing field first. If a player takes a card from the opponent's side, they then pass them one of their cards. If a player hits the wrong card, they are penalized by having to take a card from their opponent.

After the 50 cards have been laid out on the playing field, the players are given time to memorize the positions of the cards. Because all 100 cards are read during the match, the players must be very aware of which cards are actually laid out in the playing field, and which cards have already been read by the reader, because if the reader reads a card that is not on the playing field and they hit the wrong card, they are penalized. It is also important for speed's sake, to have an idea of what area the possible cards are in as soon as possible, so having a mental map of the playing field is important.

The players are allowed to lay out their own cards on the playing field in basically any order, and there is strategy based on their own handed-ness, the opponent's handed-ness and their own strengths and weaknesses in defending and attacking cards. There are also the nuances of the voice of the reader and their rhythm that the players must adapt to, as well as the physical strain of having to sit on your knees for something like an hour at a time (and in tournaments, sometimes for 5-6 matches in one day) while slightly bent over and making swipes and lunges with your arm.

Here's a little video showing pieces of a match.

2013-06-25

Where do we even live?

Our country is run by a lot of murderers, rapists, chauvinists, sexist assholes, racist bigots, greedy corporate leaders with their own agendas, power-hungry politicians with their own agendas, and plain old stupid idiots who play along not knowing any better. And most of us are dozing off with a food coma induced by eating box-fuls of sugary cereal while they flush us down the toilet for their own profit. Welcome to paradise.

Let's do what we can to snatch it back, eh?

2013-06-20

Throwing Rocks Off a Cliff: A Short Story.

The majority of American citizens are absentmindedly throwing rocks off a cliff onto a walking path below. So many people are doing it, and have been doing it all their lives, that they all realize they're doing it, but it doesn't ever occur to anyone to stop. It's just what you do, you throw rocks over the cliff.

Along come some people walking on the path below, and everyone on top of the cliff, while still absentmindedly throwing rocks down onto the path, yells: "hey, that's dangerous, get out of there!"

If one of the people walking then happens to notice what's going on, and says: "hey, you're throwing rocks at us, stop doing that!", they are likely to get beaned in the head intentionally - that is, the throwing of the rocks becomes intentional rather than absent-minded.

At some point, someone goes down to the walking path and installs a sign that says "Hard hats required," and then returns to the top of the cliff to continue throwing rocks.

Someone then comes along walking, sees the sign, but thinks "why do I need a hard hat just to walk through here?" and continues without one. They get hit in the head by a rock thrown by someone on top of the cliff and injured badly, and everyone at the top of the cliff shouts: "It's your fault, we warned you!"

Along the way, someone invents a rock-throwing device, which throws the rocks further and harder than the citizens could by themselves. The people also start throwing larger and larger rocks, and pretty soon, they are killing people on the path below. Occasionally, one of the people throwing the rocks will venture down to the path to see what it's like, and they often never come back either.

As time goes on, it gets more and more crowded at the top of the cliff, and people keep jostling each other and getting in each other's way, so eventually they start throwing rocks at each other as well as down onto the path below. This results in even greater chaos, as the crowd is thick at the top of the cliff, and a rock thrown with the rock-throwing device often injures or kills several people at a time.

At first, there is some concern, as they see what damage this rock-throwing is causing, but they are so fascinated by the technology of the rock-throwing device, that the majority just decides to ignore it. Most of the few that were concerned are either down on the walking path, or just simply resign themselves to keep throwing rocks, because almost everyone else is.

People keep designing bigger, faster rock-throwing devices, so that they are able to throw rocks faster and further than the other citizens, and therefore they are at less risk, and as a result, people are dropping even faster than before.

Pretty soon, it simply becomes normalized that if you don't have a rock-throwing device, you have to either stay out of the area completely, or else be willing to take the blame if you get hit by one, because you have no way to defend and retaliate, and having the means to defend and retaliate is clearly necessary for survival in this world of rock-throwing. In fact, not having one is irresponsible and selfish, because you're going to cause someone real trauma if they hit you with a rock and injure you.

Occasionally, someone down on the path will suggest that people stop throwing rocks and come down from the cliff, to which everyone of course responds: "No, that's dangerous! We have the tactical advantage up here!"

The rock-throwing devices, as they advance, keep getting more and more expensive, but since they are seen to be basically essential to life, almost everyone keeps paying for one, which means large portions of their income are tied up in them, making them an even more personally valuable item, a necessity, an investment.

Those people who can't afford rock-throwers, or who simply choose not to be involved in throwing rocks go down the path with utmost caution, knowing they could get hit at any time. Their partners wait anxiously to hear from them, hoping that today won't be the day they fail to come home after work.

In order to support the rock-throwing, groups were created to manufacture the rock-throwers, and to quarry the rocks to throw. There are so many people throwing rocks at this point, that these industries have grown enormous. Even when someone sees the damage being caused by the rock-throwing, they look at how many people are employed in making rock-throwers and quarrying rocks, and realize it would be very hard on society if people stopped throwing rocks. So, instead, more resources are devoted to making sure there are always rocks to throw and rock-throwing devices to throw them with. It's always easier to keep momentum than to stop and reverse course.

So the current state of things is that the entirety of society is involved in a constant battle of either throwing or avoiding rocks. This is deemed the normal state of things, and for it to be any other way is unimaginable. Very few people will give up rock-throwing, for fear of their own safety, and the ones who do, if they are injured by the rock-throwing, are simply blamed for not following the status-quo of furious rock-throwing.

2013-05-20

We Are What We Are.

There is no one 'type' that is attractive to everyone. No particular breast size, bust-waist-hip combination, length of penis, amount of or lack of body hair in any particular region, skin tone, or muscle tone will make you the winning combination for all people who you might be attracted to.

I know it's tempting to try to find a formula you can simply slide into (or work very hard at fitting into), that will guarantee that you will be attractive to all the right people on the other side, but it just simply doesn't work that way.

Attraction is as diverse as humanity itself. Our society doesn't paint it that way, giving us a formulaic model for beauty; but the fact is that attraction is much broader than the simplistic view we see most often in public.

Even within a single person's mind, attraction is not so singular. When was the last time you talked to someone who only found white brunette women between 5'10" and 6'1", size 14 waist, and bra size 28 C attractive (for example)? Attraction is not either/or, in the sense that if a person finds a particular type of person attractive, that doesn't mean they find every other type of person unattractive. A person may find both thinner, well-toned bodies and chubbier, curvier bodies attractive at the same time (for example).

Just as with body type and styling, there is no one set of personality traits, behaviors, etc that make you attractive to all the world. There is no assuming that if you like video games and wear sneakers, that guys will think you're cool. There is no assuming that if you wear heels and miniskirts, guys will think you're hot. There is no assuming that if you are sensitive and somewhat feminine, that women will relate to you. There is no assuming that if you are muscular and macho, that women will find you sexy. As with body type and styling, a single person may find various personality types and behaviors attractive - both quiet, shy people and outgoing, bubbly people (for example).

Think of this like you would think of appreciation for any other type of beauty. Think of it as you would think of art, or music, or writing. People have widely differing views on what is beautiful, what they personally find appealing, what they relate to, and how those things affect them. Very few people have such singular taste as to only listen to one singer, or to only like the particular style of painting of one painter. We, as humans, appreciate the diversity of humanity, the diversity of beauty, the diversity of each others' points of view and outlooks on life.

So here's the point of all of this. Don't live your life trying to fit into a particular pattern of what is 'attractive', because there is no one pattern for what is 'attractive'.

You are attractive.

It all goes back to how we define our identity - is it from outside in, or from inside out? Do you find outside criteria, and then try to squeeze who you actually are into those boxes, or do you find who you are, and then open up and let it out?

I suggest that it may be more beneficial for everyone if you spend your life trying to honestly figure out who you are, and develop that as fully as you can, so that when you meet the people who honestly find that type of person attractive, they will be honestly attracted to who you honestly are. You get to feel fulfilled, not at odds with yourself, and you get the joy of being acknowledged by others. Other people get the joy of having their honest affection for you returned. You have less control over the process, but the end result is infinitely better.

2013-04-08

Easter Sunday

Chado.

On Easter Sunday, our friend Margie, who teaches Japanese Tea Ceremony, had told us she was getting some people together down on the waterfront under the cherry trees, so we decided we would ride our bikes down and meet them and hang out for a while. She had heard that somewhere around 30 people would come, and unfortunately, there were only about 10, but it was still nice to drink matcha under the cherry trees and just chat with each other.

Incidentally, as we were sitting there, a man came up and asked if his wife could join us. It turns out she was from Osaka, and the couple lived in Canada, and just happened to be in Portland for the weekend and were walking by as we were sitting there. It was fun to chat with her and her husband a little bit as well.

02

It was a gorgeous day out, and though the cherry trees were starting to lose some blossoms, they still had quite a few left. The temperature was perfect, and the sun was shining. As expected, there were a lot of people sharing the park, many of them also having picnics, or just strolling, riding their bikes or sitting on benches watching the river go by.

They dreamed it would last forever.

After leaving the waterfront, we decided to go to House of Louie in Chinatown for dim sum, since we hadn't brought food to eat, and we were feeling a bit peckish by this point. Dim sum is always a favorite of ours, and while House of Louie isn't the best we've had, it is good, and the atmosphere of the restaurant is great in that sort of slightly-run-down fancy Chinese restaurant of the 1950's-1960's kind of way.
Dim sum.

We quickly polished off a snack, and then decided to make our way to Jamison Square to hang out and soak up a bit of sun.

03

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of people there as well, and we happened to run into Peter Koonce, who is in charge of traffic signals for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, and a really nice guy.

Meandering.

We parked our bikes by the square and meandered around the Pearl District a bit. Nothing much was open, but we just chatted and looked in shop windows.

After sitting on a bench in the park for a while, we rode back up through the Pearl District towards home, stopping at a couple of places on the way to take a look, and just taking our time. We got home, and just relaxed with the cats for a bit, and then finished off the evening in the best way possible, by meeting our friends Chelsea and Sam at Shigezo for dinner.

26

All-in-all, it was a pretty wonderful Easter.

2013-03-25

When we break at the core, we weep.

When we break at the core, we weep.
A serious title for a not so serious post.

Thursday morning, I was riding to work and I was nearly there. I was stopped at a stoplight (yes, contrary to popular belief, people on bicycles stop at stoplights nearly as much as people in cars).

As the light turned green, I pressed on the right pedal to move forward, and it simply fell off onto the ground. The pedal spindle, I knew, was bent; however, I didn't think it had gotten quite this bad yet.

So, I threw the pedal in my pannier and walked the rest of the way to work, locked my bike up, and went to work as usual.

I thought I had another pedal at home, so I left my bike locked in a locked bike cage at work overnight and took the streetcar home, but it turned out not to be the case.

So after work the next day, I walked myself and my bike the couple of miles over to Clever Cycles, and bought new pedals.


New pedal close-up.

Ta-da! Back in action.


Wheeeeeeeeeeee!

2013-02-28

Pearl Jam - Do The Evolution

Who we are.

As much as we like the romantic notion that our body is not 'who we are,' but that it's only 'what's inside that counts' - I don't really believe this is true.

Let me explain.

I'm not saying that we should suddenly rush to the 'hot body = everything ok' mindset. I'm saying that our body is as much a part of us as whatever else makes us up. They are all equal pieces. None of them is solely us, and we are not complete without any one of them.

2013-02-25

Nice Things

New Boots.

Over the last number of years, as I've spent less and less time going places in a car, and more and more time going places by walking or riding a bike, shoes have become a totally different kind of issue for me. If you mostly get around by car, shoes can just be something to keep your feet more-or-less covered. They don't have to be particularly water-proof, they don't have to be all that durable, or fit perfectly well, because you just aren't putting that much stress on them and you aren't getting them very wet or wearing on them much in the distances you're walking.

But being out in the weather and spending a lot of time walking and riding, it wasn't long before I discovered that, in Portland's year-round rainy climate, cloth sneakers are not going to cut it. You end up soaking wet right quick. Besides that, cheap sneakers wear out quickly if you're wearing them everyday and getting them wet and walking some distance on them. They also don't support your feet very well, and they become uncomfortable quickly, your feet get sore, and it's just a bad situation all around.

Finally, we decided to get me some leather boots from Aldo for riding during the winters. This was a big step up, but we still compromised and got cheap ones, and they only lasted me a year before they had holes and were leaking. Because of the cheap construction, there was really no way to repair them, and they basically just had to be thrown away.

New Boots

The next time we upgraded a bit, and got some slightly sturdier boots from Rocket Dog, but still compromised on price, and while these ones lasted me about 2 years, twice as long, they had the same problem with the construction of the boot, which meant again that they were essentially unable to be repaired, and had to just be thrown out.

Rocket Dog

Finally, we decided we were not going to make the same mistake. We were going to get some boots that were both made well enough that, with some regular care, would last many years, and also ones that were constructed in such a way that the insoles and outer soles could be repaired or replaced if they were to wear out eventually.

We looked at a few brands, and I wound up with a pair of Frye boots (pictured at the top). They cost more than twice as much as the Rocket Dog boots. However, they already feel worlds apart. The leather is better quality, and they are more waterproof. They feel exceptionally solid, they are extremely comfortable, and they fit very nicely. They look and feel really great - you can tell that they were made with good materials, and with some care. They are also constructed in such a way that if parts wear out, they can be repaired or replaced.

So, I won't have to replace the boots for many years.

Which means that, over their lifetime, they probably will be considerably cheaper than buying a pair of Rocket Dog boots every two years. They will wear well, and develop a nice patina of use, and if parts of them wear out, they can be repaired for considerably less than the price of new boots. And, in the meantime, they feel much sturdier and more comfortable.

Well worth the extra investment up front, I'd say.

2013-02-09

History

Through looking at the cycles in the history of the human race, it should be obvious that humans do not learn life concepts academically, but must experience things in order for them to take root.

2013-02-07

Sexuality, categories, and reality.

07
There are many facets that make up a human being, and one of those is sexuality, sexual preference, who you find yourself attracted to (in a general sense). This is one of those things that, in our culture, gets generalized and labeled overmuch, and then misused (both by the person in question, and by others) to categorize the person, often with ulterior motives. This all again serves to cloud over what is really going on, to mystify things that should be simpler, and to allow a lot of people to damage themselves, to damage others and to be damaged by others.

We tend to view sexuality or sexual preference as a very cut-and-dry, simple thing. We also tend to tie sexual preference with love, and assume that if you, for instance, prefer having sex with men, you only fall in love with men. Here's why both of these things get really tricky.

First off, having sex with someone of the same sex does not necessarily make you gay or lesbian, any more than eating a meal with no meat makes you a vegetarian. Having sex with someone of the opposite sex doesn't necessarily make you straight, either. Having sex with either someone of the opposite or same sex may simply make you confused, curious, or really into sex, depending on who you are and your particular circumstances. There are also in-betweens, as many people find themselves attracted to both men and women, regardless of their own sex, and there are many complicated combinations and absences of sex and gender that would make for an exhaustive post just in and of themselves.

Secondly, there is the issue of love, which I think is separate from the issue of sex. It seems to be clear that, no matter who you like having sex with, the question of who you will fall in love with can never be taken for granted. For instance, a person may, in terms of sexual preference, be attracted to only females (as a general rule). This person may, however, fall in love with one particular man, get married, and live monogamously. Said person may still generally only find women attractive, except for the one man she fell in love with. So, how do you categorize that? It's important to think carefully about these things, because they get all muddled up in our culture, and we can then have a really hard time defining them for ourselves.

We talk about 'making love' - and we usually mean having sex. But in reality, making love is so much more encompassing than simply sex. Sex can be one part of it, and sex certainly is intimate, but you can have passionate, intimate conversation with someone, or intense interaction in some other way such as dancing or even cooking and eating together without intending to or in actuality falling in love with them. Making love is a whole-life process, in which you devote a significant chunk of your life to focusing on a person and, as it talks about in The Little Prince, sitting a little closer to them every day. It is an intentional, directed effort - 'husbandry' of a sort. Tilling the soil so that it yields fruit. This can involve sex, and often does, just as it often involves conversation, shared activity, silliness, laughter, tears, hurt, and reconciliation.

The lesson to take away from this is, I think, that you love who you love. Sometimes it might end up being the most unlikely person, but really, that's how life is - what ends up happening is often the thing you would have least expected.

Here is the importance of all of this: we fail to understand so much about people because we generalize. We fail to understand so much about ourselves because we generalize. Because we fail to understand, we fear. Because we fear we get defensive. Because we get defensive, we aim to hurt. This can be aimed either externally or internally.

We can also use these categories and labels to try and make ourselves fit into the 'right' categories as well, so that we aren't attacked by others (or sometimes so we *are* attacked, there's always the person who needs to be a victim), so we seem to be more understandable, or so we seem to be nearer people we admire or want to be like. This doesn't do anyone any favors either, as you then miss out on developing the person you actually are, and finding people in your life who actually relate to you, rather than ones who just appear to on the surface. It may be easier in some ways, as there is perhaps less risk of injury, but there is also much less potential for real enjoyment in life.

There are so many examples of people who simply do not fit the constraints of the boxes we try to put on them (in fact, probably no single person does, unless the category was based on them, in which case one person fits), not only in terms of sexuality, but all of life. People are complicated, diverse, curious, adventurous, clever beings, and it's pretty hard to lump large numbers of them together and say "this is exactly what these people are like, every one of them the same." It is important for our own understanding, sanity, enjoyment, happiness and peace of mind to attempt to understand individual people, to have our understanding of what humanity is expanded, and our fear of the unknown quelled by knowing.

2013-02-06

Stress Avoidance

Foggy Streetcar
This July we moved to NW Portland, to a neighborhood where everything we need for daily life resides within about a 5 block radius of our apartment, it's an easy 10-15 minute walk to downtown or the Pearl District, and so I've found myself walking considerably more often than I ever have before, simply because there is actually a ton of stuff easily accessible by foot. I can do most of a day's errands by foot in this neighborhood in just about the same time it used to take me to just walk one way to the grocery store.

Living on the East side of Portland, I rode my bike everywhere, simply because most distances to things were just too far to walk, unless I just had one destination (like the grocery store), and just needed to come straight back. Riding my bike allowed me to hit several destinations while I was out, and do it in a reasonable amount of time, and I got used to how it felt to ride a bike around Portland and it was ok.

Now having the opportunity to walk for things often, I'm re-realizing that walking around Portland is still so much less stressful than riding a bike. I can walk down to the Pearl District and have it be perfectly relaxed and pleasant. If I ride my bike, I often get honked at, swerved around, passed illegally, occasionally even shouted at. As you can imagine, that really changes the experience of moving around.

As a result of this, I've been taking the streetcar to and from work more often, now that it's a short walk to the streetcar (about 6 blocks) and then a direct ride straight to work. The major motivation? It's just less stressful - I don't have to be as constantly on-guard, and I don't get abused by people. I still ride my bike quite a bit, and I'm still comfortable enough with it to ride all the way across the city, but having this contrast has really changed how I feel about it.

Portland may have done some nice things to accommodate travel by bicycle, but for the most part, people on bicycles are still left completely at the mercy of people driving cars, and many of the people driving cars see them as a nuisance, a waste of time, and even a threat.

This is not an us vs. them comparison, but simply an observation that I often suffer abuse from people in automobiles while I'm riding my bike. It is not a symptom of driving a car specifically (though that can play into it if a person never moves around by other means), but rather a larger cultural problem with how we view roads and public space in general, how we view time and responsibility and entitlement, how our city is laid out and the options we give people for moving around. If we want the average person to be able to ride a bike and not feel frightened, hassled, threatened and abused, we're doing it very wrong.

2013-01-25

Language

Lithuania 2010
Language is only meant for small things, like asking for more tea, or telling the postman that your package is fragile. It can sometimes be stretched for things like telling someone they mean a lot to you, or expressing anger at injustice.
Even in those cases, you feel the unheard tremors more than you understand the words.
When it comes to feelings that shake you, I believe they shake everything. There is no need to be able to explain to someone how much they make the spot directly behind your belly-button feel all shaky and discombobulated, and your thoughts fluttery and disorganized - just feel it near them, let there be silence, and all will be understood.
I think we spend a lot of time drowning everything out with words, because we feel like they're more definite, more controllable, more easily understood as intended, and instead, we cripple ourselves by never training our sense of intuition or whatever you want to call it. The way we understand the connections between things.

The Connections Between Things.

"No," said the little prince. "I am looking for friends. What does that mean – 'tame'?""It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. "It means to establish ties."
How else do we know a person than to 'establish ties'?

Language is for knowing about things. We can describe all kinds of things in words - gray, hard, rough, heavy, 1 kg, 15 cm long. But those things are not a rock.

You don't know a rock until you pick one up, heft it in your hand, roll it around between your palms, perhaps throw it as far as you can, back into the ocean.

You don't know a person until you've held them, pressed against your chest, your right hand cupping the back of their head, your left pressed against the small of their back, holding them against you, in complete silence. And what is more concrete and knowable than that? Is the word 'love'? Is the word 'hug'? Is a sonnet you write with the best intentions in mind?

No.
"My life is very monotonous," he (the fox) said. "I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat..."
The Connections Between Things.

We understand through silence in part because we're mostly made of holes, and we find it easy and natural to seep in a little. Deeper with prolonged contact. It is the most deranged and dysfunctional human for whom other humans mean nothing. Granite. There is a reason it is cold and hard. Extremely tiny little holes. Nothing gets in or out. But humans are a largely fleshy race, full of giant holes, and we leave our mark on each other. 
"One only understands the things that one tames," said the fox. "Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me..."
This all happens mostly not with words.
"You must be very patient," replied the fox. "First you will sit down at a little distance from me – like that – in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day..."
Control. We like control. We like to feel like we know what will happen tomorrow and the next day and 5 years from now. The problem is, we all like to be on the giving end of control, not the receiving end. Humans don't take control well. In relationships, I think what this means is that we become the most strongly connected when we move alongside each other, naturally, not forcing the other to follow any path, simply experiencing life together. Don't go to someone's house and order them to arrange it like your own house. Rather, invite them into yours and let them feel welcome, as if they should be there.
Then Almitra spoke again and said, "And what of Marriage, master?"
And he answered saying:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.
If we follow the advice of the prophet, we lose control over the other person, whoever they are. The only way we can control is to make them dependent on our own bread, our love, our cup. If we allow the other person to be their own, autonomous person with their own sovereign will, and they take up that challenge, we lose certainty. In silence, we simply allow them to be, rather than to control what they think, feel or believe with words.

Think about your relationships - do you want them to be based on control, really? Beyond your fear of loss, would you rather have a relationship based on imposed bonds, or a relationship where you choose to stand closely beside another human, who also chooses to stand closely beside you? Do you want to have control taken from you, or would you rather give it, a bit at a time, willingly, to a person you trust?

Get used to silence. Get used to feeling what is around you with your eyes closed. Get used to the hum of another person's skin against yours, the gentle pressure in the chest of two spirits embracing in sadness, the expanse of breath and tingling excitement of two spirits touching fingertips as they soar through the air, celebrating life, the sound of nothing but your heart beating.

Get used to yourself. Dig deep and find out the little bits of you. Get to know them well. Be an expression of yourself. That's all you have to do.

2013-01-16

Back in the Saddle!

Ahhh, that's better.
My bike was in the shop for a day getting a bit of a tuneup. Whenever I'm without it and I have to leave the neighborhood, I remember just how efficient a tool a bicycle is, as taking the bus or the streetcar, though nice sometimes if I want to read, takes much longer and is so much less flexible if I need to make multiple stops. I'm glad to have Beatrice back, and feeling better than ever!
Cruisin'

2013-01-14

Snow!

A little snow.

We got about the only real snow we've had this year today. Nothing stuck, but it looked nice on my coat :) Unfortunately, all the melt is going to be a sheet of ice in the morning. Yay Portland winter :)

2013-01-11

The Importance of Receiving

Love.
In our society, we talk a lot about giving. We hold it up as a positive character trait, a morally good thing to do, a socially responsible thing to do. We say that a relationship can't last unless both people are willing to give.

I'm not arguing with any of that, but we don't often talk about the necessary corollary of giving: receiving.

It probably has a lot to do with trust. Just as it requires trust to give something intentionally and honestly, it requires trust to unconditionally receive. You have to trust the intention of the person giving, because in order to really receive, you have to open yourself up to the gift and the giver. I feel like this is very important, as it ties closely into many aspects of a relationship, and in some ways, defines how we relate to other people.

Not surprisingly, we tend to not be very good at receiving. We get embarrassed by compliments and try to explain why they aren't true. We feel reluctant to accept gifts, or guilty if we don't also have one to give. When it comes to behavioral interaction rather than physical gifts, we switch so immediately into having to give that person something back, that we can't properly appreciate what they have done for/are doing for us. We feel guilty if we are ever receiving without giving.

Here is why I think this is important to talk about and work through. Receiving is as important a part of any relationship as giving, because in receiving intentionally and unconditionally, you are completing the act of giving.

Think about if your significant other compliments you on how beautiful you are. There are a couple of options. You can feel embarrassed and play it down or try to change the subject, in which case the compliment kind of falls flat. Or, you can unashamedly let yourself feel really good that this person who you obviously like very much thinks you are beautiful, let it hit you right where you can feel it. Imagine the joy your partner experiences when they see your eyes light up.

In a very similar way, if someone important to you decides to give you a gift, there is probably a good reason for it. Either they found something that really reminded them of you, and it made them happy and they wanted to share, or they wanted to make you happy by giving you something you would enjoy. There are also a couple of options here. You can feel guilty you didn't get them anything, and try to apologize or explain or find something to give them in return, and essentially completely forget about what they gave you. Alternately, you could simply focus on their act, and the thing they gave you, feel honored you are enough a part of someones life that they think of you in their daily life, and simply accept. Again, I feel like the enjoyment of the person giving is completed by an intentional and unconditional acceptance of the gift.

The same goes for someone doing something on your behalf - let's say just for example, you're applying to get into school somewhere, and they go out of their way to go to the school and make a good recommendation, to highlight why you would do well there, and you end up getting in. I think most peoples' initial reaction upon finding out what they did would be to feel somewhat guilty, and we would try to tell them they didn't need to go to all that trouble, to inconvenience themselves so much. But here's the thing: they intentionally inconvenienced themselves to give you a chance. Think how happy they will be when you celebrate together that you got in, that what they did for you made a difference in your life, and that you accept and appreciate their choice to help you.

Because sex is a way of relating to other people, I think this applies there as well. Sex is another instance of giving and receiving between people, and I think it is important to be able to separate the two, and to at least at times, strictly focus on giving, or strictly focus on receiving. It is important to be able to be in the moment, to be able to focus on intentionally and unconditionally giving or receiving without worrying about what might turn the other person on/off, what kind of scenarios you might want to play out or whatever. Just simply focus on that moment only and give/receive it with pleasure. Imagine the delight of your lover when they see the flush in your cheeks as they kiss just the right spot, or how excited they will be by seeing your obvious, unabashed enjoyment of what they are giving you. Just let go and let them in.

In all of these cases, receiving completes a circle of interaction between people. It serves an equal and complementary role to giving and it not only allows the person receiving to accept pleasure and happiness, but completes the pleasure and happiness of the one giving. Try it out sometime with someone you trust. When they give you something sincerely - a compliment, a gift, a kiss, whatever it is - accept it completely unreservedly, and see what happens.

Neighborhood

It's showtime!
It's nice having a neighborhood theater you can just walk a few blocks down to - and in those few blocks, cover about 5-6 restaurants you could have dinner at before the film.

2013-01-08

Who we are, and what we do.

So many of us try to define who we are based on what we do. I believe in the opposite, that who we are defines what we do. I feel like this is an important distinction to make, because people do a lot of things due to external pressure to try to be something they are not, in hopes that it will change who they are, and people get very afraid of doing certain things, because they are afraid it will change who they are. There is a lot of subtlety here, and I will try to handle it with as much care as I can. Ideas are delicate, and sometimes require gentle handling to make it to their destination intact. Keep in mind that I'm speaking from my own experience, and that the ideas expressed here are the conclusion I've come to from ruminating on my experience. I don't mean to say that I am absolutely right, simply that this is how I currently see things.


I believe that who we are defines what we do, and not the other way around. We spend so much time trying to group each other into categories based on labels, so many of them centered around what we do. Cyclist, cook, photographer, businessman, writer, artist, computer nerd, etc. We are an overly controlling society, making laws that force people to change behavior to fit a certain morality or set of social rules, as if that will really change anything fundamental. I come from a church background that also places huge emphasis on behavior modification. Very few people in my experience as a teenager and adult in the church were concerned with who/how you were, as long as you behaved properly.

There is an issue of intention. People do things for different reasons, and I believe this plays a major part in this issue.

Some people try to change their behavior in order to become something else because there is external pressure to be something else. In this case, to me it seems that all you are doing is changing your clothes. Put that person in a different social situation, with social pressure to be yet something different, and they'd just change clothes to a different style - which means that this behavior change is not changing who they are. They are simply reacting in such a way as to relieve the social pressure on them in the most expedient way. I think we all do this at times, and certainly in our society, there can be major pressure to deal with if you are anything left or right of the sort of 'approved' normal.

Some people want to change their behavior in order to become something else because they feel the internal motivation and desire to do so. In this case, I think more what is going on is that this person is feeling the desire to more fully realize the person that they already are. They are looking for quantitative change, which means exactly that who they are is defining and refining what they do.
One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me...
The issue here is that you cannot really know a person based on what they do. It's much too simplistic to view them that way. Of course, sometimes we have to, simply to be able to communicate at all - we have to settle for a label or a generalization. But in general, the only way to know a person, is to know the person. In order to understand a person, one must spend time with them and get deeper than just doing similar things. I can participate in many of the same activities as another person: let's say cycling, photography, cooking; and also have many of the same character traits: let's say sensitive, opinionated, active sense of justice. This will not mean that we are the same. We could be vastly different people, despite these outward similarities, and this is what I think really belies the idea of our actions changing us on some fundamental level.

So I guess it kind of comes down to this, for me. We are who we are, and over the course of our lives, we can try to stifle and cover up who we are (and there is sometimes immense outside pressure to do just that), or we can nurture and grow it, and more fully develop it. Either way, we are either simply hiding or uncovering the essence that is already there, not changing it.