LIGHT A ROMAN CANDLE AND HOLD IT IN YOUR HAND

So I haven’t updated my blog page in a while. You, Dear Readers (all three of you), will have to forgive me: I have a job which requires me to be on my computer typing most every weekday (a job I love and hope to keep a while), so after a long day of typing for my job, I simply don’t have the energy or gumption or wherewithal or whatever you want to call it to sit down and type even more.

My last few blog posts have been done after work (i.e. after devoting the biggest part of my quite limited brain power to doing the best job I can for the company I work for), and they came out even more haphazard and sloppy than these posts usually do.

I am on vacation from work at the moment, and since I am more or less in the routine of getting up, showering, eating some breakfast, then sitting down at my computer and typing, well, now seems to be the perfect time to write a new blog post.

Especially since something happened last week that I would like to write about.

I’m not one of those people who just flat-out abhors celebrity culture (q.v. this post from last year), but I’m not really all that into it, either.

Nonetheless, every now and again, I suppose I get a little emotionally attached to certain celebrities, sometimes without even realizing it… until they go and do something stupid, like asphyxiating themselves in a hotel bathroom or something.

Yes, you’ve figured it out: this is one of those “this is how Chris Cornell‘s suicide makes me feel” blog posts.

I’ve read a few of those, and the ones I read were really well done.

But this isn’t going to be like most of those. I didn’t know Chris Cornell personally, I don’t have any stories about “The Seattle Scene,” and I no longer harbor any delusions about “grunge” music being anything other than a fad, one where MTV helped a couple hundred mediocre nothing shit bands get famous by riding the coattails of the handful of “grunge” bands that were actually making music worth listening to.

Sorry if that upsets anyone. If I might digress, there’s a reason I don’t have a “music” section on this blog: the act of listening to and enjoying music is an intensely personal and subjective experience. I have often opined (at least to friends and on social media) that there are actually only two (2) genres of music. Those two genres are:

1. Music I Like

and

2. Music I Don’t Like.

And the “I” here is me, and it’s you, and it’s your significant other (if you have one), and it’s everyone you know.

For example, I can’t explain to you why actual literal tears have actually literally streamed down my cheeks at around the 4:30 mark of this song right here. I can’t.

There aren’t any lyrics. It doesn’t remind me of anything in particular. But something about the way the sounds are arranged makes my brain release a flood of neurochemicals that cause actual literal tears to actually literally well up in my actual literal eyes.

It’s happening as I type this.

This particular song may very well do nothing whatsoever for you. You may even be put off by it. This may actually literally be the worst thing you have actually literally ever heard.

That’s OK. I’m sorry if you don’t like it. I wish I could explain to you why I like it (and the album it’s from so much… but I can’t.

I just do. It randomly popped up on YouTube one day while I was listening to The Field while working, and since “Fuck Buttons” sounded interesting, I listened to it. And I found that I liked it bunches and bunches.

If you’re one of those “that ain’t real music, that’s just a buncha comprooter noises” people, well, I used to be one of you. All I can say is that there’s lots of really cool comprooter noises out there that you haven’t heard, and you’re the only person missing out because of your, well… snobbery.

And sure, my characterization of most “grunge” bands being “mediocre nothing shit bands riding the coattails of a handful of good bands” or whatever I said also counts as “snobbery.” But it’s a slightly different sort of snobbery: I listened to those bands, I became obsessed with those bands, I bought CDs by those bands, I even learned how to halfway play a few songs by those bands on my guitar. I’m not just dismissing those bands outright; I am intimately familiar with the music those bands produced… and quite frankly I don’t like much of it any more.

You’ll notice I’m not naming any bands here. There’s a reason for that, and it should be obvious, but just in case it isn’t, here’s the reason:

Just because I, Michael Nathan Walker, don’t like this or that band anymore, that doesn’t mean that anyone else is “wrong” for still liking them. It just means that I don’t like them anymore.

That’s all.

That’s it.

The vast majority of “grunge” bands have shifted from “genre” 1:

“Music I Like”

to “genre” 2:

“Music I Don’t Like”

in my own personal brain. That’s all it means; it means precisely nothing else.

So relax, please.

But let me get back on track. Or, actually, let me rewind 20+ years to the mid-1990s, when “grunge” was in its heyday.

This was before I even owned a CD player, I am almost certain. I am almost certain that I ordered three cassette tapes from either Columbia House or BMG, and that they all three arrived in the mailbox on the same day, in the same package. The three tapes were “Nevermind” by Nirvana, “In Utero,” also by Nirvana…

And, you guessed it: “Superunknown” by the band Chris Cornell was most associated with, the band that made him famous, Soundgarden.

I had heard two songs from “Superunknown” on MTV, “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun.” And I liked both of those songs, “Black Hole Sun” especially.

I will now share a still shot from that video, just so there will be a Chris Cornell-associated pic that appears as a preview for this post. Hopefully, at least… I am not very good at coding, and I have no idea how to set the preview image for these blog posts. It seems like the one closest to the top of whichever post is what appears, even if the pic is from another post. Heck, once I re-shared a post on Facebook, and it showed a friend who commented on the post’s avatar in the preview. So I don’t know if this is going to appear correctly, but here’s hoping:

You member that video? I member…

There’s a link to the “Black Hole Sun” video just above the pic, in case you missed it. Click on the purplish “Black Hole Sun” text up there.

As you are undoubtedly aware, there are tons of videos on YouTube that are just images of album covers with the entire album in one big track. I was actually going to try and link full album videos to the titles of the three “grunge” albums I got on cassette, but I couldn’t find one for “Nevermind.” “Bigger name” acts like Nirvana (or at least the record companies that control all the rights to their stuff) often have people working for them that take videos like that down, and anyways I couldn’t find a full-album “Nevermind” video on YouTube, so I didn’t bother looking for “In Utero” or “Superunknown.” As you may already know, I just linked to the Wikpedia pages for each album.

But while I was looking, I found this video. It’s a video of a guy playing guitar along with every song on “Nevermind.” And if you want to learn how to play every song on “Nevermind,” maybe you should check it out.

If not… nevermind. 🙂

As is usually the case on these posts, I have yet again gone off track a bit. So let me back up:

When I got my first copy of “Superunknown,” well… other than “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun,” well…

The majority of the album fell squarely into Genre #2. I.e. I didn’t like it.

It was too complex. The songs were in weird tunings. There were weird time signatures. Etc. I was learning to play the guitar at the time (I am still learning, BTW)…

And there weren’t any songs on it that I could play. Or even wrap my head around how to go about start playing. Or even appreciate, really.

If that dude that played all of “Nevermind” made a video where he played all of “Superunknown,” even just the rhythm parts, I would be impressed, to say the least.

The point is, I didn’t like “Superunknown” the first time I heard it. I was a weird kid, one who prided himself on liking weird things… and it was too weird for me.

That changed over the years, though. It was an album I kept coming back to. I am pretty sure I also had a CD copy of it at some point. The more I listened to it, the more I was able to hear how those weird time signatures and weird tunings and weird vocals worked together, and maybe as long as a decade after I first heard it, it became one of my favorite albums.

To get back to being a music snob vis-à-vis “grunge” bands I used to like, and for that matter a whole slew of other bands I used to like when I was a teenager, “Superunknown” is still just as kick-ass and amazing now as it was the day it was released. It’s a high-water mark of ’90s guitar rock, all sub-genres included.

The album is simply amazing, from beginning to end. But now we’re getting back into subjective territory. I may as well tell you blue is the best color and then get pissed off when you disagree.

So I am going to stop with that sort of thing, and get back to the real reason I am writing this: to record for all the internet to read how Chris Cornell’s suicide affected me personally.

I found out the morning after it happened, before I started working. A Facebook friend shared a story about it.

It didn’t really bug me at first. I posted several Soundgarden songs on Facebook and Twitter, and I listened to all of “Superunknown” while I was working.

And it messed with me a little then, I guess. Chris Cornell’s lyrics were always sort of bleak, borderline nihilistic, etc., but there always seemed to be a hint of irony to them, sort of like “yeah, the world’s gonna end, bad stuff is going to happen…”

I don’t quite know how to articulate what I mean.

Let’s take “Black Hole Sun.” The song’s refrain goes

“Black hole sun, won’t you come
And wash away the rain
Black hole sun, won’t you come
Won’t you come?”

The chorus is basically expressing the hope that the sun will collapse into a black hole and bring the world to an end. But look at the video, with all the funny faces! It was all in fun, it seemed like. I mean, people joke about that sort of thing a lot. Surely you saw these bumper stickers last year in the run-up to the election:

I mean sure, there are probably a few people sporting bumper stickers or t-shirts or whatever with that slogan on them that actually literally want a giant meteor to actually literally destroy the Earth…

But most people don’t, I would venture.

And maybe Chris Cornell really didn’t want the whole world to end. I actually doubt that. I won’t get into dissecting lyrics or anything, do your own research. Start with “Superunknown.” You owe it to yourself.

I just mean… I mean…

I didn’t expect him to actually be suicidal, is what I mean. And it came as a bit of a shock to me.

And if that weren’t enough… this video eventually turned up on my news feed. It’s Chris Cornell playing the song that made Sinéad O’Connor famous, “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

And he did a hell of a good job at it, I must say.

It was around this point that Chris Cornell’s suicide really “hit home” for me. And it was for a reason that didn’t have anything to do with Chris Cornell or Soundgarden or Audioslave or Sinéad O’Connor or even Prince, who you probably know wrote the song in question.

See, I’ve sung that song before.

I taught ESL for a couple years, several years back, in a small city just outside of Seoul,
South Korea called Gimpo or sometimes “Kimpo,” depending on who you’re talking to. The reason the G and the K are pretty much interchangeable there has to do with how the Korean language is written, and let’s just leave it at that.

(Also, “Kimpo Airport” is mentioned several times on the classic T.V. series M*A*S*H, and I think Hawkeye and the gang actually go there at least a couple times. But I digress.)

At any rate, when I lived in Gimpo, I would often go out with friends to Noraebangs (“norae” means “singing” and bang [pronounced “bahng”] means “room”) to drink beer and sing.

It’s fun, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

And for a decent amount of the time I lived in Gimpo, I was seeing a young Korean woman I was pretty much crazy about.

And I sang “Nothing Compares 2 U” to her at least once or twice. I could pretty much nail the whole song, except for the “all the flowers that you planted, mama” part.

And long story short, she died pretty much the same way Chris Cornell did.

And I don’t want to write about this anymore.

Thanks for reading.

Here’s Norah Jones (someone whose music has helped me sleep many a night in the intervening years, incidentally) singing “Black Hole Sun.” Enjoy.

ETC. ETC. ETC., BLAH BLAH BLAH

So anyways, a while back, a Facebook friend suggested that I take a personality test.

Actually that’s not quite true…

My friend made the observation that I tended to make arguments based on feelings rather than purely on thinking, and that was reflective of my personality type, or something to that effect.

Admittedly — despite assurance from my friend that there was no reason to — I took a bit of umbrage at the observation. In retrospect that reaction may have been proof that my friend’s observation had some merit: this “umbrage” — my own “feelings” regarding my friend’s observation — prompted me to ask my friend where I might take a personality test to determine whether I actually have the personality type — the “Feelings” part, at least — that my friend claimed.

So my friend provided a link (I will find it later and add it; right now I am thumb typing in Gmail and I have a crap signal), and I took a short quiz, asking how I would behave in certain situations, what I think about this or that, etc. etc. etc., blah blah blah.

There are 4 main categories on this personality scale, and each category is split into 2 parts. For clarity’s sake — it may not be clear now, but it will be in a minute — I will list the 4 categories and their 2 parts.

Category 1 is whether a person is Introverted (I) or Extroverted  (E).

Category 2 is whether a person relies on Sensing (S) or iNtuition (N).

Category 3 (the one that made me needlessly take temporary umbrage) is between Thinking (T) and Feeling (F), and

Category 4 is between Judging (J) and Perceiving (P).

(Regrettably, I am not knowledgeable enough on this subject to go into any more detail on these categories. Search for “Briggs Myers Personality Types” for more detailed info.)

At any rate, I took the test. I answered each question as honestly as I could — including ones that asked about “feelings” — and this was my result:

From the four categories, this test determined that my personality type is

INTP:

I — Introverted
N — iNtuition
T — Thinking
P — Perceiving

My friend (who is ENTP) pointed out that my overall score on the “T/F” section was pretty close to 50%. Nonetheless, for no good reason whatsoever, I felt somewhat vindicated that “T” popped up in my quiz results over “F”.

The INTP personality description was pretty on-point, for the most part, and seeing as how the website listed “Albert Einstein” among the most famous INTPs from history, well, I can’t deny that I liked my test results.

Something else kinda stood out: INTP personalities are (I think) the most rare of the 16 types on the scale. Something like 3% of the population has the INTP type, I think I read.

Long story short, a couple weeks ago, after I took daytime cold medicine at night and couldn’t go to sleep, I got up and played around online, looking for entertainment.

I ended up taking the personality quiz again. And bear this in mind:

The first time I took the quiz was in the middle of a work day. My brain was geared up for thinking, acting rationally, doing what’s best for the company I work for, etc. And remember, I got “INTP” with the “T” just beating the “F”.

The second time I took the quiz (a couple months after the first time), my nose was running, I had a fever, I was loopy from cold medicine, and it was about 3 in the morning.

Long story short, this second time, the results were a little different. This time around, I got “INFP”, or

I — Introverted
N — iNtuition
F — Feeling
P — Perceiving

as my result. And again, the “T/F” section was pretty close to 50%. The other categories — like the first time I took the quiz — were all skewed heavily to one side.

So, based on these two tests, the “I” part is a definite yes, the “N” part is a definite yes, and the “P” part is a definite yes. The variable is “T/F”.

The description of the INFP personality type was also pretty on-point, vis-a-vis yours truly. There was only one thing I took issue with:

INFPs, according to the website that had the quiz and whatnot, always see the good in people. They believe that all people are good at heart, and so on and so forth.

I do not — do *not* — believe that. I believe that some people are just basically rotten. I believe — actually, I know — that some people wake up in the morning looking for a way to screw people over. I know that a great many people in the world screw people over every day that goes by and feel absolutely wonderful about it.

There are, in fact, terrible, terrible people in the world, people who absolutely salivate over the suffering of other people. People who thrive on that suffering, people who are even motivated by it.

But at the same time, I recognize that these people *must* have something fundamentally wrong with them. It may be something genetic that makes them be awful, maybe they’ve been hurt before and are now taking it out on others…

And etc. etc. etc. blah blah blah.

It isn’t exactly that I “see the good” in “bad” people…

It’s more like I pity them.

And I guess if you get right down to it, the difference there is merely semantics.

Again, though, something stood out about the INFP personality type as well:

It’s also pretty rare. 4% of the population, I think the website said. And the most famous INFP from history (which how they determined this is even more of a mystery than how they determined Einstein was INTP)?

Shakespeare. As in William.

And no, I ain’t no Shakespeare. But with my liberal arts background, and my abilities with verse and whatnot (I can iambic pentameter with the best of em), well, I am closer to Billy Shakes than I am to Allie E. any day of the week.

Either way, I’m somewhere in between two of the most uncommon personality types, INTP and INFP.

And I have to say… looking back on my nearly 37 years…

That explains a whole hell of a lot.

Etc. etc. etc., blah blah blah.

TL:DR

Something for Richard Dawkins fans to think about:

“Postmodernism” is a term for a branch of literary theory that questions the validity and certitude of every narrative and every assumption and pretty much everything there is, including itself.

One would think — at least I would think — that this sort of skepticism (skepticism of everything) would appeal to Dawkins’ followers, at least the ones who like Dawkins primarily for his writings on atheism and skepticism, but it doesn’t.

Why not?

Well, Dawkins, in his criticism of postmodernism — which postmodern theory pretty much requires that one question it — has not actually criticized the basic idea behind postmodernism. What he has done is criticize and lampoon one aspect of it, the aspect of it that questions modern science, that is to say the aspect of it that questions the way modern scientific concepts and assumptions are expressed through language.

Have I lost you? Let me attempt (yet again) to tell you what I mean:

Language itself — as in the words I am using to attempt to express what I mean here — is a product of whichever society or culture it arose from. The words I am choosing to use right now are not only the product of millennia of various cultures and societies developing and re-developing their medium of communication into modern American English, they are also a product of my own personal experiences with language and language use. There are a great many cultural artifacts metaphorically “buried” in every single word I am typing.

Postmodernism — as it applies to literary theory and criticism — is a way to “unearth” these bits of history and culture, and to examine why they are there and what assumptions were “buried” with them.

This is the basic premise of all literary theory: to examine the words we use and why we use them.

Literary theorists and critics use postmodernism and other theoretical frameworks to figuratively dissect a wide variety of texts, from novels to films to (the narcissist in me hopes) blog posts to — you guessed it: scientific writings.

That is to say, these texts — including scientific texts — are scrutinized regarding not necessarily *what* they say but *how* they say it.

To obliquely reference Marshall McLuhan, the “message” is not being criticized, but the “medium” is.

Richard Dawkins — in what he would apparently have you believe is his infinite wisdom — has gotten this very basic premise of literary theory ass-backwards:

To hear him tell it — and to hear many of his followers tell it — “postmodernists” and other literary theorists are not merely questioning the language used by science and scientists, but the concepts and theories science and scientists promote.

He’s convinced thousands and thousands of people that “postmodernism” is “anti-science,” when in reality that simply isn’t the case at all.

The ultimate irony of this is that he is essentially doing the exact same thing many creationists do when they claim that evolution — a theory no “postmodernist” actually doubts, I would wager — means that our grandparents were apes and that sort of thing.

He is — and has been for years — misrepresenting a very basic concept that he feels (quite needlessly) threatened by in order to discredit it.

Creationists do that, also, just over a different type of theory.

To conclude, if you want to say literary theory is esoteric and of less practical value than science and scientific research, well, you may have a point. I would even — despite my fondness for language and words — agree with you, from a pragmatic perspective.

If, however, you really and truly believe that postmodernism and other branches of literary theory are “anti-science,” all I can tell you is that you have been misled, much in the same way creationists have been misled by misrepresentations of evolutionary theory.

Ironic, ain’t it?

LEAVE THE DRIVING TO US…OR MAYBE JUST DRIVE, MAYBE THAT WOULD BE LESS OF A HASSLE, ACTUALLY

As whoever reads this blog may or may not have noticed, I have not updated it in over a month. There’s a reason for that: I have been mulling over whether to write the post I am about to write. It’s been kicking around in my skull for over a month now.

Why the indecisiveness? Well, it’s sorta complicated.

Actually, it’s not complicated at all, I am just making it complicated by over-thinking it. It’s actually pretty simple:

My writing it entails a slight admission of racism on my part.

And that’s racism I am conscious of. There may be latent racism elsewhere in this post or other posts, and if so, feel free to point it out. Actually, I insist that you point it out, should you notice any. I can’t get rid of it if I don’t know it’s there.

But moving on, this long-delayed post has to do with a trip I took a little over a month ago. I went to visit my cousin and his family in the greater Dallas, TX area, a visit that was equal parts social and work-related: I built some shelves for their garage, and did some other minor handyman-type stuff around their house. And before you compliment me on my generosity or anything, you should know that I was paid for my work, and my transportation to and from Dallas was also paid for. And not only that, I ate for free the whole time I was there, and I also had free beer. So compliment my cousin on his generosity if you compliment anyone – as a matter of fact, he’s also the person who designed this website, and currently it’s piggybacking on his GoDaddy account, and all I have paid him for his services as of yet was a liter of Maker’s Mark.

But I digress.

My transportation there and about halfway back was on a Greyhound bus. Actually, the first leg of the trip was on a CADC bus (Central Arkansas Development Council, I think) that went from El Dorado to Malvern, making a few stops along the way. Greyhound buses don’t actually come to El Dorado any more, so I had to ride a shuttle to the Greyhound terminal in Malvern…which is essentially a CADC office with a covered bench and a Dr. Pepper machine out front.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

As I mentioned, my ticket was paid for by my cousin. I got an email with a confirmation number, and to be able to get on the bus, I had to take the confirmation number to the CADC/Greyhound office in El Dorado and have the ticket printed off.

The website said to arrive at the Greyhound station at least an hour before the bus left, to ensure that I’d have plenty of time to get my ticket and get on the bus. Being that the entire trip was going to take around ten hours, I didn’t want to spend any more time at the terminal in El Dorado than I had to, so I went the day before my trip and had my tickets printed off.

When I went into the office, a young black woman and her mom were talking to the white lady that worked there, planning a trip somewhere. While waiting for my turn to talk to her, I absentmindedly began reading various things posted to the wall, as I tend to do in such situations.

One thing caught my eye: it was a poster with a list of things that were banned on Greyhound buses, including a list of things that were illegal to carry in your checked luggage, the luggage they put in the compartment in the bottom of the bus.

One of the items was “laptop computers.” This struck me as exceedingly odd, especially since Greyhound offers free wifi on their buses.

The mother and daughter finished planning the trip, and they got up and started to leave. The woman behind the desk wasn’t finished printing their tickets, though, and I had to chase them down and tell them to come back in. I am including that detail not to make myself look chivalrous or something, but because I did essentially the same thing they did before my return trip at the Dallas terminal…but I am getting ahead of myself again.

I had been planning on bringing my laptop with me on the trip, in my trusty Targus laptop backpack, which I would use as a carry on, like I normally do in such situations. I asked the woman behind the desk about the backpack thing, and she said not to pay any attention to that poster, I could carry whatever I wanted, and a laptop was fine to carry on the bus, and so on. Which I thought was kinda weird; I mean why hang the poster on the wall if it’s not actually a valid list, but I didn’t say that out loud.

But the lady said something else about laptops, and this is where the trouble started regarding me and my slight slip into racism: she said something like “I think they were worried about bombs, is why they put laptops on that list.”

Which, well, if you know me personally, you know that I have a tendency toward paranoia. And long story short, I didn’t just forget what that lady said about bombs, the idea of the bus I was on exploding during the trip started bouncing around my skull, much like this post has been doing.

Anyways, the next day, I got to the terminal in El Dorado about 20 minutes before departure time. And even though there was a scale there in the office, I was not required to weigh my bags. I had already weighed them here at home, and they were well under the weight limit, but anyways I guess that’s another digression.

The shuttle to Malvern – incidentally Malvern is pretty much in the opposite direction from Dallas, with respect to El Dorado – was driven by an older white man wearing a cap that indicated he was a veteran of some sort. I don’t remember from when, but I am guessing it was from the Vietnam War era, based on his approximate age. Including him and me, there were only five people on this bus. There were two black women – one probably in her mid twenties, the other maybe in her thirties…the older one was a truck driver I think, going to meet up with a truck she would then drive – and one young white woman who was maybe around 19 or 20. Her boyfriend or perhaps husband was at the El Dorado terminal, and he made an impression on me because of the way he was protectively kissing her goodbye, as if to let me and every other male person there know that she was his girl, and nobody better get any ideas to the contrary. I have to say I found the whole performance both cute and somewhat gross…there seemed to be a bit of “I own this woman” about it, but anyways that’s none of my business.

It’s worth noting that this detail of the trip stood out to me, and I have planned to include it the entire time this post has been bouncing around my skull, but I only just now remembered that the older black woman’s husband (or maybe boyfriend) was also there in El Dorado to see her off, and he was also hugging her and telling her he hoped she had a safe trip, and so on, but his demeanor seemed to be more of a “I am sincerely going to miss you” sort of vibe happening, as opposed to whatever I may or may not have accurately detected from the younger white kid.

I am including basic racial descriptions of people in this post for a couple of reasons, for the record. One, I am not a racist, and I believe in treating everyone equally and fairly no matter their skin color, but at the same time, I do not consider myself to be “color blind” when it comes to skin color. As much as I would like to live in a world where skin color makes no difference, well, the world doesn’t actually work like that. A person’s skin color does, all too often, make a difference in the experiences they have in their lives. I don’t like that fact, and I want to do everything I can to change that fact, but pretending that everyone has the same life experiences no matter their skin color is not going to help the situation. But I guess I am digressing. There are many articles online discussing this issue, and I encourage you to read them.

Two, due to the fact that I had an arguably racist thought a little later in the trip, well, I feel that it’s necessary to list the skin color of various people I encountered on the trip.

Moving on, the CADC bus stopped at a couple other CADC offices on the way, but we didn’t pick anybody else up. We stopped at one gas station, and the driver advised us to go get something to eat while we were there, because there wasn’t going to be anywhere to eat near the terminal in Malvern. I took advantage of this and bought an order of fried chicken livers and a decent sized catfish fillet (YUMMY!) along with another Dr. Pepper. I had brought one to the El Dorado terminal to take on the trip, and had drank most of it by the time we got to this gas station.

There was no wifi on this bus, and I thought to myself that if the whole trip wasn’t going to be any more crowded than this, these ten hours wouldn’t be all that bad. I was in for a rude awakening a few hours later, but again, I am getting ahead of myself.

When we got to Malvern, the driver let us all off and wished us a safe trip. The older black woman almost immediately walked off somewhere, I am not sure where, and the two younger women sat in the covered bench area. I opted to stand off to the side, both because I didn’t want to be all up in their business (the covered bench thing had two benches facing each other, and they weren’t very far apart) and also because the white girl was smoking in there, essentially “hot-boxing” the thing, and if you aren’t familiar with that term, just think about it for a second.

I got to looking at my ticket, and I hadn’t really paid attention to this aspect of the itinerary, but the bus to Dallas wasn’t going to arrive in Malvern for a couple hours. It was around one pm, maybe a little after, and my bus wasn’t supposed to get there until 3:40. I showed my ticket to the two young women in the hot box (I waited for the smoke to clear) and asked them “Am I looking at this right?” And they looked at their tickets, and their bus was due in like half an hour or so…they were going to Little Rock. When the older black lady got back from wherever she went, she mentioned that she was going to Little Rock and on to Manchester, I guess the Manchester in Tennessee. At any rate, my three traveling companions from El Dorado to Malvern and I parted company, and I remained at the bus stop for a couple more hours.

There was one other passenger getting on the bus to Dallas, a woman probably in her fifties who was Hispanic or maybe Native American. She and I talked a little, but not much. Her destination was Tuscon, Arizona, I think she said, and the bus from Dallas to Tuscon left at like three in the morning, I think she said. She smoked what looked like a Black and Mild cigar, and I went through a brief phase in college where I smoked those things, and without trying to sound too snobby or whatever, I am really glad I quit them. Apparently they are not good for teeth, and that’s all I will say about that.
The bus was an hour late. It had been held up because of a wreck on I-30, the driver said. The driver of this bus was a black lady. And anyways, when I got on the bus, I was quite disappointed to find out that this bus – the bus I would be on for about six hours – was quite crowded. There weren’t any empty seats – the lady that smoked the Black and Milds got the last one – and I began scanning the bus for the optimal seating partner.

Everyone who wasn’t already sitting next to somebody had their carry-on in the seat next to them, and they avoided eye contact, so as to discourage anyone from sitting next to them. Which, yeah, I would probably have been doing the same thing.

I didn’t want to sit next to any of the women on the bus, because I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. I am not an especially threatening-looking person or anything, but at the same time, I realize that a woman might not want to sit next to a strange man on a Greyhound bus for six hours. So I began looking for the optimal male seatmate: the physically smallest person I could find. This was simply to maximize my own personal space in the seat, you understand.

I settled on a skinny black dude – he kinda reminded me of Dave Chappelle, I guess – who was probably in his late twenties or early thirties, asked if he minded if I sat there, and he moved his bag from the seat and I sat down. He “manspreaded” a little into my territory, but I “manspreaded” out into the aisle to compensate, and all in all the seating arrangement wasn’t too uncomfortable.

It was at this point that I had my involuntary episode of mild racism. But it wasn’t against my seatmate, it was against the person sitting in front of us.

And let me remind the reader about the question I had asked the day before regarding laptops, and what the answer was: “Take anything you want,” pretty much was the answer, and “laptops are on that list because they’re worried about bombs” or something.

The guy sitting in front of me had light brown skin, curly black hair, and he had a goatee that was an inch or two long. I don’t actually know his ethnicity, but it could have been Egyptian, or maybe Cuban, or possibly part Hispanic and part African-American. I honestly don’t know.

His appearance regarding his ethnicity wasn’t exactly what set off the involuntary racism, though: he looked like he was pissed off. Like really, really, super-duper pissed off about something. And combined with his appearance, and combined with the mention of “bombs” the day before, especially since nobody even gave my bag a second look…well, I involuntarily went on a bit of a paranoid fantasy trip for about ten minutes where the bus pulled into the terminal in Dallas and exploded because this pissed-off looking fellow had planted a bomb in his suitcase.

As you have probably intuited, there was no bomb, outside of my paranoid and arguably racist little daydream. And I had only been on the bus for maybe ten minutes when I figured out why the fellow was pissed off:

I was sitting in the aisle seat, and he was sitting in the seat in front of me, next to the window. I could see the side of his face well enough to see his pissed-off expression, and anyways his phone went off – at least I think it went off, he might have initiated the call – and he began a video chat with who I assume was his girlfriend or wife. The face of a woman appeared on his cracked smartphone screen, and she was asking him where something was. She didn’t seem to want to take “I don’t know!” as a viable answer from him, and their conversation ended with him angrily tapping the “end call” button on his phone.

And I realized how much of a bigot I had been being, with my paranoid fantasy about him being an Islamist suicide bomber. He was pissed off over a squabble with his significant other, not at Western civilization. And right then and there is when I began mentally writing this post, and simultaneously, right then and there is where I began debating with myself over whether I wanted to write this down and publish it. It doesn’t exactly make me look good, I mean.

That morning, at the CADC office in El Dorado, I had been having a discussion on Facebook with another white dude over the concept of “white privilege.” He said it didn’t exist, I said it did…and my original angle for this post was that my racist reaction – which went on entirely in my head – to this pissed-off, vaguely Middle Eastern-looking fellow sitting in front of me on the Greyhound bus was, in my mind, proof that “white privilege” does in fact exist.

Nobody is ever going to accuse me, a white dude, of being a terrorist. Nobody is ever going to look at me while I am pissed off and wonder if I am pissed off at America. That’s never going to happen, at least not here in the USA.

I felt stupid, sitting there. I felt like a hypocrite. I call people out on racism all the time, and there I was, thinking a racist thought. I hesitate to say “Islamophobia” here, because for one, Islamophobia is to my view just one of many types of racism, and for two, I didn’t even notice the lady wearing a Hijab near the front of the bus until after I saw the angry “I don’t know where it is!” video chat conversation and realized how much of an idiot I had been.

I’m not perfect. I hope this isn’t reason enough for anybody to want to cut ties with me, but nonetheless there you have it.

Anyways, most of the rest of the trip was uneventful. Boring, yes, slightly uncomfortable, yes, and the wifi was weaker than my normal phone data connection. I got booted from a live chess game, and those games require practically nothing, from a data use perspective. I read a little, and eventually decided to take a nap.

On over in Texas somewhere, I don’t remember exactly where, two more passengers got on: a black dude who was probably in his fifties, and a white dude in his twenties who looked like Mac from “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” with long hair who reminded me of Richard Linklater’s character from his first movie, “Slacker”: he was very talkative and enthusiastic, and he spoke with the unique east Texas drawl/surfer dude mixture that Linklater spoke in in that film. Without even asking, I and the rest of the people in the back half of the bus learned that he could play like fourteen musical instruments, that he had a bachelor’s degree in music but couldn’t find a music-related teaching job, and that he had just finished truck driving school and was on his way to his first trucking job. I can’t honestly say he was “annoying” or anything, but he did talk a whole lot.

The bus ride continued on uneventfully until we got to Greenville, which is just outside Dallas.

This is where things got weird.

The bus pulled into the stop, and the driver informed us that a sheriff would be boarding the bus. He was going to check everyone’s bags.
Several people asked if they could get off the bus to go smoke – we had skipped a couple stops because the bus was behind schedule – and the driver said that would be fine. So several people got up and started heading to the front of the bus, but before anybody got off, a sheriff – a black man in his forties or fifties, plain-clothed, wearing a baseball cap and a badge on a chain around his neck, got on the bus and somewhat angrily told everyone to sit back down, and that he was going to check our bags for “drugs, money…and bombs.”

Almost immediately, the fellow sitting in front of me was removed from the bus. As soon as he was taken off of the bus, a white woman – mid to late 20s, dressed slightly “hippie-ish” – got on the bus. She sat in the only open seat, the one vacated by the fellow sitting in front of me. Before she sat down – and this might be the weirdest part of the whole thing – she put a plain white cardboard box into the overhead compartment. The box was about the size of a small cake or maybe a pie, and it had clear plastic tape going around the middle of it, like around it in both directions, forming a cross on the top of the box. I almost offered to give her a hand – that is to say, I almost touched this box, which would leave a fingerprint on it – but something told me not to.

The sheriff went to the back of the bus and began looking through bags. He instructed us to have our bags open and ready by the time he got to us. I put my trusty Targus laptop backpack in my lap and opened all the zippers, staring straight ahead and remaining silent.

For the record, if you ever find yourself in a situation involving the police, do not – repeat, do NOT – take it upon yourself to smart off at them. This goes for everyone. It is not going to help the situation, and it could potentially get you into trouble. Or worse. Don’t talk back, and do what they ask you…as long as what they’re asking you to do is legal, of course.

Actually, I am not 100% sure that a sheriff boarding a Greyhound and demanding to look through everyone’s bags is actually legal, now that I think about it. That may or may not fall under “unreasonable search and seizure,” but I may be all wet on that. At any rate, if Greyhound actually bothered to look at anyone’s luggage the way airlines do, this sort of inconvenience would be totally unnecessary…but again, I digress.

The black man who had gotten on the bus a few stops back with Linklater, Jr. was approximately the same age as the black sheriff. And the sheriff accused him of being drunk, and demanded that he get off the bus, also.

The dude didn’t look the least bit drunk to me, when he got on the bus, for the record, and he didn’t act drunk at all when he got off the bus or back on it a few minutes later. At any rate, I had been thinking to myself just prior to this stop that this whole trip would actually kinda be fun if I had been hammered…but I suppose it’s fortunate I know you can get into trouble for that now, ha ha.

The sheriff also made a black woman – maybe 20, 21 – get off the bus. I think she looked at him funny, or maybe said something he didn’t like. As I said, I faced the front of the bus for most of this episode, keeping quiet.

There was a white couple – early 30s, I am guessing – in the seat next to mine. They had tattoos, and a slight “punk rock” aesthetic about them, and the sheriff looked through their bags quite a bit. He made the woman pat her belly, like to hold her shirt up against her skin, to prove she didn’t have anything taped to her.
Then he searched my seatmate’s bag. He told me to get up while he did, so he could search my seatmate’s bag more easily. I got up and put my bag in the seat in front of me.

I don’t remember for sure, but the white woman may have gotten back off the bus temporarily. Maybe not, I can’t remember. Her appearance at the scene seemed, I dunno, weird somehow.

Anyways, my seatmate seemed to share my philosophy regarding the police: stay quiet, do what they ask, and don’t do anything to piss them off. He didn’t do anything, he didn’t smart off, he did exactly what the sheriff asked him to – moving things out of the way in his bag, so the sheriff could see the bottom – and the sheriff gave him a hard time anyway. He accused him of smarting off, of not cooperating, that sort of thing. My seatmate didn’t smart off, and he did exactly what the sheriff asked, and when the sheriff didn’t find anything in his bag, he asked to see mine.

I placed it on my seat, still standing. The zippers were all unzipped.

“Well, open it,” the sheriff said.

I opened the bag about halfway, revealing the two or three books I had brought, and then my laptop. “Books, laptop computer,” I said, and he told me to sit down and he moved on to the next person.

I wasn’t carrying anything illegal in my bag. The thing is, though, I very easily could have been. I am not writing this to encourage anyone to try and smuggle contraband on Greyhound buses – you are an idiot if you think that’s a good idea – I am writing to report that my bag was not as thoroughly searched as my seatmate’s, or as thoroughly searched as many other people’s on the bus.

To be fair, my bag was not as cluttered as my seatmate’s, or as cluttered as the white couple next to me who got searched much more thoroughly. The sheriff made a point to see the bottom of their bags, but not mine.

After I sat back down, the guy in the seat next to me brought out a bag of chips and declared that he was exited, because now he had dinner and a show. The sheriff said something back to him, but he didn’t make him get off the bus or anything.

Eventually all the bags were searched, and everybody who was taken off the bus – the vaguely Middle Eastern-looking fellow, the middle aged black man, and the young black woman – got back on. The sheriffs didn’t find anything, despite taking the luggage out from under the bus and letting drug dogs sniff it.

The fellow in front of me told everyone about his experience off the bus. He said that the dogs went after his bag, but when the sheriffs opened it, they didn’t find anything. A white sheriff asked him, “Do you smoke weed?” and the guy said “Yeah.” The sheriff said that was probably why the dogs went after his bag. He went on to say that next time he went on a trip he was flying, that the only reason he went on Greyhound was because it was cheap, and he didn’t mind the long trip but the thing with the sheriffs was bullshit. I can’t say I blame him for feeling that way.

Linklater, Jr. got off the bus a few stops later, and as we were about to pull into the Greyhound terminal in downtown Dallas, the driver came over the intercom and said that she was sorry the trip got delayed, but it couldn’t have been helped, and we should all be thankful that the accident that held the bus up originally didn’t involve the bus itself, and thanks for traveling with Greyhound.

Several people, including the fellow in front of me, said, “F**K GREYHOUND!”

Which I have to admit was kinda funny.

Here’s what’s weird about the white woman who put the box in the overhead compartment: she left it in the overhead compartment when she got off the bus. And this was the end of the line for this particular bus; i.e. nobody was getting back on, people going past Dallas had to get on different buses.

I started to mention it to her, but I decided not to.

I don’t know if that was the right decision; I was ready to be at my cousin’s house and I didn’t want to be involved in anything else Greyhound-related that night. I don’t know what was in that box, and for all I knew, she left it on the bus on purpose.

Wouldn’t that be something?

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE JURY: I’M JUST A CAVEMAN

Just recently, there was a bit of a hullabaloo on social media regarding a paper written about glaciers. The paper was written by a history professor, I think. He wrote about different “glaciologies” or something like that, comparing the way Native people who live near glaciers see glaciers with how scientists see glaciers. The rationale was something to do with how modern science often overshadows all other perspectives, or something like that. It wasn’t a scientific paper, it was a paper about narratives and “different types of knowledge” and stuff like that.

This paper caused some controversy. The funding of the paper came from some entity having to do with climate change, I think, and articles were written with “your tax dollars at work” and whatnot as the theme. It was also believed that the paper was attempting to say that Native myths regarding glaciers were equally as valid (from a scientific perspective) as modern scientific knowledge about glaciers. Many believed the paper was an attack on science, even, like an attempt to de-legitimize science.

This, of course, was not actually the case. Writing about “different types of knowledge” does not imply that all “types of knowledge” are equal.

Think about it this way: one person has a completely irrational but sincerely held belief. Let’s say that somebody sincerely believes that the moon is made out of green cheese. It usually looks white because of a force field around Earth that is generated by the Great Pyramids of Giza, this person believes.

Another person knows this is all BS. From a scientific perspective, of course this person is correct: as everyone who is sane knows, the moon is actually a giant telephoto lens attached to an invisible camera that our alien ancestors from the Pleiades use to keep tabs on us.

Of course that was a joke. But regardless as to whether something a person sincerely believes is true is *actually* true, well, try convincing them it isn’t true. Try convincing someone who sincerely believes that the moon is made of green cheese, etc. that it isn’t.

For that matter, try convincing anyone who believes the glacier paper was an assault on science that it actually wasn’t. It’s not gonna be easy.

People believe what they believe and “know” what they “know” because of the culture they’re from. If a culture is modern and scientific, like ours mostly is, something like a glacier is going to look a lot different than it would from the perspective of a culture that is neither modern nor scientific.

Since we’re talking about glaciers, let’s imagine that a fully frozen and perfectly preserved adult Neanderthal man is found in a glacier somewhere. Let’s also assume that he is brought back to life by scientists, and that he has to adapt to modern life and integrate his prehistoric understanding of the world with everything in the modern world.

Assuming he is able to adapt at all, picture this guy trying to understand how a smartphone works.

Hell, I use a smartphone every day that goes by and I don’t actually have any idea how a smartphone works, from a scientific perspective. I have a vague, weakly articulated approximation of an idea, based on things I have read, but honestly I don’t have a clue.

I know that smartphones work, and I know how to use them. But I don’t know how they work. My approximation of an idea about how they work (which could potentially be embarrassing if I attempted to write it down) is a result of me being a product of a modern country like the USA. I learned about science in school, and I know modern devices like smartphones are a product of many years of scientific research.

The unfrozen Neanderthal guy doesn’t even know what science is. He could potentially be taught to read and write and use something like a smartphone, but how is he going to understand what is actually going on when he uses it?

If he’s like most people — including me — he isn’t going to think about that very much. But assuming he does, and assuming someone asks him how he thinks it works, how would he answer that question? Me, I would say “uhhh, errr, SCIENCE,” but what would he say?

To be sure, I am not comparing an unfrozen Neanderthal to Native people who live near glaciers. Neither am I comparing people who think the “glaciology” paper was an attack on science to unfrozen Neanderthals, hardy har. I am just trying to illustrate that there actually are “different types of knowledge”.

With regard to that paper, I would (and did) argue that Native myths regarding glaciers were worth studying, if only for their value as a part of cultural history.

So why I am only writing this now? Why didn’t I write this while the whole hullabaloo was going on about it? I will tell you:

I just watched part of a documentary about Easter Island. You know, that island with all the huge angular big-headed statues called moai. These statues are all carved from rock from one area on the island, but they are placed all over the island. Many people have questioned how the people who carved the moai moved them, because being that they’re huge stone statues, well, they’re pretty heavy.

Thor Heyerdahl (the Kon-Tiki guy) had a possible explanation. Heyerdahl theorized that the moai were moved by rolling them on logs. I think he may even have demonstrated that it could be done like that, but I am not sure.

Heyerdahl used his knowledge of science to “solve” the mystery of how the moai were moved all over Easter Island. And it’s definitely true that they could have been moved that way.

There’s another possibility, though: according to oral traditions of the Rapa Nui (the culture that produced the moai), the moai “walked” to their current positions.

I think I remember hearing or reading that years ago, in something else I saw or read about Easter Island. The way that’s usually presented is “these primitive people don’t know about science! They think stone statues walked! What a bunch of dumbasses!”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course. But this is the sort of thing that I think the author of the “glaciology” paper was talking about: Heyerdahl ignored local legends about how the moai got to their current positions and came up with his own ideas about how they got there. As Heyerdahl was a representative of mainstream Western science, most Westerners believe his theory about log rollers.

And Heyerdahl may be correct. I am not saying he isn’t. The fact is nobody knows for sure. Nobody who actually moved them is still alive, and they were moved centuries before video cameras were invented, so there’s no footage of them being moved when they were originally moved.

And the only historical record from the Rapa Nui is their oral tradition, which claims the moai “walked.”

Do I think the moai actually “walked” to their positions on Easter Island, like I will get up and walk outside when I finish writing this, so as to get a better phone signal while I am uploading this to my blog? Of course not. But I do think Heyerdahl may have done well to listen more closely to Rapa Nui oral traditions:

According to the fellow on the documentary, who I think was Rapa Nui, when Rapa Nui storytellers would say the moai “walked,” what they meant was that the moai were “walked” to their current position much in the same way somebody might “walk” a refrigerator to a different spot in the kitchen: by pushing or pulling one side forward a few inches, then pushing or pulling the other side forward a few inches, and so on. According to the fellow on the documentary, abrasions at the bases of many moai support this theory.

Was Heyerdahl’s log roller method more practical? Perhaps. I really don’t know; I imagine moving one of those things by any method (including with modern machinery) would be quite an undertaking. I wouldn’t want to try it.

Practicality isn’t really the point, though. As mentioned, nobody really knows for sure how the moai were moved.

One theory virtually ignores Rapa Nui oral traditions. The other doesn’t.

Which theory do you believe?

Getting back to the “glaciology” paper, whether any Native traditions regarding glaciers will be useful from a scientific perspective remains to be seen. The paper may indeed be completely useless, from a scientific perspective.

Even if it is, well, we’ll know. And we’ll have documentation of it.

Thank you for reading.

FROM THE WEST TO THE EAST AND BACK AGAIN — OR — OMURICE: A LOVE STORY

So, keeping somewhat with the “Korea” theme that has been running through my last two blog posts (this one and this one),  I will go ahead and make it a trilogy before moving on to something else. For today’s blog post, I will write about one of my all-time favorite foods, one I ate for the first time in Korea and have recently begun attempting to make at home, omurice. I will relate not only my personal recipe for omurice but also a brief history of the dish and an anecdote or two about the Korean restaurant where I first ate it. In keeping with the style and presentation of this blog, I will accomplish these things in the meandering, idiosyncratic fashion that the four or five people who actually read my blog have come to know and begrudgingly tolerate. For a more concise version of the history of this simple (and delicious, and nutritious) dish, refer to the Wikipedia article linked to above, and for undoubtedly better recipes, well, search the internet.

Anyone who has even glanced at the Wikipedia article now knows that omurice didn’t originate in Korea. It originated in Japan during the Meiji Restoration, a period spanning from 1868 to 1912 that restored imperial rule in Japan and contributed to its emergence as a modern nation at the beginning of the twentieth century.

By the way, the information I am giving about the history of Japan is taken directly from the Wikipedia pages I am providing links to. A week or two ago, after deciding to attempt to make my own omurice at home, I began to wonder if omurice had originated in Korea or Japan. I knew it was widely available in both countries, but I wasn’t sure where it appeared first. I consulted Wikipedia, and I found myself going down a rabbit hole of interesting articles, which I am now referencing and linking to here. So anyways, I will now continue:

There were many motivations behind the Meiji Restoration — and I invite the reader to investigate them if she or he wishes — but the one I feel is most relevant to the subject of this blog post is that Japan had begun to make contact with the western world, specifically the arrival of Commodore Matthew C. Perry in the 1850s. Perry went to Japan at the request of American President Millard Fillmore to force Japan into trading with the USA. According to Wikipedia, this expedition was authorized to use “gunboat diplomacy” if necessary, however, according at least to my very limited reading on the subject, the process was mostly peaceful.

At any rate, Japanese rulers recognized that Perry’s ships were superior to their own, and that in order to protect Japan from naval defeat (should the situation arise) and possible colonization, Japan had to modernize its navy as well as industry, which was a major motivation for the Meiji Restoration that officially began about a decade and a half after Perry came and forced open trade routes.

The Meiji Restoration was not limited to industrial and military advances, however. Japanese officials noted that not only were western ships bigger than Japanese ships, but westerners themselves were generally physically larger than Japanese people. It was believed at the time that this difference in size could be attributed to differences in diet. Westerners ate more meat (the consumption of red meat was banned in Japan, prior to the Meiji Restoration), and Japanese officials thought that shifting Japanese people to a more carnivorous diet might help them to catch up with the westerners in terms of size.

I have no idea if this actually worked. I encourage anyone who wants to research it further to do so and post their findings in the comments below. What I do know is that this plan was followed through with. Many western-influenced dishes began being made in Japan during the Meiji Restoration. These dishes were called “洋食” (pronounced “yōshoku”), which simply means “western food” or “western cuisine.”

As the reader may have intuited, omurice was originally considered to be yōshoku. It originated around the turn of the century in the Ginza district of Tokyo.

While it may or may not be clear whether eating western-inspired food ever made Japanese people physically larger, another aspect of the Meiji Restoration was most certainly successful: Japan’s navy and military made significant advances during the period, which made them (at least temporarily) militarily superior in their part of the world. This military superiority was possibly a motivating factor in Japan’s annexation of the Korean Peninsula in 1910 and their subsequent colonization of Korea, which lasted until Japan’s defeat at the end of World War II.

Many terrible things occurred during this colonization. The reader can use the provided link as a jumping off point for research if she or he wishes. The Japanese occupation of Korea was quite brutal, and resentments from this period still resonate among some Korean people.

For the purposes of this blog post, however, I will concentrate on a much more, well, “palatable” result of the occupation: the dishes that Japanese occupiers brought with them.

It should be obvious that omurice is one of these dishes. Gimbap is another.

The first time — or at least one of the first times — I ever ate omurice was at a gimbap restaurant near where I worked in Gimpo. This restaurant was part of a chain called “김밥나라” (“Gimbap Nara,” literally “Gimbap Country”), which was (I am guessing) the second-largest chain of gimbap restaurants behind “김밥천국” (“Gimbap Cheongook,” literally “Gimbap Heaven”). That was at least true in Gimpo when I lived there: there were more of the one restaurant than the other in my area.

Something else that was true regarding gimbap restaurants, at least when I lived in Korea: food quality varied quite a bit from restaurant to restaurant. All of the ones in Gimpo were pretty good, but some of them I went to in Seoul were, well, not as good. This was due to owners who used cheap ingredients, I imagine.

Anyways, the 김밥나라 I first ate omurice at (or I at least ate it there one of the first times, and then many times after) was also the first place I tried gimbap. I was brought there by a Canadian fellow who I was replacing at my school. This fellow seemed to be on friendly terms with the owner of the place (a Korean man, probably in his late 30s or early 40s at the time), and when I was first taken there, the Canadian fellow talked to him in Korean, and the owner smiled really big and pulled out a chair for him and nodded and bowed a little and everything, and anyways I enjoyed the gimbap and the friendly atmosphere and whatnot, so I resolved to eat there again after the Canadian fellow I was replacing went back to Canada or to wherever he was going.

Unfortunately, it took me a week or two to find the place again. I wandered around Gimpo looking for it, but I couldn’t find it. Most gimbap places look pretty much the same from the outside, you see, and long story short pretty much every one I passed by I went in, looking for the interior and the owner I would recognize.

Eventually I found it, and I went back. I didn’t know how to speak any Korean at the time, and maybe that’s why I never got the whole chair-pulling-out-welcome-to-my-restaurant-o-white-man-from-afar treatment the Canadian fellow got. Which didn’t honestly bother me much, honestly, but whatever.

I would go to this restaurant (and others similar to it) and try something random from the menu. Between doing this and staring blankly at screens on subway trains that showed the name of each station in both Hangeul and English, I was able to figure out how to phonetically read the Korean language. As an aside, it’s actually much easier to read than English is, no matter what you may think.

But I digress. While going to various gimbap places and ordering random dishes from the menu (pretty much all of which I came to love), I discovered two things: one, omurice is awesome, and two, the restaurant I went to with the Canadian fellow that one time charged about 500 won (roughly 50 cents) less for many menu items than other nearby restaurants did. Plus, in my opinion, the food tasted better, or at least better than the other gimbap place about a block away. So I started going there pretty regularly for lunch.

For one more quick digression, I think omurice cost either 2500 or 3000 won at this restaurant. Maybe 3500. And it came with two or three banchan, or side dishes (kimchi was always included, plus a couple others), which would be replenished free of charge if you ran out of them. Bearing in mind that 3000 won is roughly three dollars, it was possible for 200-something pound me to get really full at this place for five bucks.

So I started going there pretty regularly. And I never got the whole production the one Canadian guy got that one time, I just got the normal “오서오세요” (roughly “ohsohsayyo”; it means “welcome”) that everybody else got when they came in. Which was actually preferable to me: I didn’t want to be treated differently or anything because I wasn’t Korean.

One of the first things I learned to say in Korean was “감사합니다,” (pronounced, by syllable, “kam sa hab ni da” but usually sort of blended together in actual pronunciation to something like “kamsamnida”; it means “thank you”), and when my server would bring my food out, I would generally say my best approximation of “감사합니다” in response. It made sense for me to do so, from my point of view, because back here in the States, I would generally say “thank you” to the server. I was raised saying “please” and “thank you” and all that sort of stuff, and anyways I figured it’d be appropriate for me to continue that practice in Korea to the best of my ability.

Something I didn’t notice (at first) was that the Korean people who were in the restaurant when I was didn’t generally say “감사합니다” when the server brought their food to them. And one day, as I was sitting in the restaurant, at the seat next to the water cooler I preferred (many Korean foods are really spicy, do the math), as the owner of the place sat behind me and to my left, rolling gimbap, one of the servers brought him a cup of coffee.

When she handed it to him, he said “감사합니다!” in an animated fashion and bowed to her. She covered her mouth and giggled.

I hadn’t eaten one bite of kimchi yet, and I could feel my face turning red. Here I was, trying to bring my Southern version of “good manners” to Korea with me, in a show of fellowship and camaraderie and all that good stuff, and they were having a laugh over it!

So, when my food was brought out to me, what did I do? Did I sit silently, shamed at my well-intentioned but apparently hilarious series of faux pas? Nope. You know what I did?

When the server placed my food in front of me, I said “감사합니다” and ate it. And I came back a day or two later and did the same thing, and I came back many many times after that and did the same thing. The food was good, the food was cheap, and if they got a laugh out of me saying “thank you” then I am glad I brightened their day a little.

(Or whatever, I mainly kept coming back because their food was really good. And cheap.)

It may or may not be weird that I actually preferred being the butt of a harmless joke than being treated like I was a visiting dignitary or something. Nonetheless there you have it.

Anyways, on with the show:

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I have recently begun attempting to make omurice at home. Here is a picture of my most presentable omurice to date:

20160324_133051

 

…which, as you can see, is sorta busted on one side. I haven’t figured out how to flip the thing without tearing it just yet.

But let me back up and tell you first how I prepared the fried rice that’s in it. And bear in mind that I am no chef, or even a short-order cook, and my recipe was taken off of the internet and modified to suit both the ingredients available to me and my ineptitude in the kitchen.

First, I cook some plain white rice in my rice cooker. I use Imperial Dragon Jasmine Rice. I don’t add anything to it at this point but the appropriate amount of water. I am not sure exactly how much uncooked rice this is, but my rice cooker came with a measuring cup, and I used two cupfuls. I think they are about a cup apiece, but I am not sure. What can I say, I meant to check before I came to the library today to write this, but I forgot to.

After the rice is done, I usually have a little of it, maybe a small bowl or so, then I let the rest cool. After the rice is cooled, I’ll put it in the fridge overnight. The recipe I found for “fried rice” a few years ago recommended doing this; however this last time I didn’t put the rice in the fridge and it worked just fine.

What I do first is put a little canola oil in a pan and stir-fry whichever vegetables I am using. I have used leeks, green onions, purple onions, white onions, usually whichever type of onion or onion-y vegetable I had on hand. I didn’t use them all at once, of course. Many Chinese restaurants (buffets, especially) will put peas and carrots into their fried rice…I don’t really care for peas and carrots in that situation, but do whatever suits you. I mean, if you want “authentic” fried rice, go to a restaurant or something.

The  vegetables I used this time were, admittedly, a bit odd: I used about half of a zucchini, cut into strips, and three or four “celery hearts” from the middle of the stalk, ones that were a bit limp and on the verge of being thrown out. They happened to be in the fridge, and they weren’t brown or anything, so I chopped them up and stir-fried them with the zucchini, on medium heat with a little soy sauce.

After the zucchini started to get soft, I chopped them into smaller pieces with my spatula. And when I decided the veggies were cooked well enough, I added the cooked white rice, breaking up chunks of it with my fingers as I did so. I stirred it up and added more soy sauce, just enough to give the rice a brownish sort of color and a little flavor.

In my experience, it’s really easy to add too much soy sauce at this point, which will result in an inedible salty mess. I usually err on the side of caution here.

After that’s all been well-mixed and it’s mostly heated up, I push it all to one side of the pan. I drain a can of chicken breast and put it in the pan, smashing the chunks into smaller bits, and adding a tablespoon or so of teryaki sauce to it. I get the chicken (which is pre-cooked) warmed up before mixing it into the rice. The end result is what you see here, in the white container:

20160323_174933

Note the zucchini on the plate behind it. There’s bits of celery there, also. I sliced up the whole zucchini and began stir frying it before realizing that the pan wasn’t big enough for the rice.

(I also cleaned that electric skillet out before I took this pic, ha ha.)

As a sidenote, I have also used pan-fried chicken breast, stir-fried shrimp, and I really wouldn’t recommend it but also those canned “tiny shrimp” when making fried rice at home. The canned chicken is just simpler, and after reading the Wikipedia article saying omurice is typically filled with chicken flavored rice, I decided to use that this time. I am strongly considering shrimp for my next batch.

Anyways, when I have made “fried rice” (I use quotation marks because I cook my fried rice at a lower temperature than is usually done in restaurants; I have tried higher temps but I usually make a huge mess trying to stir the rice fast enough to keep it from scorching) in the past, I usually cook a couple scrambled eggs beforehand and set them aside, then return them to the pan at the end and chop them up. I left out that step here, obviously, because I want to keep the egg on the outside.

So, after the fried rice is ready (or re-heated in the microwave, whatever the case may be), I scramble two eggs, the “whisk in a coffee cup” method seems to work well:

20160323_175813

Then I set the pan or electric skillet to medium, let it get warm enough for a drop of water to sizzle when it hits it, then spray it down with Pam, apologies for the flash in the pic:

20160323_180209

Then I pour the eggs into the pan, making sure the entire bottom of the pan is coated with egg. I let the eggs cook for thirty seconds or so, until I can see that the egg is starting to solidify, then I scoop probably about a cup or a cup and a half of fried rice onto one side of the egg, spreading it evenly.

Then, and here’s the hard part, I carefully fold the other side of the egg up and over the fried rice, just like a regular omelette. Since this is a pretty big electric skillet (I use a regular pan/skillet about the same size, also), the egg is pretty thin. So I have to use the spatula to lift it up, and my fingers to kinda pull it on over and put it in place. I let it cook for another 30 seconds or so, then very carefully flip the whole thing over and let it cook another 30 seconds or so.

I am confident there is a better way to do this. If anybody knows what that is, please tell me in the comments section.

I haven’t been able to completely seal off the rice inside the layer of egg, like it often was in various Korean restaurants I ate at. I have seen pics online of some omurice that looks like maybe the rice was put in the center and both sides were folded up over it, like a burrito. I tried that a couple times and bungled it all up.

20160323_180441

It still tasted good, tho.

Anyways, thanks for reading.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, ET CETERA

Today, January 22, 2016, I turn 36. I don’t pretend to be anything close to a “math whiz,” but “36” is the sixth square age I have been in my life (following 1, 4, 9, 16, and 25), and I won’t see another one until I am 49, assuming I make it to that age.

I am not trying to be morbid, for the record, I am just being realistic. I remember hearing in church years ago something like “we are only guaranteed the last breath we took” or something like that, and regardless as to whether anyone literally believes the things in the Bible or any other religious text, well, that statement is true. Life is a very fragile thing, and while I wouldn’t mind living a few thousand years or so, well, there is no guarantee that I (or anyone reading this) will still be here tomorrow. Or an hour from now, for that matter.

And again, that’s not me being morbid, that’s me simply stating a fact.

But to be sure, this sentiment has been echoed in at least a couple religious traditions over the years. In my own, as mentioned, and also in the Buddhist tradition. And not only in religious traditions, but in anti-religious movements as well.

But I don’t really want to write about religion right now. I want to write about myself. And it’s my birthday, and on top of that it’s my sixth square birthday, so that’s what I am gonna do.

If you don’t want to read about me, on this, my sixth square birthday, I would like to remind you that the entirety of the internet is at your fingertips. Surely you can find something to soothe your ennui, if my vain ramblings do not do so. To quote my favorite band from some time between my fourth and fifth square birthdays, “boredom’s not a burden anyone should bear.”

Speaking of that period, there was one particular event that happened around that time that time that sort of, well…just let me tell you about it:

I was a student at the U of A, Fayetteville at the time. Anyways, a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks was visiting the U of A. They were on some sort of university tour, or something, and anyways they set up shop (so to speak) in the student union. They were there for at least a few days.

Over the course of these few days — maybe even five days, like Monday to Friday — the monks created an intricate, multicolored, circular mandala entirely out of sand. They had bags of colored sand with little spouts on them, and one little section at a time, they added this or that little design to the sand mandala. I don’t know how many hours were spent making this sand mandala, or exactly how many monks contributed to its construction, but suffice it to say a lot of painstaking work went into it.

I (and a few other people I knew, one of which was letting the monks crash in her apartment on the edge of campus for the duration of their stay) went to see the sand mandala on that Friday, just as the monks were finishing it up. There were at least two — I don’t remember exactly — bald monks in saffron (or were they maroon?) robes, both manipulating the little sandbags with spouts, putting the final touches on the mandala, somehow creating sharp right angles and perfect curves out of flowing sand. It was truly an impressive sight to see; the level of precision was remarkable. “Remarkable” is actually quite an understatement, I just don’t know a better word to use. “Amazing” might be better.

Anyways, the monks finished up the mandala, then turned to the head monk — or abbot, or whatever the proper word would be — and he came over, inspected the mandala — which, remember, was the product of many hours of painstaking work — nodded his approval, then nonchalantly produced something like a shaving brush and smeared the mandala in one stroke from top to bottom, ruining it, mixing all the intricate multicolored designs into a crude gray swath.

The monks — the same ones who had spent the better part of a week creating this beautiful work of art — then proceeded to produce their own little brushes, which they used to sweep the remaining part of the mandala — the parts on either side of the head monk’s crude brush stroke — up into a little gray pile of sand. They then began putting small amounts of this sand into little ziploc-style baggies and distributing them to the crowd of people in attendance.

I gave my little baggie of sand to my academic advisor, I think as a Christmas present. Before I did, I wrote

“Beauty is truth, truth, beauty; but beauty is just an illusion…”

on it. When I gave it to her and told her where I got it, she referred to it as “sacred sand.” At the time, I disagreed that the sand was in any way “sacred.” The whole painstaking process of creating an intricate — and I do mean “intricate” — work of art over the course of a week and then destroying it was an illustration of impermanence, after all.

As a matter of fact, as I left the student union, and for probably a week or so after that, I contemplated how all of the buildings on campus, some of which had stood (and still stand) for over a hundred years, would one day be long gone and forgotten. Many people — architects, construction foremen, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, bricklayers, interior designers, etc. — contributed to the construction and maintenance of these buildings (just as the monks made their individual contributions to the mandala), and many students and professors and others enjoyed the fruits of their labor (just as many students and professors and others enjoyed looking at the intricate designs of the mandala), but one day, all those buildings will be gone, and soon after that, no one will remember their ever being there. It’s not really a question of “if” that will happen, it’s a question of “when.”

And to be sure, I hope that doesn’t happen for a really long time. Barring World War III or something, I don’t anticipate that happening in my lifetime or even another generation or two after I am rotting in the ground.

But just as I am only guaranteed the last breath I took, well, the point is nobody knows what the future will hold.

Although, I have to admit, at various points in my life, I have experienced what the French call déjà vu, and one of those experiences happened to involve Buddhism.

Before I go on, let me unequivocally state that I do not believe “déjà vu” is anything more than an illusory sort of sensation, and that my mention of it with regard to “knowing what the future will hold” was done out of literary convenience and nothing more. I needed a transition, so I used it as such.

Nonetheless, a sensation of déjà vu accompanied another notable experience I had with Buddhism. This sensation was most likely brought on by emotional stress, and anyways without further ado I will relate it here, briefly:

This experience with Buddhism was not from the Tibetan tradition, but rather from the Korean tradition. I am not sure exactly how these traditions differ from one another, although I am fairly certain there are differences.

I had been living in South Korea for two years at that point — I had only left the country twice during that period, once for a two week trip home over Christmas and once for a week-long trip to Japan — and was about to return home in less than a week. A Korean friend of mine, someone who I had been very close to at one point — died unexpectedly. My other experience with Buddhism was a memorial service for this friend.

This ceremony was at a small temple in a fairly secluded area. I was one of maybe twenty or so people in attendance, and I was the only person there who wasn’t Korean.

We were all seated on one side of the room, on the floor on little square pillows — I don’t know the Korean word for these pillows –and on the other side of the room, two monks in robes conducted the ceremony, which consisted of one of them banging on a big gong and reading Hanja from a long scroll, and the other one was doing other things, lighting candles, bowing to the large Buddha statue on a shelf in the middle of the opposite wall…it’s been nearly eight years ago since I attended that ceremony, and I don’t remember many details, other than time seemed to be flowing at an odd rate — I honestly have no clue how long the ceremony lasted; it seemed to last both a really long time and hardly any time at all, if that makes any sense — and that I had an odd feeling of déjà vu the whole time. Which was most likely attributable to emotional stress, as I have already mentioned.

Again, for some reason I can’t quite recall the color of the robes the monks were wearing. Most Korean Buddhist monks wore gray robes, at least when they were out in public, eating ice cream at Lotteria, begging (I gave a monk 10,000 won [approximately ten dollars] once when he approached me, bowing and asking for money, and in exchange he gave me a little parchment thing with a picture of Bodhidharma on it that I hung on my bedroom wall), or doing whatever monks do, but for the life of me I can’t recall if these monks at the memorial service were wearing gray robes or saffron robes or maroon robes or what.

I do remember that the food they served us afterwards — vegetarian Korean cuisine — was fantastic.

As you may be able to intuit, my deceased Korean friend and her family were/are Buddhists.

Am I a Buddhist? No. Anthropologically speaking, I am a Christian, more specifically Protestant, more specifically than that Southern Baptist. That is the religion my family brought me up in, and as I have neither formally renounced it nor have I converted to anything else, I am still a Southern Baptist, at least in the anthropological sense.

“In the anthropological sense” means that if an anthropologist a hundred years from now were to study Lawson, Arkansas, its former inhabitants, and their culture, she or he would likely discover that there was (or maybe still is) a Southern Baptist church in the middle of Lawson, and would from that deduce that most if not all of the inhabitants of Lawson during my lifetime (and for quite a while before and presumably after my lifetime) were Southern Baptists.

Do I believe all of the teachings of the church I was raised in, literally speaking? No. Not literally. I do believe that there is a lot of value in Jesus’ teachings — especially “love thy neighbor as thyself” — and I do try to follow teachings like that one, even though I don’t literally believe all of the things taught in the Southern Baptist tradition.

But am I an “atheist”? Well, in the sense that I don’t literally believe in the things “theists” are supposed to believe in, I suppose I am. For instance, I don’t literally believe that “God” is a conscious entity sitting up in Heaven passing judgement on everyone. To my view, if that were the case, God’s “will” goes, more often than not, directly against the teachings of Jesus: if everything that goes on in the world is literally the result of a conscious entity sitting up in Heaven controlling everything, then rape, murder, child abuse, torture, hatred, racism, sexism…if “God is in control,” as many religious people like to say, then these terrible things are not the result of the actions of terrible people, they are the result of the “will of God.”

This (heretical?) line of thought is an extension of the age-old question “from whence cometh evil?” It’s not a new line of thought by any means.

And if you believe God created everyone with their own special attributes and their own purpose, do you believe God created me and my inquisitive nature?

Do you believe God would punish me for asking questions, when it was God’s will that I be born with an inquisitive nature?

Perhaps you do. I don’t, but you might. And as long as you don’t take it upon yourself to enforce what you believe God’s will to be — people have been executed for less heresy than what I have just written — I have no problem with you believing that.

I was fortunate enough to be born in a country where religion is not forced upon anyone. And out of respect for the concept of “freedom of religion,” I don’t require anyone to hold any set system of belief (or non-belief) for them to be my friend. As long as their belief (or non-belief) makes them a nicer, more humane person, I really don’t give two rotten farts what they do or don’t believe.

But before I get into that, I would like to back up and further explain my position regarding “atheism”:

In the sense that I don’t literally believe in the things mentioned above, I suppose I could be considered one. But the fact remains that I don’t quite consider myself to be one.

What do I mean by that? I will attempt to explain:

Language is only a representation of things in reality. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but people have told me from time to time that they think I am a “good writer.”

Let me tell you the secret of being a “good writer,” one I learned from Mark Twain, George Orwell, Joan Didion, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Shirley Jackson, Kurt Vonnegut, and many others:

It is not necessary to use five-dollar words to be a “good writer.” It is not necessary to use a thesaurus to express yourself clearly through words.

And even though all of those writers used metaphors from time to time, none of them beat the reader over the head with them…if you understand my metaphor.

What you should understand about language — all language, written, spoken, grunted, whatever — is that language itself is a metaphor.

Let’s examine a sentence:

“Michael threw a rock through a window.”

Literally speaking, I did not do this (at least not today), but suppose I did.

Suppose you and I are walking down a sidewalk in any city or town anywhere in the world. Pick one.

Suddenly, I pick up a rock, throw it through a store front window, then run away, arms flailing, laughing maniacally.

You stand there, perplexed. Just a second ago, you and I were having a pleasant conversation about literally anything but throwing rocks through windows and laughing maniacally and that sort of thing.

Your phone rings. You answer:

You: “Hello?”

Your friend: “Hey. What are you up to?”

You: “…um, nothing, really.”

Your friend: “You sound weird…is something wrong?”

You: “I…I dunno, something weird just happened.”

Your friend: “What happened?”

You: “Well, Michael and I were just walking down the sidewalk, having a nice conversation, and…”

Your friend: “And what? What happened?”

You: “Michael threw a rock through a window.”

..and so on.

Your hypothetical friend in this situation is likely to be just as perplexed as you are.

But that isn’t really the point I am trying to make, though it’s in the same ballpark.

In this hypothetical situation, you saw me, with your own eyes, abruptly pick up a rock, throw it through a store front window, and run away, arms flailing, laughing maniacally. You heard the glass shattering, you saw the wild look in my eyes, you heard my insane laughter as I ran away, and you watched my arms flailing and my legs propelling me on down the sidewalk.

You can explain all of this to your friend over the phone, or you can tell your friend in person later, after you call the authorities and have me arrested, or you can write this story down for future generations to ponder.

But here is what you should realize: no matter how accurate you are in your descriptions, no matter how much detail you put into the story, no matter how open and honest you are in describing your emotions during this bizarre incident, there will always be a certain amount of difference between what you attempted to describe and how others interpret your description.

The scene you pictured in your head a few minutes ago, of me behaving like a crazy person, is not the same scene I pictured in my head as I was describing it.

It’s probably pretty close to the same, but it’s not the same.

What city were we in?

What were we talking about, before I went nuts for no reason?

On what side of us was the street, and on what side of us was the store front window I smashed?

What kind of store was it?

And so on.

Getting back to the point, I would venture that a “good writer” acknowledges that language is merely a representation of reality, and that what is important for “good writing” is that as many people as possible will understand it.

The more one ventures into the realm of five dollar words and abstract metaphors and similes and that sort of thing, the more one limits the number of people who are going to understand what you are trying to say.

But I have gone off topic somewhat. And to be sure, in continuing my point about atheism, I am delving into semantics, which is the opposite of what I have just advised “good writing” should be.

But as to the question of whether God exists…it depends on what you mean by “exists.” If you mean a literal guy in a literal Heaven and all, that’s one thing.

But what about things done in the real world in the name of God (or any other deity), or people whose lives have been turned around by religion, or people who make generous contributions to charity in the name of their own God…or for that matter people who fought wars in the name of God, or blew themselves up in the name of God, or any other deity…

My point is that despite there not being any way to scientifically prove the existence of God or Allah or any deity, these deities — even if they can only be scientifically proven to be ideas — have had and continue to have a profound effect upon our world. Both a positive effect and a negative effect.

So from this point of view, the question is not really “Does God exist?” From this point of view, the question is “What is God?”

If this line of thought is interesting to you at all, I would advise you to delve into the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche . I will leave this sort of thing up to him; he put a lot more thought into it than I care to.

There’s another conception of God that I would like to briefly outline before wrapping this up, and it has to do with both my own “Western-white-guy-studying-Eastern-religions-on-a-superficial-basis” phase I went through a while back, and also with what I have been led to believe is the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, two institutions I don’t have any personal experience with but have read a decent amount about in a novel by one of the very few authors I have read whose use of five-dollar words is entirely justified.

My touristy exploration of Eastern religions led me to a couple of texts from the Hindu tradition, the Bhagavad Gita and the
Upanishads.

(My theory that the Bhagavad Gita was written as a cultural response to the rise of Buddhism in India may or may not be expounded upon later; I just wanted to mention it here on my blog.)

I would rather mention a recurring theme in the Upanishads: the idea that “Brahmin is all, and all is Brahmin.” This idea is that all things are interconnected, and that every one of us is part of a whole, and not just every person but also every animal and every plant and every non-living thing.

This is only a metaphor, of course. I appreciate this idea as a metaphor, not as a literal description of the universe.

But I think it’s a fitting metaphor, considering that everything in the universe consists of the same set of elements. I mean, didn’t some famous astrophysicist say that we’re all made of stardust or something? I appreciate the Upanishads on that same sort of level. Call me a religious nut if you want to, but the fact that we’re all essentially made of the same stuff and “connected” to everything else in that sense, well, it reminds me of the idea of omnipresence. Maybe one could conceptualize the universe itself as being “God,” and each one of us being a set of God’s “eyes.”

One could conceptualize God that way, if one wanted to.

The other aspect of this conception has to do with the concept of a “higher power” utilized by AA and NA and other such institutions. As I understand this concept, one does not have to believe in God in the religious sense to take part in this program, one simply has to acknowledge that there is a “higher power” that exists above and beyond one’s own self.

And pardon my being hippy-dippy about it, but if you happen to be reading this, whoever you are, whatever you personally believe; if I were forced to describe what my “higher power” is, well, my “higher power” is you.

And not just “you,” as in “you personally,” anyone and everyone who reads this, anyone and everyone I talk to, anyone and everyone I meet or pass on the sidewalk…

Also animals I interact with, birds singing in the trees, the snow that fell last night that is quickly melting…

The books I read, the movies I watch, the music I listen to…

All are proof that there is a universe outside of me, one that was here for a really long time before it produced me, one that will be here a really long time after I am gone.

So anyways, if you took the time to read this, thank you. For future reference, it was composed entirely on my Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone on my 36th birthday, from about 6 am to a little after noon, Central Standard Time.

Have a nice one.

 

PSYCHOCONTEXTUAL STASIS…OR SOMETHING

(The following is another “note” from my personal Facebook page, one I wrote in June of 2015 after randomly coming across this article online. Suffice it to say I had been reading a good bit of David Foster Wallace at the time. — MNW)

As the woman featured in the article says, it is not unusual for a person’s appearance to change significantly between the ages of 16 and 27.

But because she was a well-known character (apparently) in a well-known movie (or series of movies; I have never seen any of the movies from the series in question, so I don’t know if she was in one or more than one of said movies), her physical appearance, at least as it appears to be to all of the fans of this movie (or series of movies) has (had?) attained a sort of psychocontextual stasis in the minds and/or collective unconscious of the fans of the movie and/or series of movies in which this woman played what I assume to be a significant role. As I mentioned I have never seen any of the movies in this series, other than a few minutes here or there when this or that (and it seems like maybe more than one at a time) cable network(s) was/were showing movies from the series in question. And I hadn’t the foggiest notion of what was going on in these few minutes I saw, but to be fair I kinda got the impression that if I had read the books this series was based on, these nonsensical few minutes I had seen might have made sense, if only in an overly contrived and (at least to me, remember what opinions are like) uninteresting sort of way.

This woman — who like all of us is a biological entity which ages and changes over time — was associated with a character from a movie (etc.) that has become ingrained into the minds and/or collective unconscious of a significant percentage of the general population. This significant percentage of the general population, however, has a static (in that their only identification with this woman is limited to however much screen time she was given in the series in question, etc.) mental image of this woman, one which is not realistic, considering that the image or visage or whatever of this woman changes not only over the period between ages 16 and 27, but also on a daily basis, often fluctuating between opposites with regard to this or that physical trait.

This fluctuation is not gender-specific or even species-specific. Men also change in appearance over intervals of time, as do all other animals, as do all other plants, as do all other living things.

So it may or may not be expected, within the conscious and/or subconscious mind of a moderately evolved and therefore self-aware organism, that a psychocontextual (I just made that word up, as far as I know) sort of “stasis” might be something to be desired.

Like how a photograph — even a duckface selfie — which captures and holds the image of a self-aware organism in a digitally encoded image file, one that can be retrieved later and looked upon as a yardstick of progress, or proof of success, or growth (in either the “physical changes that occur between the ages of 16 and 27” or “I was not as good of a person then that I am now” or vice-versa or in any other sense) is really just a representation of one temporally frozen (“static”) moment, but somehow it acquires a psychocontextual life of its own, in the form of memories associated with it.

“I was never happier than I was in this picture.”

“This picture was taken during a very dark period in my life.”

“I can’t believe I paid money for that shirt.”

Et cetera ad infinitum.

We want to hold on to things we love.

Such as the character this woman portrayed.

Why is “The Internet Going Crazy” over what this woman looks like now?

Because to the internet, this woman is not a biological organism subject to the everyday changes biological organisms undergo, to the internet, this woman is a series of images, quotes, and interviews and whatnot.

Seeing her appearance change, such as it did — even though this change is not in any way unusual for any biological organism to undergo over the course of eleven years — creates cognitive dissonance in the minds of the people who recognize (or apparently don’t recognize) this woman from her appearances in the series of movies mentioned earlier.

What do you think? Is psychocontextual stasis something to be desired, or something to be avoided?

 

A: that is something to be desired

B: that is something to be avoided

C: it may be necessary to strike a balance between “psychocontextual stasis” and its opposite, whatever you want to call it

D: I don’t understand the question

E: get out of here with that, who the hell cares?

 

“CUCKOO, CUCKOO”

(The following is another “note” I originally posted on my Facebook page in June of 2015. I do not own the copyright to the Buddhist text transcribed here, I just like it a whole lot and want other people to read it. If the copyright holder would like for me to remove this post, I will do so post-haste.  — MNW)

I posted a while back that there were only two philosophers that I had any interest in. Those two philosophers, I said, are Socrates and Nietzsche. The reason these are the only two philosophers that I am interested in, I said, was that their philosophies were not based in proclaiming what is moral and what isn’t, and that sort of thing, their philosophies are based in questioning things.

The Socratic Method is essentially asking every question you can think of, and then questioning the answers you are given, and then questioning the answers of those questions, and so on, until the person you are questioning sees that their argument isn’t as rock solid as they thought it was.

Similarly, Nietzsche’s “Philosophy of the Hammer” expounded upon in “Twilight of the Idols” set out to figuratively smash to bits every philosophy Nietzsche had ever encountered. And I don’t remember exactly how this was put in that book, but Nietzsche invited readers to figuratively smash his philosophy to bits as well.

This sort of approach is basically the approach I take toward everything. I apologize to anyone out there in Facebook land who may have been offended by that. I mean well, I promise, no matter how annoying I get.

Anyways, I am not really here to talk about that, I am here to say that my earlier claim that Socrates and Nietzsche were the only philosophers I had any interest in was not entirely true. Those two are merely the only two philosophers one is likely to encounter in a philosophy class, or at least one that focuses on western philosophers.

I like Jesus’ philosophy a whole lot, for example. If everybody – heck, if every Christian – took “Love thy neighbor as thyself” seriously and applied it in their day to day lives, the world would be a much better place. The same goes for the Sermon on the Mount…except for that bit at the end about giving a divorced woman a “certificate of divorce” while the man doesn’t have to have one. That’s sexist as hell, and reflective of either Jewish or Roman law at the time, most likely. At any rate, if you ignore that part, there’s some excellent stuff there.

I also like some Hindu philosophy. The idea “brahman is all, and all is brahman” is pretty cool, I think. I read this in the Upanishads a few years ago, and it’s basically saying that all things are connected, from the sun in the sky to the ground under your feet. It may be a stretch, but I think it’s kinda cool that here and now, a few thousand years after the Upanishads were written, we now know that everything in the known universe is in fact constructed out of the same set of elements. The Bhagavad-gita is also pretty cool, if you don’t take it too literally.

I am also a big fan of Taoist philosophy. Prior to my finding out that actual Taoists in China have a whole system of saints and sages they pray to – which is much more similar to the Catholic system of saints than you may realize – I actually considered myself a “Taoist.” (Pausing for you to get that chuckle out. Feel better? Great.) I am a huge fan of Lao Tzu, especially the Tao Te Ching. It’s like every philosophy I have ever read, distilled down to short little passages. Chuang Tzu is another Taoist philosopher I like a lot, though I haven’t read much of his writings.

I also like Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence (ahimsa) a lot. I do my best to adhere to it…but nobody’s perfect. I don’t physically abuse anyone, but harsh words can also be a form of violence, and for a person such as myself who spends a decent amount of time discussing things and arguing online, it is sometimes hard not to just say “OH MY GOD YOU ARE STUPID YOU STUPID STUPID IDIOT” or something.

(By the way, sometimes that’s all you can say. I am not trying to act holier than thou toward anybody here, I am just blathering about my own personal philosophy and philosophers I like. Feel free to apply Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Hammer to any and all of this. Pick my philosophy to pieces, smash the idols I am presenting to you. I want you to, believe it or not.)

I also like Buddhist philosophy a lot. Anyone who peruses my “notes” should see this easily. I can’t really explain it to you, but whenever I am feeling low, reading Dogen’s “Mountains and Waters Sutra” makes me feel better. It may read as absurd nonsense to you, with its talk of how dragons see water and how there are mountains in mountains, but it usually brings me out of a funk when I am in one.

Anyhoo, the reason I am writing this is to share another bit of Buddhist philosophy with you all. I first read this in a Penguin Classics book called “Buddhist Scriptures” that was given to me by my very good friend Derek Jackson. It’s all or part of something called “The Buddha’s Law Among The Birds,” or Bya Chos, but I am not sure of the language it was originally written in.

Before I post it, I would like to point out why I think “demons” are mentioned in the intro. It isn’t because reading this will turn you into a demon or anything, it is simply reflective of Buddhism’s all-inclusive nature. In other words, the dharma is for demons, too. If demons learned the dharma, Buddhists might think, demons would cease doing demon-y things. There are figures in Buddhist mythology called Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas are beings that could have already achieved Buddha-hood, which is supreme enlightenment and freedom from the cycle of rebirth, but who chose to return to Samsara, the world of desire and suffering that we all live in now. The Bodhisattvas, so the myth goes, returned to Samsara in order to bring more people toward enlightenment. One Bodhisattva legend I read was about a fellow who willingly went through all the hells in Buddhist mythology, just to try and save the souls suffering there. “I will not accept Buddha-hood until all the hells are empty,” this person said, in the myth or legend or whatever you call it.

You don’t have to literally believe any of that, by the way. I don’t, and I am not asking anyone else to. But I would be lying if I said Buddhist philosophy hasn’t had a positive influence on my life. And what I am about to share had a pretty big impact on me when I first read it, make fun of me if you want to. It won’t hurt my feelings.

And one more thing: don’t read this and think it’s just being pessimistic. “Pitiful” does not necessarily imply anything negative. The point of this – at least my reading of it – is to instill compassion in the reader.

I betcha never thought a bird might pity you…it’s possible, eh?

* * *

The Lord Buddha has said:

IN THE LANGUAGE OF ANGELS, OF SERPENTS, OF FAIRIES, IN THE SPEECH OF DEMONS, THE TALK OF THE HUMANS, IN THEM ALL I’VE EXPOUNDED THE DHARMA’S DEEP TEACHINGS

AND IN ANY TONGUE

THAT A BEING MIGHT GRASP THEM.

In order to teach the Dharma unto the feathered folk, the holy Lord Avalokita, who had transformed himself into a Cuckoo, the great king of the birds, sat for many years day and night under a large sandalwood tree, immobile and in perfect trance.

One day Master Parrot came before the Great Bird, and addressed him, saying:

Greetings, O great and noble bird! For one whole year, until to-day, You’ve sat there crouching, motionless, In the cool shade of a Santal tree. So silent, dumb and speechless; Does something anger or disturb your heart? When, O Great Bird, your trance has ended, Will you accept these seeds, the fine quintessence of all food?

And thus replied the Great Bird:

Listen then, O parrot skilled in speech! I have surveyed this ocean of Samsara, And I have found nothing substantial in it. Down to the very last, I saw the generations die, They killed for food and drink – how pitiful! I saw the strongholds fall, even the newest, The work of earth and stones consumed – how pitiful! Foes will take away the hoarded spoils to the very last, Oh, to have gathered this wealth, and hidden it – how pitiful! Closest friends will be parted, down to the very last,

Oh to have formed those living thoughts of affection – how pitiful! Sons will side with the enemy – even to the youngest,

Oh to have given that care to those who were born of one’s body – how pitiful! Relatives united and intimate friends, Children reared, and riches stored, All are impermanent, like an illusion, And nothing substantial is found in them. My mind has now forsaken all activity. So that I may keep constant to my vows. Here, in the cool shade of a santal tree I dwell in solitude and silence,

In trance I meditate, from all distractions far removed. Go thou – repeat this speech of mine

To all large birds, and to all feathered creatures!

The Parrot, skilled in speech, then rose from the middle of the ranks, and, swaying like a bamboo hurdle, saluted three times and spoke as follows:

Greetings, you great and noble bird!

Though you are weary and disgusted with Samsara, We beg you, give a little thought to us! Ignorant and deluded creatures that we are; The effects of many misdeeds in our past Have tied us to this suffering, bound us, chained us. We beg of you the good Dharma freeing us from suffering, We beg the light dispelling all our ignorance,

We beg from you the Dharma – the cure of all defilements, Birds of every kind assembled here,

We beg of you the good Dharma that we may ponder on it.

The Great Bird then spoke again as follows:

Smoke a sign of fire is,

The Southern cloud a sign of rain. The little child will be a man, The foal a stallion one day.

Deep thinking about death will lead to the unique and worthy Dharma. The rejection of attachment to the wheel of Samsara, the belief in the retribution of all deeds; mindfulness of the impermanence and mortality of this life – these are signs that we approach the unique, worthy Dharma. O Birds assembled here, is there anything of this nature in your minds? Tell me then your thoughts!

Thereupon the Golden Goose rose, shook his wings three times, and said: “nan stud nan stud,” which means “that prolongs the bondage, that prolongs the bondage.”

To remain from birth to death without the Good Law – that prolongs the bondage. To desire emancipation, and still deserve a state of woe – that prolongs the bondage. To hope for miraculous blessings, and still have wrong opinions – that prolongs the bondage. To neglect those things that turn the mind towards salvation – that prolongs the bondage. To give and yet be checked by meanness – that prolongs the bondage.

To aim at lasting achievements while still exposed to this world’s distractions – that prolongs the bondage.

To try to understand one’s inner mind while still chained to hopes and fears – that prolongs the bondage.

All you who thus prolong your bondage within this ocean of suffering, Try to grasp the meaning of my words, for they will shorten your bondage.

Thereupon the Raven with his great wings rose, made a few sideways steps, and said “grogs yon grogs yon,” which means “help will come, help will come.”

When you have been true to your vows, help will come in the form of a happy life among men. When you have given gifts, help will come in the form of future wealth.

When you have performed the acts of worship, help will come from the guardian angels.

When your solemn promises are made in all good faith, help will come from the love of the fairies. When you are alert at the sacrificial festivals, help will come from the Guardians of the Dharma. When in this life you learn to enter into higher meditation, help will come from the future Buddha. Learn therefore to gain these virtues, for help comes through them.

Thereupon the Cock, the domestic bird, rose, flapped his wings three times, and said “e go e go,” which means, “do you understand that? Do you understand that?”

Whilst you live in this samsaric world, no lasting happiness can be yours – do you understand that? To the performance of worldy actions there is no end – do you understand that? In flesh and blood there is no permanence – do you understand that?

The presence, at all times, of Mara, the Lord of Death – do you understand that? Even the rich man, when he is laid low, departs alone – do you understand that? He has no strength to take the wealth he gathered – do you understand that? Our bodies, so dear to us, will feed the birds and dogs – do you understand that? Wherever the mind may go, it cannot control its fate – do you understand that? We are bound to lose those we love and trust – do you understand that? Punishment follows the evil we do – do you understand that? Wherever one looks, nothing is there substantial – do you understand that?

Then from the centre of the ranks rose the Parrot, skilled in speech, and said:

Listen, you beings of this samsaric world:

What you desire is happiness, what you find is grief.

While you inhabit a state of woe, salvation is not yet at hand. Thinking on this must make me sad.

I now recall the good, the unique Law;

Hear it, you denizens of this samsaric world, Perennial for time without beginning. Because its benefits are so immense, Let us here recall that unique Dharma: ‘These ills in our state of woe are but the fruits of evil deeds, The karmic outcome of your own accumulated acts; For you and only you could make them.’

So now strip off the veil that clouds your thoughts: This life, like dew on grass, is but impermanent, And your remaining here for ever out of question. So here and now, think on these things, and make your effort! ‘The pain from heat and cold in hell

the hunger and the thirst which Pretas feel,

All are the fruits of evil deeds.’ So has the Muni spoken. Here, from within my heart, I make the vow To shun all evil – to achieve the good. From deep within my heart I seek my refuge In the Three Treasures ever changeless, Never failing, never fading,

Our precious ally through the whole of time.

In my mind, now free from doubt, is faith established. Resolved to know the holy Dharma,

I now reject all things in this samsaric world. And so, you great and noble bird, We, this assembly, beg you grant us Your esteemed instruction, teach us to understand the nature of all life!

So he spoke, and made three salutations.

Thereupon the Cuckoo, the Great Bird, spoke as follows:

Birds, large and small assembled here, well have you understood. In all the speeches you have made not one has denied the truth. Well have you spoken, well indeed! With undistracted mind keep well these words within your hearts. And so, O birds assembled here, the large birds and also the youngsters lucky to be here, hear me with reverence and attention!

The things of this samsaric world are all illusion, like a dream. Where’er one looks, where is their substance? Palaces built of earth and stone and wood, Wealthy men endowed with food and dress and finery, Legions of retainers who throng round the mighty – These are like castles in the air, like rainbows in the sky. And how deluded those who think of this as truth! When uncles – nephews – brothers – sisters gather as kindred do, When couples and children gather as families do,

When friends and neighbours gather in good fellowship –

These are like meetings of dream friends, like travellers sharing food with strangers. And how deluded those who think of this as truth!

This phantom body grown in uterine water from a union of seed and blood – Our habitual passions springing from the bad deeds of our past, Our thoughts provoked by divers apparitions –

All are like flowers in autumn, clouds across the sky.

How deluded, O assembled birds, if you have thought of them as permanent. The splendid plumage of the peacock with its many hues,

Our melodious words in which notes high and low are mingled,

The link of causes and effects which now have brought us here together – They are like the sound of echoes, the sport of a game of illusion. Meditate on this illusion, do not seize on them as truth! Mists on a lake, clouds across a southern sky, Spray blown by wind above the sea, Lush fruits ripened by the summer sun – In permanence they cannot last; in a trice they separate and fall away. Meditate on their illusion, do not think of them as permanent!

When he finished speaking, the birds all rose with joy, danced a while through the air, and sang their songs.

“Happiness be yours and gladness too – may you prosper!” said the Great Bird, happy that he had come there. “Cuckoo, cuckoo,” he sang, “the light shed by the Dharma of the Birds brings me happiness. In joy and gladness leap and sway together in this graceful dance! Sing your songs and may you thrive!”

“May you prosper, may you prosper,” he said, happy to be in that plentiful land. “Cuckoo, cuckoo,” he sang, “I am happy because the essence of the Dharma of the Birds has enriched you. In joy and gladness leap and sway together in this graceful dance! Sing your songs, and may you thrive!”

“Cu ci, ci ci,” he said, glad that all these hosts of birds had come together. “Cuckoo, cuckoo,” he sang, “I am happy because I could give you the Dharma of the Birds. In joy and gladness leap and sway together in this graceful dance! Sing your songs, and may you thrive! Sing your happy songs which carry far! Dance your greatly joyful dance! Now you have won your hearts’ desire.”

All the birds sang happy songs, leapt up and danced with gladness, and wished each other good fortune and abounding joy. They then accompanied the Great Bird for one whole day, and the great bird without mishap returned to India. On their way back, the birds of Tibet slept all together under a tree. The next day, when the sun of Jambudvipa arose, thrice they circled the tree where they had met, exchanged their hopes for another such joyful meeting, and each one, satisfied, returned on wings to his dwelling place.

 

“LUMINOUS BEAMS ARE WE, NOT THIS CRUDE MATTER!”

So it’s the new year, and I have already broken a few resolutions. For one, I resolved to limit my time on Facebook and other social media with sort of an “office hours” approach, and I have yet to do so. These “office hours,” when the plan is implemented, will likely be early in the morning – an hour or so some time between 5 and 7 am, ideally – maybe half an hour during lunch – noon-ish – and then another hour or two later in the evening.

This sort of approach is undoubtedly already followed by many of my Facebook friends. The hours I have listed here are based around a normal 8 to 5 workday schedule. As I am not currently employed full-time in such a fashion, I have a tendency to spend far more time than that on social media.

And as I am (ostensibly) a “blogger” and “author” (first novel yet to be finished), I need to think of those activities in more of a workday sense than I currently do. Or at least for the duration of time I am able to get away with not having a full-time job, ha ha. I am hoping to make at least a little money off of the novel I am working on, but in all honesty I am not optimistic. It isn’t that I don’t have “faith” in the quality of the novel itself – personally I think it’s pretty decent – it’s just that my taste in fiction doesn’t exactly line up with mainstream tastes. And anyways I don’t want to spend hours and hours and hours (and hours and hours and hours) working on something that I myself would not personally enjoy reading. I would rather do something else to make money, I mean.

But anyways, I suppose we will see what happens. As I have stated before, if it sells ten copies, I will consider it a success.

Moving on, I have so far kept up with a couple other resolutions. I have been eating better – I have had a salad for lunch every day this week – and I have been drinking less alcohol. The only alcohol I have consumed since January 2 – so I celebrated the holiday with a glass of wine or three, sue me – has been in the form of NyQuil, and also DayQuil, if it’s got alcohol in it.

I also exercised a little, before the cold started dragging me down. Not a lot, just a few squats, a few chin-ups, a little dumbbell stuff, not much.

I have tried to be nicer. I have tried.

Anyways, what I want to express with all this blathering is that these are things I have decided to do to improve myself. I am not preaching at anyone. It is none of my business if you – whoever you are – do or do not choose to adhere to any sort of “self-improvement” plans like the ones I am attempting to adhere to.

If these things prove to be beneficial to me, I may or may not recommend that you do them yourself. If I see that you are struggling or suffering or whatever you want to call it with the same things I am struggling/suffering/whatever with, I may recommend them. As a matter of fact, friends of mine have recommended things like this to me, and my “resolutions” were influenced by these recommendations. And I am grateful to these friends, more so than I can really express here.

But – and this is a big “but” – I can’t force you to do the things I do. I can’t force you to change anything about yourself or your behavior.

Why not?

Put simply: I am not the boss of you.

And conversely, you can’t force me to do the things you do. You can’t force me to change anything about myself or my behavior.

Why not?

Put simply: you are not the boss of me.

And if you are thinking that this all sounds like hippy dippy drivel, and that I am probably woozy-headed from the DayQuil I took just a while ago, well, no comment.

What I am getting at, in a roundabout way, is the concept of “Freedom of Religion.” That is to say, the freedom to follow any religion you choose, or to not follow any religion at all.

I am not “anti-religion.” Many religious people may think that I am; I am not. I am all for religion, if it is something that enriches your life and the lives of those around you.

Because if you are happy and content, the people around you are more likely to be happy and content. If you are happy and content, you are less likely to bring negativity and turmoil into the lives of those around you.

This goes for me, too.

This is why I have made certain resolutions for the new year. To better myself, and thereby to be less of a drain on the people around me.

But the problem with religion – every religion – is that more often than not, adherents to whichever religion do not use their religion to improve themselves. More often than not, adherents to whichever religion use their religion as an excuse to try and change other people.

They don’t use religion as a means of self-improvement, they use it as a means to condemn other people.

I personally don’t care what religion you adhere to. As long as you use your religion to look inward, to improve yourself, I support you.

However, the moment you begin using your religion to project – the moment you begin attempting to force other people to adhere to your religion – then we have a problem.

I have written about this many times. I have said this exact same thing more times than I can count. But to repeat it once more:

Your religion is for you. It is something you follow to guide you in your life. If that is how you approach your religion, I support you, and I won’t ridicule you for it, and I will discourage others from ridiculing you for it.

And if you tell people about your religion and the positive impact it has had in your life, I will support you. But if you start trying to force people to follow your religion, you lose my support. If you start condemning people because they don’t follow your religion, you lose my support.

And if you start abusing people because of your religion, all bets are off.

Another resolution I made was to write every day. So far, most of my writing has been done on Facebook, which kinda sorta negated my resolution to spend less time on social media. And I had hoped to make more, well, focused blog posts than this one, but as I mentioned I am a bit woozy-headed.

But anyways, to repeat it once more: your religion is for you. Use it to improve you.

Otherwise we have a problem.

Thanks for reading.

May the Force be with you.