Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Being Boring

Mr. Heidegger says that boredom permeates the "modern man" and is the attunement of the present age. Now, he's writing this around 1930. In the work he distinguishes three types of boredom. Boredom is just one way that people attune to the world. It's the emotive connection. Now, according to Martin, one could be (a.) bored by something outside of oneself, (b.) bored with oneself, or be (c.) profoundly bored. The final boredom afflicts the general "modern" subjectivity. Although his analysis of this human emotion is impressive, I don't think it's exhaustive. I would like to explain each kind of boredom, then try to find some affiliation to the Romantic period, and perhaps even to our own time.

In order to be bored by something, there has to exist an object of one's boredom. For example, waiting for a train or listening to a lecture on Heidegger's phenomenology. In order to escape this kind of boredom, one tries to pass the time. That activity usually involves some menial distraction to the purpose of "shortening" time in order to make it go faster. For instance, checking the watch incessantly while waiting at the train station or sitting in a lecture hall. Feeling of emptiness results from this kind of boredom. It's a looking towards the future, looking forward to something. A promethean activity, if you will.

If one is bored with oneself, such as at a social gathering, there is no direct object of one's boredom because that feeling is generated by oneself. We are boring. Even though the social situation might seem pleasant, we find we are bored, not so much by the environment or the lack of external stimulants, but because we lack a proper response to the situation at hand. The method of dealing with this type of boredom is to waste time, as if time was a commodity, in order to stop time altogether or bring it totally into the present moment without any concern for the past or the future.

Profound boredom, the spirit of Martin's age, is being bored with the world and with ourselves--a condition responsible for our alienation from the world and from others. This withdrawal also makes us ironically aware of ourselves in the world. Our Dasein, or existence in the world, is revealed to us. This kind of boredom is also associated with a feeling of melancholy, which also often, but not always, engenders creativity. This is sort of an epimethean activity as it looks to the past. Most importantly Heidegger says that the object of  this kind of boredom is fundamentally time itself. The feeling is opressive as we feel at once timeless or removed from the flow of time and at the same time burdened by the weight of time. We are involved with a close reading of each passing moment in order to prolong it.

All of these types of boredom or attunement are our ways to try to control time.  It's ambitious but illusory. If we believe Terdiman that the communal subjectivity of the 19th Century after the French Revolution was disturbed and severed from its past, causing a temporal fissure in the continuity of history or the phenomology of time, then the Romantics were dealing with that cultural disorder by trying to control time, each in his own way. Mr. Wordsworth, besides being "boring," as Shelley tells us, was also profoundly bored: he looked to the past, analyzed each moment, and bemoaned his finitude. So not only was he profoundly bored but also inauthentic in existentialist terms. P. B. Shelley, on the other hand, was afflicted with the first and second type of boredom, and I have a feeling he kept looking towards some future that would cure that disease, while at the same time he lived so large, so in the moment that he almost tried to ignore time altogether. He was at odds with himself. But he was fundamentally attuned to the world through anxiety. Where boredom subjectivizes a subject, anxiety individuates: boredom produces inaction, whereas anxiety involves the will to take control of one's fate and destiny. I think what I'm going to find with Beddoes is that he was profoundly bored but authentically: he embraced his mortality, but that's still to be determined.

What about today? What's our affliction? We certainly are bored, but I think our boredom is still different: we seem to want to care about everything in the world... we have causes... we rally for one thing or another.... But this care is so superficial. We want to make a difference in the world, and society convinces us that we can. This is our illusion: we deny the fact that we are bored of ourselves, by trying to get superficially involved. We live in the moment with no real concern for the past or the future, yet we want to believe that we do care. We are not capable of melancholy, so we're not a creative generation. But we sure love to waste time! We are bored because we are boring while vehemently trying to affirm our enthusiasm and excitement. And that, my gentle reader, is the spirit of our age!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Call Me Lenny

I'm reading one of the best satiric epic poems in the English language: Lord Byron's Don Juan. I can't help to wonder whether Byron was as charmingly witty in his quotidian existence as the Byronic hero he created. I know that he was famously described as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know," but could he in easy conversation make a fool out of his interlocutor, if he so desired? Why am I asking? Well, because I can't if my life depended on it! I can be sarcastic, brutally honest, and condescending. I can hold an intelligent conversation. But if I'm surprised with some obscure comment or, better yet, an obscenity coming from some low-life trailer-park trash, I am incapable of coming up with a witty repartee at the time when one would be appropriate.

Now, this is annoying, because I consider myself an intelligent girl, capable of effectively using rich vocabulary, filled with knowledge of both academic as well as common nature, well-mannered, and charming. But I always feel so disappointed in my performance when faced with an unexpected ass-hole. This individual is usually of more than unrefined nature, sports a vocabulary of an apeman, but is willing to use obscene and crude language and/or gestures. Sometimes he will even resort to using physical force to get his point across because that's the only way he knows how to deal with a strong woman, who's not afraid to voice her opinion. And me in a crisis situation? I just stand there like a mute taking it! The moment when the situation is over, I suddenly have an inflow of brilliant, witty responses... but the moment has gone... it's done... the mustard is served after dinner! And the stupid ass drives away perfectly satisfied with his insult. And I stand there--head full of witty remarks--kicking myself in the back end for being such a tard. There's more.... I keep thinking and rethinking my lack of response for at least two hours afterwards: I analyse it; I reproach myself; I brood...

Yes, my panties are up in a twist because I had such an encounter yesterday. "Again?," some of you will ask. Apparently I have that kind of an effect on the lower-class male population. Perhaps there should be a law against women who refuse to act according to their "inferior" status in this still male-dominated society. I was about to cross the street from the service area restrooms to the parking lot, when I was nearly run over by some beefed up, bold-headed, punk-ass simpleton. He finally stops his obnoxious pseudo-sport vehicle about a foot away from me and let's me pass. But right after I'm on the other side, he opens his window and addresses me with the very eloquent, "Hey, Lady" (I'm sure he wouldn't recognize one if she sat on his head), mumbles something about there being a crosswalk behind, and how dare I dare detain him from flogging to his weekly ritual of drinking cheap beer at the Neanderthals-R-Us meeting. I turn around, I look him right in those blank eyes, and say.... nothing! Anything at all would've been better! "Oh yeah... well f*&@ck you!," would've sufficed! But no... I can't cuss! I can't respond to this boorish behaviour... information overload.... cannot compute... cannot compute.... error... error.... Why is it so easy to disarm me... to paralyze my intellectual capacities? And by whom? I have no excuse...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Vertigo

I took this picture yesterday when I was coming back from work outside of Fall River.


Duchamp, eat your heart out! There's still some ingenuity and art in the world of the industrial worker; you just have to look for it and take time to appreciate it. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense: the industrial worker does not only belong to the underappreciated yet necessary working class but also transcends certain societal taboos. The john is certainly necessary, but oh how often do we forget to give it proper respect. After all, Western culture avoids showing toilets and the private activities associated with these fascinating porcelain plumbing fixtures. Queen Elizabeth, for example, runs water in the facet to prevent anyone from hearing any uncouth sounds that might come out from her private session on the loo. During Roman times, however, answering to the call of nature in public was perfectly acceptable. In fact in the ancient city of Ephesus, one could do one's business while discussing politics with a fellow citizen who would be sitting an arm's length away. The blue-collar worker quite often has no hang ups about his physiological needs. Notice we're immediately stereotyping: blue-collar worker, ergo a male. The gender stereotype certainly adds to the beauty of the sign: it further labels the manual laborer as part of a homogeneous group. He is deprived of identity. Just like these toilets, the blue-collar worker is just like another--necessary but unrefined and vulgar. So much so, that we make him the object of ridicule. Think Al Bundy, Fred Flintstone, Homer Simpson, the cable guy...

Of course, this stereotyping doesn't account for oddities like me. Too often when I'm working with my dad's crew some dufus assumes that I don't speak English, I'm an illegal alien, and/or perform the job because I can't do anything else. These people will often use hand gestures and simple language when they address me. Else, they comment on my (rock climber's) tan and how painting outdoors must contribute to its depth of color, as if this menial complement was to lessen the burden of my condition. That condescending look of pity is quite disturbing: "Poor girl, she's so pretty but so underprivileged." It's moments like these that make my job so much more enjoyable. I get a delicious sensation of vertigo--a dizziness caused by a sudden, illusory shift in the strata of socio-economic infrastructure.

Perhaps, this is why I enjoyed my little adventure of driving around on the scissor lift yesterday. [In case you can't figure out the image to the right, it's a view down from the top of the lift.] This thing was great! I could manipulate the vehicle horizontally as well as vertically. Drive up somewhere, then move a lever, BINGO! I'm ascending into air. Then move it again, I'm moving downwards. I had a feeling of so much power, almost divine! Floating, towering over the clouds of convention. I love this job!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Get off the Train!

If Mr. Coleridge is right and we should "NEVER PURSUE LITERATURE AS A TRADE," because we should not waste our genius on crude monatary pursuits, then I was so right years ago to refuse to seek a degree in the fine arts.

Now, let's get something straight: I don't pretend to be a "genius" by any means. My epiphany is more subtle than that: if I have any abilities that would remotely approach that of a genius, or rather that would exert my creative abilities to produce some worthwhile achievement of the imagination, than the medium in which I find I can express my creative soul most effectively is most definitely painting. In other words, as I told my mother years ago that I refuse to become an industry whore and sell myself, I wouldn't want to paint for a living. Why not? Because as soon as we make a profession out of our activity of leisure, the activity can no longer be considered "leisure"--it becomes work. And if it is work, then it becomes something of a responsibility. And if it's a responsibility, it no longer affords pleasure. If it no longer affords pleasure, it becomes boring and undesirable. And, therefore, it becomes an activity, which we would prefer to avoid. On the other hand, if we treat the activity, which affords us pleasure and which we can perform adequately, if not proficiently, as a "tranquil and unbiased choice" of our pastime, then we're not performing it mechanically and can focus on the pursuit of excellence. Our motivation is not only more admirable because it's not tainted with the desire of financial gain, but because somehow it seems more humanitarian.

Unlike our genius, our talents are expandable and can be devoted to the "acquirement of competence in some known trade or profession."  But how, my dear reader, do you distinguish between talent and genius? Mr. Coleridge explains that the difference is predominantly in degree: an excess of talent is genius. In my case, since I have some feeble talents only, and certainly no genius that has manifested itself in all those 34 years, I couldn't allow one of my favorite creative outlets to become a labor. As to English, I have been studying the language and literature all my life, and since interpretation of literature or poetry does not drain as much creative energy, I can use this passion as a means for supporting myself financially. I see you snickering! ok... perhaps it's not the most financially rewarding trade. You're right! It's not meant to be. I am not pursuig a Ph.D. so I can get a job. Seriously, who needs higher education to make money anyway?

At the beginning of the semester, I always make it a point to ask my college students, "Why are you here?" And everytime I'm astounded as to how many students are motivated by the desire to get a good job after they graduate. What is wrong with our generation, I ask? This materialistic society has fallen victim to greed: we worship pecuniary idols. There was a time when higher education was reserved for the elite, for the privileged few who could devote their time and money to the pursuit of knowledge. Now every college program, even in the humanities, seems to be geared towards career-building. Why? These kids will leave college with an half-ass education, a piece of paper, and a debt that runs into thousands, and they'll go to work in an industry that most likely will have nothing at all to do with their course of study. Why go to college? Why not improve our public K-12 curriculum and have these guys get jobs after high school, if that's what they're after? Trade schools? Yes, please. Apprenticeships? Certainly. Higher education is not for everyone, people. It's liberalism gone bad. I'm not being elitist, I'm only pointing out the obvious: if your end goal is to make money, why not take the direct train for a dollar rather than pay ten for the scenic route, where you're not even looking out the window?

Ok, I'm done with my rant for today. Now I'm going to go make some money painting a gas station, while I enjoy this proletarian illusion!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer Soundtrack

The greatest summer songs ever! Some are summer related in content, some in title, some in form, and some have some strange, subjective mental connection to summer: they remind me of a particular summer or an event vaguely associated with the season. Here you'll find American classics such as "Lazy Days of Summer," "Summer Night's," "Surfin' USA," and "Summertime Blues." Then you'll run into some Polish classic summer hits: "Tyle Slonca w Calym Miescie" and "Monika Dziewczyna Ratownika." And, of course, there are those that mean nothing to you--"Can't Help Falling in Love" by UB40, Sabrina's "Boys" (hilarious!), and "Zakazany Owoc" Krzyska Antkowiaka--but they hold a special place in my heart. In no particular order, a list of 50: 
  1. Mungo Jerry – In the Summertime
  2. UB40 – Can't Help Falling in Love
  3. Alphaville – Summer in Berlin
  4. Waly Jagiellonskie – Monika Dziewczyna Ratownika
  5. The Beach Boys – Surfin' USA
  6. John Travolta & Olivia Newton – Summer Nights
  7. Nat King Cole – Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer
  8. Anna Jantar – Tyle Slonca w Calym Miescie
  9. Bob Marley – We’re Jammin’
  10. Michael Franti & Spearhead – Say Hey (I Love You)
  11. Blondie – The Tide is High
  12. Chris Isaak – I Wonder
  13. Formacja Niezywych Schabuff – Lato
  14. Eddie Cochran – Summertime Blues
  15. Czerwone Gitary – Tanczyla Jedno Lato
  16. Captain Jack – Iko Iko
  17. Majka Jezowska – Na Plazy
  18. The Turtles – Happy Together
  19. Joe Cocker – With a Little Help from my Friends
  20. Sabrina – Boys
  21. Bruce Springsteen – Dancing in the Dark
  22. Chuck Berry – No Particular Place to Go
  23. The Animals – House of the Rising Sun
  24. Bryan Adams – Summer of '69
  25. The Beach Boys – Kokomo
  26. Zac Brown Band – Toes
  27. Dwa Plus Jeden – Chodz Pomaluj Moj Swiat
  28. Jimmy Buffett – Margaritaville
  29. Duran Duran – Rio
  30. Bananarama – Cruel Summer
  31. Waly Jagiellonskie – Corko Rybaka
  32. Don Henley – The Boys of Summer
  33. Weezer – Island in the Sun
  34. The Surfaris – Wipe Out
  35. Green Day – Basket Case
  36. Vanessa Paradis – Jo Le Taxi
  37. Eva Cassidy – Fields of Gold
  38. Bolter – Daj Mi Te Noc
  39. Van Morrison – And It Stoned Me
  40. Elvis Presley – Don't be Cruel
  41. Red Hot Chili Peppers – By the Way
  42. Little Eva – The Loco-Motion
  43. Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong– Summertime
  44. ABBA – Waterloo
  45. Bobby Darin – Beyond the Sea
  46. Al Bano Carrisi & Romina Power – Felicita
  47. Connie Francis –VACATION
  48. The Jamies – Summertime, Summertime
  49. Billy Joel – Uptown Girl 
  50. Krzysztof Antkowiak – Zakazany Owoc 
What's playing in your head? Feel free to contribute!

    Saturday, June 19, 2010

    Watching the Ships

    Yesterday, while working, I learned something new about myself. We were painting a house in Wareham, a quaint little town in Massachusetts sitting right at the head of Buzzards Bay. The house was a two story (really three) waterfront property, with a small dock for a boat and a large, covered deck that circumvented the Victorian. It was tucked away way in the woods: a narrow one-lane dirt road led to it. Most people around seemed to be seasonal residents, although I don't understand how one could own such a house and not live in it all year round. But I stood on the deck, my hair gently caressed by the morning breeze watching boats go by, and I thought, "I could live here"--hypothetically, of course.  With this epiphany I wondered: what is the basis for my attraction to this kind of living? After all, I never could see myself residing on the East Coast again: too many people, trees, automobiles... too much civilization. This is why I'm slowly working on my dream of owning a mountain property. But here in Wareham, I can imagine sitting on the porch with an iced tea and a book in perfect tranquility. Why?

    Let's side-track for a moment. I want to live in the mountains, so that I can wake up every morning to the natural beauty of the country, overwhelmed by nature, isolated from the noise of civilization, where people do not disturb my quiet existence, where I can spend sunsets on the front deck and listen to the grasses swaying, watching the surrounding peaceful giants prepare for their slumber in a bed of clouds. And every window of the house, a living work of art, tableau vivant.

    Now to go back to Wareham: the view of the bay sure is beautiful, and I guess it does represent the forces of nature. Although watching a storm on the beach would be more spectacular on an open ocean. But a house on the beach, open ocean, doesn't have the same appeal to me, probably because the view would get rather boring: water, water, water, horizon, more water. Here on the bay, you can see all the way across to the other side... there are little houses on the other shore, boats going by, distant bridges, and seagulls perched on bopping buoys.

    But, you say, what about the people? There are people. Yes, but these are not real people. By "real" I mean they are not your ordinary neighbors--they're on vacation. So while you live there, they are merely tourists! You see them every weekend, with their children and dogs, having BBQ parties with their friends, fishing, but then they go away. The people themselves are a sort of a live picture. They're lively. They're beautiful. They are enjoying themselves, not living their ordinary lives, but living a dream. They're not concerned with everyday mediocrity. And so they're beatiful because their existence is temporarilly stripped of problems and routine.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    Trees and Men

    Ah, Massachusetts... the place of the infancy of my adult life. Colorado may be my beloved home, but I will always consider myself a Bostonian. Something about the Old World charm of the city has had an attraction for me ever since I moved to this country: the cobblestone streets smoothed with age, the red brownstones, and the moss-covered cemeteries, where the ancient souls levitate above the gravestones sighing over the surrounding world--the world they are in part responsible for creating.

    The first thing that always strikes me when I land at Logan is the shortness of the runways: the plane swerves and shakes as it tries to slow down after touchdown. The general claustrophobia pervades the entire state. Once I get used to the tightness of the airport, the town, highways, streets, I can't help but notice the trees. Mind you in Colorado, we do have trees, but they're not so thick and abundant and they don't crowd the roads so much. It's as if they were all waiting for a bus at the side of the road or, like prostitutes, were looking out for that long-distance trucker to stop and hail one for a quickie.

    This promiscuous evergreen and deciduous overgrowth spreads its limbs limiting your field of perception: it obstructs your view, not only of what's behind the trees but also of the sky. In the West, the sky is expansive, huge, and free. The mountains are the only giants who can compete with its enormity and eminence. In the East, the earth seems to be in constant contest with the sky, fighting for prominence. I wonder if the natural characteristic of the landscape has any influence on the mentality of the people. Could it be that this need to wage wars, to dominate, to conquer, to grab land and slaughter whole races is in part dictated by man's compulsion to imitate nature?

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Romanticism in a Nutshell (Part I)

    I'm done with the primary readings of the so-called "first generation Romantics," so it's time for a reductionists-R-us version:

    1. Your sensibility is heightened when you're (a.) an innocent child or (b.) high on opium; it makes for good poetry. 

    2. Nature can teach you about morality, whoever you may be; society breeds corruption of the soul, injustice, and tyranny.

    3. Religion--be it Christianity, pantheism, or the worship of Urizen--is subjective; institutionalized religion is evil.

    4. Physical and spiritual wandering is good; it leads towards the truth.

    5. Raping, imprisoning, or otherwise oppressing women is wrong, especially if they're nuns.

    6. The revolution was good and bad, depending on how you look at it.

    7. Time is subjective and fragmented; memory and imagination allow for an escape from temporal and spatial confines.

    8. There's joy in suffering and suffering in joy, good in evil and evil in good, virtue in excess and excess in virtue: the world runs on opposites and contradictions.

    9. Reason is overrated; imagination is not.

    10. Gothic is good unless you're Coleridge; then it's just creepy.

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    Falling

    Another summer weekend gone by. The weather did not exactly cooperate, so our usual climbing venture had to be limited to the indoors. If I can help it, I avoid climbing in the gym. But yesterday I was somewhat distracted and upset, so instead of staying home staring at the weeping sky, harboring dark thoughts about the source of my anger, I opted for plastic. One reason I'm attracted to rock climbing is the activity's amazing ability to clear the mind of all the noise. When I'm on the rock, I cannot think about anything else but the next move. Of course, yesterday I needed an extraordinarily powerful method, short of lobotomy, of emptying my head and letting the demons out, so lead climbing needed to be implemented.

    Leading is a special kind of a mind-f*&$k. Although it may be true that anything you can top rope, you can lead, your own mind tends to prevent you: it has the ability to completely paralyze. A few weeks ago, while climbing in Clear Creek Canyon, my climbing partner was attempting to lead a route and couldn't get passed a roof. So I decided to climb up to the crux and try the move. Here's the sad part that has been bothering ever since: I found the move, I made the move, but couldn't convince myself to climb above that quickdraw. After that blow to my morale, I tried to find a reasonable explanation for my failure. I couldn't. There isn't one. Lead heebie-jeebies, that's all. 

    But I figured, if the mind engendered the anxiety, the mind can eliminate it. So whenever my thoughts bent towards climbing, I thought about leading and that irrational fear. Like a dork, a couch climber, I visualized falling from above the clip. I thought about the last whipper I took, how it felt, how I felt when I knew I was about to peel off, and the duration of the fall.

    In climbing Henri Bergson's philosophy of time finds its testing ground: during the fall, your conception of the length of time that elapses (what he would term durée) is totally different from the actual time of the fall (or to use a Bergsonism, clock time): the durée or duration is much longer than the clock time or chronological time. When you peel off, every fraction of a second turns into an eternity... every thought crossing your mind (and boy! there are a million) seems perfectly clear and focused. Your eye records every feature of the rock, movement of the rope. Strangely enough, panic is not one of the emotions you feel. While this movie plays out in your head in slow motion, the actual event of falling before the rope catches takes a fraction of a second. Once you experience the slight tug of the rope on your harness, its stretch under your weight, and the recoil, in some masochistic gesture you just want to climb back to the spot where you fell from and try the move again. Again panic or fear is nonexistent. In fact, the entire experience of falling is rather pleasant and liberating. But once you are down on the ground, undoing your figure eight, looking up at the route, thinking about the fall from the observer's perspective, your legs suddenly turn to cotton.

    The power of the mind is truly astounding! Yesterday's lead climbing session was not only successful but also perfectly delightful. How come? Because once the anxiety of falling is gone, you stop thinking about how far you've climbed above the last clip, and think only about how to get to the next clip. And suddenly you are no longer holding on to the wall with your teeth, butchering every move, forgetting every technique of climbing, but enjoying the vertical movement as you get to the next clip and wonder what the hell you were afraid of before. All your troubles disappear and you feel tranquility and pure joy. Mind you, this confident feeling can be gone the next time I lead, but at least I'll have a reference point.

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    Cherry Blossoms


    Cherry Blossoms, 2010. Acrylic on canvas, 32 in x 32 in. 


     Detail. 

    Thanks to Christopher Heikens for the photograph.


    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    Toto Has Left Kansas

    Going back "home" seems a journey to an intangible place in some indefinite time--a momentary displacement where the experience of the present is distorted with the events of the past that linger in our memory and, like a sleepy moth attracted to light, pull us away from the existent reality into a realm suspended between the past and the present. The experience becomes fully subjective: as we survey the objects of our current experience, we perceive something else. Our memory extends its tentacles and reaching into the past retrieves remnants of a previous existence personal and unique. In this time machine objects attain different hues: they shimmer and glow in the light of recollection and we feel a certain nostalgia for the time of our youth, the time no longer here.

    The hometown shrinks in proportion. That world, seemingly immeasurable, indefinite in dimension at the time, that offered unlimited options to the youthful eye, now stands naked, exposed with every nook in full view, already discovered and unappealing. The small grove at the edge of the town lurking with mysteries and magic now stands gaping wide. Your natural, childish curiosity has shorn its wings. You perceive the now charmless streets, buildings, sidewalks from a strange angle because although you attach feelings and emotions to these places associated with events from the past, you see them from at least two feet higher off the ground, enough to make things unfamiliar, yet at the same time strangely familiar. This uncanny perspective changes your focus so that you now do not see the graffiti and significant messages etched on the sides of buildings that used to be at eye level. Now your eyes can peek into the shoppe, where they get distracted by the baubles displayed in the window, while you miss half the world. Or that sticky chewing gum on the sidewalk that you would've immediately discovered, but now you unknowingly step into it and drag it along for a mile or so stuck to the bottom of your sole.

    Even the objects at your grandmother's house lose the aura your imagination had painted before. The pink peonies on the balcony scatter their velvet petals on the cold concrete floor and wither with no little hands eager to pick them up to throw into a pool of water where, like a fleet of ships, they would sway and spin.  And that comfortable arm chair where you spent countless evenings cuddled at your grandmother's side watching the knitting needles dance rhythmically in her hands now shows signs of aging, and sadly you perceive that the upholstery is worn out and needs patching.

    Yet you can still attach fuzzy warm feelings to these trivial objects. They give you wings to fly into that past and retrieve emotions no longer enduring. And suddenly you are overwhelmed with the aroma of peonies mingled with your grandmother's perfume. You can almost hear her voice as she makes some quotidian comment to your grandfather reclining on the sofa. And your heart fills with joy as you recall the innocence of that moment. As with the Proustian madeleines, the lapse of time between the initial moment years ago and right now becomes infinitesimal and the two temporalities merge together. And for a brief moment you enter a time warp, where you can almost touch eternity.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Riding Around in my Automobile

    Here's what I'm serving for breakfast today:

    Americans, I have some bad news for you: You have the worst quality of life in the developed world – by a wide margin. If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life. In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker.

    Read more here: http://www.escapefromamerica.com/2010/06/escape-from-america-the-grim-truth/

    Sad but true for the most part. I agree with many of the statements in this poorly written article. However, I object to the obnoxious tone and to the prosaic "solution." No political system is perfect. No country is perfect. And--Yes!--some are better than others. In case you didn't know, the United States has plenty of problems it should probably face and consider fixing. The health care system is awful and indeed designed to keep you sick, so you can support the medical and pharmaceutical industries. American eating habits are atrocious. Working as much as possible ensures that people stay busy focused on their everyday meaningless activities rather than on the poor quality of their lives, the corruption of the government, and the fact that they truly have very little freedom--the concept this country was founded upon. You can't even drink a beer on the street or smoke a cigarette in a bar! When you're not being occupied with work, the media devours rest of your time: with 600 channels on television and nothing worthwhile to watch, you spend a good portion of your already small chunk of free time flipping between them. If you do find something remotely interesting, every 15 minutes or so you are continuously being brainwashed with advertising. Add to this list pollution, overpopulation, technological backwardness, puritan ideology, white supremacy, and warmongering politicians, and you'll have a rather grim view of America indeed. Probably the worst of it all is that most Americans are convinced they live in an infallible, perfect world. Again the government, largely through the education system, makes sure this happy illusion is sustained. Then why am I not packing?

    Well, despite all these flaws, this country still has much to offer.  Most of the issues can be ignored, solved, or avoided: you can choose what to eat, drink, watch, listen to, read, drive, what drugs to take, where to work, and which ideology to follow. In fact, as long as you avoid the mainstream illusion, you have the freedom to create your own and, what's most important, to live in it relatively sheltered and unencumbered by popular culture. In fact, if you so desire, you can leave all this civilization behind and live in the woods, mountains, deserts, open spaces still abundant in this country. You can live off the land.

    And the land sure is beautiful! Just look around you... The sheer vastness of this country offers a multitude of climates, geological formations, and geographical orientations. You like the mountains? Live in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, California, etc. You like the ocean? You have two coasts to choose from. You like the desert? New Mexico or Nevada is an option. You like the prairie? Kansas and Nebraska are for you. You like it hot? Florida or Texas might be just what you're looking for. You like it cold? Alaska is waiting. You like big cities? There are plenty to choose from. You'd like to raise pigs and ride a pony? Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit! I bleeve America can oblige. How many countries in the world can boast of such a diversity?

    What about cultural diversity? The United States offers a truly eclectic mix of cultures. I can have eggs and bacon for breakfast, listen to some merengue on the radio, have sushi for lunch, buy a sari at a neighborhood Indian boutique, head to an Ethiopian restaurant for some fabulous kitfo, and go salsa dancing at night. All in one day... within 45 minutes of home.

    I like it here, because I have options. This country is like my Jeep Wrangler: I can customize it to my own taste. And it will never get boring. I love it!

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    If I Were Younger

    If I were younger, lassie
    If I were younger
    I'd drink not wine
    But the sweetest nectar of your
    Glance, lassie

    You would have loved me,
    Bright angel…
    At the thought my heart shutters
    For I see happiness in excess,
    If you had loved me

    I'd not search for stars in heavens,
    Or for the moon
    But I would look at you
    For you are more radiant
    Than the stars in heaven

    I'd spurn the brightness of the sun
    And the breath of spring
    And I'd live on your love alone
    For you are my inspiration
    And the sun's brightness

    But I am too old
    To ask, lassie,
    For your heart's surrender,
    So I only write this song
    For I'm too old.

    I flee from you,
    Golden butterfly
    For my pride does not let me
    Suffer, so full of longing
    I flee

    I laugh and drink wine
    Mixed with tears
    I look, beautiful lass
    Into my past
    And drink wine.

    --Adam Asnyk (trans Ewa Nowak)

    Monday, June 7, 2010

    Zen at Home

    Another week has begun, and I have some housework to take care of. Has anyone noticed how much work goes into keeping the house from falling apart? I mean seriously: mow the lawn, fix the roof, take the trash out, water the plants, tile it, paint it, clean it... the list is infinite! As soon as you finish one task, you're presented with another staring you in the face because something inevitably will break, get dirty, grow up, or creep in. The thing about chores is that they need to be done systematically at regular intervals to prevent a dangerous, unmanageable build-up of mess and rubbish. Owning a house is a waste of valuable time that could otherwise have been used on reading, writing, and climbing. But what are the options?

    Rent? I actually did consider apartment living just a few months ago, but I quickly decided against it. My biggest issue? Well, as I grow older I find I have increasingly less tolerance for my fellow men. In an apartment others tend to be too close for comfort. I have to listen to their children screaming, them fighting, their dog barking, smell their cooking, and watch them moving in and out of their place. I'm too old to live in an apartment. When you're younger, you are so excited about moving out of your parents' house you could care less where you'll be living as long as it's at a safe distance from them. But once you taste the pleasures and face the woes of independent living, you want comfort. And comfort takes time and money. In an apartment--despite the convenience of having your lawn mowed, trash taken out, landscaping done, and general utilities taken care of--you still can't prevent the dust from accumulating. And then, of course, there are those white walls and other generic decorative items that drive me crazy.

    The biggest advantage of owning a house, in my opinion, is the freedom of interior and exterior design. And if you are an aesthetic freak like me, the living environment you create in that small space you call your own matters a great deal, especially if you spend much of your time in it. Why does it matter? Because living space has a direct impact on our spiritual being. It can be therapeutic. A clean, well-designed house invites serene contemplation. It allows for relaxation and promotes inspiration. A messy, cluttered house adds visual distractions and causes stress. Surrounding yourself in beauty is like being wrapped in a fuzzy, warm, comfortable blanket. With interior design you control the circulation of energy in your home. If this sounds like Taoism, you're right, it is. The principles of Feng Shui design balance Chi in the home assuring health and good fortune for its inhabitants.

    So without further ado, I'm off to do my housework, so I can focus on my reading later today.

    Friday, June 4, 2010

    The Twilight Zone

    I find it difficult lately to relate to people. Graduate students are overstressed, too focused on their work, always politically correct, and frankly uninteresting until... you get them into a bar, but that's practically impossible. University professors don't have time to talk because they always think they should be writing instead. Philosophers are just impossible to talk to because they tend to discuss your argumentative method rather than the argument itself. Psychologists keep asking, "And how do you feel about that?" Bikers have fun, nonchalant attitudes, but their conversations--although wonderfully refreshing and forward--fall short intellectually, not because these boys are not intelligent enough but because they want to guard their bad-boy, hyper-masculine personas by avoiding sissy, philosophical topics. Rock climbers want to smoke pot and talk about climbing, say, about how stoked they are to have led that gnarly 5.11d with a run-out. Boulderers just want to smoke pot. Normal 9-5 crowd wants to talk about the job. Married people about getting pregnant. Moms want to talk about their children. Dads about what they would like to do but can't because the wife won't let them. Children don't really want to talk at all: they want to text instead. Parents want to talk about the weather and zoomba classes. They avoid talking about anything significant--especially that relates to their children's lifestyles--because they might say something that will provoke resentment. Oh, and grandparents... they just want to pray for you.

    As a rule, my friends tend to be older than me; some are so old that they're dead. This circle of friends includes writers, poets, philosophers. Mostly men. Like Byron, "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." They led turbulent lifestyles that often ended in violent deaths. I never had any illusions that either Dostoyevsky or Shelley, for example, ended up in Heaven. After all, all great poets are of the devil’s party. Passion is an excess of emotion, and excess itself is anti-Christian. And so Hell always seemed to me a much more interesting place, because at least one has worthy people to talk to and that makes for an excellent distraction from eternal torture. I never understood how anyone could be attracted to Christianity, when at the end of the thorny road of life, Paradise awaits: an enclosed garden with a whole bunch of boring, closed-minded, self-righteous people huddled together in some fanatical stupor of worship of a single unimaginative god. But I'm digressing... Needless to say, the problem with the dead friends is that, although they have things to say, the conversations tend to be slightly one-sided.

    In the words of the Captain, "What we got here is a failure to communicate." Am I the only one who notices this phenomenon? This digital, capitalistic world creates an immeasurable gap between people. Even if I have something to say, I'm afraid to say it: I might offend someone. And I most likely will. Whatever happened to free speech and revolutionary ideas and deep conversations and emotional connections between human beings. The 19th Century might have been the period where the past has severed from the present, but in the 21st Century humanity has achieved total alienation from itself.

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    Eyes Wide Shut

    I skimmed over news headlines this morning, as I rarely do, since I hardly ever find anything worthy of my attention. But once in a while, I attempt to anchor myself to some kind of objective reality, so that I can again safely relapse into my reveries knowing that the world outside is still intolerable. Today my conviction was once again confirmed: Gaza killings, oil spill, Cumbria shootings, teen sex and prostitution, high divorce rates contribute to global warming (Huh?), and my favorite, "Woman, hit by car, sues Google for faulty directions."

    Oh, Mr. Wordsworth you were so right: I wouldn't even call this "sad music of humanity" but noise. Who can blame you for taking into the woods, for looking to Nature--always beautiful and always good--for "joy/ Of elevated thoughts" and "a sense of sublime"? Perhaps if more of us could learn to look to Nature for guidance, we'd create a better world. Because there's not only beauty in Nature but also utility:

    ------------------ Therefore am I still
    A lover of the meadows and the woods
    And mountains; and of all that we behold
    From this green earth; of all the mighty world
    Of eye and ear, both what they half create
    And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
    In nature and the language of the sense,
    The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
    The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
    Of all my moral being.

    If this Laker is correct and our senses are not only passive observers of the external world capable of absorbing information but also can actively "half create," than imagine the possibilities! Just by opening our eyes and our ears, we upgrade our existence from Human 1.0 to Divine Being 2010. But how do we "create" simply by sensing? If what we perceive in the world becomes the basis for our moral composition, than depending on what we choose to perceive will guide our moral judgment. Now, if we believe Augustine that nothing which is beautiful can ever be evil, since beauty is a gift from God and one of His attributes, which means it must be good, than Nature, which is beautiful, must also be good. And if Nature is good, than the perception of Nature with the senses creates not only aesthetic judgments but also moral judgments. And since we're sensing pure goodness, our judgments must be good.

    On the other side of the coin, what happens if we sense ugliness, misery, despair, and debauchery--the noise of humanity? Wouldn't our judgment be influenced by the evil we see? Wouldn't it "half create" evil? So I keep my eyes shut to most of the world, and focus on the beautiful in Nature and in man. Instead of picking up a newspaper, I open a book of poetry.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    ¡Ay, Caramba!

    Today's topic: elementary school curriculum in the United States, or more specifically Spanish language classes. Why or why must my daughter learn Spanish (or sign language for this matter) in school? Why can't she study another language? Spanish is an admirable language, but there are others, although some children in the United States are conditioned to be ignorant of that fact: Once upon a time I was talking in Polish with Iza, and after a moment of listening to us her friend asked, "Are you speaking Spanish?" Why do we breed ignorance in our children by the exclusiveness of Spanish as a foreign language in our schools?

    Now I can sort of understand it, if she went to a public school. The choice of Spanish seems a bit more justifiable: (1) if the government took a pole, I'm sure that Spanish would prove to be the choice of the people, because of the sheer size of the Latino population in this country; (2) the government wants U.S. citizens to learn an economically useful language, and since the Latino population in this country is the second highest, for practical purposes of getting a job as a sales representative or a store manager perhaps it might make sense; also (3) perhaps Spanish teachers are more readily available on a government budget.

    But my daughter attends a private school. If I choose to pay for my daughter's primary education that she could otherwise get for free, I obviously care about her intellectual development. If I care about her intellectual development enough to pay for her education, she most likely will go to high school and graduate (I don't think this subject is open to debate). Then once she's out of high school, I'm pretty sure that she will want to attend college, since both of her parents attained higher education. If she attends college, she most likely will not be looking for sales representative or store management positions, because as an educated professional--be it in sciences, humanities, or the arts--she probably will deal with other college educated professionals, who most likely will speak fluent (or at least satisfactory) English.

    Even if she chose to enter a profession, in which Spanish would be useful (such as medicine, nursing, or law, for instance), she would be required to learn the language in the course of preparation for that profession anyway. Further, even if coincidentally she chose one of those professions, everyone I know who took Spanish in primary school or high school, fails to reach a satisfactory proficiency level... Hell, they can hardly remember a phrase or two! If utility is not the basis for the choice of Spanish on the curriculum, then what methodology does her school follow?

    Mind you, I believe that learning a different language at a young age is a fabulous idea: it develops a more cosmopolitan understanding, a finer sensibility to other cultures, and an ear for hearing different sounds of speech (or in terms of sign language hand coordination, sensitivity to others' conditions, and an appreciation for one's own ability to hear and speak). But shouldn't I have a choice in the matter? Or she? There is only one girl in the entire school, if I'm not mistaken, who speaks Spanish at home and that's hardly basis for a democratic election (In fact, there are three children who speak Polish, so democratically Polish should be the foreign language offered). Other than Jackie, my daughter doesn't know anybody who speaks Spanish nor does she have any interest in the language. Why would she choose to learn that particular language rather than French, German, Arabic, or Japanese? What about offering a classical language, such as Greek or Latin? Of course, if I had my say, Latin would be taught in schools. Yes, I know it's a "dead" language, but it's the basis for all other Romance languages, such as French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Even Polish uses Latin-based orthography.

    From my perspective, for a British Romanticist there's no literary merit in studying Spanish. There's also hardly any for a philosopher. Of course, border, Latino/Latina studies, or comparative literature are an obvious exception; but these are specific and atypical so an early preparation for these paths makes no sense. I don't believe the school chose Spanish based on its value in the humanities. A neighboring public high school offers French and Mandarin as well as Spanish. So on what basis was Spanish chosen?

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    To Catch a Fish by the Tail

    Ah... the long weekend is over! How fantastic it was to spend a few lazy days with a book and a fishing pole. Fishing is an entertaining activity: it's like a game one plays with the fishes, a gamble really. You have no control over the fish going for your bait, and even if it does, of it swallowing the hook. Sometimes, despite the interest you generate with your shiny, gracefully swimming lure, for example, the fish doesn't bite. Perhaps it didn't see it, it was busy doing something else, it didn't care for sashimi, it just wasn't hungry, or maybe it wasn't there at all.

    When you think about it, fishing is quite the opposite of reading. There isn't much uncertainty in reading: you choose a book, you open it, start reading, skip whatever you want, stop whenever you want, and resume whenever you want. You can have control over the entire activity. In fishing, you have none: you are completely dependent on the lower life form. Reasoning things out won't help you at all.

    Sometimes a fish will swallow the hook, and you may think, "Yup... it was my superior fishing abilities that were responsible, not luck at all. I chose the right bait/ lure, the right time, the right place, and here's the result: dinner is served!" Sometimes, however, something totally unexpected will happen. The other day, Don was fishing and got a snag, so he started reeling it in, and--Lo and behold!--he is pulling a fish in... backwards. What are the chances of catching a fish by the tail?

    In its unpredictability, life is like fishing. It depends on too many factors, most of them out of your control. And I see you puffing up and exclaiming, "Maybe your life! My current position was carefully arranged: my upbringing, my personality, intelligence, education, hard work have reaped in the harvest that I enjoy right now. As you sow, so shall you reap." I realize, of course, that my life may be more erratic than most others', but you would prove an arrogant ass, if you denied that chance--call it Providence or Fate, if you will--had nothing to do with it, that at least one aspect of your life didn't depend on some freak accident.

    For my part, if you told me when I was 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 even, that I would be where I am right now, I'd "comb your noddle with a three-legg'd stool/ And paint your face and use you like a fool." How did I go from Small-Town Poland through Big-Town USA to the Wild West of Colorado, from a Versace dress to a Stetson hat, from a corporate ladder climber to a rock climber, etc.? A series of little accidents, Lucretian clinamina or unpredictable swerves, accounts for our free will because it allows for a rupture in the causal chain of events. The unpredictability of life is the basis for psychological indeterminism: we are free because sometimes things go awry. The events out of our immediate control make us feel alive.

    So swim on, don't be afraid to swerve once in a while, and always expect the unexpected!