Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Origin of Enlightenment

The experience of enlightenment--of being enlightened--is a great feeling. It makes you feel like you have gotten somewhere, accomplished something, reached dry land after having waded through bogs of shit for years on end.

Of course I use the term in its general sense: being relieved of a burden. On a metaphysical level, the burden the great spiritual leaders have sought to shlug off is ignorance. For me, I feel a sense of lightening when I clear out things from my life that have been clogging my spiritual arteries. Materialism is the #1 cause of congestive failure of the spirit...it lines its walls like a fatty layer of cholesterol, blocks light and cuts of air circulation. It's no wonder why the Holy Father has called materialism the primary enemy of religion in this age.

It can be anything, the most inoccuous of preoccupations. My excessive focus on bikes lately at the expense of my spiritual health is one of many examples I have to offer of the vines chocking the tree.

But the feeling following the concerted hacking and freeing of the self from this constriction is the same: the deep inhalation of freedom, the feeling of gratitude, of rebirth into a new state of being.

The funny thing is I have not attained any real state--I am only returning to what has always been. Its easy to forget that "Nirvana" is not a place to go to--at least not in the way we conceptualize existence in our present space-time continuum. I got rid of two bikes this past week and I feel free now that I am down to one. But I forget that at one time all I had was one, and even before that, I didn't have a bike at all.

Step it back some more and you can find a time all the burdens of existing started to lay themselves upon us--when we escaped our parents house and experienced the intoxication of independence, it was not long before we were longing for someone to cook us dinner and pay our bills for us. when we started getting up from the floor and putting one foot in front of another, lying in a crib all day (so nice!) became unacceptable.

Keep taking it back and you will find that it was birth--our first experience of the self--that first brought us out of pure being and into an ego-tained world of existence. I imagine this is where the koan "what did your face look like before your parents were born?" comes from.

So I felt...what's the word...slightly "purer" after getting rid of the bikes and regaining some spiritual footing and focus. But there's really nothing to be proud of, ever...we are only returning to the place we came from, trying to become an Empty Vessel and filling our boats will all kinds of crap found along shore.

Prayer for the Morning

"Their land was alive with frogs,
even in the halls of their kings.
He spoke; the dog-fly came
and gnats covered the land."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Washing Oneself With a Rag On a Stick

With gas prices and the effects of global oil panic and speculation rippling through the country, people are finally starting to wise up to the benefits of conservation. Not having a car, I don't get to share in as much of the joys and headaches that many Americans take for granted. But I do try to trim my energy budget in other ways. Like collecting milk jugs and soup cans for the passive solar heat exchange wall I was designing yesterday. It would be nice to have something like this for when I own a home someday, hopefully. I plan to use it in my passive solar greenhouse this winter, coupled with an active 12v solar powered water heater unit unit.

But while I was enjoying my nice hot shower this morning, I thought about how 25% of a home's energy budget comes from hot water (that's a lot). Hot water is hot water, whether you're bathing in it or washing your dishes or circulating it through your radiators. I take pretty short showers compared with my brothers and most people I know, but then I thought, 'why do we take showers at all?' Granted, there is nothing nicer than taking a hot shower when you're traveling or after getting back from a camping trip. But most days I get up, go to work, and come home. Sometimes I take the bus and sometimes I bike, but even when I bike I don't sweat like a hog and this time of year it evaporates and all that's left on me when I get into the office is some dampness on my back where my bag is. So I'm never really that derty, hygienically speaking.

I am a pretty consciously clean person, as most of my friends and my bidet will attest to. So I'm not about to forgo bathing in the name of the environment. But I do think we wash with much more frequency in this country than is necessary, and that almost always involves the use of hot water, whether in the summer or winter. I have heard from some hippies and some normal people as well that there are even little organisms living on our skin that are beneficial to our health and when we're constantly scrubbing ourselves with anti-bacterial soap we are killing them!

So for all the people who are struggling with the $4 gas prices, I am passing along my new bathing strategy so you can save some money. From today on I will be using this method in the hopes it will catch on. Here's how it works:
  1. As I said, I'm a pretty clean person, but I do think showers once a day are unnecessary if you haven't been working out or getting sweaty or working in a restaurant. From now on I will be washing on average every other day. Some days more, some less. I will not go longer than two days without washing.
  2. My bathtub will become a "washroom" and the shower will not be used. A small stool for sitting and washing feet, and a large bowl and ceramic pitcher will be used for washing and rinsing. I learned in Thailand that a bowl is a surprisingly effective tool for washing.
  3. A sequence is employed to minimize time spent washing. This is especially important in the colder months. Body parts are washed in the following order: 1) ears; 2) neck; 3) underarms; 4) forearms; 4a) calfs/shins (summer); 5) genitals; 6) feet. Face is washed separately, before or after bodywash, at sink to ensure all soap is removed from face with help of mirror. Typically body parts which are not exposed (back, chest, upper arms, legs, etc.) can be ignored, though a full body wash or shower should be taken at least once a week and at most twice per week.
  4. Washing hair is an individual preference. Because my hair is frizzy, I have found washing just with water and not shampoo helps to maintain some of the natural oils that prevent this. Therefore, hair will be wetted and washed but not shampooed at each bathing.
  5. I will wash in the evening before bed. There are a few reasons for this:
  • One is that when I wake up in the morning I am cold. Because of this I usually take longer hot showers to warm up. When I get out of the shower I am also cold because my entire body is wet (evaporation). Washing after work or after dinner makes it easier to be undressed in the washtub because the house is much warmer during the day/evening.
  • Washing in the evening also means that I wash after, not before, my commute, and I go to bed fresh and clean and my linens stay freer of body oils and dirt.
  • Washing in the evening also gives me more time to sleep before work.

So there you have it. I am looking forward to having more time to sleep in the morning, helping to conserve natural resources, saving the lives of millions of valuable microorganisms, having healthier, more nourished hair, and someday when my heat and gas isn't included in my rent, saving some money. As Bart Simpson once said when he imagined himself as an obese invalid on disability unable to shower, "I wash myself with a rag on a stick." Booya!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"I'd be at work, and all of a sudden I'd feel like I was about to have a breakdown and cry. I was so worried I'd act in an unprofessional way that I could only just do my job. I'd have to just excuse myself and say I had a headache and had to leave the office for the day. I hated everything; I hated my life. I wanted a divorce or an annulment. I felt I had no friends; I felt I had no future. I had made this terrible mistake. I thought, my God, what are we going to talk about for the rest of our lives? We're going to have dinner together, and what are we we going to say? I've nothing to say anymore. I would tell him to go away, that I wanted to be alone; and then what I really wanted was for him to insist on being with me. What really matters to me? I'd ask myself. I don't know. What would make me happy? I don't know. Well what do I want? I just don't know. And that totally freaked me out. I had no clue. There was nothing I was looking forward to." --Claudia Weaver (156)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Noonday Demon

"I felt myself sagging under what was much stronger than I; first I could not use my ankles, and then I could not control my knees, and then my waist began to break under the strain, and then my shoulders turned in, and in the end I was compacted and fetal, depleted by this thing that was crushing me without holding me." (18)

"Every second of being alive hurt." (19)

"People around depressives expect them to get themselves together: our society has little room in it for moping." (29)

"I feel sometimes as though I am swallowing my own funeral twice a day, since without these pills, I'd be long gone." (30)

"Depression came slinking in on its little cat feet." (39)

"...the perennial existential crisis." (39)

"In their hugs, I felt safe for the first time in weeks...When we got back...I felt completely stupid." (43)

"...a loss of feeling, a numbness, had infected all my human relations. I didn't care about love; about my work; about family; about friends; My writing slowed, then stopped. I had always had a headstrong libido that had often led me into trouble; it seemed to have evaporated." (45)

"I began to complain that I was overwhelmed by the messages on my answering machine: I saw the calls, often from friends, as an impossible weight. I found myself burdened by social events, even by conversation. It all seemed like more effort than it was worth." (46)

"It occurred to me that my relationship with my girlfriend had ended because of an earlier stage of depression, though I knew it was also possible that the end of that relationship had helped to cause the depression." (46)

"I was angry...angry in an irrational, spoiled, foul way." (47)

"I was, most of the time, too upset by everything to be upset by anything in particular." (61)

"I spend more and more time on the phone with representatives of managed care companies [HMOs], trying to justify patients' staying here [at Johns Hopkins]. When patients are still very, very ill, if they're not acutely suicidal that day, I get told to let them out. I'll say they need to be here and they just say, 'I'm denying it.' I tell family members to get on the phone, to call lawyers, to struggle. The patients are obviously too sick to do it. We feel we have to keep people here until it's safe for them to go someplace else. So the family ends up getting the bill; if they can't pay it, we write it off. We can't sustain the policy, and besides, it makes the insurance companies take advantage. It also makes people more depressed; it's just terrible." --Sylvia Simpson, Johns Hopkins Medical Center

"If you have the gun to your head you can perhaps get your treatment covered. Put it down, and you're back out on your own." --Jeanne Miranda, UCLA Health Services Research Center


Friday, May 9, 2008

Les Jours et Les Temps...C'est un Mystère

I've been sending out some emails to friends from Paris for the past week, but they have been the voice for both Jeannie and I, relating where we'd been, what we'd seen, etc.. As one of Jeannie's married friends who wanted to take an acting class said, "I want to do something for myself." That's why I started this blog, after all.


Part of this is spurred by reading entries from John P. McNamee's Diary of a City Priest, a book Jeannie found too depressing but one I find--like Goldilocks--"just right." I like the format being a series of temporally and spatially unrelated (ie, non-linear) short entries--i.e., a diary. So that's how I am going to write. Enjoy. Or not. I don't care much either way.

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"Face the tranquility, and all its charm, and all in blessed privacy."

Jeannie is out today and I am in. We agreed to have a day apart, mostly for my sake. My need for time alone is like gas to a car. This is my first time traveling with a girlfriend. It has its advantages and challenges. It does touch on my fears of being trapped in a situation where I don't have that privacy, though, the same feeling that comes while driving through the desert close to 'E' and nervously looking for signs to the next service station. She is very understanding, though, and knows me well enough to know that it is not as much selfishness as it is a legitimate need (though the potential for selfishness is always there). Trying to cut out solitude would be like trying to cut calories out of a diet, or hours out of a sleep cycle.

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I want a cigarette out on the balcony, overlooking la rue du Douai and the Hotel Touriste. But then I would just want another one, and then it would not stop. Then I would be just as unhappy as if I didn't have one at all.

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Sleeping at night has been consistently difficult in our section of Montmartre. Clubs and bars attract a lot of people, but the biggest annoyance is the drones of scooters which shoot up and down the street all night. It is as if a landscaping crew is perpetually trimming hedges outside our building. Any romance I had of these two wheeled has evaporated; I now fantasize of blowing them up and replacing them with Harleys and freight trains.

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As cute as our little kitchen is, the ungodly mystery smell which wafts into the room whenever the refrigerator doors are opened is enough to make me homesick. We have been as of yet unable to locate a source.

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Life is not as dramatic as we make it out to be; it does seem proportional to the amount of meaning we infuse it with. Existential and Absurdist thought is grounded in absolute freedom; that an individual has no meaning in life besides that which he creates for himself. He is then also charged with the full responsibility that comes with his choices. As Dostoevsky says, "man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born. For the secret of man's being is not only to live but to have something to live for." Whether or not that thing is true is of less importance that the belief in its truthfulness. But I question the value of such meanings at all.

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Traveling is higly overrated. Aside from speaking a different language, what is different about Parisian culture? Not much. Smaller cars, people working less, and more expensive everything. I have been highly suspicious of anything that smacks of "greener grass." Why must I see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre? Do these hold more worth than anything else? If I choose to lay on the couch all day, every day, and enjoyed it, would my vacation somehow be worth less? Some of my best memories are of sitting with my father on beds of pine needles on the side of the road, eating trail mix and pieces of chocolate, and drinking cold water from a nearby public library, and working in my garden.

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I did not like Sacre Coeur. It felt like no more sacred a structure than any other, and to have learned it was built by an ultra-catholic faction of the church for political as much as spiritual reasons (following the Franco-Prussian war) made it that much less so. There were stations everywhere where one could deposit money to light a candle. People moved as if in a daze; I resented being herded like some kind of livestock. We did find a quiet area to sit down for a little while, but I was ready to leave, as this place held no appeal for me.

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I confess to Jeannie this afternoon that I am having a hard time feeling excited about the places and sights Paris has to offer, not because of the city in particular, but because my inner disposition makes one things just as good as the next. I feel like one of those children who flabbergast their parents by forgoing an expensive Christmas gift in favor of the box it came in. But even the box holds no appeal for me, and I feel as empty as it's inside.

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Gabriel Marcel, Albert Camus, Simone Weil...all radical French intellectuals whom I hold in high esteem. I have no respect for those who challenge convention for its own sake, and nothing but the highest regard for those who push the envelope of human knowledge for the sake of truth, even at the expense of their own social standing, personal suffering, and possible excommunication. Truth is often buried under stratifed layers of social convention. Christian Existentialism, despite its condemnation by the Church (or perhaps because of it), houses the archaelogists that seek to excavate it.

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I just learned the day today--it is Friday. It is a gift not to be in need of that particular knowledge, if only for a week.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Flavor and Class: High Rollers, Trailer Trash, and Everything In Between

Ice cream, like our society, is stratified. Segregation occurs by brand (Acme brand ice cream being the lowest caste; Turkey Hill second lowest; Edy's third; Breyer's--middle caste; Ben & Jerry's upper teire; Häagen-Dazs--crème de la crème.

Less well known, however, is the stratification of ice cream by flavor. Type-casting ice creams by flavor is not a hard science; it relies on intuition and speculation. In the same way a person can look at someone and tell what side of the tracks they come from (this is called "prejudicing"), one may make a value judgment on a particular flavor of ice cream based on a number of characteristics: color, texture, spatial arrangement of toppings, palatal interactions, etc. The following is my personal classification system for ice creams and commentary on the various inequalities that exist.

All flavors of ice cream generally fall into one of 6 distinct classes. They are:

  • Upper Class / High Society;
  • Upper-Middle Class;
  • Middle Class;
  • Low Class;
  • White Trash;
  • GLBT/ "Alternative" (Novelty) Ice Creams

Upper Class/High Society

Upper class ice creams distinguish themselves from the riff-raff by cultivating an air of sophistication. "High 'Creams" can be recognized by their muted color palates and noticeable lack of what High 'Creamers sometimes refer to as "floating garbage"--that is, flavored morsels and extra ingredients that find their way into the ice creams of lower classes. Appearance is particularly important. For the most part the Upper Class enjoy flavors that suit their muted but refined WASP-like palate.

Mint Chocolate Chip (the white kind): exudes class, since it may be served to guests in clear crystal bowls on a silver platter, and can be topped of with a fresh mint leaf. High rollers also take a kind of sinful delight in the small chunks of chocolate.

Coffee: associated with outdoor Venician cafes and political discourse. Typically served with little spoons.

Sorbet: has the low-fat, fruit-based advantage; evokes wistfulness of summers in the Hamptons.

Gelato: it is foreign and cannot be bought in the supermarket. For this reason, Italian gelato is the quintessential iced-cream for High Rollers;

Vanilla Bean: it's white. But it's also not just "vanilla." Vanilla Bean is right at home in High Society.


Upper-Middle Class

A vanishing category in America, but alive and well in the social world of ice creams. Typically composed of flavors that desire Upper Class status but have one or more defections that keep them on the second-class shelf. Attempt to compensate by adding nuts. Think runner-up Miss USAs or Vice Presidents, and all the insecurities that come with the position:

Butter Pecan;
Prailene Almond;

Pistacio;

Mint Chocoate Chip (the green kind);
French Vanilla.



Middle Class

These are the old-stand bys that are not as laden with amenities as their lower-class brethren. Keeping toppings to a minimum is one way middle class ice creams keep a safe distance from "Ghetto 'Creams."

Cookie's 'n Cream (the " 'n " keeps this flavor from advancing up the ladder);

Chocolate Chip (the non-mint white kind);


Vanilla (the non-bean kind);
Chocolate;
Strawberry;

Neopolitan (Middle America at its finest)
;


Low Class

Low class ice creams are what the High Rollers dream of eating but are not socially permitted to, and what the Upper Middle Class indulge in when they are out on the town and feeling "naughty." This form of "slumming" for the U.M.C. is only possible with low class ice creams, however--White Trash flavors, while offering a titillatingly whorish selection, are, like High Society, in a class all their own. As always, U.M.C. must settle for second best. Low class flavors mimic their White Trash brethren (like the Upper Middle Class, they seek to emulate (rather than distance themselves from) their neighboring class), but lack the hedonistic abandonment with which W.T.'s approach their social position:

Black Cherry: the lack of popularity of this flavor and its low position on the social totem pole is due in large part to its insecurity over identity issues. While claiming roots to the Fruit family, B.C. lacks a home among both the sorbets and sherbets, as well as the more established and respected domestic fruit flavors, such as Strawberry. B.C.'s "blackness" is also a sensitive topic, made more so by the upward movement through the classes of its noticeably lighter cousin, "Bing" Cherry. Like the hot chick whose hotness is overshadowed by her lack of mental stability, Black Cherry is a flavor avoided by most since it has nothing to offer but its own insecurity and complexes.

Peanut Butter Ripple/Peanut Butter Cup: two half brothers--one chocolate, the other vanilla--fathered by the same Puerto Rican Peanut, they are respected in their community and speak frequently about being products of a mixed-flavor union.

Fudge Ripple: the lack of ornamental toppings is the only thing that keeps this dirt-'stach flavor from being shelved at an Alabama A&P. Its general indifference towards its status, and the lack of commitment to a definitive flavor (Middle Class vanilla with skid marks? Chocolate that tastes like carob?), could be likened to a high school senior being accepted to Indiana University of Pennsylvania but going to community college because he forgot to send in his acceptance confirmation.

Dutch Apple Pie: This is what happens when an Amish family moves off the farm and into the city. At least in the country their flavors were "homey."


White Trash

This is by far the most animated class of flavors because they just don't give a fuck what anybody thinks of them. If they want to mix up Hershey's Syrup and Lucky Charms in Chocolate & Vanilla ice cream, they are going to do it. One gets a sense that this class of flavor is more at home in rural areas. Names like "Moose Tracks" and "Rocky Road" evoke images of a place where signs that read "PRIVATE PROPERTY. VIOLATERS WILL BE SHOT" mean home.

Rocky Road: while it is commonly believed that Rocky Road was created during the Great Depression by ice-cream great William Dreyer, this flavor (which consists of chocolate ice cream, nuts, and marshmallows) was actually made in the backwoods of Arkansas by a 10 year old boy named Mitchell, in lieu of his usual breakfast of milk and Sugar-O's. The recipe spread around the trailer park, and the local paper came and took a picture of Mitchell, his mouth and rat-tail coated in chocolate--a testament to this new breakfast treat. Rocky Road's is the 10th most popular flavor in America.

Moose Tracks: takes low class Fudge Ripple and throws a bunch of other shit in.

Double Fudge Brownie: apparently "Fudge Brownie" was not sufficient unto itself...

Chocolate Marshmallow: marshmallows (air-infused sugar globs) and chocolate, stains of which can frequently be seen on the shirts of DQ clientel.

Candy-brand (Reese's, Snickers, Heath Bar, etc.): sugar=flavor=good.


GLBT/"Alternative" (Novelty) Flavors

This last category (commonly considered "atypical") falls outside the vertical strata of the previous five categories. It is akin to the "Misfits Island" in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. It is within this class that all the foreign, flamboyant, seasonal, and novel flavors of ice cream find their home. The only thing they share in common is that they are all freakish flavors that will probably never make it into the public mainstay.

Rainbow: the public face of GLBT ice cream. Unabashedly flamboyant. Believes all colors should live in the same carton.

Sherbet: has a "sorbet" complex...i.e., it's not sorbet, and never will be. Still fruity, though.

Creamsicle
: the "bi" of frozen deserts. Is it sherbet? Is it ice cream? Who cares! Have your cake and eat it too!

Soft Serve/Frozen Yogurt: these frozen treats are effeminate by nature and live on the fringes of "hard" ice cream society. While fro-yo can be bought in stores, soft-serve maintains an air of exclusivity by limiting flavor selection and availability to creameries and custard stands. This does not make either any less popular, however, among dieters, school-children, and roller bladers. You go girl!

Cake Batter: this flavor is popular among pre-schoolers and toddlers who manage to somehow climb into the freezer to play "bobbing for ice cream."

Peppermint Stick: a seasonal treat...(and one of my favorites actually!)

Strawberry Cheesecake: the 'Betty Boop' of ice creams. Slightly whorish. Popular with men.

Cotton Candy: this flavor is the color of a leotard and attempts to mimic carnival fare. Enough said.