This section will serve to let me get out my frustrations, philosophical ramblings, and other interesting ideas which have served to consume my mind while in Uganda. Feel free to read or skip; It is a separate page because, in most cases, it is not important or relevant to the things that are or are not occurring in the country.
The Easy Life
The last book I read was Che, a biographical account of the revolutionary Ernesto Guevara. It got me thinking about people of history who are remembered for their lives and their romanticized and inspiring personalities which drove them. I understand that I am using one man as a case for point in a huge generality, and I'm sure that there are plenty of people that do not meet the description that I will continue with. But I think, if you allow me this blatant fallacy of composition, you'll see where I'm going. It's my thoughts; I can do what I want.
There is no doubt that Che and many famous people before him lived extremely awe-inspiring and even tempting lives, in a sense that even reading about their adventures one can not help but be put in a dreamlike wonder and intese longing to experience something similar. So many times, reading biographical accounts of people in the past (Meriwether Lewis comes to mind instantly, for example), I feel like I've been slighted for not growing up in a world where things like what they have done are even possible. Certainly, as well, in their lives they have endured tough roads, and have set and maintained many personal goals which many o us, possibly inferior men, would have been unable to adhere to. It is like they live in the space that most of us only experience the week after New Years (aka the week after New Year's Resolutions).
At the same time, there are some things about Che that didn't impress me. Here's a guy who is extremely intelligent, and has a mind that refuses to accept the easy answer, and continually searches for his beliefs anywhere he can look. When Che was still young, he was openly searching for belies, for answers to problems that he was seeing inside his own country. He was ironically extremely resistant to any one idea or political stance, and all throughout his education he remained loyal only to his idea of moral code and honour (not unlike Chris McCandless, the kid from which Into the Wild was written.) Later, though, it seems clear that he wasn't picking a single stance because he was already forming his own views.
At this point of the book that I read about Che, I'm just about ready to learn spanish, grow a sweet goatee, get a beret, and head into Cuba. It's inspiring stuff. But then it gets a little bit weird. He forms his views, surrounds himself with books supporting and mastering his views, and never looks back. He (as any extremist political figure is) extremely appealing to people for his determination, unbending will and unwillingness to compromise his beliefs or "play the game." Even Fidel Castro looks like a cool-headed strategist next to Che. Because at this point, Che has found what he has determined to be "the truth." He is at that point. It feels good, obviously, and it has been reinforced by the successful guerilla war which took place in Sierra Maestra, Cuba.
Everyone of us has had this kind of feeling. It's that "boom" moment where you realize that what you have searching for seems to of been found. You think you've really got it. It could be with regard to a simple mathematic problem. Great. You're there. Then something happens. And in you're in the dumps. Your math test comes back with more red than a Chinese Flag. You realize that your epiphany was a bit premature. You haven't actually gotten there yet. This is life, right? Finding that information, testing it, revising it, etc. etc. etc. The epiphany's come less and less, and your guard becomes more and more raised each time.
But for Che, this last part never happened. Oh, don't worry; he was proven that his theory, that his system did actually have faults. In the Congo, in Bolivia, oh yeah, he got some serious setbacks. But he didn't blame it on his idea, on his mentality, or on his belief that guerilla-styled struggle was the only true way to accomplish an anti-imperialist revolution. He blamed it on timing, leaders, even on himself. He had suddenly made his belief system and political views towards a utopian society completely unfalsifiable.
How nice would it be to get to that point in mathematics, where you think you've got it all figured out, and just kind of stop? You get back tests that prove you're wrong, but you don't care! You just say, eh, I was careless, I wasn't paying attention to the question, etc. etc. It's not a question of a fundamental wrongness, you say, it was just an off day.
The rest of us don't have that kind of pleasant lifestyle. We deal with failure everyday, but we have to change our views/actions as a result of them. If we don't, we get fired, we get divorced, we find ourselves living in a van down by the river.
The illogical rational of value
There are so many things in my relatively scant house that I have never used, even in the entirety of my 10 months here at site. Why is this? I think it's because of my illogical sense of assigned value to items that are here.
It seems that something that is valuable, to me, is so because of the scale of which it is irreplaceable. This isn't something I'm conscious of, at least wholly. I'm not even all that sure that "valuable" is the right word for it. But I think you get what I'm getting at.
For whatever reason, likely not unrelated to my natural born tendency to horde everything I find, I never actually use things like my multi-colored pipe cleaners, my high-quality rip-cord rope, or my water balloons. I love these items. They are TOO good to use. That is exactly what my mind tells me, whenever I think of things for them.
Inevitably, the boiling point comes. I am fed up with how long it has been since I got the item, only for it to sit on my shelf unopened. I thus use it immediately, probably with rash impetuousness in a way that makes it truly go towards a wasted cause, or at least a less worthy cause than the numerous other ideas I had for it previously. But, ironically, I feel better. It's not there anymore. The stress is gone.
It is the most commonplace, least outstanding of the times that I own which are the, in real life, most truly valuable in my life. They are valuable to me in a sense of cost, rarity, or even attractiveness...but in the opposite way "valuable" items are supposed to be. They are dirt cheap, found everywhere, and ugly as sin. So I use them for everything.
A favorite hobby of mine is attempting to personify objects of my daily life, and then trying to step inside their would be thoughts to determine if, they way I'm seeing them currently, they consider their life well used, or satisfying; ultimately, if they'd be happy with their function given their purpose and identity which I've defined for them as having. My Arc Teryx Bora 80 pack, for example, I believe is pretty pumped to come to Uganda with me. National Parks, weeklong trips to exotic lands, and several times to prove it's worth would be right up it's alley. My leather clad, University of North Carolina emboldened with silveer crested badge folder, on the other h and, would seemingly be much happier in the hands of a business majoring, google interviewing junior who keeps his hair short, pants pleated, and could give an estimate location and expectations of life for his next 10 years in a matter of 4 sentences.
Is there anything with more class systems than the ones inherent for pieces of paper? I actually just inadvertently named a class myself; a "piece" of paper is so obviously indescriptly middle class to an aristocratic "sheet" of paper. A sheet is so much more pristine, so self defined as a blank slate, thereby simultaneously both full of potential and intimidating qualities to even those, and even especially those, who make it's profession off of it. At that point, it seems win-win; if you cause writer's block by your infinitely white and seemingly unending openness, then what an achievement! If you've inspired or aided or given a man like Hemingway an avenue with which to change the world at large, could there be a greater honor for you?
But wait. What about the pieces (<- see, I did it unconsciously again, lowering a sheet because of how I'm going to portray it) that are thrown away, balled up and tossed haphazardly into the embarassingly frail waste container? The fact that you've been put in a wast container solely bought for the anticipation that you and your kin would fill it must be extremely disheartening- or is it worse to never have your own waste basket, and rather be thrown in w/ the rest of the common filth of a household? To be sure, we are talking about the lesser of two extremely lowly, incredibly unhappy lives.
I quickly passed over what paper must consider its most feared enemy; the crease. THe ball up must be the equivalent of being hit by a mack truck to a sheet. Every piece fo the sheet is folding against itself, forever tainted from its perfect flawlessness, present only moments before. Even if one tries in earnest to repair it's aesthetically pleasing value, it is futile; it's innocence and purity has been ripped from it. One second, you were the promising document intended to proclaim love to another, the next you're an unintelligible, half completed mess of a paragraph crumbled into a ball of imperfection, clumsily laying beside a basket for whcih, even in this aspect of your life, you were unable to be given enough attention to reach properly. The human who ruined you gets to forget about you, erase you from his memory as a mistake, while you have to continue wearing the exact thing that made you a mistake, crumpled in the equivalent of the fetal position beside the trash. Truly, the thought makes my stomach turn to knots.
I feel the pain for this example, but for the others I get confused. The number of feelings paper have must be able to completely envelope that of a humans (terrible pun). What about origami, for example? In this instance, it seems that the feared and surely hated creases of paper are turned into meticulous folds that seem not to reduce but rather, impossibly, increase it's flawless nature. The only parallel I can find seems all too cheesy, but it seems that origami could take the place of our ballerinas of the world. They are easy to imagine becoming one, quite different towards actually becoming one. At the end, I think one would wonder if he/she knew what they were getting into from the start, if they would still like to become it at all. I mean, looking at my only experience from ballerinas (Center Stage and Black Swan), it seems to be full of mending blisters, fixing bleeding toes who's most difficult dance is staying on the line of impossibly skinny and imperceptibly full of stamina. On the inside she's a mess, but on the outside she's beautiful, made more so by her apparent fickle nature of being broken at any moment. Perhaps, instead, it is a ballerina that is like Origami, for it IS origami that embodies what a ballerina tries to portray. And, either way, inevitably their insides are constantly in knots.
Post it Notes have to be the entrepreneurs of the paper life; always ready to commit themselves to any new idea or phrase, putting it all on the line at the drop of a hat. Wide-ruled paper obviously is born with mental instabilities, both because of it's name itself and because everybody knows NOBODY likes wide-ruled paper over college ruled, given the choice. Scrap paper seems to be a mix of pieces that are ashamed, while others extremely proud of what they are. They are the world's cancer victims; some managing a lovely, elegant life of not only survival by thriving livelihood, somehow empowered by an otherwise crippling disease...while others find the corners of any room, trying not to be noticed, trying to escape being swept away by natural occurrences of life around them.
Being a human is much less stressful.
No need for thanks
There are few things that irritate my more than when people in inappropriate tones and situations say thank you. Let me explain.
Saying thank you, to me, implies that you are acknowledging one's help with something that is of your own responsibility. Than you, sir, for helping me with my grocery bags. Tahnk you for stopping and offering a lift, but the tow-truck will be here shortly. Cheers.
When the act is a collective project culminating toward a larger whole, wherer noone is assigned to do work but where everyone's work is needed, this is no time for a thank you. Hearing thank you, although perhaps generally though of as a positive coment, becomes a declaration of superiority, pased from the sayer to the receiver. The person who's not doing work, loking to find a way to make himself seem entrenched as part of the good that is being done, says thank you to the person doing work to make HIMSELF feel better. Saying these words to another denotes that he is appreciating the work you are doing for HIM, thereby causing the work to be aprt of HIS greater action. Thank you is hierarchial, tyrannical, and completely frustrating for someone who just wants to be a part of the team and isn't thinking about ranks or roles, who is focused only on the task as a whole unified group. How do you respond to such a comment? You're Welcome? I didn't, and am not currently, doing this as a favor to you! I'm doing it, same as the guy beside me.
Of course now the suddenly made inferior man has been tainted. As if someone has just caught him dancing to a teen pop song alone in his room, he realizes that there are others around. Why is Jim sitting down? Where'd Chris get gloves from! What the hell! His whole perspective has been killed, and the man saying thanks is to blaim.
Well done, Nice Job, Great! are all lesser variations of abrasive terms that don't quite so strongly give the stench of a high throned dictator, but not by much.
When I work in Ngora, I never hear a thing. People come, pick up a hoe for a few minutes, or not, and leave. Others stay longer than me. Do I ell them thanks? Hell no. Do they to me, or ever lok at me like I'm doing something as part of their greater design? I'd never allow it. This is our project, and we are each jus doing our part. Some do more than others based on time, priorities, strengths, laziness, whatever; everyone knows that what they put in is what they're getting out of it, in pride, experience, and personal regard for self-worth and respect.
The greatest compliment I've been given here is acceptance, expectation, and when appropriate, looks that say "c'mon, opolot. You can do better." This compliment doesn't need any words. So you can keep your "thank you" to yourself. Thanks.
The difference of a year.
In time, it doesn’t seem like a long time. At least not says somebody regarding it with philosophical undertones, embarking on a blabbering description of what it really means. But really, looking at the year amongst one of, say 60, that one lives, it occupies less than 2 percent of your life. 2 percent can be represented by two pennies jingling in your pocket. More people would vote for Sarah Palin in the next election than 2 percent right now. Pie charts would have to be blown up to over 100% magnification just to give the 2 percent a chance to be read by the human eye. …It’s small.
Interestingly, though, time doesn’t really work like that; and at this point, you could of course you could insert the phrase “it’s all relative,” and I’m sure you could skip the rest of this whole thing without missing a thing. Smarter, not harder, as they say. These kinds of quotes and life-lesson intended paraphrases of true revelations can be quite dangerous. If you spend too much time respecting the quotes, underlining choice words describing the larger whole, then you miss it. If you have any consciousness with the act of replacing a quote for a paragraph, or a picture of a quintessential success story with a catchy phrase for an autobiography, and you yet you still, well, DO replace it, it seems like you’ve admitted to laziness at best, and at risk of acceptance of inferiority. Quotes are supplemental. They are underlined after the important part has been described. The long version is what you want, the quote just cheated it with cuteness and aesthetics. Ever see a guy drive up to a picturesque mountaintop, roll down his window (maybe), take a picture and leave? Ever been that guy? How about the one standing at the same overlook, panting with his pack next to him after a 3 day trip with this peak as the overall goal. That guy driving, this “quote”, has just taken a picture of what other “quotes” will take to be the same thing as the man hiking. Don’t be the quote. Let people quote you. Let you shake your head and continue on. The quote has just tried to take something that you earned away; quickly you realized that he’s only deepened your resolve, and pity is the overall feeling you’re left with.
Sorry. The difference of a year is odd to me, because I’ve always tried but never been able to understand it. In fact, that’s the only way I think about it is in disbelief. “it’s only been a year.” “it’s been a year?” The amount of time is clearly faulty, for it obviously isn’t the ticks of the clock which makes up our definition. Being raised on a clock all of our lives, we still are terrible at it. “I lost track of time.” (Am I still allowed to use quotes to illustrate my point?) This is especially true, though, with the difference of one year.
Firstly, the fault is in ourselves to make distinctions between what a year means. A calendar year? A fiscal year? Year to date? It’s like oceans, inside of my head. Once I knew that there were different names for what was one big giant mass of connected water, I got confused. I mixed up the names. I had to develop “quotes,” shortcuts, because at this instant, I was definitely admitting inferiority of my own mental capacities. Eventually I figured it out, but I also knew that I had to learn it. I had to accept that it was something less than perfectly logical for the sake of not being called an idiot all my life. Because of this I never respected it, and because of that, I have never and will never get a strong hold of the subject.
With human age, the difference of a year is even trickier. At times, certainly in the most impressionable times in our lives, it is a cause of things. Why am not allowed to go to the movies? You’re not old enough. Hey, why does he always get the last piece? He’s the little one, just let him have it. Why can’t I sit in the back of the bus? Because that is for the highschoolers. Rosa must have chuckled somewhere when she heard me ask that on the elementary parking lot of Oklahoma.
With elders, age had become defunct, and is only important in it’s inability to be seen, as an excuse, and in choosing to take pride (normally as an effect of not being able to hide it, so we revert to calling attention to it before others can. Kind of like Quakers.)
In the middle ages (which I will not define…which is a different topic altogether on why I won’t), the year becomes tricky. We are in between societal pressures, which happen to be contradictory. On the one hand, age rules the universe. We go to school, are grouped by it, are ranked in the family by it, and are given privileges generally in regards to it. We get presents when we advance in it. As we grow older, we find variables. You see a 13 year old kid in your cal 3 college class. You realize that your younger brother is making more money than you are. You can go out all you want to. Over 21? Alright, go in. You’re 29? I don’t really care, dude. At the same time, males still generally date those 1 or 2 years younger than they are. There is still a fairly set idea of when you reach Junior year, when you get a job, and when you should have a Christmas card with a baby in it. And a dog. The fish doesn’t cut it anymore.
In dating, the struggle is enhanced. Certain topics begin to dictate apparent age. Empowered women at the age of 20 might seem like their 25, putting them at an apparent age a year or two (because this phrase joins 1 and 2 years together, thus making it even more difficult) older than you are. Then one day you escape from the illusion, from the cave, and you see truth…she’s younger than you are. Should you start acting as one older than the other might act? Have you just admitted that you aren’t acting your age? It’s her fault! What did I do? Huh?
If only we couldn’t judge apparent age by physical features. If we couldn’t put a range on a person at all. The range need not be correct, or even close. It is that range which on some level will dictate the way they are treated, and thereby will dictate which way they will live their lives. Even if you’re defying it, you still become slave to it by definition. Turn the opposite direction of your navigator every time he/she says something; who do you think is leading the trip? Thus it seems we are powerless on at least some very fundamental part of our lives, besides perhaps eating disorders, plastic surgeries, foot binding, and sleeping with cucumbers on your eyes.
I didn’t realize it until now, but I think I’ve decided time is evil. Time is the invention of some Damien-like presence in the world who’s decided to mess with all of our heads. In our best moments, we conquer this demon; we lose ourselves in the now. In our worst moments, or at least our most obviously boring ones, we are held slave to time. Minutes turn into hours.
In summary; It’s all relative. All the rest of this is just for personal pleasure, and perhaps the attempt at enlightenment of some tautology-like proof, up until now unfound by me. But, hey, Time flies when you’re having fun anyway.
Paradox of Beauty
(Warning: I have only frustration with this topic. I have no answers, and therefore no summary or succinct form of ending. Explanations are welcome.)
“He had spent 7 years of life with Tereza, and now he realized that those years were more attractive in retrospect than they were when he was living them.”
One of my deepest fears can be summed up in the sentence above. Let’s be clear about what this statement is talking about; it isn’t that this man hadn’t realized how great things actually were in the moment, and was only to realize them looking back. Rather, he found that the idea of his 7 years were more attractive than he experienced them to be. He wasn’t saying, “Man, that was a great time I had.” No, he had realized that the time represented something quite beautiful, and realized moreover that he wasn’t able to appreciate it, then or now, in its time. That’s because he was so distracted from worries, from expectations, from idiosyncrasies, reactions, worries, worries, worries.
“His love for Tereza was beautiful, but it was also tiring; he had constantly had to hide things from her, slam, dissemble, make amends, buck her up, calm her down, give her evidence of his feelings, play the defendant to her jealousy, her suffering, and her dreams, feel guilty, make excuses and apologies. “
This description was taken specifically from 2 characters, with each of these descriptions a reference to a specific act previously described…but one need not read the book to understand. I know most everyone has had these feelings, and has been lost in these tedious actions from which they dictate in response, in reaction. Only after this amazing time in ones life (even though, after defining it, the beauty seems to be a bit harder to see), are we able to recognize it as such.
“Now what was tiring had disappeared, and only beauty remained.”
The most interesting part about this whole thing, though, was that it was positive. He got a warm feeling by the realization of how beautiful he found it, and how great it made him feel that he not only was a part but was a necessary agent in its creation and development. He wasn’t wasting his time living in regret of his lack of ability to perceive it, because he wasn’t granting that it was even possible to do so. Instead he took the whole thing at face value, let it be, considered it successful.
So what’s at play here? Is it simply the preconceived, trained notion of what is a beautiful relationship being seen, and thus it can be defined as something enviable to have lived through? Is there not a fundamental problem in realizing that something is more enviable after it is over than during “the beauty”? Perhaps, and I would never argue against it, that societal pressures truly are powerful enough to revel in the beauty of something that they weren’t enjoying when they were in it. Certainly this is one option. How many things, one has to ask then, contained beauty in the moment of the action, but because they are unacceptable or because they aren’t quintessential enough of a positive moment in one’s life, they were discarded?
So many instances flood into view, just thinking in this light. When I was 16, I wrecked my car after having it for less than a week. I flipped the car 2 and a half times on the solid pavement, ending upside down on the side of the road after hitting another car at over 60 mph. I remember absolutely nothing of it. I woke up, was upside down, and decided (I’m so logical) that I should probably get out. I got out of the window, looked around. I had a scratch on my elbow, and my chest hurt from the seat belt.
It was an accident. One of those moments that are so commonly viewed as “life changing.” Supremely powerful as it might be…it didn’t do much to me. I was freeked out for a day, certainly. I remember going home and taking a bath, and having hours pass by without knowing it. In a matter of a few days, though, I was over it. I told the story dozens of times to my friends, of course, and I had to work through what this meant with the car, insurance, my license, etc. etc. etc. with my parents, but besides that honestly I wasn’t affected.
After a few days, the craziness of it all started to sink in. My stories, not through intention but simply through instinct of exaggeration and desire to remain in the spotlight through my refusal of death, became more grandeur. They became more vivid, and I even started to see what had actually happened during the accident. I began declaring it a wake-up call, first to others, and then to myself. I began changing parts of me that I didn’t like, as if I had the right to change my personality because for 10 seconds I was unconscious. I interviewed at a magnet school, and specifically drew out the story as a sign of my commitment to studies. The interviewer had been “touched” by such a heart wrenching, fantastic story of survival and a recommitment to life.
No. I wrecked a car. It sucked. Story over. Because of whatever you want to fault (movies, directors, books, Martha Stewart, Nike, the idea of a picture frame), though, I had turned it into exactly what it “should” have been- a cause for effects. THE butterfly. A life changing moment. A proof of commitment. The quintessential reason for “why.”
This is one option of why beauty was seen only after the completion of the relationship. Perhaps the scarier version is that the beauty is not manufactured, but rather shrouded from view (which I believe was the author’s idea) because of a lack of focus on the important aspects of the relationship itself. Now, as I said earlier, the “he” never doubted himself for his recognition, seemingly never admitting that it was possible to see the beauty because of all the other actions which helped to be such. But does his consolation really make it any less depressing on the whole? That we may never be able to see beauty, to live and appreciate during the moment? In fact, it seems to make it even worse. For what good are the beautiful things in life if you think they are such only after they have ended. Recollections, perceptions, vantage points, and other retardations of the time are so liable to alter the event after it has been completed. In the moment is the ONLY time in which we have no chance to foul it up in our mind. It is simply there. And at that point, we don’t truly appreciate it?
It is one thing to create your own definitions and manufacturing of beauty, but it is anther to be unable to recognize, appreciate and live in it the true form of what beauty might be. If the allegory gives me view of beauty, then dammit I want to be able to experience it, then, without messing it up with everything else occurring in my inner and outer worlds.