mad world

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine in Vancouver. No, that’s a lie. After I hung up the phone, before I sat down at my computer, I wept. The events that took place after last night’s hockey game have left many in shock and despair, myself included. I feel shaken and disturbed by the gravity of the violence, but most of all, I feel humbled. We like to consider ourselves civilized. We walk around and talk as if we’ve evolved past our most primitive instincts, and yet it is clear we have not. You can put shoes and lipstick on a lion, but it does not make her any less vicious. It is in a lion’s nature to be violent and fight for survival. Humans also have the capacity to be violent and at some point it did help us survive as a species. However, we have also developed this incredible gift called intellect. This gift allows us to save food for the winter, to work together and share resources and, arguably, it allows us to love. We have this incredible ability to project into another person’s experience, to imagine their struggle as our own, to empathize and want to help them—these are uniquely human qualities. In my opinion, they are what make us human. When we suppress this nature, when we indulge in fear and anger, I'm not sure I know what we are. We certainly aren’t embracing our humanity, but I'm not sure I'd say we’re animals either. An animals’ intent is pure, they are simply doing what they need to do to survive. We, on the other hand, have the luxury of living with the fruits of intellect: technology, science and entertainment. We no longer need to live in fear of being eaten by a lion in the middle of the night. We no longer need to kill a boar with our bare hands. In fact, most modern citizens couldn't bring themselves to do such an act. So if we have this beautiful capacity for compassion, what does it mean when we don’t use it? Or beyond that, when we destroy it? It would be arrogant for me to blame the rioters. I can’t say I don’t feel angry, but mostly I feel a deep sadness. To imagine seeing the world in my own image and wanting to destroy it so desperately and passionately must be a painful existence. To live a life with that much repressed anger and aggression is almost beyond my comprehension, but still I try to understand. It’s not a simple problem; certainly not one with any easy solutions. But in order to understand it, we must not isolate the so-called perpetrators. There are the people enacting the violence outwardly and then there is a society that supports repression and socially acceptable violence. Our media is infested with violence, and I don’t mean reports on murders. I mean gossip, dishonorable discourse and objectification. On some level, I am embarrassed at how shocked I am. Why should I be? The signs of our deluded sense of civilization are everywhere. We are constantly being told we’re not good enough, smart enough, good-looking enough, rich enough, whatever enough—we are essentially fed fear. Then we are taught to be tough, to control our emotions, to be polite, follow the rules, but at what cost? Sure, we have a false sense of predictability, but as we now see that only holds so much weight. If we’re taught never to question and understand ourselves, how can we know what to do when we feel deep feelings of loss, isolation and despair? It may seem trivial (and on some level it is) to get worked up over a hockey game, but to many it’s so much more than that—it’s a sense of community, of belonging, identity and power. When you mix the fear of losing those things with effects of alcohol, you get a recipe for primitive angst. Not to mention, a sprinkle of unexpressed and misunderstood male hormones.

I have stopped weeping now. The act of writing has helped to some extent, though the more I contemplate it, the more I realize how complex an issue it really is. It is easy to find reasons or explanations and it feels good to believe it could be that simple, but it’s not. To truly understand why violence and destruction exists, we need to close our textbooks, abandon our theories, and look inside. It exists in all of us, in different ways, in different forms, and to deny it is to stifle our only chance at evolving through it. Judging those with less emotional maturity, less emotional resources, and less intellectual vision is not the answer. Uncovering those parts of ourselves and learning to love is.

As for my friend in Vancouver, her car got trashed and torched. Her computer, wallet and the clothes inside were burned to a crisp. She and others have been collecting photos of the culprits doing the act, including one of a girl flashing the peace sign in front of the burning vehicle. I feel sad for my friend and her loss, but I know she’ll be okay. I know she will learn from it and work to build her emotional fortitude because of it. I’m not so sure what will happen to the people in the photos though. I can only hope they will also learn from this experience, that the weight of their acts will awaken their conscience. I also hope the weight of these acts will awaken consciousness in all of us. We are not as civilized as we think, and we need to grow up, otherwise we’ll end up destroying ourselves.

the war of art

Speaking of productivity and tackling those projects that turn from light bulbs to dark clouds over your head over time, I'm reminded of an amazing book I read a couple years ago. In fact, I'm going to take it off my bookshelf and re-read it 'cause it's just that good. A friend recommended it to me and then actually bought it for me when he was visiting NYC. He's a screenwriter and he swears it changed his life. When I lived in LA, I used to have lunch or coffee with him and was always impressed when he said he had to go "work." I was like, what work? To him, this meant spending hours on end in a coffee shop on Beverly and typing away on his laptop. This was, of course, long before he was nominated for several Emmys and a Golden Globe, when he was merely a bit-part actor struggling to get by. It just goes to show how persistence and hard work can go a long way. I'm telling you, this book well help light that fire under your bottom and blow any excuse you come up with to stop out of the water. As if that's not testimony enough, it's divided into short, digestable chapters that are entertaining and highly relatable. Okay, I'm going to stop writing and pick up the book now.

ready, set, do shit!

Do you have things on your "to do" list that carry over from week to week? Little things, like calling so-and-so, putting away the Christmas decorations or just plain old cleaning the house? I've been noticing a lot how these things seem to nag at me and probably take more of my mental energy than it would take to just do it. We're a funny species that way, not always the most logical, but we'll do just about anything to justify our comfort. So tonight I did a little experiment where I made consequences for myself if I didn't finish what I started. I also timed myself to see how long it really takes to do certain tasks. As expected, I was astonished (I know it doesn't make sense to expect to be astonished, but whatever) it took me less than twenty minutes to put away all the clothes that have been piling up for weeks. It's pretty clear that as smart as we are, we don't often use this intellect to our utmost advantage. Sometimes we need to play tricks with ourselves to get the stuff done that we don't find the most favorable. Does anyone else have tricks they use to keep themselves in check and their life in order? Would love to know!


sorry i've been a little absent...  (minded perhaps?)  i blame television.  not because i watch it now, but because i did.  a lot.  here's an interesting and potentially disturbing video.  could explain some things... [youtube][/youtube]

ps. i don't really blame tv for anything, it just made for a good segue.

the peanut butter principle

Hovering over my kitchen counter, on the verge of dipping my spoon into the peanut butter jar for a second round of delectable sensory satiation, I suddenly had a flash of my father - standing in the kitchen, jar in one hand, spoon in the other.  Then I had a flash of the friends I have for whom this type of behavior would be abhorrent.  I was conflicted, but it quickly became ap-parent why we develop the habits we do – monkey see, monkey do.  Subsequently, there are also the beliefs we must adopt in order to support our behavior - rational or... not so rational.  Despite knowing my mother isn’t a fan of such distasteful displays of consumption, or perhaps because of it, I adopted the time and energy saving technique and, clearly, held on to it.  It made sense to me.  Why bother with extraneous utensils or useless carbohydrates when all you really want is the delicious peanut butter anyway?  The logic remains solid for me.  However, there are other things that made sense to me as a kid that I have since revised.  For instance, when I was a kid, after I’d eaten from the peanut butter jar, I would inconspicuously lick my spoon until there wasn’t a streak of peanut, or butter, to be seen, and declare it clean enough to go back in the drawer.  I even thought I was doing my mom a favor by reducing cleaning duties.  (sorry if you're reading this mom.)  I don’t remember the exact moment I realized this probably wasn’t a sufficient form of dish-washing, or adequate hygiene, but I do still think about this innocent assumption and wonder how many others I still have yet to challenge. We all have habits, routines, beliefs, and assumptions about the world.  Most of these, I imagine, are modeled after our parents’; probably also babysitters, teachers, friends, and icons, but our parents are often the ultimate authority on what’s good and bad, right and wrong, or “appropriate in public” or not – at least until we (hopefully) develop our own sense of values and reasoning ability.  Whether we grow up attempting to model our parents in all their success and glory, or do everything in our power to be exactly the opposite, we’re still upholding the basic structural belief system handed down to us as kids.  We are "pattern-making machines," as my friend once said, only most of our patterns were created without the luxury of logic.  So what the hell?  It was Einstein who said, “You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.”  How can we see outside our faulty filters and develop consistency with reality?

Now, when it comes to eating peanut butter out of the jar, I’m not too concerned about my perceptual limitations.  Maybe one day I’ll be in a situation where someone doesn’t like it and I’ll get scolded, but other than that, the consequences seem pretty minor.  But what if I was brought up to believe people of different social classes, cultures, or IQ’s are not of equal value?  Or on a very basic level, what if I was told I was no good at math?  And I believed it!  Or what if I was taught that financial success was the only way to be happy?  This may not look so terrible on the surface, but the limitation lies in our inability to see other options.  Our intellectual capacity often overrides these basic irrational beliefs and we're able to avoid having them challenged, but internally we feel trapped by these rigid expectations, and the projected expectations of others.  By not examining our habits and beliefs, we are doomed live in a world of relative inconsistency and fear, because no two people have exactly the same beliefs, and those two people are the ones who taught us everything we know.

In some ways I feel fortunate to have had parents with differing worldviews.  Whether it was the proper way to eat peanut butter or the intricacies of child rearing, there was much discussion to be had in my household; so much so, my parents have been separated since I was four.  Their conflicts encouraged me to consider both sides of a situation, which I think helped me become a better critical thinker (I've been told, also a better arguer).  I spent many hours determined to find solutions to my parents’ supposed problems, trying desperately to re-establish peace.  And now, I’m still driven by a Spock-like compulsion to find common ground through logic, naively grasping at the hope that people are open to, or even looking for, resolution.

It’s funny, I find, how a simple bite of peanut butter could spur such self-examination.  Thus, I believe, is the beauty of the human mind.  I began writing thinking I would make a commentary on “habits” - for better or for worse - but in the process I revealed perhaps humanity’s worst habit of all: the habit of not questioning.  So whether we continue to choose in accordance with our well-worn paths, or veer victoriously into uncharted territory, the important thing is to know why.  Is your compass internal (based on values, ethics, and experience) or external (based on fear, rules, and what others think)?  For me, eating peanut butter out of the jar still makes sense, but I feel more compassionate towards those who may have an opposing view.  If I had grown up in a house where such behavior was punished or, even worse, resulted in a beating, surely I would have a different set of rules and boundaries.  I probably would have begun this blog entry with: “Hovering over my kitchen counter, preparing to spread the peanut butter neatly on my toast...”


ironically, after i wrote this, i googled 'the peanut butter principle' because i thought it would be a cool title and i seem to remember a cheesy movie from the 80's that shared it.  what came up was this anonymous essay that brings up some interesting ideas in a similar vein to what i just spoke (minus the Jesus talk).  go figure.

and the movie was called 'the peanut butter solution.' oh well.