mad(der) world

Since my last post, I’ve had some time to think, reflect and gather more data about what went down Wednesday evening. Obviously my knowledge is still extremely limited, as is the nature of communication and media, but some new insight (from thoughtful friends and various blogs and publications) have helped me build a fuller picture of the situation. Unfortunately, it’s only added fuel to my fire (if you’ll pardon the metaphor), sparking further questions into the nature of humanity and how it is we can ever live in a civilized world. Apparently the atrocities were not the sole effect of too much alcohol, testosterone and broken dreams. People, some might say “anarchists” (though premeditated violence and looting doesn’t quite match my understanding of anarchism) had designs on the city before the game had even begun. Some of the rioters were known to have wreaked havoc during other events, like the Olympics and the G-20 Summit in Toronto. However, in this scenario, the authorities had no warning, no apparent reason to hire extra security and protection. In hindsight, perhaps a little naive, but I think it’s safe to say the whole city was a little high off the possibility of the Stanley Cup win and the pre-fab community that emerged as a result. That fact that “professional rioters,” if you will, instigated the violence is understandably easier to swallow than thinking Vancouver hockey fans are just incredibly poor losers. However, it is a slippery slope to point the finger at a small group and blame the rest on “mob mentality.” As most people would agree, there are such humans who live to destroy. For whatever reason, their psychodynamic has led them to derive pleasure out of performing destructive acts and they proactively seek out such experiences. These are the people we see in horror movies, behind bars, or read about in psychology textbooks. These people are a threat to society and the safety of other individuals, there is no doubt about that. However, we also have this other contingent: people who are, by most accounts, well-meaning, law-abiding, good-natured citizens. These people don’t stand out as being violent or aggressive, perhaps even less so than someone who expresses their anger openly. But under certain circumstances, these people are willing to completely defy all their usual rules and give total control over to their emotions. I’m sure I’m going to get shit for this, but I believe these people are more dangerous than the so-called anarchists. I say this because they are invisible. They are not stating any adverse principles or ideals, they are not rejecting the status quo, they are accepting it, playing along, until someone gives them permission, and then they’re completely unpredictable.

I think it’s good for all of us to consider our boundaries, our ethics, and what we think is right. There is so much we do without even thinking, just because our parents said, or society says, or because it’s always been that way. But when those structures aren’t there, it’s easy to get disoriented; unfamiliar territory and intense emotional charge can create a lot of distress. I tend to think events like this are the result of a culturally accepted lack of thinking, lack of evaluation, lack of ethics and, again, lack of love. Not to get all hippie dippie, but if you think about a time you felt intense love, maybe with a loved one or after a beautiful film, do you think you could then go out and throw a newspaper dispenser through a store window? I couldn’t. Only with feelings of intense despair, fear and desperation could I imagine doing such an act. It’s like they say about pit bulls, they’re not inherently mean dogs, but their owners train them to be vicious. Well we need to train ourselves to not be vicious, we need to train ourselves to love. We need to embrace our fears; not run away from our negative emotions, but rather understand them. Otherwise we’ll end up with a society plagued with of well-meaning, but under the right circumstances willing to destroy everything they’ve built, individuals. It sort of reminds me of a child who destroys his own lego castle because he doesn’t get his way. Perhaps that’s the most apropos metaphor of all because at the end of the day, I think we all have a lot of growing up to do.


On a separate note, if you can identify anyone in this video, please let me know.

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.

rest in peace

Throughout my life, I've had a lot of experience with good old-fashioned road trips. My mom grew up in a quaint little ski town about ten hours outside of Vancouver. Every holiday we’d pack our sedan with blankets, pillows, snacks and game boys, and cruise from morning ‘til night. These days, the distances I travel are much shorter, but they usually involve at least a few hours of driving on the highway. During these excursions, I’ve become increasingly familiar with the rest stops along the way—the particular restaurants or gift shops they host, the cleanliness or convenience of the bathrooms, even some of the people who work at them. I used to consider these mandatory interruptions a major inconvenience, but I’ve since come to appreciate the humanity inherent in these iconic landmarks of the modern age. First of all, they don’t discriminate. Whether you’re traveling by limousine, pick-up truck, or semi trailer, chances are you’re going to have to use the facilities at some point in your travels. (If not, I’m afraid to ask the alternative.) Our most basic needs are exposed in a way we usually try to deny or just plain ignore. In order to survive, we all need food, water, and a way to dispose of these substances once they’ve been processed. It uncovers certain unifying qualities of the human experience, qualities we tend to want to overlook, especially in a culture driven by convenience and consumption. But after you’ve been driving in a car for hours, a cemetery of coffee cups and water bottles littering the floor, a rest stop is a saving grace like no other. I might even be so bold as to call this a universal human experience: Next rest stop—two miles. YES!


A rest stop is a place where every single patron shares a common bond—every single person has a destination and where they are in that moment is not it. There’s a transient quality that is neither masked nor mourned. Everyone is en route, stopping only momentarily to rest, refuel or relieve oneself. There is no pretense, no posturing, the mission is simple and we’re all in it together. At least that’s how I feel when I give a knowing nod to the woman in the bathroom mirror before continuing on my merry way. It’s like being part of a community with no solid identity, only the communal value of getting somewhere else, comfortably.

I wouldn’t be surprised if one day we have drive-through rest stops, some way we could complete our bodily chores without even exiting our vehicles. Yes, the image it evokes is slightly grotesque, but surely stranger things have been invented, and accepted. But if it were that way, I think I would miss the connection that happens when you share a sink with a fellow traveler, resigned to the reality of your travel rituals and relishing in the opportunity to stretch your legs and get a fresh cup of coffee. It can be a welcome relief from the isolating act of driving, a reminder that a world exists beyond your driver’s seat view.

I suppose the objectification of the rest stop experience is an easy metaphor. We’re continuously finding ways to make things more streamlined, more efficient and less effort. But is this necessarily good? I drove back from Comic-Con a couple years ago with Edward James Olmos and Michael Hogan. Naturally, we had to stop at a gas station to fuel up and, you know, do the opposite of that. There was one dingy bathroom around the back of the store. I waited in the small line, a couple people in front of me and a few behind—children twisted around the railing as their parents straightened in a bored summer haze—but when Eddie came out of the bathroom, I could feel their eyes get bigger. One person recognized him, nudging the other, and so on...

By the time we pulled out of the gas station, I could see a few heads peering around the wall, pointing in curiosity and awe. Now, this would probably appear benign to most people, probably even to Eddie himself, but I can’t help but feel it’s important. It’s important to embrace our human qualities, share our common struggles and not try to avoid these experiences that make us uniquely human—and part of the greatest emergent property of all: humanity. So whenever you’re at a rest stop, whether literally or metaphorically, try to embrace that experience, maybe even enjoy it; after all, the world would be a pretty shitty place without it. ;)


the first rule of being vegan

I don't exactly walk around preaching veganism, or making a big deal about it. If it comes up over a meal, so be it, and I'm more than happy to answer questions about my choices or things I've learned in the process. I've had some interesting experiences as a result - people reacting funny or connecting with other vegans - but ultimately it's taught me a lot about mindfulness. We all eventually come to realize that life doesn't come with a rule book (D'oh!). Most of us write our own or spend our lives searching for some philosophy we can stomach. Still, rules don't generally jive with the ebb and flow of life. Life is dynamic; rules are rigid and static. So while I set certain ethical guidelines for myself to follow, it takes constant evaluation and consideration to know if what I'm doing is best. And in the end, you never really know, you can just guess and hope that not too much harm was done in the creation of your grand experiment.

When people challenge me on my dietary boundaries, I encourage it with curiosity. Is honey vegan? I don't know. Most people would say no, but I don't have any data to support cruelty to bees (it's what they do, no? make honey?) or that it's bad for the environment or that the industry is corrupt. If I learned about some horrible part of the honey-making process, I'd stop eating it. The point isn't to make yourself a slave, or a victim. The point is to make decisions in your life that uphold what's important to you and that help you fall asleep at night with a smile on your face.

The reason I'm talking about being vegan is because it's something pretty common that I think is often misunderstood. I feel like it exemplifies an oversimplification of ethics that is so prevalent in our culture. People deem things "good" or "bad" with no evaluation, and then they build up a bunch of fears and rules around it. Choosing to not eat animal products is a step in the right direction, sure, but it by no means makes you an ethical or "good" person. I've seen animal activists act extremely violently and even, sadly, destroy their own message through their anti-humanitarian behavior.

In veganism, as in life, things aren't black or white. There are always questions and considerations and my hope is that these continue on beyond the adoption of some trendy label. In promoting veganism, I would like to promote thinking and evaluation above any sort of special treatment of animals. Because I believe if we thought more, considered more, and connected to our true nature and values, we would treat animals better anyway. I mean, why not?

So... the first rule of being vegan? Don't make it a rule.

hide and speak

I can't remember when I first learned about Chinese artist Liu Bolin, but I've never been able to forget him... Even though I couldn't really see him... Actually, especially because I couldn't see him. His self-portraits have him blending in with a diverse array of backgrounds, so much so that sometimes passersby don't know he's there until he moves. For me, they evoke sensations of isolation and the harsh reality of how we objectify ourselves and each other. There's something about seeing someone painted like that, like an object, that screams out: you can't hide humanity. I find it so powerful. Not to mention the sheer artistry and dedication it takes to create such pieces. They're absolutely breathtaking, beautiful and unforgettable. Here's a sampling of his photographs and a short video:

eating animals

The subject of eating animals has often been a topic of heavy debate in this little mind of mine. Not so much whether to eat them or not – I’ve been a vegetarian since I was twelve – but what it means to treat a living thing as an object or a vehicle for satiation; also, how to be ethical in a system that uses animal products for so many things. I thought it would be pertinent to write about this since I just read an article in the New Yorker about Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book (non-fiction this time) named, aptly, “Eating Animals.” Well, and with it being Thanksgiving and all, I suppose it's somewhat relevant.  I have yet to finish the 352 page foray into the well-traveled world of omnivorous ethical dilemmas, but I already have the sense he takes a slightly different approach than most. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his previous novels, “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” The latter of which I devoured audiobook-style during my first drive/move to LA from Vancouver; I made it all the way to Sacramento, compelled by the humble and engaging characters, unable to put them to rest. This time, his characters are living, both internally and externally, sharing both insightful investigations and factual fodder. Inspired by the birth of his son, and the desire for a consistent and informed moral foundation, his journey takes him far beyond the reaches of a writer’s study, into factory farms, slaughter houses, and even the sensual smells of his Grandmother’s kitchen. Despite the obvious soapbox trap, his voice remains, like his fiction, compelling, humble, insightful and humorous. Since I was 9 years old, when I realized the stuff inside my McDonald’s hamburger was the same stuff that amounted to my hamster, guinea pig, and rabbit, I felt conflicted about ingesting this mysterious, yet delicious, substance. For a few years, I went back and forth, often swayed by my school's “hamburger day” or an exciting Thanksgiving feast; following the norm was also just easier. Eating the lasagna my friend’s mom made for dinner, shoving the pangs of guilt into the pocket of my Guess jeans, was much easier to swallow than thought of causing trouble with my pickiness. But after a particular, some might say spiritual, experience when I was twelve, I never (knowingly) ate another animal. One misty autumn afternoon I was running along the dyke near my house and stopped at the one farm left in our newly developed neighborhood. By the fence, solemnly, stood a lone cow - not eating, not mooing not even walking, just staring... at me. I stared back, and with the earnestness and intensity only a twelve year old can come by honestly, said simply, “I can’t eat you.” As sentimental as it may seem, my decision grew more from the discomfort with my logical inconsistency than a heartfelt emotional reaction, however that was probably what pushed me over the edge. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved animals, even my stuffed ones were deserving of my affection at one time. Growing up, our house was rarely rendered petless. So I asked myself, how could I love and nurture animals of all shapes and sizes, and yet support their slaughter and consumption for nothing more than human enjoyment. (I say enjoyment because I don’t believe humans need to eat meat to survive, at least not in our technologically advanced society.) I could possibly produce a similarly sized publication as Foer’s if I were to knead out the complexities of my ongoing internal struggle, the issue is far from black or white, but overall I’ve come to terms with the fact that it involves a constant evaluation and re-evaluation of my values. I’ve never been one to preach about my choices and for some reason this particular one is something I've felt solid about ever since I made the decision to stop eating meat, but I do think it’s important for people to at least ask themselves how they feel about it and why. Aside from the effects on the earth and the animals themselves, I think by the worst effect is the destruction of our own humanity that results from objectifying living beings. The disconnect between our actions and our values, when left unexplored, leaves an ever-widening gap in our experience of ourselves.

I encourage you to explore your own feelings on the subject, or even check out Foer’s if it interests you. Here are what some other reviewers and essayists have to say...

‘You Know That Chicken Is Chicken, Right?’ by Michiko Kakutani

'Mau-Mauing the Flesh Eaters' By Jennifer Schuessler