Archive for February, 2004

gary zukav

I am in the process of compiling a list of books for my mom to bring to me in Paris. I am also in the process of reading John Gribbin’s In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat. I am enjoying the subject and was considering having her bring The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav which I own but never got around to reading.

Yesterday though I was reading bits of Zukav’s Soul Stories which I have listened to on tape before. I was getting really irritated with him. The image was Gary and Capitan Snugglebunny prancing happily down through a bright and sunny magic meadow to drink from the mystical spring of transformation. I wanted to be able to grab him, pry up a chunk of the magic meadow, plunge my hand into the urine soaked putrescence beneath and try to cram it in his mouth shouting, “This is the earth your dream is built on. This is the rotting bodies of the children too blinded by their hunger and their suffering to ever live your dream. What about them? Would you leave them behind? Why are you wasting your fucking time saving those who aren’t in danger?”

I read him a little bit differently the first time. =)

So, anyhow, how does The Dancing Wu Li Masters rank? Good physics? Not too much fluff? I think my fluff threshold is pretty low right now. Supposedly Peace Corps was going to make me jaded. This is the first I’ve started to see of it.

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re: J: Writing (j: lewdness)

to clarify, mostly as a historical point: a number of people were expressing off-list discomfort with the topics you were writing about, as well as the intensity of them – i just happened to be the mouthpiece that communicated that to you.

Conveniently this ties in to my subject for the day…

** Warning: This could easily become to be purposefully graphic. If your sensibilities are affected by such things proceed at your own risk.

This is mostly a continuance of my earlier set on shame. The stuff on cor before were a set of fairly graphic descriptions of (if my memory serves) of various sexual things with the one actually giving rise to objection being a rather involved discussion of masturbation sessions.

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day two hundred forty seven b

I decided to break it up since it was looking like it would run long and that was an appropriate breaking point.

My second experience with shame was yesterday morning (Ash Wednesday) which began Lent. As I mentioned before I am not speaking English during Lent with those people who speak French better than I do. I’m also, for pragmatic purposes, allowed to speak English on the phone and when appropriate at work. Since 75% of my time as of late is hanging around with other volunteers I speak alot of unnecessary English though.

So, tomorrow morning I went by Marc’s to meet up with Margaret to help her with some computer stuff. Carl was there too, so we had the four of us and I passed the entire time almost completely in silence. Marc actually asked me that evening what was wrong because I’d not said anything in his presence for him to know that I wasn’t speaking English.

I talk about my French being bad. Honestly it isn’t wretched. It is what is referred to as “conversational.” I can express most basic ideas though my formulation is often incorrect. Things such as the conditional (“I would go if I have he time”) and often the simple future (“I will go”) I really have a hard time with and it limits my expressibility of complex ideas. My vocab is coming. The large number of cognates helps. Much like with the verbs I can just start defining the word and the other person will pick up on the idea.

I decidedly do not sound either intelligent or succinct though; two things I pride myself on in my language.

To compound things I am the worst French speaker here and sometimes I will say something wrong and someone will laugh at me or make fun of me. I am learning that I apparently have a noticeable accent (and mockable) in both my French and English. I’ve been trying to hear it, but it is hard. That is mostly something I want to leave for later, but is still a source of reluctance in speaking.

The reason that I am doing this French thing is how bad I am at it. My need to improve is important but doesn’t really qualify it as something for Lent. How self-conscious I am about it and how readily available I have an alternative to avoid it does.

As I mentioned in closing yesterday it has, thus far, meant me spending much more time in silence than speaking French. Even though though has been good for me since I get antsy sometimes when things are too quiet for too long. This leaves me to either deal with the silence or try and come up with an ice breaker in French; both challenging to me.

So, I passed the morning in silence and self-consciousness. I didn’t break my discipline though and I’m proud of that. The one time I did was when I was working on the pancakes and someone asked me a question and I simply forgot because I was occupied with something else.

Last night I was pretty happy with the dinner. It turned out to be more like apple cobbler and crepes than apple pancakes, but several people came by and everyone seemed pleased. One thing that turned out well was the syrup that was made with honey, cloves, cinnamon and orange marmalade. It was cooking by the seat of my pants and it panned out, happily.

After the dinner though we were sitting around and I was really bothered by some of what was said. People were just sitting around chatting and gossiping. There’s not very much in this country to discuss other than the other volunteers. Generally I am cool with it. I can recognize most of the characteristics people identify (he get pissed off easy, she is loud, etc.). I don’t usually find things as annoying as most people, but that’s just amicability.

Last night though they were talking about someone who identify with alot and bringing attention to her playfulness. This bothered me. Not so much that they were talking about my friend, since everyone gets talked about and it doesn’t affect anything, but that I share many of those characteristics and I wonder what they say about me when I am not in the room.

As I sat there, in silence of course, I went through another round of doubt about my Lenten discipline. It is decidedly not normal and I don’t like the idea of these people who are my best friends here not liking me because I’m weird. Back home I had a group that was entertained by quirks and was generally pretty accepting. Being mostly honors dorks they were pretty quickly bored with non-challenging things and as people working on emotional development they generally had the discernment to allow others freedom of expression.

I feel like I am leaning toward sour grapes. I’m not calling my friends here stupid or boorish; just that eccentricity is not as relished here.

It sort of makes me sad to be away from home. I’m sure it will pass. I’ve been with these people for the last seven months and I really like them. I just had a moment where I felt very much like a stranger.

Well, I am off to find some supper.


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day two hundred forty seven a

On a more personal note. I’ve been thinking about shame in the last few days. As a fairly confident/arrogant person I’m not often ashamed. I figure everyone has their problems and all in all I’m doing what I can to work one mine so people should accept me. If they can’t then, as I am apt to say, “fuck ’em.”

The kairos foundation people have a set of terms to describe events in a persons development work and one of them is “lifeshock.” The idea is simply (IMHO) an event which doesn’t mesh with your conceptual map of reality. It causes you to have an unexpected emotional reaction. Paying attention to when these happen and trying to figure out what they reflect about your understand of reality is a cornerstone in many developmental paths.

I’ve had three in the last few days and I want to recount them in brief…

The first was sitting with Matt in a restaurant eating lunch. He has been following both mine and Stephanie’s online journals in the last few weeks. He told me about an entry that I hadn’t read yet which was “I’m always intrigued when people sign things ‘love,’ when you know full well they know not a fuck what that word means.”

I’ve had mixed reactions to Steph’s blog entries regarding us. Some of it I thought was really succinct and poignant. Some of it was based in hypothesis about my activities that weren’t quite accurate. Unfortunately the most interesting ones went away…

This one though, especially hearing it from Matt, got to me though. The difference in our emotional lives was a very important theme in our relationship to me. The experience is natural and easy for her. It is something that I have to work at. It is much easier for me to step back from my experiences and analyze them rather than experiencing them. It is one of the things that I would like to change the most about myself. It is also one of the things that I have found it the hardest to change.

I do think that she is right that I don’t know what it means to love like she does. I don’t think that I have opened myself to the experience and I think that I should have the strength of character to do so. (I’m just not working hard enough.) I’m getting better at accepting that this is how I am. As the blush on my cheeks and averting of my eyes when Matt told me what he read revealed, the process is still ongoing.

At the same time I think there are aspects of the unconditionality of love that I understand because of my distance from the experience. It is very much like marriage. It is a commitment of will as much as it is a feeling. When I get married it will be for richer or poorer. I expect to have warm happy feelings toward this other person. At the same time I expect to have days and maybe weeks or months where things are not easy. Just because I don’t feel especially warm toward my mate will not make us stop being married, nor will it make me not love her. Love is about commitments to myself and this other person, not just about how I feel.

I think I get that part of it even if the emotional bit is still in process. It does have meaning though when I sign off though.


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re: J: Writing

Part of it is because I don’t like how my writings sound lately; I’ve been depressed for a while and a lot of it comes out particularly angsty and insecure, and those aren’t attributes I care much for in anyone. Also, I’ve found that by the time I am finished writing, I feel a weird sort of stress or anxiousness at the thought of letting someone read it.

I’ve been dissatisfied with my writing in the last little bit but for exactly the opposite reason. I feel like everything I am saying is too closed and pat. Getting to a place where I am feeling vulnerable and like I am really challenging myself has proven next to impossible.

I feel like I am writing essays of position papers rather than something genuine and heartfelt.

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day two hundred forty six a

In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and Catholics didn’t eat anything for forty days and nights except bread and water. They let off with the burning of people though and the whole system went to pot. Surely it seems as though it had gone as far as it could when they got Sundays off and only forwent meat, but no, the whippersnappers now-a-days pick their own food to give up. Bah.

Well, back wen Lent meant something there was a big party to kick it off. Not the Mardi Gras of today, but a pragmatic party to consume large quantities of food in the days before refrigeration. A traditional Mardi Gras food originating from this period was pancakes (food science wasn’t especially advanced). In celebration we were to have pancakes last night, but Mauritania happened and so tonight we are to have delicious baked apple pancakes with honey syrup. Inshallah.

I’m off to do me some cooking.


P.S. Discovery for the day. I am much better and comfortable with silence than French.

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re: Truth vs. Convenience

I think there is some validity to what you’re saying, but I’m not sure I totally agree. How do you determine whether or not that individual is competent? Do you have some standard or ideal relationship to which you can compare that individual’s choices?

As someone who has someone who has moderated a once militant position on honesty I think that much like the word “love,” the word “truth” is too large to be useful in discussions that delve deeply into its nature.

My canonical example is answering the question, “do you believe in God?” I have answered that question both positively and negatively and been (in my mind at least) honest in both. Expressing truth to another person means attempting to communicate to them as clearly as possible my understanding of reality. I agree with Rogers that honesty isn’t something that can be done in a vacuum. It takes trying to understand how what I present will be interpreted.

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re: the Texas GOP’s vision of the future of our country

Christians executed those who would not renounce “false” Christian doctrines.

I just finished The Name of the Rose and one of the things I was struck by as I was reading it was how nice it is to have the system of checks that we do on power. In the course of the book (which is set in a 14th century monastery) there are descriptions or several burnings of heretics.

I agree with the separation of church and state, but more so I think it is important to have systems of checks. Was Russia atheistic under Stalin? My history is pretty wretched, but I’m pretty sure most of that stuff had little to do with religion. Much like the inquisition though it is a good example of how systems without checks can be abused.

There is a balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of society that has always to be struck. Morality (and thereby for many religion) plays a part in how that balance is perceived. Not overtly preferring one particular system of interpretation though is something that, I agree, history demonstrates fairly well is a wise goal for a government that wishes to remain just.

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day two hundred fourty four b

> My other book was The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I also enjoyed > it, though not as much as Sophie’s World. Honestly I was reading Eco in > order to be reading Eco. I started Foucault’s Pendulum a while back and > it eventually defeated me. Having finished The Rose I have the sense > that though I managed to read all the words I was still not the victor.

_Foucault’s Pendulum_ defeats damn near everyone. I’ve read all of the
words a couple of times but know there are layers of meaning that I just don’t get. I wouldn’t worry about it….

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day two hundred fourty four b

Finished a couple more books in the last few days and want to review them…

On the way down to Dakar I finished up Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. I started off not liking it because I thought the dialog was contrived. About three quarters of the way through the author pulled an entertaining switch and I was quite pleased with the ending.

The book has ostensibly two primary facets, one is as a brief history of western philosophy, the other as a chronicle of the life of a young girl and her experience of the history. I think that as a history it is as engaging as one can expect a written history of philosophy to get. As a story, I enjoyed the characterization and was really getting into it at the end.

I’d recommend the book to someone interested in philosophy or for someone willing to hang on though some philosophy for an really creative twist of plot.

My other book was The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I also enjoyed it, though not as much as Sophie’s World. Honestly I was reading Eco in order to be reading Eco. I started Foucault’s Pendulum a while back and it eventually defeated me. Having finished The Rose I have the sense that though I managed to read all the words I was still not the victor.

The exterior story is simple enough save the occasionally arcane vocabulary. I could see certain themes appearing over and over though and I couldn’t piece together if there was a pattern to the timing or their relative placement. Or rather there seemed to be a pattern, but I couldn’t decipher it.

Regardless, it was an entertaining read. It has quite a bit of what I am assuming is accurate historical information. The theological debates are also pretty entertaining. I like quick wit and banter, and the characters are good at debate.

Eco is writing in the style of a monk and did a good job of capturing the feel for the writing style. An unfortunate side effect for me was that I found it fairly difficult to identify with the characters because the descriptions tended toward the physical/analytical rather than the sociological/emotional. In reading the postscript where Eco discusses his goals as an artist (which was at least as interesting to me as the book), he focuses on keeping himself as author out of the interpretation of the story. I wonder if this focus wasn’t also responsible for the writing style. He has no access to the inside of the characters minds save the narrator’s and does little positing save what the narrator would know.

I learned yesterday that the book was made into movie with Sean Connery a few years ago. Unless, like me, you have a personal quarrel with Eco or if you are looking to get deeper into the theology the movie would likely be the most amusing avenue.


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