Where are the explorers?

My hobby is embroidery, or when I’m feeling keen to impress people – I refer to myself as a needle artist.  Of course I’ve never sold a thing.  It’s like writing books – your parents, your grandmother and your boyfriend buy them so Thanksgiving isn’t awkward but other than that the down payment for the yacht is perpetually lost in the mail.

Nevertheless, I do on rare occasions get notes from visitors.  What is odd is that both messages I have received over the past year were from people telling me that they love embroidery but they’d never be able to do it.  They don’t try and fail, they just assume defeat and never initiate even a nominal effort.  Then, instead of simply forgetting about it and moving on, or shelving their failure in the shame bucket to be revisited the next time they’re at the therapist – they publicly claim to a complete stranger that they failed at something that they never attempted.

It’s odd to me.  It made me think of past centuries when scientists experimented with all sorts of chemicals whose properties they were totally oblivious to upon threat of disease or death in the name of discovery.  Or of explorers setting out from their countries of origin to the ends of the earth – which they thought they would fall off of at some point as they neared its edge – just to see what was there.

The purest form of an exploration instinct is often referred to as “childlike curiosity.”  It goes away for most of us as we fall into the monotonous trap of a “settled life.”  Yet for some, as those previously mentioned, it can blossom into a magnificent drive that has led to some of the greatest advances in our civilization over time.

Yet sometimes I wonder if the lack of that explorer instinct that seems endemic these days, aside from a few whose existence seems in peril of extinction in the not so distant future, is because the curiosity attributed to children is itself an increasingly disappearing virtue.  For example, on a recent trip to a local park every parent I saw was on a cell phone, the teenagers were walking around glued to electronic devices and even the toddler in the stroller was mesmerized by a two- dimensional mind numbing game from which they would elicit no inspiration whatsoever.  Yet the minute it was taken out of their hands a howl that could have been heard on Mars was unleashed from the bowls of dependence further shining a light on a curiosity instinct clearly on life support.

Advertisements

Being Loud

There is a plethora of slogans, rants and the like these days condemning any and all forms of silence and demanding everyone scream – the louder the better.  It’s a shriek that falls on deaf ears amongst introverts.  It’s not that we couldn’t care less about injustice in the world.  In part it’s a matter of there being so much to choose from, where does one begin?

Then there is the matter of publicly gathering with a bunch of people with a multitude of placards.  Does one simply stand with the majority in a public display of unity?  Or is it even more appropriate to become vocal – either chanting slogans or becoming outright hysterical as many seem to these days.  All across social media and the like it seems we follow the loudest, not necessarily the smartest.

From my own personal perspective, all the marches and ranting in the world is quite unlikely to stem the flow of injustice anywhere.  Throughout history it has never come down to who had the more logical argument – it has always been a matter of numbers.  If there are more huddled on one side than another and that side has the ability to decrease the numbers on the opposing side – either through destruction or coercion (more likely the former than the latter) then no matter how well thought out and presented your argument, your efforts will be in vain.

I know everyone wants to either be lauded as a standout hero, or simply part of the pack on the right side of history.  No one ever thinks they are on the wrong side, it’s a matter of personal perspective.  Standing by and watching the spectacle on all sides is simply being part of the human experience.  It isn’t indifference, it’s just embracing the reality that in the larger scheme of things a singular person, even if united with a significant number of other like-minded people, are just like tides – the bigger waves will wash upon the shore over and above the smaller ones, but in time both will recede all the same.  Time is the loudest, yet most silent voice among us and will always indiscriminately triumph over all.

Tenacity

In times of turmoil people look for either anchors to stabilize them or prophets to inspire them.  Interestingly enough, they almost always turn to one of their own – another human.  With all the mayhem on the news these days I happened to glance out my window.  There is a tiny crack in the cement outside my home in which plant has been residing for so many years now I have lost count.

No one encased it there, sealing its fate.  (After all once planted a plant has no choice but to endure its life in the same spot come what may.)  Why on earth would it have chosen this small, crowded crevice in a sea of concrete.  No neighbors, no obvious food source – hardly an idyllic Eden.    And yet there it is unto this day.  It has endured countless rain storms, scorching sun, the occasional absent minded human crushing its arms with their feet and a plethora of passing ants and others who doubtless on occasion have taken a bite.  Even if I were to pluck it and place it in a vase on my table after such a barbarous act of forced displacement, even then – provided it was given nourishment, it would bloom for me without hesitation.

Although it never says anything, the fact that it awakens every single day without fail- unfurling its leaves in the unquestioned quest to survive, whatever a new day may bring, attests to the essence of “being” in its purest form.

Men, men and more men

I’ll preface this thought with a disclaimer – I’ve never thought of myself as a modern, rip off my bra kind of feminist.  I’m a traditionalist who would be quite content to marry, stay at home with the kids and cook the nightly meal – although I draw the line at doing the dishes…well one must take a stand somewhere.

Nevertheless something occurred to me in a class of 6-8 year olds that I was supervising for a month long summer camp.  The two boys in the class were so difficult.  They constantly picked fights with the girls and were disrespectful to me.  There was this perplexing need to repetitively assert dominance without reason or reward.  Where did it come from?

When I came home and was watching TV that night I realized a few things. For the most part music videos are full of strutting men being fawned over by scantily clothed women or by men who are feeling sad because of “some woman.”  Flip the channel.  The nightly news – some CEO is in hot water for sexual harassment.  Names aside – it is assumed to be a man because 99% of business leaders are men.  The woman will have her 15 minutes – TV interviews, lawyers fighting for a good settlement.  Then likely you’ll never hear of her again because no one wants to hire a trouble maker, even if she was indeed the innocent victim.

Flip the channel.  A preacher, again a man, is going to save my soul.  Religion is probably one of the most male dominated aspects of our society.  I clearly remember being in an orthodox synagogue.  The men were allowed to sing their hearts out in rapture praising god while the women were expected to stay silent on the segregated opposite side of the room.  I remember thinking, “is my voice not equal in value before god?”  In a church, I also remember all the women bowing and kissing the hand of a priest – who of course is a man.

Even the biblical canon which guides the vast majority of the “faithful” itself is full of things that give one pause.  Of course we all know about mischievous Eve.  Adam was too sensible to do such a silly thing.  Eve, being the lesser, was the cause for all calamity. Even poor Mary, she couldn’t fashion a miracle within her without a little help from a man.  (But of course she remained a virgin.)  One typically assumes god is a man or man-like.  I’ve never once in my life heard someone refer to god as “she” except in ultra feminist circles.

Flip the channel.  Police dramas, hospital dramas.  Full of butchered women (for the most part) and colleagues falling for each other.   The man almost exclusively being the wooer and the woman the willing, or in many cases unwilling yet won over, object.

Flip the channel.  The nightly news.  Almost exclusively the lead anchors are men, there to tell us what is what.  Do they think you just wouldn’t put as much trust in the words of a woman?  Would she not have the same commanding sense of justice, truth and authority to convey the state of the world?

As a woman I think sometimes I feel I am drowning in a sea of men.  It seems the days of worshipping women goddesses and pagan statues extolling the virtues of the feminine form are well behind us.   Yet we’re in the modern age and all has advanced exponentially…right?

More Questions Than Answers

From time to time you see articles exclaiming the erosion of traditional religion in the modern age.  The reasons given for It never seem to have much thought behind them.  It’s usually something along the lines of “people just aren’t into it anymore”, but they never really say why.

When you think back to the times when religion was a central, and in many cases all encompassing, aspect of people’s lives there is an element that many of these regions and eras in time have in common – singular authority.  Lands were often ruled by monarchs.  On a more local level, typically the most powerful person in town was the priest or other religious leader – often one of the only literate people around.  People were used to looking to a leader for all the answers.  They had the questions, which they could ask with varying degrees of freedom depending on the time and place, but most had little choice but to rely on central authority figures for what more often than not amounted to pre-scripted answers.

In the modern era with the proliferation of access to information, we have an unprecedented means to both obtain and interpret questions on an unprecedented level.  We no longer have to look to a singular figure to provide us with the answers – neither priests, nor kings, or even God himself.  The questions have not changed, but the answers are so wide ranging that the possibilities of interpretation have increased exponentially.  And yet, even with this explosion of individual initiative, unencumbered by traditional societal restraints and deference to centralized authority figures – both real and imagined, we are still as puzzled as ever as to why we are here and what happens when we expire.


 

A Caveman’s View

There is a fascinating collection of black and white seascape photos reminiscent of the work of Rothko that were done by Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto.  He said something interesting, “we have changed the land so much over time, but it is entirely possible that ancient man saw the same images of the sea as we do today.” In this sense Sugimoto felt he was connecting with our most ancient ancestors.

I am one of those people, like Sugimoto, who constantly looks for connections in the world around me.  I often wonder how old some of the huge trees in my yard are. I not only imagine what they might have “seen” but also, who might have seen them?  Did anyone from the near or even ancient past pass by these same woods?  If so, did they ever notice that unusual tree which from one base grew into three separate but equal towering mammoths that stretch high into the sky?  Did they ever wonder who came before them or who might come after them?  Did they imagine that anyone had tread this same path before?

I wonder if our most ancient ancestors, when walking about, staring at Sugimoto’s seas or sitting around the cave campfire ever wondered who came before them?  Did they know they were the “first”?  Were they? Things to ponder on your summer vacations as you sit by the sea or stare at an old tree.

Thoughts on War

Back in time, if one were to believe the history books lock, stock and barrel – wars were typically fought over land, love and royal succession with little to no deviation from the expected causes and effects.  (Of course these underlying causes were intermittently sprinkled with a little religious idealism as a sort of unquestionable kryptonite shield when the causes themselves didn’t resonate with the public at large.  If you won’t die for me, die for God.  He’s on our side, I promise – he told me himself in a dream etc.)

In modern times it seems many wars have shifted from expanding power bases via land, love and money to more abstract concepts such as beliefs (not just religious) and ethnic origin – sans the exclusion clause for women and children.  Such exclusion used to be a “given” enforced by the majority of the population without need of explicit pronouncement.  Sadly that is no longer the case.

Instead of evolving into a complex array of peoples and beliefs – as our species is more than capable of doing – we are instead returning to our most base primitive instincts.  For example, countless people still frown upon intermarriage whether it be on the grounds of ethnic, racial or religious differences.   Added to the mix of separate and unequal are the countless ways we splice even the smallest communities into even more factions by expanding the standard basket of bigotry rather than abolishing it.  For example, despite laws put in place to try and stem the flow there is still rampant discrimination in basic needs such as employment based on even more criteria such as age, gender and sexual orientation in addition to all the other vices so many still cling to out of irrational fear of the “other.”

There have been countless wars over political idealism.  I’ve never understood how anyone would think it plausible, let alone justifiable, to kill someone else’s children because you didn’t want their ideas (i.e. communism) to spread.  Yet just when you thought those wars of the recent past couldn’t get any more senseless, now it has gone so far that if you express not only dissatisfaction, but even just a minor opinion about something – rest assured you will receive profanity laced insults all the way up to death threats from people you’ve never seen and will never know.

Who or whatever eventually comes after us will surely look upon our descent into oneness and inevitable self-annihilation from such a fall as the most senseless implosion of a species that held so much promise ever witnessed.

Appearances

We’ve all heard the phrase since we were children, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”  Yet in all honesty practically none of us ever heed the message.  Here is a case in point from a slightly different perspective than you’ve seen ad nauseam on the news:

I belong to a local gym where I go do some basic exercises three times a week. The gym, while open to the public, is almost exclusively muslim due to a nearby mosque.  The ladies have their heads covered while on the treadmill etc.  I go because it is a convenient drive from my house.  As is typical with most public places – people basically have nothing to do with each other.  You smile in an acknowledgement, say an occasional hello and that’s it.  They don’t know my name and I don’t know theirs.

Many, like myself, listen to music in headphones while struggling to get skinny.  I have noticed one particular young man in the gym who clearly has a rather intense dislike for me despite the fact I’ve never had any interaction with him.

I’ve heard him speak Arabic before.  Although I’ve forgotten most of it now, I myself have studied Arabic in the past and for a rather unusual reason.  It wasn’t because I wanted to work in counter terrorism etc.  it was because I really liked the Lebanese singer Magida El Roumi and I wanted to understand the lyrics to her music.

You see my father traveled to Egypt back in the 60s/70s as a tourist.  As a little girl he told me a story about being stopped at a gas station and a lady next to him had a car stereo blasting the most incredible music he had ever heard.  Of course he had no idea what it was, just that it was something Arabic.  It had a fantastic beat and was just fantastic.  So as a teenager I wanted to discover this wonder my father had witnessed so I began trying to find out about Arabic music.

Mind you these were the days before the internet.  I would scour radio stations for world music programs where I would pick up names of singers.  Later in university when the internet was just starting I would search the names and find these obscure little online stores that sold CDs of their music.  That’s where it all began.  I’m sure many of these shops were a bit confused when they got orders from someone whose last name is really long and ends in -berg.  Ironically it’s a Norwegian name not of Jewish origin although I’m sure like most people no one ever assumed that. Nevertheless I have quite the collection and still enjoy listening to it today.

So as this fellow is glaring at me, little does he know that what I’m listening to on my little ipod shuffle is not just classical, Russian and Ukrainian but also a fair bit of music in his own language.  No one wants to be pre-judged.  We can’t let the hate that is all around us penetrate our ability and willingness to see beyond our perceptions of surface realities.

 

Wildlife and Purpose

I’m an avid nature observer and it occurred to me the other day that I have never seen an obese squirrel, bird or other wild animal in my yard.  Perhaps I am mistaken, but it seems that when one lives a wild life full of the constant urgency to locate food and shelter, the possibility of reflecting a state of sustained over indulgence in your appearance doesn’t seem possible.

It leads back to colorings of perception.  When you see someone who is clearly obese, in olden times there were those that envied them – they clearly had the means to over indulge.  Nowadays it seems more likely that the reaction would be judgmental – you’re lazy, you don’t exercise and take care of yourself etc.

I often think that wild life are never plagued by the stress of leisure.  Each day they know they have to eat and have a place to sleep.  They are clear goals with no alternate options for slacking off.  As for us, for the most part our food and shelter needs are in place, so what then?  Leisure time can be filled in a variety of ways, but there are still countless times in our lives when we while away precious time with no sense of purpose at all.  At times when I watch the squirrels it is I who envies them.

Yet when you consider it, the homeless face the arduous task of finding food and shelter every day.  They aren’t things they have the opportunity to take for granted.  Yet although their goals of the day are of far greater urgency than mine, I never envy them.

 

 

Naming

When observing things, both living and constructed etc.  we invariably never resist the temptation to give it a name.  Typically the name has some relation to the properties of the object.  This is very much the case in formal scientific names for plants, animals and microscopic organisms etc.  Not only does it give you a sense of what it is, but also what family it belongs to.

It isn’t only limited to living things.  Even with constructed items a sense of family comes into play.  A bowie knife, a pairing knife and a carving knife are all knives.  A 3D printer, an ink jet printer and a laser jet printer are all printers.  Whether living or not, we subconsciously group things according to their commonality.

Perhaps there is a comfort in making something less alien by linking it to something we are already familiar with.  Nothing ever seems to be left out by itself.  Even if the relation to something else is distant, it is nonetheless linked.

When naming people we are always linked by our family name.  Sometimes that automatically comes with awe and respect, sometimes not so much.  Those with no known family are typically given new names when adopted by a family thereby also being “linked”.

 

We are practically obsessed with commonality in our naming conventions. Yet so often when interacting with one another or with the environment around us that same inclination towards seeking commonality is all too often vigorously suppressed.