Observations In An Elevator

One day I happened to be riding in an elevator with about four other people.  All of a sudden, I started hearing Native American singing complete with pounding drums.  It wasn’t particularly loud, but certainly audible.  I looked around me and no one looked back at me, all remained stone faced.  As the singing continued, I started to question my own sanity.  I was clearly awake so why was I hearing it and no one else?   Despite the rather lengthy ride, all of those forward facing corporate soldiers remained stone faced and never had even the hint of sweat upon their brows despite the exotic noise that only I seemed to be hearing. 

(Later on I remembered that I had a tape recorder in my purse and that I had indeed recorded a song at a festival about a month ago. I looked in my purse and sure enough my sanity was once again assured.  Well temporarily at least.)

All sorts of questions began swirling through my mind.  Clearly the others must have heard what I was hearing so why no curiosity?  After all it isn’t a common everyday sound.  Did they all think they were as mad as I?  If so weren’t they a little concerned about that?  Or have years upon years cramped into a soul deadening box day after day turned them into zombies?  Dead to the world in all but appearance. 

Sadly this small innocuous incident is yet another confirmation that when faced with an abnormal alteration in everyday perceptions, whether inconsequential like this was or life threatening such as the rise of fascism, the chances of even a single person speaking up are negligible. 


Clipping vs. propagating our language

It seems texting is becoming ever more prevalent throughout communicative networks these days.  I confess I’m not young, I possess a flip phone and next to no clue as to how to “text”.  Unlike many people, I take no issue whatsoever with people wishing to express themselves in fewer and fewer words.  After all, I’ve felt for a long time that far too many people say far too much ;).

I remember how one time my boyfriend was in a lengthy back and forth discussion with someone about something or other.  He was weary of having to read what was becoming longer and longer paragraphs of retort and finally told her, “say less, mean more”.  At the time he said it out of sheer boredom and frustration but it was such a great phrase that I’ve always remembered it.

I’m all for evolution in language.  I do not find texting and other abbreviations as such to be a rape of the natural beauty of language.  However there is one key component of all this whittling down that is missing – enriched meaning.  Just as neologisms enrich our overall lexicon, abbreviated forms of existing words should have some evolutionary purpose beyond mere convenience.

I always admired poets because in just a few words they manage to express so much that entire books can be written just in an attempt to grasp even the basic outline of their meaning.  I’m not saying that if you’re texting your dad to pick up some milk that somehow it should be sublime and quoted years from now as having been a life altering experience.  But wouldn’t it be interesting if we were to encourage people, especially our young ones, to every once in a while go beyond simplistic information and use their same brevity skills in conveying something that is worth more than a nano second of contemplation?  Out of the millions of texts you send in the course of a week, try and create even one that makes the person on the other end pause. 

The “Real” World – a numerical perspective

I’ve been reading a book on the Iqwaye people of New Guinea and their counting system.  To boil it down to basics they use their fingers and toes to count.  So 20 = 1 person, 60 = 3 people etc.  It is also a recursive binary system.  What does that mean?  Lets take the simplest example.  When counting to 5 I have 1 finger, then 2 fingers, then 1 finger + 2 fingers, then 1 finger + 2 fingers + 1 finger and finally 1 hand. 

The use of 1 and 2 is a typically binary system and recursion simply means no matter how high you go you keep coming back to 1 in this instance.  Even a number as high as 400 is looked at as 1.  A singular unit that simply can be broken down into 20 people with 20 fingers and toes each.  As they count, the Iqwaye join the first finger to the second, then to the third and so on until the 5 is represented by all fingers touching the thumb.  Then to go onto 6 you simply touch all 5 fingers from the first hand to the thumb of your second hand.  It goes on and on – hands touch toes, people touch people.  It again gets back to this beautiful concept of unity, the all encompassing one. 

So now that we’ve got the mathy stuff out of the way lets think about it.  While the Iqwaye realize that it is probably possible to go on and on counting into infinity, they choose not to do so.  Just as in many other indigenous counting systems they simply count up to a certain finite limit.  Anything beyond that is typically regarded as “many”. Why?  Because they correlate numbers with things they can see.  Whether they are counting actual objects or fingers and toes there is a one to one correlation between the number contemplated and something tangible they can see before their eyes.  To go beyond that, while certainly possible, is simply impractical to them.

So think about our everyday lives.  Without a second thought most of us would say it is possible to keep adding one number to another indefinitely.  It never occurs to us to match things up.  Something so seemingly implausible as infinity, because it cannot be physically verified, is a no brainer.  And numbers are not the only abstraction that is heartily embraced with little to no thought by most of us.  Belief in religious concepts such as God is also an abstraction that can not be verified by physical presence.  Yet for many of us too this is a “given”.

So it all sums to an interesting question, “who among us are living in the “real” world?”

Valentine’s Day

I am a very lucky lady indeed as I have someone special to shower attention upon this Valentine’s Day. However I well remember the countless years of being alone and completely miserable on this day. One bright spot amidst all the clouds happened once when I was travelling and standing on a sidewalk waiting for a cab in some city somewhere. The place was really crowded and all of a sudden someone came up right behind me and close to my ear said in a cheerful voice, “you look great today.” I was startled and quickly looked all around me but I never saw who it was. The fact that some anonymous stranger would take the time out of their busy day to make someone else feel like a million dollars was a kindness I’ve always remembered.

So to those with a special someone today, congratulations and enjoy reminding each other how lucky you are. If possible give thanks for your good fortune by reaching out and simply being kind to someone else not just today, but everyday. You never know when your smile or words may really make a difference that someone else will remember for a lifetime.

Sample Retorts To Silly Questions

There are some ridiculous, insensitive questions that I have encountered often in life to which I have formulated answers to in the hope that those asking them will forever cease from doing so again.  Some examples:

1.  Why didn’t your parents have more than one child, were they not able to?

They got it right the first time, why try again?

2.  Everyone from your country is obnoxious.

Shall I proceed to swim back up the canal and request to be popped out again in another land?  And where would you propose the site of my second coming to be?

3.  (In a job interview) Are you a people person?

Do you really think I’m going to say no?  (I didn’t get the job in case you were wondering.)

4.  Are you married?  No? (awkward silence) Do you have a dog?

Are the two mutual interchangeable?  Perhaps one day they’ll come up with a cross breed – an obedient husband who I don’t have to clean up after.

5. Does it snow there?

No but the place is full of flakes.

Undoubtedly there will be more to come…

An Argument Against Oneness

Our hunter-gatherer prehistoric ancestors must have faced quite a quandary when as population densities increased over time they began to encounter other groups of people previously unknown to them. What is interesting is that instead of banding together as one big happy camp of humanity we immediately splintered off from one another and clustered into clans. Some had friendly but separate relations whilst others made a career out of killing each other.

Despite being of the same species and having the same general interests related to everyday survival we chose even then to focus on the differences between us right down to individuals within the clan itself. So even in the good old days when all was right with the world, or so it seemed, there was an instinctual need to build fences both literally and figuratively.

Thus, even with thousands upon thousands of years of evolution, education, cultural flowering and the like we still don’t want to be just another human – an inseparable part of the whole. As a rule, we fiercely hang on to clan loyalties such as our family names, our countries and so on – some even down to what street they grew up on.

Aside from these clustering identities we take it one step further as we insist on people calling us by our individual name. We aren’t one of many, we are one of one amongst many. It’s probably the only concept of existence that we unanimously agree upon. Each person is a unique entity with a personal footprint unlike any other living today or at any time in history.

You are you and only you can be you. It’s a heavy responsibility that should never be taken lightly. There is no such thing as surplus population. Your existence has intent, meaning and purpose – the only part that is up to you is how far you run with it. Whether you end up famous or infamous is within your control. Never delude yourself into believing that your life is without meaning. Smile at a stranger’s child once in the street and you have had impact. It’s not a matter of high intellect or profound virtue. It’s simply a matter of will.

Even our ancestors painting in caves chose their own personal corner in which to create. They stamped their individual handprints into the wall and made the drawings of familiar beasts their own as they alone determined where to place the eyes, how long to make the tail, which cracks in the cave to use as contours for the shapes and where to apply the color.

Even if we go about our days much like anyone else the way we walk, our handwriting, our facial expressions, our thoughts, our sensory interpretations of the world around us are all uniquely ours. So in essence the world will never truly unite and be as one just as it has never been. It is simply unnatural for our species to be congealed into a singular mass and honestly who would want it any other way?

Going up? Perspectives on Heights.

With all of the excitement about the Olympics buzzing about, the beautiful scenery of the mountains made me think of how we perceive heights in general. It has been an obsession throughout time to “climb every mountain” either figuratively or literally. It seems that universally it is typically viewed as a positive aspiration.

Some say that standing upon these peaks brings about a sense of euphoria, of being closer to Heaven, finding your inner self etc. I’m a born cynic who rarely waxes poetic. Practically all of our actions in life are measured by comparison with an “other” whether it be man, beast or God. We’re always in some sense of competitive state. No matter how pure our intentions, that basic animal instinct will never be fully suppressed. When reaching a summit how many of us would really keep it a secret all to ourselves?

So I think ascension in a literal sense is just childish delight at having a go at God who, in refusing to give us wings, makes our journey upwards all the harder. For others who reject a sense of connection to an imaginary friend beyond the clouds, perhaps there is an almost sinister zeal in becoming a charlatan of sorts as we look down upon our fellow man and beast from a vantage point they surely envy us for having attained.

In a figurative sense, rising to another level via a revelation that elicits a new understanding of oneself or of something outside oneself has similar connotations. Knowledge and mystery are inversely proportional. Increase in one leads to decrease in the other. The decrease in mystery seemingly gets one on the path towards total omnipotence whereupon one could be considered an equal or even a replacement for God. You probably know someone who thinks they’ve already reached that summit. 😉

For the non-religious it is of course a case of outdoing the neighbors – the oldest and for some the most enjoyable pastime on the planet. How many “enlightened” people have you met that shake their heads at your ignorance? Yet the joke is on them because those “in the know” realize the basic universal truth that omnipotence is impossible. Why? Because how do we know that there is absolutely nothing left that we don’t know? It is illogical to claim to be any further along the path of knowledge than someone else. That is the beauty of infinity. No matter how far along you think you are, the first peak you summit will almost certainly not be the last one out there. In that sense we’re all in this struggle together and indeed what would life be without a little mystery?

The possibility of exclusive personal space

From time to time, I suppose in particular when watching nature documentaries about far away places, I wonder if there are very many spots on earth upon which no one has ever stood.  Of course you can never be 100% sure.  Even in the remotest place, it is entirely possible that a Neanderthal millennia ago was crouched in that very spot hunting a saber toothed tiger. 

Does it indeed have to be in a far away forest of some sort?  Perhaps there are nooks even in cities.  That centimeters wide patch of soil to the edge of the parking lot for instance.  It has surely been seen, although not necessarily noticed and thus in a sense “unseen”, yet has it ever felt the weight of a human foot?

So you see, you don’t necessarily have to hop a plane, buy a kayak and hike for days to find exclusive personal space.  Even if the true authenticity of your chosen spot can be in doubt, as long as you believe in the sanctity of your particular step upon it, each and every one of you can make your own individual mark upon the earth.