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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I dug an old microscope my father had out of the closet and set it up. I went and collected some water from a local pond and slid it under the scope to have a look. At first it was fascinating lifting the veil back on a world few of us ever explore. Strange creatures with multiple feet and antennae appeared like manifestations from sci-fi novels.
The longer I gawked at the strange and unusual world beneath the scope a disturbing revelation set in. The frequent spasms I was witnessing were the organisms gasping for breath. I was in effect watching them writhe in agony, fighting for every last breath before being consumed by death. A death that I had caused by meddling in a world to which I was an alien. A world that I didn’t take the time to investigate and understand before disturbing its cocoon to satisfy my own selfish curiosity and insatiable appetite for something new to watch.
And yet even with this realization, I was still able to toss the water down the drain when I was bored and ready to do something else and simply walk away.
A great deal of literature when addressing the existence of a muse more often than not portrays it as a beautiful, nymph-like spirit that fills your soul with beauty which in turn pours out of your creative spouts in the form of writing, music etc. Personally, I think it is a lie.
To be sure beautiful sights and positive emotions can stir one into a state of giddiness – but I think it is rarely more than that. Delights full of sugar are wonderful when you’re biting into them, but once they are gone they are gone. You can’t seriously recollect the sensation that a gum drop you fancied five years ago produced.
What lingers, what truly tears ones soul to shreds to the point that you have to reach into your very limits to pull yourself out of the abyss – that is where truth in its purest form lies. It’s often said but largely ignored that some of the most phenomenal works of literature, music and art were done by people who were consumed by madness within themselves, or keenly aware of it in their surroundings.
Writing is used primarily to document thought – either for individual posterity or to be shared with another or many. It used to be an act bordering on the sacred. Not only did you need to be one of the privileged few that could actually produce recordable script, you had to have the means to do it. Paper had to be handmade. Whether it be papyrus or vellum etc. It was a delicate and time consuming process. Not to mention the writing utensil itself. Quills had to be cut, ink made. In short, if you had something to record, you better be sure it was important.
If you were careless and made an error it was nearly impossible to correct without evidence of your folly being left behind. Whether that be a spilled ink stain, or an area where the vellum had to be scraped clean. Even in modern time, if you messed up with an ink pen or typewriter you had to smear white out on it. There was always a trace of your inattention to perfection.
Nowadays you can record thought with a few key strokes while lying in bed half awake in the middle of the night. If you make a mistake you hit a single backspace key which takes less than half a second. Never in the history of the world have we had greater ease with which to express our thoughts and yet the vast majority of what is produced is thoughtless.
The hallmarks of a typical bunker are that 1) you dig it yourself 2) it alters your worldview – in essence it buries it, literally.
So while I was at the park the other day noticing all the kids and adults alike with heads buried in their tablets and phones, it occurred to me that these are the modern day bunkers.
Purchased by choice, it allows one to dive into one’s own self constructed world. After all you pick your apps, your friends, your wallpaper – everything. It is a perfectly insular world in which if someone says something critical either about you personally or about an issue upon which you have an opinion – you can ban them from your sight – never to see or hear a word of dissent again.
You don’t see anything you don’t wish to see. To actually encounter “the enemy” you would have to lift your eyes above the bunker and seek them out. If, presumably, they are in a bunker too across the way – you would have to make an even grander effort by actually crawling out of the comfort of the womb into the unknown and trudge across the field by yourself to find them. Alone, because more than likely you are the only person who has made the effort to abandon the bunker.
You would likely encounter opinions and languages unfamiliar to you. It would be an endless challenge with many rocky roads over previously unchartered territory. Yet you and you alone have the ability to forge your own path. When more and more people connect in a real, rather than artificial environment outside the bunker there may be peace, there may be war – but above all else it is pure, authentic, reality.
I find it interesting that out of the multitudes of very good people and very evil people – we often reduce their plurality to a few singular representations. So for example out of the countless people who committed atrocities in WWII you practically never hear of any explicit name associated with carte blanche evil other than Hitler. Out of all those involved in the movement for independence from India the only figure most can name is Gandhi. For all those in America who marched for civil rights, practically none are nameable by most aside from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Those in between good and evil always seem to fall through the cracks of history or are shoved into either the good box or the bad box by those who would prefer an ill fitting box with a label as opposed to no label at all – the absence of a box being completely incomprehensible to civilization as we know it.)
It’s as if there is so much stimuli in the given world at any moment that our consciousness cannot effectively categorize and memorialize all around us on a continual basis without having to “dump some data” every now and then.
Most people cannot deal in pluralities very effectively even with the most conscientious effort. Ironically, there are many cultures throughout the world that in terms of their mathematics only have words for 1,2,3 and then “many.” They readily admit that anything beyond 3 is too cumbersome to digest. Yet the so called advanced societies have throughout history often labeled these very same communities as primitive.