Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Itís been an odd week.
posted by Eric |
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
My kitten is absolutely adorable Ė constantly sleeping on my right shoulder, pinning me to the bed.
On Sunday, I had planned to go with a fellow or two from the mine to pan for gold, but a mis-communication had me at Frankís after they had already left to try to find me. Mournfully, the dog, which had tried to bite me near his house, had been shot in the neck, and its new puppy was cuddling with it, trying to lick it awake.
I waited for fifteen minutes to see if they would return, and then was simply too sad to stay. I spent the day in a bit of a funk at my house, having crawled into bed with my shoes on.
Word came that I was going to have to go into Yerevan this weekend Ė this first time that I havenít wanted to visit that sacred place. And, even better, I havenít wanted to go because Iíve been doing actually worthwhile work. But hard upon that day came illness, and a total lack of momentum. Iím no longer depressed, but Iím also still just sick enough that I feel I can cut my classes. And am not at all inspired to write.
Today I trundled over to Marjorieís, bringing with me my laptop, half a package of bacon (which is quite difficult to buy, and quite beloved) and six eggs. I made scrambled eggs and bacon, she made scones, and now weíre trying to see if we can buy things off of Amazon. So today is a good day, and you neednít worry about me, but my muse is as absent as watermelon seeds in the modern watermelon.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Today marks the end of my good fortune. As I look out the window, show obscures the view of the hill just thirty feet outside. In about an hour, when folks wake up, the smoke of wood stoves will mingle with the snow, diminishing my view as though God were on a budget. Somewhere in this trip into Oz, I've been reduced to black and white. On these foothills, where a few houses have been built, I can see a couple Armenians pulling grabbing or moving some small things inside. Across Kapan, there are enough apartments for 80,000 people and a city of 25,000. And, despite this, what few people there are are huddled together in what few rooms are heated. Indeed, even in my house my kitten is pressing his head and neck against my arm and recently re-situated himself to get his tail between us.
posted by Eric |
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
My electricity bill has already increased from about $2 a month to $20 as I heat admittedly more than one room (I keep the kitty litter in a different room) which I'll need to treck out to pay today. I also have plans to study Russian again, restart my Armenian, and try to meet with my counterpart and Frank to talk business.
Yesterday was a bit of an oddity Ė or a triumph. I started the day by going to IREX, where I'm going to start teaching a somewhat comprehensive web design course on Wednesday. While I was there, one of my site-mates who had been out of town for some time stopped by, and we ended up spending a couple of hours together chatting about our holidays and bonding. After this, when I would have normally headed home to make myself some small lunch and waste several hours playing games or reading, I instead went to my Russian tutors house, and ended up spending the day with her helping her to teach her students English.
I've, for several weeks now, been regularly teasing one of my other site-mates about how she speaks after teaching English for some time. When helping people to understand spoken English, one is careful to slow down their cadence as much as they are able, separating sentences into logically related sets of words. And when one is able to speak at a normal speed at all and the flood-gates are lifted, language flows out as a torrent, visibly pushing native speakers away like a fire hose on protesters. After tutoring for a few hours, I was walking with a river of words sitting restlessly in my belly. When I finally migrated to my friends house, I discovered that I'd forgotten that I'd told her I'd join her for dinner, found a terrific meal, and promptly engaged in a heroic bout of logorrhea.
I ended up starting the walk home close to midnight, using the dim liquid crystal display of my watch to navigate through stairwells. Soviet style buildings, it seems, always have ten stairs in each flight, but often the concrete is so worn that it's easier to tell oneself that he's walking down a ramp and angle his uber-traction boots to wacky wall-walker his way down the incline.
As I collapsed into my bed, I was amazed to recognize that I'd been out of my house for more than twelve hours. Not including times that I've left site that may be a real first. And the warm glow I felt as I realized that I'd planned a lesson in Armenian, actually done something useful, and renewed friendships suggested that I've turned some sort of corner.
The snow will probably put an end to this new path for a couple months.
At about three thirty in the morning, my phone began to ring. Usually if you allow your phone to ring four times it will promptly stop, because after four rings you are charged for the call with the Armenian phone system. But, after about a dozen rings, I was still listening to the strident tone of my unfortunately repaired phone. When I finally picked it up, fearing that some horrible news had been reported from the States or locally, it ended up being an Armenian who I had met in Yerevan, now off work, calling to chat.
Despite my newfound language successes, my pride didn't carry over into a sleeping stupor. I explained that my brain doesn't work (I'm urghergh chi askhatum hima), said something else that I have no idea what it means, and was hung up on.
I wonder if I said something insulting? Had my subconscious, so adept at spouting Armenian close to my desired goals, finally given up on interpreting my addled head and decided that it was taking over?
Either way, it was nice to get back to sleep.
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
posted by Eric |
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Perhaps someday it will be his passport picture.
I've been going on late-night missions, stealthily evading my neighbors under the cover of darkness to conduct my secret business. And that business has been slowly throwing out the gift-wrapping and other happy remnants of my Christmas, hiding the evidence of my opulence from the largely disinterested public.
During the summer, I was bathing as often as the sun came out to warm the water that I'd bathe in. Now that the fallen leaves of autumn have been swept into bins and furtively covered with discarded gift-wrapping and frost, I don't even change my clothes out of bed - let alone bathe. I often instead fight my burgeouning stench by adding additional layers of clothes. The genius of this plan is that soon, I figured, the innermost layers would decompose, allowing me, perhaps, a 5-layer warm equilibrium which provided the additional heat of decay and removed the need to do laundry.
One of my site-mates, sweetly, informed me that this plan, though elegant, came at a certain cost to my former friends.
And so, tonight was the second time that I've borrowed her (warm!) (insane!) shower in an ongoing attempt to conform at least to my own cultural standards. And, indeed, I suggest that my shower tonight could easily serve as a metaphor for acculturation.
After investing the spare thoughts of the day in imagining how I would be baptized in a warm shower, my filth cleansed away, I instead found something like what I imagined a 'holy water sprinkler' was when I played D&D at the age of 5. Irregular water pressure which leapt between extremely powerful and dribbling meant that some of the water was blasted straight from the water boiler, while other water was not heated at all, leading to a machine-gun like fire of water which oscillated between scalding and almost-frozen.
There are several stages of acculturation, when faced with a surprise such as this. At first, I began to merely toe the water, ensuring that no serious damage would be done to my tender digit. After establishing that the quick changes neither melted nor froze my tender piggie, a began to leap into and through the water, so that I'd only be struck by a single temperature. And, eventually, I began to build a tolerance for it, able to stand, sholders hunched, under the binary hotcoldhothotcold flow. As my nerves struggled to identify the difference between very hot and very cold water (they actually begin to feel surprisingly similar surprisingly quickly) I forgot my glorious plans of washing, soaping, shampooing, and - essentially - showering.
And yet, as a bit of time passed, and I began to become used to the confusing cacophony of change, it became almost pleasant - all of the joy, perhaps, of the polar bear club encapsulated into less than a second. And, gloriously, I was even able to dab some soap on my mangiest bits, to wash my hair, and come out laughing and dripping.
This week brought the sad news that two of my favorite Peace Corps volunteers in Armenia are leaving our number forever, heading out of the cold of Armenia to the warmth of Santa Barbara, where they will once again play hookie from work to surf, pursue their careers, eat out, and understand the language. I'd never visited their site, but when I'd driven by it in a cab, I remember the glass feeling the way that aquarium glass does or the metal pan at the bottom of your freezer. And, I guess, it just ended up being too cold. And I absolutely understand their decision and will miss them. But I'm hoping that I'll be able to figure out a way to get used to this new reality, and still do the things that I'd planned to do.
What follows is an excerpt from an email I wrote my brother, Sean:
It's interesting to note that bills, which struggle so to be interchangeable - to the point that it is illegal to 'deface' or 'change' one - are so eminently differentiatable. Although we share the Amerikana historagraphia of unmarked and unordered bills in a black briefcase if you please, when most of us glance at a bill we notice only the upper corners. It reminds me somewhat of psychological experiments where they noticed that people read the tops of letters and the tops of faces. And yet, even the top of Ben Franklin's face is somewhat unrecognizable, despite our generations of bill-peeping.
It's interesting to note the few times that bills have been defaced in some serial way. I remember that there is a web site where you can 'register' your bill by it's unique number, and note where it was and whom it was held by. I also remember that during World War II, Hawaii had stamped 'HAWAII' on all of their bills. Their fear was that the Japanese would capture Hawaii, and they wanted a straight-forward way to devalue all of the currency. More recent, though, were the folks who started stamping things like 'vote nader!' on bills or 'this bill is no longer legal tender.'
It's interesting to wonder what could have happened to each bill that it's so defaced - we could perhaps analyze the grease on each and determine who had handled each, and the scuffs to determine what other bills it had rested with. With sufficiently advanced technology, perhaps who could determine the path that each bill in circulation had traveled - and, if we expanded our scope of investigation, perhaps we could construct some few trillion possible exchanges that took place in the last weeks or months, determining that the entire history of the world is actually held in the minutiae - that which is illegal to change, but ever changed nonetheless.
Discovering this would be intensely pleasurable for an atheist such as myself. I've often speculated that God need not actually ascend us to heaven - if all he does is remember our acts and lives, and then it is enough to have lived them. If his omniscience is enough to already have envisioned our lives, though, I find that in addition to losing choice I also sense that I lose action and am thus further diminished. What I need is a god with a good memory, but no planning skills whatsoever. Or, perhaps, I should just continue to cross out 'God' on my bills and write in 'minutiae.'
Did you know that it's a felony to receive money in the mail? Next time you're angry with somebody, you could send them a dollar and the appropriate clause.
I think sometimes also about the method in which data is sent over the Internet. The temporary bits that are sent through the pathways of the Internet are also somewhat anonymous, but it's often just this sort of anonymous and unimportant information that makes for a really good crypto-system. I was working for a while one a cryptosystem in which the 'message' served as a way to define the key that would be used to translate the minutiae of the message. What it was was a series of slashes of seeming equal - but analog - length. The idea was that the directions of the slashes would define a system by which the lengths of each line could be decoded. And the lengths would provide an off-set cipher to translate the waves in each line.
Although I abandoned this idea when I couldn't find the elegance that I was looking for, I can easily imagine a code in which the message is sent in the delays between each packet transmission, or even one in which the 'ack' message which is sent to confirm that a packet has been received carry the actual message to be transmitted.
Or maybe we can just teach the fleas that we send with our bills to do tricks, and they can spell out the message with sugar crystals.
And here's another excerpt:
Glued once again to the toilet seat for another episode of gastro-intestinal discovery channel, I began to recognize the gurblings from my intestine as developing Armenian, gurbled in the local barbar. Initially the passage of the khghs and the rhghs was too distorted by the fleshy lining of my body to be understood, but my Hollywood Miracle Diet of too lazy to cook has acted like the Rosetta Stone, revealing the company of a sentient hitch-hiker in my intestine.
For weeks I've concealed this knowledge, instead claiming that the sudden improvement in my Armenian was due to my genius and hard work. I've denied the confession of my (new companion) strictly, although I've been more prone to make jokes about 'thinking with the little head' or 'eating for two.' In my growing paranoia, I have even considered that people might doubt my claims as a confession of insanity, or view them as a mere joke. But ultimately, the changes in my personality have convinced me that it's time for me to come clean, and confess this possession in the hopes that you, my dear friends, might help me perform some sort of intestinal exorcism.
Monday, December 22, 2003
This is background information, and wholly uninteresting alone:
posted by Eric |
Monday, December 22, 2003
About a week ago, I was handed a book by a Peace Corps Volunteer which I then put into my jacket pocket.
Over my heart.
That's it for the background information. Thanks for your patience.
My hands quickly worried the paper I'd ripped from my notebook, softening it until it felt like a kleenex, at which point I pulled it into halves and shoved it into my ears. Behind me, at more decibels than a space shuttle launch, the screaming sound of a tortured cat raised by clairinets mocked children in school-yards continents away. The windy mountain road - and the inner ear damage I had just suffered - combined into car-sickness, and the Armenian army recruit to my right fell asleep onto my shoulder.
And none of this dislodged my smile.
I've spent the last four days idling in Yerevan. My few excuses for being here - planning a trip, talking to the doctor about damage to my knee, and meeting with various organizations - have been largely eclipsed by my reasons for being here. In the last few days, I've hit a bucket of golf balls, bowled a game, and danced 'til my body succumbed to soreness.
And whyfor this escape? This sudden need for release purchased release? Do not declaim the coming holidays for my surcease, nor my baser greeds. It was for my fears that I traveled here, for my hate, my spite, my avarice - for the cold days and too-friendly smiles have turned me from my neighborhood, fleeing screaming from my community.
After an unproductive Russian Language session, I was speaking with the mother of my tutor, and she asked me if I had ever been bitten as a child. And, though I don't think I was, I have a strange childhood story about biting my mother which I had to tell. Then, a ten second uncomfortable silence. And then, a clarification: "Had you ever been beaten as a child?"
Oh, gosh. Gosh, no.
But what about when you and your brother fought, and you tried to pummel him into oblivion? Or he pushed your head into the fish tank and tried to channel their inner pirahna? Kids are angry wild dogs and all they know is biting and horror and pain and pestilential floods so we beat and kick and stab them until they grow to be drafted in the army to return to us as responsible adults, too tall, too strong, to be beaten.
Gosh, golly. I don't think it ever occured to him. You see, we had not been beaten by our parents, and it just didn't seem like an option. Oh, no. We had much less straight-forward ways of expressing our angst and ennui.
And then me out the door a'walking the road amidst the howls of dogs and darkness with the greetings of Armenian boys who were about to end their day with a quick turn left instead of home and up the hill to where Frank may be but not and then back out the door to the boys and the dogs once again and a'quickly the dog challenging his space and the boys calling to me and a quick glance over to see them.
And then the dog at my jacket, claws on my chest, biting to rip out my heart with it's teeth.
And here, dear reader, remember that I was borrowing a book from my sitemate, and that I'd had it over my heart. Like a dog-proof jacket or policeman's shield in an afterschool special, it caught that diseased bullet leaving me no more than a slighly abraised stomach and lingering bruises.
And so the only damage that was done was the children who ran up not to offer assistance, but to ask me my name. To grab my weakness as a chance to meet me. To see me as a simple object: an American. And to forget the complexity of a person who has been attacked, and is afraid.
Oh, dread interest. How you malign us!
From that point, the casual interest of children on the street, as they call out to me to ask what my name is, has invoked my ire. I felt that I was left with two choices: to either convince the next generation of Armenia that Americans are spiteful Mr. Wilson's still angry at that menacing Dennis, or to escape to Yerevan, where the current generation has already formed their opinion of us.
And so I'm here. It's like a medical visit for mental health where I'm perscribed golf and bowling, and my drugs are video games and movies purchased for home use.
Peace Corps volunteers, so many feeling as I do for different reasons, are common in this city right now. Even though I didn't come with plans, I'm able to see folks on the street, to join them for lunch or dancing, and to relax relax relax.
I received a wonderfully pleasant email from somebody that I'd never met who found this page and offered to send me something through her father's suitcase when he came to visit Armenia. Just to support the Peace Corps here.
That's quite nice, really.
I declined, thanking her, telling her that we were already well provided for by the Peace Corps - how we are comfortable and fed, warm and able to see our friends for the holidays.
Of course, I'd just finished hitting a bucket of golf balls. So what was I to say?
The holidays are here now. The time of advent and armistice, christmas carols and channukah, depression and divorce. Thus far I've not realized that they're upon me, but I can't doubt that they are, as I so firmly fondly wholly hope that my friends back home are happy and warm, that this Holiday season will pass simply for me, and that love and hope and idealism will be renewed with the new year.
Our connection, kind reader, is dear. Pull in your arm from your mouse, and embrace yourself in sweet harmony bliss.
And have a happy holiday.
Friday, November 07, 2003
Journal 11-05: (Afternoon)
posted by Eric |
Friday, November 07, 2003
I feel like I've been engaging in some false advertising, citing this blog as a journal. Reading the rest of these entries that I'm about to head off to post, I realize that I have almost nothing about my life here in Armenia. So I've tried to pull together a play-by-play.
I no longer have a cat! I've been dawdling by dumpsters to see if I can see a familiar kitty face in any of the trash, but it looks like he's been adopted, killed, starved, or moved to America. He had followed me to one of my language classes, and I've not seen him since. And, though my apartment is just now recovering from the smell, I wish that he would come back.
More than a week ago I invited my counterpart to give me a call when he next had time and wanted my help. I hadn't imagined that it would be a week, but this could easily be related to the time that I've spent out of town, or the fact that my phone doesn't even give me a dial tone when I pick it up now. My plan is to go by his office to post these documents, and I need to leave soon in order to catch him before he goes to lunch.
Winter is indeed coming - snow is on the mountaintops. I'm riding with a hidden army of kittens, flannel and wool tucked under my clothes, scruff so imposed that it's growing out of my face. I'm so swathed in synthetics that rain loses the pissing contest, water so afeared of its impotence that I'm always walking in a pool of glowing sunlight that some would call American Aura while others would site Amerikana.
My phone is not even a constant disappointment now. It's not a constant anything. It's like a piece of kitsch art. It has no purpose or function besides it's aesthetic.
I'm finally in a home without metal rivets, and I just can't stop thinking about how good wireless signal strength should be.
But, if we consider material life a distraction, I am not very distracted right now. If you don't consider it a distraction, but indeed the necessary focus of our lives, I'm a real space case.
Oh, and I still have diarrhea.
32 WordPad Alla Levonian Unknown Artist Windows Media Pl...
My taskbar at the bottom of this sc (text lost)
At a high level, I'm thinking about how recent political, cultural, and economic choices in California suggest that the golden age of California is at an apex. And I'm thinking about how decisions in America, as far as I'm able to observe them, seem to suggest the same. Our newfound love of 1970 fashion, our rush to reductionism, our election of weight lifters who never even should have been actors... ah, the pain.
At the same time, I'm thinking about how cultural memes (to borrow a phrase from Richard Dawkins) multiply and replicate, and how very strange consciousness is, that it lets us do these things.
In short, even though I'm in the Peace Corps, I'm living today in a world wholly separate from that reality, save that I have to put my thoughts on a disk to deliver them to you. Here are some of my favorite mini-snippets of thought that I've put down in these random files:
An explosion is something that becomes very large in a space which is very small. This word has been used to describe populations, cultures, religeons, thoughts, and matter - people. The impact of an explosion is defined by how tightly the exploding mass is confined. Put a pipe-bomb in a roll of toilet paper, and it just burns. Put a religeon in America, and it just fizzles. Break up a firecracker and distribute it over mainland China, and you can't even light it. Rip a poem from it's confines and put it in free verse, and it has no beauty.
But there is an exception to this rule: True explosives are able to explode even without a confining container - just the pressure of the air is enough for them to explode against.
Ownership and relationships have strange paralells in the way that they exist transubstantially. Can I privately revoke ownership? Do each exist in similar parts of our brains because of these similarities in form? I ask you, you friends that I have, are you objectified? You certainly aren't realized; how could my consciousness contain the details of another consciousness as smart as yourselves?
A second consciousness: If we all of us have multiple ways that we can see something - or multiple ways that we can listen to a single conversation, is there a chance that there's a part of our brain which is performing the processing for the others, but that these realities are never raised to our consciousness? What if they are put into memory, would we be likely to notice it?
So, mostly questions now, and a few blunt metaphors. I'll try to keep writing to see where this all goes.
I forgot my brother's birthday.
And I can't quite get myself to blame where I am - or what I've been doing. It would be easy to blame the difficulty of the situation for a host of ills - the little work that I'm doing, the time that I spend in my house, or the difficulty I have in picking up my flash cards to study language. It would be easy to point to the other volunteers who are doing the same, and it would be easy to say that I'm still doing good just by trying - just by staying.
But the truth is, I was doing the same thing when I was working a full work for Deloitte, and the same thing when I was working a fourth of a week in Westwood, and the same thing still when I was working a couple jobs and going to University. I am a 70%er, who is only able to thrive when I pursue 130% of what I should be doing. But then I end up dropping the ball, dropping the ball, dropping the ball.
But this is my first time forgetting my brother's birthday.
It's eight o'clock at night when I write this, and it's hard on the heels of promising myself that I wont spend another day the way I spent this one - in my house, playing decade old video games, occassionally interrupting myself to feel guilty for not studying, not seeking out new contacts, not even getting out of my chair to cook myself lunch.
And it would be easy to blame depression, with so many of the symptoms present, but I'm feeling about as good as I've ever felt.
The last five days were spent in transit - four days of travel for a day-long party. I ended up leaving a day earlier than I was going to to spend time with the new Director of the Armenian Volunteer Corps - a program modeled on the Peace Corps which brings folks who want to volunteer specifically in Armenia - usually ex-pats and Armenian Americans. The drive was slow, with a depressingly sane driver who never once led us to beleive that we were inches from our deaths, and this slow progress slowed us further as we stopped to potty, stopped to eat, stopped just to stretch out the burgeoning cramps in our legs and buttocks.
But I didn't mind a minute of it. Chatting with these two lovely English speakers, inspired to do good in Armenia, was a refreshing wash of idealism. Speaking with Peace Corps volunteers right now is a wash of sarcasm and disdain. Current volunteers - business volunteers - are struggling to find meaning in our apartments, English teachers - who are actually working and doing significant good - are becoming bitter at the Peace Corps establishment, Health Volunteers are struggling with bad counterparts, and Environmental Volunteers are struggling to find people sympathetic to their cause.
So maybe I'll join the difficulty of the situation after all.
While in Yerevan I met with DAI, an experienced for-profit development firm. And it was so gorgeous to see a group responsible for results, incented to perform. And learning from their experience. I found some few things that I can do with them, but I don't see good opportunities to learn from them.
I don't doubt that 90% of the money spent in this country on aid is ineffective - and probably 50% worthless. I can't even imagine how much of it is actually detrimental. This hard truth has led some large donors to only build capital infrastructure - things like roads that can't be stolen, are hard to tax, and definetely help.
And so I see strength to the approach of giving time, of living with people long enough to see what they want to be trained in, and long enough to learn a community. But it would be so much better if we were paired with groups who had learned something about aid.
I think that the problem is larger than just foreign aid. It may be that the truth is that people give money because they feel good doing it. And, with a large organization, perhaps donors feel slightly responsible for everything done with their money.
And all seems right in the world.
But the Industrial Revolution has yet to come to business development. There is no mass production of benefit, no ISO certification, no transparency of results, no best practices... And as we new volunteers step into this situation, it falls upon each of us to figure out that it's not the wheel that needs to be invented, and then to figure out how to invent whatever is required.
Blif. Time to stop writing here for a bit, and switch to another window to compose a few emails on this subject. Because there are certainly a few development agencies that ARE good at this sort of thing - I just need to work with them.
For the rain I stayed inside my room, reading up on programming and Scrabble - the first day that I skipped something that could have been meaningful for the weather. But the evidence of that weather was everywhere. The river which runs through the center of Kapan, which is usually a slow-moving and clear shower over the rocks, which usually makes me think that there are perhaps a couple hundred Americans 'upstream' washing their cars, was today a muddy torrent. It was the first day that the river could be kayaked, and also the first day that I wouldn't have wanted to.
Meanwhile, the clouds that hovered overhead worked like we were living under an upside-down bathtub. The rain came, and at the end there was a visible ring of snow on the mountains around us. So today was the first day of the fleece, the first day that clothes were hung on clotheslines indoors, and a day for some reflection, and, as you can see, some writing.
Winter is coming, but I find such pleasure in reflection that I have no fear of it. I don't imagine that I will live through a Walden-esque adventure, save for that I plan to read Walden as soon as it comes to town. And I don't imagine that I will actualize my imagined self, either. I'm happily busy just actualizing. But there are so many great things that I hope to do, and perhaps I will indeed do some small portion of them as well.
Because of a strange email that I received that suggested that somebody that I don't know was reading my blog and knew the people that I was writing about, I think I'm going to do my darndest to start using code names for everybody I write about.
I keep coming across references to the Peace Corps in what I've been reading, and though it's used as a synonym in some places for mini-martyrdom for good, it's more often given as part of the biography of a person explaining what they've done. And I'm intrigued by these people not because of the similarity of this somewhat-shared experience, but more by the fact that these are often the people who have never realized what it is that they want to do in their lives, but have decided to pursue passionately their whims. And I'm immensely impressed by this quality in others, and proud to see it also in myself.
So, as I interrupt my study of Armenian to practice keyboard fingerings (I'm trying to learn piano as well, now) I feel a momentary dash of pride. When both activities are halted to jot down some thought that I'd had onto my computer, which transitions into trying to write a good drumbeat, I feel guilty for turning away from my Armenian. But I'm learning to feel proud of this, also.
I think that I'm the most satisfied in my life when I'm passionately pursuing something, but I find that I've become more and more a dabbler as I've aged. Passionate pursuit blinds a person of the uncomfortable challenge of living, turning up the volume on one event and drownding failure, doubt, and loss. I think it might be best to blame maturity or self-confidence for this willingness to tinker - when I had something powerful to prove, I pursued whatever I was doing with such passion, determined to win a fortune, set a record, and learn all that there is to know. As I age, the first two desires weaken, but the desire to learn remains. Suddenly I'm able to read non-fiction, hungry for the factual details therein. Is this a consequence of intellectual isolation, or a new development in myself? Am I telling myself that I am a monument, and that the greatness that I feel in myself is beautiy?
After I'd left for the Peace Corps, I ended up having an argument via email with an ex-business partner about the nature of the remaining business. Although the two of us had worked very little together for some time, it was an emotional argument for me because of our faded friendship and his transition from being a good person. In the course of the exchange, he wrote, as best I can remember it, that he hoped that I would find what I was looking for while I was in the Peace Corps. And the host of implications that came with that angered me - the sense of unkind judgement, the implication that he had found the meaning of life in his four-dimensional wardrobe, and that he judged me to be incomplete - all these things angered me.
My perspective is shifting not in gradual moves, but in fits and starts - giant leaps and small, regressions to familiar perception punctuated by great insights which wrench me from familiar tracks, and subtler ones that work like a tailor on my ill-fitting former comforts. And somewhere in this hoary jig, I've come to see somebody observing - or even deprecating - my search for meaning as an unintended complement.
Our lives afford us only so much time. After we die, our lives are not repeated. Films and memories don't re-enact the damage and harm that we do, the two-dimensional representations of our lives and three dimensional artifacts give us some proof of our having existed, but each moment ceases to exist instantaneously. This sudden speed of an almost infinity of moments defines our boundaries which medicine and good living push against, and in this time we engage in many sorts of actions. And the search for meaning is a virtuous one. When we ignore the great questions to only repeat what few actions we are comfortable with, we limit our lives. Repeating every day the same routine, you can create a life with no memory of itself, where the sameness forms no new neurological connections, where the repitition of what is done blunts and nulls whatever value you may have had. And your life can feel like a blink even to yourself. A whisper of meaning across a hall crowded with routine heard, and the shouted reality of life unobserved.
Although I base my perceptions of ethics and morality on a love for humanity - knowable only by what I observe of myself - I find that I am not greatly impressed by a single abstract life. And, despite the emotional toll of deaths of individuals abroad, we are all, I imagine, this way. More telling, I imagine, is that people feel similarly emotionally hearing of a single soldier killed as they do hearing of seventeen. These concrete losses - losses with faces - they are pain! But the difference between seventeen and a thousand is smaller still than the difference between one and seventeen. The difference between one thousand and two thousand is miniscule. Two and four non-existent. And who nowadays really knows the difference between a million and a billion? But this isn't only a reflect on the poor understanding that people have of large numbers - I mean instead to reflect that one life in a sea of six billion only has great meaning in the ways that it is related to you. Our soldiers, or our friends, or our guardians - these deaths are somewhat felt. Casualties on the other side mean nothing. Lives don't have equal weight, and we lack for a scale able to tell us the difference.
But we all have suspicions, don't we?
I think, sometimes, about the fact that leisure time used to not be truly socially obtainable for the mass of humanity. The Industrial Revolution did so much for man! The Industrial Revolution created a new species of thinking mammals! And yet, so often, I find myself hungry for work and distraction from this uncomfortable new existince. Believing in the chemical mind - that death brings the cessation of perception - I am hungrier in this life to find those answers, hungrier for complete experience. And how can existence with no leisure - the simplicity of hard work and village life - how can that compete with the actualization made possible by leisure and wealth? There are, doubtless, many lessons that simplicity teaches, but there are some beautiful thoughts that aren't simple. There are thoughts that are easier to have listening to Bach, others that almost require and understanding of Calculus, and these neurons dance with one another! The myriad of thoughts that can be had with education, the chance to think the unthought, the great, soaring triumph of new thought, these enriching experiences are also gifts that mankind has given itself, and they are a legacy which, even untold, has beauty.
New words, phrases, and memes uplift man.
As a part of my love affair with work, it had seemed to me at some point that our elimination of work caused by the creation of industrialization and actualization of planning was a threat to the meaning that so many people find in work. Work, I have heard many men say, defines a man. Take away jobs and you generate Luddites, furiously destroying looms to save their lives meaning. They weren't proud because they are creating textiles, but because they were workers - not because they are bettering the world, but because they need not face the great questions. A weaver with a loom has a purpose - ostensibly to weave - but the destruction of mechanical looms is a denial of that meaning. It's a grasping for meaning.
Taking away those easier answers is the same as killing God.
What a rambling adventure this journal entry is! As you might guess, I hadn't planned to write any of this - indeed, if I weren't so behind on posting to my journal, this would be saved in a little scrap-like file on my computer to be forgotten and reformatted when I inevitably break something. But instead I give my loyal readers this unorganized morass. With apologies to those of you trying to figure out how I am and what I'm doing.
There's a strange relationship that I've been building with my resume. Each mistake that I've made had been multiplied by some daring risk into a larger mistake for some years now, but the marketing of risk - and the continued willingness to risk - implies success. When I next find myself rehearsing the explanations of how and why, I may find some hypocrisy there. With goals so shifted, how do I explain corporate success, excess, and abcess?
I think, to honestly describe what happened, is that I was getting a fairly good reputation at Deloitte for being a smart guy on the few projects that I'd worked, but wasn't building a reputation as a guy who could or would hurt himself to execute. With a bit of bad career management as well, I ended up without a compelling reason to be pulled on to any project - on the beach - and then quickly tossed into a bad opportunity, where Deloitte shouldn't have been staffing - which led me to ask for sabattical. And then, over the course of a few months, more than half of us were laid off.
I went fairly early.
The mistakes that I made there, I compounded. If I had pursued the good business opportunity instead of the bad one - or even whole-heartedly pursued the bad one - I would have had a useful exp