Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dayton and Extended Family


5 Dayton and the extended 'family' that frequented our habitation. I'm the a-hole not in his gown.

Regent Street


The girls of Regent Street. And me. I miss them a lot and I promise to write about them soon.

Cosmological Comedy

I have found that being home is an adventure. I am not really on task but it is still worth it to see where the adventure goes. Sure it's not the glamorous adventure of the action movies or even of Horton Hears a Who (the movie I am watching right now). But it has an adventure like quality.

Or maybe more like a sitcom. We have a recurring cast of characters. Ciera's little red-headed sister, my eccentric family (two sisters with drastically different personalities, four kittens, and my exceedingly odd parents). Sometimes Ciera's wacky family members come by to provide us with lots of awesome plotlines.

So maybe it's an adventure-sitcom. A cross-over of genres. Something that could grab the 18-30 year old male audience and the...well actually the same audience. So maybe my life appeals to just me. And that's probably because I have started living with some thoughts. I do think sometimes. Often I just write. But in this instance, I have been musing quite often on a special thought. It goes like this, “don't take things too seriously, it's all a bit of a joke anyway.” This thought is often followed by a question, “what is the impact or potential impact of action or event?” It is then promptly accompanied by the answer, as supplied by Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, “in a cosmological sense, not much.”

So. To sum up, I have been living in Shakespeare's world as a stage, and treating it as a comedy. Does that make it much better? I don't know. But it certainly twists events in an entertaining fashion.

I sit in the DMV and watch children get called ahead of me. They don't drive—granted their parents do, but I certainly deserve to be served if I can actually drive right? And there were ghetto gang members that strutted around in chains, wife-beaters, and cocked-sideways hats. What is Nevada's DMV but a crazy set-up for a terribly racist joke?

I plan on putting some of my life into skits or movies someday. People will love it. Or hate it. But I suppose I shouldn't worry too much. I'm just a performer in a comedy of little consequence. I should be so lucky to be able to do what I want and not worry about destroying too much in the process.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hook-up II

A short story:

Thus I entered the hook-up culture of college life. Never mind that the dorms smelled like vinegar for the rest of the week and my friends were a bit pissed that their shoes were ruined. I had started living life the way I thought was right. And I could say that I was doing what everyone was doing—hooking up. It was so much a part of the conversation; hundreds of young, hormonally charged co-eds stuck together in confined quarters, drinking and smoking. It was inevitable. We were living to forget; making our mistakes to please our most basic instincts.

Every weekend there were two or three parties I would go to. We would get smashed beforehand, stumble into a sweaty and crowded room, and strike up a conversation with some girl from Anthro 101 or something. I’d pretend to care about our long assignments, our clumsy professor, or some other bit of random small talk. I’m not sure if it was pretending though, with that much intoxicating beverage in one’s system, everything seems interesting, even the facial tics of the old cooters that taught me what I already knew. And the girls seemed to like the attention too. Alcohol makes everything blurry, as if I were talking to people through water. Motion gets blurred. A smiling face; and a light grazing on my arm was as good as a done deal if I pursued it to its fullest.

The trick was to build up tension. Seem maybe interested. After that it was all about the maybe factor. How close am I? What did that touch mean? Maybe. Then to erase that doubt in a moment. Seduction with the assistance of carelessness. Some people I never talked to again; others I would say awkward hellos to in passing; still others I became cordial friends with. It was the pillow talk factor. Some I could laugh with after our indulgences. Others were worse than the hangover.

Overall, I never lost my bearings. I would stay oriented to my friends. They were constants; more personal to me than anyone that I shared a kiss with. The physical, the space we had been told as kids to keep so personal to us, had become a meaningless barrier—defeated with a couple drinks, a cute-ish face, and a half-way decent body (often only two of the three were required, and sometimes just more alcohol). I would let myself go. Who cared when I could just blame it on one night of craziness? And the girls—termed biddies, hos, bitches, sluts, skanks, honeys, girlies, anything but a woman—seemed to use the same excuses. No matter how dirty I felt the next morning I would go out again. And so would the girls.

The personal thus became something beyond my body. My secrets, dreams, and insights were my greatest asset. Sharing experiences outside of the ones I couldn’t remember is what defined my friends to me. And as I progressed through it, I found that I had very little to say or do. I didn’t think, I acted on impulse; hoped for the best. And it annoyed me. What was my worth if I was just a pile of flesh waiting to contract disease and shut down from liver failure? I wasn’t sure what I thought anymore. So I romanticized and justified. I would have time to think later.

It wasn’t until one night when we all wanted to stay in that it became apparent. We were sitting around in one of my friend’s rooms passing around a bag of wine and shooting the bull that the topic came up. I had become notorious among my friends. I was promiscuous to say the least. As we counted off our conquests, my friends kept their count to one hand—two didn’t even have to count (one was chaste, the other in a relationship). I quietly lost count. Then we started talking about our crazy nights. I was there for the first half in all of them. Then I would drop-off as a character somewhere about the middle. And there was much more to those nights. My friends laughed about things that I had no idea had happened.

Whose life was I living? The rest of my nights were not filled with the hilarity and excitement that my friends described. Rather it consisted of awkward sexual encounters and difficult morning conversations rife with lies about early morning meetings. I was getting barely passing grades; I had lost touch with my friends, and I felt empty. I was constantly scared of contracting an STI, wasting money not on dates but on medical tests (I had been to the doc four times in twelve weeks).

I had come to college to experience life. I didn’t want to miss out on a single moment, and in that pursuit, I had been missing out on my friends. Satisfying my intrepid little explorer had become a base degradation of me and the women I interacted with. I thought about where I started. I expected that my college life would be a way to fall in love; to find something fulfilling. Nothing I was doing was bringing that possibility any closer.

I went to bed that night, resolved to save myself, somehow. I still found pleasure in the allure of maybe. Maybe tomorrow I would be a better person, maybe next semester I would get good grades. Maybe I would spend more time with the people I loved. Maybe I would actually fall in love. Maybe.

Hook-up I

A short story:

The most important part of living is being in love. Or perhaps it isn’t. The college life was my attempt at falling in love. I had always expected so many things to be different in so many ways. I looked to the experience itself as a way to achieve some sort of odd preconceived notion about the way life should be.

So I went to my classes everyday. I found a group of friends, people who were reliable and generous. A couple of them were wild-eyed and ready to exploit the campus environment in all its forms. I suppose that was what drew me to them at first. The untamed fires that burned so ferociously—driving them to pull devastating pranks on each other and the campus as a whole.

One night we were filling up condoms with baking soda and vinegar, carefully separating the substances with a thin piece of paper. If the condom was shaken, the reaction would start quickly and the condom would explode. We were going to set it by my friend’s door and have him come out into the hall, in the process shaking it and letting it explode in his face. As we exited the bathroom I accidentally bumped into a girl who was obliviously listening to her headphones and carrying her laundry.

The condom had been shaken and the reaction had started. There was only a little time. I looked at the girl—just a brief glimpse. She was in sweatpants and a pull-over sweater. She had blonde hair and bright blue eyes. She had her hair pulled back in a pony tail and had a very startled expression on her face. She was not the object of my prank and I had to think quickly. I could be a real jerk to my friends, but never a stranger.

I looked around hastily. One bathroom stall door was still open. With that in mind, I took three brisk steps to the toilet, tossed the rapidly expanding condom in the bowl and shut the door of the stall quickly. I ran back out and apologized to the girl for scattering her laundry everywhere. Aside from being inordinately embarrassed about the whole incident, I introduced myself to her and tried to help her put her laundry back in the basket. I quickly realized that I wasn’t really helping overcome the awkwardness of the moment. She was cute enough and I had what I thought to be a flash of genius at the time—I offered to help her back to her room. Right as I extended my magnanimous offer, I heard a large splash, the banging of a bathroom door, and a groan of complete indignation.

In the process of disposing of my ticking time bomb my co-conspirators had left through the other entrance of the bathroom, returned without knowing their imminent danger, and walked right into a far more sinister version of their original prank. I hastily exited with the pony tail blonde and made small talk with her. Somehow I ended up hooking up with her.

Hooking up, it is that all-encompassing term to describe all manner of sexual acts. What ‘base’ I got to is not really important. What was important was that, I had started down the path that I thought would maximize my college experience. Get a little action on the side. Go hang with friends, save money on dates.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Driving Up Woodchuck

The sun was stark. There were three clouds in the sky. One was an enormous monolith, a rounded form. I often imagined clouds of that magnitude to be enormous spaceships, things so massive that current human engineering had but a glimpse of it as a possibility. The other two were white tufts, so thick and clearly defined against the bright blue of the sky. Most of the sky was clear. The clouds, despite the wind, did not move from their positions.

I had on my plastic sunglasses, built in the wayfarer style, but made of plastic with neon green arms. It provided minimal protection from the sun. But that was all I needed. The wind blew in waves across the desert landscape. Bright swells pulsed over the mat of cheat grass that covered the spaces between the sagebrush and junipers; a shimmering maroon and yellow. It was sunny everywhere, it was as if the clouds did not have shadows.

I sank into the leather passenger seat. The radio played quietly—just loud enough to remind me that it was there. The three of us sat in the driveway. Hara children—or were we? I had just graduated college. Olivia had just gone to the mechanic and fixed a car. Natalie was soon to finish her first year of high school. Child was a generous term.

Natalie was behind the wheel. We were going to drive up along the unused roads behind our house. Natalie wanted to learn to drive. The roads were a perfect training ground. Windy, newly paved, and empty.

Olivia was tense in the back. A myriad of comments ranging from “you are going to ruin the car and kill us” to “you are ruining the car and killing us” were emanating from the back seat. I told Natalie to relax and pull out of the driveway slowly.

“Which one is the gas and which one is the brake?” Natalie’s question did not reassure me. I told her and she immediately looked more confident. I knew that this would be stressful—I would be calm and relax. I would just let her drive. If need be, I could always intervene. So I enjoyed the scenery. I let the curves of the road ebb below the wheels of the car.

A little unsteady at first, Natalie got the hang of it. She picked up on the concept and readily applied it. I mused at how such a foreign concept to her had become second nature to me. Driving had evolved from a painful experience to one that was leisurely and freeing. For her, that future was far distant.

Natalie clutched the wheels and good naturedly took Olivia’s commentary. In just the few minutes we went driving, I saw that uncertain future come into focus briefly. The course seemed set, if not straight. It was a matter of adjusting to the constraints of the road, and using the tool that was the vehicle effectively. Natalie was no pro, but she was well on her way to being more than competent.

Georgia O'Keefe


Piper asked me to draw her a vagina. This is what I drew. I can't wait to see how the finished product looks, as Regent street is coloring it in for me.

Look At This F'ing Hipster


Thick rimmed glasses without lenses, cheapo wayfarer knockoffs, rolled up skinny jeans, a pack of cigs, a budweiser 40oz, and a video-camera. I'll even miss all the hipsters at Skidmore.

I Heart Skidmore


Goodbye Skidmore

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Erosion

I am flying over the mountain west. I want to write about leaving Regent street. But I think it is too hard. Saying goodbye was difficult for Dayton—writing about it was hard too. But I had four years to think about what to say.

I have had a little over a year to build bonds with just as much strength. I cannot face the emotional pain of being separated from these people yet. I do not know what to say or how to give voice to the emotions I have right now.

We are flying over the Grand Canyon. It is an enormous crevasse that has been carved by the Colorado River for millions of years. The walls are made of granite, a hard stone that takes a long time to carve through. The Colorado was once a wide shallow river. It would pour through the valley as basically a flash flood. Then it became a constant flow, streaming from the Rockies into a largely flat plain. Over time the river made itself a bed. It carved through the granite steadily creating the largest canyon in the world. Its course became more sure, coursing through the desert all year. Today the canyon is an oasis in the desert, providing water and shelter to many desert hardened creatures. The Colorado's flow, millions of acre-feet per year (7 million are allocated for human use alone) is a testament to rivers everywhere. It has created one of the most stunning natural features in the world in one of the harshest environments in the world. It is the perfect metaphor for perseverance and change. The fluidity of life. It is a symbol of life, strength, and time. We are just blips on the radar—the Colorado will continue to run far after we are gone. And even if humanity decides to drink up all the water, the canyon will remain.

We cannot just fill it in, the Grand Canyon is permanent beyond humanity. It is bigger than us, older than us, and far wiser. It would behoove humanity to listen to the river and the message it has. It is bigger than me. And that is what my friends are to me. Permanent and lasting. They have changed my landscape forever, and they are bigger and better than me.

Climbing

Bugs flew around my face. The humid air was tempered only by the clouds that kept the air fairly cool. The path was basically a creek bed. An almost straight uphill shot. We were climbing Prospect mountain. A peak that would overlook the beautiful Adirondacks. I had no idea what lay ahead. Every stop we took was an opportunity for the bugs to settle around our faces, trying to bite us. But the mountain was steep and the terrain often challenging. To make it to the top was a difficult prospect—pun intended. But we persevered, each step reminded me that if I found a sure footing for just that one step, I would be ok. We clambered up rock faces, huge slabs of untextured rock. Water would trickle down it, covering it in a slimy growth that made it slippery.

Finding sure footing wasn't a sure bet. But we kept going. Each step getting me a little higher. I couldn't see where we had come from really. There was barely a trail, it was more a vague path that people may or may not have climbed before. I could not see where I was. It was a sea of trees that obscured the sky as well as the environment around me. I was stuck in the moment, trapped in my space with flies buzzing around me.

I had company though. My parents and Ciera, partners in the difficult climb to the top. And a couple we met along the way. These two became our unwitting allies in the struggle to the top because they started about the same time we did and their pace was almost identical to ours. We were close to the top when Ciera and I decided to race. We got ahead a bit and thought we were almost at the top. We sat in a small clearing that gave me a glimpse of the view. A stunning landscape that stretched off into infinity. But it was obscured by trees, and I knew it wasn't the top.

We kept hiking. The flies stopped buzzing around our heads. A cool breeze hit my face. The clouds opened up a little and shed light on the path. We made it to the top. And it was beautiful. An enormous vista with 360 degrees of view. I could see most of Adirondack State Park as well as Saratoga County. All the struggle melted away. I was at the top, and enjoying it thoroughly. Eventually we had to descend, if only to climb another mountain.

Leaving Dayton

No tears would come. I watched us all stand around. Everyone avoided eye contact. We stood in a circle, knowing that the inevitable was here and our prolonged goodbyes were a feeble attempt at holding onto the last four years. I wanted to take everyone in my arms and hold them. Not in a goodbye way, in a loving embrace that showed them how important they were to me.

It was hardest to see James. He is always stoic about goodbyes; he steels himself knowing, I suppose, that we will be together again, and that tears are reserved for few occasions. But that wasn't a reality—this was a special occasion. And James had red-eyes and the exhausted look of someone who understood the vague future that lay ahead. Sure we would see each other again, but we had no idea when. And James was my bellwether, indicating the weight of the world.

It was hardest to hug Katherine. She melted in my arms, she cried. I have never seen her cry so forcefully. They were the powerful sobs of someone who had built a family at Skidmore and was watching it dissipate. Katherine rarely hugged me, just something we didn't do often. This moment was honest. Her hug was a gentle goodbye as well as a beautiful reminder of the strength of our friendship. And I melted back, all of the time we spent together was encapsulated perfectly in that moment—exceedingly present and respectfully acknowledged. Letting go had such finality; tangible and painful.

Kor left first, having the advantage of not being the last around. Saying goodbye to her was easy, not because I was glad to be rid of her, but because I know that I had found a kindred spirit with her. A person that would not let the world go, the person who had brought me into this community around me, and who would bring me back if I wandered astray. For all the bickering we did, she was still the pillar that held me up unconditionally.

But they are all kindred spirits—Jacob, Ben, and Natalie too. We fought our way through the world, looking to understand it in new and exciting ways, to share what our love with people that were hell-bent on making the world a better place. We were confidants, friends, supports, chefs, family, team mates. Being there was incredible because the people were incredible.

The Stage

I am not sure if I heard anything. I felt a firm handshake and I kept walking. There was stuff in my hands. My enormous robe disguised the fact that my knees were shaking. Somehow it was difficult to walk across that stage. All of the implied metaphor—it suddenly had meaning as I waited for my name to be called. Thousands of faces pressed their attention on me, asking me to suddenly find some importance and foreboding weight in the event. I found it. Nothing was lost on me. The same questions still raced through my mind. What is really important about wearing a gown and processing across a stage? Realistically nothing. But in the moment it was everything.

But the speeches were important. I connected with the messages. The three main points: listen to your body, teach, and build community. Listen to your body, it is a tool of intuition and power. If you listen to your body it is possible to understand the world at an instinctive level; to find a grounding with the world. By being receptive to the subtle cues of the body I will be able to find a higher truth in a subtle manner beyond the logical. It is a power. Just as a shark can feel vibrations in the water, my body can tell me things that I would otherwise be blind to. My body is a tool to be used, revered, and maintained. I must take care of it and build a lasting relationship with it—one of trust and cohesion. I cannot move through the world if I distance myself from my body. A mind cannot travel without its vessel body; the guardian, the receiver, the protector.

Teach. I need to become a teacher; I need to revere teachers. Teachers do not exist solely in a professional setting, but the ones that do have undertaken a most noble profession. Teaching is the way of humanity; exploring, learning, sharing, and giving. A teacher excites the minds of their pupils, fosters curiosity and critical thinking in a world desperately in need of it. Teaching is the labor of the apple tree—the students are the fruits. I am about to embark upon the world and what I gather I must give back. I will eventually give back everything I am in physical form. To give back what knowledge I have is but another way of unifying myself with the universe, of being a progressive participant in the world. I will never stop being a student, and I will never stop being a teacher. And I will campaign for those that make it their profession; the underdog laborers that hold the liquid knowledge of the world in their hands up to the mouths of the next generation to drink from. Teachers—being one, supporting one, learning from one—matter.

Build community. Community is a group of people concerned with the collective fate of the people that compose it. They are in it together. Community is a part of every human; inseparable. One cannot take a human out of a community or a community out of a human. Community, large and small, creates every human. And to have a healthy humanity, it is important to have a healthy community. At Skidmore, I have pursued the call of community to the limit of my abilities. I want to pursue that endeavor everywhere I go, I want to continue that far beyond the limits of a tiny northeastern liberal arts college campus. Community is humanity, and it must be built and strengthened.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Gradation

I am less than 24 hours from graduating. What am I supposed to feel? I don't really know.

I am numb. The best description I have of my emotions is a tingling in my gut. A stirring that is driving me to action. I feel ready to do something. I feel trapped in my space. I feel weak. I feel strong. I feel disembodied.

I am at the cusp of something. I am teetering on the verge of...the verge.

I suppose that there is something important about to happen. But exiting the bubble isn't about popping it. It isn't about really exiting it. The bubble is a shitty metaphor. Leaving college—the liberal arts white ivory tower lifestyle—is both abrupt and gradual. It is like a rainbow, each color is distinct but the transition between them is so subtle it is nearly impossible to tell how each color is really divided—red is orange, indigo is violet.

Graduation tomorrow seems too artificial. What does it really signify? Nothing. Just a point in time. I know I keep coming back to this point, but it all seems awkward. How could I possibly call the ceremonies tomorrow graduation?

I am tired. I feel exhausted and unprepared. I feel helpless and inadequate. I don't know anything. What I know is not useful to anyone—at least obviously so. Least of all to me. I feel so weak and enervated. My body hurts. It is sore, I am holding my stress in my back. I am holding it in my jaw. But I am not holding it where it is useful. I have not thought about it. I have not felt it. So my body carries it, and I will feel it, think it later, but that seems to be unhealthy to me. I cannot think of a worse way to graduate. Tense, unable to feel, unable to think. Just a stiff robot going through the motions.

I know who I am, but no one knows who I am. If I need to be a confident leader, a graduate, a person who can make a difference in the world, why do I feel like a sardine in a sea of black, processing in a monotonous line across a stage for a brief moment? Unimportant. Just another blip. A unit of capitalist production.

I need recognition. Not graduation.

Cycle Time

Thus begins the end. Beyond the parties, the drama, the crazy. The end is nigh and I reside in its eye. The storm brews around me, ominous clouds of the futura obscura. An endless sea of emotional turmoil. A destructive cataclysm awaits me. I will step into the tempest, ready to be swept away on the annihilating winds of a time yet to come. Uncertainty looms large over my head, shielded by the square cap that accompanies my gown. And when I remove it I will be left with the end of an era. Four years will fade, yielding to the inevitable ravages of the storm. What will remain? A few fragments. Pieces, artifacts of a glorious time. Like the fated town of Sodom, my college life will be eternally shattered, and I will be unable to look back lest I turn to a pillar of salt. Racked with grief, held in place and unable to move. Only to blow away with the slightest wind. I cannot fathom what is to come. I can only imagine the total destruction that will occur. And I will be forced forward, only because I cannot go backward. And the fog of the future will keep my eyes pointed to the soil directly in front of my feet. A hazy gray, few shapes will pass through my eyes.

But I will persevere. I will make it out of the storm. And it will be clear, my future will be there. Waiting. Happy to see me. And a new city; a new civilization will rise, built from the few things I carry with me. And in my belongings I will be happy to find everything important to me. The destruction, the chaos, all of it was a purging. A purification ritual. Nothing important is ever lost. Only the extraneous.

That is the way of the world; the cyclical nature of our lifetimes. What we lose is never lost, what we gain is only what was forgotten. And we spiral upward, rediscovering things with progress in mind. Sometimes we find new in old, and old in new. We discover and create, we lose and process. Our fate is tied inevitably to time, the constant enemy, the oldest friend. Graduation is a mere gradation. And I will enter the world again, 22 years after I entered it the first time.

Ciera's Last Day

I woke up at six in the morning. It was difficult to say the least. Ciera's apartment was humid and cool. The air was thick. Everything creaked. I walked to the kitchen. As I did, the hardwood floors felt solid under my feet—real and tangible. I felt how they warped, made a dip by the front door and gently rose again. It was odd. The gray light and white walls felt so familiar and foreign. It was the last day in Boston. I looked outside. It was cloudy, warm, light rain. The trees were a bright green. The green that can only come from a rainy spring; a crisp clear-breeze running down red brick building lined streets.

I ran to the car and pulled up out front. The drive was going to be long and hard. We tossed in 4 bags—the remainder of Ciera's belongings. She was having a tough time leaving; I wasn't surprised in the least. Nothing about the day was a surprise. We had been talking about it for months. We knew the day was coming and we did everything we could possibly imagine to make the move easier.

It wasn't easy. The air was still; electric with the emotions of four years of experiences and people. Each step was difficult for Ciera. Every step she tried to hold in the moment, tried to re-experience everything that had happened in that space. We gently woke Beth and Lexi, said goodbye to tired and fatigued eyes. Beth whispered a goodbye, Lexi just put her arms out and gave us hugs. Ciera headed for the door, but was briefly pulled back for a second goodbye.

I pulled away. I turned to her at the stop sign and held her hand. She started crying—sobbing and exhausted. We drove in silence for a while.

“Say something.” She implored between breaths.

“I don't know what to say. It sucks. And it's going to suck. This is not supposed to be easy or fun. And it is going to hurt for a while. And you can't hold onto it because no one is going to stay here, even if you did. It is the end and there isn't a way to prolong it.”

I felt helpless, cold. My words didn't comfort, my words didn't show her how much I was trying to make her feel better. “But there is good news. You will keep in touch with those you want to. You will see these people again, they are part of your life now and we can always visit.”

I mused on my words, I hoped they were true because I wanted so badly to prolong the magic. I was looking ahead to my graduation. I was seeing where I would be in four days. And I hoped that I was speaking truth. Friends don't disappear just because college ends.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I want

I want. I want to be doing something important with my life. I suppose everyone does. Or maybe they don't. But I am pretty sure that is not an original desire. Important things—things that make a positive difference in the world. Things that make the citizens of the world more keen to understand each other. Things that increase the value of the human life at a personal level. I want to give the 800 million impoverished people in the world an opportunity to alleviate their basic needs; to provide them with education so they can make their own decisions.

I want to make a difference. I want to elevate the discourse. I want to get away from the petty arguments. I want to work away from the anger and hatred that accompanies the human life. I want to be an idealist with a philosophy that works. I want to be married to the ideology of the practical. I want to abandon the practical for the impossible. I want to find the intersection of the two and make the world better through their confluence—the practically impossible.

I want to make a difference. I want to take on the fight of a lifetime. I want to vanquish the naysayers. I want to make the world a better place. And I want to do it with the world behind me.

I don't want to fight an opponent. I want to make my opponents fight for me. I want allies against discontent and ignorance—not allies against my fellow man. I want to galvanize us all into searching for the answers that benefit all of us; that satisfy our needs completely and without compromise.

I believe I can do it. I will start by making myself known to the world. I will start by finding the philosophy of the practically impossible. I will find the work that is beyond a career—the passion of a lifetime. I will find the love, the balance, the joy, the clarity, the morality, the innocence, the equanimity, the confidence, and the support to make the world better.

I want you to join me. I know it is cheesy. I know it is hard. I am asking you to join me in making the world better; starting with you. Be better; be present; be human. Give without expectation; find truth through naiveté; forgive; be patient; be fearless.

Always be fearless.

And I will try to do the same. Everyday.

Recording

I have been trying to collect the last few moments of my time at Skidmore. It isn't easy. Claire decided—and I agreed—that recording some interviews and candid footage of people right before graduation would be a good idea.

Realistically it has been hard. What do I keep, what do I record? Editing starts before I even enter the room to look over the footage. There is so much life that I miss. And it is hard to be the cameraman when I am a participant in life's events as well. When do I turn on the camera? Should I show only the happy moments? Do I show the complex lives we lead? The pain, the drama, the tragedy of being a group of people all facing a sudden and inevitable end to what we have known. It is difficult to capture in words, in pictures, or even in videos the things that make up our lives at Skidmore. I have footage of places. I have footage of people. I have interviews. I have candid moments.

But I am missing everything in between. My life, what I've been asked to record, are the bricks. But the problem is that the building is mostly mortar; a sloshy glue that holds the building up. And I am trying my best to show people what they have asked me to record. I have done my best to try to capture the building in its entirety. But the lens is narrow—figuratively as well as literally—and much of life—the building—resides outside the frame.

I am dedicated to doing my friends the favor of capturing the moment. The moment escapes the gaze of the camera. The moment is not attached to the frame. And what I capture is just a time capsule—an encyclopedia entry. It is an explanation of the life we live, edited heavily for content. It is not the gritty real-life we face.

And I am a hopeless romantic, too scared to train the camera on the moments we are truly vulnerable; too scared to capture the difficulty that we do face. I hope that the memory I capture is not the memory everyone has. I hope it is the memory everyone deserves; the memory that calls on us to remain hopeful in the face of the unknown, strengthened by our friendships and experiences. I hope to give my friends the memory that I know I will always hold of them; noble humans that can persevere greatly to change the world in a meaningful way. It is my long-winded way of saying that beyond our struggles, beyond our drama, we are agents of good.

And I hope that I can capture the magnanimity, the kindness, the power that these people are.

Also, getting interviews is very difficult as well. My friends are surprisingly camera shy. Not sure what's up with that.

Congraduation Ciera

Time is the constant we wrestle with. We try to bend it, stretch it, compress it, conquer it, push it, grab hold of it. But it marches steadily onward, unaware of our actions, subject only to things we cannot see, and forces far more powerful than us. This morning is Ciera's graduation.

After attending four years at Emerson College, she is now graduating with a BFA in Acting. This is an enormous honor, there are only 16 students that made it through the program with her. Last night she wrote thank you cards to her professors, a task that was difficult and somewhat incomplete. How can we express in words the deep feelings and importance our guides and mentors have supplied to us?

It is an impossible task. Each second that I write here I notice the impossibility of my situation. Impossible only because I don't know what is possible. The future is a nebulous inevitability that starts at 10:30 am today when Ciera walks across that stage and begins her new life as an adult—for real this time. Or maybe not. Maybe it is like a birthday. The big ceremony to celebrate something that ultimately feels hollow on a personal level; something with effects that stretch far beyond the brief moment it is acknowledged.

The events are in motion, undeniable and irreversible. Ciera will walk across that stage (and hopefully not trip—this is not slapstick humor, it has happened to her before) take her diploma, shake a hand, and walk off the stage. In fifty feet, less than 20 steps, she will conclude her time here in Boston. As we know, chapters rarely have endings in real life, and few stories exist without extensive epilogues; even as we close the book time pushes us forward, moment by moment, forcing us to start another chapter. It becomes impossible to distinguish one moment as existing without context. When Ciera graduates today, she will have a graduation reception, her room will still need to be packed up, and we won't really leave Boston until Wednesday. To dwell on those 20 steps is to open the book in the wrong place, and find the ending in the middle—inexplicably and artificially placed there by someone other than the author.

But it is a moment that deserves particular attention as well. It is a moment that throws away all the uncertainty of life briefly and compresses the past four years into a single sheet of paper acknowledging the enormous effort it takes to accomplish, and does so with raucous applause and more than a few tears. It is the moment that is mentioned in stories years later, the mark of an era.

As the past fades into half-remembered dreams, this will stand out. And time's steady march will be held in place by the anchor of memory; a collective one shared by every person gathered at that event. A time that cannot be moved, bent, swayed, pushed, or pulled. Today will pass in a blur; and remain permanently and perfectly somehow.

Congraduation Ciera.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Graduation Announcement

As per my father’s request, and the logical underpinnings that led me to the same conclusion, here is my graduation announcement:

I’m graduating.

It has been an amazing experience. I can remember how unsure I was the day my dad dropped me off at Skidmore. A totally new world away from all support systems. I had no idea what I was in for. In my time here I joined a sport that showed me the power of discipline and the beauty of a sunrise on still water. I travelled to Spain and found friends that have endured the test of Europe and Skidmore’s helter skelter life. I have taken classes on Islamic Art History, US-Indian Relations, Sex and Power, Human Rights, Sustainable Development, Video Art, Peaceful Conflict Resolution, and the Economics of European Integration. I live with and next door to some of the most amazing people I have ever met, a collection of individuals that can be described as nothing less than family. I pursued the founding and blossoming of a mediation club on this campus; something that resulted in outreach to local high schools, elementary students, mediation in Saratoga Springs, and on-campus dialogues about race, privilege, and alcohol abuse. I wrote a thesis on regional development in Washoe County, the culmination of three years’ work and the support of my very intelligent and helpful advisors.

I lived in the dorms and partied till I puked. I sobered up and found a way to have fun without going to excess. I struggled through the growing pains that accompany this portion of my life. I learned to do dishes and have a stable long-distance relationship with the most wonderful woman I know. I worked as a supervisor in the dining hall, helping freshmen adjust to the tribulations of college life. I pulled only four all-nighters; a real achievement to the countless ones that my other friends have done.

I now have supports in countless places. I am confident that my idealism and conviction to pursue a just and meaningful existence is not rooted in the ivory tower that so many refer to as the Skidmore Bubble, but rather a realization that if I want something out of the world I will have to be more passionate than any detractors, more informed than any slanderers, and more forgiving than any who would try to take that away.

I am a graduate of Skidmore College. I am a member of the 100th graduating class of an institution that has shown me love, support, knowledge, and the chance to pursue my passions beyond anything I could have imagined.

I am here because of those that could not be here with me. I owe so much to everyone who asked me what college life was like and genuinely listened when I talked. I owe so much to the friends and family that endured personal tragedy and still managed to be there for me over a seemingly endless distance. My graduation is the culmination of the intersections of lives that have formed me. I am myself because of the fibers that make up my being—each with the signature of another person on it.

There is a Buddhist saying that a piece of paper is made up of non-paper elements; it is the culmination of the sun that shined on the tree’s leaves, the cloud that made the rain that fell on the tree, the bread that fed the logger that cut down the tree. The paper contains all the things that made it—it is thus made of non-paper elements.

I believe that. As I graduate, I can’t help notice that I am part of the world, and that those non-Nick elements that make up my being will be walking down the aisle with me as well. And I can’t wait to give those elements back to the world.

I am deeply grateful and humbled by everyone’s contributions. Thank you.

Momentous Occasion

They call it commencement because “this is just the beginning.” And that’s great, our linear conception of time and mild sense of irony likes to exploit those so-called witty remarks built into the tradition of ceremonies like my graduation.

So for those of you who cannot make it to the graduation ceremony I will describe it in detail, reconstructed from the bits I remember about last year’s ceremony. It will be held in Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC); it is an enormous space that houses a lot of people. You will awkwardly sit near an elderly couple that you vaguely know because their kid’s friend is friends with your friend/child/grandchild/niece/third cousin. You will try to make small talk but every time you do it becomes more apparent that the people sitting next to you are either racist/homophobic or just plain dumb. It will suddenly become overcast and extraordinarily humid. You will suddenly realize that you have pit stains and nipple sweat stains that have seeped through your ‘nice’ shirt. You will smell the baby in front of you. The baby is getting progressively more disgruntled and noisy as the smell of baby formula also becomes more pungent. And then the ceremony will start.

You will stand for the first time. But not the last time. As men in skirts march slowly down the aisles playing dying cats you will wonder why there is a unicorn on the flag that isn’t the American flag. That’s right, Skidmore’s crest has a unicorn on it—my liberal arts education is totally practical, as evidenced by the mythical creature gracing its very yellow emblem. Then you will hear speeches.

The president will speak. He’ll be funny but kind of awkward. Then one of our deans will speak. She will speak with a lot of dignity and poise; you will be nudged awake when the Student officers speak next. You will be amazed at how many in-jokes can fit into 5 minutes of speech. Then honorary degrees are conferred. They are old people who did not party with us in the dorms freshman year; they would have gotten the full thing if that were the case. Then our big speaker will come up. It is now pouring outside, but thank God that you got there early enough to grab a seat inside. He will tell the sea of people in oversized black dresses and identical hats, “to be yourselves.” This is all part of the irony that commencement insists upon. Don’t worry he gets it too, he just doesn’t have enough time to speak with more substance.

Now is about the time that you really have to go to the bathroom. But first you have to endure over 600 names being called out. They will all be pronounced correctly because each card has a guide by the name. It is the least courtesy that $50,000/year could provide. Oh, but if you want a water, there are vendors selling Saratoga Water for five bucks a pop by the entrances. As each name gets called out, certain sections of the crowd will get really loud suddenly. It is still a popularity contest even though it should be about education—sorry for those of you who thought the real world was based in merit. Your hands will be numb and red, but at least you aren’t thinking about the sweat running down your back anymore. Your legs are now starting to ache from standing for so long, a bad move by that one guy in the front row who decided to stand early on, and everyone behind him who stood as well just so they could see the stage. You were one of those people. You will recognize precisely four names.

And after, in the mist (thank God it’s just mist and not the heavy rain that there was an hour ago when they started calling names), you will find your graduate and hug him/her and congratulate him/her on the success. He/she will promptly abandon you because they found another friend who is screaming and crying because “it’s the last time—ever! Oh my God! I’m so happy and sad!” You will anxiously search for a bathroom, only to find that they are all occupied with lines stretching on into infinity. It will be great.

The better news is that no one has to miss out on this experience this year. If anyone has four hours to spare on May 21st, Skidmore’s commencement ceremonies will be simulcast on the internets. I’ll post the link as soon as I know.

Conceding the Argument

I got into it with my dad.

“You should send out commencement announcements. Let everyone know that you have succeeded.”

“Why?” I asked, it all seemed so arbitrary. Plenty of people graduated every year; I was just another face in the crowd. What stake did anyone have in knowing whether I had cross-dressed and picked up a piece of paper?

“Because people want to know. It’s tradition.”

“Tradition? It was traditional for women to be sold off at marriage with a dowry. Are you seriously asking me to send out announcements because of tradition? If I die am I supposed to have a funeral?”

“I understand that tradition may not be the best argument. If you die you don’t have to have a funeral. But it is customary for friends and extended relatives of the deceased in Japanese culture to give sums of money to the surviving family members. So expect that whether you want it or not.”

“Ok…” I was reluctant to say the least, I shouldn’t have to conform to anyone’s standards.

“Look at it this way, it’s important to everyone else. They want to know that you have succeeded.”

“What? That I got passing grades and lived off my parent’s buck for four years is a matter of celebration?” I didn’t want to do it, “what is it supposed to say: I didn’t flunk out, I’m not an addict, give me money for partying for four years, whoo!” I just didn’t buy that anyone really wanted to know that I was graduating.

“Ciera sent us a really beautiful graduation announcement, you should follow her lead. By the way, tell her we really enjoyed the announcement.”

“I will Dad, but should I really do it just because everyone else is? If they were all jumping off bridges, should I do the same?”

“Here’s where I’m coming from. If you want to get a little extra cash to help you start your new life, you should send announcements. It’s important to them and it benefits you.” He cut straight to the point. I was broke; I really wasn’t sure how I was going to get my life started without significant financial help from my family. I was starting to turn. “Listen, just think about it.”

“Ok Dad. I don’t know what to do though, who should I send it to? Could you make me a list of people who would like announcements with their addresses on it and e-mail that to me? I can make something up and send it off I guess.” I felt kind of like a sell-out. Everything my Dad said was true though, there were many people in my life who had seen me grow and develop. They would all want to know that they were integral to that process. I conceded the point, it was just a matter of logistics now.

“Good. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Alright, bye Dad.” It was one of those moments where I realized a few things. First, the ceremony of graduation is a community event; the celebration of one person’s achievement is seen as the accomplishment of a community. Second, my Dad was ornery as hell, but I’ve always known that. Third, that my perspective was skewed; I always just thought of my parents as my sole support, but realistically there were many people involved in what I had accomplished, and they all deserved to know that they were integral to my formation and successful graduation to adulthood. And fourth, a little cash was not a bad idea, as awkward as I felt about sending an announcement with the implicit assumption that I would receive some, it was something happily and readily given because of the previous three reasons.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Getting Sentimental

I had a wonderful day. I'm not sure what about today has made me so emotional. But it was good. It was one of those days where everywhere you travel it makes sense. Where I barely planned ahead but everything worked out great. I was able to spend time with my friends and enjoy one of our first beautiful days outside. I felt like everything I did was a discovery.

I was happy today.

And I have been sad all day too. I am speaking in simple sentences because I'm not sure how to adequately qualify it. I had a bittersweet day. I felt so connected and vulnerable with my friends—accepted and loved. What more could I ask from life than to know that I could be at peace amongst people.

That is something that has always made me uneasy. People. But today, I was totally at ease with them. Maybe my last final ever was a sign of sorts. I have no need to prove myself here anymore. What I do, I do because I want to.

And I did what I felt like doing. I was in tune with my body, finding bliss in the moments that carried me through the day. I felt my thoughts. That is uncommon for me. When I expressed an emotion it welled up from my stomach; an itching of butterflies that I am unaccustomed to. Things just felt right today.

I was doing everything for myself. That is a great feeling. I swear that my life gets better with the weather. The sun was out and I was happy. Simple as that.

I missed being a kid. Looking at the world and accepting it. Birds flew because that's what they do. Not because of aerodynamics and physics I can't quite grasp. People loved me because I demanded it, and they wanted to. Finger painting seemed like a good idea today. I wish I had done that.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tree Climbing

Where does life take me? I’m not ever sure. At the moment, it appeared to have taken me to the top of a tree.

“Wow, you are pretty high up.”

“Yeah I am” I made a sudden assessment of my situation. I was kind of high up in a tree that probably couldn’t support my weight. I looked at Chris. He was smiling and slightly in awe. His lack of concern was the opposite of comforting. I was high up. Falling would have hurt.

But none of that mattered in the woods at the campfire just ten minutes previous. Skidmore is something strange. The woods, the dorms, the apartments, the quiet town that is so easy to navigate. What is a place like this? We are a well-spring of entertainment: self-created and imported. The self-created variety comes in the form of me running and screaming through a forest in the middle of spring. The imported came in the form of the Blue Scholars, a phenomenal hip-hop duo out of Seattle that performed for the College last weekend.

Running through the woods made me feel alive. It reiterated my control over the world, if only paradoxically coming in the form of being inebriated—one of the least controlled states. I guess running between people to see the life separate from mine—what my friends do when I’m not looking—helps me realize how important and unimportant I am at the same time. It helps me know that I don’t have to be there, but that they value me when I am.

I later ran out of the woods, away from the campfire, to Alex’s house. I hung out with her and Lucy. They are a riot. We ate pizza. Domino’s. It’s less pizza and much more a way to dam up those far too fluid arteries—a way to contain the essence that keeps us alive, helps me know I’m not a robot.

Maybe that is where I was. Why I was stuck so high up. Life might take me up a tree. A fruitless path. A foolish plan. I can always come back down and try a new plan though. My friends will be waiting; knowing I’m safe and supporting me even though it’s a bit scary.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

HR Doodles


A semester's worth of doodles for Human Rights

Human Rights Final 3

Taoist philosophy takes a top-down approach to governance. One derived not from God or divinity, but from tradition. Taoism looks at “peace [as] the ultimate human goal” and is “attainable only through social harmony and equilibrium.” Specifically, Tao looks at the “way for human beings to follow.” This ‘way’ is one of peace, “fine weapons are instruments of evil.” Taoist philosophy looks at violence as an extreme violation of the ‘way’ “to praise victory is to delight in the slaughter of men.” The belief is that to conquer any injustices, a version of the categorical imperative must be followed, “repay hatred with virtue.” Similarly, there is a certain amount of pragmatism to changing the world, “great undertakings have always started with what is small. Therefore the sage never strives for the great, and thereby the great is achieved.” While not an explicit attempt at fulfilling human rights in a universal sense, Taoism enforces a belief in peace and harmony, “Taoists frequently refer to peaceful images of water or wind, both of them soft and yielding, yet ultimately triumphant over such hard substances as rock or iron.” This extends to the personal, “because of deep love, one is courageous. Because of frugality, one is generous. Because of not daring to be ahead of the world, one becomes the leader of the world.” Similar to Singer’s argument, Taoism refers to charity and poverty as interrelated ways of solving the world’s problems. But to contradict Singer, Taoism states, “he who makes rash promises surely lacks faith.” It is not about promises, absolutes; it is about doing what is right for the follower. While the laws assert a sort of moral authority, there is an ‘elastic’ clause of sorts that encourages free thought and action.

The Hindu philosophy appears to be almost opposite to Singer’s arguments. In fact, the very approach to the world is so fundamentally different the two views can be said to be at odds. Contrary to the language included in the rest of the readings, the cyclical perspective of the Hindu philosophy almost precludes any sort of intervention based on the categorical imperative. This is a radical counter to the view of human rights as has been studied in this class. Suffering, “experiences are fleeting; the come and go. Bear them patiently.” In Hindu philosophy, “the impermanent has no reality; reality lies in the eternal.” No action by man can be made eternal. It encourages a lassaiz-faire approach to suffering in the world, no transitory experience needs intervention. “One man believes he is the slayer, another believes he is the slain. Both are ignorant; there is neither slayer nor slain.” This seems to suggest that there is little reason to intervene in any matter. To the Hindu, “death is inevitable for the living; birth is inevitable for the dead. Since these are unavoidable, you should not sorrow. Every creature is unmanifested at first and then attains manifestation.” This philosophy can be seen as a justification for non-engagement. It can also be seen as a justification for selflessness. “They live in wisdom who see themselves in all and all in them, who have renounced every selfish desire and sense craving tormenting the heart.” This is a universalist way of phrasing the categorical imperative. You are the universe and you must treat it as you would treat yourself. Hindu philosophy is thus an approach to living selflessly. It does not make recommendations toward helping others though. It approaches the self as a tool for the use in a war against the selfish. “They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the ego-cage of ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘mine’ to be united with the Lord. And so there is some overlap in how the self is approached by Hinduism and Singer. But they differ in that intervention is the human condition breaking into the workings of the world. Indignation derives not from a moral sense of outrage or even from any emotional reaction. In fact, Hinduism suppresses the senses. “When you move amidst the world of sense, free from attachment and aversion alike, there comes the peace in which all sorrows end, and you live in the wisdom of the Self.” Hinduism is searching for the eternal, and in that process, it divorces the mind from the body. It also unites the mind to the universe. And then it asks the believer to understand an ingrained wisdom in that. “When you let your mind follow the call of the senses, they carry away your better judgment as storms drive a boat off its charted course on the sea.” Selflessness thus takes a different form than the Western tradition. Selflessness is to take on the world as part of oneself, physically attached, and to free the self from the confines of a body that is part of the everything. It is not that one has to act openly to stop a perceived injustice, it is that the workings of the world have a space for each individual that can only be realized once they let go of the transitory. Fulfillment comes not from helping others out of their suffering, but from releasing the self from the body and finding the eternal.

Finally the Buddhist philosophy represents the greatest deviation from the absolutism that is presented by schools of thought such as Singer’s and Gandhi’s. Looking to the universalism of the Hindu philosophy, Nhat Hanh illustrates, “there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud there will be no water; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here.” The overarching concept is that within each object are non-object elements, “a sheet of paper is made of non-paper elements…the paper is empty…empty of a separate self.” Do distinguish the paper from the rest of the universe is to exclude the role that the rest of the universe plays in its creation. There is a great interconnectedness in Buddhism. So great that empathy and compassion become self-evident from this universalism. “If I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, I am now the pirate.” Modern schools of Buddhism have taken that empathy and universalism and applied it to improving the human condition. They seek to be honest about what they can do. “We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous.” Their final goal is peace and reconciliation, “reconciliation is to understand both sides, to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then to go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side.” They do not believe in necessarily alleviating poverty or any of the world’s problems through a specific type of monetary donation or forced course of action as Singer does. Rather, their main goal is to allow the parties to find their own solutions as facilitated by empathy and universalism. They also see the world less as a matter of philosophy and more one of application. To them the ‘ought’ can be confining, “do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.” The Buddhist approach looks at the world as one devoid of a human truth. “Do not think the knowledge you currently possess is changeless, absolute truth…Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge.” A Buddhist would take Singer and Neiman’s arguments as failures in that they rely on the conceptual and ascribe to the permanent. Similar to the Hindu philosophy, the eternal is rare and not found in the ego-self. “Through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.” It’s not that the goals are different; it is that the approaches are. For a Buddhist, the path is not straightforward or absolute. The ends come and go in a transitory, often non-universal fashion. Buddhism asks that having a cause must also find peace with the control that exists.

What reasons do these authors and spiritual traditions offer to support the contentions that “doing good” by using our lives to help realize more fully the human rights of others is in fact the most fulfilling way to live a human life? They don’t; Hinduism does not see the ultimate virtue as being interpersonal. In fact, it is only a direct obligation for the Judeo-Christian traditions of which Singer and Neiman belong. Do the two authors and spiritual traditions use the same types of arguments? As has been seen, the arguments vary widely; the imperative to take action and what those actions should be have structural symmetry. Do they mostly agree with one another? There is some amount of agreement on certain points between the different philosophies, but there are large differences in questions of implementation as well as the absolutist nature of the specific philosophy. What should be derived from this paper? That idealism and philosophy may perhaps have their place in making the world a better place. In a pragmatic sense, the nonattached perspective of Buddhist philosophy probably allows for a framework that will work in the long-term. Encouraging empathy and people to find the solutions that work best to fulfill the categorical imperative is far more expansive and effective than a narrow philosophy with strict guidelines and burdens placed on the follower. More importantly, Singer’s Westernized approach is dangerously close to the development policies that got the world into this condition in the first place. Absolute philosophy has no place in a nuanced world. Empathy is fundamentally a human to human event, and must be treated as individualized. One thread in a tapestry. What works for one person may not work for everyone. Flexibility is key to understanding the universal.

Bibliography
Graney, Katherine, ed. "Peace Packet." Skidmore Government Department, 2011.
Neiman, Susan. Moral Clarity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.
Singer, Peter. The Life You Can Save. New York: Random House, 2009.

Human Rights Final 2

Gandhi, no less absolutist in his views but far more expansive in how to apply his moral code, laid the foundations for ahimsa—radical non-violence. He rejects the utilitarian view of the greatest good for the greatest number. He believes that “the absolutist (himself and his followers) will even sacrifice himself.” Gandhi sees his methodology as not the fulfillment of a doctrine of happiness, rather, “suffering is the law of human beings,” and “the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but to one’s self.” Gandhi’s absolute view straddles the line between a Western application of an absolute philosophy and the more expansive Eastern traditions. He relies less on a moral obligation, a higher calling, and much more on the arguments of universalism and individual choice. “We are all tarred with the same brush, and are children of one and the same Creator, and as such the divine powers within us are infinite. To slight a single human being is to slight…the whole world.” To Gandhi, the radical nature of nonviolence is his main tactic for alleviating the world’s problems. Although not in direct opposition to Singer’s philosophy, Gandhi believed in giving and commitment to a philosophy in a way that everyone can adhere to. While Singer—along with Neiman—makes the argument that the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ are separate and subject to different standards, Gandhi instead argues that the ‘is’ is a tangible change that can come from within, “nonviolence is a power which can be wielded equally by all…when nonviolence is accepted as the law of life it must pervade the whole being and not be applied to isolated acts.” In effect, Gandhi states that the ‘ought’ becomes the ‘is’ without struggle. The ‘ought’ derives from the internal philosophy and manifests not in donations (although it might) but from kindness and moral strength. He is absolutely firm that the obligations of an individual are the golden rule.

Neiman’s nuanced perspective can be looked at as composed of 3 elements: liberals can have a moral code as well as a skeptical mentality, that moral code justifies intervention to enforce human rights regimes, this moral code relies on turning the ‘is’ into the ‘ought’. The first point is something that she refers to as “moral maturity (Neiman, 18).” She asserts that “any ethics that depends on religious commandment is bad ethics; any religion that claims we can’t behave without it is a bad religion (Neiman, 18).” This is a direct contradiction to the Judeo-Christian and Catholic Worker doctrines, which call upon divinity and its religious underpinnings to call a moral order. To Neiman, in order to elevate ethics from “the moral level of four-year-olds (Neiman, 19)” then “you must believe things are good or evil independent of divine authority (Neiman, 19).” She posits that possession of a moral code does not exclude a skeptical framework; more specifically, the liberal frame of mind. “What the left lacks isn’t values, but a standpoint from which all those values make sense (Neiman, 21).” The very goal of her book is not to force a specific human rights train of thought, rather it is “to reclaim moral concepts that the left no longer uses with full voice (Neiman, 22).” Neiman’s new liberal moral code derives from Enlightenment thought, and quite contrary to the Catholic Worker’s and Singer’s arguments that charity makes one happy, she uses Kant’s point, “if we knew that acting morally led directly to happiness, we would not only be self-righteous, we couldn’t be righteous at all (Neiman, 234).” She puts it another way, “good behavior isn’t the same thing as moral behavior…moral actions must be free actions, and freedom turns out to depend on our limits: not knowing whether your moral actions will be rewarded is crucial to morality (Neiman, 234-235).” In agreeing with Kant, Neiman asserts that the new liberal has a succinct moral code deriving from a reasoned moral code that is separate and superior to traditional religious constructs. This self-determined sense of right and wrong is based in selflessness because it is right and only because it is right. Neiman believes that reasoning logically gives us our moral framework. “For everything that happens, find the reason why it happened this way rather than that (Neiman, 201).” “It takes reason to conceive the possible (Neiman, 202).” Thus the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ begin to emerge. The ‘is’ is what exists, the event that occurs. The ‘ought’ is the possible, the event that we believe should occur. The space between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ lead to questions, reasons, and a moral code that drives us to fulfill the ‘ought’. In seeking explanations for the discrepancy in what we believe ‘ought’ to be drives the modern mind to reach out and enforce their sense of right and wrong. “Reason and universal equality go hand in hand (Neiman, 207).” It is not a matter of happiness or fulfillment, it is about obligation. Neiman believes that the very reason behind reason is the obligation to turn the ‘is’ into the moral ‘ought’—Kant’s categorical imperative.

Human Rights Final 1

The arguments of the authors (Singer and Neiman) and the spiritual traditions (Jewish, Christian, Catholic, Taoist, Hindu, Buddhist, and Radical Non-Violence) look at the question of helping other humans through different approaches. Their arguments have linking similarities but on the question of how required certain actions are there lie major differences.

Looking at the absolutism required to implement each philosophy is an important aspect to analyze in deciphering each perspective on how to fulfill a human life. It is important because, as will be seen later, this determines many factors about how the philosophy can operate in the real world. Standing as the most absolute perspective is that of the Jewish Old Testament tradition, which offers peace and prosperity through the higher calling of the Lord. Eternal damnation awaits those that do not follow the philosophy of the Jewish god. “For I [the Lord God] know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins…Seek good, and not evil, that you may live (Amos 5:11-15).” This is the most absolute view. The highest calling is charity and good as divined by the Lord. This is further reiterated by the New Testament Christian view point, as Yoder says, “because God does, and God commands His followers to do so; that is the only reason, and that is enough (Yoder, 1982).” This sort of ‘pure’ view can have major drawbacks, chief among which is the disintegration of the philosophy under stress.

The reliance on a higher power as the source of authority is subject to the belief in a higher power. It also leads to the justification of the philosophy as being divine. If divinity is disproven or its followers no longer see the power of the divine in their actions, they are liable to quit. The Catholic Workers can embody this principle, “the aim…is to live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ.” While that sounds good, the politicization of the organization and its marriage to absolute philosophy seeks to undermine existing political structures, something that has a high chance of failure. The Catholic Worker philosophy mixes communism with traditional Christian doctrines. This combination provides plenty of room for a top down form of governance and resource management under divine pretenses. They advocate, in part, “a radically new society where people will rely on the fruits of their own soil and labor…we believe this needed personal and social transformation should be pursued by the means Jesus revealed in His sacrificial love.” This philosophy easily stands up to the test of time with perfectly benevolent leaders. But the failure of a workable form of Democratic governance in their philosophy leaves open the question of checks on power. Who determines the value of labor? The Catholic Workers address this partially, “those in power live off the sweat of another’s brow, while those without power are robbed of a just return for their work.” In effect, the Catholic Worker doctrine is communist with a medieval flair for divine rule as its mechanism for enforcement.

Stepping back from the most absolute and stark examples of Abrahamic religions and their charity off shoots is Singer’s philosophy. In his book he gives binary examples, oversimplifications of the world, of how to save people. Neiman believes in personal sacrifice, to within the smallest measure of personal comfort. His philosophy can be seen as deriving from the Judeo-Christian philosophy of poverty as a measure of charity, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and Singer’s argument, “we ought to give to the point at which, if we were to give more, we would run a ‘significant’ risk of worsening our lives (Singer, 146).” He reneges slightly on this argument, “moral life is more nuanced than that suggests…praise and blame…should follow the standard that we publicly advocate, not the higher standard that we might apply to our own conduct (Singer, 154).” Singer takes that approach and applies it to how much to give. He becomes far more pragmatic about what is required of the average citizen, suggesting that, “giving 5 percent is no hardship at all (Singer, 162).” He firmly maintains that donating to charities at the 5 percent level can alleviate poverty permanently, and he argues that “it would probably not reduce your happiness at all (Singer, 169).” He argues that charity is equivalent to happiness, “the link between giving and happiness is clear (Singer, 172).” Singer’s philosophy is that to derive meaning from life he, and the rest of the world, must answer the question that Henry Spira posed, “what greater motivation can there be than doing whatever one possibly can to reduce pain and suffering (Singer, 173)?” Singer’s answer is that there is none and his strategy is to encourage charity his way. And that is where Singer becomes an absolutist. Singer does not open up significantly to the possibility that there are other ways of giving or alleviating pain and suffering; by ascribing solely to his philosophy of a percentage of income donated, he narrows his scope unnecessarily.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Last Day of Class

Today was the last day of classes. For all of college. Today was the whimper at the end of my education.

It was a gray day with lukewarm weather. The trees were blooming but only in a nonchalant way. Everything was the same as always. My last class was a short meeting with my advisor. We talked briefly and I walked off without even thinking about it.

Today was a day like any other. But tomorrow should be different. Right?

I played some Mario Kart, I played some Super Smash Brothers, I did what I always do. What am I supposed to feel when I know that the end is here? What significance can I derive from something I do not know how to react to?

I did laundry. I watched a movie. I ate a nice lunch. I even fell asleep in class today. It was all the same as every week previous.

Last night seems like a surreal memory. We had our last Fight Club meeting. The members of the club went around and gave compliments to each of the seniors. We all got t-shirts that everyone wrote on. I was overwhelmed. Hearing the things that have happened and the bonds that we have fostered in this new club made me emotional. Emotional is insufficient; I was happy, sad, elated, energetic, all over the board.

The new club presidents, Sam and Chris, took over with grace and ran the meeting amazingly. It was all full circle. Three years of being the president of Fight Club, and the journey for the club has just begun. This year was the first that the seniors were truly handing it all over. When Sarah and Lauren left me with the club, I was alone and there was little more than a framework to hand down. When Jed left, he disappeared without leaving much of a mark.

Eight seniors. Two club presidents, one secretary, one liaison, and four dedicated members of the club attended their last official club meeting last night. It was tough to say the least. We are all moving on to our respective futures; most will have something to do with conflict resolution.

This club is a support group as much as it is a place to help others. I hope that the future of the club is one that blossoms into a support for the community as well as the individuals that make it up. I know it's cheesy, but I believe it fervently, “I will be the change I want to see in the world.” And the club believes it too. This has been the realization of a dream. I am so excited to see how this club will evolve.

And tomorrow will be another attempt at it. Another attempt at making the end of the year count. Making it last longer. I spent the evening hanging out with Regent Street. Same old evening, talking about the same old stuff, watching the same shows. Just like it has always been.

There is some sort eternity in where I am. That eternity let me stay, but I am content to know it will come with me in the form of memories. And friends that won't ever let me forget them. So today was the same as the last, and tomorrow will be too. And hopefully, some of that happiness will make the days feel like they do now, and ten years from now I will wake up a little older, a little slower, and content with the ten years of lasting bonds and friendship I've created here at Skidmore.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Was Killing Bin Laden Right?

Was killing Osama Bin Laden right?

What havoc have we wrought that leads us down this dark and uncertain path? I will preface what I say with the basics; the inescapable truths. Osama Bin Laden was a human being. He was the mastermind behind many terrorist acts against the United States. His hatred for the West was so fervent that he had no qualms about destroying two iconic buildings full of civilians. Thousands died. Bin Laden was killed today in Pakistan. A US military operation was carried out and Bin Laden was shot and killed during the operation. His body is in US custody.

But those facts suggest the utilitarian good. I’m not sure that I have those moral values. I want justice for Bin Laden and the crimes he committed. I want justice in the most American of forms. I wanted him to stand trial for his actions. I wanted to see him sit before the court of national and international outrage. I wanted him to hear the pain that he caused to thousands upon thousands of souls. I wanted him to understand that his cause was one that only led down a destructive path. No one won anything. Don’t tell me that the empty space in the soldier’s wife’s bed is part of the prize. Don’t tell me that missing limbs, the blood of innocent civilians, and two intractable wars are the prizes. Please don’t. It breaks my heart to think that this is our justice.

And I will never deny that Bin Laden committed atrocities. I will never deny that he has been as much a factor in all the pain as we have. I just wonder how we got here in the first place. It didn’t happen on 9/11 and it didn’t happen when the World Trade Center was bombed in the 1990s. Angry, fear driven international policies have made the US look like a ruthless dictator doling death out like candy. Our indifference to the larger impacts of what we do shows just how ignorant we can be.

Our actions have consequences that are decades old. We have reaped what we have sown, self-interested policies that create fervent believers like Bin Laden. And now he is dead. How do we fight like this? Bin Laden could not be reasoned with. Clinton tried. He would not be talked to or lectured. He was an angry man with a vendetta. Someone with his morals so ingrained in him that he would never concede his own evil doings. And let me be clear on how evil his deeds were—exceedingly. Talking was an option removed from the table in the early days. Bin Laden was not to be talked to by any means.

And he drove us down the path of murder and sin. We fought a fierce enemy with hatred and fury beyond diplomacy. And we took the path of retaliation. What cheek is there to turn when both have been slapped? We, America, had been violated by a man who wanted to implement an authoritarian regime over the entire world. His ambitions were nothing short of a single world ruled by his twisted version of Islam. But it wasn’t even Islam; it was a series of circular arguments made to justify his anger.

And yet he remained a man. Do we sacrifice our morals to capture the amoral threat? What levels are we willing to sink to in order to believe in a cause? I can’t tell you that, but I believe that we are a nation of diverse interests, but fundamentally similar in a few ways.

We never wanted to go to war. Peace is what we would prefer. We try hard as a nation to protect the weak, challenge the foolish, and be morally righteous. We do not want to fill ourselves with anger and sorrow. We want to live in peace and we welcome the peaceful dissent of the world. We will defend ourselves if we are attacked.

Will Bin Laden become a martyr? I hope not. I hope that his brand of unreasoning hatred can be stopped forever. And I hope the next time—because there is always a next time—we will stop the tragedy before it starts and bring hatred to stand before the power of a Democracy. A people united in their resolve to maintain their dissent. We are a nation that encourages the free and peaceful expression of all ideas. And I hope that we can start to challenge that hatred; wipe it from the earth. Bin Laden is dead, but now the real work begins.

Fun Part 3

The point of the extensive foray into my personal linguistic theory is that I was having fun. Decorating my shirt for Fun Day was fun. Watching bad tv was fun. Even looking for Katie's keys until three thirty in the morning is fun. Sort of. It is in that way that only a fruitless and demoralizing search can be.

But a solution was found and I woke up to Fun Day. Saturday. I made it home. Crew got back from practice. We started playing drunk driving—aka drunkio kart—a game where each player has to consume their drink before the termination of a race. I got into it to say the least; I cussed and jumped around because I was a badass mofo beating the pants off my house mates. Then I started dancing. Lots of dancing. And I would say I'm a pretty good dancer. But don't tell anyone that, they might have expectations.

And then I went to Alex's house. We hung around there for a bit, just chilling and getting ready to go. Alex sang along to some songs, it was fun. I looked out on the quad, people were playing volleyball, beer pong, and tossing around a baseball. It was bright and sunny out. It was warm. Perfectly warm.

We ended up on the Pond Green with all my friends on a couple blankets together. Islands attached to each other tenuously. A metaphor reinforced by Natalie's blanket, a large blue towel with palm trees on it. I ran around, literally. The chaos that lay before me was a sea of humanity. Barely clothed, covered in body paint, and most were heavily under the influence. I always wonder what posterity will think of us. How they will judge us in our most human moments. Can we be the responsible people we have been told to be? Can we make the next generation better than the last?

The question was temporarily answered. Somehow, in filming the days events my friends took it as an opportunity to talk to posterity about how their escapades were justifiable. Needless to say, it is a difficult proposition with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of booze in the other.

The day wound down, we went back to Alex's house and everyone napped. I sat up and watched “A Cinderella Story.” I looked over the day in my head. Going through the obstacle course at full speed just to beat whoever I was racing at the time. I was fast. Standing in line with Jacob to grab burgers and finding out that I could just cut ahead because there wasn't a line for veggie burgers. Going on an adventure with Alicia and Chris to find body paint. Watching people get dunked in the tank. Petting the dogs that Katie and Natalie had somehow acquired. Catching Alex sneaking off with P Schwartz. James without his shirt. Getting tackled on a regular basis. It was all so much. And so much fun. Really.

Explaining every detail is a bit of a novel. Like War and Peace sized, so let's call my spare descriptions a minimalistic approach to the feeling of actual fun. On Fun Day.

Fun Part 2

Fun. It's a word that has no tangible meaning to me. I'm not sure what I am saying when I use the word fun. I guess I mean something that makes me happy and gets me excited. But the word is empty to me. It has meaning for other people that I can see. I use it reflectively and in the preterite tense. I had fun. It is never I am having fun—at least not in a way that I can truly mean it. When I say I am having fun I am really trying to assure people that they need not worry about me. I will do what I want, and I will evaluate whether I had fun later. Fun is a surface word. Something with a generalized meaning and almost no substance. When people say it they don't think about the greater implications of it, they don't evaluate the context of the word. It just is.

That's not bad. It's the nature of such a common word. We have common words that we use like that all the time. Ones where we throw the meaning around without thinking too much about whether that was the appropriate or adequately descriptive word. We don't find the subtle hues between two definitions of words. Soporific, somatic, and sleep-inducing can all be used to largely the same effect. The tragedy of not feeling the neurons that spark in another's mind. Words convey meaning like a venn diagram. In one circle is you, and in the other is me. The meaning behind the words occupies the whole area of understanding, but I can only grasp the portion that is in my circle. And hopefully part of that circle is in your sphere of understanding as well.

Surface words are ones that take up a small portion of the overlapping portion of the diagram. One that everyone can understand in a narrow context. But everyone also understands it in a personal and much more expansive way—the non-overlapping portion of the diagram. And those feelings that go with that word are thus lost on other parties. The word only has a surface meaning. Everyone understands the meaning of the word but not the sentiment behind it.

Fun Part 1

I guess it all started on thursday night. I had my thesis defense and I realized a few things about my thesis. One, it is far beyond the scope of anything I have read, and thus there is no precedent for the framework. It is frustrating because I really want to synthesize this information in a way that is accessible and comprehensible. Two, my professors don't know what i'm doing either and they have fallen short in their ability to help me as well. This is not meant to be a derogatory statement by any means, it just goes to show the limits of everyone. Three, while there is a lot of potential in what my thesis can provide, it is yet to be fully realized. I have to work a lot more on it to make it what it needs to be. As it stands, it looks like a dabbling in three different schools of thought and very little by way of conclusive or groundbreaking exposition of materials. I hope to make it that.

But the defense went well and I felt fairly confident in how it could continue in the future. I ended up hanging out with James and Jacob, and we had a quick happy hour. Then it was off to cafe gijon, the Spanish Club's dinner. The day had transformed suddenly from a gloomy gray to a muggy evening with a beautiful sunset. Needless to say that it was a good to hear Spanish again and eat food with friends. We then played “scene it” in Spanish and my team won gift cards to plum dandy. Plum dandy is a frozen yogurt shop that is amazingly delicious and perfectly epitomizes summer. I picked up a camera from media services and I started recording my life. I'm not sure what to capture.

People react oddly to video cameras, they feel they have to perform. I just want to capture them in their natural habitat. I just want to show the world why I love the people I hang out with.

The thunder and lightning storms had been really getting on my nerves. They were getting much worse and the whole area was flooding. Thick gobs of water slammed into the ground sending huge ripples out. A near infinity of these drops hit Saratoga Springs resulting in a torrential downpour. It reminded me that weather is formidable to say the least. Needless to sahy that the drive back was scary. It is also calming and wonderful to some degree. Thunder and lightning plus heavy rains equals a good night's sleep.

And so I woke up on Friday morning without a care or even a tired eye. James and I cooked poached eggs together. I spent the day, cool and gray, with 5 Dayton. I had a relaxing moment. Some boys were playing baseball out in the back quad and Megan—tall, opinionated, and witty—explained who each of the individuals were. I liked hearing about the lives of others, so similar to me and so different. A young man who had a long distance girlfriend that came and visited often. A group of friends that had been together for the duration of their time at Skidmore. It was a mirrored reflection, something distorted and beautiful at the same time. We waited patiently while James, Jacob, Korena, and Tom returned from practice. It took a while.

When we finally sat down we had a nice meal with good company, two things I know I take for granted. We had rowdy conversation. It was fun.