Archive for the 'Questions' Category

Going deep

1 July 2014

It’s curious to note the changing tides of memories alternately recalled and left dormant.

For some years, I thought often of the times when newly acquainted strangers would tell me I was “too intense” or “too deep,” or some such thing. This happened repeatedly throughout my adolescence. It always felt unfair, and somehow dishonest.

Nowadays I rarely hear such things, and it’s been some years since I’ve thought about it for more than a passing moment. But in the past, even after it had been a while since anyone had said such a thing directly, still I would think of it, and its memory would inform my daily practice. What is this tide of memories ebbing and flowing throughout life? I feel I’m only now becoming acquainted with these ebbs and flows…

By the time I was eight or nine I had already come to feel, and be, deeply isolated. Sometimes when my friends recall that time, their stories feel like fiercely first-person accounts in a way I find beautiful and unfamiliar. To me, memories of that time are like illuminated narratives, stories with accompanying pictures. What does it mean that I “remember” the dis-ease I felt when a friend revealed he had a crush on a girl I liked too, but secretly? It feels like a re-reading of a nearly lost story. Later, when I was fifteen, I fell hard for a girl I, and all of my close friends, considered my first crush. What, then, of that almost forgotten experience of fright and confusion when Danny spoke dreamily of that other girl years before…?

Being called “too deep” felt at once like an attack on the safety of my isolation (come out here if you want to play) and a refusal to join me where it really counted, in the depths (I’ll stay up here where it’s safe, thank you). Safety was revealed as an illusion that could be shattered at any moment by a slightly different perspective. From here, my hiding place feels safe; from there it feels like a trap. “Too deep” meant I was on the right track – I was going deep – but it also meant I was lost, too deep to be found, to be felt, to be recovered. What I wanted was to reject both of these ideas: I’m just here, come join me.

Like many who have come before me, but with considerably less deftness and dexterity than some, I have attempted to turn this depth inside out. I have tried to find depth in surface, surface in depth. If I can collapse the two into each other, reading depth into things surface, and revealing the shallowness of the depths, perhaps I can free myself from this double burden of going too deep…

Alas, so far the attempts have all led to subtly dead ends. The new game is to maintain something of the hopefulness, the grandiosity, the ambition of such aims while abandoning the ideals of freedom or perfection or stability. Perhaps these ideals, while essential for the flourishing of human thought, are nevertheless constraints that must be recognized as such. They cannot be but ideals, as they would require a world unlike our own, and would mean a transformation of our species into something it is not and cannot be. (Then again, perhaps this is what they always meant by “too deep” – reaching for profundities but finding only vague hints. Speaking perhaps with passion but without precision or concreteness. “Too deep” qua superficial.)

There may be no real overcoming of them – that, too, is just another instantiation of the same flawed idealism – and recognizing them as what they are may not actually create any new kind of freedom. Why, then? Why not choose the ideal, even if it cuts against the realities of our experience, our biology, our narratives, our conflicts…? This is just the thing I mean: I’m impelled to choose otherwise by my history, my disposition, my relationships, my isolation.

My memories feel somewhat different these days than they did a few years ago. They feel distinct from my experience. They don’t feel dead, exactly, but nor do they feel vital. I take it that memories are malleable, and that the past(s) is (are) a story (stories) awaiting revision, but a few years ago that meant for me a habit of recalling, rethinking, reshaping. The past was the material from which I shaped dreams and songs and meditations. Conversations were part present relation, part historical revision. Now I feel a little less of that immediacy. Maybe the past is coming to be more presently present. I needn’t evoke it effortfully, it simply floods. Perhaps that’s why I also feel a little less of the present’s immediacy these days. Maybe it was easy to have a sense of the fierce immediacy of the present when the past could only be evoked with effort.


16 June 2014

Sarah and I are traveling to Japan for six weeks. I’ll be doing some intensive language study and Sarah will be doing some research and writing, but, of course, we’ll also be traveling and touring and photo-taking, et cetera. It will be my first time in Japan, and Sarah’s first time but for an extended layover a long while ago, so a lot will be new for us. We’re very excited. We leave on Wednesday! We’ll be maintaining a site for uploading photos and stories and such here. Please follow along if you’re interested!


The Click

31 May 2014

When I was a boy, it was a girl. She would come into my life, and all the troubles would begin to seem manageable. As I got a little older, it became perfection, Enlightenment, Buddhahood. After it happened, after it was attained, I would be able to see. Then it was stability: I could be here now and attend to all of my needs and those of my loved ones, because I would be constant. Recently it became adulthood. Sooner or later I would know: Now I am an adult, and the knowledge and responsibility of adulthood would follow.

There have been many variations of the Click along the way, but it has always taken that same underlying form. The Click.

The Click is an idea that some sudden change will transform us from one sort of person to another, sometimes from one sort of being to another, or that will transform our lives from feeling one way to feeling another way, permanently. The Click is not a mood change, not a change in fortune (although sometimes that’s the fantasy), nor a life change or life-changing experience. The Click is only ever an idea: The life-changing experience will transform us suddenly and permanently into the being or into the life we most hope for, fully undercutting our gravest doubts, fears, embarrassments, disappointments, faults, and failures.

We are very clever thinkers, so the Click can take subtle forms. For me, the fantasy of the girl was not sudden perfection. (Even Rom-com romance requires conflict.) She comes into my life and we fight, and argue, and work, productively towards our love. It sounds like the desire to be in a relationship, which is what it was. I was painfully isolated at the time. But there is this added feature: She comes into my life and once-and-for-all my life turns towards love, intimacy, compassion, comfort, clarity. The struggle is no longer aimless and impossible. I suddenly find direction and value, and that direction and value, whatever ups and downs life may bring, could never, after it Clicks, go away.

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What is the best thing you can do for the world?

27 May 2013

I should be a little bit more precise. By ‘thing’ I don’t mean a single individual act, but rather a kind of consistent practice. So, how can you order and orient your life in a way that would be most fruitful and beneficial to the world? Yet again, further clarification is warranted. What is ‘the world’? I have in mind a kind of fluctuation of totalities. Rather than following some form of utilitarianism, I’m comfortable with the idea that, just as our consistent practice will not be identical over time, so, too, will “the world” shift and change, at times grow, at times shrink, and so on.

So, then. How can you order and orient your life in a way that entails a continuing reorientation and reordering towards bringing benefit to the world? What’s the best thing you can do for the world?

I am pretty confident the question is still too imprecise and too poorly articulated, but I’ll hazard an answer for myself anyway. Read the rest of this entry »


2 March 2013

I’m a curious mix of provocateur and introvert. In many ways I’m quite shy and keep to myself, and in many other ways I seek the spotlight, to control and push conversation. To some extent it depends on the circumstances, but exactly when I’m which way is hard to know or describe. Sometimes, when those closest to me would most expect me to want to jump out into the open, I prefer to hide away, and vice versa. Similarly, some of the times when I appear to be either comfortably front-and-center, my inner experience is more introverted: I hide, so to speak, in plain sight. Over the years, this has made it hard for me to recognize some of my fears and limitations, and, even as I’ve come to recognize some of them, it’s also made it hard for friends of mine to recognize them in me. To say, confidently and eloquently, that I am afraid of this or that, seems almost self-contradictory. If you’re so limited, why are you so able to articulate it?

This is partly why I’ve come to embrace provocation – in some contexts. I learned that expressing a feeling like sadness can result in, at best, consolation from friends. Some will just try to escape the discomfort of someone else’s sadness. Others will respond to “I’m sad” with something like: “But you’re doing so well!” These kinds of consolations are well enough meant, but they tend to miss the point. If I am sad, or frightened, or ashamed, or disappointed, often there is a need that is not being met, and it’s that dynamic that needs to be responded to and remedied, not the painful feeling itself. (Actually, if I’m sad, often the sadness itself is the process of healing the fracture; mourning the loss, etc. Sadness is the consolation to the loss it mourns. Fear, on the other hand, needs a response, but often logic fails.) Hence I’ve come to express my joy and gratitude at feeling all sorts of “negative” feelings. Even feelings like shame and fear, which don’t feel good and are often pernicious, are good to feel, because otherwise they afflict us without our notice. I’m grateful to feel fear because then I can actually begin to respond to it, even if feeling it is painful and difficult. Otherwise I’m forced to try to infer its existence and power through a kind of deductive logic. In other words: it is a fact that I experience fear, and that fear affects my life; insofar as I don’t consciously feel and recognize that fear (along with its causes and motivations), I am unable to remedy it; if I feel the fear, this means that I can begin to know and understand the fear, and hopefully start to move through it and move on. But to say, “I’m so grateful to feel my fear,” is, naturally, quite provocative. It’s only when I fully explain exactly what I mean that the sense comes into view. (I’m not grateful that I am afraid; rather, given that I am afraid, I want to fully know and understand it so I can stop it.)

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Higher Purposeless

12 January 2013

‘Atheist,’ ‘agnostic,’ ‘nonbeliever’… You could describe me by any of these terms, but I’ve never been quite satisfied with any of them. ‘Atheist’ and ‘agnostic’ carry such strong connotations; there seems to be a capital-A Atheism these days, to which I don’t feel I belong, and I’ve long associated agnosticism with a kind of waffling, “eh, who knows?” ‘Nonbeliever,’ on the other hand, just feels kind of meh and untrue. I am a nonbeliever in the sense that I don’t subscribe to religious views, but I believe all sorts of things. It strikes me as a bad starting position to call oneself something one manifestly is not. And then you get those Atheists who struggle to accept that they, too, are prone to the occasional magical thinking or unfounded belief, and it’s almost no wonder: if truly a nonbeliever, then how could they be guilty of such things?

Instead, I am starting to suspect that what distinguishes my worldview from religious worldviews is that I lack a sense of higher purpose. I would guess that even ardently religious people find themselves confronted with doubt as to their own private sense of higher purpose, just as I suspect many atheists (and Atheists, too!) actually do have a sense of higher purpose. Not believing in any god or God isn’t really all that important in terms of the way my outlook and beliefs shape my world. It’s that I don’t see a direction to the universe. I don’t see a higher order into which my life fits. I don’t feel the movement of an invisible hand of sorts through my life and history. Read the rest of this entry »

How to craft a parenthood

12 December 2012

From time to time – whether in a work of literature, an overheard conversation, the sentiment of a friend, or etc – one hears the idea repeated: Unless/until you are a parent, you cannot understand. This, though I am not a parent, strikes me as almost indubitably true. Now, I take it to be the case that empathy, if skilled, can indeed help us reach beyond the limitations of our own experiences. That is to say, I think even non-parents can empathize with parents. So there is a tension. I can *understand* the particular feelings a parent might be feeling, but I can’t *understand* something else about the feeling of being a parent, something essential. But there is a different tension I am more interested in: I do understand what it’s like to be a child, and to be a person. (More or less.) The question for me, then, is how to craft a parenthood. If there is something essential about parenthood that I will simply not be able to understand until I am myself a parent, how can I make myself at least somewhat prepared for the shock of that something? I know, as I imagine we all know, ways in which my parents failed me, and I know their failures were in large part due to their unpreparedness. We all wish not to become our parents, but it is our fate to do so nonetheless. How can we at least prepare ourselves to become – not the parents our parents were, but – the parents our parents would have been had they been prepared?

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Who I am vs. who I will have been

7 December 2012

Yes, I do very much like playing with tenses, but in this case I want to focus more on epistemology than grammar – though the two are, of course, intertwined.

I think memory, knowing, and identity are also intertwined. An integral aspect of WHO I WAS is WHO I KNOW MYSELF TO HAVE BEEN, which itself is in part a function of memory. For the sake of discussion, let’s take it to be that I am someone at this moment. Of course, who I become, say, a year from today, will have been partly determined by the me I am now—but isn’t it also true that who I am now is to be partially determined by who I will remember myself to have been? To put it starkly: if I close this site, in the intervening months, and delete the content of this post, and no one remembers it and nothing ever reminds me of it (all fairly plausible, wouldn’t you think?), won’t I have been no one at all, even though I BE someone now?

We have good reasons to think ourselves constant, stables selves, unique and singular beings with IDENTITY. But we have more and better reasons for doubting this.

Nevertheless, it’s not quite true that I will have been no one, as a faulty memory is just part of the infinite complex of causes and conditions, and can’t retroactively alter them. But the me I am now will also, being perfectly forgotten, never have existed…

Still, this doesn’t make the decisions made by this me any less significant – and won’t have made them so retroactively (so to speak). It just means that a shift in perspective is in order.

Or so I think at the moment.

I love you

20 November 2012

A poem/song of mine from 2007:

when your eyes glimmer from catching your reflection
and discovering, as if for the first time, your loneliness

i love you

when no other words will do
and yet your mind will not stop overflowing with words

i love you

and when no other has quite said it in the way you need
friend, these eyes of mine, i love you

i look forward to watching the lines crease on your face
i look forward to the graying of your beard
but most of all i look forward to seeing the sadness
melt away within these eyes
and be replaced by peace

i look forward to a time when i tell you
i love you
and you do not cry, but smile

Sometimes I speak about things such as “the basic human task,” which, to my slight credit, I emphasize I am only ever guessing at. I don’t know exactly what it would mean for there to be a basic human task, let alone what such a task would, exactly, be. But I know that something in me pushes me to try and orient myself around such a thing – even if only inconsistently, only at certain kinds of moments.

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Remembering interpretations past

22 September 2012

Three months have gone by, and now I’d like to get back to writing in this space hopefully more frequently again. Over the last few months I’ve had many thoughts that I wanted to explore here, and many more that I didn’t even think to but should have, but something kept me back. Around the time of my last post I started to feel the strain and stress of my impending move away from the East Coast and everything and everyone there, away from, in many ways, my former life (which I have been slowly moving from over the last two years), and out here to California, where something new continues to await me. I can write about all that another time. For now, I want to write about memory.

Memory is as primary a mode of human being as any other I know. To be a person implies remembering. Our every judgment, our every association, our every act of immediate interpretation, we cannot help but remember. And yet, memory is fleeting, uncertain, amorphous. Some would say that the past is the past, that what’s happened has happened, and that there are no two ways about it. Even so, all should agree that memory is not so. Of course, we hold fast to some memories, and we imagine many of our memories to be accurate and fixed. Most of the time when we admit to memory’s transience, it is only when we admit to memory’s faultiness. Yes, our memories can be incorrect, can deceive us, and can simply fade and disappear. But we are fools if we accept this simplistic view of memory: accurate or inaccurate, whole or withered, intact or absent.

For one thing, we remember when we interpret, which we cannot but do newly at each moment. It does not much matter whether our memories are concrete and conscious, or whether they are merely the traces of that from which our present mode of consciousness has arisen. But this, too, is less important than the even more basic point I wish to focus on. Read the rest of this entry »