Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Time to be a sneaky oriental

I am feeling a bit guilty at the recycled posts dominating lately, on the other hand, they are posts that I am proud of, have rarely been read, and will rarely be read during this publishing. Alack!

It seems a bit unfair that my blogging be so little noticed, but life is not fair... it is a gift from God! Which means even if the distribution does not fit our regards of "fairness", it is still something precious and beautiful, even if it is but a foreshadowing of what to come...

But anyways, I think I can be justified particularly in putting up another recycled post today (and actually well into the future if I continue doing new posts, but I think today I can be justified in making this my main post), because it is a follow up to yesterday's post and is another one I think came out pretty well.

So without further ado:

And what of the Oriental in America?

My deep apologies for my absence for so long, especially given the youthful state of this blog, but matters prompt me to here and there and everywhere.

So I'm not going to be able to make this session as deep as I'd like, so maybe I'll revisit later, but since I mentioned Orientalism in my last session, I thought I might discuss it a little more. To be exact I wanted to discuss Orientalism in light of the fact that I am of Indian heritage and thus, if Orientalism is as prevalent as Said claims, I am looked up by the West as an Oriental.

I am certainly not an Oriental in the same sense Said is. The Arab world, in particular the Palestinian world, is very different than the Indian world, in particular the Malayali world (although there are some claims that Malayalis, including myself have a little Syrian blood in them). But Orientalism, as a perspective, doesn't make such distinctions. So therefore, a country like America, steeped deeply in the European academic traditions, should view me primarily as an Oriental, correct?

I can't say I've ever experienced that. Well, no, I have experienced moments where I've seen Indians and myself treated as generic Orientals. One particular example I like to harp on is the McDonald's Asian Chicken Salad commercial. It basically talked about how the "Asian-ness" of the salad gave you some culinary Nirvana. Obviously the commecial was joking around and I don't pretend otherwise. And while I could see how Buddhists could be offended by the causal throwing around of a sacred concept like Nirvana, Christian concepts like heaven and hell are tossed around in American media with little respect too. What annoyed me though, which might be a little over-reacting, was that it perpetuated the same myth of Asians being inherently mystical, especially in a special "Eastern" way. I find that ridiculous. I know plenty of Asians without a lick of mysticism too them, and while I admit that India has a great spiritual heritage, it is a country and Indians are a people not just some materialization of that spiritual heritage.

Yet such slights always seemed to me minor. Annoying perhaps, offensive perhaps, but not an essentially harmful part of my life. Overall, while my brown-ness was recognized I was not treated any what specially and the label of Oriental did not haunt me.

I am and was, through most of my life, treated as an American.

Perhaps Professor Said had something to do with this, do to the impact of his book. Maybe.

But then there's the other side of the coin, my internal impression of myself. That's a little bit more complicated. One factor that has to enter the mix at some point is that I was raised in a middle-class suburban environment which was largely white. Those who weren't white tended to be lower down on the income ladder. So there was a sort of internal tension between my identity as part of this middle-class American group that was mostly white, and my familial and ethnic identity as an Indian. For example, sometimes I would forget that I was brown and start thinking of myself as white because I associated with the American majority and the American majority was always depicted as white.

If this sounds like a deep psychological issue, I suppose it could be. But its not really. I have over time come to think of myself more and more certainly as Indian and Malayali in an ethnic sense, but more and more I have fixed an identity as American. The internal tension has been lessened by clarifying in my mind what my heritage and my nationality really means to me. My heritage is a shaping force through my history and a network of bonds that links me back in time and across space to others of my historic background. My nationality is a matter of affection, it is not exactly rational but it comes down to a feeling of attachment, identity and love. Clarifying these concepts the internal tension between me as brown and me as a middle-class American has lessened. Has it gone away? Not entirely. Since I remember it and occasionally worry about it, it can never fully remove itself from my mind, but it doesn't concern me much. To be truthful it never concerned me a lot, but in the past it would send spikes of confusion into my mind every now and then, and that is less so the case now.

So I know myself as Indian ethnically but American in nationality. No where there is Oriental. Occasionally I have seen sparks of Orientalism in American culture, but my overall treatment has been as an American and I have accepted that place. Perhaps my view point on these matters is shaded by the fact that I am not a racial essentialist, but race, while an important concept, is just one of many concepts that can add to a person's identity to him/herself and to that person's identity to the outside world. And those two identities need not match.

But the question must come up, fine I feel both like an Indian and an American, but am I right to feel that way? Well, that essentially is a moral question. I can say I'm happy generally, and I find satisfaction in my life, but I'll admit I find my life less invested in my ethnicity than some (notably my parents) might like, and I find my mind filled with paradigms foreign to my ancestors. I am less attached to my heritage than I would be say if I identified myself nationally as Indian, or if I felt that the flashes of Orientalism I find occasionally define the way I have been treated growing up. Yet while I'd like to preserve as much of my heritage as I can, I'm not obsessed with it, and I feel in terms of values, customs, etc., my preferences and internal philosophical debate must come first before adhering to my heritage. Has that view been shaped by culture? Yes. Does that make it less true? Well according to that view, no. There's a moral question of whether putting my own personal ideas before my cultures views is right, but that can't be simply a matter of history, science, or cultural analysis. So are my views on national/ethnic identity correct? I'd say yes, but others might legitimately disagree.

This whole matter may seem like a digression from history. It is. More than a matter of history, what I have written here is a matter of personal introspection. But even that is shaped by history, and my personal perspective undoubtedly shapes my historical perspective. So excuse this indulgence. I simply thought given the fame of Said's story, I'd present the life of another who might be called Oriental in America.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Me, Eddy, and that Oriental-Looking Fellow

Here's another import from a now defunct side-blog, but this I feel fits very well at home here, for underneath these many personas is in the end the same man, but what is that man? What is any human being for that matter? We do not know, though we endevor to, just as Mr. Said did many years ago.

Me, Eddie and the Oriental Arts

It has been a little bit more than 30 years since Edward Said published a book called Orientalism and shook up the historical world like a firecracker in a paranoid cat factory. You get it, because cats are notoriously skittish, and if there was a firecracker they'd run and... well I guess they couldn't really shake the walls of a factory very much, but at least the cats themselves would be shaken up. I warn anyone reading this to not look too deeply into this allusion, it is in the end simply a bad joke. Don't take history so seriously, I admit it can be a life or death matter sometimes, but heck, people take life and death too seriously too.

I feel Edward Said took Orientalism a little too seriously. I should not speak too ill of the deceased, and Professor Said died about 4 years ago. Still I doubt he would want that fact to shield him from criticism and besides while I do believe Edward Said took Orientalism a little too seriously, I also think he had reason to. He was a Christian Palestinian who was forced from his home by war, his life was one of wandering, spending much of his adulthood in an America that could look at him as nothing but a foreigner. And a particular type of foreigner in fact, an Oriental.

I say this because Edward Said's book was all about the context in which history, literature, and scholarship is written. And he admits, to fairly assess him one must take an inventory of his context. Said also speaks much of political context and so let me give his political context, he's an advocate for the Palestinian cause, although he admits the legitimacy of the Israeli experience. It would be unfair to judge him as a stereotype political propagandist though, especially since his books about the stereotypes the West brings to the East and its politics. He's a man of great analytical skill, I'll give him that. His writings are still under copyright but there are some articles of his on the web, I point you to an article in Al-Ahram Weekly for starters, although it does not fully encapsulate the man.

So I have hinted, I have suggested, I have been circuitous. Let me now tell you what Orientalism is about. Orientalism is about the context of the East in the mind of the West. More particularly than the West he talks about Europe till WWII and US afterwards, and of the East, Said concentrates on the Middle East, but this is about the East in the mind of the West. The Orient, he explains, is not a matter of geography, it is not just the land past a certain meridian. It is a matter of imaginative construction. The Orient is an amorphous body of assumptions and ideas about the world outside Europe which has colored any thoughts, whether mundane or even abstractly scholarly, about the Middle East, India, China (although I'm not sure how much Said talks about China) and the rest due to its effects. This body of constructs then, often far removed from the reality, is the lens through which the politics of the West are decided, and just as importantly this body of constructs is shaped by politics and has become a justification for the exploitive actions of the West.

Now that's just my basic imagination of what he's saying. This is from his introduction mind you, but he says the rest of the book is just an illustration of his case. His language is thick and confusing though so I might have gotten some of his thoughts wrong. More notably, his language is thick in the manner of the English department, the Poli. Sci. department and the Philosophy Department. What is I think subtly annoying about Said to most historians, and what actually weakens his argument at times, is that he is not a historian but rather as he calls it a "humanities" professor. But then again, his point is that philosophy, politics, literature, and history all interact and in the case of the Eastern world for Europe, they distort the reality.

You can compare my analysis of Said's work with Wikipedia's summary if you so choose.

But since the book is readily available, and summaries of it are a dime a dozen on the web, I'm going to lay off of that. Besides, as I've said, I only read the introduction. But the introduction, in addition to the main point, has a particular few lines that I hope the heirs of Edward Said's estate will not begrudge me to quote.

"My two fears are distortion and inaccuracy, or rather the kind of inaccuracy produced by too dogmatic a generality and too positivistic a localized focus ... I have been discussing, difficulties, that might force one ... into writing a coarse polemic on so unacceptably general a level of description as not to be worth the effort."

I hope you will trust me when I say that I am indeed presenting this quote accurately. Basically he fears he will be too broad and general. He is also afraid of being too specific, and as far as I can tell his solution is to make a broad statement in the introduction and then back it up through specific examples in his book. At least that's my sense of things. But I think in the end, even using specific examples does not stop him from becoming so over-general that he becomes distortive and inaccurate. He is after all condemning an entire discipline and its history, without, as he admits, offering any alternative means for the West to study the East. It is to his credit he tried to resist the urge towards "distortion and inaccuracy" but the ambition to revolutionize the interconnected fields of Western politics, literature, and history in regards to the Eastern world made that impossible.

Edward Said makes some good points. He rightfully points out that the historical and political situation of the individuals writing about the Eastern world inevitably leave their fingerprints. Moreover, he rightfully points out that even those removed from that political and historical situation are informed by the tradition formed from then. Yet Said goes as far to suggest that this makes them fundamentally unreliable, and that the entire tradition of Eastern studies must now be discarded as sullied. There is my disagreement with him. There is our debating ground.

You have to check for biases. You have to look for them even in insidious places like analysis of economies. When Marx in the Communist Manifesto talks about Europeans opening China to commerce as the march of capitalism and industrialization, pause for a moment. Well, it's true in terms of factories and steam power China was behind England and France. But was it behind Germany or Russia? Moreover, in terms of roadwork and administrative sophistication, China was certainly as modern as most of Europe. I mean Britian was certainly more capitalistic than China, but be careful in assuming, as I believe Marx does that Europe as a whole is.

Even in literature this imaginative construct of Orientalism forms a lens over reality. Kipling lived in India. He knew what it was like. Yet in Kim he presents a wandering Tibetan monk who has no knowledge of worldly things. Let's think for a moment. A monk who traveled to India would likely spend some time in Indian spiritual circles, which in the 19th century were filled with ultra-sophisticated intellectuals who were intimately connected with the worlds of science, finance, and European-Indian relations. Sure, it is a story, and a highly unlikely one by that, but just remember that this too is one of those unlikely details.

Fine, fine to all that. I agree with Said that there is this imaginative construct of Orientalism that taints Western accounts. But IT DOES NOT DISCREDIT THE TRADITION. When English translators translated Arabic works they interpreted through their impressions of the Muslim world, but those translations still often convey the core of the meaning of those works especially when one takes them with a grain of salt. The travelers accounts contain their own views but they often contain very valuable historical material. Marco Polo's accounts of Kublai Khan were influenced by the eternal European search for a counterweight to the Muslim world, but the details of his travel are immensely valuable, sometimes recording things that might never have been noted even by the people who lived in those lands.

And then we have the full complexity of Orientalism. It wasn't just the tradition that justified imperialism. It was also the tradition that often protested most vigorously against imperialism. Take late 18th c. England. While the British East Indian company justified their conquests in India by India's primitive non-capitalism, shown by their ancient though opulent unchanging traditions. Yet the myth of eternal perfect luxury of India also convinced many that India was a great beacon of civilization. Adam Smith for example, when hearing of the East India Company's actions was horrified.

And then we have modern Orientalism. Said is correct that modern Eastern studies inherit a tainted legacy from old Orientalism. But that doesn't discredit the work of modern Eastern studies. Many have tackled highly effectively the biases of their past and been able to remove some. And some they have not been able to remove. And they have added some new biases.

In the end, the reason why Said can't suggest a way to look at people without some imaginative construct blocking them. Our biases are inevitable, and everything we write is infected in it, but we can still strive to get better. And despite the highly developed nature of a construct like Orientalism it is still better to chip away at it through refining the tradition than labeling all the old Eastern studies more about Orientalism the construct than those lands East and South of Europe themselves.

Especially since starting with a blank slate is impossible. Beyond the fact the materials of the past do not lend themselves to remaking from a fresh thought, seeking so hard to erase Orientalism from the Western mind instead creates an Anti-Orientalism which I feel many of Edward Said's disciples, and perhaps the man himself, practice. This sees the Orient as something unknowable by the West and the West as aggressive fools. This sees revolution as the natural course of things to cleanse the burdens of colonialism, but demands an impossible purity to whatever is begotten from the revolution. Well, I could complain more about this. But let me put aside my complaints, because they are more or less just my political opinions.

But the Anti-Orientalist perspective is something very real I think. It tends to taint the vision of the counterculture in its review of the East. It is hard to describe its exact dimensions without going on a political tangent, especially since as a body is amorphous. But it is a knee-jerk revolt against the orthodoxy, it is an idealization of radical anti-colonial intellectuals without a critical perspective. And it is a demonization of any attempt by Western intellectuals outside the Anti-Orientalist circle to claim knowledge to allow them to sympathize with a foreign cause. It is mixed with other anti-traditionalist creeds such as neo-Marxism, primitivism, anarchism. And while I could simply mock it, my political differences withe perspective are not the point. It is a distorting view, often just as much so as Orientalism.

I'd like to draw a parallel. In Said's book, he claims that Orientalism prevents any American intellectual from sympathizing with an Arab cause without being accused of a sinister interest. He points out the State Department Arabists who were then accused of being dishonest due to vague oil connections. Yet what about now? Any intellectual or politician who believes in democracy in the Middle East is usually tarred, at least by certain intellectual circles who subscribe to Anti-Orientalism, as a stooge of big corporations, or secret ultra-nationalist, or just as a buffoon.

So do I say that Said's book is useless? No, it was an important watershed in historical thought. It forced Eastern studies to confront its historic biases. Yet it also had an unfortunate bi-product in the form of Anti-Orientalism which was due to how broad a stroke with which he condemned Western thought on the land once known as the Orient.

But still, I tip my hat off to you, Professor Said, wherever you are. You showed without a doubt the importance of context on human thoughts. And so since these are thoughts, I think in Said's honor, I might, as he did, compile an inventory of significant facts that undoubtedly influences my analysis. I am a young man, only of 21 years. I study at Rutgers University and grew up in the shadow of Princeton. It should be noted that I revolted against the dominant culture of my youth, which was culture of Princeton, which in many ways matched the counter-culture of the rest of the country. I have old bitternesses towards the counter-culture which I have attempted to cleanse, but old bitternesses die hard. I am a devout Catholic and I believe in the importance of tradition. I am a die-hard capitalist and a believer in the essentialness of human rights.

And I, too, bear skin that should mark me as an Oriental. It is a nice shade of Dravidian brown, but it is rather different than most in America. Yet unlike Professor Said, my experiences have not been too harsh in that regard. Instead, my life has given me a great love of the United States, and that is why I call myself an American without question, although I am proud of my Indian heritage. I am not sure what Said would say about that. He wrote an autobiography Out of Place, and I think he meant most especially in America. Yet that has not been my experience, and perhaps that is in some small part due to Professor Said's book Orientalism. There is still shades of Orientalism in America mind you, and there are still biases in its academia, but perhaps the United States has become a little kinder in the 30 years since Said's book. If so, I do thank Professor Said, and hope where he is now, he is finally in a place he feels is home.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

When I get older... they'll call me freedom

Awesome, awesome song. I dunno, but I've been nervous about things. Writing this blog even for instance. And then time disappears and there I go without the time, or as in this case, with perhaps just a bit much on my mind. But so you don't go empty handed, here's a song+lyrics from a very impressive gentleman from Somalia named K'naan:

Waving Flag and here's the lyrics from a newly found most awesome lyric source: lyric-wiki

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A good old fashioned shootout between me and my brain

Won't this be lovely?

I did not picture myself where I am now while I was at high school. Actually, thinking back, my vision for the future in high school was a blur of unrealistic dreams and grand ambitions. As I moved into college this vision slowly imploded in on itself until I was left with the void of a nagging certainty that I would die in the relative near-term.

Well, the latter is gone, least mostly so. The former though...

The height of the former unrealistic dreams of high school was me running my own island. That's not going to happen, well, it might, I'm not ruling it out, but I wouldn't count on it (then again, if I win that bet with a certain emir of Dubai...).

I've been working on a new sense of things, all and all and such.

The result is that I'm sort of working toward a creative life, trying to at least.

But here's the key, here's the key (other than doing this lame stop/start blogging):

I gotta have confidence.

I dunno know how I'm going to get that.

Yet I don't feel despair exactly, I have a general sense of the future I want and I have a general sense of a logical belief in my ability to succeed, but..


But it's going to be hard. I'm going to try to do things that'll be hard for me to do. I'm going to be disappointed with my failures and poorly satisfied with my defeats. But I want a future that I can find satisfaction in, and that's going to be tough, and that's going to hurt.

Still I will conquer, for God is with me, and not even I can be against me if God is with me.

I stand at the base of the mountain, staring at a dizzing climb and I am just sighing before I begin my ascent, hopefully to where good things dwell.

So take it to your head, take it to your heart, and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

And God Bless.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ah, the savage winds of history

I'm musing over quite the session in my head, which may or may not mean it may come to naught. But in the mean while I'm going to start moving over some posts from a few short-lived specialty blogs which may return someday, but till then still deserve their moment in the sun. And with no further ado, here is The History Cometh with "Ah, the savage winds of history":

And so I can't say I'm a master historian. Yet I'd say I'm something more than an amateur. I could probably fit the mold of an expert, I haven't invested my life in history, but I've studied it in a concentrated sort these last four years (ie. I'm a history major), and I have a massive interest in the subject that keeps me up to date. Moreover I like to play around with historical ideas and such and...

So why not be a historian?

Well, maybe I will someday. I've got enough of a life out there to change my direction three or four times. But for now I am possessing of an active spirit far too restless for the ivory tower or even the back-roads of academia which travel around the world but only in certain circles. My current focus now is becoming a journalist, a profession which I believe will have an activeness to suit me. Moreover, also I have not the taste for the rigidness of academic rules and I think journalism will free me for that. But perhaps times will change me. Who knows?

But for now, I think I will indulge the historical side of me by writing greatly of that subject no other place than right here!

It should be fun, and I think you'll like it.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Because this is my path

Though it be a lonely one.

And so we have run down yet another failed attempt at romance. Many of the same mistakes, many of the same responses, a little bit of crazy and a little bit of sanity.

All done with now.

While I can't promise that things are actually done with, on my end or on hers, I feel a certain wash of emotions that signals an end to the obsession that is a crush.

While a part of me is relieved, this did not end up spiraling into a real obsession, a part of me will miss the emotion, and an even larger part of me will miss the delusionary promise of a lessening of my old loneliness. And so I'm back to well, dwelling on that loneliness.


Meh! MEH! MEH!!!!!!!!!!!!

And so on.

Just got to keep running (or not since I'm going to go to sleep soon).

Come on! Cheery yet!

So take it to your head, take it to your heart, and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

And God Bless.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sometimes not knowing is okay, Not this time though

Ah, but what if knowing is not showing then what I ask you then what?
Still I remain perplexed on an emotion.
Unable to grasp it in my hand
Slim and slip away
Don't it?

Vaguarity is an issue, or not, since it's not a word
But the big matter
Is a matter of time
And space
The here and the now being the obstacles
To reflection and reorientation
Or overcoming

But what then is there to overcome
And what is

What then


Ah, beautiful chaos

Even more beautiful were it not in my head

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A little poetry for the emotionary

Since I'm near using an oft-imagined though never yet appropriate line ("I am a flexible person, I am many things to many people, but I am nothing to you").

And so I might as well give some extra usage from what is soon becoming but another annoying bad incident in my life. And so here's a poem which I think now suggests the situation which I am now dealing with:

The Physics of It

One expects sparks from your finger tips

Why should ordinary matter not tremble at your presence

That electricity holds its bonds despite your movements

Is a demonstration that physics is frozen in awe of you

And the gait of your step defies walking

And the cadence of your words defies speaking

And your every look is enough to bring a grizzly bear to its knees

Any you wear your aura of sincerity so casually

You breathe in and out generosity of spirit

As if it were only natural

I imagine that must be the case


You defy nature

Like a quantum singularity

Who gives mercy to the light


Monday, April 13, 2009

Twittering away the blues

That pun was sooo lame, soooo very, very, very lame. I mean it does draw attention to the fact that I'm now on twitter, but really now, twittering away the blues, I mean REALLY!

But while it might incline me toward various bad puns like this, twitter's mini-posting is a nice way to work out random thoughts and nice turns of phrases without stealing room and attention from my more valuable posts, and so on, and so on.

I'm glad I'm not going to actually use twitter to update my status, because essentially that's what I'm doing here and it is LAME!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I follow he who has conquered death

Lately most of my weekends have been full, and this rare free one gives me a good chance to write about, well, just about anything. Heck, I can even write in highly cliched sentences like these two.

Ah, but this is not any weekend, this is Easter weekend, the holiest weekend of the year.

(Let me point out one thing right away. A few years ago, I heard on the radio a man mock Christianity by saying, "Jesus was supposed to rise 3 days after he died, but Easter's only two days after Good Friday, duh, I'm an idiot." Now he didn't say that last part, but it was implied. This is a good lesson in the folly of making seemingly obvious criticism without any investigation in a matter well analyzed by others who have differing opinions (ie, this is a good rebuke to many shallow criticisms of religion, I admit there are deeper criticisms, and I have yet to discover a counter-point to all of them (indeed, ultimately I believe there isn't a fool-proof counter-point to all the criticisms, because then I feel we would be forced by iron logic to believe and that would deprive us of the choice that Christ died for (of course I could be wrong on this analysis). Moreover, I feel that a fool-proof explanation of the religious nature of the universe is well past what the human mind can understand in a fool-proof was, because it gives a definitive view of the full nature of the universe, which is far too much for us to truly grasp, least that's how I figure).

But back to the man who declared himself an idiot because he hastily opened his mouth about the distance of time between Good Friday and Easter (look I have atheist friends, and I admit that atheists have full right and often good reason to criticize religion, and often they ought to do it so that it'll prompt the religious to dig deeper into their faith to contradict them, HOWEVER, I am opposed to superficial criticism like this one which could be disproved by a simple internet check).

After all this ranting, let me cut myself off by just explaining why the Bible says Jesus rose 3 days after his death, and why this one weekend between Good Friday and Easter counts as 3 days. Essentially it all comes down to the Roman counting method (explained here in regards to another calendar-related matter (though not in regards to Kalends itself). The Romans counted inclusively, and Jerusalem was firmly in the Roman Empire at this time (well, firmly would be an exaggeration as the Romans found out themselves in 67AD (the Bible is actually a great source at looking at the Roman world around the time of the First Jewish-Roman War, one good example of this is the disciple of Jesus called Simon the Zealot, who may or may not have been actually a follower of the political party of that era called the Zealots (who would be a major factor in the First Jewish-Roman War), but at least had some of their connotations associated with him). Anywho, by the Roman counting method, 3 days after Jesus' death makes perfect sense, Good Friday, when Jesus died, is day 1, Easter Vigil is day 2, and Easter is day 3. Anyways, just wanted to get that all settled out.)

This being Easter weekend (if you are looking at the Calendar and wondering where exactly within Easter weekend this is, it is Easter Vigil, or the Saturday of the Easter weekend. I had actually planned to write most of this on Good Friday, but A. I was in church for 5 hours, most of which was Malayalam (luckily my youth group had arranged the Stations of the Cross to be in English, which prevented pure Malayalam, and fortunately, our guest priest who co-celebrated the occasion was the wise and kind Father Bonaventure (though since he is a Catholic priest of the Malankara rite, maybe I should more rightfully call him, Bonaventure Achen (Malayali pride!), who spent some time between the different segments of the ceremony (it was not exactly a Mass, technically (I think), since there was not Communion)). Now I like to think I am able to draw in and participate in the sacred atmosphere of the Catholic ceremonies even when they're not in English, especially since I've had great experience with ceremonies that are in essence the same, though in the Latin rite and in English (I've also had some experience with Masses in the Latin rite in Latin, which was pretty cool because I got to bust out my 6 years of Latin study), still 5 hours kind of passes the time when I generally reverent and sort of goes into the period when I start to get distracted and think about super-robots, but it is a family thing, so, s'okay.

Actually, I still had quite a bit of time after the Good Friday service when I could have written a post, but it's a little bit difficult on Good Friday. It's a day that always strikes me as something incredibly important but well, as I coined the word before, half-blooded. Or really, just it's a matter of I'm not sure how exactly to feel (which may have been a sign from God that it's okay to be confused as to how to feel, which is a message I sort of needed to hear right now. If that seems rather something flimsy to interpret as a sign from God, well, when you hear something more directly from God, then lecture me about it (heck, even if you don't want to lecture me, I'd be interested in hearing about anyone's experience with God). I truly believe it is often (though not always) the subtle coincidences and the delicate shapes of moments in which God speaks to us, so as to reach out to help, heal, and guide us, while preserving our freedom to choose to follow or reject him (a worldview elaborated on here).

Good Friday is only second to Easter in holiness, so it is a bit hard to take anything else to seriously that day. I mean I thought of other things, I admire those who can spend an entire day just meditating on the Passion of Jesus Christ, but I lack that degree of concentration. I'm a little ambivalent in fact about a lot of the heavier prayer rituals (although as mentioned above, I am willing to do the 5-hour Mass when called for), partly because I lack confidence that I could do them correctly (which is the least sensible of the reasons presented here, and if this alone where the case, I imagine I probably would have to push myself toward the heavier prayer rituals), partly because I often have a number of projects on my mind at any given time and it's hard to calm it down to concentrate, but the most legitimate reason I have, and perhaps the only one I really believe, is that the heavier prayer rituals, with the effort that needs to be made to concentrate and avoid distraction, often feed into my self-doubt by convincing myself I'm not doing enough. Maybe I should do more, but I think prayer-wise, I'm doing okay overall, although as a Christian, I think it is always my duty to strive to be more faithful, to strive to overcome sin and grow always closer to God.

But as I was getting toward, I generally don't do too much on Good Friday, treating it as mostly (though admittedly not entirely) as a day of rest and reflection, which is probably the proper way to spend it. And so this post comes today, though my thoughts still rest much on Good Friday.

Now I imagine some people reading this blog (if there are any, ya bums!), may not be Catholic or even Christian and so let me explain a little on Good Friday. Firstly, it is called Good despite commemorating the death on the cross of Jesus Christ, not because we like celebrating suffering for suffering's sake, but because Christ's sacrifice saved the world. Now let me get to two major points (as I think that's all I can add to this post before making it a novella). Well, before that let me note that I am not a theologian, rather I dabble in it, but I know fully that I do not know all the ways of God, nor can I know them, and I am just speculating. So be it then, after all, life's a speculation.

But one thing I do want to make clear, is that I truly and honestly believe Jesus Christ's death saved the world from sin (or I think I believe it, one of the trickiest things about faith for me, is not doubts about God, generally those doubts for me have largely seem artificial rather than real crises of faith, maybe some day there might come a true crisis... but my greater doubts have always been in myself, do I really believe, or do I just believe I believe?). Now for some explanation. While the core of the understanding of Christ's salvation is to understand that much of it is a mystery (in the profound sense of the word), there are parts that we do know via revelation and the tradition of analysis of that revelation, continued, I like to think, in my own ponderings. And here is something that I think is an important aspect of Christ's role in the universe.

God is perfectly good, God is utterly powerful, God is all-knowing, God is all-loving, God is time-less and beyond shape and form in His most abstract aspect. Essentially God is unknowable by man. If you look at the Old Testament, you find many meditations on this fact, especially within the Book of Job, the Book of Jonah, and Ecclesiastes. While God does factor into these Books, He is an essentially mysterious force, and these writers mourn this fact. Other Books of the Gospel note God's interventions in the world, and a sort of mystical way of understanding His presence, but even in the books of the Prophets, there is an indirect nature of God's communication with man. This is not the case, mind you, in Genesis, and even in Exodus and the other books of the Israelites in the desert (Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) you see God as a much more direct, but still essentially alien, force. Deuteronomy gives a good explanation why, in chapter 18 :

This is exactly what you requested of the LORD, your God, at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God, nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.'

God's direct presence was too much for most to handle, and indeed directly face God, in our current selves... I'm not really sure what to say about that, but this is something, to directly face God as God in His fullness, it would deprive us of our free will to choose whether or not to follow Him, our choice would be necessarily yes, out of sheer fear and awe if nothing else. I'm not sure if this theological analysis is air-tight, but it gets to the point, that God is by His nature and our nature very distant for us.

And indeed, we make ourselves even more distant by shutting ourselves off from him both through action and thought and feeling, and this is called sin. And we all sin, we all make bad choices and mistakes that alienate us from God. Our choices of arrogance, hate, greed, and make others, even unknowingly, these things drive us away from God. While we can and must resist them, it is our nature, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. (While I take writing on religion especially very seriously, I would not want to put on airs by writing too seriously, so let me recite an old programmer's joke: In the early days of translation machines, one variant was invented that was programmed to translate both Russian and English. To test it, a phrase was put in "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak", and then the result was re-translated back to English, with the idea that translate in and translate out, the same words or at least the same message should be there. The result: "The vodka's good, but the meat is rotten." Ah, but isn't the spirit to man, as vodka is to the potato? No, no it isn't)

What I'm getting at, is in a world with an essentially unknowable God, we are condemned to sin, that is our destiny, and thus we are sin's slaves. However, Jesus resolves this dilemma. Jesus through his nature both as God and man, provides a bridge between us and God. Moreover, he takes upon himself the fullness of sin, he takes into himself all of human nature that drives us from God, and he died with it, suffering the fullness of the human being cut off from God, driven even from the world of God's people, into the utterly loneliness of sin. (I write all of that, but I admit I can't say what all of it means. But then again, I don't think humans necessarily can understand fully everything that they can understand partly, and sometimes you need to just grasp what you can and accept the rest as mystery.)

As my thoughts are still bouncing back and forth from Good Friday, I want to also make the point of how immense Jesus' sacrifice was. In Richard Wright's excellent autobiography Black Boy (a prime example of a book that is amazing, though I don't agree with its worldview), he often talks of his atheistic beliefs, mentioning that he felt that Jesus choosing to die to save everyone was a rather easy choice to make. Well, the easiest counter-point to that would be that the reason why that seems like such a simple choice is partially because we live in a society that is in-part build out of reverence for that sacrifice. But that is only a mild counter-argument.

To truly understand why Jesus' choice was indeed so hard, and his sacrifice was indeed so great, one must take into consideration two aspects of that sacrifice. Firstly, that Jesus is God, with all God's power and might, who became a human being, with all its limitations and curses, to save us, but he didn't have to were it not for his love for us. That in itself is an immense sacrifice, for he who never had to experience pain, or temptation, or any suffering, did so for us. And he could have done otherwise, but the outcome would not have been as blessed as it was, he could have dialed things back to make the sacrifice less, but he didn't he took on the fullness of the human nature, including sin.

This too must also be understood about Jesus' sacrifice, how immense was Jesus' death. It's not just that his death was particularly gruesome (few can match the Romans when they decide to break out the full torture, yet then again, in the vastness of history, some can). Rather, the immensity of the Jesus' death can perhaps be best seen in the fact that he who is one with God, in a mysterious union more profound than we can imagine, was alienated from God, filled as he was with all the sins of the world. Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Yet he was God. This is not contradiction, if so would some of the greatest analytical minds, including founders in the fields of logic and science, believe in the Gospels? (I'm not saying you can't argue contradiction here, I'm saying that argument is pretty superficial) Rather it is a paradox, a mystery, a matter of divine knowledge admittedly beyond me. But what I can understand, is that it is beyond my reckoning the horror of that... We all have limits beyond which our courage fails, some may have limits which exceed anything they are likely to face, but if we go beyond human reckoning and into the possibilities only understandable by the divine, there are enough horrors to match the limits of everyone, except God.

Jesus did not want this. He accepted it nonetheless for God wanted to save us. He bore his cross, and bore the sins of the world, he died with them, knowing that with a word he could stop of all of it. With just a thought. He was still God. And maybe he could have lessened the load just a little, taking the sins of only some of the people, leaving some of his sheep without a shepherd. But he loved all of humanity, he could leave no one behind. He had to free all of us from sin, so our choice in life would not be how sinful we would be when we died, but rather, our choice would be to trust in God and receive the grace that could overcome our sin, overcome our distance with God and bring us ultimately to him in an experience that no eye has seen, no ear has heard... but for that to happen, God had to bear all the sins of the world...

And overcome all of them... and transcend all of them... and conquer death. While on the surface the miracle of the Resurrection is simple, a man rising from the dead, it is in fact a glorious mystery that goes beyond human understanding (again, just my reckoning, I'm willing to bow to someone who's thought through things better). Jesus was not only God alienated from God, but he is also man united with God. For the sin was conquered, it was overcome, all the sins of the world, in a grace most profound, most glorious...

I can't understand it. I really can't fully, it's just so immense, so wonderful, so utterly perfect, the Resurrection is God's love conquering the limitations of humanity, bringing us back to Him, inviting us to paradise, to His perfect, redeeming love.

My words are inadequate. Perhaps in no other matter, can my words not capture a moment as much as here. I am at a loss, I wish I could better explain even my limited understanding, but it is just too much.

Beyond the greatest greatness of this world, there is the Resurrection, for it conquered this world, and saved its people, all of its people, saints as well as sinners (though saints, like all humans are also sinners). It is just too wonderful... it is God's love, the love that animates the universe, that saves us all.

That is what I believe. Now I admit the exact metaphysical details may not be correct, but I am certain of the general shape of things:

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his unique Son so that everyone who believes in him might not be lost but have eternal life.

(And by the way, if I might for a moment dip into more murky waters for a moment, I believe that when it comes to believing in Jesus...

Jesus is more than just a figure, conceptually, he is God, he is Love most profound, and I think that even those most schooled in Catholicism can only understand the most basic truths of God, but if anyone, I admit to a degree of uncertainty about this, but perhaps no more than my uncertainty about my own beliefs, truly believes in the most basic truth of God, that is Love, in its most perfect sense, an admittedly unprovable and unknowable concept (except through that lovely little thing called grace), even without knowledge of the technicalities, which are incredibly useful spiritually and practically (lest you imagine I'm saying that the Church (whose tradition and revelations are our best source for that knowledge and whose practices deepen us in our knowledge) is unimportant or that I don't wish that everyone was a Christian and even more particularly a Catholic (though I admit that the Church isn't perfect, although there is a greater sense... (this session is getting looooong))...

If you truly believe in Love, well, then someday, even after death, the Hope and Faith will follow, and you can be saved.)

What more can I say? Infinitely more without scratching the surface of the greatness and glory of God. For it is so immense and so diverse and so present in us all... I like to believe everything I write, even when not mentioning religion is ultimately about God. For I like to think that my life, including my writing, is an effort to know God and to do His will, and hopefully that imbues my self with a sense of God's glory and then through the personal-ness of my writing, it too is imbued with a sense of God's glory, or perhaps a sense of the search for God's glory, though perhaps not directly, perhaps only in the most quiet of ways, but in a way I hope does help show God's glory at least in some aspect to others, so they too might dream the inconceivable dream... of God's ever-lasting and perfect love.

God Bless!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Let not the sun be proud, lest I strike it from the sky

So here's a question:
If the day was destined to be a disaster, is mere survival a triumph?

But is it not a defeat to have certain days destined for disaster?

Yet this destiny was not pre-ordained. Around mid-morning I realized that for a good chunk of the day, I was most likely to be pointlessly, hopelessly sad. For no reason, except it is my nature, well, but then again, that is a nature I decided long ago to defy, by any means necessary, including...

Well, if I did take the meds, would this day be so different? There were other reasons why my day might be awful, but comparing, and weighing in how I have been dealing with things other days and...

But really, I suppose my confidence in how I have been dealing with things otherwise likely brought me to be a little lackluster in checking to make sure I had a good supply and...

Aw, let's just play the song

And as is proper the lyrics.

I gotta love the Eraserhead callout, just reminds me how much I need to see that film.

Anyways, obviously, this is a good lesson to be more careful, and given the overall lack of urgency in the day, probably an overall good occasion in the longer sense of things.

Yet still, being reminded of your biological limitations, that's never a pleasant thing. But some are born such as to demonstrate the glory of God.

And then again, perhaps all measured I'm not overall even that cursed even from the bio perspective. It's hard to measure apples vs. oranges, and there's at least that distance between each fellow man, and so it's hard to say the measure of difficulty of natural traits, still overall I'm doing okay, so...

So it's not really so bad, just need to be careful to take my meds.

So take it to your head, take it to your heart and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

And God Bless.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Space Oddity

It's been a while since I really made an effort to find good links for this blog, and the occasion did remind of why. Despite having found superb music videos on the interweb, checking for these videos for quality always ends up causing my session-writing time to go up by an order-of-magnitude. Oh, well, it's not like I have anything tomorrow, just work.

Well, here are the fruits of this particular labor:
A classic music video of Space Oddity by David Bowie
The music set to scenes of the amazing anime movie Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise.

To top it off here's the lyrics.

The thought came to my mind for so many, many reasons, top of which is BOWIE rocks!!! (The Guild of Calaminous Intent doesn't deserve such a man!)

But I was thinking about some matters, especially about professionalism (I can't believe the Simpsons "To Professionalism!" scene isn't on youtube yet (season 8, homer's enemy, after being told he ought to be more professional, Homer, sitting in him car about to drive to work in the morning, cries out "TO PROFESSIONALISM!" and pulls out a bottle of champaign and starts chugging it. Sooner or later, I got to try that out at my job.) And I had talked to someone who had recommended a professional relationship on a matter (as this vagueness might imply this is a rumination on a personal matter with a subject who may or may not be reading this post, and my rule of thumb is to not rule with my thumb and keep people anonymous most generally).

The essence of the matter and the thoughts which I consider interesting enough to outweigh the awkwardness of writing about this situation is that the implied opinion I got form this person was that professional relationships were important, and I could not help but find this inconceivably odd.

Now I am an odd man. There is a denying that, weighing my oddness against the general oddity of people in general, and one could also weigh it against how normal I might be if I applied myself. But I am comfortable in declaring myself odd overall. I think thoughts rarely thought, I do things in a manner rarely copied, and I in general have a certain tension between my way of living and the way of living common to the world around me, and by those measures I am odd. I've come to peace with that more or less, but it leaves me admittedly with little ground to call someone else odd.

Now the arguer on professional relationships is I think odd, all and all, but the opinion expressed was perhaps less odd than my own, and so perhaps that point can not be listed as a factor of oddity. The position that I have come to realize might be quite common but which I thought was odd at first, is that at work relationships should be restricted to professional relationships so you can do your work without distraction to the maximum of your potential. I have to say, that just seemed ridiculous.

But upon thinking of it, I think most people, or at least a lot of people, to a lesser or greater degree believe in these sort of professional relationships. Then perhaps I'm the odd-man out, but that's never been a fault for me.

In the end, I don't believe in professional relationships because, meh, work's work, it's really not important enough to infringe on relationships. I mean people's are peoples after all. Then there's the Christian aspect. I take a very idealized view of love, (platonic, familial, and romantic, etc.) and take this world and its haughty workings purposefully lightly. But perhaps I can understand how other people can take their work seriously, especially if this is the work that really touches on something central to their identity. Maybe, maybe perhaps if I were a professional writer...

Yet then again, I suppose I do have a profession. A jack-of-all-trades who philosophizes, wanders between communities, and dreams of dreams, I suppose my profession is ultimately living, best I can to do good and hopefully help others do good. Perhaps in that respect all my relationships are professional, I do after all keep my friends in my AIM co-workers section (an odd remark I do not deny), and I have to say I have a tendency to view a failed relationship or lost friendship as a failed project or venture. In a way I am almost sterile while looking at relationships, a fact I regret at times, immensely.

And so then, then when it comes to professionalism. Professionalism for me is friendship, best I can manage. Honestly when it comes to relationships, I can only target friendship or something more, although I can at times offer a completely false relationship that ignores the essential human essence of the other party, but as that sounds, it is distasteful, and something I inevitably regret.

If that makes me odd, well...

Let me not act superior, my life and the life of many around me would be much better if I did not take relationships so seriously and work so lightly, and maybe I'm wrong, I find upon reckoning that my emotions toward people are often more complex than I give them credit for, mingled with my own issues, preconceptions, circumstances and histories. In the end, I have to say that overall I treat relationships so simply and so idealistically is because I lack the talent and confidence to do otherwise, or maybe it just isn't who I am, with me being the sum of my nature and experiences. And in the end, I am what I am, and despite my own anxieties and self-doubt, I do not care to be anything else. Those words have been ringing in my head for a while now and I find here they seem appropriate. I can change to be more true to these ideals, to chase a more central goal, or to do the Lord's will, but not for a job, and for what else... (and where does my writerly and otherwise artistic intentions factor into all of this, I'm honestly not sure, but I think one necessarily feeds and follows the other)

The future's still open... and though I feel a bit lonely right now, I still believe in the ideals of family, friends, love and God... and God-willing I will be able to make good on those beliefs, in the end that's all I really need, as the man says, "Forget your lust for the rich mans gold/ All that you need is in your soul" (-Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd)

And be a simple kind of man. (That said song's music video)

(If there's anything that can make you feel good about all your moods, both good and bad, well there's lot's of things, but nothing quite like rocking with Lynyrd Skynyrd)

Anyways, take it to your head, take it to your heart and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

And God Bless.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Chasing down infinity

Ever since I've started working time has ceased to function in a controllable manner for me. For example, I was convinced that the distance between the last time I blogged and now was much, much greater than a week, but in the end that is probably just a matter of my own feelings toward the last week. Still, overall, I've often lost track of the passage of time.

The worst cases of this have been me losing track of a day in the week. While usually not involving vital matters, I sometimes put off obligations till later in the week and if I suddenly realize it's a day later than I thought it was, that track is thrown completely out of wack (YO!). However, ironically this situation is unlikely to cause me major problems BECAUSE it is caused by a lack of major incidents in the week.

My co-worker actually mentioned he enjoyed this ambiguity of time because it allowed him to wake up one morning and say "Awesome, it's Friday", but I find the matter rather frustrating, especially since my weekends seem to flee quickly as well.

That is not to say all my work has been so much fun time is just flying by. Some of my work, though less so at my current position than my former, has been annoying and tedious, and mind-bogglingly slow to pass. Rather, there is a sort of uniformity to my days.

Perhaps this is normal, perhaps this is nothing to complain about, but my days seem essentially similar lately, I do some work, talk friendly-like with my co-workers, maybe talk to some friends, talk to my family, do some writing, maybe do some personal programming, watch tv, do some musing on the universe, et al., and then done for the night.

It's not a bad life by any means, and while that overall is a pretty good day, having every day like that is a little off-putting. Essentially, while this is a good life it is not my life, and more distressingly, it is not moving toward being my life.

That I suppose is what's really getting to me, my life is just a bit too still, in a place where I cannot remain. It's like you're putting a tiger into a very nice zoo who has lived all his life in the wild, maybe some tigers might like living in the zoo, maybe if he had lived in the zoo all his life he would love living there, but in the end, he's like a bird and he only flies away.

And it occurs to me that I must fly away as well.

Sooner or later that is, I will move, but it is naive to assume that a change in scenery necessitates a change in life, especially if you're looking for a change for the better. Indeed it may just be that moving will just cut me off more from my family without any gain. My desire to move is primarily, though not solely, motivated by a desire for me-time, however, for that me-time to be meaningful and not just wasteful self-indulgence (there's me time where you do stuff you want to do and do stuff your way, and there me time where you're just spending time alone, the latter is not nearly as useful as the former), I need to start moving on the things that I consider MY work. Ie, writing, programming, this blog, a website maybe, my family tree project, etc.,etc., and so on. I have more than enough of these projects, and I do work on them, however, just working on them, that's not really moving forward, afterall I have had projects all my life and will have for all my life. No, it is time to start pushing for completion of projects. It is time to start working for triumph.

On the other side of things though, well, there are two matters that are more lasting and long-term solutions, but of, well, long-term nature, and also of questionable occurrance. That is, finding a job/community where I feel at home and finding a soul-mate. The two I think are intimately related, since the latter can bind me to the former, although it is also possible that the two might come separately or even though separate the one may lead to the other. I have to be careful in these matters though, because your community and your mate are essential parts of your identity and indeed your soul. You can't be arbitrary about these things nor can your rush things, no matter how much you may like to.

I might be guilty of attempting the latter sin last week, because it feels so good to have a community and a soul-mate, on the other hand, I might be accused of throwing a chance at both away due to cowardice. It is a tricky matter to parse, but probably that is best saved for another session.

Let me sum all of this up, because I can't really sense an essential form or reason to these ramblings, I feel the danger of stagnation, and I am going to start swimming to small landmarks up ahead, as well as to the greater horizon, even though I am uncertain of both the strength of my arms as well as the honestly of my vision. But hey, one must be willing to lose his or her life to save it.

So take it to your head, take it to your heart and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

And God Bless.