Monday, November 28, 2011

...Then he asked me if I was a student too. I said no, I was a teacher. What did I teach? African literature. Now that was funny, he said, because he knew a fellow who also taught the same thing, or perhaps it was African history, in a certain community college not far from here. It always surprised him, he went on to say, because he never had thought of Africa as having that kind of stuff, you know. By this time I was walking much faster.
Th[is] young fellow from Yonkers, perhaps partly on account of his age but I believe also for much deeper and more serious reasons, is obviously unaware that the life of his own tribesmen in Yonkers, New York, is full of odd customs and superstitions and, like everybody else in his culture, imagines that he needs a trip to Africa to encounter those things.
If there is something in these utterances more than youthful inexperience, more than a lack of factual knowledge, what is it? Quite simply it is the desire-one might indeed say the need-in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar in comparison with which Europe's own state of spiritual grace will be manifest.
Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as "the other world," the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where man's vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality.
A Conrad student told me in Scotland last year that Africa is merely a setting for the disintegration of the mind of Mr. Kurtz. … Which is partly the point. Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. 
The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world. And the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot. I would not call that man an artist, for example, who composes an eloquent instigation to one people to fall upon another and destroy them. No matter how striking his imagery or how beautiful his cadences fall, such a man is no more a great artist than another may be called a priest who reads the mass backwards or a physician who poisons his patients.
But whereas irrational love may at worst engender foolish acts of indiscretion, irrational hate can endanger the life of the community. 
…as a sensible man I will not accept just any traveller's tales solely on the grounds that I have not made the journey myself. I will not trust the evidence even of a man's very eyes when I suspect them to be as jaundiced as Conrad's. 
Travelers with closed minds can tell us little except about themselves.
Africa is to Europe as the picture is to Dorian Gray-a carrier onto whom the master unloads his physical and moral deformities so that he may go forward, erect and immaculate. Consequently, Africa is something to be avoided, just as the picture has to be hidden away to safeguard the man's jeopardous integrity. 
I read in the papers the other day a suggestion that what America needs at this time is somehow to bring back the extended family. And I saw in my mind's eye future African Peace Corps Volunteers coming to help you set up the system.

--Chinua Achebe, "An Image of Africa"

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fiendish Fundraiser

Check out them buttons I be pressin'.
Fiendish Fundraiser by Chismatic

Nick Sanders

"Journeying solo around the world was more than just riding a motorbike, which whilst being a tremendous undertaking, it required more. Journeying alone around the world necessitated a total commitment to being away from home, and away from family and friends. It also took you away from every conceivable point of reference you had ever learnt. If you also recognised the metaphysical content of such a journey, then you laid down your soul to fate.

I always believed that the really big story of your life is the one where the faintest fabric of your existence is woven into someone else's fairy tale. There is also that brief moment when the bridge of air becomes stone for that person to walk across and touch you. There is also that moment when the stone petrifies to become brittle; it cracks, turns back to air and you fall.

Standing still in silent solitude is the antithesis of what bike riding is all about, yet it is ironic that you need a means of transport to get there, unless you walk. Unfortunately, modern day time frames make walking impracticable. Well, that's kind of an excuse. The not very secret reason for not walking is that no biker likes doing it. It's tiresome, wears out shoes and the scenery moves by far too slowly.

People who dress in one piece leather outfits on a bike that looks like mine don't pass by these parts very often, and if they do they don't stop long. You could tell. The fantastic image kept you completely safe. Curiosity might have killed the cat, but in human life it creates a bond. People are essentially good and just need you to give them a sprig of of honesty for them to relax.

There was no sound from the engine now and I became aware of how quiet this journey could be. Serenity comes in small moments of contemplation. Everyone needs to go where they will not be disturbed, yet by simply being, they were already there. It is the great irony of rides like this that the engine both takes you to and separates you from that quiet place of reason."

From The Loneliness of the Long Distance Biker, by Nick Sanders

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Manifold.

The other night I stepped into brisk darkness beneath the faded light of a few tenacious stars and rode unknowingly into the mechanical revelation of my past selves.

As of late the night sky has become a map that, patiently and with reference to tech, I can decode. It means much less to gaze into that infinity alone, but like a fool I have been looking. The light of the city is a damper on the sky so I have been searching for distant darkness in the midst of an open tree line. So it goes and so it went the other night.

I slid on the fast jacket and eased a warming engine out of the carport, over the crunch of fallen acorns, onto the subtle camber of the street. As soon as I hit motion, a cool humid breeze sifted around leather and plastic and brought goosebumps to my skin. I chilled at a series of red lights, listening to my breath, until finally the road opened up enough for me to drown everything under an open throttle.

Open, but not flat out. This is the dark we’re talking about. A loss of visibility is also, strangely, a loss of feel. Anticipation is a crucial element of sensation. If my horizon is brought up short, those opaque corners are shaded by fear, or at least by possibilities into which I cannot rush headlong. I have seen those fools rush in. But the cats I ride with know the pace. We lean to the side don’t fall.

The road unfolded. I passed the park and came to the slight curve where the street lights had ended and the dark could finally reach out. My high beams cut the path all the way down to the corner named for the Green Ninja. A hazardous left turn. On the exit I twisted throttle all serious. A steady climb in rpm, gearing and road speed. The front end went light. The world became a narrow, short tunnel and everything on the periphery was simply forbidden. And that was when it happened.

I hadn’t traveled the road at that time of night in a long time. But I know the road well. I travelled its path on my first bike and every bike since, in joy and anguish and that feeling that can’t be named without it being destroyed. Tucked behind the pitiful windscreen of the Pharmacon Atlas, I felt every bike I had ever ridden. Felt also the person that rode them. Boys and men who resemble me only in the memories that they hold in common. They put wheel to road in wonder, in anger, in despair. Most knew nothing about the bikes they straddled. They didn’t know the extent of their longing, their capacity to suffer or the love they could have for a child. Perhaps the Oracle would say so much of me now, but I didn’t have that third to give me perspective. This existential familiarity stripped away the leather and in that moment I was laid bare before the road.

Up ahead I stopped in what passed for a clearing and dismounted. I was shook and felt the eyes of imagined ghosts in the woods surrounding. In the sky, past the thin slow clouds, I could see only the Swan. I didn’t matter. The tuning forks revealed for me a more crucial constellation.

The Great Pessimist says that “To live is to lose ground.” He speaks truth. And yet in the chill of night, my own lostness was brought into view in one summary moment of perspective. I can’t call its meaning. But I think the picture will be completed by the next bike that travels with me in darkness.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Beautiful Lasers.

Music can take you places. It can also make you glad that you have left those places behind.

Lupe Fiasco, "Beautiful Lasers"

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Wet.

Sometimes the rain falls. Many choose to wait it out, to turn their gaze away from the torrent, let it pass peacefully overhead. But the rain does fall as wheat does sway. You can never make peace with it; you have to just ride. Maybe find another who feels the same. For me, tonight, there is no other. 

I push the bike down the road so I don't wake the sleeping. It fires up, sucking in chilly air. In a dark chamber at its core, there is an endless series of injections. Injections of fuel; those that are not followed by sleep and death. I ride through a still puddle, distorting its reflection of the infinite sky. In a moment of morbidity I wonder what it is that a puddle of blood would reflect. 

The ride is all treachery. A layer of water between road and tire, instability at any meaningful speed. Beneath, an engine that wants to give more than the road can possibly take. Perched above, I try to ride smoothly. The tire slides on the white lines that I cross at the intersection. I stay loose. They slide again, front and back, on a short but smooth patch of asphalt entering the interstate, but I hold steady. Distribute my weight. Look through the turn. I don’t know where the edge is. I reach out with my feelings but I can’t hear it. The voice has been extinguished by the wet. Downtown, I pause beneath street lights and peer into the darkness beneath an overpass. There the homeless sleep. I think about how the night always speaks more truthfully than the day. 

I ride home. On the route I have taken, a road is closed and I must pass through a detour I have never known. I come over the crest of a slight hill and find a fallen branch blocking the road. I swerve. The severed limb is large, covered in moss. Mangled shadows dance upon its bark as my headlight passes by. 

The bike slides yet again on the roundabout. I barely notice. I suppose it doesn’t matter. If the streets don’t kill me, the state probably will.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

T.E. Lawrence

"In five minutes my bed would be down, ready for the night: in four more I was in breeches and puttees, pulling on my gauntlets as I walked over to my bike, which lived in a garage-hut, opposite. Its tyres never wanted air, its engine had a habit of starting at second kick: a good habit, for only by frantic plunges upon the starting pedal could my puny weight force the engine over the seven atmospheres of its compression.
I gained though, gained steadily: was perhaps five miles an hour the faster. Down went my left hand to give the engine two extra dollops of oil, for fear that something was running hot: but an overhead Jap twin, super-tuned like this one, would carry on to the moon and back, unfaltering.
I let in the clutch again, and eased Boanerges down the hill along the tram-lines through the dirty streets and up-hill to the aloof cathedral, where it stood in frigid perfection above the cowering close. No message of mercy in Lincoln. Our God is a jealous God: and man’s very best offering will fall disdainfully short of worthiness, in the sight of Saint Hugh and his angels.
A skittish motor-bike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocation, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness. Because Boa loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him."

From The Mint, by T.E. Lawrence. Lawrence rode a Brough Superior S.S.100. He named it Boanerges, a Greek name that means "sons of thunder." It is the name that Jesus gave to his disciples James and John and a fitting name for a twin. 

It is interesting to see these old accounts of riders and their rides. No matter how different the language or how exotic or mundane the machine, the narrative is instantly recognizable. As though there is only one universal ride and all of us at one time or another travel its hallowed path. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Okiedoke #7: Two Poems

Here is a poem from Kate Greenstreet. She told me once that the only book that she ever stole was by Heidegger.

The poem is called "If Water Should Cover the Road."

This one is from Lea Marshall. Once, she and I walked the streets of the Bronx listening to headphones plugged into the same ipod through a splitter.

It's called "Dark Matter."

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Okiedoke #6: The Robbery

A friend and her son walked into their home recently, only to find that the joint had been robbed. But, thanks to a cunning act of omission, the thieves didn't steal her son's innocence. Well, innocence is the wrong word. Naiveté, maybe?

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Road

"In dreams his pale bride came to him out of a green and leafy canopy. Her nipples pipeclayed and her rib bones painted white. She wore a dress of gauze and her dark hair was carried up in combs of ivory, combs of shell. Her smile, her downturned eyes. In the morning it was snowing again. Beads of small gray ice strung along the lightwires overhead.

He mistrusted all of that. He said the right dreams for a man in peril were dreams of peril and all else was the call of languor and death. He slept little and he slept poorly. He dreamt of walking in a flowering wood where birds flew before them he and the child and the sky was aching blue but he was learning how to wake himself from such siren worlds. Lying awake in the dark with the uncanny taste of a peach from some phantom orchard fading in his mouth. He thought if he lived long enough the world at last would all be lost. Like the dying world the newly blind inhabit, all of it slowly fading from memory."

From Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Silencing the Past

"We are never as steeped in history as when we pretend not to be, but if we stop pretending we may gain in understanding what we lose in false innocence. Naiveté is often an excuse for those who exercise power. For those upon whom that power is exercised, naiveté is always a mistake."

"I also want to reject both the naive proposition that we are prisoners of our pasts and the pernicious suggestion that history is whatever we make of it. History is the fruit of power, but power itself is never so transparent that its analysis becomes superfluous. The ultimate mark of power may be its invisibility; the ultimate challenge, the exposition of its roots."

From Silencing the Past, by Michel-Rolph Trouillot,

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Fractured Description

There are only two things, mainly. The object before you and your relation to it. Always changing, whether you notice or not. A thought is a beginning, but it is not complete until you set it to work in the world. It is not complete because there is no world outside of the objects of your consciousness. It’s all in your head, slick. Even when you have gotten the words on the page or the paint on the canvas.

Yeah. The outer is the inner. So if you want to know how I am doing, all you have to do is look at my bike. If grime covers the plastic, so much can be said of my soul.  I set out into the streets, motivated by feelings that I wish were behind me. 

The night is moist. I keep thinking that my visor is blemished, that I have only to clean it to stop the world from looking so cloudy. But the thickness is out there and it casts a sad halo around every brake light. The halogen lanterns that light the streets repulse me as ever, drowning the world in that sick sepia. In the summer heat, there is only sweat between leather and flesh. Tonight, I will not be looking back.

A small hill can feel like a speed bump if you go the right speed. From the fast vantage, familiar roads become alien and new. Contours turn to kinks and gradual bends become hairpins. The vista is always coming up; it is truncated by time and my frenetic movement through space. In a true moment of beauty I can’t feel the machine. Neither can I feel myself. I am lifted out of that void by my own doubts, but I return as the next corner draws closer. One good turn. I begin to feel the ink unwritten on my skin. 

The streets let me pass. They do not challenge me, nor do they slow me down. The engine screams for me. It is a tone my voice can’t sustain but that my status demands. I hear the sandy grind of the brakes between downshifts. 

I stop in a dark place of endless tarmac. The light of the city obscures the sky, though I can make out one constellation. The Swan. I think back to a time when I walked the streets of New York in the same frame that now rides me through Tampa. It won’t do. Even the tragedies that don’t belong to me are mine; I am tired of giving so much to the road and the wander. I ride it with heart but it adorns my rubber with nails and chips of wood. My back tire is a crown a thorns.

The Atlas rides on. I search for a clear sky but the darkness that I need is too far away. I turn away from the heavens and focus on the smell of the exhaust, the feeling of the front end, the reflection of knower and known. It will be time to turn back soon. My greatest rival is the dawn.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Six pics

Experiences and Reflections in Northern Uganda

Atiak is hard living. No electricity. No plumbing. If you can't afford food, you grow it. If the drought comes, you starve. But what it lacks in bourgeois comforts, it more than makes up for in uneventfulness.

Yeah, the movement of life is slow. Maybe the football team of the next town will roll up and everyone will have a game. Maybe the discotech will get enough solar power to put some sound in its speakers for a night. More commonly, cats chill around a fire, beat a drum, sing the old songs. I just stare at the stars or read comics on the computer.

The road from Atiak to Sudan is much smoother than the mess that lies between Atiak and Gulu. It is a mercy on the car and its occupants. Makes me wonder what happened with the bus crash that killed a hundred people on this stretch a week back.

We had a priest and a well-known foreman with us on the trip, so getting across the border was a butter-smooth process. After a point, the orange dirt of Uganda just stops and what replaces it is a more faded and dusty style, the sand of the desert, perhaps. Then we hit Nimule, the southernmost town in Sudan. It lies on the bank of the Nile, by a large national park and a panorama of hills that fades into mountainous distance. In the town center we hit the market in search of fish. It was a slow market day, but we found some scaly goodness and a few veggies.

The baby walked alongside and a woman strongly admonished us to carry her. We told Olivia about this back at the site. She said that cats are worried about witch doctors kidnapping light-skinned and albino children. I check the paper and find that, at least in the south, there are in fact kidnapping rings in which albinos are abducted and shipped to Tanzania, where they are killed for the sake of certain ritual styles. And all the witch doctors I have met here seemed so nice.

On a sunny afternoon I gather up some babies and put them in the land cruiser. So long as you crack the windows, it is basically a big playpen. Amaya pretended to drive while Stuart played with blocks in the backseat. I was riding shotgun with the little one when two of the construction workers ran by, laughing. They were chasing a chicken.

The people had felt my suggestion that perhaps we should put some meat into the snacks. After finally nabbing the fowl, they called me over to do the honors. On occasion I am struck by how much of my life is described by old wu-tang lyrics. Much like the GZA, I am totally the "child educator plus head amputator."

I rolled into Atiak town one day to drop off a Traditional Birth Attendant and find a particular church congregation. Instead, I got catholics.

Before hitting the town center I had to pull over for a procession. A multitude of children walked down the road. One in front held a cross almost twice his height. Further down, the parish priest, a man that I regard as a moron, walked holding some icon of catholicism that I did not recognize. He was transfixed. If this were some pagan religion, I would say he was possessed. They marched on.

Later in the church, the priest gave a sermon about God's power to answer prayers. I never understand how such a message makes any sense in places like this. Surely people must pray for rain. I look at the congregation. It is almost entirely women and children, and mostly children. Get 'em young.

I went with Obong the foreman into town one day to get a part made from a piece of sheet metal. As the metal worker deftly constructed a meaningful object using nothing but a hammer, we chilled in the concrete home of one of Obong's relatives.

Upon the walls of the place were educational posters for children and a few other interesting styles. There was a poster of the individual members of some European football team. Each players profile pic was also accompanied by pics of their homes and the cars they drove. I wondered about the origin and meaning of such a poster in the place such as this; what kind of world did it aid in constructing?

Also upon the wall was a list of African leaders as of 2010. It pictured every president and prime minister of Africa, but the center of the poster was reserved for Barack Obama, the Luo leader of the free world. Haha.

On a rare day of cell tower internet access, I cruised the net and find an old pic of an Acholi family. It was from the late 1800s and depicted hair styling and adornments that I had not ever seen here.

I showed it to a group of women who were sitting, waiting for a young girl to give birth. Most of these women were TBAs and they were old. All of them thought the pic was of the Massai. When I told them it was of the Acholi, there were like, oh, oh shit. Then one of them said it must be the Acholi from across the way, on the other side of Acholiland in Kitgum. I asked them why it is that they don’t dress like that anymore. As if they were a chorus, they all screamed "Muno!" This means "white people."

I asked them if they thought it was good that they dressed like white people now. They said yes; in those days there was no salt for food and no blankets. The whites brought all of that and this is good. Also, in those days people did not feel cold. But people feel cold now so they must cover up.

I said that where I am from, some black people are suspicious of white people and believe that many of them have brought things that have been very bad. They said no; White people are good. Look at this maternity clinic that is sprouting up. They bring us good things. The words were siphoned to me from a translator, but the body language of the women speaking seemed quite final, as though what they were saying was categorically the case.

I took the pic to a hair salon in the town center. I showed it to some ladies and the initial response was much the same as with the TBAs. They did not recognize the people to be Acholi. When I told them that, yo, these are Acholi people, the stylist remarked that those people are naked, and that "we are modern people now." I told her that I was in search of someone who knew about the Acholi. She told me that I should go find someone who is old, since she and other younger people did not know about the Acholi.

The elder I found told me a great deal about old Acholi styles and referred (without me even mentioning the salon conversation) to the problem of young people. They all want to live modern life, he said, so they turn away from the old ways. They even will not believe the stories that they hear about how people used to live. His comments got me to thinking about the nature of modernity. The scholars say that it is a "melting of the solids," a movement in which the laws and customs that used to bind people together and to ways of doing things fall away and leave much less rigid alternatives.

But for some, modernity doesnt not evolve. It comes crashing down from above in such a way that people to not observe a transition, but a rupture. So that even people who live a form of life in which they feel the authority of chiefs and elders nevertheless regard themselves as modern and look with amused pity at their naked ancestry.

Of course, the march of war helps none of this. Though the practices of warfare are modern, war itself is something from a much older world, where meaning is destroyed and worlds are unmade. That would be the story of the Acholi if I wrote it. Mercifully, I am not the elder of this town.

At lunch with a nun, I ask about a story that I heard from the Acholi elder, about how the Acholi had a split and the new faction travelled to the other side of the Nile and became the Alur. The story, one of brothers in quarrel, does not flatter either tribe. Yet the tale was not told to me in a way that suggested it was an etiology used to condemn the other side. (Like the story of the transgression of the son of Noah that led to the condemnation of Canaan. Or America's origin story, for that matter.) The nun, who was herself an Alur, told me that the story was indeed told the same way by each tribe. She said that her mother used to tell her the story and stress the morale; don't fight with your family, lest you be divided.

The nun wished me a happy 4th of July. In my typical Frederick Douglass response, I told her that the independence of America was not yet the independence of America's slaves. She did not know this. "I wouldn't celebrate it," she said. Well, I thought. Score one for Douglass.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Religion is like prison
keep the people locked up in different divisions
some of them promise you heaven
but I see a whole lot of bullshit ism-scism
in the form of spirituality
slave mentality, escape reality
what we supposed to just suffer and smile 
and be content
sending' our prayers to the clouds? 
i want my heaven now 
freedom on earth
and if the preacher ain't with us then we takin' his church
what is it worth to have the biggest religion
when the people got miserable living conditions?
no water, no lights, no rights
all over africa we fight
but we have to unite
'cause ain't no power in the gospel
when the priest puttin' powder in his nostril
and the elder's council fails to lead
and the children suffer from daily need
and the people can barely eat
is it a sin to stand up
to fight against the ones that put is in handcuffs?
what happened to the daily bread, 
spread love
ain't that what the bible said, 
but in the name of the bible
how much love was spread 
compared to how much blood was shed?

--M1 of Dead Prez, on "Shuffering and Shmiling"

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Three Notes on Gulu

Cats tune the radio to one of two stations. Either it plays the worst of American hip hop and Ugandan pop music or white people singing about Jesus. This Christian music ain't the soothing sounds of Gospel; it has no listenable value for the non-religious. The hip hop is kind of interesting; I don’t hear any songs about rappers doing their usual violence, so all that is left are songs about bitches and hoes and sex. The Ugandan jams have taken to emulating these styles, so there are a lot of songs that are all autotuned and horrible and far from revolutionary. I don’t know why I thought cats would be playin’ Fela Kuti and Lucky Dube round the clock.

In a town with 65 percent of the population living in poverty, it is pretty easy to tell who has some flow to spare. Look to the men, because they are driving something German. Then look to the women, because they 1) have a hair weave and 2) their skin is lighter than other women. Not because they are actually light skinned, mind you; they have been using the skin cream that lightens skin. And they seem to only use it on their faces; arms dark as mine, face dark as my baby's. Not a good look, you would think. But here it is.

Gulu is slowly taking in mad missionaries and visitors. They are mostly young white college students. Many are with Invisible Children. Aid groups who have been in the area for a while tend to call them “highly visible children.” I pray to God (heh) that one of them will walk up and ask me if I know Jesus.


We waited on the side of the road for half the day, it seemed. I laid out a tarp and mothers and babies sat with toys and a tin of cookies. The sun hit the horizon and faded away, leaving darkness and mosquitos. When our rescue arrived, we determined that the best course was to force the damn spare into place and return to Gulu for a proper survey of the equipment. I drove alone on the way back, listening only to the metal scrape of an ill-sized rim on the rear hub. When we returned, I walked to our quarters under moonlight so bright that it cast my shadow in the grass. Not yet full though. Perhaps tomorrow night.

Replacing the bad tire and searching for a proper spare rim was tedious and partially unsuccessful. The rim could not be found and we were forced back out on to the road with equipment that had shown itself to suck. Still, we had two new front tires. 

I have never travelled this road without getting a headache. Olivia got the biggest jar  of ibuprofen I have ever seen and the pills got popped. After more than three hours of bumpy horror, we rolled up on the scene.

The Earth Birth site is impressive. More than that, it is the architectural manifestation of good ideas concerning development and connection. 

Across from Earth birth lies the beginnings of a school for girls. The school is made with materials that cannot be gotten in Atiak. Cement and metal frames and glass windows. Its construction, then, did not really support the economy of the town it intends to serve. Nor do its walls reflect the culture or its  practices. In contrast, Rachel and Olivia have constructed their future home from the same materials that the Acholi use to make theirs: mud, cow dung and thatch. The shelving inside is made from wood cut from a nearby fallen tree. They have made adjustments to the traditional Acholi model that have shown to be instructive and inspirational to cats who are building huts in the area. The architecture presents the comfort of the cultural style; it does not appear as an imposition on the landscape. Well, except for the roof of the clinic; that shit is made of tin. Scope exceeded knowledge on that one, which is how things often go for NGOs.

We set up as best we could before night fell, then sat beneath the tree by the kitchen. The chickens returned to their roosts as we munched on rice and beans. Life is slow in Atiak. There is no plumbing, no power and no rush. When night falls, the game is over. The light of a lantern is no cure for this darkness.

The moon was full, and we waited for the clouds to drift away so we could behold the majesty of it all. But when the clouds had gone, we saw that the moon was still obstructed. Um, what? Olivia peeped some astrology book and we learned that, yo, this was the onset of a total lunar eclipse. We were on just the right side of the world to see it. 

When a shadow is cast across a full moon, one cannot help but feel that what lies above is a celestial event. As though some giant from beyond time and space has stepped into the moon’s light and the poor rock is powerless to do anything about it. Our most fundamental sense of reference in this verse is darkened by our own cosmic home. It is a metaphor that I don’t care to pursue. 

At each gradation of darkness, more stars appeared. Until the moon was the faintest disk and the sky was a million points of light. The dust of the milky way. Saturn, perched upon the arm of the maiden virgo. The tail of the scorpion flickering by the bow of Sagittarius. Galaxy clusters so far away they seemed to just be a single star. We stared upward until we could no longer hold our eyes open. But we knew when the moon returned, because the roosters announced it with their call. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Kampala, Gulu. Almost Atiak.

I have only ever passed through Kampala until now. This place is sprawl all day. Every other place in Uganda is a township or a district. This is a city by any measure.  

The vast majority of NGOs are based here. It was explained to me once that this presence has given rise to its own economy. There are areas of Kampala in which the cost of living is comparable to european styles and these are the places in which aid workers live and conduct most of their business. In such an area you will find a coffee shop, a place for laptops and lunch meetings. It even specializes in American food. Order the BLT and you will learn the timeless truth that much is lost in translation; The lettuce and tomato are cooked along with the bacon. 

At the supply store, the poster for Nestle baby formula boasts that the product will give your child “shiny hair” and “good posture.” A certain brand of soap advertises that it is “one hundred precent effective at reducing cases of sickness.” Either this soap is magic or regulatory powers are weak on this scene.

The streets are vibrant. Cats are hustlin’, there can be no doubt. All motorcyclists are men and most are taxis. Traffic itself is culture. I know this but cannot help but feel the immanence of peril as I ride pillion. There are holes in the road. Not potholes. Holes. In Japan, apparently, it is law that vehicles must be replaced every ten years. Those old cars and trucks end up here. “New from Japan,” says the salesmen at the dealership. The guy tells me he has a good buy. I ask who makes it, as he walks us through the dirt lot. “Japan,” he says. Nice. 

I strike out one day to witness the installation of a bishop. I don’t know that I have the wrong address as I make my way down a chill shopping district, the poverty stricken equivalent of a strip mall. Within I find a church, the wrong church. I get directions from a woman who stands beneath a picture of White Jesus. I remember a professor once telling me about a preacher who had to sneak into his own church to replace such a portrait with one he thought more fitting, a pic of a man with hair like wool and feet like brass. It is a start, though it is a poor one.

Eventually, I make it to the right church. Even the stuffy ceremony of Catholicism cannot stifle the desire to dance that seems to be the only universal on this continent. I always think of myself as dark skinned until I get here. I welcome the disruption of that frame.

At the hotel, the baby follows two children at play in a large foyer. She walks well enough to walk out on her own, until she encounters steps or an incline. We are not far behind. 

The quest for the cosmopolitan ends in snacks. We eat Indian, Greek and Chinese food, all of which are quite tasty. At the family home of a friend, a whole pig is roasted. Ugandans will have none of our bourgeois distinctions between cuts of meat. Fuck your tenderloin and your pork chop. We just cut that shit into … parts. 

After a week of searching and fundraising, Rachel and Olivia get a new vehicle and it is time to rock exit. They pick from the many applications for drivers and a prospect comes down to drive us to Gulu. He sucks and the trip feels itself to be all danger. We have gotten off to late in the day to see the monkeys that chill on the side of the road hoping for a banana from suckers like me. 

We arrive at St. Monica’s and are swarmed by nuns. The baby grows comfortable with her new popularity. Less comfortable with her ever increasing number of teeth. 

We hit the market for food and supplies. Last time I saw that meat with the flies all on it I thought that it was a road that westerners should never tread. Now I am like, yo, that shit is fresh. Two kilos please. Olivia introduces me to cats selling veggies and such. I get that question again, the once that hurts: “What tribe are you?”  It aches to have no answer. Though I suppose this is an appropriate lack; the mark of my membership in the diaspora, the lostness from which my mother and grandmother marched. But I know better now than to go searching for promised lands. If they are not made, they will never be found. 

If you go to the bank and you are white, a banker will come out and lead you by the hand into an office where you can conduct your business without lines or prying eyes. The darkies just stand in line. 

With the truck loaded down, we head off to Atiak. Once again, I have the sorry fate of being the driver on this road. With babies in the back and everything. We pass the World Food Program. The tents are being taken down. Through an act of classification, IDP camps no longer exist. Atiak is a town now. And towns don’t get UN sponsored food. I wish somebody told that to the drought. 

The road is as suck as I remember it, which is funny because I demonize this wretched stretch in my nightmares. Still, the new transport works well and I get into the groove of movement until a tire blows out. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Fractured Reflection on Theory

This reflection is confused and rambling. To post it is to stand exposed, naked on the internet. Reason is a slave to the passions, said the Scotsman. We should accept this. The following words are my passion trying to express itself in my intellect.

A note: you can click on the quoted passages to get a more clear view.

In matters of theory and meta-narrative, I am oriented toward distrust. The reasons for this inclination are marked in a clear history. People who lie beneath don’t recover stated meaning. They look upon it with suspicion and teach their children to do the same. It’s not just that reality is masked by its appearance; the distinction and construction of “appearance and reality” is itself in question. The only safe corners are the corners I don’t know about and those that are so close to me that they make up the structure of my seeing—though, not for long.  I am suspicious of even myself; the comfort of my armchair is its own warning.

The man who trains for war will attack himself just to break the peace and philosophy is insomnia. The world of answers is a world of sleep and, as the man said, the right dreams for a man in peril are dreams of peril and all else is the call of languor and of death. I accept this so I also accept the resulting tensions and contradictions.

Recently a hack psychologist put out a blog post of a paper that couldn’t have passed a peer review of hypoallergenic kittens. I heard about it, read it, got mad, and quietly condemned his whole style. I began to wonder even about his field of study and the role that it might have played in legitimating his wackness. This last move was harsh and reflexive, but only because it was sparked by this particular article. If given time with the credible powers of the field, I know that I would come to the same category of question marks. These are the wages of my suspicion. 

A well known pessimist makes the following claims about the study of psychology: 

Another man speaks the following about theorists.

Crushed between these reflections, I see myself. 

I look crooked at theories of whatever when the ideas implicit within them are poorly connected. Identify faulty assumptions and kick out their foundations; that is lesson from the lineage. But the critical moves that I make are just as historically contingent as foundations of the other fields. I am adrift in a a wave of discourse and I know better than to think there is a shore upon which to wash up. In suspicion, I strike out against the language of totality and determinism. I want to preserve freedom, but isn’t that just one illusion among others? 

I have heard some proclaim a quest for truth. A pure and clean love of knowledge. Such talk makes me cringe. Then vomit.

We don’t seek knowledge for its own sake. Knowledge has uses, purposes. Knowledge fulfills requests. Knowledge is power, for fuck’s sake. To pursue knowledge “for its own sake” is to will yourself blind to the realities that will bend under the weight of your epistemic frame.  Knowing is normative and it is the result of normative processes. Cats pursue the post-modern and come blindly under the umbrella of capitalism, racism and sexism. Others look deeply in the Scriptures and can’t understand or see the hateful imperialistic bile imbedded in their "brotherly love." Knowledge is a story that we tell ourselves about the world. Stories. They have origins, goals and flaws that are so grotesque it is all that we can do to shut our ears. 

No, I want to know for particular reasons and none of them are their own end. There are enemies in my distance and I want them gone. So i have to hold some corner of knowledge close, I have to trust something, in order to think through anything at all. But the choice of what frame to use ends up either being a default based off of my own obscured history, or an aesthetic choice based in some equally unlit commitment. It is easier to believe thus and so because this is my professor, or this is who my friends are, or these are the girls that these styles will impress. The shallow utility of my thought is so foundational I don’t even recognize it as such. Though I suppose it wouldn’t matter if I did. 

The psychologist and the philosopher. The destruction of the freedom and mystery within or the superficiality of a construction whose influence marches on without morality or clarity. Whatever you do, don’t let us speak for you. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sympathy for the Devil

"And the mortals! I ask you--Why? Tell me that. Why?

They use my name as if I spend my entire days sitting on their shoulders, forcing them to commit acts they would otherwise find repulsive.

'The Devil made me do it.' I have never made one of them do anything. Never.

And then they die, and they come here (having transgressed against what they believed to be right), and expect us to fulfill their desire for pain and retribution.

They talk of me going around buying souls, like a fishwife come market day, never stopping to ask themselves why. I need no souls. And how can anyone own a soul?

No. They belong to themselves… They just hate to have to face up to it."

--Lucifer, in Neil Gaiman's Sandman.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Great Disappointment

There is an old Tool song called Ænema. The lyrics express a great hatred for Los Angeles and fantasize about a cataclysm that destroys the city along with most of California. “Some say the end is near,” says Keenan. “Some say we’ll see Armageddon soon. I certainly hope we will. I sure could use a vacation from this bullshit…” 

The band is not alone in that hope. People have been crying for the end for as long as there has been history. Some look upon it in terror, but many see redemption and feel that when the end comes everything will be put right. I am sure that is how Harold Camping felt. 

Camping, the leader of a small but influential radio ministry, set the date of the end time for this past Saturday. His followers hit the streets spreading the word and many of them financed the campaign with their life savings. They were committed, which is the only way that one can be when there is certainty. 

I use to be a Christian. I remember dark bible study meetings in which elders described in hushed tones the dispensations, great eras of time, supposedly divined from scripture. We live in the last era, they said. The end of the world is at hand and the beginning of the end is the Rapture. No man knew the day or the hour but all believed it would happen in their lifetimes. On the night of a particularly swift and thunderous storm, I would look into the distance wondering if this was the end, if it was happening. If my step father was not where I thought he was going to be, for a moment I would think that the deity had taken him. I would read the Bible’s concluding book searching for signs, for notions of what things might be like before the end. I didn’t feel the immanence all the time, but when it was present it was intense. It is the end of the world, after all. It’s kind of serious.

The man who believes the end is nigh makes quite a few moves. He relies on the mastery of his divination. Whatever the method, he is secure that the runes he follows are the truth. His commitment to the end is really just his commitment to his interpretive scheme for everything that comes before it. And because it is in many cases the most difficult belief to hold, doing so is insurance on the strength of his faith. The end also motivates action. The sword hangs over the head, the proximity of death reveals the ground mood of anxiety and pushes him toward authenticity. With the end in sight, he can act with resoluteness. We are on the verge of a climate catastrophe, people. We have to act now! His movements are energized by his knowledge of the expiration date. And then there is the hatred.

To will the end, one has to look upon the world with scorn. You have to survey the brokenness of everything and join Maynard in believing that the only way to fix it is to flush it all away. It doesn’t matter if you set out in caravans to warn as many as you can; the will to save others from the apocalypse is congruent with the need to gloat over your rightness, your confirmation that the world really exists as you have written it—or, as it has been written for you. How satisfying must it be to say “I told you so” to the entire cosmos?


As the latest crop of doomsday riders have learned, the great cataclysm is that we go on. That the world keeps turning and we are forever condemned to look back upon our tragic histories. Instead of facing the grand day of judgement, we have to live with our sins until, since we never answer for them, they stop being sins altogether and we must resort to punishing ourselves. The true destruction wrought by doomsday is its absence. The quake won’t sink L.A. and dysfunctional insecure actresses will live forever. 

In a public square one night, I passed a man holding a giant picket sign that said “Jesus isn’t returning.” Maybe not. But we can always hope that batshit interpretations of mesoamerican calendars will pick up the slack. See you in 2012. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Three Moments

The first step out of the car hit the moist clay of an expanding graveyard. The rain had come and gone and this was left, this wetness and grime. It stuck to my shoes and crept up to the sagging cuff of my pants. I had never worn the suit before and hoped to not wear it again. I stepped to the back of the hearse and stood with strong men. They rolled out the coffin, each taking hold as it moved along, and together we carried it to the grave. Together we stood under a tarp and listened to the ritual. I don’t know the verse those words are from but I suspect that one day they will be said for me. Ashes to ashes. Such pessimism from a testament that should probably be forgotten... Kierkegaard says that the next of kin are always the last to leave the graveside and he is right about this. I watched my mother cry for her mother. My sister laid her head down. I put my haend on the coffin and felt the finality. In the grave, water had gathered into a pool of mud and grief. 
From a distance, I arose defeated by my own seriousness. Outside, the sun beat down upon everything, the enemy that always beats me to the dawn. Boots fastened, I reached for the jacket, an armored mangle of black leather and mesh. I slid it up my arms and shrugged it upon my shoulders. When the leather hit my collar I felt a subtraction. Brief but of great power. A promise that all weight can be lifted, for a time, by the potentiality of a fast corner. That perhaps the only slowness that ever was happened in the wind. I never hear her voice but I always look back. Eurydice doesn’t have a chance.
After a long absence, I travelled creaky stairs and walked in to meet the baby. She hung in silence and gradually reached for me. She put her head on my chest and called out the unformed syllables that were my name. I sat with her and held her for some time, wondering how something so small can be so much to bear. So profuse. Soon, she sat up, playful. She just needed to reconnect. We both did.
We sit outside of meaning and it is a joke to think that the forces of old can pull us back in. There is no going back. There is only the choice of what do do with the wreckage. Read a scripture or follow the science or ask the oracle about the movement of the stars. The stories belong to us. We no longer belong to them so we are free to put ourselves together tale by tale, piece by piece. The bones of my divination will be made of burnt rubber and the laughter of a child.

Monday, May 9, 2011

An Open Letter to the Tampa Squid

Very few people like to hear unsolicited advice. Most of us feel that some loud mouth on the street telling us to put a hat on our baby is encroaching upon our self-rule. The instant reaction, though we might not display it, is one of “Who the hell are you, exactly? I know what I’m doing.” Crucially, this reaction is reflexive and often has nothing to do with whether we in fact know what we are doing.

Which brings me to you, the Squid. 

There are some things that I want to say to you, but it would be inappropriate to just pull you off the road and tell you what I think. I have actually done it before and it made little difference—after all, what gives ME the right to tell YOU how to ride?—so I am going to try something different. I will write you a letter and post it on the internets. So, if you come across it and feel receptive, you can read it. Just know that I am not trying to condescend or establish my own superiority in relation to you. I genuinely want to help. 

Here’s the thing: you are a Squid; you are a rider with a poor skill set. Most Squids are just new to riding, out on their first bikes trying to make sense of the world. Some Squids are a few years on and simply haven’t yet replaced their bad riding habits with good ones. Some Squids ride with groups, sometimes large groups, of riders who are equally Squidish. In these groups, bad riding habits don’t only multiply, but are legitimated by the fact that they are practiced by that particular community. At the point where Squid-icity is no longer a stage in a rider’s life and becomes a way of being, something very, very bad has happened. Something that I like to hope is preventable. 

I think it is preventable if you start your moto journey with the right crowd, or with the right perspective, or with the right advice. For you, it appears to be too late for the first two so, please, listen to what I have to say.

I see you on the road in traffic everyday and there are some elements of your riding style that are problematic. First, you ride in the center of the lane. This is bad because this is the area of the lane that car tires straddle, which means there is a higher likelihood that there is something there, that you can’t see, something obscured by the cars in front of you. I learned this the hard way and hit a dead skunk once. It didn’t look or smell too nice and it could have been prevented if only I chose to ride close to the edge of the lane, in the tread line left by the cars.

When you ride closer to the edge, especially in traffic, your visibility increases. You can see all the way down the road instead of just seeing the back of the truck you are following. You also make yourself visible to more drivers, because your lights shining down the lane split hit almost all of their rear view mirrors. You see more and they see you.

Lastly, by riding closer to the edge of the lane, you make it easier to switch lanes. If someone in a car gets stupid and slams on their brakes in front of you, you will be able to switch lanes much faster if you are already at the edge of the lane. This also makes it less likely that you will be hit by the car behind you.

Your lane changing needs a bit of work also. I see you just kind of lazily drift from one lane into another. Almost as if you are not thinking about it and are doing it accidentally. This is bad because you are losing an opportunity to perfect some skills. Once you put on your blinker, which you should be doing, you should switch lanes as quickly as is possible on your bike. This will allow you to train yourself to swerve. A lot of riders get into accidents by freezing up when they encounter a sudden road obstruction. They never practiced swerving and because of this, they didn’t swerve when it became necessary. So you should think of every lane change as a chance to practice swerving. You will get to know better how your bike handles, which will only add to your skill set.

Oh, and don’t follow cars, or bikes, as closely as you have been doing. First off, you shouldn’t be behind big trucks or vehicles carrying things that could fall off. A friend of mine once had to deal with a ladder that had just fallen off a truck directly in front of him. It was almost really bad for him, and he knew how to swerve. No, you need to be far enough away from a car to see well down the lane and react well should something happen. This is Tampa. Stupid shit always happens in traffic.

Once I rolled up to a packed parking lot and your bike was in a parking space taking up the whole space. Not a good look. Four sportbikes can fit into a regular parking space. If you are the first to a space, and it is a space that you will have to back out of,  simply pull into the space and park on one side closest to its entrance. This way, cars that are looking for parking will see you, instead of pulling in like aloof idiots, hitting your bike, then leaving in a hurry. Also, other bikers will be able to park there and you won’t be blocked in. Its a win for everybody.

Out on the road, I notice that you don’t make use of racing lines when you are riding. This is admittedly a pretty hard thing to learn, but it can be very helpful. It isn’t really something I can describe in this letter, but there are many resources that you can use to learn about them, most notably Keith Code’s Twist of the Wrist series. 

Racing lines are nothing more than safe ways to negotiate turns. A stupidly high percentage of motorcyclists blow out the side of simple turns all by themselves every year and a lot of these riders die because they hit obstructions off the road. This is needless and if you knew a thing or two about setting your entry speed, finding a good entry point and apex, and being smooth on the throttle through the exit, you would be so much better off. So please, check out some books on the subject.

By the way, you should do a track day. It is a little bit expensive and you will have to haul your bike 3 hours up to Jennings, but just one track day can really help you get a grip on how your bike works and what your personal limits are. Too many sportbike riders get bikes and just ride them on the road and it is kind of a waste, if you think about it. It is crazy fun to spend a day not worrying about speed limits or fire hydrants. You owe it to yourself to try it at least once.

You can rent gear at the track, but honestly it is silly that you don’t have enough gear of your own. 

Your choice of gear is bad. I know that gear can be expensive. I know that it is not required by law. I know it is hot outside. But gear is the very first term in the traffic strategies that you should be developing. Most people don’t want to have their skin scraped off and I don’t think that you are any different. But you ride in a t-shirt and shorts, sometimes without a helmet, or with a helmet, but with it strapped to your backseat. Probably you don’t worry too much about what others think of you, but you have to know that more experienced riders don’t respect your style too much. You are the butt of their jokes and even the guys at the dealership and the bike gear supply stores think you’re kind of dumb and probably shouldn’t be riding. 

And so long as you cruise in a t-shirt, they are right. Biking is fun and it is popular and it can get you girls but it is also serious. As serious as life, death and skin grafts. So you have to wear gear. First off, you have to wear a helmet. I have seen you with that old cheap helmet with the scrapes down the side of it. This helmet tells us more about your priorities and your skill level than anything. Helmets are worth the investment, which I know can be quite considerable. I have been on funeral rides for people who got in 15mph accidents and died from the head trauma. I would prefer to not have to go on rides like that anymore. 

But you also have to rock a jacket, gloves, kevlar jeans and boots. In other words, you should be dressed for the crash instead of the beach. It is easy to think only of where you are going, or how much of a hassle it is to deal with your gear when you get there, but don’t let that stop you from protecting yourself. Biking is risky. One way to offset that risk is to be as prepared as possible for a situation that is out of your control. Also, and this is something that people don’t consider, your choice to wear gear is itself part of having skills on the motorcycle. 

Skills just are the ability to make the right choices and moves at the right time. The first choice you should make is to gear up, which will give you the opportunity to further express your skills on the bike. Without a helmet, the wind will get around your sunglasses, dry out your eyes and compromise your vision. Without gear, you will lack the confidence to commit to turns and such. You don’t know this because you don’t wear gear, but you will see what I mean if you pick some up. 

I am droning on. I suppose I should mention that there are some things about your style that I find annoying. Like, why do you have to rev your engine so much when you turn on your bike? It is fuel injected. All you have to do is turn it on. You don’t have to blip the throttle ever, apart from downshifting. I saw you one time backing into a parking space, blipping the throttle the entire time, with that loud ass exhaust. It makes you look like a douche and I don’t think I am the only person that thinks this. 

Okay. I will stop now. Thanks for listening. I hope we can ride together one day. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011


This mashup of video was put together by a youtube user and laid out over a particularly hard song from Killah Priest. The imagery sums up in a very short time the tumultuous styles that accompany suffering, struggle and change. In the present age, this video bids us to think of the uprisings going down in the middle east right now. But there is always a core of my style that sees the personal and private struggle at either end of the gun.

In a journal that I no longer keep, I would always put the following lines down before starting an entry. It is the first line of a Mobb Deep song, but with a crucial alteration:

"There is a war going on inside no man is safe from."

It would be nice to have peace. Maybe one day.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

If Water Covers the Road

It's something about living on a former
airforce base in winter
in the desert, after they've all gone.

You can't help thinking of them during the days.
Going out or coming back,
waiting. The soldiers.

They're everywhere, and mostly
I don't know their names.

I asked a man in the hardware store for help.
"The only thing you want
to remember," he said,
"about the dead

is that the bottom
of everything is theirs.
The bottom of the river, the bottom of
every drawer.
If water should cover the road,
the bottom of that puddle belongs to them."

We're in the midst of letting go.
Knot by knot,

finger by finger.

Becoming one
of the three or four people
we might have been.

You can't always walk away.

"You can think about it," he said, "but
don't believe in it: on the earth
already means under the sky."

--Kate Greenstreet

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Fractured Reflection on Memory

I tend to write "fractured" reflections when I am about to start looking into something. I write down what is most present in my mind and use those fledglings to help me find sources for proper research. Anyway, that's how this post got written:

We say that the body remembers. The dancer cannot recount the steps of the old dance without dancing them. Watch her face. You will see her eyes look up and to the side. She looks into the past and her body retraces the step. Muscle memory, we call it. Though muscles would “remember” nothing without a mind to hold them in unity. 

Perhaps a movement exhaustively trained need not be remembered. Maybe it is always with us, like the ability to walk or ride a bicycle. Similarly, perhaps the logos, the use of language, is not something to be remembered but used. So, at the rehearsal, one does not ask “do you remember the step?” when the subject is a dance that is currently in the repertoire. Rather one simply asks, ‘what is the step?” The movement is present; it is with us. So we don’t need to look back for it. That which happened yesterday on stage is not yet history. 

Memory lies elsewhere. We breach the boundaries of the present at the moment that we exert effort, at the moment that we “look” for the right words, or try to “recall” the location. Something is gone and we must bring it back. The event has faded into the recess where it has become a memory. To find it we must reach and what we pull out of that grayness is often flawed. 

The reaching can be influenced. Sometimes the force of the sway is the passage of time, which can bring a kind of dimness to even the brightest recollection. But the memory is also subject to what psychologists call “suggestion.” Give us the right information at the right time and we will recount what the people in white coats wanted us to recount, feeling these implanted images to be our own. 

For these reasons, the mind is not like a container. Memories are not like pictures. The metaphors of modernity, of hard drives and RAM do not help us here. This technology can reproduce something. We never reproduce. We never go back to the source copy. Because everything that we reach back for is brought forth into a new meaning. The context is always different and this fact alone brings a newness to that which we remember, no matter how incomplete the memory may be. 

Nostalgia is the name for one such meaning. I recall a moment from the “good old days.” Back when men were men or when music was good. My reflection on the worth of the past is quite possibly a judgement about the worthlessness of the present, but I do not register it as such. I am taken by the mood and the mood itself is what looks back. So, I recall my first wedding with general ambivalence and I note foremost its worst elements. I can scarcely remember what was good about it. But I look back on my second wedding with a soft feeling of joy. I remember the look of love in my bride’s eyes and the warmth of her hand. In each case, the mood has constructed the past for me. Perhaps this is all that ever happens. 

But mood is not the only brush with which the past is painted. The fireman remembers the blaze and the runner remembers the race. Others may have been present, but they cast narrow nets because their logos is limited. It is said that the limits of our language are the limits of our world. The Laban movement analyst writes each step into his mind with a deep vocabulary. While others struggle to reclaim a close approximation, he calls back exceptional detail. But only because he was receptive in the experiencing, because he was trained to look for the most subtle movement. Because he had words and could place the signs with there meanings with their referents. Yet very few of us have a surplus of terms for basic daily life. We live it but have not been trained for it. We have not studied it.  Meanwhile, some are well versed in the pessimism and despair of a hundred philosophers. For them, the past is as hazy as it is meaningless. 

Perhaps it is inevitable, then, that we come to the great claim of such a philosopher. He says that life would not be bearable if we did not forget. We may be able to live without remembering, he says. But we cannot live without forgetting. 

“The person who cannot set himself down on the crest of the moment, forgetting everything from the past, who is not capable of standing on a single point, like a goddess of victory, without dizziness or fear, will never know what happiness is. Even worse, he will never do anything to make other people happy.”

The past, he says, can dig a grave for the present. We must not allow this. We should take from the past that which makes us stronger or more focused and leave the rest to wash away until we forget that we forgot it. 

So, what one remembers is much less important than what one forgets. 
Opportunities lost because I blew them
On the sunniest days of my life
I cried through them
Mom's out the picture and pops,
I barely knew him
And I would pray to God but I'm tired of lying to him
Tired of trying to run from the things inside of us
Got a lot of fam and a lot of admirers
Who tell me that I should aspire to be changed
But when I think of changing,
It's like, why even try the shit?
My mind's hazy and my thoughts,
They get distorted
I know my good and bad deeds both get recorded
You do right so your soul can last
But my role was cast
Before I even auditioned for it
So I don't really see an end to my vice
It's just false reformation
No end of my strife
Feel the evil overpowering
You can go ahead throw the towel in
'Cause nigga, that's the end of the fight
When you can only see the tunnel at the end of the light
Light's out, party over, that's the end of your life
And I'm out...

Phonte, "Now or Never"

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hegel and Helmets. Part One.

A long time ago a currently dead german took a look at history and came up with a story that strung everything together. He drafted a picture of the world across time where everything fit to perfection. He found a target toward which history was headed and demonstrated the deep necessity of this path. It was an enlightenment story, quite optimistic in many ways. And those who followed or rebelled against this style blazed a fire across the whole world. 

There aren’t many disciples of this great theory today, at least not like there used to be. But there are remainders. Bits and pieces of his perspective have been converted into lenses, through which we can refract a critical gaze. I own a set of those glasses. Let’s have a look at motorcycle safety. 

Human beings are unique, so the story goes, in that they can seek out the possibility of harm for no reason. We can risk our lives, not because we must in order to avert a greater danger, but because we think it would be a fun thing to do. I can jump out of an airplane, climb a rocky mountain side, or challenge Aaron Burr to a duel. I might do it for honor or simple exhilaration. Either way, the beasts of the field won’t empathize. 

Mostly, though, we make moves against bodily danger and toward security. Almost every feature of modern life is based on this principle. I mean, you can never have enough airbags in a minivan. 

But some of us still like to make a small concession from time to time. We will play an incredibly physical sport with a high probability of injury. Or, as in my case, we will choose a method of transport whose excitement is tempered by exposure to the elements of nature and the carelessness of those protected by front and side airbags. 

Now, very few choose danger in the hope of injury or death. The Samurai class was abolished long ago and there have not been eager replacements for that code. So most of use rock precautions. Like safety lines and gear. And helmets. 

Now, the dead german said that all of history is in fact one big story about human beings and their path to proper freedom. Every civilization, every conflict, every world historical event produces yet another piece in the puzzle that will yield humankind’s greatest reward. There are false starts and regressions, but the movement, the dialectic, completes itself and this completion is a new kind of awareness, a kind of self-consciousness on a world level. It’s Freedom baby. It’s the Absolute. 

The vehicle of this movement is the human quest for authority and the inevitability of contradiction. When a human being finds a possible answer, so the story goes, she will seek to affirm for herself that this is in fact the right answer. It may take a while, but the affirmation will eventually show its flaws and we will be thrust once again into a search for the right way to be, for the right expression and exercise of our freedom. 

But we will be wrong about our expression most of the time. We will think that we are completely free through hedonistic pursuits, only to learn that we have become enslaved by the whims of our base desires. Or we find freedom in following our hearts, the deep passions that make us who we are, only to learn that those passions themselves are the contingent deposits of a life history that we can neither understand nor justify through reason. Or, to pick up our theme, we can choose not to wear motorcycle helmets. Let us examine the failures of this moto dialectic.