Friday, October 28, 2011

Life After Death

I thought of death. My death. I thought
of the event. Dying. My dying.
I continued to live. I continue to live.
I live. I am alive.

The thought of death, my death
made me feel more alive
than the moments before I thought
of dying. My dying.

The moments after the thought of death,
burned with holiness.
I revere my life after the thought 
of death. My death.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bozeman Backpackers' Hostel: Part 1

Bozeman, Montana. A place most people (at least those I associate with) have not heard of, let alone visited.


"Bozeman, Montana. Because I've heard it's a really cool place. "

This was usually the extent of the conversations. I often did not confess the person I heard it from. Probably because I didn't actually hear that. Nor was it even said. That I know of. 

Bozeman, Montana.

I read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" over the summer following my senior year of college, including during my time spent in teacher boot camp ("Institute" for those TFA people out there). The book was life changing. By that I mean it elicited countless epiphanies about myself, the way I perceived reality and the ways I lived my life. The context of my life at the time I read the book, the person I was, and the content of the book meshed. It just makes sense, in retrospect. You can never know these things in the moment though. The greatest paradigm-shift influencing events aren't usually billing themselves as such. They happen, we react and interact, changing in the process. Or as others, espousing Disney philosophy, may say:  "everything happens for a reason".

Phenomenological arguments aside, the book left a smaller impression on me that wouldn't realize the entirety of its fruitfulness until this epic trip. In the book, the narrator and his son visit friends in Bozeman. The narrator is based on the writer, Robert Pirsig, who taught at Montana State and developed many of his philosophical ideas there. The friends that he visits are based on artists from Bozeman, Bob and Gennie DeWeese. The book made such an impact on me that I decided while I was reading it that if/when I visited Montana, I must go to Bozeman. Upon laying out my ideas for the trip and the subsequent plans, I threw out Bozeman as a planned destination because of this reason. Through my research for the trip, I found out there was a hostel in Bozeman.  Done deal.  This entry is one of four parts that detail my Bozeman, Montana experience.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I arrived at the Bozeman Backpackers' Hostel on Friday September 2 after spending three nights camping out in remote South Dakota. The trip was in its infancy at that point; I was only 5 days and 1,600 miles removed from my childhood home in Ohio. Upon walking up to the two story wooden house, I found a middle aged man sitting on a 1970s era couch. He was strumming a guitar, though with no apparent desire to  make music. A condensation-soaked Budweiser sat obediently on the table next to him. "So this is what hostels are like after all", I thought to myself. It seemed to fit the image I had in my mind of what a hostel experience should be like.  Not that I had specifically pictured a guy my father's age plucking the strings of the most cliche instrument, drinking the most ubiquitous beer; but the scene displayed the symbolism I had anticipated in my mind.  Random. "Hippie". Not "normal". Just plain strange.

This was the first hostel experience in my life.  I looked around at my new surroundings, unsure of what to do next. With zero previous experience to guide me, I had no knowledge if there was hostel protocol, let alone what that may be if it existed. I slowly walked up three wooden steps, holding tight to the straps of my backpack.

"Can I help ya with somethin?" the guitar guy gruffly asked me. 

"Umm yeah, I am staying at the hostel." I nodded my head toward the house.

"Alright. Me too."

"Oh, cool...soooo do I go inside and talk with someone about paying?" I inquired.

I struggled to grease the social axle and find an automated conversation format that would enable me to secure my room and avoid self-conscious awkwardness. I was forced to remain there feeling stripped bare without the comfort provided by the smoothness of etiquette.

"Nope. Ya talk to me."

Creases in my skin diffused across my face in confusion.

I suppose my body language and facial expression were enough to goad him on as he reluctantly continued. 

"Yeah, I stay here and help out during the day, so I'll take care of ya. Come on, I guess I'll show ya around." He eased himself off the couch and guided his six foot four frame my way and on into the house. The door slammed shut, but without creating the sense of intentional anger. He looked back, barely askance, for a brief moment, as if remembering as well as telling me without words that "Oh yeah, watch the door, it slams shut if you don't keep hold of it".

The feelings of uncertainty that tend to produce awkward interactions were at full display in me. Freshmen year of high school all over again. Having no clue what to expect. Just a desire for everything to be as great and fulfilling as you are told and without the gawky stumbling over yourself. But here I was, grown up, feeling as if I had a rash breakout of acne and unable to form sentences or perform actions without the upperclassmen looking down with that masked disdain and disapproval, which actually felt worse to receive or perceive, than outright disgust and dismissal. At least you know where you stand with the latter.

I peered around the inside of the dining room and adjacent living room as my host searched the registration book. Leftist stickers on the door, windows, and walls. "Free Tibet" I am silently told. A bookshelf with various travel guides to exotic and known worlds and Bukowski. A record player on the floor with a pile of records next to it in a milk crate. Above was a radio softly pumping out the Doors with a hint of static.  I am in for an experience, indeed, I concluded to myself.

"I'm sorry, but we don't have ya on here. When did you make the reservations again?"

I am jolted away from my much welcomed private thoughts. "Huh?"

"Yeah, when did you make 'em?"

"Last week."

"Who did ya talk with?"

"I didn't talk with anyone. You're the first person I have talked with here."


Silence. Standing and looking at one another, then around.

"Well..." He drew in air, pursing his lips while his eyebrows lifted upwards, forming upside down U's that, combined with the crow's feet below, framed pale blue eyes. "I don't know. Your name's not in here", he concluded, and rather nonchalantly I thought accusingly in my mind.

"Umm...well what can I do? I mean, I need a place to stay. I don't know anyone in Bozeman. I've traveled here from all the way across the country and I'm on a budget, I can't afford a hotel. I came here because of this hostel!"

"Oh, well you could just pay cash here, now. We have plenty of space." The visions of being stranded in Bozeman, Montana, not knowing a soul and having zero plans for the next three days slammed into a brick wall of relief. I stood dumbfounded from the force of the blow. That sort of feeling that comes after someone makes a terrible joke that you completely buy into. Those kind that suck the cool out of you. And you feel foolish inwardly while trying like hell to maintain an outward appearance of cool, which only makes you more self-conscious and shoves you off the edge of the stage of trying to keep your act together. That's where I was. (These are the moments that are best for us.)

After money was squared away (2 nights for a truly cool sum of $48), I received a formal introduction. The Bud-heavy swigging, guitar plucking giant of a man was called "Scott".

"Yeah, I stay out back in the tipi in exchange for tendin' to the place. Come on. I'll show ya around."

 I am in for an experience, indeed, I concluded to myself.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Untitled 22

I truly enjoy existing. Not that these words or any to come can convey the feel of that statement. They cannot. Nevertheless, I feel I ought to and want to attempt to express. I think and feel that is my responsibility in my existence. (See, Grandpa, I am taking care of my responsibilities.)

"You can't just travel. You can't just read and write."
"What? Why not? That's all I want to do!"
"Because you have responsibilities!"

Touche. Got it now. Thankfully my new lifestyle allows me to seamlessly handle the very serious responsibilities and do what I love.

The rattle of the glass table is what I noticed after writing the blurb above. I hadn't consciously given it attention while writing. Now I noticed it.

The sound of real. Dit. ditditditditditditditditdddddit. dit. dit. dit. Rattle on HUMAN BEING that is me? Eat some cheeeeese. It's smooth and tastes goooood.

To be alive. Or living. Meh. Words. The real failures.

Whe I Feeling fully alive and living. Right in the moment. These moments strike me. They hit me. It feels that way, anyway. They shake me from complacency. From It's like coming back from another planet. Fuck! Where was I and how did I get there? Dudn't matter. I'm here Now. Scrawling pen and ink. Beautiful moment. s.

Who is this for anyways?
                         No one. They ain't here!              Here.
       Or here.            

And you're not there.

Wherever "there" is. If you are, then you get this!

I chew the cheese and listen, intently, to the sounds my jaw pushing my teeth together into the cheese mushing the cheese into saliva-infused digestible chunks makes. The sound that makes. That sound this creaturely, perfectly natural process makes. The sound it makes. LIFE. living. Here. Now. Chewing Cheese.

                                                      Where are You?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Corporations, People, Ideology, & Ethical Action

A group of friends and I have an email discussion group where we exchange articles we have read and then comment on the topics. The threads are typically lively and intriguing because A) This group of people are intelligent and well spoken. B) This group of people is full of borderline narcissists who believe quite strongly in their own perspectives. (This is meant in the most loving way and I am included.) C)The group has diversity. No, not just in race (though we do). But in thought...many different ideologies held in the group. Although, come to think of it, we only have one strong female opinion. That needs to change. Any females interested in joining such bantering let me know! D) The articles cover provocative matter with much room for contention.

Recently, I posted this article and asked people to respond. Thus far, it has been a lively thread. Of course, I was selfishly motivated to post this article because of its relevance to current political climates and my own strong views. I am pulling an excerpt from the discussion on a topic I had been wanting to write about for some time and it continues in the same vein as some of my previous postings.

To provide context: I threw out the following question after seeing some implicit support of utilitarianism in regards to corporations. One friend specifically listed out some benefits of corporations as shown below. What follows is my critique (rant) about the third point below, as well as explaining some of my views on:

-Ethical action (a lack thereof and need for) by individuals and corporations
-Ideological highjacking of discourse

Check out the article linked above before moving on below. Once you are finished please add to the discussion with criticism or your own perspective in the comment box. I am eager to read different opinions.

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Do corporations provide more "good" than "bad" in the world? I say "world" here instead of people/society/etc. because I want the question to be framed holistically and expanding beyond the obvious realm of goods and services. What I mean by this is that let's try to take into account all of the effects of corporations, including those on humans, animals, environment, culture, etc. From previous responses it appeared that some of you (maybe most, all?) believe corporations do good for a great number of people and as such outweigh the negatives.

David said:

Let's look at what a corporation does for society:
1. Employs people at all levels
2. Pay taxes (providing government jobs)
3. Creates goods that we all need

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3. Creates goods that we all need
I think this is the one for which I have the sharpest critique. Goods that we "need"? This is an utter fallacy produced because of existential blindness that is created through a consumerism culture. That is how far gone from our essence and existence we are as human beings today. We now think we need "goods" to survive and be happy. What goods do we need that these corporations produce exactly? Tim and I had a great discussion when I visited him about the systematic consumption of goods and services in our culture as an attempt to create meaning. We talked of how pervasive this mentality is and how we are all a part of the problem in some small or large way. Instead of creatively constructing meaning for ourselves through our own endeavors and passions, we purchase distractions, whether it be a physical product or service or the new one: media. The scariest part of this, in my opinion, is the widely held perception that these things are not only good for our existence, but a necessary component through and through.

So where do we go from here? It's quite easy to bitch about things (see: Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party) while remaining aloof and dismissive to hypocritical actions, as shown by the photograph posted by David [This photo]. But what can we actually do to change problems we see. Well, that is first predicated on the proposition A: There is a problem with our current nature of existing (in our culture, institutions, and individuals lives). You must believe proposition A to be true, otherwise, on with the status quo. Then on with the things Simon articulated with his reference to the Human Action Model. I do not have a specific theoretical reference, so I will refer to his since it aligns what I am explaining. Once individuals identify a problem, they are going to have a cognition that essentially says "This is a problem. Something needs to change." Now, here is where the psychological study of Cognitive Dissonance comes in handy to explain how humans will act next, once they hold belief in proposition A. We either change our actions, or we change our beliefs so as to align beliefs with action and reduce the psychological stress created from the dissonance.

Let's apply it to corporations and I will use myself as an example because I know it pretty well. I have become "enlightened" about the principle of responsible consumption, that is to act in a way when I consume that is in line with my ethical beliefs. Before becoming aware and educated though, I was not being a responsible consumer. I consumed through whatever means were most convenient and cheapest for me. This is fairly common, I feel safe to assume, for the vast majority of people. But I had a choice when I found a problem with myself: I could change my actions to align them with my new belief in responsible consumption or I could rationalize my actions by changing my beliefs entirely and drastically or creating a protective bubble around my core beliefs (plainly called "excuses"). So I could say, oh screw it, responsible consumption is for liberal hippies, I am allowed to consume whatever the hell I want and it's all here to make me happy and comfortable! That would be a drastic about face, however, it is an option to reduce my dissonance. Or I could create new cognitions that serve as buffers between my core beliefs (I should be a responsible consumer) and actions (I am not always a responsible consumer). This the most often chosen option to reduce cognitive dissonance as it is the path of least resistance for us. We can reduce dissonance without too much change to our core beliefs or habitual actions. It should be obvious, but I will note anyways that the altering of the latter is extremely difficult since they are so entrenched in our habits as well as self-image. Exactly why we rarely change those and instead create buffers (excuses).

A great example here: I despise Wal-Mart and out and out refuse to shop there. Now. However, during my teaching years, I would shop at Wal-Mart when I needed a large amount of school supplies. I still held the same belief. I despised Wal-Mart. I vehemently disagreed with their practices, as well as impact on local economies. But I shopped there because it saved me money on goods I was frustratedly purchasing. How did I reconcile my beliefs with my actions? I created a mental buffer: "I am only going to buy this shit from Wal-Mart when is absolutely necessary...when I have to buy all of these school supplies that I shouldn't even be buying the first place. So since I shouldn't be buying it, I don't want to spend a ton of my own personal money. So fuck it, I will just shop at Wal-Mart these few times. Because I shouldn't be buying this stuff anyways!" Ahh...excuse. Buffer. Saved me some personal anguish over compromising my beliefs. Cognitive dissonance reduction complete. This mental exercise is played out on daily basis, numerous times, and in many contexts by every single person. We are a complex creature full of inner conflict and turmoil. But we are a creature that seeks equilibrium and harmony, so these conflicts and this turmoil often goes on consciously unnoticed, partly because we are so enveloped in our distractions, as well as because our brain is an effing machine and can do these things on auto-pilot. However, I strongly believe the lack of awareness is the creation and solution to our problems here. (Reminds me of Homer Simpson, albeit in regards to a different topic).

Now, let me briefly explain my ethical beliefs regarding consumption so they are clear and to provide context to my examples. I believe being a responsible consumer means that I should consume in such a manner that reduces my carbon footprint (to employ the en vogue term) while supporting (consuming from) businesses who are run by and employ people with similar beliefs. I have found that large corporations are problematic because they are so massive and faceless it is difficult to determine whether or not their practices and beliefs are in line with my own. That is, until I did research and found reliable and credible resources.

Tim mentioned this in his email and here is the resource we are referring to: The Better World Handbook which is accompanied by The Better World Shopper Guide. These resources were created by social science researchers through thousands of hours of research into the practices of over 1,000 companies. Essentially, they were social science professors who were sick of telling their students about the pervasive problems with the world and how little change was being effected and decided to create something that could help individuals create small changes in their every day lives with the hope that if this kind of personal revolution were enacted, substantial and large changes could happen at the macro level. Check these resources out. I was impressed and decided to purchase the Better World Shopper Guide and actively use it to guide my consumption decisions, specifically what kind of products and services I consume and from whom I consume. Also, I have been spreading this message. That, to me, is how we effect change. That, in my opinion, is the cure for the lack of ethical action by individuals and corporations, which is bullet number two.

On to important/intriguing point number three: The ideological highjacking of discourse.

Throughout our thread I did not perceive this overtly and only sense small doses implicitly. I think this one has to do with the bigger picture beyond just our discussions to the general discourse when it pertains to topics such as this. Partisanship is nothing new; it is the manifestation of personal bias, a naturally evolving trait in all humans which is a neutral concept in this context. However, I think our current age displays biases geared in the negative to the degree of prejudice. We are living in times where ideological prejudice is beyond any respectable or even acceptable level. Ideologism (think the racism version of ideology) is running rampant and we are all guilty of it at some level. Some people are on are extreme ideologicists while others are subconcious ideologicists and some just in between (think a spectrum). This is problematic. It has taken discourse hostage and has uncompromising demands. You either agree with me and all I believe and should put into place my policies/ways of being or you're wrong and have no merit to be listened to.
Now all discussions have become one way arguments where each person waits their turn to speak (shout?), formulating their argument while the other speaks (and failing to listen or consider their other perspective). Discussions have simply become dialectical duels. They need to be constructive and consensus building. Here is something I think Occupy Wall Street (and the Arab Spring did) is right about. The horizontal structuring of the assembly and focus on group dynamics is truly revolutionary. All groups and individuals would be well served to read up on it and try employing in their daily lives. The focus is having all voices heard, and I mean actively listened to and considered with a concerted effort towards mutual understanding, and ultimately building consensus so that action can happen. Check it out here.

With that said, we have to get our ideologism in check. The cure to holding any bias in check is personal awareness, coupled with a deep sense of humility (no...not a TFA faux humility). But, I mean personal awareness in that one must first, acknowledge they are riddled with biases, and that it is natural. The key is to become aware of them and try to account for them in the formulating of beliefs, espousing of opinions, and enacting of actions. Secondly, we all must accept we have biases and not try to eliminate them, for this is impossible and against human nature. Rather, we must work to cultivate our biases to as to eliminate those which are harmful to others and ourselves. Education, experience, and good ol' introspection are great combatants to employ here on this front. Lastly, and just as importantly, we all must cultivate, in a very honest and earnest manner, the principle of humility. To have humility is to acknowledge and accept one's own limitations. Human beings are a paradoxical creature. We possess the greatest amount of power, sometimes seemingly limitless, in regards to our intellectual and physical capabilities. However, we remain, fundamentally, creatures with clear physical and intellectual limitations. The latter fact scares the shit out of us and I believe is what drives us towards ideologism, obliterating the principle of humility in the process. We all know we will die. We all know life is precarious. We all suffer. These are facts. No one has all of the answers to the questions of existence. No one can know them. No matter how certain someone may believe in their answers to the "GREAT" questions of life (How did we get here? Where are we going? What is the right way to live?), they do not have THE answer. They may have their own answer, but it is not and cannot be the definitive fact, as in a fact such as the aforementioned facts. So we must remind ourselves of these limitations. We must remind ourselves that others are going through the same conflicted, complex, and miraculous existence and are just as confused about the ontological and existential questions of life. We must remind ourselves that we share this in common and consequentially ought to show empathy towards fellow human beings. Now, I always fear that I when I propose this to others it will be dismissed cynically as naive. I am not under any illusion that this world will be some kind of peaceful utopia full of hunky dory people of all strides of life; however, I do think that each of us can significantly improve our own lives and all those within our sphere of influence if we give credence to these conditions of humanity. I certainly believe this would improve all discourse, trivial and essential, and especially on contentious topics, such as the one we engage in right now.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Untitled 1

The time has crept past 2 AM and I continue to gaze directly ahead at the luminescent rectangle in front of me. My body has just begun to communicate its desire to to go horizontal and shut down. My mind continues on. I feel the tides of my life changing. As if seeing myself from the shore amidst it all happening, yet in the water all the same. Paradoxical. Everything is swirling but I remain unconcerned. This is a change. My instinctive response is fear, but that has given way to comfort, or rather, more accurately, excitement. It is odd. Perhaps akin to encountering an old enemy but receiving him/her as a friend. Nonetheless...

I feel as if I am in new territory but that does not seem quite right as I thought I was supposed to end up in a familiar place. Everything around me is the same. It seems so physically, at least. But, no, I feel so different. Could this be similar to the experience of an amnesiac? Do I have amnesia? Do you? Do we all forgot who we are? Do we know who we are? Is that even possible? To know who you are?

I don't know. Though I always want to know. I know that I do not know yet I want to know. Paradoxical. But, not problematic. So long as you lay down your guard against the confusion. So long as you content yourself with wandering about this existence, embracing all you encounter along the way, and without regard to where you will end up. Simply remind yourself that not all of those who wander are lost. You can only be lost if you are trying to arrive at a specific destination. You are lost if you try to arrive at a specific destination, for once you think you are there, you are not. Because you become restless and discontented; you need to move on to a new destination. You will continue this trend. Going about from place to place, only realizing that once you reach your destination it is no longer where you want to be because your realized all along it was the hunt and search for the end that drove you, not realizing the end in itself. So you will end up wandering...which is exactly what you turned away from in the first place because you didn't see a point in it. Or its aimlessness scared you. Its freedom was paralyzing. Or you never considered it a plausible or sustainable way to live. Now, it seems, it is the only way. In fact, it seems quite inevitable. Well, now.

May as well strap those boots tight and look to the road ahead of you. It's all you will know. To go and go. How will you travel, though? Speeding ahead, brow furrowed, moving furiously, towards some delusional goal? No. Go slow, my friend. Go slow.

I tell myself, anyway.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Confessional 1: end of the road

This trip is drawing to a close. I am deeply saddened by this fact. My roommate and one of the best friends a guy like me could have, Will, posed a question I was not able to answer at the time, nor since then, including now.
How will you readjust after the vagabonding is over?
I do not know. I will surely find out very soon.

My guess is that it will be a rough adjustment...and challenging period at first. However, I also believe (and hope) that my personal spiritual, intellectual, and emotional growth will serve me well. Change is the only constant we know. As I previously said, any resistance to this will be futile, as well as aggravating. Realizing the nature of things as they are and acceptance will be the key to my adjustment.

As I write this, I feel an energy pulsing throughout me. It is ineffable. To describe it, words fall away from pinning it down. Life. Living. I feel am alive. I have never felt moreso in my 25+ years of existence. ! ! ! ! !J)I#()()!#$()!#$!()_$_!

I do not fear the adjustment period. I do not want it to be any other way. I chose this road. The road leads this way. That's where I shall go. But for now, I'm here. The last statement is the only fact.