Archive for the ‘academe’ Category
“Space flights are merely an escape, a fleeing away from oneself, because it is easier to go to Mars or to the moon than it is to penetrate one’s own being.”
From Adelaide Bry and Marjorie Bair, Visualization: Directing the Movies of Your Mind (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 18.
It’s been almost six months since the actual break-up with C (we’ll call her), and while emotions have dulled, the mental patterns that were grooved into my normally agile neural pathways over four years are just now slowly starting to dissipate. Too often in the past these pathways have short-circuited, and become choked with depressive detritus. I wonder…Why?
There’s the crux. Wondering. Wondering is something one only really does well alone. And over the last four years, I’ve been alone a lot. Why? Well, partly because I’m a loner (and yet, ironically, I deeply value my friends). Also because of lots of travel and transition. But mostly because of a romantic relationship whose central component was regular (often long) periods of distance from each other. Of course, this wasn’t good.
There could be all sorts of reasons why it wasn’t good (loneliness, lack of intimacy, barriers to communication, etc, etc…). But, for me, there really was only one. And that was reason itself.
Funny thing reason. What it means to be reasonable or “rational”, is, as many philosophers have suggested, not necessarily objective or fixed. There are myriad ways to be rational. But, invariably, to reason and be rational implies seeking explanation. And that’s where my reasoning went astray and my reason went away.
When something is both emotionally important and often missing it becomes, in a sense, everything. It especially becomes a reason for everything. Feeling sad? The reason? C isn’t around. Struggling with focus and work? The reason? Distracted thinking about C. If she were closer — nearby — focusing would be easier. Abusing substances? Well, it’s a way to dull feelings and deal with being apart from C.
C — and the distance and seeming tragedy of separation from her — became the universal solvent. She was the ultimate “reason” and rationale. The aimless melancholy mental meanderings all blurred together into a kind of pastiche of pathos. The longer it went on, the more epic it got. You can, of course, see the dilemma here. What happens when C was around and I still felt sad, unfocused or was getting high?
Well, the wheels fell off. The charade of ideals started to crumble. And things went badly.
After all, if you idealize something and it becomes the “key to happiness” then nothing simple and pure and real (and even truly wonderful) suffices. All bets are off. Like an addict before a hit imagining it’s intensity, the real never measures up. That’s why the “high” is always followed by a coming down (that precedes the real coming down…).
And there’s always that twitchiness, that uncomfortable state of being brought on by waiting for the next hit. And waiting, as Beckett once suggested, is an odd, disorienting and liminal state. When life becomes consumed with waiting it almost ceases to be. The conscious mind spins and twists on its own axis, floating through an empty and dead spiritual space. Instead of the vivid sense of each moment being limitless that comes from mindfulness, moments seem to drift away like smoke from a fire, dissipating as they mingle with a general atmosphere of malaise. Presence proves ever elusive.
As so many New Age sages suggest, we must live today, for tomorrow may never come. For the sad soul stuck in a relationship plagued by distance, tomorrow is all there is. Alas, even when the relationship ends, the patterns of mind and mood linger. One suffers the pain of breaking up that much more. All long-distance love seems sharply tinged with an air of injustice and tragedy.
Anyway, it’s over. I’m (finally) starting to feel an overall insouciance about it all. And yet, regrets remain. As does an unreasonable hope: that someday it could really work if the conditions were different. Even this is a leftover echo of the disappointment of distance. Were I to be totally truthful, I’d admit that even this essay was a vain attempt to express myself to C in a manner unburdened by circumstance. But, like much of the thought and feeling borne of loving C, it’s a frustrating and futile affair.
This, then, is the lesson of C. A lesson I may spend a lifetime trying to learn…Or unlearn.
Windsor to Lansing
Displaced migrant mind-worker
Alien body, lost soul
Having abandoned the baby picture and cute puppy world that is Facebook, I find myself still feeling the need to connect to the world through the medium of a social network. There’s an immediacy and a level of interaction there that I miss (and perhaps have become accustomed to…). All this to say that I am now using Twitter for this purpose. Even though some people use it quite frivolously, I find there’s a more focused and professional (and in my case, even educational) quality to the format.
So, yeah, if you jive with that and are interested, please follow me @weirdhistorian
I’m well aware of the painful irony of castigating the world’s most popular social network on a blog, another form of social network. But I don’t have the money to put stamps on hundreds of handwritten letters, so here it goes:
1. Facebook is not social.
Saying hello to someone on the street is social. Having dinner or a drink (or getting falling down drunk…) with someone is social. Exchanging pleasantries or even bodily fluids is social (after all, it can possibly lead to a “social” disease). Arguing while waving your arms frantically at someone is social. Knitting while sitting on a couch together is social (sad, but social). Typing pithy comments about someone’s vacation pictures you vaguely know while hurtling along the Interstate at 80 MPH is not social. It’s just stupid. And dangerous.
2. Does that “net”-work for you?
Feeling trapped? Nothing is more representative of modern life than a forum for “self-expression” which requires you to fill out lame little standardized electronic boxes. Don’t color out of the lines! Touted as a multi-billion dollar computer platform, most of Facebook just boils down to a computerized version of those dorky name tags that say “My name is ____”.
Just think of that word — network. Nothing more than a bunch of virtual tendrils, designed to ensnare and entrap. The question you should be asking is who is the spider and when is he going to come along and suck out all of your vital juices? If you feel like a fly on the wall. Well…Buzz, buzz.
3. All those douchebags with marketing degrees are simultaneously yelling “gotcha”!
Marketers used to actually have to work to sell you stuff and get your attention. Now you come to them, by the millions, like so many lemmings careening off a cliff. And because you are an open (face)book, they know exactly what you want. In fact, some of the stuff they know you want you didn’t even know you wanted…
Heck, you can’t even change the bloody typeface on your page. (Note: See #2). And remember, if you post a picture you’d better not be doing anything too inappropriate. Some bot might come along and be offended. I, for one, welcome our Facebook bot overlords. All hail Zuckerberg!
5. All the world’s a stage.
Unfortunately, everyone in the audience is too busy working on their own acting career. Of course, you too can be the star in your very own movie (not sure what the working title is now, but they used to call it “Life”). Everything is a performance. Look, I got a new job! I have moved further up the rung and am mastering the cogs of capitalism. Please, “like” me. Why won’t you like me? Do I need to do something more extravagant? How is it that over half a billion bad actors clamoring for attention isn’t more people’s idea of hell? When did we all become such showoffs? Reality TV? TV is our reality! We’re always on camera, always observed and observing. Too bad none of us are just bloody living anymore. I don’t need to see the beautiful view you saw on your trip to Aruba or walk around the neighborhood. You saw it. It’s yours. That’s precious. Enjoy it.
6. Whatever you’re doing, someone else is doing something cooler.
Facebook is a constant reminder that no matter what you are doing, it is lamer than what a dozen of your “friends” are doing. Just booked a trip to the beach on Maui? Whatever. Your “friend” just bought an island in the south Pacific. Bought a new car? Your “friend” just bought a new yacht. New baby? Your “friend” had triplets! (Well, on second thought, maybe you are better off there…). A regression back to grade school is the order of the day on Facebook. It’s like one big game of “Oh yeah! Well…”.
7. In old sci-fi novels and movies, weren’t hive minds a bad thing?
I remember an old episode of Star Trek where this guy Harry Mudd had found a whole planet of androids. And there were groups of them — copies — such that you had Alan 216 or Mary 109. Facebook is kind of like that. It’s almost impossible to miss someone famous dying these days because fifty of your closest friends will comment about it. Sometimes they’ll even include some maudlin link to a relevant Youtube video. How touching. And some of these people who are venerated are pretty lame. No matter, its all fodder for Facebook.
I’m waiting for the day when some lunatic puts up a status update of “RIP Charles Manson” and the whole Goth world goes (lady) gaga about the passing of Marilyn. Give me a break! I guess the point, if there is one, is all the collective grief and, by extension, the sense of injustice is totally bogus when all it amounts to is clicking on “like” or “share”. Which brings me to…
8. How many cute puppies does it take to stop a dictator from wiping out a whole town?
Politics. Oh yeah. Remember when that word used to imply that the discussion or debate was about an actual place or space? You know, the polis? Now it’s random rants about how dumb some conservative is, or how bleeding heart some liberal is. Mostly it distills down to re-posting (i.e. “sharing”) some clever cartoon about how we are all totally fucked. Well, if things are so bad, do something! Those occupy people, as aimless and indigent and generally stoned as they were, were doing something. Until Facebook came along and turned it all into a bunch of idle slogans. Facebook has become the dumping ground for frustration and impotent rage. It’s as if it was a cleverly constructed release valve for dissent and criticism. Almost seems planned that way. Hmm…
Oh, yeah, and by the way, the answer to the question above is…none. You need a LOL cat.
9. Your friendships begin to resemble that show — Friends.
I hated that show. I really did. It reeked of a neutered middle-class complacency that makes me want to kick puppies (but not the really cute ones people always post on Facebook — just the ugly, faceless puppy in the crowd…). Everyone was always being clever and pithy and drinking coffee on a sofa on Friends. Kind of like what people do now when they are on Facebook.
I like the idea of friends. I used to have friends. I used to hang out with them and see them too. I don’t have to anymore. I live a completely alienated, isolated and lonely life as an academic (“Oh, he’s one of those!”) in a town and state I basically hate. But with Facebook, my plight is supposed to be somehow more bearable. Your experience may be somewhat similar. I sincerely hope not.
10. Like the real world, Facebook has class (but not the good kind!)
Well, no it doesn’t. But it has developed ghettos and upscale neighborhoods. Whether you muck around on Farmville or post stories by way of the New York Times, everything about Facebook is just part of that time honored human tradition of creating arbitrary distinctions.
The only distinction I think is important anymore is this — are you part of the Facebook herd or are you still vaguely trying to maintain some aspect of your humanity? We in the techno-utopias of the “west” may pity or even mock those poor souls for whom Facebook is only a computer program. But I, for one, envy them. If only they also had a bit of peace and food and clean water…
So, yeah, Facebook sucks. Modern life kind of sucks too. Am I bitter? You bet! Angry? Yup! What would make me happy? If dozens, even hundreds (dare I hope for thousands?) of people put a link to this blog post up on…You guessed it: Facebook! I won’t know about it though, since for now (and hopefully, if I’m strong, forever) my Facebook account is deactivated. But maybe, in some little way, I’m not.
The Patterson film, which was taken in the Northern California forest in 1967, remains the quintessential piece of indecisive evidence for the existence of the famed cryptid Bigfoot. I’m currently reviewing a book on the subject, and I’ll let the author’s words sketch out its significance:
“Patterson’s film has been studies by amateurs, evaluated by special effects experts, and looked at by scientists. It has been picked over, poked at, trumpeted as the most important piece of wildlife film ever taken, and laughed at as an obvious fake. The reason it resists scrutiny — and probably always will, regardless of whether it is genuine or fake — is the material fact that the film itself is of poor quality. Even with all the high tech gadgetry available to examine the film, the low resolution of the original grainy 16mm footage renders it practically impossible to analyze in great detail. We may never know whether Patterson meant it to be this way, or that it was just dumb luck of an individual unskilled and unsophisticated in the ways of filmmaking. In North America at least, it has become the toll booth all anomalous primate enthusiasts, academic or amateur, must pass to proceed. it lurks and skulks and peeps about just off to the side of every believer and skeptic, challenging, mocking, and encouraging. Regardless of who owns it, the Patterson film became a central component of Sasquatch studies. It allows for no middle ground. It is either real or fake, with no chance it is a misidentification of something else. Patty’s now legendary backward glance in frame 352 [Ed. Note: See image] teases and tests anyone who has ever seen it. It survives when all others associated with it have come and gone. It is not the only evidence, and it is not the only contentious evidence. Everything ever brought forward to support manlike monsters, mystery-apes, and anomalous primates has been controversial and will continue to be.”
From Brian Regal, Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads and Cryptozoology (New York: Palgrave, 2011), 129-130.
Image found here.
Still seems tantalizingly elusive, this film — shaky, confused, out of context and scale. And yet somehow completely haunting.
So, what do YOU think??
“There might, however, be a decent conceptual fiction to be written under the title A History of My Student Loans.”
Makes me think I could write a novel after all!
By way of Arts & Letters Daily.