Archive for August, 2012

Yin and Yang are not Gray

I trudge home, wishing to be in bed asleep. Suddenly anxiety joins the fatigue- malaise. But a voice tells me the specific reason. It’s because the sun isn’t here.

You’re right. But it’s not just the light that’s missing. It’s the energy, and all the commotion about it- trees jostling into position as if catching a bouquet, entire oceans molting, countless reptiles clambering onto rocks- in the absence of this, you feel a little down.  Something’s missing.

You can replace the light with street lights, desk lamps, flashlights, and computer screens, but there’s no substitute for the loss of energy. Actually, there once was a substitute- the stars- but you can’t see those because of all the street lights, desk lamps, flashlights, and computer screens… keeping you awake. We’ve traded night for perpetual day.

That’s the problem. We know what would happen if the sun’s energy were constant- jungles would wilt and seas become deserts. What then with the constant visibility? We lack the regenerating power of- blindness.

Now, let me back up and explain why a negative emotion being explained by the absence of the sun is revelatory in the first place. To me.

It really shouldn’t be- the basic thread throughout western society is the division between light (good) and dark (bad). Test this out, the next time you’re watching a movie. Invariably, the villain is darker than the hero. Unless, of course, he is Russian or serpentine by nature.

But I have, in my way, aligned myself with the forces of night. For years I took pride in what I believed to be a nocturnal existence.

As a putative night owl, my sleep cycle began (ended) with waking up early to get to school. There was the distinct feeling of needing to sleep for two or three more hours. During the first two classes I’d fall asleep with little or no control. I’d be low on energy throughout the morning until jolted by sugar or adrenaline. Then later I’d crash. Coming home to “free time” I’d find some form of entertainment stimulating enough to keep me awake but not so much as to require serious attention. Later I’d stay up late to finish work I had neglected and/or consumed substances, until 3ish when seriously Gopher it’s time to get to bed you’ve got to wake up early. For seven years, this was my schedule.

I realize, now, that my circadian rhythm was out of whack because of this subtle distinction. School (and work, for that matter) do not explicitly tell you when you have to go to bed. They only require you to show up at a certain time, which means you must wake up an hour before then. At night, you can go to bed whenever you want. I seized that. Night-time was the right-time, my time to be free, enjoy solitude, and escape the schedule. But, implicitly, they also control when you go to bed. Because, you have to perform.

It’s obvious enough that I didn’t perform as well as I could during the day. But, just as I was never fully awake, I was never fully asleep. I thought I could transcend the dichotomy of night and day. But in not giving it the respect it deserves, I lived life pretty half-assed, both waking and not.

Experts know dreaming is 100% essential for survival. But no one knows why, exactly. It’s greater than simply resting our bodies. And it’s not like your brain gets to rest- it’s more active during R.E.M.

Becoming again a diurnal animal, for me, does not mean placing all the emphasis on the day time. It means respecting the duality of this planet. Night has its function, as does day. Going to bed early isn’t about showing up to work ready to perform (although that’s a perk). It’s about feeding your soul its daily portion of unconsciousness.

It’s known that some dreams are just your brain processing experiences from the day before. I suggest  that conscious thoughts and feelings are also your brain processing experiences from last night’s dream. They go back and forth, tackling this absurd mystery from two opposite directions.

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A Fish’s Understanding of the Dry

Last night was Synphoria, the monthly creativ-spirit event that takes place at what is now my home. Some of the attendees are (any-day-now) trekking west to Burning Man. One of them, a hula-hooper, performed last night (I just have to plug another of the night’s performers HERE). The hoop whirling around her neck and legs looked like the Milky Way injected with adrenaline. But her finer performance was a dilatory dance with an LED rainbow hoop to ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’. At a point in the night’s events, they were all summoned to a blessing for safe and illuminating travels.

Wicked, even when above the influence

About a year ago, a group of people materialized at my then home in Herod, IL, also seeking a blessing for their trip to Burning Man. These were Rainbow People. Their bus ran on vegetable oil and their dilated eyes glowed in the dark like cats. They brought empty glass jugs and filled them at our subterranean spring.

I have to ask- what the fuck? Really, the same basic thing happening at two vastly different locations? Currently, I live above a perpetually congested three-way intersection in a multi-cultural neighborhood. The southeastern corner of Illinois where I used to live is closer (both culturally and geographically) to Birmingham Alabama than here. At night, you’d hear coyote more often than traffic.

Nevertheless, it’s uncanny how similar these two homes are. Energetically. Both are- overflowing with outlandish objects that seem to have heartbeats and watch your movements- apathetic to the liberal/conservative dichotomy- visited daily by variegated people with their variegated problems- run by individuals with no boundaries between art, their career, and the sacred- and are requisite stops on the way to Burning Man, apparently.

Not to mention- both of them drew me into their orbit. Why? While I haven’t been to Burning Man myself, I’ve had experiences that tuned me to this wavelength: visiting my sister in Boulder during high school clued me in to the possibility of living off the metaphysical grid, studying philosophy broke the humanist spell cast by Vonnegut and Zinn, as well as a half a dozen epiphanies (both pyschoactively induced and not) that pretty much speak for themselves.

Despite my awe and wonder, my M.O. is to be a skeptical realist (realistic skeptic?). Thus, my cognitive dissonance.

Part of me believes that I was brought to live in these two homes by a divine intelligence, if not a dumb but massive thread of magnetic copper stretching beneath the Earth’s surface from Chicago to the Garden of Gods through the Appalachian Mountains that go beneath the Atlantic all the way to Scotland and finally down to the Danube of modern Austria. And that this something brought me here to learn something very specific.

The other part of me understands nature to function according to cold laws which can only (appear to) be broken by broken minds- it considers my roommates, then and now, as well as Deepak Chopra, to be at worst charlatans and at best psychological mentors- it waits in the corner for my enthusiasm to subside and then ridicules me for it- it simply wants to maximize pleasure and minimize pain for myself (and others).

Yes, I am the faith versus reason debate on a micro-scale. Reason comes more naturally to me, but I don’t know whether that’s because it’s true or because it was the myth I was conditioned to believe in. [footnote] Rationality might be filtering out possibilities people not raised in my tradition are able to experience. It’s like how there are degrees of light existing outside the range visible to humans that are no less real. Reason, in this analogy, is a refusal (inability) to see outside the range of green and yellow, let alone the gamma rays Burning Man folk can see.

The Rainbow is but a Blip in the Continuum

There’s also the question of whether skepticism serves life. Realism saps me of the will to live. The reasons it provides to live and grow are petty and vacuous. My realist self is both bored and boring. My imaginative self, on the other hand, doesn’t struggle to exert vast amounts of energy- existence isn’t a burden to it.

My question is, in the act of faith, is one imagining something that isn’t there, or creating something that wasn’t there but now is?

[footnote] Two senses of “in”. I believe in reason, and reason is the context/element in which I do my believing. Like how a fish both believes in water and believes in water.

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Inconspicuous Teacher

Boone and I wait for the ferry to return to the Illinois side of the river. He sights the book in the backseat.

‘Now Here Nowhere… Now Here Nowhere. Hey! I read this a long time ago!’

‘You did?’

‘Yeah, in the sixties!’

‘I found it in Gavin’s garage’

The ferry clatters into the metal ramp. I drive on, turn off the car, and set the emergency break. Boone flips through the book while I stare at the sunlight scattered across the waves like a field of electricity. The car bobs up- and down.

Image

The Ohio River

We drive through Kentuckian Amish country. Boone points out a mill where he gets sawdust when he asks them for it. Twelve miles in, we enter a small town. Or a city, depending on who you ask.

‘If we stop at the bank, I can pay you for gas and the help you’re doing today’

‘okay’

We pull into the drive-thru.

‘Hello. We’d like to withdraw some money. The name’s Boone Keller.’

‘Sure. One moment please’

‘How much would you?’

I turn to Boone, but he leans his head across and shouts,

‘Forty Dollars, ma’am!’

She frowns.

‘You only have 16 dollars in the account, sir.’

‘What’s that?’.

‘You only have 16 dollars.’

‘O wow!’

‘And this account requires you to have at least 35 dollars’

‘What’s that?’

‘She says you don’t have enough money. You need more than 35’

Boone thinks.

‘Tell her I’m not a millionaire’

‘What?’

‘Tell her I’m not a millionaire’

‘Ma’am, Mr. Keller is not a millionaire’

Boone shouts,

‘I’m NOT a millionaire!’

She laughs, in spite of herself.

‘I know he, that Mr. Keller is not a millionaire. But he still needs at least thirty five dollars in his account’

A moment withers.

‘I think I have a social security check at the post office. Lets go see about that.’

‘Alright, take care.’

‘You too’.

We drive two blocks, take a left, and park in front of the post office. Boone goes inside while I tweak the dial. He returns with a white envelope. I wait to start the car while he opens it.

‘Well, it’s not a social security check… it’s an electric bill’

He hands it to me and I read $2.70. I start the car and he tells me how to get to his place outside of town.

‘The electricity’s cheap here in Kentucky. We get all our power from the water. HY-DRO-LECTRIC. Yeah! That’s great!

‘Beats coal’

‘Yes sir’

He nods wholeheartedly.

We drive a few miles. Boone tells me to get ready for his driveway, the gravel one. I turn into it and see his place- the roof is caved in, scattered across the lawn are broken machines, and it’s doubtless some form of mammal lives beneath the porch. Boone stands taking everything in. He has a good tan, strong muscles, and white hair.

‘Before we start, do you mind wearing this?’

He extends his arm out to me. In his hand is a plain green T-shirt, identical to his own.

‘That way people will see us and know it’s Natural Food, like it says on my truck.’

I remember his broken truck back at Gavin’s.

I consider it. My mind walks back to college when my friend’s mom went through chemo and I told him how in first grade our class shaved our heads in solidarity with Paul and my friend thought that was a great idea so the whole team was going to shave our heads for his mom and everybody did, except me. Simply because I didn’t want to.

‘Sure, I’ll wear it.

‘Wow! Great!’

I take off my black shirt and put it on. It’s too big.

‘Now we look like a team’

Boone nods several times and I beam, having left my ego on the other side of the Ohio.

Boone walks me back to the gardens. He points at the many weeds that need to be removed. Tall weeds with thick stalks you have to uproot with a shovel then yank with both hands. Not terribly hard work, but at first I work gingerly because my back is sore; I haven’t done much physical anything, lately, most of the time sitting in the office. Boone sings as he picks tomatoes.

We work for a while. I notice the sun move along an arc, from left to right

‘I haven’t noticed the sun move since riding through Central Illinois’

Central Illinois Road

‘You’re doing great, Gopher’

‘I feel great!’

‘Working with the Earth is the best thing you can do!’

I no longer baby my back. Sweat flows through the dirt on my skin. I pull the weeds with gusto.

We take a break to drive to Dairy Queen.

‘Wow! Dairy Queen! This is Great!’

With our matching T-Shirts, my yellow sunglasses, and Boone’s unwavering enthusiasm, the high school girl behind the counter is baffled and polite. Boone talks to her with all his vigor, as if he were 16, continuing his various monologues from where he left off.

‘I’m a doer not a talker. Some people talk about what they do I just do it… I’m not a power person. I grow things that are beautiful and healthy. Power people just want to control other people… I’m okay you’re okay…’

On the way back to the garden, I remember I have a few black garbage bags full of garbage from Gavin’s in the trunk (without a city to pick up your garbage you’d have to drive into town and look for a dumpster, usually behind a grocery store). I see a dumpster outside an autoshop. As I hurl in the third bag someone comes outside. I scurry into the car and speed away, bottoming out on the curb. Shortly after returning, a squad car pulls up. I’m sure it was about the garbage, but the cop wants to talk to Boone.

‘What’s going on Mr. Keller?’

‘We’re working on the garden, officer.’

The cop eyes the car and looks around for something. Boone shows him a bucket full of tomatoes and offers him a few. He declines.

‘This here is Gopher. He’s from Illinois’

‘Oh, where?’

‘Herod’

”ve never been there’

The cop’s performance doesn’t come to a point, except for letting Boone feel his presence.

He leaves and we return to the garden.

‘What was that about?’

‘Some people are power people, Gopher. I don’t drink. I’m not a drug dealer. I don’t bother anybody. But they give me a hard time. They’re not happy with me driving without a licence. Thanks a lot for driving me today. You’re a huge help. Sorry I can’t pay you today.’

‘Man, thank you. I feel better than I have in a long time.

I realize this is true. I began to tear weeds out three at a time.

‘Wow! Look at that Gopher- you’re working! You’re a worker- not a talker!

We finish the weeds. Boone says we should get empty buckets from the front yard. We bring them back and begin to harvest potatoes and sweet potatoes. First, you loosen the soil with a shovel. Then, your claw curls beneath the tuber and raises it and tosses it toward the bucket and if it doesn’t go in it lands in a growing pile of potatoes. If you’re not careful the shovel slices through the potatoe and there’s a wound where you can see its white hot inside.

It’s beginning to darken. We round up the buckets, at least nine full. We try to fit these, along with the shovels and hoes into the car. After some fiddling we get it, and drive back.

As we approach the ferry Boone points out a regular looking farm flooded in a low spot.

‘See that water sitting there? That shouldn’t be there; it should be in the Earth. But the farmers have rock hard soil. They don’t need good soil, because they just put special seeds and special fertilizer on top of it’

We cross at twilight and drive through the sweeping hills of southern Illinois. The highway, overwhelmed by the ancient spirit of the Shawnee National Forest, feels like a tiny temporary path. I tweak the dial and stop when Boone starts singing in a deep voice. An oldie. He whistles, and I’m about to tell him not to- that if you whistle at night spirits can pass through your breath into this world. But then, two things happen: Boone’s honest whistling seems more true than Gavin’s warning against whistling at night. And I wish the spirits to try to overtake us.

Image

Shawnee National Forest, Autumn

Like A Rolling Stone comes on. I sing along, holding it together.

How does it feel?

To be on your own

With no direction home

A complete unknown

Like a Rolling Stone

Boone points out a Baptist church he went to as a child that forbade him to dance or play cards. We get back to Gavin’s, where I am housesitting. The dogs run out to the car, their eyes shining in the beam. Boone would linger but I’m ready to disengage. He’s able to start his car and drive up to Harrisburg, which has since been destroyed by a tornado.

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Five Paragraph Essay

My teachers in elementary and middle school drilled into my head a style of writing known as The Five Paragraph Essay. It consists of an introductory paragraph, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. For old time’s sake:

There are many cities on Earth, but I think Chicago is the best city of them all. Why is it the best? Let me tell you. It has a lake, it has many different neighborhoods, and it has the best museums. Once you understand this, you will agree that Chicago is the world’s greatest city.

First of all, Chicago has a lake- Lake Michigan. You can go there and swim or just walk along the beach. Other cities like Las Vegas don’t have any water, so they can’t be as good as Chicago. Some people don’t like going to the lake, but it is still good for them. That is because everyone in Chicago gets their drinking water from Lake Michigan.

Secondly, Chicago has many different neighborhoods. Some cities have only a downtown area and an outside area. Chicago has over forty neighborhoods that are each their own tiny city! If you really like Mexican food and riding your bike, then Logan Square is for you. Edgewater is fantastic if you love ice cream or diversity.

Finally, Chicago has the best museums. The Field Museum and The Museum of Science and Industry are two huge museums that have really interesting stuff. My sister really likes the Museum of Contemporary Art. There is also the Chicago History Museum, where you can learn even more about how Chicago is the best city ever!

In conclusion, Chicago is the best city. The three reasons why this true are that it has Lake Michigan, lots of neighborhoods, and many museums. Now you can see how Chicago is the greatest city in the world. If you are sad because you live in Las Vegas, come here and make Chicago even better!

I can do that in my sleep. We wrote hundreds. The great thing about the FPE is it’s a formula that can solve virtually any question, like ‘who is your hero?’ or ‘should students be required to wear school uniforms?’

As a formula, it’s a quantifiable form of rhetoric. That means if you wish to determine the “writing ability” of millions of children in order to determine where to (not) allocate state and federal funding, you need only to test their handling of the formula.

When I took the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) in eighth grade, the test had a new significance- No Child Left Behind was enacted that year. I didn’t know this; all I knew was my accrued abhorrence for the FPE. So when I read the prompt Who is your favorite teacher and why? I attempted to play with the formula.

Miss V is my favorite teacher. She teach me grammar, how to spell hard werds, and to use the right punctuation?

I stuck to the formula. Each body paragraph elaborated why Miss V was my favorite teacher. It’s just that the grammar paragraph had poor grammar, the spelling paragraph riddled with… you get the point. It was ironic.

Just Another Brick in the Wall

A month after taking the test I was called down to the principal’s office.  Mr. S thrust my ISAT packet onto the table in front of me. It was opened to the page of my essay and all my “mistakes” were circled in red ink. He began the interrogation. I tried to explain that it was a joke, that I thought whoever was doing the grading would understand, maybe appreciate it. He said they wouldn’t; I submitted a failing essay. Then, he revealed to me how I was up to much more than I myself knew.

He placed three more essays on the table. All were lackluster, at the very least. Finally, I was denounced. Gopher, you are accused of deliberately failing the ISAT. Not only that, you have coerced others to do the same. This school- YOUR school- depends on this test for the money it receives from the federal government. Your efforts are in effect SABOTAGE. Do you realize the damage your little prank has done to your school, your teachers, your fellow classmates, and, most of all, yourself?

I asked him if he was allowed to read my essay, let alone show me the essays of others. He turned red and removed them from the table. I was just as red. I felt guilty for having hurt my school, even if I didn’t understand how. Also, I had caught a glimpse of the names on two of the other essays- they had a reputation for being stupid. I felt shame for being grouped with him. Ultimately, I never confessed to the insurrection, nor did I break any standing rules, so I was let go.

When the results of the test came home, I had my usual scores in the 90s for math, vocabulary, and reasoning. But for writing, I had something like a 17. I felt terrible. I hid that document for years. It convinced me I wasn’t a good writer. That’s your cue to post a positive comment below.

Earlier this summer I began training for the GRE. The written section demands an FPE, albeit an evolved form. You might be asked whether the internet helps or hinders one’s connection to others. A good answer won’t be one-sided; it will provide a balanced argument such as “the internet has the capacity to both help and hinder human connectivity, depending on how it is utilized…”

Even if a more nuanced argument is required, you still must remain within the boundaries of the formula.  You can’t write a short story about an agoraphobic teen obsessed with World of Warcraft, which- though a factor in his isolation- ultimately is the (virtual) place where he meets the love of his life from Singapore who- depicted enigmatically- might in fact be his downfall, we don’t know. You can’t quantify that.

Anyways, I quit training for the GRE and have given up the idea of graduate school. Perhaps one day I may swallow my pride, master the formula, and give myself a great opportunity. For now, my prerogative is to develop my own qualitative form of rhetoric. And, more importantly, I’m getting over myself. Writing this today has allowed me to enjoy the experience with Mr. S that was apparently still gnawing at my unconscious.

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