Thursday, September 27, 2007

Draft posts

I'm so glad I jot down notes of things I want to post about later, because I don't have time when I think of them/experience them.
I mean, what did I mean by this, and how did I think it was going to help me remember what I wanted to write about?

Boys and Girls III (or Feeling Twenty-One)
Write about evening - the Dunkin Donuts - the sun -



I've been following some of these stories this week.

It makes me sad. And also sad that there are so many human rights issues right now, that people can't just focus on all of them, or fix all of them. I'm not sure why this one specifically has caught my attention. The description of the monastery is really terrible. (Sorry to be a downer.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On Not Being a Snake or a Termite

Now that I’m happy (I feel like those, “I’m full!” Taco Bell commercials from back when I had TV), I might not have as many interesting, funny things to rant and write about. And I’ve been meaning to type up funny stories from my past – the things I tell people when I’m entertaining them, but never think to write down. A few days ago, someone told me that I should really write the story of my senior thesis, that in addition to the thesis itself, the story of its development is interesting. So that is coming soon. In the meantime, here’s a REALLY LONG nerdy thing I wrote.

The following is from an e-mail I wrote to a friend, responding to a rant/vent and request for advice. I’ve edited it for a more general audience. I’m leaving the pure advice part, in the beginning, in the text, because it kind of sums up other things I’d want to write about anyway.

The answer, in my opinion, is simple. Do What Makes You Happy. At the place I am in right now, this is what I think is important. Do what makes you happy without doing harm to anything else. Your "purpose in life" and all things like that will probably follow. If you are happy, relaxed, calm, you will be more able to accept what's around you and more able to do good things (like be nice to people, be patient, etc.) Of course these things still require thought and effort...but being happy, having certain needs satisfied, will help. I mean really happy, not "happy" because you got all kinds of cool stuff and you're having FUN!!!!!!!1 but that real, peaceful happiness.

I don't remember much about Taoism from Religions of the Eastern World 101 or whatever (and let's not forget my senior thesis was about Taoism in literature, so I should totally remember more) but the thing that stood out to me the most was the concept of Wu Wei, which my professor defined as “non-action.” If you see a snake in the path, don't fight the snake. Walk around the snake, or choose a different path. Obviously it's not always that easy to know what the snake is and what the path of non-action is. Sometimes non-action is impossible, and the path of least action, the path most in accordance with the Way, is not immediately clear. However, if it does seem clear - if you are happy and have an opportunity to be happy without harming others, I suggest not fighting it. Don’t create/be a snake.

- - -

This goes for your Purpose in Life, too. If you are not creating a lot right now (haha I first wrote "write" now), maybe you aren't meant to do it RIGHT NOW RIGHT NOW. You're still young. It's not a bad idea to set aside some time - I wish I made more time to at the very least record what I'm doing right now. But anyway, the short answer is, I wouldn't worry about it. If you want to socialize, socialize, as long as it's healthy and really making you happy. Humans are social creatures. It is an inseparable part of who we are – physically, psychologically. Humans are not meant to be solitary beings, and I think that trying to go against this will make one crazy, even if the reason is simply chemical/biological. To a certain extent, I think that self denial will not help one do more good in the world. Following the path that seems to fall in front of you, including engaging in human socialization, could lead you to Whatever It Is You’re Supposed To Do.

- - -

[This was part of the advice, but this is something I’ve been reflecting on and meaning to blog about for a few weeks now.]

I've been thinking somewhat lately about the concept of purpose in life, and wondering if perhaps we overcomplicate things. Part of what has led to these thoughts is the information that I’ve been receiving in my classes. I am taking an entomology class and a soil class, so in both of these classes, we talk about small “yucky” organisms that are essential to everything we do, to all life, but aren’t thought about much by most people. I suppose what happens when you double major in a humanities field and a scientific field is that you start to mush things together in your head.

On Purpose in Life: The human crab louse spends its whole life cycle on the genitalia of one person. Its entire world is localized to not just its host species, not just to a specific host, but to a specific part of that host. It doesn't think, "I could totally be head lice today. I'll try it out."
So, we have the entire planet as our potential habitat, and some organisms just have somebody's crotch.

On socializing: Termites are "social creatures", and I think the professor said something like, insects like this show the beginning of social behavior in life forms. I am hesitant with my wording here, because I don’t want to come out and say that termites are less evolved, that this is primitive social behavior. It’s tempting to go there, but I’m not sure if it’s accurate.

For example, something I learned about in various classes last year, something I found incredibly fascinating, is that many species of insects actually practice agriculture. I’m not kidding. (I also won’t be offended if any of my three readers skip past the science part.) The genus Atta, for example, comprises leaf-cutter ants that actually farm a certain type of fungus. The leaf-cutter ants don’t actually rely on the leaves that they bite off of trees (sometimes causing a defoliation disaster) for their nutrition. It’s usually said that they do not have the enzymes to digest the leaves, though I think there’s some question of this now. The ants actually carry the leaf pieces to their fungus garden and feed them to the fungus. The fungus has the enzymes to digest the plant material. The ants can then consume part of the fungus, and this is how they survive. This behavior can actually be pretty complex. For example, if they need to move their nest, there are ants (I think the queen) who know to carry part of the fungus with the colony to the new nest, and they know how to re-establish this fungus so that it will grow in the new nest. The ants know to stop the fungus from producing fruiting bodies (which just look like little brown mushrooms when allowed to grow). HOWEVER, the ants also know to let the fruiting bodies develop once in awhile, if the fungus does need to reproduce. Otherwise they encourage the fungus to just grow and digest plant matter for them to eat.

- - -

Back to termites and their social behavior, and how it’s making me think about human roles. The division of labor in the termite colony is pre-determined, by morphology or genetics or something. (You can see how little I’m paying attention in class.) My point is that it is clear for them whether they are the queen, a worker, a soldier, or whatever. If they are not the queen, their job is to protect the queen or to serve her in some capacity. The queen serves a function as well, so it’s all very harmonious. If the nest is attacked or damaged somehow, the termites (the soldiers or workers, I can’t remember which) sense this and immediately rush to the damaged area. They throw themselves into the hole and cement themselves in. They plug up the holewith their bodies and die in order to save the nest.

When the professor said this, cries of “Ohhh!” and “Aww!” arose from the class. My professor responded that this is not sad at all. The termites “aren’t alive like you’re thinking of it.” Their individual life is not the same as our life or that of our pet cat. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t important, but the life of a termite is not like the life of a human being, with all this potential and all these options.

People are not termites. I don’t know which is more advanced, or if such a qualification just doesn’t apply here. First of all, it’s interesting to note that “social behavior” doesn’t exist in all life. Amoebas and bacteria just live, they eat things, things eat them, they die. They don’t get sad about it. They probably don’t defend each other. It’s also interesting to think of “social behavior” as being so different from our own, though people will try to argue that some individuals aren’t important, that they exist as a functional group in a colony, that their life and death do not matter and that their is a real hierarchy or caste system. Blah. "Social behavior" like we have now perhaps began (if we are to consider insects as less evolved than we are) as no sense of the self as an individual, but as performing a function - being born into it. (Back to Purpose in Life.) It must be so easy – the being’s morphology dictates who it is. As the human crab louse never thinks of migrating up to the head to be a head louse, the worker termite probably never thinks, "But I WANT to a soldier! I can overcome the limitations of my morphology to be a soldier!” I’m not going where it may look like I’m going with this – that people, similarly, shouldn’t try to overcome their “limitations,” that some role is determined for us by our geographic location and morphology and even our gender.

I’ll switch to soil biology now. In a teaspoon of soil, there is a HUGE amount of life. Microbes! Rotifers! Hundreds of them! Dozens of nematodes! Some insects! Probably some plant-y things. Meters of fungal mycelia! Some insects, and maybe a big old earthworm.
For some organisms, a few square inches of soil is THE ENTIRE WORLD. It is their Earth. Just as for the human crab louse, somebody’s crotch is their Earth.
And when I come to conclude, I run out of steam a bit. Clearly, our individual lives are important. Even though one could come up with hundreds of counter examples, showing how humans sacrifice themselves, for example, to save “the nest,” it’s not that simple. For one thing, there are people left behind to mourn their death. One could make conjectures about human mob behavior. (And I’m sure there are exceptions in termites and ants and lice, even if no humans have observed them.)

But mostly what I take from this, this crapload of information, is that when getting confused by the big picture, it’s a good idea to stop and focus on some small aspect of it. You don’t cross a road in one giant step. You take little steps. Sometimes you can’t see the end of a road when you first start walking. Quit trying to! Focus on where you are right now, and the rest will become clear. If you look ahead to much, you could miss out on what’s near you. You’ll miss something nice, or you’ll miss some uneven ground, trip, fall flat on your face, and maybe not even make it to the end of the road. So there.

Anyway, when life seems so complicated and huge, I think it might help in the future (though I’m not 100% sure how) to think about how much life is in a teaspoon of soil, how for some organisms their Earth is an area a million times smaller. And for some organisms, their life purpose is predetermined by their morphology. I’m not quite sure what I’m trying to say – maybe that it’s ok if we don’t save the world by the age of twenty-five, or visit every continent by the time we’re thirty. It’s OK if we just inspire one student or friend this month, and it’s OK if we don’t even manage to get out of Middlesex County all week.

Feel free to discuss, my three readers!

I'm famous!

Thank you, Kristy!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

God, that was so not part of the prayer

Last night, I couldn't focus on my homework, so I de-stressed by catching up on the blogs I like. Kristy of She Just Walks Around With It posted a great entry WITH DIAGRAMS, and Laurie of posted, among other things, a news report from LA where they are apparently terrified of rain. It was great. She also posted the following, which I just felt the need to share with as many people as possible - I thought it was so funny, and every time I sat down to e-mail it to my friends, it just didn't feel right, so here it is in my blog:

I was REALLY mad about this guy. He almost caused two accidents and also was just being a real piece of work. Then I felt bad for being so hateful again in traffic. In other areas of my life I try to give folks the benefit of the doubt, but in traffic there is just not a nice sweet bone in my body. So I thought, "What would Deepak Chopra do? He's probably not hateful in traffic." And because I am full-up on my self-help, I knew Deepak would send the dude a little prayer.

So I tried. I tried, I really did. "Dear God, this ugly dude is pissing me off and I hate him and his banged up car ... gee no wonder his car is all smooshed, look how he drives!...oh crap this is so not how Deepak would do it. Let me try again..."

I sat there and tried to breathe. After all, traffic wasn't moving. It's not like we were going anywhere. I had time to get my Deepak on.

"OK, God, it's me again trying to be nicer. See, I am trying to pray for this HEY YOU SH*THEAD THE LIGHT IS GREEN YOU WANTED IN HERE THAT MEANS GO JESUS CHRIST ON A CRACKER ARE YOU BRAIN DEAD oh crap!! God that was so not part of the prayer!! I am so sorry, let me try again. But seriously, the light was green. Also sorry about the Jesus part."

I have so been there. I consider myself A Nice Person, but sometimes I just get so cranky and, as she put it, hateful. I recognize this, and I try to stop it, and the result is something like that prayer.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bad mood

Do you know what irks me? Other than things that irk everybody, I can think of two little things that annoy me. One is when people walk in pairs or even worse, groups of three or four across, on the sidewalk and don't move out of the way when someone is coming the opposite direction, so that person has to walk in the mud. I think that is rude. I think you should just walk single file when someone is coming. Then you can go back to walking double. Couples doing this especially annoys me. You will not stop breathing if you stop holding hands for one minute. It's OK.
The other thing that irks me is when I go to the farmers market and I have clearly bought my own grocery bag, yet the people insist on putting everything in plastic bags. Even when I say "It's OK, I brought a bag." I once went to a farmers market - where there was a stand selling "Lafayette Farmers Market" canvas bags, so it's not like the concept was unheard of - and the vendors actually gave me attitude about using my own bag. Why has the reuse of bags become an issue of conflict? I do not understand. I mostly just find it odd to encounter this at farmers markets, places that tend to be frequented by hippies and environmentalists and other people who would think to bring their own reusable shopping bag.
It doesn't annoy me like, as much as real world problems, it's just a little thing that ticks me off in the moment.
I hate when Firefox malfunctions, and as I type in a window, it somehow gets stuck on Ctrl+F, so instead of recording my text (such as an e-mail), Firefox just keeps trying to FIND whatever I'm typing, and it keeps flashing read and beeping because it cannot find the text, as if to say "You idiot! Stop typing!"
Why am I in such a bad mood? Something that will eventually become a Funny Story. I'm house-sitting right now for my parents. Usually I don't mind this. I like the excuse to get away from my "city", from all the people and whatever drama is going on (even if it's good drama), to be surrounded by nature, do some activities I like without interference, and get my homework done. Actually, this never happens. I devote so much time to fun farm country stuff that I never get any work done up here.
Anyway, this time I haven't been enjoying it as much. For one thing, being alone in this house in the middle of nowhere is creeping me out. It's dark and full of weird noises, not people noises. I keep imagining that I'll get attacked by a wild animal, or thinking how a serial killer could break in and NO ONE WOULD KNOW FOR DAYS because there's no one around in this quiet, empty town!
I'm in a bad mood because I got home and the lock to the front door was broken. This happens every once in awhile - something gets loose and the door will not unlock from the outside. After struggling with it, I finally went out to the back door, which meant walking through the dark, scary yard. I turned the lights and highbeams on in my car so I could at least see some of the path. I came in through the back, turned on the lights, saw that the pets had made a big mess of the front room, and before cleaning that up, went outside to turn out the lights on my car. Of course the front door unlocked fine from the inside. Anyway, as one last blow dealt by Mean Nature, I slipped on some water (it rained a lot today) and fell into a pricker bush. Flat on my face. Woe is me.
On the bright side, the neighbors were not home to witness this or to hear the horrible string of obscenities I released, and also, there were no bears, coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, or serial killers in the pricker bush.
And one of my housemates got a vermicomposting thing for our kitchen. Yay!!!!!!! Pet worms! [I had to add this explanatory note in 2011. I learned this via e-mail a few minutes later from my housemate in the city.  There was no housemate in the country home. There were no pet worms at that house.]


Earth in 250 Million Years?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Goodbye, Shampoo! and other stories

I'm house-sitting in beautiful, scenic Sussex County this weekend, so it seems like a good time to blog. I am in an empty house with no one to talk to.

There are a few things plaguing me - things that really bother me if I get to thinking about them, but otherwise exist as just a hum in the background or a distant buried memory - and for the most part, I'm happy right now.

I'll just sum it up briefly now. Some of it is a convergence of the Karma Obsession of 2006 (an oversimplification - basically, after getting a lot of information about Eastern religions - a class, hearing the Dalai Lama speak, reading some books, writing a thesis that had to do with Taoism - I started to rethink things, which included a phase of being CRAZY worrying about the ramifications of everything I did, thinking of it in terms of karma) and the Ecological Footprint Craze of 2007 (very much like the Karma Obsession, only with environmental impact/cruelty impact). Blah that was a long sentence. This post will be full of bad grammar, just so you know.

Anyway, I've been referring a lot, in my sporadic blog posts and in e-mails or conversations on how simplifying my life, materialistically, and focusing on things that are alive - the natural and social worlds - have made me a lot happier. With this simplification comes this lightness, this feeling like some weight has been discarded.

I keep going on tangents with this post.

Anyway, I don't feel like talking about it right now (sometimes I get sick of talking about the environment/human rights/that kind of stuff BLAH BLAH BLAH) but I've been thinking how funny it is, that people are now LOOKING for alternatives to commercial chemical products - that what was probably common sense at some point is now this big thing you have to SEARCH for, since we've all gotten so used to all these expensive chemical products. (I find it amusing, too, that there are mad expensive eco-friendly cleaners out there, when the cheapest household ingredients work a million times better.)

I thought of this because I was trying to find a recipe for "natural laundry detergent." Basically, I just wanted to know if castille soap concentrate and borax would be enough - since I used to just use borax to wash my clothes, anyway - or if I should add baking soda or something, and how much of each ingredient do I use, anyway? (I eventually gave up, used my own judgment to make my own "recipe," and my clothes seem clean.)

Anyway, I just wanted to announce that for almost two weeks now, I have gone shampoo-free. I still wash my hair. Just not with shampoo. Right now I'm using baking soda as a de-yucky-er and apple cider vinegar as a further de-yucky-er and conditioner. My hair is soft and shiny and totally not greasy. The curls are really nice. The inch at the bottom that felt almost like split ends now feels like the rest of my hair. I hope this lasts. I mention it because it feels like a big deal to me and I want to just proclaim it to everyone I know - LOOK my hair looks better now than it did before and I'm doing something NON TOXIC and low maintenance and oh, did I mention it's ridiculously cheap!?!?!?!?

Sometimes I feel so light and happy and I just want to proclaim to people, "I don't have cable! I don't have air conditioning! For fun, I go outside, read a book, or talk to real live people! I don't use shampoo that dries out my hair anymore! Not to sound weird or anything - cause I know it does sound weird - but I've been cutting all these toxins out of my life and I think it's really making me feel better! Oh, I also like my job and my classes! My family, living situation, and my friends are great, too!" It doesn't feel at all like self-denial. It's stuff that I didn't even notice it was gone; I had no time to miss it. It quickly got replaced.
I spent (wasted? nah!) so much of my college life obsessing over the future - what kind of degree I was heading for, what kind of career, etc etc - and now I realize that what I've always been saying to myself and others is something I need to listen to myself. Life is short. Planning ahead is fine, but don't live for the future so much that you don't enjoy the present. What if I were to get hit by a EE next week!?!??! So, I haven't lost ambition, but I have no idea what my future holds and I don't care. I am happy now. Therefore, I am confident that as long as I continue on this path, I will not only be successful and happy in the future, but somehow move toward my goals of Doing Good in the World. I want to do more than just be kind to others, blah blah blah. I want to make a big difference. I always have.

I have all these stories and things I want to share, some of which I've been repeating to people all week and they maybe want me to shut up already and just talk about normal things like the weather, but I will post them, in a nice edited form, later. When I can think. I will just share a moment from this evening.

At a diner with a friend, the topic of prescriptions comes up. I announce that I have stopped taking mine. I tell her how since I started drinking organic milk and eating "less crap" - natural and health food - my health has gotten better and I need to take a lot less medicine. The sentences come out in between forkfuls of gooey, greasy Disco Fries that I'm shoving into my mouth. Hmm.

I suppose I am only selectively cutting out toxins.

Everything in moderation, I guess.

Friday, September 07, 2007

. . .

Times are transition-y and weird.

- - -

Everyone is at different levels of adult-i-ness right now, all of which are appropriate for our age. I just learned that a friend from high school bought a house. My last purchase, which seemed like a big deal too, was a quiche pan.
- - -

Last weekend, a friend was talking about spending an entire year feeling detached, I suppose intentionally, with the justification, "This isn't permanent." These physical surroundings, this living space, this routine, and these people - this isn't permanent. There's no point in getting attached, or there's no duty required of me to get attached. )That last sentence was mine entirely, not what my friend said.) I've just been reflecting, ever since, on this idea of detachment. It was interesting that someone would admit to it, especially one so long-lasting. I can't say I haven't felt that way, which is why I have been thinking about it (particularly the sentence that I added in.) The funny thing is that I can't remember exactly what I was being detached about. I guess that's the nature of the thing, isn't it?
Anyway, I was thinking about why people do this. What are the reasons we would intentionally, or at least - in a way over which we have control - remove ourselves from situations? The easy answer is, "To avoid getting hurt." Is this valid? What I mean is, should people do this?

Is there ever a good reason to limit one's own capacity to feel, and therefore experience? I don't mean detaching from something traumatic; I mean detaching from a situation with good and bad, not allowing oneself to experience any of it - good, bad, other. Things like a transitory period in life.

A slight tangent - it's weird the things that can feel like a Period In One's Life. A chapter. It's interesting how a three-day camping trip can seem as substantial as a period of six months working at the same job.

(For example, I used to reflect in some ways I could not put into words how strange it was that I would work at the software company for the summer, go to school for three months and experience a "chapter," with a beginning, middle, end, and all kinds of intellectual and emotional growth or at least, adventures - things that become stories - and then I would return to the office and find that everything and everyone was unchanged. It put things into perspective. For me, a SEMESTER seemed like a long time, and I felt like I was sooooo much different, but for most of the world it was simply three months.)

(Or when you see friends that you haven't seen in awhile, and they treat you exactly the same. There's this inner adolescent that wants to assert, "Hey! Haven't you noticed that I'm different!? Don't you see how I differently? Use different vocabulary? Have new inside jokes and slang? Make references to different current events and great thinkers/writers/whatevers? HEY!" I guess it's a little humbling to have them treat you the same way, but it's also a reminder that as much as we grow, we're still the same people. Growth and change are two different things, I guess. Anyway, we're still the same people and this isn't necessarily bad.
- - -

So anyway, detachment. There are so many times when it's acceptable to do this. I think even if we don't put it into words, we might think, oh it's ok that soandso is being standoffish, or whatever. He or she doesn't want to get too close, because he or she is leaving soon. I think this is often so unrealistic! I guess what I'm getting at is, maybe it's better to plunge into things emotionally, to be fully present for things such as meetings with other individuals. To allow oneself to like people, to become friends, to become attached.

This summer - well, two weeks ago - when I was getting ready to leave my job, I was thinking how I really hoped the friends I had made there would want to stay in touch, stay friends. Not just be friends of convenience, because we were in an office together and it made sense to eat lunch together and therefore, converse and therefore, learn about each other's lives...but as soon as we find some other people to fill that niche, we can move on.
I want to look at the people I meet as unique and not just interchangeable parts.
Anyway, I was glad when they all expressed some kind of interest in staying in touch.

So, this is what's on my mind right now. I am wondering how much I have missed out on by being detached, by refusing to acknowledge what was right in front of me, and how much I can consciously change this without being a total weirdo. I guess on some level I have acknowledged that this life I have now may be temporary - this living situation, this academic and work situation, these friends who are physically close. In a year and three months, I could be anywhere. I supposed I have decided that I don't want to treat it that way. I don't want to half-live this temporary life, this little chapter.