continua and the familiar.

What is it with change that can be so scary? Or how time can so gradually alter our feelings or view of something that it no longer is or affects us like what it used to be?

I feel like our emotions are always so closely related to our survival instincts and that we have to remind ourselves of that occasionally. Fight or flight. Fear of the unknown. Being blindsided or not being able to fully grasp a situation causes our defensive instincts to kick in and startle us. Deep down, we are just animals trying to survive. But our complicated brains, hormones, overwhelming emotion…those can cloud our perception and cripple us.

Yesterday, I was thinking a lot about the universe. About being small again, and about changes and choosing better in my life. Those personal emotions are scary because they make me feel vulnerable yet grounded. That’s instinct. That’s my body fearing danger and susceptibility even when I’m sitting safely in a work tent, surrounded by friends, help, and the necessities.

But what about the universe? I also began thinking about what I am and where I come from. I thought about religion. I thought about how so many people answer my questions about life with “Well, God.”

But I think explaining a question about life with an answer of religion…well that’s answering a question with the same question.

Where does matter come from? What are quarks? Are they made of something? Is this an infinite loop of smaller elements?
Well, God.
But what is God? What is God made of? If he’s the answer to where matter came from, then what is his matter and where did that come from? Who made God?
Well, God. He’s God. He does whatever he wants, and he’s God.

I’m sorry, but that’s not an answer. Maybe God made this that and the other thing – but that’s answering my question with more questions. Celebrating God may keep him from destroying you, but using him as an answer for the origin of life and where the universe comes from… Well he would still be part of that universe, so I’m not buying it.

God is such a catch-all.

As humans, we hate the unknown. We seek solace in the familiar. We want to have answers for everything and, when we can’t find an answer, we turn to a god.

You’re single and sad. Well, embrace God’s choice for you.

The cancer is taking your mom. Well, it’s God’s choice and you have to trust him.

That huge storm that just killed a bunch of innocent, technology-less people? That’s not global warming, God’s just angry at us.

No, no, no. I don’t believe that at all.

I believe we have free choice, that using God as an excuse is turning a blind eye to our character flaws or how we are destroying the planet. Saying, it’s all good, Jesus will return and God will save us.

When we can’t explain something, we turn to God, to a familiar, to a continuum. Like with me trying to explain matter as being made of infinitesimally small pieces, or thinking maybe atoms are small universes and the cycle never ends… Picturing death or the end of the world… WE CANNOT PERCEIVE THOSE THINGS, so we transpose the familiar onto a continuum. Continua keep the answers we want comfortably within our knowledge and potentially within our control.

But they’re lies, making up reasons and putting faith in them. Denying our faults. And we refuse to learn from it.

This reminds me of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. God seriously loves Israel and keeps showing the people grace despite their insubordinate behavior and continuous disobedience of his clear laws. They repeatedly turn to Baal and other gods despite his keeping them safe and alive and guiding them and warning them not to do just what they’re doing. His solution is to send a judge to the people.

Joshua has died and the people of Israel are without their strong leader, so they go astray and risk defeat by the Canaanites. God sends a judge to fill Joshua’s void. The people idolize the judge, win wars, celebrate their lord, and all is well. The judge lives his (or her) life out, dies, and it’s history repeating. This happens about twenty times and God keeps forgiving and trying again.

This story is thousands of years old, but we do the same thing to this day. We are inspired, like when America became patriotic after 9/11, and then we forget. Is it that the Israelites didn’t know danger? That God was always there for them? That they couldn’t see failure and knew, subconsciously, that he would be their catch-all and always save them?

The judges became a familiar and a continuum. God was the continuum of Israel. No one could picture defeat and they took advantage of it.

That’s like our excuses today, our passive concern. Because, without comfort of a familiar, we continuously revert to the next best safety net for our emotions. We can’t stand the vulnerability of change and the heaviness of responsibility.

Well, I think we all need to start owning up, on a personal as well as environmental scale. To start acknowledging our flaws, our faults, and our susceptibility to the uncontrollable unfamiliar. To realize the gravity of not having a safe continuum to rely on. To recognize the signs of history repeating, whether it’s in a personal relationship or on a large, international level of respect.

Out with the old, in with the instincts and the common sense. Let’s pull it together, folks.

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Nepal: One of the “Thinnest” Places on Earth

Have you ever heard of a “thin” place? No, not a place without McDonald’s or obesity. (On the contrary, there can be thin places in the US, where both of those things boom.) Instead, a thin place is described as a place of energy, a place where whatever divides the real world we live in and an eternal world beyond our reach is extremely thin, so thin that the two worlds nearly blend. Some people believe thin places are connected to God, but no one can deny that some places in nature – “thin places” – invoke an ethereal sensation, God-filled or not. I’m pretty certain the entirety of Nepal is a thin place.

The spiritual intensity of India can be ethereal, where strangers equate their guests to gods and you can wait hours pressed body-to-body in a sweaty temple just to be blessed by holy men. Waves lapping and then smashing the shores along the Blight of Benin is peaceful, terrifying, and an ethereal reminder of who’s in charge. Standing at a Buddhist temple on Mount Saleve, France, overlooking Geneva, Switzerland under a banner of prayer flags, cold air rushing up the mountain face – that was also ethereal. High altitudes and misty scenery is ethereal. Now, imagine combining all of those: altitude, scenery, the forces of nature. That’s like standing high in the Nepalese Himalayas. Up in these mountaintops, formed by clashing continents and which also host the great Mount Everest, one is greeted by a simpler life that is elevated both physically and spiritually. Picture solemn, dedicated, generous monks seeking retreat. (And don’t picture the ones setting themselves on fire in streets – that’s just to the north, in Tibet. Those are the monks that need to go to a thin place, or Nepal.)

There’s surely a reason why so many Hindus gather in these places, and it’s doubtful that Hindi Ghandi’s admiration of thin places is coincidence. But not all of Nepal is standing on a mountain top amongst trees full of prayer flags, crossing bridges in orange tunics, or eating dal bhat while cross-legged on the floor. Nepal is in fact divided by three regions which run east-to-west: mountains, hills, and the swampy terai. These regions are dissected by the river system, flowing north-to-south, making Nepal truly feel like an intersection of the forces of nature.

Of course, not all of the intersections in Nepal are the most pleasant. Since 1990, Nepal has managed to push through 500 years of governmental transformation in only a couple of decades. Yes, in 1990 Nepal was still a monarchy. This transformed into a Communist lead (well, it does border China) and is now finally a Republic. Yet, no matter how backwards Nepal might have been a few years ago, it is the first Asian country to not only abolish the death penalty but to also rule in favor of same-sex marriage. In Nepal, you can even declare yourself as a third gender – neither man nor woman. Wowzers! Basically, Nepal just wants people to be Yay! happy. And to not set themselves on fire.

The only thing about Nepal that does not lead to a happy, easy life seems to be the complete lack of efficient transportation. Sure, Nepal has 47 airports – but only 11 have paved runways. Most of the population has a 2 hour walk to the nearest all-season road, so don’t even begin to complain about 480 traffic. Basically, everything that geographically assists Nepal in being a thin place makes its transportation feel like a nightmare. And when it’s the rainy season, you can forget it. Fortunately, though, there’s no sense in having a car to get around Nepal. Just get yourself a bovine, load all of your belongings (three blankets, a wok, some tunics) on its back, and you’ll be riding in style, high up on those…15 hand shoulders. (Okay, it’s not 37 Nittos but it’s still cruisin’ for Nepal.) But, seriously, Nepal is one cool, thin place. And you should definitely try to land yourself there some day, in a tunic, on a cow, and while not setting yourself on fire.

When Life Gives You Eggs…

This was taken from my recent draft submittal for my satirical column in The Athenian.

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Valentine’s Day seems to render two distinctly different emotions: excitement or dread.  If you’ve got someone and you’re anxious for whatever surprises you’ll get or give, then you’re probably bubbling with excitement for the one day of the year that you might actually feel special.  (But, god forbid, if someone were to forget the date…)  Maybe the pressure to make the day special is too much for you and you’re contemplating breaking up with the other person on the 13th, then asking them back out the 15th.  I mean, why spend the money?

Ah, but maybe you have no one.  And here you are, trapped alone in the United States on this dreadful day full of sickeningly red, pink, and white hearts, flowers, cards, disgustingly sweet boxes of chocolates, fat cherubs, arrows, advertisements, heart-shaped pizzas, busy restaurants, and a take-out menu looming in the corner on your refrigerator.  Maybe you had someone and you thought it was going to last until this day.  Maybe you never had anyone and don’t know what it feels like to celebrate.  Well, not everyone has a Valentine’s Day full of chocolates, roses, and cheesy gifts.  I mean, do you really think all those men in countries where they take dozens of wives are really going to care about some fruitcake holiday?  Does anyone even know why it came to be or is it just another Hallmark event?

First, let me present to you a taste of global Valentine’s Day experiences: If people celebrate this day at all, they do it in even crazier, stranger ways than the States.  People in Wales don’t even honor Saint Valentine; they have their own patron of love.  In France, a ban by the government had to be put on the old tradition of walking across the street and matching up with random singles because the rejected women got too rowdy burning photos and other memorabilia of the men who rejected them.  In Denmark and Norway, men send out rhymes to women with their names signed as a series of dots instead of letters.  If the women can’t guess who it is, they owe him an egg at Easter.  If they guess it, he owes her an egg.  Gotta love them eggs.

The Asian cultures, though, many of them are crazy.  In Japan, it’s said that it’s the woman’s job to surprise the man – the one time of the year that it’s acceptable for affection to be displayed between them.  They give out different “levels” of chocolate, like “obligatory” chocolates that basically say “Here ya go, but I don’t particularly want to give you this”.  But what really gets me is those South Koreans.  They have completely taken the 14th of February to a new level.  Not only do they make traditions between couples, but also get-togethers with singles at restaurants where they eat black noodles in groups.  They have made an event day for EVERY SINGLE 14TH DAY OF EACH MONTH.  So Black Day, White Day, Kiss Day, Rose Day, Hug Day,… Talk about stressful; I’d just accept a heart-shaped pizza to myself and stay in the States.

But maybe that doesn’t make you feel any better, knowing how loony the world is.  Maybe you’re still lonely and you want to feel better.  Well, my friend, I have a great strategy: Go make your life awesome.  I’ll tell you how.  So let’s say you’re a college-aged girl and there’s this guy in your Calculus class that you just love SO much because he’s actually somewhat good-looking (for Case) and he totally can do all of your homework for you.  Well, because he goes to Case, I can guarantee he is well-connected to the Internet.  This is your window of opportunity, you just need to know how to use it.  The plan is to make yourself desirable to him and get him to ask you out on a V-Day (or Belated V-Day) date.

First, stalk him.  Check out all of his likes on Facebook and like them as well.  Scan through all of his photos to see what he does.  Check out his best friends.  Maybe follow them around some and watch what they do and monitor what they like to talk about.  Don’t forget Twitter, either.  Get SMS notifications sent to your phone when he tweets and pray there’s geo-locations attached.  If not, see if he has Instagram or watch when he uploads photos – they all have geo-tags now.  Make a Pinterest board of all the things you’re going to have to like now in order for him to like you and make another one for all of the things you need to forget to like that he doesn’t seem to like.  Watch all of the movies he likes, read the books he has read, and play the video games he plays.

Second, make yourself desirable.  Go on Facebook and make an account for a fake friend.  Add a bunch of hot people as his friends, but only guys.  Make sure it says on his status that he is single.  Upload a bunch of photos, mostly of ones you’re Photoshopped in with him having a crazy-awesome time.  Post on each other’s walls and share links to things that you think the guy you like might find interesting.  Have your friend comment on your posts with stuff like “oh, that’s dumb” and then retort with “Well, that’s why we’re not dating!  We just don’t like the same things.”  Make sure your crush sees your posts and clutter his feed.

If this doesn’t work, then hell…Just add your fake friend as your boyfriend and Photoshop pictures of you guys eating tubs of ice cream, heart-shaped pizzas, and boxes of chocolates together while cuddling with your cats and watching The Notebook.  I mean, whatever.  At least you’re not getting (or giving) an egg in a month.

New Years’ Resolution… or Every Day Revolution?

Janus, the Roman god with two faces, was able to look into the past as well as ahead to the future.  He’s the reason why the first month of our calendar year, January, is named the way it is.  January marks the closing of the last year and the start of the new one – in this case, 2014.  Like the Ancient Romans, the Babylonians, and numerous religious groups around the world have for thousands of years, you can bet loads of people are making “New Year’s Resolutions” to honor this temporal transition to January.  But, while Janus was omniscient and powerful, wasn’t he also just an old, obsolete, two-faced guy?

The truth is, making a “New Year’s Resolution” is a passé routine for spineless conformists – and it can bring the two-facedness out of people that lack enduring willpower.  “But it’s self-improvement!”, you say?  Tell me how “self-improved” you are by the time spring comes and you need Lent – or your Lent-practicing Christian peers – to remind you of self-discipline and how you didn’t lose twenty pounds but in fact gained them.  But that’s just it – all of these “self-disciplinary” routines are just diluted remnants of past cultures where sacrificing first-born children was your socially acceptable ticket to heaven.  In other words, “New Year’s Resolutions” hundreds to thousands of years ago were not much different than Lenten traditions: sacrifice and self-improvement for the sake of Christianity.  So today… where does that leave us today in a very diverse America?

If only the devout spiritualists of those bygone times could observe the things that motivate people in modern American society.  Did you know the top resolutions in recent years include losing weight, exercising, eating healthier, drinking less alcohol, and better managing money?  In a snapshot perspective, these resolutions make America seem gluttonous, lazy, alcoholic, and greedy.  Oh – actually that seems pretty accurate.  To those of you who actually partake in making resolutions as a way of internal self-improvement, kudos to you for adhering to the original tradition as closely as possible.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand that some of us eat too much, exercise too little, and the like… but isn’t that something you should be self-improving constantly?  Even internal self-improvement: Does it really take the flip of the Gregorian calendar – an artificial point in time along the elliptical path the Earth follows around the Sun, a revolution – for you to say, ‘Oh, gee, I should get serious about this now!’ ? Because, if that’s how you think, you’re not going to resolve anything.  To really improve a problem, there is no “I’ll start on that day” because then you can always just say “I’ll start tomorrow…the next tomorrow”.  It should just be, “I need to fix this…so I’m going to fix it.  Now.”  Forget a New Year’s Resolution – that is part of an Every Day Revolution.

So, because I choose neither to sacrifice babies to an ancient god nor to put any real faith in labeling time through our calendar system (which, by the way, vastly differs between cultures), I am not going to be making neo-traditional New Year’s resolutions.  Instead, I’m going to resolve – as I do every day, June 1st or January 1st – to keep doing what I do.  And what do I do?  I land myself in the middle of third-world countries with too little cash, tour new cities by brewery, kick back with Sylvia Plath and my cats and no friends because I have none, and tell myself that one day I will save the world with engineering…as soon as I learn how to engineer.

Happy It’s-Just-Another-Day (but drink champagne and eat Hoppin’ John with collard greens anyway)!

Montreal is Très Real

(Article from my satire column.)

My first time studying abroad was in fact to take a break from engineering and study French in Montreal. I thought it sounded like an excellent idea, going to Canada in March to learn my French. Little did I realize how waterproof my boots weren’t after walking hours in knee-high snow or how much the French in Montreal isn’t really French. It’s “Quebecois”. If you’ve spent your whole life learning Parisian French, studying in Quebec is about the equivalent of a Londoner living in the backwoods coal towns of West Virginia. It has a rather “what the hell language was that?” effect. Living in the old section of town, Vieux Montreal, was definitely the perk of the trip. Seeing how real the mountain was also justified calling the city “Mont Real”. But I still couldn’t get over this “Quebecois” thing.

During my time in Montreal, I spent a couple hours of every day volunteering in places like women’s shelters and soup kitchens. These places provided me with the opportunity of speaking French with the locals. Sadly, most of those conversations were curt and included phrases such as, “No, you can only have three pieces of cheese” or “You have a yellow ticket, not a green one, so you can only take one bottle of water”. My friends and I made every effort to become a part of the youth around us by socializing at our hostel and at local bars, but most of the kids staying with us were Anglophones and the noise in the bars prevented us from hearing each other let alone anyone speaking French. I stuck to guzzling down my Labatt Bleus (instead of Labatt Blues) and pretending like I knew what was going on around me. I ended up socializing the most on my daily walks through the town. Most days included pushing five cars out of a snow pile before having walked a single block. I became quite skilled at getting large vehicles out of deep, snowy trenches. One day, as I dragged my soaking feet through more and more snowfall, my friend and I joined several citizens of Montreal in pushing an enormous pickup truck out of an icy ditch. Exhausted, she and I stopped to get some local food. This is the moment when I made a mistake that I will always remember – and regret – for probably eternity.

We were taught in school that several things in Quebecois are different words than in French. While the French use American words like “un hot-dog”, the Canadians choose to make up their own word that sounds like “sausage” instead. The cuisine is also faux-French. For example, the classic dish in Eastern Canada is called “poutine” and consists of French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. I had this word committed to memory – “Poo-teen, poo-teen, poo-teen” – until one fateful day when my teacher thought it was a good idea to advise us not to pronounce the word like “poo-tan”. It had never occurred to me before to say it that way. Alas, the incorrect pronunciation was forever instilled in my brain. When my friend and I walked into the food shop that cold, cold day, I fell into the age-old trap and asked, “Avez-vous… “poo-tan”? The man laughed at me and said that, No, he doesn’t have any whores, or poutine for that matter.

Oh, Montreal, the embarrassment is real. I took my cravings elsewhere and forever remembered my experience with Montreal and the poutine…

Emerald: Color of the Year

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(Pinterest) Emerald, Peacock, whatever…

I know you have all been holding your breath… but it’s old news now.  Of course you’ve heard.  Pantone has declared Emerald 17-5641 as the Color of the Year for 2013.  (Don’t mess up the numbers!  You wouldn’t want to have the wrong shade of Emerald Green!  The Wizard of Oz might come after you if you offend him…)

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(Pinterest)

REALITY, people.

So I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a “Color of the Year” until I walked into Beachwood Mall yesterday and saw it plastered all over the makeup advertisements.  I guess I don’t use makeup as a crutch, so I wouldn’t know.  Pardon my cynicism, but this whole thing truly irks me.  I don’t post on this blog often, but I’m sure you might guess by now (if you follow) that I’m not exactly partial to the fashion industry.  In other words, I think it’s a crock of baloney.  I’m a naturalist… since when does the planet become controlled by the fashion industry?  By a silly human past-time in a world of creatures with more glamor in their natural decor than we could ever replicate without wearing their very furs themselves?

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(Pinterest)

Who the hell is Pantone anyway?  Oh, a printing company.  That makes sense.  I remember reading on some prehistoric stone plaques defining the creation of this planet that Pantone was declared the ambassador of artificial color trends for each human-observed cycle of that big Sun star around our little rock.  Naturally, I panicked and stocked my closet full of the color.  I couldn’t imagine looking out of style!!!

No, but really… the shit was on sale, and green is one of my favorite colors.  H&M and CVS stocked me as far as I plan to stock:

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Don’t forget your ruby slippers!  Pretty sure that’s a requirement this year as well.