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Thanks and Struggles – Human Bodies = Human Bodies

By William Alexander | June 25, 2014

Sometimes before dinner, when it’s my turn to say what I’m thankful for, I mention the thing that I find most immediately abhorrent. If I really, really think about that thing, I am usually humbled by the awesomeness of the context that creates the discomfort, and I am reminded of how amazing the world is.* In doing so, I redefine a knee injury as a reminder of the myriad mechanisms human bodies have to heal themselves. I am inspired to walk with better posture, smell/taste the flowers as I pass, and that although one of my limbs is acutely uncomfortable, the reality of my health situation is: my life expectancy and overall physical wellbeing is likely better that most humans, anywhere, throughout any part of history.

 

*Note: This “think about it until you feel happy” game doesn’t apply to some things. The more I think about genocide or prisons, the more I want to throw Molotov cocktails.

I don’t use this to shame myself or anyone else for being bothered by discomfort; I’m just reminding myself that I know I am a joyful person, so I might as well start acting like it.

 

Despite how much I’ve been walking on my rest-needing leg, one of my main priorities at this point in my life is to be healthier. I call it “getting in shape.” I like that phrase because it’s so hilariously impossible to be out of shape. (Round is a shape, pear-shaped is a shape, you are whatever shape you are.) I’d like to meet something that wasn’t a shape, but I’m afraid of what happens on the penumbra of dimensions.

I also like the phrase “get in shape” because words and concepts take almost tangible form when I try to think of them. Getting my life in shape literally correlates to putting pressure on different aspects of my life until the proportions of time-and-energy-allocations are more to my immediate liking. I don’t mean this figuratively; when I think about my “life,” it looks like a blob of clay, shaped by many things but most yielding to my own touch.

Getting in shape for me partially involves working on changing my body to be closer to my own ideal. It also involves changing the way I think of problems, changing the way I interact with nature, changing how I allocate and record my time, and being more intentional about whom I associate with. I don’t think I’m ready to go into details yet, but I will likely bear my soul for the internet to see as I explore who I am and who I am able to be.

One of my favorite ways to practice this becoming is with prettty regular Thanks and Struggles. Accordingly:

Today I am thankful for the ache in my knee, the happenstance of a special sweetheart being in DC tonight, and that I’m probably done moving out/in from/to my old/new home base. I’m struggling with remembering Thanks #1, more impatience with the process of getting my life in the shape I want it, and the asymmetry between how much I want to create something beautiful and how capable I feel at doing it.

P.S.! Watch this. Even if you’ve seen it before.

Thank Goodness

“My heaven is a snow globe. The blizzard will always be worth the touch of your hand, shaking me awake like a boy taking deep breaths all the way down to the dents in his shins like he’s building a telephone from a string and two tin cans.

He knows God’s number by heart. He knows it isn’t listed in any book.

Look me in the bull’s eye, in the laws I broke and the promises I didn’t, in the batteries I found when the lights went out, And the prayers I found when the brakes did too.

I got this moment and no idea when it will end. But every second of this life is scripture and to know that
trust me, we don’t need to be born again.”

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Thanks and Struggles – Growing stuff

By William Alexander | June 19, 2014

Today I am thankful for how much I know about myself and “nature,” how much there is yet to discover about myself and “nature,” and for the hope and faith implicit in the sacred act of gardening. I am struggling with staying true to the 100 day plan I made for work, physical discomfort from the Tough Mudder and perhaps this new medicine, and the deer in the back yard who I doubt understand investments, interest rates, or the lifetime consumption hypothesis.
I just have to put “nature” in quotes because I can’t find the line where “me” ends and “nature” begins. Especially when there’s so much dirt under my fingernails, and every itch threatens to be a tick, making its way along the home stretch. Today I’m thankful for what I know and am aware of. At Mountain Justice camp (yes, I still go to those, but my politics have changed) this week, someone asked me if I know much about plants. I told them I grew mint. Mint is the easiest plant of all. Do you want some? Grab a couple of inches from a happy mint plant, stick it in some dirt, and you have your own mint. You can’t possibly water it too much, and if you let it dry out, it will come back next year, even after its corpse freezes solid. I don’t know much about plants, but I have some mint.

“Do you clone plants frequently?” they asked.
“Well, I guess I’ve done that a couple times with the mint. And also I do it now with lemon balm. And I have some sage growing that could probably be propagated this way. And sometimes if I’m walking and I find a plant I like and even if I don’t know what it is, I’ll take a cutting and see if it will take root. I have a couple plants this has worked for, including some rosemary.” Rather than the words themselves, the amount of time I spoke caused me to think. I apparently know a thing or two about plants, and I can even help them grow sometimes! This surprising amount of knowledge applies to my “own” life/self, as well. I sometimes think if I were more like a “normal” person, I’d have myself all figured out. Instead, I bet I’m pretty far from average with regards to how I experience gender and sexuality, how I participate in religion and relationships, and what my morals and politics are. My feelings about most things are deep, conflicting, and inconsistent.

Best of all, there is so much *more* to be learned! Plants and feelings, like everything, are dynamic systems. Systems. Say it again. Feedback loops, weird level-set changes, interconnected processes which are functions of one another. Incalculably complex.

I brought home some Indian Cucumber from Kentucky. It’s my favorite edible wild. A dear friend took me hunting (for roots!) on Tuesday, and when we found some, we just sat and experienced the scene. I’ve only seen Indian Cucumber at places where there’s been ferns and moss. That much, I knew. I realized, after talking to Carol, that I’ve always been able to stick my hands 2-3 inches into the dirt with basically no resistance. Once I started digging, I tried to imagine where else I could imagine the dirt. “You know what this feels like? It feels like when a log has gotten so rotten that you can’t tell the difference between the dirt and the log. That’s where Indian Cucumber must grow.” Later I came to realize I’ve always seen it on a slight hill and near some sand. This is just a plant, but it’s already got so many preferences!

As we hiked back, I explained a thing or two to our third hunting companion, and realized more deeply that I do, indeed, know a thing or two about plants. The conversation shifted to Zen practice, mindfulness, and patience, and I realized I also know a thing or two about that stuff, too. (ignore the Zen blasphemy in those sentences, as skillful means. for me?) Importantly, knowledge in both of these provide me with a full tool belt for when I’m feeling anxious. The internal and external are made manifest through anything, but these two languages speak to me in harmony with one another.

I don’t need to be near sand, but I do love rotten wood and nice, finished compost. I still need time to sit down in the dirt and acknowledge the scene where I thrive. Sitting down would also help my knee heal after that 10 mile obstacle course. In fact! Sitting down would be helpful for me to finish making my experiment program more object oriented! Maybe it’s time for me to be still. That sounds pretty permaculture to me.

I feel content and happy. The world is full of possibilities, and who knows, maybe Indian Cucumber can learn to live with the opportunities I can provide.

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What’s in a name?

By Billy | December 18, 2013

My relationship with my name has been “it’s complicated” since I was… maybe 11? That’s the earliest I can remember, at least. At the beginning of 6th grade, Mrs. Mead called roll and asked if we had any nicknames.
For whatever reason, my heart started racing. We do this every year, but this time felt different for me. I guess since I was finally in middle school, I needed to start thinking about how I wanted to be as an adult. Mrs. Mead, in her shrill and perpetually annoyed voice, called out “William Grasmeder,” and I told her, “I want to be William this year.” I couldn’t imagine being Billy when I was an adult. (Bill Clinton was the nearest thing to an “Example of adult Billys;” as a conservative Catholic, appeared to be neither an adult, a Billy, nor a good example.)

My friends scoffed the attempted transformation. Mrs. Mead followed suit. “No, I’m going to call you Billy.” Confused, I explained under my breath that I didn’t always want to be a Billy.

In 8th grade, my so-called girlfriend and her friends called me variations on my middle name, Alexander: Lex, Alex, and Alexander. My brother’s girlfriend at the time was calling me “Bill,” a name I didn’t like to begin with, but especially not coming from a person I so detested existing in my life. A year later, my to-be long-term high school partner, was also calling me “Bill” (which I now thoroughly detest coming from most people). As a result of the Bill/Billy juxtaposition, my high-school Ice Hockey jacket just has the letter “B” written on it. That nickname still follows me. Someone called me “B” just yesterday.

Introducing myself as any of these names has always just felt.. funny. Wrong. To be honest, it feels like there’s a dense liquid wall in front of me (white in color). The wall gives resistance, but is easily penetrated once you commit to it. There’s this liminal moment(?), between the two sides, during which I have no thoughts. Once on the other side, I’m ready to say “Billy,” or whatever other name I have braced myself for.

I became aware of this bizarrely physical feeling between 2003 and 2007 when I’d lie about my preferences, either to my high school sweetheart, or because of my high school sweetheart. Whenever I knew what I was about to say was entirely fabricated and disjoint from the things I wanted, but I was choosing to say them anyway. When it happened with her, though, I usually knew what alternative I preferred.

About which name I preferred, I had no ideas.

In 2008, amid 20 strangers who would come to be some of the most important friends I’d find in college, I lost my name. We were camping and I was someone’s tag-along. I knew nobody. When they started asking me my name, and I just told them “I don’t know.” I was trying to be honest… and I was hopeful that people would guess at my name and eventually the right one would emerge. Thus I became “the one without a name” in quite a few people’s phone books. When people call me “Rufus,” I immediately know which friends we have in common. People called me Rumplestilkstin, Sky, Meredith, Beau, Sid, Skunk-Phoenix, and so on. This lasted for months; at least an entire school year. Longer.

Eventually, I became half happy with the idea of going by “William-Alexander.” The whole thing. It felt wrong, but it felt a little less wrong than introducing myself to a group of 5 people with 5 different names, and people assumed I had some other agenda when I kept silent about it. People had begun to figure out my birth name, anyway, and were calling me William. Which never was definitely not right. Now people out there call me Wally, WAlexander, Walex, W.A., etc.

Some people chose to shorten William Alexander Grasmeder to just Wag. It felt alarmingly okay. Those few people were the first ones, maybe excepting family members, who actually called me names I felt like I liked. Like the name fit me.

Wag.

In early 2013, I was: Billy to family and their friends, Billy at work (because my boss knows my family), William at school, William-Alexander to college friends, Wag to many, and things like Skunk Phoenix and Rufus stuck for a few, too. Hearing people say “Wag” felt best, but introducing myself like that felt frustratingly false.

One day in 2013, I tried introducing myself as one of the names I had been given, Meriwether. I was on a bus with only strangers. They’d never know what my parents call me, they’d never know anything but what I told them. I felt calm after having told them this name. There were no big fireworks, there was no wall to push through. And they bought it! The first time I heard it used for me, there were fireworks. There was such validation in that moment. The thrill!

So there it is. I’d been sitting on Meriwether for a few months, slowly telling people little by little. Last month I made a facebook accout for this new iteration of myself. 1. Facebook wont let me change my name any more, I’ve reached that limit. And 2. I think I’m set on this new name and all its nicknames. The middle name I’ve been going with is Rose. That leaves you Merry (a la Meriadoc), Mary, Rosemary, Meriwether, Mer/Mar, and so on.

The reason for writing all this is to feel like I’m no longer in the shadows about it. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings for not telling them about my name preference, nor do I want them to feel like they’re not invited into new steps in my life. You are invited! I’m just easing myself into the water and being self-conscious. But there you have it. Thanks for reading.
Sincerely,
Meriwether

tl;dr I never really knew a name I liked before now. I’ve found I have a strict preference for “Meriwether.”

Topics: This is my life | No Comments »

Unity3d and Random Number Generators (GUI)

By Billy | November 10, 2012

I’ve started messing around with Unity3d and programming in C# and Javascript. I can’t find ANYTHING worth while to get me started on Boo, so I’m stuck ignoring what could be potentially be a great language for me to program in. Anyway, I had to piece together a few things in order to write this random number generator recipe, so I thought I’d share it in case anyone wanted to learn the same baby steps as me.

Unity’s general discussion points on randomness leave the beginner programmer (me, for instance) a little disappointed.

In Python 2.7, one can simply type:

import random
print random.randrange(0,10)

and they will get a pseudorandom number between 0 and 10 ,extremities inclusive.

It’s my understanding that in unity, as with LSL for Second Life, once cannot execute code without first inserting it into some object. That mean’s Descarte’s Dreamer Scenario logic (cogito ergo sum, which I personally find bafflingly illogical) holds for programming in Unity3d. If there’s code executing, it’s certain there’s at least a cube there to think it.

I’m interested in eventually making a more-than-basic GUI, so the following recipe produces a GUI with a single button, whose sole purpose is to print a random number. This is not the most simple way to do it, but I do so love the way Unity allows you to mess around with variables on the fly, so I almost never bury variables in the code.


#pragma strict
//RandomNumberGenerator.js

//Random Number Variables:
var biggestNumber: int = 100;
var smallestNumber: int = 0;

//GUI Button Variables:
var buttonWidth : int = 500;
var buttonHeight : int = 200;

static var randomChance: int;

function OnGUI(){
if(GUI.Button(Rect(Screen.width/2 - buttonWidth/2,Screen.height/2 - buttonHeight/2,buttonWidth,buttonHeight), "Generate a random number!")){
var randnum = (Random.Range(smallestNumber,biggestNumber));
print (randnum);
}
}

Apparently I don’t know how to make pretty looking code appear on my blog, so I’ll work on that in the future.

The code is simple. Define a variable range of numbers, create a variable size of GUI button. I’m not sure how to explain the static variable randomChance, because I stole it from some youtube video, but it works. [EDIT: I just got rid of randomChance because I never call it!] The only function in the code basically says, “Hey, we’re using a GUI. There’s a button with the string “Generate a random number” in it, and when you click on that, do this: call randnum a random number in between our previously established max/min, and print it out.

The crap right after GUI.Button(Rect( basically centers the button. I haven’t done the calculus to figure out if it’s perfect, but for now I like it. I think there are also ways to center it without so many fractions (using GUI Styles), but this is what I’m working with right now.

If you’re reading this whole thing for some reason and have no idea what Unity is, it’s a free game developing engine that you probably use to play games on your iPad. You can download it from the Unity3d official website by using context clues to find it yourself on the internet.

ta dah

I know, it's too exciting to handle.

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Positive and Negative Motivations

By Billy | August 28, 2012

I do this thing that I hate; that I want to change. I do it allllll the freaking time. I do it and I want to stop, but… maybe I haven’t ever stopped because I’ve never had the right motivations. This is what I do — to the detriment of myself and the people I love: I act on negative motivations. It’s terrible! It leads me into corners, into unhealthy commitments, into unnecessary stress, and away from whatever is my purpose in life.

To act on negative motivations is to live a life of fear and despair. What do I mean by that? I mean that negative motivations are the things that make you act because you don’t want something to happen. Simple example you may have experienced today: “I don’t want to feel like a lazy slob, so I will get out of bed.” Please. Just stay in bed. I’d rather you own being a ‘lazy slob’ then for you to continue being one, but join us in the land of the living out of some supposed obligation. If you didn’t get out of bed because you were ready and excited to tackle obstacles and climb mountains, why did you get up?

Here is another example of a decision motivated by negativity: “I don’t know what I want to do with my life, so I guess I’ll just go to grad school.” If you just started a grad school class and your primary motivation for doing so was to avoid something… Please. Just drop out now. You don’t need to be overqualified at not actualizing your potential, nor do the rest of us want that of you.

Avoidance is often indicative of a negative motivation, but here’s another common one: “I have to…” That one’s tough because a lot of the crap you do seems absolutely required of you and that’s a tough habit to kick. But let’s face it: in the big picture, if you’re reading my blog, 99.9% of the stuff you do is not very important. I’m confident no action you take or don’t take in the next 24 hours is going to matter in ten years, and if that, it certainly won’t matter in 100 years. Pretend you are meeting someone from the year 5,000. Are you going to introduce yourself and expect them to recognize your name? OK, so very few of your decisions are life and death, or going to rob you of the Nobel Prize, so let’s put down that “have to” burden of bullshit and look at our responsibilities with objectivity. You are henceforth excused from your responsibilities and have-tos and if the world ends because of it, I’ll take the heat for you.

So lets look at our duties objectively! Whom are you required to honor and take care of? Your self. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will die and lose all ability to do anything, whether motivated by positivity or negativity. That seems like not the optimal strategy. Yes, gasp if you must, but your only duty in this small existence is to your self. How you perceive or define your self is another matter altogether. Perhaps your self is just the single human body with which your mind is currently most strongly associated, or perhaps you have reached a M.K. Gandhian level of true panentheism, such that your self has melted into billions of people and creatures, and you can’t tell the difference between where your self stops and another self begins. Let me help you conceptualize this. Do you have children? I bet your self is bigger than just YOU in your single physical entity. Did you start a company from the ground up, with initially just mud and pebbles in your pocket? I bet that entity is part of your self. When you pull long hours for your child or your company, you’re doing it for yourself, too. It’s ok. We are all self-interested; we just have different concepts of self. There is no other option.

Whomever your self is, that’s where your motivations lie. The center of your self should be the center of your motivations. Nothing else is as real or as immediate — I might even go so far as to say nothing outside of our selves exists at all. But why should you be motivated by things on the fringes of your self? If you’re reading this and I’ve never met you, there is literally no difference to me whether you exist or not; the only you that exists in my self is the completely potentiated one for whom I wrote this whole thing. You actualizing that potential changes my self in no way. But I am positively motivated to write for you none the less. I don’t even have a reason, but that I want to write.

Positive motivation is the other side of this coin. Positive motivation is no longer saying to yourself and the rest of the world, “Since I must…”, but saying “If I may…” Would you rather hold someone’s hand on an after-dinner walk while they are thinking the former or the latter? Which attitude would you rather have in someone who is caring for your children? What about your parents when they need it?

Why, then, should we do anything in our life with less than this positively motivated attitude.If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If it’s worth doing right, it’s worth doing with the right intentions.

But maybe this train of thought turns us down the wrong path. We shouldn’t be doing things because it is logical, or because it is the optimal strategy. I yearn for action that springs out of a joyous heart.

There is, perhaps, no real difference between an action taken with positive or negative motivations. Pouring a glass of water because you don’t want to be thirsty is probably exactly the same thing as doing it because you want to hydrate yourself. But let’s reduce this example to the absurd. Let’s go to some point in your timeline when you are getting yourself some water. You must now inject one of the following thoughts into your head: “Every sip of water is a step away from dying of dehydration.” and “YEAHHHHH! WATER! WOOO!” I generally would choose to inject the thought containing a “WOOO!” into myself at any point in my timeline. Now imagine you have to inject the fear based or the excited thought into your head at EVERY point in your time line. With which option would you rather be stuck all the time? It’s the same thought, but your opinion of it changes everything.

Remember when you got up because you were afraid of being a lazy slob this morning? Try this. Next time you feel the need to get up specifically because you don’t want to be a lazy slob all day, force yourself to keep laying. Don’t get up until you find some other reason to get out of bed. When it’s something as simple as getting out of bed, and there are so many positive side effects of doing so (like eating breakfast, meeting new people, learning to do stuff, taking care of business), you will naturally find a bazillion reasons to be positively motivated to get out of bed. Even when it’s cold outside but warm and snuggly in your bed, you will appreciate your warm snuggly blankets more and you might even get up more quickly if you start thinking about the positive side of getting up. You might even plan things you wouldn’t have otherwise.

What about doing crap for your boss. Stuff you realllllly don’t want to do. Hm. Well, I’ve had my boss ask some really mundane-seeming crap of me, but I always found a positive motivation in all of it. Often it was the long haul, or that I’ve set a 5 year goal of myself, and I am positively motivated to accomplish that goal because I believe I deserve it. Now every time I come to reading the same 15 page document nonstop for 40 hours for a week, I remember the context of the task and it’s not such a big deal, and my motivations are always positive.

So here’s the thing. Look for the positive motivation in everything. If you can’t find a single positive motivation for the task you’re doing, why are you in that situation? You probably did that thing where you accept responsibility out of a negative motivation, and you follow all those negative motivations until you’re in a rut in a corner. Did you get there being polite? Did you get there to make someone else happy? Did you get there because you’re not confident enough to demand of the universe an amazing life for yourself? These are the types of motivations we want to try and avoid…

Topics: This is my life, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Quitting music is the easiest thing… I do it all the time.

By Billy | July 24, 2012

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I’m quitting forever.
Today I watched a rather informative YouTube video about vibrato on the violin. And after crying for a while, I decided to quit playing the viola. I’m just certain my body is incapable of making it sound beautiful. No, I’ve never had a formal lesson. Yes, I’ve only been playing on and off for four years. Four years, though. I know stringed instruments require a long time to sound nice, but I am ridiculously bad and tired of being frustrated with it.
OK, so if you know me at all, you know I’m just writing all this stuff and I don’t mean it and I’ll probably still keep playing and I’ll probably talk myself out of being so negative in a few minutes.

A while back, I wrote about how it takes 10 years to become excellent at something. I wrote about how I have no idea what I want to be excellent at, but at the time I did mention that I want to be excellent at an instrument someday. A few months after I wrote that post, I was inspired to get better at the viola. I practiced violin (yes, I’m talking about two different instruments because I only had violins in Austria) almost every day, for a rather long time, and really enjoyed it. It was on New Years day (Sylvester in Austria) that I decided to take lessons, and really put myself into learning my viola. I never took lessons, which I suppose will probably be one of my things I promise myself I’ll do before I can officially quit, but I did pick the viola up nearly every day the first month I was back. Now I try to pick it up several times a week.

Reasons why I am quitting:
1. It always feels like I’m making an investment when I play. I never can just sit down and play and enjoy myself. Rather, I always have to start playing when I’m in really high spirits, and then I need to do something afterwards which builds me back up. The only reason I play is because I will be glad I did so in the future.
2. My body is physically incapable of moving the way that’s necessary for vibrato. Have you ever listened to a violin without vibrato? It’s ugly and boring and always sounds flat. Yuck. My wrist doesn’t bend in the right direction and my neck is too long to allow me to hold the instrument right, so I can’t relax and release my grip, plus my back and neck hurt after playing.
3. The viola was a bad choice anyway. Who plays the viola? Apparently nobody. It’s impossible to find my place in a jam session, since I can’t just do what the violins are doing. Appalachian music has no place for violas whatsoever. My little fingers don’t reach the C string well enough, either, which doesn’t help the vibrato problem.

Ugh.
I hate writing stuff out because it all becomes so clearly illogical. I can’t even finish this post with any congruency. I just want to list the things that debunk the arguments posed above, then look up where I can get a couple lessons for cheap nearby, then do something to build myself back up so I can get practicing again on Thursday or something.

1. Sometimes I really enjoy playing the viola. Often it is discouraging and I do put it down because I’m fed up with how inexperienced I am, but I look forward to playing every day because it’s something I enjoy doing. The investment is just a bonus.
2. My body, in all likelihood, is capable of performing vibrato. It’s more likely that my technique is unrefined and my muscles and synapses haven’t been properly trained to do it. Quitting before someone even attempts to train me is hardly starting at all.
3. This viola is awesome. None of those stupid squaky violins (kidding) can hit that low C like I can. Besides, if I ever wanted, I could make it into a chin cello and play the cello part, which can be hauntingly beautiful. The viola is supportive and different, which fits me nicely.

Bah. Why can’t I throw a pity party for more than 10 minutes, just once?

Chin Cello action.

Topics: This is my life | No Comments »

More on Joy

By Billy | March 25, 2012

I am part of the generation of consolation prize kids. When I ran cross country in elementary school, I came in 32nd place in my first race. There were 32 people participating. I was literally last to finish, and by a long shot at that. But! I got something for it. A ribbon, a trophy, whatever it was, I do remember getting something for my accomplishment. I went home with a cocktail of feelings: shame, pride, discouragment, resolve, triumph, disappointment. Nobody mentioned at all, ever again, that I was literally the worst cross country runner in the race; I never faced this fact as a child. I revelled, unaware of what I wasn’t learning, in my mediocrity — with participant ribbon in hand. I hadn’t lost because I’d tried! As I write, I see a direct parallel to the modern mode of dying; sterile, unrealistic, decietful. My parents and teachers had told me, like doctors stretching statistics, that I was OK, or going to be OK, because my immediate feelings were prioritized far ahead of my long-term development. People die and people suck at stuff. Bam. There it is. Why do we waltz around these truths as if ignoring them will make them disappear?

I told a high schooler yesterday that I have my first “grown up job.” I acknowledge that the term is oppressive to the huge majority of people on the planet who don’t engage in such activities, and who actually are “grown ups,” but such a job, as constructed in my hermeneutic, involves things like having to bring work home sometimes, going to meetings, having long term projects, and having some semblance of expectations for the future. This girl asked me if I considered myself a “grown up.” I quickly reminded her that I said I had a “grown up job,” and that I had specifically not said I am a “grown up.” I think I will participate in the spectrum of growing up for my entire life, making perhaps the biggest stride during the eternity that it takes for me to exhale my last breath. That said, there are things I have done in my life that, when compared to earlier stages, I can look at and say, “wow, I have grown (up) quite a bit since then.” I have grown up, I am not *a* grown up.

Before I had grown up, I didn’t know that I was already dead in the future. I didn’t know that I was the worst at things. I didn’t know how to lose, or be sad, or win, or be happy, or fall in love, or let it go.

Before I had grown up, I didn’t know how to be sad. I don’t think I’d ever practiced as a child, so it didn’t matter how old I was, I just wasn’t growing up in this region of my life. When something would get to me, it was as if I had to *do* (!!!) something about it. As if how could this pain exist if nobody knows that it’s there?! as if how can I make sense or do anything about it if it’s just neurons exploding in different ways than normal? as if there was some end goal or resolution to feeling bad. I would try to ignore it, or rationalize it away, or both, or I’d need it “expressed.” Poems, screaming at clouds, engage in desructive behavior, or feel rather insane for however long the sadness lasted. While growing up, I realized that there’s no end goal in being sad, outside of being sad.

Why do we feel sad? why do we hurt? because… sometimes bad things happen or things hurt us. It’s not actually the start of something, but the end of something. When you experience some physical ailment, the pain is usually your body saying to get out of the situation — once you’ve done that, there’s no other thing left to do but heal and eventually stop feeling the pain. The hurt is a reminder to take things slow, but it is also a testament to the fact that the blow has been dealt and it’s already getting better. Sure, you can take a painkiller to remove your sensitivity to the pain, but it’s still there. This is like sadness. It is the result, not the cause still waiting for a reponse.

I’ve known that for years. Since I wrapped my mind around that little nuisance of a fact, I lived a dramatically better, but still gut wrenchingly dissatisfied life. Happy and satisfied are different, mind you; I have been quite pleased with the direction I’ve been driving my life for the past few years, but there was always a hole. Always something missing.

In France I had this notion that happiness, or more specifically, Joy, might function quite the same way as sadness. Joy is not the source of good feelings, but rather the response of good stimuli. I hadn’t ever noticed how thoroughly I wanted to hold on to joy; to grasp it, to savor it, to keep it. In successfully letting sadness exist in my life, I simply had to acknowledge the true cycle of suffering and it’s extinguishment. Winter, spring, summer, fall, winter… Pain comes, pain hurts, pain is gone, pain is forgotten. Sometimes it’s frustrating how much effort we put into suffering through something, because when it’s gone, it’s so far gone that if feels like all the effort we spent being hurt was wasting time. It wasn’t, but it doesn’t matter either way.

Joy has a life cycle, too. It comes, like the sun from behind clouds on a day when you really shouldn’t wear that sun dress, but it’s finally beautiful enough for you to technically get away with it. That sun comes out, and acknowledges your faith in her, and you are the first one who is ready for spring — all the other people not hopeful enough to be daring; they’re missing out. That joy, that moment… is worth the discomfort when the sun goes behind the clouds again. Huh, now it doesn’t seem too bad out, and remember how great that sun was just then?

Joy comes and goes. It is a dragonfly who comes and sits motionless on the tip of your oar for just a moment, long enough for you to realize you’ve stopped breathing, and then flies away and leaves you alone in your canoe. You can’t keep that dragonfly. You can’t dissolve those clouds. And honestly, it wouldn’t be the same if you did. The reason you stopped breathing was exactly the same reason that you want to keep it in your pocket. But don’t! Everything will lose its magic.

Joy’s lifecycle is exactly what makes it so powerful. You’re not supposed to feel it for every second of every day. If you were, you’d look for more of it, and eventually you’d get all strung out on it. There’s nothing you should do about it except savor it and let it go. I actually don’t know what the difference is between what I’m writing now, and what I’ve written all the time about buddha-nature, or Lao Tzu, or Stoicism, or just general common sense about enjoying the little things, but this, this is different.
This isn’t just non-attachment in the sense that I’ve understood it for years, this is something new. This is… ugh. This is non-attachment in the exact same sense that I’ve understood it for years, but it just went a level deeper.

Joy has a life cycle, pain has a lifecycle. Let them come and let them go.
That’s all I got right now.

And a story!
Hui Tzu came to visit Chuang Tzu and offer his condolences, as Lao Tzu’s wife had recently died. Hui Tzu found Chuang Tzu sitting on the ground with his legs sprawled out, banging on a tub and singing.
“You lived with her, she brought up your children, and you grew old together,” said Hui Tzu. “It should be enough that you don’t weep at her funeral, but playfully singing like this is going too far.”
“You’re wrong,” said Chuang Tzu, “When she first died, do you think I didn’t grieve like anyone else? But I looked back to her beginning and the time before she was born. Not only the time before she was born, but the time before she had a body. Not only the time before she had a body, but the time before she had a spirit. In the midst of the jumble of wonder and mystery a change took plance and she had a spirit. Another change and she had a body, another change and she was born. Now there’s been another change and she’s dead. It’s just like the progression of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter.”
“Now she’s going to lie down peacefully in a vast room. If I were to follow after her bawling and sobbing, it would show that I don’t understand anything about fate. So I stopped.”

I think my favorite part of this is that Chuang Tzu behaves so very humanly at first. Is that not inspiring? How human of us to grieve over the loss of things we don’t actually possess. How human of us to rage against things we cannot change. How human of us to push pain away and cling to joy. How human of us to fail at it.

Topics: Philosophy | No Comments »

Open Letter of Intent

By Billy | March 19, 2012

So this is me asking my friends and family to proofread something. I’m publishing this blog post with literally NO readthough, having finished the last sentence. I will go through periodically and read, change, edit, etc., and then eventually submit it. Your comments are not only appreciated, but begged for.

Don’t let my philosophy and religion degree mislead you. If you were to look at my resume, you’ll probably find that I’m also an outstanding roboticist. If you really search for me on the internet, you’ll probably find that I’m a vocal social activist. If you try to put all the facts you can scrounge up about me together, you’ll probably find that none of the pieces really seem to fit together. It used to bother me: this tension. Now I think it’s a marvelous strength.

I started college with a headfirst dive into my university’s mathematics program. It only took 3 semesters before I started to feel disconnected with the goings on of the rest of the world. In an attempt to make sense of the various wars and struggles happening within myself and across the planet, I started taking politics, philosophy, anthropology, and religious history courses. By the time I graduated, I had a Religious Studies degree, an undeniable sense of helplessness with regards to the state of the world’s politics, and an inexplicable sense of inner peace when standing in the face of the incomprehensible.

The latter of these two feelings has been the stronger force. Since graduating, I have felt more empowered and energized than I could have imagined. I have kept my youthful idealism and complemented it with realistic plans. That intersection is what brings me to George Mason’s Economics program. Although when I started thinking that I might need to go get a graduate degree, my first thought was to study computer science, I realized later that an economics degree could provide the “real world” involvement that is not inherent in the life of a programmer.

I stopped studying math because I felt out of touch with the imbalances of the world. I don’t want to hide from the harsher realities of living on this planet, but I want even less to simply acknowledge they exist and do nothing about them. Computer science holds a lot of potential for me to do either of those things; I knew there was a better way to use my computer skill and passion productively and effectively.

Until early last February, I had been living in a small village in Austria. Staying in Europe for almost a year gave me some time to actually assess the foreign culture and reflect on my own. During this time, I kept a journal to keep track of all my feelings about simple conveniences the Austrian people had never considered — things that Americans take for granted. I wrote about public transportation and our dependence on cars, I wrote a lot about the agricultural economics in Austria, and also the general attitude of the people around me. It was during this year long cultural immersion that I realized how profoundly integral economics is to the balance of our civilization.

I don’t think I can help that I’m such an idealist. Nor can I help that I have such a strong sense of duty in me. These two things together mean that I have to put my efforts into the common good, and that I’m going to keep finding reasons to believe it’s important for me to do so, and that I might make a noticeable contribution. Having an expertise on our current economic system is reaching at the taproot of our society. The good and bad aspects of modern life can all be traced back to the way we collectively distribute the tangible and intangible goods like money, wealth, and power.

Since I arrived home, I’ve started working at the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason. I’m already involved in experiments to study decision making scenarios for the Neuroeconomics department, and sitting in on an experimental economics class to get up to speed and make up for my relatively low number of economics class credits. I’m just scratching the surface and am already filled with countless ideas of how to use our modern computing power to learn more about our current economy as well as the directions it’s heading.

Is a degree in philosophy a suitable foundation for a graduate degree in economics? I think so. Philosophy equates to thinking logically, finding innovative ways to deal with complex problems, spotting holes in reasoning, and thinking of new ways to challenge old paradigms. These skills are necessary for successfully anticipating and staying current with economic development. I plan on refining these skills within the context of economics, especially experimental economics, and use the virtually infinite computing power available to better understand our society.

Ultimately, economics drives everything that happens in the world. Studying it in depth is the next logical step in my life.

//This paragraph below is being left out because it’s too self deprecating.
Yes, I have a philosophy degree, and yes, I have only taken 6 credits of economics courses, but no, that doesn’t make me a less valuable applicant. I bring to the table a perspective and array of strengths that aren’t to be found in the perfect economics major applicant, and I rest confidently in that fact. I am going to study economics and I am going to continue experiments with the Krasnow Institute one way or the other. The only question is whether I will start with GMU this fall or not.

Topics: This is my life | No Comments »

The end to a frustrating series of dreams?

By Billy | February 27, 2012

Last night
I killed the demon
from so many nightmares.

I held her and wept.

Everyone agreed,
it had to be this way.

Topics: poetry | No Comments »

Yahallelu, Alhamdulillah, etc.

By Billy | February 26, 2012

Oh, wide meadow, do you fear the reaper?
We who walk and run, we worry. From whom can we buy time?
Whence comes your endless love of reaching for the sun?
Teach us, I beg you, to honor the reaper
and the soil
and why you ever spring back.
And how (!)(?)

I found an old notebook — the one I carried with me everywhere for my junior year of college. OK so it’s not *that* old. Above is an updated rendition of a poem I found in one of the pages — hidden between notes for my Hinduisms class and my Gandhi and Global Nonviolence class.
The original version started as follows: “Oh! Grass, do you suffer as I do? Do you wince with every footfall?”
I don’t know exactly what was going through my head and heart at the time, but I can tell you what it wasn’t.

Joy.

When I was in France, we had a week of bible discussion about Elijah. Elijah wasn’t, in my opinion, the best of prophets. He did a lot of improvisation that God hadn’t explicitly authorized, he was full of self pity, he exaggurated all of his problems, and apparently never doubted himself about these things — if anything, he doubted God when things weren’t going right. After a while, Elijah went to find some answers. He spends exactly one really long time in the desert (introspection) and then climbs up the mountains where it all started (meditation). On that mountain (in a state of meditation) Elijah meets God (). What happened was that a hurricane happened, and then a volcano, and an atomic bomb went off and all this crazy crap, but God was not in the hurricane, nor the earthquake, nor the atomic bomb, nor any of the tremendous things, but at the end, there was a “still small voice” in which Elijah finally found God. (This is all in 1 Kings 19:11ish)
In our discussion groups afterwards, we started talking about when we hear God’s still small voice.

Oh, crap! I’ve never listened for God’s still small voice. As a mystic, I can’t believe that God is not in the earthquake or the napalm strikes, and in fact, the worst situations in my life are the ones through which I feel most closely connected to the divine. I realized during that first week in Taize that it’s been my habit for the last 8 years or more to listen to God in the storms, but hardly ever in the stillness.

; I’m talking about just hearing God in the simplest of joys.
So then I started worrying. I started to notice patterns in my life where I actively make things more difficult than necessary, specifically so that I experience God strengthening me and carrying me through situations I otherwise wouldn’t be able to handle. A little sparrow once told me that God’s love isn’t supposed to hurt, I didn’t know what she meant at the time. So my meditations and prayers became focused on this cycle I kept perpetuating: make choices that point me directly into a disaster area, survive by the skin of my teeth, acknowledge God’s presence in all things, start looking for the next disaster. Presently, I started feeling decently self-loathing about this habit. What can I do?
Then one of the monks read the Gospel. I think it was during prayers before lunch. The story was about a crippled guy who wanted Jesus to put him into some healing waters, because occasionally people were healed in the pool. Jesus just told the guy to get up and walk. As the monk read, Jesus stepped out of the grave, teleported straight over to me and spoke the words as the monk read them, “Stand up and walk.”
That was it. There is no other way to solve your problems — they don’t exist. Jesus is unity with the divine. It’s like God is a black hole, and Jesus is the point of no return, where not even light can escape from the pull of infinity, and by his very existence, BAM, we’re all sucked into the singularity. You are already a Buddha. Just stand up and walk, don’t bother even worrying about it. Don’t regret the time you wasted (hard to do…), just go forward. Stand up and walk.
I felt amazing things after that lunch. I tasted Joy for the first time in my life. I no longer let myself feel guilty for being joyful (Take THAT Catholic school), I no longer felt afraid to be happy. It’s difficult to maintain, and it’s easy to forget, but it comes down to a simple smile.

On that day, I took the restraints off my ability to feel joy. It started (quite tentatively) to grow, and send down deeper roots. I couldn’t stop crying about everything.

Shortly after that, I went into 4 days of silence. During that time, I spent my hours letting joy soak into my bones, for it had no where else to express itself. I think being alone helped me really make sure this new Joy thing doesn’t go away. It was so difficult, especially after the snow, to hold everything in all to myself. I realized in that time, that I can share Joy with its Source and it doesn’t have to be as paradoxical as it sounds.

When I wrote that poem above, I thought that the grass might lament its being trodden upon, eaten, and harvested. I thought these things were terrible. I thought I had to put myself into a life of being cut down and trampled on, and I thought that this was the only way to feel God. The word “honor” did not appear in the original poem, because there was no gratitude. I guess right now I’m ready to accept a purpose, I’m ready to accept that I can’t see the purpose so well, and I’m ready to accept that I am powerful and part of a mighty thing. It’s not all blue skies, but it’s all perfect — and I am ready to honor the storms, but not worship them.

Topics: This is my life | No Comments »


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