Thursday, September 17, 2015


I don’t manage my stress as well as I should. It’s been one of those “chipaway” issues. I used to be better at it than I was now.

I mean, I used to live in a Zen center at one point.

Meditation, breathing, patience, calm, keeping cool and collected, these were all fine.

At school, today, I had an adrenaline dump, and that sort of scared me. I’ve been angry a lot lately, and trying to figure out why. The reasons are perhaps for a different post (not too likely as I try not to use the blog as "over-sharing therapy time"). But regardless of the reasons, I should be able to do better about the results. Without dedicating my life to living in a Zen center…

I don't know how it started!

You tasted something bitter in your mouth.
It was the adrenaline. The bitter taste was the adrenaline.

The above is from season two of the West Wing. I watched it the other night, as I’ve been rewatching some of my favorite parts of the show. In the episode, Josh is struggling with his stress, caused by trauma. I am so fortunate that mine is not trauma-induced. But watching the episode is how I knew it was an adrenaline rush at school. I had the bitter taste in my mouth.

So I got some good old-fashioned internet advice. Unlike Josh, on the show, I don’t access to some of the world’s best psychologists. Here’s what the net said:

1)      Try to change the thing that is making you stressed. That is a bit out of control: my life. I’m not really very fulfilled, and, more importantly, feel as though I should be doing more.  (So much for therapy on the blog!) What can I say? I hold myself to an inordinately high standard. When you do that you expect a payoff, even if you know it’s unrelated. It feels deserved. Usually teaching has been fun and entertaining, but that’s not true of my current position. So, since the entertainment is what used to get me to work in the morning combined with a noble sense of duty, and I feel my job is neither noble, nor entertaining, that’s unfortunate.

Classes have been going on for five or six weeks now, and the initial rush dying. A bunch of my coworkers are noticeably more piqued than usual. We’re settling in, and the romanticism of the summer’s justifications is wearing off.

2)      Promote better sleeping patterns. If anything, lately, my sleeping patterns have been worse. I’m hitting snooze more, staying up, starting to get bags under my eyes.

3)      Make time to do things you enjoy. Nope! I’ve been cutting them out, actually. Usually I’m okay with this, but, for the past month and a half I’ve been sitting around, bored, unable to afford what I want to do.

4)      Surround yourself with people that make you happy. This rides off of the above. I can’t justify the expense of going out to dinner with friends when I need to be counting pennies. Counting pennies, in general, drives folk mad. The lengthy isolation isn’t helping. I certainly need more local friends. Most of my good friends live on the other side of the United States.

5)      Exercise regularly. I’ve stopped taking walks. I did them for pleasure, then necessity. Then I got a car, and the necessity faded. Vallejo is not a walking community, to say the least.

6,7) Eat healthy and Decrease the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume. I       am eating a large carb load once a day, with few fresh fruits and vegetables. I had         cut out caffeine, and then reintroduced it. With sugar. And then began to rely on it.       So that’s not good… But, hey, I don’t drink.

8) Help others. I do teach for a living. I think I’m okay on this. It has helped – those       few moments at work that have been fulfilling have been one-on-one helping               students in crisis.

9) Do yoga. You can’t make me.

The other source of my stress, besides my work, is that I’m moving in a couple of weeks. Luckily, this is a good thing for many of these problems. It means I can walk again. Hang out with friends again. Eat better and drink less caffeine. Make time for my enjoyments.

All to the good! But God, it’s stressful. I wanted to be settled by now. And I knew this was coming. But ugh. Each time you move, you have to clean, pack up your life, and I think by the nature of the exercise, reflect on where you are in your life. And, as I mentioned above, I wanted to be further along in life. I expected I’d be doing better by now.

My twenties were admirable. Thanks to certain privations, I managed my finances superbly, and still managed to have fun. I traveled, made friends, and completed milestones. But in the end, I’m staring at less than a year to 30, and I’m single, doing a job I’m not satisfied with (much less thrilled) and just…not there yet.

I wanted to be married at 25, kids by 30.

So now I’m moving down to Berkeley to take at least a year off for my personal life. Hey, with luck, I’ll find someone nice and fall madly in love, all the while as we complement each other’s life goals and values, and then move in together with a healthy dual income to a nice place by ourselves where we can pursue our dreams.

Time for a little me time. Here’s hoping that Berkeley does the trick. I think it will.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Terza Rima

My favorite canto from Dante's "Purgatorio" (Dillon translation):

And as we climbed higher up the mountain’s lofty
Sides, we passed a threshold, and my mind was darkness.
My dreams were frightening when my guide awoke me.
“What terrors caused your sleep such bold uneasiness?”
I replied, “My visions were of a realm in this
Place, where human souls endure such paramount stress
That man may consider hell’s torments again his
Suffering.” “Your vision is the land we enter.
Where we must wait – for a landlord’s domain this is;
‘Til they decide we are a good and safe renter
And our credit and income are worthy to move,
Here we must suffer.” So ended my presenter.

I've been apartment hunting. I can not wait for it to end.

Monday, September 7, 2015


“They’re a bunch of bloody savages. They’re barely even human.”

This is a common film cliché. It is delivered ironically by colonial oppressors, invariably Europeans or Americans. The source of the irony is, of course, that the Europeans are the ones acting like savages against the natives. It’s a common, well-understood trope.

But let’s define, culturally, what it means to be ‘savage’ from this well-known line. The ‘savages’ are looked down on due to their rejection of civilized culture and norms. But more specifically, to be a ‘savage’ you must reject this civilized culture aggressively. Passive rejection of civilization is not deemed ‘savage’: the Khoisan people are not ‘savages’, as they passively resist civilization’s influences. The Apache, on the other hand, by actively fighting back, were deemed ‘savages’ and the ensuing attempts by Americans to destroy their culture made this labeling ironic. But were the Apache civilized? Or is there some distinction between ‘civilized’ and ‘cultured’?

Undoubtedly, we must now define what we mean by ‘civilization’ and ‘civilized’. And this takes me back to intro Anthropology classes. My working definition of ‘civilized’ is ‘a distinct culture which…’ and now it gets hard.

You don’t want to say something like ‘is literate’ because that seems snobbish. There are plenty of long-lasting, successful cultures that have no system of writing. Nor do you want to disclude nomads, so you can’t say anything about that. But you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. The most common definition of ‘civilized’ runs as such: “any complex society characterized by urban development, social stratification, symbolic communication forms, and a perceived separation from, and domination over, the natural environment.”

This brings up the old European concept of the “noble savage”. In the Enlightenment, it was increasingly common to look upon non-civilized peoples as noble, even though they hadn’t figured out how to make trains yet. The sentiment may be in the right place – just because a culture or person isn’t an urban-dwelling, letter-writing type doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of the nobility and dignity of the human race. But it is rather condescending. So we’ll adopt the standard definition of ‘civilized’ and needs must leave our nomads behind, while acknowledging that this is not a form of commentary, or judgmental decision, but instead a practical one.

Considering the historical Apache, it is clear that they wouldn’t exactly, be ‘civilized’, as they were a nomadic people. So for our definition of ‘savages’ the aggressive party needs to be cultured, and not necessarily ‘civilized’ to resist. And this makes sense. If it was one civilized group against another, it would be unlikely that the epithet ‘savages’ would be used in a genuine sense. But no one may doubt that the Apache were cultured – for culture is merely inherited understandings of a group, whether that is writing, art, laws, customs, or what have you.

So is ISIS civilized? Are they a distinct culture? We’ve established that in order to be savages, they must reject civilized culture aggressively, while possessing cultural traits, but not civilized ones.

I think it is easy to argue that they are a distinct culture. They have a clear set of rules/laws and ideas, and a particularly abhorrent religious fundamentalism due to their promotion of violence. Are they civilized? Here I would argue that, no, they are not civilized. As a nomadic peoples, and as a peoples with no real urban development, they do not qualify – although, clearly, they are trying to become so in a violent ex nihilo sort of way.

But for now, as they attempt to erase history by destroying buildings and archaeological sites, as they attempt to erase history, by burning books and killing those who stand opposed to their doctrine, as they attempt to wipe out any religion but Islam, and more specifically their own cruel variant, as they commit acts of genocide, mass beheadings, torture, rape and slavery, targeting members of the press, and using child soldiers how could we say this is civilized? 

For, in the past century, we have, as a species, begun to create bonds anew wherein we find ourselves sharing a common heritage, a common set of laws, a common adoption and value of human rights, and pride in human dignity. Our cultural lineage is the history of all peoples. To be civilized is more than the anthropological definition, as we collectively enter the 21st century. It is to be inheritor of the vision of a striving for our noblest ideals, for the inherent worthiness of all persons, and the freedom to exercise our talents and genius for the betterment of all humanity.

ISIS isn’t civilized. They’re a bunch of savages. And we can say so, and must say so, without irony, without sarcasm, without cynicism, and with the sincerest judgment.