Thursday, September 29, 2011

More cathartic philosophical music: It's not meant to be a strain.

Bjork has the special distinction of speaking to me intimately through the intense emotional power of her music (especially live, Jesus). The powerfully emotional, raw and soaring way she sings has a lot to do with the impact the pathos of her music has on me.

This particular one has spoken to me since I first heard it on Vespertine in high school. It describes how unsettling and stressful it is to feel like you need to complete your day with as much care as you can, to accomplish every little thing from finishing your work to drinking enough water and sleeping a full 8 hours. It used to make me cry in painful but thankful catharsis because it was what I wished I could achieve - that acceptance that I CAN'T have the perfect day, because I'm not perfect and the world and other people aren't going to gracefully fit in with my goals for the day, or for my LIFE. But now I can identify with that internal tension/grief AND accept that unfortunate truth. It's how the world is and that's okay because I can still strive to make it through the day, and not think less of myself if I don't achieve every little thing I want to. Now it's empowering.

And another song off the album with a similar sentiment:

I had the same reaction: crying and wishing I could believe the encouraging words she directs at the listener who's crumbling under the weight of her own life and expectations for herself. And now I can listen to the comfort, cry or smile, and be comforted and empowered by the message.

So thanks, Bjork. In every way, you are one of the most beautiful women in the world, as far as I'm concerned. I love you and I wish I could let you know.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More on "The Cave"

I've already shared this song and some of my thoughts on it before. I can also play it better now that I've been playing it longer than 3 days (like when I recorded my version of it), so I ought to re-record it. But anyway, I've added something to my understanding of it through talking about Plato in that there Ethics class I'm taking ("If there is no god, all is permitted").

I think the song is meant to be, or is at least often taken, as a way of describing hiding away as a reaction to life kicking your ass. It's about wanting to give up and hide away from life, and the need to somehow get out of the Cave to become strong and actually LIVE. And it adds the sentiment that we don't necessarily have to do this all on our own...the people we love can't PULL us out of the Cave, but they can hold our hands or offer a shoulder to lean on as we stumble out.

In the other sense of the Cave I'm now considering...when we're in that state of pain and self-delusion we CAN'T see the forms - not the Platonic ones, but "forms" in the sense of REALITY. Reality includes the world and people around us, what happens to us, what's best for us, what we really want, who we really are, and the more philosophical stuff too in terms of what we believe and how we see the world. So self-delusion can come about in response to depression and anxiety and self-hatred or disillusionment with the world - all things that can send us down into that Cave. It can manifest as feeling that we're worthless, hideous, whatever...that everyone is out to get us...that there's no hope and nothing good will ever happen to us...that we're powerless to improve our lives or the lives of the people we love...that we will suffer and be stuck in the same rut all our lives...all that good stuff. And seeing the world through that lens makes us turn the delusions about ourselves into reality; we tend to become the version of ourselves that we see, even when it's a deluded and fucked-up vision of ourselves.

So to see the world and be ourselves again, we have to get strong and get out of that Cave – once again, sometimes with help from others, if we're stuck in far enough and if we have people around us who know it and care enough to help. We have to get out and get our heads on a little straighter in order to see truth again, both “objective” (what we SEE as objective, that is...whether there IS objective truth is another story) as well as our own subjective “truth” such as how we generally see the world and ourselves, regardless of how others see it/us.

I'm not de-legitimizing what we see when we're in the cave as FALSE, that they're just silly lies we tell ourselves and delusions that we should just get over. It's true to us in the moment, which is itself someone who thinks it's very important to live in the moment and give it its due, I can accept that what we feel so intimately, even when we're fucked up and seeing things in a wonky way, IS basically true, even if it's only true TO US for a short time. But that truth doesn't reflect who we usually are and what we see and believe when we're in control and strong. We can only really be ourselves and live in our real world when we escape the Cave. But we kind of have to live in there from time to time...especially when our world and we ourselves make life really fucking hard for us, purposefully or inadvertantly.

So there's some brainfood for ya. Musical brainfood, even.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dear True Blood: So what the fuck, dude?

[A response to:]

I and a number of friends were pretty much irreparably emotionally traumatized by this week's finale of 'True Blood". I actually enjoyed and appreciated this season more than others (compared to last season's attempt to fit 300 different fucking story-lines into one season...good lord). But this last episode threw me through a number of confusion-hoops.

First off, I appreciate the occasional ballsiness of this show. I like it's willingness to show male nudity in mainstream entertainment, which is usually far rarer than female nudity (except when it's for comedic purposes...HAHA LOOK AT THAT TINY CHINAMAN'S PENIS IN THE HANGOVER). I like the violence, as someone who's into horror movies. But most pertinent to this episode, I like that it can kill a character without using a deus ex machina cheat to bring them back. This is also something I REALLY admire about Torchwood...they are fucking ruthless. No main character is safe, except maybe Jack and Gwen. To be fair, True Blood does do the fakeout-death thing a LOT, but the show really is a soap opera when you get down to it.

This is why I can accept Jesus' death, even though it made me simultaneously sad and pissed. I was angry because our only gay character had to lose his first and only healthy relationship on the show. And I was angry because Jesus was the only Latino character. But I can forgive all this based on the fact that I don't think storytellers in film and television NEED to keep a healthy number of minorities represented, and represented as goody-goodies. Audiences are becoming mature enough to understand that a gay character doesn't always have to be bad or good, and can be both like any other character. Many viewers aren't there yet, but we really are moving in that direction and I want honest artists to reflect that fact.

Jen presents an interesting view here. But I don't really agree with the significance of Tara's death as an example of a "sacrificial atheist." There are other atheists on the show, I believe, including vampires who aren't purely evil. (Like I said, the show does a good job with complex, non-binary characters...except maybe Sookie, who pisses me the fuck off anyway.) The second season, I think - the one with the Church of Light, the anti-vampire religious group - does a fantastic job of exploring the religious dimensions of humanity's perspective on vampires and other crazy supernatural beings.

Throughout the show, we get moments when vampires struggle with the idea of whether they're "doomed" by fate or by a god (like baby Jessica early on), and I think most or all of the older ones have come to terms with it by saying "There probably isn't a god, or if there is one, why should I give a shit? He doesn't care about my lot in life or anyone else's." When they admit this, they don't always do it as an excuse for bad behavior; it can just be part of their rationale for not killing themselves, for example.

And, like other people are saying, I was more bothered by the fact that the show basically killed off the ONLY main black female character (who is RELATED to all the others...because all black people are either related or friends or both), who is also queer in some way. The only non-straight human woman no less. Talk about scaling back on diversity, not to mention the loss of Jesus. Tara will probably come back, but I doubt HE will. Regardless: it's a fucking show about Louisiana. How can they think they can get away with having such a dearth of African-American characters? The best we get are little snippets of Tara getting offended by racist statements or actions (and she usually comes off as over-sensitive when she DOES), and yet again another moment with Tara objecting to Bill being a Confederate in the Civil War. Bill does a decent job of defending himself, but isn't this a goddamn PERFECT opportunity to actually explore the racial conflicts inherent in the deep South, ESPECIALLY in Louisiana? I don't know if Alan Ball or Charlaine Harris (the author of the original books) is to blame for that, since the books and show apparently diverge quite a bit.

I can once again reluctantly forgive the show for missing this topic almost entirely...perhaps I'm too forgiving of my guilty (non-guilty?) pleasures...since just because a show is set in a particular location or context, it doesn't HAVE to make that context a main focus. It does a decent job of dealing with the context of Southern culture, creole culture, etc. But it still really bothers me since, historically and even currently, racial tension is a pretty significant part of the culture of the deep South - a part that often gets swept under the carpet by many artists and commentators, and this show seems quite guilty of this gaping omission. I know the defense is that the way it deals with supernatural characters, especially vampires, is all an ANALOGY for civil rights struggles - "God Hates Fangs" and all that. I appreciate that and it's a clever and wonderful artistic choice. But for god's sake, that's no excuse to trim a big fat piece of the world you're representing off just for convenience or out of carelessness.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

"If there is no god, all is permitted."

Philosophy-time. Srs post, once again, is srs. If you're into theology, arguing for or against it, secular/non-theistic/atheistic/agnostic/naturalist philosophy, the philosophy of morals and ethics, COME ON DOWWWWN.

(this is basically what I looked like when I wrote this, except with a laptop next to me.)


I'm starting a class with this title that seeks not to determine whether the statement is true or false, but to look at various arguments for and against the statement. The course covers some of the big thinkers on both sides of the question from Western society, dealing with the Judeo-Christian god. It doesn't seem to delve very deeply into any modern atheist/agnostic thinkers on the topic, which confuses me a little, but I understand if it's meant to be more of a broad historical study than a modern exercise in current philosophical thought. I'm sure that's going to be a big portion of the course, though, especially in our discussion sections.

I've thought about this idea off and on, from the non-theist/agnostic/naturalist perspective, for a while. I'm sure a lot of interesting arguments will come up that will set me off thinking. But here's my initial response to the question, and to the arguments I've heard in favor of the statement.

As you might have guessed, I reject this statement. Before anyone jumps and declares that I'm foolish for saying “we can't get morality from a god, so morality can only be derived from a naturalistic basis,” I'm going to right away state that NO, this is not my argument, and I do not agree with it. I know many who do assert this, and I'm sympathetic to their arguments, which I often find slightly more compelling than those supporting the “morality and ethics come from gods” side, but I still reject it.

There is a direct assertion and an implicit assertion in this statement. The first is that the absence of a god allows all actions - which I'm assuming means all actions both “moral” and “immoral” – to be committed with no basis for judging them as right or wrong. In other words, someone can be free to do anything he pleases and can justify it by saying “well, there's no god to tell me what's right and wrong, so I can do whatever I want because nothing IS right or wrong.” I will actually claim that this DIRECT, literal statement, is true, but that it asserts a false dichotomy which renders the statement itself rather null.

The reason why I argue this is because, as far as I see, one can freely argue – from a fallacious OR reasonable standpoint – that he can do anything he wants without moral restrictions or judgment, and this does not only hold true for non-theists. As an evidence-based thinker, I view the actions and thoughts of people as weightier than rhetoric. Because this logical process is variously asserted and practiced by people who don't believe in god AND those who do, it seems true that yes, it is possible to “permit” oneself to do anything whether one believes in a deity or not. Whether this is “right” or “wrong” in itself – whether it's ethical or logical to think and behave this way – is another question entirely.

The more interesting aspect of this statement, to me, is the implicit claim I see in it – the one that the course is actually based upon, and that I believe will come up most often in our readings and discussions. This assertion is that, if one does not believe in a god, it's philosophically (and perhaps practically, though this is an extremist perspective I think) impossible to create a moral or ethical code. This assertion I wholeheartedly reject – once again, probably predictable given my own philosophical orientation. However, the reason for my rejection isn't perhaps self-evident, so I'll elaborate a bit.

I'll restate that I fully acknowledge the fact that, proceeding from a belief in a god or force which determines right and wrong, it is entirely possible to derive an ethical/moral system that restricts followers from performing actions seen as “wrong”. This is at least true in theory, and is very often true in practice; I don't dismiss the many, many goodhearted and virtuous religious people out there, and all the good they do for the world. I didn't derive my own values from the same starting point, but I share some of the right/wrong distinctions that they obtained from religious thought and faith. And the reason we see such variation in how theists behave and think is because there is an almost infinite number of ways to define and apply qualities to a god. See for instance the difference between the Catholic God, the Muslim God, and a vague godly-entity envisioned by those who merely identify as “spiritual”.

My problem with the statement is that it claims it is NECESSARY to believe in a god to have any set of morals. This can be extended to mean any sort of spiritual force, as many argue. It feels trivial to me to even have to say such a thing is false. However, because I DO admit the possibility of deriving decent morals from religion, I wish to qualify my assertion that a god is not necessary for morality. This is where my naturalistic and probabilistic sensibilities come out.

Let us take what I see to be the core moral and ethical tenet from which nearly all other morals can be derived. (I don't have the energy, time, or amount of deep thought necessary to discuss the value-measurements of various morals – as in, is this moral more important than another?) This happens to be my own personal core tenet as well, and is shared by many naturalists and, I believe, humanists: whenever possible, help instead of harm. Sometimes you have to harm, and sometimes you even have to harm to help, but to harm without need is malicious, and to refuse to help through inaction isn't ethical in my mind either. Keep in mind, I'm arguing this from a NATURALIST perspective, so whether or not this follows a rhetorical pattern that logically follows is irrelevant. I base my worldview, ethics, morals and lifestyle entirely on the physical world, what evidence it gives us, how humans truly behave and think. To argue for morals and ethics that give little or no heed to this is, to my mind, perhaps intellectually fun but ultimately practically useless, and a worldview with little or no practical application seems to make “worldview” itself a misnomer.

So how do I account for the religious' ability to come to this same conclusion I and other non-theists have, and how can I still so easily dismiss the above statement as written? It all boils down to this: despite the fact that it's POSSIBLE to derive the “help don't harm” tenet and other benevolent and useful morals and ethics from a theological basis, it is not NECESSARY. The authors of the Bible concluded a whole host of morals which they described primarily through fables, and many of those morals are quite universal and sturdy – things like don't steal, don't murder, care for the young and elderly if you can, etc. Though the text is rife with questionable morals, arguments, and inexcusable contradictions, I will give it credit for these various teachings, and I'll certainly give credit to the many Christians out there who do their best to practice these sorts of basic “love thy neighbor” behaviors which allow us to coexist happily. The same goes for most faiths – at least the big ones – and I won't address extremism here. The example of extremists can be used to argue that the good things religion can bring, such as these morals, are overruled by how very easy it can be to use the very same texts and tenets to justify atrocities. Once again, trying to focus on the statement given and nothing else.

This is actually my argument for naturalism (or materialism, in the proper sense) in a nutshell: if something can be explained or determined WITHOUT the necessity of assuming supernatural forces and intervention, then it's unnecessary to posit them. I rely philosophically on two bases for this: Occam's Razor, the assertion that one should avoid unnecessary assumptions in explaining phenomena; and Bayesian theory, posing that when the evidence given to us statistically determines that one explanation is much more probable than the other, it's fair to act as if the much less probable hypothesis is null. (This is a PRACTICAL application, not philosophical, perhaps.) By the same token, I would say it's unnecessary to suppose a god in explaining perceived miracles which could otherwise be explained by natural causes. Why? Because, as the Razor states, if we can describe this with the least amount of assumptions – it is not necessary to jump to the conclusion that a god blessed a spring if it seems to cure people of their ills, especially if they've also been receiving medical treatment – then we shouldn't bother adding supernatural forces to the equation. And, as far as Bayes goes, it would follow that if the number of people who are truly “cured” isn't statistically significant – that is, if it doesn't exceed the amount that could have recovered by random chance – then it is highly probable that such a “miracle” is nothing but a phenomenon as easy to explain as any other natural occurrence.

As I mentioned at the start of this, there's a whole host of other issues arising from this initial statement, and it can be argued, from the perspective of a moral relativist or nihilist, that even if gods don't exist, it's logically impossible to claim that ANY objective morals can exist. Philosophically, I can follow and respect much of the arguments given, and in relation to many morals, I DO veer towards relativism. However, as an evidence-based naturalist with pragmatic leanings, I think such arguments can be reduced to intellectual exercises, not descriptions of the actual world and human society. In observing how we interact, how we have historically interacted and how human societies have evolved over time (over VAST amounts of time, for the evolutionary psychologists amongst us), we see people producing various ethical and moral codes in many different ways. In functional societies, they tend to boil down roughly to “whenever possible, help instead of harm.” And this can be derived with OR without any certain god, or any god at all. Further, as the statement claims, we can see non-theists in the world around us using the non-existence of a supernatural moral arbitrator as justification for rejecting any moral code and behaving as they please. Yet we ALSO see evidence of this from those who start from a religious perspective – and it is theological pandering to say “well, they just didn't interpret the Bible the right way, they didn't follow God's will correctly” and so forth.

In conclusion: It is possible for “all to be permitted” with OR without a god, so the literal statement is null. It is possible to derive a moral code that produces a functional society without any proposed supernatural entities, despite the fact that religious thinkers are also capable of deriving a similar moral code. As such, the implicit assertion that a god is NECESSARY for a moral/ethical code to exist, or to be determined by men, is false.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eulogy for Mary Castro

I wrote this to be read at my grandma's funeral. As it says, I've accepted it and feel ready to move on and mourn when I need to. She was a good lady.


Although it's been hard for me to remember, since I've been away from home for so long, I spent most of my life close to Grandma Castro. When I was little, I'd play at her house, in the backyard with her cats and the neighbor kid, eat snacks she made, watch cartoons, see Papa Castro when he was still around. We'd see the family for the holidays and eat her traditional Christmas cookies. My favorite was the mantecados.

Every weekend, for a long time, we went to garage sales early Saturday mornings with my mom, and maybe got McDonald's after. Or we'd have yard sales of our own at her house or ours.

During the week, we'd go to thrift stores so often that they knew us all by name. I'd play by the toys and books shyly while they looked for collectibles. As I got older, I'd look at the clothes, records, and old electronics. I got more and more irritated going because I'd be bored and shy when they wanted me to talk with their antique-hunting friends and the staff. I skipped the yard sale morning trips more often. Then, after a while, Mom and I would go on our own more often than with her.

I saw Grandma's mind fade, though her body stayed damn healthy through it all. Mom and I came over more frequently. I got used to her forgetting things and mixing up names and telling us the same things. And to be honest, it never bothered me. What was the use in correcting her? It would only frustrate her trying to remember things that she couldn't. So when we spoke, I generally went along with what she'd say while we watched TV and I sat next to her while she crocheted, trying to do the same or drawing.

Every time she came to our house, she would try to clean the kitchen – even though Mom told her not to. She would make tortilla espaƱola and thought it was the first time she'd made it for me. She'd tell the same old stories and sing the same old songs and use the same old phrases - “bebe que no llora no mama”. But I never got sick of it. I loved it. And now I can sing the songs and cook the tortilla.

When she got worse, we found her a live-in caregiver, and mom and I still visited regularly. I'd buy her groceries, tidy up, get her medicine, do yard-work, talk with her, walk with her when she used the wheelchair. Different caretakers came in, especially Belen Ramos, who quickly became part of our family because of how much care she took with Grandma, how much love she truly had for her. Joyce came to take care of her for a while, too. Mom and I would help with medical things sometimes. It put a lot of stress on Mom, and I got frustrated from time to time as well, but we kept going. We knew how important it was to her to stay in her home.

When it was time for her to leave, I was already in college across the country. Mom and I and I think everyone were reluctant; it was hard to accept, but we did. And after how much the Little Sisters had done for our loved ones, and helped them pass on, there was no other option. And they did make the last years and days of her life as calm as loving as they could be.

Having been present for the duration of Grandma's decline, I didn't find it as hard or shocking to know it was time for her to go. I had been expecting it and preparing emotionally for years, and then months, and then days. I saw her a few times at the home and knew she'd be alright. Even now, I feel okay knowing she's gone, and okay being here instead of there. It's more important for me to move on in my own life, the life she helped make possible, because I'm ready and because I know that my mother and the family I love are all in good hands.

Mary Castro will of course live on. She has scores of family, close and distant, who bear her impression and memory. That's the truest kind of immortality I can imagine. For some of us, including myself, that impression goes deep, and for that I will always be grateful. Her life, the part I witnessed and the part I learned about, was one full of love, compassion, strength, endurance, and hope. I've tried to live up to that example – her example and that of the children she helped foster into the beautiful adults they've become.

I think my mom is correct in saying that we'll never see one quite like her again.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Done tonight using Photoshop and my drawing tablet. Learning to get some variety out of it. This was meant as a less photo-realistic, detailed pic, a bit artsy-er. Hard to resist making the facial features more realistic, especially the eyes and lips, but I like them as is. Might play around with it again but I'm pretty happy with it, don't want to be a perfectionist.

Used a Revlon ad photo from Vogue as reference. You can find pretty things in the oddest places...Like sunflowers growing in a parking lot.

Right now

A lot is going on in my life, has been for about 4 months now, which is why my use of this dear little thing has been so inconsistent. It involves death and fear and anxiety and depression and the unexpected and the unknowable. That's not vague at all, right?

At least to clarify: the death was my grandmother's, and I'm taking it as well as one can take a death. A big part of that is making sure my family is doing okay as well, and I am sure of that. Other than that, I'm not ready to share any more details or thoughts or feelings. Just assume that if you don't know them and if I don't talk to you about them that I'm simply not ready yet, and may not be for a while.

Living moment to moment hasn't been more important than it is right now. And self-care and self-awareness.

These are two songs keeping me going right now:


I'm also learning to play this one:

Time to learn and survive. And learn HOW to survive.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The importance and usefulness of journaling

Yep, another srs post. Refer to the below King Henry meme. Same applies: feel free to read if you're interested in what I think about mental health, emotions, self-awareness and shit, and if you have time. It's about two pages long. Fun and/or personal stuff will come down the tube later, but I just wrote these so I figure I'd share them.


The importance and usefulness of journaling

Journaling exceeds psychiatric and psychological resources in dealing with emotions, thoughts, actions, and self-awareness in general. The reason for this, I think, is that journaling is 100% confidential, if done properly. I personally type mine and encrypt it in a zip folder with a password only I can know. If there are entries I feel comfortable sharing either on my blog, with my docs, or with a trusted, intimate friend, I simply amend them and save them in a less-encrypted manner. I don't think this is excessive, because it assures me that what I write is as confidential as I choose it to be, for my own good and to maintain my sense of security in being very, very honest in my entries.

The key service journaling offers is free expression. It probably takes a while to cultivate this, especially for people who struggle with expressing their feelings and thoughts. Personally, I've become pretty good at this, even when it comes to sharing with others and knowing my boundaries when doing so (granted, I fuck up with this from time to time, erring on the side of over-sharing my thoughts and emotions). As such, I don't think it'll take me too long to do so with this journal. However, I think it could take me a while to comfortably write about any recent events, even as remote as months or years ago. This is INCREDIBLY difficult, even if it's ideal. As I always say, as humans, we are imperfect and can't expect to be able to do this stuff when we want or need to. There's nothing wrong with that and we need to accept it, along with other basic, key things about us as humans, radical acceptance-style.

However, it is also VERY important, if you can force yourself through the immense discomfort of it, to write about your FRESH feelings about the big stuff, not feeling the need to censor yourself or judge or overcompensate to sound more wise and reflective. This is perfectly alright to do, and also important, so I don't want to say that it's ideal to not do this at ALL. It can definitely serve to help you mentally and emotionally purge and get by without having these thoughts plague you non-stop. This is ALSO pretty hard to do. Journaling might not work for some people – it could even end up hurting more than helping – but it's worth trying, even for the small stuff. Personally, I'm really bad at committing to and maintaining a journal. But I hope, with all I've learned, that I can follow through this time for at least a while, and remember to go back to it from time to time. I know I certainly won't delete any of my entries even if I don't read them for years. I'd do myself a major disservice to do so.

So all that I've described in the last few paragraphs explains why I chose to make my very first journal entry in this particular journal so generic, not about what I'm feeling or experiencing. It's what I'm most comfortable with right now: trying to be objective, in the sense of explaining my own philosophy about self-awareness without judging myself in an over-compensating manner. I think this will be a good reminder for me, from time to time, and I'd love to share it on my blog but even more so, with the people I love when they need it, or even just to start a philosophical discourse using this as a starting-point for what I believe – at this moment, at least. Journaling is especially good at tracking what you believe or feel or are experiencing and what you think about it at any given time in your life.

I suppose this is a good point to explore THAT aspect of journaling. If you use it to frequently track your thoughts and emotions, in-depth and honestly or even just venting, then you can use your journal to track how you grow and how your mind develops over time. What I mean is how you approach emotions, how your ways of dealing with them change, what you believe to be true about yourself. This works for tracking your view of the world, your actions, and the way you think as well.

Psychiatrists and psychologists also do this, from an outsider's perspective, but their ability to do so is limited by their position AS outsiders: they can't really know what's going on in your head because no matter how honest and comprehensive you are in the way you express your self-awareness and thoughts, I think it's impossible to do so as comprehensively as you can in a personal, secure-feeling journal. As doctors, THEIR purpose is to be the CLINICAL outsider who can use the information you give them to track your thoughts and self-awareness as they apply to your mental health, and can try to advise you and inform you of how they see your progress. Sharing with intimate loved ones, in a different manner of course, also serves this function. They are also good at simply being emotionally supportive people who can advise you, or, much more importantly, simply LISTEN and comfort and commend, when appropriate. This is yet another resource which I personally think is very, VERY important in staying grounded and functional as people.

To sum up: journaling is a resource for tracking how you feel or think, how it changes, and how it affected what you did at a given time. It tracks how your mind and life changes, because they DO, a lot, over time – even over short amounts of time. There are many ways to write in your journal, and sometimes you can't do ALL of them; in the best of circumstances, you can. But being able to do ANY of them, whenever you can, is a great thing to do for your own good. It also affords the chance to share either your very personal and raw entries, or your philosophical entries, or any entires you choose, with your doctors or loved ones when you choose to.

If you can bear to, it's absolutely worth it to NEVER delete your entries, as every single one can be worth re-reading at various points of your life, even if just to amuse yourself. In addition, it's important to allow yourself to keep them secure in whatever way makes you feel safest so that you continue to feel comfortable writing in as raw a manner as you want to or can throughout your life, or as long as you value the journal. Keep in mind that this can and WILL change, so even if you feel like something or even the whole journal is obsolete, it really, really isn't. If nothing else, the entirety of it or some of it would be a wonderful thing to leave as a testament to who you were throughout your life for those who survive you, loved ones and strangers as well, in case you end up being famous or someone happens upon some or all of them.

The reason I think the part about strangers is true is because of my work in the classics, oddly enough, because the most accurate and beautiful way Greeks saw immortality (through Homer's philosophy) is not through transcendental or spiritual means, but through word itself. It is ultimately the only form of immortality I believe in. Written word is one of the most spectacular things we're capable of as human beings, for society, for history (if written records are able to survive for a while), for a lasting impression on the world through loved ones AND strangers. And, as I argued above, it can be crucially important to knowing ourselves at a given moment and throughout our lives.

The importance and usefulness of psychologists and psychiatrists

This is a pretty serious, personal-philosophy-esque entry. But it's not too long so if you're interested in what I think about this, I'd love you to read it and hear what you think about it. Smiley-face.

The importance and usefulness of psychiatrists and psychologists

I always think these sorts of doctors are great resources, especially when you're really trying to be self-aware or need to just to stay sane and functional, if you get the chance to use them. They are not to be taken for granted. But that's another long story.

These types of doctors act, ideally, as objective and 100% confidential people to express your thoughts and emotions to at any given time. Their job is also to track how these change throughout time, in the time they work with you, to evaluate how we can think about and deal with them (particularly with CBT) and what we might try to do to best improve our lot and act in our self-interest, including not being total jerks to those around us. This also includes how to deal with and think about those we love and trust and cherish most, since as people this is another crucial part of our self-interest and personal image.

I'll preface this and all that follows with the addition that these ARE humans, and there's really no guarantee that they're good at their job. Even if they are, once in a while they'll fuck up or offer suggestions that really don't do anything useful. So in approaching how we use these resources, ideally we want to be as self-aware and vigilant we can be WITHIN ourselves, so we can take what we hear with a grain of salt. On the obverse, when they offer really good input – even if we deny it or if it hurts or is very painful and difficult to put into practice – we should try to listen to and accept it as ultimately worth absorbing. This includes drugs, when you need them, though some prescribers are quick to over-medicate - “better safe than sorry”. Also, drugs are very rarely guaranteed to do what they claim to do. Such is the nature of practical, science-based medicine, not just bad medicine.

But I think, even more than the input they give, the absolute most important function these doctors serve is a forum for expression. They provide as safe a space as possible to share our thoughts and emotions with another human being. While a journal is even safer and more honest, being able to share yourself mentally and emotionally with another human being is a very, VERY good way to deal with our lives and our minds. This doesn't only apply to when we're in a personal crisis. It's good to keep in mind that even our day-to-day lives, personally and with other people, can have a huge effect on us and how we act in relation to our own self-interest and our desire to help those we love.

I want to avoid being judgmental here, because I really doubt it's true, but I think this applies most especially to those of us who are very sensitive and prone to over-thinking our lives and feelings. These tend to be people with a lot of brain and often a lot of self-consciousness to go with it. Other people deal with the same experiences, though, to a lesser extent. And, of course, it's not practical for everyone – in fact, it's only practical to relatively few people – to even HAVE this resource, due to finances and many other limitations. Other people might have other versions of it, from church confessionals to trusted family and friends to other types of counselors, but because of their oath to patient confidentiality and the protections of it put in place, I think psychologists and psychiatrists are ideal.

Due to the stigma of psychology – that you have to be crazy to even need to talk to such a doctor – the vast majority of people at this time wouldn't believe what I have to say here. This especially applies to psychiatry To an extent I agree, due to the unreliability of how these drugs really work on the human brain. As such, psychiatric medication should PROBABLY be reserved for people who really need more than just a forum for expression, whenever they need it. (That's subjective, of course. If there's such a thing as an objective way to ascertain it, I doubt it's possible for us to know it.) There's a lesser stigma among people who accept that psychology and psychiatry are significant resources – especially people who have actually benefited from them or have close loved ones who did – that there are only a few times one “needs” a psychologist or psychiatrist. They have a good point. But, as I said before, even dealing with day-to-day interactions and feelings is enough to warrant using these resources for people who are very self-aware, self-conscious, or prone to over-thinking emotions and actions.

I think that's all I need to say to express my own thoughts and feelings on the importance of psychologists and psychiatrists.

Tentatively Returning

God knows I've said this a billion times before, but I'm trying VERY hard to come back to this blog from time to time when I want to and am able to really use it. This includes personal entries (not too personal, natch), observational entries, philosophical entries, and entries for the lolz alone. I'm gonna stop promising "I'M FOR REALS GONNA POST A LOT NOW, CATS AND KITTENS" because I know it's not something I can really promise. So instead, I'm just gonna post entries on my Facebook and mail them out to the people I really want to read them who AREN'T on Facebook, so that they can read them whenever they end up online. Mkay? Mkay.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fate and a Triumphant Return to Blogging!

Sometimes Gchat can produce some wonderful existential thought.

Them: To think how tenuous the odds are
that it would hapen
almost makes me believe in fate
Me: hmmmm not me XD
it makes me believe in how amazingly true chaos theory is
there is nothing BUT chance
Them: true
Me: and most of the time it leads to either boring shit or occasionally awful shit
but once in a blue moon it leads to something amazing
and it's not luck or fate. it's the human capacity to recognize that and make the most of it
with our own potential for strength and determination
SO THERE. take that, faith and fate.

I was going to elaborate on this a little bit, but at least for now I want to leave it as is because it pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter. I'd only add a quote a friend shared recently: “I don’t think, honestly, that we’re an animal built to be happy.  We’re an animal that was built to reproduce. I think the happiness we find, we make.”~ Helen Fisher, neuroscientist

I appreciate this because it expresses the fact that science is perfectly capable of telling us a lot about how we are and how we function as human beings, but her quote also includes our ability to help shape our lives and our feelings in some way. Our power is limited, but it's enough for us to have the agency to take advantage of the randomness in ourselves and our world to make us a little happier within it.

I've decided to find my way back to this blog, after a summer in which I experienced too much uncertainty and pain to really think clearly. Things are going much, much better for me now, and the things making me so happy and secure are still so new and precious to me that I prefer to hide them selfishly. I want to hold it firmly to my chest, wallow in it, appreciate it fully after years of self-hate and depression and anxiety preventing me from ever feeling so free and in control and fully HAPPY. I can share it with the people who helped make it happen, but not yet to the internets and to my wider circle of friends. At least for now. In the meantime, I hope to keep posting my various deep and not-so-deep thoughts, and hopefully some music too. Like this!


Less silly:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Your Typical Blog Post, for once.

I guess I might do that whole "meaty, introspective post" or "post on something that is not defined as Felice Ford for old times' sake" later today, but in the meantime I feel a pressing need to respond to a claim on a water bottle next to me. This was too long to post as a Facebook status, so I had no choice here.

This arrowhead bottle with a nice, ergonomic, hourglass-figure claims that the reason it's shaped so obtusely is because it is an "Eco-Shape Bottle", and it was "purposely designed with an average of 30% less plastic to be easier on the environment."

THIS IS A LIE. If they were going to be honest about the reason the bottle is designed this way, they would admit that it is for their product to stand out visually in the expansive bottled water aisle. Moreover, they would likely be more genuinely pandering to consumers if they peddled some bullshit about the more comfortable grip, going too far if they claimed it was to make it easier on people with arthritis. But the fact remains that if they honestly felt the need to reduce the amount of plastic used to make the bottle, they would either make it out of a different, biodegradable substance OR simply make the bottle shorter. But that would reduce the volume of water within, so any shape that can hold the standard .5 L of fluid would sufficiently serve this purpose as well.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Oldies: A poem about a death.

I honestly don't remember writing this. The filename claims it was on 5/25/10. I'm pretty sure it was inspired by some of my feelings at my father's death and funeral, but I think it ended up being a more generic description of losing part of your family. It fragments more than your family and your home; it fragments your life. It fragments yourself. Once again, I'm sure at the time I thought this was awful because it was during my dry spell, when I would sometimes push myself to write then regret the outcome and give up again. But I rather like it now. No title.


It was late in the month of May
And I slept in the church all day
Waiting for some shining god, or his priest,
To come and sweep me away

There were terrible ghosts in my head
Some of them not even dead
But the sound of the homily made me feel sickly
And the wine was a bit too sweet
So I called it a day

It was late in May

Crisp with shimmering dew
There were flowers and sparrows and
Pictures of you
With a smile on your face,
Hiding scathing disgrace
And me in your embrace
Smiles with tearful eyes

There were no goodbyes
Only the sorrowful dirge
Of a monotone wail
Wind gone out of our sails
A house of empty rooms
20 years, nothing left, because
It all left with you
Now we live in empty rooms

So late in May
I remember to this day
When the chaplain did speak
Of the glorious feats
Of the man who existed for the purposes
Of a soaring eulogy
So they cried for him, but not you
As we slipped into June
And the days became thicker than glue

But I lay on the pews
Dream of cobwebs and you
And the pump in my chest, under brutal duress,
Made me pick up my shoes
I said no goodbyes with no tears in my eyes
Only pride and a smile for what we went through
And with you, I said my adieus, and I left in June.



Two realizations on reading the poem now that I guess I must have known then as well: Second-to-last stanza is about the history rewriting that goes on after someone's death. No matter how complicated the deceased is - troubled, hard to live with, perhaps even abusive or sick - or how insignificant, in the eulogy, he becomes a saint and a hero. And beyond the eulogy, we remember what we choose to, in order to live with the fact that they're gone. The religious either convince themselves that they've earned a place in heaven or in hell; the less religious justify their resentment by recalling the negative actions he made while the guilty do the exact opposite. For a year or more, depending how traumatic the death and the aftermath are, this quasi-delusion continues and it's very difficult to hear other people with a different, even less extreme memory of the individual. But in time our memory is generally moderated; it can relax enough to realize both the good and bad in the person and his actions, and accept that we can still grieve for him without having to pretend he was a saint, or to admit that he can't be hated because he wasn't a monster. Very few people are saints or monsters. Too many people are convinced they know a lot of both in their lives. It makes them treat each other pretty poorly sometimes.

The last stanza just stands out because I don't remember what I meant when I wrote it. I think I was referring to my own situation: that I came home to grieve and deal with my father's death for months, then had to get up and come back to the East Coast to move on. I had to force myself to move on, in many ways. But I think it really means something else, figuratively and literally. It wasn't really about moving back when I wasn't ready. It's about moving on when you are. We lay in the shadow of a monumental death - I would literally lay upon my father's grave when I visited - and absorb the death, the finality, the crushing weight of memory. Then either we can't take the obsessive tragedy anymore, or we live in grief and memory so long that we can comfortably leave, feeling we've done enough, and then life does somehow move on.

In the few weeks after he died, I remember walking through the streets full of people and feeling like an a different way than usual. Not an alien: I was like a person who had just witnessed the end of the world, and was wondering why I was the only one who experienced it, why no one else seemed to care. The experience amounted to the end of the world for me, and for good reason, I think. This faded after a while, but the feeling that it would be impossible to move on anytime soon didn't. How could the universe continue without a center? How could I move on from something so desperately lacking closure, closure that I would never receive except for maybe within myself?

But my world did continue. It took me months to get back to Harvard, and when I did, I felt as if I did push myself to try to move on a little too soon. Some of the wounds were still open and I was still doing renovations on my shattered universe, adding a new fulcrum at the center that was the shaky column I had become. I was forced to be the center. Like every new adult, this is a terrifying burden to accept, even if it's necessary; it's unfortunate that many people have to wait so long to realize it and try to make it happen, because it's only harder when you're older. The same could be said of having to do it younger. Either way, I began shakily in late 2008, faking it until making it, then maybe a year before I wrote this poem, I got up the guts to not just leave the cemetery, but to admit that I didn't need to be there anymore. Now I could go back when I visited not because that's where my heart and mind still lived. I could go to accept the finality, accept that my life has moved on despite how significant the person gone was to my whole world (much as I hated and doubted it during our time together), and comfortably look at the grass his body was beneath and be okay with the fact that the bones beneath were where they would be until they disintegrated, and his lasting impact on the world would stay in the minds of those he left behind, the genes that he left behind in me, until they disintegrate, too. Moreso, that's how it should be. And I can accept that that will never change, for anyone who dies, no matter how saintly or how awful.

I no longer have to imagine my father as a saint to prevent myself from being destroyed by guilt. I can remember him for what he was. I know he did a lot of bad things. He was an incredibly good man with a terribly difficult life that made him do plenty of wrong things, things that hurt the people he loved fairly often. But he did them out of his own pain and fear and neuroses, not out of malice, and so he was no monster. He was my center and I'll never forget how significant that was. He made me who I am and it turns out that person isn't so bad, even if it's a fractured person who has to do a lot of work to stay functional and adjusted in the world. And I can do so with no tears, but with pride in what we had and what we went through.

Apparently that was in June - not literally, but maybe figuratively, who knows. I hate forcing symbolism and meaning on poetry despite lack of intention on the artist's part. Thanks, high school English.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Oldies: Gender Dysphoria

This poem is from 2006, when I was about 15, I think. I had just started to mess around with poetry and felt pretty incompetent with it; I tried to figure out how to make it poetic by making my thoughts feel more rhythmic, in a beat poet sense. God knows I didn't attempt meter or rhymes. Commentary to follow.


Not without gender,
But with an excess of it.

I am the Yin and Yang
United and coalesced to the milky gray
Of Wholeness;

I am the contents of the balance
Of the Universe and Man and Life

I am Mother, Father and Child
United as the entity of
Humanity Complete;

Not the snake biting its own tail,
But the snake eternally fucking itself
From within the womb;

And yet, I am also the truthless Mime
Whose gender is but a performance
Containing no trace of meaningful subtext.

My cock is red and virile,
thicker and slicker than that of Oscar Wilde's beau
and from its pneumatic insistence springs both the seed of life
and the thousand little deaths of Shakespeare.

My breasts are full and heavy
with the sweet nectar of sustenance,
pillows awaiting the mouths of babes
and offering the greatest comfort known
to heads weary of life and toil.

There is within me an open womb
and outside the member to fill it.
I am at once the penetrator
and the penetrated,
At once the heterosexual
and the homosexual,
Always the transvestite
in the rags of my other half,
Never quite sure what to tuck and what to bind.

The best and worst of both worlds.
A marriage in myself.
Without designation,
The unclassified embodiment of sexuality as a whole.

I fuck myself
into creation.



First off, for anyone who doesn't understand this distinction fully, this poem and what I'm about to discuss is entirely separate from my sexual orientation. I am bisexual, and have a similar combination of male and female INTEREST, but what I'm talking about here is a combination of male and female IDENTITY inside me. I understand if this is confusing, but there ya go.

As far back as I can remember, I felt a little odd about my gender. I enjoyed being girly when I was little but if I did it too much, I got very uncomfortable. I liked the option of being a tomboy often, but not often enough to BE one. It kind of evened out to something normal. But as I started going through puberty, I started moving in more extreme directions in terms of my gender expression and how I felt about it inside. For a while - late elementary school and most of middle school - I felt the need to go as far to the masculine pole as I could. I was interested in seeing what was happening to my body as I developed, but I started to hate the parts of me that were still feminine and wanted to come off as male. Maybe not as passing for male, but still I refused to wear dresses or skirts, and often behaved in the way I thought a man should. I spent time with girls but didn't like being around feminine girls; I might even describe some of my feelings toward them as misogynistic.

As I got older, I started to feel a little more comfortable with looking and sometimes acting female. I needed to go back and forth a lot, and both felt like a performance. I began to think that I was either somehow both genders, or devoid of gender at all. I would switch back and forth so often and so dramatically that occasionally I would be convinced I needed a sex change to be comfortable with my body, and if I needed to be female, I would be a transvestite, which I enjoyed anyway. Then the next day or week I would feel the exact opposite: I needed to be physically female, and be a male transvestite on occasion. The most comforting thing I encountered in relation to this gender discomfort came on a day in health class when a trans-male came to discuss gender expression, and he introduced the term "genderqueer" to me. It seemed so very appropriate at the time, and kind of does now as well, but I still felt frustrated with my gender regularly.

At the end of my high school tenure and shortly after college began, I began to realize that I could get away with my current gender. I didn't need a sex change and I didn't need to feel like I was lying if I stayed physically female. I could switch back and forth, be masculine or entirely male one day and female the next, sometimes even in the course of the day. It could be a performance, specific to context and environment, or it could be for my own comfort. And I wasn't just being a provocateur to do so: I was being myself without fear of breaking gender norms or fear of being too afraid to be entirely trans, if that was what I was hiding from. It helped that I no longer felt such discomfort with my female body (how curvy it often was) and especially with my sexual organs - I could find pleasure in them and not feel the need to have a hysterectomy to feel comfortable. I'm still struggling a little with embracing the fact that I am physically female and can be genuinely female without feeling gross or silly. I can even be romantic and submissive and wistful and like makeup without feeling like a stupid stereotype, because I know within me is the perfect mix of both gender types for me.

This poem seems to express where I was at the time in terms of how I viewed my gender, and the start of my acceptance of it and knowing how to live with it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Past creativity re-evaluated.

Before I get ready to share my take on where my identity and life has taken me with the the internets (but moreso the people I care about who'd actually read this), I'd like to share something that approaches it, just like the music post I just put up.

Since about age 15, when my creative faculties were petering out and I desperately feared that I was losing it forever (which apparently meant that I was becoming something empty and not myself and I didn't deserve to live. I was really cute at that age), I had the attitude that nothing I created was of worth. Every image I drew was convoluted, attempts to make reality and failing, or copying masters without inserting anything deeper from my mind. Art, which should be for expressing that which you can't do in conversation, expressed nothing within me. Not even writing, which is the easier form because it's closer to expressing yourself in words to a friend.

Trivially, this meant I looked at my old art and writing, and the stuff I was writing then, and wanted to destroy it all. I was desperately ashamed of everything I made because they were talentless crap - less trivially, because they were devoid of substance, if not content. Luckily my mother - though it annoyed me to no end at the time - forced me to keep things, if nothing else than just for her.

This feeling extended itself in such a way that exacerbated my dying creative exercise. It got to the point that immediately after creating something, or in the process of doing it, or even before I BEGAN, I made myself certain it wasn't worth my time and I should give up before making a fool of myself. So I have a lot of incomplete stuff and just plain scratched-out beginnings on dirty paper full of eraser marks. There are a few exceptions but even those I avoided re-reading or looking at. This was easily applied to music as well, because I only did covers (as now) and felt like it was foolish to just try to mimic other people's art because I could add nothing, and I was incapable of increasing my skill, or having any in the first place. I loathed the people who insisted otherwise, like the people who insisted I once had and STILL had great skill as a writer and artist.

The funny thing is that this lasted as far as...well, a few months ago, even after my depression healed significantly. I think it's because, even as I was recovering in this sense, I still struggled very hard to express myself, in words but mostly beyond them. I tried to force myself, to do things like free-form writing which people told me was the best way to become a practicing writer again - as a great writer said, "A writer is a person for whom writing is excessively difficult". But nothing worked. And I used the fact that I was so embedded in being functional and a whole person with other aspects of my life as an excuse for not being creative: I had relationships, work, motivation to succeed, desire for a future and the ability to enjoy myself in the midst of stress. I don't see this as an "excuse" anymore.

But now, even though I still play covers of songs - though now I know how significant the addition of my own voice is, a voice I can now use with pride - even though I barely draw, even though I've only written two or three new bits of expressive fiction and non-fiction, I know it's coming back. I have enough space and introspective desire to be an artist capable of expressing myself in plain words and in the transcendent ways art allows one to express the life and views that make up a full person who knows herself.

And an interesting development in this came in reading some old stories and poems and essays I wrote when I was 15. I was on the plane and in for a laugh - which is usually my reaction to my foolish old work. But I was also wondering if there was substance then, despite the walls that locked me in from even my own feelings, and despite the self-loathing limitations I imposed. And I was shocked to find it in EVERY bit of work I read. And in the artwork I found in my notebook from a year ago. These stories and poems I dismissed as flippant now speak to me in ways that I never imagined. They show me not only that I was a full person then, as much as I hid it away and refused to let it shine, but that that person persists to this day, and has made me what I am now. I am not a new person, a new adult. I am Felice. I am what Felice always was, and the potential she had within her. It's the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced.

So I'll post a few of these interesting findings for a while as I gather myself enough to express myself in ways that don't involve screaming The Beatles on the ukulele. BEWARE.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Music returns to Felice.

It has been a long, long time since I felt capable of creativity. Part of this was due to feeling lost in work and depression that forced me to hate everything I was capable of creating, before it was finished or even before I began. I put down the ukulele and guitar that I once comforted myself with. Words lost their meaning, images could convey only boredom, self-loathing, and superficial exercises.

As I've grown inexplicably quickly in the past few months, this has taken a turn around. Music in particular seems to be coming back to me in beautiful ways. I listen to it. I sing - I sing with pride and volume for the first time in my life since perhaps the age of five. I play. I play for friends, on camera, for the internet, and in the streets. And it is making me feel strong and more myself, as are many things in my life. I see no signs of this stopping anytime soon.

Here is a taste of this trend. Most of these are in my street-performing persona, Charlo. But they include a grain of myself within this alternate visage. "Happy-Go-Lucky Me" is, oddly enough, the one that actually encapsulates me in a moment. Even in this one. [hyperlinking isn't working at the moment...]

I would be honored if you would watch some of these. They convey who I am right now better than anything else at the moment.

Harvard: The Ugly.

I find it odd that I forgot to post this part because it was rather fun to write.

My life is changing in very large and unexpected ways. And I embrace the lack of control and am stronger and more myself than I have ever been in my life. I can share this with you in person, before I manage to put it in words suitable for the internet. Either way, I'm back and I'm creative and I'm living.

I apologize for losing the format that includes pictures in these particular posts...


Harvard: The Ugly.

This is gonna be a challenge, but I know there's plenty. There's a prety seedy underbelly. Undoubtably #firstworldproblems. Serious considerations here.

- The people. There is intense elitism, entitlement, judgment, naivete, self-absorption, and competitive cruelty. I think almost everyone here has some combination of these, except for rare exceptions. Primarily the elitests come from entitled backgrounds, don't see the different needs of others, and either take advantage of their unfairly weighted options or piss them all away. Sometimes even those who weren't previously privileged end up this way, feeling as if their brilliance and superiority have finally been validated. These are the stereotypical Final Clubbers and so forth. The naivete applies sometimes to these, sometimes to those I previously mentioned in The Bad who just don't bother to live for themselves. They take advantage of what they're given, the people who serve them, and let others do all the work for them. They are born for the Bubble. The self-absorbed are parts of all of these, or the deceptively innocuous individuals who know nothing but how to talk about themselves, succeed, lord it over others and live for themselves. They refuse to see others because why bother if they don't have any use. The competitively cruel speak for themselves.

- The opportunities. This leads to two prime Uglies: undeserved privilege, and opportunities that don't really exist. Privilege is a catch-phrase in academia and social advocacy right now; I usually dismiss it, but here it can be made to apply. Perhaps you're unaware of your opportunities. Perhaps you just don't give a fuck and piss them all away. Perhaps you take advantage of them so that others can't, and lord it over all those jerks who didn't like you in high school even though you were clearly better than them. You got into Harvard and that H-bomb will follow you around for life whether you want it to or not. It can fuck you over, or you can use it to your advantage to fuck over others. As for opportunities that don't really exist, this comes in when we consider flexibility. Gen Ed is restricting. Pre-med requirements are restricting. Opportunities can only exist for certain people who take advantage or are presumed to be more deserving, more wealthy, more likely to succeed. Opportunities can be limited to things that only certain people care about, that are useless or trivial or entirely self-serving. We may have come to a powerfully academic institution, but some of us want lives outside of academia, and it can be scary to find them on our own outside the Bubble. Or maybe the real experiences that are worth having here exist outside the Bubble, making the Bubble and what it has to offer unnecessary, or detrimental.

- The support. Here's the tricky part where I primarily draw upon horror stories from others. Support can be painfully absent when it's needed most. It can be callous and avoiding. It can be completely useless and detrimental. Perhaps you're given time off, convinced to leave, and pushed into never returning. Legitimate exceptions can be pulled out from under you if you're deemed unworthy. The self-subsistent drive within and outside us could breed an attitude of "you caused this, you have the power to fix it". Get over it. Fix yourself or you're not worthy of yourself or anyone or anything.

- The flexibility. One can also argue that it's too much to choose from, it ends up being detrimental, it's undeserved. I went over most of these factors already. It can give false hope for the future, especially when one rejects it in the end in favor of a vanilla life of the guaranteed $100k job out of college that no one our age can honestly say they deserve.

The catchphrase here is privilege. Privilege, entitlement, privilege. We earned a lot but don't deserve as much as this. We need to give back. We need to spread the wealth and take advantage without hurting others or ourselves. There's so much more and so much more important things that so many of us do, but so many others refuse to - things that enrich our world, other people, or equally importantly, ourselves. We're useless to ourselves and the people we love and the people who deserve to be helped, who deserve privilege, unless we make ourselves the best we can be to the best of our ability. This can be a burden, but it's a burden that's more than worth bearing.

Don't really think a FUUU is appropriate here. A determination-FUUUU maybe. Or an ugly rage FUUUU that comes before all that inspirational lecture crap. So here's a puppy.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Harvard: The Bad.

I'm in a good mood, but I'm good at seeing bad things.

The Bad
- The people. It can be surprisingly difficult, especially for introverts, to make connections here. There is some level of intimidation going on starting freshman year. Almost all of us are incredibly Type A, either due to being overachieving "big fish in little ponds", or used to being a fish in a big pond, competitive high school who had to stand out to get anywhere special. A lot of us are pushed to succeed by external factors like family and social expectations, desires to work and make money and be whatever form of successful we find appealing. It can be hard to be friends with people who are figuring out how to stand above you internally. It can be hard to look outside yourself when you're consumed with insecurity and an urge to be the best, for yourself and for everyone. And we can't all be the best pre-meds on the planet.

- The opportunities. This is what we'd call a #firstworldproblem these days. Actually, pretty much everything on this list is a #firstworldproblem. The tough thing about having so many crazy amazing, appealing, unique opportunities is the instant madness of "What the hell do I choose? How do I maximize my enrichment?" and shit like that. Basically, if you're sane and a Type A, as established, you want to do...ALL OF THE THINGS. And there are so many things. You want to do all the dance groups, all the political groups, all the cultural and academic and social THINGS. But you can't or you'll go insane. I love the people that do but it isn't easy and it often hurts them or the people who want a slice of their time. And it's hard, but not impossible, to just not be aware of what and how is available - I know I was. I tried to be careful choosing the opportunities I wanted, was very successful sometimes and very not other times. I think this is the standard experience here.

- The support. This is gonna be tricky. Once again, I can say it's a matter of too many options, or not knowing the options. But this isn't quite applicable here. The matter of coddling is more legitimate, given the fact that the Harvard Bubble is still a Bubble and acts as a surrogate parent often. To a great extent, Harvard students don't really know how to take care of themselves or live on their own. Moreso, I can focus on the bad support that isn't quite bad enough to be Ugly. They can be overwhelmed with all the other things they're doing that they value more. They can push too hard, be too callous, cut out emotion in favor of expedience and rationality. This can be perfect, but rarely is, especially when a real emotional crisis is at hand. This has ruined some people's experiences here.

- The flexibility. I don't really know what to add that isn't already in the other Bad categories. Too many choices can be an unexpected burden. It's not always easy to know what's out there and how to get it. For a lot of people, it doesn't exist out of choice or compulsion. Especially for those of us who are pre-meds, double majors, people who don't know what they really want to do for perfectly legitimate reasons listed above, there's little choice for electives or actual intellectual flexibility. This was somewhat true for me when I was thoroughly pre-med and I have some regrets about that. For others it's disablingly worse.

So there we go. This should definitely affect someone's estimation of Harvard, or their considerations before entering. I wish I had known some of it earlier, thought some of them would be worse than they were, and predicted/panicked about some of it. It'll get worse with The Ugly, even though it's challenging for me to see it because I am the Queen of gratitude and privilege-guilt.

For the sake of continuity...FUUUUU

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Harvard: The Good.

I'll try to make this less navel-gazing. Just the beginning.

I was thinking of doing this for a while, but I was finally pushed into doing it because a) my finals are all jokes, b) I think it's important, and c) I had to take a "senior reflections" survey recently. My answers were unsurprisingly positive. I know there are other people I respect who had very different experiences, so I'll switch between our perspectives to try to get the whole story. No anecdotes because why bother.

My conclusion is that it's more than worth going here. I know nothing else other than hearsay from others, but I'm glad I made the somewhat risky decision. Even if my experiences weren't all positive, and for others they were mostly bad, I think the experience is incredibly important for the rest of their development.

I'm starting with The Good to spread these out. Feel free to contribute your own experiences, contrary or not.

The Good
- The people. Networking is key for most people, especially if their interest is business or even academia. This includes networking with fellow students. Minds meeting is priceless, whether the minds be flippant or brilliant.

- The opportunities. There are few places in the world gifted enough to offer international travel at this level, chances to work with faculty that are entirely worth working with, chances to produce and be creative and have a lot of options. I worry this makes a lot of people, including myself, entitled. Some would say that we earned it, and I think most of us have to various extents. I'm reluctant to agree, but I can accept that I have earned it. I went through some shit and worked my ass off to get here. I mostly deserve financial aid and the chance to eat at the Faculty Club and go to Greece and spend my time basically doing fun, useless-in-the-real-world crap for my degree.

- The support. I know many would disagree here, but in my own experiences and those of friends, I've found the support offered by faculty, counselors, doctors, and administrators immensely helpful and loving. No anecdotes, I know, but when my father died and I was utterly lost and worried about the implications for my academics, I was nursed and carried along by some wonderful people who had no need to do so. They just did. They didn't do it through email or put me on a shelf to work on a host of other things they do in addition to helping people. Even when the crises weren't real crises, and when I was reluctant and scared to ask for help, I was supported. They don't judge or act dispassionate unless you want and need it. They are doing exactly the right work they should and I wish more people like that existed in the places the people I love who are hurting are.

- The flexibility. Yes, it exists. If you can't find classes worth taking...a major you care about...the room to think for yourself and be creative...the chance to make the most or the least of the overwhelming opportunities you're offered...then you need to open your eyes or listen to your friends and advisors. Sorry if that's a bit harsh but I really, really believe it. Compare what you're getting to what your friends back home are getting. It's not fair at all. Take advantage of it so that you can hopefully give back to other people who deserve the same and more.

That's enough for now. I'm doing the positive now because I'm in an ungodly good mood. MOOD INSTABILITY COMES IN HANDY, Y'ALL. I'll try to dispassionately do The Bad and The Ugly today and post them when I'm in a worse mood. But I want to write now because my fingers are restless and fuck if I'm working more on the study sheets that I am the ONLY PERSON CONTRIBUTING TO FUUUU.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Sorry for the delay, those of you who are interested in reading these things. Here's another navel-gazing ditty, in which I meant to write about one form of security but ended up writing about another.

So. Security can mean a lot of things, especially in my life. Security was once my main obstacle to living. It was my father's obsession, which made it my own. It kept me from living in the world for fear of whatever terrible things it could do to me. This was compounded by my own fears of the terrible things I could do to the world – terrible usually meaning...causing someone any slight inconvenience. So I and my father receded into the most secure place of all, deep into our house for him, and deep into myself for me. I made my own world where I was the only one who could get hurt, which was completely fine by me, and I even if I did get hurt I would have a net of fantasy to catch my fall. Or the ones who really got hurt were the avatars in my head who stood in for the friends and feelings I didn't let myself experience. I wish that wasn't psycho-babble, but it's pretty accurate.

Flash-forward, I weakly attempted to rebel as a teenager by pushing back against my father's restrictions and pushing myself into the world. This manifested in such wild ways as walking to the post office by myself, taking the subway to Berkeley to meet a friend – things of that nature. I tested the waters of risk but not as much as I perhaps should have. It grew more and more clear over the years, mostly in retrospect, how much of the limiting factor was actually me, my own fears, my own paranoia that had perhaps been planted by him but was lovingly cultivated by my own neuroses. This obviously became much clearer after my dad died.

Where was I then? I had taken a small hop outside of security by choosing to go to college at Harvard, many miles away from everything approaching comfort, but still a bubble that probably wouldn't let me hurt myself any more than I could at home (which...was a significant amount). Unsurprisingly, Dad and even Mom were uncomfortable with this at first, despite their consuming pride in what I had managed to do, what they apparently believed I had the potential to do all this time. My mom and maybe Dad too gently pushed me out of the nest to watch me fly despite the many factors making it more likely that I would crumble beneath.

Dad died a month into my time at Harvard – first time away from home, no friends, too far to get back in time, etc. That's another story that I don't really feel the need to share because I have so much already, and even though it's clearly affected much of my current life, it's no longer a matter scorching at the surface of my skin to get out and be told. The result was, in short, a loss of all feelings of security, control, a belief that things could sort of happen in a way I could predict and handle. I could have predicted this but I didn't. Maybe nothing could really be predicted, or known in advance, or hoped for, or matter. The center no longer held, there was no center.

I'll fast-forward again through a lot of foolishness and emotional purgatory. I've come to accept that I have to be my own center, at least. At first, and now too, I struggle with the idea of needing so very deeply to be the center for the people I love – who are a LOT of people. I usually feel this is more important than being my own, thinking about what I need and so forth. If anyone I love – or all of them – is faltering, then I need to be the stable one. I need to reassure them and make sure I make the good things I promise happen. Dad tried to be that, and to a great extent succeeded, so it became my job, for my extended family.

But as I said, I recognize that being my own center is far more important, even if I don't always put it into practice. I can let myself live in the world and live in it AS IT IS – that is, in the chaos, the unpredictability, the wondrous and tragic mishaps, the risks and the protection I give when it's necessary. My head dominates me more than it should, but the effect has gotten much better. I no longer live inside it, I believe, nor am I dissociated from it. It keeps me centered. It reminds me to evaluate, to trust, to trust chaos and predictability and the constants that...probably aren't constants, but can be treated as such.

We don't know where or how fast or what properties the electron has. But we can successfully predict its behavior if we act as if we know some of these key pieces of information, by basically treating them as irrelevant – or at least, as foregone conclusions. This is how I need to remind myself to live my life, in a less dispassionate way than the physicist, if possible. On a Principle of Uncertainty, with a dab of rational and emotional security.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

New hair

Was trying to look like Hansel (young Hedwig) from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Somehow, my cheap old red dye wouldn't take the bleach, so I have a tequila sunrise instead. Was considering doing white on top of it for formal, but I'm fond of it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Future of SCIENCE

For my class Hist 1445: Science and Religion in American History. Good course. Not a substantial paper in any sense, but here ya go.

William Ogburn on the Future of Science

It's remarkable to read William Ogburn's 1930 article in The Scientific Monthly predicting the future of sociology, in view of where the sciences have come in the past 80 years. Frankly, he gets almost everything entirely right. Sociology trended towards the “hard” sciences in its methods and the attitudes of its scientists; all sciences became more descriptive than proscriptive, differentiated but cooperative; scientists who chose to be active in advocacy or other non-scientific fields struggled to separate this as much as possible from their work. Realistic with his predictions, Ogburn understood that these are ideals, endpoints that may never be realistically reached. But the fact remains that, among mainstream scientists, his attitude is dominant and his goals are shared by most. As a loyal follower of the sciences and an occasional scientist myself, I was astounded by Ogburn's statements, and I too share his sentiments on science as a whole, and the ideal place of the social sciences.

First let us focus on Ogburn's own field: sociology. He is critical of current, sometimes non-scientific and proscriptive methods, as well as the collusion of sociology with politics, ethics, philosophy and government. He finds sociology papers archaically pretentious and literary. His predictions for the field would eliminate or modify all of these perceived problems with the field. On the topic of papers, Ogburn predicts a trending towards the hard sciences, which at this time begins producing shorter, more empirically-minded papers for a purely scientific audience. The goal of sociology papers will be the same, namely for the audience to be “the scientific guild, and no attempt will be made to make these articles readable for shop girls or for the high-school youth. Articles will always be accompanied by the supporting data. Hence the text will be shorter and the tables and records longer” (Ogburn 301). This type of reference article is precisely what one finds in science journals today, only occasionally with ideas for application added in the conclusion, and the social sciences are no exception.

This would seem to make science an insulated field, purposefully avoiding contact with the public at large, both in spreading its findings and in advising the public on how to implement them for the greater good. To an extent, Ogburn wants this in order to improve the working of scientific study, but he doesn't require scientific knowledge to be kept from the public sphere – or scientists, for that matter. The multiple personalities of the scientist will come up later, but as to the public persona, it is possible for a scientist, or non-scientist, to dedicate themselves to translating scientific knowledge and advances to a broad audience. One can think here of Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins*, or even Alan Alda, host of the popular PBS show Nova, as modern examples of this. The goals of such individuals is to “show the human significance of these discoveries and measurements...[to] dramatize science, which will rewrite scientific results in terms of slang” (301). This is where proscriptive science, scientific journalism, ethics and philosophy, education and science-fiction, come into play in raising awareness of the importance of science to our lives, and raising funding from the public and private sectors.

But to accumulate real, hard scientific knowledge, the scientist must change his methods and attitude. Emotion, belief, and an eye toward application must be abandoned. As now, the scientist spends most of his time in a lab doing tedious work, taking down evidence and drawing reasonable conclusions from it, rarely aiming for a breakthrough but sometimes hitting on one. Though statistics as a field still exists separately from other sciences, Ogburn was right in predicting that “every one will be a statistician, that is, nearly every one. All the universities will have statistical laboratories and the individual workers will have plenty of machines, all of them electric” (303). This conservative prediction has easily been realized. The scientist relies on technology to help evaluate results and to produce them in the first place. Even for those who study social behavior, computer science and the machines that implement it are indispensable in analyzing results; to attempt to bypass this empirical analysis is to forfeit some credibility among your peers, or to forfeit the auspices of science.

Ogburn thinks that to attain the necessary attitude of scientific ambivalence and fixation on results and rigid methods, not on interesting headlines and the production of belief, the scientist must leave his presuppositions at the door of the lab, along with some degree of intellectuality. He admits rightfully that intellect and creativity are necessary for producing innovative, viable hypotheses, and in this way intellect is a scientist's prerogative, but extending this to overlook the need to verify claims or seek out evidence is an error. No longer can papers eschew evidence in favor of interesting mental suppositions, often based on inadmissible “gut feelings” and the like. For an interesting hypothesis to progress to the establishment of knowledge based on the theory, the proposed “idea of value to science must be formulated in some sort of form capable of demonstration or proof; then must follow the proof or verification” (302). This hearkens back to ancient theories of empiricism popularly represented by Aristotle, and has shown itself to be the basis for most viable science, sociology included.

These descriptions of the ideal scientist and his many potential identities brings us to a key aspect of Ogburn's idea of the scientist, and perhaps his most reasonably objectionable claim. One of his harshest criticisms of modern sociology is its tendency to overlap with other fields such as politics and public policy, wherein social scientists attempt to focus their work and results on practical applications and estimations of value and correct action. In his view, this should not be the goal or position of the scientist; he gathers the information, and at most offers conservative advice to social workers or people in other fields as to what it means and how it can be reasonably applied. Though the knowledge needed for social scientists and social workers is roughly the same, their functions in society, and in dealing with that knowledge, are separate and should be kept that way. The social worker should not claim to have the ability to produce evidence and scientific knowledge; the social scientist should not cater his research to intended functions or desired results.

However, this does not preclude a scientist from operating in multiple fields separately from his actual work. In describing the scientist's potential to also be an artist or a politician, he admits that “In some rare cases a person may be both a scientist and an artist. But, if so, the guiding of the ship of state will be done by only one of his two personalities, the executive one” (304). He offers similar explanations for how a social scientist can function, outside the lab, as a social worker, political advisor, or in any other adjacent or separate field – mostly those with practical, real-life applications. Here is where Ogburn could be veering into implausible, or unreasonable, territory, though many would applaud this sentiment. Can someone really partition their minds into separately-functioning identities – doctor, researcher, artist, politician, advisor? It could be functionally impossible to not desire a breakthrough in the lab, to have no emotional investment in your work, to carry out your work without thinking of how it could be used to increase your funding or be sold to NIH as an important, applicable breakthrough. Indeed, the existence of such bodies as the NIH and federal committees on the sciences, populated by actual scientists, would seem to require far too much if all its members had to divorce themselves from their own work and scientific minds in order to participate.

Yet Ogburn and I would argue that this is ideal, and attainable to a lesser extent than actual personality fragmentation. Francis Crick can have his own non-scientific beliefs, contribute substantially to the realm of scientific knowledge, and advocate for the sciences publicly, including sciences that he is unattached to. Our own Prof. George Whitesides can have a bustling, rigorous lab full of grad students, teach introductory organic chemistry, fund and cooperate with health-related NGOs and their innovative technologies, and spend time as a top advisor in Washington, without having his various interests and functions bleed into each other in detrimental ways. It might be difficult to avoid entirely, or detract partially from his ability to commit fully to any one of his ventures, but nothing stops him from succeeding in every one of them and contributing to the scientific, international, and academic communities. As Ogburn says, there are those who are best suited to one field alone: monotonous, unfeeling scientific research, empathetic social work, decisive political action – and there are others who can succeed in multiple fields, to a greater or lesser level of achievement, without letting one trickle into the other.

I will close on a similar note to Ogburn. For social science, and all sciences, to function most effectively in advancing our knowledge of the world and improving it, those who attain that knowledge must operate outside the realms of practicality, emotion, expediency and all other biases as much as possible. Then either by handing this information over to other experts and workers, or by changing hats to help do it themselves, this knowledge can be made publicly accessible and useful in various ways. But beyond being able to work in multiple areas of science, technology and policy, the scientist is allowed to have a free, creative, awe-inspired intellect at the world he studies, even at the work he does which should inspire him anyway. I am reminded again of Carl Sagan, who may not have been a prominent researcher but was in every way imaginable a beacon of science for the public and scientists alike. But apart from making science accessible and exciting for the public through fiction and non-fiction alike, a wonderful aspect of Sagan's personality was his unadulterated wonder at the universe, at the capability of man and science to understand it, and at the places scientific advancement can take us. No better figure, I think, exemplifies Ogburn's closing statements, and no other figure stands as a better role model for what I'd like to believe science is and should be.

*In a recent conversation with Prof. Dawkins, he told me that he believes the stigma against the public scientist who makes the subject accessible to the public is unfair. Even to communicate with professionals in other fields, one must use metaphor and simplification to get ideas across. He went as far as to say that all working scientists should work to have this dual role.