History

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I was somewhat confused last week for a couple of days. They were not good days, to be fair. I was walking in the old part of my town, where houses sit in quaint or highly maintained beauty. I like old houses, although I wouldn’t necessarily want to live in one. I love the quality of materials, the ornate details, the spacious feel of them, the established gardens. I wouldn’t want to take care of one by myself though, they were not meant for it and I would end up resenting it.

But I digress…

I was confused because here I was, watching history, surrounded by it, and yet I longed for history with everything in me, until it was painful. It took a lot of walking and analysing to figure out that, like beauty in another article, it was the degree of history, for want of a better word, that I was getting all muddled up about. Let’s see if I can explain.

I live in a very young country, set on very young land. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy living here and there is something to be said about the rebellious certainty of youth, children and teenagers alike. When I arrived here, I was in human years a bit older than this country. But human years being what they are, I am now much older than this country. A different generation already. Hence part of my discontent. From peer I feel now like a parent, wanting to guide, to teach, to shelter. If you have teenagers you know how well that will go down

I am grumbling, I know. There is nothing to be done, there is no substitute for time and experience both. So there is no fault. It’s just that, human years being what they are, I will be long gone before anything changes, and that is annoying

The confusion I felt was exactly this generation gap. The houses I was admiring are old in human years alone, and even then just barely. The history I was longing and yearning for goes a lot further back. Not just in human history, but sheer age of the land. Something to lean on to without feeling guilty I suppose

I can see only two ways forward. No, I am not going to get over myself. Denying a need does not a content human being make!

First of all I can get closer to the natural world of this country, especially as represented in the myths and legends of the native people. There is, after all, a time line of nature that might even be called permanence in our language.

The second thing I can do is travel to a place that has the history I need. Like burnt out execs blobbing in an all-inclusive resort I can also go to get my fill of history in older countries set on older land.

Sounds simple and in a way it is… now for the waiting until money and other things line up… maybe start with a passport as my Christmas present?

Mountain

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I grew up on the plains, near the river. I know the impossibly wide stretches of land that call the eyes to reach further, and then further still.

I live a few minutes from the sea. I know the foam of the waves giving shape to the wind, and the reflections of the sky in the water.

I want to plant a forest. I know the way the canopy breaks up the sunlight and the branches fluttering their leaves make me tip my head up and name their colours.

But I am mountain people. Born as I was, growing up as I did, living as I do, with the plans that I have… that has never changed. I remain of the mountains, and the mountains are calling.

One in particular, the one nearby, is in many ways a representative. I always think of this mountain as masculine. It’s a volcano, therefore younger than most mountains I have seen. Much, much younger than the mountains I always longed for. But he allowed me a home, and thus became the axis of my life. Loyalty and awe started it, then a better understanding therefore love grew alongside those. Confidence, too, now that I think of it.

I am happy today, and walking fast to contain the feeling (at least in public), I was watching this mountain. The snow glowed pink in the sunset, then faded into blue. The beauty replaced the human aloneness, that sharp tone that gives happiness its actual power. Beauty beyond humanity however, notwithstanding the eyes that measured it. And yet I was happy, so I couldn’t think of myself as lacking beauty – a human quirk, I am sure 🙂

So I talked quietly and acknowledged that in my mortal pride I can still recognize the degree of beauty we’re talking about.

You see, I have always felt this mountain as alive and awake and aware. Powerful, oh yes, and sacred to its original people. Not suffering fools gladly, and very much particular about the people who are allowed to climb. With sacred springs and odd far-seeing faces, with a terrible temper and a pleasant disposition 🙂

Whimsy, but then symbols are allowed for the people who choose them.

I am living here, near this beautiful mountain.

I am trying my wings around him, wobbly flight then sure gliding. There will be many more mountains. In my native country, I hope. In places I read about and love, with mountains so old that even myths are becoming new stories again. In places where autumn cloaks the mountains in colours that reach into the soul. I will see his brother through the drifts of sakura flowers.

And then I will come back, and the first sighting after the long travel will be the same:

Beautiful

Calling

Home

Person

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For a blog like this an article on persons seems a bit superfluous, don’t you think? And yet as I find myself musing on the things that matter to me and the relationship of each to the people I interact with I find myself trying to define humanity, you know what I mean? Or rather, describe humanity. Even more precise, describe this particular human. Which begs the question: is there a way to generalize? Is there a definition of “person” or “people” that everybody will agree with? Methinks…. Not! Especially because we are, to quote a well-known phrase, “unique, just like everybody else”.

Our definition of person depends on many variables like culture, ethnicity, era, religion etc. It seems not only impossible, but downright foolish to try and unify those as we are self-evident, like time. Except that we find exceptions (fetus, child, racially different human, non-physical beings, animals, rivers….) based on the variables described above so we are anything BUT self-evident. Or we are self evident to ourselves but not so to others and vice-versa. We are usually self-evident to our own groups but even that is not fool-proof – think children and decision making

Some general ideas: we are people when we live and behave like other people (feral children and psychopaths?), we are people because we are born so (apes and corporations?), we are people because we can make decisions (in a coma and women?)… you get the gist, for every definition, for every right granted, there are exceptions and they all sound oh so logical.

What to do, what to do?

It may be that the problem lies with the words like “definition”, with our desire for things to be clear-cut, once and for all, fixed. It may lie with our brain’s perceived inability to deal with change and uncertainty – although that is highly debatable. It has to do with the complexity of our worlds where systems and laws and policies and procedures and beliefs and biases account for more and more of our very lives.

I think it’s time for fluidity. We can both be human and grow into it. We can accept a river is important enough to count as one of us. We can continue to talk about it around the dinner table not just in obscure journals: is Puppy Dog a person? How about that gorilla or that dolphin? What makes humans human? What makes humans and non-humans persons? Are aliens persons? How about robots and clones and embryos? The key word is talk. Another key word is acceptance. My little one may not think our cat is a person, but many a people might disagree with that.

In my books relying on self-evidence is dangerous because it perpetuates ignorance. Even though I have been, am and will be, this second and forever…

Opposite

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Set against? Sounds quite divisive… and I have an issue with that! But there is a line between enemy and difference, and it’s that line that I wouldn’t mind travelling on. I am talking about people, you know, and more specifically about the line between the individual and the social creature. What are the sacrifices? How far should we go? Where do we stop? What do we expect from others?

It comes as no surprise that we live in the world of people, made by people for people’s purposes. Which people, from when and what price this world I will discuss shortly. Suffice it to say that making a living alone on a deserted island (Scotland, anybody? Or maybe the Pacific) is very rare and suits a very few of us. Most people live close to other people, in distance if not in spirit.

And chances are that if you live close to people sooner or later you will bump against certain rules, many of them of the negative sort (don’t…). Provided you don’t have certain health conditions, you are made aware of those rules since when you’re born. They shape your life, whether you will it or not, whether you respect them or not. They become part of you. So when you meet someone who doesn’t have precisely the same rules, you are made aware of difference.

Of course the above is too simplistic by orders of magnitude. The factors that influence our lives are many and complex, the relationship between them is complicated at the best of times. We give the rules different names and different powers and different weights.

But the individual questions remain the same. What is the price I will have to pay to be part of this social group? How much of who I am do I need to restrain, renounce or defend in order to belong? How do I make that choice and will I be satisfied with what is left? Is it worth it? Yes, I am aware that the social contract theory is not the be all and end all of the universe 🙂

Then you get into the self-esteem questions: am I not likeable the way I am? Am I good enough now or do I have to whittle a little bit more of myself?

The funny thing is many of us find our peers, our family by choice, based on our individuality. We create clubs, we have coffees and dinners together, we go for walks together. But remember that Clavell quote about the three different hearts of people? The obvious one (shown to the world), the closed one (shown to few), the secret one (shown to no one)…

I am running out of my self imposed space 🙂 I wanted to write about the weight the social factor has on the individual. I wanted to write that the secret face deserves to at least be acknowledged by the individual, not subsumed to the social. I wanted to write about inflexible systems that crush difference and try to fit the person in rather than become fit for the person. I wanted to write about rights (freedom?) and lifestyles.

I was watching “Moana” the other day. I am not the only one whose heart strings were tweaked by her breathless “we were voyagers!”

And I was thinking of the old adage, that if a human wants to live in a tree, we must make sure that the tree is fit for human habitation 🙂

Is there a difference? Or enmity?

Senses

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It is an interesting thing to discover how many senses we have, whether distinct or not. I was even more interested about multi-sensory integration but that subject proved a bit dry, whereas it is anything but when you experience it – I’ll stick with experience, if I may!

But what I found the most interesting of all is the link not only with other senses (official or not), but how senses link with volition, memory, anticipation, expectation and a few other things to create a life form that colours the gloomiest of years. This is what you may share with friends if what you’re after is a deep philosophical discussion about what is normal

Sight is perhaps the first sense one thinks of. It may also be the sense most linked to memory and pleasure. It can be educated (“look where you want to go, not at the other driver”, thank you, my friend) and indulged (how many photo albums did you say you have? No, it doesn’t matter if they’re virtual!). And the anticipation of seeing mountains used to make my tummy roil in a most genuine manner…. I love mountains, you know, and I used to see them only once a year.

Hearing is the next best thing in my opinion and I am not alone – think Sean Connery and your absolute favourite piece of music. And now imagine your body getting ready to dance and the hollow feeling inside that tells you the music is there to replace whatever imperfect organs you might have been born with.

Smell is an odd one. So necessary when it comes to food, so distinctly specific about its preferences (my limits are durian and coriander leaf/cilantro). But I also remember dancing close to a man I liked and respected with good qualities like strength and laughter…. And thinking “he is not mine, he doesn’t smell mine”. Which, of course, makes me the type who carries a small piece of carton with the fragrance of a loved one… even though it is not the same, never the same!

Taste (and flavour) is quite direct in its own way. Orange juice, tomato-based sauces, hot tea with milk and sugar, chocolate… the small bursts of pleasure that can accumulate in fireworks explosions, Ratatouille style… and the odd impulse to bite chubby infant calves or a lover’s shoulder.

And let’s not forget touch. Velvet and silk, soft flower petals, whipped cream, pet fur, starchy linen, mossy boulders, tree trunks and warm sand, popping bubble wrap, ticklish feather dusters… but also the invisible desire for human touch. Children die or fail to thrive without it, we seem to crave it even when we’re pretty convinced we don’t need it. But Virginia Satir said it best: “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

What’s your number?

Brain

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Storms are supposed to be rare events in the year. They are not anymore. It does not seem quite so fanciful, after the 10th storm of the summer, to believe that the entire planet has decided that humans are better off kept inside, where they cannot do so much damage. It is, of course, ironic that humans can and do make more damage when they are inside and not in direct contact with nature. It is inside that we seem to forget just how small a piece of nature we actually are. It is inside our cities, our houses, our minds that we believe ourselves stronger than nature.

This is, it seems, how we grow up. It is nurture (for want of a better word) that makes us forget nature. It is our brain, our big, biased, besotted brain that makes us forget ourselves. We are against nature even when we pay it a compliment, for we separate it from ourselves.

Brains are terribly good at doing what they are supposed to do, provided we don’t try to override the rules. Which we do, children of our age as we are. Then, the brain becomes a terrible thing of beautifully articulated destruction.

I get quite passively misanthropic at this stage, usually because I tend to use the brain in the human way and of course there is no hope. Of course there is no way to return to an idealistic and idealized noble savage existence. Of course there is no hope for humanity. How can there be, when I can see and follow the news and read between the lines in serious articles about the desperate state of – insert any subject you can think of here – and it is clear to any logical brain that hope is futile. Resistance is futile. Life itself (as far as humans are concerned) is futile – pun not intended and of quite bad taste, wouldn’t you say?

And yet hope remains, quite aside from the futility that is evident. For truly we are not meant for a life of leisure, it is terrible for our health. 🙂 When all the avenues are closed (by ourselves, of course!) our brain remembers defiance. When one cannot succeed, one eventually finds out (and grumbles about) someone else has an idea that will work. When alone we despair we find that we can sing in unison.

Even more idealistic, do you think? And yet I have seen it, time and again. The best movies we watch are about this – you know the ones I am talking about. The books we read and re-read year after year all talk about this. The revolutions that sweep through nations are all about this.

The reason hope was shut within Pandora’s box (urn, whatever) is because most of the time it is a torment for the brain. It doesn’t allow it to just gorge on sugar and infer stupidity out of mere annoyance. It pushes and prods and chases away all logic. For what is logic other than a tool, and how true that once you have a hammer everything around you seems to become a nail?

The wrench, however, is just near the plier….

Pride

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What a conundrum this is, from definition to meaning! How did we get from a Latin expression “to be useful” through to “brave” (all those knights!) to a deadly sin? And how come everybody seems to have an opinion about pride and they are all at loggerheads? Don’t even get me started as to what “conundrum” or “loggerhead” mean, or we’ll be here all night! 🙂

But pride, ah, that is a beauty of a concept, so debatable, so ambiguous! I think I already said once that if a deadly sin is mine, pride it is!I can’t really say I am repentant about it – that would deafeat the purpose of the exercise, wouldn’t it? So even the hard way to correct a sin (do the opposite until it becomes second nature and the first nature is defeated) is a no-go. Because I am still to be persuaded that it is a sin to begin with.

It is linked with individuality and ambition in many ways, and personally I strive for that feeling. Because if I learn a lot, and apply myself, and practice incessantly, then I am likely to succeed. And if I succeed , then I feel proud, and I don’t see why I should give credit to anybody else. I can be grateful to my parents and ancestors for giving me the good genes, I can be grateful to my education that I have developed certain abilities, but the combination of gene and ability and the effort are mine alone, the goal is mine alone, and without that effort or that goal, the best of genes and the soundest of educations are pieces that will never become the whole.

A small example, and a bit of a block of mine. Seeds. The bane of my gardening existence! I can (and have done!) take a half dead plant sold for peanuts at the shop. I can plant it and take care of it and it will survive and produce and re-seed with gay abandon. But I have lost count of the number of packets of seeds I have scattered that failed to show even a tiny plant as a result. My pride has been impugned or some such thing! So I will do it right this year! I have bought or received the seeds. I am doing it by the open book that is my tutor. I am nurturing them and chase away the cat from them. And I will wait (oh, no!!!!). I wish to succeed. Nothing to do with survival, life or death or any of that. If I don’t succeed then I will go as I usually do to the shop and buy the half dead darling seedlings cheaply and do what I’ve done these past many years, get them to live. But ah, I can just imagine the feeling if I do succeed. I will feel so proud!

So why shouldn’t I feel proud? I am likely to believe in myself a lot more if I feel justifiably proud, and thus will try harder next time for an even better result.

Maybe the operative word is “justifiable”?

I will not attempt to fly, I cannot do it. I will not attempt to crawl through a mouse hole either, I cannot do it. But I can do human things in a human world in the human way and do it so that they serve the world, too. I believe we can and should be proud of that!