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The Parting Words of the Fishwife Sidur to Gilgamesh

“When the heavenly gods created human beings, they kept everlasting life for themselves and gave us death. So, Gilgamesh, accept your fate. Each day, wash your head, bathe your body, and wear clothes that are sparkling fresh. Fill your stomach with tasty food. Play, sing, dance, and be happy both day and night. Delight in the pleasures that your wife brings you, and cherish the little child who holds your hand. Make every day of your life a feast of rejoicing! This is the task that the gods have set before all human beings. This is the life you should seek, for this is the best life a mortal can hope to achieve.”

– “The Epic of Gilgamesh”

I have been thinking a great deal these last few weeks about happiness. I have been thinking about it in context of simplicity vs. luxury, of complex pleasures to simple pleasures. I have been thinking about the nature of pain, the nature of joy, and the ways in which it is so easy to flit from one to the other. I have been thinking, thus, about expectation, about moment vs. lifetime, about preparation and being present.

I have also been thinking a lot about comfort. Specifically, how it is often an illusion and, even more so, often a trap. In many of these cases, the context has landed squarely on my body and my relationship with it and its relationship with the world around it.

Today was a good day for me and my body. We walked through a sudden, drenching rain that was delightful in its tenacity (and lasted just long enough to get us from one door to the next) and which provided us in the aftermath with a refreshingly cool/damp towel from which to wipe the sweat from our brow. We walked a mile in 20 minutes and then did a variety of strength-building exercises that challenged us and made us sore in good ways that will remind us of our hard work. Then we sat on the porch with good friends and laughed, ate a freshly-baked macaroon that tasted like summer, and drove home with the windows down. The wind was blustery and cool and the sun sparkled on the wet pavement as we passed. We took a long shower with the window open (one of our favorite things to do while it’s still warm enough) and washed the grime from our skin, then gussied up a bit just because we felt like it. We smelled good, felt clean and tired in a wonderful way.

We chatted to our lover and laughed some more. We planned adventures in faraway lands that we’ve never been to. Then we talked to another friend in another faraway place that we were once before. We talked about going again, smelling the salt air and hearing the crashing waves and climbing to the tops of cliffs.

A bit later, we made a long grocery list with fresh ingredients — a change for us, because often we buy pre-prepared meals that involve nothing but a microwave warm-up. We drove to the store and fondled brilliant red peppers and soft peaches and shiny shallots. We made plans for our meal tomorrow, with loud music and olive oil and the fun of chopping vegetables that we’re not used to.

My body and I were good company today. We washed our head, we bathed our body and wore clothes that were sparkling fresh. We made plans to fill our stomach with delicious foods that we prepared with our own messy fingers and the help of all of our senses. We played. We sang. We worked. We laughed. We were joyful.

So often, this is not the case. So often, the ways in which our culture of luxury, of instant gratification, of faster and better and now now now speed us along past ourselves…they give the illusion of comfort, and of satisfaction, and each moment of quick pleasure leaches the life from us like dry soil.

I have been thinking about happiness these last few months, and I have realized that, in so many ways I have delegated my self care for the sake of convenience…and in doing so, have delegated my joy as well. Luxury is apathy if it’s done in perpetuity.

I’m writing this as a reminder to myself to be present, in *all* things.

The Hegelian Dialectic & HWP

The last few weeks I’ve been scouring the Internet for information on Hegel and his dialectic. His thing was “thesis, antithesis and syntehesis” — simplified, it’s “Problem, Reaction, Solution.” Now it is entirely possible that I have this wrong — I have no seat in the Ivory Tower and Hegel is notoriously complicated. What I offer below is, at best, an over-simplification — and at worst, a joint misconception, but even if I have but a fraction of the idea, it’s worthy of discussion. And it’s been enough to piss me off — which is really all I want to do with you here. I want to piss you off and remind you to ask questions. And maybe entertain you a bit at the end with a poem.

So – there’s nothing inherently bad about Hegelian Dialectic on its own, but when applied with forethought and sinister intention, it becomes a powerful tool for manipulation and shady transfers of power. It’s impossible to research the Hegelian dialectic without being dragged, wide-eyes unblinking, into the disturbing world of conspiracy theory. The most common Internet example given for understanding Hegel’s dialect involves the proposal that 9/11 was an ‘inside job.’ I’m not really interested in coming off as a crazypants, so I’ll choose a less extreme example. It’s important, however, to not dismiss this concept because it is, I believe, the foundation on which consumerism stands and is the rot at the root of our social evolution, both individually and as a culture.

Example 1: You are a child, it’s X-mas Eve and your mother wants you to go to bed so she can finish putting together your toy bike. She can’t tell you this outright or you’ll know there’s no Santa. In this moment, you have the power. You are young and small, and she could physically force you to go to bed, but that’s really no fun for either of you. Barring being hog-tied to your crib, you could also continue to get up and ask for water, you could throw a tantrum, you could be stubborn and willful – to your own detriment, of course, as you wouldn’t have the bike in the morning, but no matter – you could definitely make things harder on the both of you. So your Mother wants you to give up your power and do as she wishes. To accomplish this, she applies the Hegelian Dialectic:

“Sweetheart, if you don’t go to bed then Santa will not come and you won’t get your presents in the morning! He may have already skipped our house!” — Manufactured Problem.
You, of course, totally freak out, as that’s the last thing on earth that you want — Expected Reaction. (fear)
And then you promptly brush your teeth, put on your PJ’s and hop into bed with the blankets over your eyes and don’t move a muscle until morning, lest Santa should truly not come. — Predetermined Solution.

(Should I have put in a Santa spoiler-alert up there?) ;)

So, that’s a simple, every-day application of Hegel’s dialect. No one was really harmed — your mom got time to do a kind thing for you, and you got a good night’s sleep. Of course, the hours you spent agonizing about whether or not you’d offended Santa were kind of unnecessary, but you still got your bike. As far as shady applications go, that wasn’t so bad.

But let’s talk about the more subtle and sinister applications that have been eating away at our collective self-esteem for centuries. Let’s talk about consumerism — which is, at its most stripped-raw, the attempted transfer of personal power from the self to the marketplace. Not an objective description, I’ll grant you, but frankly — fuck objectivity about consumerism. Now marketing, in and of itself, isn’t inherently a bad thing – just like Hegel’s Dialect is not a bad thing by itself. It is the way in which it is applied that determines its merit.

Example 2 is less specific — but only because it will seem so familiar it hardly needs an introduction. Most marketing systematically seeks to create the PROBLEM (Need to lose weight? Teeth not white enough? Thighs not toned enough? Clothes not hot enough? Skin too wrinkly? Hair not shiny enough?) in order to create fear and insecurity (intended reaction) in order to get the customer to give up their personal power (i.e. confidence/empowerment) and convert their insecurity into a projected *need* for the marketer’s product. (the pre-determined solution.)

Simple as that — Dig a hole, fill it with product.

This is a long-winded way to get to the root of what I want to talk about below — which is Preference. Personal Preference. And the fact that, in this day and age, I am fairly certain that none of us can be trusted to take our personal preferences at face value, given they have likely been systematically predetermined for us over the entire course of our lifetimes, all the while we are blissfully unaware that what we think we think are thoughts that have mostly been thunk for us. It’s not a pretty prospect — but I don’t care how pristine the wall is, if you throw enough crap at it, something will eventually stick.

Lest someone think I take issue with all preferences, let me clarify that the only real problem I have with preference is how much of it goes wholly un-examined. If you dig at the root of your preference and find healthy, sound reasoning that makes sense and works for you — go for it. But I believe that we must regard many of our likes and dislikes with suspicion — and that the only way to step out of this rather sinister trifecta employed by those who would have us salivating like pavlovian puppies at the sound of a commercial break is to be empowered, aware and conscious consumers — in all markets (tangible and not.)

This thought process brought me to the following, admittedly self-serving, poem — which joyfully employs a trite rhyming convention to illustrate why I hate surfing Craigslist.

Let’s talk about HWP. You craigslist junkies will likely know what this means, but for those who haven’t had the pleasure, I’ll expand the acronym. HWP = Height/Weight Proportionate. In other words, it’s a socially acceptable way to say “No Fatties.”

Now I’m recently un-coupled, and while not ready yet to date,
Just the fact of being single puts this dogma on my plate –
Checking ads to see what’s out there, just in case I get a whim,
I am struck by how the margin of acceptance is so slim.

Your weight must be exactly in proportion to your height?
Height of what, I ask you? Of severity? Of might?
Is my height of intellect proportionate in measure,
to the weight of skills I have in giving lover’s pleasure?

You see, Hegel may have called it out inside his dialectic:
predetermined outcomes based on formulated rhetoric.
But so subtle are the ways in which our views are formed and guided,
that often we believe they’re things we consciously decided.

I think nurture plays as big a role as nature in this game,
Nature being who we are, and Nurture; what’s to blame.
The thing we need remember is that even truth’s subjective;
opinions hardened into ‘fact’ by vote of the collective.

Let’s apply this logic, now, to beauty as a construct,
adherence to its rules; a voluntary code of conduct –
What if we were all to truly give ourselves permission,
to overwrite the jargon with our own new definition?

I offer, not as judgment, but as simple point of reference
that intolerance is often found beneath the guise of preference –
And if we are to bring about our social evolution,
questions, more than answers, will determine our solution.

Why is it I feel the way I feel about this thing?
Who is it that taught me – and what value does it bring?
Your conclusion, it may ultimately place you where you started –
What matters is the fact that you explored the paths uncharted.

I invite you, gentle people, with the best of your intention,
To take into your world a brand new sense of intervention;
To never take on faith the things you’re taught you should believe,
‘Cuz truth is seldom simple as our messy hearts perceive.

©2009 – Stacy M. Bias

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