No woman will ever satisfy Chuck Klosterman.  At least that’s what he says in the first essay of “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs.”  He goes on to explain that no woman will ever satisfy him because everyone’s idea of what love is has been fed in large part by Hollywood and the media.  This is bad because real love doesn’t look like Coldplay’s idea of love and this constructed conception of love is unattainable in reality.

I just watched “500 Days of Summer,” a movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.  Spoiler alert, it’s a love story.  It’s gotten heaps of praise and tonnes of analysis already so I won’t bother saying anything other than it’s good.  I will however rant about the ending which shattered all my hopes for the movie and dropped it from being awesome to merely good.  If you haven’t watched it, you probably shouldn’t read this since other spoilers will be everywhere.

Anyway, Levitt’s character Tom starts off on Day One being a lot like the kind of people that Klosterman talks about.  Basically Tom believes that there’s someone out there for everyone and he will find that special Hollywood love at some point.  He’s an oddly relatable character, especially in the scene where he’s explaining to his friends how he knows the girl he’s interested in isn’t interested in him because she hasn’t responded to all the “chances” he’s given her.  It’s sad but rejections suck and at this rate, the only way Tom is ever going to hook up with Manic Pixie Dream Girl is if she starts making out with him in the copy room.  Lucky for him and in a clear indication that this is a movie and not real life, she does.

Unlucky for him, Tom’s inherent belief in love and soul mates makes him blind to the fact that Summer will never be on the same page that he is.  He never realizes that she’s going to break his heart and on Day 290, she does.  He’s a wreck and the movie goes through the relationship and ensuing break up, showing Tom’s naivete and how he deals with the break up (spoiler: not well).  Eventually though, he seems to start the process of getting over her and in an awesome scene, screams at his bosses, rants about how greeting cards and movies made him a fool who believed in destiny and soul mates, quits his job and restarts his dream of being an architect.  Tom seems to come out of the break up stronger, smarter, probably more cynical but at the same time, maybe more realistic.

If the movie had ended or at least continued going down that road I’d have been quite happy.  I probably wouldn’t have written this post either.  Instead the movie turns everything on its head (only five minutes after Tom’s rant) by revealing that Summer did find her soul mate and Tom wasn’t wrong about soul mates or love or destiny, just about who his soul mate is.  The movie ends on a happy note with him meeting Autumn, presumably the love of his life, for real this time.

This movie really made me feel hope.  The first part at least.  I don’t know if Klosterman is right about love but I’m inclined to believe he is.  What I do know is that there aren’t many Hollywood movies that deal with relationships that fail because of fake Hollywood love.  This is one of the movies that until the last ten minutes does exactly that.  Then, in a move which I imagine happened because the writer didn’t want to make the movie too dark, it turns on its heel and buys into the happy-go-lucky, love-will-find-you, soul-mates-forever bullshit that we see in every other romcom.  Why?  On one level I really hate this because if your audience is ready to get one message in particular, then you shouldn’t change your mind about that message in the last 600 seconds of the movie’s running time.  On another level, I think that the movie’s message overall would have been a lot better if Autumn didn’t fall out of the sky and into Tom’s life.  I want Tom to be happy but I don’t want him to be happy because the fates conspired to bring him and his soul mate together.  I want him to be happy because he understands now what love in real life looks like.

My friends have disagreed with me.  They say that the message is more positive like this, with him finding true love after all.  Maybe the movie was really about Tom being right all along, of true love triumphing over everything.  They have a point.  I guess it depends on your perspective and what you want out of the movie.  I want to see a film that’s like a Chuck Klosterman essay and doesn’t parade the standard Hollywood formula of love in my face.  For 90% of “500 Days of Summer” I got that but the last 10% killed it.  Stupid Hollywood.

I recently joined last.fm and I find myself oddly fascinated by the site.  I mean I always listened to a lot of music but it’s interesting to chart my weirdo listening habits and see what trends come up.  I’ve had a number of disturbing revelations that I’m not quite sure I was ready to deal with.

For instance, I’m not sure I was ready to face how much I like Justin Timberlake.  He was the second most played artist in my music library and the only reason he’s third now is that I’ve been actively avoiding his music so that he drops down a little.  Along the same lines, weird fact #2 is that Beastie Boys are my number one played artists.  This is strange because I only really like a handful of their songs.  Granted I obsessively listen to those songs (No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn!) but seriously, is that enough to get them to number one?  Apparently.  Linkin Park, my default answer for the awesomest band ever question is 4th, lower than those two and Fall Out Boy.  I love whole albums by LP but like Beastie Boys, I only like select songs by FOB.  How they wound up higher is a question that will confuse me for some time to come.

Another clear indication from last.fm, which may be one explanation for why LP is so low, is that I will obsessively listen to the same song over and over again.  I knew this before I joined last.fm but it’s becoming woefully obvious that my attitude to particular songs is probably not healthy.  As an example, I was recently introduced to the infectiously delightful “Daylight” by Matt and Kim by an infectiously delightful friend of mine this weekend.  I downloaded it on Sunday and since then last.fm tells me I’ve listened to it eight times, including four times in a row.  This might not sound too bad until you realize that I stopped scrobbling out of shame and probably listened to it another 10 times.  In fact I’m listening to it right now and when it finishes I’m going to listen to it again.  I’m pretty sure this song was playing in my dreams last night.  This is not healthy.

Not Healthy

Last.fm also tells me that I have nothing musically in common with the few friends I have on Last.fm.  Not a surprise, but what is surprising is that I’m the most “poppy” of all my friends.  The rest of the people I know listen to bands I’ve never heard of but my last played list reads like the Billboard Hot 100.  Granted it’s a Billboard Hot 100 in a world where rock is more popular than pop and older music gets played a lot but it is still the Billboard Hot 100.  As an aside, I’m now listening to “Daylight” for the third time in a row.

Another amusing trend is how there are songs on my most played list that really shouldn’t be there.  For instance, Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” is the 5th most played song in my library.  It probably shouldn’t be that high since I don’t actually like this song.  I can’t off the top of my head remember the melody or the lyrics.  It’s on the list because I went through a phase of obsessively listening to “No Woman No Cry” and “Could You Be Loved plays right after it on the album.  This is the same reason James Fauntleroy’s “Nowhere” is on the list.  Not only am I an obsessive listener, but I’m also incredibly lazy when it comes to changing the album.  “Daylight” will probably be on my most played list soon enough, since it’s playing for the fourth time now.

Ultimately, I think what Last.fm is revealing is that I’m ever so slightly insane.  I knew this already but now it’s out there for everyone to see in a wonderfully quantified way.  And I’m ok with that.  Now if you’ll excuse me, “Daylight” just finished playing and I think I’d like to listen to it again.

There’s a website I visit a lot called Reddit.  It’s a site where people do lots of things but one thing in particular that people do is engage in conversations through a system of comments.  I keep bookmarks of all the Reddit comments I find particularly insightful and this is one of them.  The question asked was

“Anyone else here feel like they’re never fully rested, like there’s dead space in your brain? I have lost most of my emotions and the connections between the physical world and my mental state. I have a girlfriend, good friends, a decent job, and my own place. What’s wrong with me?”

TyPower’s answer, copied directly, was:

“You could be suffering from early 21st century syndrome. Don’t bother googling it, I just made it up. But the symptoms you describe are typical of the new malaise.

You should be happy. You have fulfilled the requirements of a media driven life. You have your own place. You have a ‘decent’ job. You have a woman. And yet, underneath it all there is this dissatisfaction. You can’t quite place it but it is there nonetheless, gnawing at your brain.

You flick randomly through internet pages for hours after dark. The TV chatters in the background. Every world developement is known to you a few minutes after it happens. You are the master of an external world that appears and presents itself through text and pics and vids.

You go about the business of living as it has been described to you and you can check all the boxes for relative success. And yet it doesn’t feel like success. Not the way it does in the movies or on TV. No orchestral music chimes in when you do something good, no ominous montage depicts things negatively when your performance is not up to par. Life itself is removed from you because consciousness itself does not match up to the way ‘we’ are used to receiving information; that of third person observer through a cam. The P.O.V. first person view is somehow limiting, it limits us to this space and time which is not in keeping with how consciousness can effortlessly cross time when ‘connected’ to the internet.

Life today in a modern industrial society has an air of rigidness about it. Everywhere you go, you run up against barriers and rules. Speed limits, parking restrictions, decorum, social rules (unwritten but bearing on the mind), myriad exacting laws. All of them supposedly designed for the collective benefit of everyone. But no individual feels like everyone, each individual feels like you. So you end up being oppressed by the collective rules designed to protect you. This is called the “system”.

There is nothing “wrong” with you brother.

You are merely suffering from the collective malaise of having all that we are supposed to want. Supposedly, human existence today is the best it has ever been. The ‘facts’ bear this out. Life expectancy today for the average person is higher than it’s ever been, right?

And yet you long for the hunt. The risk. The hunter gatherer life, buried deep somewhere in your hypothalamus, longs for that time when your own ingenuity resulted in food for your group. When you could exploit your human genius for real and direct gain…feeding yourself and your tribe. Going to the office/cubicle today gains you money to obtain these things. But it does not offer the thrill of the hunt. The risk. The adrenaline rush of the successful raid on the enemy camp, the high of the perfect kill.

Homo sapiens sapiens is not a very old species in relative terms. But it is a cunning one and the greatest force this planet has ever seen. But, the amount of time we successfully gathered as hunters (2 million years) is far longer and evolutionary significant in comparison to the existence of human civilisation (8 thousand years). Yet, all cogent information tells you you are better off today than anyone in human history.

And yet, on a quiet walk outside the city, you stare at the moon through leafy glade and can almost touch the truth of a different life. A life you were designed for but no longer is.

There is nothing wrong with you brother, that is not wrong with all of us.

Disregard those corporate entities who tell you your problem is solvable through the use of their ‘drug’.

If you need to alter your consciousness self medicate with whiskey or weed. Do not touch the shit the “experts” have formulated to suppress the spirit.”

21st century syndrome is the same problem that you can find in movies like Fight Club, The Matrix, Office Space and The Weatherman.  In comics like Dilbert and shows like “The Office.”  It’s that certain boredom and dissatisfaction that comes with modern life.  I’ve felt it too.  Is this the ultimate destination of modernity?  Or is it simply a trope that we keep coming back to to explain away a deeper problem? Does the problem exist at all?

I like economics.  Most of the time I don’t understand economics but I do enjoy the subject.  I learnt about it from two professors,  microeconomics from a wonderful old man and macroeconomics from a cantankerous old fool.  Hence while macroeconomics has always been a mystery to me, I know what’s going on in microeconomics and I’ve always found that half of the dismal science much more interesting.  That’s why the “Freakonomics” series appeals to me so much.  It takes microeconomics and just shows off just how cool it is.  I just finished “Superfreakonomics” by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt and I absolutely loved it.

“Superfreakonomics” was overall,  a very different book from its predecessor, with less of a focus on hard stats and more of a focus on coming up with counter-intuitive conclusions.  It got a lot of controversy when it first came out on almost every conclusion that the authors drew but especially for the chapter on global warming which we’ll get to later.  What I want to focus on is what I think the authors wanted you to take away from the book.

1.  Everyone Respond to Incentives

This is what they talked about in the first book as well and it’s also the first thing you learn in a microeconomics course.  Drawing on Levitt’s and other economists’ research, the two show how an unusual statistical correlation comes about because of an incentive in place that you probably never even thought about.  This point is driven home when they talk about the problems behavioral economists ran into when testing humanity’s inherent altruism.  In a lab, it appears as though humans are all altruistic but when you conduct the same sorts of tests in the real world, the lab results don’t hold up.  This is probably because the lab has incentives to keep people altruistic, such as the fact that a PhD is watching whether you’re going to be a jerk or not.  The authors come to the conclusion that people are altruistic when there’s an incentive for them to be altruistic.

Applying that idea, let’s talk about Haiti.  Recently I was in a grocery store which was running a charity drive.  They were selling books for a dollar each with all money going to the Haitian relief fund.  What incentives are at play here?  If somebody spots a book that they actually want to get then they’d probably be willing to pay much more than a dollar.  But whether they want to buy the book which is worth more than a dollar to them, or they to give their money away, in this situation you’re asking them for only one dollar.  Also, if they don’t spot a book they like, then they probably won’t donate any money at all meaning that there may even be a disincentive to donating money.  Needless to say, I don’t think this strategy is helping the Haitians.

I’d suggest implementing a strategy that some stores in South Africa use to great effect.  On every checkout counter put a small transparent box, half full of money and loudly proclaim that all money in the box is going to charity.  Whenever someone pays with cash, they get a handful of coins and that box becomes an easy place to dump them (Incentive 1).  Also it makes you feel good (Incentive 2).  On top of that, the cashier is standing right in front of you, watching if you’re going to donate anything or just be an uncaring jerk (Incentive 3).  And what do you do with the books?  Give them to a library, why are grocery stores selling books anyway?

2.  Think Outside the Box

I don’t know if this is the point that the book was supposed to make but that’s certainly what I heard, especially in the last two chapters where the authors talk about some simple, cheap fixes that solved seemingly insurmountable problems.  One of the chapters focused entirely on global warming and talked about the difficulties in our current strategies of reducing carbon emissions, how expensive it would be and how uncertain we are whether it would even be effective.  They use the parable of shit (a brilliant story found in the first few paragraphs of this article) to show how similar to the situation at the turn of the 19th century, we are confronting a massive problem and the best way to solve it is some sort of technological advancement that would make the problem go away.  This kind of technological advancement already exists, they say, and it’s called geoengineering.

Nobody is happy with this chapter.  Lots of people have written very detailed responses about everything that’s wrong with it.  I have two issues with these critiques.  First, why are people so mad?  The first time I heard about these solutions I thought they were awesome.  We pumped bad stuff into the atmosphere messing up the planet, why not pump some good stuff up there to fix it?  Apparently my reaction was shared only by the minority, with the majority gathering their pitchforks and deciding to raise some hell.  Is this how people are supposed to react to new ideas?  I don’t think anyone who picked up “Superfreakonomics” was expecting to see some concrete solutions to global warming, after all one of the authors is an economist, the other a writer and neither are climatologists.  I’m surprised people weren’t more amused by the chapter than inflamed by it.  It seems like even suggesting that there may be an easy fix to a this problem will get you in trouble.  Why?  I think a lot of that has to do with the way we talk about global warming and conservation in general.  The global warming problem seems to have taken on some of the rhetoric of religion with Al Gore as our savior and humanity atoning for its sins.  We harmed the planet, we’re guilty and we need to pay for our crimes.  It hurts to drive a Hybrid instead of a Hummer and not crank the heat up in winter and it’s easier to digest these changes when they’re not just conservation efforts but the penance that we must undertake.  If you’re saying that we can repent without it being painful, you must be wrong.

Either way, the second problem I have is that debating whether this chapter is the worst or greatest piece of global warming literature ever is completely missing the point.  While the critics do serve an important function, Levitt and Dubner probably weren’t trying to say we should go all out with geoengineering solutions which could significantly harm the planet.  They were pointing out that we’re becoming increasingly narrow minded in the ways we approach climate change and that other solutions can exist which we should be open to.  This isn’t true in just global warming but in many issues that we’re faced with.  It’s time we stopped acting like the world’s going to end and started figuring out what we can do to make it better.  And that doesn’t just mean banning trays at your school’s cafeteria or driving a hybrid.

Ladies and gentlemen, a celebration is in order!  I have now officially reached the hallowed five-post mark on my blog (technically this is the sixth).  It might not seem like much but it’s 3000 words more than nothing.  Most blogs have some sort of coherent theme or idea.  A reason why they exist.  Five posts in, I think it’s time to address why I started this blog and how it came about.

First the how.  I had wanted to start a blog for a long time.  I’ve always liked writing but I don’t do it nearly enough.  A friend of mine, Seamless, has been a blogger for quite a while and was egging me on to start my own blog.  I never did though.  She’s been writing almost all her life and I’ve never seriously written anything.  It seems to be a much harder task to blog when the only other blogger you know is a pro.

What really pushed me was when I learnt that I had other friends who were bloggers.  A certain Uncertain Bell, a 50 Cent Philosopher and TheZambani were bloggers all along and I never even knew.  Their blogs are interesting to say the least and I was encouraged by their presence on the blogosphere.  TheUncertainBell showed me the value of a blog because she uses it as a platform to reflect on some of the issues she cares about.  Her posts made me think about how wonderful it would be to have a blog of my own where I could cement my thoughts into writing.  TheZambani’s posts made me think because he seems to write for himself as much as for an audience.  I think that’s what I would like to do too.

Saying all this about these three will probably come as a surprise to them, since I don’t think they know that I read their blogs.  TheZambani and TheUncertainBell may be able to figure out who I am but I doubt the 50 Cent Philosopher will.  Should any of you ever come across this blog, I am not stalking you and I come in peace.  Oh, and thank you for the inspiration.

Those three bloggers and Seamless are showed me how to blog but nobody really told me why to blog.  For that, the best answer seems to come from a Lauryn Hill Song.  Isn’t it strange that in my first post I referenced a song by Lauryn Hill and now I must look to her again?

This time the song I’m thinking of is “I Find It Hard to Say.”  This isn’t necessarily about the song as much as it is about the title.  “I Find It Hard to Say” accurately summarizes why this blog is here.  Lately, I’ve found it hard to articulate my thoughts on everything.  Getting your thoughts into a form that other people can look at is hard and this blog is here to make that process easier.  I am writing because I can write and as much as I’d love for other people to look at my thoughts and share their own experiences, I’m writing so that it becomes easier to say hard things.

So let’s celebrate, because five posts on my blog means that I’m five posts closer to being a better writer, a better thinker and a better communicator.

I’m looking forward to the next milestone, whatever and whenever that will be.

I’ve lived life so far as a series of course corrections.  I don’t know where the final destination is but the game plan has always been to see where I’m lacking and to correct that.  One such course correction I’ve made is learning more about music.

I fell in love with listening to music in high school.  I think it started out with me trying to keep up with my friends but it quickly became much more about me than about them.  From the beginning I knew hip-hop and rap weren’t for me.  They were speaking too fast, the lyrics were over the top or just plain stupid and the music felt (and still feels) too overwhelming.  I was more attracted to pop and rock or what my friends would call “White Music.”  Rock seemed to become the music I responded to the most, with Linkin Park leading the way as an easy blend of black music’s rapping and white music’s heavy guitars and drums.  Their music was pure magic to me at the time, bringing out strong emotions in a way that nothing else could.  I didn’t understand how their music did that.

What I did understand about music though, was that I didn’t understand anything.  Aside from Linkin Park, I couldn’t figure out why I liked some songs that my friends didn’t or why there was such a clear distinction between the types of music different races listened to.  Music was a huge mystery and what made it worse was that I was the most musically ignorant of my circle of friends.  Most of them had joined a choir and so they had at least some knowledge what making good music meant.  One of my friends even wound up teaching himself to play guitar making me feel even worse because until the day that he played “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” I don’t think I had ever actually identified what an acoustic guitar sounded like.

I stayed ignorant for a while because aside from a mystery, music also seemed highly inaccessible.  Perhaps because I never really shared my taste in music, music has always been a personal activity for me and the idea of joining a choir seemed completely terrifying.  My sister got two years of piano lessons but she never enjoyed them so my parents decided that they wouldn’t waste my time with them.  I was on my own in figuring music out.

It was my guitarist friend who introduced me to the idea of teaching myself.  He played “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” that day and I still remember feeling completely awed when I heard the song, and I mean heard really heard it, I could hear the song and I knew this was how Green Day played it.  At first I was just humoring him but somewhere in the middle I really heard the song and it completely changed my outlook on music.  My friend had gotten a guitar and using the internet, taught himself how to make music.  This is how I would figure music out.

After A Levels in 2008, I begged my parents to buy me a guitar.  Once they finally gave in I got started learning my first song, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”  I’ve been playing for two years since then (wow it’s been two years!) and music isn’t so mysterious anymore.  I’m not great but I’ve figured some things out.

Playing guitar fueled the way I listened to music pushing me even further to rock.  While before music was an incomprehensible whole, now I can break down what I’m listening to and hear the guitar, the drums, the bass and the piano.  Now I know why I don’t like rap, because it’s a genre focused on lyrics whereas I prefer genres focused on instruments.  That’s why I prefer rock, where the genius of the song lies not just in lyrics but in the way a group of people collaborate together to create art.

While I understand more of what music I like I still have no idea why “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” sounds the way it does or why that’s a good song and other songs are bad songs.  I don’t know how Green Day struck on those four chords instead of the thousands of others but I think I’m beginning to understand why those four chords work.  Music is starting to make a bit more sense.

I’ve also started to see how musical tastes come about.  I think a lot of that has to do with society telling us which songs to like.  Linkin Park was very popular when I was in high school.  Around the time I fell in love with James Blunt’s “Back to Bedlam” (and yes, even though I’m a straight male I fell in love with that album), “You’re Beautiful” was number 1 on TRL.  Now, even though I listen to a lot of older rock I know it’s good because it’s made by bands that are world renowned like Led Zeppelin and Cream.  I had a class last semester where we discussed this and it seems as though society works on us more than we think.

Another reason some music appeals to us more than others is how we’re linked to that music.  I still love Linkin Park because their music was such a big part of my life a few years ago.  Some songs have become so ingrained with what I was feeling at the time that even if I listen to them today they would conjure up those almost forgotten emotions.  Music moves us and can become an integral part of our lives, changing the way we listen to it forever.

Is that all there is though?  Is popular opinion and personal experience all that shapes one’s enjoyment of music?  I think it plays a large part but I think that there’s something more that attracted me to Linkin Park over Ludacris and there’s still something more that attracts me to Led Zeppelin over Lady Gaga.  I’ll always remember when I started playing guitar because that’s when I started unravel the mystery of music and perhaps some day I’ll find out what that something more is.  What I’ve realized though, is that the destination isn’t as important as the journey you take to get there.

I spent a few days in the beautiful Washington D. C. with my family and a friend of mine wanted to know how the trip went. I decided to put it up on the blog so P, this one’s for you.

Day 1
We spent four days in Washington. Day 1 we checked out the national monuments DC is famous for, mainly The Washington Monument, the Lincoln Monument (where the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his brilliant “I Have a Dream” speech) and the White House. We had already been to the Lincoln Monument a few years ago so no big surprises there. The Washington Monument was about as big as I imagined it. The White House was a little disappointing; its view is always obscured by massive trees, you can’t go anywhere near it for fear of being gunned down and Obama was on vacation in Hawaii, reducing the mystique of the building considerably. Afterwards we went to the Spy Museum, an interesting bit of information overload, most of which I’ve already forgotten.

Day 2
Day 2 was fun; we went to Capitol Hill and the Library of Congress. Beautiful symbolism in the fact that everything from the tour of the Capitol building to the viewing gallery of the Senate Floor and House of Representatives was free. You can be down on your luck and completely broke but you can still gain access to the government that you elected. My parents were surprised that they didn’t charge a nominal amount but it made sense to me. My little debating brain was ecstatic that we could see where the recent healthcare reform debates took place.

Capitol Building

The Capitol Building

The Library of Congress is an amazing building. It’s heavily featured in National Treasure 2 (where the President’s book is kept) and it’s supposed to serve as a library which America’s elected senators and representatives can consult when debating new bills and laws. Again, the idea that the Library houses records that are to do with a variety of subjects, from Politics to Philosophy and Art, is a great symbol for what kind of government America wants.

The last thing we did that day was to go to the National Archives and have a look at the Declaration of Independence (which was featured heavily in National Treasure 1). The most surprising part of this trip was learning that when the founding fathers wrote the famous line “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” they only considered it a snazzy introduction, with the real meat of the Declaration being their long, boring list of complaints against the British Kingdom. That line and the Declaration itself gained a lot more importance almost a century after the Declaration was written when people began to petition for the freeing of the slaves. Looking at it this way it’s not so surprising that the original copy of Declaration of Independence is in such a terrible state; it’s so faded we could barely make out the writing.

Day 3
Day 3 was devoted solely to the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum. Built as a giant hangar, this facility holds famous historical aircraft including the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the Concorde and the very cool SR-71 Blackbird. We also had a look at the Elona Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a very cool museum but oddly that’s all the words that I can think of to describe it.

SR-71 Blackbird

The SR-71 Blackbird at the Udvar-Hazy Museum

Day 4
Our final day we roamed around the Newseum, a museum about journalism and news reporting. It doesn’t sound like much but this is definitely one of my favourite museums. I try and keep up with the news and so it was interesting to get a behind the scenes look at how journalism works. I love how this museum doesn’t shy away from discussing the ways that journalism can fail.

The two exhibits I enjoyed the most are both about photography. The first was a sports photography exhibit highlighting the work of Walter Iooss, a photographer for Sports Illustrated. He had selected some of his favourite photographs and told the story of how he took them in a short paragraph. Whether it was Jordan’s blue dunk, Lance Armstrong on a motorbike or Ali and Frazier in the ring, all his photographs seem to illustrate what makes these athletes exceptional.

Michael Jordan

An Iconic Image of Michael Jordan byWalter Iooss

The other was the exhibit about Pulitzer Prize winning photographs. Again, some of the more striking images were selected and the stories behind them were told. Most of the photographs were in war zones or famines and walking through the exhibit what became most clear was that the most disturbing images seemed to come from Africa. The photo of the man who had been set on fire and was being struck on the head by a machete was in South Africa, the starving baby that was left out in the field while a vulture waited for it to die was taken in Sudan and the pile of dead bodies which were strewn in front of the American embassy as a plea asking the US government to send peacekeepers was in Liberia. Africa has a long way to go and I have a lot of respect for the people who live their lives trying to bring attention to that.

Voices for the Dead

VOICES FOR THE DEAD: A crowd piles bodies outside the U.S. Embassy to emphasize their plea for American intervention.

What I Learned
At the end of it all, this trip highlighted one thing for me which I already suspected. I’m tired of traveling. It’s surprising, since I enjoyed my trip to Washington but I’ve realized that I’ve lost a lot of that wanderlust, that insatiable curiosity that drives so many people to experience other cities, other countries and other cultures. Before my 21st birthday I’ve already been to Zimbabwe, India, South Africa, France, Italy, Egypt, America and more. I’ve seen a lot of the sights that are considered by many people to be essential. Now going to Washington, even though I had fun, I realized I don’t feel the need to see new places. I don’t need to travel to have fun. No matter where I go what strikes me the most is that all these places that look so incredible and fascinating on TV are just like home. Whenever I step off the plane after a long flight I’m struck by how even though I’ve come so far and am finally in a place that I’ve only ever heard about, the ground is still hard. Dirt is dirt.

This might sound completely absurd but that’s generally the first thought I have when I come to a new place. When you see New York on TV or watch Nicholas Cage run around in DC you never think, if he falls down he’s going to scrape his knee bad. He’s the invincible good guy who’s going to win, he can’t get hurt by the ground. But the ground is actually hard when you get there. The buildings are still made of bricks and the air still feels like air. Over time, what has begun to strike me the most is not how different another country can be but how similar it is to everywhere else. In his novel “Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino, Marco Polo, probably the greatest traveler of them all is asked whether he still finds joy in visiting new places. His reply was very similar to how I feel:

“Traveling, you realize that differences are lost: each city takes to resembling all cities, places exchange their form, order, distances, a shapeless dust cloud invades the continents. Your atlas preserves the differences intact: that assortment of qualities which are like the letter in a name.”

I first came to New York in 2004 but I don’t remember much about the trip. I know we went to Times Square because that’s still my Facebook profile picture and I know we spent a few days roaming around the city on our own before joining a guided tour. I know that should have kept a diary so I could remember more. One memory that stands out, though, is that I was in the middle of Times Square at night and there was so much light that I couldn’t tell that the sun had set and that was when I knew that I was tired of sleepy little Harare. This is where I needed to live.

Now that I’m going to college in New York I’ve seen more of the city. The tourist sheen has worn off and I don’t spend my time staring at the monolithic buildings anymore. With this newfound understanding, I can say that I don’t really like Queens. I haven’t really explored it but Queens doesn’t seem that different from any other town or city. It’s the same looking roads and buildings. It’s nothing new.

Manhattan though, is something else. Manhattan still conjures the feeling that it did the first time I stood at the centre of Times Square. I love Wall Street and the business district, the heart of the world’s economy. Soaring buildings house some of the richest companies in the world and surround the New York Stock Exchange. I’ve grown up hearing about people who struck it big in the stocks and here is where the magic happens, the NYSE where you can strike it big and spend the rest of your life in luxury. Since I was ten years old I’ve been hearing that I’m destined to enter the business world and this is the place where the greats started out. Carnegie, Morgan, Rockefeller, the captains of industry who blazed the way for America and made a fortune doing it, all started out here in Manhattan.

Greenwich Village and the surrounding areas have their own, unique appeal. In the little time I’ve spent here it’s become obvious that if downtown Manhattan appeals to the business side of me then the Village definitely appeals to the artist. Small shops are everywhere and tiny restaurants serve delicious food. None of these stores seem to be affiliated with the big chains as if they don’t care for the bourgeois business world with its reckless obsession with money. It’s here that I visited my first jazz club. Fat Cat, Small’s, The Village Underground, all filled with people who seem to have devoted their life to music and the arts, who have forsaken the standard path of a 9-to-5 job and struck their own destiny.

Let’s head further up the island to Times Square and Central Park. On 5th Avenue is an Apple Store that has gone from being just another store to an icon for the company. It was only after I was done taking photographs of my parents in front of it that I realized that this store might be exactly the same as any other Apple Store but because of where it is, it’s grown to be a tourist attraction.

Times Square, meanwhile, with its dazzling lights is the image that many people have of New York City and the vibrant atmosphere is definitely representative of the city that never sleeps. I’m still not used to it and I don’t think I ever will be.

Throughout history, people have come to New York to forge their destiny. Hemingway and Fitzgerald started their careers in the Bohemian Greenwich Village. Malcolm X founded his Nation of Islam mosques and became the man who would champion African-Americans’ rights in Harlem. This is why New York holds so much appeal for me. The city’s stories could all be lies but it still represents a unique place in the world for me. New York seems to say that no matter who you are or what you want to do, I have a place for you. Unlike Harare which was limited everything including what you could accomplish, New York seems to be overflowing in possibilities. It’s a place that seems to hold no barriers, where every resource is available and given enough time and focus, you can become as great as those who have lived in the city before you. I want to be great and New York is the place where I’ll start.

Some of my friends seem to love Christmas. It’s such a big deal here in America. From my window I can see a house that is lit up, burning bright in the darkness. I asked my sister if it was an amusement park but no, it’s just a house that’s been decorated for Christmas. People in New York were bustling around, doing their last-minute shopping while the Salvation Army bell-ringers hollered for donations and every radio played the same Christmas carols. Red, white and green was everywhere, as if the spirit of Christmas had vomited on every tree, box and shopfront that we passed.

I don’t hate Christmas. I just don’t love it either. My family never celebrated Christmas so I have no reason to wake up early on the 25th. It’s just another day of the year. I never understood Santa Claus’ appeal either. I don’t think I ever believed in a fat man who broke into my house once a year to give me presents. If I wanted something, I’d just ask for it. No point in waiting a month for something my parents could buy me now.

Christmas seems much more of a charade from my jaded mind. It’s a boon for retailers, who have commercialized Christmas to the point that not buying presents seems abhorrent. Santa Claus is always on TV, selling me the best gift for Christmas. In fact, I think my earliest memory of Santa is his appearance in an ad for Coke. Of course, whenever I need to see him now, I can just look at my can. No wonder people think he was created by Coca-Cola.

Once you factor in the the fact that many people dispute whether Jesus was even born on Christmas one can’t help but wonder why we still celebrate it. I suppose a holiday that boosts the retail market and encourages giving gifts to people you care about wouldn’t be so bad on its own but now we have to battle with whether we’re supposed to say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” We can risk offending everyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas by saying “Merry Christmas” or we can risk offending Christians by saying “Happy Holidays.” There doesn’t seem to be an option for people who don’t give a shit.

Ah, this post has made it really seem like I detest Christmas but it’s not really like that. It’s a beautiful time of the year and gifts are always nice. I just don’t love Christmas either and I don’t think I ever will.

Sayings about water have always attracted me.  They always seem so rich.  “Still waters run deep.”  I’ve used that old proverb to describe myself for years now.  I still remember that’s what my mother said when she introduced me to my brother-in-law’s mother.  As if introversion and shyness needed justification.  Nevertheless, something about the proverb just sat right with me.  I didn’t understand what it meant until my teacher explained it to me in the fifth grade but since then I’ve always felt it seemed fitting for the shy kid who spent more time thinking than talking.

“Mind like water” is another incredible metaphor.  I first came across it in David Allen’s classic self-help book “Getting Things Done.”  It’s an old Zen saying; mind like water is a state where the mind is ready at all times, such that any change in the environment elicits an immediate reaction from you.  If you drop a pebble in a pond you immediately see the ripple.  Allen used it to describe what your productivity system should be like – ready for anything.  Teachers of martial arts use the saying to describe what your mind should be like in a fight, ready for any attack by your opponent.  Bruce Lee probably put it best:

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. 

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.”

Rivers are representative of a lot of things.  In philosophy, we discussed Marcus Aurelius who was influenced heavily by Heraclitus of Ephesus.  One of the major ideas that carried over from Heraclitus to Aurelius was the idea of flux which Heraclitus summarized in the saying “You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on to you.”  This kind of flux applies in all aspects of life.  Like the bed of a river or the waters that flow through it, nothing in life is static, everything changes, everything moves.

The name of this blog (a name I’ve struggled with for a while now) comes from all these but I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the song that inspired it.  It’s a gorgeous piece by Lauryn Hill from Lauryn Hill Unplugged 2.0 called (surprisingly) “Just Like Water.”  It’s a song rich in meaning and full of beautiful imagery but I’m terrible at interpreting lyrics.  I thought it was about God or some higher power but after a conversation with a friend, I’m thinking it might be a passionate love song about finding the right person after spending years searching.  It could be neither or both and the lyrics are a work of art but the guitar playing really draws me in.  She’s so fluid with the guitar, just like water.

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