Saturday, February 21, 2009

The 25 random things

Lately on Facebook some friends have sent me lists of 25 random things about themselves. These have been very enjoyable to read. I've finally finished my 25 random things. These were indeed the first 25 things that occurred to me. I didn't delete anything I started to write or plan out what I would share. They are pretty darn personal, and they are mostly about my inner life. I guess that's just me. Where the heck did my sense of boundaries ever go?

1) Just about every day I think about death. I think of my son who died when my wife miscarried. What was he? Was he a person? Was he a thing? What about my grandparents, my great-grandparents, my ancestors whose names and stories I know, and my ancestors who are entirely forgotten and unknown? What has happened to them? What is in store for me? What about after the sun destroys planet Earth? What about after the heat death of the universe? What does it mean to cease existing?

2) I always have good intentions, but it seems to me I rarely act on them. I mean well, but there never seems to be time to do well as much as I want to.

3) I always have this tension in my heart and mind between on one hand, my scientific training and my materialist approach to the way I understand the universe and, on the other hand, my faith and belief in a supernatural reality. I really wonder if the fact that when information is arranged in particular forms (matter-energy gets into specific configurations) certain qualities emerge (life, consciousness, etc.) is a “fingerprint of the Divine” or is this merely something that can eventually be explained by mathematics and experimental observation? How is it that matter has mass? What is it about the universe that things like Planck’s Constant, the speed of light, the Natural Log, or pi, etc. happen to exist as they do? How is it that gravity is a property of mass? Are these in any sense spiritual questions?

4) I don’t feel jealous about anything. I remember feeling jealous when I was 12 or 13, but it was a horrible emotion, and I haven’t felt it since. I’ve been in situations where I should have felt jealous, but I just can’t feel a sense of injustice, outrage, or desire for things that I don’t get. I do feel angry that some people are underpaid and others are overpaid, but this is more a violated sense of justice than any personal jealousy.

5) I generally don’t like country music or rap or soul music, but I like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Lee Hazelwood, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earl, and Alison Krauss (country musicians). I also like Michael Franti, Public Enemy, KRS-One, and Gil Scott-Heron (Rap and Hip-Hop).

6) I give too many details, explain too much, and repeat myself quite a bit. I’m probably a bit of a bore.

7) I like to keep myself clean, but I don’t care about other aspects of personal grooming like combing hair, shaving, dressing smartly, and so forth. If my wife wasn’t reminding me to brush my hair and insisting I cut it once or twice a year I’d probably look like a wreck.

8) I like to look at pleasing faces, and I find a smiling face to be the most attractive part of the body. I especially like large eyes, and darker complexions, thicker and darker eyebrows, and long hair (in both sexes). Like most people, I find symmetrical faces a bit more attractive than asymmetrical ones, and I like faces that tend toward the average. I think more “feminine” and “youthful” faces are beautiful on women, but more androgynous faces are lovely as well, and I like elderly faces almost as much as youthful ones. A face that laughs often, and has exaggerated animation in its expressions is always attractive.

9) I like to wear unusual clothing. I think mainstream clothing, both the formal suits and the informal t-shirts and jeans are all boring. I like colorful African and and Asian traditional clothing, and I actually wear them fairly regularly. I also like historical clothing, and enjoy wearing 18th and 19th century styles. It’s not so much about cultural appropriation (although I do question the very idea of cultural ownership or barriers), but mainly the fact that I like pretty and unusual or exotic garments, and enjoy wearing them because I wish everyone dressed in unique and lovely ways, drawing on all the diversity of the past and the many cultural styles invented by our species.

10) I love photography. I take lots of photographs. I look at old photographs and keep my photographs organized. Sitting down with an old photo album seems like a good way to spend a half hour on a weekend afternoon.

11) I love to travel. I don’t get to travel very often. So, I love to plan trips. In planning these trips I learn details about all sorts of places I never go. I read travel books and imagine going to the places described. This can sometimes amaze people, when I learn they are from some far-away place I’ve never visited, and I can ask them about restaurants in their town or obscure tourist attractions there because I’ve planned a trip to their town or read about it in a travel book. I've been told that the philosopher Kant had a similar trait, although he evidently never got to travel.

12) I often think about this: do I even exist in the first place? I mean, perhaps I’m just a manifestation of various universal experiences. After all, the feelings and motivational drives I have: the love, the fear, the joy, the empathy, and the frustrations are all biochemically pretty much the same as what any other human feels. In fact, most animals have similar nervous systems and neurotransmitters, and they exhibit behaviors that correspond to the sensations, emotions, and motivational drives I seem to feel. When matter is arranged in particular ways creatures (such as myself) seem to exhibit behaviors I associate with the various emotions and thoughts. So, how are my particular emotions and thoughts really mine? Aren’t they just the emotions and thoughts of the universe temporarily exhibited in the time and space my body happens to occupy? Perhaps I’m just a particular collection of memories, relationships, and experiences, and the sense that there is a “self” that is responsible for all this and owns it is part of that illusion that I stand alone and apart from the whole, the Universe, and the Divine. It seems that way sometimes.

13) I pray. I like to pray alone and silently, and I don’t like praying in a group. I often pray for people, both the living and the dead. Sometimes I’ll read a Baha’i prayer or say a Baha’i prayer I’ve memorized, but most of the time I just talk to God or get into a devotional attitude and a meditative spirit, and pray with my own thoughts and feelings.

14) I still feel enthralled and totally in love with my wife sometimes. I feel this way more about her now than I did in the earlier years of our marriage, and in fact, I was more often dissatisfied and frustrated in our relationship when we were in our twenties than I am now, after over 16 years of marriage. I find it easier to encourage this feeling of being head-over-heels in love with my wife as if we were young and in the first stages of falling in love by spending time apart from her for a few days, like when I go away for a weekend, or when she goes back to Taiwan for a few weeks without me or I take the boys somewhere for a few days without her. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. But only a short absence, please.

15) I waste a lot of time looking up stuff and learning about all sorts of things that cross my consciousness and come to my attention. I’m not so distractible or plagued with a short-attention span that you could say I’m “scattered” or diagnose me with clinical “attention-deficit” problems, but I am spread pretty wide (and, I’m afraid, thinly) over the facts and experiences that come my way or are sought by me.

16) I’m a bit messy with my papers and clothing. I should be neater.

17) I’m a native Californian, and feel proud of that. I love California, and think of it as my true home, but I only lived there for the first six years of my life and for a little over three years when I was an undergraduate student in college.

18) I’m also constantly wondering about Baha’u’llah (Husayn-`Ali Nuri) and His son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha (Abbas Effendi). How accurately were they getting Revelation from God? What is the nature of a Manifestation of God like the Bab (Ali Muhammad Al Shirazi Bab Al Din) or Baha’u’llah? Sometimes the Manifestations of God sound a bit like persons with psychotic disorders, and They don’t seem to be perfect or infallible in the sense that They are “perfect” in Their behavior or always perfectly accurate in everything They say or believe. And yet, I have faith that these Persons are the source of Truth, knowledge of goodness, and so forth. This creates a tension. I try to learn what I can about the historical Jesus, Mohammed, and the founders of other religions. I just can’t stop wondering and thinking about the Manifestations of God. Sometimes I am moved to tears in feelings of awe and devotion, but other times I’m critical of (or baffled by) what people report these Persons did or said.

19) I’m not very engaged with certain aspects of mainstream American culture or life. I don’t know many movie or television stars, and I don’t follow any sports closely. I have no idea what is popular in music, as I rely on friends and disc jockeys on public/community radio to alert me to new music I might like. We don’t have cable television, and I hardly watch any television anyway. No one in our family enjoys shopping. We don’t have a mobile phone of our own, although my mom lets us use a spare one she has, and we only use it when we are traveling. We almost never eat out in restaurants. I drive (seldom) a 21-year-old car when I’m not riding my bike or taking a bus. If I play any trivia games I’m good with the history, geography, and science questions, but the entertainment and sports questions tend to mystify me. So, these are some of the ways I’m de-linked from mainstream culture.

20) I’m quick to anger and my anger passes over me in a quick and intense wave, and then it is gone. Now that I’ve learned to let the anger pass silently without acting on it, this works pretty well for me, as I’m usually over anger within a few minutes, if not seconds. The trick for me is to remain silent and let the feeling pass. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to understand how people can get angry and stay angry for more than a few minutes. I’d rather not get angry at all, and maybe I’m successful in framing reality in a way that I don’t get angry or upset very easily. But still, I think my temperament is such that I am vulnerable to flashes of anger, and it’s taken years to learn to let the waves of rage just pass over and dissipate without using that energy.

21) I’m six feet tall. I was 177 centimeters tall when I graduated from high school, 180 centimeters tall when I graduated from college, and I’m now 182.5 centimeters (just a tiny fraction of an inch shy of 6 feet tall). I didn’t stop growing until I was in my early thirties. That’s supposedly impossible, but my grandmother also continued growing into her thirties.

22) I’m very much concerned with the idea that things are determined, and we don’t really have free will, or anything like responsibility, guilt, honor, or anything else that people would deserve if they had free will. David Hume and others seem to have pretty good arguments against free will. I believe in free will, but take it as a sort of supernatural belief or faith. I wonder about it often.

23) I’m very sentimental. I keep old things, and find it difficult to throw them away. I like to reminisce, and I like cute things and pathetic things.

24) I’ve always thought love should be open and liberating, and not limited and confining. I guess I still believe that, although I gave up on “free love” (at least in terms of sexual relationships) long ago, before I was married. Despite my early interest in open relationships and free love (I never had an exclusive girlfriend until I was a senior in college), I was not a libertine. For example, I remained a virgin until I was 20 years old, and hadn’t had sex (as President Clinton defined the term, narrowly) for the four years preceding my wedding. I guess I’ve been frustrated by the quick association between sexual expression and the emotions and motive drives of love in my culture and time. It seems to me our culture, encouraged by capitalism and its reliance on capturing our immediate attention and selling stuff to us, neglects feelings of philia (friendly love), agape (spiritual love), and storge (familial love), and instead emphasizes something that resembles eros, but is often just base lust mixed with greedy possessiveness, without the beauty of true eros. Well, that’s my take on it anyway, and I guess I’ve felt this way since I was a child. I’m interested in love, openness, community, solidarity, group cohesion, tenderness, kindness, and all the sorts of things you would associate with those terms, rooted in love.

25) I’ve lived in many different places. I lived for years in: central Orange County in California, northwestern Indianapolis in Indiana, central and western Saint Louis County in Missouri, Redlands in California, Chiayi in Taiwan, Urbana in Illinois, and now in Springfield in Illinois. I’ve lived for several weeks or even months in Antioch in California, Nairobi in Kenya, Berlin in Germany, Xi’an in China, Evanston in Illinois, Yamhill County in Oregon, and Taichung in Taiwan. I’ve enjoyed all these places, and would be happy to return to live in any of these places again.


Mike Brotherton said...

We should talk more. I think we can teach each other a lot of things.

Anonymous said...

Very profound reflection. I don't miss the Africa (and Taiwan) stories - but they must be in here somewhere, too.
Ditto on anger and jealousy - same wavelength.