Wednesday, January 31

Tuesday, January 30

Hate none

A few days ago, I was captivated by a BBC program in which a presenter visited - amongst many other unusual characters - a rascist family in the States. And these were extremely rascist people, up to the point where there were nazi flags all over the place, and the eleven year old twins joining in as their mother demonstrated the Hitler salute. The presentor was obviously astonished, but succeeded quite well in remaining calm and friendly.

I agree that remaining calm and friendly is the best way to handle such a situation, for a journalist anyway. I would have tried to go about it in a similar way. Just to observe. But I wonder how long I would have been able to remain reasonable. Because these are people that claim the majority of the Western world has been "brainwashed by multiculturalism", people that think Auschwitz-Birkenau was acceptable. People that hate people that they have never met or spoke before. Ignoring every piece of information that contradicts their own opinion. Dangerous people.

Everything I know tells me that there is no reason - whatsoever - to assume that people of other 'races' are superior or inferior to myself. Race? Modern-day science tells us there is no such thing as a division of humanity in races. You will find more genetic variation in an average-sized group of chimpansees than in the entire human population. 6.5 billion people, more alike than fifty-five chimps.

Multi-cultural? Oh, you mean, like the world.

Visiting those people, I would not just feel frustrated because of their ignorance, I would also feel hurt. Because I believe that they might as well hate me. I might as well be a Jew. Or a Muslimah. Asian. An Arab. A Native American. Black as the night. Hate them and you hate me. Hate them and you hate yourself.

Sunday, January 28

A piece of me

"We did not change as we grew older; we just became more clearly ourselves" - Lynn Hall

Although it might very well not be true, I like to believe that deep inside, we are the person that we are trying to be. If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself, Hermann Hesse once wrote. I think the opposite can be true as well. If we admire something in someone - their courage or honesty, for instance - then that may be the very quality we possess ourselves, in essence, but fail to express. The desire is simply to express our true self.

At times, I know exactly what to say to a person, but I fail to do so. Because I am afraid of messing it all up, because I fear what people think of me. That is why I always end up holding my tongue. But I like to believe that I have the ability to change into someone who is more like me. Someone who is not afraid to be impulsive and speak her mind. Someone who lets people what they mean to her, just because it matters.

After six and a half years, I had begun to miss Nadine. After dinner, I put on my coat and walked to her house. And I let her know I missed her. Whatever her response would be, I knew I had done the right thing, and that I'd found another piece of myself in the process.

Wednesday, January 24

Nadine

I don't seem to be very capable of missing people. At times I've been away for a couple of weeks, but I've never felt homesick. Sure, after some time I begin to miss my house, because it's usually more comfortable there. I miss my privacy, I miss minding my own business. I don't miss my family and friends. It is as if all my relationships are paused, and they'll go on like they always do when I come back. I won't miss anything.

Nadine was my best friend in primary school, the only friend I needed. She lives two streets from my house - still does. When we were about thirteen years old, we went to different schools. We lost contact nearly immediately, however close to each other we were every day. Just two streets away. I didn't have any friends in the first couple of years after that, but I don't recall missing Nadine. I just missed a friend.

Now she and I attend to the same university, and very occasionally we see each other. Today we were on the same metro, and we talked for a bit. And I noticed how I felt a little sad when we parted, knowing that the next time we would speak could be months away. And now I'm writing this, and I realize that somehow I miss her, for the first time since we were kids. Not just her company or talking to her, but Nadine herself. I don't regard myself as being an emotional person, but I can't help but crying while I write this. It's utterly silly, but true.

It's dark outside, and snowing for the first time this winter. Nadine is probably at home, just two streets away. And I feel like I should drop by after dinner, and let her know how I feel. Not because I want her to do anything with the fact that I miss her, but just because I want her to know. It matters.

Tuesday, January 23

Women

These are some female musicians to whom I've been listening recently - this music is not just for women though. Recommended to anyone!

  • Aimee Mann A rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter whose voice reminds me of Laura Innes, the actress who played Dr. Kerry Weaver in ER. You may find it either irritating or unique. Try it anyway. Today's the Day, Momentum, or that lovely duet with Michael Penn (brother of Sean) called Two of Us.
  • Brooke Fraser A singer-songwriter from New Zealand, who makes beautiful pop/rock songs. Arithmetic is very subtle and makes me want to mumble along. Saving the World seems a little naive at first, but listen closely and hear both the idealism and the sarcasm.
  • India Arie If you think you're not into (neo) soul and R&B, like I am not, you should definitely listen to Video, I Am Not My Hair, and There's Hope. Feel good music with a message; love yourself, respect yourself, believe in yourself. This is very good - play a cd of this music on a rainy afternoon, loudly, and let it cheer you up. Even better when the sun shines.
  • Katie Melua Well, I don't have to explain who this is. There's more than bicycles in Beijing though. Anyone should be able to recognize the feeling described in The Closest Thing to Crazy, a love song that hits the mark without tiring you with roses and moonlight, in a manner of speaking. Belfast is very impressive. "Getting off the plane, the cold air rushes like bullets through my brain." I can just feel it when I hear that song. Last but not least, Thankyou, Stars is a song I would love to sing to my children, if I had any. Very gentle and hopeful.
  • Rachael Yamagata An American singer-songwriter with a 'dark, raspy alto'. Her music seems very developed and heartfelt. First listen to The Reason Why, then to every other piece of Yamagata's music you can find.
  • Schuyler Fisk If you're not going to look up any music from any of the musicians above, that's fine. But if there's just one thing you're going to listen to, then it should be Schuyler Fisk. I first heard her singing in an amazing duet with Josh Radin entitled Paperweight. Her other work is even better, although it's scarce. And if there is one song that you should try, then it's Fisk's Hello. It's simply brilliant.

Sunday, January 21

Getting the message across

I wish people who have trouble communicating would just shut up. - Tom Lehrer

It's hard enough to make up your mind. But then to put your thoughts into words! Writing it down takes some thinking, speaking out can be a true tour de force. A task that is not to be underestimated - after all, for how long have we humans possessed the power of speech now? A few hundred thousand years, at most. Telepathy would be no luxury.

At times, it seems even more difficult to understand what somebody else is saying. With all the 'noise' in between, misunderstandings are easily created. I frequently doubt if particular people are even trying to make themselves clear. Communication becomes exhausting and terribly inefficient. Don't you ever feel like saying to someone, "What the hell is it you want? Because I haven't got a clue." That is exactly what I did last week - and it's a good thing I did, considering that we would have been in big trouble if I wouldn't have been able to get this specific piece of information out of him.

If you have nothing sensible to say, you might as well not say anything. If you have something amusing to share, please do. Knock yourself out. But if you have a truly important message to get across, just shut up. Lovers have known for ages what to do when you can't express yourself in speech. Write a letter.

Wednesday, January 17

No more waiting

When I awoke today / suddenly nothing happened / But in my dreams I slew the dragon / And down this beaten path / And up this cobbled lane / I'm walking in my own footsteps once again / And you say,"Just be here now / Forget about the past / Your mask is wearing thin" / Let me throw one more dice / I know that I can win / I'm waiting for my real life to begin.
- Colin Hay

You may live for another hundred years. You may live to see your dreams come true, every one of them, one day. Or you might breathe your last breath tomorrow. Should it matter? Life isn't meant for waiting, life is for living. And it is surprisingly difficult to live. It's not something particular you can do, or feel. Instead, it seems to be about the very act of doing and feeling itself - notice that you are, and you'll notice you live.

The only moment you can live is now. There's no use in worrying or anticipating. If you can do something good today, why put it off until another day? Why save for some special occasion? It never comes. It's never going to be better than it is right now, unless you change your thinking.

Sometimes life should be passionate, like a song sung out loud, vibrantly. And sometimes life is subtile and silent, and it may just hurt a little. Be a little sad for no reason. I want to feel life, intensely. I want to be happy as can be. I want to be myself and throw my masks away. I want to be swept away. Not tomorrow, not next week, not in a year or two. My real life starts now, and every day from now on.

Monday, January 15

Your world

Baraka is a non-verbal documentary - including footage of various landscapes, churches, ruins, religious ceremonies, and cities thrumming with life - filmed in over 20 countries. The title means 'blessing' in several languages. Baraka makes comparisons between natural and technological phenomena, and in addition searches for a universal cultural perspective. This film shows you the world as it is - there's no need for anything but the imagery to make you see the beauty of it all. Very inspiring.

Saturday, January 13

The other artform

Most commercials and advertisements are probably rather ineffective. They're supposed to make you want to buy the featured product, but to be honest, I reckon some actually have the opposite effect. It's not just about making potential customers believe they need the product; a good commercial or advertisement should bring about a warm, loving feeling for the brand itself. A difficult task, obviously, because consumers aren't fooled that easily these days. I hope. But great commercials do exist, enjoyable commercials. They're visually beautiful, make good use of music, and generally have absolutely nothing to do with the product itself.

I should feel ashamed for allowing those companies and their advertizing agencies to catch me like that, but the trick is not to actually link the happy feeling with the product itself. The commercials of mobile network operator Orange, for instance, are often very good. Pieces of art. Visual poetry. Brilliant logo. Do they make me want to buy their services? No. They make me want to tape their commercial. Having said this, I do believe that these kind of advertizing campaigns are in general far more effective - really. Want more customers? Stop annoying them.

If you think I'm crazy, go to this website, find the "selecteer adverteerder/merk" menu and select "Orange". I recommend "Hands", "Opnieuw", and "Fish". Nice, it makes me want to work at an advertizing agency - these people are so good in advertizing that they manage to advertize for their own branche at the same time.Has anyone seen that Coca Cola commercial, which shows an imaginary world inside a vendor machine? Surely that's broadcasted outside the Netherlands? If it doesn't ring a bell, it's listed number one here. I know I'm indirectly advertizing for a major company, I'm aware of that, forgive me. Just trying to make my point.

These ads for Airwalk by photographer Michael Muller are nice as well (more of them in his online portfolio).


Wednesday, January 10

Reminding ourselves

Some time ago, I stumbled across this inspiring piece of text. The author is unknown, but it deals with the kind of thing that nearly everyone will recognize. Something we all know but tend to forget so easily. A universal reminder. The perfect quotation to stick onto your refrigerator, too.

"Life comes with no guarantees, no time outs, no second chances; you just have to live life to the fullest. Laugh as much as you can, spend all your money, tell someone what they mean to you, tell someone off, speak out, dance in the pouring rain, hold someone’s hand, comfort a friend, pig out, fall asleep watching the sun come up, stay up late, be a flirt, smile till your face hurts, don’t be afraid to take chances or fall in love... And most of all, live in the moment, 'cause when you look back someday knowing you have no regrets it's going to be what makes you smile."

I felt I needed to remind myself of that today. Not to fear, not to worry, not to regret. Life happens now, and it's too short for waiting.

Monday, January 8

At the gaming table

Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved. - William Jennings Bryan

Few things seem more unnatural to me than destiny, a predetermined course of events and future. Frankly, the idea of it being 'your time' to die, or a romance that was 'meant to be', would have never occured to me. Of course, every consequence has its cause, but I doubt if this has caused every event in the universe to be fixed from the very beginning. Why? Good question. I am not at all competent to have an opinion on this matter, because I face a serious lack of knowledge on several crucial subjects, including quantum mechanics. What are the implications of 'God playing dice', for instance? Does that uncertainty on a subatomic level lead to any serious unpredictability in the macro-world? Beats me.

One thing I do know, is that determinism and free will don't go together well. If all the universe is governed by natural law, then so are human beings and their actions. That would mean that there is no such thing as human freedom. But if we accept that we do have free will, we mess up our entire concept of the world being governed by natural law. Neither one makes sense.

Imagine you come visit me, and I ask you if you would like coffee or tea. You'd say it would be entirely your choice - a chance to use your free will and choose whatever you fancy at that particular moment. Perhaps you have always had a clear preference for either one. Some people just don't like coffee, amazingly but true. Maybe you enjoy both. But what is it that you base every one of those thousand decisions a day upon? It's not a random process. You base your decisions on your experiences and the thoughts that have resulted from them. Is the mind a machine, its output determined by its input, however complicated the processes in between? Because that's not how it feels. I often doubt between having myself a cup of coffee or a cup of tea, not really preferring one over the other, and as soon as I've chosen one it seems as if I could have as well chosen the other. What if I were to offer you a choice between A and B, without telling you what either one of them comes down to? I can't see how you would be destined to choose A, or B for that matter. But then again, we could only know for sure if we knew every single input and process preceding your choice. Numerous factors, billions of them.

God doesn't play dice, but do you?

Sunday, January 7

My latest obsessions

  • Pirates Especially female pirates (untamed criminal women like Anne Bonny, how irresistible) and their shoes. I found the perfect pair of pirate shoes, but unfortunately I'm too tall for high heels, and besides, I have no pirate parties to attend to in the near future.
  • 'Window shopping' at Amazon And I mean hours and hours. Mainly books on pirates, of course. And I still have so much books to read...
  • Preparing for global post-"peak oil" chaos I don't even have to read books like this, just seeing the cover is enough to make me panic. There goes my future. I think I should be setting up a food supply.

Saturday, January 6

The Devil's Dictionary

Ambrose Bierce (1842 - 1914) was an American journalist and writer, today best known for his Devil's Dictionary, which is full of satirical definitions of words. This brilliant and well-known book has been made available online by Project Gutenberg (to be precise, right here).

Cannon An instrument employed in the rectification of national boundaries.

Love A temporary insanity curable by marriage.

Pray To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.


Thursday, January 4

God-shopping

I'm not sure if it's right to 'pick' a religion. One gets the feeling that there is much more to religious conversions than that, and of course there always is, but perhaps we also tend to overstate the actual (mental) transition. I estimate the percentage of conversions preceded by glorious visions and heavenly messages - wether they are real or imagined - to be rather small. I guess few people actually 'see the light' in such a way. Instead, I think most will steadily grow towards a religion, or a world view in which a particular faith suddenly seems to fit. What follows is a long learning process.

But what to do if you're searching for a religion - which again seems like an inappropriate way to put it, although many people may experience such a need at some stage in their life - without running into the right one? You might consider learning more about a variety of faiths that might do the trick for you. Even if you don't succeed in your quest, time will not be wasted. You will have broadened your horizons, you will have taken an interest in something that plays a vital part in the lives of millions, and you will be less likely to choose the 'wrong' religion (for you personally) out of ignorance.

Again, some may feel that there is something wrong with this method. It may sound like simply picking a religion you like, in the same manner that you go to the library and pick a book you like. The cover looks good, the contents seem readable and just the thing for you, so let's try it. And how can you be sure of making the right choice? You may like the book, but it doesn't cite sources that allow you to find out if the story is actually true. Serious religion explains the world around you, gives you values and goals to achieve, and is supposed to be the very axis around which your life revolves. 'Picking one' doesn't seem right. It sounds like God-shopping.

If this is surely an unsuitable and untrue method to find God, then there has to be a right method. Are you a true believer if you're raised in a religious family, where you've learned to accept its principles naturally? Should people that haven't found their truth yet, just wait patiently for some sort of sign? A sudden feeling that strikes us so vigorously that we can only conclude that we have been touched by divinity, by the hand of a God? But what if that moment never comes? What if we will never be able to interpret it and trust it? What if waiting is not enough?