Why Everything Does Not Happen For A Reason

john pavlovitz

SadGirlwindow

That phrase.

We’ve all received it personally gift-wrapped by well-meaning friends, caring loved ones, and kind strangers. It usually comes delivered with the most beautiful of intentions; a buffer of hope raised in the face of the unimaginably painful things we sometimes experience in this life.

It’s a close, desperate lifeline thrown out to us when all other words fail:

Everything happens for a reason.

I’ve never had a tremendous amount of peace with the sentiment. I think it gives the terrible stuff too much power, too much poetry; as if there must be nobility and purpose within the brutal devastation we may find ourselves sitting in. In our profound distress, this idea forces us to run down dark, twisted rabbit trails, looking for the specific part of The Greater Plan that this suffering all fits into.

It serves as an emotional distraction, one that cheats us out of the full measure of our real-time grief and outrage. We stutter and…

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The best thing about Wikipedia is Spoken Wikipedia

Fusion

At the nexus of accessibility, volunteer crowdsourcing, and the whims of human nature lies a magical place on the internet: Wikipedia’s collection of “spoken articles.”

Spoken Wikipedia—which we checked out in English—works like this: Anyone in the world can pick an article and record a spoken-word version, which is then available as an audio file.

This is a valuable feature for the visually impaired, people who understand spoken English better than they read it, or people who just want to listen and learn about the economy of Ontario while running or doing housework.

But it’s also valuable as pure entertainment. Each spoken entry showcases the work of budding voiceover talent from around the globe. There’s also no real control for quality, beyond general audibility, so the accents and energy can vary widely from presenter to presenter.

A variety of sexual acts are documented as Spoken Wikipedia entries, for those who prefer to…

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Not Your Mom’s Trans 101

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How to keep moving forward, even when your brain hates you.

a little dose of keelium

If you’ve been around here long, or if you know me in person, you probably know I have a slightly defective brain, which is to say that I have a history with clinical depression. Add on to that a(n un-)healthy dose of perfectionism, and you have an expert procrastinator. I can miserably waste a day (and yes, if you didn’t get anything useful done OR even enjoy yourself a little, that was a day wasted) with the best (worst?) of them.

But I’ve been at the depression game for 10+ years now, and the perfectionism for 20+ (I distinctly remember bawling over imperfect crayon drawings. Started young.), and I’ve had to somehow manage to get stuff done. I still struggle with low mood, low motivation, unreasonable levels of physical/mental/emotional exhaustion, etc. on a semi-regular basis, and I still struggle with the “Why bother? It will never be good enough/It…

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Japan Journal 3: Beauty at Hakone

Mono no Aware
I think the thing that most demonstrated mono no aware was the really zen mood going on when we were all in the onsen at Hakone. Nudity there meant something completely different than even partial nudity in locker rooms back home. It was pure thing. We all collectively and silently agreed to not be ashamed and we just accepted ourselves, even if it was for just a little bit. The feeling lingered for a few hours, dissipating slowly as the night wore on, and this morning it was mostly memory that cast a shadow of that calm, accepting mood. I looked around at the other women in the group and wondered if they had had similar experiences, or maybe were more or less confident than they were before the onsen. Maybe the only way for the healing qualities of the onsen, mental and physical, to take effect is repeated exposure. It was a beautiful experience, and I am very grateful for it. It just make me think of people who see a therapist once and expect to be good to go after that, or convince themselves that they’re better after one visit. Recovery is not flipping a switch, it is reconstructing everything.

IMG_1758Mono no aware was also present in the nearly illusive Mount Fuji.

 

Sabi
I saw less sabi at Hakone than I did at Asakusa, but I think in a way the older buildings and simply the layout of the mountain towns exhibited a sort of sabi. It was obvious that the roads were not originally built for two tour buses to pass side by side, even if they were (barely) able to manage it now. Teh roads were built for pedestrians and carts, and for a simpler way of living. The buildings that looked most in place were the ones made of old material and that had been shaped and covered by flora. The buildings that were most calming and that felt like home were the ones that the mountains had begun to reclaim.

IMG_1684It was so a part of the mountains I had trouble finding it.

 

Wabi
When I walked from the changing area to the indoor pool area of the onsen, my immediate thought was how wrong basically every bit of conventional beauty in America is. In that room our womanhood was humble and still a thing to be celebrated for all of the forms it takes. It just surprised me how very flattering nudity was for all of us. Maybe it was the lighting, our mood, the water, whatever, but unadorned and shameless looked good on everyone.

IMG_1710Know what else is pretty wabi? This adorable flower.

Yugen
Again to the onsen – clearly I like that part of our day in Hakone. What was most yugen to me was not knowing exactly how the chemicals in the water worked. I actually really liked it. I understand that knowing about the effects each onsen has on the body is helpful to further medical treatments, natural or synthetic, but for me understanding all the details would have ruined part of the magic of it. To me, magic is anything I don’t understand. It doesn’t mean that a process is without logic, it’s just that I don’t have all the pieces. And coming to understand something new doesn’t mean that the magic is gone, which I think is a little cynical, it means that now you’re in on the secret – you know magic in someone else’s eyes.

IMG_1669He’s probably got the onsen magic.

Kire
The ritual preceding the onsen, and our day up to the onsen is a great example of kire. I like that we saw what a natural hot spring looked like before we went in the onsen because it made me appreciate the lengths people went to in order for people to have such an all around healing experience there. It would have been outright dangerous to try and sit in one of those natural hot springs, what with the heat, sulfuric steam, and pointy rocks. The only way for the hot spring to do some good for other people was to be tamed, taken from its original state and sculpted for a new purpose. In the opposite way, the only way for us to achieve the kind of atmosphere we did in the onsen was to abandon our cultural markers and acknowledge our collective humanity. The onsen, shaped from its wild origins, facilitates a ritual  that helps the onsen occupants return to their peaceful ones.

IMG_1664This is much less inviting than a pool.
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Japan Journal 2: Beauty and Adjustment

So we’ve been here about three days, and a lot of things have taken a little getting used to.

For instance, this keyboard in the IES Center. Its default is katakana, which I know nothing about. I learned two symbols yesterday to try and find some anime, but I don’t remember what they look like. And all the punctuation is in different places, which is a little confusing.

Our lesson today, however, involved finding the beauty in the impermanence of things and the fact that everything changes, so I’m trying to not get annoyed with this. I was feeling super chill and zen after our lesson, but apparently that too was an impermanent state of being. I guess I’m just overstimulated.

What did you find aesthetically pleasing in your explorations of Tokyo?
One of the only things that I found truly, strikingly beautiful was the bark on the ginko trees at the temple in Asakusa. I can’t put my finger on why, but I loved how it was a little like pine bark, but still seemed to flow around the natural contours of the tree. It was so absolutely organic, and it was so soft and rough at the same time. I also really liked the old stone statues and the worn designs and kanji inscribed in them. I love old or “broken” textures. Chipped paint and rusty metal are my favorites. Tarnished silver is also beautiful. That uneven, opaque darkening I think compliments the contours of metal and the geometric patterns in diamonds better than polished silver. If I ever get married I would definitely want a silver ring, maybe with a simple design, so that it would age and I could see it gaining experiences as my spouse and I gain them. It’s somehow an inherantly poetic metal to me.

What does your aesthetic preference say about your background?
I didn’t grow up in a fancy home. We definitely could have lived more extravagantly than we did, but I like that instead my parents saved our money for flights to see family in Washington, driving across states for friends or adventure, or buying only large, long-lasting things. None of our dishes or silverware matches, the only room with any sort of a color scheme is the bathroom (that’s only a thing because there isn’t really furniture to mismatch in the bathroom), and the only quality that was seriously considered for any piece of furniture we’ve purchased is functionality. After that is safety, and only after that is if it looks nice – not even whether or not it matches. I am like a sponge and soak up every aspect of my surroundings, so I have carried a similar mismatched, messy tendency to my sense of fashion, how I organize my own living spaces, and the images that move me deeply. I love juxtapositions and where very different things find harmony – part of the reason I love interdisciplinary classes. But I digress. (Hmm. I bet my house has also influenced how I think.)

When Yuko-sensei asked this question I started thinking about my mom. She is 51, and is very conscious of her age. Since I was young, actually for as long as I remember, I have heard her criticize her wrinkles, the weight she gained after she had kids (even though she’s only about 15 pounds heavier than she was in college, when she was very petite). I know she has always struggled with her appearance, and she is very aware of her emotions towards food since recovering from and eight year bout with bulimia. I picked up some of her weaknesses, but dealt with them much more quickly and completely than she seems to have done, and I try to validate who she is alongside her perceived imperfections as much as I can. It isn’t out of a want to just make her feel good, I genuinely do believe her so-called flaws are inseparable from her beauty. I love her crow’s feet in the corners of her eyes because they tell me she has laughed long and hard for years. Already I am beginning to get crow’s feet, just little baby ones, and I’m happy for it because it reflects the joy I’ve experienced. All of the other wrinkles on her face tell me about her life – the deep lines on her forehead mean she has been surprised, worried and caring; the little line between her eyebrows means that she has concentrated, poured over textbooks and worked hard, and that while she has been angry, not frequently has she lost her dignity or composure. Her lips are not pinched because she doesn’t smoke. She has a little weight around her middle, and that is because she is a mother. When I hug her I can feel though that she is at once graceful, almost delicate, and strong. My mom doesn’t seem to have connected completely that her body is an archive for the full life she has lived so far. Maybe talking to her about these ideas will help her see.

The other major thing I thought of during class, which I shared, was that the bible I got in middle school is to me more beautiful than the ones I’ve bought since. At the beginning of my freshman year a new friend saw my bible and was horrified that it was taped up, warped, written- drawn- and cried-on, and about to fall apart. I had never considered it anything but beautiful up until then because it housed ideas and stories and song lyrics that had moved me more deeply than anything pristine ever could. I have tried to buy new bibles since then, but none of them ever feel right; none of them ever feel like home. Those pages hold almost ten years of my faith’s development, and I can’t imagine how seeing that experience as ugly could be healthy.

So the concept I connected with the most is sabi, the beauty in aged and used things. I don’t mind my body having scars and stretch marks because it reflects part of my experience. Similarly, I love broken windows, worn wood, frayed cloth, all because it has stories worked into its appearance.

Some other ideas that I considered engaging were:
-You may miss beauty if you have expectations or lack curiosity.
– “It is not the object – ‘Is it beautiful or is it not’ – it is us. Can we see the beauty or not?”
-An object in itself only has meaning if it has been broken. (I think meaning is probably different than purpose – I’ll have to think about it more.)
-You can only see your own nature once you’ve cut yourself from your roots. I think this might be the core of self-awareness, and why diverse experiences are at once so uncomfortable and so valuable.

Speaking of uncomfortable experiences, I am beginning to get homesick. I am usually really good about switching environments, and I’m a generally flexible person. I just miss being able to understand the stories people tell in conversation. I am an introvert, but one of the main things that keeps me from getting lonely is being able to hear other people’s stories in the way they speak and what they’re speaking about; in people watching. Here I am totally lost as far as sentence structure, and I can only get a broad idea of tone because the very sound of Japanese is so different from American English. I am hyper-aware to try and catch some patterns, and I may be getting some, but I also feel very disconnected. I think I’ll go study some Japanese to see if that makes me feel a little better. I find comfort in language.

[Pictures to come once I get back to the U.S.]

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Japan Journal 1: What am I doing; I feel under-qualified?

[Can you put semicolons in a question? Well, new rules for English.]

So these journals are going to be specifically for the study abroad program I’m doing in Japan about ideas of mental, physical, and environmental wellness.

Why did you apply for this program? What do you hope or expect to gain from this experience?
The story of how I found this program isn’t really an interesting one. I wanted to study abroad while I still had easy access to the opportunities, but didn’t have enough space in my last year and a half to take an entire semester off and study abroad. I only have a fading memory of my high school Spanish classes, so I’d need a program that didn’t have a language requirement. I was scrolling through the Learning Abroad Center programs, and the title of this one was really appealing to me. I know little about Eastern philosophy outside of the cheap iconography American pop culture has re-appropriated – yin-yang symbols, hyper-sexualized anime girls, dragon tattoos – and decided it would be well worth my time to deepen my understanding. A few members of my family have dabbled in martial arts and Buddhism, but they either have long since stopped practicing or are no longer around, so I’m curious what some of the things were that they might have known and believed, and how that might have interacted with a Western mindset. I’ve also always been interested in having a balanced mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. I’m looking forward to applying what I learn to my own life and possibly my future career in non-profit work.

japanteeoopsThough I am amused that both America and Japan have clothes with grammatically terrible text in each other’s official languages.

What do you already know about Japan (culture, politics, history)?
I’m a little ashamed to say it, but most of my exposure to Japanese culture comes from watching anime. I want to say I’ve picked up a few actual cultural tidbits, but I welcome any and all criticism. I know they tend to adhere more strictly to a social hierarchy than Americans do, that saving face is important, and that sticking your chopsticks upright in your food is very rude. I’ve noticed that doorways seem to be very important – everyone is very conscious of when they have their shoes on. It also seems like people pray to their ancestors, but I don’t really understand how that works so I won’t presume to know what that means. I’m looking forward to getting a better taste of Japan next week (next week!!!!!!)

Regarding their history and politics, I know they still had a monarchy and an emperor during WWII, but switched to a democracy afterwards. As I’m thinking about it, I wonder what made them go so quickly after Hiroshima and Nagasaki to wanting to be just like the U.S. (In Praise of Shadows mentioned that that’s where Japanese culture was headed). That seems like a really strange response to say, “Hey, you just killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people with radioactive demonfire. We look to you to lead our cultural renovation.” Note to self: research this.

How might you describe yourself as a global citizen? Provide specific examples(s) or situations in which you felt you were part of the larger world.
I feel like I’m not all that qualified to call myself a global citizen. I do enjoy learning new things about other countries and all the backstory about their traditions, language, etc., but I feel like I’ve only ever gotten appetizers of experience. I’ve never been abroad for more than nine days, and this is only my third time leaving North America. I’m not one of those people who actively seek out complete cultural upheaval because fairly often I feel a little off-kilter in my own society’s social interactions – how would I fare in one that is completely different than that? That’s also part of the reason I liked the shorter group trip – I know I’m going to screw up somehow, but I’d rather screw up with someone else.

I’m trying to think of a situation in which I felt like I was part of some global community, but the only times I can think of were ones that happened right here at home, which makes me skeptical of what I was really feeling. However, I can think of two experiences that I felt made me a more compassionate member of the human race that happened to take place internationally.

Kitti, Pohnpei, Micronesia
In January 2014 I went with three other students and two group leaders to Micronesia to learn about the culture, teaching opportunities there, and do a little service work. We stayed with a host family for two of the nights to give us a better taste of island life. It was… rough, in a lot of ways. There was a language barrier with most of our host family members, the hospitality customs of Minnesota and the island were completely at odds, and I had never seen anything slaughtered before I saw two pigs and five dogs slaughtered at a birthday party for the village leader. We were all feeling a little stressed when the kids finally started to warm up to us. We went swimming at a local “beach” (a.k.a. coral shelf from which you could jump into the water), and we all realized that we didn’t need language to play the same water games. It was wonderful, and if we the students broke some social custom, they just thought we were funny instead of rude. The kids who knew English started asking us about our families and ourselves, and we asked the same. They taught us some words and numbers in Pohnpeian, and made this awesome connection through fun and general curiosity that I think we’d been searching for since we first met our host families. Our host families and their relatives hosted a party for the kids and us on our last night there, and the fun continued as we all played games and did Zumba (courtesy of my health nut friend) on the dance floor of a tiny hut we all crammed into. I’m not much of a kid person, but I loved how open they all were to us, and I was glad to reciprocate their open arms.

DSCF8265

I’m a moron and didn’t bring my camera to Kitti, but here’s a market in the capital, Kolonia.

George Town, Grand Cayman
In August 2010 I went with my high school’s marine biology class to Grand Cayman to SCUBA dive for a week. We rented a boat for one of our dives and our “captain,” so to speak, was a man named Ricardo from Honduras. He was talking with a group leader and I was listening to their conversation. He talked about how he had left home years and years ago, more than 10 if I remember correctly, so that he could find money to send back to his family. His mother had made it to the U.S. and he sent money to her each month to help sustain her, as well as his siblings and his own young family still in Honduras. He had planned on only working for a year or two before he’d have enough saved to move in with his mother, but instead he ended up on Grand Cayman and visits his wife and kids as often as he can. He had not seen his mother in eight years. At that point I had never been so close to poverty as to be able to see the kind of sadness it brought to his eyes. It wasn’t anyone with a face, people being visibly and outright cruel to others, it was just the economic system, something so big you almost can’t blame it, that was tearing his family apart. It gave me a chill to try and fathom how you go about missing someone for that long. Not how it was possible – Ricardo was clearly doing it – but how do you get up and walk every day for so long in the absence of someone you love so much?

IMGP0089
Ricardo, who I hope has been able to see his mother by now.

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