Tales from outer turnip head...

Tales from outer turnip head...

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Orange Chairs, Chrome Seats, Purple Irons...

The topic today is language, words and their use, or mis-use perhaps. I open this week with a poem I wrote in philosophy class back in 1992. I was young, excited about the world, in love, and ready to charge off into life with no specific plans. It was a time when I was perhaps a little clever, but had too little wisdom (some wisdom has come in dribs and drabs since then, but there is so much more to learn)... But, boy, was I starting to have fun:

Self Condemning Language Games

On the floor rests what
by our words is called
by the name “orange chair.”

The antagonist understands but chants…
“Chrome seat, chrome seat.”…

But on a twin earth with twin things, rests a twin chair
which is called
by the name “purple iron.”

The antagonist understands and chants…
“Language game, language game.”…

In another plane on another place rests another twin
which has not been called
by any name at all.

The skeptic says, “It can’t be perceived, it hasn’t been named.”

The antagonist states questioningly… 
“Oh?!  It can’t be seen?  It can’t be seen?
The boy who knew not its name
bumps into it rather than avoids it
knowing not its name, its name!”

The skeptic says… “It can’t be understood, it hasn’t been defined.”

The antagonist says… “I’ll whack you over the head with it.
I’ll smack you on the head with it.”

The man from twin earth says to the antagonist…
“You whacked him on the head with the iron!”

The antagonist says… “Maybe so, maybe so, if you call it by that name,
but at least the skeptic is dead, is dead.

At least the skeptic is dead.”

The failure of words: I have been realizing lately how much language fails me when I need it most. I have thoughts and feelings that I wish to express about deep and pervasive issues of import to me, and despite all the possible ways to construct meaningful sentences, stumble upon my own diction. Whether it is in expressing my complex views of social politics, or trying to manage my personal relationships, I keep crashing into places where I feel like language fails me. I have been thinking about this more in recent months and realize it is not the fault in language nor in me, so much as it lies in the complexities of our varying perceptions of the world around us and our difficulties in weighting our conflicting values/feelings/thoughts/etc. The most complex things are not easily defined, and the perceptions we bring to our understanding change so much how we try to communicate about them.

Concrete and elusive: The more abstract a thing is, the more we look to metaphors and examples, allusions and illustrations, circumscribed definitions. These attempts to triangulate on meaning sometimes fail or worse backfire. Talking about concrete things is obviously more simple. For instance, talking about the weather is easy. We all experience the same external elements. How we experience them may differ; what value we attribute to those elements can lead to a discussion of feeling and preference. But we are still talking about something relatively un-complex.

Wonder and joy: But when we share a moment of wonder and awe with someone else and wish to communicate how we feel with that other person, it is often in a squeeze of a hand, a look in the eye, and relies on all the previously experienced moments with that someone else. These familiar moments that rely so little on language are like a shared code, how amazing and cool! And words that might have failed anyway are not needed for these shared moments. There is no need to explore the differences of the feeling, the positiveness of it strengthens the relationship.

The difficult things... solitary perception of shared experience: But what happens when the things being experienced are entirely new to both, resist language, are being perceived differently, and that there are no previous moments to rely on for explanation? What happens when the experience is negative and forces those experiencing it further into a solitary perception of the complexity? It's like two encrypted codes traveling back and forth with only partial decryption keys on either end, therefore only partial understanding and perhaps mis-understanding. What becomes shared is only the solitariness of it, and the focus rests on the mis-understandings. How terrible and sad!

The Way: It is here—in these moments where all the explaining, double tracking, and stumbling fails—that pure and positive emotion may be the only meaningful moment. Language fails, and the pureness of heart prevails. Perhaps the words themselves don't serve their proper purpose, only the intent behind them. It is in the renewed moment of a tentative squeeze, or that certain look in the eye, that does not communicate the thing, but is able to capture the heart...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"Love You": This is how we live...

"I'll stop the world and melt with you. You've seen the difference and it's getting better all the time. And there's nothing you and I won't do. The future is opened wide.": I am realizing how powerful and essential hope is for living. The opposite of hope is despair, that feeling we have when we lose sight of hope. So much of what I see on social media seems to deal with people's need to find hope, or expressing feelings of despair (and certainly looking for the crowd to offer some sort of reassurance).

Where does despair come from?: Despair is that feeling when one perceives that there is no light, no one, no hope near by. While in despair, fear grips the heart, the mind, the soul.

"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”― Yoda:  Suffering is merely the result of all the fear and anger. These negative emotions shroud us from living. We become encapsulated in feedback loops of darkness layering on top of darkness. It is the hatred that is "the dark side". Hate is the opposite of love. Love is so powerful!

Love is "other". Hatred is "self".

Love is compassion, hatred is hurting

So it feels like emotional math. Remove the fear, avoid the development of hatred and suffering.

So President Snow in The Hunger Games film understands. He says,
"Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear."

Hope can be offered by one to another in an act of love: So we need to find our way out of despair when we feel we are in complete darkness. Martin Luther King suggests that we can only see the stars when it is dark, but we need to be able to lift or heads up to see when our emotions press our heads down away from the light.

The Dawn is Coming: We hear that it is always darkest before the dawn, but we need to have faith that dawn will arrive and in the darkness time ceases to move. By understanding the despair, where it comes from, knowing it is bound in the fears of our own mind, we might move beyond it.
“I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always ... so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.” ― Yann Martel, Life of Pi

"You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it.": Words, identification, communication, people, relationships... hope. And it is the fear of losing our relationships, the people of our stories, the sharing with others, the understanding, the meaning... that controls us so powerfully. So how do we address our fear? We see it for what it is; we reach out to those around us, and we offer love and compassion; we tell them there is light near by even if they cannot see it; we call out; we hold their hand; we place hope in their grasp. Letting go of the fear helps break the cycle, but it goes so completely against what makes us caring and feeling. What a catch-22! 

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." --The Litany Against Fear in Frank Herbert's Dune

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed:
I am certain the answer to despair is simple when there are others gathered around. When we grieve... when we feel despair... we perceive we are alone. Those with the capacity to reach out have the ability to shed light on that perception. Love and compassion offer hope to those who need it most. This is how we must live!

Monday, October 12, 2015

A national holiday...

We would not be here if it were not for the bravery and tenacity of those who came before us.

We could not be great if we had not struggled throughout our history. The things we stubble through are the things we know and value.

We study to past, so we can understand the present, in order to better participate in the future.

So how do we properly converse about holidays that have historical value, as well as hold onto mixed "baggage"? The dialogue needs to continue to happen, and needs to be tempered with empathy and compassion. It's not about taking sides, it's about a diverse set of values and perspectives which need to be explored and discussed. 

I will call into the past, far into the beginning of time, and beg them to help me at the judgment. I will reach back and draw them into me. And they must come…for at this moment I am the whole reason they have existed at all. --Cinque in "Amistad"

Sunday, October 4, 2015

"Deep down the hollow is what you promise me. All I can do is to follow"...

This summer I arrived late to an album that had been getting airplay on independent stations for over a year, Milky Chance's Sadnecessary. Released in October 2013 the album did not make much headway in the US until the following year when they began playing sold-out shows and appeared on late-night with Jimm Kimmel. SPIN magazine picked Sadnecessary Album of the week, and that fall USA Today wrote a favorable review describing the German duo as a blend of folk, reggae, and jazz. Noisey described them as combining house and electronic beats with reggae and R&B influences. None of this actually conveys Dausch and Rehbein's sound though. It's like when gourmet coffee roasters describe a blend with food names and colors that have nothing to do with the actual flavor of the brew, persimmon cherry mocha with a cinnamon finish. [What does that actually mean beyond sounding interesting?] Wikipedia lists Milky Chance as "Folktronica" which is more closely a descriptor, but not knowing any of the definitive albums listed in the genre, leaves me wanting a better category.

While the US was only just discovering Milky Chance last fall, they had been gaining momentum on YouTube and SoundCloud, and had developed a strong fan base all over Europe by the summer of 2014. Their first single has garnered over 150 million views. Winning awards in Germany, touring the US and Canada late in 2014, hitting venues like the Bowrey Ballroom in NYC and the House of Blue in Boston, Milkey Chance has worked hard to gain an audience for this first album.

Songs on Sadnecessary start with synthesized beats (predictable and nondescript, while surprisingly thin and pleasant), adding clean slightly growly vocals (in English) as a layer on top. The contrast of the vocals over the synth is nice, but it's in the the rhythms that sound like clean R&B rhythm guitar with a hint of a reggae strum that my ears really engage. There is a hollowness about the sound that works, each song sounding much like the others on first listen, but becoming quite distinctive on subsequent listens. This album was a passing choice in my list in June, and is a staple for me three months later.

Sadnesessary, Feathery, Down by the River, and Loveland have all become more dear to me that the initial single that attracted me to the album, Stolen Dance. The entire album needs to be listened to which is not something young people do these days, but in this case the temple and pace of the album as presented works. With nearly an hour of recorded material, Sadnecessary is quickly making it to my best albums list of 2014.