Seattle, Washington, United States
For those who love coffee, poetry, art, or stories - stay. Have a cup with us.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

51

I was mildly disturbed by a piece of feedback I received about a week ago. Someone close to me, whose opinion I value very highly, told me that my world view is operatively negative, i.e. that my values are good, but the way in which I communicate and structure those values retards their real-world applicability. I was angry, offended, and immediately defensive.

But, after some thinking, I went back and read a blog post that I have since deleted about the body politic in the United States, and I realized that while I may not be entirely operatively negative, I sometimes forget what I really stand for. So, let's get something straight:

I believe in passion, compassion, and action.

But I also believe in thankfulness, and maybe sometimes that doesn't come through. So, here is my list of fifty-one reasons to smile and be glad:

Sunsets
Sunrises
Smiles from strangers
Walking in the rain
Being free
Feeling free
Singing badly in public
The smell of new books
The smell of old books
Commas
That way that children smile
That way that the elderly smile
Playing tag in August
Old friends
New friends
Feeling comfortable in your skin
Feeling uncomfortable in your environment
(Learning to deal with the above, and smiling through it)
Peace, even if it's an illusion
Unity, even if it's more of an illusion
Choosing to believe those things aren't illusions
Modern medicine
Ancient fables
Other languages
This language
Quiet music
Sunday dinner with the family
Monday mornings
Friday afternoons
Sunshine on Saturday
Thunder on Thursday
Midnight
3 AM
Long lunches
Trees that have faces
Seashells
Latin
How small the world is
How vast
The ability to wonder
Daydreams
When you realize it was just a nightmare
The fact that Abraham Lincoln started wearing a top hat because a letter from a young girl told him he'd look good in one
The fact that the Dalai Lama has worn pants only once and found it highly uncomfortable
The fact that Walt Disney was afraid of mice
Mothers & fathers & brothers & sisters & grandparents & aunts & uncles & cousins & second-cousins-twice-removed-from-Europe
Laughter
Weeping
Food and Water
Shelter and Safety

and, of course:
Coffee

May your coffee be strong, your passions electric, and your laughter easy.
—michael




Thursday, July 12, 2012

asking why

I want to pull back tonight and do something I don't usually do. I blog about a variety of topics, but one that I've never blogged about (to the best of my memory) is the importance of blogging. What exactly is it that makes blogging different from other forms of writing? Why is it necessary to write in the first place? What, if anything, is a blog required to do for it to be worthy of merit?

Firstly, why blog? I think it's a very fair question, and it's one that -- believe it or not -- I ask myself all of the time. On days when I don't want to blog, on days when I blog poorly, on days when people tell me they don't like my blog or they laugh at the very existence of it, I ask myself: Why do you keep doing this? I can think of two responses. The first is that writing is important, and I will discuss (at length) why that is in a moment. The second is that blogging is very visible. There is an incredibly large number of books published every year. There are even more poems, articles, columns and essays published alongside those. Each and every one was written by an author with something they wish to say that they believe is worth saying. And, regardless of what the author or that specific author's specific fans may think, the vast majority of those published works are largely ignored. People simply don't read that often. Blogs, however, are slightly different. They offer a social platform to the communication of ideas. In transcending distribution location or topic-specific publishers, blogs also have the potential to reach out to a wider audience, indicting crimes with more tenacity and breadth, as well as extolling values in such a way that they do not seem type-specific to a certain audience. As an example, one of my favorite novels is a lovely and powerful book packed with well-defended value systems and a critical analysis of the human condition. However, it is about an intersex teenager living on the East Coast. Because of the content and the author (known for his particularly "fringe" style books), the novel is unlikely to speak its vast store of wisdom to someone less comfortable with LGBIT and other highly liberal social platforms. And while some blogs do tend to drop into genres, they are not subject to the specificity of books, because due to the continuous nature of the blog's publication, it ends up experiencing a high level of content diversity. Though the same could be said for periodicals, they tend to be distributed by type-specific publishers and are, therefore, less accessible than blogs, which -- because of the totally independent nature of their authors -- are open to much greater flux. So, reason one to blog is simply that they change (a LOT), and (a LOT of) change is good, for the blog, the blogger, and the readers.

The second reason is perhaps more general, but, I think, more important. It is the importance of writing. The function of art is to express. While art does many things, they all boil down to expression. No piece of art can force you to act; influence may be the goal of the artist, true, but the function by which the artist arrives at that goal is expression. If art is expression incarnate, then the purest art is the written or spoken word, because it does nothing but express. While the other arts express, they do so in a non-verbal way, which means that the art must be verbally analyzed for the expression to have any applicablity to the lives of others. So, it is fair to say that language is the first art, and this, indeed, may very well be the case. Models by scientists, archeologists, sociologists, and historians of pre-historic peoples tend to agree that language pre-dated all complex ideas, including religion. It was the telling and re-telling of stories that first united people on a cognitive and emotional level. It is for that reason that the other arts would then emerge. When humans learned that their communities were strengthened by the empathy links created by stories, they began to find other ways of expressing themselves in such a fashion that others would listen, interpret, and apply the expressed ideas to their own lives. So, spoken word is most probably the orignary art, but the written word is simply the physical incarnation of the spoken word, and so we refer to both as language. The linguistic art, then, is the most useful tool for the expression of ideas between peoples, because it is the most direct. But why do we need to express? There are three answers to this. The first is that expression is a form of self-affirmation. Affirmation is necessary to the human condition, because it is a counter-balance to self-doubt and madness. Imagine never telling yourself that you're doing alright or spending time building yourself up. Two possible avenues emerge. Without self-affirmation, self-doubt could arise. You would simply be incapable of making decisions, because you had not affirmed to yourself that the psychological place from which you are making the decisions is OK. The other possible avenue is madness, which is really just the extreme version of self-doubt. The madness I refer to is not a chemical disorder like bipolar or schizophrenia, but a severe inability to link your psychological reality with that of your greater community for fear that your reality is untrue. The second benefit of expression is empathy, which is a sort of affirmation-from-others-toward-you. This kind of affirmation is not one the artist will necessarily know about. Rather, it is an illusion within the mind of the reader, who affirms the place from which the expresser is expressing. They come to some sort of understanding that the author's state of mind is acceptable, and then affirm it to the author without ever really telling them. We call this illusion of connection empathy, and it is the necessary presupposition of the third benefit from writing, which is action. If the reader empathizes with the author (that is to say he affirms-toward-her-but-to-himself), he is more likely to take action to correct injustices which the author and those like the author (who he can also affirm-toward) face. This is where the importance of writing and the accessability of blogs become especially effective together: they inspire widespread action. Look to China for an example of this. Chen Guangcheng and other such dissidents against the Chinese government and its unjust faux democracy are typically bloggers. The accessibility of the blog provides the perfect place for the creation of an empathy connection strong enough to inspire widespread action. Blogs, though, are perhaps larger than we'd at first imagine. Keeping in mind that one of the primary functions of the blog is its social aspect, websites like Facebook or Twitter could be considered macroblogs, which unite singular blog-type entities into one large blog which is the ultimate example of flux, competing value statements, and content diversity. Imagine if government dissidents took advantage of these macroblogs to flood the entire world with statements, fiery rhetoric, and tireless reporting of crimes committed in specific nations. Imagine further that these statements did exactly what good writing is supposed to do and created empathy connections with people in similar and disimilar situations. And then those people took action against the unjust governments. That scenario was imaginary, until the Arab Spring. Now it's just history.

Finally, what are the distinctive features of a good blog? What identifies a blog as good? Actually, nothing. There is no single standard of form or content by which we should establish the merit of a blog. It must simply express.

So, start one?

May your coffee be strong, your passions electric, and your laughter easy.
--michael

Sunday, July 1, 2012

sunday sip: theses

A lie is simple, a truism is safe, but a thesis is terrifying.

Of the thousands and thousands of words we say in a day, they are all easily categorized into one of these three distinctions. The lie is that which we know is untrue, told -- almost exclusively -- to protect or preserve. The trick to a lie is its necessity; deceiving yourself into believing the truth is dangerous makes lying simple.

A truism is something that is generally accepted as true. Therefore, others know it is true. It is immaterial whether or not we accept that the sky is blue; if others accept it, it is true. Thus, the truism is safe, as it is ridiculous to challenge the truism.

But the thesis is neither true nor false. It may be the former, the latter, or both. The thesis is a belief. "Things do not always work out," "There is strength in numbers," "God exists," "God does not exist," "We exist," and on. In fact, the majority of the things we say in a day -- or, at least, the majority of the things that I say in a day -- are theses.

Upon closer examination, each thesis we speak works to color the greater thesis, the one that we hold at the very center of ourselves, too terrified to speak aloud for fear of its truth examined.

I make no claims as to the wrongness or rightness of this outlook; it's just a thesis.

Join me for a cup.
--michael