On “President”

This is a post about President. Not about any particular individual occupying a particular presidential office, but about President, the idea and aspiration. The thing you once thought you might be one day (at least if you were lucky enough to ever be told you should dream so big–or at least before you learned you shouldn’t).

The first presidential election I remember was Bush v Gore 2000. I got a Kids Voting ballot with pictures of all the candidates, and awarded each of my empty votes to whichever guy I thought had the better headshot. Sometimes it was hard because they kind of looked the same. For the record, I voted for Gore. (In retrospect, I stand by my decision but not my reasons.)

I asked my mom if girls were allowed to be presidents. I learned that they were, but none of them had yet. Like many ambitious little girls first hearing this news, I was less concerned with why this was the case than I was with beating out any other ambitious girls to the “first” spot. (In retrospect, I realize that being the first anything is terribly overrated if you’re the only.)

The people counting the votes needed extra time, my parents informed me, as they watched the news with anticipation. I thought that made sense, because counting that high must be really hard. I later heard that that the guy who got the most votes didn’t get to be president. I thought that might kind of be nice for him, because now he could brag about winning without having to be in charge of everyone. (In retrospect, he sure did.)

Being president sounded like a lot of pressure–people always seemed angry at presidents–so I thought I might aim for vice president instead. I checked that no girls had been vice president either, so I could still be first at something. Thinking realistically, I decided that I would start my career being vice president of small countries, then incrementally work my way up to bigger ones. (In retrospect, that plan could have used some refinement.)

At my neighbor’s birthday party that week, his know-it-all older brother offered a piece of candy to whoever could answer the question “Who was the first president?” He proceeded to inform that me and the three other people who blurted out “George Washington” that we were wrong–George was the first president of the US, but not the world. He didn’t know the name of the actual first president, but insisted that it was someone else. (In retrospect, maybe he didn’t know it all.)

(Today I Googled “first president in the world. The ambiguous definition of “president” across languages and systems of government leaves no clear answer. Possibly Filippo Antonio Pasquale di Paoli, President of the Corsican Republic in 1755. His republic didn’t work out, but at least he was first at something.)

My mom told me that I couldn’t be president of Lebanon because I wasn’t the right religion. I wasn’t quite sure what religion I was, but “Deputy Speaker of Parliament” sounded less cool, so I immediately became a firm opponent of sectarianism. (In retrospect, I had a point, but Deputy Speakers of Parliament can also be cool.)

The next election season, I learned about write-in candidates. I asked my parents if they would vote for me, and was kind of offended that they said no. Unfortunately, they had other plans for positions like “mayor” and “senator,” but eventually agreed to write me in for soil commissioner. (In retrospect, I apologize for trivializing the soil commissioner race. Soil commissioners are as important as presidents.)

(What kind of person would want to be a president anyway?)

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Just Ribbing

Did he think of it as birthing or purging when he tore me out of himself? It was hard to tell.

No sooner did he fixate on what he loved in me–the beauty, the softness, the fragility–than did he gag at reminder that it had once been a part of him. Then he sighed in relief that it was all now apart from him. As if he didn’t have more ribs where those came from. As if we weren’t made of the same bones.

And I thought: what a self-loathing creature to draw such a wall between what he loves and what he hopes to be.

But maybe that moment of shock was when he became determined to see no reflection of himself in whatever came out of him. His colorful musings were Pure Reason. His sappy tunes and poetry, Straight from God. 

Of course, anyone else could see otherwise, but I didn’t have the ribs to break it to him. Yet. When it came to the baby, though, we had to talk.

A Dance About Nothing

Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted to make a dance about nothing. She had made dances before, about people and thoughts and pains and places and days and words and feelings. But now, she thought, would be her time to make a dance about nothing at all.

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She decided to start off by making some shapes, as pure and plane as can be, unblemished by a reason. She was sure she could do it; there were infinite points for her to touch before needing touch upon why. But every triangle she made started to feel too much like love, every square too much like time–with a glacial rush though it–every pentagon too much like war. This was not a dance about nothing, she realized.

So she tried again to cut the dance off from her mind and its clutter, and directing it with a roll of dice. She tossed the dice in the air, pretending the motion didn’t ignite flickering wishes, prayers and fears over the landing. She ignored the way the clattering of dice on the table brought back backgammon games under little clouds of smoke and politics. She read the faces, noted the steps, and eagerly rolled again, as if she never knew of livelihoods consumed by addiction to chance procedures. She tried not to enjoy the strangely delicious sense of freedom that came in stripping herself of all agency. Maybe this wasn’t a dance about nothing, she admitted.

A dance truly about nothing, she decided, would not move: not a soul, not a heart, not a muscle, not an inch. So she didn’t. She stood still, silent, and centered in the empty room. She thought she might finally be on to nothing.

But in her stillness, the breeze from outside found space to creep in, stirring her bones from the inside. So she closed the windows. You need closed windows to make a dance about nothing.

But slivers of rogue air still slipped through the cracks and into her system. They tasted just a little smoky this time, like half-assed eyeshadow or fading cigarette butts. So she shut her eyes and mouth and ears and nose. You need a closed nose to make a dance about nothing.

The air outside grew hotter and thicker, but she remained uninterrupted in her pristine stillness. You need to not notice to make a dance about nothing.

Things I Would Have Written in My One-Sentence Journal if I Was Still Keeping Up With That

Knee-deep one-liners from my life:

  • Most of being an adult is just sitting on different types of transportation.
  • You can’t have shade without light.
  • I like my guys like I like my fries: on occasion.
  • I deal with feelings like I deal with laundry: probably later, when there’s not so much going on.
  • Reclaiming is when you go through the garbage that’s been hurled at you and notice that some of it is actually recyclable.
  • If you don’t understand high art, sober art might be more your thing.
  • This is probably difficult for you to hear, but more difficult for me to not say.

The Fantasy Pedestrian

I find it a little bit funny when dance people, usually of the postmodern sort, use the word “pedestrian” to refer to their cleanly-crafted arrangements of steps, lines, and gestures. As if that could be placed in the the same category as the confused and unruly gaggle of walkers who complicate the walking path from the train to the studio.

Inside that pristine world, pedestrians move with intention and a clear, deliberate focus.

Out here, only half the pedestrians seem to really know where they’re going. Most of the rest bow their heads down their Google Maps for guidance, making the occasional 180 when they realize that the pointer on their screen isn’t quite oriented to this earth.

In there, pedestrians use simple movement to demonstrate an awareness and skillful use of time and space.

Out here, pedestrians walk way too slow until they realize that they need to pummel through the crowd in a fit of lateness. They walk on the wrong side of the sidewalk. They stop to think about how they’re on the wrong side of the sidewalk. They spend seven seconds deliberating over whether they can cross that crosswalk in time, and five seconds actually crossing it (the last three to a chorus of impatient car honks).

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In there, pedestrians cross each others paths calm with acknowledgement, drawing intricate floor patterns which just so happen to fall into the open spaces between their peers.

Out here, pedestrians manage to bump into each other even when they’re going the same direction, setting off a sprinkle of curses and dirty looks.

In there, all pelvises hang in a delicate “neutrality,” the kind you engineer through years of careful micro-engagements and releases.

Out here, pelvises sway and slouch and jut and twist and teeter and bounce and jitter. They’re pelvises that hold histories and pains and desires and fears that might tip them on way or another–and who’s to say if they ever knew a default state before all that weight?

In there, we imagine that pedestrians walk with no affectations down a street with no name and no homes and no real estate. There’s no fairies or princesses, but don’t be mistaken: we’re looking at a distant fantasy land.

Pairs of Opinions You Probably Shouldn’t Get to Hold Both Of:

*Before US election*
Person:
 Calm down, there’s no way someone that bad could actually get elected.
*After election*
Same Person: Calm down, there’s no way he’ll actually be that bad.

Person: I don’t see color–race has nothing to do with how I judge or treat people.
Same Person: *Finds it very important to play racial-Nancy-Drew upon meeting someone whose race they cannot read immediately. Almost as if they are uncomfortable not totally seeing color.*

Person: Why are people talking about racism like it’s still a huge problem? We have some issues, but it’s not like we still have Klan members marching in the streets.
*Sees Klan members marching in streets* 
Same Person: Is this really the time to be fixate on subtle, casual forms of racism–there are literal klan members marching in the streets!

*On white people who repeatedly mess up on race issues*
Person: They’re not doing perfect, but that’s because they haven’t had opportunities to learn this stuff yet. Instead of passing judgement, we should take time to patiently educate people.
*On investing in educational opportunities for groups who have historically and continually been denied access*
Same Person: This should be about personal merit.

Philosophy Majors Run Tech Support (Part 2)

Finally, the much awaited* follow-up to Philosophy Majors Run Tech Support (Part 1):


Customer: Lately, I’ve noticed that my laptop battery has been dying really quickly. I’m not sure what the problem is.

Tech Support: Well would you really consider that a problem, given the alternative?

C: Alternative?

TS: With the inevitability of death, the only alternative to dying quickly is dying slowly.

Which is better? It’s hard to say for sure.

Would you rather have a slow decline, with enough time to plan for the end–but also enough time to dwell upon every grain of vitality that slips away, until down to just a sliver? Or would you rather have that life yanked away with hardly any warning–but hardly any dreading anticipation either?

But perhaps the question comes down to not just how quickly it dies, but how quickly it lives.

Some seek to race through their existence, leading lives which end quickly, but not before getting their share of excitement and danger and joy and conflict and achievement and loss. Others are equally content to languor along the journey, leading lives which are longer, if less densely packed. Perhaps the only real tragedy is to die faster than one lives.

So you ought focus not so much on how much time passes before your battery trickles away to zero, but on what actions it produces in that fleeting window of power.

C: Uh yeah, I guess I was running a lot of apps at the same time, if that’s what you’re getting at.


C: I’m trying to update my software on my phone, but it says that I don’t have enough space. Do I have to delete a bunch stuff from memory before I can get the new version?

TS: Ah, the dilemma of progress. At times, it seems that we must choose between holding on to our memories of the past and moving onto to future. 

There are those who remain attached to their pasts and refuse to relinquish them in order to hop on the latest bandwagon of “progress.” They ignore the nagging messages to bring themselves up-to-date, unconvinced that the newest tools have as much worth as their stockpile of moments, conversations, and personal history, weighted with nostalgia and lessons learned.

Eventually, these people will get left behind, unable to function properly in the world we live in, unable to communicate with those who have moved on, unable to accept new developments.

But these people are not the only ones who are misguided.

You may be eager to wipe away your past for the promise of something newer and better. You don’t want that weight slowing down your forward progression.

But often, you’ll find that the moment of change is not the great leap forward that you imagined would render all your previous experiences irrelevant. And as you advance in shaky half-steps, you’ll still need those same old memories to make sense of the present. 

Because you know what they say about those who forget history . . . Though you are always looking forward, you find yourself in repeating cycle: making moments to delete as you jump into the next round, never holding on, never building up.

For genuine progress, we need to find a space for our past memories to be held and referenced, without allowing them to dominate the forefronts of our lives.

C: So you’re saying that I should make a backup before I erase stuff from the phone? Got it.

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*By whom? Maybe just me.