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.

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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.

Keeping Stuff Separate (Normal People Edition)

Sometimes I am shocked and fascinated by how cleanly compartmentalized many people’s lives seem to be:

You go to work, which is something you do for money and not fun. You are paid based on what you can do and how good you are at it, which is unrelated to who you are and how good of a person you are.

And work hours are for working hard and shouldn’t be squandered on chatting or joking or mindwandering or checking social media. Work is payed precisely because there are other things you’d rather be doing.

But there is no reason to check your work email or plan out your latest project after hours. Don’t squander your free time–you’re not being paid.

Of course you are a fun person with recreational interests, which are enjoyable and relaxing. There is no reason for these interests to be a source of intense effort or stress, because they are not your job.

And of course you care about being good, so you siphon off some money (and maybe even some time) from the regular part of your budget to donate to charity. You get reminders for this kind of stuff once or twice a year, so its no big deal if you forget the rest of the time.

And obviously you have a personal life too: you should expect to fall in love by going on dates in which you meet for the purpose of mutually evaluating each other as sexual and romantic prospects. These people should ideally have no other significance in your life outside this context, though the goal is that they become your most significant other

And though they should be ideally be people with whom you share similar values and enjoy being around, they should never be compared to “friends,” a category of people who belong in a completely discrete zone.

And don’t bring up politics on a date, because that’s not part of polite conversation. What’s politics got to do with love?

And certainly don’t bring up your love life in a pollitical context, because that’s vulgar and inappropriate. What’s love got to do with politics?

And obviously, don’t talk about love or politics at work. These things are of no professional relevance.

You should care about serious issues like violence and discrimination, of course. It is important to make time each evening to stay updated on such issues, so that when the occasion calls for it, you can voice your concerns in such somber, sober conversations. There are no jokes and no smiling in these talks. How insensitive could you be to discuss big, serious issues as if they were everyday problems?

And the rest of the time, don’t be a downer who brings up race or bombs in fun, casual conversations. Such big, serious issues have no place in everyday life. You shouldn’t have to think about those things when you’re not trying to think about them.

Your body is relevant insofar as it is a sexual object or a subject of medical interest. You dedicate maybe an hour each day to intentionally rigorous physical exertion for those reasons. The rest of the time you can mostly disregard your material existence. (If it gives you aggressive signals to pay attention to it, there are ways to drown that out.)

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I assume that this all makes perfect sense to plenty of people. Personally, compartmentalization has never been my strength.

Lately I’ve been questioning the implications of pursuing artistic careers in which the lines between professional, personal, and pollitical are pretty nonexistent. On one hand, it seems much more natural to me to be living life as an interconnected whole. And I’m really lucky to have the opportunity to do that (or at least try).

On the other hand, when you get your professional ambitions, artistic passion, pollitical expression, personal relationships, physical and emotional health, and income all hopelessly tied up in one another, it seems terrifyingly easy to let one of them pull the others out of whack.

There are advantages to keeping stuff separate, I guess.

A Cynical Queer Killjoy’s Mixed Feelings on the Rainbow Machine

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It’s June, which means that cynical, nerdy, political queer killjoys are spending the month rolling their eyes at the shiny whitewashed respectability spectacle of corporate-sponsored pride celebrations. I would know—I’m one of them.

But sometimes I fall off my high horse and remember: I didn’t start out thinking like this. Not even close.

When I sigh at the rainbow-themed sneakers and laptop ads popping up around the city, unimpressed with corporations’ willingness to co-opt symbols of a successful liberation movement now that it has been deemed more profitable than not.

But I also remember living in a time and place when public support of LGBT rights was more of a business liability than a strategy, and think of how much tweenage angst I could have avoided had I seen rainbow-plastered shoe stores then.

Read the rest on HuffPost

The Case Against Dreams

Since graduation, people have increasingly been asking me what my dream jobs, dream companies, and dreams for the future are. Which is leading me to realize that I no longer have any. And I say that in the most optimistic way possible.

Dreams are made of ideas alone, floating in a weightless world with no bodies to bump up against them and shake them off course. So they go in straight lines, mostly just up.

But try to follow a dream in a world of matter, and things get far more twisted. You’ll hit walls and laws and ceilings, and have to recalculate your route to dodge, climb, or break them. When your ideas spill onto the scene and cause reactions, they’ll fizzle and change colors and explode, until you can barely recognize what you started with. You’ll collect dirt and leave a trail of elaborate curlicues as you spin your way into places you never planned to see.

And at some point, you’re likely to find that you and the dream have left each other’s sights. You might scan your surroundings, looking for another nearby dream to start your next game of obstacle-tag. It’s a game that can keep you moving for a lifetime, if that’s your thing.

Lately though, I’ve become more inclined to let those naked ideas float by as I turn my sights downward for inspiration, following the landscape of reality itself.

People say that dreams are about imagination, but when I listen to most of their dreams, the scope of possibilities is far more square and narrow than anything reality could devise. In those dreams, you know that the good guys win, and the girl marries the boy and stays that way, and success comes in windfalls and stays that way, and matter is different from energy and stays that way, and everything happens for a reason.

Some people get so caught up in those limited dream-worlds that their imaginations shrink to that scope. And with imaginations so narrow, they can’t envision the full range of reality, even as it stands right in front of them.

If you want your brain to buzz with things you never dreamed possible, try really exploring reality. Run your fingers into the crevices you used to step over, and trace the wrinkled pathways all the way out to the fringes. Look close at the frayed and jagged edges. (Truth be told, it’s all rather broken and messed-up, but so are most things worth spending time with. So are most things I love.) Now stand on the edges, and look at it from far away.

Once, I dreamed I could just spread my arms and fly. So I started running and jumping and falling and building to try and get up there. Until I was just running and jumping and falling and building to get somewhereSo far, that has been remarkably more interesting.

just say no

Okay, this is a bit extreme.

How To Do College

As you may have heard, I recently finished doing college. As a person on the internet, I firmly believe that having just completed something makes me both qualified and obligated to give advice about it. So here are my top pieces of fairly generic wisdom for people beginning to do college:

You don’t have to stick with whatever you picked first.
Majors, social circles, extracurricular involvements, worldviews, haircuts, or whatever–there is definitely pressure to make your declaration as soon as you show up. But remember that for the most part, nothing is holding you to whatever questionable snap judgements you made during orientation. If something is not working out as well as you thought it would, you have plenty of time to get over the shame of being wrong and try something else instead.

Don’t waste time pretending you know stuff you don’t actually know.
Even if you get a few judgey looks sometimes. The less time you spend trying to seem smart or talented or cool, the more time you get to spend actually learning stuff.

Learn from what you don’t like.
Hopefully, your time in college will be filled with fabulous experiences, but you’ll also probably run into classes you find disastrous, books you find overrated, art you find vapid, policies you find oppressive, personalities you find insufferable, and ideas you find really wrong.

But even when you are entirely justified in your disdain (sometimes you are), that doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time–you can learn plenty by negative example.

Notice what you don’t like, but more importantly, figure out exactly why you don’t like it.* Be as thoughtful and specific as possible. From there you can decide how to adapt to it, critique it, fix it, avoid replicating it yourself, create something completely different from it, or make sure you spend the rest of your life doing the exact opposite of it.

*Tip: in some cases, this might end up teaching you as much about yourself as it does about the object of dislike.

Live life with approximately four regrets.
I mean “no regrets” is a little extreme, right? If you’re having any fun at all–and even if you’re not–you’re probably going to make some mistakes for which regret is the appropriate reaction.

Sure, some people say that mistakes are not regrets, just learning experiences. But your mistakes are probably going to have consequences that hurt other people whose pain isn’t cancelled out by your lesson of the day.

So I’ve semi-arbitrarily picked four as the correct number of times to really mess up. It’s pretty low, but not as low as some other numbers, such as three.

Show up.
Things happen when you show up. (Side note: I hope to one day get the first Nobel Prize in Attendance.)

You won’t do all of the things.
Get over it now. You don’t have to feel bad about it. Don’t waste one of your four regrets on the newspaper you didn’t join while you were busy 3D printing/srat partying/protesting/baking cookies/dancing/actually studying. Just try to do some of the things pretty well and/or enjoyably.

Never “find yourself.”
College isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about realizing that the “self” as a unitary, discrete, and stable entity is an artificial construct maintained for its convenience in a Western individualist liberal social order.

(Or maybe that was just my college.)

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Note: if anyone has some advice on how to do life after this, send it my way