Thoughts on the Real World

My life continues to truck forward, as long-term projects gain roots. I’m not a very

Looking through a traditional mashrabiya, photo by Brett
Looking through a traditional mashrabiya, photo by Brett

exciting person. On a scale from one to ten, I crop up somewhere in the middle. Right now, I’m living at home–yawn–researching philosophy PhD programs–super yawn–and brushing up on personal finance and fitness as I set out to join the “real world” with whatever jobs and internships can sustain me for a year–asleep yet?

But one week from today, I drive to the airport, battle through the baggage lines, and hit the air, sandwiched on a stuffy plane, on my second trip to Egypt to teach English.

I’m both nervous and excited.

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The Good Life

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Miniature giraffes and gold-encrusted chairs clearly mean the good life.

What many people consider creativity doesn’t occur in flash of sudden brilliance. A Mona Lisa doesn’t leap from the brush. In Search of Lost Time doesn’t write itself. Maybe sometimes, but not often. Most creative people slog through long hours, laboring without much inspiration, until their little efforts accumulate into a sizable project.

As French writer Albert Camus put it in an essay on French novels, “Works of art are not born in flashes of inspiration, but in a daily fidelity.”

One can never underestimate the sustained effort of a single person. But a person needs a direction first. Simply running and working without direction leads nowhere. Like a dog chasing its own tail or a hamster sprinting on its wheel, undirected effort–no matter how hard it is–remains undirected and fruitless.

One needs something to structure effort, like a goal or even a way of life. In many ways, this was once the role of philosophy.

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Feeling “at home”

I spent the last three days traveling to Boston with an old friend and his girlfriend, House picturescouting for apartments. They’ll both be PhD candidates in the fall–one at B.U. and the other at MIT. My old friend called me about a month ago to catch up, and we decided it may be neat for me to move in with them.

I didn’t get into the MFA programs I applied to last winter, and the prospect of a gap year living with my parents at home as I applied to other programs didn’t seem pleasant. My friend agreed. Boston would have plenty of people, schools, and opportunities to explore. I’d be out of the house, living in the world.

The plan was to find a two-bedroom in Cambridge area for a reasonable price. Turns out, it wasn’t that simple.

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Dreyfus and Magee: Phenonomology and Existentialism

This week, I’ve been watching these 1980s videos with BBC host, author, and thinker Bryan Magee.

Each one is five parts, coming in at about 45 minutes, and is a great watch. Magee does a good job putting difficult concepts into fairly ordinary language and summarizing things.

I’ve uploaded one on phenomenology and existential philosophy, although most of it deals with Heidegger.

All of the videos are good. You get to see articulate, intelligent people discuss dynamic topics with extremely tallow-colored backgrounds! (What could be better than that?)Enjoy!

Making the Switch

Dave glances at my plate of spinach, beans, and brown rice as I eye the meatballs Not me... yetnestled in his spaghetti.

“You eat like a rabbit,” he says.

“Rabbits don’t generally eat garbanzo beans or cooked rice,” I reply.

“But still…”

As the conversation changes, he forgets my rabbit food, and I forget his meat. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what we have.

According to a 2008 study by Harris Interactive Service, about 7.3 million people are vegetarian in the United States—that’s about 3.2 percent of the population. Most are young, from middleclass backgrounds, and live in the Western or Southern regions of the United States. I’m one of them, a skinny, grain-eating, tofu-crunching middle-class American.

Nothing radical there.

We vegetarians eat about three meals per day—just like our omnivorous counterparts. We don’t all use organic paper and beet-juice ink or attend regular services at hippy churches on weekends.  Most aren’t PETA extremists who throw red paint at fur coats and survive on seaweed and unpronounceable grains. Perhaps our farts smell a little bad sometimes, or we’re be a pain to take out to dinner, but most of us are pretty normal. At least I think so.

Still, some people berate me with things like, “why the hell would you do that?” or “we deserve to eat animals,” or my personal favorite, “you’re going to die because you’re not getting enough protein.”

Others aren’t so malicious. They just don’t understand, or grow up thinking that all vegetarians fit the same model. But we are all very different and have very different reasons for becoming vegetarian.

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Aphorisms

Call this a sequel to my last post. I graduated yesterday, and have been busy moving, nietzsche-377x500unpacking, and processing my final weeks. So I haven’t had much time to research or write anything new.

Still, in the midst of it, I’ve been reading Nietzsche. Along with his break with Wagner in 1876, Nietzsche took leave from his post at the University of Basel. With his freedom, Nietzsche wrote a series of aphoristic works, beginning with Human, All too Human and ending with The Gay Science.

I just finished reading excerpts from the set of them.

Before these works, Nietzsche wrote essays or reflections, The Birth of Tragedy being the main example. After, his work retained this aphoristic bent, even when he resumed a more traditional essay style, as in Beyond Good and Evil. The style may owe much to the German philosopher Schopenhauer and the French tradition that predated Nietzsche, which influenced his work a great deal, but he made it his own with his sharp wit, dynamic language, and unique philosophy.

Influenced by Nietzsche, I figured I’d share a few aphorisms I’ve gathered during college. I’ve heard some, borrowed others from books, and made up a number. In no particular order, here are a few:

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Clichés and images

In seven days, I put on a cheap, fire-hazard of a cap and gown, shuffle across the Charlie Brown One Nightoverpopulated floor of a gym, grab a mass-produced sheet of sepia-toned paper, and graduate–along with thousands of others in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I have a lot to think about.

I auditioned to be one of the commencement speakers. I don’t think the committee appreciated my attempt to deconstruct the clichés that crowd most ceremonies–those lovely nuggets of wisdom we pocket heading out into the “real word” to find a job because “we’re the future” and “our education is only the beginning.”

“I didn’t think we’d make it,” but we did. Hopefully we’ve “found ourselves” and “remember where we came from” while we’re at it.

I think I’ve made my point…

Clichés are the Easy Mac of our language: artificial, devoid of nutrition, but easy to make. No one really likes clichés, but we use them at important events for well-trod expressions and cheeky adages. They’re quick and malleable. Few of us take the time to truly consider what the event means, or if we do, we can’t find the right words. There’s too much going on.

This is my problem.

I can feel the day approaching, but I don’t know what it means. And I’m not the sort of person who can blithely steps off into mystery like a trust fall. I need some clarity.

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