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Archive for October, 2010

Proust’s Madeleine refers to a monument that resonates with many readers, a fan’s favorite in his writings.  A madeleine is a kind of small French cake, usually with ribbed lines across it.  Proust recalls eating one and being reminded of something.  Sitting and pondering, reaching deep into his mind for the remembrance, as he continued sniffing and tasting the little cake.  Finally, all at once in a great flash, the taste and smell involuntarily and instantaneously drew him back to his grandmother’s house when he was ten, recalling eating one of them.

He recounts this experience, not with the flavor of a “triggered memory,” but as actually being there again, being transported completely, in his senses, to that experience.  It is as if for a brief moment, he’d traveled through time.  He was the ten year old boy, in his grandmother’s house.  One can use the phrase, “ma madeleine de Proust” to refer to the trigger of such an experience.  As far as I can tell, to be properly referred to as “Une Madeleine de Proust“, an experience must be a) involuntary and b) drag one into a past experience.

In a similar manner, I notice that little feelings sometimes allow us to gauge where we now are, and to compare the present moment to the past.  Not in as grand a fashion as a person’s Madeleine de Proust in the sense that most people will make that reference, but in the way that we relate to people, places, and objects.  Perhaps a person gives one a familiar feeling, and a sense of ease…  maybe that person carries a similar scent, or way of walking and speaking, or a similar set of tension and ease as a former lover, or an old friend.  In other words, in a small way, that arrangement of movements and scents and words will transport us kinesthetically, to a past experience.  Thus is it “une petite madeline de Proust.”

However, I would argue that it can happen without people being aware of it.  It is simply that they will have a good familiar feeling.  I often think that in this way people go on seeking to repeat the same set of experiences again and again, but not really noticing how it happens.  I have come to suspect that much of our moral imagination is formed of such links to our past.  That a house can be built, and a life can be lived within that house, consisting of things that one has chosen for the kinesthetic reality they create for that person, the lovely little things they constantly drag from one’s long lost years.  But it is merely a house of cakes, “une maison des petites madeleines.”

Isn’t it true that a new person one meets, or a new place one visits, if utterly alien, will be far more challenging than the “instant ease” we judge things by as being “good?”  It is as if “instant ease” or “a sense of initial familiarity” were a sign from God that we’ve found a person or place we belong with right now.  It is only a small leap from one’s feeling of ease and rightness to one’s sense of what is “right” and “wrong.”  This is the reason I have said that the “moral imagination” is linked to the “house of cakes” I have described.  Perhaps it is only a sign that we’ve found une petite madeleine and some feature of that person or place has simply drawn us back to a time when we felt comfortable or happy or else the petite madeleine simply refers to something we like about ourselves.

I write all this from the perspective of a traveler.  I have lived 8800 miles from where I was born for around two years.  Long enough for it to feel like “home.”  I have also felt love for places spread across Europe and the U.S.  Moreover, some types of people are incredibly easy for me to get along with.  The Irish are known for being friendly.  The Taiwanese are very helpful and usually try very hard to impress foreigners.  The provincial French are easygoing, laid back little people, among whom I could easily unwind many years.  I can ultimately interact with all these people with similar rules of politeness to what I would use at my parent’s church, and expect similar responses.

Another example: I know well the scent of autumn, and it is striking because it blurs my reality by being the same scent in Atlanta and in Taipei.  The familiarity the scent creates, here by the Taiwan Straight, on this rogue island off the coast of an ancient empire, takes me to any number of times I’ve walked through my grandparents’ field, or the forests of North GA mountains, or sat on the porch of the house I grew up in.  It creates that reality around me.  Smells are so powerful this way.

However, at a documentary film festival, I recently watched a film that stunned me:  “Let’s Be Together.”  The film depicted a Danish boy who was a serious cross-dresser.  He identified himself as a boy, and seemed to enjoy being a boy, and he later admitted that he liked boys, and man-oh-man he liked to rock some fancy 6″ heels.  Such queer material was not what was stunning, indeed it is a bit old hat for me.  But the culture in which it appeared was utterly alien to my senses.

The Danes he lived with weren’t too bothered by his behavior.  One must bear in mind, Denmark is a country where, if he was transgendered, he could probably start taking hormones around age 13 or 14, probably have surgery after 18.  Also this country is one where a bunch of hippies once took over a military base in the 1970s.  Instead of the government either shooting or arresting all the hippies, they just let them keep the installation and run it as an independent government within the city of Copenhagen.  This prefecture still exists and is called “Christiania.”  In other words, the Danes are coming from a radically different place than what I’m used to.  Any country I have lived in generally views transgendered as some sort of disease and would have arrested those hippies forthwith, not given them their own independent government!

The boy’s father was Brazilian.  I was amazed at the way he spoke to his son.  He was emotionally transparent.  Initially I thought he was being overly angry as he seemed to be reacting intensely.  Also, the father was a masculine guy and most masculine fathers get threatened by the first show of femininity in their sons — or so I have seen in cultures I know.  But this guy was different.  In his honesty and transparency he revealed that his concern was that the boy would alienate himself from society and therefore face physical danger and fail to find love.

The father (apparently a clothier) was fine with making a dress for his son so the boy could be Cleopatra at his 15th birthday party.  As his expert hands sewed on sequins, the dad shared stories with his son about how he was lost and confused at 15; but he found a man he fell in love with and had a sexual relationship with, who helped him find his way.  This is all very interesting because the father also had a wife at the time of the movie.  But he told his child about gay loves and straight loves.  And concluded the long conversation with the words, “this is all I want for you, for you to find this happiness that was so important for me.”

What?!  I cannot imagine such a conversation between a father and a son in my culture.  This was a conversation in which the boy was viewed with respect as a person with some right to privacy and choosing his own way.  The father brought concerns only to help the boy find all the best in life — not blushing at any aspect of sexuality or discovery.  And the father shared his own very personal experiences, with frankness and emotional honesty throughout!  Mon Dieu!

Back to the Danes: The boy’s stepfather took him fishing, and treated him perfectly well.  He didn’t even seem phased by the fact that the kid had taken to such extreme behavior (though he refused to spend 200 USD on a pair of sunglasses).  The stepfather and the mom only seemed to care that her son might be hurt (physically) by some ignorant kids.  Moreover, the way the family interacted just had a tone to it which was completely different than what I have known.  Their formalities and informalities, their tension and ease, were in places that did not resemble any family I have ever seen in my life.

The strange thing is that the Danish family and the Brazilian family initially gave me a very dark feeling.  I felt uncomfortable, and I put up a kind of moral judgement about them.  After a little while, I noticed that this sense of “evil” was because their ways of doing things were putting me in a kinesthetic feeling I only knew as “evil.”  But once I set that aside, and watched them….  I realized that nothing they did could be called “evil” in the sense that if they, or even all the world, acted that way it would bring any harm to people, either in their bodies or their souls.  It was simply an “evil” by my own tribe, the one I have left, and perhaps the one whose soil I stand on now.

But that sense of evil, what is it?  It is just a trip into another place, another time, something dredging the depths of my brain and dragging me back to my childhood where I see my father’s lips recoiling into a grimace when certain things come to pass.  Or hurling me headlong into my grandmother’s house, where I see her self-righteous smile as she pronounces God’s judgement on certain “wickedness.”  Or my mother’s tightening jaw as she sees a thing, and wonders how she’ll speak of it to me, because “God says that’s wrong.”  In other words, whether I have been aware of this or not, many of my moral feelings just come back to my own “Petites Madelienes des Proust.”  And it was only in opening myself up to something difficult, where I wanted to put up barriers and judgments, that I was able to see that kind of morality for the tribal superstition that it is.

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“All sickness comes from loneliness. ALL.”

Loneliness. To feel incomplete, empty, unfulfilled – to yearn for something you feel you don’t have yet. In an illusion of time, to forget about timelessness. To constantly journey to fill oneself up, to walk to and fro, from school to work to retirement, every now and then being hit with loneliness and falling sick. And when the loneliness is really gripping, it manifests into greater diseases. If you don’t want to fall sick, all you have to do is find your completeness – to be self-sustained – self-fulfilled. Because to feel incomplete is to leave yourself feeling broken, only half-fixed, half created, easy to fall apart. Even structurally, no half-constructed building can last nor stand firm. Then, how can the body, when the mind feels incomplete?

So lately, my social life has about been a bust.  It seems that many times I’ve tried to go out and socialize, romantically or just with pals, a million things have gotten in my way.  If I go to all the trouble to get out to Taipei, then something bad happens, stuff gets complicated, someone can’t meet with me, I get sick, wires get crossed and meeting times are mixed up, etc, etc, etc.  It’s been a strange situation.  Part of it is because I live in a somewhat remote location now.  It takes a lot of effort or expense (often both) for me to go anywhere that other people will be.

And I’ve had the most persistent sickness I have ever had in my life.  It started with a fever.  Then I had a week of being unable to speak.  I had a week or two of a cold.  I had one week when I could barely hear at all.  I had gotten used to it almost, having been sick for 7 whole weeks.  I had adapted to the point where I just accepted I couldn’t do much on the weekends and wondered if I should cancel business meetings and tutoring sessions during the week.  It’s been wretched.

I know some things require moving through with definite intention (optimally like Qi Kung pushing hands — always moving forward but never resisting).  And I know some things require not fighting and just going with the flow, the intention being acceptance.  I’ve not really known if this is a time to notice what choices I’m making and move forward, to seek the answer to this situation and make a new choice, or just sit back and accept that it will all work out.

But, Saturday night I went to a concert.  I had heard about it through a new friend who lives in a different city.  When I arrived, I checked my email and discovered my grandmother seems to be winding down, finishing up, getting ready to leave this planet.  It was a bit odd because I really only found out by reading facebook updates from my family.  I felt saddened, or at least very introspective.  Had I done a good job of treating her well when I was there?  Did I make peace with her when she was alive?  Is there anything else I need to do to contribute to my family?  What about the situation with my uncle, should I use this opportunity to speak with him?  Could he listen and maybe bond with his brother during this time of grieving?  I almost decided not to go to the show.  But after walking around for awhile and eating some M&Ms, I went back to the concert hall and walked in.

I am very glad as the music was quite special.  The band had a vibe light seeing beauty in darkness.  They played these wide, expansive washes of synths and distorted guitars that morphed easily from bright light to pulsating darkness with stark echoing vocals overlaid upon them.  Underneath, the beats made the music very danceable.  The snippets of lyric here and there were consistent with this vibe . . .  all from a tight and experienced professional band.

Now, my friend who had told me about this band is rather into movies and music that put one against the darker side of life.  Her favorite movies are very intense ones and the music she loves has all these textures of life, like i described above.  As the show progressed and I got into the vibe, I felt that the band’s purpose really was to help people see beauty in loss and uncertainty and certain universal senses of darkness.  I could feel the foreboding aspect of the beautiful washes of sound really affecting the people around me at a primal level, even as I felt the music driving me to see above the ocean of hopelessness we can sometimes feel as humans….  To dance on those vibes was to truly see the light in the darkness.

Of course, music like this, like a good story, is discovered, and the band could replace any of its members — the music is of a popular sort nowadays and it feels like it has an important purpose, even if it is subconscious to most listeners.

Also, the way I was dancing and paying attention to the music helped me to feel it much more deeply.  I was taking a Wujifa stance to dance from, which felt as if I were moving the whole world underneath me with my feet.  This enhanced the awareness of my own heart being the center of the entire universe, and of the feeling that everyone in the room was myself reflecting back to me…  it was even as if the lights and the support beams were one with me, and just myself speaking back to me (this is a meditation that a close friend of mine had suggested — but until that night I hadn’t been able to do it without a lot of effort and concentration).  The dance felt like a powerful Earthquake.  Earthquakes are one of my favorite things in the whole world.

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After the show, I met my friend from Taichung who had told me about the show.  Actually, I had met a few other people, including the band that I was to see on Sunday night.  Those guys were really cool.  However, I and my friend from Taichung were quite excited to see each other.  We got to spend a little time walking around, hanging out.  But she had also come with a work friend (mostly, I think, as she didn’t have any money and needed someone to give her a bit of a loan).  So, though I would have loved to have just sat in a coffee house and chatted with this girl into the night, or walked around a park, we needed to part ways so they could get to their hotel room.

Several of my pals were at a birthday party at a club, but I decided I wasn’t in the mood to go dancing.  So I called another friend, who invited me to come by her house.  Both of us have clearly had sexual intentions for some time.  However, after I was around her for a few minutes, I started to get the clear feeling that she really needed someone to speak with.  She told me a very long story about the last few months of her life, and what had been drawing her down towards feeling depressed and self-hating.  Also, she’s lost a lot of friends recently, which is always sad.  She asked me for advice.  I gave her advice on the practicalities of a dispute she was in.

But more importantly, as we talked, it came out that she had been trying to live more authentically.  I shared something I say to a lot of people, but most people don’t seem to really grok.  I said that it’s very easy to use the truth as a way to market myself.  Like I have my collection of stories I tell under certain circumstances.  I can gather from a situation if it would be good for someone to think of me more in one light or another, more safe or more sexual, more respectable or more badass, more femme or more masculine, etc, etc….  so I can just cherry pick the truth to build the vibe I want for whatever my intention is.  This is 90% of why I am very socially savvy.

I told her about this and told her I’m pretty sick of doing this kind of marketing and I want, more than anything else, to just be real and honest all the time.  She actually felt the same way, and was beginning to try and do this herself.  It was so nice just to share that with someone.  By the time we’d finished talking, I was sack tired, and also the sexual vibe had kind of melted away…  I went to sleep feeling a bit lonely.  I had come over and largely done for someone else.  I guess this girl also told me a couple of times that she loves me, which makes me tend to tread quite carefully.

Beyond that, the vibe wasn’t quite there for me.  I mean, when she came back out wearing her underwear, I felt astonishingly turned on.  But at the same time, it’s very easy to look at a person and feel where they’re coming from and know what it would be to share time with them…  to have them in my bed…  to spend time being romantic or just to fuck.  Honestly, I just don’t feel it with this girl.  Not that I don’t like her.  It’s only that right now I don’t think she has the feeling I’m looking for.

I say I went to sleep feeling a bit lonely — actually, I was feeling very lonely.  I think the reality of my grandmother’s death was still sinking in, along with just feeling dog tired.  And the girl was clearly playing with where her emotional barriers were with me.  My guess is that she couldn’t tell if she felt safe with me or not…  and all that oddness, moments of extreme openness mixed with distance and pushing away, was taxing me as well.

Immediately after I fell asleep, Taiwan had its first Earthquake in months.  A very large one by everyone’s account.

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I woke up sicker still.  Sunday was pretty bad.  Monday was far worse, and I had to work on Monday.  But by Monday evening, I was starting to feel it waning.  I bought some whiskey and honey, damming the codeine cough syrups and decongestants that the doctors had given me, and sipped at a half shot of each.  Then I decided to go to the hospital, as I was in reality very very sick.

Now, I hadn’t expected much from this visit, as I’d gone to the doctor on average almost once a week since getting sick.  People spoke with me as if I must have neglected this illness in order to have been sick for so long.  But once again, the doctor told me this isn’t something that can be treated by antibiotics.  He gave me those SOLELY to prevent a secondary infection, but just gave more decongestants and told me to try and keep my sinuses unobstructed.

But I’d already started feeling myself getting tuned back into a sense of wholeness.  I have to be honest and say I haven’t fully gotten it yet.  However, I can feel it as one choice to be made, one current to be tapped into.  And perhaps I can learn to let go of the attachments that I see so starkly clear that created the loneliness that plunged me into such a long and intense sickness to begin with.  Attachments to companionship, mostly.

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