Monday, June 30, 2008

The Man Machine: Building on Cartesian Philosophy and the Mechanistic Worldview

Man stuck inside the cog of a wheel machine

Descartes may have started it all. Technically our split with nature could even go back to ancient Greek philosopher Plato, but it was mainly the "doubting" Frenchman who started thinking of animals as mere mechanical machines. René Descartes claims that animals, unlike humans, do not have souls, and that a major difference between the two is our innate ability for language and hence reason. His scientific philosophy was an attempt of combining philosophy with Newtonian physical laws, which was the growing trend back in those days.

His fellow French philosopher Julien Offray de La Mettrie took it one step further in the 18th century and included humans into his mechanistic vision of life. Humans were not that different from animals; remarkably, such “blasphemous” ideas appeared in the pre-Darwinian age. Darwin would later give humanity its second blow (the first one having come courtesy of Kepler and Galileo) which would take away the privileged position of humanity through his theory of evolution. It was the birth of materialism; a world where science reigned and religion was viewed with mistrust, if not outright hostility.

Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that La Mettrie's materialism was not the same as our modern notion. He actually used the terms “transformism” and “vitalism” and followed an age-old tradition, going back to the ancient Egyptians, that matter was in fact "alive" and "vital." Chop off the head of a chicken and it still runs away; take out the heart, and it keeps beating. Discoveries of these kinds made him assume that matter indeed contained living organism and, as such, contained (tissues of) life.

While proposing such groundbreaking assumptions, his goal was actually quite different from our experience of present-day materialism. We tend to think in a Cartesian manner and see nature, at best, as our plaything and bend it according to our wishes. Materialism, in its more modern version, has also been injected with a dose of financial greed at the expense of the destruction of our living space.

Yet La Mettrie thought that his philosophy would actually do the opposite. By seeing ourselves not as the lords of creation dominating over animals, by disposing the accepted religious view of human superiority, he wanted to raise the status of both animals and nature to create a kind of equilibrium. In such a way, we would ideally both respect and appreciate all the marvelous things nature has to offer. By becoming a firm and established part of nature, we should be able to identify and consequently value its vital importance for our own lives.

Unfortunately, we took a completely different path. The state of our environment, the egotistical quest for money and fame at the expense of destruction of nature and human lives has been his unwanted legacy. Some might claim that with Descartes we lost our soul, with La Mettrie our humanity. Lest we forget, their intentions were not evil; we just chose what suited our best interests. After all, we are the lords of nature, of planet Earth, the rest of the universe ... especially ever since Nietzsche killed God.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Taking Criticism like a (Greek) Man / Woman

A robotic police officer with cap

So hard to take criticism! We are reluctant when it comes to it; there seems to be an automatic mechanism (isn’t all mechanism automatic?) that tries to protect us from any kinds of criticism. Yes, there are various kinds of criticism: the ones that are supposedly good for us, that are constructive and want us to improve and become better at whatever it is we are doing as opposed to destructive criticism that simply has the intention of doing us harm.

However you may look at it, criticism is beneficial, even of the malign sort. Even if it comes from our worst enemies and merely wants to put forth our flaws and weaknesses, we should appreciate it because they are doing us an inadvertent favor. I know it sounds like the new-age-old love-your-enemies type of advice. Anyhow, let us say somebody gives me a blunt comment about my soccer skills, claiming that I suck, maybe even big time, what should my reaction be?

Well, I can analyze it first - known as the open system of thought - and then draw my own conclusions. If the comment is valid, then I need to improve my soccer skills, and I should thank the person for pointing it out to me because I had been under the false belief that I was actually good. Thank you for opening my eyes, and now I can work hard to get better at it.

If the comment is not congruent with reality, and I am indeed very good at soccer, then the comment is invalid and erroneous. Sorry, friend, you have misjudged me on my skills on this one. In fact, I am quite aware, in an objective manner, that I am a good soccer player, and I definitely, positively, do not "suck" as you claim.

Unfortunately, life isn’t like that. My reaction is, in fact, quite different and much less rational. I get angry. I start hurling insults at the other person. I take it as an offense to the integrity of my personality, even to my family, my nationality, my religion etc.

I call him an ignorant idiot, racist, or a fat bastard. I would point out his own flaws, whether they had anything to do with soccer or not is of no importance. Why? Because who is he, how dares he to criticize my divine soccer skills! Who does he take himself for?

That is the closed system based on dogmas. What I say or believe is the truth and everyone else is mistaken. I do not need to prove the contrary with aid of reason or evidence, instead I choose to attack you where it hurts you most, or I might even kick you in the balls, figuratively speaking.

This way of thinking has been mostly prevalent in our Western thought and philosophy. We tend to think that we possess truths beyond criticism and improvement. Most theological discussions end at an impasse; at best, you might be called a heretic and, at worst, be burnt at the stake. As one "great" modern figure once put it, you are either with us or with the enemy. There is no in-between, end of discussion.

In fact, about 2500 years ago, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher by the name of Thales of Miletus surprised his students by following a method called “systematic criticism.” He claimed, I am not here to lecture you because I do not know the truth (nobody does, if you want to know the truth) but I am offering you at best hypotheses; nonetheless, they need to be improved and corrected of errors if we would like to progress. In the meantime, the way of reaching this is through free discussions.

I put the stress on free. Free to disagree, we say today. But it is not true. If you disagree with your teacher you will most likely receive his wrath. The problem is this, when Thales spoke in front of the Greek crowd, the time of the polis, every citizen was seen as truly equal. They had the same position as any other. Of course, the Greeks did not include slaves, women, peasants, or foreigners since they were deemed inferior, but then again nobody is perfect, not even our dear ancient Greeks.

Yet today, most discussions are not free. We are all caught up in hierarchies. There are differences in age, economic and social standing, education, nationalities, physical strength, and so on. The list is endless. It is best to shut our mouths and not make the other angry. If your boss makes a mistake, better not mention it because it can cost you your job.

Don’t be fooled by appearances! Even if your boss is the most enlightened person in the world, most likely your criticism will be smoldering inside of her, and she will get even with you at the appropriate time without you even noticing what hit you.

It is an unfortunate truth about human nature. We are just not immune to criticism. We almost always take it personally; we can’t help it. That’s just the way we are. I know it’s wrong but what can I do. And don’t you dare to criticize me or else …

Monday, June 16, 2008

Jesus Fish: The Origin of the Christian Symbol of Faith

Fish in the Vancouver Aquarium

I have often wondered why fish, and not chicken or elephant. Of course, the Bible has many references to fish; his disciples were fishermen; Jesus proclaimed that they were to catch people instead of fish; there was a great gathering where Jesus created a multitude of fish out of merely a few to feed a hungry and impatient crowd. And there is also the fact that on Good Friday one is not to consume any meat with the exception of fish.

Sounds fishy? It turns out that the acronym of “Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior” in ancient Greek leads to the word Ichthys, which means, correct, fish! In Roman times, when Christianity was only practiced in hiding due to Roman persecution, the Christians decided to use the symbol of a fish as a secret sign, which they would scratch on rocks and walls to announce hush-hush gatherings. It also served as a means of recognizing faithful followers. Next time anybody mentions or offers you fish, you know what they are really asking you. But would sushi count? Who knows.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Writcraft: The Magical Art of Writing

Bearded monk writing at medieval desk
Writing, as any form of art, is a craft, meaning that you have to keep chiseling at it, and you can improve your trade over time. It involves a certain kind of commitment and endurance. It is a vocation and although talent can come in handy, it is not the quintessential element. Some writers you can tell have worked very hard, and like Flaubert they are on an interminable quest for the “mot just”; others simply sit down and are led hither and thither flying high on the plumes of their imagination and out pour the ideas like a sprinkling fountain.

While the latter have to be geniuses or perhaps gods, most of us humble writers not blessed with the divine gift of the flowing gab fall into the first category - perhaps on the lower scale of it unless we are relentless perfectionists. My take on perfectionism is to be careful, to be very careful that you do not drain all the life out of your writing and that you actually manage to bring your product to its close. Do not throw your pages into the fire in a fit of rage; do not tear down your house of imagination ending up with nothing, not even ruins. It is always easier to start than to actually finish a novel. But either way, patience goes a long way.

I tend to compare the writer to the forger who works under the blazing fire of his intellect and imagination to bend metals to his desired and unique shape. The writer is the one who never gives up and when in despair she locks up the pages in an undefined corner of her drawers to let them (and herself) cool down and with renewed hope and perspective she returns to her daunting task.

It struck me as a surprise and as an incentive when I stumbled upon an interview with Matt Damon on the Actor’s Studio. I must admit that I have not really considered acting a craft and although Matt strikes me as a relatively good actor, I was stunned to find out how much work and preparation went behind all his movies. Over the period of an hour, Matt Damon turned out to be the perfect hardworking handyman of the arts to me. We all know that Robert de Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis are the most dedicated and brilliant men in the business, yet Matt’s energy and dedication struck me simply because I would categorize him as the ordinary “mot just”-searching man than the genius or acting god.

His first role he took so seriously that he lost tremendous amount of weight through heavy exercise and dieting for its preparation; something that seriously endangered his health. When noticing that his performance was not as recognized as he had wished, he still did not break down but continued in the movie industry - and got his lucky break(s).

Examples like this are prevalent in many other areas as well; yet I felt quite motivated for my own craft after watching his burning desire for improving his “act.” Writing is frustrating when you polish a work that you think is a mini-masterpiece, and you send it out to the publishers who send you a “thank you” note followed by the line that your work does not fit their needs at the time. For the first dozen times you can probably swallow our pride and take it stoically, but after a while it drains you, and worse, it makes you doubt yourself. You are ready to quit and throw the towel and accept the fact that writing is not your cup of tea after all. Persistence may pay off, but not for you; in your case, it would be a waste of time.

But it is my belief that you can work on it and improve. It may take several attempts or takes; it may bring you to the borderline of despair, of insanity. It’s a double-edged sword because first you cut yourself through your hardworking drive to create something memorable and good, and then it is them, the publishers who cut your work into pieces, by which you are affected as well since it is your brainchild - you are connected to it by an invisible umbilical cord.

It is all just trifles in the end. It is writcraft; it is pure magic. What you manage to create on the page or your computer screen, if it is made with your own sweat and blood, then you have fulfilled the craft, at least for now. Until you tackle your next project. And maybe somewhere someone will recognize and value its magic and give you your worth and the winning ticket you have been waiting for so long.

The Heavenly Twins

My story "Heavenly Twins" you can find on Bewildering Stories. And a strange story is connected to it; something that proves to me that all and everyone is really interconnected.

As I was teaching at the private university here in Morelia, it turned out that one of my students was born in Germany, in a town that was about half an hour from where I used to live. It also turned out that she was half-Iranian. Her father was an Iranian who lived in Austria. When she sent him an email that she had an Iranian- Canadian teacher by the name of Arash Farzaneh, her father replied that he knew one Arash Farzaneh, but that he is a writer.

I told her that I found it strange that there was another person by that name because when I was on I would have found that name there. And incidentally I was a writer too, a modest one with a dozen publications here and there. She said that her father had read a story called "Heavenly Twins." I could not believe it! Her father had stumbled upon one of my stories, and I felt the first beacons of fame. Somebody had actually read what I have written. It felt nice and encouraging!

The Heavenly Twins

The doctor was astounded; they arrived simultaneously, hand in hand, with a silent grin on each face. The nurse was surprised not to hear the piercing first cry of the newborns and thought at first that they were stillborns, nothing but dead fetuses.

The doctor told the recent mother that she had twins. She just nodded, with beads of sweat dripping from her face, and fainted.

They were baptized as John and Eric, but those were not their real names; their true identities they revealed to no one.

From the onset they were regarded as unusual children, children not pertaining to this world. It was not solely due to the fact that they looked identical, that they had come from the same egg; they were also exactly alike in each and every aspect.

There appeared to be an uncanny and otherworldly means of communication between the two from the day they were born. They never cried; they moved as if one was the mirror image of the other. Each expression, be it of joy or pain was immediately reflected on the other’s face, and they almost never lost sight of each other. Both ate the same food, slept and awoke at the exact same time. People thought they were Siamese twins, not Siamese in the sense of conjoined physical body parts, yet as a strange spiritual connection and contortion of two separate beings.

Their father, a taxi driver by profession and not known for his philosophical prowess, described them one day as the equivalent of an egg: one was the egg white, the other the yoke. However when asked who was which, he looked dumbfounded. In fact, their own parents could not distinguish one from the other and the father commented half jokingly, half in earnest that they should be given the same name because there was no use in pretending that they actually had two kids.

When they went to school, hand in hand, the same way they had embarked onto this world, with identical lunch boxes in their backpacks, all the other students immediately disliked them.

At first, the children would rub their eyes incredulously, as some had never seen nor heard of twins before; a little girl ran off and hid behind a tree. But the Two strolled along the recreation area into the school building and looked relaxed, carefree, and irresistibly confident in the bright summer light.

Once, their teacher accused them of cheating. It was in Grade Four after a biology exam and he summoned both of them to see him after class. He pretended to be angry and scolded the two kids, who stared at him, coldly and without blinking. The teacher started sweating and explained that such conduct would not be allowed, that their parents would be contacted and other academic consequences would ensue; they listened to every word, albeit in immobile fashion.

When they walked out, the teacher felt relieved, and for some odd reason he had been afraid of his two pupils. Once again he looked at their tests scratching his balding head. They both had attained perfect scores, but he thought they had cheated since both tests were identical to a speck. How could that be?

When he gave the class another test two months later, he made sure that they were seated apart. Astonishingly, the same thing occurred. The teacher was perplexed and felt ashamed to have made an unjust accusation.

At night, the twins would sleep side by side, their heads comfortably nestled on the soft cushions and dreaming. This was the only time of the day that their inner lives differed. Although their experiences of daily events had matched to a hair, their nightly wanderings in the realm of sleep offered some slight variations. At times, one of them would enter the other’s dreams and take him by the hand and lead him to his own nocturnal universe.

Their father decided to keep one of them (it did not matter which one) to take over the business when he was older, and the other should continue studying. However, they both adamantly rejected the idea and wanted to remain together. Reluctantly, their father gave up on his future plans and yielded to his strong-willed sons.

“They drive me nuts,” he confessed to his wife, who would sit at the table silently and stare into empty space.

One fateful day, they all got into the car to drive to a nearby town to shop for supplies. The two children sat in the back, father and mother in the front. The mood in the car was tense; that day had been marked once again with the heavy weight of anger and discord. Their father hardly talked on their trip but sent fiery glances in the direction of his wife.

The children who were in their own world did, however, take note of the strange but recurrent behavior of their parents. Nonetheless, they consoled themselves that these two earthly clowns could not and indeed were not their actual progenitors, and they found great comfort and solace in each other’s thoughts.

Suddenly, a swerving car crashed into theirs; there was a large din; the taxi-driver lost control of the vehicle, which crashed into an unyielding stone wall. Both husband and wife were killed instantly.

One of the boys, the one who had been baptized as Eric, was still breathing, and he turned immediately to see how his brother fared. The other as well was still alive, although he did not move and had his eyes closed. Eric did not need to ask, but felt that his brother had drifted off and was not accessible to him any more. He cried bitter tears for the first time in his life and all of a sudden felt immeasurably alone.

His brother had fallen into a coma, the doctor explained. Eric sat beside his bed day and night trying to communicate with him to no avail. His brother was connected to a breathing machine, and he heard the constant beeping of a screen monitor that showed his rather slow pulse and heart rate.

Eric could not stay awake much longer and fell into a deep sleep. Then his brother appeared to him. He told him that he was in great pain and needed help.
How can I help you?
You need to do me a favor and unplug my heart.
But the doctor said you may wake up one day.
The dream version of his brother shook his head with a sad, stern, pain-ridden face. That won’t happen.
You want me to end your life then?
Yes, you see, I am trapped; this machine and my damaged body have trapped me inside. My soul is not as free as it used to be. We cannot remain in contact like this. I need my freedom. I need my soul to roam. Once I am dead to this planet of Earth, I may soar the skies again, the way it used to be. Do you remember?
No, I don’t.
You see, I am closer to death. I can see more things now, everything is so much clearer now. Let me go and we shall join hands again and go to all these beautiful places beyond imagination. I want to show you.
Eric woke up with a start. There lay his brother as before, breathing slowly but on a regular rate, his heart beating at the speed of a slow metronome. On his brother’s face there was the look of pain and suffering.

With a swift move, Eric unplugged the machine. Everything came to a halt; the breathing grew more and more infrequent, turned into a gasp and stopped completely.

Then his brother suddenly opened his eyes, smiled. His entire body was immersed in translucent light. He stretched out his hand, which Eric took with gladness. And then both, as one, left the blindingly white room the same way they had entered it: hand in hand.

Copyright © 2007 by Arash Farzaneh

Friday, June 6, 2008

Opium Clouds

Naked Adam and Eve at the tree of knowledge

For some reason I quite like this story, but it was not that easy to get it published. It did in the end; 34th Parallel published it in October of 2007. The story contains a couple of cinematic references.

Opium Clouds

Massoud took another deep puff before he passed the pipe over to me.

“Ah,” he exhaled and the fragrant smoke lingered for a while suspended in air before it dispersed in various directions and disappeared into thin air. “How fragile life really is. Don’t you think?”

The opium was slowly enshrouding my mind, but his words still rang clear and made perfect sense to me. “Fragile like a newborn’s bottom.”

“Well,” he chuckled. “I was thinking along crystal vases or hyacinths. Does crystal break easily? I’m not too sure on that.”

I leaned against the wall, while I readjusted the large soft pillow beneath me for extra comfort. “All I know is that porcelain is the best and sturdiest kind. Made in China.”

“But that is slightly beyond the point.” He raised his two fingers in the air. The waiter was about ten meters away from us at the counter and was idly immersed in a magazine, but every now and then he would look up at us, the only two clients in his small café. He acknowledged the order with a hearty smile and told us “two teas coming up right away”.

“The point is …” Massoud resumed his argument, “the point is that our life seems rather … pointless.” He chuckled at his own spontaneous wit. “No, I shall continue to elaborate. What I mean by that is that you may have everything working out for you. I mean you can have women, success, money, you know a kind of stability in it all. So you see everything is going well. You are so happy that nothing you believe can shatter your confidence. Your head is high up in the clouds, on Cloud Nine and you even seem somewhat defiant because the taste of success is on your palate, the tip of your tongue. It’s like the newborn which is used to the sweet taste of honey and fresh milk. So you become a little defiant and in a way seem to challenge your own destiny. You indeed start looking for some trouble and say, Come on, bring it on. Give me your best shot. I’m not scared, not scared at all.”

The waiter brought us two glasses of hot tea, which he deposed on the ground next to us with a large piece of sugar cube beside it. I looked at the wonderful reddish substance that felt so good on the dry throat as it made its way down to my intestines.

“And what you don’t know, however, that all you have been given or you think you have achieved is nothing but a loan.”

I bit off a chunk of the sugar lump that added some sweetness to the bitter taste. His words slowly entered my mind and I began to digest them at a comfortable pace.

Massoud, my friend, has always been a river in flood, his thoughts rattle and squeak as he covers pastures and travels through tunnels and over bridges.

“But then it surprises you and catches you off-guard. Your confidence disappears suddenly in a haze. You get sick, you get cancer or AIDS, and all your fames and riches will not buy you an extra minute in this life.”

I regretted for a minute that I had introduced Bob Dylan to his intellectual world. Ideas grew and blossomed like giant trees in the fertile analytical mind of my friend Massoud.

“But,” he continued in what had turned out to be a mixture of monologue and lecture with a touch of self-analysis “the point is… what I’m trying to make clear that in all your happiness, no matter how everything is working out for you, as you are climbing up the ladder to the stars of personal success, all this time, from day one, unbeknownst to you, or maybe you are at least conscious of it on a subconscious level, you have the finger of death pointing at you at all times!”

I imagined the crooked bony finger raised up in the air asking for “two more teas” and remembered an image I had seen in a movie once where two troubled teenagers found a giant hand of a statue inside a body of water, which was then fished out and transported in a helicopter silently blessing the whole town and the two teenagers who stood aghast watching it as it waved to them way up in the sky similar to the statue of Jesus in the opening credits of Fellini’s “Dolce Vita”.

“But the Hand of God shall guide us,” I retorted.

Massoud looked at me in surprise, his mouth slightly open and he was silent for a while. He signalled me to hand over the pipe and after he inhaled once again, he responded, “Yes, you may be right. Yet the Hand of God contains the Finger of Death. Just look at Adam.”

“Adam was an asshole,” I mumbled indifferently.

“Well, believe it or not, in many ways, he is the prototype of us. Not in the sense of original sin and other things that they shove down our throats. He was indeed one of His preferred creations. You see, Adam had a privileged status. He was not an angel, but a creation or an Idea if you will. In fact, a divine Idea. So he was imbued and lectured on the heavenly ways. He had access to the gardens and to food and even to a beautiful woman, a companion, although their sense of pleasure back then and up there fell short of the carnal or physical sensations we know today. But in other words, he had it all! Nothing seemed to lack in his world except consciousness.”

I imagined how beautiful Eve walked around the green blooming pastures of Heaven, her long golden hair flowing around her gleaming naked body in the sun. She sat down at the rushing brook and watched and listened to the multi-coloured birds flying from tree to tree her heart untainted by love and lust.

“He was not conscious. He had the breath, the spirit, but his life lacked a grounding effect. It lacked earth and dust. It lacked the balanced way; it lacked the darker recesses. You cannot truly smile if you have not known hardship and pain. That’s what Adam lacked and he hoped to find it in the sweet tasting yet forbidden fruit.”

I was aware that the heavenly fruit may not have been an apple; it must have been a mango or papaya. I much preferred mangoes, especially when they are still unripe and have a solid texture and a sweet-sour taste.

Massoud had another puff and his eyes grew hazy and dreamy. He did not talk for another while and seemed to give his intellectual cravings a backseat for now. Maybe he was imagining the shape of the heavenly fruit or the curves of wonderful and delicious Eve.

Prehistoric Rage

The following story was published in the (now unfortunately non-existent) Truth Magazine in the April issue of 2007. I really liked the kinds of stories they published, and this one seemed to be to their liking. It is not autobiographical (at least not consciously so); I have not experienced violent outbursts and deep frustration of the Roman kind. Yet it was written just after a difficult high school teaching experience the semester before, and it is dedicated to all the high school teachers who are out there dealing with all the stress and pressure on a daily basis.

Prehistoric Rage

Thursday afternoon. Roman was sitting in a cafe. Slurping from his mug. Hot coffee. Cure for dry throat and sleepless nights.

But Roman all but content. Something eating him. From the inside. Gnawing in his entrails. Hunger? Maybe. Was slowly growing. Two words. Opposites. Arctica and Antarctica. North and South. How could he mix them up? He had become a laughing stock to the hungry greedy eyes of puberty-stricken students. Their eyes, their hidden sarcastic grins. Ready to burst out. Reducing you to the fool you are. Know-it-all wisecracks written all over their forehead.

Dammit! Why, Roman, must you complicate matters? Why not simply say North and South Pole? Why use such fancy words that you have no clue about. You tricked your way through school yourself. Be honest. Face the music. Hadn't read the book and still tried to trick your way out. His university years - a complete joke. Hahaha.

But Roman did not feel like laughing. No, not on that particular Thursday afternoon. The sun should have been able to chase away the clouds over his broody head. Yet Roman thought jelly thoughts. His wife. Penny. She not only wore the pants in that relationship, but shirt and socks as well. Called him what yesterday? Spineless. You are just as spineless as the Democrats. Her cabbage heart voted Republican each time. Penny. Penny Lane, what a clean machine! Yeah, but he never said that to her face. Sometimes, in his frustration, he would crank up the Beatles tune in silent wordless protest. This song is about you! In your face! She must have gotten it. Must have made the connection. Do you get it, Penny?

Stupid boss. Mr Dohan. Always telling one how to do things. Often: how to do things wrong. Their way. And then fussy like one's parents. Nagging away. Asking for silly child-stuff things. Do this, do that. Complaints. Roman, we've had some complaints. By some of your students. Ha, them again. Will they ever let him in peace and let him do his job peacefully? Poor guys and girls. In his more sensitive moments he felt nothing but pity for the world. They would grow up to be future Pennies and Mr Dohans. Become principals of god-forsaken schools.

Stupid geography. Arctic, Antarctic. Who cares?

Roman did not just pity himself, but the whole world. Students, listen, you will study, work hard, waste your time, renounce fun and life, in order to work hard, be criticized by people who know nothing and every day, day in day out, you wallow through the same shit over and over again. The little money you'll make goes for monthly overpriced rent, and your wife's expensive clothes. Listen, students, please listen!

Ah, if only religion had been a solace. It's nothing but a pain. Roman, why aren't you Catholic, Roman? Get it? Roman Catholic Roman. Holy Inquisition. Vote for a Christian president. In him we trust. In the end, does it matter?

Republican, Democrat, Tweedledee, Tweedledum, Arctica, Antarctica? Aren't both just god-forsaken places?

Roman used to watch the news until politics almost made him throw up and actually made him throw the remote right through the television set. It's in the repairs still. Penny got furious. She missed her latest soap opera because of him. Now she will never know if Pam will marry Hank or if Susan will get a divorce in time and lope away with him instead. America's funniest home videos.

His stomach was growling. He realized he had not eaten all day. He had skipped breakfast and gosh it was even past lunch time! He ordered a ham sandwich.

Nothing beats a hunky slap of pig. And coffee. Could I have another one, please?

Thing is Roman had not slept all night. Call it insomnia. Worries were eating him inside out. Should he leave his wife, quit his job, leave the country? But, isn't everything the same wherever you go? Would he not replace the wife with another, his job with another, the country with another and end up at the same crossroads? Better keep the status quo. Involves less effort.

Not only was he spineless, but he lacked balls. Maybe true. He was indeed afraid of them all. Even his acne-ridden students made him tremble. He was a mouse in a man's skin. He was afraid and lazy to a fault. But the ham sandwich felt good. He chewed with satisfaction and for a moment he seemed in bliss, without a single care. The basic things are what's best. All that nourishes. Like the sun, the rain and this oh-so-delicious ham sandwich. It had a touch of mayonnaise, not too much, not too little, just right. Perfection. One of God's best creations.

No, look, Roman, the world isn't as bad a place you make it out to be. Just look around. People smiling, couples holding hands, no hard feelings. No need for bitterness. There, there. Just eat and take in all the goods the world has to offer. Did you see that little bird on the ground? How joyfully it hops on its two tiny legs?

The world is not so awful after all. Yes, there may be wars out there. Many innocent people die because of wicked people's material gains. The Middle East is a giant oilfield that gives us permission to kill. To recreate the world as we like it. Innocent lives lost daily for the pleasures of a few. But there are injustices that Roman had nothing to do with. Besides, what could he do?

The game was already fixed and we know who will win in the end. What's the point of protest then? Once he had attended a peaceful march, and his eyes were red and swollen for days after. Was it all worth it? Hardly. It was just a trendy thing to do. To get rid of some of the self-guilt. And God knows how much self-loathing Roman endures on daily basis. It was in his blood, his nature was bent towards hating itself.

He remembered when he first learned to walk. It was a big moment, only the walk on the moon could have rivaled it and that had been way before his time. When he took the first step, he felt as if the event was being televised throughout the entire world. He began to sweat because of the imaginary spotlights on his each and every move. No time for a faux pas. And he fell.

Not once or twice but many times. He turned scarlet. His parents were encouraging him, applauding, egging him on with baby talk compliments, but he was only thinking of the millions and millions of people watching him. And then, like on sitcoms, he started hearing laugh-tracks. First, at occasional intervals and then more and more frequently. It turned into a side-splitting laughter and he could see all of them rolling and balling uncontrollably with incessant laughter.


Ah, the waiter had just brought him the bill. No need to rush. No worries. No hurries. Leave when you want. But here's the bill. Everything you need to pay for. Nothing's free. Nothing.

So ... let's see! How much was it? That can't be right! The calculations are all messed up. Ah, that's why. Stupid waiter confused ham with chicken sandwich. Excuse me! Excuse me! No. No mistake. The waiter insists. Says that Roman did order the chicken sandwich. Bollocks! Bunch of lies! That's not true. I know what I ate and it wasn't chicken, no, sirrah, Bob! Look at the crumbs on my plate!

They can't be from a chicken sandwich! Check with your manager. But the waiter's stubborn like a mule. Stupid know-it-all jerk! Doesn't know the difference between chicken and ham! And Roman has purposely avoided chicken. Not that he disliked it. More because of the connotations. Headless chicken, chicken feed, what-have-you? Roman gave up (outwardly) and paid the sum on the bill. But he left not a penny of tip. Deserved nothing but slaps in the face for his (lack of) service.

But his anger grew loud and became unbearable. His stomach roared like a mad lion. His body began to tremble like the giant San Francisco earthquake at the turn of the century. And then, he was seen running down the streets, his head moving side to side, his arms flapping wildly though the air and in his Roman wilderness of pain he resembled a living wild dinosaur.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Welcome to Blogger Land: The Reasons Why

Old time print technology

How exciting! I have my own blog! Well, everybody seems to have one these days; I suppose it's not even that special any more. Why now? Why me? Am I simply being a conformist?

Perhaps. It's one of those things where you say it's about time. I admit I have always been suspicious of technology and here I am relying on it for my daily needs. I don't have a credit card yet, but I know when I do I might even start buying things from the Internet.

Is it because of loneliness? Now you're talking. Blogs can be the modern day versions of confessions because we all know priests are not to be trusted in these troubled days and psychologists are too expensive.

To be honest, I hope it will serve as a form of dialogue, a kind of communication with the outside world. Weirdos, teachers, publishers, corporate business-people, aliens, writers, musicians, psychologists, priests, anyone who will take their time to read my posts is welcome to do so.

Many writers these days have blogs. And I think it would be a good way to get others to read and perhaps appreciate my works. Or not. Be free to disagree. I can take it. I will cry a bit and punch the wall, but I will understand in the end. I promise.