The Messy Knot of Life

Something happens. That’s the story of growing up. Something happens and it gets more complicated. That is the story of growing up.

Oftentimes I think I’d be happiest if my life were simple. Shed the influences, the encumbrances, the responsibilities and then happiness has space to grow. There is a problem here though. To take these things away would leave me isolated, cut off and powerless. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for happiness.

There was some moment I thought through this problem and came to a conclusion I’ve stuck with for years now. (Maybe I read it or heard it or dreamt it, I don’t know, but it’s mine now.) The nature of life is to complicate in time.

Maybe complicate isn’t quite right. Life gets more complex, or my feelings are more complex over time. My thoughts are. Situations and relationships braid together, overlap and mash together into a Gordian knot that feels too heavy to untangle.

If only I could reach for Alexander’s blade, slice through it all and make life simple again. But this is a cheat, an unmaking that freezes the very process of life. Deeper down I want my life to become more complex over time.

I don’t need to slice through the knot because I am the knot. The best parts of life are in the little loops, the threads overlapping fuzz balls under tangled yarns. That’s where joy is possible. If the devil is in the details, the angel is too.

Its not easy though. And I’m not perfect, sometimes I’m not willing to grow. I know where I keep my detachment knife. It’s next to the ghosting, denial and willingness to ignore problems. But when I don’t face change, I regret it. Sometimes for years. There is some grace though in that my regrets get tied in with all the rest of it. And I can accept them, because life is complex and so am I.

And Then..

There are few things in life that are permanent. Death and taxes is the cliche. “The only thing permanent is change,” is the spicy koan bumper sticker. But tonight I had an experience of the permanent that made me laugh through clenched teeth. I seem to have a permanently dysfunctional relationship with this god damned website.

Recent news sent me digging through the Internet Archive images of this very website. I was looking for a particular picture of my friend Kenny, one he had sent me while he was fighting for the US Army in Afghanistan. Now that the war is over I wanted to remember and see. It felt like one million years had gone by since he was over there, a permanent past. But I couldn’t find the picture. Not on the Internet Archive, not on Google, not on my own computer. But I knew it existed here on this server. Someplace behind the curtain of the error message that’s been displayed for the past 4 years or more. I tried it anyway, tried the URL. I was met with the same black text on white background: Error Establishing a Database Connection. I hate this site.

The thing is, I barely know how to make websites. I’ve taught myself how to put them up but their maintenance is another story all together. When they break Google is my only recourse. Google and Ridlo. Tonight I tried Google. I found an article. I stepped through the troubleshooting checklist. I don’t think anything from the checklist worked for me, but in the meantime I did do a long overdue update of the server. Then noticed that I could login to phpmyadmin after all, and hey, that means mysql is working, and then.. refresh the page and it’s back.

Like finally forcing open a drawer that’s been stuck shut for years, here’s the website again. It’s back! What did I do to fix it? How can I be sure I won’t break it again. Boy it looks old! I love this site!

Notes on America

Ilgaz sent me this great piece written by an American living in Istanbul. She writes on her revaluation of her personal identity through college and her stay in Istanbul. It’s thought provoking!

Unlearning the Myth of American Innocence

Suzy Hansen writes about the first time she understood that identity is created when reading James Baldwin:

“I’d had no idea that we had ever had to define our identities at all, because to me, white Americans were born fully formed, completely detached from any sort of complicated past.”

This rung my bell, as I had a similar experience in college, specifically an American Literature class I took in Wellington while reading The Great Gatsby. The class was entirely Kiwi except for me, and a lot of the lectures and discussions focused on American cultural identity in relation to a Kiwi cultural identity. I was the first time I’d heard anyone discuss American Culture from the outside looking in.

I was used to criticism of American culture. Through high school I was a fan of the Beat writers, American Transcendentalists, Fight Club’s Palahniuk, and Robinson Jeffers. I had a punk rock, Adbusters attitude of cutting through bullshit and focusing on who really benefits from any given cultural form.

These authors offered an alternative to the bland consumerist conformity that forms the background of middle-American life, and I embraced them. My choice to study in New Zealand was an attempt to take “the road less traveled” as the famous poem goes.

The Kiwi professor and TAs approached America as a foreign culture and from the outside they were able to thoughtfully criticize problems with the American dream with a clarity I had never heard before. The arguments were familiar but the perspective was new, and it rattled me.

I had never considered myself a nationalist but I found myself reflexively defending cultural values I didn’t realize I’d internalized.

Goals ARE achievable, “where there is a will, there is a way.” Social mobility IS REAL. People grow up poor and work hard and send their children to college. That happened in MY family so I know it’s true. Cars and driving, road trips, moving across country, these things have a psychological effect, there is freedom in that. I’ve experienced it! These ideas weren’t manufactured in me, they are real!

But looking into American literature from another cultural perspective, I saw that these are not universal truths, they are American ideas local to a place and a part of a system of myth-making, national brand building. From this perspective even rebellious American authors questioning of the status quo became status quo and are absorbed into the brand. A snake biting it’s own tail.

There was some business man in the 80s-90s trying to decide whether to take a job at Apple Computer or at Coca-cola. Steve Jobs asked him, “do you want to put sugar into water or do you want to change the world?” The guy started working for Apple.

But think, he could have changed the world.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

That’s the last bit of The Great Gatsby. The urging, the stretching-out-for, the pretension, reaching toward a goal, but inevitably reaffirming the place they started from. (There are big resonances here in the 20-movements and neutrality work: seeking neutrality of movement we discover the clown.)

So what? Do you give up and quit? Do you cynically sit back, criticizing the efforts of others? Do you say, “Fuck it all! This is who I am now?” These questions were right in the middle of all the texts I was reading back then how couldn’t I have heard them?

Married!

Ilgaz and I are married and weddinged now.
Here is a good place to see a lot of pictures from our wedding in Ulas, Turkey.

Fortune Telling Rabbits

This is a nice little bite of Turkish life from a tourist in Istanbul. Especially nice for me to read because so often I hear Istanbulers talking about how much the city has changed. I can assure you that fortune telling rabbits are still here, 11 years after this was published.

FORTUNE-TELLING RABBITS: ISTANBULby Kevin Dolgin

“Tell the rabbit your name,” he said, which seemed only fair since I already knew theirs. Upon learning my name, Bonçuk wiggled his nose the way rabbits do and then chose among the dozens of folded-up pieces of paper in front of him. He drew one with his little teeth, and Sahan took it and handed it to me.