The only thing to know before visiting Ethiopia is that the elevation is crazy high in Addis Ababa and substantially higher in Debre Berhan, where we spent the past six days, so my lips are painfully chapped—not everyday chapped but chapped that makes it hurt to speak. Sometimes my lips merely sting while other times they are numb. Imagine how long it would take to bake a frozen pizza here. Get me out of the air.
- Habitat volunteers build alongside future homeowners and neighbors. The most surprising moment on the work site came today when one of the locals with better English proclaimed, mid-dig, “Yesterday Edward Snowden revealed another secret!”
- Western volunteers typically come away from these international trips saying two things:
"I thought I was coming here to contribute, but I took away much more than I gave," and
"Their community is so tight; it is nothing like at home."
In last night’s team meeting I invited volunteers to tell about a community that sustains them. I talked about the book club that started meeting two years ago, which as we read together provided stability and knowing-and-being-knownness while I was in transition.
I asked the group to imagine what forges community in the village where we’re building. One person said that the villagers all face the same problems—they’re poor, water is scarce, jobs are low-paying, etc.—but I don’t think that’s it, and I said so. There are lots of people in Atlanta who share the conditions of poverty but do not forge community together.
Here is where I locate the difference: in order to move into a Habitat house, a family must help build their neighbors’ houses. After they move in, families usually continue helping each other build—fences, gardens, maybe extra rooms. Their conditions are shared, yes, but that’s passive; these people are actively building—they are improving their shelter and their village together—and the communal spirit that emerges from it is strong. You don’t see orphanages here because someone in the village takes in the orphaned kid.
Anyway, as we were talking about community, I looked around and saw therapists and web developers and stay-at-home moms and construction workers and big retail vice presidents, and everyone looked so lonely. Not at the moment—our team has bonded and is finding strength from each other—but back at home. I hope that they internalized the observation: community requires doing things with people.
- Bill Callahan is my constant companion. I would not have been able to pickax dirt or carry heavy trees unless I was singing in my head—sometimes out loud if no one was around, which is a luxury of being in the middle of nowhere—
Then the wind finds something to ping Then the pinging things finds the wind; We’re all looking for a body or a means to make one sing
Building in Debre Berhan, Ethiopia with a team of Habitat volunteers.
- I am a great team leader. I believe that each volunteer has cried at least once, and we are only on Day Four.
- Each day we have a coffee ceremony in which a woman roasts, grinds, brews, and serves coffee. They invite volunteers to roast and grind, but as on a cooking TV show, they stealthily replace our demonstration beans with a hot pot of coffee pulled from behind a tablecloth. The coffee is brewed with coriander and cloves, which makes it taste like tea.
- The same woman makes us lunch. It is delicious.
- Here is something I believe deeply and that I understand as a major purpose of international volunteer trips: “What the rich need is an honorable way of divesting themselves of their overabundance.” (Clarence Jordan) It is exciting to see that happen. I will add, though, that our team is working hard and making ourselves surprisingly useful. The richest person is the hardest worker, which I will not tell my dad when I return home, because he will nod too hard.
- Would you have believed that I am handy with a pickax? I have broken up, shoveled, and tamped much ground. My back aches. Perhaps I will buy a tank-top to show it off.
Put a handful of Reese's Puffs cereal into your mouth
Think deeply into the taste. Separate the layers of the taste. Strip away that chocolatey flavor. Strip away the store-brand peanut butter tang. Strip away that marshmallow glaze. Do you taste it? It tastes like wheat. It is whole grain. It tastes like a wheat stalk freshly plucked from the field, bitten into like an apple.
"Now, let me just say that I like people. But I’ve found that few people have developed a capacity for empathy and/or imagination, which makes them terrible listeners. They just can’t understand what you’re saying about biscuits."
Lately I spend a lot of time shuttling between the country and the city. This morning I thought that taking a shower in the country is nicer than taking a shower in the city because in the country I am never rushed (no one cares when I arrive at work), I am never a sleep zombie (I go to bed early), and I do not feel like I am missing out on anything while I stand there (my neighborhood is low-density, and few things are treated as urgent). In the city a shower makes me feel impatient, as if I could be spending my time better.
We are approaching the time when we will be able to communicate faster than the speed of light. It is well known that as we approach the speed of light, time slows down. Logically, it is reasonable to assume that as we go faster than the speed of light, time will reverse. The major consequence of this for Internet protocols is that packets will arrive before they are sent. [R. Hinden]
Quantum Archaeology (QA) is the controversial science of resurrecting the dead including their memories. It assumes the universe is made of events and the laws that govern them, and seeks to make maps of brain/body states to the instant of death for everyone in history. Anticipating process technologies due in 20 – 40 years, it involves construction of the Quantum Archaeology Grid to plot known events filling the gaps by cross-referencing heuristically within the laws of science. Specialist grids already exist waiting to be merged, including cosmic ones with trillions of moving evolution points. The result will be a mega-matrix good enough to describe and simulate the past. Quantum computers and super-recursive algorithms both in their infancy may allow vast calculation into the quantum world, and artificial intelligence has no upper limit to what it might do. [Transhumanity]
Don’t mistake addiction for love. This is tricky because, neurochemically speaking, the two are very similar–studies have shown that when romantic partners who are intensely in love are exposed to photographs of their beloved, the brain regions that become activated are the same regions that are activated in cocaine addicts when they are craving cocaine. But even if love has some addiction-like qualities, healthy love is likely to involve other qualities as well, such as respect, trust, and commitment, qualities that keep a relationship strong even on those days when excitement and passion are not at the forefront. Addictive love, by contrast, tends to be more singularly focused on attaining those “highs,” whatever the cost. Partners whose behavior is unpredictable (e.g., they don’t call when they say they will), are, unfortunately, especially likely to keep you hooked, since their inconsistent affection keeps you on your toes and wanting more. If you are trying to break free from a relationship that feels more like an addiction than a loving bond, one strategy is to reframe your thoughts and emotions about that person as if they are cold, clinical biological processes in order to gain a healthy distance from them. For example, after a week of not calling Mr. or Ms. Wrong, you feel a wave of longing in your chest and think, “But I really do love him/her… I should call him/her right now…” Instead, you could notice that sensation and tell yourself, “Interesting, there goes my caudate nucleus releasing dopamine and producing a sensation of longing. Okay, back to work.” [Psych Your Mind]
China is colonizing the country and making it into a rice farm.
My Habitat for Humanity counterpart here—her sister is going to school in South Africa on an Oprah scholarship. She told me that expecting that I would find it exciting, and I did.
Mozambiqueans are very accommodating, even of broken Portuguese.
Group of American volunteers was super not into Neil Hamburger jokes; they had no interest in learning why the guests absolutely refused to drink the apple-based beverage at Paris Hilton’s party. May have lost credibility.
Comforts I miss: good coffee, using tap water to brush teeth.
Remember the time you took me to see Harold and Maude because I didn't know the meaning of the word "catharsis"?
If anything Margaret reminds me of Synecdoche, New York, because the world of the movie keeps expanding out and out. A story about complicated people should be complicated, too. I may prefer Margaret because it assumes that everyone is this complicated, not just the put-upon geniuses.
Margaret shares the milieu and preoccupations of Woody Allen movies but—this sense has been rising for a few years—makes their observations seem trite and self-serving. Look at the difference in how this movie and a W.A. movie treat a public accusation of anti-Semitism. Look at the difference in what this movie and a W.A. movie do with a student-teacher affair. Margaret cares about its female characters and wants to understand them, while W.A. movies tend to want to understand women in service of manipulating them.
Also, another note, have you ever seen a movie so coolly observe that there are ethics we take responsibility for and ethics we simply acknowledge? A movie with questions about urgency in ethics.
I’m making it sound like a cold movie, but it ends with everybody crying. Just really beautiful.
Hollywood won’t get serious about making an authentic film about the holocaust of slavery but they will greenlight a spoof about slavery, and it’s as if this spoof about slavery somehow makes slavery a bit easier to swallow. The suffering of black people is not reducible to revenge and retribution. The black tradition has taught the nation what it means to love.
It’s the revenge and retribution that black folk are using to justify seeing the film, or what Tarantino has done, and that’s absolutely not the story of the black contribution to the nation. Our contribution to the nation is that we didn’t create a black al Qaeda. Look at all that black people have endured and gone through, and then look at the patriots that we have become. That’s the beauty of the black experience.
people are less satisfied when choosing from a larger group: in one study, for example, subjects who selected a chocolate from an array of six options believed it tasted better than those who selected the same chocolate from an array of 30.
So Africans they say “T-I-A” a lot, which stands for “This is Africa,” which isn’t a nationalistic slogan but is used to mean something closer to, “Of course the toilet doesn’t work; this is Africa.” Often they say “T-I-A” to encourage Americans to chill out because a bus is not on time or an appointment is happening hours late.
If you hate conference calls, a great thing about working with Africans is that you schedule many conference calls but rarely have to join one, because over half of them are canceled, missed, or will not connect. TIA.
Thank you, Naomi in Ghana, for missing today’s call. I have a headache and am dreaming of breakfast biscuits.
“It now seems that the primary political effect of the economic crisis was not the rise of the radical left, but of racist populism, more wars, more poverty in the poorest Third World countries, and widening divisions between rich and poor. For all that crises shatter people out of their complacency and make them question the fundamentals of their lives, the first spontaneous reaction is not revolution but panic, which leads to a return to basics: food and shelter. The core premises of the ruling ideology are not put into doubt. They are even more violently asserted.”—Who Won the Recession? Capitalism - By Slavoj Zizek | Foreign Policy (via towerofsleep)
Entirely agree (!!!) with Michael Wolff here. As a friend of mine put it recently: “Video is like the voicemail of the web.”
I agree massively, completely, and it baffles me to no end that the video piece has become a keystone of Kickstarter campaigns. I will skim and fiddle to no end, but almost nothing will make me stop and watch a video.
I do not wish to be confused for someone with opinions about how “new media” works, but there is no gesture so hostile as sending me a YouTube link.
“But now I understand that I had it all wrong. The issue isn’t, Am I good enough? No. The issue is, Do I not have any other choice? Will and desire don’t matter. Ability doesn’t matter. Need is the only thing that matters. I need to do this.”—Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia. Wisdom taken out of context. Also: a great recommendation. (via winesburgohio)
1. Last week I told a coworker that I would like to make a standing desk in my cube, but I’m worried people will think it’s weird. He said reassuringly, “Nah. A guy worked here a few years ago who had a standing desk. He had this little tray he wore around his neck, and he put his keyboard and mouse on it.”
The guy who wore his desk established a precedent for standing desks. I am the new Guy Who Wore His Desk.
I did fashion a makeshift standing desk, and people do think it’s weird.
2. I bought an Aeropress to keep at work because the coffee here is undrinkable, and it’s nice in the afternoons to make one small cup. The Aeropress makes great coffee but looks like a science experiment splayed across the counter.
Yesterday a coworker saw it and asked what I was doing. I said, “Making coffee. Also I needed a way to make myself seem weirder.” She who is so smiley and giggly said, “Oh, no, there is much weirder stuff happening around here!” This seemed like it could be true. There is, for instance, a poverty-themed park with live chickens behind my office. She continued: “Like… there’s a box of donuts laying out on the table!” That was the only weird thing she could think of, a box of donuts in an office kitchen.
A box of donuts is not weird. She could not think of a single thing weirder than my coffee science experiment.
In between “waging peace” at the Carter Center and shooting the breeze at the U.N., Jimmy Carter occasionally teaches Sunday School at his Southern Baptist church in rural, rural southwest Georgia. A few things were remarkable when I went on Sunday:
- He is intelligent, easy to listen to for 45 minutes, and genuinely funny. I don’t expect that combination from any president, much less one as maligned as Carter.
- One personal characteristic required a separate line. He has a warmth. It is not just that he is personable, because any politician or CEO or glad-hander can be personable. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter are warm: inviting, unpretentious, happy to be with each other and seemingly happy that you are there, too. Ashley and I had our photo taken with the Carters, and Jimmy and Rosalynn are inconspicuously holding hands in that photo.
- The catalog-purchased Sunday School booklet mandated that this week’s topic was justice. He began by describing it as fairness—a thin conception—but worked out to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to sentencing reform, to Israel’s oppression of Palestine(!). He wove the political stuff into Leviticus and the story-arc of Jesus in a way that was loose, jazzy, and classical liberal Christianity, for better and worse.
- Here is the part that moved me so much that I got emotional: he said that when he was GA governor, he had an annual contest with neighboring governors to award the one with the fewest new prisoners. Show me a governor in any region of the country who, today, would brag about how few people they imprisoned last year. Our sentencing laws and the way we run our prisons are fucking evil, and no one in power acknowledges it, and here is this guy who used to be president who gets it, and I got teary-eyed for a second at hearing it named. Sorry if I’m a liberal dipshit. The things that I dislike in others I have inside myself (in this case utopian sentimentality).
- But why is Jimmy Carter maligned, even by many dipshit liberals? He described a program he instituted as governor called Volunteer Probation Officers in which members of congregations, Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, etc. helped to secure jobs for released prisoners. The volunteers met with prisoners’ families, liaised with employers, and checked in with the released inmates. It sounds like a bread-and-butter church program stretched across the public space. It was a program built on compassion, human understanding, and deep optimism—it was, in other words, the utter opposite of anything that our public life is about. Jimmy Carter governed Georgia and the U.S. like a pastor. On Sunday the only brag or defense he offered for his presidency was this: “We were a nation at peace.” It is a deeply un-American brag. Is Jimmy Carter even an American? Did anyone check his birth certificate? There may be a fundamental incompatibility between whatever he is and the workings of power.
- The impossibility of a pastor-president is that you can’t be the richest country without being a violent country. It seems that people working for peace must work against the government, as there is no history of them successfully running a government. That peacemakers have never successfully run a government does not make them wrong or stupid or unimportant; it just helps us define their roles. In that way Jimmy Carter’s legacy is complicated. I’m not sure what evidence you can hold up for his success. But I believe that he served faithfully to some high ideals, and given the opportunity I would rather imitate him than any presidents since.
Also I lost the pen I’ve been using it was this chunky-tipped blue thing with an ugly rocket-shaped barrel and I just hated it and my handwriting looked awful with it, I kept seeing coworkers and my boss squint at my pad, like, “Why did we hire this blockhead, look at his handwriting”
but I lost that pen and had to use this Pilot Precise V5 that is sort of purple, and I didn’t want to use a purple pen, but (1) suddenly my handwriting is BEAUTIFUL again, and (2) I am liking the purple ink; it is “QUIRKY”
so now, honestly, with this new pen, I am feeling really good about my job
Also this morning’s conference call was with a batty woman in Seattle and a competent-seeming woman in Ghana, and it’s pretty cool to call Ghana, I feel like I should have a double-fisted knuckle tattoo that says IMPORTANT with some little flourish on the tenth knuckle
Then someone texted me this
and I don’t relate to having that sense of wonder as a kid, but I’m grateful that others did, and I’m trying to cultivate more of it now
… When The Dark Knight Rises starts rising, it looks like Bruce Wayne/Batman is about to succumb to his neurological disease when Andy Sachs from The Devil Wears Prada (this is a crossover film, by the way, wherein we learn that Andy is now obsessed with erasing all history of her old Facebook account) poses as a cater waitress to steal Bruce’s fingerprints but ends up stealing 10% of his limited awareness of the outside world. This becomes the film’s tertiary “Bruce Wayne/Batman is sort of in love with someone” story line. The primary story line ends up being about Bruce Wayne/Batman having impromptu back surgery in a Turkish prison and training for a “Climb Out of the Well to Win Your Freedom” Contest. He finally gets out of the well, and then there’s a bomb, and everyone in Gotham City is very scared and confused so they put Cillian Murphy on a giant pile of mahogany desks so that he can order rich people to walk into frozen water and die. Meanwhile, Hannibal Lecter (played by Dwayne Johnson, formerly known as The Rock) has asthma, and we learn that he’s in cahoots with the original “Climb Out of the Well to Win Your Freedom” Contest winner, who slept with Bruce Wayne earlier in the film because she also stole 10% of his limited awareness of the outside world. Alfred cries, and Batman ties the bomb to a helicopter. Everyone thinks Batman is dead so they make a statue, but it turns out Bruce Wayne and Andy Sachs are murdering socialites and assuming false identities in Italy, setting the scene for the next film, The Talented Mr. Dark Knight Wears Prada. (There’s a chance I could be getting some of the details wrong. I got very sleepy during the middle seven hours.)
1. I kept remembering this post and waiting for the movie to become as wackadoo as described. But the movie is dull, underplotted, and overlong. I felt aggrieved when I left.
2. I was surprised to find myself anxious in the theater re: safety. I checked out each person who stood up or bent down. I kept an eye on men sitting by themselves. I was anxious enough to consider leaving—there is a yogurt place in the parking lot—but around the four-hour mark I settled down.
3. When oppressed people (movie’s word) are freed, they run into the streets shooting guns at will and turning rich people out of their homes. I am surprised the director restrained himself from making the prison mob all black—just kidding, black people aren’t allowed in Gotham City unless they’ve received their Magical Negro certification. People who talk about oppression are just trying to redistribute power to themselves. Also they are terrorists. It is as if Sean Hannity cowrote the screenplay; maybe we can call it even after Cornel West consulted on that second Matrix movie.
I’m down with key components of Bane’s political program: prison abolition and wealth redistribution. I look forward to learning about Batman’s plan for righting structural injustice.
4. Even if everything else about the movie was good, that fucking football scene, with the British kid singing the national anthem in a falsetto, is the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever seen, a clip from a movie Frank Drebbin would watch in The Naked Gun.
I have a bird in my head and a pig in my stomach And a flower in my genitals and a tiger in my genitals And a lion in my genitals and I am after you but I have a song in my heart And my song is a dove I have a man in my hands I have a woman in my shoes I have a landmark decision in my reason I have a death rattle in my nose I have summer in my brain water I have dreams in my toes This is the matter with me and the hammer of my mother and father Who created me with everything But I lack calm I lack rose Though I do not lack extreme delicacy of rose petal Who is it that I wish to astonish? In the birdcall I found a reminder of you But it was thin and brittle and gone in an instant Has nature set out to be a great entertainer? Obviously not A great reproducer? A great Nothing? Well I will leave that up to you I have a knocking woodpecker in my heart and I think I have three souls One for love one for poetry and one for acting out my insane self Not insane but boring but perpendicular but untrue but true The three rarely sing together take my hand it’s active The active ingredient in it is a touch I am Lord Byron I am Percy Shelley I am Ariosto I eat the bacon I went down the slide I have a thunderstorm in my inside I will never hate you But how can this maelstrom be appealing? do you like menageries? my god Most people want a man! So here I am I have a pheasant in my reminders I have a goshawk in my clouds Whatever is it which has led all these animals to you? A resurrection? or maybe an insurrection? an inspiration? I have a baby in my landscape and I have a wild rat in my secrets from you.
This town is rural and populated by lifers except for the Habitat employees. Coworkers in my program are from Chicago, Denver, Boston, Houston, Iowa, and Sri Lanka, so we’re easy to pick out in the Walmart aisle. Local-outsider relations in New Haven were tense, as if the university community was usurping the locals’ space, but I’m not sure if that’s the case here. Maybe the locals are happy we’re here.
Last night we went to an authentic country bar. A guy in his 30s who was handsome but rough around the edges overheard that we work at Habitat and, because lots of people associate us with Jimmy Carter, called out, “My daddy whooped Jimmy Carter’s ass on the courthouse steps,” and those were the words he used, I wouldn’t play up some country caricature, “because Jimmy stole a hog from my grandaddy.” He wasn’t telling it to be funny. “You ask Jimmy if he remembers the Wilfords, he’ll tell you he does.” It also wasn’t a moment to get technical and explain that we don’t work for or with Jimmy Carter. A coworker who’s a local said, “He’ll remember it if the whoopin’ was good enough,” which was the perfect endcap to the exchange, and if you’re not charmed by that, then I don’t recommend you come to visit me in south Georgia.
When I left town recent friends and acquaintances said, “You should start a blog.” Today I realized why it felt mismatched to tell them about this one: they want a narrative blog, the kind that college students write on trips to Europe, so that they can hear about new weird Americus. I would not know how to write that kind of blog. I rarely think to take photos. They would be disappointed to find posts about George Jones.
I haven't coerced anybody today, and I feel shitty about it
Justice is love correcting that which would work against love. The Almighty God is not just standing out saying, “Behold thee, I love you, Negro.” He’s also the God that standeth before the nations and says: “Be still and know that I am God, that if you don’t obey me I’m gonna break the backbone of your power.”
Standing beside love is always justice. And we are only using the tools of justice. Not only are we using the tools of persuasion but we’ve got to use the tools of coercion.
The tools of coercion! I’m gonna break the backbone of your motherfucking power, you miserable fuckers! I am reading about the Florida tomato pickers/slaves and getting riled up.
The first person I saw this morning at the homeless outreach center was a 52-y-o guy who had been beaten up by four dudes in their 20s. They took his wallet, which had his ID and Soc. Sec. card in it. They knocked the shit out of him, too; it happened two weeks ago, but he still has scrapes on his arms, bruises all over, one eye is all yellow and red. He said he told them, “I’m old enough to be y’all’s dad, why are you gonna do that.” What’s more fucked up is that without ID, he can be arrested by any cop who stops him on the street—locked up for weeks, potentially—and without ID he is not allowed into any decent overnight shelters.
Tuesday I talked to a woman who’s 27, and she’s been living in an abandoned building for three months because (for complicated reasons) she can’t get state ID. IHOP has a job waiting for her, but without ID she can’t cash a paycheck, so there’s no point in starting the job. There are so many obstacles to her being officially recognized as a person that she is stuck.
We feel unknown, we need to be known, and it is difficult to become known.
Suggested playlists Love songs for ill-advised loves Sexual innuendo with graphic implications Songs that rhetorically address God Bedroom scene Birth room scene Presence vs. projection Emotional calculus All-time great titles
Ride in a truck, nap on a hay bale, wink at a peanut, tour the slum theme park
Hi, OK, life newz, this week I accepted a job at Habitat for Humanity. Habitat is my favorite nonprofit*, I’m thrilled to be working for them, and my job will be Volunteer Engagement Specialist, coordinating build trips to Africa and the Middle East.
Here is the weird part: I will be moving to Americus, GA, the absolute middle of nowhere, one town over from Jimmy Carter and this 15’-tall fiberglass peanut with squinty eyes and buckteeth, three towns over from the Watermelon Capital of the U.S., and zero towns over from lots of cows and pigs. I am going to live in the country. It’s probably only for a while; they are trying to move the position to Atlanta.
Questions like What will I do there? and Who will I do it with? and Will I be miserable? feel so distant that I can’t imagine answers to them. All that is in my head now is that I’m curious, excited, and confident that I am making a good decision. Historically my blogs are funnier when I’m bored or lonely, so we could be heading into Peak Eddie Blogging.
You are invited to my going-away party with the “Dress Sexy at My Funeral” theme.
*Habitat is my favorite nonprofit because: (1) They don’t do that imperialist charity bullshit where a bunch of white people in the U.S. tell brown people in the majority world how to live. They partner, not bulldoze. (2) These trips do new construction but also building repair and water treatment projects. There’s merit to the work beyond photo ops. (3) North American teams who go on build trips must contribute double their expenses; the second half remains in the community they visit to fund further projects. (4) If you accept “human rights” as that which people have a responsibility to provide for each other, then I take housing as a human right, and Habitat is excellent at building decent, affordable housing.
**P.P.S. So it’s a Christian organization, but look: if you don’t have much patience for Christians, you can be glad that they’re spending their money building houses and hospitals and water treatment, right? It’s work that we all want to see done. Habitat is run by a bunch of communitarian hippies and libs, and it’s an advocate for the poor to shitty governments and corporations, a rare opportunity to come by.
Dad (requires my manually thinking about love) Arianne (effortless affection) Bill Callahan (one-way affection) Jeff (pursuing same truths, doing same activities) Jennifer (privacy vs. the fruitfulness of a community) Cornel West (public relationships) Ol’ JC (self-giving)