Friday Night Lights… Memento Style

I initially got into the NBC show Friday Night Lights when it first came out in 2006. I had moved to St. Louis within the last year to start grad school, and started catching episodes whenever I was around on a Friday (an unfortunate airing for a primetime show). But like a lot of tangential interests, I eventually faded from the show as other things came up. As a result, I had never seen a season in full, knowing only bits and pieces of the over-arching story.

So, when my roommate and I decided not to renew our cable this spring, and I started thinking about what would be good summer entertainment through Netflix streaming, I immediately thought of FNL. It helped that I had also just stumbled upon Heather Haverleky’s comparison of the show with the run-away hit Glee in the NYT, so I took it as serendipity and decided to hop back in. Haverleky’s review sealed the deal:

What “Friday Night Lights” does… better than any other show, is capture the natural narcissism of teenagers. It tenderly demonstrates the rewards of connection and shows how collaboration toward a common cause ultimately holds more promise than the shallow pursuit of individual greatness. “Friday Night Lights” pulls this off largely thanks to the low-key appeal of the show’s hero, Coach Eric Taylor, played by Kyle Chandler, i.e. the only man on the face of this earth who could gruffly half-whisper the words “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!” to a room full of adolescents in football pads and still manage to cue the waterworks every time.

And she’s right. Despite it’s difficulty in winning a mass audience over the last five years, the show really is fantastic. I know I had always felt a certain kind of emotional connection to the show, feeling almost as if I had some secret history of playing football in west texas that had been hidden from me growing up (a lifetime donning pads instead of speedos).

Logistically, however, I was presented with a dilemma. Knowing that I had already watched (small) pieces of several earlier seasons (an episode here or there) and that I don’t like re-watching episodes, should I start with only season I had not watched at all (season 4, and now season 5) knowing that I would be skipping over a bunch of content from earlier parts of the show, or should I start from the beginning and have some repeats.

I chose the former.

I started watching season 4 a few weeks ago, and plowed through the 12 episodes within a few weeks. It pulled me in, I loved it, and I wanted more. I knew however that I couldn’t start with Season 5 because it wasn’t yet on Netflix. Add to that the fact that I was starting to get intrigued by the stories of the characters I had caught mid-show, I decided to move backwards to Season 3. I finished that season a few nights ago. It also pulled me in, I loved it, and I wanted more… I started Season 2 last night.

Out of nowhere, I created for myself a TV show in reverse. It was in many ways (outside of plot) a bit like the film Memento, a movie which tells the story from the end by way of a protagonist with anterograde amnesia, and thus no ability to store new memory. In Memento, the first scene we see is the last scene of the movie, if it were to have been told chronologically (think: James Franco escapes the cave in 127 hrs). But after seeing this scene, the film flashes back to a previous time, and runs until it passes the start of the previous scene, and repeats. It’s a fascinating approach to filmmaking, and has been (in a similar sort of way) a fascinating approach to watching a TV show.

More than anything, watching the show in reverse has fundamentally transformed my experience of the characters themselves, and keeps reminding me of how much our interpretation of events (sometimes rightfully so) is shaped by memory.

The other day, I called my friend Emma (another FNL fanatic) to talk through the show. She quickly asked which characters I was most drawn to. I responding with some of the favorites with whom it is hard to disagree– Eric and Tami Taylor, Matt Saracen, Landry, etc.– but then proceeded to mention that I was also a fan of Lyla Garrity. Lyla is the head cheerleader of Dillon High, very well put together (from the outside), was dating one of the star football players, the daughter of the team’s biggest booster, and was studying at Vanderbilt by Season 4. Emma responded with a bit of disgust, saying something to the effect of “You would like Lyla Garrity” (assuming that meant I liked her because she’s cute). She then described Lyla as a girl who was all over the map with interests, fundamentally a heart-breaker, and one who could not be trusted because she didn’t yet fully know herself.

I was a bit taken aback, but maybe I shouldn’t have been, especially had I seen the show from the start. After all, from Emma’s perspective, throughout the four seasons we Lyla date the star quarterback who was later paralyzed in a football accident, proceed to sleep with his best friend while the QB was still in the hospital, convert to (and fade from) a devout evangelical christian church, and eventually goes back and forth in her relationship with the best friend before eventually moving to Vanderbilt for college.

But i didn’t see it that way at all. After all, while I had seen the first episode of season 1 back in 2006 and thus knew of her relationship with Jason (the QB), I knew nothing about the cheating incident with his best friend, only knew that somehow Tim and Lyla had had ended up together. I also hadn’t seen her less mature moments with her family, especially the way she responded to certain issues with her father (trying to keep from as many spoilers as possible). When I saw Lila in season 4, all I knew was that Tim Riggins missed Lyla deeply with her off in Nashville, that their relationship had a certain kind of depth which made him hesitant around new women despite their pursuits, and that in general she had a good reputation around town– a success story off to the races in life. In a lot of ways, I felt like I understood Lyla taken from that snap shot, a somewhat misunderstood person who was genuinely kind, a girl who was still figuring herself out and needed some time away from Dillon make that happen. From my perspective, Lyla was cute, fun, kind, caring, and intelligent.

So here is the irony: Emma and I both experienced and responding to the exact same scenes from season 4, even in terms of subtle details of context– the same framing of the camera, the same dialogue of the characters, the same music, lighting, and storyline– a completely controlled environment. And yet, because we had different memories of Lyla (and also different associations with Lyla-like people from our lives) Emma had a certain perception of her, and saw this world in a color which I could not see.

So who was right?

*          *          *

I was talking about forgiveness the other day with a friend, when we started hashing into the fundamental differences between ‘stated forgiveness’ and ‘lived forgiveness’… In other words, why is it can be so easy to say “i forgive you” (and genuinely mean it), all the while struggling to live as if the offense had not occurred. Think of love. The complexity of living with a normal human being with normal human characteristics means living in the mindset of miscommunication, hurt, and misunderstanding (alongside a bunch of positive things as well). And this is tough because moving from forgiveness (for a past offense) to reconciliation (which fundamentally means being able to live the normal, everyday, mundane with this person again) requires moving from a place of heightened emotions (positive or negative) toward a space of committed neutrality. Sometimes I think it’s easier to forgive if certain kinds of memory did not exist, as if forgetting were a switch that we could turn on when appropriate.

Moving back to Friday Night Lights, I wonder if it is possible to see Lyla in the light that I saw her if I were to have watched the show straight through. I think it’s possible, but incredibly difficult given the way memory works, the emotional baggage it carries, and the way it cannot be discarded so easily. That’s sad, especially if fresh eyes, used wisely, can be a good thing. I don’t think its impossible, but the purity of memory requires a theory of time’s redemption. I always liked the definition of redeem as “To recover ownership by paying a specified sum.” I guess I just wonder what sum must be paid for such recovery– what it takes to rebuilt a posture that doesn’t need to forget, but still retains a freedom to see.


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What does it mean to cook food well….

I recently moved to Brooklyn, New York, with my new wife Ashley. One of our favorite shows to watch is No Reservations – hosted by the no frills, brassy chef Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain is releasing his newest book to paperback and offering a challenge to all aspiring writers to write an introduction. I wanted to share her work. She eloquently answers the prompt, and more importantly, offers an insight into food that we all love – the comforts from home.

I am going to do a quick shameless promotion. (I know what you must all think….John, you haven’t posted in over a year and now you are promoting your wife. Shame on you!). However, I hope you’ll take a few moments to read the words she has shared with me.

Anthony "Tony" Bourdain

Anthony "Tony" Bourdain

A fresh transplant to N.Y.C, I recently found myself in the awkward act of reading and standing on the subway. Gripping my copy of Medium Raw, I maintain an unlady-like surfer’s stance as the F-train swerves. Bourdain’s unapologetic reflections on food, travel and culture energize my commuter’s soul. Self-consciously, I wonder what my fellow riders think of my book choice. What is it that compels me, the girl in the preppy outfit, to consume the work of the bad-ass Bourdain?

We certainly don’t relate on a personal level. Sorry, Tony. I am a 24 year old home cook, who has never, and will never, work in a commercial kitchen. I cry easily. I don’t smoke. My worst crime to date is rear ending a Mercedes and I get tipsy at wine tastings.

But, when an episode of No Reservations comes across my screen, I am transported. My middle aged dad is also hooked. We shamefully maintain a teenage texting banter…

“Did you see that wheel of Reggiano Parm.???! SICK! We must go!

“That chicken looks tasty. Ah, the crispy skin!”

The man with his thumb on the blackberry is Herb, my dad, and he is a good cook. He is known for reincarnating Tupperwares of congealed leftovers into mouthwatering feasts. He roasts potatoes to perfection, has an intuitive sense of when a steak is cooked to medium-rare, and continually improves his cannon of recipes. Recently, my mom reported being forced to repeatedly eat my dad’s lemon chicken. “It takes 15 minutes under the broiler and it is SO juicy!” he offers as a counter.

He is drawn to food that is down-right simple, with flavors that are surprisingly complex.

Despite being the son of a Midwestern farmer, he would be a terrible spokesperson for the organic food movement; he abhors the fussy, over-priced nature of high-end food stores and some farmers markets. He prefers to shop at the international market where prices are good-to-cheap and the variety is expansive.

By no means is his view from the kitchen perfect, but when he diligently sent my brother to college armed with the skills and recipes for dishes he could make on his own, I was reminded of my appreciation for him as a cook. Without being pushy, he often cooks seasonally and has quietly kept a kitchen garden for years. A number of our family traditions culminate around the table, delighting in the reliable dishes that he produces. His plates usually balance protein, starch and include a vegetable or at least a fresh ear of sweet corn. The freezer is full of his famous bolognese sauce and prepared stocks, known in our house as “liquid gold.”

He is a host of contradictions—content to eat the same dish every week, but also willing to dream about exploring the culinary world with me…only if we can eat at the quaint, hole in the wall restaurants like Anthony Bourdain. That is where he will find his bliss—perfectly simple, satisfying, and timeless food.


If you like her work, check it out on

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Photo (actually in Barcelona) by friend Jill DeVries (

We sit together over a bowl of starchy noodles and dry chicken, a meal thankfully colored as if in pity by a mixed green salad and a splash of raspberry vinaigrette. We sit in the main foyer of our Hostel, one part lobby and one part bar, surrounded by backpackers trading stories of adventures recently discovered. Feels sort of like cattle bragging of the unique shape of their spots.

My eyes were red from dried contacts, and my scent whispered of a questionable choice to move through a second go-around of a limited line-up of clothing on hand. She was going on her second year of travel—one mixed in with work stopovers to save cash, and hostel hopping to maximize variety and time on the road. She was, like many of the others in the room, young, interesting, and genuinely curious about the world out there.

We exchanged pleasantries, as one does, between mediocre bites of food.

“So how long are you traveling in South America?” she asked, reflected the question I had just shot her way.

“Oh I don’t know, about two weeks… I take off tomorrow night.”

“Really?… So short?”

It wasn’t a question, even if it was punctuated by a mark of such form. It was the kind of statement that one ends with a squiggly line and a underscored dot because they really don’t understand the person right in front of them.  Like the, “Oh you are with him?” or “You were home schooled?”

I nodded, choosing to act as if she wanted a response, all the while thinking about how long two weeks felt when I first bought the ticket.

“Yeah, I guess it just felt like the right amount of time…”

We looked down at our plates, hiding our respective confusion. To her, I was an overly efficient American, someone seeking transformation by diet-travel, the two-week stops in South America, the three-week trips to Europe, the four-month semesters abroad.

And what was she to me? As much as I was envious of her boldness, I also felt there was something escapist about her mentality, wondering silently about what made the experience ‘away’ categorically different or better than the experience ‘home.’

“I guess so…” she remarked.

Here we were, two strangers in a bar thousands of miles from home, both seeking out experience, some break from the everyday.

I know I went in thinking that life would be sharpened by a few weeks sandboarding, surfing, hanging out in yoga retreats and overlooking ancient ruins. I’m sure she sought the same release of the everyday felt by small budgets and cramped hostels, traveling without plans and the adventure of exploring new people and their varied stories everyday of the week.

Hear Christian Wiman: “Everyone has some means of relief—tennis, yoga, a massage every Thursday—but the very way in which those activities are framed as separate from regular life suggests the extent to which that relief is temporary “

We stand together in the wilderness, the space where one finds themselves splintered off from real life for but a moment. But our problem remains, does it not, us the consumers of the quick fix? At some point, we either reenter back into the reality we slipped away from, or wake up to find that our destination of escape had slowly become its own everyday.

I finish my dinner, she glances at what remains of hers, and together we silently sip away at cheap Peruvian beer. I needlessly re-check my boarding time for the flight back to the States, and she pulls out the guidebook to map her next destination.  Our glances cross one more time, the closest to touch or understanding we’ll have in this moment. We are travelers together even as we leave alone.

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The genius of Christian Wiman

Alongside Marilynne Robinson’s and her newest contribution in the book Absence of Mind, I think Christian Wiman is the most interesting essayists writing at the intersection of consciousness, religious faith, and everyday experience. His infusion of poetic reflection into the space between life and language is, in my view, incredibly insightful.

Here are a few snippets from his most recent essay in The American Scholar:

Behind every urge to interpret is unease, anxiety. This can be a productive and necessary endeavor, whether it’s literary criticism or theology or even the dogmas and rituals of a religion (since all religion is, ultimately, an attempt to interpret God and numinous experience). Such effort deepens and complicates our initial response, even as it gives us an aperture through which to see our moments of mystery, crisis, and revelation more clearly—to give them “meanings,” to integrate them into our lives. The trouble comes when the effort to name and know an experience replaces the experience itself. Just as we seem to have grasped every level of meaning in a poem, the private and silent power that compelled us in the first place seems to drain right out of it. Just as we plant the flag of faith on a mountain of doctrine and dogma it has taken every ounce of our intellect to climb, our vision becomes a “view,” which is already clouding over, and is in any event cluttered with the trash of others who have fought their way to this same spot. Nowhere to go now but down.

AT FIRST, attending to the anxiety of existence can seem like a zero-sum game. Any attention turned toward the truth of the spirit is attention turned away from all we have come to think of as “life.” Thus we parcel out our moments of devotion—a church service here and there, a walk in the woods, a couple of hours of meditation a week—all the while maintaining the frenzy of our usual existence outside of those moments. This is inevitable, for the initial demands of the spirit are intense, but it is not sustainable, for the soul is not piecemeal. We are left with this paradox: only by hearing the furthest call of consciousness can we hear the call of ordinary life, but only by claiming the most mundane and jangling details of our lives can that rare and ulterior music of the soul merge with what Seamus Heaney calls “the music of what happens.”

THE FIRST STEP in the life of the spirit is learning to let yourself experience those moments when life and time seem at once suspended and concentrated, that paradox of attentive oblivion out of which any sustaining faith grows. These moments may not be—and at first almost certainly will not be—“meditative.” They are more likely to break into your awareness, or into what you thought was awareness (“inbreaking” is the theological term for Christ’s appearance in the world and in our lives—there is no coaxing it, no way to earn it, no way to prepare except to hone your capacity to respond, which is, finally, your capacity to experience life, and death). This is why we cannot separate one part of our existence, or one aspect of our awareness, from another, for there is a seed of peace in the most savage clamor. There is a kind of seeing that, fusing attention and submission, becomes a kind of being, wherein you may burrow into the very chaos that buries you, and even the most binding ties can become a means of release.

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Dancing eyes under the Panza de Burro

Eyes after set of eyes pass by as I walk these city blocks. Eyes of all shapes, colors and sizes. Some hide behind darkened glasses, framed by metal or plastic of various colors. Others are uncovered while gazing straight ahead, as if ashamed by such naked exposure in a world on the other side of Eden. Together we glance and dart from steel buildings to concrete floors to fleshy bodies and back to our feet below. Alone we each dance uncomfortable around our own kind, looking anywhere but directly back at those whose attention we have captured, those stranger’s eyes.

It is July in Lima, and I sit under a canopy of the Panza de Burro, or the grey underbelly of a donkey. Such is the Peruvian phrase for the placidly charcoal, winter sky that hovers over the city from May to November. The conditions leave my glances into the foggy Pacific horizon filled with longing for a world washed anew in the light of a resurrected sun. It is not surprising, to me at least, why author Herman Melville once called Lima, “the saddest city on earth,” a sentiment undoubtedly uttered on a visit during the winter months.

Lima is no different from any other massive city, standing as it is at just under eight million people. At the very least, its similarity lies in that all cities look the same when abstracted away from their idiosyncrasies. Its streets contain residents and tourists mixed uncomfortably together as they walk unintentionally attached on sidewalks and eat in cafes. Its inhabitants, both rich and poorer, live in houses of four walls with roofs thatched together to shield the elements. Such homes nuzzle into neighborhoods built into the rocky coast, or set along flattened, moderately gridded streets. Mixed within these residents are the shops of grocers and cafes peddling the same dishes, albeit prepared by different hands. It is a city, like all others, which grows overwhelming when one takes time to consider its details: details of the 16 million feet who live here and the reasons they walk to places deemed important, details like the 16 million hands who call this place home, the bodies they embrace, and the babies they will hold and then watch grow old.  But such particulars take time to explore, and detailed context blurs out in forward movement.

Today, however, it is a city that feels different from others by it’s decidedly winter (dis?)-coloration. The drab sky leaves the landscape of people and places like a photograph faded from hiding in the drawers of dressers tucked in unused rooms. Such darkened images seem to expose our foreignness to each other. I see in these people, these souls, strangers like “the people in old photographs— not … through a veil of knowledge and habit, but simply and plainly, as they were lined or scarred, as they were startled or blank. Like the dead, (I) could consider their histories complete, and… wondered only what had brought them to transiency, to drifting,” (Robinson, Housekeeping, p. 179). Today we are all drifters in these same grayed city streets; strangers both to ourselves and each other.

What do my eyes see when we pass? I see you as unknown, a face with a certain kind and degree of beauty, sketched out with creases from a multitude of smiles and frowns, eyes framed by bags from sleepless nights and the unknown thoughts that whispered you awake. But what I see is clouded by what I miss– the hidden details that make you as you are and as you will be. All I see are still frame snapshots caught in moments of moving time, pictured stories without the words to give birth to meaning and marvel, ecstasy, despair and dullness of heart. Our interior lives remain hidden from each other, as the sun is veiled by the charcoaled belly of the donkey who stubbornly idles above.

After that moment, when our eyes pass on streets, we will move forward in steps to catch other gazes. We will move on for we are unable to consider everyone’s starting point and final destination, or the paths they find plausible to move from A to B. It is but a moment. You must, I am sure, go about your day, and I must hop on a plane, and fly back home to the place where I know more behind the silhouettes of the people I love and loathe.

The sun crawls through the fog, and briefly lights up the city in Peruvian winter sunlight. For an instant, the masses are splashed in color, and all our particularities exposed. Together, we have big eyes and undefined chins, jagged noses and sunken cheekbones, pencil lips and widened hips. For a moment, we can’t easily abstract and blur away from each other in difference. We are exposed as mothers and children, fathers and friends. Our eyes manifest in tear-reddened tints, and the grins that lie beneath the surface give color to our faces and pulse to our souls. But then, just as quickly as it left, the donkey sinks back into place and the glimmer of depth again fades slowly from view.

But is not this space of our passing a touch more personal, at least for that moment? At the very least, don’t we at least stand in the wake of a realization that it should be personal. The details of your story remain mysterious to me, as mine are to yours, but I can at least know that you are a container of details worth knowing. Perhaps this is the moment where you become a Thou rather than an It, to use the language of the philosopher Martin Buber. Perhaps this is as it should be, as our eyes dance together in this jungle of concrete, brick, stone and glass; the two of us, for but a moment– inches away, and miles apart.

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Time and Meaning at Machu Picchu

The wind is still on top of Machu Picchu today. I look down at this strange mix of wonders of both men and god(s), where stones are set upon rocks which build up to homes, together making a place for the movements of men, women and children now long gone

I walk from terrace to temple to terrace as guides rattle on like broken records about major battles and archeological discoveries– the capital H History lying within the ruins in the sky.

But I feel that the stories which truly give this place depth are left untold, palpable but hidden. These are the tales of men and women falling in love, of jealousy between friends, of families formed, flourishing and dissolved. If you listen closely enough, you can hear the true heartbeat of Machu Picchu.

*          *          *

Fall back to the summer of 1943 to hear the words of the poet Pablo Neruda anew, penned from this same mountaintop. Listen to his moment of transformation in “La Altura de Machu Picchu” (XII):

Look at me from the depths of the earth,
tiller of fields, weaver, reticent shepherd,
groom of totemic guanacos,
mason high on your treacherous scaffolding,
iceman of Andean tears,
jeweler with crushed fingers,
farmer anxious among his seedlings,
potter wasted among his clays–
bring to the cup of this new life
your ancient buried sorrows.
Show me your blood and your furrow;

Is it not the echoes of everyday from these men and everyday that frame our own stories—be they of love, ambition, hopes, and fears– into some larger (insignificant?) context?

*          *          *

My friend Max and I shelve ourselves onto an agricultural terrace overlooking the ruins with some bread and water, and I pull out Annie Dillard’s book “For the time being.” Dillard’s writing contains power in the way it holds in tension the seeming insignificance and prominence of the experience of being human. She notes the irony in which lives can be abstracted into statistics (230,000 dead in a Haitian earthquake) while still holding such singular importance to our experience (like the love-stricken Romeo and his inability to see life beyond Juliet). So which is it? Is Juliet one, or is she one of two-hundred thirty thousand?

Dillard writes:

Are we ready to think of all humanity as a living tree, carrying on splendidly without us? We easily regard a beehive or an ant colony as a single organism, and even a school of fish, a flock of dunlin, a herd of elk. And we easily and correctly regard an aggregate of individuals, a sponge or coral or lichen or slime mold, as one creature– but us? When we people differ, and know our consciousness, and love? Even lovers, even twins, are strangers who will love and die alone. And we like it this way, at least in the West; we prefer to endure any agony of isolation rather than to merge and extinguish our selves in an abstract ‘humanity’ whose fate we should hold dearer than our own. Who could say, I’m in agony because my child died, but that’s all right: Mankind as a whole has abundant children?

The words ring poignant on this mountain. The similarity of my stories with those long gone make me wonder whether this resonance makes my world important or insignificant. I see the stories of men long-gone stand together with those of my present—my own feelings of love tenuously held and lost, of evolving hopes and fears, of the ambiguity of my story mid-writing. Similarly, I sense the resonance of my present with those lives of future others who will till the land on this side of Eden. I strain to hear their wisdom, cringe to hear their critique.

How terrifying, this similarity, as though we are but a pixel on a painting, a spec of sand in a desert! “What meaning does anything have” we protest in the trek towards nihilism, “if my (love/life/journey) is not in some fashion different, if I am not in some fashion different?”

Or is it perhaps freeing, this notion of you and me as a hive of bees? For can I really handle the pressure that comes with an over-prominent story? Poet and essayist Christian Wiman recently writes, “Anxiety comes from the self as ultimate concern, from the fact that the self cannot bear this ultimate concern: it buckles and wavers under the strain, and eventually, inevitably, it breaks.”

Time is strangely held together in these moments, on these mountains. It is as if the past, present and future cannot be authentically separated. It is almost as if they move together by way of dance in the air– memory’s melody allowing the past to inform the present, the harmony of dreaming as the sound of the future calling the present into action.

*          *          *

I hear the echoes of Machu Picchu, for to be conscious of these stories is to see my own stories, in both triviality and beauty, in a different light. Maybe to feel my own anxieties in context is to know, but for a moment, the way we are all a part of this harmonious time. It is to know that we are bit players nestled among larger stories, which will be told again and again, around fires, and in novels and on stages. Perhaps this is what it is to feel as a flock of humanity.

In writing on our modern state of anxiety, Wiman points to James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” suggesting its greatness, “is partly in the way it reveals the interior chaos of a single mind during a single day, and partly in the way it makes that idiosyncratic clamor universal. However different the textures of our own lives may be, Bloom’s mind is our mind; the welter of impressions he suffers and savors is a storm we all know.”

Likewise, on this particular day, in this particular moment, the whisper of Machu Picchu is that while we are all containers of the same stories, they are still worth telling, that they are all worth living. Perhaps our moments are meaningful, despite their triviality, in that we are all children of god. Or, if you must, consider this same sentiment with less conventionally religious language… a necessity if our language must sometimes be, “stripped of (its) religious meaning… (in the same way that) faith itself sometimes needs to be stripped of its social and historical incrustations and returned to its first, churchless incarnation in the human heart” (Wiman).

The wind is still today on Machu Pichhu. It is as though the trees were asked to remain motionless while they receive a painting from the rising sun. We should be grateful for this silence. For it is in here, among these ‘ancient buried sorrows,’ and amidst the tales of “blood and… furrow,” that Machu Picchu truly begins to speak in its pregnant silence.

Posted in Education, Ethics, Miscellaneous, Psychology | 1 Comment

FACEBOOK: Please know it’s not you, it’s me!

I am not one for bold moves, or vocal statements against technology and how its dooming our society (leaving aside my choice to make the group “Facebook wall-posting is kind of like having a private conversation with megaphones“). I like to think of myself as the guy who is on the cutting edge of technology, the early adopter, a maven of sorts. After all, why should I trust some unknown CNET reviewer or a friend with different tastes when it comes to new technology (Answer: because I am poor).

One technology wave that I hopped on in abandonment was internet social networking: I have a blog, I have a website, I have Gmail account and I use gchat with regularity, I have a synced Google calendar, I have used Google wave, I work on shared Google docs, I ‘tweet,’ and I have a Facebook account with far too many ‘friends.’

But, having crossed to the other side of the early adoption wave, I say with some confidence that I might have crested the peak of benefits from this world and am now reaping its dark-side.

And so, Facebook… while I hate to say this after all we have gone through… I am sorry, but I think we need a break. And though it may be hard for you to believe me on this, its really not you, it’s me!

(Ok… extended footnote…. That may be harsh, but I don’t think I am being too outlandish here. I know no one really buys the whole, “it’s not you, its me” line… but let me try to clarify. I want to make it MORE THAN clear that my analysis of Facebook is not applicable to everyone and that my concerns come in large part out of my own personality and the situations I find myself within. In other words, if I wasn’t so damn quirky, if I was a bit less socially needy, if my yet-undiagnosed OCD was a tad less extreme, or if I didn’t have a job that puts me in charge of my own time with a significant amount of flexibility taking place in front of a computer, Facebook and I might still have a future).

But, it is what it is. So, here we go.


I want to start this out by saying I really love you for the way you help me connect with people. I have been able to better stay in touch those who otherwise would be off my grid. You help me stay connected with people I meet on the fly. Even friends from my past who I otherwise would have forgotten I can now FB chat, direct message or even gift with a witty wall post. You have made me seem like a better friend when I remember birthdays. For that I will be forever grateful. Facebook, I love you… in theory.

But, I can’t lie… I really struggle with you in practice. Too often, I find myself starving by trying to feed on other people’s digital crumb traces. Lives of friends, ex-friends, acquaintances, girlfriends, interests, ex-girlfriends, colleagues, and friends of friends are constantly updated in my newsfeed. Picture updates of these lives flood me with a sense that I ‘know’ them more than I do, and often leave me with a sense that I am missing out on something. It’s like watching The Bachelor… alone!  Too often, I feel like staying in touch this way is a worthy supplement to real communication…. I know you didn’t tell me to do this, but it is who I have become!

Facebook, I want you to know that I don’t think you are evil. You are a GREAT technology, and I know there is the right match out there for you (probably billions of great matches, you player you). You are an amazing technological advancement, and it’s possible to develop healthy or destructive relationships with you. You are like today’s nuclear energy—on one side, making possible the nuclear bomb (oops), while also being a potential way around problems of energy dependence, and the decreasing supply of easy-to-reach oil. Ok, that might be extreme, but you get the idea.

I know that many people have found the way to reap your benefits, all the while avoiding the problems of being too seamlessly integrated into our lives. Many people like how you are an awesome, fluidly updating address book (I am one of those), and don’t feel too pulled into your digital hurricane. I envy these people because they get to use you for what you can be in all your potential: a social technology that makes us a small step away from almost anyone else in the world.

But I also fear there are others just like me, people who have been shaped by this technology in ways that they might not see as ideal. I wonder if anyone else feels too dependent on being “in the know,” of needing the affirmation of wall posts or message responses, and not liking the way that it takes so little effort to stay in touch with friends. I wonder if there are others who feel like something might have been lost in the gain of accessibility.

I am sorry Facebook, but, I just need a break.

I guess I have learned that I am too easily and unintentionally shaped by my daily actions. I am not some floating mind that gets to decide who I am, what I value, what resonates with my sensibilities, and then act accordingly. I am embodied as a creature, and my day-to-day practices shape who I am and what I want to be. I might be in part a mind who thinks and chooses how to act apart from external stimuli, but even that is shaped by my thinking’s deep embedding in a physical, neurological system, connected by synapses to a body that moves, eats, sees, touches, feels and is seen. My actions matter in that I cannot stay unchanged and stay on the straight and narrow. And that has implications, whether those actions be on the internet, in the sports I play, how I approach eating and playing, or how I physically interact with friends, lovers, enemies and strangers.

Facebook, I need you to know that you have done everything right. I saw your note the other day, about the changes that you made to privacy for me. That was really sweet of you… but know it was never about that for me. Its not that I need my information to be secret, it’s just that I just need a little space from everyone else’s day-to-day. But … please please please don’t change anything about yourself… you are wonderful and I need you to know that.

I guess I have just realized that there is a future Peter out there that I really want to grow into — a thoughtful, social, engaged person who lives with just enough simplicity. And this is in tension with the ways I am being shaped and molded by my hanging out with you in the day-to-day. Facebook, you have become a daily ritual of a quasi-religious form, and I think I am becoming a bit too fundamentalist for my own good. I want to be less in need of affirmation, more genuine in social interactions, and a bit less voyeuristic… and I’m going to need your support in giving me some space. I really hope you understand.

And so with that, I say goodbye, for now. Maybe I’ll see you when I am a bit more able to resist your charm.

Always your friend, just not currently in a Facebook variety,


Posted in Culture, Psychology | 4 Comments