Tales of frustration: Huggers

“Oh, I’m a hugger,” she says in her cutesy, affected voice, spreading her arms and tilting her head, while closing the gap created by our personal space.

I raise my outstretched right hand, palm out, and have just enough time to bring up my left hand up as well, halting her advance with a firm block to her shoulders. Shock and affront paint her face, followed by a display of more hurt than could actually have been physically suffered by my denial.

“What the hell, man?”

“I’m sorry, but we’ve only just met and I’m not much of a hugger.”

“Well, you didn’t have to be such a dick about it. I’m just being friendly, you jerk.”

She steps back, setting her stance to convey disapproval.

“Once again, I apologize for your shock, but I don’t much enjoy hugging someone I’ve only just met.”

“Whatever, I’m just trying to be nice and you push me. What are you, some kind of germophobe?”

“No, I just think that hugging is a bit intimate for a first encounter.”

“Yeah right, so you’re, like, autistic or something? You know, you can’t just treat people like that.”

A disdainful sneer disfigured her face and with it, my composure.

“You don’t really know what autism entails, do you? But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m not a hugger and I don’t like hugging someone whose name I’ve only just heard seconds earlier. I don’t appreciate you forcing your habits on me, just because you are a hugger.”

“Look, asshole, I was being nice and you’re being a piece of shit, shoving me back, when all I wanted to do was give you a hug. I mean, seriously, what kind of social reject doesn’t like hugs? And you implying I don’t know what autism is, is totally offensive. I have a nephew with autism and you know nothing about what he has to go through every day.”

“Besides your demonstration that you need to go have a good chat with your nephew’s doctor, you’re failing to understand what is ‘nice’ here. You intended to be nice by doing something I don’t like. You were disregarding me entirely. You think it’s nice to hug upon meeting someone, I do not. I had my hand out to shake yours and you chose to step forward and wrap yourself around me without my consent. If I had the time, I would have told you not to hug me beforehand, but I didn’t. I acted on impulse and stopped you; I did not shove. –“

“Oh, whatever! I –“

“No, no. You have shown you can’t be trusted with words, so you will shut up and let me finish. You tried to engage in physical contact of which I do not approve. And I can see by the look on your face that you still disagree, so let’s consider this: you like to hug. You think it’s nice to be hugged, thus you think it is nice to hug. You know people you like to hug and all think it’s nice, so you label yourself ‘hugger’ and try to bring everyone into your warm embrace. I like to fondle and kiss. I think it’s nice to be fondled and kissed. I know people who like to fondle and kiss and all think it’s nice. Should I then introduce myself saying “Oh, I’m a fondling kisser” and proceed to massage your breasts and lightly bite your lower lip?”

“What the fuck, dude, are you fucking seri-“

“That’s right, the answer is no. I don’t know whether you would enjoy intimate physical contact right off the bat. Maybe you do, but I don’t know. So I keep it safe and extend my hand for a friendly shaking. Do I reach out and grab your hand? No. I wait, hoping you will extend your hand, so our hands can meet in the mutually agreed upon middle. You decide whether you reach out or not, I do not make that decision for you. You need to think about more than what you think is nice when meeting someone.”

A perfect picture of disgust looks me up and down from behind a crossed-arms barrier.

“You can just fuck off, because I’ve got pepperspray and I’m not afraid to use it. You’re not going to touch my breasts no matter how much you want to and I’ve got half a mind to press charges for sexual harassment.”

“Fine. Well you and your half a mind can go hug themselves. Just quit hugging people that don’t want to be hugged.”

Christmas Wishes

It’s Christmas time. I’m not going to be politically correct and state that it’s “the holiday season” or any other such nonsense.
The season is winter, holidays occur throughout the year and everyone from every religion in any country that has in any way been in even tangential contact with western culture knows that it’s Christmas time. It doesn’t matter whether they celebrate it as a Christian tradition, a calendar based sales platform originally set up by Coca-Cola, or don’t even celebrate Christmas at all.Merry Christmas

To me, Christmas is vacation, food and presents. Yes, presents. Friends and family too, they’re very important, but I see friends and family all the time; I only get presents twice a year. On my birthday I throw a party, taking care of drinks and food for all attendants, and with Christmas, I give as much as I get. So it’s actually not really about the ‘getting something’, nor is it about the monetary value of the gifts. At least, not for me. But every year I’m asked again for a list of things I would like and every year I have a little more trouble coming up with ideas for myself.

“What do you want for Christmas?” my mother asks. Or my girlfriend, or her sister. Surely, it’s great when someone imagines the perfect gift for you all on their own, but that’s rare and we shouldn’t expect that. Nor should we get annoyed at someone who just wants to get you something you actually want.Can't think of anything

“I don’t really know,” I answer, feeling pressured. I would like to ask for something that they would like to give as well as something I would like to receive. It can’t be too expensive, nor too cheap (too cheap can be insulting, trivializing their efforts). The best gifts also tend to be the ones the giver can understand: a gift the giver could conceivably be happy to be given.

“Argh, you’re so frustrating. Isn’t there anything you need?” Damn. Needs. Now my Christmas wish list has dragged me into an existential crisis of weighing ‘needs’ against ‘wants’. I know what I need. I think I know what everyone needs: a supportive social network, the proper amount of sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, emotionally fulfilling vocational pursuits and financial security. I have lots of good friends, I eat well and I exercise regularly. So, all I need is sleep, a job I like and money. I can only really ask for money as a gift.Money

“Ehh, yeah. I need a lot of stuff. But I don’t know, I’ll think about it.” I’m not going to ask for money for Christmas. Sure, it might help me sleep and it would definitely make rent a lot less unreasonably scary, but I’m not going to ask for impersonal, dirty, cold cash for Christmas. Mariah Carey didn’t sing “All I need for Christmas”, nor does the caroling classic sound “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to meeeee: two-hundred and seventy-threeeeee”. I’m not ready to let my needs become my wants and in some way I think that means I’m not ready to let go of my childhood.Sponserberleries

Yes yes, childhood, bla bla. Sentimental bs. But that’s Christmas time: one of the most important times of the year for children, sustained by the good-intentioned lies of their parents. Thinking about a wish list made me think about growing up, about maturing, becoming an adult. How I don’t want to be an adult, how I’m maturing poorly and how I’m not doing too well growing up. It made me think about the wish lists I had when I was a kid.

When I was a kid I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure Fugitoid. I wanted a Lego spaceship. I wanted a sword. I wasn’t getting a sword (yet), but I wanted it. Oohh, I needed it. My want felt like a need. If you would’ve asked me “What do you need?”, I would’ve given you the exact same answer. You could argue that as a kid, I had no real concept of wants and needs. My survival needs were taken care of, so all I had left to myself were my wants. Then again, in her seasonal super hit Mariah Carey also sings “There is just one thing I need”.I'll die

My ‘wants’ felt like ‘needs’. Some ‘wants’ still do feel like ‘needs’, but it’s not the same; it’s all abstract, philosophical crap, like love. As a kid I wanted silly things. I got excited about toys, stuff that would be of the lowest priority in a survival situation. But I knew what they were, what they could do and what they were for. Fugitoid was a fugitive android, home to the mind of Professor Honeycutt and friend to the Turtles. He was fully articulated and had a hollow chest compartment. He was going to take part in epic battles and adventures. See? Clear.Fugitoid

Money is quite clear too: throw it at a problem, problem goes away. If you want to be a functioning, independent adult, you will need money. Implying that you’ll have lots of problems, but I won’t get into that. Sometimes you might think you want money, but what you really want is what the money can buy. And I’m afraid that my ‘needs’ will become my ‘wants’; that my ‘wants’ will be those intangible things that can neither be bought nor gifted, or money, because I need it.

I want to want tangible things for Christmas. I want the innocence of an action figure with death-grip. I want silly ‘wants’ to have the power to make me feel like I need them. I want to look at a Christmas tree and feel excitement, not remember it wistfully. And I want other people to feel the same way. So, this Christmas, or whatever occasion in which you find yourself needing a ‘want’, ask for something silly. If you’ve already asked for money, take some of that money and go do something or get something frivolous. We all need a lot of things, but we can take care of those things during the rest of the year. After all, Santa doesn’t spread maintenance of the status quo; he spreads joy.Christmas tree

They are all wrong(ed)

I saw father crying today. I went to mother to ask her why.

‘He cries for your brother,’ she said, ‘He cries, because your brother is not coming home.’

This made me cry.

‘Where is my brother, mother?’ I asked.

‘He is being held captive,’ she answered, as every other time. And as every other time, I did not understand.

‘But why?’ I asked.

‘Because he lived. He went with your uncle to do a desperate and terrible thing. Your uncle died, but your brother lived and thus was captured.’

Now I cried for my uncle, but still did not understand.

‘But mother,’ I pleaded, ‘Why did uncle do this thing?’

‘He believed he must do this terrible thing, because he believed it was the only thing he could do. He believed that with this desperate thing, others might see his cause. and through grief for him and for others, that they might change. He believed that with this terrible and hopeless thing, that our family and our friends might return home.’

For all her explanations, I understood even less.

‘But mother, aren’t we home already?’

‘This is not our home, child. This is our refuge.’

‘But mother, I was born here. If this is not our home, where is it?’

‘It is near here, child. And it is in our past.’

‘But if it is near, why do we not go?’

‘Because we can not. We are being kept from returning.’

I began to understand.

‘Is this why uncle did this thing? Because we may not return?’

‘Yes, child,’ mother began to cry, ‘That is why they did this terrible, desperate and hopeless thing.’

‘But mother, if this thing would let us return home, why do you cry?’

I felt I understood more, but also nothing about the tears on mine and mother’s face.

‘Because, child. Our home is not our home anymore.’

Incomprehensible cognition

Recently I was watching BBC Science Club, a night time informational discussion show hosted by comedian and all round smart guy Dara O’Briain and set in an entertaining format. The episode I happened upon was all about space travel and speculative extra-terrestrial life. And although the former is already wildly interesting, the latter is what really piqued my curiosity.

Dara O'Briain

Every episode the show features a guest expert on a field related to the theme to provide extra information on discussed topics and with whom Dara can converse. This episode was no different and featured Martin Rees, Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge (among other titles).

They discussed the challenges of space travel, the deadly effects of cosmic radiation, the ingenuity of the NASA space suit, and the likeliness of alien life and possible dangers of seeking contact with that as of yet to be found life. And this is where it became extremely interesting to me; they discussed the possible and probable physiology and cognitive existence of extra-terrestrial life.

I sure do hope it'll be more like the one on the left...

I sure do hope it’ll be more like the one on the left…

Convergent evolution was drawn upon to support speculative claims for plausible, even probable, alien development. The octopus, a creature resident of our planet, yet evocative of monsters and aliens, shares with us Homo Sapiens a singularly amazing feature: camera-like eyes. Octopi have eyes that, despite their wildly different evolutionary environment and development, are very similar to ours. This feature is not unique, indeed many species have developed camera-like eyes, but even the octopus has developed them in its evolutionary history. Thus it seems that it is the camera-like eye that has shown itself across species to be the most effective way of utilizing light to register the physical characteristics of the world around us in order to help us with survival.

Can't you see our evolutionary similarities?

Can’t you see our evolutionary similarities?

The camera-like eye was used as an analogy for the ever more complex aspect of life that differentiates us so much from other species: cognition. Cognition is defined as ‘the mental act or process by which knowledge is acquired, including perception, intuition and reasoning’. Simply put, it means thinking. But the idea of cognition (the idea of having ideas) was one that sprouted from a human mind and subsequently means something closer to thinking like us.

Human Thought by Cara Jordan @ Fine art America

Only in recent decades discoveries have been made, and given enough credence to be taken seriously, that allude to cognition similar to our own in other animals. Even when research progressed beyond the stage of monkey see, monkey do, whereby complex behaviour was attributed to high level mimicry, it was still widely believed that a large primate brain was needed to produce cognitive skills comparable to our own. We found for example that chimpanzees could solve simple puzzles and in 1986 the first non-human (Washoe the chimpanzee) learned to communicate using American Sign Language. Since then many apes have been taught to use human language through signing or other means, like Koko the gorilla, who can understand approximately 1000 signed and 2000 spoken English words, and Kanzi the bonobo, who communicates mainly through lexigram panels (pictograph symbols that each had a corresponding word spoken by a computer), produces similar vocalizations and can understand complex sentences.

Kanzi the bonobo speaking with Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, his teacher, mentor and friend.

Kanzi the bonobo speaking with Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, his teacher, mentor and friend.

The research gates were opened and possibilities for research into non-primate intelligence took off. Amazing examples of thought beyond survival have been found in dolphins solving complex puzzles, learning new vocalizations for objects and playing with mirrors, elephants displaying mourning rituals and painting portraits, and Alex the African Grey Parrot uttering the words “You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.” to his keeper and trainer before his death in 2007.

 

As we find out more and more about animal intelligence and how closely it resembles our own, the idea of convergent evolution for cognition becomes plausible at the least. And if convergent evolution has led to the development of cognition in many species that heretofore seemed in sole possession of Homo Sapiens, then it’s fair to reason that human-like cognition is the most effective way of utilizing knowledge and reason to solve novel problems in the world around us in order to help us with survival.

Assuming the above, Professor Martin Rees reasoned, in consideration of convergent evolution, that it would be highly probable that complex alien life will have camera-like eyes and human-like cognition. So many million years of evolution has provided us with these faculties that must be the best ways to improve our chances for survival, according to the laws of evolution. Thus, equally evolved (over time) beings must logically have similar characteristics and capabilities. Right?

Calvin on alien intelligence

Well, this raises questions in me. Must this logically be so? Every animal on this planet, no matter how different from the others, has at least one (rather massive) aspect of life in common: we’ve all evolved on this planet. That might seem a redundant thing to say, but I feel like Professor Rees and Dara O’Briain glazed over this hard fact without lending it the consideration it deserves. Of course we’ve all evolved on Earth, and yet still some of us have fur, feathers or a multitude of appendages and a complete lack of bones. The Earth is a big place for diversity to thrive. But the Earth is a tiny little dot in the incomprehensibly large universe, where every living thing is the same in various ways. For example, every life-form is carbon based and subject to Earth’s gravity. And the main thing we know about most other planets is that they wouldn’t support our kind of life.

But what if life has developed anyways? What if this life developed its own kind of light utilizing organ that’s nothing like our camera eyes? Ambient chemical processing organ that’s nothing like our nose? Sentience and cognition that’s nothing like our own?

This last question gripped me. It was neither addressed nor answered during the BBC Science Club and put me in mind of a number of videos I had seen years earlier about Flatland and spatial dimensions beyond the third. Watch the video down below for a better explanation, but here’s my excerpt: Flatland is a hypothetical place in the second spatial dimension. Flatland has length and width, but no height. Flatlanders have no concept of or for what we call height. They could theorize a concept for height, but it would remain incomprehensible to their sense of experience, because they lack the faculties to observe or sense beyond their two dimensions. If a third dimensional thing would move through Flatland, all the Flatlanders would see is what their ‘eyes’ and ‘brains’ are capable of seeing, which is a flat cross section with only length and width.

Now think of us. We live in the third dimension and nearly all of our experience is related to that fact. Try to imagine a fourth spatial dimension; we would have length, width, height and something else. What would that be like? A well known three dimensional object is a cube. Its two dimensional equivalent is a square. And according to mathematicians its four dimensional equivalent is a tesseract. And as a Flatlander can only conceive of a cube by stacking his squares on top of each other in height, we can only conceive of a tesseract by stacking our cubes ‘on top’ of each other in that fourth spatial dimension. Hard, right?

So to bring it all full-circle with a question: what if life has developed on another planet, or even somewhere that’s not a planet, with a sentience and cognition so far removed from our experience, that we are not able to comprehend what it’s like? An intelligence that is to our intelligence what a tesseract is to a cube? Not more advanced, or more highly developed, but so far removed from our experience that wee can’t comprehend what it might be like? It kind of hurts my brain, but I like the idea of stepping so far outside our frame of reference, that our ideas no longer make sense.

A tesseract performing a 'simple' rotation

A tesseract performing a ‘simple’ rotation

New Year’s (V)ows and Delusions

So, I suppose that since it’s New Year’s Eve tonight it is sort of expected of me to write something about vigilant vows and rusty resolutions for 2013, awful mistakes and amazing adventures from the year that passed and amalgamate it all in some fancy, original anecdote that blows up like fireworks at the very end of the text. I’m supposed to be making dry-humoured jokes and puns about myself and about human kind in general – not disguising my contempt for all the things that are wrong in the world, but at the same time sounding hopeful at the prospect of a brighter future (nobody likes a pessimist on New Year’s).

That's some anecdote!

That’s some anecdote!

I ought to be making lists like Top Ten Events or contrast the best and the worst of 2012 in some kind of cavalcade – preferably with lots of photos – and insert quotations from famous people in the right places (two or three, not too many). And of course I had better mention the immensely funny thing that the world did not end ten days ago. I should come up with three to four great resolutions that mix irony and commitment in perfect blogger harmony, telling my readers how I intend to meet the New Year with a crooked grin, quick remarks and a firm determination to never give up (except where chocolate, overpriced dresses and The Lord of The Rings are involved).

New Year's (V)ows and Resolutions 03

As you may have guessed I will do no such thing. There are too many of those well-wishing, sugary-smiling wankers who keep claiming that “THIS year will be BETTER” – the emphasis becoming increasingly high-pitched and the speech getting more and more slurred with each year of depressing sameness.

New Year's (V)ows and Resolutions 02

I understand that I’m in grave danger of sounding bitter or wilfully pessimistic. The thing is: I used to be one of those wankers. I used to think that a new year meant a fresh start and a warm welcome into the future; that past mistakes could just be wiped out with a soft swish! and a light shrug of the shoulders. Hakuna Matata. But as a next New Year approaches, the vows from last year either seem retrograde and dull or fantastic and unattainable. And so we exchange the old resolutions with their shinier, better phrased twins, making sure they sound impressive but that there are loopholes. The loopholes will make it easier to excuse ourselves when we fall out of the pretty pattern we wove in with the fireworks at midnight; our champagne glasses the weaving pins raised to the exploding sky in salute; our friends all around us smiling at our happy conviction that this year…

Best fireworks ever

Best fireworks ever

Resolutions frequently turn out to be delusions. Vows quickly become Ow!’s. I think I’ll just not bother this year, as my resolutions tend to be full of resolve but lack solutions. Also, I think that a resolution sounds like something set in stone, like there is a mason in our minds who chisels all of our vows into rock. Mine would be a huge mountain worth of unfinished commitments and promises, and I guess that is the case for most of us. So rather than making futile resolutions that are tinged with pressure and with fear of not making it this year either, I’m going to limit my resolutions to this: I will spend 2013 laughing, crying, thinking, talking, feeling, imagining, dreaming, obsessing, procrastinating, kicking walls, rolling my eyes, rejoicing and despairing. In 2013 I will do what I did in 2012 and the year before that: I will simply, happily, be.

Gry

Bang?

Ho ho ho

Oh, I assure you that Santa Claus is real. But whomever led you to believe he is good and kind provided you with the greatest lie he wishes all of us to base our myths of him upon. No, he is not good. He is magical, however, and that magic needs fuel.

Indeed, once every year old Saint Nick lives outside of time, travelling all over the world. I’m not so sure about a flying sleigh, but he gets around, stopping at every door. Or chimney, if you prefer. But he doesn’t bring gifts. He doesn’t bring anything. He reaps.

Christmas is his harvest time. It provides him with that fuel he needs. One endless night for one year of magic. One year of power. And his crops are the pain of unfulfilled promises. The hurt of shattered expectations, of broken dreams. The all-consuming despair that ushers in the final moments before the eternal end to bitter loneliness.

He feeds on our misery, thrives on it. Though ever more so than that, he takes sustenance from our lies. Yes, the lies we tell each other, speak to our children, smiles on our faces. The lies we willingly apply towards keeping our youngest and most in need of truth ‘innocent’. He collects the energies of this perverted practice of protecting our most ignorant, hoards it and uses it to keep dominion over his own little kingdom. His empire of elves.

Yes, elves. His slaves. But they are not magical. They were once just innocent children themselves. See, that whole thing about ‘he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake’, that’s true. He knows that every good lie must hold a kernel of truth. He knows. He and his elves don’t make toys. They watch. They record and archive. Knowledge is power too and he doesn’t want anyone to have more than he does. And you know that bit about a lump of coal? Well, it doesn’t go down your stockings. He can’t have anyone figuring out what’s really going on, but the truth has a nasty way of surfacing. And he has a nasty way of dealing with it.

Some children truly believe. You figure they’re old enough and you tell them that Santa’s not real, that it’s been you getting them nice presents all those years. But they won’t have it. They believe. Maybe they saw him once, glimpsed him in a glitch. Maybe it’s just a gut feeling. But they know. And he knows that they know.

He gathers these children along with all that pain and all those lies, praising them and promising them the world. His elves hold the children down as he cuts out their hearts and replaces them with his coal. Their ears are snipped to mark them and he colours his clothes with their hot blood while they look on with dead eyes, ready to do the same to the next child.

Yes, Santa Claus is real. He comes by every year. He knows. When you are sleeping. When you’re awake. He knows.

Ho ho ho 01

Illustration by Suzan Becking

Hundred Waters – impression review

This is not so much a review as it is an impression.

 3voor12 is a Dutch internet-based music platform and they recently sponsored gigs by different bands during a music festival that featured up and coming bands in different venues all across my home town of Utrecht this past Saturday. One band inspired me to write.

Hundred Waters - impression review - 01.02

I find myself at a small stage room tucked away in a corner of the city centre’s shopping mall. The grey carpet, round bar with fixed stools and the curtained podium together hearken back to a 1950’s ad-firm lounge. Soundcheck proceeds noisily behind the curtain and my expectations have nothing to go on besides an emphatic “They’re really good,” given to me by my friend, whose opinion on music I trust wholeheartedly.

Hundred Waters - impression review - 03.04.05

The curtains open. Two women to my left, one man straight ahead and two men to my right. Crystal clear angelic voice; keyboard, flute and song that pulls at your heartstrings; masterful complementary drums that could easily stand alone; electric guitar, bass and synth flesh out rhythm and melody; electric guitar and effects add detail and complexity.

Hundred Waters - impression review - 06

One can’t help but recognize oneself in the look of the men onstage as they swoon, enthralled by the saccharine voices of their ensemble’s counterparts. Sometimes teetering on the brink of incoherence, the mercurial patterns of the music bring to mind an epic ride on a winged Imogen Heap in a swan dress across an amorphous mountain valley. Soft, sweet song builds into a rising crescendo before you’re assaulted by a harmonized cacophony that, rather than repels, acts to draw you inwards and upwards with the collaboration of sound to follow the direction the singers seem to be taking, their toes being all that’s left to connect them to the ground.

Hundred Waters - impression review - 07

This experience leads me to believe they need and deserve more widespread recognition. The first thing I say after their short, but very impressive, show was “What’s their name again?”.

It’s Hundred Waters.

I hadn’t heard of them before, but I will not forget and I hope to hear that name many, many times in the future.

SeanK

Hundred Waters - impression review - 08

Photos by Dongwei Su twitter flickr

Fear, friends and fighting

Last Friday night at around 2.30am, after a busy night working at the art-house movie theatre / restaurant that employs me, three colleagues of mine (R, S and T) and I were standing outside my work, talking and getting ready to go home. A scooter with two people on it came riding up to us, slowed down and proceeded onwards, having to deviate slightly from a straight line. On it sat a big fat man and his slightly smaller, fat wife (I assume). He yelled something at us as he passed and thinking nothing of it, my colleague T called out ‘Sorry?’, not having understood the heavyset individual.

The man stopped, once again said something unintelligible and T repeated himself. The man then backed up on his scooter, stood next to T and emphatically told him he was in the way and asked if T had a problem. T denied, and explained that he had only misunderstood him, thus saying sorry more as a question.

However, the man seemed to take T’s ‘Sorry?’, and anything else he said, more as a challenge. He grabbed T, proved himself not only jiggly, but very drunk as well, and pulled him in, once again angrily stating that we were in the way and that we should have moved. T explained himself once again, as tension became palpable within the group. The man had become angry and pushed T away, causing him to trip up on my wheel.

Most likely due to no conscious effort of his own, the calorically challenged man let the ensuing chorus of protests and call to behave pass him by and seemed to gather more and more anger from the situation. ‘He wants to fight. That’s it, he wants to fight,’ he said, failing to convey whether his words were intended for his bundled up, spherical wife, or to verbalize his thoughts before they would be inevitably lost to him.

Thankfully his wife said ‘No he doesn’t’ and for the same unfathomable reasons to get off, the man once again applied an inordinate amount of pressure to the shock-absorbers on his scooter and rode away, taking our wishes for a drunken accident with him.

During this entire event I experienced a cascade of thoughts and emotions, strongly influenced by natural paranoia, academic education in psychology, action movies and 13 years of martial arts training.

The belligerent slab of flesh impressed on me the assessment of a man who has led a less than exemplary life, rife with situational setbacks and behavioural difficulties, nurturing a natural lack of impulse and temper control and a predisposition for aggression into a large, cantankerous, alcohol abusing midnight scooter driver. His wilful misinterpretation of T’s words (however few they were), as well as his readiness and indeed willingness to fight led me to believe that this man, who must rightly pay road maintenance tax, must have a good measure of experience with street fighting, even if it’s simply due to others taking umbrage with his behaviour. Additionally, his girth, coupled with his state of inebriation, would make for a trying encounter to say the least if it would have come to blows.

At the moment the man backed up, I immediately became tense. When he stood next to T, I noticed myself flexing my fingers and loosening my bag and when he grabbed T I began to imagine the best ways to attack him; the best ways to cause the most damage in the least amount of time. Within moments I settled on a right elbow strike to the left temple, followed by a left open hand edge strike to the throat and a right dragon fist (middle knuckle extended) to the left eye. If still a standing threat, a turned in right snap kick to the left knee would bring him to the ground, where he could more easily be subdued with feet, knees and an uncomfortably placed bicycle. Then I would call the police. I had confidence in this plan.

However, I also had fear. I was not so much in shock, or afraid of the man attacking me, but afraid, because I thought I was really going to take serious action if the man became combative. The techniques described above, if performed properly, can be horribly damaging. Even if I would have come out of such a physical encounter without being hurt myself, I would have to deal with the aftermath of my own actions.

A strange sense of satisfaction came over me as well. The comparatively uneventful happening came to a close and our little group broke up after a few shared moments of stupefied confusion. On my solitary bike ride home I mulled over what did and didn’t happen. I remain uncertain as to how I would have fared. And though most of me is perfectly happy with the idea that I’ll never find out, part of me wanted it to happen, to satiate my anger and aggression, but also out of curiosity. Would I have done well? Would I have frozen or failed? It’s always easier to ascend the podium of victory in the mind, where the pedestal of triumph is built of speculation. Thus, if I am to focus solely on what happened, even if most of it was immaterial, I will take away a feeling of pride for being ready to fight on behalf of a friend.

Obstacles?

Another piece I wrote this past summer. The setting is no longer relevant, but I believe the development and conclusion are. Let me know what you think!

A friend and I went for a run the other day. We headed down-town to grab a quick cup of coffee and then run back. It seemed a nice day to run, a bit of sun and a breeze. I asked for and expected a leisurely run; something to get the juices flowing and a start to work away three weeks of vacation in the US. I was motivated and feeling good about myself, feeling good about my decision to exercise. But as is often the case, the day turned out slightly different than planned and my brain played catalyst in changing a simple run into something much more meaningful. Or slightly odd at least.

So, this friend is going to participate in the 2012 Urbanathlon in Amsterdam. The Urbanathlon is a 14,5 km. long race with 29 obstacles on the way: jumping over cars, climbing walls, walking over beams, shimmying across ropes, you name it. And on our run he suggested we try to do similar exercises. Make it a kind of parkour-esque run with improvised, obstacle related challenges as we go along. Fun, right? Not at all leisurely, but hey, I wasn’t about to whine.

2012 Amsterdam Urbanathlon

We started running and quickly found out that the breeze was warm and the air was humid. More than humid, it was damn near wet. Before long it felt like we were running in soup and around that time my friend thought it’d be a great idea to run up and down a hill as fast as we can. Three times. And then, we climbed an electrical grid transformer shed. And then, pull-ups in a kids’ playground.

I wish we had come across this

Now, I’m not entirely sure, but I think it was around that third obstacle that I had totally forgotten about my intentions for a leisurely work-out and the pain coursing through my entire body. And as far as I can remember clearly, it was somewhere between the third and fourth obstacle that a strange realization hit me. Was it due to light-headedness? An over-abundance of endorphins making me high? I’m not sure, but as it’s wont to do, my brain went the way of the (not entirely necessary) philosophical. Stick with me now, because I need to elaborate just a little bit more to illustrate how I got to where I’m going.

Sadly, this one is closer to the mark

Alright, it’s no longer about the run, nor the different obstacles we tackled on the way. As soon as the click hit me it was all about the search for obstacles. As we were running along, I kept pointing at things and panting out the accompanying question: “Obstacle?”. Some we tackled, some we passed by, but I kept on saying it. Exactly the same way and with the exact same intent. Imagine saying it – “Obstacle?” – between breaths, exhausted, with that characteristic questioning lift of tone at the end and, most importantly, with hope. Or maybe not entirely hope, but something akin to gleeful anticipation. Just something that exemplifies the expectation of something good in the near future. The opposite of an obstacle.

Bam! Paradoxical random morning exercise brainstorm! Alright, calm down, it’s not that great a revelation. But at the time it was an epiphany to me. That contradiction of concept and intent provided me with a never before experienced level of understanding of the age-old mantra ‘life is what you make it’.

After a short bout of irrational self-loathing for thinking like a hippie and a bit of food and rest, the thought and understanding solidified to a clear, if somewhat convoluted, idea: life is indeed what you make it, but the tools you are given with which you must construct that life are not always tools that you would choose, nor are they tools you would necessarily know what to do with.

I kept on looking forward to encountering an obstacle. My focus on future opportunities was laced with positive feelings, yet the word I used is a quintessentially negative one. The word ‘obstacle’ is actually used to indicate difficulties and problems and not just physical, but emotional difficulties as well. Who hasn’t heard a self-help guru bandy about the phrase “overcoming life’s obstacles”?

The overly ambitious goal…

Maybe I should have used the word ‘challenge’. ‘Challenge’. A word fraught with opportunity. An obstacle that holds the possibility and expectation to be overcome, to be taken on and conquered. But I didn’t. If I did, then nothing about that run would have been special, philosophically significant. To some the word ‘challenge’ can be daunting, but it is inherently positive. It implies development, growth, victory. It wouldn’t have sparked that feeling of dissonance I had as I used the paradoxically positive use of the word ‘obstacle’.

So as I write, I realize that my convoluted addendum to ‘life is what you make it’ could be made more concise: rather than ‘life is what you make it’, how about ‘life is made by you’.

…and the pitiful, but fun, reality.

Jarle Bernhoft – review

30-10-2012 Tivoli de Helling, Utrecht, Netherlands

Interspersed with Dutch tongue-twisters, Jarle Bernhoft’s final show of the tour was characterized by lots of laughter and a wild whirlwind of emotions, ranging from silly dance elation to heartfelt, tear jerking wistfulness. Shivers of aural pleasure drew a blanket of tingling gooseflesh from my skin time and time again during the hour long show set on a master plan of upbeat songs that invited sing along and spotlight soul that evoked immediate enraptured silence.

The multi-instrumentalist Norseman that shot to YouTube fame with the live recording of C’mon talk” slid into an easy rapport with the crowd with silly jokes, clever references to the venue in his songs and resounding charisma to give the whole show a very personal atmosphere.

Skilful use of 5 different instruments, vocalizations and a bit of beatboxing on a loop machine backed impressive guitar play, while a clear falsetto all the way down to a reverberating bass let every well placed word ring with honesty.

Bernhoft has shown himself to be a true stage performer, standing up to demonstrate a ridiculous dance move, admitting to the hit and miss nature a particular song enjoyed during the tour and  inviting the crowd to join in a song with a smile and a hand-on-heart thank you every time. He reeled with laughter and obvious delight while the crowd sang his gospel as his faithful congregation during the encore. Though exhausted in the end, he didn’t seem to want to leave and the crowd would have had him stay forever if we could.

Jarle Bernhoft is a brilliant artist and I can personally guarantee the awesome delivery of everything a concert should be at one of his shows.

The warm-up act for Bernhoft was provided by Lucy Swann. Also from Oslo, Lucy Swann put me in mind of a soulful mix between Imogen Heap and Björk. The surprisingly good (surprising, because I had no idea what to expect) Norwegian beauty tugged at my heartstrings with a lightly veiled homage to the Proclaimers and one of my top-5 favourite songs ever. Definitely worth an ear.

SeanK