As you may have gathered from my silence, the past couple months have been incredibly busy with travel and work and learning and running and socializing (on three different continents), and I've found it very difficult to find a block of time to sit down and do nothing but think and write. Quite honestly, that's all I've wanted to do, because in the midst of all the bustle, I've been reading and thinking about a number of issues, not least of which is the U.S. Presidential election, the "cosmopolitan elite," and the rise of Donald Trump. But I feel too overwhelmed to start on all of that right now. The writing will come back eventually as I organize my thoughts, and until then, this is just to say Hello, I'm still here, I hope you are well.
Dear Readers, if you would like to read my posts about Kabul, please send me a message for the password. I will be updating quite regularly in that section, and I love receiving your comments, notes of encouragement, critiques, or otherwise. It's been a very busy few weeks, and things are only getting busier, but I hope to be able to continue writing and posting here. Finally, some interesting and useful things from around the web the past few weeks:
- "The full horror of the human tragedy unfolding on the shores of Europe was brought home on Wednesday as images of the lifeless body of a young boy – one of at least 12 Syrians who drowned attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos – encapsulated the extraordinary risks refugees are taking to reach the west." Disgraceful.
- Let them in and let them earn - article from The Economist
- Britain takes in so few Syrian refugees they could fit on a subway train, and also, I think this argument is rubbish but am open to counter-arguments
- Migrant children's drawings from Hungary train station
- How to send your stuff to Kindle - excellent!
- From the Harvard Business review via a friend: How Anthropomorphism Undermines Self Control (in other words, you may feel better about eating a cookie if it has a face on it)
- William Easterly's development economics reading list
- Afghanistan has vast untapped natural resources
- How do you e-laugh? Facebook's data says LOL isn't funny anymore
- The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition was a riot of colour - those bright pink walls!
I visited the September 11 Memorial for the first time this week. The twin reflecting pools are each nearly an acre in size and feature the largest manmade waterfalls in North America. The pools sit where the Twin Towers once stood, and the names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are inscribed in bronze panels edging the pools (the picture above shows the names of my good friend's father and uncle). The Memorial, in the shadow of the shimmering One World Trade Center, is quite compelling. The Museum is next on my list.
Pictured above is the best message I've ever gotten in a fortune cookie. More profound than the standard "you will be rich" or "a dream you have will come true," though slightly odd since it is instructive rather than predictive. It's actually a perfect "fortune" for me as I would be more than happy to spend the rest of my life defending human/individual rights. For your perusal, the following are some interesting articles I found around the web last week:
- Leonard Elschenbroich, cellist extraordinaire who recently gave a concert at the Frick
- Have you been following the drama unfolding in Indiana over religious free exercise?
- The sexism you can't quite prove
- To the Moon play canopy -- I'm an adult and I want this
- What are your favorite things at Trader Joe's?
- I'm a big proponent of successful women in girlie clothes
- Building a career: steps for success
- Gorgeous, uncommon views of New York City
- A fortune cookie quotes database
- I wrote about my nephew's first birthday & the Frick ball
- My short review of Quiet by Susan Cane
This past week at work was busier than most. We hosted 25 representatives from various NATO nations and partner nations for a meeting on the best methods for teaching a standardization agreement (STANAG) on the Rules of Armed Conflict (ROE). That's a mouth full. Basically, we got a bunch of NATO lawyers together to talk about how best to teach soldiers what is and is not allowed during war and peace operations. It was a very interesting exercise, but also very tiring as I was taking nearly verbatim notes in order to produce an official report on the event. As a result, I spent my evenings watching movies and browsing the web instead of working on my paper. . . here are some interesting things I found this week:
- Richard Posner on writing
- An excellent This American Life episode on the writer's room of The Onion
- A Chabad Conference drew 4,000 rabbis to New York - amazing pictures
- Marvel Comics introduces a Muslim girl superhero
- Albert Camus is the ideal husband of contemporary letters
- Interesting MoMa project on design and violence
- $1.3 billion worth of Nazi-looted art found in Munich!
- 40 must-see historical photos
- Read about this amazing 17-year-old millionaire
- A site dedicated to remarkable women - The Reconstructionists
- My Norwegian colleagues were singing (and dancing) to this song all week. I think it's cute and clever. What does the fox say?
Life beats on in Mons with hardly a second to reflect. The daily routine, though familiar and occasionally comforting, demands constant movement: I wake up to the early misty mornings, arrive at the bus stop at exactly the same time every day, see the barbed wire fences come into view atop the hill heading out of Mons, pass through security, and recite the daily catechism, "Bonjour. Merci. Bonne Journee." Another day has begun. Then there's coffee from a machine, a warm croissant, and a short walk from the cafeteria, past the bunker, to the office. Indeed, the routine is comforting because it creates its own customs, making life in a foreign place manageable and familiar. But the routine also robs me of the seemingly endless hours I once had to read and think and ponder and write.
There is an interesting world to be discovered at the workplace, no doubt. There are soldiers of varying ranks, a cadre of interns, and contractors from everywhere you can imagine. Stand in the copy room long enough and you'll meet everyone from janitors to generals, each with his (most likely not her) own pleasantries to exchange. Working in an international office is nice for all the reasons people usually say it is, and yet I miss the life of the mind that seems to be missing.
Writing this post right now is a luxury as there are groceries to be bought and papers to be organized and cleaning to be done. There is also sleep to be had. If there's anything I'm learning right now aside from managing people, assignments, and expectations, it's that I need to be patient with myself. Life beats on in Mons and I'm doing my best to balance everything while finding my way.
From Henry Miller:
"The art of living is based on rhythm — on give and take, ebb and flow, light and dark, life and death. By acceptance of all aspects of life, good and bad, right and wrong, yours and mine, the static, defensive life, which is what most people are cursed with, is converted into a dance, ‘the dance of life,’ metamorphosis. One can dance to sorrow or to joy; one can even dance abstractly. … But the point is that, by the mere act of dancing, the elements which compose it are transformed; the dance is an end in itself, just like life. The acceptance of the situation, any situation, brings about a flow, a rhythmic impulse towards self-expression. To relax is, of course, the first thing a dancer has to learn. It is also the first thing a patient has to learn when he confronts the analyst. It is the first thing any one has to learn in order to live. It is extremely difficult, because it means surrender, full surrender."
I'm busier in Belgium than I have been in quite awhile, in part, of course, because I'm working more than 40 hours a week, but also because routine things like laundry take so much time here. I spend one evening a week at the laundromat, three at the gym, and most Saturdays running errands because that's the only day shops are open. I don't know where I'm going to find the time to read and research for my law school requirements once language classes and the weekend trips begin. Despite the busy days and my strong dislike for Mons, I'm really enjoying NATO and my fellow Shapians. Last night I had beers with new friends from Serbia, Turkey, and the Czech Republic. We talked about Orhan Pamuk and religious liberty and the strength of Belgian beers. For some reason, I have fewer meaningful and forthright conversations in New York, and far, far fewer satisfying evenings. Despite the tumult of the last few weeks, I'm convinced that being here is worth it, and I'm so happy to have found some people with whom to share ideas and good times.
The end of summer and the beginning of fall is finally upon us and I'm off on a little European adventure. An inopportune time you say? Indeed! But I find that as the years get busier and busier, the right time to take advantage of an opportunity is when it presents itself. Hope your Labor Day weekend is filled with things as pleasurable as chess in the shade. Here are some interesting things from around the web this week:
This Wednesday I have a severe case of writer's block. I blame it on summer city stench, humidity, and preoccupation with my friends' weddings. These distractions, both welcome and unwelcome, make concentrating on something like foreign policy very difficult. I find myself on Jcrew.com looking for summer party dresses instead of reading up on Clinton's grand strategy, and spend hours contemplating vegetarianism after reading articles like this one. Writer's block means I print lots of things to read -- as if collating and stapling is the same thing as being productive -- take frequent snack breaks, drink many glasses of wine, run my fingers crazily through my hair, watch Mad Men on repeat, rewrite over and over, and order Thai fried rice. I hope it ends soon.
Another case of distraction comes from the elephantine footsteps of my upstairs neighbor that came, unbeknownst to me, part and parcel with the idyllic charm of my 1920's townhouse apartment. The neighbor is about my age, medium build, Midwestern (or so he seems), and perfectly normal. He removes his shoes when he gets home and has carpet over 70% of his apartment floor (as stipulated in the lease). Aside from asking him not to walk in his apartment at all, there's not much I can do. I have, however, drafted a note that asks him politely to "please, walk more gently". I have a feeling it will find its way under his door very soon.
In an effort to clear my head, I took a train ride out to Queens and my old stomping grounds in the evening. Kew Gardens is home to a small independent cinema, a good friend from university, and some of the best pizza I've ever had in New York. I kept running into memories around every corner, and might have become unbearably nostalgic if not for the bizarre two hour film we decided to see. Most of the script is whispered to evoke drama and spirituality, and the whole film is shot as a choppy retrospective, giving the impression that the story is never getting underway. The strangest part was a nearly twenty minute segment in the middle of the film that is simultaneously the iTunes visualizer and a segment of National Geographic on earth, wind, and sky. As we watched the screen turn from pulsing, swooping, colorful graphics to a journey through the core of the earth, I leaned over to my friend and told her I'd have to be high to enjoy it. Clearly an account of creation, this New Yorker passage describes it more elegantly than it is portrayed in the film:
We see glimmers of unfathomable light, vast interstellar conflagrations, drifting throngs of stars, planets in their formless infancy, sun and moon occluded by dark storms, energizing jolts of lightning, gulping primordial pools, early plants, early creatures, slow-dancing jellyfish, hammerhead sharks, a dinosaur lounging on the shore, an embryo’s eye, and, last but not least, a child being born—to a white-clad mother who neither sweats nor shouts—in postwar suburban Texas. Now, you can call this entire passage overblown, or diversionary, but what it is not is incoherent or mad. It strikes me as a straightforward account of creation, Malick’s Genesis, ending in the Eden of Jack’s childhood; everything else in the film dramatizes the loss of that prelapsarian grace and the rare, Proustian instants at which it is remembered afresh.
If you see The Tree of Life, leave a comment. Maybe I cannot educate myself to his purposes, and that's why it looks like nonsense. (From the New Yorker article: “If we cannot educate ourselves to his purposes, then clearly his work will look like nonsense.” That is Malick, writing of Heidegger, and introducing his own translation of Heidegger’s “The Essence of Reasons,” in 1969. He refers to the philosopher’s “peculiar language,” and “The Tree of Life” is no less odd, yet its purposes are clear: it is a grief-powered movie, triggered by the revelation, near the start, that Jack’s brother R.L. died at the age of nineteen.)