synthetic zero


November 30, 2003

My dad and I were watching Born Rich on HBO (we'd both seen it once before but were drawn in) this afternoon. The film, about children of the super-rich, struck me as particularly interesting to me because, like the kids in the movie, I've always felt somewhat privileged by what I have inherited from my family; and there was a similarity here, echoed by the advice that my dad gave me as a child to downplay my family background. As it happens, I come from a samurai family ... though by all rights that ought to mean little by now, it nevertheless has meant something to me. My family culture had and has many peculiar traits that come from samurai culture (among other things) and its influence on my parents and their parents, etc. This includes a relaxed and matter-of-fact attitude towards disaster, a certain calmness in the face of chaos, an exceptionally pragmatic, problem-solving approach to life situations, and many other things. Even physically, I've inherited things from my warrior ancestors --- my family was historically well-known for speed and agility, and somehow this survives even into my generation: my father was a track star in high school and I was also a very good sprinter in school, and relatively agile in my amateur attempts at practicing martial arts. My family life was relatively serene and I feel I received a great wealth of information about how to deal with life from my ancestors through my parents. For this and many other reasons I feel very much as though I were the recipient of a lottery prize, an inheritance that is of immense value to me, and in many ways I feel simply lucky to have received this --- obviously it was not due to any choice of mine. It came from the choices made by many people before I was born.

One thing, however, which I did not inherit from my family was great wealth --- it was a central tenet of samurai culture that excessive pursuit of wealth was considered vulgar, a trait of the lower classes. Many samurai were, therefore, rather impoverished in the old days. (Of course, after Westernization, many former samurai families went into industry, and some became quite wealthy --- but even today the aristocratic samurai disdain of wealth survives in Japan, making it the country with the least income disparity between rich and poor of any industrialized nation).

Inherited wealth I think is a distorting force --- it can twist one's character, and it is a tremendous burden. Watching these rich kids speak, I had to feel sorry for them. While I can't think of much to complain about in my own inheritance, I am very glad that my ancestors did not accumulate great wealth. I would definitely have been the worse for it if they had. Watching the film, I was most astonished at the arrogant attitude of the European aristocrat in the film --- his superficiality, his addiction to his own wealth and privilege --- to me, these are vulgar qualities, of the sort that the old samurai would have considered utterly unseemly. (I do not claim that samurai were not arrogant --- or even that I am not arrogant in my own way --- but the samurai at least did not consider flaunting or becoming dependent upon great wealth to be appropriate.) But more than being shocked by his attitude, I felt sorry for him --- how limited he was, how he would never have the humility to find himself going beyond his small world of tailored suits and disdain for "work." My father said, when we were watching that part of the film, that mixing power and wealth was dangerous --- that's why the samurai escaped that fate to some extent, because we had power but not wealth. Further --- using one's inheritance merely for self-indulgence would seem to me to be a dangerous form of dependency. Of course, I am betraying my own sense of superiority to this European aristocrat, so I cannot say I don't have my own brand of elitism. I just think my brand of elitism is better than his...

To me, anyone can be wealthy, without lots of money, by relaxing in a certain way and discovering their own resourcefulness. Obviously being in deep poverty makes it difficult to see this, but aside from this money is mostly a distraction in my view. As Bateson pointed out, money is odd because in nature, most values have an optimal level (heat, food, etc.): too much or too little can be fatal. With money, however, people assume the more you have, the better --- it's thought to be a monotonic value. But beyond a certain minimal level, the more personal wealth you have, the more dependent upon it you might become, and the less pressure there is from the world to grow and explore and develop your own capabilities. I know from difficult experience it's not easy to relax in the specific way I am thinking of, but it doesn't require money, and it does require a kind of courage which I think is difficult for these rich kids --- because they live dependent upon their wealth, and therefore in fear of its disappearance.

November 29, 2003

Back in Los Angeles. Tonight I had the distinct feeling of re-entering my life; as though my life were now merging back in with something I had left behind years ago. A plane coming in for a landing ... We normally think of time as something that branches ... but imagine if we could think of branches as re-joining? But what about the different histories of these branches? We place a great value on remembering, but perhaps this points to a virtue of forgetting as well. In forgetting, we make room for differing histories to blur together. History is what we choose to look at; in quantum mechanics, it's not that history exists and we are just the result of many prior events that are fixed --- rather, in some very real sense one could say we create history by looking for evidence of past events. Perhaps by forgetting something about the road we travelled, we open up room to return to a path we thought we had left behind long ago.

I'm going to Toronto next week. I wish I had more time to stay there. I will be visiting Asha Daniels and maybe Jules (though in the latter case my schedule might preclude actually meeting, alas). Toronto seems quite an interesting city. Depending on what happens, I think I will want to visit there more than once.

November 23, 2003

Saw Khaela Maricich on Friday night, along with Anna Oxygen and some other K Records folk, at a show at CB's 313 Gallery. Khaela's show blew me away --- she was doing a performance of "Blue Sky vs. Night Sky" which I hadn't seen before. It was amazing. I loved her sudden and deft context shifts. Actually I've always liked her performances but I didn't know she was quite this talented. Amy came along and was similarly impressed. Anna's show was very fun and high-energy: despite the fact that we weren't supposed to dance, she encouraged us to violate the law in creative ways --- ultimately we just gave up trying to pretend we were walking to the bathroom strangely, etc., and just danced. I spoke with Khaela afterwards; hopefully she will be coming to our show and maybe she'll even do something; if she isn't having a party for Amber Bell (which reminds me of the fact that long ago, before I'd even heard anything about Olympia or met anyone else from there, I'd met Amber Bell in Portland and was so impressed with one of her artworks that I bought it, laboriously scanned it in --- it was tricky because it was much bigger than my scanner so I had to stitch it together in Photoshop --- and wrote one of my first posts about it.) I chatted a little with Anna as well; I told her of my ambivalence about moving to New York --- she said she liked New York, but she could understand. It was funny to see her in such a different context than Olympia; though in another way seeing Khaela and Anna seemed utterly ordinary and commonplace.

November 19, 2003

Our art/film/performance/music/salon event will be happening at 8pm on December 6. For more details, go to the events page. We'll be featuring a number of short experimental films, some paintings, sculpture, photographs, and a couple of performances.

November 15, 2003

Amy saw this accidental arrangement and thought it visually interesting; so I photographed it with my new supertiny supercool Pentax Optio S4:

Emily's new blog, The Secret Museum.

Meditating this weekend in Massachusetts. It occurred to me that the primary function of intellectual understanding when it comes to meditation is not so much to cause something to occur as it is to prevent you from derailing yourself. When it comes to meditation, ideas can derail you but they can't really help you that much (they can help a little, but not as much as one might imagine). They help you choose a posture, so to speak (meaning not just a posture of body, but an overall posture), a gesture towards the Absolute, but they cannot in and of themselves realize the absolute --- that is something that has already happened, outside of time -- ideas tend to be bound in with time.

I love this little book: Roland Barthes' Empire of Signs:

In the haiku, the limitation of language is the object of a concern which is inconceivable to us, for it is not a question of being concise (i.e., shortening the signifier without diminishing the density of the signified) but on the contrary of acting on the very root of meaning, so that this meaning will not melt, run, internalize, become implicit, disconnect, divagate into the infinity of metaphors, into the spheres of the symbol. The brevity of the haiku is not formal; the haiku is not a rich thought reduced to a brief form, but a brief event which immediately finds its proper form.


November 11, 2003


The trick is, even while doing things, to make a finite time (a lifetime, a day, a breath) feel spacious and unhurried.



November 8, 2003

Yes, things are going so, so well in Iraq. I mean, outside of a few extremists who are attacking us. Well, and the civilians who set our vehicles ablaze after we flee the scene of an automatic weapons attack. From an AP article in the LA Times (link expired --- can be found in other places, like here):

A senior U.S. official insisted on Saturday that the U.S. military has the upper hand in the escalating war in Iraq, on a day when two paratroopers died in a roadside ambush and the international Red Cross said it was closing two main offices due to deteriorating security.

....In Mosul, 250 miles north of Baghdad, witnesses said a vehicle carrying American soldiers was attacked with automatic weapons as it drove down a city street. The vehicle stalled and several wounded soldiers got out and fled on foot. Local people then set the vehicle ablaze.

"They (Americans) are occupying the world," said Shazad Ahmed, a resident who saw the attack. "What do you want the people to do? Kiss them?"

When you have to say that the United States, with the most powerful, advanced military in the world, "has the upper hand," you know you're in deep trouble.

November 4, 2003

The Halloween costume I made for Susan. Basically the idea was a reprise of a costume I made in second grade, which was inspired by abstract paintings and science fiction (I was trying to make an alien who really had an alien feel). This new costume is more just supposed to be something abstract and funny. The cone has no eyeholes so Susan didn't wear it much --- but she did wear it a little bit, as long as she got some guidance.