hel·low (ˈhelō/) exclamation. A salutation embodying the vibrant energy found in the color yellow.

23 April 2014

The Benefits of Brevity

"Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte." – Lettres Provciales, 1657
When translated by French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, the English language was given the sentiment:
"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."
One of the most difficult endeavors in writing is brevity. To condense dozens of complex thoughts is a masterful art. When these ideas are not tethered, they run rampant and flow for thousands of words, consuming unnecessary space and time, galloping back in repetitious circles around themselves, repeating for dozens of statements, filling pages that need not be filled and robbing precious minutes from the reader; flowing, unrestrained, for innumerable unending sentences.
For most writing and communication, less is more.
Long and complex sentences are like an overgrown garden. Some careful maintenance can bring out the beauty. Consideration of each word can illuminate thoughts to the reader. Words can paint pictures when their presence is not overbearing. To cultivate this art, one must be mindful of one’s language. Masters of brevity select the most appropriate words and arrange them in precisely the manner needed to convey their thoughts. There is no clutter. There is no waste. Each word contributes to the sentence as a whole. No vestigial verbiage is employed.
When in a hurry, as we so often are, we neglect the power of our words. We fumble, uttering improper things, and blur the message we wish to share. The receivers of our words are left to untangle the muddled cluster we amalgamated. Unbridled language creates extraneous words; increasing the length our message, distorting its content, and diluting its impact. A careless use of language is disrespectful to whom we communicate. We are generating unneeded problems for others to solve. It is common courtesy to unscramble one’s own mess before passing it over to a peer.
A wordsmith takes the time to reflect on his thoughts before pressing pen to paper or lip to tongue. Like a sage carpenter, he measures twice, cuts once. He outlines his ideas, fleshing out their ancillary details, and snips away the excess. The product is lean and clean. It is accessible and beautiful. It is not sparse nor lacking, but compact and fulfilling, economical and precise. The craft of brief language is a skill worthy of one’s pride.
It is an art we can all learn to practice. 

16 April 2014

Confucianism the Literal Cure for the Can’t Philosophy

That title.


I can't.


Literally dying.

I turned 21 today, so I suppose I am one year closer to literally dying. But I'd like to think I have many more years of literally living to get done before that. Many more years of constructing a better version of myself. Fingers crossed.

While Tumblr has bred a generation of people who can't, some classic Wuchang Confucianism should offer a notable cure.

Confucius, whose name does not predate the English word "confusion"--fear not verbophobes--was a Chinese philosopher who taught an ethical system that holds prominence in the modern Eastern world. Coined Confucianism, this complex train of thought can be seen as a form of religion that revolves around continual personal improvement. The premise of these teachings is that humans, while innately flawed, are impressionable and improvable creatures. This concept--the possibility that humans can eliminate their flaws--is unlike the common-held assumption that humans are eternally imperfect beings. Through individual and communal endeavors, Confucian thought firmly believes that human beings can transcend their imperfections. To believe that man is eternally flawed and can never achieve perfection is extremely pessimistic, no matter the perspective. To enact hope in the potential of self-creation is arousing.

So, rather than conform to the learned helplessness of the "I can't" philosophy, consider investing effort into classical Wuchang Confucianism. This practice involves five simple elements:

仁 - Ren - Humanity

義 - Yi - Righteousness

禮 - Li - Ritual

智 - Zhi - Knowledge

信 - Xin - Integrity

Since much of Cantism (the "I can't" philosophy) revolves around feelz (emotions), which are a part of humanity, Confucianism is a simple means to a paradigm shift. When there are too many feelz to cope with, many contemporaries drift into the unfortunate hopelessness of Cantism, as they feel that they are too flawed to ever can. While this admittance of defeat resonates with the honest base of Confucianism, the negative attitude is wholesomely nonconstructive.

You never heard Bob the Builder say "I can't." His can-do Confucian attitude led him to complete innumerable construction projects.

By using the logic of humanity, one can learn to not only accept the flaws of mankind, but embrace the potential to improve them. Ren and Yi are the cornerstones to a productive attitude, as these elements focus on doing the right thing for the greater good. The tools to enact these values lie in disciplined ritual, Li, and an understanding of the world, Zhi. When the core of these elements is directed with wholesome intentions, Xin, one can began to cultivate himself into a better individual and overcome the obstacles that once hindered his growth.

Living a constructive life is skillful art, but it can be done.

09 April 2014

Jigsaw Puzzles & Other Pointless Things

People say that puzzles are good for the mind. Doing puzzles helps with memory and cognition and problem-solving ability. Puzzles are just all-around good things to keep the mind "sharp." Whether it be Sunday newspaper crosswords, Sudoku books, Rubik's cubes, or jigsaw puzzles, these are great workouts for the mind. They are an excuse to keep it active, but for what point? Upon completion of a Sudoku grid or crossword, a momentary feeling of accomplishment is aroused and you feel great. But why? You have accomplished nothing. You completed a mentally stimulating (questionable) task and nothing changes. Most puzzles are about as useful as this list of useless objects that can be considered art (although many of these are admittedly quite clever and mildly inspirational).

One of the most interesting products available for sale is puzzle glue--an adhesive used to preserve completed jigsaw puzzles so that you may frame your hard work and hang it from a wall like a taxidermized animal head. Jigsaw puzzles exist for a feeling of false accomplishment. They were once complete pictures that were later divided into hundreds of little pieces for the purpose of being put back together again. They could be about the journey--the process of rebuilding a purposefully deconstructed image--and the end product/destination is irrelevant, but at what point does the time investment of completing these puzzles become selfish? Economically, the opportunity cost is quite astounding, but what's the big deal?--it's just a puzzle. The amount of energy spent to turn a pile of cardboard pieces into a complete image could have many better uses. Completing a jigsaw and returning it to its box is a circle of pointlessness intended to sharpen one's mind. A spinning whetstone sharpens swords in the same circular motion.

At the end of the day, the glued-together puzzle on the wall could have been made without dividing it into a thousand pieces and putting it back together and coating it in adhesive. If the mind needs to be sharpened, there are plenty of problems in the world to be solved and plenty of constructive projects to improve mental acuity. But this sounds stressful and fun-sucking. To compare a relaxing process and the gamut of unsolved global issues is absurd. The mental challenge of solving larger problems, while good exercise for the mind, does not return the relaxing results that a simple jigsaw puzzle affords. These pointless puzzles offer a form of meditation, almost. They provide a goal, although not that important in the scheme of things, but a goal nonetheless. In order to achieve the goal, a series of small, and slightly mindful tasks are required. Puzzles, in all their self-serving existence, can be a therapeutic means to mental health. The impracticality of solving these playful problems is globally sinful but personally enriching.

02 April 2014

Writers on Rails

A series of 140 character messages sparked Amtrak to consider a new opportunity for writers. As individual wordsmiths began to collectively tweet about their love of writing on trains, the #AmtrakResidency idea developed. Months later, Amtrak is now offering a two to five day on-board residency program for writers. Moving across the American countryside as they draw ink across pages, these 24 individuals will be sponsored by the company to pursue their creative passions on rails. Amtrak is offering a sleeper car with a desk and amenities to each writer. If you are reading this post on this blog, it is likely that you have an interest in the written word--or at least believe in its ability to be a medium for art--so consider applying to the program here.

Amtrak Residency

Imagine sitting in motion. Your mind is moving while your body is still, with the exception of your hand scribbling words on a page. The train is moving, the country stationary. You are still within the train but are carried with it. No physical effort is required on your part. You are travelling, but there is no destination. The only goal is mental. A blinking cursor that your want to keep moving as words are left in its wake or a series of lines and letters being drawn upon a sheet of paper as your mind dances between the concrete and abstract, trying to form art in the wake of your fingertips. Constant inspiration outside the window above your desk--always moving, not pausing for a moment. Not predetermined, no plot, not rehearsed, no acting, and not fabricated, no screen. An authentic experience that stimulates your mind and forces you into thinking--moving over mental barriers, unobstructed by writer's block, continuing to push forward, vomit more words, and make progress while moving nowhere. The train deposits you where it picked you up and you have a heap of words in your hands when the rails screech.

There is something about motion that is stimulating. It is romantic, exciting, filled with uncertainty and new experiences. This dynamic and nomadic lifestyle is foreign for many. Most of us live in stable homes with solid roofs and steady incomes and scheduled meals. Living in motion--like on a train--is not a lifestyle for most, but an activity with a beginning and an end. While the Amtrak Residency program is a wonderful opportunity to embrace the beauty of motion and stimulate the mind into creative productivity, it is not a lifestyle. It is a vacation, a dynamic oasis, that can produce desired written works, but it does not hold the bold romanticism of a nomadic lifestyle. To leave behind the stability of a normal life and take up the romanticized lifestyle of motion has many unknown futures. This continued motion and instability may offer even greater inspirations for an unsettled mind.

Hop on a train with no destination.

26 March 2014

The United Crumbs of America

Any and every self help book resonates a similar solution to life’s obstacles–divide and conquer. Break large and complex problems into small and simple parts. It is easier to jump over several mole hills than scale a mountain. With any virgin problem or circumstance, a large and singular entity exists, but as men begin to interact with it, that singularity becomes divided. At every division, the large entity becomes less intricate and diverse, and the huge problem is dispersed among dozens of separate entities. When keeping the end goal in mind, the once massive obstacle has been hurdled. But are the divided segments ever put back together?
Intruding upon the unknown lands of North America, the early Europeans dug their ships onto the virgin sands and set out to divide and conquer the large continent. First with small colonies upon the Eastern shore, and then states forming as they expanded to the Mississippi, the Europeans segregated peoples and properties until they seized control of the new land. As these settlers moved west, their divisions became larger. The small segments of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Delaware transitioned into the larger lands of Georgia and Missouri. Lighting out to the territories, the new lines were drawn and soon Texas and Montana and Wyoming were divided and conquered. Along the Pacific coast, the far west of the new America, only three divisions arose to conquer the territory–Washington, Oregon, and California.
As more people now migrate to the coasts, the need for future divisions arises to manage regional disparities. A proposition for Six Californias has been proposed for this purpose. While the division of California may help conquer the problems of the area, a further division of the continent seems to defeat the initial purpose of the new land of the free–to be one united nation. Although the country has effectively operated in its fifty united divisions, as continued crumbling occurs, at what point does the country become nothing but lines of division?
United Crumbs of America
A similar pattern of growth arises in the formation of businesses and organizations. A man begins building bicycles in his garage, and as more people begin to buy his work, he hires more workers to assist him. Jimmy seems to have an aptitude for attaching tires and gears whereas Timmy is much better at configuring brakes and handlebars. The man who started the business no longer needs to touch the bikes, as Jimmy and Timmy divide and conquer the building among themselves. Over time, finances are given to Oscar and advertising to Arthur, and before long, there are several layers of abstraction between the bicycle mechanic who founded the business and the people who work for it. With growth, finance departments form to manage the cash flow for buying rubber brakes pads for Jonathon, who works several managers beneath CFO Timmy. After so many divisions, the small parts become crumbs and no immediate loss is noticed when some go missing.
Let us welcome the six new divisions to the United Crumbs of America.

19 March 2014

Honest Beauty at McMurdo Station

Traveling is an experience many people claim to enjoy. Seeing new places, but not through a picture. Tasting new foods, but not through unauthentic imitations. Conversing with new people, but not over the web. These are the fruits of travel, and so many of us desire to indulge in them. Most of these desires are rooted in honest beliefs, for we often think we wish to travel and encounter something new, but to what extent can we really travel? If traveling is moving, then of course we can participate. But if travel is something more than the physical, our minds must be exposed to something foreign, something diverse. But is that what we want?

Diversity is a tenet that the contemporary liberal holds dear. Diversity is the silver-lining to globalization--the homogenization of the world. Rather than preserve culture and embrace the differences among them--as our world claims to do via globalization--we are meshing them into a muddled soup. The individual spices that we once enjoyed collide and form a tasteless muck. When traveling in the modern world, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to taste these individuals spices. But there is comfort in a bland stew, and maybe that's what we like?

To take America, the world's melting pot, and search for diversity, it often difficult for us to taste something we have not experienced before. The culmination of cultures in the United States boils away the "impurities"--the unrelated features of the various communities from which it is derived. The once pure land, dotted with unique family-owned motels, has been raped by the corporate sameness of Day's Inn. It would be an impressive accomplishment to find a motel untouched by the Gideons. But that is not what we seek. For many, the Day's Inn is warming. We can move great distances but find the same Bible in our bedside table at the end of the day. If we hunger, there will be golden arches before the next horizon. Try as we might, it is difficult to taste a different spice.

What is the traveller to do? Staying within the confines of one's community does little to suffice the wandering mind. For those wishing to sweat off the spiciness of a new region and have no water to quench the burn, there are few places open for raw exposure--for those places are off the beaten path devoid of the luxurious sameness where we find solace.

There is, however, something honest about these places. Their humility and simplicity. They are stark, unfamiliar. The feelings one can encounter upon visiting places such as this rare. Traveling to Antarctica, for instance, is a wholesome goal for the wanderlust. Within the mountains of snow and ice, isolated in a polar land, lies an uncapitalized beauty. McMurdo Station is buried on the Southern corner of the continent--a utilitarian town. Frigid, disconnected from other civilizations, a flavor of its own. The sharp and unfamiliar cold has no comfort, but this feeling is unique to the region. When there is no quick release from the cold--the spice--we can begin to experience something new. That is traveling.

Shipping out to McMurdo Station.

12 March 2014

Haragei & Obfuscation

As famously explored by Ishmael in Melville's Moby Dick, we are isolatoes. All creatures are islands, seemingly together and cohesive, but alone in their own skins. We may form chains, like archipelagos, but our individual selves are forever detached from the selves of those around us. We are each are own souls, spiritually separated, and beings that can never truly understand the fullness of another, if even ourselves. The closest connection we have is communication.

The origin, the "commons", is shared by the subsequent community that is formed. Communication is a set of rules through which we are connected. It is an everyday art that can bond our otherwise untouchable souls. Escaping the human superiority complex, all creatures are capable of some flavor of communication, be it oral, visual, olfactory, or else. The finer aspects of communication lie in fluency, for when users begin to subconsciously understand the intricacies of the art, greater interpersonal relationships can form, bringing isolated bodies together.

The embodiment of this mantra is haragei, referred to in Japanese as a rhetoric form that relies on subtle implications. Affected by culture, these communications spread and adapt to circumstance. Rarely enabling a concrete understanding, haragei is a representative form of communication that relies on attitudes and communal feeling. It is unspoken but moving, for it plays on more feelings than specific words. The subtlety is the source of its power, as is often the case for any art form. Haregei may be the most useful art of communication to break the barrier between our souls. Only, of course, if it mutually learned.

The most important aspect of communication lies in the origin of the word--commonality. If the form of communication cannot be used by the community members among which the system was developed, it is useless. From the guttural sounds of animals to languages in which we program computers, the gamut of communicative means relies on structure and group consensus.

While haragei is an innately simple art of conveying thoughts and feelings, obfuscation, 08|=(_)$<4+!0|\| in leetspeak, is the complication of communication. Shifts in common structure. Jargon. Repetitious or repetitive words. VV3!|^o| mechanics. Uncommon expressions. Deviations from commonplace idioms. Obfuscation is the collection of uncommon practices in a language that is designed to mislead unwarranted receivers. When in a group of several islands, obfuscation in communication can be useful for connecting a minority of parties in the group--drawing a bridge of jargon that cannot be understood by the majority.

The disparate results of obfuscation are two-fold. For security purposes in digital environments, obfuscation can aide in encrypted messaging. For highly technical fields, such as medicine, the complicated speak can disguise unappealing information to the rest of the community. However, obfuscation, such as 133+ (leet), can often lead to communicative discrimination without a grander purpose. And when obfuscation is unintentional, poor communication results.

When communication fails, the only connection between our souls is lost. We are isolatoes.