a culture crisis

for the depraved

Category: Lifestyle

The World Just Got Dumber: A Vindication of the Arts

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Hello again,

If you follow A Culture Crisis – you know, on the off chance that you have nothing, nothing, better to do with your life than to read random shit I post on the internet – you’ll know I have been on a miserable essay hiatus this summer. Why? Because I failed to complete my graduate term work in the winter semester and have thus been forced to finish my remaining final papers throughout the summer. I am quite the go-getter, indeed.

As it stands, I have one paper left to complete in two days (woohoo!!). Since I have been on an essay hiatus (the purpose being that I would stay off WordPress so as to complete said essays), the intention was not to post until I finished all my work and thus would not feel ashamed of wasting time that could have been dedicated to pounding out essays. However, the internet has insulted me and my ilk – my ilk being anyone not in business and/or science (otherwise known as the employable assholes (just kidding… maybe not)) – and I am determined to say something about it, albeit to my limited readership.

Dear world, kindly stop undervaluing the arts and social sciences. All you prove when you do so is that you are an ignorant dick with no cultural awareness whatsoever. “But it’s true,” you might say. “You liberal arts kids are just plain unemployable in today’s world. Like, all you do is read books and stuff. You know, the world doesn’t go round because you read a book. You need to do something valuable, like becoming a capitalist scumbag. You know, that may be unethical and, as it turns out, counterproductive to creating an economically stable world, but at least you would be able to buy expensive cheese,” you might also say.

To that, I offer you the warm sentiment of my middle finger.

Why am I compelled into such an act of underwhelming aggression?

Because, lest you be in a liberal arts/social sciences program, you would not (most likely, in any case – there are some lovely cultural enthusiasts in every field) know just how incredibly valuable such programs are. I won’t tout the IQ comparisons, EQ comparisons, and other such tests for a few reasons. First, because I don’t feel like it. Second, because business majors would be shocked at the answers, and I don’t want to be the one to ruin your day, week, month… Third, because this is not a post about trashing the other. This is a post about mutual appreciation. There is value (and pay, believe it or not) in all practices, in all fields.

The next time you want to question the value of the arts, just remember, the arts are everything you look forward to in life. While people may love the work they do, it’s pretty much accepted that most people want to come home because, after all, work is usually rather tiring. What do you do when you come home? Turn on the TV and watch a movie – ART. Read a book – ART. Go visit an exhibition at your local gallery, outdoor expo, etc – ART. Plan a trip to Spain, or Italy, or France, where you can appreciate the beautiful architecture – ART, or the badass museums – ART. Going out to watch a play – ART. Head to a concert – ART. The list goes on and on. What do people not look forward to doing when they get home? Accounting and other math related things. People don’t come home hoping to analyze cells under a microscope, they don’t come home hoping to sit back and relax with some Turing codes. Not that Turing wasn’t awesome. But let’s be honest, you most likely don’t want to kick back with this after a long day of work (code buffs excepted):

No, you want to watch the Batman Trilogy, or maybe some Dexter. You want to read Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, or maybe catch up on Martin’s Game of Thrones. Recall that people usually say things like “that movie was so good,” or “that book was amazing!” People do not usually say things like, “calculating the taxes was so much fun! Can’t wait to do it again!”

All in all, keep that in mind the next time you’re off telling us liberal arts kids that we’re basically useless in the world. Instead, thank us for the entertainment and cultural validity we bring to a world that, without the us, would be monotonous and robotic drudgery.

You’re fucking welcome.

 

Read the offending article here

Commodity Fetishism (Or Things I am Obsessed With)

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A look into my life through my current obsessions.

1. Oliver Goldsmith Manhattan Frame (as worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and newly relaunched)

2. The Great Gatsby soundtrack

3. Sperry Topsider Angelfish (Gold)

4. OPI Avoplex Cuticle Oil To-Go

5. Butter London Melt-Away Cuticle Eliminator

6. Diptyque Figuier Candle

7. Caudalie Beauty Elixir

8. Talula Van Nuys Jacket

9. Starbucks Iced Caramel Macchiato

As Thoughts Come, Let Them Go

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(Source: http://www.libcom.org)

On this blog, I have a page for “Words.” As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I have dedicated this page to those words that I have encountered in my life and that, in some way or another, have impacted the way I understand, approach, or treat my life. These words may be from literature, from film, from the mouths of the rich and famous; or they may be words that have been said to me personally, words that I have said to others, good or bad, positive or negative. What they have in common is that they have been productive in some way. They have come to inform my mind, shape it, or be taken into it.

I have recently taken up yoga, and in several practices I have attended, this statement is often repeated: “as thoughts come, let them go.”

I am a big fan of personal interpretation, of allowing one to form her own decisions about how she understands words, concepts, thoughts, etc. So while I highly encourage you to think about what this statement may mean on your own, what it may mean for you and for others, I would also like to briefly share its impact on my life.

It seems that such a simple statement would equally have a simple impact, and perhaps that is the case. The impact is a simple one. But it is by no means small. For the past five or so years, I have dealt with a strong case of OCD, Purely Obsessional OCD, and several phobias. In the last year, I have worked with a psychologist and learned how to deal with these parts of me, these elements of my life that comprise and inform a lot of what and how I am. I recognized all the positive things that these challenges brought to my life (more on this later), but that they brought me a certain productivity made them no less difficult to deal with.

In the last year, I have worked very hard on acceptance. Acceptance: simple, but by no means small, nor easy to achieve. A big part of acceptance is coming to terms with the fact that you are of a certain disposition at the moment, and while that might be unpleasant for the time being, you actively acknowledge that yes, it is the case that this situation currently sucks, but I accept this suckiness and will see it through. It is a very difficult, very mentally taxing thing to accomplish. That said, once you learn this acceptance, once you allow yourself to give into such a radical relinquishment of control (or attempts at control, I should say), life gets betters. Obsessive thoughts get easier to deal with. They leave quicker. Not because this is some failsafe, or a trick you can use each time such a thought invades your mind. It’s not quite that easy. It is a practiced behaviour and involves something of a rollercoaster of successes and failures before you internalize it. But simply by virtue of practicing this acceptance, those obsessive thoughts show up and dissipate of their own volition. It’s rather lovely, actually.

How does one maintain this state, though, where your thoughts just leave on their own? I used to think my biggest problem was that my brain was always on overdrive and clung on to every thought that showed up in my mind. Perhaps I am still like this. But as thoughts come, you let them go. It’s not even an active behaviour, because I think to actively do something about it forces the thought to stay, or forces you to focus on other things to distract yourself from the thought, but let’s face it, it doesn’t go anywhere that way. But eventually, through acceptance, those thoughts come and go, and you let them. You don’t stop to worry about them, to obsess over them. They come and they go.

Let them.

Written from a Starbucks near you.

Lots of love,

J.

On Anxiety, Coping Mechanisms, and Agency

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(source: http://www.pilotfire.com)

It is, at the moment, 12:01 am. I have been getting through a panic attack for approximately an hour and a half. Needless to say, at least for anyone who has ever had to endure such a thing, that the experience was rather terrible. This onset was especially distressing, though, because it seemed to have originated in the “nothing and nowhere,” to borrow from Heidegger. One moment, I was staring at my bowl of lentils (I made lentils for dinner) and then my heart was suddenly racing, for no apparent reason. I’ve had attacks before, but I don’t remember them being quite this bad. I began to shiver and so I moved onto my couch in the living room, laid on my side, and curled up in a ball. I was mildly convulsing and I began to cry, very fearful tears. I’m not sure what made them fearful, but I just knew that they were. If I’m venturing, I think I was scared about my anxiety (fear in the face of anxiety, or anxious in the face of anxiety, I can’t tell yet, will have to think about this later), about its sudden onset and my inability to tie it to something concrete.

This has been a problem for me lately. In my previous encounters with anxiety, they were very targeted. I used to deal with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Purely Obsessional OCD, and certain targeted phobias (mainly needles and stings). I’ve gone through bouts of existential angst before. It wasn’t pleasant but it had never been this bad before. And the thing is, I don’t even know that this was necessarily existential. I wasn’t anxious in the face of my own life, my own singularity, my own finitude. None of that. It was just this moment where I transitioned from a state of near-perfect calm (or unawareness, perhaps), immersed in my episode of Friends, to a state of severe and alarmingly quick heart palpitations. And lots of confusion. I didn’t know what to do. I tried deep, calming breaths to control my heart rate. I tried detoxifying yogic breathing techniques. My body wasn’t receptive to these strategies, though. So I didn’t know what to do for a while. It was the strangest thing, but I suddenly craved physical contact, physical shelter. I just wanted to be hugged, held tightly, perhaps. I’m sure there is some reason for that, one that makes perfect sense. But because I don’t know what that reason is, it just felt strange. Really strange, actually, and I can’t quite get over why that is. In any case, I called my sister and we spoke for about an hour and a half (which is why I began writing at 12:01 am).

But I wish I could put into words the way in which the internal tremors became me; I was anxiety itself, and we were indistinguishable. My body had difficulty taking in air, my heartbeat maintained its frighteningly rapid pace, and my mind… well, my mind was blank. I don’t know of a better way to describe it. It’s not that I couldn’t think anything; I knew that I was anxious, I knew that I was confused, I was talking to my sister and maintained something of a conversation. It’s just that when I thought about the anxiety itself, about what had triggered its onset, about my very encounter with it, I kept drawing a blank. Not a wall that I couldn’t get over, not a door I couldn’t get through – there was no secret something towards which I was anxious but simply couldn’t figure out. My mind was blank, my anxiety was blank, I was blank. My sister kept asking me questions and I kept answering “I don’t know,” because I didn’t… there was nothing to know in the first instance. Which is, perhaps, why this experience was so terrifying, why it lasted so long.

In the end, I allowed this anxiety to run its course. I chose to acknowledge the radical discomfort it aroused in me and accept that I would feel this way until the moment passed. This was my strategy for dealing with my various forms of OCD and phobias. This particular encounter was troubling, though, because I couldn’t even think of a coping mechanism to have to struggle against relying on. When I was dealing with OCD, I struggled against checking and willed myself to allow the anxiety to remain and run its course. But with this particular encounter, I had no choice but was forced to remain anxious. I could not actively choose to remain anxious over relying on some coping mechanism. It felt as though this anxiety was imposed upon me (as most anxieties are) but the difference was that I had no say in the matter.

I recognize the extent to which this is a perverse and problematic feeling. I am basically saying that I didn’t even have the choice to worsen the problem by relying on a coping mechanism. But that isn’t what’s troubling me. The fact is that I was stripped of agency in the matter, and that distresses me to no end. Precisely because this anxiety took the form of blankness, I wasn’t afforded an opportunity to struggle over the decision to allow my anxiety to run its course in the first instance.

I will have to think more about this. In any case, it’s past my bed time. Thank you for reading. If you’ve had such experiences, please share.

All best,

J.

On Being Busy, and the Maintenance of Sanity

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(source: For a Little Mystery)

I have been thinking lately that busy days do not merely constitute the continual performance of some action or other with little to no physical rest in between. Of course we are busy on days where we get up quite early in the morning, prepare something or other for dinner prior to heading out the door for work, and then, while at work, exhausting ourselves physically and mentally. And then of course, we leave work to pick up the kids (I have no children, but parents do this, don’t they?) and drive them to soccer practice – or something like that – and then when that’s over, we head home to finish whatever it was we prepped for dinner that morning. And then, since many of us bring work home, we do that for some time, and, well, you know the rest of the story. Voila, the busy day, par excellence.

But is it? This example of busyness must sound exceptionally familiar, resembling each of our lives in some form or other, relatable in some capacity. People know this type of “busy.” And it is certainly a type of busy. But lately, I have been thinking about different orders of busyness, different kinds, different levels…

I suppose, then, my point is that “busy” is not necessarily, nor exclusively, a physical state. Perhaps this is self-evident, but lately I have learned never to assume the self-evidence of even the most simple of claims.

(I teach a literature course to science students, and while I thoroughly respect the sciences and the value of such knowledge, other kinds of knowledge, knowledge that I understand as sheer common sense, is taken as the most revolutionary and radical kind of thinking… It’s a little sad actually. This is, of course, not the case with all science students. Don’t worry, I’m not homogenizing you all. But at least in the demographic consisting of the students in my class, very few of them understood concepts such as ideology and gender, nor issues like colonialism or even contemporary American politics. Writing and critical thought proved to be an “unfair” expectation of them, as one student shared with me, and that is just sad. A few of them threw around sexist remarks without even knowing they were sexist. “Obviously only women wear makeup, and if you wear makeup you’re either a woman or want to be one.” Well, no. “Obviously only females who can be compared to men are those that can be viewed as equals and in the same category.” Not sure exactly what that means, but once again, no. One student didn’t even know the word “patriarchy.” All to say, critical thought is required in all disciplines and I have learned not to assume that everything is self-evident. In fact, I had to break down, piece by piece, to one student the reasons why one’s enjoyment of makeup does not categorically mean that this person wants to be a woman. That, my friends, was a frustrating day. In any case, I digress…)

I am currently in the middle of my essay-writing period, and despite the fact that I have an incredible amount of work to do (I can’t even over exaggerate how much work I have) I have been ignoring it. I am currently ignoring it in order to write this entry (thank you blog for helping me procrastinate!). In fact, I’ve been filling my days with watching endless hours of Mad Men, and apparently I can’t tire of Don Draper’s attitude nor of Sally’s exceptional charm.

Seriously, look how cute they are:

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(source)

But in any case… I have been doing nothing for about 6 or 7 days now, performing no action other than eating and Netflixing (and showering too, I’m not that quite that lazy), and yet, I feel as though I am busy. Very, very busy.

There is this constant worry to get things done, and to be fair, perhaps I am busy insofar as I have very much to do and the workload is only getting heavier the more that I delay, but that isn’t really my point. It is not so much that I am busy, but rather that I feel busy, as though I were doing something, many things actually, but really I’m merely planted in front of my computer.

Lately, I have been experiencing a kind of worry – a constant worry, actually – and I think that this feeling, this generalized anxiety, perhaps, is that busyness. My mind is always working, whether I am physically performing actions or not. It is on overdrive, overworking itself, refusing to rest, running on and on with a will of its own, irrespective on how much I want to simply relax. It strikes me, then, that I continue to delay, to relax by way of doing nothing (you know, just Mad Men-ing), in order to alleviate that sense of busyness, and I don’t think that I realized that until just now. Literally, just prior to typing it out…

But I don’t know that it’s gone anywhere. Nor do I know if it’s gotten worse. I can’t quite tell right now. But I think that writing this out has been helpful, if for nothing other than allowing me a space in which to sort out what it is that I’m thinking about. But now the trick is getting work done… I think I’m just going to have to force myself to get down to it (though I’ve tried that, but this is where I’ve ended up). Though, it is not the end that matters, but rather the process that led up to that end.

This past year, I’ve been working towards achieving a certain state of mindfulness and mental awareness, and I think I’ve done well in that respect. I keep reminding myself that it is crucially important to actively maintain my health. That is to say that if I am to be healthy, I must be the one to ensure that I am so. That’s not to say that this is something I must do alone. That’s rather silly, actually, and not always possibe. Nor is it the case that, if I happen to have difficulty with it, it necessarily means that I have failed. No. But it is something that I need to take part in, or else it cannot be achieved. I have to help myself be healthy. I’ve done this before, but then again, I’ve never felt this generalized sense of anxiety before, so I am not quite sure how I am going to approach this. But the important thing is that I will approach it.

Thanks for listening.

J.

Chai Tea Convert: How to Build an Exceptional Mug of Chai Tea

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(source: www.tammysrecipes.com)

I was never one for Chai tea. Firstly, as an English student, the very name “Chai tea” annoyed me. “Chai” means “tea”… So it’s tea tea…

In any case, it seemed that, some years back, we were all living our lives, pleasantly or otherwise, and then this overnight Chai phenomenon took place, and I just didn’t like it. I think it tasted too much like pumpkin spice (which I now love) and was simply turned off to the taste.

In any case, something miraculous happened to transform my taste buds and I am in spiced heaven. In this new found enlightenment, I will share with you the guidelines to a wonderful and comforting mug of chai.

You will need:

Spices: star anise, cinnamon stick shards, clove, cardamom, and anis for good measure

Black tea, loose leaf is best, but packed is fine

2% milk

Simple syrup (recipe)

Blend spices and tea in a tea strainer. Allow tea and spice combo to steep for at least 5-6 minutes in boiled water. The longer you steep, the stronger the tea. Add in 1 tbs simple syrup and stir well. Now, while this next step defeats the purpose of strong tea, it is just so delicious. Steam about 1/4 cup 2% milk and add it into your tea. Trust me, it is sooo much better than plain cold milk. Rich, luxurious, comforting – confessions of a chai tea convert.

If you don’t feel like making it yourself (which I often don’t), here is how to order it at Starbucks:

1 grande chai with steamed 2% milk and 1 pump classic syrup.

Happy tea-ing!