Human

Her name is Aiko Njemba, and her brains have fanned out behind her like a carmine halo, a saint of the flesh…

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Love, by other names

You can tell a lot about someone from the language or languages they speak. Cultural assumptions, thoughts, truths are nested into what can or can’t be said, and the word roots or idioms used to say them.

The Greeks didn’t invent philosophy—it was called wisdom long before Thales got his feet wet (this is a clever joke, look it up). But they were systematic about it and their language lends itself to analysis. As such, when I learned we had only one or two words for “love” in English and the Greeks had around 6*, depending on how wide you cast the net, I was interested.

You can find these on other sites, and I recommend it because it will help you write better romances and live them as well, but I like to touch on them in a particular order, which I hope you’ll find useful.

The first is philautia, or self-love. I am not, of course, encouraging narcissism, which is an unjustified self-esteem that is insatiable and self-destructive in its need for positive affirmation. Rather, I’m talking about a comprehensive and comprehending knowledge of who you are and why you do things and an acceptance of that person (other than things you care enough about to change). Philautia is important because no one else will let you see their every dirty secret, their weakness, their desperate need unless they think of you as part of themselves, which we’ll get to later.

Philautia makes agape possible. Agape is charity, the universal and unconditional love we have for all human beings. It’s your tolerance of other people’s imperfections, the kindness with which you fulfill their needs or spare them pain. Here’s a thing: if you can’t love yourself, knowing the full context and justification of your actions, and the things you didn’t do through great restraint, you can’t love other people. The best you can hope for is a kind of blind optimism that will continually disappoint you when people behave the same way you really do. Here’s another: people can smell agape from a mile away. It’s that sense that someone isn’t going to laugh at you or spit in your face when you bare your heart to them. It invites people in.

And if, when they step closer, something catches your eye that’s a trigger for you, a delight, something that fills your soul, you’ve hit eros. You’ve heard of eros. Some of you are sniggering already. The Greeks didn’t like eros that much, or at least the philosophers among them didn’t when they were calmly scribing or dictating. Eros is dangerous. You don’t control eros. It grabs you by the reproductive organs—I mean the heart—and leads you wherever it wants. It makes you do stupid things like find excuses to be near someone, or tear up when they flirt with someone else. It feels like the best and worst thing in the world. It destroys things that get in the way. This is good, because or else we’d never trust each other enough to reproduce. In English, it’s called infatuation, and it usually lasts between six months to two years, after which it lays dormant with occasional flare-ups (unless you feed it, which is a lot of fun).

As you actually get to know someone, you move into one of two states: philia or ludus. Philia is what we’d think of as true friendship, knowing someone and having an abiding but platonic (hah) fondness for them. It’s a more personal form of agape, and the two can be mistaken for each other. The main difference is how much effort you make to seek that person out over other people. Ludus, on the other hand, is the playful back-and-forth of children and lovers (whether sex is involved or not). It’s the jokes, the banter, the games, the fights, the dancing, and I would argue a certain level of deliberate and mindful sexuality. The key to moving from agape and eros to philia and ludus is understanding and esteem, because philia and ludus are shared by peers.

Finally, there is pragma. Pragma, the root of pragmatism, happens when you’ve decided the value of your philia or ludus is so great that you are willing to suffer for it. You compromise. You bend and trust the other person not to let you break. It’s the mark of long lasting friendships, marriages, and alliances between businesses and companies. It doesn’t do well with secrets and boundaries. It is completely rational because you are trading something temporary for something of greater value that will last your entire life. People in pragma defend each other, seek each other’s advantage, which is the beauty of it, because pragma leads from I to us. And when you’ve reached that point, you can loop right back to the beginning: philautia.

*I'm no Greek scholar, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once.

 

 

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Time

I’m standing in my kitchen/office, cooking dinner. “To All of You” by Syd Matters is playing, bacon is sizzling, and once it’s done I’ll toss some butter in the pan and make toast.

I took a couple days off from work, caught up on sleep, did some writing. Someone read Black Fall, then read White Winter the next day, which is always gratifying because I put a lot of effort into making them a breathless, headlong rush.

There is a place in four-dimensional space where I am pointing at a bird. The bird is made of light, or at least it is passing in front of the sun on a perfect day.

When I pause like this, I usually spend a lot of time dreaming, day dreaming, and self-evaluating. I pull out my stuff box, the one with all the little mementos (see the external memory post) and refresh the pathways. I now know what becoming the wind means for me. I wonder what it means for other people.

I wrote a tweet about the nonlinearity of time. Unbeknownst to me, another conversation on sequentiality was happening on a parallel course that crashed into me when I checked my email. I wrote something appropriately witty but I hope not overthought, then deglazed the pan with soap and water. I wish I had a tomato.

There were moments, when I was a pilot, that I felt like I was sitting at the center of all the things I’d learned from aerodynamics to tapping malfunctioning gauges, surfing a fine line of viability in the thin overlap at the edge of my ability and the requirements of the task. Those moments didn’t last long – one maneuver, a particular set of weather conditions – a moment of perfect relevance.

This is not one of those moments, but I can go there whenever I want. I’m okay.

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The Crows Have Their Beaks Open

It’s a perfectly hot day in Geneva.

I was on my way to have my ritual savory and sweet crepes and fresh pressed fruit juice when I saw a lady in full workout get-up stopped at a street corner, rising on her tiptoes. She was about a head-and-a-half shorter than me; she was trying to see over a parked car to tell if the light had turned green yet without stepping out of the shade. She had pale, lightly freckled skin with no signs of sunscreen, and I thought, “Why would you go work out and hide from the sun?” So I figured she’d gotten all sported up to hit her favorite indoor workout place. I checked a map; there was one a block away, right where she was facing.

I was made for days like these. When the weather is hot and dry, my muscles thrum, pores open, skin that’s usually a touch oily if I don’t drink 8 glasses a day starts functioning like a perfectly tuned cooling machine. I store the heat and, to my wife’s great displeasure, release it at night. The beach is nice, but the first time I went to the desert, I felt like I belonged there, from the particulate sunrise to the cold of night.

The ladies who run the creperie don’t show any signs of recognizing me, which is fine because I’m one of a thousand weekly customers. But I’m playing a game. I always order the same thing, give the same name with the order, flirt with the younger one just a little. I sit in the sun, and the older of the two – she dyed her hair a lovely shade of red this week - asks if I won’t get insolation (heat stroke), to which I politely smile and say, “I could sit here all day.” I always bring my dishes to the counter and thank them. One day, they’ll remember.

On my way back, I saw a tree that was burned or struck by lightning at some point. Same species as all the others that lined the street, but it was the only one for over a mile that had mushrooms growing on it. Character comes from damage. Life grows in the cracks.

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Here be Monsters

I’ve been walking through my mindscape lately - more than the actual city. Revisiting memories, turning them in my hand and seeing how the light strikes them. Testing boundaries.

I’ve been watching Penny Dreadful, and I’ve been swilling the word monster around my mouth like boxed wine. Monster. What the hell is a monster anyway? They used to be on maps, but science drove them all away (literally, we’ll get to why).

Children are afraid of monsters, we know this. That’s why horror movies are for adults. And we’ve seen enough gore-infused sets to know that monsters are destructive, but I don’t think that’s the heart of them. Explain fake blood and silicon organs away until you’re blue in the face, the monster is still scary.

I won’t play coy, it’s not my nature. Monsters have no fear. Strip the mutated hide from the creature’s bones and you will only see purpose, hunger, need, and nothing to stop them from taking what’s yours. The wolf went from beast to companion when man discovered it feared the fire, the stick, and the thrown rock. Grendel became human weeping at his mother’s feet, because if you think of it, it’s Beowulf who’s the true monster of that tale.

So, if someone scares you, if you lean away slightly when they’re near, watch them closely. Find out what they’re scared of. They’re all more human than you think.

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External Memory

I bought an external memory today. It’s a drawing of Peter Pan, sword drawn, Tinkerbell whispering in his ear.

For those of you not familiar with the concept of an external memory, your brain basically throws out 99% of what you did each day. It has to. Not even you want to remember what your breath smelled like when you woke up. The remaining 1% gets prioritized by emotional tags – the stronger the emotion, the more detail goes into long term storage.

Once it’s there, though, it gets pretty messy. The more things are tied to that memory, the more likely you are to be able to access it when you want to, but if a whole section of your life goes by the wayside, you’ll have that annoying feeling something’s on the tip of your tongue, and not much else. That’s where an external memory comes in – it’s a small object that links directly to that cluster of memories, so you can forget everything that surrounded it and still jump straight to it. I keep a box of these things, check it every once in a while to keep things fresh.

If you’d like to see the concept in action, check out the Ghost in the Shell (2nd GIG) episode called “Affection.” It rocks pretty hard.

Aside from that, my day was pretty normal. I went to a couple different hairdressers to see if they’d cut my hair. The first two were booked solid, and I didn’t bother going in the third (one hairdresser, just started on a coloring job). The fourth place was an uber nice Parisian chain salon where I was offered coffee (no, thank you), coke zero (nope), and then water which I accepted gratefully since I’d just been running.

It came with biscuits, which is delightful, but mostly I’m thinking, “What the heck is a simple hit with the hair clippers going to cost me?” (About the same as my usual place, turned out.)

Once that was out of the way, I wandered. Went to my (now) favorite crepe place for lunch, dessert, and two glasses of fresh squeezed organic O.J. I picked up some coffee from Valmandin for the office. I went to that art gallery and got my prize.

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Favorite Books

The topic of favorite books came up. Whenever that happens, I think of the Old Man and the Sea.

My dad was a fisherman, charter boat captain, and SCUBA instructor, and, from what I’ve heard, he was a pretty straightforward guy. He got a gold stud in his ear to pay for his funeral if he drowned after a year on fishing boats, his favorite saying was “Every good party starts with a shower,” and the only book he owned was a dog-eared copy of the Old Man and the Sea. I think that someone like him loving that book probably says a lot about my father, and it’s a tribute to Hemingway’s skill.

It’s not my favorite book. I’m not ready for it yet. I could say something schmarmy like Proverbs or Ecclesiastes, and I do have a fondness for several books from the Bible, but it’s a workman’s love, a reference. I might as well tell you I loved my flight manuals when I was a pilot – I knew where things were, checked them when I needed to know how something worked, and they probably saved my life.

But when I see a copy of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, I smile like someone coming home. I’ve owned and given away more copies of that book than any other. I can tell the story of Narcissus from memory, I left my first flock of sheep behind when I was 17, I polished glass wherever I went, and I am still trying to see through the Soul of the World and become the wind. As I get older, I become less the Boy and more the Alchemist, but my love for the story hasn’t changed.

One day, when I’ve found my treasure, when I’ve helped enough people find theirs, when I’ve seen and been and touched, tasted, felt, heard, and smelled, learned and taught, written and sung, and laughed - so very much laughter - I’ll drag myself into a rowboat and find my fish; a child will see the bones of my life and wonder; I’ll slip into a fevered slumber, defeated but triumphant, and dream of lions.

But first, I’m going to become the wind.

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Between the Rain

A warm wind was blowing through Geneva on Saturday. The sky was overcast, several layers of dark clouds sliding over each other, the Rhone fast flowing and green like beer bottle glass. I’d decided to go to Birdie for breakfast, because an egg on toast with avocado and smoked salmon sounded like a good idea and they have great coffee.

At this point, my walks are always going to be blog material so I pay attention, which is kind of a win-win in my book because time is precious. I people watched, focused on how I was moving through the city, and hummed the chorus and singing portion of Twenty One Pilots’ “Stressed Out.”

I saw a mostly empty bottle of Beck’s and a plastic cup sitting on a 200-year-old stone windowsill. There were four trash cans within 20 feet, in every direction; the guy or gal who left their trash there had to walk by at least one, or they’d still be standing there.

I saw a crack in a wood-paneled door, and then realized it was too clean so it had been done on purpose, part of the manufacturing process. I saw a spiderwebbed split in a restaurant’s front window where someone had broken the glass, and I thought, is it cracked, or was it split? It’s sophistry, I know, but it tickled my brain.

The clouds broke and it started raining, the kind of fast, heavy downpour that fills the street with sound. People ducked under overhangs and into stores. When I was an active duty Marine, we weren’t allowed to carry umbrellas and training or patrols didn’t stop for rain, so at some point, my brain learned to react to this kind of situation with euphoria.

I ran to the next bit of cover. I peeked around a corner, spotted the next dry spot, and timed the next sprint with a lull in the rain. The wind was still strong and at my back, and for a moment of every step I was flying.

I guess I had this as a kid, but over a decade of obstacle courses and martial arts only made it stronger. There’s joy in movement. For 3 minutes of downpour, in a city that is almost stodgy in what it considers normal and acceptable, I was skimming over the sidewalk, dodging raindrops, humming Chaba’s “Parade” while people hid from the weather and I was utterly happy.

 Fast moving river on an overcast day

Fast moving river on an overcast day

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