Tinder Soldier

“When the will defies fear, when the heart applauds the brain, when duty throws the gauntlet down to fate, when honor scorns to compromise with death—this is heroism…The bravest men are those who have the greatest fear of doing wrong…

…Courage without conscience is a wild beast. Patriotism without principle is the prejudice of birth, the animal attachment to place. The great armies have desolated the earth. The greatest soldiers have been ambition’s dupes. They waged war for the sake of place and pillage, pomp and power,—for the ignorant applause of vulgar millions,—for the flattery of parasites, and the adulation of sycophants and slaves. Let us proudly remember that in our time the greatest, the grandest, the noblest army of the world fought, not to enslave, but to free; not to destroy, but to save; not for conquest, but for conscience; not only for us, but for every land and every race.”

Robert Green Ingersoll

(Please check out Anna & Shereen from Ethnically Ambiguous discuss their perspective on American interference in the Middle East on iTunes. The discussion about my email to them about this Tinder Solder starts 39 minutes in.)

                                                                  Tinder Soldier
I don’t remember how many times I’ve deleted my online dating profiles and set them up again. Hope can be a wonderful and terrible thing.

If my parents had their way, I would have had an arranged marriage at 20 and probably would have popped out a few tiny Sikhs by now, preferably with my eyes and undeniable charm and fondness for cheesecake.

But that wasn’t for me. I wanted marriage to be more than a business transaction and tradition for traditions sake.  If my parents found out I am not a virgin, I think they would both have simultaneous aneurysms and then haunt my ass for the rest of my life. Or they’d kick me out of the family.

I distinctly remember my mom taking me to the side one day (so my dad wouldn’t hear) after I had rejected yet another offer of marriage. She squeezed my arm tight and insisted, “you won’t keep getting these offers. You’ll wait until it’s too late. Then no one will want you.” I was 21. I had never had a boyfriend. I thought that perhaps what my mom was saying was true. Maybe one day they would stop asking for me. But what made me sad was that my mom was so willing to send me on my way with a boy she had never met. Didn’t she care to investigate if he was worth my while? Did she think I was so valueless that my life would be over after 22 if I didn’t have a man to take care of me? It took me a long time to understand that once upon a time, someone had said this to my mom. For her situation, it had been true. She was just scared for me.

It took me some time to convince her that women could make it on their own now. It wasn’t easy, but it was easier than being a slave to circumstance. But there’s still a big stigma for Indian women to be sexually independent. I take a big risk when dating, but the risk has always felt worth it. I stayed single for a very long time by choice because I wanted to try new things on my own, find out who I was and to not be defined by anyone else. I wanted to meet lots of different people along the way. Then when I found what I was looking for, it would be even more special. And then I would know for sure I wanted it for the right reasons. I wanted love to be an adventure.

Well I gotta say, life has certainly given me that, and the pleasure and the pain that comes with it. Thanks Universe, you tricky bastard!

Ugh, okay so here goes. I’m writing this to make sense of something that threw my mind into absolute chaos and stripped me of my sense of security. I’m writing it to say the things that went unsaid in a time when I didn’t have the words. Emotions are lightning and words are their thunder. They came slow but have a resonance all their own that demands to be heard. I’m writing this to have a conversation about masculinity, and privilege and morals. I’m writing because it keeps me sane.

This is the story of the first time I was head-over heels in love with a boy I couldn’t keep. This is the story of me learning what my values are. This is me learning the cost of doing what I believe to be right. This is the story of me and my Tinder Soldier.

 

I’m 27; I’ve been on dozens of online dates by now. Most of the time I don’t even get excited anymore.Yet, on my way down to Pike Place that warm July day, I felt full of nervous energy. The guy I was headed to meet had hit me up on Tinder a few days earlier. We had a rather sarcastic and tongue in cheek interaction that had been fun and fresh compared to the tired old “Sup?” and “Wanna hook up” messages that often flood in. He’d offered to buy me a drink that week so here I was, tired after a long day of work, tired after a long night of my sick dog keeping me up, walking through the closing market, surrounded by the smell of samosas and flowers, trying to collect myself. After some deep breaths, I  headed down the alley past the gum wall to the Alibi Room. I had chosen the location because it was close to work and because it was a quiet & well hidden little pub that has an excellent happy hour menu. My work wife had taken me there years ago so we could complain about work and life properly and laugh about the absurdity of it all. I smiled as I walked in, thinking about the times I had been here before.

I scanned the room and didn’t see anyone that quite matched the profile pic I had seen. I was a bit annoyed because I like to make an entrance and now I would have to wait for him. Rude.

As the twisted fates would have it, I turned around right as the back door opened and he walked in. My glance stopped him in his tracks and we both stood there staring, trying to decide our next move. 

My usual thought when I meet guys from online apps is, “Oh I guess that’s him.” When I saw this guy, I thought “I hope that’s him.”

He had frozen in place until I spoke. Still maintaining eye contact (which is rather bold for someone as timid as I am) I asked him, “Are you R?”

“Yeah, and are you Gia?”

“Yes.” I extended my hand to shake his. He took it quite gently but firmly. We took a seat by the window. I ordered a rum and pineapple juice. He ordered a whiskey. It was a good whiskey too so I was already impressed, being a fan of the brown liquors myself (check out the Hard Kaur Perspectives episode on Women and Whiskey – it’s a fascinating history). We spent a good deal of time talking about the summer adventures we had both been on,  hikes and rafting and the like. His eyes had such a particular blue glow in the sunlight. His skin was tanned nearly darker than mine – He said it was the Italian in him. It was contrasted nicely by his white cotton shirt that hugged his well muscled yet lean body in all the right places. Even his jeans fit right. His dirty blonde hair and beard were neat and yet scruffy at the same time. Just all out well kept but rugged. We were both leaning into the table and all my tired was gone. We jumped from topic to topic and he sat smiling and engaged as I talked about my recent trip to Italy. I told him about my family and how I still choose to live at home.

“There’s something so depressing about coming home to an empty house. I like when my dad is reading in the living room and my mom is humming in the kitchen, and my dog comes running up to me every night and me and my sister sit around in our pajamas talking for hours. It’s just warm. It’s home.”

“I love how close Indian families are.” He smiled.

We took a stroll down by the waterfront by the aquarium and stood on the dock looking out at the ferries and islands in the distance laughing about something or another. He told me about Bollywood movies he liked, which I found endearing, having grown up with those films myself. He seemed soft spoken, gentlemanly and kind. He told me more about about his trips all over the world. He talked about his trips to India, Cairo and then Iraq. He explained that he had been training for the Navy SEAL program, but had blown out his shoulder and had gone through some surgeries that prevented him from pursuing that line of work. He was now enrolled in the pre-med program at the UW. That all sounded exciting to me. He had some intense interests and owned guns but seemed like he was reasonable, responsible and was pursuing a stable life. I’m not a fan of guns but enjoy shooting them off every now and then. And I have friends who go hunting or own a handgun. It’s America, everyone has a gun. I didn’t think much of it. He had an interest in travel and my culture. I was all about getting to know more.

“Who are you?!” I asked laughing, wondering how someone so young had seen so many places.

“Ha, I had a rich dad. He left us when I was a kid and summer trips were his way of making it up to us.”

“So you went to Glacier Bay with your family?”

“No, my ex.” He had brought her up twice now.

“Okay,” I started, noticing something in his voice, “Tell me about this girl. Are you still hung up on her?”

“No, ah,” he insisted, smiling and lowering his head a bit. “It’s just that she and I run in similar circles since so many of our interests overlap.”

“Do you think exes can be friends?”

“No, but she does.”

“I guess it depends on the situation, but for me it’s always been good to let go after a point. You don’t have to forget it because it will always be a part of you, but your past doesn’t have to come with you and weigh you down, you know? That’s always worked best for me.”

“Hmm, I like that.” We both stared at the waves coming in.

We exchanged numbers and I headed out to catch my bus home. He texted me as I got on the bus. He sent his whole name, told me it was a lot of fun talking to me and that he promised he wasn’t still obsessed with his ex.

“It’s okay to have a history, I won’t judge you for that.” I wrote back.

“I’m looking forward to seeing you soon.”

I smiled the whole way home.

A few days later we met up at Greenlake for an evening stroll and gelato. He lived nearby so he showed me his place. It was pretty minimalistic, but clean. Just a desk, no chair in his office because of his bad back. He had several pairs of hiking boots and shoes lined up. (I was already planning hikes we could go on together) A large outdoor knife laid out on his wood desk next to his laptop. His bed was made but very simple. Just a blue down comforter, blue sheets and two pillows. I found the simplicity refreshing. Yet teased him for not having a proper couch. “I’m still sort of moving things in. My buddy and I were going to Ikea later this month.” He grinned sheepishly. There wasn’t even a TV set up. He did have a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince stacked on top of his small book pile. I flipped through it smiling. I remembered reading it in high school during the summer for fun.  

“It’s small but it’s dense.”

“I haven’t started it yet.”

We sat on his desk, legs swinging, talking about this or that. He listened very well, leaning in close so that our bodies were touching but he never moved to kiss me. I had work the next day so I reluctantly said goodbye. But he agreed to come get a drink with me that Thursday. My co-workers and I were having a happy hour. I figured it would be good to see how he acted around other people. It’s always good to weed out social weirdness early. He seemed more than game to come hang out.

I got a text from him as I reached my house sit. (I house sit all around Seattle. #GypsyGia)

“Hey I had a great time talking with you. Sorry if I move slow. Just kinda how I am”

“I like that about you 🙂 But just so I know, are you just looking to hook up or for something with more substance? You won’t scare me away either way, I just tend to be more cerebral with stuff like this cause my heart is a psychopath and tends to get me into trouble”

I don’t know about what the future looks like long term but I’m ideally looking for something with substance. I’m kind of tired of hookups. ”

Should I have been skeptical or guarded? Yes. Was I? Nope. I went to bed that night feeling optimistic af.

Then he came out to meet my co-workers. That interaction went well too. And after dinner and drinks, he came back to where I was staying in Seattle. One of my many house-sitting gigs around the city. Watching him interact with my co-workers had put me at ease and he seemed much more relaxed as well. He held me close as we walked down the streets toward home. We sat on the couch and talked about wanting houses in the country with dogs and horses and watched The Good Place. It didn’t seem like his type of humor but when he did find something amusing, his soft deep laugh would send a humming pulse up my spine that I could feel in the roots of my hair.

My parents were not physically affectionate with me as a child so sometimes I forget how much I’m craving touch. He wrapped his arm around me and I lay my head on his chest while winding my arms around his waist. As his warmth and scent washed over me I let out a contented sigh and for the first time in a long time, I was completely at peace with everything. And totally present. I wasn’t thinking about the past or looking to the future. I just wanted to be there holding him. Acting totally unlike my usual cautious self and yet finally feeling like myself for the first time, I took his hand and led him upstairs to the bed. The moonlight streamed through the window as we lay down together and the soft summer wind from the ocean swept through and fluttered the drapes. Held me all night. 

His friend was visiting for a week so it was a while before I saw him next but he kept in touch, sending me photos of them hiking and doing some target practice. My friends watched me with faint smiles as I sat texting him back with an enthusiasm they hadn’t seen in me in a long while. He came over for dinner the next week. I was now house sitting in the UDistrict. I made him dinner and he made us some Aperol Spritzes. We took advantage of the warm day and went for an evening walk around the neighborhood and ended up by Lake Washington watching the boats pass as the sun set in the haze caused by all those wildfires. I stood there at the edge of the water with my head on his chest listening to his heart. It was rapid and then grew calmer the longer we stood there. We went back to the couch, were he wrapped me up in his arms again, and we sat talking for hours. He had this ability to be present and completely engaged. He never even looked at his phone when he was around me. By chance, the topic of exes came up again. I told him about my ex and his drinking problem and how lying was a triggering thing for me. He was quiet as I told my story and promised to be honest with me.

“That relationship taught me that love wasn’t enough. Like, you can love someone all you want but that won’t always keep you together because other things get in the way.”  I said. He agreed.

The next morning I watched him as he sat on the couch petting the cat, his white shirt and untidy golden hair gleaming as the morning sun came through the window.

“Do you ever feel like you’re still just a kid pretending to be an adult?” He asked with his head tilted to one side.

“All the time. There’s a reason adulting is a verb; it’s something you do, not something you are.” He laughed.

“I like that.”

We both headed off to work, but not before making plans for the next day.

We had agreed to play a little game to get to know each other better. We had five questions – we could ask each other absolutely anything by the end of the week and the other person had to give an honest answer. We would meet at Greenlake and ask each other our questions. My work wife and I went out for a sushi lunch and we made a list of the things I wanted to ask him.

The next day I was in the middle of expense reports and wondering when I would write that article I had meant to write and make time to work on my next art project when he texted me that he had a fever and severe abdominal pain and wouldn’t be able to hang out. I was really disappointed and concerned.  I figured I’d let him rest and didn’t keep texting to check in, which truly tested my restraint. As it turns out, he ended up going to the hospital to rule out appendicitis. I didn’t hear too much from him for a few days but he did check in Friday night to say it wasn’t appendicitis and he wouldn’t need surgery. He said he would explain more later. I was glad he wasn’t dead, but still uneasy about something.

The next day I waited and waited for more news. Nothing.

The next day came a message where he explained that he had shrapnel in his body. Yes, you read that right. One of the pieces had come loose from the scar tissue and had become infected. He said no more about it. His mother was in town so he would be busy for a few more days.

“How did the shrapnel get into you?” I texted. No response. “I’m sorry this happened to you and I’m sorry for checking in all the time but if you need anything this week, please let me know.”

“You’re ok! You’re not bothering me. I just tend to isolate when I’m feeling down.”

“I understand. I used to do that. But when you’re ready, I’ll be here.”

“I’m not very good at letting people help me but I’ll try :)”

I didn’t hear from him for two days. I was mildly anxious the whole time. I wanted to see him, to hold him to comfort him. I wanted him to comfort me. I wanted to know what the fuck a 25 year old was doing with shrapnel in his body. Was a he a World War ll veteran somehow? What a ridiculous turn of events. I supposed that perhaps something had gone wrong during his Navy preparation or maybe a hunting accident. But there was no real way of knowing. I desperately trawled the internet for the effects of shrapnel on the body. Apparently many people live long happy lives without it bothering them. The human body is very resilient and can encase foreign bodies rather well. Others face complications when the shrapnel punctures organs or becomes infected. So I sat around worrying and being confused until finally he texted me that Thursday. “I’m alive”. He apologized for the flakiness lately but wanted to see me that night or the next if I wanted to.

“I’m all yours if you’ll have me”.

The knot in my stomach loosened. I was busy that night but told him I’d be over Friday.

Friday came and I felt productive at work. I showered during my lunch and got ready for what I was expecting to be a nice night together. I drove over after work and gave him a big hug expecting to be relieved. Something felt weird about his energy. I thought it was probably because he hadn’t eaten dinner yet and was probably still getting over the infection. But I felt uneasy.

“So why are you full of shrapnel?”  

“You’d better get some drinks in me first.” He sort of laughed.

We headed down to The Back Door in Fremont, by Roxy’s Diner for dinner. We sat down and both ordered Manhattans.  We chatted about this or that but my mind was still focusing on the shrapnel. The conversation slowed down and I sat back and waited.

“When I didn’t get into the Navy I flew to Iraq on my own. I fought with the Kurdish soldiers against ISIS. I did this for months at a time. I would come back to gain weight and then go back.”

He suddenly felt far away from me. Like I could now comprehend the distance between stars. I looked down at my drink for a long while trying to absorb this information, I thought about his place and how bare it was. I thought about all the times he had said his politics were “complicated”. I thought about how he didn’t have a Facebook or any web presence. I realized this wasn’t a joke. I then tried to absorb the pain that came with the realization that this was a goodbye of sorts. I felt like a sybil looking into the tea leaves as Vesuvius grew hazy in the distance. Knowing what was coming next yet helpless to do anything about it. I knew how hard leaving would be. I knew it like how you know it’s going to rain.

He watched me uncomfortably for a long while. I regained enough composure to say,

“Um, have you killed people?”

“Um, nothing confirmed, but maybe.”

“What do you think about the morality of that?”

“Well I mean, it’s ISIS. You saw the videos.”

“Sure, I suppose some people need to be stopped, but still. This seems a little, I don’t know. The Middle East is complicated. We talked about all those proxy wars before. Um, shit, what did you like about it?”

“It’s like tapping into an old biology. You are living in the moment. Only talking to the people around you. It’s about survival. And the guys I hung out with, nothing scares them. They see bullets wiz past and they just laugh.” I studied him hard. Something about that made sense. But something about it also felt like devolving, not evolving. I didn’t have the words for it at the time because my mind was reeling from the sheer absurdity of my predicament. I was sitting in a speakeasy style bar in Fremont having a candle lit dinner with a mercenary. What the actual fuck? I glanced at the waitress with an almost pleading look. I wonder what she saw in my face?

“But you paid your own way there? No government backing?”

“Yes I paid my own way. I wanted to do this for a living. I wanted to get the experience somehow.”

“I’m trying really hard to understand.”

“ I hate to say it but if you don’t get it now you never will.”

Silence.

“Would you go back?”

“Yes.”

The check came. I was very ready to leave. I reached for my wallet.

“Here, I’ll get this.” He said. “I owe you for a lot.”

I got up and walked out. He followed.

We walked out towards the Fremont bridge, towards the water. It was a warm night. He tried to steer the conversation elsewhere. I tried to focus on something else, tried to shake the feeling of loss that was barreling down on me even though he was right next to me. We stood by the water looking at the boats and the city lights. He had mentioned before that he wanted a boat. On our first date, actually.

“Want to hear a poem?” I asked. I recited poems to myself when I was trying to keep my mind from shattering. It’s a calming ritual.

“Sure.” He put his arm around me and pulled me in. It didn’t feel as warm as it used to, but still felt nice.

I stood there looking out at the ocean and recited “Sea Fever” by John Masefield in a slow rhythmic confidence that steadied me. It’s one of my absolute favorites.

He squeezed my arm. “I like that, that jives with me.”

I didn’t say anything.

We walked back towards his apartment and we talked about random things. I don’t even remember all of it. I do remember telling him about an old high school teacher and what he had taught me about thinking for myself.

“What are you looking for?” He asked me.

“Someone who stays.” I said “Someone who has my values. And puts in the work. Just someone who stays. I think I have abandonment issues.”

“Me too.”

We went back into his place.

“Did you vote for Trump?” I blurted out as we walked through the door.

“I didn’t vote. But I might have, just to throw a wrench into things. I wasn’t going to vote for Hillary.”

“ I know things aren’t perfect. I know it was a shit election but still…”

“I honestly think we need a monarchy. Or anarchy. A little anarchy is good.”

I don’t know why I didn’t say anything. I too have been disillusioned by the past few years. Our democracy seems rather flawed and shaky. Our media and people are divided. Corporations rule everything and the planet it dying.

I understand that at times things feel futile. And something about how willing he was to put his feelings in to action intrigued me. I also wondered if he perhaps knew a truth about the world that I didn’t. Was I the naive one? 

But he couldn’t be right. That’s why every cell in my body was in panic mode, something felt so wrong with what he had just told me. It was a cynicism the likes of which I had never faced.

Democracy isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we’ve done so far. The rest is up to us to be better. 

I grew up in a Sikh household where service, education and equality are promoted above all else. Sikhs serve free food at all their temples to anyone that enters, regardless of caste or creed. We are also heavily militarized and considered a “martial race”. This saint soldier identity was borne of many decades of abuse and forced conversions and genocides. Sikhs started off as poets and musicians and peaceful farmers and became warriors; everyone carrying swords and weaponry for protection. Defense of the defenseless it’s called. I was told to never be offensive. You only fight to defend yourself and others. And you never go looking for a fight. Like Mufasa says to Simba “Being brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble.” But if trouble finds you, that’s different. (Punjabi men have their own issues and misogyny exists in all cultures but I’ll save that for a later rant.)

Honestly, the US foreign policy has always felt like looking for trouble to me. Or creating it, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I don’t know enough about the Middle East and all it’s proxy wars to pass any definitive moral judgment on what this Tinder Soldier did, perhaps the Kurdish rebels appreciate the extra support. But I have to say that the Middle East is so complicated that even seasoned professionals have difficulty navigating the social and political arena there. The Middle East is not a playground. Random white dudes from Colorado running off to be mercenaries sounds like adding another variable to an already tense situation. Because violence begets more violence. 

I also feel that without proper diplomacy, military actions are unjustified. And if we took actions to alleviate poverty and increased education (both at home and abroad) we could decrease the amount of conflict across the globe. Poverty, inequality, and ignorance breed hate and war faster than anything. And terrorists are made, not born. The US supplies more weapons all over the world than we ever had the right to. If you go back and read my blog entry on Amy Chua’s Tribal Politics, you get a better understanding of misguided American foreign engagement. 

We are a mishmash of genes + environment. But we can change our environments. We build our cities and societies, and since we have a pre-frontal cortex, it might be great to use it sometime and build a more harmonious environment with nature and social progress. Something with more kindness and dignity. Something with less toxic masculinity. Perhaps that’s naive of me too, but if you look at the data on violence throughout history, the general trend seems optimistic. I think we are getting better. I hope we are getting better.

I wasn’t able to put any of these feelings into words that night. I wish I had said more to him. Maybe I could have made him see my side. But part of me shut down because I didn’t think I could change someone who was so radical already. I also was afraid he may lash out if I offended him. I didn’t know the fucking guy! I was scared and the part of my brain that formulates arguments said, “If you keep staying, you on your own, bitch.” I just couldn’t formulate a proper argument. But what scared me most was that part of me wanted to stay. He tried to cheer me up, holding me close and trying to make me laugh. I stayed the night. Coming home in the middle of the night would have looked weird to my parents when I had told them I was staying with a friend. Plus, I needed the comfort. To say goodbye. I slept fitfully and woke early.

“Are you okay?”

“No. I’m sad. I keep thinking about the fact that you could just up and disappear anytime to some far off war. I don’t really know how to be with people. Being alone is lonely sometimes, but that’s a pain I can control. It’s familiar. Letting people in is so hard. I keep letting people in and it hurts. I’m tired of it hurting.” I got up and got ready to go.

“I wish I had something more to say. I just don’t know how to say it. This is really confusing. You kinda threw me for a loop.”

“I won’t leave you.” he said in a sort of boyish tone that made me want to cry.

I gave him a big hug. “Thanks for saying that.” And then I walked out the door.

I sat in my Jeep and called one of my best friends. I knew she was open minded and smart. I knew she also had more conservative brothers. I wanted her opinion. I also just needed to tell someone what happened.

She listened intently and comforted me. She made no value judgments and just let me talk. I then went home and told my sister. She was much less open minded and told me to immediately break it off.

I asked him to meet me at Greenlake the next day.

It was raining a bit. Not like that sunny day when we came here for our second date. I felt heavy, yet porous. My bones felt brittle. I had lost weight.

I explained to him how much I value stability in relationships and how he didn’t sound like he had the stable life I was looking for. He told me that he understood and that he may be moving to Bellingham as soon as December and didn’t want to hurt me, but he still seemed like he hoped we could still see each other.

It was like he was now happy he could actually talk to someone about his secret life and told me that he and a friend wanted to 3D print a gun. I bristled.

“Um, I don’t think I feel good about that, especially legally.”

“I used to be more liberal like you.” He started. “About 7 years ago I would have fit right into this town. But I kept seeing so much hypocrisy in liberals. And people are so tribal.”

“I know people have negative sides, especially in group situations but it’s not that bad.”

“Other groups don’t care about us.”

“That’s not true.” I said softly. Had he forgotten that we were both different races?

“I mean individually people are okay, I guess.”

“Well if I saw people bleeding out on the street, I wouldn’t ask them if they were Republicans before I helped them.”

“Yeah…”

“I just try to have a good influence on my sphere of influence, those people and things around me. I just try to be the best I can be where I am. I, I think I’m going to head home.”

“Do you want to hang out later this week?”

“Um…. I think I’m housesitting…”

“Let’s play it by ear.”

“…Yeah okay.”

He hugged me and we walked away from each other as the grey misty rain started to become heavy droplets. It was such a deep ugly lonely and I hope no one ever feels that way.

I broke up with him over text the next day because my anxiety kept mounting. I was confused and felt betrayed. I felt like I couldn’t even trust myself. He took it pretty well even though he wanted to keep seeing me. He apologized for saying that someone like me would go crazy in a warzone the day before. He told me that I was very stable and competent, but he just didn’t understand the fear. I told him that a little unarmed female had ample reason for fear. Even though this whole thing had destroyed me, I said goodbye as kindly as I could. He left me alone.

Days went by and I grieved. I let him go because I’m not in the business of changing people. It would have only kept hurting me to try. It was still the hardest choice I’ve ever had to make. It was letting go of a future I had longed for my whole life. My friends reached out and showered love on me but when they left, I went straight back into that dark pit. I even started looking into a therapist to go see about how lost and confused I felt. What with all the lovely rapists being nominated to the Presidency and Supreme Court, with so many men in my past being let downs, and now this mercenary without a cause, I was feeling pretty cynical about life.

I also started feeling like I was losing my mind. Did this guy even exist? Was anything he told me true? I decided I needed to find him online somewhere. He had to exist. I had a friend who was still enrolled at UW as a nursing student look him up in the student directory. He didn’t exist.

I went onto White Pages and typed in his phone number. It wasn’t registered to him or anyone with his last name.

Finally, I found his sister on Facebook. She was this woman power, artsy, hippie. I was so shocked at how different they were. She was very well educated and into liberal causes. She shot things with her camera, not guns. I had a work friend Friend her on Facebook and I scrolled through her feed until I found a photo of him.

He existed. And he looked so . . . normal. My stomach knotted up on itself again. I wish I could say I hate that beautiful bastard, but I’m just confused and sad. I kind of pity him. The idea of masculinity he has sounds like an unattainable and exhausting pursuit. Especially when it seemed he just wanted some affection and understanding. That’s all he seemed to seek from me while we were together. 

I’d like to think that the majority of American men are more stable than this. I know they can’t all be this bad but what concerns me is that pretty much every mass shooting in the past forever, has been a young white dude who had been radicalized,  raised to think they know best and have been given easy access to powerful weapons.

Something is happening to American men and it’s not a good thing. I hope that men will start reaching out to other men and walking them off these ledges. We need to tone down our rhetoric. We need to stop getting sucked into limited media vortexes and echo chambers. We need to find our common humanity. And get common sense laws passed.

It’s been a month now since I’ve had any contact with him. I’m getting better every day. But my world view will never be the same.

I believe art is the antidote to the meaninglessness of life and that stories help bridge distances between us. They let us have difficult conversations and allow us to see the complexity of the world in a simpler way. 

I hope this story helps stir discussions or impacts someone positively. At the very least, it’s helping me cope. I’m more certain of what I believe in now. I’m encouraged by the love and support I’ve received from my friends and family, for the honesty they gave me. I have hope for the world yet and I don’t say that lightly.

And as John Masefield wrote in his poem: “I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky. And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.”

May we all steer our ships by the brightest star in the sky to some brighter tomorrow. That’s my hope for everyone. Even my Tinder Soldier.

  • G

Tinder Soldier

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Gia’s Travel Adventure Quest Part 2: Milan, Como, Rome Again

photography of lighted bridge

Photo by Julius Silver on Pexels.com

 

Well hello there and welcome back to another installment of “holy hell, I’m in Italy again.” It was nice to be able to re-cooperate at my cousin’s house in the country for a week. Home cooked meals and the country quiet was replenishing. You don’t get sunsets like the ones here in Everett. (But Everett has it’s own charm, especially in the spring)

We went up to Milan for a day – it was not enough time and too much time all at once. It’s a big city and a bit overwhelming. It doesn’t have the same warm Italian charm that Florence and Rome had. It’s much more in your face rich. But we did watch a street performer and a guy building a dog out of sand and that was quite interesting.

Lake Como was charming. Up by the foot of the Swiss Alps, the views are stunning. The town seemed less touristy than any other big Italian city I’d been to as well. I’m guessing that’s why many of the local places had such good food. The brioche and panino I had still make appearances in my dreams. I spent the day hiking around and then settling down in a piazza for a refreshing Aperol Spritz and some snacks. This is called an aperitivo.

The best apertivo I had was probably in Trastevere back in Rome. Anu and Kayvon joined me there. After spending so much of the month by myself, it was nice to see some friendly faces. And after a day of gelato, markets in Testacchio, pizza, and walking, lots of walking, we made our way to a little bar that had one of the best rum drinks I’ve ever sipped on (it was called a Jack Sparrow and included spiced rum and pineapple juice among other tasty ingredients I can’t remember) and they offered a salad and pasta buffet for the price of the drink! It was all fresh and healthy but delicious too. I love Italy.

 

Anu and Kayvon’s AirBNB host, a college student in Rome living there with her mom and sister, graciously invited us all out to her families beach house in San Marinella for dinner the next night.

 

Needless to say the food was fantastic and the company was better. Travel falls flat if you don’t connect with people along the way. If you don’t come away with a new perspective or appreciation for the people and places you visit, the whole thing becomes a drudgery. It was refreshing to hear about Italy from Italians.

The news worries me a lot. Italy as well as many other European nations and America have been experiencing and uptick in nationalistic fervor and hate rhetoric in their politics. I was worried at what I may find upon getting to the country. Were the likes of Salvini and Berlusconi reflections of the masses?

After speaking with the Italians I met along my way and watching kids of all sorts of skin colors and ethnic backgrounds play together in the parks as their parents smoked and chatted quietly on the benches, after the warm welcomes I received every where I went, after this trip, I have to say that I’m more hopeful than ever that the arch of history will bend towards progress and justice. (Yes there are plenty of garbage people – especially at airports – but we’re focusing on the positive) Rome had people from all over the world visiting, and not a single one of them could supress a smile when they had a cone of gelato in their hand. Deep down, we are mostly a gentle gelato loving people and that gives me hope.

I am no longer a 21 year old optimistic student studying in Rome with her poet friends. But she is with me. And now I get to be the 26 year old slightly more pessimistic artist in Seattle who gets to look back on a rich life and uncertain yet promising future.

I went on a little trip around Skagit with my friends this weekend and I have to say, Washington in the spring rivals the Sistine Chapel when it comes to reverence in me. And being back with my friends and family is pure bliss.

 

Gia’s Travel Adventure Quest Part 1: Rome and Florence

Traveling back to Italy always reminds me that old broken things have their own beauty. Rome is a city of layers, ruins wrapped up in the new and modern. A city for time travelers.

This time made me think about my own layers; I totes had a Shrek and onions moment, where I realized, the Rome I loved exists in a time suspended. The Rome of five years where me and my poet friends were bright eyed college kids discovering themselves and an ancient culture doesn’t exist anymore.

Just like this is no longer Julius Caesar’s Rome or Augustus’s Rome. Gia’s Rome lives only in memory and photographs.

Just like the 21 year old me doesn’t exist anymore.

I was so excited to be back. After being bounced around airports and trains, bruised and travel worn I made my way to my AirBNB (with some help from super friendly locals). I showered and rested that night, thrilled to be in my city again and after sleeping in, I headed into the city to track down my old stomping grounds near the Campo di Fiori and Trastevere. I passed by the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon first. I thought back to the night the gang and I woke up at 3AM to walk down to the Trevi and then up the Janiculum to watch the sun rise over the old empire. I thought back to the nights we sat drinking and laughing up there, me catching lightning bugs in the long grass and reciting Keat’s Ode on a Grecian Urn back and forth to each other. I thought back and smiled a heavy somber smile.

I was amazed at how much the city was still in my body. I never needed to pull out my map.

I found my way back to the Campo and snuck into the UW Rome Center after saying hi to the statue of Girdano Bruno. I sat up in the brick alcove where my old friends and professors had gathered for lectures and impromptu poetry sessions. I nearly cried. It was empty.

I walked back to Trastevere, my old neighborhood in the warm rain. I stopped to get some gelato at the local place I love. It lifted my spirits considerably. Gelato has that effect, like a hug for your soul. I slowly ambled towards apartment 51 on Via Del Goffredo Mameli. I looked up at the balcony of the apartment I no longer had a key for and turned to walk up the Janiculum to look over the city from my old perch. Accomplished but heavy hearted, I dragged my weary body back to my room and cooked some dinner.

The last time, I never felt homesick once in the three months I was here. And I’m quite used to traveling alone. But that day, I felt very lonely.

The next few days I ate good food, flirted with the local cafe boy and walked everywhere. I was feeling jet lagged but happy romping around. I realized that I may not be who I used to be, but that part of my will always be part of me. Just like Rome’s ruins are always part of what it is now.

Soon it was time to head to Florence. I was leaving on a Sunday so the busses were running slower than usual. The one I finally got on took a while to get going. The driver hopped off to take a break. I grew restless waiting for him but relaxed when he got back on and started out into the city. About 15 minutes in I realized he was going a different way than normal. I figured on Sundays, the 71 went the long way past Villa Borghese. 10 more minutes into the ride it was clear that he had changed routes and I was not headed towards Termini station. I panicked, I was way farther from the usual spots I was used to and I had all my gear with me. I would not have the energy to walk to the proper stop from here. I stayed on til the bus came to it’s last stop and then walked towards the nearest metro stop underground. I had never taken the underground before. It was crowded and loud and I was anxious so it wasn’t the most pleasant ride. But it got me to Termini where I bought my ticket to Florence. I waited two hours for the train and then had to run any way because the train was leaving from a track away from the main tracks. The day just kept getting better.

But once I was on the train to Florence, I felt pretty good, if not a little worn out. I slept most of the way. And arrived ready to tackle something new instead of chasing my past.

There was a warm happy vibe in Florence with people milling in the piazzas and playing music. I walked past the Gothic Duomo on my way to my hostel and grew excited to venture out to explore.

I was greeted by a young energetic girl from the Italian countryside named Angelina. She checked me in as she explained the rules and handed me my key. I dropped off my bags and headed out for some dinner.

Feeling lighter without my bags and having left my memories in Rome, I decided to treat myself. I found a cute restaurant and had the waiter take me to the rooftop for a date with myself. I ordered some stuffed pasta a sparkling wine. I sat sipping and smiling to myself, letting the weariness of the day slide off.

My sister video called me and we spent some time catching up through my meal and the waitress brought me a delicious apple cake with gelato and I just about died.

After dinner I set out for an evening stroll. The piazza was still swarming with people chatting and wandering around in the warm light of the old cathedrals. A few minutes in, a young Italian man came up to me and offered to give me a tour of near by areas. Feeling adventurous, I went for it. Francesco and I spent a few hours wandering around looking at art and the views from the Arno River near the Ponte Vechhio. He told me some history and a bit about his family. I asked him about regionalism vs. nationalism and what sculptor was his favorite. It felt very good to be talking to people again. In Florence, I wasn’t lonely.

I slept fitfully because the person sharing my bunk with me kept snoring (I decided shared hostel rooms are not for me anymore. I’m too old and too rich for that shit) but I set out the next morning with renewed vigor and explored the city, I even went to the Galileo Museum of science. It was full of old do- dads that helped science usher in the modern age. It was awesome.

As I climbed up some hills to over look the city I ran into Manuel – a Colombian PhD student in engineering who was also staying at my hostel. We chatted and wandered through an old cemetery together and got dinner at the central market. It was good to have a travel buddy.

The next day I tracked down the beautiful Boboli Gardens and museums at the Pallazo Pitti. I was full up on Florence’s charms.

The next day Manuel and I headed to the train station to say our goodbyes. I was heading to my cousin’s house in Piacenza and he was headed back to school in San Marino. We promised to stay in touch.

My cousin fed me delicious Indian food – it had been days since I had roti and paneer and it was soooooo good to fill up on family and food. I spent the day reading out in the yard and drawing.

I love being in the country quiet. Hoping to see Milan soon, though.

Ciao for now!

Gia

The Anatomy of Restlessness

By: Gia

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“Evolution intended us to be travelers…settlement for any length of time, in cave or castle, has been…a drop in the ocean of evolutionary time.” Bruce Chatwin, Anatomy of Restlessness

 

Standing still is the hardest thing. Like,harder than stale gluten free bread that was left out in the toaster for five days.Our bodies weren’t made for it. They were made for movement, for walking, for dancing, for making. And our minds were certainly not meant to be idle. Not for long.

I sit for a living. Usually at a computer with a stack of invoices to my left and ringing phone to my right. There’s a whole office of us… just sitting. And we’re not even reading anything fun!

Exercise is great, it keeps me from going completely psycho cuckoo bananas on a daily basis…mostly. I think most people that have worked in an office for more than two  years are a little unhinged, but walks and talks keep the darkness mostly at bay. Mostly.

But travel, and the people you meet a long the way, that is what makes the rest of it bearable.

I’m a house-sitter – on top of the day job – so I get to live in different parts of Seattle throughout the year. Yeah, people pay me to live in their house and take care of their pets while they travel. It’s like a reverse AirBNB with kitties. Indian families are close knit so I’m not expected to leave my parents until after marriage. I thought about leaving but current rent prices have this millennial saving every penny for travel and experiences. So with the house sitting and travel, being at a stationary grown up job is tolerable. And it makes cohabiting with my needy Indian parents easier. And it makes homecomings even better. You have to leave home to really know what it is to you. And you have to leave home to really know who you are without it.

 

We are a complex jumble of genetics + environment. We can’t really change our genetics, but we can change our environment. And I love seeing what parts of me emerge when I do.

I went to Rome back in the spring of 2013 on a study abroad trip. I was ambitious, optimistic, and riddled with insecurities. I have always struggled with anxiety and I was definitely nervous about being away for three months. Away from everyone and everything familiar to me. And I didn’t speak Italian. Language has always been a point of pride for me, being trilingual and all and an English major. I likes to speek gewd. But I learned that humans can get over a lot of hurdles to connect. Some things don’t need words.

I came back from Rome with life long new friends, memories and a confidence I didn’t know I had. And maybe it wasn’t there before but grew in over the course of the trip.

When I studied in London the following year (because once you start moving it’s hard to stop – travel inertia), I met women that finally made me accept the feminine side of myself that my conservative Indian upbringing had caused me to repress. I learned that femininity wasn’t weakness and that it can be expressed in many different ways. I also saw how Indian people had adapted to living in London. Considering the history of colonialism, it was interesting to see. I had my first date in London (and it’s ruined me for American men). And again, I forged friendships that I couldn’t do without.

I also learned how to just have fun. How to take in the little moments of daydreaming on a train ride through the Alps or the Italian countryside, listening to the echo of church bells while walking down cobblestone streets, watching the throngs of people waft past in the piazzas in the sunset glow.

My flight leaves next week. Ima make like a snake and get on that plane. I can’t wait to get moving again.

 

Political Tribes

By Gia

Like the no good Tide pod eating lazy millennial that I am, I get my news online and for the past few years, I’ve been hooked on Vox for my news and infotainment. Vox is an excellent organization that does deep dives and tries to explain the news in an honest, digestible, non-clickbait-y way. The founder and editor, Ezra Klein, has a weekly podcast where he does in depth interviews with political and cultural bigwigs as well as up and coming names to pay attention to. A few weeks ago he had Amy Chua on and she was talking about her book Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations. I was immediately hooked.

 

I think the country as a whole is still coming to terms with the 2016 election results. If you didn’t have an “Oh fuck” moment that election night, you weren’t paying attention. I think our notion of what the country was, who the people are, was tested. There was a lot more going on than we thought and at times, especially in the media, it seems that we are divided and moving farther apart on what we believe it means to be American.  

 

How deeply ingrained tribalism is:

 

Humans are a pack animal. We cannot survive without one another and are hard wired to seek out and maintain tribes to belong to. We are also hardwired to keep others out of our tribes. Belonging would feel cheaper some how if everyone got into the club.

 

These instincts kick in pretty early – infants only a few months old will show preference for people of their own family/ethnic group in photos and interactions.

 

A group of school kids that were divided into a group wearing blue t-shirts and red t-shirts were so biased to their own group assignments that they could remember favorable traits about their own team and negative traits of the outgroup much more easily.

 

People are wired to seek out groups. Groups have very strong social psychologies. These impact every aspect of our lives, especially politics.

 

After reading Chua’s book, I learned a few new definitions:

 

 

  • America is a supergroup.

 

 

What does that mean?

 

  • Super groups have open memberships regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, culture, class. There’s no need to shed your own identity to belong to larger group identity, but  the group still has collective overarching identity. I can be Indian and a woman and Sikh, and not like Star Wars but still be American.
  • America is even more special because we have birthright citizenship. Just being born here makes you American, even if you don’t speak English (though some may contest that).

Supergroups are extremely rare and almost never exist as countries. Think of places like France – you may live there, but unless you adopt a certain way of living (and perhaps even then) you’ll never be French. Have you ever heard of a Indian-French person? But Indian American sounds familiar. African-German? But African American is a thing. Most other groups are much more homogenous. America prides itself on diversity. (Mostly.)


This doesn’t mean that we don’t have tribal conflicts. They are just different.

 

  1. Market Dominant Minority

 

What does that mean?

 

  • A market dominant minority is a small group of people who are the minority in a country who have a disproportionate amount of wealth/control over the economy and social institutions. Think old white Christian men in America. The Chinese in Vietnam. The light skin European descendants in Venezuela. The Tajiks in Pashtun heavy Afghanistan.

 

  • She then lays out how Venezuela, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq were impacted by the general lack of awareness of how tribal identities work.

Russia and America were both unable to get a handle on Afghanistan. Neither group understood that communism vs. capitalism wasn’t nearly as important to the over thrown Pashtun people as the favoritism of the market dominant Tajiks that America appeared to be helping.

 

The Vietnamese rebels were outraged that America was aiding the Han Chinese market dominant minority in their country that also happened to be pro-capitalism. They weren’t all Vietnamese – there was not collective identity for America to unite, the tensions were something we severely mis-calculated to the detriment of their country and ours.

 

Venezuela’s racial politics really intrigued me. Chua discusses how the country is obsessed with beauty pageants and appearances. The majority of the country is poor indigenous dark skinned people, yet a light skinned contestant won pretty much every year. The small market dominant fair skinned elites had been oppressing and devaluing the larger population for so long. Then Hugo Chavez came along and America was appalled that the people could elect a seeming authoritarian. It was harder to see that the dark skinned Chavez was pro-poor people. He was catering to them in a way no one else had before.

 

When we examine old and recent political and historical events in the lense of tribalism, seemingly nonsensical events start to make sense.

 

Chua then breaks down that much of America’s internal struggles have a lot to do with tribalism as well. It just looks a bit different than more ethnically driven tensions. There’s definitely ethnic and racial tensions here. But it could be argued that educated liberal whites are pretty much a different ethnic group than less educated poor whites. Or religious and non-religious groups. They are far less likely to intermarry than people of different races.

 

Tribes in America are not necessarily drawn down ethnic lines. Every person has many different identities that they may choose to align themselves with.

Liberals may pride themselves on inclusion and open-mindedness, but there’s a certain disdain for those not quite as educated, as well travelled, and as well informed. And there seems to be a certain hair trigger sensitivity that creates a “boy who cried wolf” effect. If everything is offensive, then sooner or later, no one is going to care. I feel that is a little of what happened with Trump. There were groups of whites who had constantly felt attacked and blamed and also trampled by the economy and ignored by social programs that poor people of color had access too. Poor whites were not optimistic for prospects for their children like people of color were for theirs.

 

Trump’s race baiting along with Russian interference was enough to divide people on racial and tribal fault lines that had always lain in the U.S. foundation.

 

You would think this would be a class conflict. Why don’t the poor rebel against the rich and not against poor people of other races?

 

  • America has a prosperity gospel where “religious” figures and the rich have convinced the poor that it’s the other minority groups, not the rich, that are keeping them in poverty and pain. Entire groups of people have been trained to believe that being rich is a virtue. To hell with what Jesus actually preached about wealth and it’s vices.
  • Trump often race baits people while flaunting his own wealth and “accomplishments”. This keeps the poor segregated into racial groups rather than an entire class voting block and keeps the rich in power.
  • And there are even groups within groups. Think about the Bernie or busters – one could argue that they weren’t voting logically – they were dividing up the left’s voting block. But that’s just the thing – tribal mentality isn’t always rational. That group of people identified a certain way and refused to vote any other way than to compromise their group ideals.

I mean think about how competitive rival fan groups get during soccer matches. Think about how strong family bonds can be – people will kill and die for each other – for their groups. These are powerful primal bonds and we need to be aware of them when we navigate the future of politics and the nation as a whole.

 

I strongly recommend reading Chua’s book. Not just her book, but as many as you can on race and class and gender relations in this country and others. Almost every social problem you can think of usually is connected back to one of these primary issues. It is our duty to know them and do our best to be better in the future. Be conscious.

 

Universes Unto Ourselves

delicate-arch-night-stars-landscape.jpgHey ya’ll! This blog post is meant to accompany the latest podcast episode on on the philosophies and rituals related to death from around the world. Check that out to supplement this reading so you can be part of the whole conversation!

 

“The days are long but the years are short.” – Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

 

I hopped off the bus, watching my breath billow out in a crystalline puff in the frosty morning air as I walked the three blocks to work. We are having a sunny winter day in Seattle and as I stare out on Fourth Avenue from my office window on the 20th floor, I have a Franciscan “blue sky faith”. I also feel a tad vampiric in the true Seattleite kind of way because it takes an uncomfortable amount of time for my eyes and brains to adjust to the brightness of the sun (Hisssss).  

 

On days like this it’s easy to understand why the ancients worshipped the sun. Why the flowers still do.

 

Some days, light is harder to find. Those are the days that you have to dig deep inside yourself for it, to conjure a patronus of sorts. Those are the days that make me believe that we are truly made of star stuff. Humans seem to have an absurd amount of hope in the face of absurdity. The universe is cold, but our blood beats warm. Space has no sound, but here on earth, we make music. Here, we dance. Sure, my existentialist mind believes that all things tend towards entropy, there may not be some overarching meaning and we are all here by chance and could be gone as easy, but my artistic soul relishes sifting through the chaos anyway. There is magic in the madness.

 

Of course I know I am about to begin a tedious day of reviewing invoices and processing timesheets and outgoing bills for my law firm. I am also trying to schedule time with friends. Make sure my parent’s prescriptions are getting filled. Working on podcast research. Staying caught up with the news. Practicing sketching. Eating if the chance presents itself. And trying not to get a headache when thinking about the fact that when I got my English degree, I never would have believed I would be spending so much time entering numbers into a computer. Sure, I have side hustles, dreams of “making it” as a writer, creator, artist. Somewhere, somehow, it’s all supposed to click together one day, right? But I look up at my wall of photos and smiling back at me are my friends and family. And me. Me smiling, in Rome, in London, at the beach, at home with my dog. I see my life smiling back. Not photographed are the painful memories in between these framed moments. But they are present in their absence, somehow. There would be no joy without the sorrow.  The joy is in the striving. We are all Sisyphus pushing our own boulders of ambition up the hill. It may seem glib, to think you always have to stay hungry for the next thing, never satisfied. But, how unnerving is it on the days when you lose your appetite? Aren’t those the days you start to feel sick? Hunger is good. It means you’re still striving to fill yourself up with something. You just have to be careful of what you fill yourself up with and how.

 

If you listened to the latest Hard Kaur Perspectives episode “We’re Dying to Tell You”, then you heard me and Anu discuss how we came to be aware of death.

My introduction to death was not the most kind. My dad was drunk on whiskey and blunt.

“I will die, your mom will die you will die. One day everything will be gone. Done. Finished.” Silent tears ran down my cheeks.

I was 6 and devastated. My mom was working another night shift at the TPI factory in Mukilteo. No one was there to comfort me. It was in that moment I truly understood loneliness. The kind that lingers deep in everyone. The kind that’s unrelated to the number of bodies you’re surrounded by. The kind that at times forges despair and others, art.

I think I spent the next few years going through the stages of grief. I was an angry kid, a sad kid, but I masked it with sarcasm, and humor when I had to interact with people and aversion to actual contact and connection at times. My religious phase was perhaps a bargaining phase. “Please,” I begged the Universe “give me my life back.” I genuinely couldn’t remember a time I hadn’t been anxious and sad. It just became my normal. But the more I dug into the philosophy of Sikhism and existentialism, the more at peace I became.

 

“Jis marnay se jag daray, mere maan anand. Marnay hi te paye poorn parmanand.”

– Salok Bhagat Kabir Ji Ke

 

“From the death that the world fears, my soul finds peace. Only in death do I find complete peace in the creator.”

– Saloks of Bhagat Kabir Ji
“Deyho sajan assisardyiaan, jo hovay Sahib seyon mehl.” – Kirtan Soihila

 

“Give me congratulations my friends, for I am to join my Master.” -Kirtan Soihila (this is a hymn sung at weddings and funerals. Death is celebrated as the union of the human soul in the form of a bride wedding the eternal spirit as her groom. This definitely illuminates the way Sikhs view death. It is the next great celebration for those who have lived their best life.)

In high school, I woke at 3AM, showered, and sang hymns for 2 hours and meditated until I left for school at 6:30 to catch my bus. After a full day at school, and sometimes after club activities, I would then come home and spend another 2 hours praying and meditating. Then I’d do homework and chores and then pray again. Every day for about 8 years, I followed my regimine. That’s how much the mental discipline meant to me. That’s how much I wanted to escape death. But it consumed me.

 

I don’t know when I came to the acceptance part.  Maybe I haven’t yet.

 

I think I entered a new sphere of consciousness the day I allowed myself to consider the fact that there may not be a true self. That my concept of self was limited and incomplete. That is why I feared death – I feared the destruction of myself and feared what I’d leave behind. The existential FOMO (fear of missing out). But the teachings of Sikhism and existentialism and science brought me to the idea that there may be no self. I am a construct. An amalgamation of parts and experiences. I have been many different people over the course of my life and will continue to morph and change. Which one of those is supposed to cross over? And once my brain stops sending chemical signals, am I there at all to cross over?

Once I finally allowed my mind to be okay with the fact that I am and always have been multitudes (as Whitman would say) I began to feel less burdened. I started focusing on this life instead of what comes after. I started actually engaging the world around me. Engaging the people around me. I focused more on life than death.

 

“Jo brehmanday, so hi pinday.”  

 

“That which is in the Universe, so it is in the body.”

 

We are universes unto ourselves. An amalgamation of billions and billions (can you hear Carl Sagan saying this) of cells and chemical links and atomic bonds. Each one of us. Sometimes the strength you need, the courage, the curiosity, the resilience, the love, truth, possibilities it’s all inside.

 

I came to believe that the void in me could not be filled externally. That isn’t to say that you can’t use external experiences to help you on your internal journey. I learn so much from travel and meeting new people and reading. But ultimately it’s how I internalize the outside world, how I think about it, how I respond to it, that really matters. I’ve chosen to respond with gratitude. At least I’m here now to experience things, feel joy. The universe never owed me joy, but here it is anyway. Better than nothing.

 

And I have chosen the Buffy approach. Joss Whedon created Buffy with existentialist themes in mind. (The character Angel is actually seen reading Jean Paul Sartre’s La Naussea in one of the episodes.)

 

You surround yourself with good people. Good books. And a good fight.

 

Live your life to better the world, but get informed first and don’t do it alone.

 

But if you do end up all alone, remember that you still have yourself. And you are enough. A universe unto yourself.

 

I always thought that humans should start transfusing their DNA with the immortal jellyfish (Google it). Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to regenerate yourself and live life over? But maybe not. Because guess what? All cells are programmed to commit suicide; its called apoptosis. Every now and then when a cell overrides this suicide pre-programming, it starts replicating infinitely. We call this replication cancer. 

When I looked at it that way, immortality seemed like a curse, maybe not to the cancer cell itself, but for everything else around it. And then eventually the cell itself because in time, it would kill its host. What would the world be like if we just went on and on, devoid of urgency and purpose, simply consuming? Perhaps an ending is a kindness.

I don’t know if we ever “conquer” death. I think it would be foolish to try. I think the key lies in acceptance. “Greeting him as an old friend.” – from the Deathly Hallows/Tales of Beedle the Bard

That doesn’t mean I’m not still afraid, but I’ve just stopped letting fear guide me as strongly. I’m still guided by spiritual philosophy but not oppressed by the ritual anymore. I’m not looking for an escape any more. There is only one exit. I’ve just decided to live life anyway, for the sake of itself. For myself. And as a woman from my culture, or any culture, that in itself is a revolution.
-Gia

 

P.S. If you’re looking for a good read – check out Paul Kalanithi’s, When Breath Becomes Air. Paul was a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in his 30s. The book is his memoir and writings from the last year of his life. It is beautiful.

 

 

Of Monsters and Men

daphne and apollo(This is to be paired with the Of Monsters and Men episode of Hard Kaur Persepectives. I don’t want to repeat what I said on the show so if you haven’t already heard it, go listen to that first. -Gia)

Do you remember when in Greek and Roman mythology, Apollo is chasing Daphne and she turned into a tree rather than have to deal with Apollo’s lusty obsession with her? I felt that. (Talk about barking up the wrong tree.)

From antiquity to Beauty and the Beast to Little Red Riding Hood – women have been prey while men are the predator. From the moment they can sit up and take in instruction, girls are warned against the male libido. Don’t dress like that, don’t say that, don’t do that; it could be interpreted as an invitation . . . like to a vampire or something. Why aren’t men told to control their libido? Why does the burden of warding off unwanted desire rest with the woman? It’s as if our culture wants us to give men some understanding for having this monster inside, the monster that flares up around puberty and never seems to leave. Perhaps biology is partially to blame. However, being blessed with a pre-frontal cortex means humans suppress unpleasant or socially un-acceptable impulses all the time. Our animal nature can be worked with. So my thought is that we live in a society that has left this beast off a chain on purpose.

I think women are done hardening themselves to put up with predatory nonsense masquerading as harmless masculine fun. We are done being patient and wooden on the subject of our own dehumanization. We got some things to say. Please, take a seat.

I have this montage of images that flow through my mind when I think of what’s been exposed on the media of late.

I remember being seven or eight, about 55lbs of girl, watching her father get drunker and meaner with his friends as the night wore on. I remember the vague shouting and hyena like laughter. I remember my mom gathering me and my five year old sister in her room and moving the bed in front of the door so no one could pry it open to get to us. I remember her cleaning the vomit out of the carpets the next day.

I remember hearing my parents slut shame girls for wearing dresses in the fall.

I remember being 22 and in London going out for my first date ever. I remember slipping pepper spray into my pocket along with my lipstick.

I remember when my friends and I activated the location trackers on our phones so we would be able to follow each other when the other went out alone or on a date. Just in case.

I remember being cat called and being called a bitch on the street for having the audacity to be walking while female.

I remember getting unsavory messages on dating apps.

I remember guys on dates tickling me or jabbing me in jest. Not the worst offence, but I remember telling them to stop. Telling them that it was annoying, that it made me uncomfortable. Telling them that an unfamiliar man tickling me wasn’t cute, especially when they had 60 lbs on me. I remember them not listening.

I remember them not taking “No.” for an answer.

I remember the shame and frustration. The hotness of the tears.

There was no one defining moment of abuse for me that made me feel victimized. It was a slow subtle wearing away of my sense of security and sense of self-worth over time.

The first few things we learn in kindergarten are: don’t say hurtful things, keep your hands to yourself and keep them out of your pants. Why don’t we hold men to this elementary standard?

Perhaps because we deify certain people. We attribute God like status to celebrity. We want to believe that they are a chosen few to lead us, to teach us, to model ourselves after. We forget that the Gods could be monstrous too.

There is a pretty hefty list of cultural heavy weights who have met with a reckoning in the past few months. It feels good to see powerful people finally being held accountable. There is no job or aspect of society that isn’t tainted with this sort of behavior. It happens everywhere and to everyone and way too often. And for those men saying #notallmen. Well duh, but that’s not what we’re talking about. We are talking about the toxic culture that promotes this kind of behavior and we are talking about holding perpetrators responsible. We are talking about consequences for actions. We are talking about justice. Also, I don’t think men are authorities on the character of other men. Women see a side of men that they don’t show to their buddies. You don’t get to see your buddies sending drunk sexts and unsolicited dick pics. You don’t see them demanding nudes. You don’t see them when they are being predatory. And if you do and you haven’t confronted them about it, then what does that say about your character? Sometimes inaction is the true violence. Being deaf to the truth with two perfectly good ears is just straight up bullshit.

So what do we do?

I don’t have a single solution. I don’t think one exists. I think it’s going to take individual reflection and honesty, education (proper sex education in schools!) and social responsibility to each other to be better. When we change, our institutions will too. And it starts with listening and understanding. It takes really trying to see other people’s side, especially if you are someone with power or privilege. It’s going to take being uncomfortable for a while and having the important discussions. The most disturbing part of these revelations hasn’t been that sexual harassment happens or that it happens this often, it’s that so many people knew about it and helped cover it up. So many people kept these women quiet. So many people helped cover up the reputations of these men through quiet money settlements and by threatening careers and reputations of the victims. That is much more troubling. Be like Drake. Be like John Oliver. Have those uncomfortable confrontations with other men. Stand up for the humanity of everyone. Love your brothers, but call them out when they are in the wrong. Get them help when they need it. And women, keep telling your truths.

I personally have been struggling with Louis CK in particular because as a stand-up fan, he was one of my idols. I also thought he was a feminist. It felt like I was tricked. Betrayed by someone I admired. I’ve been thinking a lot about separating the art and the artist.

Art doesn’t exist if the audience doesn’t. A book is just words on a paper until someone reads it. Then it’s art. I don’t think it’s possible to separate the art from the artist because art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is always a continually evolving process between the growth and change of the observer and the piece of work. (1+1=3).  It’s more than the sum of its parts. And it requires a certain authenticity. If there’s a lie in the work, it doesn’t work. You will never be able to forget what the artist did when you interact with their work again. You will always have that artist’s list of fuck ups in the back of your mind. This isn’t to say that you will no longer be able to enjoy the work, you just won’t be able to view it the same again. The extra knowledge will always be a part of how you interact with the work. It’s going to be up to each individual to decide whose work they can still support and who they are done with. But I don’t think we can’t ignore everything these people put out because it’s been made part of the social consciousness. Their influence is already out there, and not all of it was bad. We can examine the types of work that came out and see what it says about our nature, because it still says something. Monsters can still have something important to say about men, because they are part of the men too. Ignoring that part of us is no good. We must hold it accountable, though for sure.

The philosophers of antiquity were always obsessed with the idea of virtue and the distinctions between men of virtue and monsters. Granted they didn’t have everything figured out because they had slaves and treated women like non-persons but they were on to something when it came to virtue. The Greeks and Romans even went as far as to suggest these virtues showed in physical ways – the human body was often a display of virtue – there’s a reason the Olympic athletes were worshiped, they could “control their chariots,” “hold their horses” – control their animal impulses. They were prime human specimens. The statues of Greek and Roman men had small dicks because large dicks were signs of moral and mental inferiority – the animal was in charge of the man. But they always acknowledged this divide of monsters and men. Monsters in men. We are all monsters because nature is red in tooth and claw and we will always be a product of nature. From fighting past and leaving behind the billions of sister sperm to the simultaneous finish line and genesis of the ovum, to the corporate climb, to the eventual abandonment of the life we build when we die, we are at the core, selfish.

However, we can also derive joy from bettering ourselves and helping others to better themselves.

Aristotle felt that moral virtue was something one could practice. Something one could get better at through moderation. It was a human beings purpose to spend life getting closer and closer to moral balance. To keep the monster in check.

But first, one must admit that the monster is there.

 

 

 

Reborn

“What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”

Valarie Kaur


Before you read below, be sure to check out our podcast on Hate Crimes linked above that inspired this blog post. We talk about the recent shooting in Kent, Washington of a Sikh man. He was shot by a masked, white man right who commanded “Go back to your own country” before firing the bullet.

 

March 3rd at around 8pm a Sikh man, Deep Rai, was shot in his driveway by a tall, white, masked male. Right before the shot was fired, the masked man said, “Go back to your own country.”

This happened in Kent. A city about 46 miles, 55 minutes away from me. A place I visit to get my eyebrows threaded or to visit family friends and to even attend big functions for weddings or engagements.

When I heard this news I don’t know if I would describe myself as surprised or shocked or horrified even. Instead my mind immediately traced back to my childhood after the events of 9/11. I was in the second or third grade then. I didn’t know what was going on but would play the planes crashing into the two big buildings in my head over and over again because that’s all the news showed me. My parents didn’t say much about the incident.

So I carried on life as normal. Going to school, playing with friends. A week after the incident I was waiting outside the front of my school. Classes ended and all my friends and classmates were being picked up. I was waiting for my grandfather who would come walk me back home. One of the girl’s in my class was being picked up by her mom. Other details are a blur, but I remember clearly her mom looking at me in disgust. “Why don’t you go back to your own country?” She said, walking away.

I was stunned.

Today, I see this xenophobia and racism more clearly; I’m much more aware of its presence and prevalence. And I’m not so stunned to hear comments or sentiments suggesting that we go away or that we do not belong.

That’s what scares me.

How has hate become so normalized? It shocks most of us, yes, to hear shootings or beatings or killings against people because of a bias against their skin color, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or race.

What hurts more is how fundamentally misunderstood we all are. The Sikh man was shot for his turban, an appearance that unfortunately in America conjures an image of a Muslim which further wrongfully is correlated with being a terrorist. There are so many misunderstandings to unpack right there. Importantly, in the definition of a hate crime, I emphasize a bias motivated crime due to a perceived affiliation to some group or identity. Even further, that negative perception of the assumed group is also false.

For years after 9/11 my grandfather took off his turban and in its place wore a USA flag hat. He’d walk by me and point to his hat and say “U.S. good!” with a thumbs up. He fought so hard to remove himself from an image of a foreigner for his fear of what might happen to him — he wanted to secure his American identity by wearing that hat.

But, why? Why should what we place on our heads or what we wear on our bodies affect how we are perceived to others around us? This is not right. And this logic creates a plethora of problems not just for hate crimes but also for rapes when the victims are blamed for “how they dressed” or even what they drank.

I am encouraged by the support I see against hate crimes. Perhaps it is because technology gives me access to see this support more, or even that this support is being built by the dissemination of news and protests that media brought. However it may be, I find comfort in the people that do come together in solidarity to stand against hate.

But, it is going to take a lot more than being shocked and hurt by violence to make change. It is going to take more than respective communities targeted by hate crimes to educate the communities they are a part of, to make them understand that they are not here to harm, in order to have sustainable positive outcomes. I admire our visit to the Renton Sikh Gurdwara because most people voiced that it was education that was missing, that people need to be told about the Sikh community. They offered we educate in classrooms and make people aware of who we are. 


That is not enough.

Because when feelings are high and there are instances of violence people will be more responsive and listen and try to understand — those listening to the subordinate group may even welcome that education. But, highly emotional moments fade and violent events pass our memories with time, and then it’s all too easy to get back into the routine, normalized environment in which hate crimes occurred in the first place. We need substantial and sustainable change to fight against this. And this can start with education, but it needs to be sustained with hard efforts by people in power, with policy change, and with a larger change in how we educate American society.

This is also a call to the Indian community: we are not safe. And we are obligated to stand in solidarity with all people of color that have been and are marginalized and oppressed in this country. This hate is systematic, and that we must recognize.

 

Right Tracks

“Before becoming a Sikh, a Muslim, a Hindu, or Christian, let’s become a human first.”                                                                            -Guru Nanak

 

Well hello there! By now I’m hoping  you’ve had a chance to listen to the HKP podcast episode on Sikhism. If not, it’s linked up above – check it out! This blog post will supplement that episode. I could give you a history lesson on Sikhism right now but that’s what Wikipedia is for. I’m going to tell you a story instead.

My mom and I took a trip to India in 2007 for about three months in the summer. It was hotter than the devil’s buttcrack and the villages didn’t have air conditioning, and because of rolling blackouts due to a corrupt and ineffective government, the electric fans would stop blowing their cooling breaths on us randomly throughout the day (usually around the time that grandma and I were laying down for our afternoon nap). But hey, I was sweating out all my toxins and losing weight by just sitting there so it wasn’t all bad. What really tested my resolve was the two day long train ride we took from Punjab to Nanded, Maharastra. We were going to Hazur Sahib, one of the panj takhats (5 thrones). This is where the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, lived until he was attacked by assassins. He killed the assassins but was fatally wounded and passed a few days later. Hazur Sahib is a very sacred place for Sikhs. (It’s where my grandmother went to pray for me when my parents were having trouble conceiving. She washed her face in one of the sacred fountains that flow from the river Godavri and swears that as she cupped her hands, she saw the form of an infant in her palms. I was born later that year. I don’t know if I believe her wish was granted by a particular divine cosmic being or not, but it’s still a great story, especially when she tells it.) But getting back to my story, guys, I was stuck in a loud and crowded moving tube with my mom and a bunch of sweaty strangers for two days without a cell phone. And spoiler, the train didn’t have air conditioning either.

We left early in the morning while it was still cool, but by just 9 in the morning, everything was baking. Dust was flying in through the open train windows and pasting itself to my sweaty face. I had sweated through my cotton kamiz (traditional top for Punjabi women worn with a salwar or pants) and was pretty sure I’d left a sweaty buttprint on the plasticky train seat. I looked so sexy.

All the heat had pretty much murdered my appetite but if you sweat enough, you have to replenish the nutrients you’re losing. Mom and I knew that getting off the train to look for food meant delaying our trip even more and we didn’t have time for that. And eating the food on the train looked pretty unbearable. There was nothing substantial. But as the evening started cooling just a wee bit and the sky took on a pinkish cotton candy glow, a crew of men in orange turbans jumped on the train as it slowed and started handing out free bundles of food. They dropped the bundles in extended hands, racing through the train compartments. After filling as many hands as they could, they quickly hopped off the train as it started gaining speed again to head to the next stop.

The group of volunteers were from a nearby gurdwara (Sikh temple) and were making sure travelers on the train would have an evening meal. India’s trains often have stow-aways and beggars hitching a ride from one town to the next. The gurdwaras share their langar with everyone. To Sikhs, since all living things carry divinity within them, feeding a hungry person is to feed the divinity within.

For a country so torn between religious and caste divisions, this kind of even handed service blew me away. These volunteers probably spent all day in front of giant fires and stoves in the already unforgiving Indian sun to prepare meals for strangers FOR FREE! Who does that? It’s amazing. I couldn’t have been more filled with pride and gratitude to these people. Memories like this always inspire me to live a life dedicated to service and love.

I hope you will do more of your own research and exploration of who the Sikhs are. I’ve been living and studying the culture for a while now and I still am surprised by what I learn.

Check in next week to the podcast for more on Sikhs and hate crimes. We hope that meaningful discussion will start to bring some changes.

Ciao for now,

Gia

 

 

Superstitions

 


Let me make the superstitions of a nation and I care not who makes its laws or its songs either.
– Mark Twain


Well I’m hoping you’ve listened to our podcast episode on superstitions and are now coming here to supplement your voracious appetite for fun facts and more of my delicious thought babies. Good for you.

I hope to, briefly, deliver some clarification and personal reflection on superstitions because we covered a lot in the podcast (not as much as I wanted to but hey, I gotta try and have a life too) and some of it wasn’t fully fleshed out or just difficult to explain verbally. I mostly want to further elaborate on magical reasoning and how it permeates human life.

Magical or Associative reasoning is when the human mind links or associates one thing or event to another without proper evidence of causality. For example, if a black cat crosses your path and you run into 5 red lights in a row and you were late to work that morning, you may attribute the bad luck of the red lights to the black cat. Even though rationally, you know the red lights run on sensors and timers that are completely out of feline control (hopefully).

In anthropologist James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, he breaks down the two types of magical or associative reasoning as sympathetic magic and contagious magic.

Sympathetic magic is based on the idea of similarity or likeness (Metaphor). For example, many cultures associate the sunflower with fertility and loyalty. In Greece, it’s also associated with Apollo, the sun god. Sunflowers are yellow and tilt their heads to loyally follow the sun throughout the day. So they are believed to carry properties of the sun in them and are used in healing rituals. Another example is mangoes in India. They are associated with love and the heart because they have a similar shape to an anatomical heart. They look like hearts so people attribute heart related properties to them. Even wine being associated with the blood of Christ is a type of sympathetic magical reasoning.

Contagious magic is link or association by contact or contagion (Metonymy). For example, lucky charms like rabbit’s feet, or cursed objects would fall into this category. This is an association that keeps people away from “haunted houses” or why people spend thousands on a lock of Justin Bieber’s hair on eBay or go crazy over a celebrity’s sweaty shirt or cry when they lose a wedding ring – because they think that having come into contact with a certain entity or force, these places or objects carry a bit of that contact on with them – that the properties of a particular force, rubbed off on them and have a life of their own. These objects are more than they are – they are symbols for some greater meaning/memories.

We use metaphor and metonymy in speech all the time! We use simile and metaphor without even thinking about it. How many times have you heard things like: “she was a well of knowledge” or “his eyes were blue as the sky”?

Metonymy is something people tend to be less familiar with. An example is “the pen is mightier than the sword” where the pen is standing in for language and communication or the written word and the sword represents force and violence. One object is standing in for larger concepts here.

Whether or not you are familiar with linguistics or Noam Chomsky, it probably won’t surprise you to consider that our brains are naturally wired for language acquisition and language is associative – pattern based. And abstract. And language is how we view the world. How we interpret it. So naturally, our brains are wired for pattern seeking and abstract thinking. This type of reasoning is highly adaptive – it’s because your mind can connect cause and effect that you avoid certain foods that could do you harm or avoid dangerous things – you associate them with pain. Or the reason you seek out companionship and good food – it brings you pleasure. However, many times, those patterns are put together or interpreted incorrectly. Unchecked superstitious thought can hold a society back and drown it in paranoia and fear. There are many people in India that consider widows to be bad luck and will avoid helping needy people due to a completely unfounded fear. Sometimes these superstitions become forms of social oppression that circumvent laws.

It would be foolish and downright depressing to eliminate magical reasoning.This type of reasoning makes more than survival possible. Getting rid of it would take so much of the whimsy out of life. It’s what makes science and art possible. It wasn’t until the time of Galileo and his scuffle with the Catholic Church that religious/philosophical and magical reasoning started to formally separate from science. The same part of the mind that comes up with fantastic stories and art and superstitions, comes up with scientific advancement. The only difference is that science has logical checks on itself to eliminate extraneous and inconsistent data to allow for more reliable patterns to emerge. It is our system of peer review and fact checking that allows us to rule out the magical associations that lead us down the path of fear and superstition. And now more than ever, it is important that we check our own beliefs and see if they stand up to scrutiny and hold our media responsible for proper facts and investigation.

In conclusion, I will leave you with a nearly prophetic quote from Carl Sagan: 

“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time – when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”

 

I was sitting on the couch a few weeks ago gazing out the large window situated above the front door to our house. It was dark, I could see the stars and I saw the moon; big, bold, and beautiful.

A short side tangent — I am obsessed with moons. My horoscope is Cancer and moon is my planet. I even grew up watching Sailor Moon and I can almost swear it was because of the “Moon” being in the title (also great storyline with women warriors saving the world! And dreamy characters like NAME, duh.) I also have a half moon tattoo… So yeah, I like moons.

So I was staring at this big, bold, beautiful moon shining through the large window. It was dreamlike; I was really happy.

My mom walks over right then and sees me staring out the window. She gasps a little and informs me I’d better stop gazing less I want to be cursed for the year. “Anu, stop looking at the moon!” I look at her curiously and then realize my mother often makes such remarks and continue gazing. She started explaining then how that very night was the night of the lunar eclipse and how back in Punjab it was forbidden to gaze at the moon on those nights.

I was curious then. “What do you mean?” She explained. “There is a moment of darkness when the moon is eclipsed. This is a bad omen.” She told me that during both lunar and solar eclipses everyone in the villages would huddle into their homes, not eat or drink during this period. Pregnant women especially had to be careful for these occurrences could negatively affect the child — they had to untie their pants during this time. It was so serious that even pregnant female cows’ leashes were loosened.

I stared at her in disbelief but also fascination. Now I am no newbie to such superstitions — my mom in fact is very superstitious. She makes me eat sweet yogurt every time before a big interview or test to bring me luck; she puts a black kohl dot on the back of my ear when I get dressed up for a party so to deflect the “evil eye”; to rid of said evil eye, she burns her hand over a hot pan to wipe over my face — “burn away evil magic!”

I grew up in superstitions. I’d always roll my eyes when my mom performed these acts or told me such things because I never really believed in them. At least I don’t think I did. I’d still partake in them — to appease my mom or perhaps at some level I began endorsing them because they were so a part of my home life. I don’t know.

So, where does that leave me?

My intensely rational side demands I suspect all and any superstitions. To dismiss my mom’s beliefs as ridiculous and scoff when she tries to prevent me from leaving the house because I sneezed (In Indian superstition you can’t leave the house after sneezing unless you eat something sweet.) I tend to also blow things up: If I endorse any one superstition, what precedent does that set for other superstitions? Where are superstitions founded upon? I think it to be founded in uncertainty, fear, and also hope. People look for means to cement understandings and to also simplify them: Superstitions do that.

I think of what’s happening today. With the state of our politics and our current President a big part of me says: “SEE THIS IS WHY WE NEED TO THINK RATIONALLY AND NOT BE STUPID TO IGNORE FACTS AND SCIENCE FOR MOMENTS OF WHAT WE WANT TO BELIEVE!!” I mean lot of this political season involved many middle-class white folks frustrated with their economics situations and so angered by President Obama that they were desperate to cling to any token or tool that could give them certainty in their identity in this country. That tool was Trump. He used these people’s frustrations and fear to his advantage, conjuring up his own “alternative facts” to best fill their needs. And those alternative facts I would argue are founded by superstitious behavior.

Fearing specific groups of people for their religion is superstitious.

Profiling folks based on what they wear is superstitious. Etc etc.

There are very real effects for deeply held societal myths and superstitions.

In India for example this is especially true of menstruation. As a part of Hinduism, bodily excretions are believed to be “polluting” and “impure”.(1) Many temples and holy places in India will refuse admittance when a girl is on her period. In some parts of India a menstruating woman is not allowed to touch a cow for belief that the cow will then become infertile! Central to all these myths is scrutinizing women’s natural bodies as being inherently impure and demonic — they devalue women. And these superstitious beliefs just reinforce and perpetuate a women’s lower status in Indian society.

Because of these myths, menstruation is such a taboo in India. This leads to ignoring the hygienic and health concerns related to menstruation. More than 77% of women in India use old cloth in place of proper sanitary pads or tampons during their period because it is taboo to offer hygienic products for something considered so taboo. It is recorded that over 22% of girls drop out of school once they start their period for fear of what is happening to their bodies, and in many places because it is believed the start of menstruation is indicative of the time to be married off — because our only goal is to bear children.(1) 

Those are real consequences of superstitions. 

I think back to the evil omen of the lunar eclipse my mom started this whole post with. This seems harmless to me, and I understand how villages would cling to this superstition as a way of understanding their relationship with the sun and moon particularly by Indian mythology. But what are the bigger implications of this one belief? People might look to blame such occurrences for real health dangers such as difficulties in childbirth. My mom said one of my Aunt’s had two childbirths after a lunar eclipse she didn’t untie her pants for and so they all believe it is because of this reason that her children were born with health problems. This does many things: 1.) It ignores the actual medical problems associated with the children’s’ health and 2.) It inadvertently puts blame on the mother for not heeding to the lunar eclipse superstitions and untying her pants.

This is wrong. And this is where superstitions get dangerous.

I’ll keep to my daily horoscopes consciously aware that whenever it reads that “today I will find the love of my life” that it is likely not true, unless I interpret the finding of girl scout cookies as the love of my life which would be true and then I’d be reinforcing the belief my horoscope told me to believe in — what a cycle! And that is one I can get on board with.

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4408698/