Splendid Isolation Part II

Romanticism at its greatest... Caspar David Friedrich's The Wanderer Above The Mists

We’ve made such a big to do about how great these new forms of social communication are – and the tools invented to further entrench their use and adoption by society. There’s a great book I read a while back when researching a paper for a Global Media class called “Here Comes Everybody” by Clay Shirky, who is a prominent academic in the area of not only media studies in general, but specifically new media with regards to how new methods and modes of communication are changing the way we interface on an individual level up to a national and global level. But I’m not here to review his book. I honestly don’t feel enough attention has been given to the negative aspects of these tools and trends in our increasingly global society.  There is such fanfare around the idea that tools like Facebook and the internet in general, perhaps, are the impetus behind a the growing of interconnectedness and awareness around the globe. Surely, this is true in the sense that I might stumble across a posting on a friend’s wall about a ship sailing to Palestine or some other global event, and was thus singularly made aware of it through the actions of another individual. Surely, this is one of the hallmarks of this age we have entered. But I’m starting to become disillusioned.

Very disillusioned. I find there are certain people who I follow on Facebook to track certain developments around the world. I’m thankful I have friends who devote their status updates to awareness of global issues, such as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It’s nice to see that kind of passion and devotion to ensure the spread of awareness and the exemplification of that passion. But that’s maybe about 10% of all the activity that goes on. The other 90% is just rubbish. Sure it’s nice to know what my friends are up to, it’s nice to keep track of people half a world away. But I find it so self-serving, or at least Facebook generates people in my feed that I just don’t give a damn about. I’m tired of having 750 friends. That’s too many to keep track of. Yeah, I could narrow it down, but I don’t want to be mean and defriend people for no reason.

But I’m just tired. It seems to have grown from something that initially seemed to hold so much promise and now appears to be so self-serving. What do I mean by that? Self-serving? It’s just this sense that individuals use tools like Facebook to really just communicate things about themselves. Perhaps that’s somewhat poorly stated. I mean that is what its meant for after all. It’s a broadcasting tool, first and foremost. Perhaps not in the sense one might usually associate with broadcasting, but that is what it is in its essence. You broadcast to the world what you want it to know. And this is the thing. With 750 friends, I find it too difficult to even follow those people who I am closest with. I’d rather just see those people on my feed. Nobody else.

I’m trying to remember where I saw a statistic recently that Facebook was way above Google in terms of the number of minutes people spent on the site. I can’t remember what the figure was, but it was astounding. But there’s something sickening about it. Something wrong. To spend so much time sitting there as the news feed drips the latest. It’s a live feed after all. There’s no appointed time of the day. It’s always happening. There’s something that makes me rather uneasy about this. It’s like we’ve been sucked into something that’s impossible to get out of. Do we forget so easily that Facebook is a corporation like any other, fueled equally as all others by personal interests and greed. You don’t think they want us to spend every minute of the 24 hours we have in a day on there? It’s merely their market share that’s at stake after all.

Anyway, I’m as guilty as all of you that are reading this. Unless you don’t have a Facebook and renounce other forms of online communication. But of course, we must remember, that the problem isn’t only restricted to Facebook or other sites like it. It’s a global – internet – problem. The idea that the internet was supposed to open our minds and allow us to be constantly informed about things has been realized in some ways and failed in others. I get the general sense that the majority of people who use the internet merely use it in a way that reinforces their existing beliefs. They read things that espouse their own opinions, rather than challenge them. And this problem isn’t even restricted to the internet itself. It’s a problem in all of global media. I mean just turn on Fox News or any of the MSM (Main Stream Media) networks. It’s all self-serving crap for the most part. We aren’t challenged anymore.

All we’re told to do now is sit around with our eyes glazed over while the latest status updates trickle down a back-lit screen. It’s numbing. I suppose I’m trying to explain why this has lead me to desire isolation so much so in order to rid myself of this numbness. This is bigger than heartbreak. I’ve generally liked to attempt to live my life predicated on the idea that everything in moderation is good. It’s best not to polarize oneself. And I find that the Facebook increasingly does this. Polarizes oneself to extreme narcissism.

There’s a great article I need to post soon about loneliness and the internet. I mean, you don’t think each one of these status updates, or at least a large majority of them are cries of desperation? A cry to be heard? By someone? Anyone?

Things are just moving to fast. I’ve tired of having to log on every 10 minutes to check the latest in my news feed. I’d rather write here about a topic. Or read a book. I mean for Christ’s sake… our society’s obsession with Facebook only builds upon a collective national mindset that is increasingly oriented around instant-gratification. We should listen to our Mother’s more. Yeah, I realize there are plenty in the political sphere who like to speak of America’s inevitable Imperial Decline… but you know it’s not even about that. It’s our collective failure as a citizenry. All we care about its ourselves, and we couldn’t give a shit about anyone else. It’s all about me, me, me. And the Facebook is perhaps the epitome of that.

So I will not be deactivating my Facebook. Wait a second. After writing that tirade against it, you’d think I would, probably. Well, I’ll tell ya what I’m going to do. Undoubtedly, it would be far more liberating to simply deactivate the whole damn thing and just sit down and read Thoreau by candlelight. But I do have people that I am close with who I have no way to stay in contact with except through – you guessed it – the Facebook. As much as I crave isolation, I must at least alert my close friends in Lebanon and around the world to contact me by email or another method. I must update my status, I must broadcast, in the most self-serving manner, my recusing of the Facebook and ultimate withdrawal into isolation from such tools of communication.

Gotta love hypocrisy. In America, we practice it as an art. Ha. Anyway… to end things on a lighter, more humorous note… here’s my cry of desperation at the moment. I used to have a boyfriend who took interest in what I said and wrote. I think… I think I would like a man who does precisely that. No, not a man to follow my Facebook status updates, to check who comments on them or ‘likes’ them. But one who takes a genuine interest in what I write, who can challenge me on what I write. I used to know a man like this. But he disappeared in human smoke (also the name of a very good book about the Interwar Period). So to conclude, if you are between the ages of 18-28, are male, preferably athletic, and you enjoyed reading this and would like to engage in some good, old fashioned discourse, please drop me a line.

Good day to you all.

EJ Tonight & A Quote

Wikipedia: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Wikipedia: Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy: Better Off Dead

And a quote by Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet… worthy of Gibran Khalil Gibran…

“To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all out tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. For this reason young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love: they have to learn it. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered close about their lonely, timid, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning time is always a long, secluded time, and so loving, for a long while ahead and far into life, is solitude, intensified and deepened loneness for him who loves.”

“Destiny itself is like a wonderful tapestry in which every thread is guided by an unspeakably tender hand, placed beside another thread, and held and carried by a hundred others.”

“Reflect on the world that you carry within yourself. And name this thinking what you wish.. your innermost happening is worth all your love.”

“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky. “

Isn’t it better to be in a constant state of amusement? One should never be reduced to boredom. To be so dulled by the things in their immediate surrounding that they have no desire to do anything. Even laying around and doing nothing, just thinking is the total opposite of boredom. Boredom is a state. A feeling. One we must endeavor to circumvent. Read. Write. Listen to music. Discover. Create. Read Garth Nix’s The Abhorsen Trilogy and enter a fantasy world of magic and death. Read Walden or Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau. Read Virtually Normal: An Argument about Homosexuality by Andrew Sullivan. There’s the short of my reading list.

Watching that video of Elton John singing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, does anyone just get this sense that he could totally be the 1970’s version of Lady Gaga… in a man… form…? Haha. Seriously, if you take one look at his outfits throughout that decade they’re just as crazy as some of Lady Gaga’s. I love Elton John. He’s totally awesome.

And he sings better than any boyfriend I’ve ever had. Man, I win don’t I?

Lebanon’s Golf Club

CNN: The Graves and Greens of the Lebanon Golf Club

I came across a recent article on CNN.com which can only be described as a historic achievement for main stream media which tends to ignore news unless it generates the most headlines. Not that the article doesn’t reflect, well, a certain disposition, or moreover lack of research… I was slightly stunned seeing the reference to Hezbollah’s media and television apparatus “Al-Mana.” I don’t even know what that means in Arabic. For the record, it’s “Al-Manar”, which means The Beacon.

British journalist Robert Fisk, who wrote “Pity The Nation” about the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war, has repeatedly claimed the golf course as the burial site of many of the missing bodies.

“There are perhaps 1,000 murdered Palestinian civilians under the golf course near Beirut airport, dumped there by Israel’s Phalangist allies after the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres,” Fisk wrote in the British newspaper The Independent.

“No one will dig them up. Golfers play without reflecting upon what lies beneath the verdant 18th hole.”

I’d tend to take Robert Fisk at his word given his credibility as a journalist. I’ve actually been meaning to read Pity The Nation for quite some time. But anyway… the pictures in the article are worth looking at to see golf course as it looked during the Civil War to how it looks now.

In all likelihood there are probably corpses buried underneath the course. The Lebanese Civil War was, of course, a 15 year long affair that consumed most of the country, let alone the entire city of Beirut.

I’m particularly fond of the Club President’s choice words…

“It [the mass grave] is not here; it is over there, over that wall,” he said, pointing to the eastern wall during a tour of the course in his golf buggy.

Trust me. Even if you’re Lebanese you must know that Lebanon just isn’t big enough were you can point and be like, “yeah, the mass grave is just over there”. It’s everywhere. That’s what happens during Civil War.

What particularly interests me about the history of Lebanon’s Golf course is how it’s tied to the history of the Civil War. I am eager to take a course at AUB offered by the Center for Arab and Middle East Studies on the history of the Lebanese Civil War. This is actually one of the reasons I’m coming back. I mean, tell me where else I can take this class? What other university would offer it? What I’m interested in, and this is perhaps something I’d target my thesis on for my Master’s degree – is how the different sects of the Lebanese population interpret the history of the Civil War. It’s as if everyone has their own revisionist history of what happened. And I want to investigate this. From what I gather, it’s not really a subject that is often broached even within families. Its as if it’s blocked out. Rewritten in a way. It’s just fascinating to me. And I have to find some way to combine this interest, with my interest in the Islamic ideology of Hezbollah, with an interest in Lebanese media, and finally with an interest in gay-rights activism in Lebanon. Can I fit this all into one thesis? Haha.

This is why I can’t run. There’s to many things to fall in love with. To many things that interest me about Lebanon still. I know I tend to have a bit of an obsessive nature, perhaps, not obsessive compulsive disorder, but just an obsession with studying this country from every perspective I can. I don’t know why its so important. It doesn’t even make sense to me. Perhaps I go through phases to. I mean I haven’t watched The Lord of The Rings in a hell of a long time. But I have a feeling this is different.

A Perfect Day

So I finally got around to watching this. I’ve been meaning to watch it for at least 2 years haha. But I finally popped in the DVD from Netflix last night and sat down to watch it. I had been putting it off, perhaps because I was scared of hearing or seeing anything that had anything even remotely to do with Lebanon. And at first, when the film started playing and I heard Arabic being spoken in the Lebanese dialect… I was overcome with a mixture of sadness and peace at the same time. The language is almost second-nature to me now… after 10 months there. I can’t describe it. I still can’t understand some of the words and expressions… but everything is so familiar, like I had lived there all my life. I sat on my bed watching the film on the eve of Lebanon’s Independence day, wishing I could be there for the celebrations.

The film was particularly good… without going into a review of the plot I want to describe how much I enjoyed one of the character roles. The main character Malik is a narcoleptic with Sleep Apnea Sickness or something… and he falls asleep driving in Beirut (I don’t know how anyone could ever do this!) in addition to sleeping in random places around Beirut, on the Corniche etc. He has a girlfriend who he loves but she won’t talk to him and keeps running away from him. He wears contacts which he removes at periodic moments throughout the film as if seeking to see Beirut in a new way. I remember someone very close to me telling me how they used to do precisely the same thing. Wearing glasses his whole life he told me he used to remove them to see things differently. I wish he hadn’t begun to see me differently. In a different light.

I don’t know what it is about this country. Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t go back. Not only was I apparently hit by Cupid’s arrow… but there was a name of a country and a city inscribed on that arrow as it pierced the deepest regions of my heart. Even just reading the latest developments about Hariri’s Tribunal is slightly painful. I can’t put myself aside when I read news about Lebanon anymore. I can’t think objectively. I have no allegiance to any particular political movement in the country or any particular people. I’m genuinely fascinated by everyone… and there is so much left to experience. But I’ll readily admit that I’m scared to go back. And it’s not just the fear of seeing the person I loved… there’s much more. It’s not an easy place to live. Scarcely a day goes by where I don’t talk to a Lebanese person who is dying just to get out… while I am desperately seeking a way back in. I don’t know why. It’s the little things I miss. The cats at AUB. Driving past the Mosque and the statue in Downtown. Reading the graffiti in Arabic on the alleyways of Hamra. The endless noise of the city. I honestly find myself missing the Call to Prayer somedays. And the relentless noise of traffic. I miss wandering the Corniche and eating corn from a stand. I guess I’m just feeling a little nostalgic today.

What’s it worth though? I’ve found lately its brought me more peace just to not think about it. To pretend the heart I left there doesn’t even exist. I don’t want to see it, hear it, smell it, or touch it. But I know its there. I suppose that’s enough for me. Perhaps thats why I’ve been shirking writing about current political developments in the Middle East, especially those regarding Lebanon. But I just have this feeling… I can run, forever. I could keep running all my life. I could go to Patagonia in South America or maybe even the Caribbean and have a house like Ian Fleming. I’m sure it’s just gorgeous in either one of those locations. And there are plenty of places all around the globe I could go. And I do still want to visit many places. But I can’t help feeling that Lebanon will forever be there, lurking in the back of my mind. So much so that I can never really run away from it. So much so that I know one day I’ll be forced to go back and confront things there as I left them, having left Beirut on extraordinarily negative terms. But I suppose things will resolve themselves eventually. I just don’t know how my soul could take any sort of conflict there. I honestly don’t give a damn about my personal safety. Perhaps that’s a bit of a reckless statement, but being American I can always leave and return to my life here and that is something I’m grateful for. But I don’t think it would be easy to watch a country I’ve fallen in love with be torn apart by internecine warfare. Have you seen Hotel Rwanda? Sure genocide is probably (hopefully) out of the picture, but internecine warfare is internecine warfare. It’s devastating all the same.

And I’m not trying to be one those people who thinks Lebanon is about to collapse any second. Watching the media one might think Lebanon could go to war any day. It won’t. But that’s no reason to ignore the fact that it really is a dry tinderbox. All it needs is the right people, events, and circumstances to all coincide and drop the flaming match and the whole place will go up in flames. That’s how close to the edge it is. And that fact should neither be understated nor overstated. It is what it is. It remains the reality that Lebanon has known historically for a long time.

Anyway, I guess I’ve said what I want to say, on this 67th Anniversary of the founding of the Lebanese Republic. I’m obviously not even Lebanese. But its a nice feeling, that as an American I can adopt other national causes and feel passionate about something that I may never have been born into. Maybe I’m in error. I wish I could recount how many people have told me just to suck it up and move on. Yep. That’s always the best solution, just think that shit happens in life and there’s nothing you can do to control it. Just give up. It’s probably for the best anyway. Nobody wants your help. Nobody cares what you do. Love dies and people move on. Yeah, well, if you say that then I just have two words for you. Fuck you. Seriously. As much as I like to listen to people, I’ve found listening to myself to be more informative than listening to people that really have little idea of what they’re talking about. Its strange to feel that I could have more in common with a stationary statue in Martyr’s Square than a person. I’ve always liked statuary for some reason. Maybe its the grandioseness of it. Or something more. Maybe its the idea behind it. That people shouldn’t sell themselves out to whatever sentimental trends currently dominate the discourse of culture or society. That people should look beyond that. Is that too much to ask of ourselves? Is it too much to expect of others the preservation of that inch… looks like its time to quote Valerie’s Letter again.

In 1976 I stopped pretending and took a girl called Christine home to meet my parents. A week later I enrolled at drama college. My mother said I broke her heart.

But it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us. But within that inch we are free.

Anyway. Happy Independence Day Lebanon.

Splendid Isolation

My Year at Sea – Magazine – The Atlantic.

This was long before onboard TVs and DVD players. Modern freighters, some of which carry up to 12 passengers, come with those, plus three squares a day, plus amenities: saunas, pools, video libraries. If I embarked today as a passenger aboard a freighter, I’d endeavor not to spend the long days at sea—and they are long—rewatching The Sopranos. I prefer to think that I’d bring along a steamer trunk full of Shakespeare and Dickens and Twain. Short of taking monastic vows or trekking into the Kalahari, a freighter passage might just offer what our relentlessly connected age has made difficult, if not impossible: splendid isolation.

This is precisely what I’m going to do by taking down my Facebook profile for a month – or at least till the New Year, and as many other online profiles I can recall having. Goodbye MySpace, for good this time. Goodbye Connexions. Goodbye OkCupid. Goodbye every damn tool of sad, lonely communication except for this blog. Hello Thoreau.

A Lament for Lebanon

Dear Lebanon,

Today is your day of Independence. I can’t even describe how much I wish I could be there. To watch red, green, and white balloons set off over Downtown. To watch your children wave Lebanese flags around. To watch such an amazing expression of al-qowmiya (insert Arabic word for nationalism). But, I am sad. I still miss you. I’ve found it easier to pretend you don’t exist. I still love you. I still care for you. But I’ve found it easier to go on without the thought of you. Still there are some days, such as this one, when I remember how I got up so early, precisely a year ago on November 22nd. And I walked all the way to Downtown to see if I could catch a glimpse of the parade. I had no idea where I’d find you. But I managed to catch some photos of your NGO just before you started marching in the parade. I was so proud of you. I was so proud of Lebanon. Seeing Lebanese fathers take their sons and daughters downtown just to watch what was happening. It was beautiful. I miss it. I miss you. I wish you knew what it meant to me to bear witness to that day.

A Lebanese airborne commando puts camouflage paint on the face of a young student during a combat demonstration at a school in Jounieh, north of Beirut, on November 19, 2010 to mark Lebanon's Independence Day, which falls on November 22. By Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images.

 

I love this picture. I stumbled across it on Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish… posted under Face of the Day. I don’t know what else to say. This is a picture I would have taken. I wonder if you’ll ever know how much I love Lebanon… how much I loved you. Is it not worth being honest?

A Little More Fashion… A Little Less Politics

No, not really. I know I’ve been shirking the primary focus of this blog in covering the latest developments in the world of diplomacy – and there have been some major ones that have transpired in the last few days. I found an excellent article on the history of Lebanon’s one and only golf course, written by CNN of all news agencies, and a couple excellent articles on what the hold up of New START in Congress could mean for the credibility not only of Obama’s Administration but for the United States in the world. So we’ll be covering these soon, I assure you, once I get a few things in order.

Nonetheless, I did pull out of my closet yesterday a wonderful leather jacket that I always get excited about wearing every winter. It’s just so awesome because it’s a red motorcycle jacket, and I just feel badass wearing it in general. It was produced in 2006 or 2007 I believe as part of Gap’s Product (Red) lineup. Now I just need the motorcycle to go with it :-p

Elton John 1970

I’ve been going through photos of Elton John from the 1970s instead of studying Arabic… he was damn hot though. I mean really. And what awesome style statement. I could totally be in love with Elton John from the 1970s. What a beautiful man. I found these photos on Getty Images so apologies for the watermark. But just look at him… I mean, wow.

 

 

 

 

 

Such style. The man knew how to take a portrait. Certainly. Certainly.