Sunday, June 30, 2002

I have been wrapping Genesis around me, turning over and over "Shabbat"--not the noun, but the verb, for it is not written that God rested on the seventh day (that would be indicated by the verb Lanuach), but rather the word "Shabbat" is used, as a verb. As I grapple with its meaning, I wed myself more and more to this verb. Shall I call it an inaction? an inaction? My involvement in Shabbat deepens and deepens. This Shabbat I negotiated my observance with the plans of my parents, which involved driving to New York and going out to lunch, but when it came to travelling down to the village to see my brother's event and meet up with Jordan and Lucas, I decisively took back reigns of autonomy and chose to walk rather than to buy a subway ride down.
The walk rewarded me. 70 blocks; one hour. And I took my time. I soaked myself in The City, and it seeped through my skin.

Approaching Time Square, I spotted at its center--the sidewalk V, straddled by legs of Broadway and Seventh Ave. --two tall metal poles displaying large metal stars of David. They flanked a small stage and podium, attended by several large dark brown-skinned men, each dressed in robes of flowing silk, emblazoned with Jewish stars, apparently intended to capture a Biblical-period style. These men certainly must have something different to say, I determined, and set out across Seventh. Entering the small crowd that attended the men at the podium, I caught bits and peices of impassioned, booming tones of the men on the podium.
"....and Jesus...Jesus, what color was his skin, as it is written....we, the Hykos, Sheperd Kings...chosen...children of Israel....Christ our savior...."
Unable to get at the heart of what these men were saying, I spotted a table of materials that I trusted would teach me of these men and their message. As I approached, I noted the table's attendant attempting to sell the table's merchandise to dark-skinned pedestrians--photocopied calendars, booklets, CDs, cassettes, videos, books, all at prices that gave me some suspicion as to the motivatinos of these men.
I addressed the man at the table, hoping he would be sympathetic as a self-proclaimed Israelite to my Sabbath observance.
"I am not spending money today as part of my Sabbath observance. Would it be allright if I looked through some of your materials?"
Turning to another man who had just descended from stage, the attendant obtains reluctant permission for me to peruse their pamphlets. Before I could begin to sort out the layer after gooey layer of bold religious claims and revisions of history, I was interrupted by a speaker who had just descended from the podium. He wore a white silk headdress descending past his shoulders, matching a large white robe of similar design, each embroidered many times over with golden Jewish stars, all of which sharply accented the darkness of his faced, which itself was covered in a heavy beard. Through our exchange, his ink-black pupils assaulted me with self-righteous wrath and indignation--his eyes would be appeased only if a column of holy fire were to descend and consume me on the spot.
But at first, his address was contained if confrontational.
"Why does this concern you?"
"I am Jewish, and am interes--"
"YOU are not a Jew."
"JEWISH! "ISH" is just what Americans add to the ends of words to pretend that they have a meaning. Do you know what a Jew is? Do you know where the word "Jew" comes from?"

"It means descended from the tribe of of Judah."

"And what color was the skin fo the children of Judah? Of all children of Israel? Here. Read this. Jeremiah 14.2. Read it. What does it say?"
"Where? Here? ok. And the children of Israel mourned for Jerusalem fallen, and they prostrated themselves and they were black upon the ground."

"See it! What does that mean? What color are the children of Israel? They are black. What? Would you like to see it in the original Hebrew? Let's get the original Hebrew. Hey!" (He turns) "Get me the Hebrew version."
(While several searched for a Hebrew bible, another more elderly speaker approached,
also covered in white robes
a golden lion and jewelled star of David sheilding his chest, bandanna covering his head): "You understand Hebrew?"
"You see, there is no questioning it. It is written 'kee kedar who.' 'Kedar'--'With a KA, a SHWAA, a DA, and a RA.'"
(A Hebrew version now in hand, he flips to bookmarked page and points to words highlighted in red crayon.)
"See? Kedar. Black. Now what does that mean?"
"Well, it could be interpreted--"
"You know exactly what it means. It means that all of you are not the true children of Israel. You and all your kind are impersonators. The oppressed black nations of the world, the Sheperd Kings, or Hyksos, are the true children of Israel!" (At this point there are several enormous black men in robes angrily hovering over and around me.)
"Listen, you are not going to convince me that I am not a Jew, but I would like to learn from you what it means to you to be the children of Israel."(At this point responds the largest and loudest speaker, the one who first addressed me.)
"It means that we, black people, and not you impostors, are the children of Israel. WE are the chosen people" (The elder interrupts): "Have you ever been to Egypt? Go to Egypt, look at the walls inside the pyramids, and you will see the true colors of the children of Israel--they are black! You know it. Look at him! He knows it."
(yet another robed man pushes forward, thrusts a book with heiroglyphs on the cover at my face):
"What is the color of these children of Israel? Look at this picture. What do you see? What color is their skin? Do you not understand the words of Jeremiah?" (the elder breaks in again). "Oh he knows it, he knows it!"
"What does it mean for you to be the chosen people?"
"Who in the hell are you anyway?"
"I don't want to argue over your claims, I just want to learn from what you have to tell me,"
"No. Who the hell are you!


"Shabbat Shalom," (I begin walking away, continuing on my path down Broadway to the village, educated in spite of them) "Go in peace."

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

does anybody remember the day of their birth?

I can thinking of nothing as dramatic as coming out of somebody else's body and coming into the world of cars, bars, and independent breathing; Such an event should take such indelible hold on the memory that no force of time could unfix it. Yet nobody seems to remember being born. The first gasp of breath. The moment YOU first emerge,
I mean, it is pretty near impossible for me to fathom a time when I didn't exist, if I think about it hard enough, trace my life back through all the events therein to the day of my birth, twenty years ago this day, and then--NOTHING. Absurd.
I'd imagine if babies had any idea what was going on, they would be highly bewildered by suddenly coming into existence.
Whatever this is, as opposed to whatever was before this, has blessed me far beyond anything I can express in the currencies of gratitude.
I am 20, and I thank everyone and everything.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

sometimes i wonder what I'm actually measuring when I place people in the middle of room-sized magnets to have them perform various counting tasks: tapping fingerrs, counting white rectangles, 300 millisecond pulses of middle A, airpuffs to the forehead. I spent weeks designing these experiments, arranging precise order and timing, and I will spend the following weeks using complicated MATLAB sotware to perform detailed statistical analysis that will arrange the hundreds of pictures I took of each subject's brain while they were performing my carefully designed procedures.
Yet I wonder still what really goes through someone's mind when they are literally put in the middle of a humongous machine, closed in as if buried alive, directed to remain as motionless as possible--just as one might in a coffin--for an extended period of time. This isn't life. This isn't the normal working mind by any stretch.
At the moment this kind of situation is the best way scientists can think of to isolate specific events--like counting, or finger tapping, or seeing a white rectangle--and watch how the brain works on each of them.
This simplifies the multilayered workings of the brain almost beyond recognition.
Are we studying life? Why do scientists need to remove themselves thoroughly from "natural" processes in order to study them effectively?

I have been having some crisis of conscience over publishing the previous post. Am I violating patient-doctor privilege? Does such a thing exist? Does it apply to me, the blog? Should I remove it? If there is anyone out there orbiting my distant planet and reading this, I'd love your input on this one.

Monday, June 24, 2002

"Is it allright if--" the patient, perched upon the examination table, cut easily into the doctor's attempt to apologize for our presence: "Absolutely! Come on in," he grins at us from behind huge wrap-around shades, "I'm used to it by now."
As the doctor examines some paperwork in preparation for the examination, the patient welcomes us, a small throng of summer students, into the examination room, and asks us, "So, have you ever seen what I have?"
None of us had even heard of blepharospasms before that day, so we told him we had not.
The patient then proceeded to remove one pair of shades, only to reveal a second pair of smaller sunglasses, which he also removed.
As he removed the second pair of sunglasses, we saw his eyes beging to shut spasmodically--violent continuous convulsions localized and centered upon his eyes, which he soon masked again after a few seconds that put us all--except perhaps the patient, who was by now quite used to this--into a state of extreme discomfort.
The patient explained to us that his problems began with a twitch in one eye, progressing and precipitating ultimately into his current condition. When he is concentrating--when working at the steel mill (on rails hundreds of feet in the air, he adds with emphasis) or when reading--he can control and temporarily stop the spasms. But if his concentration lapses (even for a moment, he impresses) the spasms return immediately. He explained the multiple layers of sunglasses--the spasms are illicited particularly in the presence of light. He experiences no problems at night.
He has been receiving injections of botox--a muscle-weakening toxin treatment effective on 98% of belpharospasm patients. Injections of even extremely high doses of botox type 1 have had little effect upon him; neither have more recent injections of botox type 2, even though he is not immune to either toxin.
A short examination that indicated a slight decrease in muscle strength (extremely slight--this man had the most highly developed muscles protruding in large bulges above his eyebrows that I had ever seen). The doctor told the man with the eye spasms that in a month they would up the botox treatment dosage one more time, but that drastic improvement was unlikely to result.
The patient had just one question for the doctor: "if these treatments work for 98% of people with this problem, and I'm not immune to these treatments, why aren't they working on me?"
Just then another doctor, the one presiding over the clinic that day, came into the room, and immediately adopted a drastically different tone with the patient, emphasizing the increased weakness as an improvement and trying to convince him of the potential for further improvement. He told the man that his condition was unique, not typical of blepharospasms, which was why he was not responding the same way to botox treatements, but the doctor did not elaborate.
When the patient had left, the presiding doctor explained to us that this man was probably suffering from a psychogenic disease (from the greek, a disease born of the mind) and that his disease in fact probably had deep psychological roots.
Once again, I was struck by the relative impotence of a system in which psychiatry and medicine are segragated and sometimes even opposed to deal with such patients.

Friday, June 21, 2002

Tonight was Dan in his element.
As he pointed out, the first time I had ever seen him perform from the audience rather than from the stage.
Didn't really occur to me until he mentioned it. I was too wrapped up in watching Dan, tongue flailing, sticks twirling, the sweeping motions of his arms,...
all grew out of a single-hearted act--the way a samon swims its adulthood upstream to lay eggs and die.

Morgan on skis,
Seth in the water,

people in their element

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

I should probably capture this moment on the slow-exposure film of blog.
I am sad.
i've been picked up and cast down through the foundations that had been standing me up
as if those foundations were no more than thin ice
the mere veil of icy waters i now find myself swimming it.
absurd drama! if i could only hoist myself out, find dry land, stand firmly upon it,
then i could expel you and find my head again.
but i can find no foundations, and am inexplicably underwater
composing poor metaphors to try to make myself feel better. maybe heroic. maybe artful.
like sad might have some function.
if it did, i could stand on that
or a reason
reason would be enough.
none of that.
just sad.

where were my foundations? if i could get my bearings, maybe i might pull myself out.
questions and pursuit of questions, to answers that procreate wildly birthing new questions upon questions.
in questions birthing questions i have always laid my feet assuredly
i could feel rich soil between my toes.
i will go dream in search of my questions, and awake perhaps to find my feet solidly planted

Although the Hadza, Africa's only remaining hunter-gatherer tribe, do not have words for numbers beyond three or four, some early civilizations employed quite large numbers in their mythology. Mayan texts place mythological events hundreds of millions of years in the past and in the future. Carl Sagan explains that one day and night of the brahma, in ancient Hindu mythology, lasts 8.64 billion years. It may not be surprising then, that the number system now used worldwide (1,2,3,etc) originated in India. That system was later modified and advanced by Arab mathematicians to incorporate decimals, only arrived in Europe around the twelfth century. But even then, this system was not immediately implemented to replace the Roman numeral system.
But what is the Brahma, and how does one of his nights last longer than the Earth or the Sun?
Here is what had to teach:

Sanskrit Brahman, in the Upanishads (Indian sacred writings), the supreme existence or absolute, the font of all things. The etymology of the Sanskrit is uncertain. Though a variety of views are expressed in the Upanishads, they concur in the definition of brahma as eternal, conscious, irreducible, infinite, omnipresent, spiritual source of the universe of finiteness and change. Marked differences in interpretation of brahma characterize the various subschools of Vedanta, the orthodox system of Hindu philosophy based on the writings of the Upanishads.

According to the Advaita (Nondualist) school of Vedanta, brahma is categorically different from anything phenomenal, and human perceptions of differentiation are illusively projected on this reality. The Bhedabheda (Dualist–Nondualist) school maintains that brahma is nondifferent from the world, which is its product, but different in that phenomenality imposes certain adventitious conditions (upadhis) on brahma. The Visis t advaita (Nonduality of the Qualified) school maintains that a relation between brahma and the world of soul and matter exists that is comparable to the relation between soul and body and that phenomenality is a glorious manifestation of brahma; the school identifies brahma with a personal god, Brahma, who is both transcendent and immanent. The Dvaita (Dualist) school refuses to accept the identity of brahma and world, maintaining the ontological separateness of the supreme, which it also identifies with a personal god.

In early Hindu mythology, brahma is personified as the creator god Brahma and placed in a triad of divine functions: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Siva the destroyer.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

"I want to live for immortality, and I will accept no compromise." --Alyosha Fyodorovitch, The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Monday, June 17, 2002

I am waiting. Hunger-fed impatience taps my heels anxiously, fidgets me about the computer lab where I wait
for the 200 images of my first subject's brain to align themselves,
I say align themselves because I have have very little awareness of or control over what is actually going on.
The very large monitor of the very large computer displays a litte progress-o-meter that tells me how close it to done
what is it doing? I have only the vaguest of ideas. Although I have had much agency in planning and executing the experiment, my knowledge of statistics is far too meager so far for me to have any good idea of what I'm doing
beyond what is necessary to run the statistical mapping software.
Whatever it is doing, the process is out of my hands, and I stare anxiously at the progress-o-meter as the little red stripe moves slowly slowly up the screen,
I, sitting and fidgeting, and blogging to pass the time, and wishing and wishing for some power to help hurry the process along.
I have been learning a lot, and am currently involved in ALL stages of the experimental process:
1)plotting and scheming experiments to distill and localize operations of the mind;
2)sticking well-paid volunteers into the belly of a room-sized multimillion dollar magnet that will take pictures of the bloodflow patterns to different parts of the subject's brain, to reveal the activity of different areas while they perform various tasks according to my schemes;
and 3) trying to put the thousands and thousands of pictures I take into some coherent and useful order.
Yes, I'm learning things. And I feel rested and happy. But right now my stomach commands my attention, and it is telling me to hop on my bike...what suspense...the progress-o-meter has only reached the top.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

The earth is in our hands. How shall we hold it?
Shall we cradle it, rock it to sleep with gentle cooing noises? Shall we remove our hands and place it in a thick glass case, where it can be viewed and preserved?
Devour it passionately?
Or consume it as slowly as possible, as one might savour a just-overripe peach?
Perhaps we could throw it over our heads and around our bodies, and wear it as our clothing.
We should put it down, perhaps, embrace it like we both are insatiable lovers.

Monday, June 10, 2002

Walking home from shul, my father and I came upon a man raking beneath an enormous tree. I commented to my dad on the tree's beauty. I recognized it as the type that guards some of the more majestic congressional offices downtown--onlyslightlyarching arms radiating from a solid vertical axis, glossy-leather leaves spraying out in all directions, and nested within them large white orbs, colored the inner flesh of pears, curves rounded in invitation to bite.
As my Dad greeted the raking man, I decided to sate my curiosity: "What type of tree is this?"
--"Oh." The man grimaces, and turns away from the tree in disgust. "This ugly beast is a southern magnolia."
Curious at this man reaction, so incongruous with my impression of the tree, I prodded him further, and he explained that the tree's leaves fall three times a year, and he is bound into continually raking them up. Then, as if to point out the height of his agonies, he gestured toward the pear-orb flowers, which he said fell to the ground and dried harder than leather, breaking his rakes as he struggled to clear the ground beneath.

I am coming out (hopefully) of a cold. Symptoms manifested over the past weekend:
Pressure and heat pressing outward about my head, sometimes to extreme degrees
Sandbag weights pressing horizontally inward upon my ears
Constriction of upper breathing passages
Intermittent clogging and draining of sinuses

but far beyond all these symptoms, the worst of all, the reason I despire illness over all:
--self absorption. being sick has commanded almost all of my attention inward at these symptoms, so that I was often not able to appreciate anything else. I would long for sleep and then only to dream more of my sickness. Several times over the weekend I one respite through distraction and good company. Vanilla Sky with parents, Harry Potter and Two Gentlemen of Verona with friends.

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

It must have leg-spread three inches diameter.
The mosquito and I met eyes in the now-empty vessel once-room of my childhood.
Well, really I have no idea.
I perceived nothing resembling eyes on the mosquito.
If they were there, I could tell little whether they chose to meet my own or not.
But I gazed down the mosquito, and I fancied myself the mosquitos eyes back up at me.
Between these two sets of eyes I bounced as an internal debate sprung.
It pauses, poised there in peaceful meditation,
So well suited for the empty vessel that might as well be its own house of meditation
But it may be counting on my blood to feed on
Bearing into me what foreign intruders while taking its share
But what of it? Foreign intruders really! Malaria in Maryland! Dengue Fever perhaps!
Ridiculous, Ari.
What is a little blood and an itch to me?
What is its own life and Earthly existence to this goliath mosquito?
Enough. Swarms of its brothers wait, no doubt, and would just as readilytake their share as well.
I must put an end to this.
Can I bear the evolutionary significance of my act, a selective force favoring the survival of mosquitos
Surely faster and more furious than my hand?
But there are swarms and swarms of mosquitos
and swarms and swarms of humans
inhabiting the Earth and this one battle can have little but symbolic significance.
I swat and murder. Why? I haven't the foggiest.
Tomorrow I will encounter his brother
And perhaps I shall offer him the juciest of my artery.