DISCUSSING THE INFERNO

I’ve never really been one for writing book reviews. That’s what the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) is for, among many other outlets. But I did just finish Dante’s Inferno, and talking about it is effectively a book review, so settle in. If you haven’t read it, Inferno is basically what you would expect. Dante, guided by his senpai Virgil, enters and traverses the bowels of Hell. He listens to many, many different sinners, along with their stories. The plot is leading up to him reaching Heaven, but that doesn’t actually happen until after Inferno.

Ok. Cool. Plot summarized. Now to the fun stuff. The Inferno is a really interesting read, because while it is very “of its time” (literally, you would not believe how many then-contemporary Italian political references there are), it also contains many aspects that can be extended to present day political life. I mean, human nature doesn’t change THAT much, does it? If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve seen a few quotes that pretty directly relate to the modern political climate. What I found most peculiar about Inferno though, is how Dante treats sin.

Today it seems like there is no middle ground. You are evil, or you are good, and if you are sinful, then you can never be virtuous. By contrast, in the book, there is a split. There are those people who never look back, and are bad through and through, but there are also those who were great, but punished for their sins. The proof that they were great is that Dante speaks well of some of them. Speaking well of somebody who inhabits Hell, not Heaven, seems a bit…wrong, right? But I think that’s the crux of the story—that despite our flaws and short comings, we can still be good people, if we act in a manner that uplifts humankind. By contrast, if we instead turn our backs on humanity and virtue, and live a life solely for ourselves, that greed will consume us and damage everything around us.

A bit of pride is good. Too much pride is dangerous. The Greeks used Icarus to portray this, among others. Dante used various Popes and historical figures like Brutus and Cassius. Yet those men, if Shakespeare’s tragedy is to believed, were trying to defend democracy in betraying Cesar. They were punished, but their actions were, in many ways, for a greater good. What do you think? Where would you draw the line? Let me know in the comments!

 

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UNDERSTANDING (DIS)ORGANIZATION

Lets talk about being organized! The SCARIEST thing in life since sliced bread. Wait. That’s not how that works. Anyways, being organized is something that I am simultaneously great at and terrible at. And I mean TERRIBLE. Like I have books in four different places in my room, and none of them are where I keep my books to be read. I have things in my clothing drawers that are not clothes. Like organization is not my strong suit at home.

But then at work, I organize nearly everything more systematically and efficiently than anyone else on shift, and I carefully keep up that organization. If a staple is out of place, I’ll know. If the inventory gets messed up, I’ll know. I mean, I can’t really do anything besides complain about it, because I’m not the store owner, but I knew there was something going wrong.

So what gives? You think I would care about my living space more, right? Well, I think it has to do with a few different things. Firstly, I am more comfortable in my living space than at work. Less people to impress. That’s why any of us would. Secondly, I’ve lived here forever. FOR-EVER. I know every nook and cranny of this place, and so when you ask me where my copy of Hamlet is, I can tell you it is in stack one, versus when you ask where my copy of Beowulf is, I can tell you it is in stack two. At the store, if you ask me where something is, I have to go check to verify nobody else moved it before I tell you where it is, because working with co-workers is HARD (insert heavy sarcasm because it really isn’t difficult to work with co-workers as long as they just put things back and keep the room a little cleaner than before but NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO why would they do that. Ok, rant over).

Anyways, what do you think? Is your place spick and span, or do you have a well detailed map of the place in your head? Let me know!

 

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DREAMING ABOUT DREAMS

I recently was reading through some of the dreams that my late grandfather wrote down in his lifetime, and was struck by how bizarre they were. People trapped in houses, sexual symbolism, unknown entities hunting him down…really just the works. Yet in spite of this, they were completely enthralling. Maybe that’s why they were so interesting. Regardless, dreams are cool.

When you think about it, dreams really are something that we should value higher in our lives. So many people get up quickly just to rush their way back into reality—myself included. I think that’s probably the default state of being for people, perhaps because dreams are often forgotten quickly, and like to hide in the back of our consciousness. There’s a short list of dreams I can remember. But considering how historically important dreams have been to us, I would think we would care about them a little more.

Einstein is a famous example, who dreamed about sledding down a mountainside so fast that he began approaching light speed, which, when he awoke, he used to help form his theory of relativity. The idea that he could use a dream to inspire and create the work that made him famous is incredible. Yet it wasn’t because he just happened to be struck by this dream—it was also because he sat and thought about it.

If I haven’t sold you on dreams yet, think about famous speeches. The “I Have a Dream” speech plays on the mythic qualities of dreams. If we thought dreams couldn’t be reality, it would be a stupid idea to try to use them to persuade others—which, in truth, is part of what that speech was about. Maybe it’s just because dreams are outside reality, which makes them seem better than they are, maybe not.

Outside reality is an interesting side topic for dreams, as it relates to drugs. I mean drugs are usually used as another route to escape—in many cases, people use them to have hallucinations that are very vivid that they can interact with (sound anything like a lucid dream to you?). I’m not sure this is as bad a thing as many people make it out to be. Certainly, some of them can be addicting, and THAT can be dangerous, but simply experiencing the imagery and immersing yourself in the wiles of imagination (because where do hallucinations come from if not imagination) does not seem like it should be entirely feared. Many people produce important work while in a “dream-like state” from drugs—just look at the Beatles!

Ok, anyways, dreams are something super valuable that most people take for granted, which is a sad concept. What do you think? Do you have any special dreams that have changed your life? Let me know in the comments!

 

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HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!

Happy birthday America (also to my younger brother, so I’ll be keeping this short today)! These days have been a wild ride. Being American this year means something different than it meant last year. This year, it means that you likely do not support the current president of the United States. It also likely means that many of the political decisions being made are not in the best interest of the common man. Which, ironically, is the backbone of any good society. When the lower and middle class (AKA the bulk of a society) is doing well, there is no need for revolution. Revolution is the bane of an established country.

That being said, it is also a boon to refurbishing a failing system, and with all the political power that various corporate entities carry, it might be a good thing for America to re-experience its own revolution of thought, especially speak that the revolution that birthed this country was heavily focused on the little guys. It was about standing up to the corporation that was the British Empire. It wasn’t about putting American businesses first, but rather giving the businesses of America a shining city on a hill to display their wares equally.

That is the kind of America we need to go back to—one open to revolutionary ideology, with compassion for the commoner. Not some business-centered bull, that would suppress news media. The core of a country isn’t its corporations, but the people inside them everyday, making sure the lights come on in the morning.

——

 

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MY NAME

People ask me who I am,

And I happily reply “Cassady!”

Now, they don’t know what that really means.

Because people think of Cassady

As being a girls name.

Or rather, the gross misspelling of

“Cassidy,” the popular girl’s name.

 

A few of the older ones

Might think I’m a Dead Head spawn,

And others might say

That I drove the Further

Like a bat out of hell

In another life.

 

Still more might think of me,

Riding along next to Sundance

Talking big about Bolivia.

I think I like that one best—

And they’ll tell you that thinking,

That’s what I’m good at.

 

But sometimes I wish that “Cassady”

Wasn’t a name that had to be

Held up to all this scrutiny,

And could be someone that just was me.

 

——

 

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COMMERCIAL GIRL (AND OTHER HAIKUS)

By the Fountain

Palm trees in the spring

And clear blue summer fountains.

Seagull’s paradise.

 

Devoured

Buzzing mosquitoes

Evade flailing hands; they are

Eating me alive.

 

Overheating

Covered in hot sweat;

Wishing I could fall asleep.

This night seems endless

 

Heart Broken

Every other step

Feels like a thousand tons

When I’m without you.

 

Commercial Girl

One thousand eyes stared

As I walked you home tonight.

No wonder you asked.

——

 

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COVFEFE AND CLIMATE CHANGE

There is never a week that goes by when something entertaining isn’t going on. The Climate Change denial is real. The covfefe is real. The bragging about things that really don’t matter enough to be bragged about is real. But enough about Donald Trump. I can see the logic behind the argument against the Paris Agreement, but there is some fault in it. Namely, that if we don’t have a livable globe, the fact that someone is “for the people of Pittsburgh” is irrelevant. Because there will be no people left. Although, being for the people of Pittsburgh would indicate being for the people at all, which isn’t even clear to me. Though presenting a healthcare program that knocks some twenty million people off healthcare doesn’t seem to support a “for the people” position in the slightest.

Whatever. There are too many things to talk about today and I don’t want to get sidetracked through this whole post. Climate change. It is important because it is real. For anyone saying it isn’t real, take a moment and think to yourself: is it possible? If you answered yes, please read over the science, as I think you will find that your assertion is incorrect when presented with evidence. If you answered no, I’ll be responding personally.

So why not? Why can’t people cause climate change? Is it that the Earth is some sort of infinite object? For those of you reading along, this is one of the biggest reasons people don’t get climate change. They believe that the Earth is too big for us to have a real impact on it. This dates back to the Old Testament, and other religious inclinations that swayed society hundreds of years ago. The Earth is viewed as immortal, evergreen, etc. But think about it. It isn’t. It’s just a ball of matter.

Think of any ball of matter. Actually, lets think specifically of a ball of wood, the size of your hand. Put a lit match to that wood—just one. Now, it probably didn’t light up. Add in a few more matches. It might still not light up. But eventually, it will, right? Maybe after 10 matches, it lights up on the side, but dies out quickly. After 100, it ignites. That’s the problem with man-made climate change. It takes literally billions of matches to make an impact, because the Earth is huge. If you saw your house burning, you wouldn’t say “that’s nothing.” You would be thinking “Oh god! How do we put out this fire!?” The science is the writing on the wall, in the moments before ignition. The fires have started, and while some have burned out, people are still lighting matches. It won’t be long before it burns up.

Ok, yes it is true this is a bit of a crude metaphor, but it is a metaphor for a reason. And the logic is sound. The Earth is a ball of matter, like anything else, and it can only be burned so much. Pulling out of the Paris Agreement displays the ignorance of this situation. Truly caring for citizens—both of Pittsburgh and the rest of the world—is to protect them, their children, and all peoples there after.

——

 

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TONE IN LITERATURE AND LIFE

From time to time, my father and I talk about a variety of subjects. Anything from alcohol, to weight lifting, to…well, really anything. Yesterday, my dad finished reading Honored Enemy, a book by a (slightly) lesser-known fantasy author: Raymond E. Feist (at least, compared to George R.R. Martin), and we were considering it in comparison to the Game of Thrones series (yeah I know it’s called A Song of Fire and Ice officially, but everyone calls it Game of Thrones). My dad asserted that Feist’s characters were more hopeful, which I thought was an interesting perspective, since at many times throughout his book, they knowingly face and fear certain doom.

To contrast, the characters in Game of Thrones, while often times very dire (I mean, the Stark’s house words are “Winter is Coming,” which is indicative of a fear of death, rather than an enjoyment with life) also hold a sense of hopefulness at various points, it just doesn’t seem hopeful. Think about it. Tyrion is hopeful in his own way—in the sense that he thinks he can overcome pretty much anything with his own wit. Renly is hopeful in a way too. He is very fun loving, and clearly represents some amount of goodness in the world. Vars, in his own way, is hopeful that things can go well, and Littlefinger is hopeful in his own schemes. Though I would categorically say that Game of Thrones is far less hopeful than most books.

Which takes us to the point of this post! Tone! The whole tone of the story frames the perspective it takes. And I like to think of stories as an allegory for life. This one is that the tone you take can change how you look at life. If everything you think is hopeless, then the world will seem that much darker. But if you can look at the things around you, and find some greatness in it, suddenly you might be able to enjoy it a bit more—even in dire straights.

Alright, well I’ll leave it a bit shorter today, but don’t forget that life can be really great, just as books can be really great, even if there are many points where the world seems too big, and the battles you are fighting seem hopeless. Let me know what your thoughts are on the subject. Is life better when we view it as better? Or does the pessimism lead to better successes in happiness?

——

 

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CONDITIONAL LOVE

It seems like a good day to talk about family. Everyone has family struggles in their life. Bad parents. Bad children. Bad siblings. None of the above…the absence of family is still a family struggle, right? But we often don’t talk about how important family is to the general scheme of our lives. Which is perhaps because we take them more for granted than we should. I certainly do.

Then again, family can really be a difficult thing to understand. People love to throw around the term “unconditional love,” which I don’t really understand. I mean, I love my family—both my immediate family and the vast majority of my extended family. But I don’t think I could call love unconditional. I mean, people often say “I love you unconditionally” to their spouse, but if they caught that spouse out with three hookers for a week long cocaine binge, they probably wouldn’t find it in their heart to continue loving them. Maybe. But probably not.

Likewise, family has a similar conundrum, right? We all have that one sibling that gets on our nerves (if we have siblings), but that doesn’t mean we have to cast them out, right? But at what point is the breaking point?

Let’s say they turn their back on everything their family stands for. Like a man from a Jewish family renouncing his faith and joining the Neo-Nazi party. Is that far enough? If love were unconditional, no. How about being betrayed by someone because that person was so desperate in their life, they decided it was worth punishing their family as some sort of…extended blame for their own problems? How about then?

What if a family member goes insane and starts murdering people without justification or anything? As loosely defined as it is, these technically fall under “conditional love.” Not murdering people seems like a pretty reasonable condition to me. But like…not loving someone because they didn’t share their milkshake with you would not be quite so reasonable.

Which leaves me curious about why we choose to use words like “unconditional love” when discussing our relationship to our family. I mean, it might have to do with the hyperbolic nature of human kind, and that’s perfectly plausible…but it is not that entertaining. I think it might have to do with the fickleness of love in the first place. Love, like all emotions, is not entirely sustainable. It ebbs and flows. Think about it. If every minute of every day you were desperately in love with someone, you’d probably kill yourself. Just like if you were constantly enraged with everyone. Or, if not, you might grow bored of them. Pizza is great, but eating the same pizza every day can grow a bit stale. Maybe it takes a week, maybe it takes a month. Maybe it even takes twenty years.

But we don’t eat pizza every day. We have other things. And like with food, we experience other emotions. And those other emotions impact the ones we currently feel. One might say they love you unconditionally, and mean it at that moment. But over time, that love fades and becomes conditional, simply because that’s how emotions work, no? Does that make sense? Let me know what you think in the comments.

——

 

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QUALITY ON THE ROAD

OK, so today I’m going to talk about Quality a bit. If you didn’t hear, Robert M. Pirsig, the author of one of my favorite books, died yesterday. His book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, has been one of the most inspiring books for me as a human being, and I highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t already read it.

But to honor Pirsig’s classic book-and really his struggle in general, I wanted to talk about Quality for my discussion today. Since readers my not have read his book, I’ll do a quick overview of the concept. Quality is something we all know, but also have trouble defining. When someone says “that’s a real quality piece of artwork” we know what they mean, but if we try to go much further than that, things get fuzzy. Sure, it might be the colors, it might be the style, or it might be the references within the artwork itself that make it quality work. Or maybe it’s the story the picture tells; or maybe it’s all of these things put together. But if you go searching, there’s no doubt that someone out there will find the painting disagreeable. Thus, quality is entirely up to opinion, and so defining it becomes something nearly impossible. Simply saying that “quality is quality” isn’t nearly satisfying for our human minds, but that’s pretty much what it is.

Pirsig gets into talking about how quality could be seen as goodness, and the level of how “good” something is (good as in well done, rather than good as in positive). But sometimes something is a quality piece of work because it is not “good.” Think of something by Jackson Polluck, or Picasso. Definitely not necessarily “good” work by the “quality standards” that had been set prior to them, but still clearly quality artwork was produced by them. They revolutionized aspects of art entirely. Lets go even further, and look at children’s paintings. Are they quality pieces of work? Why and/or why not? Because they don’t make it to the hallways of an art exhibit?

These are the kinds of questions that Pirsig asked in his books, on a much more massive scale. He went against the grain in a time where going against the grain could and often did lead to electro-shock “therapy,” and in doing so, he revolutionized an entire generation of thought. Which is wonderful! What do you think? Have you even heard of him? Is quality so obscure? Let me know your thoughts!

——

 

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