March of Rainy Days

Yesterday was my brother’s birthday: Happy Birthday, Uri! (I know this post is late, but in fairness, I did actually call him and wish him a happy happy yesterday.)

Today? Today it rains. It’s cool and rainy and I’ve chosen to spend it getting some things done around the apartment. Laundry, cleaning, unpacking, nothing spectacular, nothing pressing or momentous, and that seems to me to be a good use of a rainy day in March. I stocked my cupboards and fridge last night, so there’s actually food in the house (great opportunity to inaugurate the cookware I picked up last week), and… well, yeah, things are pretty good.

Across the board, really. The new Baha’i year started on the 21st, and really since then, I’ve been having a really good period. Sure, I’ve been going to sleep at 3-4am (even when I got to bed at 1 or 2) and sleeping all morning, but regardless of that, I’ve been pretty productive, and I’m feeling good about where things are at for me. I’ve started actually talking to people at Zoka, which is excellent (more on that later), and I found a job I really really hope I get (how often do you actually see an entry level position available for game production? Or any entry level game gig, to be honest, but production is the path I want to take). I finished my revised resume last night, and sent it and a cover letter to the company right after.

I got a call from a certain Fruit-based company this morning, though sadly not to offer me a job or a free computer, but still helpful for a project nonetheless. I wish I could say more, but decidedly not yet. If nothing else, it’s useful to start being known (and hopefully in a positive light).

I’ve been listening to KEXP podcasts since I woke up. I’ve already gone through their Song of the Day podcast backlog, and currently am listening to their Live Performances podcast. Let me just say, I <3 KEXP. I like their music, I like their mission, I like their services. It’s a damn great radio station, and I wish other stations elsewhere would get on board the cluebus and start offering broader ranges of music, and less commercial pap.

This disjointed post brought to you by the letters A, Z, and K.

Happy Naw Ruz

Nabil in March

Today is the first day of spring, which means it’s also Naw Ruz, the Baha’i New Year. Despite sleeping in (my sleep schedule is still completely out of whack and I haven’t tracked down why yet), I’ve been fairly productive today, taking a trip to Ikea just south of Seattle, to pick up some relatively inexpensive household necessities (cookware mostly… two pots, a pan, some kitchen knives, some utensils, and a plate and bowl set. Also, two more bookshelves which should be arriving this evening). It was still arguably more than I really can justify, but at the same time, being able to eat is bloody important! The bookshelves are the basic Billy shelf, which I’ve had before and was happy with, so they should do fine. It also means I’ll be able to unpack more boxes, since I currently have stacks of boxes full of books with nowhere to put them. I thankfully got a shelf from Mickey through ironic timing (which incidentally had originally been one of mine from Windsor), which let me unload at least some boxes, but that shelf is now fairly full (leaving only enough room for books I know I have but haven’t unpacked yet that go with the topics on the shelf).

Things are progressing nicely. I resisted a strong temptation to head to Chop Suey which is a notable music venue here in Seattle. A band I heard on the radio is playing tonight that I’d really love to go see, and the tickets are only $10, but there are other things I should really be doing. Next time around, maybe, when I’m more sure I’ll be able to go instead of waiting for bookshelves to arrive and then unpacking some more. I realize that I’ve been in here for a while now, so you’d think I’d be unpacked by now… in my defense, a) I was sick for a while, and b) the place is small, so unpacking involves a lot of juggling boxes around the apartment to make room.

It seems like there’s a ton of new music I’d like to pick up. The new Modest Mouse is sounding awesome, Decemberists have several new albums out since I was last able to collect them, there’s this new band Under Byen that I’d love to pick up, there’s the new Joanna Newsom, Bright Eyes have a new album coming out, the list just keeps on going… in the interim, though, KEXP continues to be a mainstay for me. I listen to it mostly in the car, but I also pull up the stream on iTunes occasionally as well. They have a nice mix of old and new, and always ecclectic, covering a ton of different genres (though there does tend to be an indie/alt influence, which I’m totally fine with).

Just to note, I tossed a pic into this post. I’m not planning on making it a regular habit, but I figured what the heck, Photo Booth is easy, and that way folks who want to see what I’m looking like nowadays can. (A lot like I did before, eh?)

Beware the Posts of March

We’re not at the Ides yet, but it seemed appropriate. Things march forward in life, in generally pleasant ways. I’ve been puttering around getting various tasks done, and in general really wishing I had, say, furniture in my apartment. I’ve been sleeping on a camp mat and using my camp chair to sit in, but it makes it hard to get some computer projects I’d like to do done. Considering it’ll be another week until my things start to arrive (things are being shipped shortly, and the storage unit gets delivered on the 13th)… hrm, I may need to find a solution. As it stands, I spend most of my days in coffee shops, slurping chai and making eyes at the baristas (always more delightful when they make eyes back…). I had dinner with Mickey last night, which was really nice, and hopefully we won’t let quite as much time slip between get togethers now that I’m local again. Honestly, the only major concerns I have right now is job hunting and a strange noise my car has started making. I’m keeping an eye on it, and actually swung down to the service center this morning to make sure (in classic fashion, it wouldn’t make the noise while the mechanic was there). He suspected a loose belt, which makes sense, but it’s not immediately pressing, so it should be able to safely wait until I get my car serviced again. Still, frustrating, and I worry for my poor car. She has 130,000 miles in her already, and I really hope to double that.

As some of you know, Ayyam-i-ha just passed, and my parents were great and sent me some gift cards to help me out with this move. I picked up some frivolity via Amazon (some portable games and preordered Twin Peaks Season 2), and replenished my wardrobe at JC Penney. I’m pretty happy with what I managed to pick out (nothing out of the ordinary, just some nice slacks and button-down shirts suitable for a potential office environment). I do still need to do something about my shoes (my current Keens are beginning to disintegrate), but I think I may be able to just recover a prior pair of shoes by doing something about the insoles. You know me… shopping maven… if by maven you mean decides what he wants, goes in, finds what he wants, buys it, leaves. (Except bookstores… I can spend freakin’ hours in them.)

It’s hard to imagine that it’s already March. Here’s to the coming spring!

Phat Lewt

Ayyam-i-ha ends tonight; we celebrated last night with the ‘rents. We’re pretty chill about it all… a gift or two each, watch a movie, have some dinner. It’s good. So, in addition to the random nifty homemade stuff (my mother makes a killer zucchini relish), I got World of Warcraft from my brother (he picked up a copy too, we’re playing on Kael’Thas if anyone wants to join in), and a 60gb video iPod from my parents. This is a MORE than adequate replacement for my old 1st gen 5gb iPod that got stolen during the holidays. I’m quite happy with it, and look forward to playing with it once my packet is in later tonight.

And while we’re on the topic of gifts, my sweetheart girlfriend Erica got me an early birthday present… a Dr. Who scarf! (Anyone who watched Dr. Who during the Tom Baker years will know EXACTLY what I’m talking about…) I’m definitely looking forward to getting ahold of that (didn’t go down this weekend, as I was attending a memorial service for one of my former professors, so she told me about it via IM).

This is a bit of a nothing post, but I’m kind of alright with that.

Happy Naw Ruz

Today is the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, which means it’s also Naw Ruz, the Baha’i New Year (doesn’t that make more sense than some arbitrary day in the middle of Winter?). Just wanted to wish everyone a happy day, and hope it’s as lovely there as it is here.

Now, back to writing.

Crazy Wacky Cool

I’m in the process of collecting my stuff to mail my packet for school down at the coffee shop Eli and I found in downtown Bellevue. The fact that everyone is so amazingly friendly and laid back suddenly makes more sense… turns out that easily 75% of the folks who work there are Baha’i. Chris was talking to them while I was working, and mentioned that my name was Nabil… they all kinda arched an eyebrow and asked me about the name… “Oh, yeah, I’m named after an early historian of the Baha’i Faith”, “Yeah, we’re all Baha’i’s here.”

Blink, blink. Cool! They’re all really interesting people, and interested in art and philosophy and other nifty shit, and aren’t nearly as… hmm (how to say nicely), fundamentalist/overzealous as some of the east coast Baha’is I’ve met (this is not saying those people are bad people… it’s just that I disagree with that level of zealousness, even for religion. It’s not for me.) Turns out there is a substantial community in Bellevue, and another large community in Seattle proper… from the sounds of it, the Seattle group would probably be the best fit to go hang out with, as they tend to be a bit more laid back, like this group at the coffee shop.

Just thought I’d share, because I thought at the very least Mom and Dad would be amused. Hi guys!

Essay: Faith vs Religion: My Personal Exploration of Spirituality and the Baha’i Faith.

During my recent residency at Vermont College, a friend told me a metaphor for religion that bears repeating: “Religion is like a supermarket. We enter with needs and wants, and we go through filling our basket with these things. But we do not have to buy everything in the store.” I found this anecdote particularly relevant to my own search for spirituality. It sums up my philosophy on organized religion remarkably well.

I was born and raised as a Baha’i. In fact, my namesake was a writer who chronicled the early days of the Baha’i Faith (a hefty tome called The Dawnbreakers). The basis of the religion is that Baha’u’llah is the most recent messenger of God, one of a long line that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ, and Muhammad. The Baha’i Faith’s core beliefs revolve around the concept of world unity and equality.

All in all, those seem to be a pretty solid groundwork to base a religion on. It stands to reason that since humanity continues to grow and mature, the Word of God must be updated from time to time. This is further obviated by man’s fallible nature: considering the known level of corruption that has existed in the seat of power of various religions in the past, it is not outside the realm of possibility that the original message is not nearly as pure as it once was. And as for the principles for a religion to teach, compassion and equality are really rather high on the list of ideals I’d like to see encouraged.

I was one of four Baha’i children in my school district (two families: my brother and I, and the other family had two girls). Growing up, I always looked forward to Baha’i holy days, because it meant that I had an excused absence from school on those days, which our community would often do interesting things for (one holy day that happens in October, we would hike a mountain each year and say prayers at the top, things like that). Really, it was a rather nice religion to be raised a part of. That said, at this point in my life, I am really more of a “lapsed Baha’i” than anything else.

There are reasons for this. At the surface, there is the frustration in being part of a minority, and regularly having to explain what the religion is about. Also, there was the frustration of school functions which were largely christian in nature (and let’s not forget the mandatory “non-denominational” services with the Boy Scouts). These frustrations weren’t exactly conducive to following your own beliefs.

On a more personal level, the religion itself pushed me away. While I like what the Faith teaches, the great majority of Baha’is I’ve met were well meaning, very nice, intelligent, and FLUFFY, for lack of a better term. When I say “fluffy”, I mean that it feels like they are “born-again”, and are trying to be EXTRA loving and religious in order to make up for lost time. I don’t think this make them bad people, but it does make me uncomfortable at some fundamental level. I feel that while we should always strive for excellence, we must also balance that with moderation: anything taken to an extreme, including religion, isn’t healthy. Please also note that I am making a distinction between religion, and faith. It is an important distinction, and really the crux of what I’m talking about.

I believe in Baha’u’llah. I believe in God or at least some sort of higher power that may as well be called such. Also, I like what the Baha’i Faith teaches as a basis for religion, but it is the religion (and really all others I’ve run into) that I am bothered with. I am an introvert and a generally private individual (this paper, itself, has taken a great deal of tooth-pulling to even write), and find myself somewhat irritated that others try to foist their take on what is at its core a personal relationship with one’s connection to the universe, for the sake of organization. We as a society busy ourselves by meddling in the personal lives of our neighbors rather than realizing that it is not our place to judge the actions of others. This is the difference between faith and religion: faith is by its nature private, it is the communion between god and yourself. Faith is the contemplation and belief in certain things (whether it is the nature of the universe, or guidelines for better living in the here and now). Religion is taking faith and making it a spectacle. It compartmentalizes and socializes belief, so that instead of gleaning your own conclusions (going back to the supermarket metaphor, buying the things on YOUR list), you are told what you should believe (everyone receives the same “rations”).

And instead of realizing this and doing my own thing and not worrying about the rest, thus living a fuller, richer spiritual life, I get worked up about it. I spend my energy railing about how frustrating and disillusioning organized religion is in an age of distributed communication and knowledge, where it is easy to find the holes and flaws in any religion. Of course there are flaws in religion. They’re made by man. We’re not perfect. That doesn’t mean the principles of and the basis for the religion is wrong.

What I’m saying is that there should be more effort made to separate the religion (the structure) from the faith (the content). Let people make decisions for themselves, give them the material to make educated choices, and see what happens. If someone decides that they want to combine aspects of Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Baha’i, then so be it, more power to them. That doesn’t mean that the next person won’t decide that a combination of Judaism and Hinduism is a better fit for themselves. Let us as a race awaken into a Collective Conscious (vs unconscious), and bring it all back to what really matters: the individual’s relationship with God.

Essay: An Examination of “The Tablet of the Holy Mariner”

Written by Baha’u’llah in 1863, The Tablet of the Holy Mariner is considered one of the few pieces that directly deals with the mystical side of the Baha’i Faith. Most of it is building upon pre-established concepts gathered from Gnosticism and Sufism in particular (the sea of light, the ark of belief, a multitiered heaven of which the higher levels are unattainable, the maiden of heaven, et cetera). This is actually somewhat comforting, since it indicates that the latest manifestation truly is just an update to the prior manifestations, whose Word had become muddied over time.

To give a quick summation of the story, it begins by explaining a bit of our past: namely that the faithful had been brought before heaven, where the believers had been cleansed of self and passion, and given entrance to God’s holy realm. These believers sought higher into the heavens than God had decreed for them, and he punished them with a flaming meteor, and sent them back into the mortal world, where they were ordered to abide until such a time that they were ready for that higher level. Someone called the maiden of heaven, whom had never been known to speak (“no ear through all eternity hath ever heard,” line 61), came before the Celestial Concourse and stated that only those who had achieved true faithfulness in the Arabian Youth could enter the highest heaven. She sent one of her handmaidens down into the world to look for people who had achieved this. The handmaiden returned in such despair at the lack of true faith that she released her spirit and was sent into the presence of God. The story ends with the other handmaidens grieving violently for their dead sister.

While the story itself is interesting, what is far more intriguing is the particular phrasing and specific details of the story. These details tend to leap out due to the format of the story, broken into lines separated by the phrase “Glorified be our Lord, the All-Glorious!” Because the flow of the story is broken up like this, it becomes easier to focus on each line separately. (The counterpoint to this is that it is harder to capture the piece as a whole, without writing down the lines yourself.)

Personally, I view this tablet as an interpretive story, a history-through-parable. In particular, extrapolative history, dealing with what we call “prehistory” (the period between when homo sapiens first appear and when our first recorded civilization appears). This tablet serves as a remarkable collection of information available for interpretation. Given my predisposition towards science fiction, my personal interpretation of the tablet deals primarily with the thought of Man having a prior advanced civilization, possibly space-faring. The opening line deals with an “ark of eternity” and a “Celestial Concourse,” which could be interpreted as a space-faring ship. This ship is then “launched upon the ancient sea” (again, a “sea of stars” is a common literary metaphor, and would not seem out of place in this situation), and is filled with dwellers of “divine attributes” (most religions have ties between wisdom/knowledge and a divine source). They are told not to “tarry in the snow-white spot” which could possibly be some form of faster than light travel such as “hyperspace”, and that they are free to “wing through space even as the favored birds in the realm of eternal reunion,” at which point a “burning meteor cast them out” (a meteor destroys our access to “hyperspace”, or possibly impacts our planet and decimates all life on it, destroying whatever civilization there was). Man is returned to dwell in the mortal, mundane world. After a period of time, the “maid of heaven” (another advanced race? A surviving remnant of our own species?) sends her “maidservant” (an scouting expedition?) to search out signs of the “Youth that hath been hidden within the tabernacle of light” (our prior advanced civilization?). This maidservant finds none, and dies in despair.

While this interpretation is simplified and clearly science-fiction, the basic concepts are not outside the realm of possibility. Archaeologists have been able to place the origin of homo sapiens at roughly 140,000 BC (possibly earlier), and a fairly broad dispersal of man as long ago as 40,000 BC. But the first signs of civilization we have is 7000-5000 BC (depending on who you talk to). We have very little clue what happened during the intervening millennia. There is evidence of several worldwide catastrophes, including significant volcanic activity, global flooding, possibly meteor impacts, and recent evidence to suggest that the earth’s poles shifted at least once during that time. That is all in addition to at least one massive ice age that could have quite easily blotted out any sign of prior civilization that may have otherwise survived the other disasters. Considering how much of our past has been lost purely of our own accord (book burnings, holy wars, censorship, vandalism, cities getting sacked, plagues, et cetera) this is all well within the realm of possibility. Further suggesting prior civilization is the amount of unaccounted-for time compared to how quickly we’ve built our current civilization. It somehow doesn’t ring true that given around 140,000 years, no civilization was created.

That is of course just one interpretation; there are many possibilities as to what exactly it means. Regardless of its true meaning, the Tablet of the Holy Mariner is a fascinating piece of writing, and well worth the effort to read it, if only for the marvelous ideas it presents.

Essay: The World Wobbled: A Search for Spiritual Philosophy

I strongly believe that it is necessary to maintain a positive outlook on life, to treat other individuals compassionately, and to appreciate the little things in life just as much (if not more so) than the big things. I disagree with the frenetic pace our current society is trying to thrive upon, and for the longest time had “Festina Lente” (Make Haste Slowly) as my catch phrase for life. I believe all these things, and yet somewhere along the way, I seem to have lost sight of that, swept up in the currents of everyday life, and I’m not even sure when or where it happened.

So, let’s go back. Perhaps not to the beginning, but certainly to a point when I had solidly come to these conclusions on living a peaceful, happy life, and had not yet let myself become caught up in the rushing mentality. After all, it is only through identifying your problems that you can ever truly hope to combat them.

Seventh grade was a very, very good year for me. After hitting the proverbial “bottom rung” on the social ladder in sixth grade, I simply stopped caring about that, and instead dove into a broad spectrum of books (though primarily science fiction), reading about 90% of Robert A. Heinlein’s works, the entire Dune saga, and a wealth of pulp fiction by masters such as Robert Silverberg and Isaac Asimov. This reading trend continued into eighth grade, when I also read the Dragonriders of Pern series, and Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany (I’ll come back to this book in a moment). In addition to reading, I began pursuing my own education, studying statistics and basic chemistry on my own time. I’d begun to adopt the philosophy of “Never Hurry” from Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, a concept that appealed to me right from the start. After all, what is the point in rushing? That is not to say to not move quickly, but why rush? Why stress about the little things? Be aware of them, acknowledge them, and at the same time acknowledge what you are capable of affecting, and let the rest go. If we try to shoulder the burden of the world, all we end up with is a broken back.

Contrary to what it may seem like, that was NOT a recipe for laziness. I am not now, nor was I then saying you shouldn’t do anything. Rather, I’m saying take responsibility for yourself, do what YOU are capable of, and don’t worry about the rest. That worry is a little death that eats you away at your foundation until you finally just crumble.

This philosophy continued to grow and solidify as I read more, and experienced more situations which proved the validity of my budding outlook. A particularly influential book for me was Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany. The book explores the concept of amorality (vs morality or immorality) in a backdrop of a semi-post-apocalyptic city, a place choked with smoke and an erratic, shifting geography. I first read it in eighth grade, and I’ve continued to read it once a year ever since. I’ve never been able to fully explain why I read it every year, merely that it generates a certain mood that I find appealing. Not through any specific action that any character takes, nor any event in the story, so much as just the general demeanor of the book: there is a sense of presence and self awareness and letting go that is ultimately appealing, and generally succeeds in crossing over into my every day life.

It is worth noting that I haven’t had a chance to reread Dhalgren in the past two years, or really much recreational entertainment at all. Not for lack of desire, mind you, but through lack of finding the time necessary to get through the 800 page book. Thinking about it, I’ve felt burdened by a weight of “responsibility” (real or perceived), even when I’m consciously making the choice to go play a game, or read a book, or watch a movie. I can’t relax. So is my not having made time for my annual tradition a cause, or an effect of this? Perhaps a bit more digging is in order.

High school left me frustrated by my peers and in a state of depression. I would talk passionately and intensely about a wide variety of topics, but never with any luck in finding like-minded individuals. It left me disillusioned until I started to do theater, where at least they were passionate about SOMETHING (namely, melodrama, but that is unfortunately part and parcel with high school drama programs). I continued to work steadily with the theater program through the rest of school, which did a lot in terms of keeping me sane. The actors’ antics and melodramatic politics kept me distinctly aware of just how much those things really didn’t matter in the long run. Thinking about it, though, I avoided supervisory roles whenever possible while there (and later). Not because I couldn’t have done it, but because I didn’t want the additional responsibility.

Thinking about it, that may well be it. In the past two or three years, I have taken on additional responsibilities, perhaps some that I wasn’t necessarily ready for, but felt I had to do. Somewhere in the back of my head, something is screaming that I’m on the right track, so let’s continue. If I’ve been taking on new responsibilities over the past few years, and it is over the past few years that I have been feeling more and more rushed and restricted and otherwise not myself or who I want to be.

So I suppose the question to ask myself is, what do I want to do about it? It isn’t like I can just ignore my responsibilities, nor is saying “Well, I guess this is just going to have to be my new outlook,” an acceptable answer. I think identifying that I need to learn to cope with responsibility is a good first step. Now I need to act on it. I need to start doing what I can and genuinely letting go of the rest. I need to start affirming to myself that my passions ARE in fact a worthwhile pursuit of their own accord, and that now is a perfect time to work on those passions. I need to start thinking about what I want out of life, and stop worrying about what others want from me or think of me. I need find a new sanctuary that I can find my own pace in. I need to LET GO.

But mostly, I think I need to go reread Dhalgren.