Monday Musings – Reality Checks

As you may know already, lucid dreaming requires performing “reality checks”, which is literally asking yourself within the dream, “Am I dreaming right now?”, performing other checks to confirm, and then enjoying the ride with various degrees of awareness.

Of course, it takes a lot of practice to get to this point of semi-lucidity within a dream to even ask such a thing. And even if you get there, you’ve performed the other checks, you’ve controlled your dream, you are still never sure  it’s a dream to the extent as when you are awake that you are sure you’re awake, or that you had just been dreaming. It’s only when we are awake that we can be positively sure we were dreaming.

We don’t really think we’re awake when we’re dreaming – but we’re passively assuming wakefulness. We don’t doubt the dream inside the dream, and that’s the problem. It takes active consideration and practice to conclude that we are indeed dreaming. We cannot conclude, upon active consideration, that we are awake. So in a dream, when we actively consider, we conclude correctly – but we only achieve the absolute certainty when we awake.

So how does this carry over when we ask ourselves, in reality, to confirm our state of consciousness in reality? Like, “Am I in love?” for instance. It’s easy to actively consider these questions when awake; we may do it obsessively. And we get a lot of false positives, for the love question in particular. Yet when we know, we know. And we look back on that “knowing” as something entirely different than all those other times we thought we knew. Same how we know when we are awake. In both cases, we look back in awe at our naiveté.

But no matter how sure we now feel at the moment, we still can’t accept it as certainty for the same reason we can’t accept the certainty about our lucidity while dreaming. We still can’t truly know until we’ve woken up. But in reality there is no other level that we can “wake up” to. The closest we can do is conclude (rightfully).

So like what lucid dreaming is to regular dreaming, it seems like we have to achieve a state of consciousness beyond mere wakefulness to be able to look back and know what we were right.

It follows then that it’s only through experiments with consciousness that we can bring about the certainty we all desire.


Quotes out of Context

I am a great lover of quotes. I collect them, repurpose them, substitute entire works for them (hey I never said I earned my degree). I think it’s okay as long as I acknowledge that out of context I don’t know what the author exactly meant by it. But it means something to me; speaks to something deep inside that I believe very strongly, I just don’t have ability to express it so concisely, nor the desire to expound. So I want to make up for all my past intellectual laziness (and disrespect for the intellectual in quotation) by starting a new series wherein I examine in as much detail as I can muster what a particularly resonating quote means to me. Then I’ll find the context and see how my imposed meaning differs from the intended one. So, the first quote is:


This one made a lasting impression on my 17-year-old self searching for “quotes about love”, and after all my experience with both extremes rings even truer to this day. Love and hate certainly have more in common than it seems. But why?

This phenomenon of coming to hate someone you once loved is truly one of the most mystifying aspects of our psyches. People seem to reserve their worst behaviour for those had once only seen the best in and were their best around. The love/hate coin is flips faster than we could ever expect.

I’ve spent a lot of time/coping mechanisms trying to intellectualize this is and here’s my best analysis:

Being in any intimate relationship is to break the surface of standard human interaction into a place of total comfort, where you can be yourselves and feel that your self – warts and all – is accepted unconditionally. We feel safe. It’s where we all want to be in the company of others.

These relationships naturally breed expectations, like that each will be consistent, committed, and fight fair – in the name of love. The closer you feel, the higher these expectations; the higher the expectations, the more likelihood of failing them. The vulnerable partner takes this fall from grace as a form of betrayal (of who you appeared to be), which they take as a direct hit (one could argue it’s their fault all along for failing to see and accept the other as human).

So when we feel betrayed by that person, whether real or perceived, we take it so much harder than we would if it were just a friend, or someone we can just shrug off as “not really knowing me” or “has their own issues I don’t know about”. When it’s with someone we feel connected to on the deepest level, who created a space in this confusing world where everything was to be trusted and made sense, the betrayal is almost existential.

Just as each intimate relationship is a uniquely new feeling, so is each betrayal, so we have no frame of reference or societal script for what the correct reaction is. We are in full-on feeling mode and tend to lose control of ourselves that way. The only remedy is time – time to adjust to our new worldview. I guess, the more influence the person had on your life, the more time it will take.

So, that’s how I see that love and hate are more related than it seems. Indifference is just a lack of feeling where there never was to begin with.

Now, my analysis only explains how what we once felt as love can turn into hate, not how love and hate can exist simultaneously. That I don’t believe. But someone who does could also use this quote as support, since it’s so vague. So…maybe I need a more precise quote, or stop using this one at least. Hmm. I’m glad I did this.

Now I will take a look at the origin of the quote and its intended meaning.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.”

And was said by Nobel prize winner and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in an interview to US media in 1986. That’s all the context I could find.

So it seems it’s not about love in relationships in particular, but about indifference being the “epitome” of evil (which he says so in another quote) from a sociopolitical standpoint, more in the tune of this out-of-context quote:


I get his intended meaning. Voter apathy letting evil powers that be reign and all that. Not stepping out of the shadows of silence/ignorance when there’s something obviously wrong going on in society. Very bad. But…the opposite? If love is the good guys and hate is the bad guys, then it seems like indifference – not choosing sides – is right there in the moral middle of the two, not the epitome of evil as he says…?


(From July 2017. When Jess was active on the Blog. Come back, Jess. )

Letter from a Pessimist


Fig A: Supreme court judge lying under oath

Dear Bob,

Oh god. There’s just so much bullshit, Bob. And none of it is even being used for compost. I’m losing hope. 

Be like a boat, they say. Just keep the water out and float on. Don’t let it overcome you. Easier said than done, I say.

There are two kinds of negative feeling that overwhelm: the kind of our own making that time and self-talk help pass, and the kind that is a perfectly appropriate reaction to the reality of the situation; that is, to name one element of this mess we’re in, that we are basically inhabiting a spaceship piloted by incompetent, amoral megalomaniacs who live lives with dire consequence for anyone but themselves. Who choose to sacrifice this life – our lives – either for some afterone they’ve been promised in a book, or simply because it benefits them. It is slowly but surely heading towards the sun, and our efforts are too few and too late to turn it around. So what do we do then? Is the only option to delude ourselves?

I’m asking you because you are my oldest friend, at – how old are you now? – and probably wisest, and you’d think if things were really as bleak as I say, that you of all people have a much more effective coping strategy or else you would have pressed the “eject” button by now.

Knowing you, you would just give me some ambiguous quip if I just asked for your secret, and while I do admire your constant sense of humour, I want real answers, so I have compiled this list of questions on the topic of Having A Good Time Despite It all.

Thank you,


What is the most useful influence religion has on coping with the unpleasant truth of the world? (that doesn’t require supernatural belief)

Is peace more than just absence of suffering?

How much attention should we give to world politics?

Do you meditate, why/why not?

Can words change our outlook?

Have you been lucky in life? Or do you possess a quality that attracts what some call luck?

Have you ever had a mental breakdown?

How can we be happy?

Letter from Nanaimo – Jess


View from my porch

Dear Bob,

You gave me some post-Japan interview questions and I did it in one go! Thanks for asking.

How does it feel to be back on the Island?

I feel better than ever about being – and staying in the foreseeable future – in Nanaimo. I love and care for this place, and I think that’s due in part to being at a time where I need to make some commitments to find sustainable meaning (the tricky minx). And being lucky enough to have had experiences and formed relationships that made me want to come back each time, because Nanaimo’s just pretty great on its own. I’m still constantly discovering stuff. As for the Island, as soon as I got back I bought a big detailed wall map and realized I’ve got a lifetime of exploring to do way closer to home.

What did you learn from your work in Japan?

That a connection with a person transcends language and culture. Some of the people I felt the closest to were the lowest English level. There’s a few that after just one lesson of barely speaking English – and certainly not the English they would speak if they could – I felt like I knew them, and those are the ones I am still in contact with. It’s one of the most mysterious things! Sometimes I think language obfuscates the connection. I came away much less skeptical of low-verbal relationships – as long as you can be with them.

What are your career plans now?

Philosophy (and all the “interesting” yet low-paying jobs you’ve led me to), it’s been a slice, but it’s time to get fiscally responsible,  so I’m gonna do the electrical apprenticeship program at VIU and I’ve been working p/t under my electrician in the meantime. I also start an evening front desk job at the Coast today! I’M IN A UNION!!

What cultural differences did you notice?

The big differences I noticed all related to community and harmony. Like the concepts of one’s true feelings (honne) and the façade one keeps in order to preserve harmony (tatemae) being so ubiquitous. I think every culture experiences this to some extent, but in Japan people seem to at once do it, know everyone else is doing it, and are annoyed by it. It’s sort of funny to them, like, “Oh well, that’s Japan”  It was stressful for me though, not knowing or being told.

That and (keeping in mind that it’s a countryside town), the sense of trust and safety. People would leave their bikes unlocked, my school would leave the door unlocked, you can walk anywhere at any hour, and just the feeling like everyone wants to get along.

What was the effect of living in a place where you had language difficulties?

I never found it difficult or even frustrating; only amusing. Most know at least enough to get across basic communication, or we use Google translate (the downside of that being you don’t learn much Japanese by necessity), or I had my fluent-English speaking bosses on call.  I relished in each and every language misadventure.  I’m used to feeling like the odd one anyway so it was almost a relief for it to be chalked up to my western-ness and nothing more!

What are you going to do when you grow up?

Ha ha, very funny. I have two plans for the future: one, become an electrician/wirer of tiny homes, build and wire my own tiny home, move onto the property on Gabriola my good friend bought for the intention of having a tiny home community (we need people to join us or to park there in the meantime, so inquire within/pass along), live in communal self-sufficient bliss writing, wiring, and prepping for doomsday. Second, be with the one I love doing whatever follows. I am hoping they are not mutually exclusive, but I’m flexible.

Quotes out of Context: Eleanor Roosevelt and Louis C.K.

Whenever I have been hurt or have hurt someone and am trying to throw away responsibility, these two quotes come to mind:


At first these ideas seem to contradict each other. The first quote says victimhood is a choice; it’s up to us to accept or reject the inferior position of being hurt. We are in a situation and it’s our responsibility to decide how to feel about it. So if we are hurt, it’s our fault. It’s appealing to me, someone who is much more inclined to express hurt from the “superior” position of anger, and who also does not think it fair to be accused of causing hurt that I did not intend. So, I read this quote as to validate the admittedly defective ways in which I process being and causing hurt.

The second is from the view of the offender and says that if someone is hurt by your actions, you have to accept the fact without dispute and act accordingly. You can’t blame the person for deciding to be hurt (“playing the victim”), and you can’t decide that their hurt is invalid. These things don’t matter. You are responsible for the hurt you have caused. This is a healthier way to look at. Makes me feel safer to express hurt knowing it ought not to be rejected, and holds me accountable for the hurt I have caused.

Now, context.

Turns out, Roosevelt never actually said these words verbatim. She did, however, express this core idea over an incident in which the Secretary of her administration had been invited to give a speech at a University Charter Day, only to have the host of the event step down because she did not believe it appropriate to have a political figure speak.

At a conference, Roosevelt was asked whether the secretary had been “snubbed”:

 “A snub” defined the first lady, “is the effort of a person who feels superior to make someone else feel inferior. To do so, he has to find someone who can be made to feel inferior.”

The quote was thusly distilled, attributed, and published in the Readers Digest. For ease of digesting.

I’m a surprised and a little disappointed at the relatively petty origins of such a powerful idea. I’d have thought it would be a response to bullying or discrimination to encourage those who feel the power is in everyone else’s hands. Really, the host’s decision to step down from the event seems to be an upholding of her personal values, not an effort to demean. Not a big deal.

The Roosevelt quote is really about self-esteem. Inferior and superior are states of self-esteem. And it’s true, if you have high self-esteem then you will not easily be taken down a notch by those who wish you challenge you. But the quote implies that self-esteem is something you can decide. Is that so?

The quote also raises the question: is someone with high self-esteem impervious to hurt? Should they be? What does that do to a person who is unable to feel hurt? Maybe there are times in our lives where we should be hurt, so we don’t get too ahead of ourselves. Just sayin’.

Then we have the Louis C.K. quote, which seems to me more about having empathy for those you’ve hurt no matter if their hurt is justified in your eyes. Since you are the one that caused the pain, your acknowledgement of it might be the only thing that can undo it, so it is your moral duty to do so. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. It’s a bit of a lofty idea, to expect everyone to cave so easily to those they have hurt when there was a reason – maybe even a valid one – to do it in the first place. But let’s say he’s talking about the hurt one inadvertently causes.

Context in light of recent events (refusing the address the allegations of the women who felt violated) gives this a little…hypocritical edge.

BUT WAIT. Upon further investigation, this quote is from season 5 episode 3 of Louis, where his character has to draw the line with a friend whose roughhousing goes too far, admit his friend’s protests:

“You’re hitting me and you’re physically hurting me and that’s where I have to draw the line. I’m telling you that it hurt and you don’t get to deny that. When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

Goddamnit, it’s PHYSICAL pain he’s talking about!! Will I ever read a quote properly out of context?!

The Last Letter from Japan

Dear Bob,

Happy one year Japanniversary to me! I was supposed to be home by now. And then I was supposed to stay another year. And now I’m sitting here in the airport, en route to Korea and back in a day for the purpose of extending my stay for 1 more month for….no purpose at all. It’s a long story. One I can’t tell because it doesn’t make sense yet.

It’s weird reading my first few letters when I was just settling in. The story was so easy to tell. It was mostly exposè. My shallow impressions of a whole new life. It wasn’t fulfilling yet – but it seemed to promise it would be, the deeper in time I waded.

These last few months have been harder to write about. Yes, it’s deeper, in that the situations you stay in build in complexity exponentially, but making sense of it – that is, turning it into a story you can tell yourself (“ah yes, this is what’s happening here”) and live with (“and I am doing the right thing”) – requires many more assumptive leaps (especially in a culture where people hide their true feelings and I will never belong). That is the art of storytelling, I suppose; committing to a situation long enough for it to become wholly unique, and then being able to craft it into something that others can understand, relate to, find fascinating. It’s too hard. I think that’s part of why I like to change my life every year.

This last third has also been unusually full of sudden change compared to the rest that I couldn’t trust myself to reflect in the midst of it. Not like you can reflect in the midst of things anyway. You have to give some time….but not too much. There must be some sweet spot for optimal reflection, past the disorientation of the moment but before the inaccuracy of reflecting on memories of memories.

So I wasn’t writing because I wasn’t reflecting, and I wasn’t reflecting because the raw material was unfolding too chaotically to make sense of it. I know, I know, I’m vague. This isn’t about Japan anymore. It almost never was.

How do you reflect? Do you do it in terms of right or wrong (did I make the wrong decision then, was I or were they in the right or in the wrong when we fought, did I do a bad thing that caused this…)? And if you do, do you always conveniently come out the good guy? Or do you reflect in terms of cause and effect, so you can understand why the outcome happened? If so, do you always understand? Are you OK with not understanding?

Anyway, onto more concrete items: one main change is I had moved to part-time teaching small groups or 1:1 to mostly adults, and all people who want to learn. It was such a different level of job satisfaction. I think I’ve realized that I just don’t have the patience for people who don’t want to learn, and I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted or needed by the people I am offering to. I think this probably rules out my option for becoming a teacher in the future (actually, the option is ruled out for me because I took almost no teachable subjects in my undergrad…go figure)

At the same time I moved into a new house further into the side part of the countryside, had to give up the car, and am biking everywhere. This has been an excellent change too. Gosh I am really not looking forward to moving back to the city. If it weren’t for the ones I love I…. don’t know where I’d be.

And why am I stuck in this very inconvenient and wasteful 13 month situation? There are reasons, but the story I stick to is it’s because of my hopeless ambivalence. If I knew I wanted to stay only 1 year because I have shit to get on with back home, I would be back home now fully immersed in the shit. If I was entrenched in all the good this life here has to offer, I would have easily chosen to stay. It was my choice, but I could have gone either way with any small reason. When you don’t have any direction either way you become at the whim of the emotions in the moment. Is that what “living in the moment” is? Well I hope it’s leading me somewhere good.

As if reading my innermost anxieties, you sent me this webcomic the other day that I can’t stop thinking about. 2012-01-04-Eat_Shit_And_Die_202.jpg

See, I’m pretty disappointed about how many things in my year here have gone (or rather, not gone) given that what I couldn’t control was so to my advantage in getting the things I thought I wanted. My lack of writing stories, learning Japanese, saving money, clarity, community integration being the main ones. But according to the comic, all these things that I wanted out of this experience were because I didn’t actually want them. When you want something, you put in the effort. What you actually do in life proves what you actually want.

So, the explanation is simple: I just don’t want it enough. The life I have is the life I want. That doesn’t seem right though.

The End



Cuteness: A Philosophical Investigation


Chase No-Face (Facebook): Cute because he’s loved, or loved because he’s cute?

Cuteness is an underrated and misunderstood virtue; its essence obscured by cat memes and intellectualization as a mere evolutionary advantage. Here I want to try to dissect cuteness as the independent quality in a person that transcends age and appearance.

There’s no denying that children and cats can be cute, but it’s not by virtue of who they are (as you’ll know if you’ve ever taught children or been allergic to cats). They have the quality of cuteness. Anyone can be cute if they have cuteness; but they and cute are not one in the same. So what IS cute, then? What is the form of cute?


Baby wombat: not my thang

To take some stabs at finding what all cute things have in common, or at least eliminate some possibilities, we can ask a form of Moore’s open question:  That which is youthful is cute (let’s say). Baby animals are youthful. Are baby animals cute? Well let’s say they are. A baby wombat is a baby animal. Is a baby wombat cute? No. So only cute baby animals are cute. Maybe it’s big eyes that are cute. I can think of many people with big eyes who aren’t cute once I get to know them. So, big eyes themselves can’t make someone cute. It’s something else.

Teaching such a range of students here in Japan, I have experienced an almost inverse correlation with age and cuteness. It seems the older they are, the more warmth and affection I feel. Also, the older they are the more reserved/nervous they are, maybe in part because they have had (especially in the countryside) less exposure to English/Western culture, and choosing to take an English conversation class with a foreigner is more of a leap for them. My feeling is that the older people who choose to speak English with me, despite their nerves, do so because of a certain purity, vulnerability, and eagerness in their intentions that makes them, well, cute. The cuteness that the little ones exude is something else altogether – indeed probably to do with the evolutionary advantage that makes me (and their guardians) tolerate their decidedly non-cute behaviour so that I can still perform my duties with patience and affection. That’s different.

This way, cute might be defined as the opposite of threatening. It’s impossible to feel defensive around someone you find cute. Instead you have the impulse to open up, to bring closer, to care. It seems like love – but the safest form because a cute person seems unlikely to reject or hurt you. Once they do, they cease to be cute. I consider cuteness as the clearest indicator in my own relationships of whether I want to stay or go. When it fades, so does my affection. The disappearance of the cute betrays an undercurrent of mistrust or insincerity. Fear seeps in – of being hurt. And loving is not worth the risk anymore.

If someone allows themselves be cute around you, it means – either because of their nature or the way you make them feel – they are they are showing you themselves with no defenses at all. They are showing you that they trust you. To consider them cute is to accept their invitation to trust – and to do with that what you will is your power and responsibility. If people find “cute” condescending, that just goes to show how they feel about defenseless people.

I’m not exactly sure how or why cuteness is such a prominent feature of Japanese culture, but mostly it seems to be a certain commodification that gives cute a bad name (in the form of big-eyed tooth or cow mascots for decidedly non-cute things like dentists or beef restaurants.) In fact, cuteness, or Kawaii, is dually defined as adorable and lovable. That which is easy to love. So, that which is easy to love is cute. Could that be the answer?