A Memento of Henri Bergson – Christopher Nolan’s Memento

A Memento of Henri Bergson by Vago Damitio You may think that you are free, but you are not. You may think that each action you take is an unrestrained choice, but it is not. You ( and everyone else) are incarcerated in a prison that controls every action you take and every decision you … Continue reading “A Memento of Henri Bergson – Christopher Nolan’s Memento”

A Memento of Henri Bergson

by Vago Damitio

You may think that you are free, but you are not. You may think that each action you take is an unrestrained choice, but it is not. You ( and everyone else) are incarcerated in a prison that controls every action you take and every decision you make. Even the decision to be reading these words was already determined before you had read the title of this article.

You can stop right now….but obviously that is not a decision you were able to make, because you are still reading. I don’t want you to harbor any illusions, I am just as much a prisoner as you are. As I write these words, a series of circumstances have led me to a point that cannot be returned from. The sum total of my associations and memories combined with the intensity of my feelings about them have led me to this moment, as I sit and write these words, and while it may feel like this is voluntary, the truth is that I really have no choice in the matter.

How can this be? Just as you can stop reading, I can stop writing…but we have not. We have not been able to stop even though the idea was suggested to us both. We continue on. I am not alone in suggesting that memory has a much stronger hold upon the actions we take in the present than most of us care to admit. Philosophers have debated the case of free will. Thomas Hobbes and David Hume suggested that if one were not being coerced by an outside agent that one was exercising free will. This is a just and necessary argument. It is just because, as John Locke suggested later, if one can pause long enough to think about the effects of one’s actions, one is able to make a choice. It is necessary because if individuals are not held accountable for their actions, there is no basis for order in any society.

Necessary and just…agreed, but are they correct? What if the judgment that is made in the pause Locke speaks of is influenced by the perception of the individual making the judgement? What if even the ability to pause and consider an action before making a judgement is predetermined within the individual by the way that the individual views past experience and current events? If this is the case, than, just as you are still reading these words and I am still writing these words, other actions by other individuals may actually be predetermined and potentially mapped out by the most fascist of all prison wardens….memory.

The philosopher Henri Bergson said in his book Matter and Memory that

It may be said that we have no grasp of the future without an
equal and corresponding outlook over the past, that the onrush
of our activity makes a void behind it in which memories flow,
and that memory is thus the reverberation in the sphere of
consciousness, of the indetermination of our will.

Consider that for a moment, since you are reading this. I will do the same, since I am writing this. I am not certain, but I think that it implies that not only are we influenced in our current decisions by the events of the past, but that we let current events reshape the events of the past, thus, the past that we are basing our decisions upon, is actually variable. This confounds the issue even further. To return to the situation that we currently find ourselves in, are we reading/writing this because of past events or reshaping past events to justify our reading/writing of this essay? In either case, who is actually in charge and making the decision to read/write this essay?

At the risk of disappointing you, I must confess here, that I do not have an answer. This whole series of events has been conjured up by a viewing of a film directed by Christopher Nolan, Memento. In Memento, such questions are suggested and because of an earlier exposure to the works of Henri Bergson, they have come to light in this essay. Memento is the story of a man who seeks to avenge the rape/murder of his wife. This is compounded a condition he has called anterograde amnesia which does not allow him to build new memories. His memories are fixed in the past. Or so he thinks.

The film starts from the present and traces events backwards using the point of view of the main character, Leonard, a man who uses notes, Polaroid photos, and tattoos to remember what he is doing and who he meets. Things are not as they seen for Leonard. His condition makes him vulnerable to exploitation. In the end (which confusingly is actually the beginning), Leonard is forced to confront the fact that things may not have been the way he thought they were. He is forced in short, to ask himself if what he thought was the past which had driven him to the present, was really what he had thought it was. He is forced to consider his actions and whether they were justified based on his memories. Leonard, is lucky though, he only needs to remember to tattoo a justification upon himself and it becomes reality to him.

Can you find justification for your actions?

2013 – My year in Review – Damn this one was tough… Check out my Life GPA for 2013

2013 has been a year to remember – that’s for sure. The year has been filled in equal parts with success and failure and along with the highs that came when I achieved my goals – there has also, inevitably, been some disappointment – but then, that’s what happens when you set the bar high. First, I’d like to let you know what my goals were when I sat down on my 41st birthday last year – December 27, 2012.

At the time, my wife, daughter and I were still living in Morocco. The most recent update from Google had crippled my income by sending advertisers scurrying away from anything that might be considered selling a link – my income had dropped from a 2012 high of more than $7000 per month to just less than $500 in December. I’m not sure why, but December is always incredibly difficult for what seem like outside influences – at least up until my birthday and then things usually turn around.

So there we were wondering if my wife’s immigrant visa would ever be approved, trying to survive a particularly cold winter in Sefrou, and figuring out how to be good parents and spouses. I had nearly $45k in student loans ahead of me and the expensive prospect of moving my family to the USA. With that in mind – these were the goals I made for myself:

In 2013 I will re-edit and rewrite every one of my twelve books so that they are the best I can make them.
In 2013 I will publish my books various other eBook platforms.
In 2013 I will create great cover art for my published books and those I haven’t published yet.
In 2013 we will move my family to the USA, find a house, and establish ourselves.
In 2013 I will jump start the stalled IAPOTJ (International Association of Professional Online Travel Journalists)
In 2013 I will launch the MVA App and found the movement of MVA (Micro Victory Army)
In 2013 I will plant a garden and take a permaculture design course.
In 2013 I will revise and republish The Hu Factor, write the sequel to the Hu Factor, complete Blue Eyed Bastards and edit The Keys to the Riad,, and I will finish book 1 of The Invented God. I will sign deals with agent and publishers.
In 2013 I will pay off at least $15,000 of my loans.
In 2013 I will earn at least $100,000.
In 2013 I will stop reacting and instead respond to problems with focus and improve my level of fitness.
In 2013 I will improve my metrics and earnings on all of my websites.

Look. It’s a lot. Each one of those goals had at least five micro-goals that in themselves were probably big enough to be a single annual goal. I expect a lot of myself and I almost never let myself take the easy way out. Here’s how I did….

I re-edited and re-published ten of my twelve completed books. I assigned and purchased ISBN numbers for them, published every one of them in print and multiple ebook formats, and redesigned my personal website to showcase them (that’s this site, by the way).  I didn’t end up re-editing The Hu Factor, writing the sequel to it (The Hu Man), completing The Invented God, editing The Keys to the Riad, or re-writing and publishing Blue Eyed Bastards – those four books also still do not have great cover art. Despite those failures – I still consider the first three goals to be a huge success. Overall grade on goals #1-#3 – B-, B+, B- Average of a B.

Moving on – I did get my wife’s immigrant visa approved, I moved my family half way around the world, and I managed to get us into a house of our own. I even planted a small garden. I did not, however, land a great job or take a permaculture course. Still – I consider this goal a success. A- overall for the garden and move to the USA.

In terms of the IAPOTJ and the MVA – these were back burner projects in 2013 and I didn’t give them much attention at all. Still, both organizations grew and developed memberships – I feel like the energy that I did give them early on gave them the momentum to carry on. I hope to pursue both in 2014. Overall grade C-.

I did not sign a deal with either agents or publishers. I didn’t pay more than $1000 on my loans though I did refinance and defer them again. I didn’t even come close to earning $100k in 2013. As of now – it looks like I’ll be lucky if I cleared $30k.  The related goal of improving metrics and earnings simply did not happen – in fact, I was barely able to keep things at the same dismal level as in 2012. Finally, I was better at responding with focus (mostly) but my fitness suffered and is probably the worst it has ever been. The US diet and the stress of trying to make ends meet and working on the computer or the phone all day took a toll on my fitness. I’m not going to give myself an F for these factors since there were micro goals that I did achieve – I figured out how to sustain my family with eBay, I created a successful eBay store, and I’ve managed to pay all of our bills and expenses. Still, the best I can give myself on these is a D.

Now – the extra credit. I had some successes that I hadn’t planned.

I earned my insurance license in the state of Oregon and took a job selling life insurance.

I traveled to Spain, visited Dubai, and introduced my wife and daughter to San Francisco, Portland, Bellingham, Seattle, Sacramento, Redding, and the Oregon Coast. We visited the Redwoods, camped in the San Juans, and I got to introduce my family to my friends and family.  I had some amazing cultural experiences before leaving Morocco and Spain, and I bought a jeep and a BMW, albeit older ones. I learned how to buy and repair watches, discovered how to buy and sell gold, and discovered the hidden gold of antiques and estate sales. Add to that the fact that my wife and daughter have wanted for nothing during this year, both have great electronic gadgets, and we have somehow filled our house and garage with cool things and I deserve an additional A to average things out.

Now it’s time to average things out (I am doing this as I write). B, A-, C-, D, A. Using the age-old averaging for GPA – 2.7 for 2013 out of a possible 4.0 – that feels about right except I’m going to give myself a bonus .05 for the happy singing of my wife and daughter coming from the next room as I write this. So- I’m raising my grade to an overall B- average for 2013.

So that’s me for 2013. Next week I’ll start working on my goals for 2014. At the end of this month, I’ll revisit my predictions for 2013 and throw out some new ones for 2014.

 

 

 

 

The Relief of a Home

I’ve secretly been carrying the weight of the world around on my shoulders but wasn’t able to tell anyone about it. Finally, I can relax.

Deciding to bring my wife and daughter to the USA was a huge decision and not one that I made lightly, the visa process to get my wife permanent residency was a struggle that took everything I had, especially doing it from Morocco, not having a residence in the USA, and not having a traditional source of income – at times, while we were going through the process it nearly ended things. We had some stupendous donnybrooks and when we finally got to the USA, I thought we could finally move forward.

I’m an extremely goal oriented person and even though I don’t talk about it much, most of my life and my accomplishments are mapped out and scheduled – for example – a year ago, without the visa, without the money to come to the USA, one of my goals was to have my family in the USA by May 1, 2013. We arrived on April 17th. As I said, I thought that I would be able to move forward easily – and, not surprisingly, I had a plan.

Over the past five years, I’ve supported my family and our adventures with the business I built from scratch, Vagobond Travel Media, LLC. Granted, we haven’t earned a six figure income, but it was enough to support us in Morocco, pay for some great trips, bring us to the USA, and put about $10k in our savings by the time we got here.  It’s fair to say that I am one of the world’s top experts on travel blogging, web development in the tourism sector, travel public relations, and most certainly in travel social media. I am one of the pioneers in these fields. In addition, I have a degree in anthropology that focused on how the world uses the internet to make connections in real life and a strong background in hotel management, project management, and mass media.

My plan was to use these assets to land a job in the tech capital of the world, San Francisco. I figured that in the modern tech world, my work would speak for me and that I would be able to find a decent position with a travel or social media start up, find a house in the bay area for my family to move into, and then, to move forward gangbusters and take the world by storm. Longer term plan was to use my start-up experience (and capital) to create a ground breaking travel social network.

All of that plan fell to shit.  Here was the plan:

Arrive and recover from jetlag for two days in a hotel. April 17-19

Stay with my sister for 1-2 weeks while job hunting. April 20- May 4

Visit my mother in Redding in late May, introduce my family to my family. Road trip to Washington, Oregon to see friends and more family.

Begin job. Locate a house in San Mateo area. June 15.

Have a garden in my backyard by July 1 and be growing vegetables and doing worm composting.

For a variety of reasons, I failed almost all of that. Things changed and didn’t happen the way I had planned. I adapted, but man, I hate it when that happens.  Our hotel recovery was interrupted and I accepted an offer to take us to Redding before I really had time to think about what I was doing, while in Redding my mother had an accident and we found ourselves feeling like we needed to scrap all of our plans and stay to help her but then we were made to feel less than comfortable with that decision and I grabbed my family and took us away as soon as I was able. The first opportunity after we knew my mom was okay and I had a car, we split. A friend offered us a two week house sitting gig in Sacramento in early May and I figured that was close enough to San Francisco that I could follow my original plan.

That’s when I was slapped in the face with an ugly reality. Tech start-ups don’t want to hire a guy in his 40s who has been calling his own shots for the past five years. My accomplishments didn’t count for enough with the start-ups to get past the fact that they could hire a fresh college grad with a social media or advertising degree for far less than I could support my family on in the Bay Area. I made the two hour trip from Sacramento to SF for multiple interviews but every time, the interviews ended with slightly apologetic/slightly arrogant remarks about how it was an entry level position and I was over qualified – i.e. my resume didn’t have a tech giant on it they could list on the company website as they sought funding and I wasn’t willing to accept less than I could support my family on. Fail.

But, adapt and overcome. I decided we could stay in Sacramento. Our friends returned from their trip and offered to let us stay in their house rent free for as long as we wanted – or until the courts evicted them – whichever came first. For the past three years, they have been fighting to overturn a foreclosure – and, aside from all the work they put into learning how to manipulate the courts, filing motions, and sending out documents – they have been living rent free. The house belonged to my friend’s cousin and was foreclosed on by the bank, she wrote a quit claim deed to him, and he and his partner began their fight to say that the house was really theirs and so it couldn’t be foreclosed. Three years of free rent, but the threat of eviction hanging over their heads every day.  That’s no situation to have a two year old and a new immigrant wife in, so I agreed to stay but only for as long as it took me to find a place to live.

I liked our neighborhood in Sacramento and the rents were modest for the area at about $900-$1200 per month for a house with yard, 2 bedrooms, etc. I found a couple of likely houses and filled out applications – now here is the thing, I had money in the bank, I could show my income from writing/blogging/book sales and I was willing to pay first/last/deposit which came to about $3600 up front, my credit is not stellar, but the only flaw on it is that I don’t have any credit cards but do have $40k in student debt – the landlords, however, were so scared of renting to someone without an outside (not self-employed) source of income and not one of them agreed to rent to me even after we met and I showed them my paypal payments from clients, records, etc. One jack-off slum lord met solely for the purpose of getting a business consult on his website and had someone moving in the next day…FAIL.

Also, living in someone else’s house isn’t an ideal situation for me to write, maintain websites, or even buy and sell estate and garage sale items since all of our possessions were in boxes and needed to be put back in boxes, kept tidy, and stored. My wife and two year old spent lots of time in our temporary bedroom and I tried to work in the living room, but since both of our friends also worked at home, I didn’t really get anything done in the almost 3 months we were there. Yes, we were there for 3 months while I tried to find work, tried to find a house, and tried to figure out how to take care of my family the best way. I am deeply grateful to our friends for letting us squat with them while I figured out that California just wasn’t going to work for us.  We made frequent trips to the Bay Area and Redding and I took us on a road trip up the West Coast so we could scout other locations, so my wife could meet my friends, and so we could be away from the squat and give our friends space.

By the end of July, I knew we had to leave. The women had begun to squabble over toilet paper and tampons and anything else, our two year old needed more structure for her development, and I needed to have a dedicated space to work.  For Sophia’s 2nd birthday we went to Redding to see my mom and so I could help my friends Matt and Amber with a garage estate sale and then I got in the car and drove to Reedsport, Oregon – which I’d picked out as the perfect spot for my family to live.

What makes Reedsport perfect? Violent crime is zero. There are no registered sex offenders. The town sits slightly inland on the Umpqua River and is safe from tsunami, the coastal region is wet and safe from forest fires, the town is a completely undeveloped tourist mecca which has the  Oregon dunes, the Oregon coast, the Smith River, the Umpqua River, and Winchester Bay all within a stone throw. Coos Bay is 20 miles south and Florence is 20 miles north. Because it is inland it doesn’t have the wind you find along the rest of the Oregon coast. The climate is mild with lows in the winter around 37 degrees and highs in the summer around 80 degrees. It has good schools, good fishing, crabbing, and a health food store.

So, I came up here and went to a property management company. I filled out the forms, checked into a hotel, and began my search. Here’s the thing – there aren’t all that many houses in Reedsport and most of them are owned by the residents – there were no 3 bedroom single family homes available – but there was one coming up mid-month. I looked at the outside, filled out the application, and gave the agent deposit and first months rent. She couldn’t get in contact with the owner. For three days we tried and I searched for other houses…I didn’t find any. This was my only option.

It was time to go anyway. I went back to Redding and picked up my family and we went back to the squat in Sacramento where we packed our things. I’d bought an $800 jeep a few weeks before and had a hitch and ball put on it so I could tow a U-Haul trailer. I rented the trailer, we packed our things, we said goodbye to our friends, and we set off. The trailer was too big and too heavy for the jeep but we made it anyway after reversing the ball so the hitch didn’t drag. I reserved a hotel for a week in Reedsport and up we came not sure if we had a place or not.

A week in a hotel room with a two year old is a long time. Long story short, we got the house and yesterday we  moved in. I signed the lease, set up my office, transferred the utilities (deposits on utilities are a big moving expense you don’t think of but should), and here we are! Last night was our first night in the house. We barbecued steaks in the back  yard and slept in our own bed in our own room in our own house filled with our own things.

Not having a home for my family and not having a job were a heavy load to be carrying – missing that June 15th deadline was a challenging blow. Now I can rest and get to work building my business again – my family has a home, I have an office, we have a life. It took me two months longer than I expected, but the funny thing is that during that two months – we managed to gather everything we needed (except couches and some other furniture) to make this house into our home.

I have a job – taking care of my family, writing, and continuing to develop Vagobond Travel Media, LLC – and here’s a bonus – my wife got a job at the hotel we stayed at – when things like this happen, you have to know that you are in the flow and the flow is good.

Our hometown is now Reedsport and it just might be the coolest undiscovered place in the USA.

My Alternate CV – Just in Case

kiddishesMy alternate CV:

Dishwashing Dude looking for a job where I don’t have to think and where I go home with clean hands each night.

Work Experience:
1998-2013 – No Relevant Work Experience – was working in tech, social media, and travel but always insisted on washing the dishes at home.
1996-1998 – The Station Pub – Bellingham, WA – Technically, I was a bartender, but I also had to wash all the glasses. Left when automatic dishwasher was installed.
1997- Anna’s Caddyshack – Dishwasher. Quit when promoted to Sous Chef
1994-1996 – Top of the Tower – Raleigh, NC. I started as a dishwasher but was unwillingly promoted to head bartender because of my incredible people skills. I still snuck in and washed the dishes.
1990-1994 – US Marine Corps. They only allowed me to work in the pot-shack for a month during mess and maintenance duty and then I was forced to go to my assigned job of Senior Radar Air Traffic Control Supervisor. I wanted to wash dishes but my test scores were too high.
1988-1990- JJ North’s Chuckwagon. Dishwasher and occasional busboy.
1987- Scandals Restaurant – Dishwasher. Left when promoted to Sous Chef.
1983-1986 – North Shore Tavern. I had to work under the table for the first three years because I was underage for employment. Resisted efforts to be made into a chef or waiter but in the end had to quit when they promoted me to Sous Chef.
1980-1983 – Newspaper route and assigned chores at home of dishwashing nightly.
1971-1980 – Not allowed to wash the dishes because too young.
1970 – Washed fake dishes in the womb, parents mistakenly assumed I was ‘kicking’

My Alternate CV – Just in Case

kiddishesMy alternate CV:

Dishwashing Dude looking for a job where I don’t have to think and where I go home with clean hands each night.

Work Experience:
1998-2013 – No Relevant Work Experience – was working in tech, social media, and travel but always insisted on washing the dishes at home.
1996-1998 – The Station Pub – Bellingham, WA – Technically, I was a bartender, but I also had to wash all the glasses. Left when automatic dishwasher was installed.
1997- Anna’s Caddyshack – Dishwasher. Quit when promoted to Sous Chef
1994-1996 – Top of the Tower – Raleigh, NC. I started as a dishwasher but was unwillingly promoted to head bartender because of my incredible people skills. I still snuck in and washed the dishes.
1990-1994 – US Marine Corps. They only allowed me to work in the pot-shack for a month during mess and maintenance duty and then I was forced to go to my assigned job of Senior Radar Air Traffic Control Supervisor. I wanted to wash dishes but my test scores were too high.
1988-1990- JJ North’s Chuckwagon. Dishwasher and occasional busboy.
1987- Scandals Restaurant – Dishwasher. Left when promoted to Sous Chef.
1983-1986 – North Shore Tavern. I had to work under the table for the first three years because I was underage for employment. Resisted efforts to be made into a chef or waiter but in the end had to quit when they promoted me to Sous Chef.
1980-1983 – Newspaper route and assigned chores at home of dishwashing nightly.
1971-1980 – Not allowed to wash the dishes because too young.
1970 – Washed fake dishes in the womb, parents mistakenly assumed I was ‘kicking’

Using Religion to Save the Environment

star fishby Vago Damitio

While it would be nice to say that religion is the answer to the ecocrisis (and all the rest of our problems), the truth is not so simple. While there are many passages in holy books of the world that instruct believers to preserve, protect, and value nature  ; the problem is that through interpretation and distortion, the same books and faiths can encourage humankind to continue dominating, exploiting, and attempting to control or destroy nature. For example, fundamentalist Christians interpret the story of Adam and Eve as God telling Adam that he should dominate the earth, animals, and Eve (women). This sort of religion is certainly not the answer to the ecocrisis that we face.

The solution is probably similar to a religion but with a less hierarchical organization, less dogma, and more emphasis on personal responsibility. Spiritual practices such as Taoism, Buddhism, and other philosophies that encourage mindfulness and positive personal responsibility. Events such as Earth Day founded in 1970  create more of an awareness of the environment without putting the dominating power of religion at the top of a power dynamic but some claim that this secular approach hasn’t done enough to solve our problems  but certainly the first step to stopping a trip to hell in a hand basket is to recognize that you are on such a journey in the first place. This identifying stage is, perhaps, the role of the intellectual approach. The next approach is to apply solutions . The final approach is to adopt those solutions into a standardized ethic or philosophy. Such a philosophical approach could be termed spirituality, but without the centralized power that would make it a religion.

In the video Radical Simplicity, activists seem to be implementing the second stage in which they adopt solutions to identified problems and they seem to be in the process of turning these solutions into an ethic that borders on the spiritual. By only buying the things they need, using less resources, and shifting culture via conscious choices towards sustainability; activists are acting on an ethic that if it is not already, will certainly be considered spiritual in the future. While this sort of Gaia worship is not likely to develop a powered clergy and become religion, certainly it is already a spiritual practice. Living in a small house is as much an act of sacrifice as carrying a cross in an Easter parade.

It is easy to confuse the spirituality that leads Buddhist Monks to frequent caves in Southeast Asia with the religion they practice, but in actuality, it is the ethics of Buddhism and not the hierarchy that protects and preserves sacred caves.  The same can be said for the caves that are sacred and protected around the world in all religions. Caves act as comforting wombs to the human spirit. The human spirit goes beyond the religions that attempt to bind it and embraces the spiritual energy of nature as a more worthy object. The powerful religions of the world recognize this and have either attempted to ban nature or to incorporate it’s power into their mechanics.

Sacred places are sacred, not because of religion, but because of the spirit of the places. While Townsend seeks a separation from the word spiritual , spirit is actually just another word for energy. Energy is something that exists in all things and if we take the time to acknowledge the energy that is around us, we might notice that the entire universe and everything in it are actually sacred and imbued with spiritual significance. Can religion solve our eco-crisis? No, but perhaps acknowledging the sacred that exists within everything can bring us to a more spiritual way of life that will work towards solving not only the eco-crisis, but all of our other problems too.