Community – enlightenment – measures – identity

FRIDAY, 13 AUGUST 2004

Community or intellectual/spiritual enlightenment

09:07

Back to the thought of Community or intellectual/spiritual enlightenment. It’s a practical and valuable illustration of the process of identity formation.

The person who chooses Enlightenment says: I spend a lot of time on my own; I don’t unnecessarily conform to conventions; I strive for knowledge and understanding.

Someone who chooses Community says: I spend a lot of time with family and friends; I am part of an intimate community on a daily basis.

I can go further and give names to these two options (unfortunately both male names): John the Baptist for Enlightenment, and Jack Campbell for Community (named after the Nicolas Cage character in the film, Family Man).

The question then becomes: Who are you, John the Baptist, or Jack Campbell (or the female versions of these characters)?

My own initial response (though it sounds slightly frightening) is Jack the Baptist – or, John “Family Man” Campbell.

10:13

Of course it can be said that I am very comfortable with the idea of the Desert Walker who doesn’t concern himself unnecessarily with conventions.

I am very comfortable with being John the Enlightened today, and tomorrow, and next week. Long term is a different matter – then powerful visions of Jack the Family Man kick in.

Measures and “true” identity

We take measures to alleviate inconveniences such as loneliness, and these measures become intertwined with how we see ourselves and how we appear to the world. To what extent is “I as result of measures” the “true me” and to what extent is it almost a barrier to who you “really” are? Or, should measures simply be accepted as building blocks of identity in the same way as one would accept the genetic instructions in DNA as building blocks of identity? And yet, measures easily change with environment … which brings you back to the slipperiness if “true” identity.

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Three matters after lunch

THURSDAY, 12 AUGUST 2004

(12:32)

* position at my parents’ pottery business

* convoluted explanations of your “situation” when you can’t just say, “I will discuss it with my spouse.”

* Intellectual Enlightenment vs. Community (Taiwan or South Africa)

(Later … ± 16:30)

The vacancy at my parents’ pottery business is Personal Relations, part time. My younger sister then mentioned the reasons why she had resigned from her previous job (also in Bronkhorstspruit), and why she now works at the business. My father mentioned the idea that this should indeed be a family business.

Reckoning that this would be a good time for an alternative point of view, I mentioned that it will not be the same for me as for my younger sister who could just resign, remain in the same house and then simply join the business; that my whole life in Taiwan would have to be broken down piece-by-piece, packed up, and shipped. Friendships I have cultivated in Taiwan will also not stay part of my life in the same way. New relationships will need to be cultivated in a new location to compensate for the social community that I now have in a different place.

I then mentioned that in the ten years it had taken to build up the family business I had taken other measures to provide for my own well-being. These measures cannot just be dismissed overnight because a job position became vacant in the family business.

After a few minutes it dawned on me that there was an unmentioned factor in the whole discussion: the fact that I was alone. If I were married, I would simply have said, “Hmm … nice possibility. I’ll discuss it with Mary.” And that would have been the end of the meeting. But Loner Brand opted for his usual option of long, boring explanations that “everyone already knows”.

I also thought, during the smoke break under the tree shortly after the meeting, that one of the things that make me uncomfortable about leaving Taiwan is the Environment and Daily Routine that are Conducive to a Process of Intellectual Enlightenment. Of course, I could meet someone any time in Taiwan with whom I want to spend more time, and then my Daily Routine would be down the tubes anyways.

I realized that this is an issue of Community (here or in Taiwan) or Intellectual Enlightenment (or at least my view of Intellectual Enlightenment).

Finally, the idea pressed itself on me that my quest for Intellectual Nirvana is not sustainable. I need Community. And if I end up choosing Community above Intellectual Enlightenment, why not in South Africa?

(Did I know a week ago I was going to make these types of observations as soon as the Highveld air hit my nostrils? Yes, I did know matters would necessarily be reconsidered.)

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PLACE – and why there?

TUESDAY, 10 AUGUST 2004

A man (the very one making this note) was born in South Africa, and obtained data from a particular South African environment that has made it possible for him to give expression to the existence of which he is currently aware and of which he has been aware for the past 397 months. For the past 66 months he has been living in Taiwan. He currently finds himself again in the particular environment that gave him his primary self-expression tools, amongst the people with whom he has had an intimate emotional commitment his entire life.

Within the first three days after his re-emergence in the South African environment, he was once again confronted with the concept of place; specifically where he chooses to live and where his family would prefer he makes himself at home.

To shed some light on the concept – with which he has been confronted for the umpteenth time – he asks the following question: What determines the place where a person lives?

The answer is free will, or no free will.

Suppose then a person can indeed make a choice among several possibilities, what considerations should be taken into account?

1. What makes life for him worthwhile?

2. How does he “see” himself – who and what he is and who and what he wants to be?

3. What does he do or what is he willing to do or what can he do to meet his own needs, and possibly the needs of a few other people for whom he may be responsible?

4. What does he when he is not busy satisfying his needs, or busy taking steps to make it possible to satisfy his needs?

5. Free and creative expression of his particular experience of reality – possible in the place in consideration, or not?

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Notes on Sunday, 8 August 2004

The point and the twist

00:26

(Kuala Lumpur International Airport, 40 minutes or so before take off)

The point is if who you are, is not predestined, you can be who you choose to be (Friedrich Nietzsche: “Will a self, and thou shalt become a self”). The twist, however, is that who you choose to be or who you choose to become is limited to what you’ve been “given” – genes, socio-cultural and ethnic background, etcetera – as well as by particular time and place.

Still, to use what you’ve been “given” as an excuse to not become more than what you assume you’re supposed to be because of what you’ve been “given”, is to underestimate the extraordinary potential that humans have for personal transformation.

Confront the recluse

01:09

(Still waiting in the machine)

I can understand why some people choose to isolate themselves from the community – from other people. It’s not necessarily that they do not like people; it’s more a case of them having reached a point where they no longer want to be confronted on a daily basis with things that most people miraculously manage to ignore, or that most people simply accept without too much questioning.

The mood of the single traveller …

01:21

The woman in the pink sweater is sitting in row, I think 23 or 28. After I had talked to her in the minibus on the way to the airport, she waited for the next elevator to the fifth floor. When we were waiting to board, she sat down on the same bench as me, two seats away. I asked her, “Ni yizhi feidao Agenting ma?” (Are you flying non-stop to Argentina?) We chatted a bit, and when we had to go, she got up first, and walked fast enough to be several places ahead of me in the queue. When I walked past her on the plane (to my seat in the back, number 63D) she wasn’t specifically looking at me, but I was in her field of vision. I imagined she was ready with an English phrase if I were to say something in passing like, “Enjoy your flight.”

Have I mentioned that I am tired of travelling alone? Last Saturday evening in Number Nine I thought to myself: that is my next ambition – to not travel alone anymore. The woman in the pink sweater would have worked just fine …

We’re beginning to pick up speed. (Did the people in the front not hear the pilot telling everyone to shut up?) The jazz over the speakers are becoming jazzier, the people are talking louder, the lights of the airport are flashing past faster and faster, and we are … airborne!

It’s miserable being alone.

The homecoming

04:55 (South Africa time)

The land of my Given Self has been spotted. The timing could not have been better for the song in my ears: Juluka’s “Akanaki Nokunaka” (He Doesn’t Care, Even about Caring).

06:45

(Johannesburg International Airport)

“I was the only one / to witness my homecoming / so I asked myself / Brother Josef, how’ve you been …” (Lyrics from the song, Africa, by Juluka)

One Mail & Guardian, two cigarettes, six postcards – am I not a tourist? – and half a bottle of Orange Powerade later, and I’m sitting in front of the Bureau de Change, filling yet another page in a notebook that is usually lying on my antique cabinet in Benevolent Light.

In a quarter of an hour, I will give my old friend J. a wake-up call, and in about an hour or so I will make my dramatic reappearance in Bronkhorstspruit.

Are my opinions of the past few months going to change over the next four weeks? Am I going to gain new insights that will cause current plans to be reconsidered? Time will tell.

Time for a cup of coffee …

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Thought number two + Thought number one

SATURDAY, 7 AUGUST 2004

Thought number two: Identity has to do with the question of who you are. Understanding what happens during the process of identity formation may help to answer the question why an individual is as he or she is, why they do what they do, live where they live, with whom they live, how they appear to the world, how they earn money, and why these particular details and not any other.

Thought number one: It’s Saturday, 7 August 2004 at 13:10 in the afternoon. I am sitting on a plane over … the Indian Ocean.

On 3 May this year I stood for hours at a window writing in my notebook. What I wrote that day ultimately amounted to me having defined a self in Taiwan with which I am fairly satisfied. It was also abundantly clear that I was tired of saying, “I’m on my way … this is not my real life … I’m working on a few plans … probably in about six months I’ll have a life that I will be able to call my own with some degree of pride …”

On that Monday, I declared: I have a life. This life is in Taiwan. It is not a perfect life, but it’s a good life. And it’s my life.

I have sorted out an identity for myself with which I am comfortable, and in a place where I can be this particular “I am”.

Who am I? I am a man in his early thirties who lives in Taiwan, who writes, teaches English, studies Chinese, and who works on long-term business projects. Six months ago I would have attached specific labels to all these things I do, labels particular to the time and wider environment where I live such as “writer”, “teacher” or “student”. I have none other than Karl Marx to thank for the idea that you should focus on what you do and leave the labels for those who need them for a variety of reasons.

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“For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

~ Karl Marx, The German Ideology (1845)

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