Sunday, December 4, 2011


Edward Viveiros De Castro addressing a 2003 conference on the subject of 'anthropology and science:'

"'And is a kind of zero-relator, a relational mana of sorts - the floating signifier of the class of connectives - whose function is to oppose the absence of relation, but without specifying any relation in particular. 'And' covers all thinkable connections, and therefore allows one to say all sayable things about the terms it connects [...]"

"But maybe not. Maybe there is a relation which 'and' excludes, perhaps because it is not a true relation - the relation of identity. Who would dream of giving a physics conference the title 'Physics and Science'? Physics is Science! We have to be able to imagine that anthropology isn't constitutively a science, at least not all the time, in all respects and in all relations, in order for us to imagine this contingent connection expressed in the formula 'anthropology and science'. A relation can be contrived, then, between 'and,' the minimal relator, and 'is,' the maximal substantializer, poles between which all our discourses and sciences are distributed. Now, if anthropology 'is' a science of something, it is undoubtedly the comparative science of the relations that make us human. But since comparing is relating and vice-versa, our discipline is twice over the science of the 'and,' that is, of universal relational immanence. Not of the 'is', therefore, and still less of the 'ought', - but simply of the 'and'. "

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Life in a snowglobe

I’m not quite sure how or when it happened, but I believe I’ve fallen into a snowglobe. Without the snow, that is. You see, I’ve been living in a strange Christmas-themed cityscape where time doesn’t seem to exist, at least for me. I have no routine. I have no deadlines to meet or products to measure progress by. I only have classes three days a week and only attend maybe two of those days. The rest of my time is to be spent thinking. Reading and thinking. So I wander the snowglobe finding new Christmasy spots to sit and think. I drink coffee, I look at old stone buildings, and I read what others before me wrote while drinking their coffee and looking at similar buildings. I go out with friends to Christmasy pubs and drink Christmasy drinks and talk about what they have been thinking. I go home to light Christmasy candles and drink hot tea and think about what my friends have been thinking about.

And in all this thinking, I have thought myself into some strange little circles. I’ve thought about anthropology and what it is and what it means and if it’s possible to actually do it. I’ve thought about why my professors want us to think about what anthropology is and if they actually know what it is and how to do it. Then I thought about what it is they are actually doing. And what I am doing? And why? And what do I want to be doing? And where do I want to be doing it? Do I want to be at home? What is home? What constitutes a home? Does everything have to be redefined? What does it mean if I have to redefine everything? Do I know anything? Have I ever known anything? Will I ever know anything? What does it mean to know something?

It seems that maybe the point of this program was not to educate me, but to uneducated me. To deconstruct everything and leave me to wander in circles until I figure out which way I want to go. But in all of this thinking never do I leave the snowglobe.

And then a few days ago, a funny thing happened. December. A crack emerged in the snowglobe. I remembered what December is: a period of time called a month. I even remembered there existed things called calendars, strange diagrams of time. Those little squares with numbers in the corners were days. And in 14 squares, something else is going to happen. I am coming home. I am leaving the snowglobe. I’ll be somewhere concrete again where time passes and there are people that I know that haven’t been consumed by deconstructive thoughts but by actual tasks that can be accomplished and checked off a list. People who actually know things, at least in the sense that they believe they know things. And I can’t wait to see them and talk to them. I’ve forgotten what life outside the snowglobe feels like. But soon, I get to see it firsthand. And maybe it will remind me that I too once lived in a concrete world that changed seasons.

Monday, November 28, 2011

“But we are living in a skeptical and, if I may use the phrase, a thought-tormented age; and sometimes I fear that this new generation, educated or hypereducated as it is, will lack those qualities of humanity, of hospitality, of kindly humor which belonged to an older day..”

James Joyce

Sunday, November 13, 2011


    "Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
    and remember what peace there may be in silence.
    As far as possible without surrender
    be on good terms with all persons.
    Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
    and listen to others,
    even the dull and the ignorant;
    they too have their story.


    You are a child of the universe,
    no less than the trees and the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you,
    no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    Therefore be at peace with God,
    whatever you conceive Him to be,
    and whatever your labors and aspirations,
    in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

    With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
    it is still a beautiful world.
    Be cheerful.
    Strive to be happy. "

    Max Ehrmann

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Grapefruit tea

Simmer 2 cups grapefruit juice, 2-4 tablespoons honey, 1 cinnamon stick, and a few whole allspice berries to melt away gray rainy days and leave you feeling fresh and cheery. Thanks Martha Stewart.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


I just love this video. Maybe it's because I'm missing forests, or maybe it's because childhood is a wonderful thing. Or maybe just because I like the lyrics and the feathers.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Paradigm shift.

There are some points in life when it becomes so incredibly clear that things are changing. That the world around you is changing. That you are changing. It’s not hard to imagine that these moments are most noticeable with starting anew in a new place. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen that I’m beginning to undergo a process of incredible change, a paradigm shift if you will. I was expecting there to be a learning curve with starting grad school in another country but expectations rarely translate into actually experiencing things. Everything, from buying groceries to comprehending a different education system, has been a learning process, often by means of trial and error.

At university, I’m relearning how to learn. Unlike in the States, professors don’t lay out in lectures what it is you need to know. Instead, they point the way to which readings might suit your own unique interests within a given framework, such as political anthropology or documentary film. I’m relearning how to read. Read once for a general overview of an idea. Read twice for the detailed nuances that the professors will expect you to notice. Read three times to form your own opinion. I’m relearning anthropology. Much more heavily influenced by French philosophy than Germano-American anthropology, Anglo-French anthropology has moved beyond post-modernism. Ethnography is viewed as the art of in-depth speculation charged with representation of social reality. Anglo-French anthropology steers away from the comfort blanket of science that has at times lead Germano-American anthropology to claiming ethnographic data can lead to truth. Here, there is no one right answer about humanity. There is no ‘truth’.

I’m relearning vocabulary. New and seemingly unnecessary words such as historicity and contemporeanity and bio-socio-biological are entering my list of words to pull out in extremely highbrow situations. I’m relearning what it means to be away from family and friends and what it means to build community here. I’m relearning how to make friends and how to manage my time between school and social life. I’m relearning how to cook. Fun fact for you America: here, food goes bad after a few days instead of mysteriously lasting for weeks without molding. After talking to a friend living on a farm in Argentina, I realized my tiny make-shift kitchen isn’t so different than hers; no microwave, no freezer, and only a limited space for storing cold items. I’m relearning where to shop and where to buy foil and black beans and cornbread. I’m relearning how to open doors (those damn Victorians had such heavy doors with all kinds of locks imaginable and no two are the same). Today I even learned what happens if a pigeon gets caught inside a train (after significantly raising the anxiety levels of passengers, he simply gets off at the next stop).

And of course I’m relearning myself along the way. I’m currently facing the decision of where I want to do my summer fieldwork. I basically have 4-8 weeks to live in a culture before some hard-core hermiting while I write my dissertation. I’m deciding where I want to be in summer, and where I want to be in fall when my visa expires and I turn to the job market. I’m deciding what at what level I want to commit to anthropology.

All of these are things I’ve faced before and figured out in the past, but once again they are changing. I’m adapting. It’s an odd process but not an unwelcome one. It’s part of challenging the old mode of thought and building on it. It’s what we all do, though at some moments it’s easier to notice than others. So this is my moment. This is my change. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Prose and Cons and Fortune Tellers


Once upon a time there was a girl who decided to move to London to study. From the moment she began the process of visas and housing and paperwork, everything seemed to be going wrong. Logistically, nothing was going according to plan. So one day, she showed up in London with no home, little money, no bank account, and no idea what her academic year would look like. Despite all this, she was happy. The city charmed her like no other city ever had. She enjoyed the way people went about their days and soon began to sort things out. Even then, things continued to go poorly. She got sick and was taken in an ambulance (rather unnecessarily) to the hospital where she was told she had the flu.  She couldn’t even book the same room in a hostel for a solid week so she resorted to moving rooms each night. Still, she was happy. And she found a lovely home in the heart of Notting Hill. This, however, is her tale of one very peculiar day.

The scene:

Today was my first day of classes. Everything went about as I had expected. Basic introductions were given, classic anthropological films were watched, new friends were made. After classes, a friend and I decided to enjoy the hottest October in London in 100 years and join the crowds of students sitting in the park.

Rising action:

While discussing tolerance and people’s inability to trust others, two young men walked directly up to us. One took a few extra steps and stood behind us waiting for his friend. His friend knelt, holding out a newspaper in one hand placed directly on top of my purse and asked in a low and urgent voice something in another language. Sorry? What was that? Again, the question, spoken as if he needed help. A moment passed and he stood up, looked at his friend and walked away. Still confused, we watched as the pair walked to the exit of the park, then turned to each other and laughed before disappearing. Ten minutes later, I realized he’d taken my iPhone.

Furious, we immediately asked for the nearest police station. No one seemed to know and as time ticked on, we gently reminded the university office staff that they could simply google it. We were given directions and set off. Ten minutes later, we asked again as our directions led us nowhere. No one seemed to know where a police office was. Ten minutes after that, we stumble upon one only to find a paper note taped to the door that read “This office is closed.” Twenty minutes, one tube ride, and several wrong turns more, we find a police station marked by the characteristic Victorian lamp outside the door.  “Sorry, you can’t report it without the serial number,” came the response my inquiry. That serial number, however, was not to be found in this country.

Giving up on civilized systems, we hopelessly resorted to vigilante justice. The men who took my phone in the middle of a crowded park were bold. It could easily be assumed they had done it before and would do it again. So off we went, back to the park and to all nearby parks to search for the culprits, refreshing ourselves with self-defense moves on the way, should something drastic happen.

We walked into a park and sat down on the grass only to suddenly realize all the people around us were frozen in mid action. Suddenly we heard, “And go!” and they began to move. Upon closer observation, we realized we had wandered into a film set and sat directly in the line of filming. Oops. We stayed put as it was a park and we looked like extras, but made a mental note that should we find our culprits in this very location, any confrontation would now be on camera.

Then, we spotted him. A guy sitting alone with a black trash bag talking on a black smart phone. Was it him? I honestly wasn’t sure, but he started looking very suspicious of us. We, on the other hand, were looking pretty suspicious ourselves. After thoroughly creeping the guy out, he stood up and began to leave. We followed. He stopped and lingered. We lingered. Then in a moment of desperation, I simply walked up to him and asked, “you look like a friend I met earlier today; were you the one I met in the park?” He was confused and didn’t speak English well but the longer I looked at his face and listened to his voice, I accepted that he was not our guy. “Sorry, you just looked familiar, have a good day!” He left. And so did we. I went home to try and get ahold of the serial number and rethink my London strategy.


While walking home, I began to ponder how really, in the course of the whole day, I had not been very upset. I hadn’t felt that bad about the phone. While lost in my own thoughts, a Sikh man walking the opposite direction down the street suddenly looked at me at said, “you are very lucky. Very very lucky person. But right now, your luck is sleeping.” I stared at him. “I am a palm reader and I can see in your face that you have very much luck, but for four more days your luck is sleeping.” He proceeded to tell me my fortune, all while I stood, silent, watching him. Passersby looked questioningly, as if to ask whether I needed help, if he was bothering me, but I didn’t feel threatened. Suddenly, after the entire day, I began to break down to this man who stopped me in the street to tell me my future. My eyes began to water just the slightest bit and he knew that I was actually listening. Now normally, I am the last person to believe in fortune tellers. I generally reckon that life just happens and we make reasons out of it afterwards. I don’t know if I really believe in destiny, or more in our power to react to things however we choose and that is what shapes our future. Whether this man was right or not, it was the tiny bit of hope that I needed at that very moment and the bizarre factor left me smiling the rest of the way home.


When I got home, I got the serial number and reported the theft. I heard some good news that made my flat just that much nicer. I talked to family and friends I hadn’t heard from in a while. All in all, I’m still happy. London still has a way of charming me and exciting me with its traditions and opportunities. And who knows, maybe in four days, my luck will wake up. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Packing, as usual.

I remember starting my blog for my trip to India with a short post about packing. I wrote about how it didn’t feel real yet and I still hadn’t started packing two days before. It seems two years later, I’m right back in that same spot, two days away from another trip and not even pretending to think about packing. Looking back, I was so excited for India. I can still remember all the anticipation of the unknown. I had no idea what I was getting into and I love that feeling. This time around I’ve been so caught up in the bureaucratic details of paperwork, visas, housing, and budgets, I haven’t had any time to get excited. Until now. So here are the simplest things that remind me how much I have to look forward to:

-Airports: I love the energy of people coming and leaving home, work, and vacation. I love the people you meet and have random conversations with. I love that everyone is temporarily connected by a feeling of transition.

-Airplanes: I love packing my little bag with everything I can possibly imagine I might need for 8 hours. I love take-off and watching the city shrink below me. I love the fact that I am forced to set aside time to think and rest and watch movies or read or write. I love tiny travel sized ice cream and that I can use flights as an excuse to buy a five dollar magazine.

-The Tube: I LOVE PUBLIC TRANSPORT. I love the smell of the tube and the blast of warm wind that precedes and follows each train. I love people watching on the tube and wondering where they’re going.

-School: It is well known that I am a dork and I love school. I’m so ready to have a routine again that challenges me intellectually, to be around other students, to feel accomplished after spending miserable sleepless nights of writing papers and finally turning it in.

-Living in another country: I love being the foreign one, even if it means making some sort of cultural blunder or offending someone by accident on a daily basis. Everything seems exotic and new when you are out of context. I love that I will be living with people from everywhere, where everyone will have different accents and different stories to tell and listen to different music and speak different languages.

-OLYMPICS 2012: Ok so this is still a year away, but DUH, I will be in London for the summer Olympics!!! Life goal of attending the Olympics is soon to be complete.

-The unknown: So this really is the main source of my stress but let’s admit it, I kinda like having to think on my feet when travelling. Who cares if I have to show up in London and then find somewhere to live, figure out what classes I’m taking, and see just how accurate my budget really is. There’s a challenge in travel that draws me back every time, and it always works out in the end.

So here I go. I have two days to pack, a ticket to London, and no plan once I show up. Thankfully, my papa is tagging along for the first week to help me get settled. Let the adventure begin… again.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fifteen minutes

I will never understand the devastation in this world; how winds can lift up your life and throw it down again in a tangled mess upon the earth; how your boards and cinder blocks can stretch for miles and miles across open land while neighbors’ houses are perfectly intact.
A friend and I went to help the neighbors of a professor sift through what used to be their house until a tornado barreled over it. They were trying to find their heirlooms and photographs and proof of appliances for insurance’s sake. As we drove into the neighborhood, we were taken aback by the trail of wreckage strewn between and over houses and over a ridge into another neighborhood. Half of a barn, a roof where a house used to be…
We pulled up to the address marked by a cardboard sign. The only intact piece of the house was the cement floor of a two car garage. The two cars had been lifted by the storm and tossed into trees before falling into what might have been the living room. It looked like an angry child had smashed a dollhouse. The floor plan of several rooms lay a little ways away where the outline of walls and bits of carpet or tile marked separate rooms. Our professor introduced us to the family. The father nodded to acknowledge us but had little to say. I didn’t know whether to smile to try and cheer him up or to apologize for his loss. Neither seemed fitting and neither would make much of a difference coming from a stranger who still had everything while he had nothing but his life. That however, was a miracle in itself.
 The family had been sitting in their living room during the storms, believing much like I did until last week that it was just a bad thunder storm. Tornados didn’t hit east Tennessee. We have mountains that protect us. Suddenly, the family felt the pressure in the room drop. They ran to the cement storage area in their basement. As they opened the door, it flew off its hinges and into the air. The entire house was pulled by the storm off its foundation and dismantled by the winds while they were in it.
Unfortunately, only fifteen minutes after we arrived, it began to rain. All I did for the family was move a pile of cardboard boxes. I have no money to ease their financial loss. I have no home to offer them. I have no words of wisdom or comfort that will change their outlook. And my one tiny effort of helping sift through the rubble only lasted fifteen minutes. So what do you do with an experience like this? Add it to your collection of experiences, filed away until you need the memory to help you empathize with others facing a similar devastation? Write about it and post it on a blog?
And why do we read stories like this? To give us perspective on life and teach us to appreciate what we have or because like in cars on an interstate, we all want to turn and look at the wreck as we drive by? Why do we make movies about violence and destruction to watch in plush air-conditioned theaters when there is so much of it already in the world? Our culture is so rich that we are nearly isolated from true devastation and like curious kids, we’re drawn to accounts of it. But to those who have experienced devastation like losing a house or surviving war and genocide, when all you have left is your life, these accounts seem sick and detestable. So why am I writing this? Would the family I just met want to read a young girl’s thoughts on the destruction she only saw for fifteen minutes?
I don’t know. I don't know quite how to react but I feel that there are just as many questions to ask of an experience like this as there are lessons to be learned from it, and the more familiar we are with devastation, the more we will know how to react and how to help. I guess if nothing else, those fifteen minutes helps to put things into perspective and is a reminder not to make mountains out of mole hills.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Faith in all forms

Religion can become a convoluted and complex creature. It can foster just as much disjuncture as community at times. No religion seems to be found in its truest, idealistic sense; yet there can be incredible wisdom in every religion. And, in my opinion, an honest faith can be stunningly beautiful. So here are some of my favourite prayers and songs from many religions.

“If you see the soul in every living being, you see truly.”
The Bhagavad Gita

May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.... May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.
St. Theresa's Prayer

The Islamic call to Prayer

ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥
Ik­oaʼnkār saṯ nām karṯā purakẖ nirbẖa­o nirvair akāl mūraṯ ajūnī saibẖaʼn gur parsāḏ.
One Universal Creator God. The Name Is Truth. Creative Being Personified. No Fear. No Hatred. Image Of The Undying, Beyond Birth, Self-Existent. By Guru's Grace
The Mul Mantra- The foundations of Sikhism

Tibetan Prayer Flags

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The prayer of St. Francis

Maha Gayatri- a Hindu Mantram

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Traditional Gaelic Blessing

Sunday, March 13, 2011


As a teenager
It is important to shake your fist at the gods
to run as far and as fast as you can into the dark
get lost, pass out, and wake up the next day
with a volume of new and troubling goals
and no plan whatsoever to help you achieve them.

As an adult
it is important to look back at how hard your fist shook
and how those gods still forgave you,
because they had been there too,
running and passing out,
and now that it is all here upon you
plan or no plan
those goals don’t seem nearly as troubling.

The power of being a stranger

I was walking up the stairs at school one day as a girl was walking down. As we passed, we smiled at each other and then she hesitated. She took another step down, paused, and ran back up three steps to where I was. “I’m sorry if this is sounds weird but you just look really cute.” I didn’t quite know what to say but before I had grasped the compliment, she was already heading back down the staircase. I went on my way but couldn’t help to think about how easily an unexpected compliment can brighten your day.

What is it about that moment, and hundreds of others like it when a stranger compliments you or performs a random act of kindness or simply starts an unexpected conversation that seem to have so much power to impact us, to brighten a day? I think the answer lies in the basic fact that it came from a stranger.

In anthropology, Marcel Mauss is known for his work concerning reciprocity and the act of giving. Mauss’ work centers around the practice of potlatch among the Kwakiutl of the Pacific Northwest where tribes would present rivals with gifts and feasts in an attempt to out-give each other. The tribe that could not give away or destroy an equal or increased amount of wealth was considered defeated. While similar practices of exchange and reciprocity have been studied as a part of economics, Mauss views the potlatch as relating to social structure and as symbolic of social relationships. He considers the three acts of giving, receiving, and repaying as social obligation. When Mauss coined the phrase “no gift is unencumbered,” he basically said that no gift or act of charity or kindness is done without expectation of return in some form. People donate money to charity for all sorts of reasons without always recognizing it: for tax breaks, for social status, out of tradition, etc. As in the case of the Kwakiutl, gifts were a way of gaining honor and prestige and the inability to give led to shame and loss of social status.

So what is it about a stranger’s gift, be it a compliment or kind act, that strikes us as so unexpected? Maybe it’s because with a stranger, there is much less social obligation. When a friend leaves you an encouraging note, there is some expectation to return the gift at a similar level, perhaps saying thank you, perhaps with a note in the future. When a stranger leaves an anonymous note of encouragement in your mailbox, as one incredible friend often does for her neighbors, there is no expectation of return. It is a gift in the truest sense. The giver may have gained a small bit of social status if she told others about the act or perhaps gained a sense of self-satisfaction, but largely, the gift was socially unrepayed.

As strangers, we hold incredible power in the smallest acts. I’ve heard the story, be it true or not, about someone at the drive-through of Starbucks on a busy day who paid for the order of the car behind him. When the car pulled to the window and found that the drink was already paid for, there was no one to thank or to return the favor to, so instead, the driver paid for the order of the car behind her. This went on for hours, each car paying for the one behind, until the line died out. The desire to repay the gift was passed on from stranger to stranger. Shows like Secret Millionaire and Extreme Home Makeover capitalize on the emotion and impact of unexpected and unreturned giving. And few can deny how inspirational they are. But it doesn’t take a camera crew or thousands of dollars to have the same impact. All it takes is being a stranger. Sure, a compliment may not match building a home, but the principle is the same. It is a gift without obligation. Keep that in mind next time you’re at the grocery store or school or work or anywhere you meet a stranger. Because in that moment, you have an incredible power to brighten someone’s day.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"My whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted until I discovered my interruptions were my work."
- a professor at Notre Dame

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A simple thought for a snowy day...

In fourth grade, I had to memorize the poem "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost. I remember reading the words written on a blue sheet of paper decorated with snowflakes which hung on the wall of the classroom. Something about the idea of stealing a moment in someone else’s woods to watch the snow fall resonates deeply with me. I’ve always loved the simplest moments when time seems to stand still and a quiet happiness settles over everything. But it’s the last lines of the poem that always come to mind, as if Frost knows a moment in the woods is just that, a moment. There is no regret as he continues on his way. With the end of winter holidays and all the laziness they inspire, tonight offers one last night to watch the snow fall. Tomorrow reminds me of all the ambition, excitement, work, adventure, and challenge of another semester which I’m eager to start. Though the moment was lovely, I'm glad it's once again time to look ahead.

“These woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”