The Paradox of Choice

Choice is a beautifully gilded piece of architecture. To a person glancing the menu of western luxuries, choice holds a fortified position as being the most frequently enjoyed. And so we bask in it and demand more until an unnerving anxiety sinks in. But it's not that choice satiates to a point of discomfort, it's that its overwhelming presence debilitates and often confuses. With choice, we enter onto a stage where immediately we start sifting through the sea of variety to try to pick out what's the ideal; what's best for us, how does our decision compare to other's, how does it weigh on our social projection, and finally, is this all there is?

I distinctly recall a summer evening when I was sitting in a restaurant among friends and a few new acquaintances. I am by no means a sommelier, but I was somehow delegated the task of choosing the wine. I looked at the menu and scanned the prices. Too expensive and I seem pompous. Too cheap and I'll look stingy. I had to not only defer to the absolute median price, but also insisted on paying so as to relieve myself of any true social judgement. The vast menu exhausted my decision making reserves and the perception of myself in this environment filled my gut with unease. I could have just as easily been pacified into declining to make the choice altogether. Looking back, I think I may have actually preferred to drink anything that the waiter himself recommended, as long as it wasn't my decision to make.

"The problem is actually that today’s ideology of choice-led capitalism, the idea that everyone is a maker of his or her life, which goes very much the reality of the social situation, actually pacifies people and makes us constantly turning criticism towards ourselves instead of organizing ourselves and making a critique of the society we live in.” ~ Renata Salecl

Under the facade of "the entire world is yours" lies an insidious subjectivity that suggestively insists on more consumption. This "pacification" into indecisiveness due to the plethora of choice cozens our questioning mechanisms into being turned off, thus allowing passivity to continue. The gilded architecture mentioned earlier is that of a belief that "you are the master" with submission actually being the underlying principle. Who knew that all those commercials we are being bombarded with are just tranquilizer darts!

The ideology of choice melts into something that isn't so optimistic and subsequently prevents social change. Choice almost starts looking like loss. If I pick this, I am missing out on that. If I help this person, I am in turn not helping another person. We hold on to what little we have, relatively speaking, and become afraid to take chances on what we really want. This also holds true with sticking one's neck out and helping to provoke any sort of social change and being strong with critiquing the environment in which we live.

Just as with any sort of psychological bias or mechanical habit that doesn't serve the user, sometimes it's enough to just be aware of it to catalyze change. Our society, which promotes more options and more products and more choices, won't decelerate anytime soon. But we can definitely go with the flow and mitigate the negative side effects of something that inherently should be beneficial, or at the very least benign. 

 

My Copenhagen

This territory has been a wonderful nesting ground. I believe I have always dreamed to live in such a picturesque place to tend to my own intellectual purposes, and lo such a place has materialized. I ride my bike through small streets, cobble-stoned courtyards, and past multicolored lopsided colonial buildings to a grand library perched on one of the canals near the main port of the city. There is something dear to this Danish sense of cleanliness and minimalism and reverence to the aged beauty of the capital.

I leave tomorrow, as if off into immeasurable seas whose horizon I cannot envision. I worry and carry the yet to be rectified paltry qualms of enough kroners in the pocket, but I trust Copenhagen to be a definitive step on my path; a step towards something still to be understood. As with Russia, and how I held her to be my beautiful secret and my austere, silent strength, I now carry this city and the me I have found in it further.

Liedewij can only be mentioned with words that have been consecrated by the stars themselves. Speech will never do her love and compassion justice. I haven’t done anything to deserve such boundless hospitality and to her I will be forever in debt, though, it is certain, she does not expect a morsel in return. Perhaps my motivation for tomorrow lies in my desire to gift her the world?

These days have passed with a blink. And just as my eyelids close to reopen, I cry for this place I called home for the last month.
— 8/3/15

I'm hopefully lost.

I can only classify this moment as one of supreme uncertainty. Brushing the ground of many who have left their indelible signatures scribbled on stones and steel and paper reprinted for the thousandth time, I feel a kinship of hope of possibility, one that will either inter my corporeal existence or lift it to immortality. With such contrast I have been losing my mind every morning, regaining it around mid-afternoon, and manically scrambling in the evenings to fight the urge of seductive nightcaps to normalize it all. I don’t believe there is a cure for this self-prescribed madness, less it be an indentured state to corporate state to a lifeless state. But then is this life? Is this constant loss with reality, then back, then astral excursions to summersaults of carelessness what life needs to be?

To my sponsors - my sincerest apologies that I keep on promising the world with these dreams and have nothing to show for it. You hold me warmly, wipe my tears, and encourage me to show up the next day, and the next. Maybe you see something that I do not, or maybe we see the same horizon. I will paint it for you; I promise again.


It aches.
It’s a dull ache as it takes
the form of nothing in particular
nudging itself forth through
the spaces between a ribcage
that’s holding in a monster
or a cure
but the key is dreamless sobriety
and in the palm is
dreamwater that soothes burns
but will never mobilize fingers to find the lock
that rests on the crumbling bastions
of determined confusion.
It aches and it calls again.
It aches and points to the universe of itself.
It aches
and asks
then calls
then basks
in its own incomprehensible genius,
lascivious and proud and forgetful
that it’s a part of a whole.

This silent rage can blind a man.
This silent rage can build a Rome.
This silent rage knows all but doesn’t understand its form.
It aches until
— yours dearly

Creative Lassitudes and Agony

 

Is it naive to say that I am naive to assume that all people are capable of some sort of art or greater calling and thus by mere probability I should be finding these individuals on every turn of my path? I have become rather curious and now am torn by two sides of a delicate coin that may either label me as an optimist or a sanctimonious pseudo-esthete, for I haven’t been meeting as many of these "doers" as I have liked, and the ones that I have met, have been lackluster in soul at best. Is an impression of deficiency one to be cast, or that of a zeitgeist of sloth? 

Let me clarify to say that I speak not only of artists in the general sense, but also of anyone who aims to serve a higher purpose; entrepreneurs, philanthropists, thinkers, benefactors of loftier virtues etc. 

What can be the cause of this creative lassitude? Why aren’t more people embracing the possible freedom and purpose our current day western society allows? Don’t we have limitless resources the presumed information utopia (the internet) has provided? I believe the flowerbed of creature comforts has stricken more than one person with a malaise of inaction, and in addition, there are overwhelming factors that accumulate to further deter people from following their goals and desires. 

-Rokni Haerizadeh

-Rokni Haerizadeh

Lethargy

Let’s get the most insidious reason out of the way; lethargy. An individual who can’t muster the strength to get up out of bed can’t be expected to create anything of value. Lack of motivation follows lack of creativity follows lack of action with the result being a horse that won’t be led to water. But do we care much for this horse? Likely not. They are an uninspiring triviality without much more to add to this abstract other than to be passively noted. I have met countless legions of this folk and prolonged exposure has caused me to assume their traits. Their torpor is alluring and relaxing and regardless of the benefit of the doubt you may give them, their most successful quality will always stay that of a Sisyphean weight on your shoulders. This mental modality is contagious and one of which to be well aware. 

Agony

Creation takes agony; a viciously misinterpreted word and ubiquitously experienced state. This agony is twofold primarily and infinite secondarily. E.E. Cummings stated that "the agony lies in the fact that we stand no chance of being appreciated". The first obstacle out of the gate is doubt looming over the first inkling of a creative thought, doubt of anyone recognizing and validating one’s ideas. Unless you are of Kierkegaardian or Kanye’en confidence, which can be governed neither by words nor by magic, even the developmental stages of your creativity float in treacherous waters kicking your mental vigor to exhaustion. To be on the receiving end of "I don’t think my ideas are good enough" is that of frail apathy due to tiresome boredom of hearing that helpless anthem for the umpteenth time. But to our own cries we are oblivious! This is because they are feelings and not logical thoughts. We incubate doubt and strangle our children before they can become those darlings we will have to eventually kill. Consider moments of vacillation, as Virginia Woolf put it,  when you consider yourself both "the divinest genius or the greatest fool", to be completely natural.

After the success of conquering this initial vanguard, next the artist is faced with throwing on the vestments of every predecessor; consistency. Ye olde adage "Rome wasn’t built in a day" hails the countless works that stand as the foundation of modern thought and society. All of these achievements took time. They took time because consistency takes time and the terrors of consistency lie in the incurable side-effect of sacrifice: sacrifice of socializing, sacrifice of excessive leisure, sacrifice of vices, sacrifice of even intimate relationships. A weighty exchange, no? Marina Abramović said "great artists result from the sacrifices that you make to your personal life" and this trade-off rests only in the deep love and faith one has for their work. This phrase also grounds and gives hope to those who don’t believe they are of Newtonian capacity of mind because Abramović describes her potential hard-working individual as "great" only because of their sweat equity. 

The infinite agony of the artist is the infinite loop of the two mentioned ingredients. Only belief as a state of being will overcome, or at least allow one to become accustomed to, the constant trials. 

Perhaps my chance interlocutors haven’t yet found their cause. Why should I expect everyone to tolerate this agony of doubt and sacrifice when something worth that suffering isn’t just casually checked out at the library? Who am I to look upon others as lazy or incapable? Have I myself found this cause or am I only starting to realizing how naive it is to assume that every bathtub will have its gin? 

Regardless of the hoops and turns and storms and spurs of inconvenient hardships mourned, when the sun sets down beyond tomorrow only a select few can hope to harbour the immortal rhythm of the sages, and one I esteem particularly says this;

Look into yourself, reader; for you must find Art there, if at all. At this you protest vigorously: but suppose I follow your curious advice, suppose I look into myself and suppose I do not find Art? What then? Do you mean to tell me that I must forever abandon my hope of becoming an Artist? Absolutely! Art is not something which may or may not be acquired, it is something which you are not or which you are.
— E.E. Cummings

 

But I, as you, must remember only one thing - without folly there would be no wisdom. Now I will gather my things and try to figure out what folly I can fathom for the ends of wisdom attained. 

 

 

Know thyself; a memento mori

As my days inch forward and time spins in a centripetal manner, distance disassociates me from previous aspirations and leaves me floating in a vacuum of unguided will. Structure has completely broken down for me and the only asylum I have found is that in the hands of a most formidable colossus of a library, from which I run every day to the delicate antithesis of inspiring female hands. I am living in a strange reality that is sculpting me blindfolded with diamond chisels. 

Every hour is a reevaluation of the previous and confidence grows as trust in a mystical higher purpose grows. Or is it all just a psychosis of a mind searching for meaning?

Man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium. However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health. There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that so effectively helps one to survive even the worse conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.
— Viktor Frankl

Inner tension wound taught....but there is comfort, or so enough for me, with these simple words. 

Last night conversation danced gently around Denmark's most esteemed thinker, Kierkegaard. Sitting with these international philosophy majors, I felt almost stagnant in comparison to their self-development. One was going on to pursue her masters while the other had notes of her thesis on the aforementioned Danish thinker scattered all over a nearby desk. I took pleasure in keeping up, but thoughts couldn't help but to focus on my own future, romanticizing traveling to Germany for intense study of Goethe's works, or perhaps even St. Petersburg to immerse myself in my native culture. Such disquiet these preoccupations can cause!

This morning I walked for the umpteenth time past Kierkegaard's statue in the library's courtyard. I decided to read a few passages of his journals to get a feel for this literary great. I was delighted to find a key quote of his existentialist views, and one that would relieve me profoundly. 

 

What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.

One must first learn to know himself before knowing anything else. Not until a man has inwardly understood himself and then sees the course he is to take does his life gain peace and meaning; only then is he free of that irksome, sinister traveling companion — that irony of life, which manifests itself in the sphere of knowledge and invites true knowing to begin with a not-knowing (Socrates) just as God created the world from nothing. But in the waters of morality it is especially at home to those who still have not entered the tradewinds of virtue. Here it tumbles a person about in a horrible way, for a time lets him feel happy and content in his resolve to go ahead along the right path, then hurls him into the abyss of despair. Often it lulls a man to sleep with the thought, “After all, things cannot be otherwise,” only to awaken him suddenly to a rigorous interrogation. Frequently it seems to let a veil of forgetfulness fall over the past, only to make every single trifle appear in a strong light again. When he struggles along the right path, rejoicing in having overcome temptation’s power, there may come at almost the same time, right on the heels of perfect victory, an apparently insignificant external circumstance which pushes him down, like Sisyphus, from the height of the crag. Often when a person has concentrated on something, a minor external circumstance arises which destroys everything. (As in the case of a man who, weary of life, is about to throw himself into the Thames and at the crucial moment is halted by the sting of a mosquito.) Frequently a person feels his very best when the illness is the worst, as in tuberculosis. In vain he tries to resist it but he has not sufficient strength, and it is no help to him that he has gone through the same thing many times; the kind of practice acquired in this way does not apply here.
— Søren Kierkegaard's Journals & Papers IA Gilleleie, 1 August 1835
My man Soren!

My man Soren!

Instead of hastily finding pre-made track on which I can walk, I found the resolve to continue on my own path that I am creating day by day. Yes, I have to deal with nebulous abysses of despair but I do believe that there is some greater purpose to my zig-zag route. 


The crucial thing is to find a truth that is a truth for me. 

The ancient Greek Aphorism -  " know thyself "    - says: "the proverb is applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are", and that "know thyself" is a warning to pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude.

The ancient Greek Aphorism -  "know thyself"

- says: "the proverb is applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are", and that "know thyself" is a warning to pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude.

Consideration for continuing education was a serious one, and one that would surely open up opportunities that I wouldn't have exposure to otherwise. But now, as I sit in one of the most beautiful libraries in the world with the tomes of many a literary titan under my hand, would it be naive to discredit the education I am currently receiving? I believe the best curriculum I can set for myself now is to not lose focus and continue absorbing all of my doubts and utilizing them most effectively as stimuli for creation. 

I yet have poems to scribble, screenplays to develop, books to write, and philosophical labyrinths to navigate. I believe it to be more suspect if I was confident of any outcomes. 

A small city with hardly an address..

Visiting my folks in Cyprus, we took a trip to a small town dating to centuries past. Here are a few images from a locale without even a postal code! 

My Barometric Memory

 

Midday, I saw a person enjoying a lager in an outdoor cafe and I told my companion that there was something inherently "right" about that scene. This struck me as strange because I can almost guarantee myself frowning upon such an action in New York, where I would then ponder the person’s other alcoholic tendencies. Why the in world did I find it appropriate in the former circumstance? 

This got me thinking... 

I've always been keen on scents as memory triggers, some bringing me back decades to moments I thought were long discarded from mental storage; a perfume of a previous love from Barcelona, the scent of the first days of winter preceding a season of snowballs and ski-trips to Vermont, a deodorant that colored an entire summer of country getaways and early morning hikes through rural Russia. These are all very specific triggers that correspond to equally specific times and places. But just until recently, I have thought of scents as being the single strongest memory throwback with even visual cues resulting in weaker reminders of my past.

Exiting the plane in Copenhagen and getting hit with the cool sun and powerfully crisp breeze lent itself to a pleasure that penetrated my core. At first I thought it was just a relief of getting out of the 100°F weather of Milan and not immediately sweating through layers of clothing. But then a strange nostalgia started to settle. With every deep inhale, an unidentifiable calm was emerging from an unusual space in my mind and I couldn't understand why. The following mornings were leaving me even more clueless with an unplaced happiness, novel wonder, and a sense of contentment that usually did not accompany my usual caffeine buzz. 

Then, after mechanically putting on a live-stream of a Russian radio station I used to listen to at my summer house outside of Moscow, I had the first inkling of a possible cause. The air was now becoming more familiar, the color temperature of the sun reminded me of the apartment I grew up in, and the air had the rejuvenating bouquet I once had the joy of smelling in Quebec. The nostalgia was becoming more clear and as memories of a road-trip to Canada, family vacation to London, ungoverned exploration of St. Petersburg, my first film premiere in Amsterdam, and most of my childhood in Moscow started to saturate with color, I realized that all of these places are more or less on the same latitudinal coordinates (the geographic coordinates that specify the north- south position of a point on the Earth's surface). Maybe I was off, but my memories all pointed to the very similar environmental indicators. 

I decided to look into the geographical placement of these recollections. 

Copenhagen - 55°

Moscow - 55°

Amsterdam - 52°

London - 51°

St. Petersburg - 50°

Quebec - 48°

(New York - 40° for comparison)

I even went a step farther to check out the Air Quality Indexes of places that were evoked in my memory due to a similar smell of the air. 

Copenhagen - 26

Moscow (outskirts) - 19 

Quebec - 29

Nice and fresh! Also very close in metrics. (Moscow, London, and St. Petersburg were excluded due to obvious air pollution) 

New York - 62 (!!!)

Since the previous were lining up, perhaps UV indexes would also show similarities? 

Measured at 10:00 am, when nostalgia was most apparent — 

Copenhagen - 3.4

Moscow - 3.8

Amsterdam - 3.0

London - 3.7

St. Petersburg - 3.1

Quebec - 3.3

These are all medium level registries. 

For comparison

10:00 AM New York - 5.2 High

11:00 AM - New York - 7.4 Very High

The data points confirmed my nostalgic suppositions. I was even a bit startled to connect all of these strangely unrelated occurrences with a verifiable geographical explanation. 

What is most interesting to note about this observation is how remarkably sensitive we are as human beings. My mind went as far as to cue memories based off tropospheric pressure (atmospheric pressure in relation to altitude), air quality, and UV metrics; not to mention the countless factors I may have not taken into account i.e. lunar position, pollen count, indigenous flora categorized by aroma profiles etc. These invisible factors were carefully labeled with distinct emotional cues that evoked feelings which I could not at first understand. 

That beer I saw being consumed was contextually perfect because it evoked my own memories of enjoying lagers in similar environments, usually in a vacation scenario. It's strange in NYC for me because I don't day drink; I'm always working. 

Memory is an astoundingly complex device that I am only starting to understand. But here’s to having a nice cold one and remembering all the others we had the pleasure to enjoy! 

The Mirror Poisons the Human Heart

Man shouldn’t be able to see his own face – there’s nothing more sinister. Nature gave him the gift of not being able to see it, and of not being able to stare into his own eyes…The inventor of the mirror poisoned the human heart.
— F. Pessoa

    Daunting words to hear as I start to think about all of the human grievances conceived with this demon of hyper self-awareness. Psychological complexes, insecurity issues, and could the endlessly superficial desire to perpetuate materialism also have a mirror as its root? If we were to distill happiness down to something that comes from within, from the heart, then yes, for all of the former ailments and conditions stem from a yearning to relieve something that we think our image is lacking. 

    The psychological effect of the mirror has seldom granted the beholder good wishes. Knowing what other faces and bodies look like, it’s easy to fall into fits of comparison and subsequent inadequacy. Yet the archetype of beauty that we hold as a barometer is a strange thing; it’s absolute mediocrity. Symmetry isn’t uniquely special, it’s just absolute. A beautiful face is simply even with all of its centimeters following the original formula. (A block of wood is also even, but drift wood is way more interesting.) A mirror doesn’t only stop to display comparative hardware flaws either, it swiftly indicates nuances of change to which only the projector of the reflection is privy. A small blemish, a pimple, wrinkles. These things start to weigh down the psyche with avalanche force when all they are, are organic indicators of one of the largest organs living and breathing and exhibiting the state of flux it’s always in. The results of such sightseeing experiments could, and many times do, lead to severe trauma. I can’t count how many days I spent absentmindedly fixated on a zit or blemish when I couldn’t even see or do anything about the damn thing. Those days would have been far more enjoyable had I not been cursed by the seductive touch of the mirror, which I expect to sing my praises every morning. 

   Could it be that mirrors also taint interpersonal relations, specifically intimate ones? Pessoa mentions it being sinister to see one’s own face, connoting evil. The inverse would be love, justifying the reference of the heart in the quote. Love, by broad-spectrum definition, is when one is emotionally in the thralls of another. The world and the self become secondary before the splendor of the aforementioned and when it is reciprocated proportionately, voila, love. 

    When one starts to compare themselves in physical appearance to assure safety within a relationship, things quickly go awry. Men don’t usually compare themselves with other men, and only a few times have I worried, "Damn, I hope my girl doesn’t get swept off her feet by that ripped hunk." I also believe those were the only times I used the word hunk. On the other hand (and speaking from personal experience) women can sometimes exacerbate kindling paranoia to drastic size stressing that their partner may fall for another. (I speak only of the external and that which registers on the visual spectrum. People are emotionally vast and the complexities are limitless. I dare not explore that rabbit hole here) I can only conclude the distrust in this case comes from feelings of inadequacy of one’s physical appearance and an acute awareness of body image. For if the comparison was carried out with a lesser attractive antagonist passing one's lover, the results would differ drastically. Ladies, drop the mirror mirror on the wall! It does you only harm! These poisonous thoughts will cripple you and then consume your relations. Guys, hit the gym. 

    The worst is when people compare their self-worth to others by observation of attire or bodyweight. This is a lowly low and I won’t get into the disgusting psycho-dynamics of, "Oh my god, did you see what she was wearing?" I’ll leave that one for you to just acknowledge. PROTIP: if you know people like this, weed these pernicious beings out of your life.

The Hall of Mirrors - Versaille

The Hall of Mirrors - Versaille

Furthermore, a mirror has the power to fabricate a void in our lives that we so desperately try to fill. I would rather say it has the ability to stimulate the mind to create that fictional void. Our appraisal of appearance becomes based on external objects that become the fixation points of our desires and ultimately the source, no matter how illusory, of our happiness. Flashy things are used as mechanisms to mask insecurities and materialism transmutes into homeopathy; but the diagnoses is a false-positive - you were whole from the very beginning. Oh why did you have to see yourself? 

   To bemoan, it may be extreme to say that "the inventor of the mirror poisoned the human heart", but wouldn’t the world be a bit more sincere if we acknowledge this affliction? 


(As a quick side note; working in the modeling industry, i’ve been in the midst of what are considered to be the most beautiful women in the world - individuals that bring my entirety into a stupor. And yet, some of these girls are part in large the most insecure people I have met. They are hyper-aware of themselves, unwittingly creating a plethora of worries that leaves them crippled with disquiet. I feel a huge sorrow because there is little I can do to help, even if the remedy is readily apparent. No matter what words are uttered, they go back into a world that holds a mirror up to their face that either says, "Yes, you are good enough" or "No. Goodbye". 

We must understand that if we are to continue to live in a world in which these mirrors exist, we can’t forget they are constantly morphing and distorting the "ideal" reflection. The mirror has become subjective. No one will ever be beautiful enough with such a flippant standard of measure. But with all relative terms in hand, no one will be truly ugly either.)