Monday, August 8, 2011

The Map

Ever since I have been a child, I have been fascinated by maps. For me, they have always spoken of travel, adventure, and a sort of hidden knowledge, only accessible to those who know how to read the language. A single piece of paper can tell you almost anything you need to know, as long as you already know the code. It is a textbook example of a self-authorizing language, if you can read it, then you have passed into that level of secrets.

As I write this, I have maps from other journeys on my shelves, timetables and maps to my girlfriend's house in my travel bag, and maps in the books I am reading. I use these maps to guide my life for the most part. Unlike people, which can be subjective, and accurate map never lies. As long as it is read correctly, you can always tell exactly where you stand. It also lets you know where you have been, and how much further you need to achieve your goals. When life is uncertain, as it always is, and the ground is shifting underneath you, sometimes you just have to move, and that is when you need to know the direction to go in order to make progress. Otherwise, you can find yourself wandering in circles forever, and never realizing it.

I spent the better part of this year more or less wandering. I travelled, and still plan on going further, but I never had a plan or a direction. I just went. I was moving through my life, but I wasn't actually happy with anything, be it what I was doing, where I was going, how fast I was getting there, or the fact that I wasn't really reaching a goal that I honestly did not have. I had the maps right in front of me, but I needed to grow as a person in order to have the knowledge to read them. That was the time period where I never thought I would be happy for any long term amount of time, and that caused me to realize that long term happiness doesn't really exist, but you need to seize joy in the moments. To some extent, I still feel this way, but I have a lot more of those moments than I used to.

You strictly speaking don't need a map to find direction. Mother Nature provides for those who listen, with the Sun during the day and the stars at night. I am not a man who believes in many spiritual things, but I have seen, heard and felt enough things on my own that I know there is something out there that can't be quantified. Something that, guiding is the wrong word, but lets me safely through, with much less hurt than I have any right to have. My friends have told me that my general approach to life is that I go merrily skipping through the minefield, and then act surprised when something blows up in my face. By all rights, I have made enough stupid decisions that I should have lost a lot more than I should have. I suppose luck is a relative thing. Some people ask for luck to win a million dollars. I would much rather have what I have, something, maybe luck, maybe something else, keeping an eye out for me.

I came to another realization as I was reading. I was questioning the writing style of the book I was going through (G.R.R. Martin's A Storm of Swords) and indeed of the entire fantasy novel genre as a whole as being extremely unrealistic, and rather contrived. I mean this not for the actual magical elements of the story, but more for the way in which everything has a tendency to fall into place just as it is needed. It was not two seconds after that thought passed that I realized that it was a complete fallacy, and that my own life more or less proved it. When I need counsel, it has appeared, when I need money, jobs have appeared from nowhere. I know that I am extremely lucky. I have friends, family, and the way things have a tendency to land around me. It might not move me further on my career, but it would be foolish of me not to listen when the anvil falls on the path I was debating to take, instead of on me. These life changing events seem to occur just when they need to happen, but not before. It almost feels contrived on occasion. It is also simultaneously a very comforting and a very humbling thought to realize that someone or something is keeping an eye on you.

At this point, I can fairly well assume that you are questioning what this remotely has to do with maps and charts. In order to read a map, you actually need something other than the knowledge of the chart and the map itself. If you do not know the direction to orient it, the map is just another worthless piece of paper. For most of this year, I had the maps right in front of me, but I had no way of knowing which way to place them. Every time I looked up, whether it was day or night, it seemed like the sky was clouded. I could not use the sun or stars, my usual way of navigating, to tell the way. I finally reached the point about seven weeks ago that I looked up, and the the stars were perfectly clear.

After wandering for a while, I now have some sort of direction. The maps and the knowledge were there, but I just needed that one additional key. Now that I have that key, I can begin moving forward. Do I know where I am going? Not in the least, but I know where I have been, and I know where I am. Now is the time to move forward.

Until Next time,


Friday, August 5, 2011

A Defense of The Kilt

Recently, I have heard a comment regarding my wardrobe lately that has rather rankled me. It seems that my manliness has been called into question based off of my decision to wear a kilt, or as it was disparagingly referred to as a "man-skirt." I have therefore decided to pen a defense of a garment that needs no defense in my opinion, and clothed in the garment of discussion, I sat down to write on what I consider one of the manliest pieces of clothing in existence.

The reason this garment is considered a paragon of toughness is predominately due to the long history and the traditional purpose of the kilt. The original design of the kilt was that it was intended from the very beginning as a travelling garment. As Highlanders were a tribal people, the garment was designed to be worn on the move. Therefore, the Kilt served several purposes, as a garment, as a shelter, and as an identifying badge.

The garment aspect of the kilt should be rather self explanatory. It serves incredibly well as a lower body garment. From first hand experience, I have worn my kilt on both the hottest and coldest days of the year, and it was comfortable on both days, as it is cool in summer, and warm in winter.

The shelter aspect of the garment deals predominately with the construction of a full kilt. Originally, a kilt was little more than a belted piece of wool, approximately a yard and a half by four yards. The idea behind this was that as a tribal people, you would have to carry everything with you as you moved place to place. As a result of this, the more you would carry, the less territory you would be able to cover. The kilt helped to provide an answer to this, as after a long day marching or travelling, the individual could just remove his kilt, shake out the pleats, wrap himself in the garment and go to sleep. This saved him the need of carrying his own bedding, and as any backpacker (or someone who had to carry a suitcase from the East Village to the Upper West Side) can tell you, every pound counts when you have to journey long distances.

The badge aspect, however, might be one of the most important aspects of the kilt. In a tribal society, being able to identify your own people can literally make the difference between life and death. This is where the very material of the kilt came into play. The kilt is not made with any ordinary wool, but a specially pattered one called the Tartan. Each individual clan had their own pattern, and that would be the only pattern they would wear. The traveller of clansman with a well trained eye would therefore be able to tell instantly if another man was a friend or foe.

These are all manly aspects of the garment, but what truly adds to the masculinity is the people who designed it. The standard equipment of a Highlander says much about the warlike aspects of the people. In the heyday of the kilt (16Th-18Th centuries) a knife or dagger would be something no man would leave the house without. Indeed, most men still carry a pocket knife as part of their daily gear. What separates the Highlander from other men is the choice of knives. While most daggers from the time period were approximately 5 to 7 inches long, the typical Highlander would be carrying his dirk, with a length of 9 to 14 inches. Two inches in a blade during combat can make the difference between a wounded enemy and a dead one. In battle, the dead enemy is preferable as he cannot stab you back.

In addition to the dirk, the well dressed Highlander would also be carrying a sgian dubh, or "black knife," tucked into his right sock. This was a small knife, about 3 to 4 inches in length, but its placement allowed it to be easily reached at all times, including if things became rather heated at the dinner table. In addition to those weapons as part of their daily gear, it was known that some Highlanders would also strap one more additional blade to their thigh, underneath the kilt.

The British were so afraid of the Highlanders that following the end of the Jacobite Rebellion in 1746, the kilt was outlawed along with the bagpipes as weapons of war, alongside swords, shields, and muskets. The kilt is therefore the garment of choice for some of the toughest men in history.

Finally, I know from my own experience the feeling you have when you wear the kilt. When you are kilted, you have a connection to the past, and in most cases, your family history. And it gives you a sense of power, as in modern society, when men get manicures and trade tips on exfoliating, the kilt in a giant "FUCK YOU" thrown directly in the face of conformity. It serves as a badge once again, except this time in reverse, as a proclamation in your rights as an individual, declaring that you aren't going to go quietly with the rest of the herd. What could be more masculine than that?

Until next time,