Category Archives: Minute Particulars: Interviews

Where Do We Begin?

Today, like many others, I am walking on the razor edge of complete despair and profound hope. Deep in my heart I am trembling with fear that tomorrow Mubarak will order his thugs to massacre any protesters. In my bones I am certain–just as the quivering voice of Salma speaking from Tahrir Square declared–that if Mubarak remains in office until September (or November as PM Shafiq later mentioned) many Egyptians who had the courage, nerve, and dignity to demand their human rights will be rounded up, tortured, and imprisoned–if not assassinated.

How have we created such a world? How is it that so many of us move along happily ignoring the numerous injustices plaguing the planet. I just cannot stop caring. Where do we begin to build peace? Where do we begin building cultures and societies that simply do not allow such atrocities to take place. This is not an Egyptian crisis, nor is it simply an Egyptian uprising. This is a global crisis and in my opinion it is a very private crisis too. All I can come up with, all I can grasp, is this: We must each make it our foremost duty to actively build peace in this world. I’m not talking about going to Yoga class and claiming bliss–I mean action. Action at home, action at work, action in our communities. Each one of us holding ourselves accountable and honestly reflecting on our own behavior, choices, and thinking.

This massacre is not being carried out by Mubarak alone but by many people. There are the thugs, of course, who have fallen in love with their power and have lost touch with their humanity. Hell-bound sycophants who eagerly assault unarmed innocents so that they may hold their grip on their positions. Some people enable the massacre by hiding away in their flats and growing revolution fat. Others enable the brutality by leaving the country and trying to forget about the chaos. Further away, some of us simply ignore the atrocities and justify our apathy in various ways: I am so busy, I have my own problems, that’s just a crazy part of the world and I don’t get it. LOOK INSIDE YOUR HEARTS!!!!!!! What is there! Aren’t you aching for this man above?! Aren’t you aching for Egypt? Aren’t you aching for this entire human mess? Look into your heart and pull aside that dark curtain that prevents you from seeing, from feeling. Look inside your heart and recognize–finally–that there you CAN create infinite space and hold within it every being on this freaking planet.

I cannot stop caring and I am praying that you will have the same affliction.

In honor of the brave Egyptians protesting in the dangerous streets, I am reposting this article so that you may be aware.

Here are the signals I picked:

Omar Soliman claimed the youth in Tahrir now are NOT those honorable ones on 25th! ( A BIG LIE )

Then all int’l reporters started getting calls to leave the square tonight ‘as gov. Can not guarantee there safety!!!’

And all live camers (at least from one side of tahrir have been confiscated!!)

Earlier the military police stormed the Hesham Mobarak center for human rights (not related to Mubarak) and detained at least 24!!

And a probaganda plan started about a foreign groups behind the protests continuing till now!!

I feel They are keeping (who are the foreigners! behind it?) open so they choose later who will not side with the reports after massacre is over by the mafia of Mubarak (US cia or HAMAS or Israili intelligence)

I tried to suggest protestors now to be aware and hide or leave and choose another form of protesting NOW suddenly like hanging a black cloth from each balcony but idea was turned down



Will you begin caring now? Will you look into your heart? Will you make this commitment to yourself and to your community? We must begin building peace in ourselves and doing that requires us to look into our hearts and realize that it DOES hurt to witness atrocities. It is our duty to bear witness, it is our duty to care, it is our duty to take action.

Please share this.


Context Collapse

I’ve been thinking a lot about context collapse—the phenomenon Mike Wesch describes in his ethnography of YouTube. Do you remember Anais Nin’s house in the film Henry and June? Each room was painted in a bold color and had its own feeling, history, and boundaries? In fact, if I remember correctly, her character mentions that each room was painted to evoke a specific feeling…Yesterday I was imagining memory stored in a house, each room designated to hold a specific period, each period holding its own zeitgeist. In order to shake off that feeling one need only leave the room, close the door, and move on to the next milieu. Of course this underscores just how much one comes to rely on set-dressing to conjure and maintain the mood…but what happens when all those periods, all those contexts, and props converge? When the walls fall down, the thoughts, people, experiences that inhabit our personal histories move freely into the present and out again. How does this change us? Could this be called a sort of context collapse?

A few weeks ago I sat down with an acquaintance of mine to talk about language and identity. Maurice was born and raised in Haiti, immigrated to the United States where he attended university and earned a master’s degree in international relations. While at university he met his wife, who is Japanese, and eventually moved with her to Japan. Room number one: Haiti. Language of the room: Creole (at home) and French at school. “But whenever we asked a girl out on a date, we would use French.” (! That’s fascinating!) Room number two: The United States. Language of that room: English, perhaps Creole and French with Haitian family and friends in the community and bits and pieces of Japanese. Room number three: Japan. Language of that room: English at work and home but also loads of Japanese…surrounded by Japanese but not yet willing to inhabit the language. “If I speak Japanese I will become Japanese…the gestures, the movements, and I am not ready for that.” Maurice talked about language as something that one inhabits and lives through. “There is no self in a new language…when you are learning a new language you have no self.” He said.

Perhaps language and context are lenses through which the self is expressed. Obviously the Self is not completely annihilated when one loses language—that is, the ability to communicate. But that seizure or frustration of expression does change a person…what is the nature of that changing? Last week my colleagues and I were reading about language policies in various states: The US, Canada, Australia, and China. Over and over the theme of silencing the other by outlawing his or her native language emerged. Not just integration into the dominant language or culture but a complete eradication of one’s native culture and language. Clearly the Self continues and can eventually be expressed in a new language and context but what is lost? And what is gained? Are we able to walk into each other’s rooms without losing our tongues…does migration necessarily have to carry on in silence? Again, I am reminded of Dakic’s questions, “Can being uprooted been seen as an opportunity and not merely estrangement? What does it mean to lose one’s language and the ability to express oneself in new surroundings?” In my experience, walking into a foreign room has made it possible to try on different perspectives…it has been uncomfortable, at times deeply isolating, but broadening and thrilling. Somehow, the walls seem to be collapsing with greater momentum, which demands integration. Moving from one room to the next is no longer a means of escape but a means of confrontation with Self.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that coercive policies to eradicate the other might in the end strengthen the other? While all the English Only folks are busy fencing in their mentality, millions of others are learning multiple languages, multiple cultures, and through this their hearts and minds are blooming. Maybe I’m too romantic and idealistic…but the context collapse brought about by greater connectivity might make it a little more (if not much more) difficult for us to “delete our histories.”

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Interview with Nan Qin

A few weeks ago I received an email from Nan Qin. She had spotted my poster on craigslist calling for volunteers to participate in my interview project: Minute Particulars. Nan had just recently started her own blog ( about her experiences living as a foreigner in Japan and was eager to volunteer for an interview. We met in Tokyo by the giant spider sculpture outside the Mori Tower and began filming right away. Nan was a bit nervous and we had some difficulty understanding one another at times, but overall, it was a really wonderful experience to meet a stranger and share ideas.

As I was editing the video into parts, I reflected on an article I recently read about narrative research. In short, the idea is that we bring a lot to dialog: our culture(s), our personal history, our own thoughts and expectations, the tendencies of our families and communities and so on. It seems to me, that often conversation is less about dialog and more about asserting those voices…it is a constant challenge to learn to listen. At a few points in our conversation, I noticed that because I misunderstood Nan’s English…or for whatever other reason (my own preconceived ideas about what would be said…?) I would direct the conversation away from what Nan was trying to communicate. It was eye-opening to replay the conversation because it helped me to understand it from a different angle, to observe Nan and I interacting as an observer rather than a participant. (Mike Wesch addresses this phenomenon in his digital ethnography of youtube, when he refers to Marshall McLuan’s ideas about the new electronic media, the importance of the recording and replay of events…because it allows re-cognition.) It was fascinating…but also alarming in some sense because…I do wonder how often we simply do not hear one another when we engage in dialog. How do we learn to be better listeners?

Oh! One last point. It started getting a bit chilly ouside the Mori Tower, so Nan and I finished our taped conversation and moved inside to Starbucks. There, Nan gave me a charming surprise: she pulled a camera out of her bag along with a leather-bound notebook and asked me if she could interview me! She quickly set up her camera and opened her notebook to a short list of questions she had jotted down in advance. She was curious to know why I had initiated this project and what I hoped to accomplish. In retrospect, it seems I learned just as much about my new friend Nan when she was the interviewer and I was the interviewee.

Thank you Nan Qin!!! 🙂

If you are interested in checking out the conversation with Nan, you will find the two parts on

Part 1:

Part 2:

What are your ideas about narratives, listening, dialog or anything else that comes to mind. I’ll do my best to be a good listener!!

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Interview with Rabbia

Several weeks ago I was given an assignment to interview ‘the other.’ The purpose was to schedule an interview with an individual who is different from me in one or more of the following ways: ethnicity, religion, age, career, and so on. I chose to interview a former colleague, named Rabbia, because she has had so many complex and textured experiences with ‘otherness,’ that is, being an outsider, a foreigner, etcetera. It was my sense that Rabbia would have an interesting perspective on issues concerning identity, ethnicity, migration and so on. Our conversation was recorded and uploaded to
Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Rabbia’s parents are Muslim and were both born and raised in Pakistan. Rabbia’s father immigrated to Norway for work then later returned to Pakistan to marry. It was an arranged marriage. He and Rabbia’s mother returned to Norway and started a family. Rabbia was born and raised in Norway, where she lived a somewhat ‘double’ life–part Muslim Pakistani with a specific group of friends and orientation and part Norweigian with another group of friends and orientation.  Her perspective became even more varied when she joined a third social space after marrying and American soldier. Rabbia’s story illustrates a relationship with identity that challeges the Western conception of a linear and grounded self as she fluidly moves through multiple social spaces self-identifying at one moment as Norwegian, then Muslim, as American or Pakistani. Her unique talent for articulating her experience creates a rich oral history. Check it out!

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