Friday, 23 June 2017

What The Heck are Vocal Fry and Upspeak?

Today I learned a new word for a phenomenon I have been noticing for a few years, notably in Canada then Southern California: Vocal Fry. I didn’t know it had a name and you can’t imagine how joyful I get when stuff like that just happen — knowing that you’re not alone when it comes to certain observations. A bit of digging and I was introduced to another term for yet another parallel phenomenon: Upspeak.

So what is vocal fry? It is the tendency to draw out the end of words or sentences with a low, creaky voice. Currently it used by young women in particular, and some men. Think of the Britney Spears and the Kardashians speaking from the throat and nose. I have added a short YouTube video so you can see and hear for yourselves. Some of you will probably recognise the voice without knowing there was a term to describe it, just like myself.

While for a significant amount of people that fry sounds irritating and dumb; for others, it’s just a linguistic fad like many epidemics before it such as upspeak or Valleyspeak — which also came to be linked with stereotypes such as superficiality and airheadedness.

In linguistics, upspeak or uptalk is called a high-rising terminal (HRT), also known as Rising inflection or High rising intonation (HRI), High-rising tone, Valley girl speech, Valspeak, Talking in questions, Rising intonation, Upward inflection, Interrogatory statement, and Australian Question Intonation (AQI). 

Upspeak is a speech pattern feature of American as well as Australian English where declarative sentence clauses end with a rising-pitch intonation, until the end of the sentence where a falling-pitch is normally applied. In other words, speaking a simple statement as a question, causing a declarative language to appear interrogative. And this one time? At band camp?” 

It can also be found in several Irish-English dialects, especially in mid-Ulster and Belfast English.

Despite the fact that upspeak can be heard in Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, mainly between the younger generations (aged 13-25), it is agreed upon that it has first originated from how teenage girls from the Valley area spoke back in the 1970s. The Valley meant here is the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. This is actually where my aunt currently resides in L.A and where I go stay with her 85-year-old hubby, Dr. Toutou, to take care of him as she travels back to Egypt for visits.

Valspeak in particular is an American sociolect which belongs to Valley girls that is characterised by high-rising terminal. The first mention of the term “Valley Girl” and the Valley manner of speech in general is from the 1982 Frank Zappa hit single Valley Girl, on which Moon Zappa, Frank’s then fourteen-year-old daughter, delivered a monologue in “Valleyspeak” behind the music.

The accent became en vogue and an international fad for a certain period. Some time later in 1995 it was clearly portrayed in the movie Clueless among others. Many phrases and catchphrases of Valleyspeak, along with surfer slang and skateboarding slang, have become stable elements of the California English dialect lexicon, and in some cases wider American English. And today it is not only younger women who uptalk and fry it up, but guys as well as older women. The reason being is that linguistics trends are often contagious. 

Speaking of which, there is the fun SNL sketch, the Californians, that is all about how everyone spoke with such an odd accent, of course with the added dramatisation to make it ridiculous.

Now that you know what vocal fry and upspeak are, let us see why many are against these phonetic crazes and why it is, Like, Totally fine with others.

With upspeaking, ending normal sentences with a questioning tone makes one sound hesitant, lacking confidence and authority, or seeking a reply or validation. Consequently, they end up sounding like they lack credibility. If someone is looking to get hired for certain jobs or convince clients of some deal, it may not be that efficient. For the listener, one feels like they are always required to reassure them and validate whatever they say. Not that interesting, especially for longer periods of time.

Some argue that younger women learned to add random question marks mid their sentences as a manner of speech because they are often interrupted, so as a way to hold the floor and fend off interruptions they do it subconsciously to keep the conversation going. 

Others theorise that the vocal fry is an adaptation women are consciously — or subconsciously — employing to convey dominant social status, by sounding more like man.

A downside of vocal fry is that it could make one sound like they are bored and not much into the conversation, pretending to be cool... or a deflated balloon, or a frog. In fact, it can also sound like the person is opiated or had taken Xanax.

A couple of years ago, best-selling feminist author Naomi Wolf published an open letter to millennial women, urging them to ditch the vocal fry, she said, or risk not being taken seriously.

You’re disowning your power,” she wrote. “Young women, give up the vocal fry and reclaim your strong female voice.” 

Interestingly, Naomi received a retort soon after by Debbie Cameron titled:
An Open Letter To Naomi Wolf: Let Women Speak How They Please.

What is noteworthy is that I am not writing this article to state how unintelligent vocal fry or upspeak sound and beg those who use them to stop as with some articles and videos found in the media as well as the Internet. But rather, what I hoped to do herein is to cover the topic in a balanced way. Because let’s be honest, language, regional accents, phonetic fads, even voices are constantly changing. Besides, there is no one right way of speaking. Imagine a world where everyone spoke “standard or broadcast” English — boring, huh.

Further, who am I to say there is a right and wrong way to speak. I make up with my own words, in fact, 90 until now. So really, I’m a proponent of language fluidity and hold that language should keep changing with time. Echoing with T. S. Eliot’s words: “For last years words belong to last years language. And next years words await another voice.”

Still, as a listener it could be a tad annoying that the speaker seems like they are lacking engagement and is not much into whatever is being said to take a proper breath. There is no passion, consequently many listeners stop paying attention to fryers.

Another disadvantage is that this fried weak exhale is barely audible: Now forget the Kardashians and think of Noam Chomsky; but then no one dared to call the man ignorant or a flat-head. My issue with Noam’s grating voice, though, is that I can’t hear most of what he says due to nothing but his vocal fry. And I’ve heard the same from others. What irony in that out of all professions he is a linguist. 

Other than Noam, and because of who is the majority of people who use vocal fry nowadays, it is often linked to being non-educated and airheadedness, also to trying to fake being intelligent or cool. 

The media and the YouTube comments are a clear example of how many people, mainly older, actually detest this manner of speech, many of whom claim to be singers as well as vocal/public speaking coaches who often share that long-term frying is bad for the vocal chords.
Best-selling feminist author Naomi Wolf created a firestorm in July when she published an open letter to millennial women. Ditch the vocal fry, she said, or risk not being taken seriously.
Best-selling feminist author Naomi Wolf created a firestorm in July when she published an open letter to millennial women. Ditch the vocal fry, she said, or risk not being taken seriously.

Fortunately, I personally don’t let anything outside of me get me to the point of hate or anger anymore. Observation followed by rigorous research usually do the job with the topics that captivate me. Without having the need to judge or write through my emotions is precisely how I learn with each new piece. Oftentimes, like herein, I can see both sides of the equation, which allows me to fairly represent both of them.

That said, I’d still wouldn’t want to date someone who casually speaks like this. Nor those who add ‘like’ as a filler word between ever three or four words. Simply because one can tolerate small talks with them, but it cannot be an everyday reality. For if it remains for longer periods of time, keeping up can be exceedingly unpleasant, that it may actually feel like ear rape. Especially because some younger ones use a combination of both vocal fry and upspeak. But that’s a personal preference.

For a news anchor or reporter or someone working in radio and podcasts, for instance, this can become unbearable to listeners. In actual fact, many complained about young females who use vocal fry as they did earlier with those who use uptalk or add ‘like’ to their sentences. “They sound immature and unknowing.” Then again, almost no one complain about male podcasters who do it.

Let us conclude this article with what science has to say about the topic.

In one study published in Gender and Society it was found that “The more successful a man is, the less likely he is to use upspeak; the more successful a woman is, the more likely she is to use upspeak.” That’s quite the startling find. 

Other studies suggest that upspeak has also been used by the more powerful person in hierarchical exchanges, such as those between employer and employee, teacher and student, or doctor and patient. “Do you follow? Are you able to hand in the report before the deadline?” In such cases, upspeak, rather than suggesting insecurity, may in fact signal confidence, authority, paternalism, coercion.

On another note, Stanford linguistics professor Penny Eckert argues that women shouldn’t have to change their voices to appease society. She states that those who complain about female upspeak and vocal fry ignore the fact that men also engage in those habits. People are busy policing women’s language and nobody is policing older or younger men's language. As mentioned, I have personally met guys who do speak like that — whether upspeak or fry — so Eckert does have a point. Again, think of Noam Chomsky.

Conversely, a final study, which Naomi Wolf had cited in her open letter, found that female users of vocal fry are perceived as less competent, educated, trustworthy, attractive and less hirable. The study also notes: “The negative perceptions of vocal fry are stronger for female voices relative to male voices.” That we already know.
study that found female users are perceived as less competent, educated, trustworthy, attractive and hirable. The study also notes: “The negative perceptions of vocal fry are stronger for female voices relative to male voices.”

In the end, linguistic trends such as vocal fry and upspeak are like fashion to the populace who are easily fascinated with any novelty. That is just normal. Because herd mentality is a genuine thing. Trends come and go and language is in perpetual motion. Much of what is seen as cool for a certain period of time lose its coolness soon enough.

Now that you know the story, Do What Thou Wilt with the information. Never allow others dictate to you how you should act or, like, behave in your own Life


From English as a Third Language to Author — How I Expanded My Vocabulary

The Writing Process and the Creative Block

Words With No Direct Translation To English

More Words With No Direct Translation To English

Words With Italian Origin That Are Still Used Today In Egypt

The Real Origin of “It Will Cost You an Arm and a Leg”

How ‘XOXO’ Came To Mean Hugs & Kisses

Why Many Place Names End with ‘-Stan’

The Origin of ‘Wishbone’ and the “Yadas - Fi bali” (يدس - في بالي) Game

Some Arabic Sayings and Their Translations — أمثال عربية و ترجمتها

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Monday, 19 June 2017

My Journey Towards Self-Transcendence


Transcendence (n): Existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level.

Synonyms: Excellence, supremacy, incomparability, matchlessness, peerlessness, magnificence; rare: paramountcy.

Transcendence: In everyday language, “transcendence” means “going beyond”; with “self-transcendence” meaning going beyond a prior form or state of oneself. Mystical experience is thought of as a particularly advanced state of self-transcendence, in which the sense of a separate self is abandoned.

Being born and raised in a certain place makes us prone to be heavily affected by its environment. Parents, preachers, school, religion, society, culture are all components of what influences our personalities and shapes our character. We are all a product of our upbringing. However, we are not responsible for the conditioning we were exposed to during our childhood. But as adults, we are fully responsible for fixing it. I had previously shared my philosophical views about self-transcendence in Who Are We? as well as in Things I Got Rid Of To Become Happier, the following piece is a more detailed account of how it all happened.

Having been born in Egypt I was naturally affected by all that. My parents were liberal, well-educated, and well-travelled, yet one cannot escape the overall paradigm in which they found themselves into. My first deconditioning was realising that my country, Egypt, was not the greatest country in the world as some repeated and still do. A few trips to the U.S and France during my childhood were enough for young me to reckon that there are more civilised countries where healthier and happier citizens live. Later in life, I noticed that most people who hold that childish kind of love for their country have never left it
— be it in Egypt, Canada, the U.S or anywhere else.

On the bigger scheme of things, nothing good can come out from believing that your country is superior to another; which brings us to nationalism. It’s a childish, flawed attitude and mindset to believe that the place you happen to be born into is better than all the rest of the other places.
It means you chose to use your small, egoic mind to view the world. Unlike the big-picture view of the Higher Self, this way you are separating yourself from all the rest of humanity by believing you are better than them, which is a mere delusion. There are no master races or superior or inferior humans.

You know
Einstein called nationalism an infantile disease and the measles of mankind for a reason. We don’t see any borders from space, do we. 

On a parallel note, there is patriotism, which is a mere feeling of admiration for a way of life of a country, as Orwell once explained it. It is believed by some to be based on affection and is considered passive.; while nationalism is rooted in rivalry and resentment and considered a little aggressive.
“One can say that nationalism is militant by nature and patriotism is based on peace.”

Both terms are cleverly woven together and they are frequently believed to mean the same thing, but they don
t and thats why they are two distinct words. Both, though, remain an egoic way to separate ourselves from others; to feel proud that we are better than them — when we clearly aren’t. This thinking often leads to wars and conflicts with other countries when they are one and the same. 
To conclude this part, let us see what Leo Tolstoy had to say from Patriotism and Government:

The feeling of patriotism — It is an immoral feeling because, instead of confessing himself a son of God . . . or even a free man guided by his own reason, each man under the influence of patriotism confesses himself the son of his fatherland and the slave of his government, and commits actions contrary to his reason and conscience.” 

The following transcendence began through some doubts about religion.

When I was 14 years old I had a question that no one seemed to know the answer to: If God is omniscient
all-knowing, all-wise, all-seeing in an absolute and unlimited sense, then he knows in advance what all our choices will be in this life: Past, present, and future. So what’s the point of existing then if it’s all predetermined? Where would our choices and freewill fall into this equation? 

I asked teachers, uncles, and aunts, and no one seem to be able to give me a direct answer. Some tried, though, with
its all a test; but then when I take it further, asking why create a test if you know its final result, I could see it in their eyes that most had absolutely no idea what they were talking about.

Said confusion I saw in older people led me to further questions as I aged
. If they don’t know the answer to a question a teenager is asking, then probably there are more unanswered questions. This simple logic I had in mind compelled me to find out more. 

For example, why would ‘He’ create us, determine our whole lives, then sit back and watch? If all is known, then why are we here? Where is the choice? Where is the freedom? Where is the freedom of choice?

Another thing that didn’t make sense to me was what we were taught as school children about gay people who will end up burning in hell on the hand of vicious ghouls  — according to the Quranic story of the People of Lot who were destroyed by the wrath of God for engaging in carnal acts between men. It is somewhat similar in Christianity and Judaism. 

Despite this early education, it didn’t take long for teenage me to question some of this incoming information and the exhausted atavistic ideology it represents. In truth, I had a gay uncle whom everyone loved and who passed around the around same time, and the idea of him going to hell despite the fact that he was a genuinely great person who actually prayed five times a day made no sense. This led me to some pondering:

Let me get this straight (not intended, but I like it): So you mean God, who’s omniscient — knows every single thing — created all these homosexual folks, whether they were born ‘gay’ or became it later in life, then he promises to throw them in hell because they are not like everyone else? If it’s such a sinful abomination to like someone from the same-sex, why can’t He ‘fix’ them if He’s omnipotent — all powerful and can do anything? Why create them in the first place then lay your wrath upon them? What kind of reasoning is this? And most importantly, how come many people believe it?

The same logic can be used about why create sick children and allow extreme poverty if He’s Omnipotent. 

Do they wholeheartedly believe that God favours some over others according to what they do in their private bedrooms and not just according to a geographical haphazard coincidence? That is quite the petty, nosey, judgmental God they are talking about. 

No wonder that some atheists often repeat:
Your God is too small”. Actually this is title of a book by J.B. Phillips. 

Further, there is the good ol
Logical Problem of Evil, first attributed to the Greek philosopher Epicurus and his argument (modern version), which highlights the problematic issue with the concept of the Abrahamic creator God.
  • God exists.
  • God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
  • An omnibenevolent being would want to prevent all evils.
  • An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence, and knows every way in which those evils could be prevented.
  • An omnipotent being has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
  • A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
  • If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God, then no evil exists.
  • Evil exists (logical contradiction).

More on the topic can be found in these earlier pieces of mine: Unfollow The Crowd and OLS Reflections — The Spiritual Edition.

This should be enough regarding theology, for now. The rest is in the book. There is a full chapter titled God Between Spirituality and Religion
 which begins with the following quote by
Joseph Campbell:
Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.

During my time at the American University in Cairo studying Journalism and Mass Communication, psychology, and philosophy I used to travel to London, UK for short winter holidays. This was when I got into clubbing and dancing. It didn’t take long to realise that the scene was full of gay people — men and women. So I began loosing up my slight homophobia. Nevertheless, my thinking was: I don’t have anything against them, and to each his own, a long as they don’t approach me. Still, there was this ‘us’ and ‘them’ component in the dynamic. Obviously I was not comfortable enough.

The following years by the end of 1990s in Egypt, a few gay people from my generation began being known throughout that closed-knit society. In fact, three guys we all knew got busted through something related to the Internet… for being homosexual, which until today in 2017 is still an offense punishable by law in some countries, which itself is based on the Islamic Sharia law. Remember that Saudi women cannot drive! Exactly. And people are just going about their lives not giving a flying hoot that this is even permissible. But one thing is apparent, these man-made
laws’ cannot be taken too seriously.

In general, in repressed societies not many talk about the topic of homosexuality. And whenever they did, it is never anything good. Though the truth remains, like everywhere else around the world, gay men and women existed, exist, and will keep existing and there is absolutely nothing to do about it. What others do in their private lives and bedrooms should never concern anyone but themselves.

As such, deeming homosexuality, or LGBTQ rights in general, illegal in some countries will only increase the taboo around it and make people engage it in secrecy. A look at all the underground gay life in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait among other nations in the region is enough evidence. Just like the war on drugs, it
s a lost cause.

When kids attending school in the years 2117 will be be taught that in history class they will certainly wonder how we allowed this
social ostracism and blatant discrimination against the LGBTQ communities for all this time.

Speaking of which, for those who are not aware of the meaning of that recently added Q, it
s short for Queer and/or Questioning. While queer was originally used pejoratively against those with same-sex desires until the late-1980s, queer scholars and activists began reclaiming the word. Then there is the Questioning of one’s own gender, sexual identity, sexual orientation, or all three is a process of exploration by people who may be unsure, still exploring, and concerned about applying a social label to themselves for a variety reasons.

On a personal level, however, I was always that masculine guy who was dating girls and women left and right. So despite the occasional curiosity — about why religions vilify same-sex and about the topic itself — I didn’t think much about it.    

As I matured even more, my intellect as well as philosophical mind matured with me, so did my questions, wondering and pondering. This was when I spiritually
awoke, one could say. 

So as a species, we’re stuck to a 4.5 billion-years-old rotating rock that is orbiting a star, which itself is orbiting the center of the milky way galaxy; this galaxy is traveling through the limitless space of the Universe at a staggering rate of 600 Km/s — that’s 2.2 million km/h — and what I do with my own genitals and body is what matters? Uhm, Come on. 

A further notion which stopped make sense to me is the ‘hell’ idea that people spend their entire lives fearing. This dreaded ‘place’ full of fire and wicked demons who will torture you for ever and ever if you didn’t listen to certain rules — including playing with your genitals the not-so-right way. 

“But hey, He LOVES you
,” quoting George Carlin.

After some digging I found that it is established between thinkers that religions were initially against homosexuality because it doesnt produce babies, hence less followers and less armies and less workers. Thats pretty much it summed up in one sentence. The argument that it is unnatural can be instantly debunked by the fact that homosexual/bisexual behaviour have been observed in more than 1500 species from tiny worms to large primates. 
Maslows final version of his famous Hierarchy of Needs

It is significant to note that I owe almost all of my knowledge to philosophy, psychology, and mysticism.
 Yet, to reach such a state I had to come to term with the fact that despite my good education, I knew how much I didn
t know. I actually had to unlearn so much wrong information that were ingested in my mind for three decades. But I also knew deep within that there is this unquenched curiosity and sincere desire to find out the Truth, rather than just settle with belief or the experiences of others. I hence read books and engaged in philosophical and theological conversations whenever I could so that I may lean more.
One of the things I came across everywhere around me as I was growing up which is worth mentioning is “Confirmation Biases”. These are Cognitive biases that involve favouring certain information which confirms previously existing beliefs or biases, while disregarding the information which does not support them. I was there myself one day.

Another related term used in modern psychology is Cognitive Dissonance — or the feeling of disorientation and discomfort which results from holding two or more conflicting cognitions; ideas, beliefs, values, or emotional reactions. It’s a sort of willful blindness, one could say. For it entails lying to yourself to justify some aspects of your reality. 

People who suffer from Cognitive Dissonance don’t rely on reason or common sense to shape their opinions, because they are not ready to have their illusions shattered. So they prefer to convince themselves with preconceived views and biases — whatever is comforting — by overlooking any kind of facts or evidence, and without truly thinking for themselves. After the Egyptian Revolution of 2010 I had to deal with many of those people, mainly online. We would argue for a bit and then I'd begin noticing a pattern. Then when I was introduced to the term, I studied their reactions and it all made sense. When I now think about it, to some degree I was equally there at some point in time.

You see, most people will always cognise and interpret information to fit what they already believe. And since they need to believe in something, so they make themselves believe whatever is in tune with their internal worldview and disregard whatever contradicts it. And traditional religions are full of people with cognitive dissonance who are constantly using cognitive biases and get by by cherry-picking from the dogmatic scriptures. 

For them, it is more comfortable to be numbly adhering to a certain belief system — preserving the old model we are born into and going along with it, rather than objecting or rejecting it. 

The reality is, if they truly studied the scriptures, all of them, theists will find some good, which is pretty much very similar, as well as some balderdash, also similar yet on different degrees. But as factual truth, the stories and the history do not add up. Remember, the patriarchal Abrahamic religions are at least 1400 years old and those were notoriously different times. So it is natural that some of the rules and constraints must be dropped due to the fact that we know better now as a species. Whatever insults our soul and offends our intelligence should be discarded. This translates as being true to oneself; it goes hand in hand with ceasing to believe the social conditioning and the indoctrination we were all exposed to as children while embracing our new-found truth.

Interestingly, recent research in cognitive neuroscience has shown that the brain physiology is directly affected by our inner belief systems. The reason being is that all facts, ideas, and actions take the form of networks of neurons in our brain. While the left hemisphere is responsible for preserving the old model — the existing paradigm, our reality tunnel — the right one is constantly challenging the status quo. When the right hemisphere cannot convince the left one to change its views it ends up by causing narrow-mindedness, almost literally. In essence, it is our neural connections that physically define our belief system.

The good news, however, is that through transformative learning and neuroplasticity we know that the wiring between those networks can indeed be altered. Once
the belief system reality tunnel changes, the mind opens up... again, almost literally.

Let us now fast forward to my early 30s when I left Egypt to Canada in 2010 and transcended an ever more complex label regarding sexual orientation.

There was a pub right across the street of the tiny studio where I lived in Toronto. These were my early days of taking writing seriously, so sometimes I would go there to write and edit as I pleasure myself with a beer or three. 

One day, I was sitting in the outdoor patio with Caramella my late Cocker Spaniel peacefully by my side. I was enjoying the rare sun while reading High Priest by Timothy Leary. At some point I went inside to go to the bathroom and on my way back I saw a guy sitting a couple of tables away get up to take a closer look on my book before swiftly going back to his friend. I pretended I didn’t see and went back to sit.

An hour later, someway or another we started talking. I think it was Caramella whom he began playing with — as it often happened since she was such an adorable dog. 

We met a few times at the same pub and I got to know that James is 50-years old and originally from Montreal… and that he’s openly gay.

On the other hand, I naturally opened up in return. I told him about my past addiction years and how I spent them in a relationship with heroin. To my surprise, James, too, had the same history, although instead of my 7 years, he was into heroin for 12. Usually when I tell people my own story I get some kind of advantage regarding what we have gone through. Addiction is addiction; still, a two-year habit on doctor-prescribed anti-anxiety is not the same as a decade-long habit of street heroin.

This time, however, the opposite happened: Waow, 12 years and you got clean and are healthy and happy now. Good for you. The comparison sort of humbled me and made me think that perhaps I didn’t really screw up that much. It equally gave me hope as while showing me that there is indeed a life after addiction even after what I thought were many years.  

Being both talkative and outgoing, we followed through with opening up and sharing our pasts. One day James began talking about his ex who got Aids and passed away. And how after a certain age, it’s not about the sex; but rather it’s about having someone to enjoy life and grow old with. 

He also shared that during his heroin years he never stole or did anything illegal to get high — while signalling to his mouth using his right hand and saying: “I gave my services, if you know what I mean.” For a second there I actually didn’t know what he meant; because it wasn’t the first thing that came to mind. Then somehow I remembered Basketball Diaries and got an Aha-Moment. 

This was the first time in my life to sit and talk about such stuff with an openly gay man. It was quite the different perspective that I was being exposed to. As mentioned, it had always been me and them. But the guy was so open, fun, and natural that I felt that if I didn’t like him then it’s probably because I still have a certain degree of homophobia — which I should probably start questioning its origin.  

I stayed in Toronto for three years and that pub remained the most convenient place to go to whenever I needed to work outside of the house for a change — mostly during early afternoons. Other than James, I met other people, mainly older, and we would sometimes share tables and beer pitches. He knew I had a girlfriend then and have met her a few times when she would pass by. Even in front of her he would sometimes jokingly catcall me: “Hey handsome”, “Look at that hairy chest”. And surprisingly, I was totally cool with it.

I remember once I was writing there when James later came to my table and said: “You take yourself so seriously” — meaning being so into my writing. This was quite interesting since I rarely ever heard this before. I was always told that I’m either a joker or crazy or whatever, but never ‘serious’. But, this time it was about my passion for writing and it showed me that, indeed, I can be serious about something I love, which eventually became my life’s vocation. 

I also remember witnessing him get bullied by an old-timer Canadian guys in his 60s. You can sit with us, but dont talk, the man told him. He told me about it when he came to sit on my table for a while. He seemed a little troubled by the incident and I sincerely felt bad for him; that at 50 years of age and in Toronto, Canada gay folks ares still discriminated against.

Then one day something happened that changed everything.

As we were sitting at the pub all casually James offered to go back home to give me a blowjob. I smiled at him and calmly said that I’m not interested. Normally, after something like that it could get awkward between two people — let alone with guys, and one of whom isn’t gay. But it didn’t get awkward. Actually, I even joked about what it would be like that one day I decide to switch. We stayed on the same table and resumed our chatting about sexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality, and polyamory. He said: “You know, many straight guys have things on the side with other guys and it spices up their sex lives with women.” 

I later found out that this side bro play is pretty common around the world nowadays. The official African American slang term for this phenomenon is being on the down low. 

Likewise, more women now are experimenting with same-sex just to know how it feels. It doesnt mean they are gay, which again, is just a label. Personally, I hold the view that we are all a bit bisexual, whether we admit it or not and whether we choose to experiment with it or not. 

When I left the pub that day I called my then-girlfriend on the phone to tell her what just transpired. We were both laughing. It was a first time, so in a way I still couldn’t believe it happened so genuinely. In another way, I was surprised and actually quite proud of my reaction. Because back in the days I would have probably freaked a little. It was then and there when I realised that I am not the same person I was some years ago. 

Though I wasn’t precisely certain why I have changed from within: Was it living in North America for a few years, or sobering up, or just maturing? Perhaps it was a combination of all that. But I was undeniably glad that this conditioned bigotry was dropped and that Im no globehead anymore.


When you come to think about it, when some people, notably men, react to notions of homosexuality with what seems to be ‘disgust’, it is not an actual emotion of disgust. Rather, it is their ego’s subconscious way to declare that they do not fancy men. The kink is, if you are secure in your own sexuality and certain that you’re straight, you wouldn’t get that need to prove that you’re not. Oftentimes, it is those who are trying too hard to conceal their latent homosexuality, or even just thoughts about it, who develop homophobic tendencies. Some are afraid to like it so they resort to fantasizing about it in secrecy while at the same time hypocritically vilify it in public.
Your only limitation lies in who you think you are — your ego.
 As such, being indoctrinated from a young age is not easy to decondition from. Most people keep believing a significant portion of what they were taught as kids. As we have seen earlier, one example is the preconceived ideas and concepts about what God is and what is allowed and what isnt.

Others, however, develop critical thinking abilities at some point in life, which allows them to question and doubt the incoming information. It further gives them a chance to self-transcend their prior being and embrace a non-judgmental Higher Self. One that is more conscious, more compassionate, more empathetic. 

This is who we really are at the core. Not the labelled version you were stamped with as soon as you were born, but the liberated Oversoul.

After my tour across America when I relocated to Venice Beach in Los Angeles I noticed that on top of nationality, creed, and sexual orientation I have transcended even more schisms, like skin-colour and even gender identity.

 And it happened so flawlessly.

I have a cool next-door neighbour, Rob, who’s in his early 50s and looks a tad like Obama. He has that light chocolate colour and honestly I have never thought of him as a black man, despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Still, it seems that my newly-enhanced personality is not interested in labelling or categorising people. At all. Three months after moving, the man was telling me once about his parents who live in Boston, mentioning that due to the fact that they’re black they get uncomfortable coming through LAX airport. It was only then that I was overcome by this epiphany: Wait… So Rob is black? Ah yes, Rob is black! Oh well.

Around the same time I came across a dancer with pretty green eyes at the Venice Beach Drum Circle. We spoke a few times before realising one day that she is probably a transgender. I asked a couple of brothers and sisters from the Circle about her and they proved me right. Now, finding out something like that would have naturally made me back off. But I didn’t. I mean, nothing eventually happened, but I still liked her/his green eyes. You see. 

Back to my vanished homophobia,
I became so fine with the idea, that when I now see visibly gay guys checking me out, either at the Circle or simply in the streets I may smile to them instead of neurotically turning my face away as I did for many years.

I even went further and went to get a massage by a transgender girl. Yes. The first time it wasn
t planned. The receptionist just asked me if I wanted a ladyboy. What an unexpected surprise. My heart starting beating pretty fast before asking if the girl is pretty, to which she said yes. So with my heart pumping even faster I then agreed. In terms of sexuality, I have done a whole lot, yet this encounter was something entirely new. Perhaps it came to mind multiple times before but I never made the effort to do anything about it in real. And here was the opportunity being presented on a silver plate. 

As for the massage, I loved it because her hand were relatively stronger than females while my muscles require significant strength. So I did it again, twice, with different girls though. This is how
secure I am now about my own sexuality. Im even publicly writing about it herein, which isn’t your average read.

After more introspection I came to the conclusion that labels are absolutely nothing but labels. They are cultural constructs which we are born to find and never get the opportunity to choose from. Whether it’s nationality, creed, sexual orientation, skin colour, or gender identity, once your consciousness evolves you realise the uselessness of all such limiting divisions; that we are all essentially One; that there is much more beyond all these labels and titles and terms.
When you develop the empathetic ability to put yourself into others shoes you become everyone and everyone becomes you. This is why we should be more interested in the naked soul, in the inner workings of our true selves.
An illusion is a distorted form of perception; and the biggest illusion of all is that your own perspective isn’t distorted. Only when one begins to see through the veil of this self-imposed illusion can he self-transcend and overcome himself becoming NietzscheÜbermensch, or Overman/Superman. The only things that (seem to) separate us are flags, books, beliefs, ideologies, fears and egos. Again, thats why we call separateness an illusion. Because the observer is the observed; for he creates the object observed in his mind, which makes this duality one because one wouldn’t exist without the other. Quoting Rumi: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”

Conversely, through us the Universe is exploring itself. Biologically, chemically, atomically, as well as transcendentally and spiritually. We are it and it is us. It is an extension of our minds, and it is experiencing itself in infinite ways. But as a physical organism, most of us just happen to experience it in this life in the singular — bound by time and space.

As shared, freeing myself from all the baggage the ego brings along I had to look beyond the labels, mine and others. Nowadays, it actually happens subconsciously as with Rob. My mind probably began disregarding those schisms on its own after realising that they are useless in functioning in this world or in categorising people.

Being good and having morals and values have nothing to do with your nationality, religion, skin colour, creed, or what you do in your bedroom. It simply depends on the level of empathy you possess — how you treat and serve others. That is just it. For it is not our beliefs that matter in the end, it’s our behaviour. 

Free your mind, get to know your true self, then just BE and enjoy living Life. Fully. Madly. Passionately. And lastly, remember that unconditional Love, not fear, is the Tao. 


Who Are We?

Unfollow The Crowd  

Why We Should Not Fear Death 

Change Is The Only Constant

Things I Got Rid Of To Become Happier

The Intertwining of Genius and Insanity 

Opiated Then Hatin’ It

OLS Reflections — The Spiritual Edition

Dealing with High Awareness and Empathic Accuracy

Surviving the Madness of Sakarana — Hyoscyamus muticus

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Thursday, 15 June 2017

OLS Reflections Quarantasei

  • The ability to make fun of oneself is one of the best joys there is. Truly, when you make friends with yourself you’ll never get bored.

  • There is nothing sadder than a whining grown man.

  • Once the distinction between Love and attachment is made clear, you’ll see that it is rather natural to admire without desire; to find some people attractive without actually ‘liking’ or “falling in love” with them. The appeal can very well be only for the eyes, and it doesn’t have to be for the mind or heart as well.

  • The more I embraced my authentic Higher Self, becoming who I truly am at the core, the more I sensed that certain people are subconsciously trying to punish me for simply being myself; for having the courage to do that which they couldn’t. For them, I’m seen as “too much” — too much of a dreamer, too free and wild and daring, too loud, too happy. Projecting their own fears and insecurities, they make it a habit to focus on my flaws and imperfections while disregarding all that is good in me. I am aware that this subtle bitterness is largely caused by their inability to relate and, truthfully, I ceased expecting them to. For you can never, and should never, force anyone to join your dream. I still wish them well though.

  • If you don’t believe in yourself no one else will.

  • I’ve noticed that people on the streets tend to walk slower in less developed countries than those in more advanced ones. One possible reason is because the latter are healthier. Another is that in advanced societies people are busier and have things to do as opposed to aimlessly strolling along.

  • Get into yourself; and you will discover wonders.

  • I dream of my writing as I write from my dreams.

  • May you always value the important things in Life. 

  • It is usually the unaccomplished who make the harshest of critics.

















OLS REFLECTIONS Dreiundzwanzig






OLS REFLECTIONS  إثنان وثلاثون






OLS Reflections Einundvierzig

OLS Reflections — The Spiritual Edition 

OLS Reflections Cuarenta y Cuatro

OLS Reflections 45

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Monday, 29 May 2017

The World’s Rare and Natural Phenomena

After Mesmerising Natural Wonders of the World, the following is list of more bizarre occurrences from Mother Nature. From fire in the sky, to ice formations looking like KKK hats, to clouds that make one think of boobs — some of us at least. Enjoy this educational and entertaining ride.

1- Fire Whirls
Firenado in the Australian Outback by Chris Tangey in 2012

Fire whirls, also known as Fire Devils, Fire Tornado, Firenado, or Fire Twister, is a whirlwind caused by a fire which is often made up of flame or ash. The phenomenon appears in or around raging fires when the right combination of climactic conditions is present. They can be spawned by other natural events such as earthquakes and thunderstorms, and can be incredibly dangerous — in some cases spinning well out of the zone of the fire itself to cause devastation and death in a radius not even reached by heat or flame. Fire whirls have been known to reach a mile high, have wind speeds of over 100 miles per hour, and can last 20 minutes or more. 

2- Fire Rainbows (Circumhorizontal Arc)
Circumhorizontal arc in the Nepalese Himalaya

“Fire Rainbows” is a misleading term since they are neither fire, nor rainbows. The technical name for the phenomenon is Circumhorizontal Arc, which is an ice halo formed by hexagonal, plate-shaped ice crystals in high level cirrus clouds. The halo is so large that the arc appears parallel to the horizon, hence the name. Crystals within the clouds refract light into the various visible waves of the spectrum like a prism. 

The conditions required to form a “fire rainbow” are extremely precise – the sun has to be at an elevation of 58° or greater, there must be high altitude cirrus clouds with plate-shaped ice crystals, and sunlight has to enter the ice crystals at a specific angle. This is why it is an exceedingly rare sight.

3- Ice Circles
A spinning ice circle in Russia

Ice circles are formed by eddies in the water which spin a sizable piece of ice in a circular motion. As a result of this rotation, other pieces of ice and flotsam wear relatively evenly at the edges of the ice until it slowly forms into an essentially ideal circle. Ice circles have been seen with diameters of over 500 feet, and at times can be found in clusters and groups of different sizes.

You can see it in motion here in this video:

4- Lenticular Clouds
Lenticular Cloud over Harold's Cross Dublin Ireland on June 2015

The peculiar looking Lenticular clouds (Altocumulus lenticularis) are stationary lens-shaped masses of cloud forming in the troposphere. Generally, they are formed as wind speeds up while moving around a large land object such as a mountain, normally in perpendicular alignment to the wind direction.

With a strong internal uplift, lenticular clouds can drive a motorless flyer to high elevations. Their shape is quite often mistaken for a mysterious flying object, possibly a UFO, or an artificial cover for one.

5- Light Pillars
Light Pillars over Alaska by a. Libby Photography

Light pillars appear as magical, sourceless upright luminous columns in the sky. What they really are is an atmospheric optical phenomenon in the form of a vertical column(s) of light, which appears to extend above and/or below a light source. The effect, sometimes also called the Crystal Beam Phenomenon, is created by the reflection of light from numerous tiny ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere or clouds. The light may originate from the Sun — usually when it is near or even below the horizon — and the phenomenon is then called a sun pillar or solar pillar. It could equally be from the Moon or from terrestrial sources such as streetlights.

6- Mammatus Clouds
Mammatus clouds over New Jersey on 21 June 2016

Another sky rarity are the Mammatus clouds. True to their nebulous, perhaps also somewhat ominous appearance, those are usually a warning of a coming storm or other extreme weather conditions. Typically composed primarily of ice, they can extend for hundreds of miles in each direction; and individual formations can remain visibly static for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Even though they may appear scary, they are mere messengers — appearing around, before, or even after severe weather. I think I may have seen those once in Canada.

7- Sundogs
Sundog over Lake Como in St. Paul, Minnesota, US

Sundogs is an atmospheric phenomenon which consists of a pair of bright spots on either side on the Sun, often co-occurring with a luminous ring known as a 22° halo. Their scientific name is parhelia (singular parhelion), from the Greek parēlion, meaning “beside the sun”. Speculation is that they are called so because they follow the Sun like a dog follows its master. Sundogs are also known as Mock Suns and Phantom Suns

Like light pillars, sundogs are the product of light passing through ice crystals in the atmosphere. They typically appear as two subtly coloured patches of light to the left and right of the Sun, approximately 22° distant and at the same elevation above the horizon as the Sun.

As terminology, each of two spots appearing on either side of the Sun is a separate sun dog. Since they typically appear in pairs, it is more accurate to use the plural “sun dogs”. They can be seen anywhere in the world during any season, but they are not always obvious or bright.

Sundogs have been speculated about and discussed since ancient times; written records describing the various attributes of our sun date back to Ancient Egyptians and Greeks.

There are also Moon Dogs (paraselenae) appearing alongside the moon, which are formed by lunar light passing through ice crystals. Visible only at night, they are not seen as often as the sun ones.

Interestingly, as I was polishing this article I remembered a shot I had taken over a frozen lake in Haliburton, Ontario in 2012 check the featured photo captured with a Canon 5D at around 4:30 pm as the sun was in the midst of setting all gloriously. I cannot tell for sure if it’s a legitimate Sundog, but the double circles tell me that it’s probably some kind of phenomenon because I have seen similar photos all over Google. Whatever it is, I do like the capture as it reminds me of a sensational five-day trip.

8- Penitentes
Penitentes in Upper Rio Blanco, Argentine

Penitentes (Spanish for penitent-shaped snows”) are dazzling naturally-forming ice blades which stick up at sharp angles toward the sun. Rarely found except at high altitudes, they can grow up to 1.5–2 metres, or 5–7 feet, high and they form over vast fields. The name penitentes refers to the tall, pointed conical hats and hoods worn by brothers of religious orders in the Procession of Penance of the brotherhood during the Spanish Holy Week. The also look like the white hats worn by the KKK.

As ice melts in particular patterns, valleys formed by initial melts leave mountains in their wake. Strangely, these formations ultimately slow the melting process as the peaks cast shadows on the deeper surfaces below, allowing for winds to blow over the peaks and cooling them.
In actual historical fact, it was Charles Darwin who first described penitentes for science while he was crossing the Andes from Santiago de Chile to Mendoza in Argentina. 

9- Sailing Stones
Sailing Stones of the Death Valley

The mysterious moving stones of the packed-mud desert of Death Valley have been a centre of scientific controversy for decades. Rocks weighing up to hundreds of pounds are known to move on the dry mud for hundreds of yards at times. Some scientists proposed that a combination of strong winds and surface ice account for these movements. However, this theory does not explain evidence of different rocks starting side by side and moving at different rates and in disparate directions. Moreover, the physics calculations do not fully support this theory, as wind speeds of hundreds of miles per hour would be needed to move some of the stones.


Since 2014 the Sailing Stones were no longer a mystery. Researchers have finally found the reason why the stones move: The rock movement occurs when very thin windowpane ice covering the dry lake bed begins to melt due to the late morning sun. The ice then breaks up under light winds and the floating ice panels push the rocks, causing them to move and leave tracks on the desert floor.  

*Original article was written on July, 2012

10- Blue Holes
Great Blue Hole – Belize City, Belize

Blue holes are giant and sudden drops in underwater elevation which can reach hundreds of feet deep. They get their name from the dark, foreboding blue tone they exhibit when viewed from above in relation to the surrounding waters. And while divers are able to explore some of them, they are largely devoid of oxygen to support sea life due to poor water circulation — leaving them mysteriously empty. Some blue holes, however, contain ancient fossil remains which have been discovered preserved in their depths.

I have actually seen the one located in the Red Sea from up close; it is near Dahab in East Sinai, Egypt, and it is a well-known diving spot. 

11- Sinkholes!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/gallery_1200/sinkhole-studio-city-california.jpg
 Sinkhole in Studio City, California from February 2017

Sinkholes are another type of holes which is often regarded as the world’s scariest natural phenomena. They can swallow homes, cars, trees and, obviously, people. Over time, water erodes the soil under the planet’s surface until in some cases, quite suddenly, the land above gives way and collapses into the Earth. Many sinkholes occur naturally, while others are the result of human intervention. Displacing groundwater can open cavities as broken pipes can erode otherwise stable subterranean sediments. Urban sinkholes which are up to hundreds of feet deep have formed and consumed parts of city blocks, sidewalks, and even entire buildings.

More photos and info on this Nat Geo Article.  

 12- Orange Moons

Also known as the Harvest Moon, this last phenomenon may not be as rare as some of the previous ones on the list; in fact, it is something most of us have seen before: A stunning big orange moon hanging low in the sky. But what causes this phenomena, and how does the moon change colour?

Well, the full moon will always look bigger when it’s near the horizon, though it’s not actually bigger. It’s 100 percent an optical illusion. More to the story can be found on this Article.

As for the orange colour, it has nothing to do with the harvest moon. The moon — and the sun as well, actually — look redder when closer to the horizon. The reason for this is that compared to when the moon is directly overhead, whenever it’s near the horizon the moonlight must pass through the maximum thickness of atmosphere, which absorbs blue light and transmits red light, hence the orangish hue.


Mesmerising Natural Wonders of the World

The World’s Inaccessible Monasteries

Animals Getting High: Weird Nature ― Peculiar Potions [Documentary]

Why Cats Are Not Dogs
The Magnificent Galapagos Islands

The Most Loyal Dogs in History

Animals That Are Not To Be Confused  
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