Dry November: Day 2

November 02, 2018

Yesterday was the first real challenge, in a way. It came down to the social question, maybe one more unavoidable in London than in other parts of the world: If not drink, what do we do? I met a friend in the afternoon. The stated intention was to discuss philosophy, as he has just finished a dissertation thereon, but our conversation was wide-ranging. If the discussion had focal points they were consciousness and unconsciousness, mastery and ignorance.

We started off in a bookstore coffee shop, then wandered the streets in a walking dialectic. “Peripeteia,” I joked, but really I meant “peripatetic”; the former, I learned, means to “fall around,” i.e., a sudden change in fortune, while the latter means to “walk around” in discussion, as we were doing. This worked for four or five hours, but as London was to reach 2°C yesterday, this was not sustainable indefinitely. Around 19:30 we decided to eat, and wound up in a Hawaiian poke place in Soho.

I mostly failed to explain how poke—which despite its former popularity in my fatherland of California, I had never tried—compared to more traditional Hawaiian cuisine, my father’s fatherland being Oahu. (My father’s ancestral fatherland was Canton, so maybe Americans ought not to speak of homelands, since they change so often. Then again, Heimat didn’t do much good for the more stationary Europeans either.) This failure was borne of my inability to describe the elements of Hawaiian traditional cuisine, like poi, taro, or laulau, being, for me, childhood flavour memories rather than adult ingredients which might be purchased and prepared in the real world. It would have been easier to describe loco moco, but this tends to disgust Europeans. Though poke is not hot, as we learned, it was healthy and satisfying. Then came the crux of the day: what to do once it was too cold to be outside, that didn’t involve drinking? We could no longer walk languorously, talking, taking the quick photos to which he was prone; it was getting dark.

In the end we walked across the street into the Soho Theatre. He had a König pilsner, I had a diet coke. Of course I was tempted, in the trendy theatre bar, to dispense with resolutions. He compared the look of the interior to Berlin, probably on the back of its shabby chic. Once we were ensconced again in cloistered conversation, in a booth by the window, though, I neither missed the alcohol nor envied him his German beer.

The crux of the day’s conversation, for me, was that mastery involves a process by which the unfamiliar becomes increasingly conscious as skill increases, through focused attention, but that past a certain point, the skill becomes unconscious and automatic. This seems somehow opposite to the unconscious and automatic actions that arise when attention is shattered, as modern technology tends to do in all the ways we wring our hands about. Had I been drinking, the conversation likely would have ranged more widely, but it would have been less memorable.

Bryan Kam

I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter, follow me on Mastodon, or see more here.