Category Archives: autobiography

“Words are spells against demons.” –Nelson Mandela


I want to study literature because I don’t know how not to. I am fascinated with stories and narrative, as well as the foundation stone upon which they are built: language. Mandela’s quote is a simple truth, or more accurately, a truth simply stated. At some level, I have always had an innate understanding of this but I could never elucidate it fully. Nelson Mandela’s address to the University of Cape Town opened with this succinct, poetic description. I was lucky enough to catch the speech during the tail end of my tenure as an ambassadorial scholar in South Africa. Mr. Mandela’s aphorism struck a chord with me, resonating at a deep, barely quantified level.

Language fascinated me from an early age. In some form or another, the quest to understand the way it works has been the underlying motivation driving much of my personal and academic life. The world is a chaotic and frightening place, rife with danger and mystery. Humans find ourselves with the unenviable task of having to make sense of the confusion. Words are the tools we use to do this. It’s a story as old as the book of Genesis, when God gifted man with the ability to name (or assign words to) the rest of creation. It may be the one uniquely human trait, a self-reflexive means of examining the way we experience the world by describing it. Continue reading…

The Space Monkey

I’m feeling a strong urge to shave my head today. I’m not sure why. Yes, it is growing to lengths that require me to actually groom it rather than give my head a quick rub which adds to my valuable cereal eating time each morning. Aesthetically, I prefer a short haircut, a taper or white-boy fade. I got one last time because I felt it made me look more professional (read employable) than the close cropped shaved look I often sport. But I have a job now and my electric clippers are calling my name softly from the darkness under the sink.

I go in cycles. Sometimes I shave my head and then let it grow out for months before shaving it again. The act of shaving one’s head is immeasurably more pleasing when the hair is of adequate length. Its a solitary joy, a ritual I enact by myself. There’s a purifying element about it that I find psychologically useful. Its almost like an extraordinarily miniature rebirth. By shedding my follicular protection, I am preparing to face the world anew. The old, shaggy haired me dies little by little as big clumps of my hair fall to the bathroom floor. Plus it makes me feel sleeker and more aerodynamic. With a freshly shorn pate, I feel like I could run or swim approximately 34% faster. And then there are the tactile pleasures. I enjoy rubbing my own head after a fresh shave, going with and against the grain to locate any strays who avoided the clippers’ pass. The feeling of the water on my head the first time I take a shower afterwards is always a pleasant surprise, even though I know its coming. Plus I have to use less shampoo.

I promise this will be the only post I ever make dedicated to my hairstyle.