My vegan friends and I used to meet regularly for sleepovers and picnics, but when the pandemic brought the lockdowns, we adjusted to the situation just like everybody else. We created a Signal chat group where we updated each other with random news and new discoveries. These broke the monotony of my life being cooped in my studio, especially during the start when people were barely allowed to come out.
Once in a while, I would remember this painting I saw at the Rijksmuseum during my trip to Amsterdam in 2019.
There’s nothing remarkable about this painting. By that I mean, it hasn’t achieved the same level of fame as Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” or Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”. You could argue that the painter, Jan Adam Krusemann, was somewhat popular for his portraits, but in the pantheon of artists, he doesn’t have that name recall as Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens, Frida Kahlo, or Artemisia Gentileschi. And when you Google the subject, Alida Christina Assink, you would barely find any information about her.
That drab October afternoon though, I listened to the audio guide as I stared at the portrait of Alida’s face intently, longer than at any other artwork inside that museum.
When a friend posted on Instagram stories a few weeks ago something about “being true to one’s self”, I couldn’t help but send a reply to that Pinterest platitude: “What is the authentic self, anyway?”
I wasn’t being rude: I’ve been guilty of criminally allying myself with the #staytruestayyou community at least one point in my life (specifically: in a post-breakup Facebook moment, sometime 2015: lock me up, officer.) But the more I think about pinning down who the “authentic self” is, the more I question that it even exists.
Just a few weeks back, I was reading a post on the Vegan Biologist which argued that humans are not herbivores. One would think that a vegan blog would adamantly defend veganism by appealing to nature, but the post flat-out argues against the awful science that many misguided vegans perpetuate.
While I am, for the record, vegan because of ethical reasons (it is undeniable that animals are conscious: the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness categorically stated that nonhuman animals are not mere automatons and are capable of emotions much like humans. Therefore, their continued exploitation is simply immoral, indefensible, and speciesist), I still believe that clear-eyed science must guide our arguments.
There’s nothing that drives you further down into introspection like the waning high of your birthday that’s almost about to end (except probably a close brush with death, a bus speeding at 100 kilometers per hour barely colliding with the car you’re in at a highway—but that’s another story.)
The other day, I was thinking about Ate Belle and remembered that it has been almost four years since she died. I was deciding on when I was going to fold clothes when the memory of her in our house, calmly sifting through the freshly laundered shirts and sheets, came back to my head.
I really should’ve paid attention to how she did it. Then again, folding clothes is one of the chores which I absolutely don’t enjoy. Some of my friends, like Mela and Jessica, find it therapeutic; I find it dull and repetitive. I’d rather cook or do the groceries than be stuck folding clothes for what feels like an eternity.
Recently, I was in a heated Twitter debate about how people who had animal companions but were not vegan were essentially in a master-slave relationship.
While some of my friends argued with me directly, some chose not to reply and instead resorted to subtweets and snarky, shady remarks. Those who did the latter did not contribute anything substantial to the debate, because contesting ideas directly, while it seems superficially uncomfortable, allows people to test ideas and hones our capacity to argue well.
Suffering, I thought–as I bit on the half-eaten mango that I had stored in the refrigerator yesterday, is inevitable. There was nothing new to this concept: Buddhism’s First Noble Truth discusses the dissatisfaction that arises from changing states–hence, suffering is but a discomfort from a present situation which isn’t exactly what you expect.
But what I was wondering about was whether suffering was diminished the earlier one accepted it.
A few years back, right after I graduated from college, I had to be confined because of depression.
In the facility, our days were regimented. We (the other patients and I) woke up at 6 in the morning, stretched for a bit, ate breakfast, did a morning activity that lasted for an hour or so, had lunch, then took a break. We had another activity in the afternoon, and then a quick snack, then a break before dinner. At 9 pm, they would turn off the lights.
During that period of confinement, I got to meet another patient, who was reading a book on Buddhism, which I ended up reading because I was bored with the routines. I remember being engrossed with the part about anattā, which is the Buddhist concept of non-self.