Samantha Kanofsky Talks Human About How We Opt Into Illusions

When you’re born into the world, there’s no expectations, you have a blank slate. And it’s through this process of acculturation and socialization that we learn which parts of ourselves we’re supposed to hide. And it’s bizarre to me that humans don’t opt out of that.
— Samantha Kanofsky

Samantha Kanofsky sits down to talk human to me about how humans knowingly adhere to expectations, while desiring difference, our balance between illusions of what matters and authenticity, her relationship with nature, knowledge, and religion, how women are particularly affected by expectations that don't necessarily exist, and learning to see things through clear eyes, rather than projections.

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Our Conversation with Samantha Kanofsky

0:00:33 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay, let's get started. Sam, or Samantha Kanofsky, I am super excited to have you here today. When I actually started this whole project, you were pretty much... I wrote this, "Okay, who are my top 10 people that I wanna make sure get on this show?" And you're actually part of my top 10, so congratulations! 

0:00:54 Samantha Kanofsky: Oh, I made the top 10! 

[chuckle]

0:00:56 Jeffrey Shiau: But finally, I get you on this show. I think you'll probably be like episode 24 or 25. I have you scheduled for there, but you're here and that's what matters. And I think one of the big reasons is 'cause you actually travel a lot. But before we get into all that, as always, I start with the exact same question with all my guests. Don't worry, no one's ever prepared for this, no matter how many times they've already gone through it in their head, they know what the question is.

[chuckle]

0:01:29 Jeffrey Shiau: Question is, what about humans strikes you the most? 

0:01:35 Samantha Kanofsky: Ooh. What about humans? Well, it's interesting that the driving idea behind this podcast is about getting humans to reveal the more vulnerable sides that we don't talk about too often. And on the spot, I think one of the things that strike me most is how good we are and how well we've trained ourselves to hide our true selves. It's a bizarre thing, right? Because when you're born into the world, there's no expectations, you have a blank slate. And it's through this process of acculturation and socialization that we learn which parts of ourselves we're supposed to hide. And it's bizarre to me that humans don't opt out of that. It's bizarre to me that we go along with the costumes that we're expected to wear at work. And I guess the thing I love most about humans is that divine spark in all of us that makes us unique but also the same and able to connect with each other on a level of authenticity and creativity and just goofiness. And it's just so weird to me that we're so developed in toeing the line and trying to make ourselves more homogenous, when in fact, what we usually love most about each other is exactly what makes us not homogenous.

0:03:06 Jeffrey Shiau: The quirks.

0:03:06 Samantha Kanofsky: The quirks, yeah. And I find that striking. And I always surprise myself when I catch myself acting a certain way or saying a certain thing that I am like, "Wait, do I actually believe that? What is it in me that is so trained to not say the truth?" And I find that to be a weird thing about humans and about human society. And I'm really excited for projects like this podcast and gatherings where people are asking each other to strip that away and modeling what it looks like to strip that away.

0:03:41 Jeffrey Shiau: Why do you think these illusions exist? I'm calling it "illusion" in terms of combining what you just said with how most of the times, humans are putting forward this presence that they think people want or appreciate, when deep down inside, they have these things that are vulnerable or they deem as... There's always this... There's this private and public persona, like, "Oh, private is because it's not something that is to burden other people where I don't wanna share it because it is private." And then you're also talking about how people seek familiarity or commonalities, when in the end, we're so, I guess... We're so fascinated and it brings us joy when there's quirks.

0:04:39 Samantha Kanofsky: Mm-hmm.

0:04:39 Jeffrey Shiau: Right? So I'm calling these an "illusion of thought," I guess. Why do these illusions exist? And what illusions have you personally felt, like, "Oh, I've bought into these illusions... " Well, maybe not buy into, but, "I've been living in these illusions and I... Almost sometimes consciously or subconsciously"? 

0:05:04 Samantha Kanofsky: Right. Well, I don't know why they exist, but I think the reason that they are perpetuated and why they're dominant is because the more human we reveal ourselves to be, the more... Take for example, you disagree with something that there's an illusion that everybody agrees with this, everybody accepts this, and you disagree...

0:05:31 Jeffrey Shiau: What's an illusion that you feel you actually agree with? 

0:05:35 Samantha Kanofsky: An illusion I agree with? 

0:05:36 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. That you know it's an illusion, but it's like, "Oh, but you know what? I... "

0:05:40 Samantha Kanofsky: That I buy into? 

0:05:41 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah.

0:05:41 Samantha Kanofsky: Right. So, well, the example that's coming to my mind is wearing makeup. And it's really interesting because for who I am at my core and in my values, I think makeup is bullshit. Why would we need to change our natural selves to appear more beautiful? We're created in such a way... When I look at trees or animals, I'm not like, "That's a beautiful tree, but that one looks so much better with some shiny stuff on it."

[laughter]

0:06:10 Jeffrey Shiau: Some blush.

[laughter]

0:06:11 Samantha Kanofsky: Yeah, there just needs to be a little more red over here, and let's extend... No, I'm just looking at it and seeing it exactly as it is and appreciating the beauty in it. And so it is a bizarre thought to me that somewhere along the way, we decided, actually the attractive type of human is the one who has bigger eyes or has bright cheeks. And some of it, I think, is evolutionary. For example, flushed cheeks indicates health, so I think some things make sense in terms of, say, seeking mates or who we think should be our leader because they exhibit signs of health. But in this day and age, having red cheeks doesn't mean shit about what a great partner you're gonna be, or whether or not you can bear children, or whether or not you can lead a country, so I find it bizarre that we're still judging each other based on these superficial things, and then I'm surprised that I have bought into it. And I've had a complex relationship with wearing makeup and with it modifying my external image, everything from the way my hair looks to the clothes I wear, to say, for example, since we're just talking human here [chuckle] what kinda bra you wear.

0:07:28 Samantha Kanofsky: So, I think earlier on, before I sort of awoke to this being something that happens in our society, particularly for women and girls, is that I, at some point, probably in high school, realized I'm actually gonna get more positive attention if I wear my hair this way, if I put mascara on, whatever. And so, I did that for a while, unconsciously, just feeling like I liked the attention it brought. And then that's perpetuated throughout your life. For when you go into job interviews, whether or not it's actually statistically true, in my empirical experience, whether I get hired more frequently or get offered a higher salary or whatever when I'm makeup or not, I don't know, I haven't actually tracked the data for that, but I know that it's true throughout society, and so I think that I buy into that in a certain way as a way of trying to get ahead and make people like me.

0:08:33 Jeffrey Shiau: Do you think a part of you believes it to be, I guess, something that does help you get ahead or helps get you access to things and that's why maybe you still choose to do some things sometimes? Like, let's say you're about to go on an interview, and you're like, "You know what? I'll have to get dressed up, I have to put on makeup to go to this interview."

0:09:04 Samantha Kanofsky: I think it's less rational than that; I think it's more this is an example of how my brain is trained so well in this society that it's not even a decision point, it's not me sitting down... 'Cause the other thing I was gonna mention is that I've also actively woken up to this factor and started to question my... Started to be more conscious with my decisions, of what I do. Who am I doing this for? Am I doing this for myself because I want to and it brings me joy? Or am I doing this 'cause I feel I'm supposed to, or I'm afraid of what will happen if I don't? 

0:09:39 Jeffrey Shiau: Right.

0:09:41 Samantha Kanofsky: So there is that consciousness, but I'd say on a day-to-day basis, at this point, I don't necessarily think about it rationally, but... And I think it's less about, "Will I be successful?", and more about just a general sense of confidence. So it's like our emotions, even, have gotten tied into this, that we've internalized these external expectations in a way that, now, yeah, when I'm getting ready, it's not like I sit there and think, "I will look more attractive and probably have a better chance of landing this job," or having a positive meeting or date or whatever it is, if I present this way; it's more just I have it already internalized, it's like it's skipped over that decision factor and gone into an internalized feeling of confidence.

0:10:24 Samantha Kanofsky: And so, my practice these days is actually trying to find myself and put myself in environments where I'm really seen for who I am, and where it would be actually weird if I did show up in a modified way, putting on illusions. So, I really appreciate being now in communities and having friendships and being in work atmospheres where it's not discouraged actively, but it's just not modeled, and people are modeling something different. Women and men are showing up... Women, men, and actually people across the gender spectrum are showing up as they want to appear and wearing the clothes that make them feel beautiful and that represent and reflect who they are inside. And I find that inspiring and empowering and just liberating. And at the same time, if I'm being totally honest, I also feel complicated 'cause I'll still notice those judgment bells going off in my mind in those settings.

0:11:26 Jeffrey Shiau: From other people? 

0:11:28 Samantha Kanofsky: Oh, no, internally. Internally.

0:11:30 Jeffrey Shiau: What are those bells... In what key are those bells chiming? 

[chuckle]

0:11:35 Samantha Kanofsky: Yeah, they're insidious little things.

0:11:39 Jeffrey Shiau: And why does that happen? Why do you think it still happens? 

0:11:41 Samantha Kanofsky: It's this training, I think. But yeah, I'll catch myself thinking really mean, judgmental things about, "Why is that person wearing that," or "Does that person realize that they look this way or that way?" And it's weird, it's almost like it's not my own voice, it's... I'm hearing echoes of these things I've been told throughout my life and that I've seen in media, and that they're so pervasive that they get inside, and I think it's a practice of... It's like an exorcism, almost, to get it out, which I think is why the work of transformation, of liberation, is so difficult 'cause it's so complete and you have to reach inside yourself and yank things out that have been really deeply planted there.

0:12:28 Samantha Kanofsky: And to be able to do that, you have to be willing to look and see these dark, ugly tendrils that have gotten inside of you, which is uncomfortable for a lot of us who are like, "Wait, I don't believe that, what's that doing inside me? How'd that get there?" And so I go through that, having grown up the way I did, in kind of a mixed bag, a grab bag of Berkeley hippies who told me, "Wear whatever you want and don't shave your armpits," and then I grow up in the suburbs, and it was like, in high school, wear Hollister or stand on the outskirts [chuckle] of the quad.

0:13:01 Jeffrey Shiau: Hollister. I haven't heard of that brand in a while.

0:13:03 Samantha Kanofsky: Oh, yeah, that was all the rage in high school.

[chuckle]

0:13:06 Samantha Kanofsky: So yeah, so I have complexity in terms of the way that I see images and the way that I see myself and my friends and complete strangers. So it's a constant practice to remind myself, "Am I really seeing through clear eyes? Am I really seeing this person, or am I projecting what I expect and what I've been trained to expect?"

0:13:33 Jeffrey Shiau: Are these usually private moments within yourself that you are constantly thinking about and reconciling, and are these also the same almost private beliefs that you're... Not so private, but the quirks and the differences that maybe both of us were alluding to at the very beginning of this conversation, about who we present ourselves as, right? We have this kind of, let's call it a "mask," the illusion that we're presenting ourselves to the world, because that's what we are assuming people want, right? But then deep down inside, it's conflicting and there is all this reconciliation of, "Why am I even doing this? I know this makes me happier and this makes me more uncomfortable and more confident," but then again, that confidence and that comfort and that thought also just conflicted with this other thing that, "Wait. I thought I believed this, and not," right? 

0:14:41 Samantha Kanofsky: It's a tangled web.

[chuckle]

0:14:43 Samantha Kanofsky: It really is, and you're giving me actually an idea, which is that it'd probably be a good practice for all of us to spend more time naked, alone...

[laughter]

0:14:51 Samantha Kanofsky: Just to sort of settle that and... [chuckle]

0:14:56 Jeffrey Shiau: Naked and alone.

0:14:57 Samantha Kanofsky: Well, it's the concept that things do really get confusing, and we live in complicated world and a complicated society with a lot of conflicting values, and I think that's why so many people meditate and find mindfulness meditation to be a helpful practice because you're able to clear all the chaos, all the noise, and just see what's really there. In the same way, when we spend... [chuckle] This is funny 'cause I grew up going to Harbin Hot Springs...

0:15:26 Jeffrey Shiau: What is that? 

0:15:26 Samantha Kanofsky: Oh, Harbin is an incredible place that has natural hot springs and people actually built as intentional community. People lived there and it was also accessible to...

0:15:38 Jeffrey Shiau: Is this the Berkeley of Bayside? 

0:15:39 Samantha Kanofsky: Visitors. It's up in Napa County, and sadly it burned down in a fire a couple years ago.

0:15:47 Jeffrey Shiau: From the earthquake? 

0:15:49 Samantha Kanofsky: No, just in one of the really bad wild fires that happened, it was 2015... Yeah, 2015. Late summer. So, anyways, it's being rebuilt now, but it's a place where people can go and be naked in natural water. And I grew up going there, and it's funny to me that I'm like, "Oh, gosh, I'm going back to my Harbin roots as a naked Berkeley baby," but it's just... It is very bizarre, when you think about it, how little time we spend with our actual physical selves, unclothed, undecorated, unmasked. And the whole idea of what we choose to wear and do or not do with our hair, and not just the hair on our head but the hair in all of our bodies, it's colored and it's shaped by, I think, a lot of confusing messages, and the challenge is sifting through all that and figuring out, what is my own private desire and what is something that's expected of me that I've just learned to think that I want? 

0:16:57 Samantha Kanofsky: And maybe it would be worthwhile for people to get naked [chuckle] and actually experience, "Huh, what is actually to the benefit of my health? What keeps me warm in the practice of cloth-dressing myself? What keeps me safe from the elements? What feels good on my skin?" We put so much shit on our bodies that we don't think about how it feels, or what's in it. And we've gotten to that place where it's just... I think people read all these things about, "Oh, this month, coconut oil is in," or "This month... "

[chuckle]

0:17:31 Samantha Kanofsky: "You gotta... You have to use grape seed, and this is what's gonna stop your eyes from looking old." I'm going through that, I'm turning 30 this year and I'm starting to think, "Oh, god, I've gotta start wearing anti-aging creams." And it's so bizarre 'cause it's this movement away from what nature is doing to us.

0:17:46 Jeffrey Shiau: "You must hike 10 miles up this hill... "

[chuckle]

0:17:48 Jeffrey Shiau: "And scoop one cup of this dirt... "

[chuckle]

0:17:51 Jeffrey Shiau: "And soak in this salt from the Himalayas, and then put it in your eyes."

0:17:54 Samantha Kanofsky: Right.

0:17:54 Jeffrey Shiau: And that's the...

0:17:55 Samantha Kanofsky: Well, and what's that making me think of is it's even pervaded the organics and natural product movement, is that there's still that inherent message even in those things that are meant to be more wholesome.

0:18:07 Jeffrey Shiau: Right.

0:18:08 Samantha Kanofsky: Those product lines or movements or what have you, there's still a message in there that it's not okay to get old. It's not okay to look the way that nature wants you to look as you progress toward your death. So I think even within the "wellness worlds" or yoga movements, there's still all this messaging, subliminal and overt, about how you're supposed to look and what you're supposed to use in your mask, and... I don't know. I just think we might all do well with some cleansing rituals like bathing in the ocean and spending... Hanging out for a while without wearing anything, and then just putting more intention into what feels right for each of us.

0:19:01 Jeffrey Shiau: It's interesting, I'm watching you talk about this and seeing how you're talking about this, and it's almost... It's not professorial, you're not lecturing, you're not saying, "Yes" or "No, do this or that," whatever people do. No, that's how actually exactly what you're... The way you're framing it is this curiosity and reflection on, "I am actually currently doing some of these myself, but now I'm wondering, why did I even make that choice in the first place?" And I think that's what you're bringing up, and I think that, again, goes back to intention, right? I've actually been thinking... You reminded me about this thought I've been frequently having a lot lately, and it is intention, right? One thing that I've been noticing when I'm walking around and then something that catches my attention is intention. When something seems very intentional. Even when something looks messy but like, "Oh, I think that was actually intentionally made that way." Or there's this one sport that I watch and then the executive of that sport never wears a suit. He always shows up to all of his meetings in a T-shirt and jeans. And it's always some graphic cool-looking T-shirt and jeans.

0:20:36 Jeffrey Shiau: Mark Zuckerberg. Intention. Gray T-shirt... Or his hoodie, jeans, and flip-flops, and no one says a word. Except when he saw the President. And I think that was intentional, too, he was like, "You know what? It's the President, I'm gonna wear a suit." And it's making me think 'cause although we have all these... I think a lot of our choices that we're making are, like you said, being ruled or influenced, whether it's by consumer products, by stores, by what we see on the magazines. So the intention is almost always affected by externality, and what we're talking about here and what I'm hearing from you is, "Let's bring some of that intention and what's influencing that intention back and give some more power back to what's actually inside of you." You make a choice, right? And in order to do that, getting naked and getting into the ocean and kinda getting rid of those externalities for a bit. That way, you can refuel up with more of your internal intention, and making a choice from there.

0:22:00 Samantha Kanofsky: Right, well, it's interesting that you use the Mark Zuckerberg example or these people who are out here in California actively not wearing what is traditionally expected in the business world. But even that's a choice, and that's about a desired image of, "Oh, I'm really laid back." Right? "I'm setting a culture."

0:22:19 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh, right.

0:22:20 Samantha Kanofsky: So, none of us are free of it. I think what I'm suggesting is that we're all... Even those of us who are conscious or awake to the fact that there are cultural expectations, even all... Even those of us who actively don't wanna be catering to the expectations of other people, we're still susceptible to it. And so, I think that yes, I think stripping all of that away and trying to find... Trying to just be able to listen to the actual internal desire is really important but also really hard because here's the thing. Even if you get quiet and go in the ocean and you're naked and you hang out in the woods for a couple of days, I don't know who has time to do that in their schedule these days, but sure, that's a great thing, but you're going back into the soup after that. You're going back into... You come out "purified."

0:23:13 Jeffrey Shiau: The soup of life.

0:23:13 Samantha Kanofsky: Yeah, you're going back into the soup of culture, or as one of my teachers calls it, "the marinade" that we all hang out in all the time because we are social creatures, and we have to work, and we wanna have friendships, and interact and be part of communities. And when you step back in, I think that's where it's really challenging, is you're gonna then be reintroduced to the messages and to the questions. I do think that having clear intent to show up as we are, to speak what we believe, and to embrace, this sounds fluffy, but to embrace the way that we've been made and the way that we've been designed to thrive just in our own natural creation, defenses, whatever, if we show up with that intent, maybe it's a little easier to rebuff some of the negative, and positive, waves of reinforcement or questioning or criticizing or judging. Maybe it's like wearing a sunscreen or something...

[chuckle]

0:24:28 Samantha Kanofsky: To use the product metaphor, some kind of defense against it. But I do think it's important to recognize that we are susceptible to it and from ourselves and from other people, because when you're able to see it, then you can recognize that's what's happening, "Oh, I'm feeling insecure. Oh, well, that's probably because I'm receiving a lot of external messages that I'm not okay as I am."

0:24:53 Jeffrey Shiau: What makes you... What makes you really insecure right now, nowadays? 

0:25:01 Samantha Kanofsky: Oh. That's a good question.

[pause]

0:25:24 Samantha Kanofsky: I wanna say something real, so I'm thinking.

[pause]

0:25:37 Jeffrey Shiau: I think small things are also real.

0:25:41 Samantha Kanofsky: Yeah. Right.

0:25:42 Jeffrey Shiau: Big things, small.

0:25:43 Samantha Kanofsky: Right, definitely, so...

0:25:45 Jeffrey Shiau: It can be insecurities, as well.

0:25:48 Samantha Kanofsky: Yeah. Well, one thing I shared with you just before we came in here is about, I'm starting graduate school this fall for Creative Writing, and it's been sort of a long time coming. I think I've known for a long time that the answer to the question of, who am I and what do I do, what really matters to me, is something around this practice of writing and exploring through language the realities of our world and of my world and my experience. And I think I feel a bit insecure about going into that and... I'm not sure if "insecure" is the word or if it's "afraid," but I feel something, and I notice myself sort of belittling the importance of this venture that I'm embarking on, I think, because it feels so alive. And it's like I'm moving toward this thing that I have a suspicion might be my "calling" or "purpose." And that's scary because to move towards something that is really within you and to have to take that risk of, "What if it's not strong enough?" or "What if I don't know how to channel it?", or "What if I channel it and then nobody likes it, thinks I'm a big fraud, or thinks I'm, 'What is she wasting our time with?', that's scary. And I think that a lot of us operate that way.

0:27:24 Samantha Kanofsky: And I'll speak for myself, I operate that way, for sure, being more comfortable moving in the direction of things that I know I do well at, and that I know I'll get praise for, and that I know I'll be seen as competent in. And something like writing, that's so much more of a wild, uncontrollable energy that just moves through me sometimes, but I can't always channel, and I don't know what it's gonna evoke in other people, is... I think I feel a little insecure about that. So, I'm moving forward, but I'm actually grateful for this moment even to just reflect on that because as people have been asking me, "Oh, are you excited about grad school?", I'm like, "Oh, yeah, whatever. It's no big thing. I'm gonna try it out for a year. If it doesn't work, whatever," and I don't think that's necessarily the full truth. I think there's gotta be a part of me that really cares what happens.

0:28:24 Jeffrey Shiau: What are those things that you don't feel you're good at, and that are you? 

0:28:31 Samantha Kanofsky: Oh, that's funny. Well, singing, for one.

[laughter]

0:28:37 Samantha Kanofsky: Yeah, the funny thing is I'm totally tone deaf. I love music, and singing, to me, feels like such a vital expression of that internal soul space stuff that we feel, and I feel much more comfortable talking than singing. And when I sing, I sing in big groups of people, and I try to sing really quietly...

[laughter]

0:28:56 Samantha Kanofsky: So no one will hear me and be like, "God, she's off tune." But recently, I've been spending a lot of time with my grandma, who's 95 years old, and she's kind of... When you get to a certain age, it's hard to interact all the time on a rational discussion level, so she really likes being sung to, and she likes listening to music. So lately, when we hang out, sometimes I'll just sing to her, and she'll join in, and it's really funny, and I actually feel less self-conscious. I'm sure I am still sometimes off-key, but because I'm doing it for someone else and to give joy to someone else, I'm not doing it to look good or to impress people, it actually is really fulfilling, and I feel like I am a good singer. I'm getting to be a better singer through that. [chuckle] So that's one thing.

0:29:44 Jeffrey Shiau: Has the insecurity of not being a good singer or feeling that you aren't a good singer made you question, like, "There's all these other things I'm insecure about, but actually, maybe those insecurities will bring someone joy"? 

[laughter]

0:30:00 Samantha Kanofsky: By me embarrassing myself.

[laughter]

0:30:02 Samantha Kanofsky: No, that's funny. I haven't thought of that, but maybe that's something that I will think about after this conversation.

0:30:07 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. What are... What is another insecurity that you think you feel alone in? Like, "I think I'm the only person that's insecure about this because I feel like only I'm facing this."

0:30:29 Samantha Kanofsky: Well, I know I'm not the only one because I have talked to other people who feel this way but... And this is actually something I'm less insecure about and more just adamantly baffled by everybody else going along with it, is the way our work culture's set up. And I do not want to work a 40-hour work week. I have no interest in that, and I haven't for most of my adult life. And usually, I feel pretty strongly about that 'cause it just... Especially the nature of work today, of being so sedentary, as opposed to work in the past where it was much more manual labor. And I'm saying "in the past" but it's also true of many people within our economies who are still doing manual labor, it's just that the place that we live here in the Bay Area, a lot of our work has moved online in a certain economic class.

0:31:23 Samantha Kanofsky: But I don't think it's healthy and I don't think it is the best way for us to live our lives. I think we miss out on a lot when we're in an office, directing our attention toward the production of money for that many hours. I think it's weird. But I do sometimes have a sneaking suspicion that kinda feels like insecurity where I'm like, "Am I lazy? Is there something wrong with me that I think I'm better than this? That I think I'm above this and shouldn't have to work these hours?" The nice thing is that more and more, I'm hearing that reflected back to me in trusted friends and colleagues, but that's...

0:32:06 Jeffrey Shiau: What's being reflected? 

0:32:07 Samantha Kanofsky: Oh, this feeling of like, "This is crazy. Sitting in an office 40 hours a week and typing on a machine is insane." Not what we were meant to do as humans, or at least not all of us. Some of us might be better suited to that. I'm hearing that reflected back to me and people talking about wanting to live a life that values things beyond work, that values family and care-taking and these things that have been left off the balance sheet in our capitalist economy. So I do find more and more comrades, so to speak, in that movement or in that desire to move away from this "work like a dog and then try to retire when you're 60 or 70 or whatever." I think that that's an illusion that's being busted these days especially as our social services are falling apart. People don't wanna bank on that dream of retirement at 60 and then the government takes care of you, that's just not the case. So I think people, at least people of our generation, are trying to reclaim their adulthood and be like, "You know what? I wanna enjoy my life now. I wanna travel now." And not everybody can do that, obviously, especially in the Bay Area where it's so expensive. Some people just really do have to bust their asses and work so many hours to make a living. But I'm really inspired by people like Ro, with her...

0:33:31 Jeffrey Shiau: Roshanda Cummings, episode one.

[chuckle]

0:33:35 Samantha Kanofsky: Yeah. She's awesome. She's showing that there are ways to live with more minimalism, to really take into consideration, "Well, what do I actually need to survive and thrive and be happy?" And I love seeing that she's finding so much joy and just modeling that a happy life is totally possible with less. And I'm a big proponent of that. And also, I sometimes feel insecure like, "Should I be more ambitious? Should I work harder? Is it just that I am afraid to be great," or whatever those quotes are about "we're afraid of our own greatness." I mean, I think that's true, but I don't think it necessitates slaving away a hundred hours a week to try to make something of yourself. You already are something. I think that we just need to spend more time discovering what it is that we already are, and let that come through us in whatever way it does, whether or not it creates profit.

0:34:31 Jeffrey Shiau: In our relationships... Yeah, and... This theme of illusion, it just keeps coming up for me and I keep hearing it from friend after friend, and even just interview after interview, on this podcast specifically. And I just see it throughout all these revelations from people, that their entire careers were built on doing, and achieving, and success, and all those things that are supposedly defined by, I would say, actually largely by western society... Actually, and eastern society, in some ways, right? And it's mind-blowing that it's now recently you see all these people coming out after 50 years of being who they are as people and living their life in a certain way, and all of a sudden, saying, "Man, I regret all of that. I wish I had done this." And we're starting to see those narratives more, but everyone continues to follow what they are seeing publicly. "Okay, we know this is an illusion, but this is still a necessary thing we have to do in order to escape that illusion." And that's always something that I'm hearing from people, like, "Jeff, who do you wanna be?" I'm like, "I don't care who I'm gonna be, I just wanna know who I am now."

0:36:04 Jeffrey Shiau: And I've been buying into this illusion of life as well, until life swiftly kicked me in the balls in 2015 and made me very, very quickly and necessarily choose what was a priority and what mattered. And it's... It's sad. It actually physically makes me... I would say, yeah, it makes me very pessimistic and almost physically and emotionally hurt, just when I see things... When I see especially people in bad health, when it affects their relationships, when it affects their mental capacity, is... You just see this resignation in their breath when they're talking.

0:37:13 Samantha Kanofsky: You mean caused by overwork? 

0:37:15 Jeffrey Shiau: Not just work, just about this life mentality. Life, to them, is these specific standards and these specific benchmarks that you're supposed to be at. You're supposed to be married at this age. You're supposed to have this type of job. You're supposed to have built these types of relationships. You're supposed to have gone to these places for travel, you're supposed to, supposed to, supposed to. And you... I bring this book up often as well. I'm not sure if you read it yet, I think... I know you're a bookworm, right? 

0:38:01 Samantha Kanofsky: About to be a big one.

0:38:02 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah.

[chuckle]

0:38:03 Jeffrey Shiau: So, definitely put this on your list. There's only one book I recommend anyone, whenever they ask me, and it's 'Sapiens.' It sounds really boring if I just explain it, but it's freaking mind-blowing. It's basically an anthropological study of humans, from the beginning of humans. But it's amazing because it goes through eight to like 10 scenarios within each thing. And really one big theme is that essentially everything that exists right now in human life, and obviously in human societies, was created from the imagination of humans.

0:38:50 Jeffrey Shiau: So they're literally illusions in a sense, they're not real. Government. Currency. Jobs. The only necessary things that we talked about, like evolution, it's like "Oh... " It was funny that you brought up the big head thing, I was like, "Oh, yeah, that's actually an evolution thing. I just learned that earlier," that all infant animals have big heads, so that it's like an evolutionary signal to other adult mammals or species that this is something to make sure to be careful with. Like, why are big dogs really careful with babies naturally? That's when I was like, "Whoa that blew my mind!" There's all these evolutionary things, like community, shelter, food, But a job? These are all definitions, right? 

0:39:47 Samantha Kanofsky: Hmm.

0:39:47 Jeffrey Shiau: And I'm rambling here just 'cause like almost out of frustration, maybe it's just my mood today, but... Yeah...

0:39:55 Samantha Kanofsky: Yeah, well, work used to be about providing sustenance. And the concept of work is, I think, from my understanding, as its own construct, is something that came around the Industrial Revolution. That used to be... Farmers didn't talk about, "What do you do for work?", it was an agrarian or hunter/gather societies, you just needed to survive and it was a very direct relationship between human and the effort it required to provide food for yourself and your family and your community, food and shelter, and... And then of course, in free time, whatever free time existed, humans developed culture and so that was humor and music and play, games. So, all of that I see as vital, and it's just this concept of work is something we do as sort of this indirect method of getting this thing called "money," which then allows us to get goods and services, some of which we actually do need to survive and some of which are making survival very difficult. Things that maybe give us pleasure or make us feel a sense of status but actually are harmful to our health or to our sense of connection with other people or with purpose.

0:41:12 Samantha Kanofsky: So I think to distill that down to a message, it's really that just these days, we probably work a lot more then we need to, work being the traditional sense of trying to make a living. Of course, some people's work is also aligned with their passion, and so they just do it all the time 'cause they think about it all the time and they feel a natural internal drive to explore this thing and to be in relationship with this practice. And so I think that's a different thing than the type of work that we oftentimes find ourselves trapped in in today's society and economy, which is something that's a necessary evil as a way of getting us the things that we want and think we need. So, the practice of examining what we actually need and what we actually want, what actually fulfills us, I'm just suggesting, it might lead some of us away from the office and maybe in a direction of closer relationship with other humans, with nature, with ourselves. And we might find that when we're less stressed by work, we don't actually need all of these self-help products or all of these classes or all of these distractions, numbing agents, to take away the just dull feeling of shittiness that sitting in an indoor fluorescent environment for 40, 50, 60 hours a week creates. We might be able to nip that one in the bud.

0:42:47 Jeffrey Shiau: What would you say are some things that throughout your life people have actively tried to make you self-doubt or insecure about yourself? And when I say "actively," I mean, there's subtle subconscious things that come from advertising, that come from whatever media, even just a physical environment where there's nothing actively doing or saying anything to you, but just being in the environment. For example, I feel like shit when I'm walking around in a mall, 'cause I'd see all these images and I see all these things that you're supposed to wear and that you're supposed to buy and all of it, I'm like "What?" So sometimes I feel insecurities from that. But... But it's not actively being put on me, right? Have you experienced someone actively telling you, "You're not supposed to wear this. You need to be doing this," or "Why are you acting this way? You need to be acting this way"? 

0:43:56 Samantha Kanofsky: Well, I think, like you suggested, most of the messages we get are a lot more subtle than someone walking up and shaking their fist at us. I have experienced some of those things, sometimes even from people that I'm close to, from friends or family, sort of suggesting that maybe I should be doing something differently. I should be, yeah, getting married or I should be pursuing a career path that's gonna be more lucrative, but I've been lucky. I feel like, for the most part, the people I'm close to and that I've had as teachers and guides have led me to believe what I do believe, which is that we know what we really want if we just listen. And there's a lot more we can be than just whatever's gonna make us a lot of money or get us a lot of fame or attention. But I would say, as a kid, I felt that pressure to conform.

0:45:00 Jeffrey Shiau: By who? 

0:45:00 Samantha Kanofsky: By peers, and it was done in ways of more laughing. It was more... I think that kids have this way... Kids and adults have a way of embarrassing each other for our unique qualities or our unique essences by laughing at each other, and it doesn't feel... Especially as a kid, it doesn't feel good to be laughed at. If they're laughing at you, something's wrong, right? But it's hard to put your finger on 'cause they're not yelling at you and they're not telling you what to do; they're just laughing at your choice or your existence as something different. And I think what I've learned over time and reflecting on it now, that laughter comes from a place of their own insecurity of seeing something that challenges the expectation that everybody is this way. So, I, for... For example, I felt very embarrassed growing up about my mixed ethnicity, and...

0:45:56 Jeffrey Shiau: What are you? 

0:45:57 Samantha Kanofsky: So I'm mixed. I'm three-quarters Jewish and a quarter Korean, and I felt much more embarrassed about the Jewish side 'cause nobody knew I was Korean but kids knew I was Jewish. And I grew up in a suburb outside of... Well, in the Bay Area but outside of Berkeley in Oakland proper, where I'm sure I wasn't the only Jewish kid but it certainly felt that way. And I got a lot of ridicule and laughter and just heard comments that made me feel... Not that... I never questioned. I never had a feeling like, "Oh, I wish I weren't Jewish," thankfully, I think I felt a really strong connection with the spirituality and the tradition and the community that I was a part of, but it definitely made me want to hide and it made me want people not to know who I was.

0:46:47 Samantha Kanofsky: Growing up, going to college and experiencing the world outside of the suburbs, I've gained a lot more confidence in that unique part of myself because even though Jews are pretty prevalent in media and have quite a bit of visibility in terms of population, we're still a pretty small minority, I don't know the exact percentage. So it is something that sets me apart, but it's something that I've learned to feel a sense of pride in and also struggle with, internally. I've stopped being so concerned with people finding out if I was Jewish and become much more concerned in, "Well, what does it mean to be Jewish? And what do I wanna see from my community? And how do I live my life in a way that feels authentic to both the traditions I've inherited and also to what feels right inside?", and sometimes those are at odds, and so that adds a whole new level of self-inquiry and conversation.

0:47:50 Jeffrey Shiau: What are those inquiries and conversations? 

[laughter]

0:47:53 Samantha Kanofsky: You're really grilling me today.

[laughter]

0:47:56 Samantha Kanofsky: What are those? Well, gosh, there's a lot, I mean... If you even just take 'Jews in America,' there are so many threads to follow there. We're having a moment where... I think there was a study that came out several years ago. The Pew Research Center did this study about American-Jews and basically found that our generation is very actively heading for the hills away from the synagogue, and our generation just doesn't feel a desire to be in that kind of organized religious environment that has hierarchy and that has a rabbi up there on the bima, which is like the pulpit, telling you his interpretation 'cause, historically, most rabbis were men. These days, you see women, gender-queer, trans folks becoming rabbis, which is awesome, but traditionally, you had a rabbi standing up there telling you, "Well, this is what God wants you to do," and hopefully, if they were a good rabbi, they were funny and inspiring and...

[laughter]

0:49:00 Samantha Kanofsky: Made it relatable, but in more cases than not...

0:49:02 Jeffrey Shiau: Good rabbi, funny and inspiring.

[chuckle]

0:49:05 Samantha Kanofsky: People just like... Including my parents, my dad, in particular, suffered through being forced to go to synagogue in Hebrew school. And so, I think in this day and age and in this generation, we feel a lot more sense of choice around what we adopt as our spirituality. You see more people opting into different spiritual denominations or communities. There's a lot of Jews who've become Buddhist, myself partially included, and I think there was a big sense of concern after this research study came out from the Jewish institutions and Jewish elders, that, "Oh, no. We're gonna lose it. This generation doesn't care." And so what you've seen as a result is really interesting, vibrant, and contentious conversation about, who is in the tent? Who do we include? And it's forced Americans to be... To reconsider the question of what makes somebody a Jew, because in traditional Jewish theology, it travels through the mother's side. And for example, I'm three-quarters Jewish, but in traditional old-school Orthodox Judaism, I wouldn't be considered Jewish 'cause my mom's mom is not Jewish. And since it's a matrilineal tradition, I'm technically speaking not a Jew. Well, in today's culture and reality, that's bullshit.

0:50:24 Jeffrey Shiau: That was set by humans.

0:50:27 Samantha Kanofsky: Set by humans? 

0:50:28 Samantha Kanofsky: That rule.

0:50:28 Samantha Kanofsky: Right. And it's an interpretation, yes. Yeah. It's not like God said, "Only the mother... " Whatever. Yeah, but there are people who probably would argue that there're places in the text where God spoke and that is what God said, but regardless, doesn't matter because the point is in today's day and age, if they wanna have a Jewish population going forward that is diverse and thriving and sustainable, we have to broaden our definition. And not just our definition, but we have to consider the way that we treat people as they walk into our places of worship. So, historically speaking, and I can't speak for all Jewish minorities, but a lot of folks who are mixed race, or Jews of color, or converts, or interfaith marriage... People in interfaith partnerships, Jews with disabilities, all kinds of folks have found themselves on the fringe, trying to get into the tent but just kind of being asked to stand aside or somehow being othered through walking in and being asked, "Oh, well, are you Jewish?" or "What are you doing here?", and that was bullshit and it felt not just exclusive but also it's completely antithetical to what people are searching for, which is a sense of connection. And...

0:51:48 Jeffrey Shiau: When you're saying "connection," are you talking about what we were talking about earlier, like, what are the actual basis needs that humans actually need? Community, connection, food, shelter.

0:52:04 Samantha Kanofsky: Sure.

0:52:04 Jeffrey Shiau: Right? 

0:52:05 Samantha Kanofsky: Yeah, I consider it vital, that sense of connection. I think the point I'm trying to make is that people, historically, have always turned to religion and spiritual communities as a way of feeling connected to other human beings and maybe to some sense of divine energy or divine force.

0:52:23 Jeffrey Shiau: And when you're going through this journey that you are going through with religion, has it ever crossed... 'Cause I'm thinking like, okay, well, in the beginning of this conversation, we were talking about another journey that you're currently going through about seeing through veils of life, right? What's real, what's not real, what's internal, what's external, right? And this is my complex relationship with religion. I never had a personal relationship or practice a religion. I think in my family, in terms of traditional practice, my grandmother, I believe, on my dad's side, or at least her and her best friends, were in Catholicism and then my grandmother on my mom's side is Buddhist. But for me, I'm thinking, "Okay. Here's Sam... " When we were just talking about illusions and what we assumed to be... What people assume to be fact and real or reality or what's needed or wanted or expected, and now were talking about religion. Has that ever crossed your mind, like "Wait. Is this practice a religion or what people are deeming is the way to go?" Has that ever been connected to your previous thoughts at the beginning of this conversation, about what is expected and real? 

0:53:57 Samantha Kanofsky: Well, I'm not quite sure what you're asking, but I should clarify. I'm not a religious person...

0:54:05 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.

0:54:05 Samantha Kanofsky: I consider myself very spiritual, but I... And it's interesting 'cause Judaism is a unique blend, in terms of identity, of a culture, a spirituality, a tradition, a religion, and a people.

0:54:19 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.

0:54:20 Samantha Kanofsky: So, when I talk about Jewish community, I'm saying this is a conversation that is being had in terms of people who consider themselves Jewish, as an identity...

0:54:32 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.

0:54:32 Samantha Kanofsky: And I do feel invested in that. When it comes to religion, I mean, that's a whole other can of worms and I do think that there's a whole lot of veils, and expectations, and projections, and illusions within the world of religion. I just wouldn't consider myself authorized to talk about that, because most of the Jewish communities that I'm a part of are pretty much cultural, and spiritual, and ethical, and ethnic, as opposed to religious, like I...

0:55:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.

0:55:00 Samantha Kanofsky: I am personally not a synagogue goer, although I do enjoy a good...

[laughter]

0:55:06 Samantha Kanofsky: Synagogue experience every now on the high holidays. [laughter]

0:55:09 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay. So, I was wondering about the stories about the rabbi, and God, like, "Oh... " I wasn't sure you were still practicing.

0:55:18 Samantha Kanofsky: Yeah. Well, I do consider myself a practicing Jew. I think that... Well, this is a great segue, 'cause what I'm suggesting, and actually what I've seen happen in my own community and across the country is that millennial Jews are starting to form their own communities outside of synagogues. So you see a lot more home-based Jewish experiences, nature-based Jewish experiences. And I think that's radical and awesome and necessary because, with all due respect to synagogues and rabbis, they served a function of bringing people together in a culture that wanted and adopted that model. And if our generation...

0:56:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Is the model the lens of what was interpreted in, basically, a... Where the book of God or whatever was the God that was practicing, and spoken of? Or I guess that, when...

0:56:20 Samantha Kanofsky: I just mean the model of going to a place to worship. Going to a designated place that's like, "Here's where your practice your Judaism, in this building, under the guidance of this person who's been through rabbinical school."

0:56:32 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.

0:56:32 Samantha Kanofsky: And what I'm saying is that in our generation, we're more skeptical of authority, of top-down authority, and of the idea that we need to go to X place to practice our age-old tradition that actually evolved in the desert. And so where we really should be practicing Judaism is out in the desert, which is where you see...

0:56:50 Jeffrey Shiau: So when you're saying "Judaism," it's not... So I guess when I was asking earlier about religion, and then you're saying that it's more of a practice of culture and identity...

0:57:02 Samantha Kanofsky: For me.

0:57:03 Jeffrey Shiau: Right.

0:57:03 Samantha Kanofsky: For me. It is a religion...

0:57:05 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.

0:57:05 Samantha Kanofsky: As well. And that religion... I mean, it's complex, but there are a set of holy texts, absolutely. The Torah is presumably the word of God, and then there's interpretations of the Torah, and... And not to say that our generation has rejected those texts or those sources, not at all. It's, I think, more a question of how we want to relate to them, whether we want it sit in school and have them drilled into our heads and then we go through the rote motion of showing up in a place where someone leads us through a bunch of prayers that we may or may not actually understand. I just think it's evolving, and expanding, and diversifying, in terms of the way that people relate to our tradition, which includes those spiritual texts. And some Jews believe in God, and some don't. That's, I think, an individual- and a community-based differentiator, and people define God differently. But yeah, when I refer to Judaism, I guess I'm speaking more about the whole collection of traditions, cultural teachings, and heritage.

0:58:13 Jeffrey Shiau: That's been, I think, 7,000 years or...

0:58:17 Samantha Kanofsky: Oh, god, I don't know, I'm terrible with numbers.

0:58:20 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh, it's a...

0:58:20 Samantha Kanofsky: A long time.

0:58:21 Jeffrey Shiau: You will love 'Sapiens.' They go through this whole section with the history of Judaism, and just the whole region of how cultures were spawned from that, and how they've shaped into today. And like... Just all the differences and interpretations that human beings have taken in.

0:58:51 Samantha Kanofsky: Cool.

0:58:51 Jeffrey Shiau: And I guess when you're talking about this, it almost... It's funny how you're saying like this generation is taking the flexibility, or taking more flexibility in practice. What does it mean to practice, to be in a community, to be human beings together that have an identity and that connect? It makes me reflect about how I almost treated my own identity as well, when you were talking about how you felt kind of embarrassed in... How old were you when you said you didn't want people to know that you were Jewish? 

0:59:26 Samantha Kanofsky: Yeah, most of my childhood.

0:59:27 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. And I just realized, "Man, I actually... " At some point, I also had an insecurity of being Chinese-American as well. And even just that term, people are like, "If your parents are from Taiwan, you're Taiwanese-American, not Chinese." I'm like... I'm so confused today, is it taboo to say I'm Chinese-American, or do I need to be actively saying I'm Taiwanese-American? But then my cousins, who are mostly from Taiwan, they're also split in that can, 'cause it's super political, I'm like, "Man, there's all these things and like constructs that are created," and there's this complex going through this reconciliation of what actually matters. And then you just see the younger generations putting most of these constructs aside and just being creative with it themselves, and I think this comes full circle back to, let's get naked and get in the ocean.

[chuckle]

1:00:31 Jeffrey Shiau: And let's detach all the external stuff that's kind of making us... Or giving us this illusion that we need to make certain decisions or be a certain way.

1:00:43 Samantha Kanofsky: Right.

1:00:44 Jeffrey Shiau: And realize, and ask more questions, like, "How does it make you feel? How does it make you think?"

1:00:53 Samantha Kanofsky: Right, I think identity, thankfully, is becoming something that can be defined by more expansive terms as opposed to constricting, put yourself in a box. I think that I see movements around gender, race, ethnicity, religion that are expansive and saying, "Fuck the box. I'm not a box. I'm not a series of little boxes; I'm an expansive person. And the pieces that make me up are not little slices in a pie chart that are divided; they are things that blend into each other and it's more of like a water color than a bunch of dots together." And so, yeah. I find that inspiring and exciting, and I think it offers a lot more opportunity for us to each tap into the unique blends that we all are, internally, of so many different things, gender-wise, spiritual-wise, ethnically, racially, class-wise. I think the more we can take away all these preset criteria and boxes to check, and the more we can just ask open-ended questions, like you're doing in this interview, the more we'll find out who we really are and who each other really are.

1:02:09 Jeffrey Shiau: I'm gonna ask also just one more time, now that we've gone through a couple of conversations, and now that's marinated for a little bit. What's another insecurity within yourself that you're just like, "Yeah, this is an insecurity that I've been living with that I maybe have, or maybe only talked to a few people about," but you feel comfortable talking about now? 

1:02:43 Samantha Kanofsky: I'm gonna have to get back to you on that one.

[laughter]

1:02:53 Jeffrey Shiau: Maybe we'll have... Yeah, we'll definitely have an episode two 'cause this has been an awesome conversation.

[laughter]

1:03:00 Jeffrey Shiau: And yeah, so we're actually kinda towards the end here. I have one last question, and again, it's the exact same question I ask all the guests. First off, thank you so much, Sam. Part of my top 10 checklist is complete...

[chuckle]

1:03:21 Jeffrey Shiau: I'm so happy about that. So the final question, as a lot of our listeners know, is the exact same and it is, ultimately, what's the point of all this? 

1:03:40 Samantha Kanofsky: Of life, right? You know, I think about that a lot, and what I've come to is be kind, be true, and appreciate what you've got. I think most of my life up until about a couple of years ago was trying to figure out the answer to that and I realized that you can destroy your life by trying to figure out what the point is and always trying to have a reason and a clear answer, and the truth is life is blurry and life is confusing as hell and once you think you've got it figured out, you don't, and the universe will send a message your way letting you know that. So, I think the most important thing is to be good to each other, and to try to enjoy, and to just know that this life is precious and it's special and we never know when it's gonna end or where it's gonna take us, so, just try to enjoy the ride. That's all I got. [chuckle]


 

Why Did I Start This Podcast?


Equipment & Software:

Yeti Microphone & Ice Microphone by Blue Microphones

Audacity for Mac

WD My Passport Ultra 1 TB

Macbook Pro Retina 15inch Late 2013

Music:

Smile by Daniel Alan Gautreau

Tiny Bits by Felipe Adorno Vassao

Time & Reflection by Bjorn Lynne

Retro Video Game Hotseat by Bjorn Lynne