10 Sep 2014, 12:23pm
General Ponderings
1 comment

The Economics of our Built Systems

While waiting for godot-transpo, I ended up walking 20 minutes since there was a longer wait than that between connecting busses.

It’s interesting walking with a device. It’s like a tricorder to reveal all the invisibles. I names and places put to wifi signals, like HappyAlphabet, BadAstronaut, AnLEDSign, and Password is Password. As Snowclone-a-Minute might put it if the bot were interactive: “Crouching messes, hidden insisting”.

climate change protest
Corrective graffiti on Bank Street.

It’s a bit hard to make out but over the words “Quality Moments” is written “Climate Change”

Our society is like an alcoholic with a cirrhosis that continues to drink.

I presume it was a car ad but I didn’t glance down. Looks like one.

We never need to get advertised at to buy commodities, potatoes, carrots, etc, yet there’s a constant push to try to induce appetite for cars and other luxury goods.

What does it mean about need that supersized farms have costs that make them band together and advertise as lobbies? Egg marketing, pork producers. The aim is to raise consciousness for the general idea. Now that pulled pork is ubiquitous on menus, there’s a virus going thru U.S. pig herds that causes almost 100% mortality in piglets. It can’t hop to humans and hasn’t made it into Canadian-traded animals.

Farming is a complex economic juggle, heavily subsidized since Canadians want one thing from their food it seems: cheapness. Price as the main thing create brutal situations. Cattle prices fell while feed prices rose, so it became expensive to keep the cattle. So some farmers culled. Smaller herds, higher demand, and vagaries of market ask for a higher price except now demand outstrips supply and there’s no way to make an animal breed faster. Gestation is gestation. Maybe for a tool you can build another factory, import more workers, get a supply chain of materials rerouted to respond quickly but 9 months and a week to make a new calf.

Really absurd practices reign of treating lives like inanimate goods. Even inanimate goods shouldn’t be destroyed en masse if there’s a market glut. Yes, it corrects the supply and demand but it disrespects the energy, lives and materials it took to make the widget, or life.

If we see a product as a commodity we don’t care who made it or where it came from. One material is interchangeable with another like cash or gasoline, rice, coal, soybeans, silver. There’s no intimate relationship to the source. The general idea is pitched.

Are books unditinguished commodities? In genre is one looking for the next Harlequin? When it’s pulp fiction when readers consume many books by cowboy genre, or thriller, romance, werewolf, do they act like commodities?

Is poetry like that?

When we have a luxury item or some good with product differentiation it is all about the distinguishing features, the niche, the quality or timing, place, availability, distinct aspects.

Many literary especially small press publishers seem to pitch their books as if commodities. This is the book. This is the price. There’s no excerpt, no reviews, no indication except title and author of what the niche or distinguishing features might be. This is at odds with their nature.

What to do with a cover information alone? If there’s only the cover to go on, it limits the market to someone who knows the author by name, or already knows enough of the press by other means to want to buy anything coming from the editor’s aesthetic. Or, as on twitter the dead author [Sep 4] quipped, “Show me on the book cover where you stopped reading.”

4 Aug 2014, 12:28pm
Personal Growth Ponderings


The bust which I bought from my aunt’s estate auction has sat on my desk or nearby since the mid-80s. She lived at my aunt’s house which was full of art. Glass tables supported by elephants. Gilded framed of fox hunt. A mantle clock with brassy people who turned a dance at the hour. Side tables stacked with National Geographic and travel magazines. Dressers full of lace, buttons, craft materials. A black and white photo on the wall was of her in nurse uniform after WWII. Another photo was of one of her husbands. That was revealed to me in a hushed tone as if there was something wrong with remarrying. She once was a divorcee.

Her cupboards that were empty except for fancy plates, decorative cups and, occasionally, a box of crackers and a box of tea. She ate out every meal. The fridge was empty every time except for root beer or pink cream soda which she bought for the occasion of my visit.

aunt aunt
I don’t have much memory of my first 20 years. Mom’s photo album had this of my aunt hugging me. The only picture I know where I’m being hugged by family.

I remember that aunt dying while I was in primary school but apparently there’s fuzz on my memory. Her estate auction after she was hospitalized with strokes causing paralysis and aphasia in a city a couple hours away. Dad couldn’t bear hospitals, or elevators, or upper floors and this was all 3. He got bad panic attacks. He’s go all waxy and shaky. When we did see her he’d make it upstairs then need to bail to a lawn where he could breathe.

Funny, all the years we were in our parallel panic attacks and private depressive funks. We could have talked, helped each other. But we were both in shame and hiding such “weakness”.

“We should have noticed
the field under
winter’s abundance”
Fernand Ouelette, Hours (Guernica Editions)

I don’t know how to set down the burdens of guilt of all the help I omitted to give him. When he was kicked by a cow, his leg swollen, purpled o-shape on his shin, the bone bruised, did I even offer to shovel out the barn? Why didn’t I insist and take over so at least he could rest or so we could do it faster together?

The barn was his solitude time, and I didn’t want to intrude. I wanted my dignity of privacy for my down cycles and wanted to give him his. And he was emphatic that I was not to associate with farming life. He wanted to push me past him to an easier life. People can only get ahead if they have an advantage passed on from the generation before. He didn’t want me to lose the advantage by throwing his savings down a money pit of agriculture.

8 years ago I put a slideshow of him. Why didn’t I record his voice? He waved off the camera. His outside jarred against his idea of himself.

I had to shoot it furtively, and cut out the sharp looks of is that thing pointed at me? Somehow image becomes word and past becomes present becomes past.

Still, what did I miss out on? If there’s a lesson, it’s that I should be less polite, press myself towards those I am fond of while people are still around.

Why didn’t I ask more questions? He’d get gruff and flustered and mad. He was painfully shy at times. He seemed to want to not contaminate me with himself and his ideas. He was frustrated that he couldn’t shake off ideas he was told in his youth but thought ideas should die with him. Like orangeism. He even had an ambiguous relationship to god. He secretly read a prayerbook for the last couple years, returning to the faith of his youth that he never spoke of.

I was in my own vortexes. Can I say I accept that I did what I could with what I had to work with at the time? He knew some of what I knew. We had no animosity between us.

I think I think in a medium of words but most of the time we spent together was in silence. We played rummy, checkers or parallel solitaire on Saturday nights. He drank his 5 star slowly, I drank cola until it was flat. We saw if we could eat a third of a gallon of ice cream or more, me getting more of the proportion of chocolate in Neapolitan and him getting more of a proportion of the strawberry that he preferred. We went halves on the vanilla that neither of us much cared for. Mom sat in the corner reading her harlequin in conscientious objection to the presence of cards and alcohol. A few times a year she might be persuaded to join a game of snakes and ladders.

There is no analogous thing to family. Friends are family you choose but they often aren’t integrated. They are special events. Unless you live in a commune you see them rarely. They aren’t in the orbit of daily. You don’t get the thick data of their private selves. It is a jerky slideshow more than a plotless ambient movie.

War(nings) & Peace

It’s true about the squeaky wheel. What a wonderful slide of silence that the laundry line makes.

Everything is training. Even for birds.

begging duck
At a beach where people know not to feed the seagulls, the seagulls sit indifferent to people, but the ducks have learned to beg. Is anything nature at all?

Duck awaits your reply.

And the soybean grows, indifferent.

balancing stones, Ottawa
A stone balances unless acted on by an outside force. Our outside forces are internalized and one never knows when they’ll reanimate.

Our country — and by that I mean more confederacy of many groups and millions of individuals, living at least some of their time in a region, governed by some overlapping laws — used to commemorate soldiers on November 1st and recite “lest we forget, never again” and speak of peace and the grief that visits generation after last, the devastation if things escalate too far.

Now we have a new narrative pushed forward, more war monuments, more reenactments. Instead of a memory tree for a life loved we have a story of two complicit with bolstering the idea of nation founded in war with symbolic water from each ocean and dirt from where a battle was. I don’t even want to point to the story.

6 months ago our Museum of Civilization with a mandate to educate on the history of the human story got it’s mandate narrowed to Canada as the Museum of History.

The Museum of War and Destruction in its new location features “adventure games” for kids. Those are not about discovering Quaker principles, I’m speculating.

Some naively believe we have, roughly speaking a free press, and are distinct from North Korea. We have an affluent western life, but so did Iran before religious police took hold. What information are we missing? As I write I dislike contained narratives but want to break the 4th wall, see what outside the frame complicates the picture. There are always many parallel world going on.

Rapides Deschênes
Rapides Deschênes is another look at the city. A froth of boiling water and signs to say don’t swim.

Minutes away, water as still as that is twisting. The other still froths. While it froths, this still rests.

We are tethered to world economy and should it dive, there are predictable results, a them and us mentality increasing, finding ways to create Others, hardening new imaginary boundaries and history for gender and sexuality, a closing against intellectual and art and disability, a dehumanizing categorically. It does not take long for a zeitgeist of paranoia to sweep people. Media is short-sighted to play at giving attention to stories of our military legacy. In under a decade a story of the times is all a child knows unless people are actively teaching to counter.

It reminds me of being in the countryside near the border of Quebec. At the campfire someone from the circle went to throw in a plastic bottle. His hand was stopped. One shouldn’t burn plastics. The thrower said it is one bottle and does’t make a difference. The person who stopped him said everything makes a difference. Then mused that being here seeing all these stars in such pure air, it’s hard to believe there could be pollution anywhere.

Down in the beach this week some youths were throwing water balloons. As they played a woman with a stoop and a cane came with her wicker bag, opened it, took out a stool, stepped out of her brown skirt and green shirt and folded them carefully and put them in her bag which she hung from a tree. In her shorts and tshirt she sat with her cane leaned beside her. The kids continued to play and one running backward nearly tripped on her and the water balloon splashed the older woman. The girl apologized and the old woman smiled and waved it off. After all the balloons splashed, the young woman came back and combed the beach, ordering her friends to do the same. We have to find all the pieces or the birds will eat them! And her friends diligently went and picked up balloon parts as well.

As I sit her a wasp flies by and then hovers. I go to look and it is partly caught in a spider’s web. Spiders need to eat too but I release the wasp. It’s hard to believe that there is anyone who does not want peace but some people are shit rakers and will do anything to avoid boredom or to get excitement, believe all acts are governed by fate and free choice is an illusion.

There are forces bigger than us and the system binds as well as has leeway of choice. What will predicate what? We work partly blind.

balancing stones, Ottawa
Stone creatures may walk in ice before the ice knocks them flat.

What will animate and what stays innocuous and resolves itself like fog’s blindness?

Do early risers get to see this often?

I realize how rarely I see 5-6 a.m. Only on nights when my body skips sleep entirely do I see those hours, and by then it’s usually occupied and writing, unconscious of the world outside.

28 Jul 2014, 10:01am
General Ponderings

Seasons of Shifting Gears

P6290021 P6290016
Suppose I could make an animated gif but I’m not gonna.

Life is much about choosing your focus, changing your focus. What is real may be the thing or an image of a thing. Even an image of a thing is enough to chase. See a cat chasing shadow of fly on the wall. Frog trying to eat fly on the iphone, seems more frustratingly out of reach. For mental exercise and challenge, needs can be as much met with simulacrum as the real.

Is a to-do list complete without the level of do-dadding-diddle, for what? and that for what benefit? And why is that good and useful?

As monk Thomas Merton considered The Way of Chuang Tzu, he at one point concluded about the pitfalls of making an effort to improve, “The more “the good” is objectively analyzed, the more it is treated as something to be attained by special virtuous techniques, the less real it becomes. As it becomes less real it recede further into the distance of abstraction, futurity, unattainability [...] a devotion to the systemic usefulness of practicing means that lead no where. This is, in fact, nothing but organized despair.”

Improvement: doing it wrong.

It’s easy to overcomplicate and mistake good route for the goal. Best practice might be to print one manuscript on blue paper and manuscript B on pink so I can find them in a sea of white papers. But it’s not necessary. The system isn’t the thing. The doing is the thing. Do it efficient, or do it chaotically, throw in emotional weight or do it and not care about outcomes. The action is the thing.

One can figure out rules and patterns that should optimize. It is easy to forget why and that they are not the ends in themselves. For what, for what, leads me towards less pain for others and for self, an eased path in the long and short term.

What are good practices? If we were confined to best practice we’d spend most of our time deadlocked. Doing and not straining is a good practice. Use your muscles for something other than clenching; to keep them and heart and ends of the blood system pumping properly. Stay hydrated. Eat nutritionally varied and nutritionally dense food. Do things that improve the world around you meaningfully. Cultivate peace and beauty without hiding from or denying ugly and neutral. Exercise your compassion and your critical thinking. Sleep enough. Work enough to sleep well. Spend time in communication with like-minded and different-minded. Happiness techniques. Balance the spheres of your life.

There are times when one sphere rightly rules and displaces other things, just as there are seasons when fruit comes in season and the grains are set aside. Sometimes are not for full sleep or proper diet or listening.

It’s good to prop open the mind so new possibilities can come but not so uncritically that any fool thing is given equal weight as the sound and tested things.

It’s impossible to be in all the right place & all the right times. There’s now. There’s the now chipping and slipping away. It would be easy to pursue the disappearing moon. Or let it go and wait to see what is now.

You’re never going to run out of motivation. You’re never going to stop driving yourself and find you become a null. The body rests and like inhale follows exhale, something else to chase rises.

If you treat yourself like driftwood and decide that whatever happens is to the learning and to the good, you can have a state of rubberstamping good. This can take more energy than calling a downside and moving on.

If the mandala of the world is that all things are to the good, all bad contains good outcome, that’s going to take a lot of legwork mentally to justify. Work to see the benefit and overriding logic in the random which gives a sense of large picture purpose and path but there’s a tradeoff in the delusion and the crunch comes when you try to make sense of something out of reach.

You may feel you personally failed, spiral into self-blame but all the patterns were fanciful structures as substantial as cotton candy.

20 Jun 2014, 3:17pm
Comments Off

How to be Kind

How to build positive moments so you are around people you like and can enjoy those people. How many times have I walked away after a tea and thought of things I wanted to know about the person but I was so anxious being out, still caught up in being lost trying to find the place, carried by the river of their outpouring or carried by the river of their patter of questions…how to hold one’s own?

How to be attentive? Pile all the phones on the centre of the table at meals and no reading at the table will only take people so far. Being present and mindful instead of letting mind fret across to-do lists. Conversations can take the form of instrumental lists of what just happened or what’s about to happen. How to get deeper?

Conversations can be waiting for some chance to understand some point of reference so you can register and get into part of the monologue. How to get an informed question out? How to talk? It’s so hard.

A pile up of traded kvetches leads to a downward competitive spiral. Jokes alone and people are told to suck it up while being amused.

Masters of Love is an article in The Atlantic by Emily Esfahani Smith. It is one of the more worthwhile things I’ve read in a long while.

Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” [...]

The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.

Are we turning towards or signalling person and subject as unwanted with inattention?

Part of publishing and the crits of literary reviews is that people grandstand for themselves instead of engage with the book at hand. Part of that is active listening. It is turning towards the book instead of saying you dialogue with it but actually never get past yourself to what the intentions are.

Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved. [...] One way to practice kindness is by being generous about your partner’s intentions. [...] Imagine her joining him for dinner, excited to deliver her gift, only to realize that he’s in a sour mood because he misinterpreted what was motivating her [late] behavior. The ability to interpret your partner’s actions and intentions charitably can soften the sharp edge of conflict.

How to talk? Talk back. How? If the person is happy, don’t be a stick in the mud. Empathy and compassion has some echo to it. What is support? Agreeing to common ground. Letting the other person have the floor.

All of this would be at home with buddhist lecture on practicing lovingkindness. or a Christian lecture on way to be loving in the world. She goes into exact details which for me are far more illuminating than guidelines. She backs it up with various studies which pleases my brain-side.

What makes people want to be around each other? No contempt towards each other, looking in the same direction, being an open friend instead of indifferent. Part of that is caring in the moment.

Another powerful kindness strategy revolves around shared joy. [...]

We’ve all heard that partners should be there for each other when the going gets rough. But research shows that being there for each other when things go right is actually more important for relationship quality.

Contempt and kindness are muscles. What does kindness look like? I saw my mom’s friend interact with her and how to put a finger on how she expressed that she liked mom? There’s an attitude of acceptance in tone. There’s a proximity, a bodily trust that doesn’t presume the other will flinch. There’s no meanness or contempt, o presumption that whatever comes out of mom’s mouth should be questioned as wrong, unlike say, when she interacts with her sibling who are default disrespectful by my standard and by default override and make speech acts of control or joke. You can divorce your family. Many do.

The principles of kindness work in any context. The retailer assumes I’m a jam-jar shoplifter or glances and assumes I can’t afford her clothes. Maybe they’re punchy from other people or from Having-A-Bad-day/life-phase. If someone is omnidirectional mistrustful it’s about what they fight inside themselves. Not about me, or this moment. It’s not productive to debate or engage. It is productive to disarm myself rather than bristle to signal they are safe to do so as well.

Back to that article, here’s a nugget:

in general, couples responded to each other’s good news in four different ways that they called: passive destructive, active destructive, passive constructive, and active constructive.

Let’s say that one partner had recently received the excellent news that she got into medical school. She would say something like “I got into my top choice med school!”

If her partner responded in a passive destructive manner, he would ignore the event. For example, he might say something like: “You wouldn’t believe the great news I got yesterday! I won a free t-shirt!”

If her partner responded in a passive constructive way, he would acknowledge the good news, but in a half-hearted, understated way. A typical passive constructive response is saying “That’s great, babe” as he texts his buddy on his phone.

In the third kind of response, active destructive, the partner would diminish the good news his partner just got: “Are you sure you can handle all the studying? And what about the cost? Med school is so expensive!”

Finally, there’s active constructive responding. If her partner responded in this way, he stopped what he was doing and engaged wholeheartedly with her: “That’s great! Congratulations! When did you find out? Did they call you? What classes will you take first semester?”

Among the four response styles, active constructive responding is the kindest. While the other response styles are joy-killers, active constructive responding allows the partner to savor her joy and gives the couple an opportunity to bond over the good news. In the parlance of the Gottmans, active constructive responding is a way of “turning toward” your partners bid (sharing the good news) rather than “turning away” from it.

Sometimes I don’t know what to say, or how to elaborate in that direction, don’t know what to ask so fearful of silence, zip back on autopilot to me, some safe verbiage. It’s a common strategy. Brainfreeze. But if the silence goes on too long it signals leavetaking. Conversation isn’t rife with patience.

Shifting topics sidelines whatever the other was saying. “Tell me more” works sometimes. Sometimes it is too open-ended and exasperates. The time to react is now. What reaction was just cued. Why is the person happy? What was the happy part? What reaction is in order?

Sometimes people tamp down their feelings. Unlike say a toddler who is cartoon joy or terror or overwhelmed. We can be more mixed as adults instead of a total displacement. The intent is to connect, or else we would be somewhere else Not with people, or that person.

Why would you not celebrate with someone’s excitement if you know that’s what to do. Or enter someone’s grief. We don’t need to have our intellect see if we would agree with the source feeling and say someone’s feelings are fine for them but we would be inappropriate by our morals to support. If someone has a rare steak dinner in front of me, I don’t want to share their steak, but I do want to enter their pleasure of it. If someone is sad because someone who mistreated them finally went away, that is a stage of loss to honour. Telling someone that it’s for the best doesn’t help the speaker or the unconsoled.

Sometimes it feels too risky to feel anything. Some people cycle fast. If someone is hangry and exhausted, and determined to be chipper, I can’t shift moods that readily. But I can acknowledge and look towards instead of shutting out. That’s not just human but what any mammal does in a natural response to another animal.

Except the occasional cat. Like Suzie of circa 1987. She was incredible perceptive and would come out of the woodwork if I was in distress, but as a time-limited offer. As if, Hey, I nuzzled you. You won’t take comfort. Fine Not dealing with this right now. Got toms to see.

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