From November 2017

On Containing Multitudes

The sun was just below the horizon and the evening began in earnest. He sat down beside her in the windswept long grass. For too long, he said nothing.

Then, “It’s getting dark.”

She looked toward him, but didn’t turn her head. She took a long, deep breath and let it out the same way, then closed her eyes.

“I’m going to put the house on the market,” she said.

“But you love that house!”

She didn’t answer right away, and opened her eyes to the magenta and peach fire at the horizon.

“Yeah. It’s all nostalgia and memories of good days. And good lives lived there. And I’m going to sell it.”

He chewed his lip. She turned her head finally and saw him frown.

“I love it and I’m still selling it. I’m sad and I’m excited, and I’m confused and I’ve never been so fucking sure about anything before.” She turned back to the darkening orange glow. “I want to see the stars,” she said.

“You want to wait till dark. How come?”

She shrugged. “They’re pretty. And I never do it.”

The breeze pushed their hair around. A car horn beeped faintly. The orange began to gray.

“They are pretty,” he said.

She smiled.

Not Knowing

One of the things we find easy about the past is that—for ourselves, at least—it’s pretty much known. The future isn’t set, not in any serious way. There are probabilities and likelihoods the closer we are to it, but remarkably soon any certainty fades away. This is scary.

The past, on the other hand, can be traumatic, or sad, or disturbing, but it isn’t surprising. There’s a comfort in that, and it makes some of us want to keep indulging in it, reveling—or wallowing—in memory, and it keeps us from moving forward.

But the future is nothing if not endless possibility. These are times of great chaos, anxiety, and, yep, uncertainty. When we shrink from the work, overindulge in nostalgia for the past, or reject what-is-yet-to-be-determined, we toss aside the possibilities that hope and our practice are creating in front of us. It probably seems wishy-washy. It might even seem mystical. But there is freedom in abandon and that’s quite real. There are always new chances in the future we can’t know, so long as we’re alive.

Failure Is Always an Option

It’s inevitable we will fail at some point. Your will falters, your power goes out, your life’s emergencies take precedence. This is all okay.

What’s important isn’t succeeding always and forever. It’s persistence. Tenacity is more powerful than success.

It’s even helpful to get knocked down, here and there. There’s value in how much we have failed, since we learn the most from it. Getting up again to keep going is what matters. Soon, we’ll have left the disasters and the disappointments far behind. Learning allows growth, and growth leads us to greater potential. Fail faster, and with grace and joy.

The Beauty of the New

We’re well on the way to full Christmas music saturation. At my job, the Xmas soundtrack channel is de rigeur until the fateful day itself. That level of constant jingling all the way can be oppressive. But despite the hammering of tunes popular during Boomer childhoods, there is zero shortage of new to newish Holiday Season music to revel in. Some of my favorites are

  • Tracy Thorn – Tinsel & Lights
  • Said the Whale – West Coast Christmas EP Collection
  • The 8BitPeoples – The 8 Bits of Christmas
  • Low – Christmas

They’re weird, melancholy, and even at their oldest (1999,) refreshing. I tend toward humbugitude, but I can’t deny there’s a sizable part of me that indulges in this most sentimental of holidays. My mom was especially good at a gentle transition into Xmas madness, and I have a cadre of core albums from my childhood we used to listen to every year as we wrapped up dinner and my brother and I headed off to bed. We drifted to sleep to strains of Glen Campbell, Barbra Streisand, Andy Williams, The Carpenters, and Fred Waring’s Pennsylvania Singers. But those have a special time and place. We have lots more to saturate the season with, and it comes with some measure of surprise, of sparkle. Tradition is meant to be comfortable. But the new comes with promise and possibility, as well as the change that life offers with the renewal of the year.

On Sheeple

Apologies if the title is triggering. There are a plethora of media exhorting us all to think for ourselves, and avoid following the group. But group behavior, while responsible for no small amount of chaos and destruction, can also be good. Individualism, taken to similar extremes, can be bad.

There’s a growing viral thread on Twitter about a 7th grader leading classmates in an ongoing spontaneous practical joke. Read the link for details, I won’t rehash it here. Because, of course, lazy. But some of the comments to the thread express worry that kids are engaging in dangerous groupthink and herd-following, and should be corrected, taught critical thinking, admonished. Because who knows where it could go horribly wrong in different circumstances? Getting caught up in endless permutations of alternate realities doesn’t engage what did happen. It’s just speculation and anxiety for imaginary slippery slopes. And, in fact, the incident is an example of kids rebelling against certain rigid aspects of their schooling. They are avoiding just going along with what they’re told. Irony?

On the other side of things are 9/11 Truthers, The Unabomber, Timothy McVeigh, any number of lone shooters, climate change deniers, and more. “Doing one’s own research” can be as negative as mindlessly following the group. I just don’t think I see that in this instance. Spontaneous group behavior can be filled with support and fellowship and drive for change, as exhibited in the Women’s March earlier this year. Context matters. Process matters. Groups aren’t necessarily mindless, sometimes they work together to do good. Or just to be funny.


Lazy Days

We often don’t feel like doing things. I’m talking specifically about the work, here, you know, The Work. Whatever it is you think you should be creating is, maybe bafflingly, sometimes or often hard to start doing.

We’ve long established that waiting to feel inspired doesn’t get work done. The only thing that matters is (tautology alert) doing the work. Ideally, you decide on the thing you’re doing and engage the habit. “This is what I do every day,” you tell yourself, and for the next ten or thirty or three hundred minutes you do it.

And it’s usually fine once we’ve begun. Habitual creation is magical in its ability to strip away feelings of inadequacy, uncertainty, and plain old fear. You just start making, and soon it takes over and you’re lost in it.

Editing, culling, rewriting, finishing, detailing, tweaking can all be done after the stuff is created, but nothing matters until things are brought into the world. Lazy days when you don’t want to do shit are fine. They’re still days when, because you’ve spent effort building your habit, The Work happens.

A Meaningful Break

The idea behind breaks is, in part, that effective work is bolstered by leaving the task aside for brief periods so as to refresh and invigorate the person working. But (and you knew there had to be a but, didn’t you?) much of the time, we use our rest periods to do other tasks. Mostly checking social media.

I’m going to suggest we try doing less during our breaks. It’s easy to let the pile of Things to Do bully us into trying to take action on uncrossed-out items. It’s harder, counterintuitively, to just rest. I have a notion that if we could do this for one or more days, it would be even more effective.

It may be that, like meditation, a short period where focus is on just resting can enhance our reinvigoration. Further, it might then unchain the burden of being made to be something else. A break gains meaning in this way, not because of the number of things we can accomplish outside our work, but because it isn’t trying to become something else. It’s no longer just the absence of work. It, like us, when we live in the moment, is its true self.

Happy Thinksfeeling

Gratitude is free. But expressing thanks enriches our lives in many real, if intangible ways. We sometimes feel humility, and subjects of our appreciation feel appreciated, as we take time to remember what requires our thankfulness. Those effects of thanks are to be expected. The root of the word incorporates both thought and emotion, “to think” and “to feel” all in one.

I’m thankful for good friends and family, a world full of curiosities and knowledge, the ability to wonder. To live is to hope. To give thanks is to reflect on life and revere things which give it meaning.

Purging Toxins

The media information landscape can feel intensely enervating at times. A never-ending feed cuts both ways, and cat images have a hard time competing against manufactured (or actual) real-world continual crisis.

The old methods are sometimes best.

  1. Turn off. Unplug. Walk out. A day without internet is Tim Wu’s temporary panacea. There’s more to say about it, but this habit works well to regain a little perspective and recharge, even if just a little. Without the endless scroll of emergencies, having just a brief walk and look around at the outside world is a beautiful wash of calm.
  2. Breathe. Like a micro-meditation, you simply stop what you’re doing, take a slow, deep, controlled breath and release it in the same rhythm. Then do it again. And a third time. It helps like dementor chocolate: “You really will feel better.” ~ Prof. Lupin

In Praise of Visions and Wonder

When I was 11 or 12 years old, I thumbed though my Uncle David’s record collection, for reasons I don’t know (other than whim), because I wasn’t allowed to just play them on my own. Halfway through the row, I stopped dead on an earth toned abstract cover depicting a man with his eyes closed and a cone of energy or light beaming from (or to?) his forehead—Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions. I thought then that my uncle was more hip than I thought. I hadn’t heard much Stevie Wonder at that time, but I knew he incorporated jazz and funk into his music from what I’d heard on the radio (and possibly his appearance on Sesame Street). I only understood his socially conscious lyrics later, when I was older and had read and heard more about him and his music. “Living for the City” was a glimpse into that side of the lyrics, and I only knew it in a memory from the radio.

But I didn’t listen to the album then.

I’ve only just heard it front to back, and it’s a masterpiece. It’s very much a collection of sounds that holds up 44 years later. I was also a bit dismayed to hear the frustration and anger of “City” and “He’s Misstra Know-It-All,” a dig at another corrupt, racist administration was only too timely. But it’s well worth listening to, and reveling in. Stevie played much of the album by himself, working through multiple instruments and bringing his typically brilliant melodic sense and gorgeous pipes to join then-shiny modular synth sounds to new audiences. It’s only 9 songs and 44:12 of your time, but I think it’s always good to discover something new that’s been with you most of your life.