Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I Believe. . .

American Thanksgiving is upon us.  I  came across a column suggesting that the things that we are truly thankful for are things we believe in.  It asked readers to respond, not with thanks, but with statements of belief.

In recent years I have felt my beliefs shattered by various tolls my life has collected and it would have been much easier for me to drum up a simple thank you for something inconsequential than find and declare a heartfelt  belief.  This in itself is disturbing on reflection.  So, I struggled with this one, and here is that struggle:

I Believe . . .

I believe in the healing power of cartoons, of childlike glee in stories, in colour, in magic, in possibility.

I believe in the beauty of solitude, the fortitude of good friends and the curative bloom generated by intimacy.  I believe in abiding resilience during the absence of solitude, good friends and intimacy.

I believe milk is not only an excellent source of nutrition but also soul pleasing manna from the gods. Only fools relegate it to children.

I believe Jazz encompasses the neediest depths of subversion and the loftiest cries to the Numen.  I believe Jazz will always speak to me when words have failed.I believe Jazz  holds when my circle is broken.

I believe we, humanity collected, are nigh on either a revolution of cooperative austerity or else a nightmare of violent competition in proportions that history has never imagined.

I believe taking my crap out on others spreads a virulent malaise, and that the slightest gesture I make in compassion or even amiability is a twice as virulent benevolence.  I believe this is important to remember when considering whether to smile in any situation.

I believe Trickster is exquisitely comfortable in the paradox of guiding me to be a better self while at the same time constantly tossing me to the wolves for entertainment's sake. I believe Trickster doesn't hold with karma (just as well in my instance) but does believe in the instructive nature of serendipity, mischief, satire, graveyard humour and the intrinsic value of every pathway. I believe Trickster always has time to either snicker at me or pick me up, or both.  I believe He never gives up and for all his tomfoolery, he never casts judgment.

I believe in endurance. People say fail and fail again at worthy tasks. I say, there is no shame in beckoning off of pain and suffering, yet, if I should happen to keep plodding there is always such curious wonder to experience in failure or success. If through even no fault of my own, I come through a storm, I hold riches to lay before me and carry into the next storm.

I believe that the lowly ant that turns our soil and the lowly plankton that conjures our atmosphere  are far more important than our legends and myths, and infinitely more important than our politics and economics.  I pray we honour them and not snuff them out.

I believe music both relieves me of my emotional turmoil and opens doorways to me when I have cloistered myself from such vital meaning.  Music is the easiest thing I can point to to support a spiritual argument.

I believe, at the greater scale, our policies must be long sighted and sometimes difficult, even unpopular, while at the intimate level we all ought be compassionate and share in both success and grief.  I believe we can neither escape the difficulties of life nor the constraints of space, but we can choose wisely for the people that will call us ancestors, while acknowledging the people who live today.

I believe a plant in my room that I need to water occasionally might mean the difference between my life and death during prolonged periods of depression or isolation. I believe this offers me an instance to think of the power of plants and how they connect to me.  I believe that without plants, my feelings would very quickly be moot.

I believe in dancing;  dancing for love and for frustration and for anger and for God and for sex and for boredom and for exercise, but not for protest or meaningful political discourse.   I believe if you can move, or imagine moving and in your mind you can hear two sticks banging together, then you can dance for a myriad of reasons or none at all. I believe it is a mistake, like fashion or theatre or easy slogans to consider dance as a weapon of social change.  Social change is not a byproduct of my entertainment, but dance might sustain me during ugly times as long as when I am not dancing I attend to matters.

I believe in dogs. They have been our partners in survival for 40 000 years. I believe we need to listen to them even more than we need to love them.

I believe wood grain, shell matrices and stone strata contain more beauty than architecture.

I believe learning to grow food really enriches me, yet frightens me about how lazy and disconnected I am. I believe I might probably never grow food again alone, but it is within my small mind to imagine doing so within a connected group and perhaps that is worth noting for what it tells me.

I believe that when I reach the point in life that I am upon meeting my vision of a maker, I will reflect on a great many things. Whole paradigms will shift. Regrets will be visceral.  In this moment, if I get to really see my entire life before my eyes in candid detail, I might rethink a great many things. Every time I take a few minutes to try and imagine this scenario I will be gifted with the greatest wealth ever, and have the opportunity to rethink my next few actions.

I believe the cult of actualization, esteem and personal satisfaction look really excellent on paper but paper burns away in an instant while service, sharing and bonding are instantaneously immortal.

I believe that calling in sick on a rainy day and snugging into bed with comfort food and a well loved book is quite a bit more meaningful than most of what I usually fill my day with. This tells me that every day I need to think about how to shift the balance, not toward comfort, but toward meaning. I have just my sole voice to rail against my own complacence.  It is worth listening to.

I believe I neglect bounty and wisdom and I forsake truly wondrous opportunities because I allow myself to be consumed by places I wish I hadn’t been, places I think I ought be, and places I think I should one day arrive at.  I redouble the ferocity of these crippling mental maps with fear and shame and only occasionally resist.   I believe my best moments are when I let all that go and respond to the world spontaneously, even though whenever I do so, I feel a bowel loosening fear.  In retrospect, risk has trumped fear every time, in value(for the record).

I believe one day, before I die, the way I feel right  now will be a distant memory that I reflect on with more experience. Will I smile at my journey, or will I have chosen paths that fuel regret?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

300 Years of Fossil Fuel Addiction in 5 Minutes

Here's a short film narrated by Richard Heinberg.  It is the most efficient introduction to industrial/environmental/economic issues ever, but I am mostly posting it to see if i can figure out how to post a video

The video is part of promotions for the Post Carbon Institute's brand new Post Carbon Reader.  Selections from the book are available here if you are curious.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Indigo Vertigo

I have a friend who sometimes unleashes eloquent yet antagonistic micro rants toward the Chapters-Indigo chain of bookstores.   It’s been stuck in my craw of late, mainly because I recently read a bitchy scathing article viciously lambasting Chapters.  Some of the sentiments reminded me of my friend’s ired laments, though the article had none of the pith and persuasiveness my friend comes up with.  It got me thinking. More accurately, it got me defensive, as not only am I overly fond of my bloated book brothel, but i get defensive easily too.

Obviously, the modern parable about the big corporate bully driving the little guy out of the sandbox has some merit. But I never feel that argument in Ottawa—Ottawa is so bleeding rich and full of colleges that there are still a bunch of little independents and used stores.

But I still remember a long time ago, how very exciting it was to travel to Montreal and visit the 3 story tall Coles on St. Catherine Street.  Soooo many books.  Things I desperately hunted for among used shops, thinking of as rare books, sat humbly and affordably on their shelves, in print.  Who knew this stuff was in print?  Not me, there was no internet back in those days when you still had to be wary of raptors.  Ottawa had its little shops and it's proto chains: Smiths, Prospero’s and mini Coles.  They may already have amalgamated, I don’t remember.  The "good" bookstores were fairly limited in shelf-feet and the chains were stocked with bestsellers, self-help books and those ubiquitous treekillers: the coffee table book (motorcycles, dead painters, technicolour recipes).   What I did not have access to were big sections on philosophy, religion, science, geopolitics, sociology.  I didn’t have an ocean of literature; I didn’t have access to any graphic novels.

(Creepy serendipity:  I just turned on my radio and there is an interview with someone about book retailing, the rise of chapters and the fate of the independent.  Update 15 minutes later, now Stuart Mclean is calling up book store owners to chat.  Ahhhh, CBC.  )

One complaint I hear about Chapters is the floor space devoted to “not books”.  They sell fancy candles, teas and soaps as well as other over-priced pretty things.  I see these things --within the parameters of consumerism--as items people buy for nurturing and slowing down their worlds, and things they buy as precious gifts for people they care about.  This strikes me as relatively benign.

Also in the category of “not books”, are untold diversities of notebooks (the premium priced Moleskin, so costly you fear writing something unworthy in it), scrapbooks, and day planners.  Again, I see this as addressing and supporting a market for an active life as creator instead of simply encouraging passive consumption of culture.  I also see this as providing people/customers with viable alternatives to complete cyber enmeshment > screw the  word processor and outlook calendar, here is a paper calendar with photos of jazz artists, and a cozy diary with literary quotes that you can curl up in bed with.

Beyond that they sell a plethora of bizarre and unique board games.  Again, I embrace this as a commodity designed with the function of getting people together in real live social activities. A real plus in a world dominated by "social media".

Chapters also recognizes that a crucial component in a functioning civilization is regular easy access to quality amphetamines.   To meet this requirement every chapters has a Starbucks—another corporation people take potshots at despite their fair trade price purchasing policy and their unionized employees.  Politics of commerce aside, Starbucks brews serious joe.

I remember when Chapters first rolled into town, there was cry of doom.  Service would be poor; the stores would be cold and anonymous.  And once they had their stranglehold and had killed all the shops, all that delirious selection would vanish.  None of that happened in Ottawa.  They hire friendly talkative bookworms.  They provide seating and you can sit there all day and read a book and no one will come bug you that "the books are for purchasing".  Selection is still rich and while they did push a bunch of stores out of the market, many remained.  They just aren’t a Walmart Death Machine.

Two disclaimers:  1. Idleprimate received no bananas from Chapters for writing this piece.  2.  Idleprimate was not practicing assignment avoidance by writing this piece.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Am Ironing A Kitten: Play For That F*ckin' Money

It’s that most wonderful time of the year, the leaves are turned, the jack-o’-lanterns are rotting, Starbucks has redressed itself in festive Christmas red and school is arching into a murderous crescendo.

While I am too educated to ascribe facetious causal explanations, I do find a correlation between my motivation to post to my blog and the intensity of assignment deadlines. I was faced this morning with the choice to either write something for this space or to catch up on email with an out of town dear friend—the reasoning being I had time for neither so had to choose just one. You get it, don’t you? In the time honoured spirit of self-plagiarism, I realized I could borrow portions from my message to generate a post, thereby maximizing the efficiency of my procrastination!

One of my best methods of procrastination is imagining justifiable procrastinations. I briefly entertained a fantasy that friends would rent a car to go to the Montreal Small Press Fair this weekend and call me to come along and I would be forced to abandon my homework for the greater cause of vital socializing and cosmopolitanism. I stared hard at the phone and willed it to happen, the same way I have applied my will to Carleton University’s union to make their negotiations break down so they would make good their threat to strike. The spineless fuckers just keep sitting at the table while getting whittled at.

I just can’t catch a break.

Seriously though, I’m so frazzled. It’s reaching beyond peak frenzy. I have a paper due on Monday in my population class and it has my colon in a knot.

Background: I got the best mark I have ever received, on the midterm in this class, and have week after week engaged the Prof in debate in class and on the class website. Last week, argument started to become a euphemism, during a vigourous discussion(euphemism) on China’s one child policy (I wasn’t defending it or condemning it; I was defending the notion of seeing it from China’s point of view—i.e. having 1.4 billion people and being a nation whose philosophy favours the collective over the individual).

My Prof stormed up and down the aisle blaring about dead baby girls and an empiricist world that wants to solve its problems by telling Africans(?) they can’t have babies. He was mostly being bombastic and playing agent provocateur—and despite my promise to myself to not keep falling for it, I too was sputtering red faced. I was really out of control. My logic and focus was actually a cut above its normal level(at least in my vaseline-lensed perceptions anyway), but I was hollering and interrupting both the Prof and students. I revved up and started yelling directed questions at the class, nearly Socrates style, minus the stylish cool. Seriously all mental. A very uncivilized ape.

At one point, I thought I had gained an ally, but it turned out that we had awakened a nazi-styled element in the class, who chimed in that international institutions should “get in there” to “stop them from having more babies” so china "wouldn’t wreck the planet”.  So thereafter I had to fight my Prof on the one hand, who professes to believe that everyone should have lotza babies and that growth produced human ingenuity will save us, and on the other hand, fight the pseudo nazi sounding fellow behind me who felt some good old fashioned genocide was in order to make the world safe for North Americans. The only thing more antithetical to university dogma than neomalthusianism is colonialism, so I was saved from being the troll, but just barely.

All that to say I feel like I have to produce a ringer of a term paper for this class. Due on Monday and I haven’t written a real word yet. I shouldn’t be writing this. It is stealing energy from my essay.

And my head is broken. I started out with a theme examining the refugee wave of Somalis in Ottawa in 1993 following the Somalian civil war, and accumulated a wealth of data (it seems every Master’s thesis at Carleton from ’95-’97 was on this topic). I started to drown in data, and couldn’t find the right tone—I was thinking about the nightmare of being forced from a rural, subsistence, oral culture to an urban capitalist bureaucratic culture, and I was thinking of the naked piercing hate that was the response of Ottawa’s citizenry.

From there I trekked over to a more general theme, examining the population composition of Ottawa. I collected a cornucopia of demographic data on Ottawa’s immigrants with the thesis that today’s Ottawa immigrants are more successful than immigrants anywhere, anywhen ever(in contrast to the media’s constant bleet that Multiculturism is failing). And then I started to flounder in lack of focus.

In a completely random mind belch I moved on to global food production and arable land.

From there I caffeinated my way to global population and the apocalyptic nature of growth. I couldn’t find any supportive data there. In scholarly circles there is a perceived crisis in the notion that the global population may start retracting sometime in the next century. Of course this is the same scholarly milieu that feels a reduction in global carbon emissions is also a crisis as it would impact food production (via the C02, not a reduction in petro farm inputs). I calm myself with the Jay Hanson quote that “magical thinking is still taught in universities”.

I saw another scholarly article from an economics journal stating that human populations are proportional to information storage and that to be sustainable and accommodate growth, the world needs to focus on information technology. Aaaaaaaaagggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

At this point, I took a break and wandered aimlessly around the internet. I found this captioned photo that I pasted on the inside of my forehead as relief humour to remedy frustration:

Fortified, I dove back into the fray. I started digging into China’s one child policy and the unintended consequences it is beginning to reap—an aging population and a more aggravated than usual imbalance in gender, both very serious issues that a society can wrangle with if it isn’t busy coping with mass famine and the kind of feral warfare that crashes that sort of party. I found lots of articles furiously furrowing brows at these coming Chinese crises, though little analysis of the benefits of a greatly reduced fertility rate.

So, that’s where I am now. The paper is due at 6pm tomorrow and I have 18 papers on the topic that are ideal sources for a paper criticizing China’s efforts to stem population growth.

And I still feel like an atomic ADHD sketchmonkey.

And I don’t want to write this paper. I don’t want to write anything. I want to go to a cottage on a river and watch the leaves floating by. I want to bring a bunch of books and sprawl on a sofa in front of a pot-bellied stove warm with aromatic wood burning inside.

I’m also halfway thru a paper on the Huron Indians of 17th century Ontario for my anthropology class. My thesis is on the historical evidence for settled agricultural egalitarian societies. I chose the anthropologist I am studying, the late Bruce Trigger from McGill University, based on the weediest intuition that his study demonstrated this idea. It turns out that he was a Marxist with global impact on archaeology and anthropology and was furiously concerned with applied anthropology influencing the “real world”. In popular scholasticism civilization is synonymous with hierarchy and class. Accordingly, settlement and agriculture lead inevitably such “progress”, the same way over-consumption, waste and throughput (instead of cycled) economies are part of progress. Trigger spent his career challenging not just this idea but how we formulate ideas(i.e. theoretical work). Incredibly fascinating stuff. I would like to spend a year studying his work and the work he was influenced by. This paper too is a towering overwhelming nightmare of too much curiosity and not enough precision. I don’t want to keep working on it either. The whole thing is moot: soon this paper will be handed in and I will, circuit training fashion, jog on to the next station. Sigh.

I want to watch 70’s era Saturday morning cartoons and ponder the semiotics of my televised upbringing while slurping ice-cream. I want to spend the day rambling Conroy or Bruce Pitt Park and pet dogs. I pretty much would accept going to the dentist or boning up on tax law over my assignments.

I lost 8 days of work(and much more in data) due to the fact that my computer melted down on Halloween. I attribute this entirely to the trickster gods who mind me. I attempted some magick that day, purposed to jar me from a rut. Coyote laughed his ass off and punctually stomped my computer into oblivion(seriously, within an hour of the ritual), which did indeed have the appropriate, if not desired, effect. Never let it be said that I am above tempting the gods.

Through magicks I was able to replace my existential angst surrounding school with frantic panicked measures to actually get the work done. I also had to reach out, ironically enough, to my neglected personal networks in order to re-descend into the digitally connected world. The cherry on top was that I was unable to sit in the narcotic-like fog of the internet (which for me includes all my television and music habits) and instead read many books and worked on fall yard cleanup(screw you Green Man, I hate leaves!).

For 8 days, I didn’t stay on top of weather updates, ugly world news, or hourly micro reports on the movie industry. For 8 days I didn’t trawl for books I can’t afford, didn’t troll comment areas in right wing publications and didn’t truant school for the almighty click. For 8 days, there were no LOL cats, spam or online gaming site pop-ups.

With this sabbatical to the tangible world I felt wholly renewed and experienced a transcendent moment of an angelic Freddy Mercury singing about new times.

The dangers of real world, real space, real time utopia were eventually overcome and I am comfortably sedated back in cyberspace.

I am putting off finishing this post because then it means I have to go back to schoolwork and I just can’t bear it. I can’t find any way to rationalize not working on my essay, but I am trying really hard.

There have been so many assignments that there is never a full day to sit back, breathe easy and say “I am on schedule and today is a day off”. Matters are aggravated by the idea that I will likely not be given the opportunity to use this degree in a professional capacity. More slowly and more troublingly, I am circling around the idea that I don’t think I want to use this degree in the given professions it is intended for. I can imagine being an environmental activist, or working on a farm in a small town, or even working in a bookstore and writing freelance. But I can’t imagine being a planner in a society that thinks of megacities as inevitable and insists on the nihilistic masturbation that is “sustainable growth”. I can’t imagine working for Stats Can when we can only compile reports that support dominant paradigms, or going on to graduate studies for the same reasons. I think working for Natural Resources would be equally maddening-we control 80% of earth’s mining and just quashed a bill that made gentle non-mandatory gestures toward international social and environmental accountability. Canada—a nation of malevolent dwarves.

I’m putting off ending this post because what I really need is to commune, to ‘hang out’, to span some time with people, with friends. The last thing I need is to continue pouring over articles with a highlighter, composing arguments that I don’t believe but that support the data. I noticed, researching, that when an indexed article doesn’t fit a given dominant paradigm it often hasn’t been uploaded to an online database. Makes you wonder what isn’t even indexed? Maybe I am paranoid, but its spookily common.

More and more often I find, if I use the language and frameworks that I am taught in school, and I use the data sources that are sanctioned, I am unable to say what I want and need to say. Often I can only say the polar opposite of what I mean. Eat your fucking heart out George Orwell. When I am trying to write my papers for the marks, and feeling acid burn in my tummy, I think of a line one of the characters in the TV show Treme was always saying: a horn player, scraping by from gig to gig, rarely playing what he wants to play; he always looks over slyly at a bandmate and says “play for that fuckin’ money”. He doesn’t say it bitterly or ironically, it’s just a bemused rally.

I seem to be running low on energy to play for that fuckin’ money. And I don’t get money, I pay for the privilege.