Author Archive

February 24, 2011

3…Into the Fray

These days, we all seem to be heading into the fray, you say?

We ARE the fray… here’s list of paradoxical positions to demonstrate my point:

+/- Drifters (Who feel “stuck”)

+/- Transient (Settlers)

+/- Disbanded (Communities)

+/- Disenfranchised (Able-Bodies)

+/- Creative (Types)

+/- Non-committal (Keeners)

+/- Apathetic (Partiers)

+/- Fragmented (Identities)

+/- Frustrated (Optimists)

+/- Disenchanted (Dreamers)

Perhaps it’s because we have things like Creative (Industries), School (Systems), Food (Production), and Home (Economics) that we’ve got ourselves in this mess to begin with. Everything starts to feel a little canceled out…a little greaterthan lessthan, a little overdetermined by the language of industrial capitalism and cosmopolitan colonialism, (which is to say, by the things that keep people and ideas on the move before any of it gets too comfortable or too unprofitable). In the name of progress we continually flounder, the only perpetuum mobile we’ve truly managed to construct is the interminable process of identity construction, and its a little maddening. Whether we go into the fray (with some semblance of “togetherness”, either of self or of community), or we ourselves ARE the fray… either way, it’s a fine mess.

February 21, 2011

4…Making Honey

“Bees make honey from the bitterest weeds.” So the saying goes…

Here’s another: “Weeds have flowers, too”

I started saying it when I was trying my hardest to be a self-employed craft-isan, and was puzzling over what to silkscreen onto objects to make them sell. You see, when the craft fairs got saturated with owls, squirrels, deer and little songbirds, I thought I’d be clever and figure out how to elevate something less cute to the level of craft icon. I never did get around to it (and I’ve since given up trying to put my finger on the retail pulse of the crafty scene), but when I started digging a little deeper into the world of gardening, the phrase “weeds have flowers, too” developed new resonance.

Our backyard jungles, roadside grassy ditches, hiking trail forests and other habitually traversed landscapes are populated by an amalgam of intentional and unintentional varieties of plant and animal life. Weeds have a part to play that is often overlooked and under-appreciated (for a fascinating account of how, check out chapter 7, “Weeds”, of Alfred W. Crosby’s “Ecological Imperialism”). Organic gardening and permaculture design both incorporate a “live and let live” approach to certain weeds and insects, because we’ve learned that when gardeners and farmers strive to create sterile conditions or mono-culture in order to maximize production or for aesthetic concerns, we create unstable environments that require maximum upkeep and toxic “solutions” to “problems” that, on second look, were in the eye of the beholder.

Bees may be clever for transforming the “bitter” into the “sweet”, but so too does the “bitter weed” have inherent value in its ability to transform the situations it encounters. Weeds are opportunistic, and for this reason we battle them constantly, because humans are opportunistic too (except weeds are uncontrolled, and its hard to say the same for humans). Weeds make comfortable quarters for themselves in places that other species take a pass on.

We can learn a lot from bees, about making sweet tasty lemonade out of sour life lemons…about busying ourselves and doing the valuable work of making palatable something that was formerly hard to swallow.

And we can also learn a lot from weeds…about making do with what’s available…about teaming up in mutually beneficial relationships…about thriving in less-than-perfect circumstances.

We can afford to let our ideas, thoughts, and actions be a little weedy (popping up where they may, opportunistic but also collaborative, able to subsist even during dry/wet/hot/cold spells) and our attitude towards other people’s weedy ideas, thoughts and actions could be a little bee-like (taking the parts of the idea we can work with, adding it to the whole mix of available materials and concepts, transforming it into something that many can taste and enjoy… other bees, people, bears… you name it).

Making Honey from the Bitterest Weeds

“Bees make honey from the bitterest weeds.” So the saying goes…

Here’s another: “Weeds have flowers, too”

 

I started saying it when I was trying my hardest to be a self-employed craft-isan, and needed to figure out what to silkscreen onto objects to make them sell. When the craft fairs got saturated with owls, squirrels, deer and little songbirds, I tried to figure out how to elevate something less cute to the level of craft icon. I never got around to it, and I’ve since given up trying to put my finger on the retail pulse of the crafty scene, but when I started digging a little deeper into the world of gardening, the phrase “weeds have flowers, too” developed new resonance.

 

Our backyard jungles, roadside grassy ditches, hiking trail forests and other habitually traversed landscapes are populated by an amalgam of intentional and unintentional varieties of plant and animal life. Weeds have a part to play that is often overlooked and under-appreciated. Organic gardening and permaculture design both incorporate a “live and let live” approach to certain weeds and insects because when gardeners and farmers strive to create sterile conditions or mono-culture in order to maximize production or for aesthetic concerns, they create unstable environments that require maximum upkeep and toxic “solutions” to “problems” that, on second look, were in the eye of the beholder.

 

Bees may be clever for transforming the “bitter” into the “sweet”, but so too does the “bitter weed” have inherent value in its ability to transform the situations it encounters. Weeds are opportunistic, and for this reason we battle them constantly, because humans are opportunistic too (except weeds are uncontrolled, and its hard to say the same for humans). Weeds make comfortable quarters for themselves in places that other species take a pass on.

 

We can learn a lot from bees, about making sweet tasty lemonade out of sour life lemons…about busying ourselves and doing the valuable work of making palatable something that was formerly hard to swallow.

 

And we can also learn a lot from weeds…about making do with what’s available…about teaming up in mutually beneficial relationships…about thriving in less-than-perfect circumstances.

 

We can afford to let our ideas, thoughts, and actions be a little weedy (popping up where they may, opportunistic but also collaborative, able to subsist even during dry/wet/hot/cold spells) and our attitude towards other people’s weedy ideas, thoughts and actions could be a little bee-like (taking the parts of the idea we can work with, adding it to the whole mix of available materials and concepts, transforming it into something that many can taste and enjoy… other bees, people, bears… you name it).

February 6, 2011

6…Dream Worlds

"Those youngsters will throw their lives away..."“Those youngsters will throw their lives away…drawing things that never were.”

-Grandpa Simpson

“The Simpsons” may not be a reality show, but… it does tend to ring true.

Grandpa Simpson’s lament is the self-same of many who don’t quite see the value in imagination, or the “creating” part of “creativity”. They forget that thinking tends to have practical, purposeful ends. Even industrial capitalism in all its instrumentality, once figured more as a dream and less as a reality. Now it is a nightmare, the alpha/omega of ingenuity and all of ingenuity’s disastrous side-effects…

But come again? How many ways can we read (and heed) Grandpa Simpson’s cry? Is he himself oblivious to the worth of those youngster’s activities? Or does he see the dreamers and drawers as making triumphant but ultimately wasted efforts to imagine things differently? Or, might he be fearful that his progeny will naively place too much faith and expend too much energy in a bankrupt profession that society consistently devalues?

More to the point, just how does he imagine their (our) time would be better spent?

If one draws things “as they are”, one’s claim to truth will eventually be overturned or, at the very least, subsumed by the multitude of conflicting claims to truth. In this sea of conflicting claims, does a contested truth amount to a “thing that never was”? Or is truth a non-euclidean space, wherein two truths (or more) can easily co-exist (no matter how contrary they seem)?

If one opts out of drawing anything at all, what imaginative space would be left and in what ways would cultures (the majority being so steeped in the representational world of the image) be affected?

If one draws only schematics, that can and will be materialized, is one not then a designer of a “new world” within which others must then live, with no hope themselves of imagining other versions unless they can be sure enough (and by sure, read: privileged) that their vision will in fact become a reality?

But I’m not drawing a picture here of things that never were. These “what ifs” are true to life as far as I see it.

And, truthfully:

We need youngsters to keep drawing themselves out of tight spots, and imagining things that have not come to be, and following lines of flight however fanciful they appear.

We need to come to the table without our minds made up, and without being so quick on the draw (so to speak!) to dismantle the other stories being told or worlds being imagined or images being pictured.

We have all been youngsters once, with tremendous capacities for “divergent thinking” and its haphazard genius. Those youngsters (or youngsters-at-heart) who still see multiple answers to all of life’s questions have a story to tell that is worth hearing, they have a drawing that is worth drawing—regardless of its worth in the marketplace.

RSA Animate, check it:

“Changing Education Paradigms” Sir Ken Robinson

“Smile or Die” Barbara Ehrenreich

February 1, 2011

7…Worlds Beyond Words

The real and the ideal comingle every dayWords are like pointers, signposts that direct us to places. In other words, words aren’t things in themselves. Fair enough, but hey, talking never hurt nobody, right? Ok, this last part is arguable, because as the revisionist saying goes: Sticks and stones may break bones but words hurt worse than anything.

Speaking out against something that is doing harm can be a powerful defence against the word-wielding bullies in this world. Dialogue is crucial to democratic notions of equal representation. Words that become laws have the power to giveth and to taketh. Words work. And we can make words work for us.

We need to make sure to stay in the conversation, even when it flags or seems boring or irrelevant or overwhelming. No matter the variety of conversation—be it the passing “how do you do?”, or the more polarized referendums that call for “yes” or “no” votes, or commiserating about job markets and the high cost of living, or staying in touch with distant friends, or neighbourly chats over the fence, or passionate shouting matches about high stakes situations—what matters is the part where we listen to what’s being said and respond with sincerity about our own experiences.

Telling someone what you think they want to hear shouldn’t count as conversation. (You are then too far beyond their world, into what you imagine the other wants.) Saying whatever you can think of to make the other person stop talking to you because you’d rather be talking to someone else doesn’t count either. And listening only long enough to be polite while you wait for an opportunity to speak is essentially a one-sided conversation, which means you are not at all conversant with the fine art of conversation, which requires an exchange of ideas, not solely the broadcast nor reception. (You are now too far beyond their word if you place your yet-to-be-expressed word before theirs in your mind.)

Conversation is a two-way street, and so speaking up and out with any kind of sympathy requires a good deal of listening. Conversations that are one-way streets make faulty democracies. Two-way streets carry the necessary risk of collision, and keep us alert and on our toes as we navigate their complexity. Come to think, conversations can just as easily be multi-way streets, and cacophonous as that may be, it can also be fruitful.

On that note…thinking, making, speaking, doing…wayward exchanges between thoughts and actions, words and behaviours, are what make up the wayward worlds we inhabit. They don’t sit still, they are verbose mutations of ideas that came before. Thank goodness if we can still feel that we have a say in what is to come.

beyond word and world + politics =

conversation that is beyond speech (it is composed of actions and doings)

and at the same time

conversation that is beyond the “real” world (it pontificates about the ideal society)

Being beyond wor(l)ds in politics is perhaps the truest form of democratic process (an admixture of actions and words…forget about voting with dollars, we really vote with behaviours). Take for instance the indescribable pattern on your city…think of it as an emergent property of the negotiation between municipality, commerce, community, and the material substances of the earth it is all writ with and upon…think of its landscape of difference and the impossible account of its amalgamation in the written word.

Heterotopia means a multiplicity of place; heteroglossia means a multiplicity of words. If one were to take the two together, they would form a kind of matrix where difference and multiplicity of place and name are woven together – real with ideal, empirical with imagined….that generative matrix is always and ever beyond wor(l)ds because it is not word (ideal), it is not world (real), but both and between. A productive place where we re-make meaningful worlds to take up residence within.

January 3, 2011

9…Busywork

Unsolved puzzles are ripe with meaning…you just have to decode it first. The decoding is a kind of busywork under the guise of logical sleuthing. Admittedly, word puzzles are a not-so-secret favourite pastime of mine. The puzzles that contain aphoristic words of wisdom and famous (or not-so-famous) quotations by famous (or not-so-famous) authors, or otherwise notable quotable figures, are by far the most enticing in that they are the Kinder-Surprise of pencil puzzles:  You figure out where all the letters and words go, maybe only to find yourself still scratching your head trying to figure out what to do with it…what does it all mean? Sometimes you simply can’t be sure, and sometimes you even feel a little ripped off (“I spent all that time assembling these tedious little parts, for this?“), and then, other times, the ingenuity of the thing simply makes you stop and wonder.

I find it worth noting that pencil puzzle magazines seem to be marketed at women who work at home (a/k/a “housewives”) and people between flights at the airport…in either case offering the diligent puzzle-solver a chance to pass away those otherwise “unproductive” hours spent waiting for laundry to dry, kids to wake from naps, flights to arrive, etc etc…to keep their minds “active” if you will. If stay-at-home moms, listless travellers, and any other type of person who might find themselves attracted to pencil puzzles (me, for instance) truly find their minds otherwise languishing, I don’t know that mentally taxing soduku puzzles and crosswords are necessarily the solution, though of course they do themselves contain solutions, but I digress…

Stopping and wondering is just one way we can inhabit the waiting games we play (those Kinder-Surprise exercises that can at times be few and far between or hopefully numerous enough to overlap, sometimes fitting between two and sometimes managing to subsume all) in the cracks of our daily responsibilities, that assemblage of purposeful plans and meaningful meetings in your daily agenda or smart phone that gets you through the day and follows you into the night. Busywork interrupts the “real” work that chases us (or do we chase it?). Stopping and wondering is one way to escape busywork, and somehow (perhaps it is our undying love of irony) we tend to rely on the most tedious and meaningless games and toys to provide for us the opening to make that escape.

Busywork, housework, homework, officework, yardwork, artwork…the elegant assembly of tedious little parts to form a composition that makes sense is perhaps what all work is. And by make sense, I guess I mean make useful. And when we do work that feels useless, or when we are out-of-work and feel ourselves to be useless, then no amount of busywork can quell the rising tide of frustration.

Puzzles can be solved in two entirely different modes: anti-socially and socially. Either one furrows their brow and sorts the thing out in quiet concentration, or one puts their head together with other folk and collectively chooses an appropriate solution. We at Wayward tend to prefer the latter.

December 20, 2010

10…Easy does it.

I have to keep reminding myself… it’s one of the things I do at the same time as a bunch of other stuff, too much other stuff.  Reminding myself to do one thing at a time has become yet another thing on my list of too many things to do!

Maddening.

Right now, there is so very much to do, which is just as heartening as it is overwhelming. So many ways to get involved in this, that, or the other…so many things to get done…so much to learn, so much to remember, so much to put into action. And it’s all worth it, which makes it hard to choose where to rest one’s attention. Attentuating our efforts and thoughtfulness might be about the single most pressing piece of business on the agenda.

And so it bears repeating, ONE THING AT A TIME, because we are under siege from our own good intentions and everyone else’s intents and purposes too, so we need mantras like this to help us stay the course, I suppose, to help us slow down and think, really think, about what we are doing.