QzfY9Ty6I have a cactus on the floor of beige tiles outside my condo, overlooking a valley of human encroachment into the hillsides. It’s not a pretty plant. It once was, or at least I thought it was when I got it.

I stuck it in a larger pot 4 years ago. I stopped watering it some time ago because I’m trying to figure out what to do with it. It’s miserable to deal with, dense, full of sharp needles. I’d call it a thicket, but I’m not sure if it’s one plant or many at this point.

Every now and then, I spit on it. Not out of concern for it growing brown and dead. It just thrives. So much water, it blooms an ugly little flower that has no scent. This much water, it drops it’s children all over. This much water, it grows. And for 4 years, without grooming, this has grown from a 2 inch wide groomed and potted cactus to a foot in diameter, hanging 2 inches over either side.

I just spit on it, partly because I don’t know what the hell to do with the thing.

I can’t throw it away, because then it would likely overtake the garbage dumps. I mean, it thrives. Hardship? You bet, it’s all in. Got any more? Please? You may not like how it looks, but the damned thing clings to life. I can’t help but be amazed.

It’s a bit like me, too. It grows when it has the opportunity, it fills the space around it as it has that opportunity, and it doesn’t need much to simply exist.

So I spit on it, not out of disgust, but out of respect. I imagine it will outlive me. Maybe it belongs on my grave, though I have always leaned toward cremation. Might take over a cemetery, though. I just don’t have it in me to throw it out. It might take over the world given the right conditions.

What Direction, Humanity?

_web Staring at chaosWhat if we’re all parts of one organism we call humanity? Like cells, but not. We’ve even managed to grow a nervous system which you’re using to read this now. Everyone wants to be the brain, and we like to speculate about things like collective intelligence when more often than not we see collective stupidity. There’s a reason that the intestines weigh more than the brain.

So, what’s the plan? As an organism, what are we doing? Aside form warring with other parts of ourselves and evolving structures, what, exactly, are we up to? At this point we just erode a planet, but to what end? We don’t have a plan.

As individuals we’re very busy, racing to and fro, but the almost all of what we produce is not what other species are too interested in. This is why the dolphins have not evolved feet; they do not want to see our great cities. Some primates stay in the trees and fling poo at us as we pass by. Some species just say, “screw it!” and go extinct, even as elephants wander around trying to reclaim territory from invaders who are just trying to sustain themselves.

Self-interest. We’re all pretty busy with self-interest, like all the other creatures on the planet. It’s a survival trait, it’s nothing to be ashamed of – we’ve come from a long line of self-interested people who somehow managed to procreate. Certainly, we help each other, but do we really? Does that farmer in India in that village really need to be having it out for some subsistence farming while facing our elephants?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to be productive members of society, but it also seems like we are just racing against each other all the time and as a species we don’t really have a direction. We have the people who have the most of what we’re told we should produce doing some pretty odd things that don’t really benefit us, like a car as space junk in the solar system. What other species does that?

“We’re going to expend all this energy to fling a car into space!” doesn’t seem like something myself or anyone else agreed to. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have approved had I been asked, but it’s not likely.

Allegedly the intent is to get people interested in space travel, though I’m not sure what the selling point of space travel to the old lady who just got home from Walmart with sore feet, which she has basic health insurance to help her with as long as she makes her co-pay. It’s a reality. Does that car, that costs more than she may make in 3 years, inspire her in Space travel, or does she wish she could live freely without her feet being sore all the damned time? Her grandson might be inspired, but he’s busy dodging gluten while stationary and staring at a flat screen.

“Grandma, they sent an electric car into space!”
That’s nice dear.”

Grandpa, who died of a heart attack on the way to the ground as he fell off that roofing project, would have been more practical had he been paying attention, “Well, that electric car spinning it’s wheels in space has no purpose!”, and promptly got back to making those, “Get off my lawn!” signs. He sold those as a side project so he could afford the co-pays on health insurance. Sadly, he could not invest in the future NFT disaster before he died otherwise he would have been noteworthy to his grandson for 15 seconds, between swipes.

Personally, I like the space exploration thing, but I’m writing here that it’s not the top priority for everyone. It’s not even my top priority, honestly. Hear me out.

Genetics has proven we’ve got loads of ancestors who loved two main things: Sex and Travel. Someone way back when whispered, “Go forth and prosper!”, and let me tell you we took that very seriously – so seriously that we’ve pretty much run out of spots on the planet. In fact, some people might even consider that this happened a while ago. There’s a clip of Sam Kinison cracking a joke about people who need food are living in a desert, which, on it’s face, is funny and should have people asking why people are living in those areas. Maybe they could move somewhere else, but now we have lines on the planet that restrict travel.

So what we have is a survival trait of being nomadic becoming a liability. The “stay put” gene, if there is one, is becoming dominant. As a society, we’re becoming conditioned to stay in certain places rather than wander – and that makes the idea that by the time those people in the desert can wander space they just might want to stay put since the idea of nomadism was finally extinct. After all, they’re in a desert without Netflix. You know there will be kids born.

What we’re deciding, really, is who gets to go exploring. The grandchildren of that farmer in India isn’t going to get a Willy Wonka ticket to get on that spaceship.

I don’t know where we’re going as a species, but I’m pretty sure where we’re not going.
I’ll now return you to your regularly scheduled life of productivity to whatever end.


aloneAlone, a single bit in a computer means nothing. It lacks context. It could be ‘1’ or ‘0’, there’s nothing in between unless we shave time so small we wouldn’t notice it with all but the most sensitive of instruments that we may not have built yet.
What gives this little piece of information context?

A grain of sand by itself, suspended in space, means nothing. It lacks context other than being a bit of silica. It is simply because it isn’t, and it is surrounded by “isn’ts”.
What gives that bit of sand context?

The answer to both questions, of course, is that we give these things context.
We’ve been wandering around the planet we stand on for millenia tossing out contexts on things we encounter like blessings from a deity, limited by what we understand. As our understanding increases, the contexts we give things change.

Contexts about the planet are pretty basic, revolving around whether the earth is shaking or not, whether it’s rainy or snowy, as examples. How we feel about that context sometimes creates narrative.

The sun being visible means daylight – and when the sun was supposed to be visible and wasn’t, it was clearly the work of some deity either to water the crops or to make it cold, perhaps wet, and nasty. Context becomes narrative in that way, and then narrative begins to give context.

“If we just sacrifice that good looking daughter of that guy I don’t like who got with that woman who didn’t give me the time of day… she’s a virgin, right?”

Then narrative gets used as context to provide narrative to provide false context.
And thus we have fake news.

The key is to define the appropriate context.

Unchanging Specks of Light

A sole creature sat on a lightly luminescent purple tree-ish structure, staring into the nothingness of a clear sky. Or so it seemed.
It was remembering. Remembering the first time it had stared up in the sky not on the lookout for predators, but just… looking. There were bright things out there, slivers of light that penetrated the lenses of his eyes. It had stared in wonder at what they were, wondering if they were friendly or not.

They moved slowly in a dance, but when it danced, they did nothing. Clearly they were not a danger. They just silently went by until the big light chased them all away, glaring down at the world in it’s disapproval for a very brief time. Then they would rally and come back, pushing the big light out of the way.

It had watched this many times since. The chill of the darkness had chased it’s evolution up these tree-ish things some time ago, where it was warmer just a bit but the wind could be blocked by the wide branches. Nothing bad came from those points of light, and nothing good, but they were a comfort.

They did not hurt it’s eyes as it picked the fruit, or as it notched it’s finger into the tree for sap. They did not allow the predators during the short day to find it during this time. They simply were.

And there is a comfort it found in something that just was. Unchanging specks of light.

Church of Frog.

Church of KermitA decade or so ago, I went for a Sunday breakfast at a place in New Smyrna Beach known for big portions of breakfasts. After the 8 mile hikes I was doing at the beach with dawn as my companion on one shoulder or the next, I’d change into a comfortable t-shirt and shorts with flip flops to beat the Church crowd.

I am not a part of the Church crowd. I never have been since I had a choice in the matter.
On this particular day, I was wearing my Kermit the Frog t-shirt.
I had run a bit late, and the Church crowd was coming in as I was leaving and that meant threading past the throngs of people waiting for the tables for their families. They’re always glad to see someone leave, I know, I’ve been on the other side.

A little boy looks up at me, seriously, “Did you wear that to Church?”, seriously, even a little ominously. His face demanded an answer, and I looked up at his parents who were looking at me about as confused as to what the next step should be.
“Yes, I did. But I go to a different Church. I go to the Church of Frog.”, I responded seriously, finding an opening and stepping past them as quickly as I could without looking like I was hurrying.
In the background, the young voice said – you can tell by the sound he was looking up – “Can we go to the Church of Frog?”
I sighed. I likely made it worse for everyone. But it was funny and makes for a good story.

This evening, looking back on it and thinking about all of this, I think those of my age group around the world who had access to television, were indeed indoctrinated into morals and values by a frog. By Kermit The Frog. And maybe that ‘Church of Frog’ thing isn’t so wrong. There were other deities that we were raised by on that television show, but Kermit was in charge even though most of the time it seemed he wasn’t.


15125228371_8d48671870_wWhen I woke up, it had the feel of a Saturday.

Not that Saturday after a hard week of work to come home and deal with responsibilities at home, like chores, or dealing with people you don’t like. That reminder of a drip here, a crack there, a place where there should be a shelf, a door creaking… things that need to be addressed which no one else would do. The toil of a Saturday.

It was like that childhood Saturday when you looked forward maybe to Saturday Morning Cartoons, and going outside for the entire day without adult supervision. That childhood Saturday evading adults to explore a friend’s tree-house, do reckless things on bicycles, catch insects, fish dirty magazines out of sewers, or play with that box of matches. A Saturday rife with experiences and glorious exploration, of risk being the reward.

And then I looked at my watch and it decided, this gift of digital technology meshed with software, that it was Thursday.

Tech isn’t all the marketing brochure said it would be in the 1980s.


Solar System hurtling through the galaxyWe believe we’re somewhere we’re not because we already left.

When we’re very young it doesn’t really matter, because we have less of a ‘distance’ to look back on. We believe we’re safe when we’re not, and we get hurt – and we learn, a landmark. We can be hurt by this, by that, and plenty of the other. In fact, it’s not too outrageous to think that Life is a porcupine turned inside out with barbs ready for us at every turn. This is where the metaphorical umbilical cord introduces the narratives.

But somewhere in our minds, we lose track of where we actually are and instead think of our younger selves. Every now and then, something prompts us about it – so we, of course, deny it until it blatantly catches up with us.

By the time this happens, something has already started as we spiral and push toward a destination we do not quite know other than general directions. Like the very planet we are stuck to.

This scales to be even weirder at a societal level.

Where You Are Supposed To Be.

RiskThis is almost true, and there is a tyranny to it that most people won’t recognize.
This meme pops up in my Facebook memories annually, and when I first shared it I thought it was much more true than I think it is now. A lot of it has to do with what we call a dream.

Stephen King had a dream. He dreamt he was a writer, and if you read his book, “On Writing”, you’ll learn when he first got a book published – “Carrie”, I think – he was balancing a typewriter on his knees in the cramped laundry room of a camper while he and his wife worked at a dry cleaning place. He did follow his dream, he hammered away at that typewriter with his words and thoughts that have now been with us for generations. He did follow his dream, but he made it through because he was practical, he kept working, and he did not neglect his obligations.

in the futureObligations are their own tyranny, or can be. I felt obligated to do many things in my life that I was not obligated to do, and, conversely, I neglected obligations I didn’t recognize as obligations. We all do, if we’re honest and live long enough to recognize it.
Life as we know it is hard to understand. I learned this in the Navy, when sometimes I had to make judgement calls that had broader implications than I knew in the moment. This is where training comes in, where the narratives of those successful before guide us through and hopefully most of the time we get it right because of that training. It doesn’t always.

Dreams are fluid too, and it’s hard to dream in a system that curtails them. When I was 7, when asked the infamous and dumb question of what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered that I wanted to be an Oceanographer. It stood out amongst the throng of the usual suspects – Firemen, Doctors, Police, and of course the President of the United States. Some of those are easier to get to than others. How many people can be President of the United States at any given time? Some dreams are more easily attainable than others.
alien diverI never did become an oceanographer, but I got to dive and see stuff that other people had already cataloged. My dream of being an oceanographer was to be like Jacques Cousteau and explore new places, discover new things, and experience a world unknown. I would have been disappointed because the path to get there just so long that by the time I got there I would have found the ocean less a mystery, and it was the fact that it was a mystery for so many that prompted that dream.

What young human doesn’t want to explore and see things for the first time? I believe even in adulthood this is latent, and an obligation many of us do not recognize. Learning doesn’t end where education does, formally or otherwise. The world teaches us a lot of things if we can manage to get out of our own way.

Freedom to do whatever we want is something we always have latent, too, but freedom is just decorating our prisons as we wish. Show me someone who is completely free and I’ll show you someone who has simply had an interior decorator visit their prison. We all have obligations, we all have dreams. For some, the obligations mean putting the dreams on hold.

People have told me over the years that I should be writing instead of <insert whatever I was doing at the time>, but I had obligations. I helped put my mother through college and get her degree because I felt obligated to do so, and while she did nothing with it I can still reflect on the day when she proudly held up her diploma when she graduated. I helped my father at times despite himself, and he listened to maybe 10% of what I had to say, but I felt obligated and to some extent it had an effect. Then came the other obligations, the necessities of paying bills, of moving forward through life so that yes, maybe someday, I could do some of the things I wanted to. It wasn’t to buy them. I never dreamt of things, I always dreamt of being – being this, being that, being the other. Opportunities to become new things were paths that I often followed because I made my choices by asking one simple question:

Would I regret not doing it?
I have no regrets, I did the best I could with just about everything.

We circulate that meme because it strikes a chord wherever we are in life because we are never, it seems, where we are supposed to be. We dream of dreaming without the weight of obligation. That never happens.

The Spreadsheet(s) of Life

empty sheetThe world is full of interesting interactions that we are only beginning to understand as the technology enhancement of our senses increases. Using Sir Isaac Newton as an example, one day he was sitting under an apple tree and got hit with one. Some say it was in the head, but I prefer the alternate storyline of it hitting him in the crotch while he was sitting down.

Either way, he figured out the basics of gravity because of an apple interrupting Newton’s moment,  and also because Newton was lacking in common sense. I imagine most people of his period knew not to sit under a bearing fruit tree. Gravity was implicit in a lot of things back then, but what Newton did through his cerebral or testicular fortitude was formalize it so the rest of us could talk about it, write about it, and yes, even complain about it. Gravity suddenly became a factor in what we now call ‘Science’ today.

So we stuck it in our spreadsheet of life as one of the things we had to account for. Really, the ‘spreadsheet’ is just a good metaphor for this sort of thing because most people know them, even if they are baffled by how to use them. Things are in tidy rows and columns, something we inherited from our perception of the world. The world, though, is not tidy, and is full of things we don’t know.

The Unstable Hill

landslipRecently, there was a landslip behind where I live. It was a sudden thing it seemed, yet it was the culmination of years – perhaps even decades. Of course, some people wanted to attribute it to one single thing, but there are a whole lot of factors involved. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time studying it as I wait for more for it to come down.
First, there’s the underlying rock which could have been fractured by quarrying decades ago. Then, there’s the flora – the trees dropping deep roots into wherever they can fit, seeking nutrients and water for the trees. Then there’s the rainfall, which was pretty high when it happened. It’s not a simple thing with a singular simple cause. It’s a spreadsheet of factors which I’ve only teased at here.

And why hasn’t the rest fallen yet? The elasticity of the interwoven roots of the flora at the top, possibly some tap roots further in, maybe it hasn’t been windy enough, maybe there hasn’t been enough rain – but anyone who looks at it can see it’s pretty unstable.

When we get into the human side of things, with land ownership and who is responsibility, insurance claims and trying to rebuild a fence there, all of that has to be taken into account. There are so many factors that even if one had a spreadsheet to stick it all in, there would be things missing, things that mattered more than other things… and yet, one of the more important factors would be time, because factors vary with time. We could keep track of that on different worksheets and say each worksheet represented a slice of time, or we could throw time in the worksheet with all the data at intervals in it.

The worksheet representing an interval in time I find most helpful in visualizing. You can imagine this huge matrix of information changing in the worksheets stacked on each other, and more worksheets being added all the time. This landslip, a relatively simple thing, suddenly becomes a study in complexity, of data purposed to become information.

We’re More Complicated.
Our bodies are these organic machinations powered by grey matter that we’re still only really beginning to understand. We break it up into specialties so that Doctors can specialize in different parts of our bodies, since to know them all and be good at it would take a lifetime at least. By the time you learn it all, you’d plop down dead and the next generation would have to start all over again. This may change with technology, but for now this is the way it is.

Our psychology, which sits somewhere on top of this mass of physiology, is something we’re still trying to figure out as well. Ask about the number of psychological attributes a single person has, we get answers ranging from 4,000 to 3, with the present popular view being 5. Then we get into the really messy stuff when all these attributes interact with another person with the same number of attributes. Imagine two spreadsheets having a fistfight. Or making love. Or just trying to get by understanding all of this while being driven by narratives.

It seems impossible to track all of this data. But we cheat. When we see someone who demonstrates some factors we’re familiar with, we draw upon previous experience – for better or worse. This has become the dirty word we call prejudice. It is also why cats are not pleased by cucumbers. Some say it’s a fear of snakes, but given that the reaction time of the average cat is 20 milliseconds faster than that of a snake, I think the idea that they see the snake as a threat to their food supply and, like most creatures, they don’t like being startled.

The point being – even the household feline has prejudices that are shortcuts based on evolution. If you don’t jump when startled, something might eat you. And that’s just one factor.

So Much More.
I’ll be referring back to this since I’ve found the spreadsheet such an easy way to explain the idea to people, it’s easy for most to visualize, and it’s not as intimidating as what I started thinking about decades ago. A spreadsheet is a user friendly matrix whose math isn’t defined by mathematicians.