Within The Chrysalis

Vancouver Public Library - Central BranchMany of us are practicing social distancing at this time. We get updates from those in authority once or twice a day, and the rest of the information is largely derivative of that – from actual analysis, which is rare, to rampant speculation. We sit, surrounded by the walls of a home many of us have not had the opportunity to become intimate with. Our mini-vacations at home have become a long stay.

We tour our prisons from the inside, these systems that are not working as we expected as nations, these walls that are uncomfortably close for many as individuals.

In our solitude, or being stuck with the people we only were for a fraction of the day, some of us try to escape into the speculation and analysis rather than face what’s at home. It scares us at such a subconscious level that we don’t even know we’re doing it. We fill our time with things that aren’t necessarily good for us.

We think little of who we want to be, or who we should be.

Covid-19_zones_of_humanity

There are others with more pressing problems, like the poor in India who are walking home. In the attempts of states to quell the virus, borders have become locked down. People staying inside takes away from the lower rungs of the economy, the people you see on the street.

A few days ago I watched as someone tried to clean the windshield of a Range Rover at a light despite the lady driver not wanting it. He had her pegged, thinking that if he started she would feel obligated to give him something, but what he failed to realize is that the virus is larger than that feeling of obligation she may have had. He’s hustling to make a living, she’s hustling to get home virus-free.
Heavy Duty Silver Duct Tape - 5 Roll Multi Pack Industrial Lot – 30 Yards x 2 inch Wide – Large Bulk Value Pack of Grey Original Extra Strength, No Residue, All Weather. Tear by HandWe have people who, unprotected socioeconomically, are at greatest risk for contracting Covid-19. In Trinidad and Tobago, the Chief of Police rattled his saber when on the first of the month people were not practicing social distancing at banks and groceries, even threatening to close them down – but the systems in Trinidad and Tobago lag, pensioners need to cash cheques because the electronic system fails them. Sure, maybe it’s available, but that they don’t use it is a failure – a design problem. No one seems to think that the businesses bear responsibility here. Of course they do. At the cost of a roll of duct tape, they could have social distancing easily visible.

Some businesses do this. In an odd way, the lines of tape meant to separate us are the very thing that will allow us to re-connect beyond this virus.

TriageWe are shocked at triage throughout the world, where the limits of resources are stretched beyond capacity. Doctors in some places have made choices, in other places they will have to make choices. In the U.S., the silent triage of health insurance that has been happening has had a virus demonstrate the flaws in the system, particularly when the measures to slow the virus have taken jobs away.

Many are alone, unpaid in a global economy that requires it’s pound of flesh to simply stay alive. There will be more.

Those of us who are at home read all of this, staring at statistics that are implicitly flawed for a variety of reasons, as if staring at the clock will allow the pot to boil faster. The majority of us will get this virus, and how our body reacts will determine which stack of numbers we belong to – and the vast majority of us will be in the stack that will be mourning the loss of loved ones and friends afterwards. That’s the reality and, as realities go, it’s not very different from normal life except for one thing:

Why.

So to give them their best chance, to give ourselves our best chance, we stay within our chrysalis as individuals, as states, and eventually may realize the wringing of hands has no positive effect – in fact, it can simply spread anxiety – and we watch, for it is important for us to witness this and see how we need to change things – and we wait.

Drift

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
-Haruki Murakami

 

Eventually we will make our way out of our chrysalis as individuals and as states, and after that as a species.

The Negotiation

MeaningAs a child, my mother would tell me to clean my room, something I often felt was a punishment or a way to get me out of her hair which was at least partly right given what I have learned as an adult. And so I would go and do things, largely unproductive, and then say I had cleaned my room.

She never thought I had. And after a while she seemed to realize she and I had very different ideas of what a clean room was and told me that before I told her that the room was clean I should stand at the doorway, pretend I was her, and see if the room was clean. This was a great idea, but poorly implemented in retrospect, as she never quite told me what she was looking for in a clean room. Suffice to say my room was never clean in her eyes, and in mine it was almost always clean.

Everyone has some sort of story like that, where in communicating we might say the same words with very different meanings, and this negotiation is something we end up doing every day.

Yesterday, someone wrote that gravity was ‘the way that objects were attracted to each other’, which doesn’t stand as much rigor as he was trying to demonstrate. There are other reasons that objects are attracted to each other, such as ionic and covalent bonding, and gravity by itself isn’t an answer as much as a question. Sure, scientists have learned a lot about gravity, but the notion of gravity itself as we accept it and how scientists deal with it is different. Gravity is an explanation, and more accurately, it’s an evolving explanation, as everything is.

Meaning changes. Meaning is constantly being negotiated between people, between peoples, and even within ourselves. At some point, we as individuals decide when we’ll just call something by a name, and collectively, society does the same based on how popularly lazy we are about it – after all, if we got muddled down in being pedantic about everything, nothing would get done – but underneath it all, we have to understand, everything is being negotiated.

Everything.

And everything we agree upon will eventually change.

Everything.

Seas of Humanity

_JMB6699LoIf I had been born a few hundred years ago, I would likely have been on a ship staring out into the horizon, my body rolling to the waves, heading to places not on known maps if only to get away from all that traps us.

Some people are comfortable in what society dictated before we were born, where it is all well defined by those who came before, a world which worked for those that defined it and their descendants. So much of our world works that way, and as humanity grows older the clay of systems becomes brick, hardened, inflexible, immobile.

A child born today will find in adulthood that they pay taxes that were agreed upon by others long ago, that they may worship in a religion that while they may be faithful is an accident of geography, that they have more or less opportunity due to a socioeconomic status that they had nothing to do with. Even our bodies conspire against us in this way, subject to genetics that some deny even as they breed animals. Few, if any, break out of these shells, and as time goes by it becomes harder and harder to break out of them.

In fact, simply traveling without permission from authorities we didn’t create across borders we didn’t draw to see things in other places is illegal, something I myself was born into, but which I have watched become more and more harsh. The nomadic roots of our human past find themselves in shrinking containers and, when the container cracks under the pressure, someone dutifully comes along and mends the cracks with gold to make the container that much more attractive to those outside, but less bearable for those within.

We live lives where we dig coal, and for those few of us fortunate, we dig coal in ways that we enjoy, and at points when we look up from our task and dare to look to the horizon, someone or something cracks the whip to keep our noses down. And so we go, nose to the coal grindstone of ‘life’, in the hope that the light at the end of the tunnel will draw nearer as someone long ago promised.

A lifetime of slaving at something or the other, or many things, to be rewarded later when we are old. The 50 year old in the convertible corvette, what’s left of his hair blowing in the wind, the tired and empty joke of decades ago.

Nature reclaimsI’ve been left in this life rediscovering elder things, repurposing that which came before, exploring the abandoned as if it were new only because it was new to me, sharing it with others who found it new for themselves. Photographing things, writing about things, and watching parts of a past we romanticize only because it is abandoned, maybe because inside we feel abandoned by the gilded cages we live in – some more gilded than others.

I do not know. I do feel.

There is little rationality we find in such feelings in systems that tell us even how to feel – if we’re a bit too different, if you rebel just a bit too much against the system, we are either criminal or someone with some form of mental or emotional disorder, rarely both, and based on… things we find we are unable to control a few steps beyond the facade.

Any port in a stormWith all of this mind, I close my eyes at time and escape into the view of a bay with my gear packed, thinking of a world where I can sail away from what is established and able to push into the unknown, where the laws of nature outweigh the rules of the land, where it is unsafe and where one’s worth is gauged not by artificial structures but instead whether or not you are a good person in a storm.

And I open my eyes and find myself sailing through the artificial structures of society, dancing on the waves of what people have been taught to think and believe and how to think and believe, and realize I am sailing across the most dangerous waters we could create on maps that shift even as we cross latitudes and longitudes, having lost members of the steadfast crew as we moved to the horizon of humanity, and I find some comfort in that.

Our Modern Intimacy

Modern intimacy. #tech #people #intimacyI’m guilty of going somewhere and interrogating my phone – who isn’t in this day and age? – yet it seems you see people going out together only to stop and get coffee somewhere so that they can sit closely, a faux intimacy, checking up on things and not interacting at all.

Worse, they may be using the infrastructure to share information with each other – bouncing off of servers, perhaps even internationally, so that they can share information.

Have we forgotten how to make eye contact, to talk?

And these are typically the same people who do not respond to messages in a timely manner. It makes one think they are studying articles on how not to communicate.

Yet I myself am guilty at times, when things have run their course and the person with me no longer holds interest for me. This is why I’m usually alone – people generally bore me quickly – but when I’m present, I am completely present.

The Lost B Sides Of Our Lives

VINYLVinyl. Some audiophiles still say that it’s the best way to listen to music as they don their rubber gloves, pull their records out of the cardboard holders (plastic removed to avoid warping of the vinyl), carefully placing the record on the turntable, adjusting the speed for a 45 (single) or a 78 (album) post WW II, and 33 RPM later on for albums.

Today, the MP3 reigns supreme – a compressed version of the music where the frequencies are kept only to that which the average human ear hears. Yet there was a time before this, a time before the 8-track tapes and later cassettes and the then ubiquitous Walkman cassette players, before compact discs (CDs) (Hat tip to Valdis Krebs on his correction through LinkedIn).

In the house I grew up in, a Sansui amplifier and tuner was the core of the sound system – 2 Technics turntables, a reel-to-reel system, and a dual Technics cassette deck with Dolby recording and playback ability. When alone, the wooden floors vibrated as only speakers made in the 1970s would make them. Every Friday, Patrick and I would look over the Billboard Top 100 to watch the trends, and I would go off and buy some 45s at the local record store.

I learned early on that what I liked wasn’t always popular. With music slower to come by than it is today, I’d end up flipping the record over to hear the other single that came with the record. A great example of this was the B side of ‘Shout’ by Tears for Fears: The Big Chair. A mixing dream, really.

I’d end up exploring the work of artists other than what was popular. Sometimes it was crap, something that the recording company chose out of their discography that didn’t even make it onto an album, and sometimes not.

We don’t do that anymore. I’m not even sure that many people did it in the first place, daring to spend the time to see if they liked the song, but I do know that at least some hit songs came from B-sides. You can read about some here, and some others here where you can listen to themThink songs like, “You can’t always get what you want” (Rolling Stones) and “Revolution” (The Beatles).

In an odd sort of way, we were allowed to explore the music of artists through their detritus on the B-sides of albums – the stuff that publishers ‘threw away’, not wanting to give a free hit single away with another. And yet, some of their greatest mistakes are treasures – some popular, some not, the listener deciding what was good or not simply by flipping a record over and checking.

Fast forward to today.

The Internet brought us the ability to get music like never before. I’d like to think most of us legally buy music, I’m certain at least some of us download without paying some service or publishing company. Artists in some cases have bypassed the middlemen in this, allowing us to purchase directly from them through websites. Some even make their music available for free here and there.

But the services, just like yesteryear, are about maximizing profit. There are no more B-sides; we are bombarded with things that are algorithmically decided for us as we stream music. Just as on social networks our digital shadow – what we do online – is used to decide what we see, so it is with our music. Alternative – how can something be alternative when it becomes mainstream? – is even decided for us. We are less consumers now, maybe, than we were before the Internet in that there is no conversation (hat tip to the Cluetrain Manifesto), decisions about what we get are decided not even by other human beings but by statistical and heuristic analysis of our data. We are, in the eyes of algorithms, what we were, and not what we can be – never-mind what we should be.

Generations have passed having never flipped over a vinyl record, having never read something not decided for them…. we are become the algorithms of our algorithms, the ‘tools of our tools’ as Thoreau might write today.

Unless we find the B-sides of our lives.

Vision.

I was considering the words of Secretary Mattis to the troops: “You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it.

As a veteran, I get that. I served with people who didn’t like me, and I didn’t like some of them, but we had a common purpose. A vision. If we all pulled together, we accomplished things – united we were powerful, a force to be reckoned with. We knew we needed each other no matter what religion or culture, no matter what shade of our skin, and no matter gender (and the latter has become more pronounced since I got out). We strengthened weak links in the chain.

You can say many things about scorned women, but a team with a common purpose is exponentially worse. Of course, this is in the interests of one nation, so it is often at odds with similar groups of people around the world, particularly when the politicians do what they’re good at – division. It’s how they get elected, after all, so armed with their hammers all they see are nails.

Humanity lacks a vision that is beyond itself. Sure, you can tell me about religion (it’s not like people seem to need an invitation), but realistically that too is a bit narcissism  – as if we humans matter enough when, in the broad scheme of things, we don’t contribute much other than consuming energy.

How are children not sexually transmitted diseases? How is a growing population that does nothing but grow and destroy what it lives in anything but a cancer?

Seems like we need a vision beyond that to truly survive. Otherwise we’re just rats in a cage looking to escape or eat each other.

Some say that this is already happening.

Perspective

spaceWe used to look up.

I don’t know exactly who I mean by ‘we’. Maybe it was my generation, when we had seen man actually make it to the moon. Maybe it was people of my mindset.  I’d like to think it was my generation, with parents who had watched the original series of ‘Star Trek’ – and our generation who saw the original ‘Star Wars’. Or,  ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, or even, ‘E.T.’.

We used to look up. We used to stare at the stars, some of us, while laying in the grass.

I’ve spent most of the day watching this live stream, in the background, as I read and did other things. It’s beautiful. It’s amazing. And we take it for granted, we sit there staring at phones, communicating about little of worth.

The things of worth we do talk about are about how we can’t keep things from flooding, or people from doing dumb things, or arguing over which idiot is better than which – we who could put a man on the moon, who could build an international space station, who could go peeking at other planets like a nosy neighbor.

We have the capacity to know where we are on our own planet with accuracy that would make ancient mariners ecstatic, and we have that on devices that Tesla told us we would eventually have. It wasn’t so long ago that these things didn’t exist. We dreamed big.

Then the Internet happened – a complex system of communication, too complex for our communication as we began to talk to people around the world. Kittens and pornography propagated it across the world.

Some were so intent on selling their products, services and thoughts that they got really good at marketing. In fact, they got so good at marketing that their marketing became better than their products, services and thoughts.

Somewhere along the way, I think we stopped looking up with a sense of awe. We stopped seeing what our combined efforts could do if we chose to work together.

We should look up.