The Road Curves

What’s around the corner?

I never fail to be captured by this little piece of path that I walk a couple of times a week, that I have walked for more years than I can remember, that I have photographed in every season and light conditions, but whose essential elements I have yet to catch satisfactorily in a picture. This image comes courtesy of my cell phone, taken today, its’ only purpose to introduce the immediacy of the visual, my visual, today.

This view, this vignette is so familiar, my delight in it quite visceral. But I have come to recognize that is serves as some kind of metaphor for me: no doubt that is why I keep trying to capture some amorphous quality that simply doesn’t appear in the photographs. Much as I have photographed the scene over the course of years, I embark now on the idea of painting the word picture that illuminates the metaphor. I do not know how long this shall take, but since I love the tradition of a year and a day, this shall be my striving: to write, over the course of the next year and the one day, of what it means.

I do not mean to be mysterious, my imaginary friend. Have patience: the world does not much encourage delving deeply into the qualities that inspire and inform our very humanity, but of a certainty that means nothing. You have been chosen as my imaginary friend precisely for this reason, that we should carry out the quest together. I shall only ask you to consider this: what fills you with wonder?

Occupy: a conversation

Sean Hannity calls Occupy Wall Street protesters traitors. A US Marine (in uniform, although perhaps a former marine, not important) standing with the protesters on Wall Street, when asked how he would respond to Hannity says: “I’d tell him to fuck off”. CBC Television interviews Chris Hedges on his view of Occupy Wall Street, and ‘reporter’ Kevin O’Leary asks him if he is a “nut bar”. Hedges tells CBC at the end of the interview that he won’t be interviewed by them again. Thus is the public discourse on matters political framed; few sane people wish to participate, and only the bravest, stupidest, or those being  paid in one way or another do so. Meanwhile, the world faces economic volatility – you have to love that phrase – massive uncertainties about what climate change will bring to pass, horrific images from around the globe of bloodshed and starvation, fears about energy dependency and peak oil, and an ever increasing population of people feeling totally demoralized.

I heard that word ‘demoralized’ used as a descriptive of how the western world – or the 99%, if you like –  is feeling, and it struck a deep chord in me. My feelings of inchoate helplessness have certainly grown in recent months, and deeply thoughtful conversations with friends, and acquaintances, and anybody who  cares to converse in that fashion revealed this common thread. Not despairing, not depressed or filled with rage. People simply struck dumb by the brute ugliness of what leaders, opinion makers, and the media think it worthwhile to speak about while we in the millions are homeless, jobless, and otherwise deeply suffering.

I believe if there is any one thing that Occupy Wall Street could be said to be about, perhaps it is this refusal to accept walking through life demoralized. If the public conversation continues to be hate-filled sound bites, empty rhetoric, or pithy, pointless tweets, the private conversation has never the less been energized and emancipated. The use of the word emancipated is purposeful: it appears that this movement, or shift [insert your characterization of choice here] has indeed engendered a freedom to talk about how things ought to be.

I have no shortage of opinions on how things ought to be, but that is not the point here. Nor are your opinions, my imaginary friend. No, the point is this: that every meaningful conversation – conversation, debate, consideration of alternative views, sharing of experiences, and questioning of other’s experiences – is movement in the direction of how things ought to be. We forget, maybe, that this has been the time-honoured way of democracy right up to the very recent past. How shall we live? How shall we do business? How shall we govern ourselves? Yes, these are huge questions, and yet we have traditionally answered them as a body of one kind or another, as a group, as a community, a society.

It strikes me that how to fit the movement of Occupy Wall Street into the existing framework of bought media, partisan politics, or community cronyism is a backwards take. The pressing, crucial, larger idea is to engineer these systems to facilitate the conversations. Although ‘wake-up’ has been used as a catchphrase by protesters, it might serve as the appropriate metaphor, because there is no denying that something is stirring up the hearts and minds and spirits of people. I do not think it will be possible to go back to the demoralized world of even a few weeks ago. It bears repeating that democracy is what we wish back: the participation of all citizens in shaping and defining how things ought to be.

Musing on a day off…because I have a day off.

The exploration of the idea of ‘my day off’ in a mind map was initially thought of as a way to capture the abstract idea of ‘fun’ – what makes a day off different than a day at work, for example? The choice of the Cat in the Hat as a central image was immediate; this is for me an evocation of childhood, and the sense of freedom and spontaneity that childhood play evokes. It can be difficult to maintain that sense as an adult; of course responsibilities get in the way but other inhibitions intrude also. Work is very much play for me, never the less, a strict schedule is defined by a bell, and the sense of ‘flow’ – of losing track of time in an intensely pleasurable pursuit – is always interrupted. But the division of work and play is not a strictly defined boundary in my life. That was the most interesting part of the exercise – the recognition that the “basic ordering ideas” of the mind map – ‘think’, ‘fun’, ‘walk’, ‘read’, ‘cook’ – are the ingredients of everyday, not just days off (Buzan, T. & Buzan, B., 1993). This is where the balance of work/life exists – a day that contains these essential elements is both a pleasurable and a productive day, whether at work or play.

I suppose I previously recognized that my enthusiasm for both work and play existed; this is, however, a new understanding: that ‘work’ or ‘play’ is not defined by a location or a task. In fact, ‘work’ or ‘play’ – as in the signifier – is largely defined by codes, “views and attitudes about how the social world is or ought to be” (Streeter, T., 2005). If there is any fortune I possess, this is surely it: the ability to blend the ethos of both in daily life. Kenneth Clark says “the history of art cannot be properly understood without some reference to the history of science. In both we are studying the symbols in which man affirms his mental scheme…” (quoted in Gelb, 2004, p. 166). Here then are the symbols of my mental scheme…


To my imaginary friend

The sense of wonder and exhilaration I feel at looking at the stars, or the mid-summer sunrise, or a thunder-and-lightening tableau perhaps can’t precisely be labeled ‘spiritual’; certainly not religious. But whatever one should want to call it, the realization that there are many mysteries is surely the quality of intelligent life.

I have been pondering this for some days, this piece I wrote in response to some one, some where…because you inspire a sense of wonderment in me, glimpse of the unfathomable mysteries. In many ways, I suppose, another’s mind is always mysterious, and although I do not believe in fate, and almost against my better judgment, it seems to me there is an element of the universal fate being played out in our relationship. At one level entirely prosaic: you like my hair, and I appreciate your efforts at the seduction of me. And at various other levels, the panoply of the vast symbolic repertoire of the human mind… I wish I could remember what words of yours inspired my interest in that  chat box, but really, it was the words that were not said that were important. What I remember is deciding that I must try to become friends with you, because here was a treasure…

Those ellipses are lazy, perhaps, as someone once remarked to me, but they do serve to highlight the inadequacies of language and the sense that ‘treasure’ is but a poor approximation of what I want to say. (And maybe a little trite.) I also remember thinking very clearly – sharply, the moment impressed in my consciousness and now my memory – that something of great import was unfolding here. And if all this sounds rather mysterious –well, we are back to what I remarked upon at the beginning; there are many mysteries and this is one of them.

I can conceive of no greater compliment to tell you than
that I wish to be always wide open to you: to be attentive to the depth and
breadth of that marvelous mind; to share in that mystery.

Our actual Friends are but distant relations of those to
whom we are pledged. We never exchange more than three words with a Friend in our lives on that level to which our thoughts and feelings almost habitually rise.

… so wrote Henry David Thoreau. But these words, my imaginary friend, are
my attempt to change that.