I got a chance to be involved in the People’s Climate March here in DC yesterday, the first time I’ve been involved in something like this in quite a while. We did a “die in” outside the American Petroleum Institute, and then marched down to Freedom Plaza, blocking traffic in one direction along the way during rush hour.
In general in life, I spend a fair amount of energy wrestling with being present, particularly in the midst of action or groups of other people. Like many of my peers, my phone and the Internet are the most obvious distractions that tend to keep me from this presence. Particularly with focus in the Burning Man community, embracing the principle of immediacy is often top of mind.
So it’s really interesting to think about grassroots protest and movement-building in the context of our current connected age, particularly when we can’t count on media to get the message out. The way that many people who aren’t there find out about these things seem to be social media (at least in my network and based on my own experience), and it provides a huge channel for amplifying the message, particularly when applied en masse. In some ways, perhaps I am having a larger impact by snapping a photo and posting it than just by carrying a sign. But then, if you’re snapping a picture of a bunch of people on their phones, that seems less than helpful.
Is there a balance to be found here somewhere? Yesterday, I tried to quickly snap and post a couple photos but mostly keep my phone in my pocket throughout the march. And even that made me feel a little cognitive dissonance from my usual mode. I guess I’ll need some more practice at this to figure out where to draw that line? I’m curious about what others have experienced. Share thoughts if you have them!
A thousand-odd words on something I’m thinking and feeling about a lot right now.
I am slowly waking up.
Choppy waters ahead. For all of us. The more I read, the more I think, the more I talk to people I respect and experience different corners of this civilization we have built, the more immediate our destiny seems. Our way of life, our institutions, our collective values over the past hundred and fifty years have put us squarely in opposition to our planet. I think many of us lefties and liberals and hippies and whatnot will readily admit this intellectually, but how many of us really experience the reality of it day to day? Not many, I think. That’s a big problem.
In the 1970’s when we started becoming aware of all this, it still felt a couple of generations away, and thus abstract in a sense, and that wasn’t wrong. But today, it is wrong. There is mounting evidence that major, I mean MAJOR disruption to our civilization in the next 20, 30, 40 years is a huge risk, even a likely scenario. We’re talking global famine, unprecedented draught, large scale economic collapse when the oil runs out, martial law and rioting in the streets. It’s increasingly clear that this isn’t about our “children” in some abstract, n’th generational sense – it’s about our literal children, the one’s we’re having now, the one’s well be having over the next five or ten years. When we are old, there’s a very real possibility that we will watch the American Dream collapse around them as we have to consider how to best prepare them for a society that feels a lot more like “A Boy and his Dog” than it does “Boy Meets World”.
This is becoming increasingly real, increasingly dangerous to me. Like many of my friends, I have a lot of privilege and resources at my disposal. For people like me it’s easy to rely on a backup plan. If things get bad, someone in the family has a farm in the woods somewhere, we have useful skills, we can make do. There are a couple of big problems with this:
- What about everyone else, asshole?
- Do I really want to raise a family in a society of scarcity, where they are raised to be mistrustful of strangers, prepared to fight or scavenge constantly and are confined to our backwoods fortress? Ok to be fair some parts of that sound kind of cool but no, obviously in practice that would really suck.
So what’s the good news, here? We understand, at least at a high level, what we need to do to avoid this worst case scenario. Invest heavily in cheaper, more sustainable energy. Reduce our waste and aggressively research technologies that take carbon out of the air and reverse the acidification of the ocean. Massively cut our dependence on fossil fuels and reduce our water usage (or figure out how to cheaply increase the water supply). A lot of these technology investments are already happening, but arguably way too slowly given the models and projections and the changes we see happening around us today (CA draught? WA fires? Record heat, like, everywhere, all the time?).
What really worries me is that our institutions, “the system”, our political process seem to have been set up (intentionally or not) in such a way that they actively discourage this sort of aggressive change. Corporate consumerism keeps us chained to our desks and our possessions, without the space and the presence to take a step back from our daily rhythm and look around us, to really ponder these larger issues and how they might affect us as individuals. Our approach to capitalism falls far too short on accounting for externalities of pollution and long term planetary change, actively dis-incentivizing companies from accounting for these issues in order to remain competitive. And our leaders are beholden to quarterly earnings reports, a stock market that seems increasingly arbitrary, and an election cycle that keeps us looking as far as the next election, the next budget deadline, or the next lobbyist meeting. Worst of all, we identify with so many small-fry issues and groups that amount to “us” vs “them” without the larger, shared view of the real problems facing our entire society. All of this is heavily exacerbated by the current political climate, tactics, and influx of private money at the national and state level.
So what do we do? With the future of our own, present, tangible children at stake I find that I increasingly relate to the position of activists like #BLM – due process is moving too slow, the “negative peace” (MLK) of the status quo leaves us all in grave danger. I want to think hard and talk openly about how we can disrupt, overturn, realign the structures and incentives that have kept us locked here for the past 40 years. Certainly Tyler Durden had one solution, but I would like to think we can come up with something a little less sudden, a little less violent. We’ll see.
At the end of the day, I’m an optimist. I can’t help it. But I feel more and more that I, and many of those of us with privilege, power and resources have an obligation, to future us and everybody else, to think hard and take action on this one – action that goes beyond even our own local impact. If we don’t, I’m not sure that anyone else will.
I haven’t posted anything online about the tattoo I got a few months ago (my first), but it’s related to all of this. It’s called Hiawatha’s Belt. The real Hiawatha (not the moronic caricature fictional character made up by Longfellow) was an Iroquois statesman who, incidentally, I may share a North American ancestor with. He and another fellow saw that their society, the Iroquois tribes, were on a similar crash course with disaster many centuries ago, with constant warring and revenge. So, they used their lives and their influence to go around and forge peace between all of the tribes. After 15 or 20 years of working steadily at this, they achieved peace and founded the Iroquois Confederacy, and their children lived in peace and prosperity for hundreds of years. Without his action, the history of the Iroquois would have almost certainly been filled with a lot more bloodshed, pain and despair.
I truly believe that now is another pivotal time in the history of our civilization, that like in the time of Hiawatha there is a very real need for those with power to step up and take action. And I also truly believe that we should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
If you want to think and talk and research with me about what all of this might look like, let me know.
I had a chance over the past week and a half to attend a 10-day course in Vipassana meditation, taught at a center a couple hours south of Seattle. I am going to briefly describe the experience and share a few initial thoughts, although I am withholding a complete judgment (and recommendation to others) until I have a few months to practice the techniques we learned and see how they impact my day-to-day life and interactions with others. So you can expect that in a future post.
I knew nothing about Vipassana until my good friend Lydi here in Seattle introduced me to it a little over a year ago, having done a couple of the courses herself and thinking it would be a beneficial thing for me to learn. Definitely one big goal of taking this time in my life was to increase my introspection and ability to be present, and pick up some new skills along these lines, so this seemed like a natural fit once I could block out the full 10 days without any other commitments. For those like me without any background in this, Vipassana is a specific method of meditation which is a central practice in Theravada Buddhism (thanks Wikipedia) one of the major branches of Buddhism and often considered to be one of the oldest and “purest” to the Buddha’s original teachings. Courses like the one I took are taught at around a hundred similar centers all over the world, based on the idea that the technique (and way of life) and the benefits it provides in daily life are very practical and universal, independent of one’s belief in Buddhist philosophy/spirituality or following of any other religious tradition or belief. You can read more about the core ideas here: http://www.dhamma.org/en/about/code
The experience of this 10 days was really, really hard and intense, definitely one of the most physically and mentally challenging things I have done in a very long time. But, my initial reaction is that the practice, life realizations and self improvements from these 10 days were well worth the difficulty and investment (time will tell if that holds up). We were working in complete silence and self-enforced isolation from the other students until the last day, without any other form of outer stimulation or distraction (no music, reading, phones, or even writing) to stay focused on the meditation and introspection. Physically, we were living a relatively ascetic lifestyle – bare living quarters, simple vegetarian meals (lots of rice, oatmeal, salad and stews), hard beds, and rising around 4:30am every day to start meditation, which we did about 10-12 hours per day. Sitting up as much as possible for this long was a big strain on the back and knees, and focusing to increase mental discipline, endurance and awareness left the mind pretty worn out at the end of each day too. Not to mention the isolation and the often unpleasant things surfacing from the sub-conscious and the past, which was ultimately healthy but certainly its own emotional strain.
So, what do I think I got out of this that was so worthwhile? First, the meditation techniques were certainly the most practical and direct means of improving mental control and emotional/reactive balance that I think I have ever come across. Even in the past 48 hours since I got back, I can see myself staying more on task and present with what I am doing or who I am interacting with, calmer (and more internally calm rather than just seeming externally calm..), and less likely to be shaken by regular discomforts and inconveniences of life. And I can see clearly a connection between continued practice of these techniques on my own, and continued sustaining/improving in these areas. As well, with this amount of self observation and reflection I recognized some big areas particularly in some relationships where I was assigning external blame for my frustrations or unhappiness, when really and clearly it was my own attitude and perceptions (colored by past reactions or events) that were the source of the problem. Finally, in the isolation I was able to really step back and take a look at how I have been spending my energy, what I want to accomplish, and where those two things are more or less aligned with each other going forward as I set more concrete plans and tactical goals for the next 6 and 12 months, which still seems a fairly pivotal time in my life. And, had time to mull over some other specific ideas in business, pleasure, art etc and let them have time to really marinate in my mind and have some interesting things come to the surface, that I can act on now (boy, was it frustrating to have those moments of clarity then float around in my brain for 5-6 days with no way to act on them, talk about them or even write them down!! hah).
So, those are my initial thoughts on my experience and takeaways. Of course, there is likely some “peak experience glow” still happening. Time (and feedback from others) will tell if the changes and benefits I perceive now are real and sustainable. So, we will check back on that in a few months, and if they are I will probably be pitching this experience to some of you, too. 🙂
Tunes for this post: Samaris – Samaris [via spotify] Kelsey sent me this album while I was gone and it is excellent. The newer one is good too if a bit more ambient.
Tunes for this post: My set at Seacompression, Seattle’s biggest Burning Man party of the year, this past Saturday night: http://www.mixcloud.com/djeeyore/seacompression-2014-dj-set/
So, one of my goals with coming back for the fall, working part time, etc was to spend as much time as possible just enjoying my city, my community, the sunshine, and all those good, active and fun things while it was possible – recharging my stores a bit after expending so much energy through my time away – and I feel like I’ve been pretty successful with that. A side effect of that is the lack of bloggage – I think I am alright with that though, so I will continue mostly posting when I have something to post and stop apologizing for it :).
I got to help build the coolest art car ever with some of my closest friends from Philly, and then direct it around the desert, DJ on it, and generally put it to good use for the enjoyment of all. I think I am piecing together that I really do derive orders of magnitude more enjoyment and sociability to fun/party things where I feel some ownership of a part of it. That was my main takeaway from the burn this year, I think. That and some healthy reinforcement about my capability for independence [compare to: notes on loneliness from earlier in the summer].
Spent a lot of time hanging around town with some really amazing Seattle people
…And got to DJ my favorite burner party here in Seattle for the first time since I started coming to it in 2010 – which had been a significant goal of mine in all that time, so I was suuuper happy and grateful! Still looking for some photo evidence but the link to my recorded set is in italics at the top of this post…
I expect (and hope) that October will be a month when I start to shift away from strictly fun focus, and move towards setting more productivity goals as we move into the winter (“project time” as I have been jokingly referring to it to some non-PNWers lately). Hopefully music and art will be a part of that – I still have not done anything with music production in the last 5 months, which is sort of a bummer, and there’s this shark car that needs some work. But my main focus right now is on income- and global-impact- related goals. The job I picked up at the end of the summer has been about what I expected – cool people, fun tools, but negligible impact on the big picture. BUT I am supporting myself working ~20-25 hours / week and THAT is every bit as gratifying and healthy as I hoped it would be. I want EVERYONE to be able to do this, and I think that attacking other economic problems from this angle could get us a long way. I really want to make some contribution in this direction in the future, although it is a ways away.
Even more exciting, I picked up another project that I think is going to be a lot more fun (healthcare data, measured in petabytes), starting this week. The best part – completely remote, and my boss agreed to pay me on goals met rather than hours worked. In other words, while I am planning to be around Seattle for a while yet, this effectively achieves the “Liberate yourself” phase of 4 Hour Work Week, the book I mentioned a couple months ago which has helped guide some of my thinking. On one hand, this could be HARD – I am not always a great self-motivator and have to be thoughtful about my stimuli, and my last major experiment in working remotely (writing python for research over one summer in college) was a bit of a disaster from that standpoint. But, I am hoping that I’ve learned a lot in the last 7 year and this will be much more interesting, so it won’t be a problem again. If it is – at least I’ll know, and can work on it. And, really all I had to do was ask for it. Everyone doing interesting contract work should really be asking for this (the goal-based part, I mean)!!
The experience with this kind of work will be reward enough, even if there are some missteps along the way, but I also want to make progress on at least one major side project in the next 4-5 months. So, I am going to state this publicly as a goal now, because as Adam Houghton wisely pointed out to me a few days ago, public embarrassment when you fail to meet your stated goals is a great motivator to meet your goals :). I have a goal to make some income off of something that I have equity in, and that makes life better for some people, by the end of February. Ideally, in the energy/environmental space. If I am working on something big like my dad’s greenhouse work, I’m okay with clear line-of-sight and schedule for income by end of Feb. I have been brainstorming and sending him resources this week, based largely on all the stuff I had time to read and think about over the last four months. So, that is kind of awesome.
So, that’s what’s going on with me. Anyone have recommendations for books/articles on hitting a schedule and motivating yourself while working totally remotely? Anyone with a sweet portfolio interested in doing some CAD work for sweat equity later this winter?
P.S. I feel like I am spending a lot of time just talking about myself and less reflecting or sharing things of general value.. and this will get tougher if I continue reading and blogging less while focusing on projects/etc in the next months. Is it still sufficiently enjoyable/valuable to read stuff like the above? If not, any thoughts or suggestions (or specific topics) on how to produce more valuable content for you, the reader, in the context of my experience and this little life experiment I am doing? Don’t worry, you won’t hurt my feelings 😉 Thanks!