Questions and Chaos

Life in the 21st Century

The Courage to Write

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

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“Be a writer.” has always been my answer to the question “What do you really want to do?” It was my real answer, even when different words came out of my mouth.  However, I didn’t really believe this was genuinely possible for me and there were plenty of people to tell me so. I once even took a writing class from someone who spent most of the class talking about how little money we would have to learn to live on if we wanted to write. I stayed with typing for a living.

Then along came the internet. It was free. Writing a blog was simple – no publisher, editor or permission needed. This was when I discovered the real reason for not being a writer. It was fear, big fear. I discovered I was afraid of writing in public even more than speaking in public. When you speak in public what you say may be forgotten in a few hours. When you write in public it is there forever. Even compliments made me feel queasy. I went back to typing. I believed that “Fear means I am not a writer.”

At some point in the last few years I read the book:

The Courage to Write – How Writers Transcend Fear  — by Ralph Keyes

He writes about all the various fears experienced by writers both famous and beginner.  He illustrates real life examples of  fears about beginning a project, fears about publishing, fears about critics, fears about being ignored, fears about success and fears about failure

Even Margaret Atwood, icon of Canadian literature is quoted in the book:

“You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer,” said Margaret Atwood, “an almost physical nerve, the kind you need to walk a log across a    river.” 

Now, here is a whole book that contradicts my belief, “Fear means I’m not a writer.”

We’re taught in writing class that clarity, truth and personal honesty are what make good writing – precisely the characteristics that make one feel exposed in public. I realize this statement  could be equally true: “Fear means I am a good writer.” Honestly, fear doesn’t mean anything about what kind of writer I am. What matters is what I believe and how that affects me.

There is one particular line from the book that has been haunting me:

“…you should write as if you were already dead and it no longer mattered what anyone said about you.”

 I’ve reached an age where I can no longer pretend that I have my whole life ahead of me. Each year I feel the possible allotment shrinking. Now it comes down to the simple — do or not do. How do I want to spend the rest of my days?  Someday I will be dead anyway. Here’s to living and here’s to writing.

 

Spring 2013

Saturday, May 18, 2013

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The Tao – Some Things Never Change

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The philosophy of Taoism is 2500 years old. Sounds like life really hasn’t changed as much as we might think it has.

…In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and pure,
the earth is serene and whole,
the spirit is renewed with power,
streams are replenished,
the myriad creatures of the world flourish, living joyfully,
leaders are at peace and their countries are governed with justice.

When humanity interferes with the Tao,
the sky turns filthy,
the Earth is depleted,
the spirit becomes exhausted,
streams run dry,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct….

…When rulers live in splendor and speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land and the granaries are empty;
When governments spend money on ostentation and on weapons;
When the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible,
indulging themselves and possessing more than they can use,
while the poor have nowhere to turn.
All this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.

A New Mental Map

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

No one wants world hunger; no one wants global warming, no one wants the extinction of species. How is it that as a society we create conditions that we as individuals don’t want? Human beings are, perhaps, in the unique position of relating through the world through the filter of our beliefs. We make decisions based on our mental map. Frances Moore Lappé argues that what will change conditions in the world is changes to our mental map. We need to change our mental map from one that is scarcity based and anti-life to one that is life affirming. The premise that there is not enough of what we need in the world leads to beliefs that take us into a spiral of powerlessness. Speaking here, in Oregon on October 2, 2008, she discusses how we can reframe our beliefs on environmental issues in ways that open us to new solutions.

Everything we know is based on past experience, either ours or someone else’s. It is only in giving up what we know, and being willing to experiment with what we don’t know, that we are likely to find new directions. As Frances Moore Lappé says, “It is not possible to know what’s possible.”

For more information see www.smallplanet.org

How to Be a Woman

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On May 9, 2008 Steve Pavlina wrote a blog entry entitled, “How to Be a Man.” He issued the challenge for someone to write “How to Be a Woman”. This is my response to that challenge.

I am not going to tell anyone how to be a woman because I believe that we have inside us all the courage, strength and wisdom to decide for ourselves “How to Be a Woman.” I will share a few ideas I want other women to know.

I want women to know that we are whole and complete, strong and free just the way we are. We are first and foremost human beings with the body type we call female. I am the same person whether I am writing a philosophy paper, washing aviation gas out of my eye, or sitting on the bed crying because my milk won’t stop dripping. Whatever we think, feel or do is naturally female because we live in our female body.

I want women to know that our history is important. Not because we want to focus on injustice, not because it determines who we are or who we can be but because it has influenced the society and culture that shapes who we think we should be. For centuries we have been considered weaker, inferior, unable to control our lives and even immoral  because of our body type. Without an understanding of our history we have a tendency to blame ourselves for what we have been taught by others. Without understanding our history we may accept many limitations as the truth about who we are.

I want women to know that by accepting the stereotypes and labels of what is masculine and what is feminine we limit our individual creativity and potential. If male and female were inherently different in personality and ability, there would be no need for peer pressure to control gender. There would be no need to insist that women and men dress differently. There would be no need to teach girls to be feminine or to teach men to “honor the masculinity of other males.”

Consider this. The average height of males in the United States is 5’9.2″.  The average height of females is 5’3.8″.  But average is not the same as healthy or normal. There are perfectly healthy males who are 5’3″ tall and there are perfectly healthy females who are 6′ tall. There are women with coarse and difficult hair that looks “prettiest” cut short and men with long, soft, delicate hair that no amount of money can buy. Not average, but perfectly normal. Intellectual and psychological traits exist on the same kind of continuum.  We are all more unique as individuals than we are an average of our gender. It is destructive and limiting to an individual when we expect them to adhere to the average.

We have created the labels of masculine and feminine and interpret the world according to the way our beliefs say the genders are “supposed to be”.  When a three -year- old little girl is mixing bottles of perfume in the bath we say, “Oh look, she’s being such a girl.”  When a three- year -old little boy is mixing perfumes in the bath we say, “Oh look, he’s doing chemistry.” 

Even science tries to tell us that Girls Love Pink.  Not considering the fact that in the early 1900′s blue was for girls because blue was more delicate and dainty.

I want women to know that we can trust our bodies. I want women to know that breast- feeding is healthy, not obscene.  Our bodies know how to grow a baby, how to push it out into the world and how to nourish it.  When people discuss the differences between men and women, they like to talk about beliefs and feelings and abilities but not the real difference, our bodies, our biology.  Our bodies are different than men’s bodies. Sometimes that affects our experience and sometimes it doesn’t.

I want women to know that we can choose to have children or choose to not have children. Biologically, we are the ones who carry the next generation but we are not obligated to reproduce. There is no population shortage in the human race. Our lives are whole and complete whether we have babies or not.

I want women to know that before having children they need to consider whether they are willing to commit to raising those children alone. So many of us became single parents while thinking, “I never thought it could happen to me.”  Children need care whether you feel like it or not, whether you have money or not, whether you have found your life purpose or not. Read very carefully what Steve Pavlina says in his point #2 on “How to Be a Man.” There is a saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  If you have children, create that village for yourself.

I want women to know that we make mistakes and we need not carry guilt for those mistakes. We need to forgive ourselves as well as others. We can learn from our mistakes. We can change our mind and do things differently. And we can change our mind again. That is growth.

I want women to know that we have the wisdom to discern when independence is needed and when cooperation is needed. If a woman is lifting weights at the gym we don’t say, “Here I can help you, it will be easier together,” but we know that many of life’s challenges are more easily overcome by working together.

I want women to know that we can trust our feelings. Our feelings show us where we are weak and where we are strong. They show us what we want to change and which direction we want to grow in. They show us who we are and what we love. The poet e.e. cummings (a man) said, “Almost anyone can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think, or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.”

I want women to know that it is normal to “be too much.” We are bombarded with advice for “Women Who Love Too Much” or “Women Who Think Too Much.”  We talk too much. We are too quiet. We are attached to our children too much; we pursue our careers too much or we love our shoes too much.  There will always be someone with an opinion that tells us to be different or smaller than we are.

I want women to know that we are stronger than we have been told we are. Our foremothers nurtured the human race through war, famine, disease, violence and abuse. Because of them we are still here today. We have that same strength.

I want women to know that when we take responsibility for our choices we have fewer regrets. We can weigh the costs and benefits and choose the best course of action. We can decide how much we will participate in social norms and how much we will defy them. We can forgive ourselves when we change our mind. We can learn and we can grow. We can try again. Do what you want. Do what you love, whether it’s feminine or masculine or whether no other human being has done it before. Whether our choices make our lives harder or easier, we know that we have done the best we could….and that is enough.

As a Little Child

Sunday, February 17, 2008

One day as I was doing some random surfing I came upon this blog entry by Hope:

Earlier this week, my seven year old was telling me why she sometimes has trouble falling asleep at night: “Sometimes I lay in my bed and just think about how amazing it is to be alive.”

How many adults have ever cited that as a reason for not sleeping?  Wouldn’t it be great if we were still that entranced with life as grownups?  I think most of us can remember a time around the age of six or seven when we were entranced by life.

A few weeks ago Dave Pollard wrote about the contrast between child and grownup:

When I was a child, I was wild.   Not in the sense of being unmanageable — I was quite attentive back then.  Wild in the sense of uncivilized, raw, open, unrepressed, natural.  I am told I was constantly taking my clothes off, not to show off but because I found them confining, unnatural, and saw nothing embarrassing about nudity.

I was fearless (I did a photoshoot as a baby, hamming it up for the camera, that appeared on the front page of the local newspaper), I was imaginative (too much so for my neighbourhood friends, who couldn’t follow the games I invented), affectionate (my favourite game as soon as I could walk was ‘kissing tag’, since most of the kids my age in the neighbourhood were girls).  Back then I struggled with communication (I didn’t learn to write reasonably well until my late teens, read little until then, and was nervous about singing (I was a pretty good boy soprano) and talking in crowds.

And then all the trappings of civilization came rushing in — the cruel games children play, the preference for cute, athletic, clever, well-coordinated friends (I got pretty gangly-looking as I aged, my voice broke so my singing teacher lost interest in me, and I was terribly coordinated — I couldn’t swim or dance and my penmanship was illegible. I began to acquire a lot of the fears, doubts and prejudices of the groups I desperately wanted to belong to, which were only made worse as my advances were rebuffed).  I became a loner, and not even a ‘smart’ one.

This is what we do to our children when we teach them to grow up!

As a young child I was already afraid and quiet.  Still, I had the expectation, somehow, that life was supposed to be wonderful.  I was sure that what I was experiencing was an aberration and that someday I would be free.

I live in Canada where our experiences of rain are usually chilly.  One hot summer day, when I was five or six years old, we had an incredible downpour and the farm pasture was covered in huge puddles.  As I ran through them with bare feet, one after another, they felt warm as bathwater.  Running barefoot through luscious puddles, with the bright sun shining – this was how life was supposed to be!

As we get older even the simple joy of bare feet is “civilized” out of us.  I was constantly warned of the dangers of walking to the mailbox or (gasp) to the corner store without shoes.  Responsible adults warned me that driving with bare feet was illegal.  [now, just think about this - how could it be less safe to drive with your feet directly touching the pedals, than trying to manoeuvre them with winter galoshes on?] And, for the record, it is not illegal anywhere in North America to drive without shoes.

I want to be like Hope’s seven year old again, lying in bed thinking about how amazing it is to be alive.  If success is measured by joy, we need to be careful about what advice we take to heart.  We need to keep our wildness, our courage, our imagination, our affection, our sense of wonder and our creativity. If we’ve given them up, we need to take them back.

It was a mind no less than that of Einstein who said, “Never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.”

 

A Note to Sam Harris

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I think you’re right: what the world needs is more love and curiosity.

I watched a You Tube video where Sam Harris gives an interesting talk to the Atheist Alliance International conference.  I haven’t read his books. I’ve listened to talks by Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett but haven’t read their books either. I’m not all that interested in what atheists can tell me about religion.

I was a small child when I first heard the story of God asking Abraham to offer up his most loved son, Isaac, as a burnt offering. I couldn’t understand why the creator of the universe, the creator of sunshine and flowers and kittens, would want to kill children.

I remember being nine years old and struggling to hold back the tears through a thundering sermon. “Everyone sitting here is responsible for nailing Jesus to the cross.  You,  personally, hammered in each of those nails with your sin and disobedience. I choked back sobs. I didn’t want to kill Jesus and I had no idea what I had done that was so terrible. I couldn’t change what I didn’t know. I would always be guilty.

As uncomfortable as I feel with religion, I’ve been uncomfortable with accepting the label of atheist. Atheists always seemed to be as angry as the preachers. Preachers argued against sin and atheists argued against religion. Both of them are taking the same position of “I am more right than you are.” “I am a better person than you are.”

I also had some difficulty seeing atheism as a rational alternative. I can’t help thinking that there must be a logical fallacy involved, somewhere, when people identify themselves as being against something that doesn’t exist.

There needs to be a better way. While science tries to give testable answers to questions about how the world works, it has nothing to say about what we value, who we love or how we can feel safe in the world. Perhaps what we really need is to put our beliefs and values to the test, to see if they are producing the results we want.  We need to put our emotions to the test. Does love produce the result we want or does hatred?  Does anger, and teaching others to fear us, produce the result we want.

When religion puts all the results we can expect into the next life, it holds us captive. We depend on the unverifiable stories of others to determine our actions. We need to test our results in this life. As humans, we seem to have a tendency to do more of the same with more intensity when we’re not getting results we want. We all know people who yell more loudly and punish their children more harshly when the children don’t respect them. A more useful tactic might be to stop and ask the question, “Are my actions getting me the results I want?” 

It’s clear from the state of the world today that the “way we’ve always done things” isn’t working very well. We need to have the curiosity to ask, “How can we change to get the results we want?”

Like Sam Harris said, “What we need most is love and curiosity” — and I would add to that, creativity.  Love and curiosity and creativity are the starting points to learning how to live well in the world.

Life Without Death

Friday, November 9, 2007

Every biological creature, every living thing that has ever existed eventually dies. It’s a fact of existence for all living entities of any size and shape. Whether it’s a single celled bacterium, an elephant, a sequoia tree or a human being, death is its common and unavoidable destiny. How is it that human beings have become so attached to the belief that “people shouldn’t die?”

When we imagine life without death, we imagine that we would just keep on doing what we’re doing indefinitely. However, when we look at ourselves from an evolutionary perspective it is actually death that drives life. Without the threat of death we would not be what we are. All of our experiences and activities have evolved from the need to gather energy. Life is the drive to sustain our energy and fend off death. Without the existence of death none of these activities would be necessary.

If we did not die we would not need to reproduce. All the experiences we consider most precious and meaningful would not exist. There would be no need for attraction and sex and all the drama we create with those experiences. There would be no generations of children, parents and grandparents. Family relationships and rituals would never have evolved. There would be no weddings, graduations, bar mitzvahs or family feuds. Passing our life to the next generation has created our most meaningful relationships and activities. Without death, there would be no need for any of them.

All of our needs originate from the avoidance of death. Without death there would be no need to sleep, to wake up or even to breathe. Without the need for food and security there would be no reason to work, no reason to move at all, really. We would have no need to build, to create or to develop technologies. Without a need for relationships or creativity, communication would not be necessary. There would be no languages, no songs, no stories and no religions.

If we did not die what kind of existence would we have? Would it be fair to say that we would not live? Would we perhaps have an existence more like that of a rock? In a paradoxical way it is actually death that drives life. It is our avoidance of death that fuels our creativity and our cultures and gives meaning to life.

It is ironic that our fear and hatred of death often translates into a fear and hatred of life. The war machine is sent out when people are afraid of death. Death is hidden away in our society. Death might make us notice how unhappy and empty our lives feel. Some people who have faced chronic illness have said that it was the best thing that ever happened to them, because it motivated them to appreciate and love life. Death is the boundary that makes life real and precious.

Dedicated to,and inspired by, my dear canine friend, Tara, who is hobbling about exuberantly, with terminal bone cancer.

A Zen Story

Saturday, September 1, 2007

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “May be,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “May be,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “May be,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “May be,” said the farmer.

 From Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors.

I love this story especially on days when things go “wrong.” It’s a reminder that things can always change the next day. The story speaks to our dualistic way of thinking where everything is divided into right or wrong. Our labels aren’t an adequate description of what is happening. It is possible for events to be good and bad at the same time. It often depends on the perspective from which you look at them.   It also speaks to our short term judgement. We really aren’t able to see the long term effects of events in our lives until they happen.

 

 

Headlines Everywhere: Girls Love Pink

Monday, August 27, 2007

In my local paper I came across an article from Reuters London reporting a new scientific study that showed: Boys like blue, girls like pink and there isn’t much anybody can do about it, researchers said on Monday in one of the first studies to show scientifically that there are gender-based colour preferences.”

Scientific American has run the Reuters article verbatim: starting with the above quote. Newspapers everywhere are proclaiming the above line or something even more scientific sounding like that of the Toronto Star : “A new study, appearing this month in Current Biology finds for the first time that girls are hard-wired to like pink.

In this study 208 subjects age 20-26 looked at pairs of coloured rectangles and picked the one they preferred as quickly as possible. While both sexes preferred blue tones, more women picked reddish-blue tones than men. Based on the evidence, the conclusions published around the world are sheer nonsense and, sadly, people will believe those conclusions have been proven by science.

In the summary of her paper submitted to Current Biology researcher Anya Hurlbert talks about how no previous studies have found sex differences in colour preference and “This fact is perhaps surprising, given the prevalence and longevity of the notion that little girls differ from boys in preferring pink.

First off, in order for little girls to prefer pink they would need to be offered a choice. Babies and toddlers have no choice in the colours they are dressed in, girls are born surrounded by pink and boys by blue. Walk down the girls’ aisle in the toy store – what colour is everything? What would little girls play with if it wasn’t pink? How often do they have a choice between a blue, green or pink Barbie car? The choice is pink or pink or pink. Any little boy who who loves pink is quickly re-directed to the correct toys and colours. It is parents and marketers that choose pink for girls and blue for boys, not the children themselves.

It’s interesting to note the age of the subjects. Previous studies found no differences between the preferences of males and females. Subjects age 20-26 have been more heavily subjected to consumer culture, more toys and television than any other generation. Also interesting that Chinese subjects of both sexes had a greater preference for reddish tones than the British subjects. In Chinese culture red is considered a lucky colour.

Hurlbert explains these findings as having a biological basis because to her it seems logical that women would prefer reddish colours because it helped early females find fruit and be attentive to babies’ skin colour changes such as fever. However there was no evidence in her experiment that women noticed the colours faster, only that they preferred these shades.
If we’re going to look at this from an evolutionary perspective and let’s assume it’s true for a moment that women are hard-wired to prefer pink. If it were true, wouldn’t every man looking for a hot date be wearing some shade of pink?

Ben Goldacre on Bad Science points out that choosing pink for girls is only a recent cultural phenomenon. He quotes a 1918 Ladies Home Journal that says girls should wear blue and boys should wear pink because “pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

It doesn’t really matter what colour you prefer as long as the truth remains that males are strong because they are the hunters and females are dainty because they are the berry pickers.

I abhor pink consumer goods, but I’m a darn good berry picker. So perhaps I need to accept that, perhaps, biologically I’m a Neanderthal.
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addendum
In the comments Nikku said: This article is misleading as female humans preferring a slightly redder shade of blue has nothing to do with liking a pink shirt. EXACTLY! That’s my point. To use this data to say that girls are hardwired to like pink is just bad, bad science. Trouble is all the media in the English world, and maybe more, said this proved that girls liking pink is a hard-wired trait. It’s now three years later and if you Google “Girls like pink” you will read the following: “A new study, appearing this month in Current Biology, finds for the first time that girls are hard-wired to like pink.” — and that is just wrong on so many levels.

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