Category Archives: wake up your brain

Days 218 thru 221: MLwC, the rainy season and the restlessness of desire

The rainy season has come early to the Northwest this year. The temp has dropped quickly and I’m having to pull a lot of tomatoes off the vine and ripen them indoors. I was thinking today of how this new season will impact my fledgling transportation habits…for example, I’m nervous taking my laptop in my pack when it’s raining super hard and I have an appt out and about.

Or am I just reluctant to change habits? Think things through and come up with new approaches? All through this project I’ve faced that reluctance. Sure, after a while I come around but at first, my response is always: couldn’t I just take the car? It’d be so much easier, not to mention drier. But I just bought two new bus ticket packets and I’ll be using them. And the bike is still a brisk alternative on a windy Autumn day, making me feel more alive and connected than the other two alternatives combined.

Speaking of which, I read a post over at NoImpactMan the other day which echoes some of the feelings I’ve had at various points in this project. To whit: he finds himself more able to be grateful for things when he has less of them. Makes me think of “less is more,” a truism throughout the world of design, art, and life.

But NoImpactMan isn’t talking about art, he’s talking about living in a state of gratitude rather than desire. And when you start to cut the unnecessary out of your life, and get back to more grounded ways of living each day, it becomes easier to cultivate gratitude and recognize socialized desire when it pops up.

Have you ever read the magazine Ad Busters? It’s pretty interesting, though sort of depressing sometimes. What I love about that magazine is how they nail our culture of desire and strip it bare to reveal the inner workings. Some of their pieces on how women are taught to view themselves through media bombardment as inherently flawed without the intervention of multiple products are at once spot-on, sad, and hopeful–that last because it’s good to see the issue discussed so intelligently and by people who truly understand the advertising media.

Here’s an interesting article by Bill McKibbon in Ad Busters, from a while back, that discusses the possibility of seeing ourselves not as individuals but as part of a larger system, a very very large system. Seeing ourselves thus takes satisfaction out of the hands of media and puts it back into our own hands, our community, our neighbors, our own lives:

The dirty little secret of our individualized consumer age is that it hasn’t made us quite as happy as it promised it would. In fact, to the degree that we can track such things, our sense of well-being has retreated almost as fast as the Arctic ice. Polling data on ‘life satisfaction’ shows it has been falling since the mid-50s; even a growing chorus of economists has begun to wonder if their constant prescription (More!) has lost its curative powers, or even turned subtly toxic. It’s not precisely clear why we find ourselves less happy, but the sociologists and psychologists seem to think it has something to do with loss of community. The same loss of community that the fossil fuel infrastructure made inevitable.

As we continue to strive for happiness through “more,” we fall further into despair. I hate to be so focused on this driving/transportation thing, but I really did find the same exact thing happened when I stopped driving everywhere. When I was driving all the time, I felt like I needed to drive even more and faster, faster! I needed to get past everyone in front of me! I didn’t even know why, I just needed to. Only when I stopped driving, and speed of arrival wasn’t the only unit of measure that counted, I felt happier. Less is more.

Daily Stats (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun) (This office project must end soon!)
Car: 9.5
Bike: 6
Ped: 4
Bus: 15

Day 217: MLwC and the Very Important Bike Conversation

Bikes in traffic

B2 sent a great comment to my previous post about Bike Conduct. Since Brian commutes all over the area, I take his thoughts and opinions to heart.  As he notes, it sounds like the rider in the previous post was indeed obnoxious but that, “your friend, through no fault of her own, became the focal point of an ‘I’m-fed-up-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore” moment.’  Maybe so, and lord knows, we’ve all had a few of those now and again.

Brian goes on to list in his Howl skree a litany of car-related insults and near-misses that I, and I’m sure every bike rider out there, can identify with:

Personally, I’ve been cut off by turning vehicles, cut in front of by cars, passed on narrow streets with inches to spare by cars that couldn’t slow down and wait an extra 10 seconds to pass a bit more widely, nearly hit by clueless u-turning taxis, nearly doored by clueless drivers opening their door wide open into traffic without looking behind them first, screamed at to get the hell out of the way, and had shit thrown at me, among other things. So I can definitely see where a cyclist could get pushed to the breaking point by someone she perceives to be an impatient driver who can’t seem to wait an extra minute or two on his way to do what must be Very Important Things indeed.

Yes, indeed.  A while back in this year long project I began to notice and commented on at many points how driving made me feel in much more of a hurry than I actually needed to be.  Just getting behind a wheel made me feel…well, aggressively interested in getting wherever I was going as soon as I could, viewing, as B notes, everything in my path as an obstacle to get past.  It’s true.  I’ve broken the habit of driving everywhere, I live on both sides now and I know: driving makes you obsess on one thing–getting past the thing in front of you.  As Bri describes it:

One of the issues with car and truck drivers is that the mentality of many drivers behind the wheel is that “everything on the road is an obstacle that is in the way of me getting to my desitination as fast as possible, so everyone and everything just get out of my fucking way now.” The physical structure of the car (which cuts you off from your environment) feeds into this mentality.)

In the case of my friend Susan’s close encounter with Bike Rage, however, the cyclist was expecting the driver to go uphill at what was likely 3-4 miles per hour.  That’s not easy to do in a car, not at all.  So in that case, I think the cyclist was asking too much.  Just my opinion, and had it been me, I would have hopped over to the sidewalk.  There’s a very steep hill in my hood, on the north side of Lincoln Park–long, winding, narrow lanes and steep.  To me it just screams “accident waiting to happen,” so I avoid it at all costs.  Fortunately for me, the alternate path takes me along the waterfront of the park and for the life of me, I can’t imagine why anyone would take the long and winding road, but hey.

Thanks for the comment, B2!

Daily Stats (Wed)
Car: 6.5 miles (will this office project never end? 4 tasks)
Bike: 0
Ped: 1

Bus: 0

Day 191-194: MLwC and still partying like it’s 1959!

As Saturday was “Take a Conservative Friend to Lunch” day (not really, I just made that up), my partner and I took my friend Tom B. to lunch. First off, we love Tom.  He’s a good guy, and mostly we should just talk about movies and music, and mostly we do.  But not Saturday. Talk turned to the usual list of Talk Radio Hit Parade “issues” –Immigration, Global Climate Change Fraud, Taxes, and unexpectedly…Wildlife.

This last was too much for me. Tom was going on about how wrong it is that if he’s hiking in a National Park, he’s not allowed to carry a gun to protect himself in case he’s charged by a bear. I’m not aware of that law, but I like it.

Tom feels that humans should be able to carry guns in the wild in order to “even the playing field” with ferocious beasts. That was hilarious to me, and I thought, “Oh yeah, there’s that whole weird twist on the ‘dominion’ thing again.” I suggested that once upon a time, people didn’t go into the wilderness unless 1) They knew what they were doing and 2) They understood the risk. But now, you have so many people out there at any given time it’s almost not like hiking anymore.  And worse, people are building their 5,000 square foot houses in the middle of the wilderness and being outraged when a cougar attacks one of them when out jogging. This is not a ferocious beast, this is a response to lack of territory and resources.

We’re still living like it’s 1959

Here’s the deal: we are still living like it’s 1959 and there are only 3 billion people on the planet. 37 years later, world pop is well on its way to 7 billion. We are the only species on the planet that has the wildly extravagant idea that we can populate endlessly, use all resources available, without systemic change. How does this relate to Tom’s desire to go wherever he wants without incursion from wildlife (or any other natural barrier)?

We seem to think that the entire planetary system is without the very reactive wiring we take for granted in ourselves: loss of territory and defensive strategies, fear for resources and reactive measures, protection of offspring and dwellings. Just about every creature on this planet shows evidence of that behavior–from vegetation and invasive plants, to cougars and loss of territory/food resources, to humans and fear of invasion by all kinds of forces. We’re just organisms responding to stimuli. I know, I know, a lot of people are truly offended by that and I can understand the offense. I just find, for myself, that I am much more able to live in harmony with other creatures and systems when I remember I am just an organism like them…except with a whole arsenal of tools to make sure I win any argument we might have.

All creatures on this planet respond to threat and loss of “freedom” pretty much the same we do.

Anyway, back to Tom B. I may be deluding myself, but I do think he sort of understood that we have gone way too far in expecting the animal kingdom to be fine with inexperienced hikers and joggers just willy-nilly crashing into their environments. They react as they are wired to react. We’re the ones that are jimmying the game, we’re the ones that expect the laws of nature to change.

One last thing on this rant: I’m not really out to change Tom, just to make sure some little bit of the other side is represented in the conversation. I don’t want to change anyone–I just want more information to be included in the conversation. I want us to wake up our brains with just a little more new information.

Oh and, yeah, I do wish we’d realize it’s not 1959 anymore and we are close to 7 Billion People on this planet and things really, really do change in big ways with that kind of impact.

Daily Stats (Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon)
Car: 0
Bike: 0
Ped: 0
Bus: 0
(been sick with a summer cold and ain’t doin much of anythin’ these days)

Day 145: MLwC and the little things

La Marguerite and Substrata both commented yesterday on the radical act of simply paying more attention (those are my words, their comments are here). There are all kinds of ways of being more conscious–writing a blog is a way of noticing things. Talking about your stuff with a friend–your friend helping you to link your life together–that helps you to be more conscious.

And watching what happens when you decide to do something different, that’ll really help you pay attention. I’ve learned that so vividly on this MLwC project.

A friend of mine sent me a link the other day to a site I’d forgotten but is worth visiting. I was stuck working on something and his email came right at the perfect moment (thanks Paul!). I was able to take a break and play with Brian Eno’s site Oblique Strategies for a while. It really helped to jog my brain a little!

So, why am I mentioning this? Because doing one unexpected or different thing helps you see everything differently for at least a little while, and sometimes even longer. I’m convinced that’s why Marguerite mentions (as well as a few commentators on her blog) that before she knew it, she felt things in her life were shifting just a little–just on the basis of having changed a few habits.

I recently finished A Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson–a great read, highly recommend it. One of the things they discuss is the link between mess and creativity and specifically: it’s tough to be very creative if you do the same thing, the same way, all the time. Mess it up, they say, and find your brain more than a little woken up simply by taking a different route to work.

So, yeah, if you decide to take on change such as committing for 90 days to turn off the water when you brush your teeth, or taking the bus to work one day a week, the rewards are huge. Yes, you’ll get instant enviro-karma/dharma points but even better: your brain will wake up, colors will be brighter, ideas will appear out of nowhere…who knows where it could lead. A happy, active brain is a good brain.

Daily stats: (Monday)
Car: 0
Bike: 0
Ped: 0
Bus:0
Desk day, and do I feel it in my body!