Tag Archives: analysis

Cults and Memories

The past, mothers, religion, improv, and relationships are coming up a lot lately in a mesh of memories and reminders. Relationships are challenging when you have depression and social anxiety. Flashes of memories or just the feelings from the past can sweep over you when triggered and your mind is confused but your body is set in the reaction to something years long gone.
My family was very religious, restrictive, and poor. Unlike some of my siblings, I did not do home schooling at any point. I attended private religious schools. However, I was expected to follow my parents rules of dress, behavior, music, work, speech, and life and not participate in most of what my fellows at school did. Simultaneously being told I needed to be more open and friendly because I was shy and felt isolated from others I was expected not to integrate or enjoy the things they did. My clothes were a source of mockery, along with my speech impediments and that I wasn’t allowed the entertainments those around me shared.

I am a reader. I always have been a reader. But my choice of books was highly restricted. I read everything I was allowed multiple times, even the encyclopedias and dictionaries. But once my options opened when I left their home, I realized that despite the apparent attempts at a good education I was woefully lacking in knowledge, experience, and variety. I began to read a wide variety of books and materials and continue that to this day.

Each incident at school was the start of a chain of emotional events and trouble I knew to expect. In many ways, the expectation was worse than the series of punishments. The schools had orders to use swats for any offence they felt worthy, which is broad and covers most things including failing to turn in homework I completed but didn’t give them. I would ace a test and go to receive my swats for not doing the homework to prepare for the test I aced. Walking dejectedly to the office I knew it was only the first because when I got home I would would get a lecture separately from each parent and swats again from one of them.

Rarely did I do anything truly deserving of punishment because I had a very clear understanding of the consequence and reward ratio. I felt I had a hard enough time without adding extra issues for limited reward. Of course, that means when I did choose to do something the punishment was fairly pointless because I knew what it would be and chose to act anyway. I had already determined the risk to reward ratio was in my favor.

The lives around me were like another world to me that I watched from a distance without relating or fully understanding. From the girl whos parents dropped of hundreds for her to go shopping in the mall alone after school or to take her friends out to the kids sharing the newest dance moves in the halls I could not participate. I was quiet, shy, and introverted and places like a shared locker room were a terrifying thought. Numerous times I opted to accept detention for changing in the nearby restroom rather than endure mockery and embarrassment in the locker room. I also had it drilled into me not to undress in front of others so a locker room was a problem.

Conversations were hard because we shared nothing in common other than classes and those were mostly boring and too easy so I didn’t really pay attention. At some point there was always the risk conversation would veer toward my mother and her cancer, which was not something I wanted to discuss. Religious people would imply either that they were praying which was obviously not working or that if she actually had faith she would not be sick. The added issue that she was a test patient because we couldn’t afford treatment much less any extras or luxuries. I absolutely was unwilling to discuss where the food on our table came from because that was a mockery I knew I could not handle. How do you feed 7-10 people on $20 a week, sometimes more, sometimes less? The poor ladies of the church had a list of stores that discarded usable food and mom had an agreement to collect discarded vegetables for the horse. We sorted through the horses vegetables to see what could go on the tale first.

Many times I remember sitting in a parking lot while my mother composed herself or cried in the one place no one could see. After a horrifyingly degrading day trying to meet the needs of the family or accepting charity she would go home to dad’s anger and screaming rants about anything and everything. She would go home to 2 children in constant medical car and her own terrifying medical care. She would go home to the holes in the floor and walls and the car held together by duct ape and wood. She would go home to watch me cower from dad’s anger and my brothers acting out. Failing that we would go to church, where we spent more evening than not to be told how we were all sinners and needed to give more, do more, be more, bring in more people, and earn a place. We went to the church where I was yet again alone and mocked and here knew the question of my families lack of faith and why they were poor and sick would come up. I knew there would be taunts and often physical confrontation. These happened at school but more consistently at the churches.

Each service I listened then as mom taught me I went home and studied. I read their books and teachings. These always led to questions that if I asked someone other than my parents resulted in something to the effect of me being a girl child that should learn my place and be silent and do as I was told. Years of memorization and reading led me to no other conclusion than the religion was a compounded grouping of modifications stolen from older teachings and chosen by various leaders in the worst periods of history to best control, dominate, and instill fear. It is a religion based on fear and control. It is a religion that teaches the only reason to be a good person is to avoid punishment not because it is right. Each test of the history I was taught led to the inescapable conclusion they had manipulated the teaching to show a lie and manipulate the views of the children they took into their care.

What I saw from the outside was a cult that manipulated participants to view the world through a filter and with careful blinders. They were trying for the isolation of those in the retreats but in the city so they could better raw more people.

My mother was a brilliant and strong woman trapped in a world that treated women as a lower level being. She did all the work for a doctorate but was denied the degree because she was a woman at a baptist college. She was a writer and a researcher by nature, a leader and communicator but denied the right to lead, teach, research, or speak freely. The man was the head of the household and the wife was expected to follow him, obey him, accept his behavior, and not question or attempt to teach men. With permission a woman could teach other women or children but that would be shut down if they questioned her teachings or behavior outside class. Children were under her rule but punishments were the prerogative of the man, as were the rules she was to teach. Girls were expected to be obedient, submissive, silent, and learn the proper behaviors of a good wife. I refused to learn any wifely duties at every step, only many years later learning some of them were fun skills when used for your own pleasure or business rather than in service to a master.
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Balance of Justice

As with every other thing that has come up recently in need of evaluation, meditation, consideration, action, or writing I find everything I read this week is tending toward justice, balance, and how relationships fare within. The recuring theme has been one of the need and requirement for balance for there to be justice and the imposition of justice. News has stories on the topic. Public demonstrations demand justice and a more balanced approach to issues. One book talks about a created entity enforcing justice but failing to head the balance and the destruction it causes. Another focuses on a god that renders justice when no other justice is availible or done and that requires a balance in his judgments. Another talked briefly about the historical divine female justice. As I meditate and try to settle my mind and emotions to know what to speak and how to act in the strugles in my own life I find myself wanting justice. Balance has always been a prime goal in my life but I fear I have of late lost that balance and cannot clearly see what balance would be justice.
What is justice in a relationship? It justice what we want in a relationship? Without it accountability is questioned and trust is eroded when there is need for it. Balance becomes a critical part of the equation when you are talking personal level issues. But no portion of our life is lived in a vacume and each impacts not only each other but our emotions, thoughts, and ability to deal with the others. Stress with friends and stress at work make home life more difficult. Add in that home life may be seperate from the relationship issues and there is another layer of question. Can you evaluate the balance of justice when you are in the middle of the maelstrom?

I speak of living alone, far from any frineds and from my husband but in truth I rent a room sharing an apartment with four other women. I am never really alone. My space is a room that shares walls with my neighbors. My work is a desk open to all and with a camera on me at all times. My volunteer hours are spent across the window from the supervisor. I travel the city on a crowded bus. I meditate in a group. I write in a group. I swim on beached full of locals and tourists. I game in a group. I share my kitchen and every space I live in with strangers. The distance often feels greater because so many strangers are always so close to hand. No one close to me is close to me. If I returned today to Texas this would not improve however. I would have space but I would have no more close companions. Family is a distant thing without my mother and marriage is a strange uncertainty hovering above an ocean we have yet to cross.
When you give up everything in your life to move to a new and uncertain life you act on a choice to accept uncertainty and lonliness for at least a time. When you do so in a relationship but find yourself alone anyway it is a difference of gradiation. How many times do you let someone hurt you before you step away? Do you let them prove they can change if they make it clear they are opposed to people changing and don’t believe people can change? How do balance and justice affect the situation? When fear has stalked you for years it becomes the overriding sense of the world. Every action is tinged with the fear that it will be the one to cost you something critical from job or home to friend or husband. Sometimes you fight to protect those things even though they are already lost because you can’t accept the loss of another thing.

But by the same token has the fear colored your judgment of things so you cannot make a balanced judgment? Stess wears you down and damages your health. After a while you are tired, sore, sick, and afraid all the time and reaching out of it alone becomes a Herculean effort that becomes almost sisepheyan. Doing so alone, without even friends is something I would not wish on anyone. I am not the type to wish ill on others anyway as that is against my sense of balance and peace. I have for some years now striven to live in the balanced and clear understanding of Buddhism. Though I did not entirely give up my Child of the Trickster place it took some time to understand that the same balance is required for both. It is not contraditory to be a pacifist that will fight to protect what is right in the same way as it is not contraditory to stand with the chaotic trickster and be a voice of peace and balance from them. The trickster has always served the good of humanity and balance over the rules and other gods. Knowing yourself and touching the divine spirit it part of the path. But what of justice and depression?
The idea of depression on either path has always been a problem for me. For a long time it made me more depressed because I was sure it was wrong to be depressed and be on this path. But at some point in my meditations I realized that it just is. It isn’t right or wrong or something to do with me but it is just depression. Depression can be a physical thing that needs addressing. Which I have, admittidly not had checked. It can also be a response to stimuli and this will abate when the stimuli does. In truth both external and internal, they are both stimuli and can be addressed not as a personal flaw and internal identification but rather as a state that must be acknowledged and seen for what it actually is not for the excess impacts it causes.
So too, justice is not my choice and action. I have no control of those things. I can act with equinamity and balance and maintain justice in myself but I cannot control others and their impacts on the world. I can see their impact on me and what is my response but I cannot change their action. I can choose to exclude them from my sphere of influence and I can withdraw my trust from them but I cannot make them act as if my path is theirs. But can we have a relationship with those of a drastically different path? In some cases yes. and in others less so.

remembering that enlightenment is a moment to moment thing and not a permenant state of being helps. I am not striving to be in the perfect state, I am balancing myself in this moment. I am aware of now and of life and am striving to reach the state of peace and calm acceptance I remember from what feels like a great distance. It is the point I have for reference at this time. It seems like so long ago I moved off my path and lost that balance but that I still know the feeling tells me it is not out of reach. But also it tells me that depression is a moment to moment thing as well. I do not need to be confused by the drastically different feelings or thoughts that come across me because all things are moment to moment. We do not live in tomorow or yesterday, in this evening or morning but we live in now. If I can accept that at this moment tears threaten to spill and accept in another moment that rage consumes me then I can accept those moments I am at peace just the same. Why does it seem harder to accept the reality of those moments and allow them to be without analysis and disruption? Is there something in all of us that rejects that or is it the fear and depression? I think it is a lot of things wrapped into our ego trying to maintain control however destructive the path it pushes us onto.

Weight

What do you say when your emotions have given up trying to keep up and you are just tired? It is hard to write and hard to think beyond the basic tasks in front of you. Your mind hovers, not stopped but unwilling to
touch the items pending and straining like a weighted cloud over you. The world around you is heavy and distant like you are working through a perfectly clear morass. Nothing directly hurts but your body aches like you have just finished a hard
day of martial training and bruised and strained everything. You aren’t sad or angry because that would focus on it and take an effort you just can’t muster. Motivation drains away like someone pulled the drain plug and if you manage to think of things to do it is a constant effort to actually do them.
Numbness is much worse than sadness or anger. Numbness comes
after the pain and anger and saps you of the strength of will to do something
about it. You know what is happening. You know what you need…well sometimes you do. The problem is you can’t pin it down and act on it. Even focusing on the thought is like holding a giant jelly ball that won’t be still. You feel the wrong size for the world around you and like you are moving the wrong speed. Your hair feels wrong and the world sounds too far away.

These are often times you don’t recognize yourself in the
mirror or can’t think of things about yourself. Good things bring a moment of light or lifted weight but it can’t hold it off you long enough to get free. Certainty that things are going wrong or will go wrong grows and the thought is more resigned than warning. Someone that normally stand up to anything and can go through anything can be stopped in their tracks by this weight of
depression. These are the ones least prepared for it and least sure how to
cope. Most likely there is an actual physical component that should be treated involved but they are very unlikely to seek the help they need.

We need to speak for what is right.

They say nothing happens you can’t handle. Bullshit. That’s right up there with everything happens for a reason or god is testing you because he loves you. No. People can heal, they can recover but they can’t always handle what happens. a lot if what happens is because people don’t care about the other beings on the planet are are selfish and self righteous. and if you think a god is ordering your life and testing you with a bad relationship then you believe that same god is starving millions and torturing people around the world. That selfish and egocentric view is killing society.
Life is often hard. it isn’t right. It isn’t fair. But it is. we should try to make things better because it’s the right thing to do not because it helps us. When we ignore the beatings next door because it isn’t our business or ignore wrongful imprisonment because they are the other we are wrong.

There isn’t always something we can do but the choice to ignore it and accept it is the problem. The choice to agree is worse.

Cooking

I love to cook. I love the ingredients, the flavors, the smells, the history, and the tastes. I spread my ingredients out and chop and prep running several dishes at a time until I have a meal or several meals ready. My goals are to have good food within a certain flavor profile for as many servings as I need and to have no ingredient waste if possible. I try to prepare lunch for several days and take the remainders for my meal that evening I prepare them. I want colors and flavors textures and scents. Food starts when you smell it and see it and the richness of the flavor is increased by the richness of the colors, scents, and texture. Some things I love the flavor of do have troublesome smells or textures but they are worth it.
I really learned to cook here in Hawaii the first time I lived here. Obviously, since I was in my 30s I did cook prior to that. But food wasn’t the same kind of interest. There were times I worked hard to prepare and learn complicated dishes and meals but I didn’t’ really understand them. I didn’t understand flavor profiles, cultural distinctions, the historical and cultural reasons certain dishes are what they are, why some substitutions work one place and not another. I loved good food but had not yet developed the love of ingredients, history, cooking, and the rich value of food and sharing food.
After I moved back to the mainland I had a really hard time adapting to what was available in stores. They are the usual things to people there and to many of the dishes I ate but not to how I learned to relate to food. Since I have returned here I find myself once again enjoying my time picking vegetables in China town or visiting the various stores I love to find ingredients at. I am coming back in to the pleasure of just cooking something because I want to not just so I can feed my family. I don’t come home too tired to think about cooking or to a kitchen I am unwilling to cook in. The kitchen here is small but clean and decently stocked with pans and needs.
Now I buy a few ingredients and spread them out to prep. I can take a couple vegetables, a protein (today it was tofu and mushrooms), a base like starch or purple sweet potatoes or kamut, and whatever I happen to have in my cabinet for spicing and flavor extras to create a series of different dishes for the week. Each is put into it’s container and sealed for the freezer and a bit is put on my plate for dinner. I spent $7 today and made dinner and 4 lunches by adding rice I made while I ate lunch and some spices from my cabinet.
I love that feeling when I finish eating something really good and know I have several meals ready for lunch in the freezer and when I look back to check the kitchen it is clean and ready for the next person with no sign I have been in there. I had only a few vegetable tips to discard and I could use those for broth if I had a way to store them.

Last week my flavors were mostly Italian leaning and this week they are more Thai or like those you see in Buddha bowl recipes. The week before I made each one different (to be able to do that with the same few ingredients pleases me.) Sometimes I have an ingredient I don’t know the name of because all the signs were in Chinese. I have used some of them many times and am familiar with them even if I don’t know what to call them. Others are new and that is always fun. I have learned usually to tell how to substitute or how to cook/prep something new by examining it.
I love food and cooking. Good food is calming and pleasant to enjoy. The ingredients have a history and a story. They are connected to cultures, people, and history of our lives. These foods rose out of cultures and impacted the changes in cultures. Food are the foundation of sharing and communication in many situations. They can be a way to connect or smooth interactions. Food is important and it is a foundation of society.

Image and Bias

Like many other authors, my writing is often inspired by
what I am reading or by the people around me. One of the books I am reading
right now is
A Slip of the Keyboard
by Sir Terry Pratchett. Of the many tangents it inspired, one is how others see
each of us and how we build our views of others. How I see myself is its own
conundrum but reading this book and
Finding
Mary Foster
brought to mind the many varied ways I am viewed by others,
both those I know and those I do not.
Some people have a particular image they want to put forth
for others, like playing to an audience. Others have a mold or image they
strive to fit into. Unconscious or not most people have an idea or image of what
they should be. Inherently this implies they have an idea what others should be
as well.

What are the triggers that create and build the internal
stories you have about those around you? Clothing is a major social marker and
is the first point of information in many instances. They are an indication in people’s
minds of a person’s sense of style, their social status or standing, their
interests, personal and grooming habits, financial status, origin or home
region, connection a person may have, and sometimes their religion. These
images and indications may be completely inaccurate but they are typically
automatic and impact our interactions. Some people have an image of what other
things imply about a person and their background based on skin color, gender,
hair, eyes, voice, or mannerisms.

Depending how and where we met, you may have a very
different view of me than someone else. I am naturally quiet, introverted,
adaptable, passionate, generally untrusting but very trusting of those I am
close to, compassionate, and interested in learning and growth. I am aware of
some images of me, such as those that find me cold, distant, angry, and harsh.
On the other end you have those that find me open, caring, trustworthy,
compassionate, and quiet. On another range you have those that find me eager to
learn, intelligent, thoughtful, practical, and diligent compared to those that
find me flighty, uninformed, brash, talkative, and uncaring.
If I am viewed on such a broad scale as loquacious and brash
in one corner and silent and shy in another what purpose is served by me
worrying about my image? It is of interest though. As a gamer I am accustomed
to roles and displaying an image in short sessions. The idea of being a
different person for different needs is not hard to understand.
When someone enters a room in an expensive, tailored suit
people tend to respond differently and treat them differently than the one
entering in shorts or the one in a mini skirt. Their memory of each person
tends to be colored by the clothes as well. Consider, each of those
descriptions gave you an image of someone didn’t it? It was likely more
complete than just the clothes really give you reason to know. Play a game with
me for a minute or two.

Take each of those outfits in turn and create a brief story
showing a person of different origins, social classes, and put both more than
one gender in each role. How does your image change?

We each live many roles in life. In many ways we are a
different person for each. However, none of these roles define us or are
actually separate. What they define is the view others have of us and maybe how
we contain the needs of our lives. This could bother us or it can inform us. We
can learn to notice our own reactions and stories we build about others.
Perhaps we aspire to be the same in all our roles but perhaps we do not. That
choice is personal and is a point of growth or awareness we may not all be
striving for. But not judging others on a biased view or opinion of minor
factors.
On the other hand there will always be some words, actions,
and patterns of behavior that are incompatible with our own standards or
beliefs. That one item may be the foundation for a judgment of exclusion. We
should always strive to not base judgment on invariables such as physical
traits, medical issues, orientation, place of origin, or gender. We may be
unlikely to completely remove bias but that does not mean we accept it in
ourselves or others. I have no interest in associating with hate, control,
violence, or divisiveness. These are variable traits and chosen actions and beliefs.

Return with me to the images of the people entering a room.
Take each individual of each gender from each story and picture them
demonstrating extremes of emotion and behavior such as hat, kindness,
professionalism, laziness, fear, love, open mindedness, and closed mindedness.
Now, after all that, when I step back and say someone in a tailored suit,
someone in shorts, and someone in a skirt enter the room what is your mental
image? Has it changed? Do you get one image or a series of varied ones? Have
the colors changed?

Distance

Distance. My last post was the distance of those that lost their place. This is about distance within society and relationships. Sometimes we feel distant from someone we see every day. Other times we feel close to someone at a great physical distance. Other than a few nieces, nephews and cousins I am distant from my family. For years some of us lived in the same area but we rarely saw one another and after mother died we were increasingly distant. My husband and I are physically very distant but we talk every day and text all the time, we are not distant. We don’t have the emotional distance that is the standard in my family or his. My job is new so there is a natural distance of strangers that must be together every day and interact on a proscribed pattern. My roommates are each in their own worlds with little contact between us. We are distant in a whole different way.
Having moved back here again I feel the great distance to the mainland friends. However, when we lived in the same state we all worked and rarely saw each other. So, is the physical distance the source of that distance? Recent years have brought a new battle, with depression. That is part of the distance. Social anxieties and my natural introvert tendencies are also factors. My distance is often of my own devising and probably often in my own mind.
Crowds have always been difficult, sometimes to the point of physical pain or illness. I don’t make friends well, so moving many times, often great distances, allowed my circle to shrink from small to near non-existence. When you don’t make the casual friends most people have, you tend to have fewer but closer friends. To suddenly realize they consider the outsider and casual acquaintance you feared you are is not so much a shock as a blow. You are not surprised but you don’t know where it leaves you.

Gaiman at one point says that events are cowards. Like events, stresses tend to leap out at you all at once rather than one at a time. We all have stress and problems. How many can add up before you feel like you are being killed by the death of a thousand paper cuts while a mountain falls on you.

Many people add a little distance to those around them when a major stressor hits. By the same token some people distance themselves from people undergoing large amounts of stress. When debt becomes a problem or their marriage is strained that may become a verboten topic and one less thing friends are party to. A fight at work or uncomfortable relationships there are another type of stressor. Illness, auto problems, children, family, sick pets, trouble with neighbors, natural disasters, fear, debt, lost of income, each thing adds up a little or a lot and affects you and those around you. Each thing adds distance somewhere.
When work stresses you out and you come home angry it affects your family. Each thing adds to or changes the distance somewhere. Often that distance is more inside you than outside or it is in response to the changes in your behavior. But that distance feeds the fear, depression, anger, and pain. Distance creates distance.

Okay, so I feel distant and far from friends. But, as I settle back into the peace of living here where I choose to be I can admit that the distance is no greater here than it was anywhere else. I can allow myself to admit the distance is my own pain, social anxiety, and fear of being hurt more. Recognizing that allows me to acknowledge when I am creating a distance that I choose not to develop and to change my actions and reactions, thus breaking the triggers and changing the stories. The distance here is the same in every meaningful way as it was there but I am taking action in my responses.
Distance in society and relationships is a constantly changing thing with each layer and interconnected connection flowing with changes in the others. Our work life impacts our emotional state and our energy levels. What we eat, read, enjoy, and where we go affects our relationships and energy levels. I quit drinking and found my circle of active friends changed because we had different interests and pastimes. When stress levels are too high I find it hard to maintain the social connections that could help my mental state. But all of those things are also impacted by the many facets of the lives of each other person involved.
We live in a web of constantly changing distance that is as much internal as external.

Neverwhere and Distance

Taking the bus to work allows a lot of time to read. One of my books this week is Neverwhere. I am reading it again for a book club but it has been a favorite for years. One idea has especially stuck with me for years. That is how easily one falls from society and how hard it can be to return.
On the streets near my place you see a lot of homelessness. Mostly people ignore them, avoid them, and fear them. I often wonder why. What is it their fear? Sometimes I wonder if part of it is the fear they could easily be in that position themselves. Does it feel contagious or dangerous to get to close or acknowledge them? This is part of the the idea in Neverwhere. The act of acknowledging them, of helping them causes him to lose his place in society and fall through the cracks into the city under the city.
I understand this. Over the years I have spent a lot of time with homeless in many cities. There is a distance, a sense of separation from society that feels insurmountable. Being there either with them or as one of them you feel like you are in another world, a harsh and dangerous world far removed from the life you so recently knew. People rushing by have no connection to you and look down with a demeaning disdain and fear of contamination. Parents pull children away like you will eat them or infect them. Women move across the street like you are a threat to their safety.

By contrast, living in the high rise and living on the farm were vastly different from each other but they are connected. There is a pleasant and casual hostility between the sections within society, a rivalry of place and meaning. It is vastly different than the alien world underneath that none of them want to acknowledge.

The department head at one job asked the group how many of us were 1 or 2 checks from being homeless. Less than 5% could say no and most of those shared expenses with families. Working every day, many with multiple jobs, most with two or more family earners, many in school, most sharing expenses, yet we all lived paycheck to paycheck. Each of us knew that we needed every single check just to survive.

When that is always in the back of your mind (And how could it not be niggling at you to some extent) you see those homeless and know that you are one injury, illness, pregnancy from being where they are. Maybe the fear isn’t fear of them but fear of our economy and society that will not protect those on the edges. Would your friends be there if you went on the street? Would they blame you for being lazy or understand what happened? Would they help or would the distance grow? Would you be able to let them help or would your shame increase that distance?
I volunteer at a public garden and many people walk there or take the bus. Nearby is a walking underpass everyone avoids and says is unsafe. But the only reason anyone has ever given is that the homeless sleep there and need to have regular purges by the city. Daily I see homeless people. They are desperate, hungry, dirty, often broken. Many have given up. Sometimes they make me uncomfortable with smell or actions or talking to themselves but they don’t make me afraid.

But I approach them as someone that feels a distance from society and those around me at work, in stores, on the bus, on the beach. I still struggle to relate and communicate as a part of society. They talk about sports, family, nights out drinking, casual friendships, and simple lives they assume everyone relates to. Groups have always been hard for me anyway but life has made that more true rather than less. My degree was gained in classes with students half my age. My family is distant, callous and judgmental. Friends are far away. I worked my way to a high rise apartment and fell more than once in life. I have lived in many cities and in many parts and sections of society from the farms to the law offices, the hospitals to the construction sites, the streets to the high society events.
When people around me talk about how hard it is to afford living I remember mom sitting in the car calculating how she would feed 8 of us on $10 for the week. I remember selling cookies or anything else she and I could make so I could afford to be a part of the business meetings. When they talk about taking time off work or leaving their jobs or their 18 year old needing to look at getting something I remember I was a model at 14 and carrying lumber before 12. I remember working 5 part time jobs to pay for school and still being buried in school debt now. I remember driving my shiny new Mini and my limping 40 year old Honda. They talk about fearing the homeless and I remember the van of guys trying to grab me and the old man shooting the shotgun at the kids picking blackberries and us running unsure if he would really shoot us. I remember fights in the street and quiet nights answering phones in the room beside the morgue. I remember gardens and farm animals. I remember dark streets and formal dresses. I remember dying friends and casual game nights. I remember motorcycle trips and camping in the cold. I remember hospitals that couldn’t tell me what was wrong because there was no point in testing someone with cheap insurance and hospitals with spacious private rooms for comfortable recovery for those with the right insurance. I remember losing my job knowing I wouldn’t be able to pay rent and just leaving to avoid it. I remember using a public bathroom to get into my suit or formal dress so I could be at the event and smiling or the interview. I remember mother crying after a hellish trip to get to a meeting because she realized everyone there just had dinner, dressed, drove over and was reasonably calm and feeling normal and she was desperate, stressed and exhausted. The car caught on fire on the way there, her cancer treatments were possibly coming back, she had a migraine, one child was sick and another hurt, dad and she fought that day, a storm slammed into the house as we left for the meeting but there was no rain when we arrived and everyone else was dry, the floor in the bathroom collapsed and the mortgage company wanted to take the house.

Distance. It will never fully leave me. I can never completely escape the feeling I may not belong and that those around me can see it. Even when they cant and I know it, I feel like they can. I feel the distance so I can’t escape it. So, I understand the idea of falling through the cracks.

Distance

Meditation series part 4: Active meditation

Active Meditation is recommended for those with some experience with passive meditation. However, it can feel easier to those that have trouble with the extended passive meditations sessions. It will be effective on its own but a time of passive meditation should be combined with it for best results.
Quoting one source “Once the ego mind has quieted down after passive meditation, and you then shift into an active form of meditation, this is where you can truly harness the power of meditation for creating inner transformation and charging up with new energy.”

The first example many people will think of is the use of meditative yoga or walking. Other actions and work activities can be meditative: think of raking a zen garden. Any task you can drop into a meditative state while doing is appropriate.
All meditation trains your attention but active meditation can be a great help to those that have trouble with long periods of sitting or quiet. Although it is recommended as a later stage if it is needed to help train your mind, it is the right time.

Active meditations are used to develop a connection between mind and body, drawing your attention to breathing and making use of the adaptive network of the brain. As in passive meditation, active meditation will have distractions. Simply acknowledge them in general terms and let them pass. Do not try to make them go away or identify them, just let them go and focus on your breathing. This practice is one of the stages of developing full awareness and connection to all parts of the body and feeling every part of it.

The 4 types of meditative yoga are pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. Research and try different yoga forms and activities when you are learning.

In active meditation, you are using some of the same principles as in a mindfulness meditation. Here it is with intent to engage all your senses in the focus. This is often aided in early stages by having an actual physical focus such as a sound, a flame, a bowl of water, something you can physically interact with and engage the senses to help train yourself. This is one of many reasons active meditation is not step one, but a physical focus can be used in active meditation.

Walking meditations: think of the Christian practices like James Way in Spain. Many people walk to clear their head or relieve stress. Time to walk at lunch can change the work day. At many jobs or schools I have used lunch as a time for some type of meditation to keep stress down. In Zen, walking meditation is called kinhin and is combined with extensive sitting meditation.

I prefer to do walking meditation outside but it can be done in an office or other room. You know meditation mazes, paths, and other things designed to focus you but you usually just walk, pause, breath, and be a part of only walking. Two forms are done. One is a clearing and open form that is less focus than empty. The one we are discussing here is clearing the mind by focusing on walking. Do not go on autopilot, that is why it helps during work. For 10 minutes be actively aware of the steps and breathing and nothing else.

Start by being aware of the major components of walking: the lifting of a foot; then the standing and slow movement of that foot forward; then the foot lands on the floor, feel it; feel the weight shift off that foot and how the foot begins to lift. Different forms focus on breathing, the movement itself, the sounds you cause, or other parts of the walking.
Work meditations include gardening or cleaning. Think of monks and the work they do. Working at a garden I hear many people talk about gardening and although they may or may not intend it that way, they use it as meditation. The practice is very similar to walking.

Art meditations: think of the zen doodles or free-form painting. Other activities include flower arranging (Ikebana), calligraphy (Shodō), and archery (Kyūdō). Really, you have no limitations in art meditation and the details vary. This is definitely one I recommend. Art is a release anyway so it’s a perfect outlet. I do free form sewing sometimes also and you can research this and try activities for years without exhausting the options. Some are open or empty mind to allow the art to express. Others are focused like the walking.
Dancing: think of Dhikr in Sufism, trance meditations, Mevlevi Dervish and Sama. I love dance meditation. Although I have not done it recently, it was my primary form for a long time. When I would dance, I was alone even in a crowd. The only thing that existed was dancing. Fully immersed in dance you find a completely different place of meditation than walking or working. My choice is the free form dance with music that you just do as it feels.

Exercise meditation can be any form of exercise but most the recognizable will be yoga or tai chi. Tai chi is also the first option most think of regarding martial meditation. This is another section that could be a series of books to itself do I recommend research and trying them. Even if you plan to practice alone, taking a class can really help you. You want to learn the forms enough that you are not thinking about them. You want to be able to meditate.
Again with meditative there are many forms that include both open and focused. Empty mind forms often use yoga. Focused forms are often guided or use equipment like weights, blocks, straps, muscle focus, or music. Your form must be right both for safety and to be most effective. Take the time and training to perfect your form and work up gradually from repeating a couple of perfect forms to more. Yoga, for instance is good for you and the learning time is stress relief itself.
As with all meditation, find what works for you and in your path. Research, experience, and think of you in the activities. The important point is a consistent and continuous practice that you do every day. A combination of types can give you a way to do that. In some jobs I did yoga at lunch and sitting forms at night. Other places I walked at lunch or meditated on the beach before work and did a water meditation after. What I need changes, what is available changes, time availability changes. It will grow easier to make time but start by working we within your schedule and altering it as little as possible. You are building a practice and it will develop.

Birthday!

Two posts this week because of a special event – my birthday!

So today’s focus is birthdays, friends, and supporting things we care about.

First for the birthday of a good friend and former boss, Director of a wonderful non-profit organization: Dr. Kathleen Hudson at Texas Heritage Music Foundation shares my birthday!

Visit her site and check out the education, stories, music, and interesting things they do – tell her happy birthday!

Mahatma Gandhi was also born on this day – one we should all remember.

As a birthday present to myself this year, I will soon be starting a new job as Office Manager at a non-profit near my home that runs a preservation garden, education programs, and is a simply amazing jewel of a place to visit: Peckerwood Garden. Check out their site if you are looking for something to visit in the area, it is pretty central between Brenham, Magnolia, Houston, and Katy, in Texas.

Now, for some other important figures from history:

Nat Turner – leader of a major slave rebellion in Virginia was born today

King Richard III of England, Isabella of Naples Duchess of Milan, Saint Charles Borromeo Italian cardinal, numerous composers and writers from around the world and a general from both the Union and the Confederate armies also were born this day in various years.

Julius von Sachs, botanist/naturalist; a German president; William Ramsay; Francois C Schlumberger; a Russian commander; Christopher Clarkson; Premiers of Austria and India, Ron Meagher; and many painters were born today.

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh of Sinne Fein; Rex Reed of Texas

Waheed Murad of Pakistan; Yuri Nikolayevich Glazkov and Vladimir Ivanovich Kozlov, USSR, cosmonauts; Lord Davies of the Welsh National Opera; Vernor [Steffen] Vinge; Jo-el Sonnier, Rayne La, country singer of Louisiana; Eric Peterson of Canada; Donna Karan, Fashion Designer; Ayumi Hamasaki, Japanese singer share my birthday.

Persis Khambatta, indian actress in Star Trek and Sting were both born today.

George Meegen, from England, who walked 19,019 miles from Argentina to Alaska (wow) was born today.

Sigtryggur Baldursson, Icelandic drumme and Aziz M. Osman, Malaysian actor and director share a birthday with me, a few playmates, many cricketers, and lots of actors.

One other worth mentioning is Bernie Merai (spelling is wrong I know) a man from my childhood that helped feed my interest in art and interest in how it could be used also shares my birthday.

There are footballers from around the world and people I could name for some time but suffice to say HAPPYY BIRTHDAY TO ALL OF US!

Lifehacks and Society

Lifehack is a term used frequently now, and the idea behind it in a way, bothers me. Let me explain:

A practical DIY I found related
A practical DIY I found related

I don’t mean it bothers me to use practical tools and items, to reuse things, to simplify, to organize, or most of the other things given as examples. What bothers me is the idea that these things are cheating. This use of the work hack, related to computers and technology is obviously the one people mean, not an act using a knife or axe, a broken down horse or a riding horse,

From horsewisperingireland.com
From horsewisperingireland.com

a board for feeding hawks, a rack for drying bricks or cheese. It seems this word has some history and variety in definition already.
It is curious how such a word moves into technology. The act of cutting into and chopping through is how it was applied, but the societal implication is that hacks in technology are cheats, criminal actions, bypasses, alterations of defined parameters. We won’t even get into the issue of why is it anyone’s business what I do to a computer program on my computer or phone if it does not actually affect you. Pro-Life-Anonymous-supporter-arrested-after-abortion-hack-AnonymousWeAreLegionInstead we will look at how this applies to strategies for more efficiently manage time.

Reading lifehack sites you see everything from how to use the tools you have and don’t know all about, to new gadgets available to make life simpler. Directions to combine objects or tasks are common, and practical strategies are a given if you look at the more common definitions of the term. None of these are a problem in and of themselves. What is at issue is the mindset that first, sees these things as somehow cheating, and second will only do these things if told how and why. Many of the techniques are simply instructions on how to use the devices and programs you already own, do people really have bad enough attention spans they do not learn their devises before using them? I know, some people say they don’t have time to learn their device…

Funny, they had time to look up and read the life hack that spoon feeds the information to them in a form they want and like. Using the tools you have is intelligent, using them differently is creative. Neither is cheating, neither requires you to be special. Knowing a tidbit of data someone spoon-fed you does not make you special or better, it means you can listen to suggestion even though you can’t or won’t think of them yourself. It is a good trait to be able to listen and learn but it is not to feel superior because you did.

This place we found between huge resorts, tourist attractions is my kind of de-stress and de-clutter. No one was there and it was amazing.
This place we found between huge resorts, tourist attractions is my kind of de-stress and de-clutter. No one was there and it was amazing.

People’s lives are too complicated and stressful; being more efficient and removing excess is to be applauded as a practical and wise choice not as cheating or breaking the rules. And these things should be used to simplify life and de-stress not as ways to allow more things in.

Go ahead de-stress, de-clutter, be practical, be efficient and be happy about it, view it as life not as life cheated.

Marketing and Societal Unrest

I found myself completely unable to focus yesterday. Lunch is typically my time to draw and focus to relax and be more focused in the afternoon, since morning is my best work time for office work. I am unsure why this is true, since I really am not fully awake for some time, and by then my focus is growing flighty. Today, on the other hand has been one of disjointed attention since before the alarm went off. I couldn’t even focus on sleep and was awake early, thus being soundly asleep when the alarm did go off. Driving to work this morning I changed CDs twice, and I listen to NPR most of my ride, it was just not a day for some stories. News is growing repetitive and not only do the same things keep happening; they appear several places in a row each time. Many news stories prompt me to stop and research the topic when I get to work, it is part of why I arrive early; others just make me wonder about humanity, society, and the world.

Rebellions are the name of the day right now in news, that and labor laws. Most of the rebellions in this wave are due to repression, restriction of free gathering and communication, economics, and as always a little religious and race conflict thrown in. What I find curious about this, is the US response regarding many of the situations has been to tell them the repressive rules and restrictions on groups gathering peacefully, communication, free speech, and economic policies must be changed and they must be more humanitarian. This, from a government that has made it illegal to gather in groups, and can arrest anyone, claiming suspicion of terrorism without proof and hold them indefinitely. This from the society that is so concerned with political correctness and a war on terror they attack, ban, or silence anything not in a midline, conciliatory stance, or anything that could be implied as wishing harm on anyone or thing. This from a place that dictates you must carry identification papers everywhere; have vehicular, home, and medical insurance by law; must register where you are with the government and allow them to record every phone call, internet use, or recording of you; that films you in every action down to sitting at a red light. Any act of control can be logically explained to sound necessary, vital, good, and in the name of safety or freedom; but in reality, controls for the sake of safety limit freedom by their very nature. The difference is that Americans will never have those kinds of riots and upheavals, not because they are better off, not saying they are not, just that is not a factor. Americans are a society that wants their convenience, their security, their immediate comfort; anything that disturbs the balance is obviously bad. Besides they cannot agree on anything, and do not insist the government follow their desires, most American’s do not even know most of what the government does inside the US borders or out.

We had large groups go out in protest over foreclosures, joblessness, and economic inequality; but what I heard from people was those were just lazy, dissatisfied, basically worthless people not contributing to society, they needed to be ignored or cleaned up. Because they lost their home or their job, or both they were immediately less than, they became the problem and they were not following procedure. More than that, they were making waves and bringing bad attention. I find this somewhat remarkable; this attitude slipped through in many forms but was extremely common; not always the obvious statement, but often implied or the foundation of what was said. I see and hear comments stating that unemployed are lazy, or that minimum wage workers get less because they do less, have less skills, have less education, basically they are worth less. Consider the reality that many people work where they can get a job since the longer you are out of work; the harder it becomes to get a job. One research project found companies were more than 80% more probable to discard a resume with no callback if the applicant was out of work for more than 6 months, in favor of someone less qualified for the position. More than that, when you have a family to take care of, bills piling up, and are growing increasingly desperate at the pointless education and experience (since that is what it feels like when no one will hire you), then you will take any job that will give you a paycheck. I have known people with master’s degrees that were working minimum wage, or below if they were wait staff, when I met them. Do they have less drive, intelligence, experience, or is it less connections, access, and timing? Maybe they just had a bad time and are trying to start over.  Are we in a position to make these judgments on people? I don’t think we are, but I also don’t think a society with that outlook will have a real rebellion or push for change.

 People accustomed to comfort and spoon fed information will accept the bones thrown at them if it is through the right channels and marketed well. We are a society addicted to marketing. Understand, my Masters is in Marketing, I studies just how this came about and have considered where it has and will lead us. It dips into everything, even how television is done. Little things like, why run full television series and movies rather than more mini-series (an odd tangent it seems – I warned you). One answer is that unless they can market them like movies or have the reach of a full series, the marketing is lost in the flood and besides, we do not have the practice at moderation. There are other aspects to this, but marketing is a major part in the development, the result, and the future.  I see marketing direct everything from clothing to politics, art to sports.

Society seems to have gone backward of how it should function, when you allow marketing to control that much, you are allowing marketing to direct your thought. Politicians spend absurd amounts now in marketing themselves and their agendas, not because they want to fix anything, but because they want the benefits no one admits are there. Why would they spend millions to get something with no benefits? They are career politicians that must be reapproved every few years and never really make any drastic changes because that would rock the boat and they would lose their gig. But marketing makes it all sound good. Marketing directs what people wear, where they eat, what they eat, what they drive, where they live, how they talk, who they vote for, the things they buy, and what they watch. That’s a bit scary, look at how much of what most people do is directed by the practiced and studied art of manipulation employed by marketing people in business, government, non-profit, and media groups. Health industry markets good practices they are currently promoting. Pharm-coms promote drugs and procedures they want to sell. Insurance companies promote needs. Businesses promote products, services, needs, and more. Political entities promote agendas, people, policies, laws, and whatever else they think will help them. Legal entities promote laws, actions, safety, behavior, equipment, and dangers. Marketing teaches you that rather than following the market needs, you create the need that you have the product to fill. Business filled needs, but marketing shapes society to create the needs that make someone money or power.

This is marketing at work. A pool on the beach in a place with perfect weather and water temp year round.
This is marketing at work. A pool on the beach in a place with perfect weather and water temp year round.

Political STEAM

Researching the STEM to STEAM process I found an interesting political, educational, and economic environment for the development. First, let’s look at some political activity on the subject. House resolution 51 is currently being reviewed by the Committee on Education and the Workforce and by the Committee on Science, Space and Technology. This resolution (H.RES.51.IH) is available online for review and a link can be found at STEMtoSTEAM.org where they also have links to add comments and petition signatures To council members to join the caucus – the now 50 member bipartisan STEAM Caucus. The bill is worth reading both to know what is being proposed and to see the reasons and research involved in this development. Some cited reasons for the proposal include the need for innovation in technology, the need for interdisciplinary problem-solving, artists’ role in manufacturing, artists’ ability to communicate technological data to stakeholders, artists’ role in development of technology, and the combined impact of both art and sciences on everyday lives of people. One component is the designation of STEM to STEAM month, which most of us in the Steampunk world have probably already heard of. It proposes alteration of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act to include art and design in the STEM fields. Obviously, this is just a proposal right now and the actual details have not been written or approved, but the discussion is already prompting action nationwide. An article in Economic Development Quarterly (A Young  Picasso or Beethoven Could be the Next Edison) in October showed studies such as one at MSU that found Honors Graduates from 1990-1995 from the traditional STEM programs that now own patents and businesses were those that received up to eight times the exposure to the arts before age 14 than the general public. Compared to the general public average of 34% of populace having had musical training at some point, STEM graduates on the other hand, showed 93% had musical training. There was also higher activity in other arts. This shows a distinct role in arts on those that complete STEM programs and those that really make use of that training to develop business and science. We need business and science development to change the face of business, the economy, and science – something recognized in this proposal. Artistic training fosters the ability to solve complex problems as they discuss. In 2012, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities published a paper on the five roles of arts, culture and design in economic growth and development. No recent data has been released from this committee. There was no 2013 data. The impetus for this development is definitely in the hands of teachers, professors, and parents. The government is slowly moving to change the funding programs to include arts, but the action to combine education seems to be, as I first heard grass roots. The other question related to this legal designation and political designation is how will curriculum regulations and standards be impacted or will they. Will they hamper teachers trying to combine curriculum or will they promote the effort? Will teachers find funding available or continue to see arts programs cut as many schools have thinned them down to cut what is often seen as unnecessary costs. Though one must also wonder how a society that places higher importance and funding on sport programs than any of the education programs in schools expects to prepare students for leadership and business in a global market. Sports may have benefits, but the focus at a school is education and preparing young minds for the future. STEM to STEAM research explores how to more effectively do this in a changing environment with changing needs. You can’t pick a list of data that prepares students if they know it. Life, business, science, and society require skills and the ability to implement, analyze, understand, interpret, communicate, envision, and adapt information that constantly moves and changes. There isn’t a list of formulas to do this, it takes a mind practiced and taught to learn, with the ability to take ideas art and connect it’s parts in new ways to other ideas.

STEM to STEAM

Recently, on NPR, I heard a news program regarding a change in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) program nationwide that is developing. Specifically they are adding Arts…thus creating STEAM programs. This struck me as not only interesting but a very good idea, as well as very appropriate to my blog.

The process began in middle school and elementary schools with teachers in math and arts getting together to create joint curriculum. The reasons for this were sound then and have expanded and developed as the program gains momentum and is implemented more widely. Initially it seems to have started because artistic students, often well suited and very good in these fields never develop an interest or learn the basic skills necessary because the traditional teaching methodology simply does not work for them. From personal experience I can agree with this statement. I have taken quite a bit of math, engineering, and technology related classes at levels from elementary through college programs and done well in them. However, it was in spite of the set program and systems that I did well, not because of it. I felt many times that it was a constant battle to communicate with professors and other students and to get them to see I understood what they were teaching but I understood because my mind applied it the ideas and projects in my head not based on the pointless rote lessons I had moved beyond instantly because they were useless and slow. I had to explain in detail, every aspect of the engineering and proof of every architectural idea I put into projects that other students breezed through because they used the standard rote cookie cutter design that was both a waste of time and bad design. I learned a lot, far beyond the level of the class in question, but that was not the project. I worked significantly harder at each project to get a decent grade and I proved I not only understood the material but understood the process, the reasons, the calculations, the applications, the implications, and how it connected to other work. So why could I not just draw the simple box? Why did my grade not reflect my understanding? I cannot draw the simple box because I do not think like that, the waste of time and resources flew into everything I think and feel. The base design was wasteful, destructive, already designed, and showed no understanding of the material, just an ability to spit out what someone else said. I saw this in business, economics, physics, engineering, algebra, finance, calculus, and many other classes. I inherently understood the practical uses and connections to fields from art to bio-genetics, from English to manufacturing; however, the memorization of a list of formula was beyond absurd. Not only would it never happen, it wasn’t necessary in any practical sense.

What does this have to do with the STEM to STEAM developments? These are the very ideas and processes that are impacting these changes. Students that could be brilliant in these fields will have that chance. Students with creative minds will not learn they hate math but rather that math is part of their art. Looking into the future we see changes in every aspect of life, work, education, economy, and society. What does this mean for the future of careers? Critical thinking is something that develops with creativity, obviously not the only development, but an important one. The ability to adapt, integrate ideas, see possibility, develop ideas, and reach new pathways is already growing rapidly in importance in the job market. This development will only increase as changes occur more rapidly and in more aspects of life impacting every aspect of a career. One thing to consider is how much more quickly a small societal or other change can now impact the economy, and thus jobs at every level. As an example let’s look at another news story heard this week: they have developed a new genetically modified apple called the Arctic Apple that does not brown when cut. People are commenting to the FDA that they do not want it approved but the FDA has found no danger and will probably take the recommendation of the food service and food production industry and approve it. In some cities people will immediately change buying habits in regards to apples as they have other foods. Other areas will complain but do little. Food service will begin looking for availability to this type of apple and wanting less of others to save cost and processing. This means shippers, growers, pickers, fertilizer companies, those that supply fertilizer ingredients, processing plants, small towns supported by these businesses, and more will quickly be impacted. Construction may move to a new area, restaurants in one area will lose business or supply and another will increase, surplus supply will need new distribution channels, and people in all these impacted businesses are now impacted by one simple approval stamp. This particular one is slower than many because trees have to grow and that takes time, but many of these things can happen overnight. Weather can even change the total economy, as it is now because of the late crops in the south using the propane right before major freezes causes a shortage in many areas. I could detail a long line of impacted businesses and people from this. But this emphasizes the need for flexibility, adaptability, creative ideas for development, ability to move into temporary markets, ability to connect disparate and widely different ideas into a whole picture in the developing job market.

STEAM already has a government board examining it to alter the funding for STEM programs and many universities are implementing it already. Princeton is combining dance into this line…I need to look at how, I just can’t picture it. I will cover some of these ideas more in other blogs. I think this one has given enough to think about for one sitting.

Taste, Gastronomy, and our Senses

Continuing the study of Gastronomy and still reading Molecular Gastronomy (This, 2002/ 2006), I have been reading the study of taste and of what makes you feel full. This includes analysis of the differences and similarities to humans and animals as well as regional differences.

Studies of the brain show distinctive response to flavors (glutamate is a separate taste than the 4 basic categories of sweet, salty, bitter, and sour; also unami is really a taste) in people with basic differences such as handedness. The direct connection to language centers and motor activity is one of the more interesting aspects. Another is the sensitivity levels developed regionally of long periods (mostly studied in primates) such as the sensitivity to sweetness. You frequently hear about the impact of smell in taste, the interesting part in this study was that taste with no smell activated the same areas of the brain. This makes me wonder if the impact of smell is affecting flavor because it overrides some of the neurochemical response to the taste. How could we use this?

Another study done on MSG showed the interesting result that the hormonal response meant that the body registered the meal as primarily protein when it was primarily starch. This brings up interesting possibilities, if you are including correct nutrition, in how to impact the desires and satiety of people.  Other flavors, their use and their timing in a meal also impact satiety. One can infer from that knowledge and the method taste molecules function why this is true and how to manipulate the process. “Not all taste molecules act in the same fashion. Whereas hydrogen ions (sour taste) and sodium ions (salt taste) act directly on the channels of taste cell membranes, immediately modifying the electrical potential of the cell by adding their electrical charge to its total charge, compounds of sweet, bitter, and other tastes (licorice, for example) bind to molecules known as receptors—no doubt proteins—that are located in the cell membrane, in contact with the extracellular environment.” (This, 2002/ 2006)

Another example of the all encompassing affect of taste that can be manipulated is the connection to vision. Most often translated as the better it looks the better it will taste, the results of research at Columbia show “the transducin that is specific to the cones and rods of the eye in taste receptor cells.” So apparently there is more to that but in a far more base level than commonly understood.

The use of flavors to heighten or mask other flavors is common in cooking but in gastronomy it reaches a new level. Many modern studies in food, taste, and satiety are examining traditions, understanding, and ingredients from other countries and combining the gastronomy between cultures. This means many of the results are, though refinements of that knowledge, more a drawing of knowledge from other places into regional understanding. We have returned in the field of gastronomy to the Victorian era passion to draw from contact with other civilizations and their results.  The mGluR4 protein in the taste receptors transmits neural not sensory information and could be the first step in signaling satiety which is based not on fullness of the stomach but on signals of nutritional content. This means you should also be able to train a person’s response given time. The impact of flavors on taste varies given the mixes used and the specifics could be quite useful. Also the basic flavors have categories in our taste receptors. Bitter especial shows distinctive receptors and various bitter receptors trigger different areas of the brain. This seems truer in bitter than sweet or salty and could make some interesting experimentation.

Other aspects we shall look into at another time are thermal impact on flavor and taste receptors and the impact of sensation such as pain on receptors, brain, and biochemistry of the body. These are all easily manipulatable and modifiable aspects. Also, these are things that can be used to either trick or train the response of a person or animal. These studies have also led to medical treatments of viral and diabetic neuropathies and of rheumatoid arthritis.

Current results are that gastronomy is a varied science with impacts in many areas in and out of the kitchen and is heavily drawn from the 17th and 18th century works in the field. Steampunk in the kitchen could be a fascinating scientific work as well as very interesting fun.

Zen of Steampunk

Yesterday upon the stair

I saw a man that wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today.

Oh, how I wish he’d go away.xxeez

To some, ‘steampunk’ is a catchall term, a concept in search of a visual identity. To me, it’s essentially the intersection of technology and romance.” Jake von Slatt put this in a way that fit some of my descriptions quite concisely. It is important to me in my evaluation of Steampunk to show what I find and what is there, not to codify and define it; I seek to analyze and evaluate not limit the reality. As Alan Watts Said “The whole point of Zen is to suspend the rules we have superimposed on things and to see the world as it is.” “There be those who say that things and places have souls, and there be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself, but I will tell of The Street.” – H. P. Lovecraft. I agree with this sentiment and this is more my goal than a definition – to describe and show what I find and see. “The true purpose (of Zen) is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki

Individualism is not the first thing you think of when you think of Zen, but much of the teaching revolves around knowing yourself, seeing yourself as you really are, hearing your inner voice, and living in now. Previous essays have discussed the prevalence of an individual spirit and focus in both Steampunk and the age it arises from. For this particular discussion the whys of that direction are not needed, but we will look at them later. Louis XIV said “There is little that can withstand a man who can conquer himself.” This is an important distinction when you are looking at Zen related to Steampunk; Zen is not about giving into to self but knowing self and being in control of self. Act on needs not wants, as one quote says: Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind.

In both cases you see an active choice to seek the answer inside rather than from the voice of any governing group such as religion, government, society, or science. G.I. Gurdjieff said “Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.” Religion, science, government, and society made drastic changes, leaps, and changed focus based on this and similar concepts, it did not always stick, but the creative leaps possible during that time are impressive themselves. As one Zen quote says “If you do not get it from yourself, where will you go for it?

Machines, automata, and development are critical to Steampunk and were what made the Victorian age what it was. “As machines become more and more efficient and perfect, so it will become clear that imperfection is the greatness of man.” – Ernst Fischer. Willingness to take a leap, create something, build something, experiment without knowing what will happen – these are all things that made the development then what it was and that many people feel has been largely lost today. “If you want something you can have it, but only if you want everything that goes with it, including all the hard work and the despair, and only if you’re willing to risk failure.” – Philip Pullman, Clockwork.

Look at Zen and the adage telling you not to simply follow the paths of others: “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.” – Basho This quest for knowledge is something dear to the heart of some of us. As Zen says “When an ordinary man gains knowledge, he is a sage; when a sage gains understanding, he is an ordinary man.”  Are we in Steampunk seeking an aesthetic or a wishful nostalgia, or are we seeking a possibility, a chance that with risk and a new path, we could see something different. Perhaps it isn’t escapism as much as opening the mind to possibilities, paths, and knowledge.

The place of the mind, reason, and imagination is the place of strength, development, and expansion. You cannot achieve what you cannot conceive anymore than you can succeed without risk. “Therefore the Three Realms are only mind” Ma-tsu Tao-i. In research and scientific advancement, one critical point to true advancement and real science is to not approach a test, experiment, theory, or idea clouded by opinion or expectations. Look again to Zen: “Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish your opinions.” Science then and now often sought to make life better and to serve humanity but “The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery. But the changes are what stabilize society, stagnation kills any society. “Life is change, change is stability.” Change is not final, even when to destruction, another change will follow.

Vast emptiness, nothing holy! Bodhidharma

Previously, we briefly touched the topic of Steampunk embracing the development at all cost attitude of colonialism and imperialism but eschewing the technology that became the dominant development. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.” The ethics were not relevant. “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
—Rumi. This is somewhat where Steampunk and much fiction lie, as does much science. But this reaching outside society and the restrictions of others to open the mind and imagination is what allows development, creativity, and innovation. “A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.” – Robert Frost

 Texas Road near Monaville

Steampunk Vision and How Steampunk

Today’s painting is of the drawing done a few days ago, one of the eyes.Steampunk Eye

I am not entirely satisfied but tried a couple of new things I want to practice. I am also going to write a bit now about Why and How Steampunk.

My father was here looking at my site the other day. I was explaining why I started this and how mom influenced the project, my art, and what I am thinking about with this, even my choice of subject matter. I had to explain several terms like Steampunk and automaton to him and it got me thinking about the differences in our family and in reading or artistic people in general. Dad is very well read and educated but rarely reads things unrelated to something he is doing and he doesn’t read fiction, never has. Mom did, she introduced me to several of the classic science fiction and Steampunk fathers like Asimov and Jules Verne. But the difference is in how they viewed fiction and writing in general. Fiction, for mother, was not superfluous, it was a way to write about or examine an issue or situation in a somewhat more disconnected and less immediate manner. Fiction authors have always tackled the issues of society from social to religious, scientific to governmental. Science fiction is especially known for this practice. The depth of what-if evaluation in genre such as science fiction, Steampunk, cyberpunk, or alternative history (which can fall into several genres) is often intense if focused on one issue or development. Steampunk reaches many of these topics but focuses on what-if of technology based in steam, gears, and style rather than electronics, efficiency, and computerization. Mother appreciated good writing, science, and educational material in most forms and genres. Dad must be shown the connection first and then is unlikely to connect personally to a fiction writer; it just isn’t how he thinks. My brothers on the other hand all read fiction and many other types of books, but each approaches them differently, as did my sister. I approach everything as an opportunity to learn, grow, enjoy, and experience; books are just a favorite experience for me. I will enjoy reading about a place almost as much as going there if it is well written. On the other hand, a poorly written story, however good the story itself is, will never engage me and will likely irritate me. Steampunk is something only mom and I enjoyed as far as I know, and for her it was because of the quality, the evaluation, the lessons, the imagination, the depth, and the style; it was never a major thing, just something she knew and had a style she liked.

This returns me to a topic from weeks ago and the broad appeal of Steampunk. My mother was to most people the most unlikely candidate to have read or discussed Steampunk. But topics like that gave her connections and relatable points to people she may have not been able to reach otherwise. Individualism and intelligence was important to mom, so what-if scenarios were somewhat of a hobby. She had a project for all of us every time you spoke to her. More often than directly discussing Steampunk, we discussed related concepts and ideas, which is why I have issue with something requiring use of a term. Gears, steam, Difference engines, other ancient types of computing devises, architecture, Victorian or related styles, how things adapt, what things could have changed each aspect or would have simply faded these are all aspects in Steampunk that are of interest and value to people completely unconnected. Historical and cultural evaluations are often enhanced using fiction and what-if scenarios. Artistic and architectural studies are enhanced using fiction or scenarios to understand its place in society and how it was both impacted by and impacted each facet of society. Writing, reading, drawing, or working in a genre like Steampunk helps you understand culture, society, people, technology, materials, art, history, development, government, religions, architecture, and why each of these things develop. A well written Steampunk story will not just keep the same style if it is a what-if future story or even near present. Because it must examine the impact of the change in technology and style on the culture, government, religions, styles, development, population growth, and use of resources and environment. If it simply rote uses technology in an unchanged or shallow cultural development, it is not well written and it misses the what-if part of Steampunk. The depth you go into in that evaluation is different and depends on the story, but the small details are impacted by how much of that detail and depth you have considered. Dune is an example of an author with way more background, development, and depth than are directly written in. It is obviously there, and it makes the story a rich pleasure of immersive fiction and knowledge. This is what I love about what-if stories and the cultural and scientific study inherent in them. Even a simple drawing or piece of art has part of this background. Why the placement, materials, style, why the clothes, colors, lighting, or architecture are used in inherent to the depth of the view and evaluation.

When Steampunk

When Steampunk

Much like every other aspect of Steampunk, when is a challenge to answer accurately. The reason for this is you first need to define what aspect you are defining the beginning of. First use of a term is a common modern designator for the beginning of a genre; personally, this seems inaccurate, though understandable for non-interested parties. In some genre you see a designation from when someone within the genre and someone unconnected used the descriptor term; this is not necessary in Steampunk. First appearance of solidly representative works is another common time factor. Discussing Steampunk in particular, you see disagreement on this one, not based on difficulty placing writers in the genre but of disagreement when the genre began and what it is. Several 19th century authors are pivotal to Steampunk and for many people define the genre, yet most people say they are precursors and not Steampunk. Several works from the 1950’s and 1960’s are undeniably Steampunk and even reached into mainstream production and popularity. Metropolis from 1927 is a major Steampunk work, often considered, as Wikipedia puts it, “the single most important early film to represent Steampunk as an emerging stylistic genre.”

Authors from each period discussed.
Authors from each period discussed.

Given these time references and that representations continue through present, it is interesting that many listings designate Steampunk as having emerged in the 1980’s as a sub-genre of Cyberpunk. First use of the term in a title did not emerge until the 1990’s but that is hardly a key point other than to say it was in common enough use by that point authors were taking advantage of the connections and connotations of the word in a title rather than using the work to show genre. I have trouble with the concept that you need to use a term to fit a genre; it should be obvious on its own. Also, a term usually comes about after a genre is established, simply because there is nothing to describe until it is established. Given this, the genre obviously was in place prior to use of the term, yet even I would be challenged to actually choose a start point for the genre. One point to agree with not beginning the genre in the 19th century is that they were using current and speculative technologies to consider what-if not what many consider outdated or bypassed technologies. Overall, what I see is a distinct and enduring disagreement with no clear answer. If you read my earlier essay about the development of Steampunk and cultures in general, then you will see part of why I find it unlikely a clear and accurate designation of when it began is possible.

on a side note – I missed yesterday due to husband’s birthday and plan an extra project tomorrow to fill, we shall see.

Zen of Steampunk

Lots of images today, be warned if you have a slow connection.

If they are not lists, match positions on the images to pair quotes.

Today is a research compilation and photo manipulation project. This will progress into further analysis and an essay later I am sure.
Today is a research compilation and photo manipulation project. This will progress into further analysis and an essay later I am sure.
Zen quotes on left match Steampunk quotes on right for topic, theme, implication, something that struck me as a connection worthy of linking.
Zen quotes on left match Steampunk quotes on right for topic, theme, implication, something that struck me as a connection worthy of linking.
The creativity, action, and process of Steampunk with related Zen thoughts
The creativity, action, and process of Steampunk with related Zen thoughts

Change and Expansive Minds

Humanity and Steampunk

Reality and our Views

Purpose, Will, and Vision

Wisdom and Ethics

The Mind and Self

Direct Comparisons

Steampunk Photo-manipulation of a Zen quote image that fit the thoughts, concept, and feel for today.
Steampunk Photo-manipulation of a Zen quote image that fit the thoughts, concept, and feel for today.

I considered a one to one image for each pair but that would have made a huge collection. I will single them out if I use them later in essays and such. Let me know if they are clear, they seamed to change slightly when I saved to jpg.

Photography and Steampunk

Photography and Victorian science is on my mind this evening. My curiosity arose initially on the subject of how photography impacted science of the age and expanded somewhat to how it impacted both culture then and our view of the age. ”

We view the past through the portholes of authors, scientists, letters, photographs, paintings, and publications. Do we stop to understand it?
We view the past through the portholes of authors, scientists, letters, photographs, paintings, and publications. Do we stop to understand it?

“Any dodge, trick and conjuration of any kind is open to the photographer’s use…. It is his imperative duty to avoid the mean, the base and the ugly, and to aim to elevate his subject…. and to correct the unpicturesque…..” Henry Peach Robinson

Two primary directions of thought seem to stand from the period regarding photography and it’s use when you are not looking at those simply opposed to it’s use in the area under consideration. One is seen in the quote above and relates to the artistic form and use of photography designed to please others and trick the eye. The other is one you see more in scientific arenas both formal and in the large amateur practitioner field of the time, though mostly concentrated in upper class groups. Bacteriology owes much of it’s development and direction to photography. Naturalism and the natural sciences that impacted many fields and aspects of life both owe a great deal to photography and by means of photography they impacted many fields of study and development. Meteorology in Europe found direction in photography and those looking to find technological answers to society’s ills found concrete images of their issues. By the end of the century, cameras were widespread and in common use. Many of these layman images were used in scientific studies such as meteorology, naturalism, and social and criminal studies.

Do photographs even unedited show us what is really there? How do they impact our view of what we read?
Do photographs even unedited show us what is really there? How do they impact our view of what we read?

“To understand the special burden of representation borne by photography as a witness in meteorology, however, we must reflect not just on the parallels that Victorians invoked between scientific photography and legal witnessing, but also on the impact of transformations in meteorology…” Victorian Science in Context edited by Bernard Lightman

Ills of the past were part of what spawned the genre we love but what was in the mind of those early authors and scientists?
Ills of the past were part of what spawned the genre we love but what was in the mind of those early authors and scientists?

My readings indicate several factors as dominant in the impact of photography. Accurate representation free from artist interpretation and viewer skepticism allowed experiments, observations, images of life, and models to be shared across distances and with many people. They also allowed a view that was held to be more trustworthy and true to life than even the human eye. Acceptable in life and word seems drastically opposed to what was acceptable in photography of the time. Victorian erotica and pornography stands beside a culture that held and taught such strict codes of social conduct whole languages of innuendo, plants, and fans grew. Courts accepted photographic evidence and many researchers used the images.

The Great Exhibition of 1851 saw a major explosion of photography and its impact as it showcased the new development of visual arts. Queen Victoria herself was the first monarch to be photographed and families began to more commonly have photographic family records. Families at more levels of society could have photographic records, when only limited access to good painted records existed. As photography spread, this grew increasingly true. Thus we see one area the spread of photography impacted science in culture simply by involving the middle classes. One no longer needed to be specialized to contribute or to see the results of another’s work, they simply needed to have access to an image and/or a camera. Combine this with the spread of individuality in backlash to religious and other wars that were devastating to middle and lower classes, with no regard for them whatsoever, and you see potential for a vast explosion of ideas and information distribution.

Technology was a light in the dark of way to fix society for many people. How do we view this image of a period?
Technology was a light in the dark of way to fix society for many people. How do we view this image of a period?

Steampunk is a culture based on the explosion of creative scientific ideas and the individualistic willingness to try and to experiment. Even before photography became widespread, the use of imaging technology was there and having the beginnings of this very change. Suddenly there was a known, concrete method of accurately recording and sharing images of how things really looked. Think of the impact on the minds of a frustrated populous on the edges of an explosion of ideas all boiling over. Obviously, a major change occurred in impact when photography moved away from exclusively prepared, considered views and images into the frozen moment as it happened of the cameras released late in the century. Even as a prepared piece or time consuming process, images returning from abroad and published in newspapers and magazines captivated the mind of much of the public. Archeologists, Trade expeditions, military excursions, and expeditionary hired someone often at great expense to document moments or discoveries of importance and return them from across the empire to England. These came accompanied by letters, artifacts, prisoners, animals, drawings, and verbal descriptions. Emotionally and mentally the world was both much larger and yet smaller than a few years before. Faraway places in the empire became more real, thus ideas from there or from the idea of there also became more real. We now look back on these descriptions, on the authors that inspired us and our mind connects images from the time and drawings from and about the time to those words.

We see the past in a blur of description and images swimming with changes we may not relate to.
We see the past in a blur of description and images swimming with changes we may not relate to.

Early exhibitions such as the one in 1842 spread the artifacts and descriptions of China but one cannot help but wonder if the much greater impact of the Japanese culture on the period late in Victorian age was related to the emergence of improved imagery. Many people relied on the drawings and reviews of the early exhibitions to learn what they brought. China was seen as to far gone from their period of greatness and held no appeal for a populous bound into rapid and unceasing development at all costs. Japan, on the other hand was only recently out of their high point and embraced the Western 19th century. This leaping headlong into the period and technology was appealing to the sentiment of the time. These exhibitions were becoming extremely popular and very well visited, thus they led to the Great Exhibition we all know. This would be the place that allowed the explosion of photography by showcasing it with the greatest technologies of the time and the best developments of the time. Many people when they think Victorian age, thing first of the Great Exhibition or the period right before or after that when so many of the technologies loved by the Steampunk world emerged.

Influences from the East are still strong many places and their sciences are another study in themselves.
Influences from the East are still strong many places and their sciences are another study in themselves.

All photography done by me. All images property of Bethany Jordan, as always. thank you.

Additional references

  1. The World of Francis Cooper: Nineteenth-Century Pennsylvania Photographer
  2.  By Jay Ruby
  3. http://steampunk.wikia.com/wiki/Victorian_Era
  4. http://www.victorianweb.org/photos/chron.html
  5. http://www.victorianweb.org/history/empire/opiumwars/opiumwars1.html
  6. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/the-victorian-vision-of-china-and-japan/