Thursday, 29 May 2008

badly fitting environment

The schedule of my life is determined by demands that come to me via a screen or a disembodied voice on a telephone. Where I go, what I do, what time is available for me to do those things i need to or love, these are specified by demands that reach me from an electronic medium.

Many times I have written, alluding to the animal within the human. We evolved. This is clear. Those that allowed us to steer the hazardous course that got us here, with all the predators, disease and constraints of diet and shelter, they left in us the mechanisms that succeeded. And thesea re powerful mechanism which still are sometimes useful.

This body and brain which we are bequeathed, has evrything necessary to survive in a wild environment, assisted by peers with whom we cooperate. The basis and templates for the cooperation are also coded into the machines that we are.

And so, here we are in the 21st century, bombarded by unnatural stimuli that the equipment nature provided us with has to deal with. Some of the ways in the information comes to us is shaped by the needs and requirements of the systems within us which we have subverted to new uses.

But I took off two working days and returned to work to several hundred unread emails. My savannah and seashore honed brain has no inbuilt strategy with which to deal with this amount of information in the timeframe allocated by the requirements of those who depend on the function of my job. How am I to scan and distill this and prioritise what to do first? And the calls berating me for unresponsiveness, how am I to point out that "Yes, I know yu sent an email but I havent got to it yet!" in a way that is acceptable.

And so to a wider perspective on this, to get away from my personal axe-grinding to more porsaic concern: How do we continue to function healthily in this enviroment?
Eyes, binocular for discerning distance and movement to prey and threat, are tied to a two-dimensional screen for a huge proportion of the day. Brain firmware ready to engage and interact with a three dimensional dynaamic world, is expected to stare all day at a basically unchanging flat screen and assimilate a mental picture of threat and opportunity from what it sees. And I, quite frankly am struggling with this on an existential level.
A friend gave me the sentence "I didn't say that you stole them" as an exaple of something very important. Try in you head to run through this sentence several times, stressing a different word each time. You will find the emphasis subtly but significantly changed by how each word is said.
Similarly, inside each of us, if we are working correctly, is a set of mechanisms and protocols for interacting. Initiall developed to enable cooperation and ensure therefore, improved individual chances of survival, we are primed to recognise facial expression, gesture, intonation, body language.
And now we have the rudimentary ASCII character set with which to convey and infer meaning. It is wofully inadequate for this and hence misunderstandings are inevitable. And what of the machinery for face-to-face neraction? Without practise, does it atrophy? Or in some, maybe the playstation generatio, does it not develop at all (evidence shows this actually the case, which I find a bit horrifying really)?

And so, the demands increase their pressure and this little escape into personal self-expression, stolen from a a busy day, is all i can indulge myself with at the moment.
Words are useful, we can do much with them (as I hope you see)
But sometimes, we need a physical landscape and some faces, conversations, gestures or whither humanity?

Monday, 19 May 2008

Moments of pleasure potentially lost

The intellect is a curiosity. It brings so much value and obiously over the course of human evolution, has conveyed such advantage as to have become arguably the mostly highly developed weapon in the arms race that is natural selection.

It outstrips big muscles, speed of movement, sharp pointy teeth and claws in its ability to provide food and protection for its owner an most aspects of human activity seem to benefit to some extent from the application of a bit of intellectual input. A combination of empathy and intellect appears to be the defining feature of people we enjoy being around, spending time with or having relationships with.
Strange then that it should be such a hindrance to certain more natural processes like enjoyment.

This is a topic that vexes me inordinately in a daily and prosaic struggle, and I have written of it before, so forgive me if I appear to repeat myself. I am still no closer to understanding this conundrum than in my more confused, pre-renaissance days.

Consider, if you will, the opportnity for a small but precious moment of pleasure: an example I have spoken of in person with some who may read this, is the foil on a coffee jar lid, but it could equally apply to a crème brulee or anything promising an instant of pleasure. I don't drink much coffee these days, even less instant coffee, but the sight upon the initial unscrewing of the lid, is of a pristine, flat, virgin expanse of gold coloured foil. It is asking to be pierced, at least, that is what it makes me feel.

My dilemma is: how do I pierce it I order to fully extract and experience the most pleasure? Should I poke my thumbnail slowly in at the edge, savouring the scratch-pleasure as my nail penetrates it, then more as I run my nail, tin-opener-like around the rim of the glass until a complete disk of foil is liberated? Or do I push the point of a teaspoon through it and cut the seal into sectios to be peeled individually off the top of the jar?
Or do I drum the back of the spoon in the middle, savouring the tension and the small percussive sound, until, increasing the force a little at a time, I break through the now distorted and stretched foil?

And this may seem a strange conversation to have with oneself, but pleasure is not to be squandered, even minor pleasure.
If I had used one of the aforemntioed methods, I would surely have enjoyed it, but how do iknow I got the most pleasure I could? Perhaps I missed out because one of the other methods would have been more satisfying?

And so, the thinking about this simple action has introduced an unnecessary component of disappointment.
Often, I'm my more angst-ridden days, I would be given the joy of sunset to observe and savour, standing, looking at it, I would feel the most overwhelming sense of anxiety and futily as I tried so hard to appreciate it to its full. To attempt to mentally photograph it, I would stare at it intently, trying to see all its hues and patterns. And in my striving, I would somehow miss the moment.

My life history is littered with such small tragedies and each added to an overall feeling of inability to enjoy that it was literally almost my undoing. What point life if pleasure is always out of reach? This intereference by the intellect in matters it should not really concern itself with on a practical level, is actually an existentialist threat, if I may be so overly dramitic.

Luckily, through a long process of incremental discoveries, I have found it is possible to just "be" and not to "do". And suddenly the internal commentary and dialogue that happens about the experience is no longer the main focus of my mind.

And so, enjoyment is at last unrestricted. It is no longer obstructed by the distraction of the scrutiny of the process of perception.
And damn! Does the world look good!

I would like to wite more on this, but unfortunately, time is a huge constraint at the moment, and though this does not seem to sap the creative enrgies required to generate the ideas that cause me to ponder, it does severly limit my ablity to write them down. Hence, we probably have not seen the last of this topic here.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Fertility Symbols

My Green Man looks wistfully out from behind a cotoneaster in my garden. He is not a traditional Green Man, rather more contemporary. He has ivy leaves for his hair and looks rather more human and less elemental. Nevertheless, as embodiments go, he is looks the part.

I don't really have a supernatural dimension in my Universe. I don't really need one mostly.
But my Green Man is a reminder. Anthropomorphically, i get the sense of a character, a personality there. I sense him, when I am walking down a leafy street and find myself, despite all my sophisticated social conditioning, completely captivated by a nicely turned ankle, female bottom or some healthy lustrous head of female hair, I sense that he is there, in the undergrowth, unseen but smiling as if to say "You think yourself so civilised and removed from your animal nature but my handiwork is still driving you and it always will"
And this conceptual person, present conspicuously in every forest, behind every tree, and less conspicuously pushing bindweed up through your carefully weeded and tended veg patch, this character, he mocks us and chides us. I hear him laughing very often at my folly and pretension.

At this time when nature is so fecund, when the pressure of reproduction forces growth and greenery, it is hard not to feel that same force oneself. At least I find it so. All around us in the air, tree-sperm is flying about, making some people's life a misery. The whole of nature is saying "Breed! Breed!".
I have done all the breeding I intend to do. But the imperative is still a keen motivation somehow.

So, my Green Man is there to remind me to be aware of the legacy that millennia of natural selection has left us. Inside each of us it the programming that tells us what is a good bet with which to mingle our chromosomes. Can you deny it? Does it not cajole and wheedle away at you on the inside in a voice impossible to ignore?

Be it Goddess or Woodland spirit, allow yourself your own tip of the hat to Nature and fertility.
And now I am going to go out, give him a wink and tell him that for all his roguishness, he gets my respect and regard.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Life to a soundtrack

My bike has a bell. Its law now that all new bikes should have them. I undertand the logic. Many of the cycle paths are shared with pedestrians and I have no issue with this. Except perhaps for the unaware stroller with a dog on a 30ft lead.
I ring my bell quite often, not insistently, I hope. I don't want intrude, intimidate or assert. Merely to inform.
Quite often, there is no response from the pedestrian I have slowed down to avoid. Perhaps they are deaf. This is possible and allowances should be made accordingly.
Usually though, the tell-tale white hearphones are the reason. The tweeting and chirping of the birds is replaced by whatever musical choice the wearer chooses that day.
Experience is a plastic thing, infinitely variable and subject to many influences: Mood, toothache, a full bladder, what happened last night. Or music.
Who hasnt turned up some loud, rousing music as they accelerate from the slip road on the motorway, feeling the compliment of the sounds to the thrill of the speed? I know I do, and on the autobahn where acceleration is more freely available and longer, it is quite a heady mix, I can tell you.
So, when we do things, go places, experience, we can modify that by the soundtrack we choose.
And it can completely alter how we perceive the moment. Imagine, if you will, wlaking through a crowded christmas shopping centre listening to Motorhead, "Ace of Spades". Now imagine the same with the funny little tune from the end of the Benny Hill show. I think the two experiences would be very different.
And so it is on the inside. I don't have an iPod. I do have a crappy mp3 player bought for 15 quid online and it is adequate for my purposes: I use it to uplift me when running. Let me tell you that the right music makes a big difference. Once when someone I knew died. I went for a run and on came "Don't fear the reaper" by B.O.C and I ran so fast and defiantly, telling, in my mind, death that it had better bloody look out because I was chasing it, not vice versa. I was very cross with it. And when I am running, it can become a dance, to the right tune. It can move me so much that brain chemistry hits the end stop and I have been seen running headlong, singing, wild eyed and enraptured. t these times, every nerve ending is on fire with joy and I am invincible. That is a high and all natural.
But a soundtrack is always there. I get up to do my bit at a presentation and in my head, so loud I fear it must surely be audible, are the opening violin bars of "El Tango de Roxanne" from Moulin Rouge. It lifts me, corrects my posture, makes me more noble and commanding in bearing.
Right now, I have the heavy beat of "The blood is love" by Queens of the Stone age. As I walk about th eoffoce conducting my business, its beat saturates my mind with its heaviness and drives me with purpose to get all those things done that need attention. I feel like (and have done before actually) stopping people, putting my head next to theirs and saying "Listen! Can you hear it too?" for surely, it is so note perfect and loud in here, it must be audible to people nearby.
And so, the psychotropic effect of music linger in my head and become somehow a tool for modifying mood.
You know, I really like my brain. It is such fun. It surprises me all the time. Have a play with yours. You will be amazed what you find to keep you amused.