Links to my Books

Links to My Writings

Meditations on Maintenance for the Kindle
Memoirs of a Super Criminal for the Kindle, Nook
One Year in the Mountains for the Kindle, Nook
Adventures of Erkulys & Uryon for the Kindle and Nook

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Natural vs. Artificial

I was reading recently about the coming doom predicted by the Mayan calender. According to the theory in December 2012 we will move into a new era. Sort of like in the Chinese calendar moving from the year of the dragon to the year of the rat. Of course, some take this 2012 as a sign of Armageddon (which is Christian end time not Mayan end time) and then all of the conspiracy theorists take over and predict all types of horrible things. But in reality nothing so amazing is supposed to happen (cross our fingers). It is simply moving from one astrological frame of reference to another. In this new era, a new balance is supposed to be reached between heaven and earth, or humanity and nature, etc. You can Google it if you desire more details. This is all just a preface to some thought I had. As I was reading, the author of the article about 2012 pointed out the disparity of time. We live in time dictated by the clock, not by nature. Think about that for a moment.

Think about Nature and the natural flow to life:
  1. Seasons
  2. Birth/death cycle
  3. Migratory cycles
  4. Sunrise/sunset time frames
  5. Eating when hungry
  6. Subsistence living
  7. Hunter/gather: nomadic

Natural living is the rhythms inherent in nature expressed through intuition and instinct.

Now think about artificial living and the flow of life it creates

  1. 9-5 work hours (set work days) and long commutes
  2. Clock time
  3. Calender time
  4. Money ordered existence: consumer mentality
  5. Residential housing, private ownership
  6. Existence (self worth) defined by career or ownership

Artificial living is through constructs created to shape life with ulterior motives dictated by external pressures not internal needs.

Now I know perhaps I have lost some of you at this point. No, I don't advocate going back and living in caves as hunter/ gatherers. But I do wish that we could allow natural rhythms to have a say in how we live and commune with each other. What if I could eat when I was hungry instead of at dinner time. If I was tired can I sleep in or will my boss get mad if I am an hour late, even though the extra sleep will make me more productive? Yes, there are easy abuses in this system. I think it takes a lot of trust in fellow humanity. Can I depend upon the other person to do their job? But does that matter? Look at the stock market. That is a completely artificial system built into and on top of other artificial systems. But even it has its natural rhythms. And will it collapse if I take a few extra minutes sleep? Can a company be run upon the ideas of natural rhythms in life and in trusting others to do their jobs? Or are we all that cynical and suspicious?

I watch these squirrels run around my back yard. Right now they are mating and eating and doing squirrel stuff. But in another few months they will begin to store up for the winter. Those who store up enough survive; those who don't die. Pretty simple. Apply that to humanity. Is it even possible to live that simply? Think about it. Think about what would happen if the tree charged the squirrel a percentage for the nuts. And the dirt, a charge for storage. And then some hawk had to be paid for security. Of course the tree doesn't want more nuts; it wants fertilizer. So the squirrel has to find a way to trade nuts for fertilizer which introduces the middle man and then of course, the bank who charges interest on the exchange rate. And now the poor squirrel has to gather twice as many nuts to pay all the fees, charges and taxes (because those hawks can't be left unsupervised and the banking system needs to be regulated and so they need a government). And still it may not be enough to make it though the winter because there could be fluctuations in the exchange rate that eats up all the savings. How is a man to make it in this new crazy world? This is a drastic oversimplification. Or is it? Can we simplify society, life, community, work, etc. to reflect the instinctual natural tendencies? Can we blend the natural and the artificial to create a balanced, harmonious life, taking the good that both has to offer? Or is this a crazy Utopian dream? Maybe 2012 when force and answer or maybe not.

Monday, April 7, 2008

For Good or for Pleasure

Why do you do the things that you do? Is it for the good or for the pleasure?

I was reading in the Upanishads the other morning and I read a passage about the difference between good and pleasure. It is often a hard distinction to make. But it is a very real and very profound one. Think about it for just a moment.

What is good? In one situation what is good may be different than in another. I don't think it can be defined in any hard and solid ways. It is a loose concept with few parameters. If it is self- seeking then most likely it is not the good. Seeking the good puts the self as the subject not the object. The good extends outward from the one doing the action to the furthest reaches possible. It is not contained in the action or the one committing the act. The good begins in one place but then moves outward in every expanding circle of influence. What is the good? I think it is up to each person to wrestle with that question in their own terms, life and situations.

What is the pleasure? Pleasure is that which feels good but with the self as the object and others as the subject acting towards or on the object. It tends to be, ultimately, self-seeking. Do for "me" that which I want, like, need. Pleasure is a misleading but very enticing way of life.

What would happen to the world if we started seeking the good instead of the pleasure? What would happen to our life, our community, our countries if we stepped outside of our desire to find pleasure, but rather put ourselves second and sought the good for others? How big of an impact could we have with just a little perspective change?

This is a difficult idea because the difference between the good and the pleasure is often not that big and it is easy to slip from one to the other. And to seek the good is often a personal choice. No one outside that person can address the idea of motive, they can only witness the results. My seeking the good may look very different than your seeking the good. I just have to trust in myself that the good will be carried out and not fall into judging, condemning and second guessing those near me. I think ultimately actions will be proven with results.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Becoming an Artist

So far in this blog I have not talked too much about my artwork. Art has always been a part of my life. Over the years the time I spent doing art has waxed and waned with my available time, energy, space, etc. Yet in all my life it seems that art has remained a constant. But not until recently did I put it together with the rest of my life and embark on this adventure of being an artist: that is using art as a means of expression for inward and outward searching. I am philosophical and intuitive by nature but even so I have not put a lot of thought into why or how I "do" art. When I sit down to paint or draw, a different part of my being opens up and moves forward. It is hard to describe. At times a certain image will float about in my mind until I can finally sit down and express it on canvas with paints. At other times when I sit before the white canvas or blank page I can see the picture begin to take shape and all I need to do is color it in. As my skills have developed it has become easier to express that which is my head or that which I see on the canvas. But where those thoughts, images, etc. come from remain a mystery. I am not sure if that mystery is something I need to pierce at this time.

There are times where I might break from this expressive art and move to a more intentional art piece. For example, if I want to speak about the environment, a religious theme, capture a moment in time, etc. Then I will sit down to do sketches, work up colors, etc. and then begin the painting. I find those pictures hard to paint. Some of my frustration comes from lack of skill level, some from general frustrations that all artist have about perfection, and some from boredom. But in those moments discipline and perseverance carries the day. It is hard to move forward with a piece that seems to just drag on and on. But I also find that it is in those pieces that I have the most growth in skill development, patience, and reward.

I enjoy reading about art history and theory. I would say that to this date the biggest influence on my thinking and painting has been the German Expressionist, the Bauhaus and Kandinsky in particular, and Schiele, Klimt, (these last two being interesting because I am a landscape painter and they are primarily portrait painters), and Hodler.

Currently I am a bi vocational artist, I have to hold a "real" job to support my habit (my art). But a day I can spend in the studio is a good day. And after a really hard day or week at "work" I really look forward to my art time. It relaxes me, reconnects me and empowers me. Art is a must in my routine, even if just a little at a time (or all that I can get).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Project update

It has been a month since I started my world literature project. I have made some progress and have began reading some texts. It is an amazing project. The hurdles to overcome at times seem too large to even grasp. But with some diligence I think I can move forward, one little step at a time. My list is growing, as it should, even though I am running into problems of dating. Some sources put a text at a certain date but other sources date it differently. I am also cheating a little. Instead of listing every little scrap of text written on papyrus, inscribed in stone or preserved in mud tablets, I am only listing the source I am using for the whole collection. Well that is the technical side and I am still working out the methodology and approach.

As for insights. I have found human thought occupied with three subjects so far. The Code of Hammurabi, the Law of Manu and the Torah are great examples of the first and second concerns of human thought: Law and religion. Even in the most ancient of times laws regulating moral conduct, religious life, civilian life and lawsuits were abundant. We as a people group are very litigious. And the law carried outward from civil life to religious life, or visa versa. Religious codes of conduct, sacrifice, priesthood, etc. occupy a lot of ancient texts. Even ancient myths center around the role of the gods in the life and creation of the world. It takes centuries of Babylonian and Assyrian thought development before the role the human is even explored in relation to the gods. The third thought which I have found preserved in ancient texts is the idea of personal legacy. Kings, rulers, priests, etc. all wish to leave a written record of what they had accomplished in their life time. Lands conquered, wealth gained, armies destroyed, cities built... it goes on and on and today it is all gone, but to them in that day it was SO important for the memory to be preserved.

Well I will keep reading and reflecting. Please feel free to comment or ask questions.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

World Literature

So I have decided to undertake a rather massive project. I want to organize a list and then read as much of what is contained on that list as possible. The list will consist of all the literature of the world organized in chronological order. And when I say literature I don't just mean fiction. I mean anything and everything that has been written down and preserved through the ages. That in and of itself is daunting. The most ancient texts are easy because there are so few of them that have survived the centuries. But once you get into the middle ages and cultures with writing abound it is going to become an organizational nightmare. Not only do you have the West (Greek,Latin, French, German, English language writers), but I am also searching out the Middle East. Also, at the height of the Islamic culture there was just as much if not more writing taking place in all subjects than ever in the west. And then there is the far east: China, Japan, etc. Those empires had their scholars, philosophers and writers as well. So this raises the next problem: finding readable English translations for the works. I could read them in their original languages (and for this project to have much scholarly application I probably should) but I don't think I have the time to learn all those languages as well.

Why would I want to undertake such a task? Does it have any merit? I think the list itself would have some use. (I am secretly hoping it already exists some place and I will find it in one of my searches. So far I have only found lists segregated by their respective cultures or time periods). I think that human culture is more connected than we might at first assume. I think the segregation by culture or time period is artificial to how things really work. I think that ideas, concepts, philosophies, stories, fictions, etc. travel and flow with the human populations. I think that in the past, humanity traveled and with them so did their ideas. And as such through the study of what was preserved in writing we can get a glimpse of how ideas spread about the globe. Did the idea of monotheism spring up naturally in various places, or was it brought from one to another? Or the idea of democracy? Or the way in which armies waged battles and conquered lands? I think a project like this could have many different applications even though it is going to be daunting and I doubt I will get much past the first few centuries of the common era (CE).

So far, I have listed with mostly accurate dating writings from the Greeks and Latins before the common era (BCE). I also have a start into Sumerian and Egyptian literature. The most ancient text that has survived to date appears to be "The Code of Hammurabi" followed closely by the "Epic of Gilgamesh." Both of which seem to come from a pre-Babylonian era (that is from the land of Iraq). It is five centuries before you get to Homer and the Greek classics. There are writings in Asia and Egypt that seem to come from this same era (2500-900 BCE). After 900 BCE, writing seems to begin to grow in volume. But even then each century only has a few surviving authors, thinkers or works.

And so my first insights are:
  1. Writing seems to have appeared in various cultures around the same time.
  2. The fact that more of the written record is available the further forward you move in history may stem from either or both of the following: more people are writing and/or less time has elapsed for the record to be lost.
  3. Humans feel the need to preserve what they deem as important.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cultural malaise

I was recently reading the surrealist romance novel, "Nadja." The author of this book was also one of the founders of surrealism (if being found surreal means anything). He wrote the "Surrealist Manifesto." This got me thinking about movements in the arts: Dada, surrealism, modernism, expressionism, impressionism, etc. Some of these movements have their political component as well as their cultural aspects. When I pull an art history book off my bookshelf and flip through it, it is divided up into nice little sections devoted to "movements." Some of these movements come with their own manifestos, some with their own communities (i.e. the Bauhaus) and some are just loose schools of trends.

But as I look around today I don't see too many manifestos being written about the arts, culture, society, etc. Nor do I see schools and communites working in harmony under one direction towards a common goal or understanding. Maybe I am just out of the loop and these things are going strong, but it seems that culture has hit an apathetic stretch. The 20th century has just fragmented the continuum, destroyed the chronological continuity. Or perhaps I am just standing too close in history.

History takes time to reveal that which will be kept and that which will be tossed a side. When we stand close to the moment it is hard to determine how that moment will unfold. Kierkegaard was ignored in his day but a century later impacted the philosophical world greatly. Today it is hard to tell what effects that the modern authors, thinkers, artists will have on tomorrow. Gresham is a prolific writer. Is he who the future will remember as great literature of the 20-21st century? (Is Shakespear great because he survived the ages, or did he survive the ages because he is great)? I mean is Thomas Kinkade and his millions of prints going to define the artistic life of the West for the 24th century art historian? Is that what is becoming of art? The best marketing team gets to write the history? (Not that I want to debate the artistic merit of Kinkade at this point). Maybe that is the way it always has been: wars and the PR teams who champion their causes. Maybe the manifestos and the current schools do exist. They just can't get the big time marketers to back them.

So what does that mean to me (or to you)?
Let us search out the cracks and nooks of life to see who is there doing what. Let us go off the beaten path and into those back alley galleries, those little art school showings, those coffee house colletions. Let us set aside the obvious PR/Marketing of the big time press and turn to the lesser publishing houses. Let us support the local arts, search out the local bookstores for the local authors and musicians and artists. And above all let us learn to create from the heart with purpose, style, and distinction. Maybe you can write the next manifesto about how art and life should relate.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Spirit and Matter

The supposed duality of spirit/matter used to be easy to phathom and we may be returning to a time where it will no longer be a problem. Until the 19th century it was assumed that the spirit world existed and in some ways interacted and affected the material world. But as natural philosophers became scientists, alchemists became chemists and universities added science as a course of study besides the humanities, the spiritual world became suspect. If it could not be weighed, measured, or observed then it did not in fact exist. The material realm became supreme and the spiritual realm was to slip quietly away. But then philosophy split again and gave birth to psychology. The study of human emotion and the human mind led down all sorts of crazy paths. Some of those paths died off and others are still walked today. And one of the most probing questions that philosophy and psychology asks is, "What does it mean to be human?" or more exactly, "What is consiousness?" And this question gave birth to neuroscience, the study of the brain. But it is much more then just the study of the physical stuff held in the head, it is also the study of the mind; how that physical stuff makes thoughts, emotions, memories, etc. And that is the turning point. That brings us full circle. In the brain is the mind. In the material universe is the immaterial consciousness. How the brain creates the mind or how the mind creates the brain is still a mystery. There has not yet been found that mechanism that creates, controls or maintains the conscious. We know that we are self aware we just don't know HOW we know we are aware. And if this self evident awareness is immaterial and not prone to the same type of materialist science that brought the supposed death to the spirit, then perhaps it is wrong and the spirit world still exists and still has some effect on us today. Perhaps just as a science of the mind was created, we now need a science of the spirit to explore such things. Not a theology or a religion, but a skeptical (read: objective) approach searching for methods to resolve questions of the spirit. (I believe that if such a science was created there would be great interest in its fellowship with some of the current trends in quantum physics).