Friday, June 11, 2010

Dream as if you'll live forever, Live as if you'll die tomorrow

I’ve gotten back on my mountain bike and have gotten past the ‘sore ass’ stage of getting used to the damn bike seat. I had a year off from sitting in the seat, you wouldn’t believe how unused to it you can get. So I’m used to that again, and have been realizing how virtually crazily fun trail biking is. And I’ve decided I’m going to go whole hog this year.

I'm going to participate in the local mountain biking club (OMBA), assist in trail building, and be a contender in a mountain bike race in the fall. Probably not a ‘contender’ but my plan is to finish. And that is more than enough.  It’ll get me out and off the couch when I don’t want to go but know I should…and when I know I’d enjoy myself too. I find I’m not in the “habit” of biking religiously yet and need something to motivate me until I do get there.  Gearing up to participate in a mountain bike race in September is just the thing.  I plan to go wild, get dirty, and enjoy myself.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Au naturel

Redemption. Salvation. Forgiveness.

This post has everything and nothing to do with these things. I've been reading - skimming, really - the National Geographic magazine's latest Water issue, which has served to put us all on notice. Like the tragedy of the commons that the oceans represent, access to clean water is an invisible tragedy for most of us... in this case, those of us who had the lucky benefit of western world parents. The message is pretty clear about the concerns of clean water and the concerns vary from continent to continent, and locally for us here in North America it's a fact we're poisoning our own waterhole... and so much more.

Which brings me to the fact that we, humankind, really have our faults, don't we? and unfortunately, if we didn't have them we wouldn't even be here, much less in this bind. Our kind craves indulgence and redemption. The people "in charge" are no different, though their indulgences might be. Ah, sweet redemption... it's the umami that makes all this head in the sand, party the night away lifestyle even more full and potent. Redemption means never having to say we're sorry - until we're ready to do so.

Jared Diamond's _Collapse How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed_ comes into play here. Jared Diamond chose to use the history of small pacific islands as a lesson tool. The pacific islands offer a unsettling yet somewhat accurate picture of the world itself; Easter Island was doomed through indulgence and mismanagement to become squalid and at points rife with cannibalism. Wow. Other more successful islands and societies used a "top down, bottom up" approach with the most success and were able to perform a balancing act due to both powerful heads of state enforcing rules and their subjects embracing the rules since they knew the knife edge they walked. A life filled with work, sacrifices for the greater good and reining in inherent human urges to take as much as possible for yourself and your progeny. Currently untenable things were done in the name of preserving the society; unspeakably non-democratic and uncapitalist as well. I'd hope they enjoyed their lives as their society endured while performing the balancing act; These societies would be small enough that each citizen would personally know and be connected to each and every one of their group, inculcating them to perform adequately (if not admirably!) for all these people who also felt the same (the "rule of 150" per Malcolm Gladwell).

If our biggest temptation and indulgence is to ignore our need to change to prepare for a better future (and who hasn't wrestled with putting money away for retirement?)... can't we effect fundamental changes in our lifestyles rather than just edge ever closer to the 'pray for salvation' point? Fundamental changes unlike money-making half hearted measures that benefit huge companies and others taking kickbacks, that is. There is a huge demographic sea change happening, as so many baby boomers are entering their retirement years. Perhaps the time is now to effect/demand as much change as is possible, battering on the barriers erected by many national and corporate interests by a rising tide of world-interest. But the first order of business is laying siege to our own personal self interest.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Voice

I have to admit it: I've been skimming a book about blogging since being hit with blog envy from reading entertaining, killer blogs. Mrs. Fox sure can't turn away the cheap coaching a library book might offer. Still, am I hopelessly backward? Is getting a book on blogs counter-insurgency? Reading "Buzz Marketing with Blogs for Dummies" (horrifically, printed in 2005) - and placing holds on other blog related books is pretty old school, eh?  But wait! If I have to put a hold on these other books, doesn't that mean there are other yahoos out there like myself?  I.....I'm not alone!

Sometimes it takes a book to tell you what you need to know so you can change things. The ego can take it. MY ego, that is.

It seems my "voice" is all over the place. My attitude is also all over the place. You, gentle reader, don't even know what you might find when you come to my Foxden mailbox. There are times I don't know what I'll find until the writing has begun. The variety of written voices and mishmash of ideas will have to do for now.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Q: Shhh! Chop! Shhh! Chop!

Visiting the library is one of my favourite activities. I grew up going to library of my own free will and under my own power. I have many enjoyable memories leisurely looking through and borrowing books, and returning them – more than a few were atrociously late. Things sure haven’t changed much.

Over the years, my SOP for a library visit can be summed up by two words: Anything Goes. My book browsing always begins with picking through the lined up library carts full of returned but as yet unshelved books. The carts represent in microcosm the variety that the library can offer, and there really is no telling what subject you’ll find compelling until you lay eyes on it. On those library carts is a heady mix of chance and chaos. I don’t always select borrowing material from them, but they always deliver entertainment value by making me think about why something was borrowed in the first place. The only thing that makes me wonder more is just how many other library-goers harbour the dirty little secret of being drawn to these carts. I certainly never see them, but they must exist. Sort of like Carl Sagan’s Extraterrestrials – logically and mathematically speaking, but far more earthbound.

Now, my new favourite haunt is the Express Book shelf. It represents in miniature the newest additions to the library and runs the gamut of subjects and fictions. Damn if it isn’t tasty selection. I have a real penchant for social psychology books, and the book express shelf has given me serious food for thought. The latest find that I’m really into is Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”. A month or so ago I also read “Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children”, which wasn’t a parenting manual as much as it was the book “Drive” with a differing perspective and authors. They both have data and interests that seem to have sprung from some of Malcolm Gladwell’s own researches that produced his books and essays (which I also enjoy greatly).

The idea in "Drive" is that people fundamentally want to produce and perform intrinsically with little thought for reward, especially when the work has a creative facet to it. We’ve been poisoned with rewards, bonuses and little happy face stickers on our tests that we expect when we do well…instead of being encouraged to learn and perform as well as is personally possible. Paying employees bonuses and giving rewards only reward the cutting of corners and selling the future short, and encourages employees to only work when they know bonuses are involved. In short, bonuses or pay increases or rewards for doing your job only corrupts employees and interferes with “Flow” which corrupts any enjoyment that most people can have performing their job. And while employees need salaries because there are bills to pay and lives to lead, Dan Pink states, ‘salaries should be fair so they can be removed from the table’ – this is so the employee no longer thinks about money. It becomes a given so they can move on and not nag at them.

If there is something that should be given more frequently it’s feedback that is sound and comprehensible. We all know that most employees never receive feedback except at annual/semi annual review – if that, actually, and it barely rates as it's not time sensitive or even applicable. Feedback is the most prized “reward” that doesn't corrupt that an employee can receive. Think of it: Productivity could increase with a decent feedback loop!

A: Conan the Librarian

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Schlock & Awe

The Olympics has become as much a cliche as it has become obsolete and above all, decadent. Manufacturing and giving 60,000 ponchos to the stadium crowd to enable projecting images onto the audience seems on the face of it to be vibrantly non-green. If they were made of corn plastic, it would’ve been naturally plastered all over the internet!  And the creation of a Woodstock of plenty to celebrate athletes who practice sports that invoke permanent damage to their very human anatomy through simple routine boggles my mind. So what if the marathon used to kill the runners. That was then, this is now. I have a pretty firm belief that knees shouldn’t be sacrificed during normal pursuit of a sport.

The pull of the Olympics is as straightforward as it is hidden. One of the fundamental ideas of the Olympics as a peaceful celebration of the power of human beings from the world’s countries is a very appealing and an extremely honourable one.  Coupled with the fact that the four year cycle makes it rare and ephemeral makes the Olympics very hard to ignore for most people with a TV and a pulse.

It is the Olympics’ very rarity that has elevated it into an event that triggers ancient and deeply embedded cues that prompt awe and wonder, albeit on a rather low frequency. The call of ritual and tradition are an inherent part of the human brain’s makeup. That’s why people like the idea of Christmas, Easter, or Canada Day -so much so that they implemented them in the first place. Stonehenge – they sure knew what they were doing, and it wasn’t just crop insurance. On the loom of life, ritual gives pattern to the fabric.

Our parents have answered the siren song of the Olympics, and as children we watch and learn and then follow in their well-modeled footsteps. Organized religion is no slouch at maximizing the operating systems that we humans have and our preference for rituals and memes, and people rarely veer from their parents choice of religion (if they continue to adhere to the one they were raised with, that is!). The Olympics are rather more like a religion, one that glorifies ‘amateurs’ who wear down parts of their very human bodies in their single minded pursuit of ‘excellence’ in sport. The irony is of the painfully delicious variety. The Olympics has become a genuine Greek tragedy.

Its worth debating how worthwhile the Olympics are.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Nurturing your nature

When I was growing up, the big bang theory – the 1970’s version to be sure – was certainly talked about. And even though I was a member of a church going catholic family, I was not hidden from these scientific discussions.  I remember seriously thinking about the ‘big bang’ and getting my head into a knot as I tried to comprehend what was BEFORE the big bang and everything that followed.  My tiny noggin was just not up to the task of comprehending nothingness that wasn’t even space – heck, I still can’t!  I’ve just learned to take it as fact without trying to force myself to recreate it or imagine it within the extremely finite cubic centimeters of gray matter that is my brain.  As a child, I just didn’t know it wasn’t possible. Trying to create a mental construct of the pre big bang is probably where I first made my acquaintance with alpha waves, and it rather hurt my head.

How did someone who was probably about 8 or 10 years old get a good initial dose of the big bang theory?  I think it stems from my father’s interests. He enjoyed a variety of scientific endeavours, such as astronomy, paleontology and anthropology. He also very much enjoyed sharing his interests, so I don’t doubt the big bang theory might have been discussed in the house with my (much) older siblings and I caught wind of it.  I remember being taken out to see a lunar eclipse.  My memory is of my Dad taking me and my brother for a drive down to Miller’s Field with a stop at a local grocery store – and this is the part that truly captures my father’s genius -  for an oreo cookie package.  We spent the summer evening watching the moon turn dusky red and back again and munching on the cookies of the gods.  I also remember being taught about the constellations – the few that are so very easy to spot, anyway - and still enjoy the return of certain constellations as the old friends that they are, even when they are the harbinger of a return to winter.

The lessons my father imparted were many and some quite easily memorable.  Never stop learning, See the world, Life is for the living, Try hard to be good, Walk in like you own the place. … just a sampling of his easy-to-rattle-off one-liners.  They work well as mantras when you need them,  and I think my father found them to work the same way.  I find I enjoy learning and wondering and discovering many of the things that he did enjoy as well – if not exactly, then on a fundamental level.  The chances are good that as one of his children, my (and all of my siblings) brain categorizes and works and learns in a similar way to my father – or my mother. Perhaps even a mix?

 There is something to learn from the pattern of our parents, even if it is things that didn’t work for them.  While we are ultimately our own selves we have a personality, intelligence and desires that are an offshoot of all those that have gone before. It shouldn’t betray our individuality to recognize the living and learning that our own kin has gone through, in fact, it should be said that it’s smart to not have to learn something the hard way.

All that being said, it’s a terrible thing that we never admit “mom was right” until we’re moms or dad ourselves.

"So we are all reincarnations -- though short-lived ones. When we die, our atoms will disassemble and move off to find new uses elsewhere - as part of a leaf or other human being or drop a dew. In short, on an atomic level, we all live forever."
      -A Short History of Nearly Everything
      -Bill Bryson-

Friday, January 15, 2010

It can make your skin crawl...

It was a different world back then. Right now, all I can think is the odds of someone on that plane being a perve is pretty freakin' high. Enjoy this refreshing taste of wierdness as I get a decent blog post finished over the next few days...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Proroguing and the Pull Out Method

Our weasel-faced Prime Minister asked - and ultimately received permission - to prorogue parliament, effectively tossing most bills and various commitees that had been in progress this past fall into the recycle box. It appears on the weaselly face of it, that will allow more time for prepping a new economic action plan (can you say “bribe the public”?) and other new bills, as if he was doing us all a favour ending the parliamentary session early so he could hold his head up high at the Olympics. Politicians aren’t the most earnest type no matter their camoflage, and whatever his stated reasoning for proroguing Parliament prematurely is, it isn’t the real truth. It’s the cover that his staff thinks Canadians will swallow.

Proroguing parliament a year ago was the only way – low though it was – to stop the bells tolling for him and his time as Prime Minister. Not only getting away with the ploy, he turned it into a positive and lambasted the other political parties that had tried to forge such an undemocratic arrangement as a coalition. Certainly enough people parroted that “they hadn’t voted for a coalition” – astoundingly forgetting that they don’t even vote for a Prime Minister, only their local member of parliament. Duh? This ain’t America!

To recap, a year ago, people had to be told what proroguing parliament meant as the last time it had been used was by Sir John A. Macdonald in 1873. And now, a year later, our current PM is using such a little known and undeniably low, historically speaking, method to avoid political issues for a second time. I don’t think he fully appreciates the pull out method isn’t without its dangers and risks. I await the birth of an election call with his spin doctors in attendance.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Endings and Beginnings

It is at this time of year that we all find some time to dwell on the lessons of the past and the potent promises possible in the future. All alliteration aside, I find that even the most aloof nonbelievers in the power of New Years Eve leave a door open a crack for a visit from Janus – that old Roman god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings and endings.

On one face of it, my 2009 was atrocious. Ironically, I began the new year by ending something. I left a dreadfully stressful job, and recovered from that stress. Then I suffered a stroke that put me in the hospital. Throughout the hospital stay with its tests and procedures and recuperating and walking again, I began to appreciate my personal strength in the face of fear and adversity and began to know myself better. I also finally understood that abandoning the stressful job hadn’t been a personal failure. I learned a great deal about myself, and had more time to spend with my husband this past year as he was off work and stayed with me.

In looking back, 2009 was beset by illness, stress and unemployment. But any year you walk away from is a good year. These last few days I’ve restrained myself from thinking bad thoughts about the past year, a feeling which springs from the saying ‘do not speak ill about the dead’ - and what is 2009 but dead and gone? And by avoiding speaking or thinking ill, I have found some good things to say about last year instead. I’ve learned a great deal in 2009. My wish for 2010 is to continue learning, continue growing, and to continue enjoying these doorways I’m passing through.

And now for something completely different . . .

Reg: All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

Attendee: Brought peace?