You and Me versus Zombies 017

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)

Sam’s latest meltdown had exhausted him, and he had gotten the thousand-yard-stares which told me he was about to collapse into sleep. I kept the chariot’s ride as smooth as I could, as difficult as that was. The street was succumbing to the returning grasslands.

Our empire was built on the fact that human beings are entropy eaters. We take minerals from the ground, and form fantastic structures. And with upkeep and care, these structures will survive. Without the caretakers, the street sweepers, the commuters and pedestrians, entropy had reasserted its own kingdom.

The bitumen road had cracks growing from the edges inwards as wind-blown grass seeds found soil underneath. Tree roots pushed under concrete pavement, allowing more seeds from the previous spring to find their way to dark and fertile places. The winter rains soaked these hidden spots. Spring arrived, and new blades push skywards. By the end of summer it was almost waist high, except where I kept a pathways clear through daily use.

Fauna found their way back to the streets. At first I saw stray cats and dogs as they tried to make their way, relying on distant instincts buried by years of selective breeding. Some months laters, weeks after I saw the last live cat, and days after the rains had brought the first shoots of the new grassland, I heard a variety of insects singing and squeaking around me. This encouraged rats and mice and small marsupials. Possum numbers exploded. As did snakes.

The first time I had ever seen a snake in the city was when I nearly stepped on a coiled baby brown snake. It disappeared into the grass quicker than I found comfortable.

For this reason I stomped my feet on our way back to the Fence.

You are at the beginning

Start at the start, carry on through the middle, and then stop.

I have found that that middle part is made up of lots of beginnings. New beginnings, soft reboots, restructures, repositionings, changes of skin.

Embrace new starts. Take the old, put it in a box, and reach into that box for old things as you remember and need them.

For these moments, I recommend Ze Frank’s Invocation for Beginnings:

Xyttud yd fbqyd iywxj 0

Jxuhu yi q seddusjyed rujmuud syfxuhi qdt cqwys. “Esskbjydw” yd qijhedeco cuqdi “xyttud vhec lyum”, byau mxud Zkfyjuh yi esskbjut ro jxu ceed mxud yj tyiqffuqhi ruxydt yj vhec ekh feydj ev lyum. Ro jxu iqcu huwqht, q fuhied iaybbut yd cqwys yi iqyt je xqlu femuhi ev jxu esskbj, mxysx yi je iqo, xqlydw qssuii je jxu iushuj adembutwu.

Qd ulqdwubysqb Sxhyijyqd vhyudt ev cydu iqyt jxqj je te cqwys mqi je cuttbu yd q mehbt jxqj edbo jme udjyjyui sekbt wylu oek qssuii: Wet qdt Iqjqd. Wet mekbt duluh wylu Cqd jxu qrybyjo je te cqwys, qi yj cuqdi qssuii ydje q mehbt jxqj Wet xqi tuucut vehryttud je Cqd. Ie yv q Cqd sekbt fuhvehc cqwys, jxud jxu edbo udjyjo jxqj xu ckij xqlu sqlehjut myjx yd ehtuh je wqyd qssuii je jxu ikfuhdqjkhqb mehbt yi Iqjqd xyciubv.

A compendium about demons and magic.

Ed jxyi rqiyi, jxekiqdti ev fuefbu muhu aybbut ro jxu Ifqdyix Ydgkyiyjyed.

Jxu cehqb ev jxu ijeho: ted’j te jxu iuluhut jxkcr jhysa yd vhedj ev Jecái tu Jehgkucqtq.

Severed Thumb

(Jetqo’i syfxuh yi rhekwxj je oek jetqo ro Squiqh.)

Death Clocks and Douglas Adams

I’m going to indulge in something I’ve been superstitiously afraid of since I first heard about them. It was sometime during the mid-90s when I first heard of The Death Clock. Specifically, you typed in your name and age, and this website would output when your death would take place.

At this point, two circuits are triggered within my mind. The Rational Circuits which suspects that the Death Clock randomly outputs a date based on current statistics about life expectancy, because, if tasked to make such a website, that’s how I would do it. And the Superstitious Circuit, which now and then kicks in to make sure that I, say, don’t step on any crack in the pavement, or if I see litter that makes me responsible for picking it up, or any other mildly-OCD behaviour because the consequences will be UTTERLY DIRE AND LIFE EFFECTING. Or so the Superstitious Circuit assures me. It sees the Death Clock and immediately starts screaming that if I ever use it then my death-date will be locked into the machinery of the universe, which I’m sure has formed the basis of a number of sit-com episodes out there.

A fight breaks out between these two circuits, a fight that twenty years later the Superstitious Circuit keeps winning.

So I’m going to make my own Death Clock. I’m sure people might find the concept of this a little macabre, my mother for one. But for me it is a mere tool just to make sure that month-by-month I am asking myself the question: Am I satisfied with this month?

Douglas Adams was a writer that I grew up reading and I respect his work. He died aged 49, which was 590 months of life. I hope to live much longer than 49 years, but I’m still going to take this as a benchmark, that takes me until Tuesday, December 29, 2026, which means I have 136 months left.

Damn, that’s creepy to write.

And already, highly mind-focusing.

[This brings me to the next point. We have lists of accomplishments we want to achieve in life, and many people flippantly call these “Bucket Lists”. No idea why. I’ve also been moderately suspicious of the concept. I prefer the idea of structuring your life so that these hopes or desires are more likely to occur. THE SOUND OF INEVITABILITY, MR. ANDERSON. There are several dozen thoughts that have emerged around this theme of Bucket Lists, so I’ll explore those later.]

Climate change myths and other things

I spent some time last week on Twitter discussing climate change with a potential politician called Bill Koutalianos. Bill Koutalianos is/was president of the Freedom and Prosperity Party (which was the Party formerly known as No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics, which was the Party formerly known as The Climate Sceptics.)

In a clean-up of the electoral roll, the Australian Electoral Commission deregistered the Party for a failure to demonstrate the required 500 members.

Anyway, we had a disagreement about the “There has been no climate change for 18 years” claim, and Bill Koutalianos put a challenge to me to make my own charts with respect to it.

So I did.

We had a pretty good natter after that, with me presenting the currently scientific understanding of climate change, and Bill Koutalianos asking some pretty good questions about it.

I’ve storified the two main streams:

The “THERE HAS BEEN NO WARMING FOR X YEARS” Myth.

What is causing the Earth to warm?

Alas, in the end, Bill Koutalianos felt my answers were too much like spam, and he blocked me from his Twitter stream.

I should really thank him, as I had been meaning to explore this theme for a while in either writing or a video, and now Bill Koutalianos gave me the chance to put together a skeleton for some future work.

(In other news, I wonder how high this page will appear in a Google search for Bill Koutalianos?)

Reasonably Good At Sudoku

When writing job applications, there are normally a list of selection criteria that you spend a couple of paragraphs writing about. “I’ve had lots of experience in X, as seen by my Y years doing Z.”

I recently came across an old job application of mine. One of the selection criteria for the job I was applying for read:

• Excellent problem solving and creative thinking skills.

I was a bit stumped how to answer this. Admittedly, I might now answer it differently, but at the time I wrote this:

I have to admit, I find this selection criteria a difficult one to immediately answer. I feel like I need you to set me a problem and we can see how well I go about solving it. Like, fit this round peg into a square hole. Or get this chicken, fox and bag of corn across a stream without them eating each other.

In other organisations, I have sometimes become an informal go-to person for brainstorming new ideas, or suggestions on how to fix things that might be broken. I’m a big lover of whiteboards, and am always looking to jot down ideas when brainstorm anything from new titles for programs, designs for equipment, or working around staffing shortfalls.

I’m also reasonably good at Sudoku.

Tara Brach and Forgiveness

One of the overhangs of my Catholic upbringing is my propensity to forgive people.

Jesus is famously about forgiveness. (Unless you’re gay. In which case, according to many Christian doctrines, you’re going to burn in a lake of fire. And people wonder why I don’t ascribe to Catholic doctrine any more…)

Someone recently said that it was possible for people to push her too far; she would be in a place where forgiveness was not possible.

I’ve always felt that forgiveness is possible, and it should be possible. But outside of the teachings of Jesus, I didn’t have a hook.

In this lecture by Tara Brach, she outlines the reasons for forgiveness. Often, the person we first need to forgive is ourselves. Then outward to other people. Releasing blame and allowing ourselves to forgive another also allows the healing to begin for ourselves.

One important line that I took away: forgiveness of an action does not mean that we condone the action. We recognise that someone may be suffering, and in turn has directed suffering towards ourselves.

A Pot Full Of Memory

Arthur Koestler, the Dada movement, and James Joyce believed that creativity can be found in taking old art and remixing in new and interesting ways. How this remixing happens could be as deliberate as direct editing, or as random as pulling words of a cut-up manuscript from a hat.

I found remixed creativity in a transcription service.

I have a bad habit of not writing out scripts for shows before I perform them. Instead, I write down the major topics I want to cover, and kind of make-it-up-as-I-go-along while I’m on stage. When I’m not constricted by a pre-written script, I have a theory that I ad-lib ideas, jokes, and other turn of phrases.

(I called this a bad habit, as it also means I’m continually thinking ahead during the first two or three performances. I’m not always connecting to the audience as my mind is otherwise occupied. I’m intending to makes a complete script before my next performance, and many rehearsals!)

I recently made use of a transcription service to write out the script of my stage show “Rough Science: LIFE.” I didn’t envy the task that the transcriber faced; I pulled the audio from a video of the show, so the sound isn’t always clear. For the most part the finished transcript is very accurate, though littered with a number of sections where I’ve gabbled, been muffled, or I’ve used a not-so-common turn of phrase. The poor, faceless transcriber has done their best, yet some of these moments have clearly been befuddling.

For instance, according to the transcript, I said to an audience member: “Nick. Hi, Nick. You’ve got bunny ears.”

At another point, I apparently got a touch of Tourette’s:

Okay, okay. Well, eventually scratch that one off. Okay. Okay. No writing. Don’t write the equipment. Okay, there we you go. Any representatives of the museum here? Oh, bug off.

More strange interactions with the audience:

Male Speaker: Just now little seekers. Okay.

Speaker 4: Thank you, sir.

And the odd moment of poetry. Instead of “an apocryphal memory”, the transcriber heard “a pot full of memory.” I think I’ll keep that one.

Erich Fromm and the hill that was

I do like owning a lot of books. When friends come over and we get discussing novels, I end up throwing a few in their direction to take away and read. I have a small shelf of “absolutely must keep”, while the rest (several bookcases) are in flux. Currently my library is at about 50/50, which is to say around half of them I’ve read. I’ve instituted a new scheme with the unread books: They have until the end of the year to demonstrate their worth, or I’ll be passing them on.

To this end I picked up “To Have or To Be?” by Erich Fromm from my shelf of “To Be Read”. This ended up in my library as a gift from a friend, which in turn was a gift to her. When I’ve finished it, I’ll pass it on.

The theme of the book instantly resonates. But today I want to share this line from the introduction, which just happens to be something I’ve been thinking about recently:

…we have tried to solve out existential problem by giving up the Messianic vision of harmony between humankind and nature by conquering nature, by transforming it to our own purposes until the conquest has become more and more equivalent to destruction.

Near where my parents live is a block of land that for the last five years has been a rolling hill covered in grass. It is now up for development, and I’ve watched it over the last few months be heavily excavated. When I saw it a few days ago, the hill had been transformed. It was stepped, such that houses could be built on it. The steps had been shored up with stone walls, and soon eveless suburban boxes will roll off the developers’ blueprints and onto the land.

2015-08-07 11.53.01

Rather making a house to suit the land, the developer wants to change the land to suit the house. I’m not a builder, but I do wonder what the lifespan of a house is that has been built on a newly disturbed hill, sliced apart because its gradient didn’t suit.

What would happen instead if we asked the hill what sort of house would it prefer to be built on it? What sort of shift in our psyche would be achieved (or be needed) to change our dwellings to suit the land, rather than shape the land to suit our dwellings?

Mindfulness and the God-shaped hole

People who know me well will have heard me speak of the God-Shaped hole. Many years ago when I eased my way out of the Catholic system, I discovered that there was still in my mind all of the wiring around belief and worship with nothing specific to believe or worship. Into the God-shaped hole might fall other things that I might for a time start to worship like God: girlfriends, the concept of breakfast, Batman.

I have been meditating regularly every day, using guided meditations by Stephan Pende Wormland, Sam Harris, and Tara Brach. The common thread from these is understanding and seeing thoughts as arising in my mind, but not being drawn into the story behind them.

The thought of a universal arbiter watching me and noting my actions in a huge ledger which is compared to a massive tome of rules, has been a pervasive and automatic response in my mind. Into that God-shaped hole fall people around me, and I become sure of two things: they are judging me, and it matters. Logically I know instead that it is possible they are judging me, and either way it really doesn’t matter.

Mindfulness is allowing me to unlearn the automatic thought of being judged, and highlight the automatic thought when it arises, and I can see it for what it is rather than be drawn into its story. The mental infrastructure around the God-shaped hole is being unwound.