Time is of the Essence

IRRELEVANT INTRODUCTION

I think what I love the most in the whole wide world is this. Early morning, still dark outside, to sit in front of the fireplace with Sigurd, bear pup, drinking coffee, slowly. Looking at the flames. The crack in the glass (there’s a crack in everything). Dark shadows. Ashes. Embers. The way he leans his head up against my shoulders. The silence. I love that. I love this. The smell of the fire burning, the sound of the cast iron expanding.

November is so rich in colours, the golden grass and the deep green of the forest, as the light slowly, slowly returns to the world the colours almost quiver. I watch it through my windows. Heavy wind today. It might snow.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Old man said: ‘Well, the interesting part is actually what you are going to write about now. So many stories out there about establishing something new, new projects, new stories, changes, changes, it’s always about the changes. But what is your life going to be like now that you already did all that? How does it feel? You should blog about that.’

I don’t mind taking advice from elders. It’s a new hobby of mine, actually. Too much wisdom is being thrown out with the bath water, too many babies.

We can’t go around forgetting what it took centuries to learn. On the practical level: how does one live without all of the luxuries? How does one use the resources? How to cook, how to grow, how to harvest and build. So much knowledge earned through stormy winters and hard work. We can’t just forget that.

We are not allowed to just forget that.

I’m not saying we should do everything as they did. Absolutely not. We can make it better, improve, adjust, innovate — that´s what humans do, but we can’t just forget that everything we have…. is something we have because people fought for it. Bled for it. Believed in it. Carry on the fire.

Yes?

On the emotional level: why was it so essential for our forefathers to build a nation with a good welfare system, a security net?

I think it’s because they knew that we need each other. On a real practical and emotional level (that can’t be replaced by any system, we’ve learned that now).

No?

Let’s not just forget.

As of lately I spend a lot of time listening to my elders.

THE SIMPLE LIFE OF SOLIDARITY

After I quit social media my whole way of thinking has changed. As have my reading habits. What kind of author doesn’t read any books? Well, me for one. I read social media instead. I dove right into it, head first. I wanted to read you. But somehow it all got corrupted, somehow the deep human need for connection and communication got distorted. We were bought and sold. We were manipulated. Social media has become a weapon and they took away that which could have saved us.

Makes me sad to think about.

I might be a weirdo living alone (with my family) in the forest. This might be because I’m an introvert or can’t cope with the stress of modern society, something like that, or maybe I’m angry. Like Thoreau was angry when he moved into the wild and wrote: ‘Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.’

Or Edward Abbey, a voice in the wilderness: ‘How to Overthrow the System: brew your own beer; kick in your Tee Vee; kill your own beef; build your own cabin and piss off the front porch whenever you bloody well feel like it.’

What I mean is: I might be weird and I might be angry about society (it’s an evil empire, run!) but you know why I write? Why I didn’t just turn my back on everything and engaged with ‘the simple life’, so pure, spiritual and whole?

Because I’m still into you.

I always was. Even Thoreau and Abbey were. We all were. Always.

CHALLENGE OF OUR TIME

I believe this to be the true challenge of our day and age. The age of individualism and egoism is over. We know this. We know we need to connect and communicate to solve the mess that we’re in. On the deepest human level. The collective soul. Aren’t we flock animals? After all? Don’t we realise that lately things have become seriously dangerous and we need to… rise?

What we need to do now is to shape these vague contours, articulate, tentatively, that which have dawned on us.

We. Need. Each. Other.

THE PROBLEM OF ESSENCE

Personally I’ve been reading a lot since I quit social media. Turns out that’s pretty social too. Another kind of social. And I need it. Man, I’ve been in dire need!

I’m a fast reader but for years I’ve been even more than fast, I’ve been in super speed turbo mode; too quick to even read a book to the end, short sentences, please! Get to the point already! How is this relevant for me? As for articles: could you please stop doing irrelevant intros? Bitesize. Shareable; does this reflect positively back on me if I share? As for the bloggers like me ‘how do I make people share?’

The very act of sharing has become the goal. Not the actual content. Which I suspect is taking the deep need for human connection maybe a bit too far. It’s the human connection more than the actual message that seems to be in focus. It sounds beautiful, only it’s not.

It makes us stupid when we connect without essence.

Look! Memecat!

WHAT THE ELDERS SAY

Impatient.

We have all become so impatient.

That’s what the elders say. In my books. In my books.

They say that if you don’t take the time that it takes to change… nothing is going to change.

They say that things take time.

They say that beginning and end is the same. That time is not linear and that destruction and creation are interwoven.

That’s what they say.

And I’m guessing they have a point. We talk about change all the time as if we could somehow just materialise it without any costs. Without bleeding.

I don’t think we can. To reach out and connect with others, like I have done for instance with my book… it bloody well killed me. The elders say it’s supposed to be that way. So suck it up already and get back onto your high horse. The battleground of our day and age is called ‘time’. To put essence into it. To fill it with essence. To expand it. To give it.

TIME

So here’s what I think. I think true rebellion lies in taking back time. To take time. Make time.

We might have gone a bit overboard with the sharing and the connection — dosn´t mean that this is wrong, I don’t think it’s a solution to isolate or turn your back to everything, I truly don’t. To be absolute truthful I do think that’s kind of a cowardly or weak thing to do. So no. But to insist on some kind of essence. To keep on writing long blogposts without any (shareable snacksize) point.  Blogs takes time you know, both to write and to read, it’s a whole universe you enter, not a quote.

Conection takes time. Real time.

To meet a lot. To read a lot. To comment, write long emails, insisting on content, if you need to be a troll then at least be a troll of content.

Wouldn’t that be worth something? Back in the old days I would write long letters to friends, now I think it’s a waste of time if I write to only one person, as if I could optimise my message, quantity over quality, capitalism in our heads! I want back the space between my braincells, I want the time it takes to inhale. Lots of people suffering from lack of time, it’s a disease. As if time was an element just like air, people can´t breathe anymore!

I’m going to write in length (about the time after the change). I’m going to read for hours. I’m going to take back my own time. Call it rebellion because it is.​

A 2015 Calendar/ Mandala

One of the founding myths of our culture is the idea of linear time. Like the most powerful stories, it’s one we are barely aware of. It’s the basis for the notion of ‘progress’ —in moral, technological or economic terms.

The cyclical model of time is ancient and universal. Look at the Celtic wheel of the year, the Mayan calendar, the Taoist yin-yang symbol or the Dharma wheel in Buddhism. Yet it’s been completely discarded by modern cosmology; though a recent book, Cycles of Time (2010) by Roger Penrose, inventor of the non-periodic Penrose tiling, suggests it may be coming back into fashion. Ironically.

For as long as I can remember, my internal picture of the year has been a circle, with summer opposite winter, spring opposite autumn. The more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed that there were no calendars which depicted the year in its natural form, the shape of the Earth’s orbit around the sun (technically an ellipse, not a circle, but the difference is negligible).

Most calendars showed time as an infinite sequence of rectangular boxes, reminiscent of the boxes—classrooms, houses, offices, cars—in which we spend so much of our lives. Eventually, since I couldn’t find any round calendar designs that I liked, I decided to go ahead and make my own.

As well as a practical wall calendar and year planner for 2015, it’s also meant as a mandala—an object for meditation, featuring both radial and fourfold symmetry. And what better than a round calendar to help you meditate on the transitory and cyclical nature of all things?

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About the calendar

To avoid confusion, I should explain that I’m not proposing a new system of organising the year, just an alternative way of visualising it.

We still use basically the same calendrical system introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, despite reforms having been proposed by everyone from French revolutionaries to the Kodak company. It’s not likely to change in a hurry. (If I could make one change to our way of organising time, I would get rid of ‘daylight savings time’, which only dates back to World War I and seems to me a total waste of time. As if by making everyone change their clocks, the politicians could somehow control time itself!)

The calendar includes the days (named in English and Spanish), weeks, months, and phases of the moon. You may notice that the moon symbols spiral around the calendar, gradually working their way from the outside into the middle. That’s because a lunar month is 29.5 days, so each phase (new, waxing, full, waning) lasts on average 7.4 days, just over a week.

The calendar also shows the eight cardinal points of the solar year—the solstices, equinoxes and quarter days (the midpoints of the four seasons, often known by their Celtic names: Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas, Samhain). These are the basis of many holidays, such as Christmas (the winter solstice), Easter (the first full moon after the spring equinox), May Day (Beltane) and Hallowe’en (Samhain). But holidays vary a great deal between (and within) countries and cultures, whereas the eight cardinal points are universal. For that reason I’ve omitted holidays from the calendar, leaving you free to add your own favourite celebrations.

The calendar / mandala is meant to be posted up on the wall, not viewed on a screen. It should be printed in colour and at least A3 size (A2 is highly recommended). It is free to dowload from abrazohouse.org/calendar, where you can also leave some feedback.

© Robert Alcock, December 2014

The Persistent Hope

Google has recently begun efforts to build an enormous trans-Pacific cable system to connect the US to Asia at faster speeds. Obviously there are many problems inherent in this project, particularly the impacts it has on the ecosphere. But sharks aren’t having any of that. Google is having to put a protective guard around the cables because the sharks keep biting them, which could potentially cause widespread internet outages. The sharks have actually been at this for a while — at least since 1985, when shark teeth were discovered embedded in an experimental cable near the Canary Islands.

This is a clear example of nature biting back. Obviously the sharks aren’t conscious agents of revenge for an all-powerful Mother Earth. But they are part of a complex and interdependent ecosystem, which will invariably cause problems for technologies that disrespect and disregard it. All around us we can see examples of this.

Squirrels have similarly caused problems with power-lines, for example. In 2013 New York Times author Jon Mooalem reported that over a four-month timespan, squirrel attacks on power lines made the news at least 50 times. Even more impressive, the Nasdaq has been shut down by squirrels twice: once in 1987 for 82 minutes and once again in 1994. In fact, much of power infrastructure seems to be particularly vulnerable to natural attacks. The primary cause of most power failures is weather, but the 2003 Northeast blackout was caused by power-lines brushing against a few Ohio tree branches. All of these cases is indicative of the way industrial society regards nature: it doesn’t. As a result, natural processes end up causing a lot of problems for industrial infrastructure.

As with all happenings that contribute to the fall of industrial society, these eco-attacks are bittersweet. Some activists from the ’80s heralded ‘nature biting back’ in such a callous way that it sometimes carries with it downright nasty undertones. Christopher Manes, for example, once suggested AIDS as a population control mechanism. And while it is — all sickness and disease is — that is certainly no reason to suggest many people dying from AIDS as a good thing, as he did. We can see hope in nature fighting back, but there must also be anger that the technocrats have redirected the attack toward the poor.

The recent Ebola outbreak is another example of this. A small outbreak happened, but, to the fault of mass transportation systems and the way cities force large numbers of people to live closely together, it quickly grew, crossing borders and now continents. As of October, the death toll has passed 4,500 people. This is not nature’s fault, however. Again, these eco-attacks are not conscious acts of vengeance; rather, they are natural processes continuing as they have for millions of years, but amplified into disaster through technological augmentation. In this way you might say that nature is merely giving the industrial system the rope to hang itself.

Grieving here is important, because lives that will never come back have been taken, ecosystems that will never come back have been destroyed. But what is left are West Africans with an afterimage of betrayal, an understanding of industrial society’s true nature, a glimpse of future disasters to bring death of a greater magnitude. Left are the West Africans who have experienced industrial disaster (and Ebola is an industrial disaster). The hope lies in their resistance.

Continuing on this note, wild retaliation is not confined to non-human elements of nature. All around us we can see the squirrels and the sharks and the trees and the clouds acting with persistent hope that their wildness will win, but only in civilisation’s story are humans separate from everything else. As humans placed firmly on the side of wild nature, we have a duty to fight with the sharks and the squirrels. And some of us are.

In many regions in the US, for example, people are fighting back against fracking. In Italy, No TAV protesters are fighting against a high-speed rail. And when was the last time a G20 summit didn’t have protestors? In the next few decades, this resistance will only increase. While for several decades first-world citizens have been able to live a life separated from the nasty industrial base that creates it, the energy crisis is forcing production to move into places that once again put the first-world in touch with the underbelly of their lifestyles. And if their response to these industrial projects is like their response to fracking, then there will definitely be opportunity for new stories about the nature and civilisation to take hold.

What these stories will look like is yet unknown, but I certainly have an idea for one. Recently, a video of a hawk taking down a drone circulated around the internet. I imagine one day there will be the ruins of many drones taken down by hawks. A human might come by some of the ruins and rummage through them to repurpose some of the metals into tools. He’ll head back to his community, who lives in an old bank building, set down the tools, and join the tree roots in breaking up the pavement so he can use the soil underneath for a garden. And after a hard day of purposeful work and play, with tools made and seeds planted, he’ll sit around a fire with friends and family, telling stories and listening to raccoons cause trouble in the night.

The Wrong Side of Seeing

 

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What lies between our origin and our destination?
Rushing from Point A to Point B,
Entire epochs flash by in the blink of an eye.
But if we don’t blink?

We are privy to privvies.
Ugly views submerged in the urgency of Time.
Through sealed windows and smudged glass,
Nothing to see, yet there’s always something before us,
Even if it’s the things not meant to be looked at.

Decaying factories and billboards locked in aphasia,
Dumpsters and portable toilets,
Parking lots and powerlines.
Infrastructure. Effluvia. The occasional man.

Traveling along the clattering spine of civilization,
We see not the face of the world, full of promise and deceit,
But the back of its head.
Nothing to meet our impertinent gaze and nothing to gaze back at us.
We find ourselves on the wrong side of seeing.