Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Animals Crossing the Road

Yesterday, on the way home from work, I had to hit my breaks a bit when a little groundhog/gopher/woodchuck ran out in front of me. Thankfully, I had plenty of time to react, and the little guy made it across the street with no problem. He did seem a bit chunky and out of shape... but perhaps that's just the god-given hardware.

The important thing about this experience was the process of thoughts it got going in my head. Countless times in all of my years, finding myself in similar situations, I cannot help but wonder "come on you stupid animal, look both ways!" And of course, this is a ridiculous thing to expect of such an animal. A "road" to them perhaps doesn't even conciously exist... it just happens to be a part of the ground that is strangely hard and cold and occasionally loud. I cannot expect animals such as a groundhog to have any understanding of what a road is or the thousand-pound flying-steel danger that is to be found on roads each and every day.

At this point, it might have been easy for me to think "well, if I was a groundhog..." ... I would probably look both ways. Or at least demonstrate some semblance of "smarts" in regard to crossing the road. But would I? It is probably very haughty of me to think so. This hopefully begins to get at the place I want to go with this.

We are all groundhogs crossing the street. Only, we're probably not too aware there is even a "street." We're just following our whims, or instincts, our routines, our culturally-given and biologically-given intuition. And while we may not be fully aware of the danger of "fast moving cars," the things that occasionally "hit us," we probably have some inkling of an idea that in every moment there is danger. There are things that can wrong. And what can we do? If nothing else, bust our ass to "get across the street" as fast as we can.

Those groundhogs might not know what a car is, but I'm guessing they're probably programmed to avoid spending too much time in open spaces. Such behavior got their ancestors where they are today and is probably ingrained in them, to an extent.

While I seem to have lost the freshness of this idea from yesterday, I shall push on -- at all times, there are forces in the world "whizzing all around us" which could surely make our life hell at any moment. A tree could fall on us, our house could catch on fire, the building could collapse, a jet engine could fall on us, etc. Or maybe these forces are much more immaterial and sublte -- waves of frustration, doubt, fear, anger, deception may sweep over us. So deceitful are these foes that we may not be consciously aware they've even hit us -- we just suddenly go under their spell and may likely not wake up.

Just as we might find it totally unreasonable for every groundhog to realistically look both ways, it may be a by-and-large notion amongst us all that such "forces" are entirely unavoidable... or even worse, don't exist. I can easily imagine a storybook groundhog who, after having a vision, returns to his burrow to tell the other groundhogs of these things called "cars" that drive on the "roads" who kill our kind all the time. And of course, he would probably be laughed at, scorned, and not taken seriously. Or at least maybe so.

One more stab at it -- say this afternoon, when we all drive home from work or wherever, we too are little groundhogs scurrying across the road. All we know for sure is that we want to get to the otherside -- the safety of the underbrush. We might not consciously be able to name, describe or even see coming the forces that would destroy us... but maybe we have an idea that they're out there. So, perhaps we're simply to run as fast as we can and just hope.

Or maybe not. Maybe there is some higher destiny of perception that is available to each of us. Just as a groundhog is surely "able" to look both ways, even though most of them probably never even think about it, perhaps we too are able to "see" or "sense" or "percieve" these potentially thwarting forces in our lives. They are otherwise unnamable, undescrible, and probably formless... but that doesn't mean they're not out there.

Hopefully you got an idea of the point I'm trying to get across. So don't only look both ways when you go home today, but on that deeper level look both ways. Or at least think about it.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Cured from the Plague of Ideas

For the last year or so, my primary creative and intellectual endeavor has revolved around my recording of what I've come to call a "personal mythology." Essentially it is a story, which I sometimes refer to it as (along with "book" or "novel"). In the end though, I feel that my primary purpose in this effort is to create my own mythological world which is created from and sustained by my own personal experience. This has become my "task of tasks," as Jung described a similar effort in his life, which most every hour of my life is somehow devoted to.

The analogy I have grown fond of using is the following: given a huge rectangular slab of granite, I've been bestowed with a "vision" of a yet-unformed sculpture within. I feel it is my duty to bring this sculpture out of the granite. This involves sculpting, carving, planning, and so on. Little by little, the sculpture takes form. From head to toe I go, over and over again, chipping away bits and peices of the rock as I go. From a short-term perspective, the progress seems trivial and almost futile. Yet when examined from afar, inklings of definite progress can be seen.

This project has made me very attentive to the ideas that fuel it. These ideas, in some sense, might be said to be "made up" by me, though I'm not entirely happy with that description. Somehow, I feel the ideas are "out there" and it is my job to capture them, like lightning in a bottle or a firefly in a jar. In this sense, I am almost like a servant to these ideas.

I once heard a story about JRR Tolkein describing the first thing he ever wrote about what would become his Middle Earth mythology. It was a cryptic poem describing a journey over the sea on some boat or something. The poem was based on a dream he'd had. He read it to a friend, who asked him in return, "What does it mean?" Tolkein thought for a moment, and then answered: "I don't know... I'll have to find out." That is what I'm talking about. To "make up" an idea is suggestive of forming it out of nothing. I don't know if I can believe this. Experience suggests to me (as does this Tolkein story) that the ideas are already there... it is up to us to go find them, go track them down and bring them into the light. The idea, then -- these "master" themes or forms exist beyond us, and it is merely us who bring them into the world. And in doing so, perhaps we attach to them a bit of our "cultural" experience. This, to me, sounds like a key definition of myth (or at least part of the definition of myth).

Anyway -- back to the ideas. I have grown near obsessive in my attempts to ensure the recording of these ideas as they come to me. For the most part, this involves writing them down. I've become increasingly effecient at writing down as little as needed so that I can later recall the idea in question. This sometimes happens on note cards or napkins, but for the most part is done on my laptop. A recent saving grace has been my cell phone -- in just 4 button strokes, I can be 2 seconds away from leaving a voice memo to myself. This has been invaluable.

At times, however, the ideas can be too much. While engaged in a conversation with a friend, colleague, or family member, (for instance) I might find myself struck with a priceless idea. Writing it down is one way to go about things, but that would be a disservice to the current obligation in which I found myself (the conversation). If you forsake the current task (the covnersation, in this case), than what is life for? If the "current task" is always to be sacrificed, what are we left with? Not a good life. Life cannot be all about writing down each and every idea no matter what the expense.

This is a realization I've grasped on some theoretical level, but the practical and thorough understanding of it has yet to come. Until the other night. For it was then when I found myself in one of the best covnersations of all time with my betrothed, while at the same time having arguably some of the "best" ideas I've ever had. (The older I get, the more and more everything seems to be "the best"... I suppose I'm merely learning how to appreciate things).

During this great conversation, which I was fully engaged in on a delightful level, I came to full realization (or at least the fullest realization yet) that it is okay not to write all the ideas down. In fact, there are bound to be more ideas than we could ever write down. I came to peace with this. After all, what is more valuable -- the experience of having a great idea which informs your momentary action? Or the ability to be able to write the idea down?

The transference of ideas is secondary. The having of the idea is primary. Let them inform our experience. That is what they're meant to do. And maybe one day, if we're lucky enough to have enough time, we'll be able to "get them down" and convey them to others. And I close, now, with a brief excerpt from my personal notes about this general concept.
Find peace with the fate of these “undelivered” ideas – for they will surely remain for another Hero to one day discover, and with any luck, successfully retrieve where you had failed. In this sense, we might be seen as the potential rescuers of the ideas our ancestors could not fully rescue... just as our own descendants will bring light to the ideas that we must pass up.

There is always more we can do, and there is never enough time to do it. Once we realize this, we’re finally free to enjoy the right now from which the ideas stem. Freedom, inner-peace, liberty, are emancipation become ours.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A Glimpse of What's Coming

Over the past 2-3 weeks or so I've been incredibly busy learning Adobe Illustrator. The little kid inside me who loves to draw and color has been resurrected, and it is quite glorious. There are so, so, so many things I imagine myself doing with this. Coupled with web design, these first serious steps into the realm of graphics have me greatly excited. I certainly have more to say about this in the near future.

In the meantime, check out a new graphics blog I've started. It is being hosted over at my new web domain, This blog will soon be moved over there... probably sooner than you think. Anyway, check it out. Its a far different blog than what you see here -- but tons of fun in its own way.

PS -- So, I just checked out this aforementioned blog for the first time in Internet Explorer... and it looks like total shit. And I'm not about to change it right now. So, if you're using IE, be warned! It looks horrible. Problems with the .png transparency and the width of the central column.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Coffeeshop Adventures

Throughout the past two months or so I've found myself visiting the local coffeeshop several times a week. This has not been to hang out with friends, meet people, perform social experiments, or otherwise be cool. My aim has been a creative one, for the coffeeshop serves as the perfect local spot for me to go about my creative pursuits (usually writing) in relative peace.

I've probably made it to the coffeeshop between 15-20 times in this time, and above all things I've come to appreciate the meaning and importance of "ritualizing" whatever experience you're seeking. For instance, I could most certainly do my writing (or whatever) at "home" -- the noise distractions might be less, I'd probably spend less money, and I'd be quite nearby all of my personal possesions should I require them.

But these are the exact things I'm not looking for. In fact, it is these very things I'm trying to get away from.

When it comes down to it, it is adventure I seek. While many may look at a 3 hour trip to the coffeeshop as a poor excuse for a creative adventure, I am certain they are mistaken. For it is a journey frought with its own sort of peril, unpredictability, and mystery. By putting yourself out there into the unknown, you open yourself up to the forces (of both good and bad) that may help or hinder your creative quest.

I don't want the peace, quiet and comfort of my home. Too much peace stifles one's inner-drive for action. Too much quiet makes even the smallest disturbance an avalanche of frustration. And too much comfort invites distraction at every moment. In setting myself away from these things, I'm "putting myself out there" and forcing myself to use my supplies, knowledge, and wits to deal with any and all situations and predicaments I might find myself in. You must leave the comfortable confines of the village if you're to bring back to the flame from the depths of the forest.

And so, in each journey to the coffeeshop I do find myself on an adventure. Will I get there okay? So far so good, but I can never be certain. Will it be crowded or empty? I've seen both ends of the specturm, each of which have their relative ups and downs. Will I find a seat alright? Far from trivial and meaningless, one's seat can make or break the adventure. Will I spill my coffee, get my laptop stolen, or get into a fight? All things are possible.

Perhaps I'm going overboard in my dramatization and glorification of these things... though on some level I speak the truth. It has, for instance, been a beautiful thing to watch my comfort-level and confidence slightly swell with each visit. Slowly and little by little am I learning the menu, finding my preferred seats, recognizing the regulars, and noticing the small differences that can boost an experience from routine to majestic.

Rather recently, for instance, have I recognized that this very coffeeshop holds in it all the things I loved about the University of Maryland Food Coop, which (until recently) had been my most treasured little hang-out throughout each week. I realize now that it was not the Food Coop I was in love with, but the meaning and ritual that I found therein. This same meaning and ritual has been rediscovered at this local coffeeshop, and will surely be rediscovered in various different disguises (and facilities) as my life rolls on by.

Most importantly, it is the magic of the small things that bring enchantment to my each and every visit. Last week I found myself sitting in a new seat in a new room and noticed a bookshelf tucked away in the nearby corner. I had never noticed this before... had it manifested itself out of nowhere? I found myself imagining the hundreds of different readers of the dozens of different old and tattered books. In each reading of a book, I've always believed, the reader transfers something back to the book (just as the book transfers something to the reader). This spirit or energy remains, and lies dormant and waiting for all who might next open the cover. Sitting next to this bookshelf, I allow its gentle winds to rush over me, perhaps guiding me so that I might find the treasure I seek.

Another great thing about this coffeeshop is its beautiful lack of conformity in its decoration. Everything clashes to an extent that there is total union and harmony. Each chair is different, for instance, and this is another thing I have come to love. For it is in picking your seat when the nature of your forthcoming adventure is decided. This is something I've become aware of and grown to respect enormously. I think of all others who have sat in this chair before me on their own adventures. Be they writing a poem, drawing a picture, planning a murder or starting a religion -- something of their journey has been left in this chair, and (for better or worse) is waiting to be conferred to me. I too, I know, have something to give back to this chair at the night's end. And so it goes, continued by all for the many who've yet to make it this far along.

And lastly, we have the prescious and ever-important beverage that defines my each visit to the coffeeshop. In a recent conversation with a friend, I commented on the fact that I have yet to visit the coffeeshop without purchasing something to drink (coffee or tea). [Note: the coffeeshop in question is certainly NOT a place where you're at all forced or in anyway pressured to buy something. They're simply happy to have your company] I find myself wondering, is this healthy? Is this showing a sign of weakness -- that I am unable to find the worth of an adventure without a little boost from a cup of coffee?

Ultimately, we decided the answer was no -- this was not unhealthy. From a financial standpoint, spending $2.25 three or four times a week is quite sustainable, especially considering how mUch I might spend at a bar or at other places instead. From a health standpoint, knowing that the only caffeine I ever ingest comes from these visits has me without worry at all. From a social standpoint, I totally realize that my "identity" or "image" is not at all defined or dependant upon me questing to be this "cool townie post-grad artist who drinks exotic coffee at the local dive coffeeshop." That isn't what its about at all.

The answer is this -- just with the coffeeshop visits in a wider scope, it is the sheer ritual of each cup of coffee purchased that brings meaning and importance to the table. In this cup of coffee (I have grown to see), the fortunes of my adventure are to be found. The wisdom lies not within the coffee or the caffeine... the wisdom lies within me. And it is this coffee (and perhaps the caffeine) that help guide me to this inner-wisdom and retrieve it from the depths. Just as mythology describes for us countless tales of the Hero who braves the darkness in hopes of stealing the fire, I too -- in my every visit to the coffeeshop -- utilize the quite-satisfactory aid of my worthy guide (the coffee) to help me retrieve the fire from the darkness within.

And in doing so the treasure is found... treasure that remains when the last sip has been consumed, after the coffeeshop shuts its doors, and the sun has set. Even after I am long gone, the to-be-Heroes among us may hear my hushed whispers of guidance still sounding in the chairs I've sat in, the cups I've drank from, and the coffeeshop where adventure was had and treasure was found.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Internet Explorer and the Archons

In my novice understanding of Gnostic mythology, the archons are the forces who act to keep us all trapped and shut away from the "transcendent source" we all inherently seek (whether or not we're consciously aware of it). The best pop-culture example of the archons would be the Agents in the Matrix -- their primary purpose is control -- keep us blind, occluded, unaware of what is really going on. In Stephen Pressfield's book The War of Art, I would say his thoroughly-defined concept of "resistance" is a pretty-much exact summation of what these archons are all about (i.e., the internal forces acting to keep us from becoming who we're fully capable of becoming).

The general idea, then, is that we're pretty much required to stand up to and face these archons (or agents or resistence) if we're to make it to the destination we belong. And it won't be easy, for their primary concern is to keep us down and shut-off from this destination. In The Matrix, the entire character development of Neo is based upon this very notion -- he must stand up to the Agents. It takes him the entire movie and even a few near-failed attempts. But in the end, after he "begins to believe," he achieves this goal. Their bullets and kung-fu (ie, their means of control) have absolutely nothing on him. In a sense, Neo provides a metaphorical example of what we must all do.

In my dabblings into Gnosticism, there is a certain idea or philosophy about the archons that is come across quite frequently, and it is this: even though they seem to be against us, evil, and entirely antagonistic, they're actually on our side. How could this be? How could forces who seek to maintain control and power over us be working alongside of us? The answer -- they're there to push us, to test us, to bring the best out of us. They may not (and probably don't) realize they're on our side, but that doesn't matter. For indeed, without their constant and all-pervasive threat, they would not help us become the individuals we're capable of becoming.

Back to The Matrix, for a second. In the second film in the trilogy, we learn that there have in fact been many previous incarnations of "The One" (Neo) who have all successfully reached the Source. This is, in fact, what "The Architect" (the creator of the Matrix) wants (so he can somehow improve/perfect the Matrix). But hold on a second -- if this guy wants Neo to make it to this door, why the hell did he make his life hell with all of these Agents? Why not give Neo a free ride to the Source and get on with it already?

The answer is not simply "because we wouldn't have a movie." The true solution has to do with the Agents -- the archons -- existing to help Neo. What is more important -- Neo being told he is "The One"? Or instead, Neo going through a long process of trials that -- in the end -- leave him 100% believing he is the one? I would most certainly go with the latter here. The Agents, then, are of primary importance -- through their trials and tests they ensure that the individual is 100% worthy of his destined throne.

At the end of the day, then, we can thank the archons -- for without them, the cakewalk that would be life would be without challenge, test, trial, or tribulation. And we would consequently be lesser folks because of it.

Now to Internet Explorer. In the past few months I've been rather heavily immersed into the webdesign world of HTML and CSS. And what have I found therein? Through experience, I've found personal verification of the whispered rumours that have been heard for many long years: IE is a royal pain-in-the-ass when it comes to design. In fact, I daresay it sucks. I've always heard people say this, but never had a reason to agree. But now I see exactly what the big deal is.

Ultimately, there is incompatibility after incompatibility in regard to IE's handling of CSS. And this has been the case for year after year after year. In the incredibly rich and dynamic world of CSS style, techniques, layout, and desgin -- it seems that IE is always the browser that crashes the party. It is the thorn in the side. It is the pain in the ass. And with almost 85%+ of the population using IE, the answer is not as simple as "then don't design pages for IE." For if you're a web designer of any sort (for fun or for business), IE-users are invariably a huge bulk of your audience and cannot be ignored.

So what has happened? Well, it has made the HTML and CSS community that much more resilient. Hack after hack has come along -- which aren't really dangerous "hacks" as much as lines of code that "trick" IE into behaving as it should. As an excited student of webdesign, this has proven to be very frustrating for me. As hard as it is to learn any new language (or whatever), it certainly is a bummer when irrational and illogical rules are frequently stepping on your toes and keeping you back. But I've recently found peace with this.

For, just as the archons or Agents (or whatever) seem to be there to stop us, control us, and keep us held back -- in the end they only make us stronger. And so it is the same with Internet Explorer. As much as part of me wishes I lived in a land without IE telling me what I couldn't do, I'm glad in a way that it does exist. For me and for all the CSS students and experts out there, the best thing about IE is that it makes us better at what we do. It forces us to adapt, evolve, and figure things out. And as the new challenges and trails show their ugly faces (as they most probably will), we all will be there to figure out a way to get around them. Where there is a will, there is a way. So as much as many of us may hate IE, let us ultimately give it thanks and a small grin for forcing us to become better folks.