2.14.19

Last August, I started reading Katy Bowman’s work about biomechanics and movement ecology, about the impact of sedentary culture on human bodies, health, and function. Katy is prolific – she’s written a lot and recorded a lot (audio and video) so I’m still reading and finding a lot to learn not only from what she says but also the way she thinks and reasons. I’ve recommended various books and video clips and podcast episodes to friends and others who I think might find them useful or interesting, but I’ve been trying to figure out what I might post here in the way of entry points to Katy’s work. This recent episode of a podcast called Broken Brain on which Katy was a guest seems like a good overview of her work: https://drhyman.com/blog/2019/01/10/bb-ep37/

I also like this very short illustrated video from Katy about movement and sedentary culture:

and again

The poet, reading the work that gives title to his new collection, repeats the first line and then another, a few lines later. I assume he’s written it that way; it’s such a simple thing to do and the effect so striking. Later I read it myself off the page and find there is only one of each line and it is still beautiful but not stunning without the repetition. Also I realize he rendered it a particular way in print, and then an entirely other way aloud. Which way was the way he meant it? Why not repeat the lines on the page, as when he read it aloud? I was dying to know, and basked in this secret power which repetition had hidden from me. Repetition is dull, I would have told you. Lazy and boring and unnecessary.

Except, of course, when it’s not, which I suppose I should have known from song.

“…as the disputants approach the ground…”

From Bruce Alexander’s Globalisation of Addiction:

“The genius of a successful culture is that it provides adequately for individual autonomy and social belonging at the same time – a balancing act of the greatest virtuosity, since the needs often conflict with each other.  The crucial flaw of globalising free-market society is that the balance has shifted so far in favour of individualism that it is now extremely difficult to recover equilibrium because of the catastrophic damage – environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual – that this imbalance has already caused. The remedy for this imbalance is not a shift to the other extreme of all-encompassing collectivism, but reestablishment of the balance, if this is still possible.

Perhaps the vacuous and simplistic nature of contemporary political rhetoric reflects a loss of faith that the essential balancing act can be achieved. Imagine a pair of circus acrobats who have just tripped and fallen off a high wire in the middle of their performance, one on the left side of the wire and the other on the right side. As they hurtle downward, they can be heard bombastically arguing about whether it is more intelligent and graceful to be on the right or the left of the wire. In reality, of course, only the act of balancing itself has any intelligence and grace. The absurdity of the dispute becomes more and more evident as the disputants approach the ground.”

Alexander’s book and his perspective on the phenomenon of addiction challenge conventional beliefs and paradigms about the nature of human behavior, and I can hear the likely objections and disagreements knocking around in my mind as I read. And then there are passages like this one which seem hard to argue with no matter what one’s beliefs or chosen paradigms.

on loan

From a poem by Tony Hoagland:

Now go, God said,
Into the country of love

Change it with your experiments
Don’t be intimidated    Enjoy your skin

Impress me
Make something grow

For your bravery merely in undertaking
This impossible task

I will make you a special loan called Time

How excellent, I thought as I read this, to think of time as a special loan – offered as an acknowledgment of courage and with the invitation to leave things other than you found them.

personhood

The day was dull with scientific notation.  Sarah didn’t want to be there with me at all.  As I often do when I meet a young person for the first time, I asked her about her interests. She said right away “I hate school. Actually, I love school.  I just hate math.” She didn’t bother to answer my question.  She went right to what she hates, and who could blame her when there it was, math, moving her around like a puppeteer, straight from school to tutoring?

But she was ready to tackle her homework, because at least that could get done while her afternoon ticked away.  She didn’t have a pencil, so I reached to get one from my desk drawer.  I was about to pick up the closest one and then stopped and looked up at her first.  “Which would you prefer,” I asked, “plain old wooden or mechanical?”

She paused before responding. “Mechanical,” she said.  As I handed her the pencil, she took a deeper, slower breath.

The rest of the hour pivoted around this question about the pencil.  It was nothing – a tiny moment – only it wasn’t.  When I thought about it afterward, I realized it was because the general condition of student-hood is mostly free of person-hood, in that students are expected to set aside preference. In fact, preference doesn’t even usually figure in enough to be set aside.

Preference and choice are not the same.  Some schools have lots of choice.  Choice of research topics, choice of Spanish or French, choice of lunch beverage.  Granting preference acknowledges a person’s person-ness in a way that choice doesn’t.  Choice says “The options have already been decided, and it has also been decided that you get to choose from among them.”

To grant preference is not necessarily active.  It’s an acknowledgement that a person has preferences and that those preferences are part of what constitutes their being and person-hood.  It doesn’t matter what kind of pencil a 12 year-old prefers, and she’s generally at liberty to select her own pencil, keep it with her, and no one has to know.  But if there are two kinds of pencil available, and I’m sitting across from a 12 year-old person, I know I’m less likely to ask her preference than I would be if I were sitting across from a 35 year-old person or a 62 year-old person. The relationship between adult and child is usually “I’ll handle this; you just follow my lead/instructions. Here’s a pencil for you to use.”  It’s not usually “Which kind of pencil would you prefer?” And it’s not because there isn’t time to ask.

I didn’t happen upon this because I was keen enough to notice and take an opportunity to treat someone better. I didn’t think to myself “Oh, I should ask what Sarah prefers, and that’ll be a better way to treat her.”  I just noticed that I would behave differently with an adult from how I was about to behave with her. Which I suppose is where we can begin.

phantom loads

For awhile several years ago I was really interested in solar-powered electricity, and one of the things you hear a lot about in that realm is phantom load. A phantom load is anything that’s quietly drawing electricity even when it’s not really doing anything noticeable like shedding light or heating something up. Stovetop clocks, power strip lights, and wireless routers are all culprits. These little loads don’t use much power, but when you can only draw power from the small solar panel array on your roof (as opposed to from the electrical grid), you keep more careful track of what you’re using.

I don’t have solar power at my house but from time to time I still think about phantom loads. The other night I was walking through the dark upstairs hall and the little light on a hard-wired smoke detector caught my eye. “Phantom load,” I said out loud to the detector, and into my memory popped a line I once heard about being kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. (The original language, from the Scottish preacher Ian Maclaren, seems to have been “be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.”) That in turn reminded me of something the writer Anne Lamott has said about how you shouldn’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. We don’t know what goes on for other people, nor they for us.

All such wisdom seems especially apt now that we all have such ready access to curated feeds of others’ lives (in other words, their outsides). Meanwhile, everyone’s carrying their own phantom loads – burdens that are invisible to the naked or careless eye, sapping energy all the live long day. And there’s a way in which the smaller ones can take a greater overall toll thanks to their invisibility. When I think of my time as a classroom teacher, I know that when I’d hear that a student had lost a family member or was dealing with a severe illness, I’d take particular care with the child. But if one of my students was struggling with something less worthy of mention, like a chronically contentious relationship with a sibling, or stomach pain from an undiagnosed food allergy, a proclivity for nightmares (or all three), I usually wouldn’t hear about it and the child’s internal battle would carry on without acknowledgment or support.

It’s hard to imagine we could get much done if we tried to suss out every load carried by every person in every circumstance, never mind try to address them all. But if there were some way we could even just acknowledge that the loads are there, especially for young children who often feel as though they are the only ones struggling (and thus get the idea that something must be wrong with or defective about them), I think that could be worth a lot.

12.1.17

The other day, one of the teenagers I know was talking about one of her teachers and how on certain days he plays music from one of his favorite albums during part of class. She said “He plays it in every class he hosts that day.”

When she’d finished telling the story I asked her about her choice of verb, because of course “host” isn’t what you’d expect in this context, but it hadn’t seemed like an accident. She said “Yeah, I’m not sure why I said it that way, but it seemed like what I meant.”

We had other things to talk about so I didn’t dwell on it. I just wanted to know if she’d chosen the word more or less on purpose. From the sound of it, in that particular teacher’s class, this student feels more like a guest than a… subject, the way many do in many classes.

A small thing, except not at all.

beginners

I made this little thing a couple of years ago on a day when I was trying to learn something new and being somewhat less than patient with myself:

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I keep it around for two reasons. First, to keep reminding myself to go easy on me when I’m new to something. Second, because it occurred to me that other people are probably often trying new things when I don’t realize they are, and I would do well to share some of that same patience I was looking to muster when I wrote out the little message.