THIRTY FIVE

I was a classically “high risk” teenager, and as an adult I’ve occasionally felt a bit of anxiety about… surviving, I guess is the best way to put it. It’s easy, particularly for women, to feel like a fraud when faced with success, and it can be hard to spend time thinking about former friends who ended up in less fortunate positions than I have. In trying to understand this process, the idea of psychological resilience has become very important to me. Many psychologists and researchers argue that (rather than “happiness”) resilience is a better way to describe the opposite of depression. That is to say that people who have nurtured this kind of internal practice are more equipped to deal with and avoid feelings of hopelessness. The American Psychological Association actually has some great resources, including a note called “10 ways to build resilience” quoted here: 

“Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.

Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.

Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.

Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”

Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.

Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.

Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.

Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.

Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.

Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.”

In any case, this really resonates for me. Fall down seven times, stand up eight, right?

THIRTY THREE

So it seems like we’ll be in Peru sometime in the next six months, and it only occurred to me now that we’ll have time to go sandboarding at Cerro Blanco. We had initially planned to do Everest Base Camp this summer, but decided to start with the Inca Trail because our work schedules are a bit complicated and the Lukla airport is slightly less than reliable. Next year — but for now, climbing runes and hurling ourselves down sand dunes just in time for festival season sounds fine to me.

THIRTY TWO

I’ve had this incredibly vivid dream several times now where I’m standing in a warmly-lit room, like a yoga studio, and I have a sort of three dimensional screen in front of me. I have tight blue gloves on, and I’m using the gloves inside the screen space to sculpt a massive slab of clay. The clay, even though it’s just an image, feels heavy and wet and soft through the gloves, and I make all kinds of things with it : an animal shape, a bowl, a cup. Sometimes I press a button, and then rows and rows of the object I made start to appear on a shiny conveyor belt running through my studio room in different colours and sizes. I normally pick one of the objects and leave the room, like this is no particularly big deal at all.

So in my sleep I suppose I dreamt up a 3D sculpting and printing machine — which isn’t much of a far-off idea at all, which is probably the strangest part about it.

THIRTY

Bradbury on science fiction:

“INTERVIEWER
Why do you write science fiction? 

RAY BRADBURY
Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.

Imagine if sixty years ago, at the start of my writing career, I had thought to write a story about a woman who swallowed a pill and destroyed the Catholic Church, causing the advent of women’s liberation. That story probably would have been laughed at, but it was within the realm of the possible and would have made great science fiction. If I’d lived in the late eighteen hundreds I might have written a story predicting that strange vehicles would soon move across the landscape of the United States and would kill two million people in a period of seventy years. Science fiction is not just the art of the possible, but of the obvious. Once the automobile appeared you could have predicted that it would destroy as many people as it did.”

TWENTY EIGHT

From a Paris Review interview with Sybille Bedford:

“INTERVIEWER
Then you wrote another book on law: The Faces of Justice. When did you become interested in law?

BEDFORD
When I was twelve and lived in London with a family who let me do pretty well as I wished, I used to go to the law courts in the Strand instead of going to films or matinees. For awhile I toyed with the idea of becoming a barrister. I didn’t have the education, and anyway women at the time were considered to have the wrong voice for it. However, going to law courts is a good education for a novelist. It provides you with the most extravagant material, and it teaches the near impossibility of reaching the truth.”

 

TWENTY SIX

Asimov visits the World Fair in 2014:

“Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica (shown in chill splendor as part of the ’64 General Motors exhibit).

For that matter, you will be able to reach someone at the moon colonies, concerning which General Motors puts on a display of impressive vehicles (in model form) with large soft tires*intended to negotiate the uneven terrain that may exist on our natural satellite.

Any number of simultaneous conversations between earth and moon can be handled by modulated laser beams, which are easy to manipulate in space. On earth, however, laser beams will have to be led through plastic pipes, to avoid material and atmospheric interference. Engineers will still be playing with that problem in 2014.

Conversations with the moon will be a trifle uncomfortable, but the way, in that 2.5 seconds must elapse between statement and answer (it takes light that long to make the round trip). Similar conversations with Mars will experience a 3.5-minute delay even when Mars is at its closest. However, by 2014, only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works and in the 2014 Futurama will show a model of an elaborate Martian colony.

As for television, wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set; but transparent cubes will be making their appearance in which three-dimensional viewing will be possible. In fact, one popular exhibit at the 2014 World’s Fair will be such a 3-D TV, built life-size, in which ballet performances will be seen. The cube will slowly revolve for viewing from all angles.

One can go on indefinitely in this happy extrapolation, but all is not rosy.”

 

TWENTY FOUR

I feel like I’m way too young to have a creeping fear of my own mortality, but every year around my birthday it happens anyway. 

This year the feeling is more acute than usual, I think because I’ve spent a good deal of time with my aging grandparents over the holidays. They’re interesting people, but full of the kind of stubborn attitude and reckless self-reliance that you’d expect from people who came of age in the years following the Depression. I find it a tremendous exercise in patience to talk to them (and in particular to my grandmother) about politics; they’ve bought that myth of the self-made man wholesale. I wasn’t proud of it, but last night I finally lost my cool and just walked away mid-sentence from an argument about public pensions.

I know it’s not right to think that I know any better than them, and I should work on listening to elders in my life more. It’s so consistently shocking to me though that the rhetoric of the right wing is so effective at captivating otherwise thoughtful, intelligent, empathetic people like my grandparents.

I’m always jarred to see them spouting talking points about “entitled school teachers” or denying climate change, certain that the whole problem was some vast liberal conspiracy that only AM talk radio can uncover. And it makes me sad: as momentarily exasperated as I was, I felt really protective of them last night. These beliefs aren’t ones they’ve had all their lives, after all. Rather, it’s like they’ve spent the last decade steeped in fear: of immigrants, of science, of the government, of change. And the future is frightening, surely, but frightening in ways likely exacerbated by the kinds of politicians my grandparents are made to support. 

As they become a bit more vulnerable and elderly, they fear that others will take advantage of them, and they take pride in their mistrust of institutions, the taxman, the state. What I find startling is that the political line of thinking they’ve adopted in this light is one which appears literally hell-bent on dismantling whatever remaining state systems exist to actually support them. In other words, they’ve been sold just the political myths that most dramatically undermine the institutions designed to help people in their situation.

I really worry that one day I’ll be afraid enough to believe stories like that too (or that I’m ignorant enough to fail to recognize the ways I already do believe stories like that).

TWENTY THREE

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of my free time prioritizing close, one-on-one moments with friends. I really admire that so many of them are incredible listeners—thoughtful, active, engaged people to speak with and who focus on making others feel heard.

Unfortunately, I’ve also been spending a lot of time working on projects with people who do an awful lot less listening. The more I work with organizations in conflict, the more I feel that intervention at the level of person-to-person communication skills is the most essential work I do lately.

I really like the 10 Steps To Effective Listening here.

TWENTY TWO

Shareable recently wrote about the proliferation of new hackerspaces and the relationship between these community spaces and creative action. They include this awesome TEDx talk by Mitch Altman, who I had the pleasure of helping with a workshop to teach soldering to kids this summer at OHM.

This stuff gives me a lot of hope.

TWENTY ONE

Albert Camus’ Nobel acceptance speech. (full text here)

“Je ne puis vivre personnellement sans mon art. Mais je n’ai jamais placé cet art au-dessus de tout. S’il m’est nécessaire au contraire, c’est qu’il ne se sépare de personne et me permet de vivre, tel que je suis, au niveau de tous. L’art n’est pas à mes yeux une réjouissance solitaire. Il est un moyen d’émouvoir le plus grand nombre d’hommes en leur offrant une image privilégiée des souffrances et des joies communes. Il oblige donc l’artiste à ne pas se séparer ; il le soumet à la vérité la plus humble et la plus universelle. Et celui qui, souvent, a choisi son destin d’artiste parce qu’il se sentait différent apprend bien vite qu’il ne nourrira son art, et sa différence, qu’en avouant sa ressemblance avec tous. L’artiste se forge dans cet aller retour perpétuel de lui aux autres, à mi-chemin de la beauté dont il ne peut se passer et de la communauté à laquelle il ne peut s’arracher. C’est pourquoi les vrais artistes ne méprisent rien ; ils s’obligent à comprendre au lieu de juger. Et s’ils ont un parti à prendre en ce monde ce ne peut être que celui d’une société où, selon le grand mot de Nietzsche, ne règnera plus le juge, mais le créateur, qu’il soit travailleur ou intellectuel.”