Peace and Good Will

While I am not a religious person, I do strive to appreciate and practice the universal values that are reflected in many religions as well as in the humanistic strands of non-belief. Looking back on it, much of this year for me has been spent on self-care and care for immediate family and friends. I’ve found the four boundless abodes of Buddhism – loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity – a useful framework for navigating all of this. Between a new job that wound up bringing a lot more work than anyone originally planned during its first year, medical needs for friends and family, and an election that generated bursts of stress all year long, it hasn’t been an easy one.

Now, though, as I look ahead to 2017, and with the current season being what it is, I want to take some time to think about peace and good will.

Peace

When I think about peace, I often fall back on one or the other of two flawed images.

The first is far too abstract and takes a scope so wide as to be disempowering. “Peace on Earth” turns into a mental picture of happy children from all countries playing together, with a vague sense of no interpersonal strife occurring anywhere. That’s obviously not going to happen (certainly not in the next year), and it’s tough to imagine a path to a world that looks anything like that. When this becomes my go-to understanding of peace, it’s easy for it to become somebody else’s problem.

The second flawed image is thinking of peace at too individual and passive a level. When I first think of a peaceful person, I think of someone sitting quietly, often with their eyes closed, and a smile on their face. This might be what someone who has achieved inner peace looks like, but it’s probably a temporary state for them and certainly not the entirety of what peace means.

Peace can be concrete and immediate, and most versions require more than one person. And it certainly is not passive.

I also think (as is true of most things) that we can think of peacefulness on a spectrum. The idea of going from “Earth Without Peace” to “Peace on Earth” is often too big a jump to seem real or achievable; “a more peaceful world” is easier to grasp.

I am not personally able to stop the wars that create refugees – “Peace on Earth” is outside of my individual scope. What I can do is encourage my elected leaders to take in refugees and be publicly welcoming in my own immediate community. That could help make for a more peaceful world. Turning away those in need of a new place to live, by contrast, would only increase their turmoil and would make for a less peaceful world. Also worth noting here is that fears of violent refugees are so often overblown, not to mention counter-productive in the long run as they deepen suspicions and encourage resentment, that they make for a less peaceful world.

Deporting innocent people, and breaking up families and communities in the process, makes the world less peaceful. Creating an environment of fear for anyone based on their identity makes the world less peaceful. Bullying or lashing out at those who are different makes the world less peaceful.

Resisting these – contacting government officials, participating in or leading nonviolent protest, speaking up when it happens in front of you, offering support to those who have been victimized – makes the world more peaceful. Again, peace is not passive. (As it turns out, they don’t even share an etymological connection – “passive” is ultimately derived from the Latin pati, which refers to “suffering,” and not from pax, the Latin word for peace.)

As a final note, the active pursuit of a more peaceful world is a lifelong marathon. It’s necessary to take time for self-care, healing, and general recuperation along the way. Sometimes that means an hour, sometimes it means a year or more. And that’s OK.

Good Will

I think it’s fair to say that the U.S. has suffered from a widespread lack of good will for more than just the last year. Lack of trust in, well, just about everything, has been growing.

Too many of us have sorted ourselves into closed circles. In those circles, group-level confirmation bias about how much everyone else looks down on or hates us has sunk in. We remember the slights (real or imagined) much more readily and with greater clarity than the instances where we were treated decently. As groups, we reward stories of those slights with greater attention than we do stories of being treated decently.

To be clear, I’m talking about our perceptions of others’ feelings and mindsets. Incidents of physical violence should be treated with the greatest seriousness. Concerns about good will are secondary to preserving one’s physical safety. What I’m getting at are the cases where we treat the most extreme attitudes or actions as representative of everyone in a group.

In this context, good will is about approaching another person with empathy, not knowing what pains and experiences they carry with them. It’s about actively listening to them and treating them like a human being.

Will everyone extend us the same courtesy? Of course not. See above about the long-running lack of good will in this country. But changing that requires some of us to take the first steps.

Now, I certainly won’t argue that everyone is entitled to unlimited good will. Those who prove themselves to be violent, or bullies, or obstinately closed-minded aren’t entitled to infinite patience and sympathy.

The trick is telling the difference between those people and others who happen to look like them or have a similar accent. We are often too quick to assume that someone is obstinately closed-minded simply because they are, to pick two examples, from a small rural town in the Midwest or from a city on a coast.

If we start with empathy and patience as often as we have the spoons to do so, we may be able to reverse some of the damage done by our long-standing resentments. I think we certainly have to try.

Thinking Ahead to 2017

It’s been a rough year, but it’s entirely possible that 2017 will be worse. I know a lot of people are dealing with very real fears of how their government could start treating them. I know that others are filled with a more generalized dread. Still others remain full of resentment at the way they believe others view them.

With all of that on the horizon, I’m going to do all I can to promote peace and good will next year. If this year’s taught us anything, it’s that the opposite leads us to bad places.

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Post-Holiday Reading: City of Stairs

You can't tell, but these are stairs to a church. Get it?
From Flickr user rablem22
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rabiem/8610606296/

Following Planetfall, I decided to jump from science fiction to fantasy in the form of Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs. I don’t think I need to wax rhapsodic about the quality of the book too much, as that territory is well-covered, and I agree with the shared high points others have noted: the diverse cast of characters, the intriguing setting, the constant entertainment value, and the jealousy-inducing quality of the writing. This book is smart and fun and cool and left me excited for the next book and interested in checking out Bennett’s back catalog. You should probably read it soon, unless you hate fantasy and/or awesome things.

With the book’s goodness thusly vouched for, I’d like to focus the rest of this post on one of the book’s central concepts. It’s one with some interesting connections to a similarly central idea in Planetfall. That’s right, we’re going to talk about religion!

(Be warned, vague spoilers lurk in the depths beyond!)

Continue reading “Post-Holiday Reading: City of Stairs”

Curation and Slowhacking

As previously discussed, starting a new day job has prompted some reflection and revision of the way I approach my life and my various routines. While I am skeptical about New Year’s resolutions, I have identified a couple of themes that I think will run through my 2016 as well as a host of habits I’m working to establish by year’s end.

So many things staring at you...
From Flickr user K.rol2007 http://bit.ly/1Uhf9aN

Curation

During my year-plus of freelancing, I found myself contemplating the idea of a curated life. My plan is to make this year a test case in doing more to intentionally curate my life and routines.

(Before I go any further, I should note that I have no professional or amateur experience in actual curation, e.g. of art or at a museum. I’m using my understanding of curation as a metaphor for thinking about the idea of intentionally crafting various parts of my life using ideas I’ve acquired elsewhere.)

I’m planning to explore the curated life in quite a bit more detail over the course of the year, but the general thrust is that we all – consciously or not – pick from the huge universe of “Things I Could Be Spending My Time/Thoughts/Energy On” to populate various “galleries” of our lives (e.g. our personal collection, our public exhibit, and a series of intermediate/semi-private galleries with various levels of access). I’m trying to be better about consciously choosing what’s displayed in my various galleries.

 

Slowhacking

I know, I know. The last thing the world needs is another variant on “-hacking”. However, I read and listen to enough things that use the “-hacking” formula that the concept is useful for me.

Continue reading “Curation and Slowhacking”

Post-Holiday Reading: Planetfall

OK, it's actually an upside down sunset. Still pretty cool!
Image from Flickr user Carl Milner
https://www.flickr.com/photos/62766743@N07/11275976366/

This was a very book-themed holiday season for me. Between immediate and extended family and my in-laws, I picked up nine new books. They should merge well with my goal of replacing some screen time with page time.

(Also, they and the new day job mean that the S.H.A.K.E.S.P.E.A.R.E. project has been put on indefinite hold. Since we weren’t very far in, I don’t think anyone will be too disappointed.)

A couple books are more related to my day-job work, but most of them should play well with this space. The first one I jumped into was Emma Newman’s Planetfall.

I’ll preface what follows by saying that I’m a big fan of most stories about space colonies. There’s something about that combination of high-tech exploration, frontier adventure, and city-in-a-bottle social dynamics that really captures my imagination. Planetfall captures a bunch of that, but also adds some additional factors that mean I’ll be coming back to it at least a few more times in an attempt to grok everything it’s doing. [No intentional spoilers follow, but those who want to read the book “cleanly” might want to skip the rest of this post.]

Continue reading “Post-Holiday Reading: Planetfall”

Irregular Programming Will Resume Shortly

Do not adjust your blog-o-vision set...
Image from Flickr user Matthew Dinkins:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/lesiege/79240303/

Hello again, world!

Apologies for my protracted absence. After Halloween, life got very busy with multiple interviews for new a day job, followed by my gratefully accepting a great new position in my professional field of expertise. I’m a couple months into that now, and just starting to build a set of writing and blogging habits that fit well with the new gig.

Leaving the world of freelancing for my first real office job has been quite the transition. Admittedly, my specific case probably isn’t as big a jump as some, given that my new job remains fairly lightly supervised and allows me significant discretion in how I structure my time. Still, I now live with far more objectives and deadlines set by other people. Somewhat unexpectedly, adapting to the new workplace hasn’t been the most disruptive part of the adjustment.

Continue reading “Irregular Programming Will Resume Shortly”

Trick and Treat: The Other Dog

OK, so my last post notwithstanding, I took some of the thoughts that had been percolating about The Thing meets Scooby-Doo and came up with this. I’m not posting it over at Wendig’s because it is neither 3,000-5,000 words long, nor is it a short story. Instead, I offer you this much shorter poem-y thing.

The Other Dog

Our leader is already dead, and yet

her skin still walks among us.

 

I don’t know where the pretty one is, but my friend

thinks she saw him go into the cave.

(If it was him at all.)

 

The scholar drops the flashlight, and I leap for my friend’s arms.

She does the same and we tumble to the dirt, a confused mass of limbs.

 

“Hush!”

 

The scholar stoops to pick up the light, not seeing

the other dog.

 

The other dog, the one who started all of this. Big and clumsy,

or that’s what we thought.

 

The old house was empty,

or that’s what Old Man Carruthers said.

 

The world is full of liars.

 

The other dog howls,

triumphant,

leaping,

biting.

 

The scholar falls, and his jaws seize her sweater,

and he is pulling,

pulling,

pulling her into the gloom.

 

My friend and I whimper and look at each other, and then

I am running. Running into the darkness.

My friend follows, as she always does.

 

Few can be trusted, but

a few is not none.

 

The old house was haunted,

or that’s what Ms. Winthrop, the actor, said.

 

People had died there, and a dog, too,

she’d said with the brush in her hair.

 

That’s why she’d called us,

she’d said, looking through her hair at the pretty one.

 

The sound of ripping comes to us,

deeper in the cave.

We run faster.

 

The scholar shakes, a patch from her sweater gone, and

one hand cradled in the other.

 

My friend and I whimper again, knowing

the bite is how it starts.

 

Carruthers, Jr. was the first to go,

minutes after he let us into the house.

 

We saw the other dog for a moment,

as it pulled Junior away,

and then the screams,

and then nothing.

 

At first, our leader suggested we split up. Then

she and the pretty one found Junior.

 

Or that’s what they thought.

 

None of us are what we appear.

 

My friend helps the scholar up, and

we walk deeper into the cave.

 

There are no answers behind us, even if

all that lies ahead is danger.

 

We seek the truth, even when

it is dangerous.

That is our code.

 

It looked like Junior, but

it did not smell like him,

it did not speak like him,

it did not move like him.

 

It chased us, and we ran, because

there is no shame in running.

 

Running is what keeps us alive, except

when it doesn’t.

 

None of us can run forever.

 

There is a lake in the cave, and

we find our leader’s tattered coat beside it,

and the pretty one’s shredded shirt,

and Junior’s ragged cap.

 

Many tunnels lead away from the cave, and

the night’s chill speaks of rain and thunder.

 

We do not see

the other dog.

 

We searched the old house for our leader, but

she did not appear.

 

We moved to the garden,

the path,

the woods.

 

And there she was,

only bitten, not killed,

or that’s what we thought.

 

Nothing frightens like a friend.

 

It looked like our leader, but

it did not smell like her,

it did not speak like her,

it did not move like her.

 

It chased us, and we ran, because

there is no shame in running.

 

Running is what keeps us alive, except

when it doesn’t.

 

None of us can run forever.

 

Something comes from a tunnel, and

we cower in the shadows.

 

The scholar has gone pale, and

my friend and I share a worried look.

 

Maybe we should not trust her, and yet

how could she betray us?

 

The other dog is huge, bigger than I remember, and yet

it does not smell like a dog,

it does not speak like a dog,

it does not move like a dog.

 

It smells and speaks and moves like…

 

“Hey, you!”

 

It is our leader!

And the pretty one!

In the tunnels!

 

The other dog is running!

 

We chase it, and it runs, but

there is shame in its running.

 

Running is how we know it’s guilty, especially when

we catch it.

 

None of us are what we appear.

 

There is a woman inside

the other dog.

 

“Ms. Winthrop?”

 

We are all confused until

she tells us of her plan.

 

A one-woman show, about

the unfortunate souls who died,

killed by the monsters in themselves.

 

She needed the story to be true first, and so

she needed us to die.

 

Makeup, costumes, and stage magic

took care of the rest.

 

“And you would have gotten away with it, too…”

 

Our leader’s arms are on her hips, and

she smiles that familiar smile.

 

But Ms. Winthrop smiles, too, and

I do not like her teeth.

 

“Silly child, I have gotten away with it.

“Because this is not your story.”

 

There is something in the lake, and

it is coming.

 

The water tears back to reveal

The other other dog.

 

But it is not a dog.

 

It is bigger.

It is worse.

It is angry.

 

Running is what keeps us alive, except

when it doesn’t.

 

None of us can run forever.

Happy All Hallows’ Eve Eve Eve!

Yes, this is an obligatory Jack O'Lantern picture.
From Flickr user Randy Robertson
Click picture for link to original.

This, that, and the other thing have kept me from completing Wendig’s Halloween challenge. (“This” being potentially exciting progress for possible long-term professional opportunities, “that” being the start of a new part-time gig until the long-term situation stabilizes, and “the other thing” being a lack of effort on my part.) I’d pulled The Thing meets Scooby-Doo, and while some ideas continue to percolate, that story will not be written between now and tomorrow at noon.

Tomorrow, of course, being Halloween Eve, or All Hallow’s Eve Eve if you’re feeling puckish. If you’re feeling as puckish as I am right now, that makes today All Hallow’s Eve Eve Eve, a term which I am shocked is not in more common usage.

For my spouse and me, this means dropping our adorable dog off with some neighbors for the weekend (he’ll be thrilled; it’s where his best friend lives) and hitting the road at 9am tomorrow for the drive to Chicago. I’ve got a small group of friends from my college years that are scattered to the winds, and we try to get together once a year. This works a little more than half the time if weddings are included, and less than half the time if they aren’t. The idea for Halloween came together fairly quickly, and I’m very much looking forward to it. (Even moreso since the group costume situation resolved earlier in the week.)

It also means that Macbeth, Act II likely won’t go up until Monday. Here’s hoping everyone can make it until then without their Brush Up fix.

The trip also also means that most of the first day of NaNo will be spent on the road and tired. Wouldn’t want to make it too easy, right?

With that, and assuming I don’t check in before the great day itself, Happy Halloween!

BOO!

"I nearly jumped out of my skin! Oh, sorry! Was that insensitive?"
From Flickr user Tom1231
https://www.flickr.com/photos/tom1231/5055926716/