Folk Wisdom


Photographs from the 1862 book Mécanisme de la Physionomie Humaine by Guillaume Duchenne. Through electric stimulation, Duchenne determined which muscles were responsible for different facial expressions. Charles Darwin would later republish some of these photographs in his own work on the subject, which compared facial expressions in humans to those in animals. (From Wikipedia).

"Smile!" That's what a woman said to me yesterday while I was walking back to my car after a morning meeting. I smiled. "That's better," she said.

I was really struck by this woman's gesture. By a lot of conventional standards you'd think she had less to smile about than I did. We were in a "rougher" part of town and at least from a socio-economic perspective, this woman appeared to be what some would call, "down and out." Clearly she wasn't, and if anything, with pressing thoughts and artificial stresses, I was the one who was down and out.

The whole exchange, especially her generosity of spirit got me thinking again about the ecology of ideas, and even of emotion. It's the same thought I had when I watched video of a Haitian woman being pulled from rubble six days after the earthquake and the first thing she did was sing a joyous song about overcoming adversity. It makes you question your own ecology of ideas and emotion...the way of interpreting the world that was no doubt planted by upbringing and circumstance, but that is also tended and nurtured by you. If you can become aware of your own thought processes, it's possible to plant new stories and mental frames, a personal terministic screen to borrow roughly from Burke. A terministic screen is, "...a set of symbols that becomes a kind of screen or grid of intelligibility through which the world makes sense to us." (Wikipedia). If your terministic screen means that you smile less often, or end up living a story that's different than the one you want to live, why not blow it up? Remake it, reshape it, tune it up. To a large extent you're gardener of your little piece of consciousness, your chunk of reality.

Anyhow, more on mental gardening in the not too distant future. I just ordered three books from Barnes and Noble (gift card): Steps to an Ecology of Mind, A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History, and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. We'll see what new ideas they conjure up for remaking one's terministic screen. In the meantime, here's one of a fascinating series of videos I've been enjoying on YouTube...these folks, the Kombai, have a much different terministic screen than ours and it's refreshing to watch:

The Case for Working With Your Hands

I read this essay

in the New York Times recently (actually one very similar to it...this one popped up when I looked for the original). Francis Fukuyama's review of the book from which the essay is distilled ("Shop Class as Soulcraft") is good too. There has been ample criticism of the author, including his privileged position as someone with training both as a knowledge worker and skilled trades person who has the luxury of romanticizing the latter, but I like what he relates about working with your's true that anytime I've faced "knowledge worker" burnout the cure has been something manual, either farming for a summer or making something with my hands.

Ever since a sunburn-induced desire to create my own sunglasses (something that happened last summer), I've felt pulled to look at everyday objects we take for granted, how they're made, and to learn something about the production process for myself. My latest project (and first real wood working experience, beyond creating a bunk bed/desk combination for myself in university) was a rocking chair I made over the holidays for my girlfriend. There is something meditative about connecting a series of tangible steps into the creation of a final form or product.

Making the chair required driving around my hometown, looking for salvageable wood in the orchards and woods (I went with cherry and pine), buying second hand tools I knew nothing about, and suddenly looking very closely at the shape of every chair I came across. My approach was without plans or measurement and so the final product was very organic...but that to me was part of the beauty of the exercise, deciding how pieces of wood would fit together by that respect making this chair reminded me of the writing process I undertake in my job as a writer and communications strategist, playing with words and fashioning symbols to convey meaning

Another special thing that happened along the way in producing this chair was the new body of knowledge and interest that suddenly allowed me to relate with my 60+ year old neighbor in ways I hadn't previously. Turns out he has an amazing wood working shop in his basement...something I wouldn't have known about or appreciated previously, and he lent me some clamps when it came time to glue the chair.

Friends and family were happy to lend their opinions and ideas as the form began to materialize and I also had a great conversation with my Boppa who's father (my great grandfather) was the town blacksmith in a small prairie town in Saskatchewan. As the man responsible for fixing wagon wheels, he also worked with wood and used some of the same tools I bought to make the chair, including a drawknife. Was neat to feel connected to tools and crafts my ancestors used "way back when."

Long story short, I definitely recommend "Hobby Holidays," and I've since acquired a 4.5 foot chunk of beautiful cedar (found it washed ashore on Denman Island over New Years), as well as some arbutus wood that looks perfect for legs, I'm hoping to carve and make a nice solid bench. Let me know if you hear about any good wood working co-ops in Vancouver.

What kind of work do you do with your hands?

Keeping Time

This is a quick and potentially flakey post. Just had an incredible writing session this morning, laying in bed, looking out the window at the sun rising on the trees, squirrels chasing each other, crows playing in the air. The theme of the writing was keeping time, the various rhythms in nature that we're a seamless part of. How you choose to keep, pass and mark time (whether it's music, work, hobbies, colours, fashion  - all the various human means we have for making and adorning time). Who you choose to pass it with - why you make that decision etc. Rhythm is an incredible force. Anyhow, all of this will be better fleshed out in the near future in a writing project I'm just starting. In the mean time, I'm off to Ohio for a week and I'll be visiting my girlfriend's family and hometown...seeing the places and people that set her particular rhythm as a human being in motion...and of course there will be Fall of mother nature's most glorious celebrations of the passing of time. More on time in the near future. A promise you can set your watch by.


I don't know about you, but I definitely don't read enough philosophy (I don't read enough, period). Recently I was exposed to the philosophical view of perspectivism and it knocked my socks off. It feels like a conceptual cure for all that ails us, or at least a damn good dose of reality. A lot of this stuff you probably already "know," but I've found the clear conceptual framework of perspectivism easier to grasp and keep close at hand. Combined with ideas like non-violent communication, realizations like perspectivism provide the foundation for relating to one another in a more peaceful and understanding fashion, as well as with an efficiency that makes it more likely to actually find common ground on social problems and to perhaps even collaborate in solving them.

Here's what my cutting and pasting of wikipedia has to say about perspectivism (it might look like a slog, but trust me, it's worth it):

Perspectivism is the philosophical view developed by Friedrich Nietzsche that all ideations

take place from particular perspectives. This means that there are many possible conceptual schemes, or perspectives which determine any possible judgment of truth or value that we may make; this implies that no way of seeing the world can be taken as definitively "true", but does not necessarily propose that all perspectives are equally valid.

Perspectivism rejects objective metaphysics as impossible, and claims that there are no objective evaluations which transcend cultural formations or subjective designations. This means that there are no objective facts, and that there can be no knowledge of a thing in itself. This separates truth from a particular (or single) vantage point, and means that there are no ethical or epistemological absolutes. [1] This leads to constant reassessment of rules (i.e., those of philosophy, the scientific method, etc.) according to the circumstances of individual perspectives.[2] “Truth” is thus formalized as a whole that is created by integrating different vantage points together.

We always adopt perspectives by default, whether we are aware of it or not, and the individual concepts of existence are defined by the circumstances surrounding that individual. Truth is made by and for individuals and peoples.[3]

The article includes a quote from Nietzsche's post-humous, The Will to Power:

In so far as the word “knowledge” has any meaning, the world is knowable; but it is interpretable otherwise, it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings.—“Perspectivism.”

It is our needs that interpret the world; our drives and their For and Against.[emphasis added] Every drive is a kind of lust to rule; each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm.

Friedrich Nietzsche; trans. Walter Kaufmann , The Will to Power, §481 (1883-1888)

Beautiful stuff.