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:

Drawing: Grandad and Red-tailed Hawk

I'm posting this drawing for my family and friends who will recognize the original photo it's based on, but I think the story is pretty cool too.

Strangest thing. Normally I can't draw worth a darn. I look at a picture of something and I try to capture it visually and nothing goes quite right. Last night, after watching a Bill Reid documentary and visiting the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, I felt inspired to try my hand at drawing a design for a carving I've been thinking about for a big piece of cedar I found over New Years (I'm just starting to try my hand at wood carving).

After visiting the museum and hanging out on the beach, I was really fixated on the idea of art that facilitates oneness or seamlessness with nature (it was more of a feeling than something easily described), and so I thought about making a sitting bench carved like the wing of a red-tailed hawk (one of my favourite birds). Red tail hawk drawing.

I started by looking at photos of red-tailed hawks on the internet and trying to draw their wingspans - nothing, everything looked pretty awful. That's when I decided I just needed to sit down and practice drawing (a prerequisite for carving), so I spontaneously grabbed an old black and white photo of my grandad with his red-tailed hawk (he used to run a wildlife museum/zoo) and I started sketching, but this time I just looked at the photo, not at the paper, and let my hand go...and this is what came out. I was pleasantly surprised!

I think drawing is something I'm going to spend a bit more time playing with. I find it really relaxing and in keeping with the spirit of a recent article I read in the New York Times on the idea of an ecological unconscious, a good way to "rewild" the psyche.

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.

The "Feeling" Social Media

Since revamping my site and choosing to publish content on a more frequent basis, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the value of social media...actually that's not true...I've spent more time feeling about the value of social media. Seeing folks visit from across the country, sparking conversations and building new understandings and a sense of community with old friends and acquaintances, using posts to organize and test out thoughts and feelings about life stories, questions, news, "art" and whatever else tickles my fancy (apologies for that expression) - all of it has been an exercise in feeling. One of the biggest criticisms of blogs and other forms of social media is that everything they do is "meta," that is, after the fact, or in abstraction to some primary piece of news or information. Because of this initial modus operandi (historically and today a lot of blogs still rely on mainstream news to spark their conversations), the mainstream media like to claim (especially when their own relevance is questioned) to be the lifeblood of the "bloggosphere." They caution that the death of newspapers and traditional media outlets will cause social media to dry-up. I'm not sure that's true.

I think we all have some sense that mainstream news is often vacuous - a race to report every societal "car crash" in the most graphic terms as quickly as possible before finding the next one, first. Ambulance chasers etc. A quick example: Yesterday I was on the bus and one of the local news radio stations had a story about 7 people being found dead in a mobile home in the southern U.S. state of Georgia. No context, nothing. Great. Thank you. My life and understanding of the world has been greatly enriched. Now I know it's possible for 7 people to be found dead in a mobile home, in the state of Georgia. God forbid we should actually connect any dots, attempting to explain why this happened. The same holds true for that recent story about the reality TV show participant who murdered his ex-wife before hanging himself in a hotel room in B.C. Any chance the mainstream media entertained a conversation about mental health, or obsessional jealousy? It's not in their DNA to do so (and while there's an argument that perhaps it doesn't need to be, the fact that their license to operate depends on access to public airwaves points to the possibility that as a society we could ask for something more), but that's also why they're becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Reflection has become an end in itself. Demand is at an all time high. As an end in itself, the primary news on which it is predicated is far less important. Fodder for reflection can come from first person experience, second-hand anecdotes, stories from organizations and businesses dealing directly with social issues and transactions, and various other forms of media and sources of information. We don't lack primary news as a's happening all the time, it's what life is. What we're lacking is the means to reflect, to not just make sense of our world, but to make new meaning that makes the world a better place. That's where the feeling part of social media comes in, and that's where I see its value.

The loss of traditional media reporting should concern us as much as the loss of any other stream of social information, but it's not critical.

I'll try and offer more reflection as I continue to feel my way through this new medium.

Following Dreams

Many years ago my ma gave me a framed picture of this tree with an inspirational Thoreau quote that read, "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." It's a picture that has always been with me (back and forth to school in Toronto and carefully packed away for life's many moves) and that has always grounded and inspired me. Blinded by its far away beauty, I never bothered to read the back of the frame to find out where it was taken. Well, this summer, just before I went on a vacation to Utah it occurred to me that the pictures of red Navajo sandstone that I had seen while planning our trip reminded me of the picture. With a new found interest for the picture's origin, I flipped it over and guess what? The picture was taken in Bryce Canyon, the first stop on our trip.

Long story short, we decided to go looking for the tree (was it still standing? was it tucked away in a remote side canyon?). We knew the picture was taken on a trail called "Navajo Loop," and after a beautiful afternoon of hiking in the sun and the rain, the canyon walls started to get familiar. Finally, in the pouring rain, we turned a corner and there it tree. Wow. Walked up to it and gave it a big hug. I felt such gratitude for that old beauty and the role it had played (and continues to play) in realizing my own dreams.

Here's to following dreams and hugging trees.

How hard do you punch?

I recently started a boxing routine with the Warriors Boxing club in Vancouver. I’m not planning to actually compete (brain damage and hurting someone else freak me out), but it has been very rewarding to find out how hard I punch. In reflecting on why I enjoy the training so much (something I’ve been told is a “guy thing”) I think it has something to do with the fact that it’s very easy to go through life without knowing how hard you punch. It’s a metaphor we can apply to lots of things in life where we don’t really know our true mettle. It’s that disconnect between the status quo and a more primitive part of ourselves that makes stories like Fight Club so successful, and it’s why I can watch various fight scenes in movies, or boxing on TV, with a mix of enjoyment and discomfort – enjoyment for the raw connection and exertion of will – and discomfort with the physical violence or abuse of power.

I’m not condoning violence here, but I am encouraging exploration or consideration of more primitive parts of ourselves, not properly exercised and perhaps manifested in a passive aggressive fashion in other parts of our lives. As humans we have a desire for ritual (the reason professional sports has legions of fans), and I think finding healthy outlets to exercise that desire (and ourselves) is a great thing.

Here’s a video redux of two movie “fights” I’ve recently watched:

Cliff Jumping

I don't know if it's the heat of summer, or the few pages of "Tribes" I've been reading (hat tip to the inimitable Kevin Tom), but dammit we're opening this sucker up. I've been feeling the need to crank out some content and up my creative output for a while now and I'm hoping that a pretty place to publish it and have others engage with it more freely might make that hope a recurring reality.

I may even join Twitter. Yeah, it's been hot.