To be a good human…..

To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the human condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility.”

~Martha Nussbaum (taken from this BrainPickings article)

On yesterday’s theme again, a thought about openness, trust, and accepting the tragic rather than retreating (more at the link).

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Resistance < Acceptance

Twelve years after co-founding the Resist! Collective, I have finally given up my resist.ca email address – the last vestige of my involvement in that project (my actual contribution and membership ceasing about three years ago now). In actual fact, I thought I had already given it up until a friend mentioned trying to reach me at it and so I checked…. and it was still there. So no more Resist! account for me. Not only because it has become a massive spam trap, but because in the last handful of years I have moved steadily away from resistance as a governing philosophy.

See, back in my other days (I don’t want to say younger because that implies that somehow I have grown up and this isn’t about some judgey “older” me looking back) I really cultivated a lot of my identity around being in resistance to the government, to industrial development, to the social order that embodied racism/sexism/homophobia. On one level, this makes a lot of sense if you have any feelings about social justice, empathy with the downtrodden, or aspirations to creating a better world. Of course you must resist what is in order to open up the space for things to change.

Which is certainly what I believed for a very long time, as have most of the people I surrounded myself with over the years. Resistance to the way things are as a badge of honour, an orientation allowing the righteous few (myself included) to stand apart, not to mention the purity that comes with being able to say “I am not a part of this world so don’t blame me for the mess we are in.” From as early as I remember, this was the only way of being that occurred to me – for who wouldn’t be in opposition to the unfairness and cruelty in the world?

As time went on, I traveled this road of thought, through my punk rock years into university activism, into confrontations with the police and close encounters with the law. I grew up in a community of people who opposed the same things I did, recasting my anger as “militancy” and setting my own need for struggle above the needs of others. It’s easy to do such things when you believe you were called for a higher purpose, as I did (and as most people with revolution in their blood do).

But a few years ago, that stance began to change – propelled by a depression and some rather disastrous events in my life which sent me deep into myself and to living alone in a small town. The combination of a mental health challenges and the aforementioned events (preceded by the death of my political mentor) stripped away many people from my life, tearing me down to my roots and leaving me bereft of the “community” who had until that point, comprised my sense of home in the world. I was raw, I was opened, I was ruined….. and it was in this state of being that the seeds of change took root, though it wasn’t until a couple of years after my return to the city in 2006 that I felt them growing inside me.

I first noticed this change, this shift away from resistance as an orientation, in the years that followed as I grew increasingly uncomfortable around anger and negativity, even in the context of protest. Rather than being inspired by activists fighting with the cops (a sure sign of “militancy” in my other days), I found myself turned off, disinterested, and at times – frightened. After a few personal encounters with radical people that left me scared and disgusted – I found myself withdrawing from protest activism altogether, removing people from my Facebook who I realized I had no trust with nor respect for any longer (I am sure that some of those people feel the same way about me – these types of ruptures are never clean). I had always thought that I would take a step back and then find my way back to something that resembled my former life — but now seven years later, that hasn’t happened and I no longer want it to.

I have been thinking about this lately, having written two academic papers in the last year which explored some of this history, not to mention finding an interest in meditation – a practice of openness and acceptance. Both of these things – the attempt to articulate my experience, as well as the practice of sitting in awareness and reflection have been useful in helping me to sort out the what from the what in all of this.

That is, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the fact that while my orientation has become more positive and less confrontational over time, my commitment to being a part of creating a more equitable world for all has not waned in the slightest. It’s not the what, it’s the how I suppose, and I’m still trying to figure out what that means.

Most definitely I am thinking a lot about acceptance, and the various ways in which we understand that concept in the context of also identifying injustice in the world and working to change it. Is is possible to come to a place of accepting the world as it is – thus removing fruitless anger from the equation – and then take the otherwise angry energy in a direction towards change?

Thus far the best expiation of this thinking comes from modern Taoist philosopher Deng Ming-Dao who writes

“Acceptance does not mean fatalism. It does not mean capitulation to some slaughtering predestination. Those who follow Tao do not believe in being helpless…… Acceptance is a dynamic act. It should not signal inertness, stagnation, or inactivity. One should simply ascertain what the situation requires and then implement what one thinks is best. As long as one’s deeds are in accord with the time and one leaves no sloppy traces, then the action is correct.”

Simply reacting to injustice out of a need to oppose, to resist – so often blinds us to what actually effective action might look like, and negates the possibility of a loving response – something the world could use a lot more of. Which is not to argue against gatherings, demonstrations and protests – but to engage with a question of what an “acceptance” stance might look like instead of one of “resistance”. And it’s also to enlarge the parameters of how we define activism to incorporate the many small acts each of us do in co-creating positive, welcoming communities - not to mention the many small steps many of us take to liberate ourselves from the corporate gridlock. Acceptance as a principle also allows that each and every interaction we have offers an opportunity for transformation (change/assistance/support/exchange) to take place. Resistance, by its very definition, is inflexible – locked into position for the duration of the struggle that ensues.

But acceptance is difficult, and it enrages the three-year-old inside of me, the one who was told over and over “whoever said life was fair?” and was determined to grow up and prove my father wrong, to restore justice to myself and to others because it was the only way I could ease my small, sore heart. Acceptance to the way things are  is very rarely my first response and it takes me effort to maintain it once I’ve got there. However! Like everything worth cultivating – gratitude, respect for others, love, compassion – it gets easier with practice. At least I expect it does, because I haven’t gotten to the place where it’s exactly easy yet. I’m just practicing at it, playing with, observing whether it works for me or not. Though what I can say from this limited vantage point is that it is definitely easier to start from a place of acceptance than one of resistance – so many more outcomes are possible.

As for turning that into a full-fledged governing philosophy? I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

 

Sewing Notebook: Selfie in new tunic

I am awkward in front of the camera, but still I feel the need to start showing off the clothing I make more often (wearing it, not just hanging in front of the wardrobe). Mustard yellow tunic with bright pink butterflies – a fabric I would never normally wear (I was using it as a muslin to see if I loved the pattern – which I didn’t) – but paired with a cardigan and leggings I think it works quite well. So there, a goofy picture of me wearing a new tunic.

 

Perception deficits on my morning walk to work

Have you ever noticed how much less you see when you put in your iPod headphones and walk down the street? And yes, I mean “see” because I am convinced that I do not witness/observe/appreciate nearly the same amount of visual stimuli with my earbuds in.

I’ve been walking to work again recently – six kilometres door to door – through Hastings-Sunrise, Grandview-Woodland, Strathcona, the Downtown Eastside and right into the heart of downtown. It feels like descending through rock strata as I pass from one distinct neighbourhood to the next, passing colourful houses, community gardens, groups of Chinese women doing Qi gong exercises along the way.

For whatever reason, this last month I’ve been putting on the iPod more often than not – which wasn’t the case last year when I walked. It’s like I forgot over the winter that I don’t “get bored” with the sounds around me, and somehow I need the extra stimulus of music. So for the last few weeks – that’s how I’ve been taking my steps and I have to admit it’s been kindof awesome. Driving music definitely quickens my pace, and if I play the rights kinds of things – a little joy even leaps up in my heart from time to time, giving me connections to my self and my own thoughts as I get my morning exercise.

But because music played through headphones turns one inwards – internalizes the experience of being in the world by blocking out non-controlled sound – so too does our range of visual perception narrow. I hadn’t really been aware of the degree this was happening until this morning.

When I stepped outside my door, the birds were making a racket and for the first time in a couple of weeks I decided to pocket my iPod instead of tuning into it. Within a few blocks I noticed that rather than focusing down and directly ahead, is that without the headphones I am much more likely to put my chin up and open my field of awareness outside of myself. While I have always known this to be true when interacting with other people on the street, that headphones limit those interactions, I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so aware of how blocking external/environmental sounds (replacing them with others) creates nothing short of a  sensory deficit. A distraction, I suppose, from the real drama unfolding continually around us (and especially in the city!)

And yet, once I get downtown, every other person is plugged in to a machine – turned towards their individual and interior space, each grooving to their own private soundtrack designed to reinforce or change their mood of the morning. Which is how so many of us navigate through the city – on foot, in a car, even by bicycle – tuned into ourselves and away from everyone and everything else. And despite the fact we (almost) all engage in what can only be termed a form of narcissism (“I only need to listen to my interior self, fuck the exterior around me”) we are annoyed when others do so.

I’m not sure how I got into this headphone habit, except that it gives me an artificial stimulus I talked myself into thinking I needed. Good thing the birds reminded me this morning that there is much more to hear and see when I don’t plug myself into a machine upon encountering the world outside.

 

Recognizing myself in the mirror.

Most recent finished project – a crochet bathing suit cover-up. I took a day off yesterday to nurse my health a little and got this finished while watching bad TV.

I am coming to confront some things about myself these days – not terrible things, and not confront as in finger-pointing and nasty – so perhaps a better word is recognize. Because it’s true that although I understand certain things about the way I behave, I do not always recognize what they mean when all is added up.

The first recognition is that I am some kind of WORKAHOLIC. While it’s true that I don’t spend all my waking hours at my job, I do spend all of my waking hours busy with something. As in, I can’t just relax because I feel like I should be doing something all the time. ALL the time. For real. And if I’m not doing something ALL the time I hear a voice that tells me I’m lazy and not a very good person. Having said that I am very FORTUNATE that I am not an office-driven workaholic and instead I subvert most of that drive into household activities like gardening, sewing, housekeeping, cooking, canning and so forth — all things I love to do. What I don’t love is feeling like I need to keep going all the time in order to keep up my sense of self-worth.

And it’s not only that I’m busy all the time, but I set really ridiculous standards for myself — which is my second recognition — I am also some kind of a PERFECTIONIST. I have never felt at home with that label because I am so un-perfect in everything I do. But as I talked to my psychologist the other day it dawned on me that I set impossible standards anyways. For example – it’s not enough that I make the occasional piece of clothing for myself if I don’t make all my own clothing. Or it’s not enough that I meditate every day if I don’t sit in the position of greatest discomfort to myself while doing so. Top that off with the fact that I can’t sit in a room with a crooked picture on the wall without straightening it and one might get the idea that I am UPTIGHT. But I am not uptight about other people. Just me.

The good thing is that I am somewhat aware of these behaviours and I am definitely not on the extreme end of the spectrum. I just need to take care a little more to step back from myself and determine what I really need in terms of self-care and self-talk.

So yesterday, for example, rather than taking a lot of meds and powering through my chronic sinusitis attack (which has been going on for days and is really painful), I stayed home, watched bad TV in bed all day and didn’t feel bad about it. (The fact that I finished crocheting the above sweater was a bonus, but nothing I felt like I had to do). The staying home is something I am willing to do when I am sick — but the not feeling bad about it is an entirely different fish than I am used to. And the fact that it was as easy as telling myself “this is okay, you need to rest and not feel guilty about it” makes me wonder if I end up feeling bad about myself just because it’s a habit and not because I actually, deep-down, feel that way.

Like I said – recognitions. I’m having them these days. Hopefully in the discovery I can also find ways to change these things and go a little easier on myself. Because I enjoy my life – and it would be just that much better if I let myself truly enjoy myself.

Imagining the end of the world

It is easier to imagine the end of the world, than the end of capitalism.

I have changed my work schedule starting this week in order to fit meditation and walking 6 km to work into my life before I hit the desk – just in time for the glorious change in weather. But instead of sharing one of the beautiful little flowers poking its head up from the dirt, or a bird flitting in the neighbourhood shrubbery – I am sharing this little piece of truth  captured on the side of a city works trailer.

This graffiti makes me think of lots of people I have known and things I have done — which I realize now weren’t weren’t in the service of ending capitalism but of ending my own sense of suffering.  I think to be honest the graffiti would actually read “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world, than the end of suffering.” This explains a lot of apocalyptic thinking (and action) on the left and right – call it whatever you want (capitalism/oppression/suffering/guilt) we are all looking for a way out. For some of us the suffering is so extreme that we can only imagine it ending if everything ends with it (and if you are a Christian – you might not be so sure about that because hell is always a potential afterwards).

This is jihad, and revolutionary class war, and the rapture all rolled into one – it’s like scratching an itch so hard that it ruptures and creates a permanent wound. It’s the impotence of protest activism and the frustration of spiritual poverty. It’s an inability to envision transformation.

But if you could pull the plug, would you? I suppose that depends how great the suffering is – for those mad from it might do terrible things. Most of us, however, just imagine. We march and pray and spraypaint and hope that transformation comes in our lifetimes. Even if we have a hard time believing it will.

100 Blocks: Block #2

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On the second day of quilting my true love gave to me — two bees a buzzing…..

(I’ve decided that listing my squares here one by one will get tedious so I have set up a Flickr set that you can check out if so interested – I’ve actually go 15 squares posted at the moment and will post galleries of 25 at a time here or something when I get to those milestones)

(Block design: Tula Pink’s City Sampler: 100 Modern Quilt Blocks)

Finishing the ugly quilt

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Besides working on one block at a time, I’ve got this monster to finish, as I’ve pulled it out of the back of the closet with a commitment to either bringing it to closure or pitching it out. Of course the frugalist in me can’t stand the idea of throwing out that much fabric (not to mention that much work) – so finished it will be.

While this might not actually rank as the ugliest quilt (it definitely has some woodsy charm) – it definitely did not come together as I had hoped in designing it. See, about nine years ago I decided to make a quilt for a friend, built around that gorgeous and very retro leaf fabric (which reminds me of the prints on the sleeping bags we had as kids). I had hoped that by pairing a sold block with a four-patch that the leaf fabric would dominate the quilt…… but!

As I was very new to quilting and possess no colour-theory background, I didn’t stop to think of the tone-value of the batiks I chose to go alongside the leaf-print…. which as you can see are much brighter. Thus my quilt is dominated by bright olive green and bright rust orange rather than the lovely muted fabric I fell in love with.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI started on this when I lived in Gibsons – and pieced almost the entire top before abandoning it to the unfinished objects box. From there it got moved back to the city, and then into the house I currently live in – all without a serious evaluation towards getting it finished. But lately I’ve grown tired of all the bits and pieces and want to move some of the clutter out of my sewing cupboard.

When I pulled it out of the box last week, I found the main quilt along with four additional rows which would round the spread out to queen-size proportions. All I have to do now is iron it all out, sew on the remaining rows and then quilt and bind it.

So that’s a lot. And it’s a lot of work for a quilt that I won’t love when it’s finished. However, it has a woodsy/campy flair and the colour scheme means it will never look dirty. Since we are starting a cabin build later this spring, I think I’m meant to finish this to throw over the couch when we’re done.

Besides my lovely little arty pieced blocks, this is my other sewing project – one I should probably get done sooner rather than later before I lose my willingness to go back to it.

100 Blocks: Block #1

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt feels like cheating to only post on block in a post as opposed to a whole finished quilt or multiple blocks – so I’m not sure whether I will continue in this vein. For number one of one hundred though? I think this deserves its own post.

This is the first of what will be one hundred six-inch (finished) blocks made using the designs of Tula Pink found in the book Tula Pink’s City Sampler: 100 Modern Quilt Blocks.

I downloaded the Kindle* version of this book a couple of weeks ago, around the same time I decided that I wanted to practice my piecing and make samplers – so perfect! Along with the Aurifil BOM, I am making 100 Tula Pink blocks for a Queen-sized quilt.

The blocks in this book range from very simple to more complex, though none of them require any special knowledge to put together (the book includes a section explaining how triangles and trapezoids are constructed, which is the only “tricky” stuff really). Some of the blocks have only five pieces while others are comprised of twenty or more. The most pieces in one block? Thirty. Which is a lot of little pieces for the size of these blocks!

Anyhow – I love them all and they really lend themselves to being treated as little stand-alone artworks. This also gives a mindful quality to the piecing, particularly as I am not using a single fabric line or colour-scheme – I’m hoping to get a rainbow effect at the end, but we’ll just have to see how it all comes together (one block at a time).

* I don’t own and e-reader and would rather have an all-paper library but when it comes to craft books – quilting, sewing, crochet which don’t come with fold-out patterns – I would rather have the e-versions these days. I have so little craft room as it is, and I find it just as easy to work off my laptop when it comes to reading a block pattern.

Aurifil Blocks of the Month: January & February

For some reason 2014 has bit me with a quilting bug like never before. Although I learned to quilt about ten years ago now, I have mostly confined myself to small projects (I’ve made 3 queen-size and 3 lap-sized quilts otherwise it’s all table runners and placemats) – mostly because I hate the actual quilting stage on a small sewing machine (and no, I don’t have room in my life for a long-arm).

Anyways – I’ve got two quilting interests in particular going on and you’re likely going to be seeing it all year long (if you come back that is):

  1. Samplers – I am fascinated with samplers and have long wanted to make one. In particular I would like to spring for the Mill Book 1852 Fat Quarter Bundle and use it as the basis of a  Dear Jane quilt ….. but not before I get my act together and tackle a couple of simpler projects first.
  2. Piecing – Related to wanting to make a sampler quilt I have to acknowledge that I am an imprecise sewist and my piecing leaves a lot to be desired – so before tackling anything too huge I have decided to perfect my piecing skills bit by bit – while putting together two different quilts over the next year.

What you see below are the first two blocks for my first sampler project – which is a Block-A-Month hosted by Aurifil. I had a box of brown, turquoise and red fabrics (some already cut) set aside for a quilt that I never really started a couple of years ago – and decided to start there rather than purchase more. The top block is January, and the bottom February.

I have not used my piecing foot in a very long time and lined my seams up entirely wrong on my first go at January – what you see below is the second attempt. Even though I almost had it right, both January and February fall a bit short of 12-inch finished blocks — but I hope to stretch the hell out of them when it comes to setting them into a quilt.

Fortunately I have now figured out this piecing foot, though it is so hard to see the quarter-inch plate edge that I need my glasses to use it! (Confession – I need my glasses for pretty much anything close-up these days).

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