Tuesday, September 10, 2013

awaiting word on Ann...

I am awaiting word of my sister's passing. She is in hospice care and down to her last hours or perhaps days. She has always been my big sister, even after I grew much taller in height. She was always the creative one, the artistic one. While I majored in Political Science, she majored in art. When we were little, she colored on my paper. There was no meanness in it. She knew that my paper needed her help. There were only 18 months between us and I've really not known the world without her being in it.

 On the other hand, at the age of 7, I took apart her sewing machine and it never worked again. That taught me valuable lessons that I've never forgotten. Pay attention to the details. Know the whole of a thing and understand how it works or how it is supposed to work before you commence in taking it apart. Each and every thing has meaning. Take care with the whole of it. It matters.

I am reminded of a Zen story. The master was dying. His disciples were gathered around him, crying, "Master, master, please don't leave us." He looked up and asked, "Where do you think I'd go?" And the truth of us is that our individuality is self-deception. We are intimately entwined in each other. There are no boundaries between us except those that our delusions have created. Skin? Thoughts? Are there any real boundaries that defines us if we choose to live within a broader view of our humanity?

My wife tells me to avoid power tools for the rest of the day. That's good advice when under some level of stress. The worst part of my sister's disease was that it impaired her creative capacity. For the rest of you,  please:

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, February 2, 2013


I have been researching unexplained data transmissions over my internet  connection that add up to extreme data usage. What I've learned is that in these modern computer operating systems, there's more internal chatter than what would be in the head of the most obsessive-compulsive paranoid schizophrenic that ever walked the earth. My first thought was that some data mining deviant force was robbing my bandwidth.

If you are on a mac, you can watch the ins and outs of data transmission by going to the utilities folder under applications and opening the activity monitor.  Click on the "network" tab and you can watch the bytes and kilobytes of data steaming out to the web and back, even when you are doing absolutely nothing. Turn off your network connection and watch what happens to the activity. The purpose of the network activity seems to be to coordinate devices and to feed advertisements and updates to us on a regular basis. Some computers are brought to a near halt by shear overload from all the ins and outs of small meaningless packets of data. On my desktop Mac, I learned that the traffic is severe, eating up more bandwidth than anyone would have imagined.

Perhaps computers and we folk are truly alike. Perhaps just as the computer can benefit by becoming unwired for a time, we can too. If all our processing power is consumed by trivialities, what's left for rational processing in our own lives? I am an advocate of mindfulness, not that the mind should be full (or emptied) but that being watchful of what we put in our minds, watchful of what goes on in our minds, we learn to derive benefit from stillness, quiet and equanimity.

Years ago, I stood on the banks of the Mississippi River at Memphis. The river was so full and wide, and while at home at night you can be disturbed by the dripping of a faucet, the river was so full and silent that I could hear the calls of fishermen nearly a mile on the other side. The amount of water flowing by in each given second was far in excess of that faucet drip of such huge aggravation, and so we come to the heart of Zen. The object of mindfulness is not to become empty of mind, but that the mind be full of consequence and meaning, that it not be dominated by trivialities but by meaningful connections.

When we do a thing by hand for the first time, our brains are filled with intense processing. What is the proper grip to use on the chisel? How do I direct it's point? How hard do I strike with the mallet? And then what? And these are questions that are answered in practice and experience.

Researchers did MRI experiments with pianists, beginning and advanced. A paper keyboard was used so that the subjects could be observed as they applied sequences of notes just as they would on a real piano. The researchers watched the brain activity, just as I can use the activity monitor on my mac. They learned that expert pianists used far less processing power than beginners to perform the same series of notes. The advanced pianists were far less encumbered by inefficiencies in the hand/brain system conundrum.

Interestingly, all this applies to creative woodworking. We do make choices as to what we use to fill our minds and how we squander our processing power. We do make choices about how much to rely on our connections and how much to go on our own, cut loose from the grid that may stifle our individual creative expression. What happens in the hand is not mindless. What happens in the mind is best when it is connected by hand to reality. When hand and mind are refined in perfect partnership, it is like standing in silent awe at the side of a great river.

Make, fix and create...