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A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

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adventure

Unhinged

Recently my SLAMpig told me that my brain is unhinged in a way that enables me to accomplish things that others might not be able to. He was careful to mention that that didn’t mean I was obligated to accomplish things, just that they were accomplishable to me if I so desired.

Today I’m sitting at home in my air conditioned house looking at housing listings online. It hasn’t been a year since I moved here, to a place that I thought was paradise at the time. I told my friend that I was considering moving and she look at me incredulously.

“Again??”

Yes, again. I’m looking for something and I’m willing to take risks to find it. The problem is that what I’m looking for does not fit into the well defined categories of society. I’m seeking freedom, and my People. Those are not things that one can be sure to find if one follows the typical common sense advice.

That’s why I moved out here in the first place. I used to live a ten minute walk from my job. I was in a small apartment in a quiet-ish part of town. Lazy is a better word. It was a corner of town where people drove their cars to work and came home to their families and ate dinner watching tv. They are not my people, of course. But I thought that I might be able to find my people while living there so I stuck it out until 〇〇 called me. There was good reason that I would find my people in 〇〇, so I came here. Here, amid mountains and along a gorgeous river, I suffered through a brutal winter in a drafty house. Just as the weather started to turn pleasant, the tourists arrived, ushered in by my neighbor and his monstrosity of a “Family Lodge” which he carved out of a quiet mountain and now uses to turn peace, solitude and nature into noise, misery and pocket cash.

So I’m off to look again for another place to live. This time, like before, my goal is the same: I want to find a place to live that will put me in touch with my People. This time I have a much better idea of what to look for than before. In short, I know I need green and I know I need quiet. I also know I need a space where I can maintain my bikes. Moreover, this time I think I know who my People are, and where they are, and this time I’m going to pick a spot that I know for sure will make them easier to play with.

These are where I will find my People:

N’~ will be my People. Her friend Komachi will be my People, too.
SiZu-san will be my People. He kind of already is my people, but he’s far from me so it feels like he isn’t my People.
Sempai will be my People. He said he wants to be my people, and who am I to turn that down?

I found a spot that will make all of these people closer to me. It will also make my current workplace closer while keeping me at the foothills of my favorite ride: Iriyama Toge. And it will put me in closer touch with the people who I desperately want to adopt me: Team You Can, Hachioji.

Most people would think this is an awful lot of work to go through just to live closer to some people who aren’t my family. Most people would wonder why I would go through the trouble to still have an hour commute from my job. But I am not most people. I am unhinged and to me, this makes perfect sense. I live a Spartan life as I am told. I have few possessions and at least half of what I own is either a bicycle or a bicycle accessory. Moving for me is actually a simple thing outside of the adjustment period. Sure, I would like to have comfy furniture and Nice Things, but not if they prevent me from finding my Happiness and my People.

I suppose that part of what unhinges me is that I do not value what others value. I do not value comforts in the typical sense. I do not value fancy clothes or expensive electronics. Even as I type this I wonder to myself if there are people who do value those things still; that’s how far removed they are from my life. I do not value a respectable job as I know that a job is something given to me by an organization, not a human, and an organization cannot care for my well being. I do not value money because money cannot buy me People. I do not value convenience because convenience makes people dependent on the civilization around them. I do not value civilization because it separates us from our Humanity.

To me, my decisions are perfectly reasonable and hardly troublesome. I lose nothing of value and I gain adventure by picking up and moving to a new place. I gain the ability to hope for something better, the chance to try something new, the chance to succeed where I have failed in the past. Perhaps the greatest thing I gain is the ability to prove to myself that, I could if I wanted to.

I think Freedom is a skill that one must practice or it will perish. One must practice being free by breaking out of their box, tearing down their boundaries and frightening themselves with the possibility of tremendous change. Most people are not free. Most people are afraid to be free. I am not afraid to be free. I am unhinged.

女子仲間

5年近くかかったが、やっとサイクリングの女子仲間が見つかりました。

なんて嬉しいことですね。

土曜日のことですが、朝8時青梅駅集合で、100キロ近く一緒に走りました。青梅から奥多摩湖まで走って、そこからやさしい帰り道を探したら、なかなかありません。そうですね。山の中を走っているとヤサシイ道はないんですね。都民の森経由で五日市まで一緒に下りてきました。獲得標高は2000メーター強でした。

こんなコースはもう慣れています。しかし暑い中を走って熱中症にもなって、切のない上りも、恐怖心の強い下りも、その全てのことを私の同じ心を持った女と共有するのは何よりの幸せでした。

帰ってきて数回のメールを通じたらこう言われました。

あなたはもう一人じゃない。

そうですね。一人の仲間でも見つかったらもう一人じゃありません。これから何でもできるように感じます。

そして、やりたいことは一つぐらいです。自分暦最強に最も速くになることです。

自分の限界が知りたいです。私は、どこまでいけるのでしょう?wpid-imag3102.jpg

Still in Pain

First, I would like to apologize. That title is a pun. It’s not appropriate to make puns about being in pain because puns are funny (even if only in the “har har…groan” sense), and pain is not funny. So, sorry for the poor pain pun.*

Recently I had the opportunity to practice being still in my pain. I have mentioned in previous posts about the Numbness — that feeling of excrutiating pain in your soul that just cannot fully manifest itself into tears, and ends up filling your body with an overwhelming numbness that claws at your heart and dims your vision, making you feel like an empty shell in a world made of cardboard. The Numbness is a kind of existential pain, and like all pain, it eventually passes.

I say I had the opportunity to be still in my pain because being still in pain, particularly the numbing kind, allows us to fully experience it, and by experiencing it, allow it to pass. For most of us, the reflexive reaction to pain is to tense up and brace against it. This is true of pain in our bodies, but pain in our hearts can do the same. We also instinctively try to run from the source of the pain. Pain in our bodies is easier to deal with because our bodies know how to deal with pain: remove the source, place a protective scar over the wound, then repair the damage. Pain in our hearts is more difficult. Sometimes we don’t know what the source is, so we run around in panic. Sometimes we put a scar over the wound without removing the source, sealing it in and preventing healing. Sometimes we place a scar so thick, and then forget to remove it later, so that we are emotionally crippled. Stillness is the salve that cures the wound and removes the pain.

Because I was able to sit in stillness for three solid days, doing absolutely nothing to relieve my pain or my fear of more pain to come, I think I was finally able to understand where the pain was coming from. As I sat on my porch, sipping a bitter sweet drink of cool honey-vinegar, the shade over my eyes began to thin and brighten and I began to see finally that my pain was bubbling up from two sources.

First, there was the pain I was experiencing from forcing myself into a role that does not allow for complete expression of who I am. I speak here of my job as an economist. In the past, I thought I was feeling a sense of inadequacy (maybe I was?) that perhaps I am not suited to be an economist because I’m not good enough at it. I thought that my lack of publications was perhaps the result of some flaw in my character — I don’t put in enough hours at work, or my attention deficit disorder prevents me from being able to focus on the minute details of formatting and submitting my work to professional journals. I also felt at times that my pain was perhaps being caused by the incessant judgmental nature of academia. Until you have tenure, you are constantly being evaluated and your livelihood depends on you outperforming in some measurable sense most of your other peers. It is nearly impossible to focus on producing good quality work that answers truly important questions when doing so puts you at risk of going against the greater body of academics who hold the power to decide your future.

In the past, when I have felt this pain of inadequacy and uncertainty about my job, my reaction was to run from it by taking steps to secure my future position. This meant spending more time and more energy devoted to something that did not fulfill me and brought me more pain and more discontent. Even as my conscious mind was aware of the reality that there is nothing particularly special about being an economist that I should bleed my soul for it, I was at the same time unable to see that my actions were at all times reactions to the pain and fear of losing that identity. Put another way, I was stuck in my unhappiness because I kept attempting to escape it by looking backwards at where I came instead of forwards at where I wanted to go. I had no idea where I wanted to go and I didn’t even know that I didn’t know. Rough, no?

The second source of pain that became apparent to me was my relationship (or lack of relationship) with my friends. I have always fought to have good friends and I to this day do not understand why it doesn’t happen. In the past I have often blamed myself for not being proactive enough; I didn’t tell the boy that I liked him (Thunder, I like you HARD, like I want your penis to like my vagina: HARD! There. I said it. Are we friends now? Hmm…), so I’m the only one to blame if our relationship never deepens; No one ever invites me out to play with them, but if I don’t invite them out, then I’m equally to blame that we don’t hang out. Right? What I learned from my stillness is that it doesn’t matter. I am not in possession of the friendships that I crave, and this lack causes me pain.

It took three days of silent, still, intentional inaction to finally understand where my pain was coming from. These days were difficult for me. At every moment, even as the Numbness threatened to suffocate me, I forced myself to remain still. If my thoughts reached out to try and find solutions to my pain, I brought them back. I said to myself, “No, mind, you cannot find a solution to a problem that you do not truly understand. First, let us understand why you hurt so much.”

I feel much stronger and more resilient now than before I spent my time in Stillness. Ironically, my relationships to my friends have not changed, nor have I found a new career path to replace the one that I am sure I must leave. At the same time, however, I feel that a stillness has come to my soul. Where once it felt like a sea under storm, it is much closer now to a windswept lake.

I think that in our world we are told to take action too often. There is this idea that if you do nothing, then you are at fault for your lack of success. I think that this advice at one time used to be good, but has become warped in a society that lacks opportunity for stillness. When one’s default is stillness, then only action can bring new insight. Sometimes, even the switch from inaction to action is enough to focus our intentions and make clear to us what our hearts are craving. However, when we are constantly bombarded with new stimuli, new claims on our attention, new ways to numb the pain, then action can never be wholly separated from reaction and we cannot know if what we do is in fact what our unique being is directing us to do. When this is the place we find ourselves in, only inaction can be trusted to reflect our true desires.

As a result of my stillness and inaction, I have hope now that, at least for a short while, my actions are springing forth authentically from my own Self. I have hope that the steps I choose to take forward, even as they terrify me, are steps towards something that is better than what I am leaving behind.

To close my thoughts, I want to share with you a conversation I had with the manager of my favorite bike shop. In my frustration at their lack of support for my development as a cyclist, I went searching for a shop or a group that I could ride with. I found, on that fateful day that I decided to chase the boys in their team practice, a shop most appropriately named You Can. I ventured in and they enthusiastically offered to train me and support me as an athlete. The catch, however, is that I have to leave the Giant Store. This hurt, and it was not an easy choice to make, but I decided in the moment that I would do it. There is no other way for me to chase this dream. Out of politeness and respect for everything they have done for me, I went to talk to the manager at Giant. He was understanding. He’s a good guy. He’s very dear to me. As we were talking I said to him, “Lately, all I can think of, all I want to do is ride my bike. In the last year of my contract I should be working hard to bolster my resume for my impending job search, but instead I am riding, even taking shortcuts at work in order to have more time to ride. The reality is, no matter how successful I am at my job, I could win the Nobel Prize for all it matters to me, there is nothing that will comfort me if I don’t find out how fast, how far, how hard I can ride. There is simply nothing that I would regret more than not chasing this dream right here and right now.”

My friend was understanding, supportive even. “Well, it’s not a big deal. Somehow things will work out,” he said to me.

I have to trust that. I have to believe that somehow things will work out. There’s just no other way to do it.


*alliteration is also funny and not appropriate. I will not apologize for my alliteration.

Catch Fire and Burn

The answer that makes spirit burn with creative fire. The answer that makes toes tingle and breath catch. The answer meant only for you.

Did you know that there is an answer? To the question, “who am I and what will I do with my life?”

Did you know that there is an answer that will light you up, set you on fire and make you burn?

I am only just now beginning to see that there is an answer. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t daylight, it’s fire.

Chase it. Devour it. Consume it and own it and fuel your spirit.

Accept nothing less. To accept anything less is to waste the gift of life you have been given.

Do not pass your days meekly in the herd of other sheep. Do not let your eyes dim. Do not let Them tell you who you are or what you should be doing.

Burn. Catch fire and BURN!


Quote taken from Rebelle Society.

Dear Mate

Dear Mate,

You live a small life. It’s not that I have anything against you, on the contrary I wish you the most extraordinary happiness. It’s just that you and I do not get along and the reason is that the boundaries of your tiny world suffocate me.

To be certain, excelling at your job is a commendable goal. The time and effort you devote to courting your girlfriend, and your determination to marry her properly, cannot be faulted. You are well dressed, punctual, charismatic, and stifling.

Has it never occurred to you to dream? To dare? To adventure? Have you never stood before the swirling, screaming, horizon swallowing, towering wall of a sandstorm and chosen, rather than to take sensible shelter, to push forward through the rage to test your own strength and discover what exists on the other side?

Is the praise from your Sempais and colleagues truly what your heart yearns for, taking pleasure in your own casual humility as you pretend that you don’t revel in their compliments? Or would you be willing to defy them in pursuit of a more complete knowledge? Does the commitment of your woman make you feel safe, even as you allow her to harness your masculinity and corrall you in her bed? Do you no longer remember the fiery heat of unbridled, hungry passion?

Mate, you live a small life. Everything you have chosen for yourself you have mastered with impeccable skill, and yet, in the face of all that there is and all that is yet to be discovered in the world, you have indeed staked out a very tiny plot. You guard it fiercely from me like a shepherd guards against wolves in the night, but be at ease. I don’t want your narrow space. I am simply standing here at the gate, inviting you out into the wild open, where there are storms that could batter you into pieces, and love that could glue you back together more vibrant than when you started out.

I am simply inviting you to live.

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Last Day of Classes

I remember being a student. The last exam on the very last day of classes was always a mix of dread, exhaustion and elation. Suddenly you are free of the work, the judgment and the uncertainty that built up over the course of the whole semester and you are standing on the brink of a long and much needed holiday. Now that I’m a professor, my feelings on the last day of classes are largely the same, with a slight additional twist.

This semester I tried something truly wild: I made it up as I went and put enjoyment of the class above the need to force knowledge into my students’ brains. The result was unbelievable. I got to know my students on a personal level. I asked them to think about things together with me and I made it my policy to never ever tell them they were wrong. Of course, when they were off point I would steer them back. That is, after all, what teachers are supposed to do. But I would never say to them that they were outright dead wrong. I think there is nothing more destructive to the development of a young human than to be told that they are unsalvageably wrong.

I got to hear stories about their families, their own experiences traveling abroad, their dreams and their opinions on the world. I got to hear them tell me what they really think, and to me this was the greatest achievement I could hope for. After spending nearly four months together just reading and talking with each other, I got to hear them say that they didn’t like what they had been told, that they didn’t understand why things had to be a certain way, that they wanted to try and discover their own path for themselves. That’s not something you get to hear when people are afraid of being judged. No, that is something that only comes out when people truly feel that they are safe to express themselves. This is my job as a professor.

Now, on the last day of the semester, I am actually sad to say goodbye to this group. We all grew together over these cold months. I know they are grateful to me for a good class, but do they know how grateful to them I am for the chance to learn and discover and think together? Probably not. But that’s ok. Being a professor also means that there are some things I cannot teach them.

A Journay Towards Resilience: Part 1 “Awakening”

It’s a cold, rainy morning in Tokyo. I have all my heaters on, included my electric carpet, and a pot of ginger chicken broth simmering on my kerosene stove. My weasels are in all likelihood cuddled up deep in the folds of my goosedown winter comforter. With a pot of tea at hand and my home filled with the warm smells of winter, this is the perfect time to share the cumulation of many years of thinking on the subject of happiness, health and the future of our planet. So pour yourself a mug, put on your fluffy socks and grab a blanket; this might be a long post.

To say my journey started when I decided to get divorced would be a simplification of the process. Indeed I have felt a strong need to be resilient ever since I was a child. I had asthma and I had to wear glasses and I lived in a house in a suburb surrounded by concrete. I grew up in Miami and hurricane Andrew arrived when I was ten years old. Much to my dismay, I slept through the whole storm. However, when I woke up the world around me was pulsing and shuddering with the aftermath of natural force that had just blown through the city. I felt alive walking through the debris covered streets, climbing over and under fallen trees and feeling the wet exhausted wind against my skin. My house was old, made of solid concrete and we had bolted it down well. We had plenty of water and food so I did not feel afraid, only exhilirated by the jungle that had grown around my neighborhood overnight. To me, the days after hurricane Andrew were not a calamity, but a brief foray into the wilderness where all things truly alive reside.

I remember walking the streets and thinking to myself: I have to do something about my glasses. If a true disaster were to befall us I would be crippled without my glasses. When five years later Lasik became a thing, I couldn’t get the procedure done fast enough. While my Grandma encouraged me to see a doctor for my asthma and always carry an inhaler with me, I chose a different route. At twenty I decided I was done with being physically handicapped and so I began running. It was terrible. I couldn’t make it to the end of the block without a stinging pain spreading through my chest followed by an acute sense of hardening in my lungs. I was ashamed of my weakness and so I would run alone and in spurts. Sometimes not running for months at a time because it was just too difficult for me. My lungs were my weakest point back then and somehow I knew I had to make them strong. Eventually I ran a full marathon and raced a half-century. It took me nearly ten years but now my body is finally strong enough that I can say I am ready.

Ready for what? I am only now beginning to see what it is that I have somehow always known I needed to prepare for. As a child and then as a young adult in school, and even now as a professor of economics, I keep hearing the same story over and over: our world is dying. The foxes have disappeared from the neighborhood, the fish are disappearing from the oceans, the trees are disappearing from the forests and the mountains are disappearing from the horizon. I know that “global warming” is a subject of political debate and many treat it like a religious belief, too, “Do you believe in global warming?” I don’t need scientific proof and I know better than to believe that the health of our planet can only be observed through the minute fluctuations (+/- 4ºC) of the average annual temperature. I can see the death and destruction all around me. Never once in my life have I seen a building torn down and a forest or a park put in its place. It has always only ever gone one way. To me, the growth of human civilization is undifferentiable from the death of the planet. Economists talk about the efficient “allocation” of resources, but we don’t allocate them, we just use them up. We don’t move a rainforest to build a cattle pasture, we simply burn it down.

If you look at the history of humanity it is tempting to conclude that this destruction and greed is just human nature. The endless and single-minded pursuit of profit is built into our DNA. The commercial conquest of the world is simply a modern expansion of our Darwinian need to survive and become fitter. Just as the Europeans outsurvived Africa in the colonial era, and men everywhere have outsurvived women always, today the countries with bigger and more profitable corporations will outsurvive those who have not caught up to technological speed.  Underlying this story of human nature, conquest, growth and destruction is the belief that over time humanity has only ever improved its lot over what it had when it first branched off from the rest of the apes. This belief, however, is dead wrong.

While the old story that women are subservient to men because we are physically weak and therefore necessarily reliant on the stronger sex for protection, food and shelter never sat well with me, I could not until recently put into words my objections. If you believe the story that humans have always and forever been a selfishly competitive lot, then the historical use of women as breeding livestock makes perfect sense. So it wasn’t until I read Sex at Dawn that I learned that humans were, in fact, profoundly happy, healthy, lazy and incredibly promiscuous right up until we figured out how to farm and store food. It’s certainly not an expected connection to make, but it was in my efforts to understand human sexuality that I made my first discovery about the reality of our global economy: The damage that we have caused over the last 10,000 years is not the inevitable result of our evolved human selfishness, but instead it is the result of putting humans who were evolved to be carefree and lazy into a world where they had to work and compete with each other for survival.

My own field can be described as behavioral economics. I study “anomalies” of human behavior that have been evolved into our decision making process, but have not adapted to the modern world of global trade, advanced marketing, financial assets and long range economic planning. Because most economists are still very antagonistic towards the use of behavioral theories in their traditional models, much of my effort goes into justifying why I am not studying a world composed of homo economicii (my pluralization of homo economicus, the fictitional human that embodies the economic ideal of decision making). One of the major sub fields of behavioral economics is what is called “other regarding behavior.” In essence, whenever a person chooses an action that benefits other people when they had the opportunity to benefit themselves even more by ignoring those people, we call it other regarding and label it an anomaly. Most people who are not economists are familiar with this type of behavior and use the colloquial terms “having manners,” “showing respect,” “loving,” or “being decent” instead.  It really isn’t a foreign concept at all, and yet it is aggressively defended against in areas of public policy and economics.

In the process of researching my dissertation on violence, I came across a lay article on biological taxonomy and evolution. Many animals have physical features that cannot be explained well by the simple application of “survival of the fittest/strongest.” In this case, the article was talking about social versus solitary distinctions. The degree of cooperativeness of a species can be measured very reliably by the amount of white that shows around the colored parts of their eyes. The theory goes that a lone hunter would not want to give away the location of its quarry by allowing another hunter to see where it was looking. On the other hand, animals who act as a group for protection or for hunting would want their clan to know where they were looking in order to better coordinate. Among all mammals, human eyes are the easiest to read, moreso than dogs, wolves or even the great apes, considered most cooperative among mammals. Humans, therefore, can be proved on a sound scientific basis to be profoundly cooperative.

In addition to being strategically cooperative, humans participate in what Professor of Sociology R. Collins calls interaction rituals. By participating in a common and ritualized activity, we synchronize our emotional states with each other. A successful ritual leads to greater cohesion in the group while an unsuccessful ritual leads to feelings of isolation or even existential unease. Broadly defined, even sexual intercourse falls into the category of these interaction rituals. Church, spectators sports, and drum circles are other less ubiquitous examples of the same. By synchronizing our emotions we also synchronize our incentives and are more inclined to act towards the unified interest of our group rather than in an independent selfish direction.

Anthropologically, biologically and psychologically humans are clearly a cooperative species hardwired to care for each other and take group actions to benefit the whole. So why is our world so bloody fucked up? Let’s go back to the Story of Isolation*. Even though the science says one thing, “history” says another. History says that we have always been selfish and single minded, but the problem with relying on the historical record is that it does not include the part that happened before we started keeping track. It does not include the part where we did not have civilization and instead lived in relative, albeit primitive, harmony. In essence, history is a biased data set on the nature of humanity.

Now that I know that the wisdom and common sense that I was brought up on is built on the invalid conclusion that humans are selfish utility maximizers, I can begin to unravel the many layers of “fact” that have clouded my perspective over the years. For example, consider the “fact” that land prices always rise. For those of us who love the unbridled wilderness, we must accept that nature is a scarce resource like oil, gold, and leg room on airplanes. That it gets more expensive every year is the inevitable byproduct of human population growth. Those who are most willing to pay for it are those who will be able to enjoy it, and for those of us who “can’t afford” to buy our own piece of nature we must just accept that the rich obviously appreciate it more than we do.  Moreover, not only do the rich and the corporate appreciate the land more than we do, they also put it to better use by ripping it up and consuming its natural resources. For years I thought this was the truth about everything I loved. Sad as it was, I thought it was an unyielding fact about the human condition.

If anything, I think the progression through agriculture, feudalism, colonialism, industrialism and globalism was inevitable, but I don’t think that this is the end of the story for us and I don’t think that the future will follow quite the same course. Instead, what I see as the only sustainable future course for us is one of deep appreciation for the natural world and for each other. Money has proven ultimately inefficient at allocating resources when they are truly scarce. Until now there has always been another continent, another ocean, another oil field… but there are no more places to expand to anymore. Furthermore, we are consuming the earth’s resources at so great a rate that we can no longer afford to make decisions independently of each other. In economics we talk about the Tragedy of the Commons which is the simple premise that if everyone has to share and no one regulates how much each person can use, we will all take too much and cause the collapse of our community. What we are looking at now is a global tragedy which is here because we have repeatedly failed to regulate the use of our shared resource, the planet.

Community will be key in the future to survival on a very very basic level. The tower we have built our civilization on is swaying terribly in high winds and very soon we will have none of the far reaching support we have grown accustomed to. International bananas and avocados, Canadian tomatoes in winter, American beef in Japan, all these things will go away because they will simply become too expensive to continue to consume. Many other luxuries that depend on oil as a material input or for transportation will become very scarce and this is almost everything we consume on a daily basis, right down to the shrink wrap our food comes in. The only viable alternative is one of community resilience. Without the tentacles of a bloated government and commercial system to sustain us from thousands of miles away, we are going to have to make do with what we have available nearby.

This making do is what I call resilience**. It is the ability to live, indeed to thrive, on what is available with what one has on hand. I know now that my calling all this time has been towards personal resilience. Ironically, it is not towards hermithood somewhere far removed from society, but in fact it is towards a strength of spirit and body that will complement the community around me. Because the crises we face are multifaceted and immense each in its own right, the solutions will have to be holistic ones. I believe at this point my body and my spirit are ready. The remaining steps will be to put myself in the right position to act when the storm finally breaks.

Part 2 “Preparation”

*words given to me by Charles Eisenstein.
**words given to me by Chris Martenson.

The tyranny of the majority

Why do some mountains have stairs in them? It’s because people want to pretend that they are hiking through nature, but they don’t want to experience the icky bits of real hiking through nature that involve things like getting sweaty, or dirty, or actually having to touch the nature.

Peace!
Two mountain bikers obviously just wrecking this busy mountain trail

I was out riding my bike yesterday, and one of the guys I was riding with commented that he used to have a lot of trails available to him back at home in Yokohama, but in recent years they have all been chocked full of stairs and are now unrideable. This is on top of plans by the Tokyo prefecture to outlaw riding mountain bikes in any of its public parks because they are “dangerous” and “damaging” to the trails.

I love riding mountain bikes. There’s nothing like it! I love riding my cyclocross bike, too. I have been a voluntary bicycle commuter for working on four years now and every year my commute gets longer. This year I’m up to twenty-five kilometers (around twelve miles) in each direction.  When I lived in Philadelphia I was an active member and supporter of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and between my personal experience and their research, I have come to the conclusion that bicyclists are the middle child of society. Everyone hates us despite how hard we try.

Many mountain bikers will, of their own accord and because no one else will do it, go out to trails to reinforce them against runoff and erosion. To clear them of fallen logs and to add stones or other solid objects for safer and less environmentally damaging water crossings. Many road cyclists go out of their way to signal to other road users, stop at stop lights, give the right of passage to pedestrians. On the whole, I think people who really love bikes are pretty damn awesome citizens. And yet on the trails we are banned because most people don’t want to have to share with us. They don’t want to have to learn trail manners, wear lights or bells to make their presence known to other trail users, or walk through passes that aren’t boarded up with stairs. On the roads, we are banned from sidewalks because we are dangerous to pedestrians (pedestrians don’t move as fast as bicycles. Simple physics), but are we protected from cars when we ride in the streets? Of course not! Cars are busy being driven by busy people who are too goddamn busy to pay attention to whether or not their actions could kill someone.

It doesn’t matter that bicyclists have been shown time and again to benefit the environment and to benefit the economy. The reality is that most people own and drive cars and most people do not ride bikes. What happens is that an activity which is good for everyone but only practiced by a few, an activity that is beautiful and healthy and clean and provides thousands and thousands of humans a critical sense of freedom and exhilaration in their life, is being snuffed out by the tyrannous majority of lazy, pampered, but most importantly obediently consumptive humans the world over.

Well, if you want to live in a world where the only way to get around is by gas guzzling carbon belching automobiles, a world where the closest you ever get to nature is through the bullet proof glass at the gorilla exhibit in your local zoo, a world where everything is dumbed down and sterilized for your convenience, go ahead and have at it. If you want your stairs, go to a fucking park.

Just stay out of my mountains.

Dear My Origins

Dear My Former Church,

We haven’t spoken in a long time. In fact, we haven’t spoken since that critical day in August, 2010, when I realized that you had been lying to me all this time. It’s been hard for me to live without you, but as the song goes, “I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong and I grew strong. And I learned how to get along!” I don’t need you anymore and I’ve come to realize that, accept it, and own it. There is a scar from our past which will always be with me, but now that the wound is closed and I have come to be able to breathe again I thought I should write to you to give us both a little closure.

I was young when we met, bright eyed, beautiful and vulnerable. You came to me with the promise of joy and protection from the cruel world. You told me that I was weak and you were strong and that you would love me and only want what was best for me. Naturally I was swept away by your promises. What innocent virgin would not be? I bound myself to you and made your presence known in every action, every thought, and every interaction I had in every single day of my life. You told me that I was broken, that I was dirty, that I was the cause of man’s downfall. You told me that my suffering was just and inescapable punishment for my inherent sin and I believed you while at the same time asking you, nay even begging you, to explain to me how your love was apparent through all that judgment.

You were jealous then, and you still are. I didn’t understand until I was married how far reaching the tentacles of your jealousy were. You told me that to marry young and virgin was the height of my virtue and that only a complete denial of my physical self could be closer to your ideal. So I did that. I married young and virgin and innocent. When on my wedding night my husband proclaimed to me that “[He] was going to have sex with [his] wife!” a strange thing happened. For all my young years I had been fighting against an ever increasing tidal wave of sexual energy. It threatened to throw me body and soul out of the light of your glory and into the frothing sea of carnal passion below. You promised me that on my wedding night instead of plunging to my spiritual death, that this tidal wave of energy would instead raise me up, send me soaring in virtuous marital bliss, but when my gown came off and I open my thighs for my new husband…

there was no wave. Indeed it was as if the entire ocean had dried up before me.

Of course neither you nor my brand new husband seemed in the slightest bit bothered and the both of you just kept plowing on without me. And so it was that I spent the better part of the next decade in a desperate losing battle to reunite my rebelling spirit with the joy and safety that you had promised me. You know how well that went. You promised me that if I could only make it as far as I did that ever abundant life and joy would be made available to me, but instead you abandoned me to the care of a man. A single, solitary, miserly, inadequate man. Even though I returned to you time and again for an explanation, your promises and your love were as dry as the tidal wave of my former passion. You told me then in my desperation and my loneliness that I should be happy because you had given me everything I could want. You told me that my lack of happiness was my own fault for rejecting your gifts to me.

And so it was one humid summer night that I went back to the cliff where I had last seen the raging sea that threatened to swallow me whole so many years ago. I remember standing on the edge of that cliff and looking down into the sea and wondering if it would indeed kill me. But then I looked for you there on that cliff and though you warned me not to jump, I saw the truth of what your promises held for me: pain, loneliness, self-loathing. Your promises to me were no more alive than an empty desert who so long has not felt rain that it has given up even the memory of moisture. My choice was apparent. I could stay with you and have a slow wasting death of which every day would be safe and secure in the knowledge that there was no more life to be had. Or else I could throw myself off that cliff into the writhing, frothing sea below. Perhaps it would kill me. Perhaps I would drown, or perhaps I would not. Perhaps the waves would cradle me and toss me, bringing thrill and kindness to my parched existence.

You know what happened that night. There is no way you didn’t hear me screaming and calling out my passion. I nearly choked on the surge of life that flooded my body. And I know what you said then, too. You said to all who would listen to you that it was the voice of suffering that rose up from the water. You called them to look at my face and see pain and madness, a fallen woman indeed. But let’s be honest with each other. I feel that after all these years we owe each other at least that much. You did to me what any spurned lover would do. You muddied my name and discredited me so as to mitigate the pain of your own rejection.

Were you a human, I would forgive you for your faults, but you are not a human you are a church. You are massive conglomeration, a katamari of all that is good and all that is mislead in humanity and you wield your power over us young and helpless. Isolated and naive you make of us easy prey. I wish I could say now, My Church, that I forgive you your trespasses, but you do not forgive those who trespass against you, do you?

I guess in the end, though, I am not without fault. I wanted to believe you. You did tell me one thing which was true and that was that in my heart, at the deepest center of my being, I would know truth from lie. And I knew you were lying to me. Your story never made very good sense, but I used all my energy to force that burning star of Truth at the back of my consciousness into the clean and tidy cage you offered me. You told me I should love my neighbor as myself and I knew this to be truth. But you also told me that I should love my husband more than myself and this never sat well with me. How could I love my neighbor, my brothers and sisters in God, as myself and then love one person of my choosing more so than all of them? I tried to convince myself that it was simply a matter of expediency that one necessarily had to spend more of their time with their husband than with the rest of humanity so it made sense to love him more.

You also told me that my body was a temple to the One True God and that I should never celebrate in it. Wait, what? Are temples not for worship? How can I worship with my body if I never use it? You told me that my body, being a female body, was necessarily unclean, but why would a holy and divine being bestow upon me a temple to its glory that was unclean and unworthy of celebration?

I knew these things did not make sense just as I knew that your promise of unconditional and unbounded love did not actually extend to me because of my womanhood. And yet you were so charismatic, so convincing and you made the outside world seem so scary that I would have chosen you then a thousand times over.

Well, I wanted to tell you that I have grown now. I jumped into that frothing sea and I drank it until the waves subsided and they carried me spent on their backs until I reached the shore. I have found my peace now with my body and my womanhood, but not with you. So I thought it was fair warning to let you know that I’m coming back to finish you off. No longer will I allow you to prey upon the young and the innocent. No longer will I stand by and try to justify your lies to my sisters who, unlike myself, are still too afraid to take the leap. You who would sow fear and distrust amongst those that I love are forever my enemy and I will fuck you out of existence.

You have been warned.

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