What do people need?

each other

In recent months, I’ve revisited Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, and some of the Zen ideas and teachings therein have wended their way into my consciousness. Reminds me of snippets of Buddhism I’ve absorbed over the years, such as the interconnectivity of all beings.

“A person pokes up from the world and rolls along like a wave, until it is time to sink down again.”

A Tale for the Time Being, p.194

A wave is a person is alive is dead is the same thing. The narrator goes on to lament that one cannot hold on to water, to the people we love. “…still I gripped her fingers a little more tightly to keep her from leaking away.”

More recently, other ideas about how fleeting human life is in the scale of geologic or universe time have bubbled up. I wish I could cite the articles or podcasts that resurfaced this idea, but it’s not uncommon. Perhaps it was this:

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

Lao Tzu (as quoted in Frugaling’s Ownership Isn’t Real, We Rent This Life)

And I’ve picked up another of Kim Stanley Robinson’s novels, and so have remembered Aurora, and the perils of a generation starship. What are we preserving, when we rocket a probe into the stars?

We are all star stuff.

Carl Sagan

Another idea that’s gained prominence in my mind recently is the emphasis, in some cultures, not on individuals or even the group, but on the culture itself. The peoples’ practices.

In high school, I hit upon the belief that the point of life is to defy extinction. I’ve come back around to this, with some additions.

The point of human life, broadly, is

To defy extinction
To perpetuate the species
To make meaning of existence
To reproduce culture

So…what is our culture? As families, as communities, as municipalities, as states, as a nation? (USA context, here.)
What is worth reproducing? Passing on? Changing? Leaving behind?


And what role do we play, as fleeting time beings? Given that most of us are unremarkable outside of those who know us, I’ve started to believe that what is important is family, chosen biological or otherwise. That is where our attention can make a difference. Where we transmit values and cultural practices. Where we make meaning.


Ozeki’s work reminds me of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower ~ the only lasting truth is change ~

“Everything in the universe is constantly changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives.”

A Tale for the Time Being, p.408

[I mistyped “flows” as “flowers” just now. A freudian typo?]

So many people have lived
small lives
Time Beings

And what does it mean,
to truly “live our lives”?
What life is worthy of living?
How do we fully honor, appreciate
the privilege
The unlikely circumstance
of living?

now, this moment, mindfulness meditation, and its capitalist twisting, unrooted from its Buddhist origins*, how can we be present for one another, make meaning together, create something lasting knowing that lasting is relative and relatively hopeless beyond a few generations ~ we last, endure, relationally, with our relations ~

“human consciousness is neither more nor less than the clouds and water, or the hundreds of grasses”

A Tale for the Time Being, p.409

we are all star stuff

*Listen to the Upstream Podcast’s conversation with Ron Purser for more on “McMindfulness



Filed under Contemporary

A Decade of “Contempt”

Huh. Whaddya know? I started this blog a little over ten years ago.

It means what we make it mean.

Temporal milestones offer opportunities to reflect. On origins, evolution, current state, and potential future (or lack thereof). Not least on temporality itself. Decades come fore me more swiftly these days. Ten years since high school, college; then 15. Coming up on 20. I am as old as my parents were. Again. The years whip by, significance ever elusive. How am I old enough to have been friends with some people for a quarter century? Old enough for my youngest cousins, people I remember as babies, to be getting hitched? Such revelations come for us all.

But that is immaterial to this blog and its original project, which was to have a space for my brain to continue thinking anthropologically, historically, critically. To turn analytical tools on the culture I live in. To rail against insidious injustices.

In September, briefly, I decided to be more intentional about focusing on the good. The positive. What was going well. Fell off that wagon quickly, but it’s a wagon worth catching up with. For those of us with a cynical kneejerk, who find negativity and complaint to be cozy bedfellows, however hungover they make the rest of our travels through life, training our attention on positive aspects of reality takes a lot of work. It is reminding ourselves, over and over, to breathe and think of something good. And it turns out, there are many parts of life that attract this attention and warrant gratitude. I continue to relearn this lesson.

One project I’m devoting more attention to these days than this neglected blog:

  • Lost is Found (Every object has a life story; are you listening?)

Blogs, if they persist, change with their creators. I am not who I was ten years ago. Thank goodness. Hopefully I have retained and am adopting what’s of service to the universe.

Along with focusing as much as I can on what is good in life, I am trying to orient toward this thought:

We matter to those who love us.
What we create matters most to the people who already know and love us.
The rest is gravy.


Filed under Uncategorized

Of Finite Appetites

Today I was listening to a provocative episode of The Anxious Achiever about professional envy. The specific context was consulting – how to differentiate one’s business coaching services and attract enough clients to make a living in an oversaturated market. The discussion delved into several aspects of professional envy, but the problem of markets is what I want to focus on here. Before interviewing her guest, Nihar Chhaya, host Mora Aarons-Mele invoked a metaphor that catapulted me right back to a 2015 writing conference:

There’s always more pie.

When I first heard this metaphor, I was eager for assurance that my amateur work had the potential to break through the glut of writing on the market(s). The presenter at the writing conference who insisted that “you can always make more pie” said this in good faith, as an encouraging reframe: Instead of worrying about the relative size of your slice, she reasoned, just make another pie!

I love pie. I swallowed it whole.

In the years since, I’ve grown suspicious of this metaphor. Roaming the tables at the AWP bookfair the very next year, I stopped at a friend’s booth and noted that everyone was trying to sell their writing to people who were trying to sell them their writing. The market seemed so insular. So delusional. “Look at me!” we all cried, most of us in vain. That is the nature of industry trade shows, I suppose, not to mention professional organizations. When we restrict ourselves to promoting within these markets, insularity is endemic. While not exactly fixed markets (as represented by people like myself, who were new to AWP) only the proverbial rock-stars stand out, make a living.

Sure, we can make more pie. But who is going to eat it?

The humble pie metaphor is an unintentional scam. Even if we succeed in venturing beyond our fields of practice, what becomes of our wares? Appetites are not infinite. While I’m all for adopting a worldview of abundance, we live within a capitalist system that thrives on the idea of scarcity. For writing, for services, for goods, there are limits on three key resources:

  • Time
  • Attention
  • Money

Let’s hone in on that last one. There is abundance, yes. But most of us cannot access it. Instead, the pies we make get smaller as we compete for more and more limited ingredients. So the question becomes: how do we unlock the abundance? Establishing a niche in an “untapped” market only gets you so far, since the resources within those markets are systematically being siphoned off and stored in the coffers of the ultra-rich.

It’s appropriate that in a world created by extractive capitalism, we must find ways to extract wealth from the hoarders who have benefitted from this economic system so the rest of us no longer have to struggle to survive in scarcity. Taxation, as a strategy for redistributing wealth and providing public services, has been effectively neutered in the United States, and philanthropy further consolidates power with those who are evading taxes, as they get to decide where their extracted (largely untaxed) wealth will be distributed. Thus the public ceases to exist, in that we are all overlapping categories of need, hands outstretched to benevolent philanthropists and underfunded government agencies, hoping that our needs will be sexy enough to attract whatever fraction of resources the wealthy deign to share.

The tension between scarcity and abundance will eventually break. Only then will there be enough people to eat all the pies we’ll be baking, if we can find ways to reap the ingredients.


Filed under Contemporary, Power

Poetic Interlude: Drafting Dreams

Nocturnal thoughts are rarely definitive
until day breaks


Filed under Wordplay

Dancing with Strangers

what have we lost

what do we keep

what can we make


will we be



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Filed under Contemporary, Nostalgia