Bardo, Fuji, and Curated Butts

Please keep your head in the Bardo. It feels like in some ways the US has emotionally moved on already from all of the upheaval we’re still very much going through. This is disappointing and alarming. Nothing we’re facing, not Covid-19, not the sober recognition of systemic, historical racism and economic inequality, not the economic chaos that the global pandemic has brought - we’ve handled none of it, and we’re on the other side of nothing.

This lovely postcard came with a pen I ordered from this Turkish family leatherworks.

Bardo in Tibetan Buddhism is the name for the “in between” state, specifically between death and rebirth but it also has other meanings. It has some more specific resonances in that post-death context though. It’s a potent moment in that tradition wherein by simply keeping your head about you, you can jump the tracks and avoid being embodied in a human body again. That’s extremely exciting if you’re a Buddhist, because that’s the ultimate goal, to get out of the endless, mindless cycle of existence. When you think about everything you’re bound to in the course of your everyday life and lifespan, you’ll get a taste of this sense of cyclical existence even without bringing the alien to us (and frankly unnecessary) notion of rebirth or birth into it. Here’s a little more on Bardo in various Buddhist contexts if you’re interested.

This banana though: Laurie Anderson has a radio show going now called Party in the Bardo. She’s calling our current moment a Bardo, and I think that’s a potent way to think about it. The episode I’ve been listening to is from mid-June and has so many wonderful bits in it, really all sorts of things, including a brief discussion with the artist who created a sound installation in North Adams, MA that is one of my all time favorites. It took an overpass and added speakers below it, and some things that convert the sounds of passing cars and people into music. Laurie also talks about what she’s been up to during the quarantine/social distancing times. She talks about how there has been a different sense of time, and things feel more adrift. She apparently has been doing a lot of raking.

We’re still there, in the in between. We were always there in a sense, but the urge for the gloss of normalcy and our habits and shared powers of cognitive dissonance have held it together for us previously. And part of that near-constant gloss of normalcy is itself privilege that not everyone has access to. This forced taste of something else is, in a way, a gift. Take advantage, and don’t give it up so easily. Bardo is a good and powerful place to be, where there’s important work to be done. It’s a unique spot where everything is at stake and there’s limitless potential to become, change, or not become. I’m strongly advising you to hold on to that feeling of danger, of possibility, of everything at stake and nothing taken for granted, and of becoming rather than being what you’ve been. If you need to connect again with what things felt like a couple of short months ago, Laurie’s Party in the Bardo can help mood-wise.

A stunning view of Mt. Fuji.

If you don’t see the video, or see an image but no choice to see it move, click the link above to bring it up in Instagram.

I found this view awe-inspiring. And along somewhat similar lines, I’ve been enjoying the views Sabin.Shipspotter has been laying down with a drone in my old hometown of Providence, RI.

If you don’t see the video, or see an image but no choice to see it move, click the link above to bring it up in Twitter.

The oldest known straw hat in the world.

From this tweet I found the #CURATORBATTLE tradition, which is a barrel of fun led by Yorkshire Museum, where curators from various museums attempt to one-up each other with the coolest artifact or artistic work under a particular theme. Their most recent theme was butts. Recommended.

Harvesting those three bananas took everything I had, so no bonii this week. You can hit “reply” and it will go only to me. Thank you.

Three bananas about imagination and the future

This week I picked three bananas about the future and how it gets made.

All organizing is science fiction. There’s an idea that has been bouncing around in my head for months now, and that has popped up all over the place since I started thinking about it. The idea is that just envisioning, proposing, or supporting an idea increases its likelihood as a possible future. Imagining something that doesn’t exist and may even seem outlandish in the status quo in some sense brings it a little closer to reality, sometimes a lot closer to reality.

Some of this thinking dates back to this banana from September 2019: “I have been a poor reader of Sci-fi, but it has recently struck me that the longer you live, the more reality warps and morphs before your eyes. And as that happens the more useful Sci-Fi is as a lens through which to think about the elasticity of it all…Fiction and non-fiction aren’t shelved separately in life as they are in a bookstore. Ideas come from and go to everywhere.”

This has taken on a sharpened point for me lately, in thinking about all kinds of change and how it happens. In a conversation with someone online, we were discussing what should be done to address the harms of the Police and related institutions in this country. This person was focused on what set of reforms are likely achievable in terms of policy consensus. I was focused on imagining what an entire future without the systems burdening us today could be. Not what’s possible now, but what’s desired now. I share this not to denigrate the other person’s opinion, but to mark a moment when I realized what I am and why I am.

I find this stuff very hard to articulate cleanly, but let me take a shot. The quote from @tobikyere above, about all organizing being science fiction, nails it for me. So much of what’s happening right now, every argument about direction and degree - “defund” vs. “abolish” vs. “reform” the police - is really a battle to classify and claim and envision futures*. Already in a few short months, any number of events that seemed impossible have happened, from American capitalism completely ceasing for a few weeks to relentless night-after-night activism to managing editors and statues toppling, to previously unimaginable conversations happening inside corporate walls, to arrests of police officers for murder.

@Tobikyere’s Tweet is clever and right on. Other than Covid-19 grinding capitalism to a halt (that really happened!), the other events described in the previous paragraph all happened because enough people imagined them and stated them and in some cases fought like hell to bring them about. The current state of things is just the way things happen to be right now. And it’s not even static; it’s constantly, subtly, changing under our feet. It feels solid and unchangeable but that’s illusory. We’ve already seen it warp. So take any issue, from foundational systemic racism to broken government to our collective disregard for the rich/poor gap to stewardship of the earth, and imagine it differently. Don’t limit yourself to what Congress would likely pass or what the American people would go for based on polling. What should it look like? What could it look like?

*A little more on this in the next banana.

The futures cone. Of course, while all of that is bubbling around in my head, useful bits and pieces just show up in my path. Here’s one.

This was a fascinating piece of graffiti. Some replies and RT’s brought me to what it is - “the futures cone”- which is a way to think about or classify all the futures there are in our imaginations.

I found a good piece from 2017 from its creator, or maybe sharpener and popularizer, a professor named Joseph Voros. His version looks like this:

I am just starting to learn about this thing and its value, so I don’t have much that is terribly profound to say about it just yet. I noted in the article that Science Fiction writers and thinkers, (and radical activists I think), are most interested in the “Preposterous!” futures. And when you think about the slice of the Preposterous! that are Preferable, that might be where some real fertile ground is for good constructive imagining.

Rituals heal. Molly got me this book for my birthday, Good To Go, by Christy Aschwanden. I finished it recently. Near the back was this striking passage.

It’s a recurring theme in the book as well: Very few specific modalities of recovery for elite athletes (or for us regular folks) have shown strong evidence of effectiveness individually. But it appears that choosing a method of recovery and committing time and energy and care to it seems to have lots of benefits for athletes, somewhat irrespective of what that method is. So instead of throwing out all of these tools, supplements, and approaches, Aschwanden suggests finding what you think works for you and sticking with it as long as it feels useful. There’s a tie that I can’t yet articulate well back to the first banana, about the power of imagining desired futures. And the metaphorical bridge to spiritual belief systems and how they work is also interesting to me.

Bonus bananas: There are so many! Because it has been so long. In this thread, one descendent of Francis Scott Key meets another descendent he didn’t know existed, in the replies!

Going along with the idea of Preposterous futures, there’s some suggestion that being faced with the absurd helps you reorient your worldview to changes. I tried and failed to really grasp much of this article from the newsletter Psyche, but I like the idea and wanted to pass it along in case you have more luck with it.

There’s a woman I follow on Twitter, Elisabeth, who has fully befriended a Scrub Jay (which is a bird). There are amazing photos of them hanging out nearly every day. This article(fixed now!) explains how they got to be such good friends.

Those are all the bananas I have for you this week. You can hit “reply” and it will go only to me. Things are weird all over right now and there are voices far more important than mine that you should be paying attention to, but I’ll see if I can get this thing going again. Thank you.

Shady Transformers, David Byrne on Performance

Plus a look at humans from the outside in, and a bunch of bonus bananas too

Geniune shade. In an era of hyper-real imaging and printing, it’s easy to forget there are other badass styles. These creations by LEK Custom Toys are actual in-the-flesh figures painted to look like the old 2D shading of the cartoon. The background is also painted to match that look. I just…wow. It’s pretty amazing, both to have the idea to do and the execution here. There are lots more photos of work like this in LEK’s insta.

Byrne on Snapchat before Snapchat. I was hoping to find a full video of David Byrne’s talk at this year’s New Yorker Fest based on what I see in this Twitter thread, but no luck so far.

His explanation of the role of performance in his life is especially fascinating to me because it just never occurred to me. I was a shy, awkward kid through several eras as well, but I never thought to use performance as way to let more of myself out. Any time I had to be on stage for something it was the opposite - I was 10X more anxious about how I’d appear to the crowd. I was terrified of doing something embarrassing. It takes incredible courage to flip that and think about it this way as something ephemeral, like we have with Snapchat today.

Also, for context - remember what I said a letter or so ago about sci-fi and living long enough to see the world change several times over:

The evident joy of pumpkin boat guy.

The PARTY RACE everyone warns their children about. This thing and this worthwhile thread that I’m dropping you in the middle of kind of speaks for itself. It’s a set of observations about how humans must look as a species to other beings in other worlds, and what our relationships with an imagined space congress would look like. It so smartly encapsulates how the same traits that are incredibly endearing in us are also kind of sinister when you take a giant step back.

Bonus bananas: One of the most innovative coin makers around made a coin with a mechanical heart. A table of how little musicians can make from streaming. A video game composer who enjoys making songs for video games that don’t exist.

Those are the bananas I have for you this week. You can hit reply and it’ll go only to me. You can also inquire about joining our Slack team, if you wish. Thank you.

Sincerity, gravity, and harmony

It’s almost tomorrow, but it isn’t. As long as there’s a little bit of Thursday left, there are a few things I want to show you.

Hippo Birdie 2 Ewe. It’s probably always going to be fashionable to dismiss sincerity with snark. In the current cultural moment, it feels almost subversive to hold up as important things like warmth and childlike play. Ian Bogost crafted a tender, thoughtful, insightful profile of children’s author Sandra Boynton for The Atlantic, and I’ve been sitting on the link for some reason. I’ve had it in my bookmarks for a couple of days now and just finally read it tonight.

I’d like to say I’ve been holding it back in a kind of savoring of the thought of it, knowing it was going to be great. But I don’t think that’s it. I think I was afraid I’d have to let something of myself go in order to fully embrace it. Does that make sense? Boynton is an element of my childhood, and I associate her with saccharine sweet line art and innocuous punning. And probably with some of the ick of being a teenager looking back at the things you liked as a child. I’m an Ian Bogost fan, and I assumed he’d have taken her up as a subject because there’s a lot there. But I wondered what I’d have to check at the door in order to go on the article’s journey. And what of my own past moments of callous snark I’d have to surface, acknowledge, and accept. It was Yom Kippur week, of course.

I want to give it to you without much framing beyond that, to let you have your own honest reaction in case you start in a similar spot. I do want to share this snippet of an anecdote about Boynton being accepted to a Maurice Sendak seminar at Yale - accepted but also not accepted:

She was accepted, so she figured Sendak must have liked it. Not so much. When the two met, Sendak dismissed the portfolio as “greeting-card art.” But that only emboldened her. “It occurred to me that making and selling my own greeting cards would be a much better summer job than the waitressing I’d done unhappily the previous summer,” she told me.

It gave me the point of entry I needed to drop my baggage or my old, foggy lenses and learn about Boynton anew, as an artist and a person.

Here’s that link again.

Well that looks pretty easy. This satisfying video shows what it looks like to take down a very tall radio tower with just one metallic snip.

The Singing Road. There’s a stretch of Route 66 near Albuquerque that plays “America The Beautiful” with your tires if you drive right at the speed limit.

There is something so fundamental and so great about this. I assumed it had been around for a good long while, like maybe since the heyday of Route 66. Nope, it was a DOT project completed just five years ago. As you might have guessed, they created it by inserting vibrating metal pieces of precise lengths and amounts into the asphalt.

“…anything that vibrates 330 times in one second will produce an E note—a guitar string, a tuning fork or even a tire. To produce an E note with a car, we had to space the rumble strips such that if driven at 45 mph for one second, the car would hit 330 strips. A bit of math tells us this is 2.4 inches between each rumble strip. After that, it’s a case of breaking down the music into exact chunks of time and applying the same technique to each space depending on what note is needed and for how long.”

Bonus bananas: Get chills watching and listening to Phil Collins working the drum fill from In The Air Tonight, and check out a few photos from the Bhagavad-Gita Diorama museum in LA.

Those are the bananas I found for you this week. You can hit “reply” and it’ll go only to me. Thank you.

Locusts, Blackbirds and Dragons

(a)Surviving on what's abundant, (b)the sci-fi lens, and (c)just because you can, doesn't mean you should

I missed you all last week - sometimes things just get super busy. I’m excited to have three fresh bananas for you today.

Locusts as staple crop. This is a really well told story about a pretty grave fact of life right now. Insect-based protein is all the rage as a curiosity and even a luxury wellness item here, but in war-ravaged Yemen, a plague-level infestation of locusts that feasted on anything left have quickly become the most viable staple food source. This short doc shows you what that really means for individuals, families, and merchants. Who catches locusts? How are they shared and sold? At what scale is this happening? How perishable are they - can they be converted into other forms of currency? And do they qualify as Halal (bonus reading)? If they don’t, what if you have no other choices for sustenance?

Watch the short Al Jazeera segment.

The Dragon-Blackbird and the sci-fi lens. I was captivated by these hybrid military-tech-and-myth creations (found via Dan Hon), done by artist Alex Jay Brady.

This stuff sparked my imagination in an extremely unexpected way. I have been a poor reader of Sci-fi, but it has recently struck me that the longer you live, the more reality warps and morphs before your eyes. And as that happens the more useful Sci-Fi is as a lens through which to think about the elasticity of it all.

Here’s another bit along those lines, about how the notion of zombies and vampires might inform military weaponry, from John Robb, also from Dan Hon’s feed:

Fiction and non-fiction aren’t shelved separately in life as they are in a bookstore. Ideas come from and go to everywhere.

Just give us the throttles that we can use. Latest isn’t necessarily greatest, although that pair seem to be inseparable in corporate environments. Sometimes a switch or a knob is worlds better than a digital interface. I know with making music, there’s still something about manipulating knobs, levers, wheels, and dials that engages a different part of your brain. I love digital interfaces sometimes too, but there seems to be a time for each, and one in no way reigns supreme or universal.

The story I’m sharing here demonstrates that notion that much simpler tools and technologies are sometimes far preferable to newer, cooler, more advanced gear. It just depends what the need is and how it’s best met. The Navy recently decided to go back to physical throttles and helm systems on destroyers as part of the follow-up to recent high profile collisions. It’s fascinating to hear their leadership explain what’s up. These are excerpts from Program Executive Officer for Ships Rear Adm. Bill Galinis, at a keynote speech:

“As a result of innovation and a desire to incorporate new technology, ‘we got away from the physical throttles, and that was probably the number-one feedback from the fleet – they said, just give us the throttles that we can use.’”

“When we started getting the feedback from the fleet from the Comprehensive Review effort – it was SEA 21 (NAVSEA’s surface ship lifecycle management organization) that kind of took the lead on doing some fleet surveys and whatnot – it was really eye-opening. And it goes into the, in my mind, ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ category. We really made the helm control system, specifically on the [DDG] 51 class, just overly complex, with the touch screens under glass and all this kind of stuff.”

Photo of physical, manual controls instead of fully tech-ed out touchscreens

It’s a remarkably clear-eyed and astute observation, and one that merits consideration far more often than is fashionable out in the world.

Those are the bananas I found for you this week. You can hit “reply” and the email will go only to me. Help me spread the word if you like getting these. And thank you.

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