Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture.
A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.



October 25, 2014

lessons from a bird, again

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 14:01

swallow cool

1. self-healing:

first, you breathe.
then, gently, take stock of your wounds, your fever,
whatever is not well.

if you’ve been in shock, shake it off,
violently, with every muscle in your body,
don’t give it purchase to haunt you,
let it go entirely, now. it’s over.

next, find a warm, quiet, safe place,
near water, and
rest. as long as it takes.

that’s all.

2. healing others:

fend off the danger, get the obstacles
to the other’s self-healing out of the way.

bring fresh food and warm liquids.

let the other know you’re there, close by,
listen,
and sing your empathy and love.

no more, no less than that.

photo by the author

October 10, 2014

something to believe in

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 21:22

“though we rush ahead to save our time, we are only what we feel” — Neil Young

“well we’ve both lived long enough to know we’d trade it all right now
for just one minute of real love”
– Patrick Henderson/Michael McDonald

Rickie-Lee-Jones-Piratesand then, after all –
after all the struggle, all your life, to fit in, to belong,
to do what you’re told you’re supposed to do,
to be who you’re supposed to be,
after you’ve finally figured out how this world actually works,
how this civilization makes us all ill,
and how it’s falling apart faster than we can imagine,
after you start to begin to begin to understand
what it means to be human,
and that your sense of self is all illusion
that you are a nothing less than the complicity of a trillion cells –

after all that,
you realize that none of this matters without love.

you tell yourself that your life is, still or finally,
full of love,
but why, then, do you so crave appreciation and attention,
love’s sad substitutes?

you say you love this person,
but it’s really not the same as what you once felt,
that incredible rush, that delirious invincible feeling.
you want proof that it’s still love,
it’s just you that’s jaded,
that the person who sits across from you at dinner,
listening attentively, you imagine, to your words,
that the crowd before you when you speak, or perform,
nodding and applauding enthusiastically, it seems,
that the work you do, for which you’re paid and highly rated,
prove that you are loved,

and that you love them in return.

but something’s missing, something that was once there,
making you joyful and filled with purpose, has somehow
quietly stolen away, leaving a silence, an emptiness.

you try to blame this loss on many things:
on our monogamous, love-stingy society
in which “the best ones are always taken”,
and in which the work of trying to keep love alive
becomes just another grinding job.

or on the insensitivity or stupidity of others,
and the exhausting slavery of modern work,
which make our hearts hard and cold.

though mostly you blame yourself,
for not caring enough about all you have,
for hurting, and letting down, the ones you claim to love,
for always wanting more, and what and who you can’t have.

but who you blame doesn’t matter either;
it changes nothing –
doesn’t lessen the pangs, the yearning
for more love, new love, real love,
love that makes life meaningful,
makes it all worthwhile.

so you retreat back to distraction:
you love this music, these stories, these videos,
your snuggles with the dog,
the cutie at the store or down the hall
who always smiles at you.
surely these count as love, most of them:
they lift you up, give you hope that real love can be found
or found again,
that that feeling for which you live, body and soul,
is still possible, is not gone forever.

image from the cover of Rickie Lee Jones’ album Pirates

October 7, 2014

Black Swan: A Thought Experiment

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 13:22

hungry child

Photo from Agence France Presse via Global Policy Forum

This is a thought experiment, and an idea for a possible new video game, one that might actually help us learn about the world most humans live in, appreciate our personal fortune, and help us increase our resilience to cope with the times ahead. It came to me last night:

Imagine this:

ONE

You wake up suddenly, wracked with pain. You don’t know who or where you are. It is early morning, and you are lying on the grass, covered with several layers of old newspapers. You are a middle aged woman. Vaguely, you recall an accident, fire, explosion, terrible suffering.

You sit up and look around you. You are in a field near a huge garbage dump, and the smell is bad. Beside you there is a young child, still sleeping, also wrapped in newspaper. You are hungry, thirsty, and cold. Your body is hurting in several places, as if something inside you is broken. Your clothes are torn and streaked with blood. You have no idea how long you have been there. You have no purse, nothing to help you identify who you are or where, if anywhere, you might live.

Nearby, in the opposite direction to the dump, there is a large farm. Endless rows of corn meant for cattle feed are growing there. There is no sign of a building or human activity anywhere. There is a lot of barbed wire around, much of it fallen to the ground.

You hear a voice, and in the distance you see two men in uniforms walking towards you. They are white, and suddenly it occurs to you that you are not. Nor is the child beside you, who is just waking now, crying.

Tell the story of the next 72 hours of your life. Your situation doesn’t suddenly change for you in this time, so no deus ex machina allowed. Just describe what you do.

TWO

It is some time later. You and the child have been taken by some people to a hospital, and then to a shelter. You don’t speak much of the language these people speak, so you have trouble understanding them. Apparently they don’t know who you are, or who the child is. No one has identified you as a friend or family member.

You’re having terrible flashbacks of the accident, but the details are all jumbled together and don’t make sense. You still hurt all over. Occasionally you have brief memories of your early childhood, warm and laughing in the outdoor sun. Or perhaps they’re just imaginings. You don’t see any faces or details of places, homes, in these memories.

The people show you to a tiny house, perhaps 12 by 12, and indicate that it is now your residence, yours and the child’s. They say you are fortunate, because you have the child you do not have to board with others, and you get food stamps and a cheque that will be sent to you each month, to the post office, with your rent already deducted. They give you a book about their language, to study, and information on a language course nearby; this will enable you to find work. You try to remember how to do things, how to operate the stove, how to mend your tattered clothes, how to read the map they’ve given you, but it’s all a blur. Then they leave.

The child comes up to you, looks in your eyes, imploringly, and takes your hand. You walk into the tiny house, which has two mattresses and blankets on the floor. The child sits on one mattress and begins to play with a toy truck, a gift from the people who just left.

Tell the story of the rest of your life.

 

September 24, 2014

Fireproof

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 16:10

My new short story, Fireproof, is up at SHIFT magazine as part of its fifth edition. Check out the whole magazine! And if you like what you read, or prefer to read hard copy, please get this issue as a digital download (beautiful magazine layout) or sign up for an annual subscription (6 issues).

~~~~~

Fire photo Courtney Schoenemann

Jeez, look at that. There’s fires up ahead as far as you can see, some of them right beside the highway! I wonder if this is part of that combined mega-forest fire they’ve been fighting for a month now. Awesome.”

Rafe took his cap off as the four of us stopped our bicycle ride home to survey the flames running along the ridges ahead and to the right of us, on the far side of the highway our trail paralleled. He looked frightened and awed by the sight. There were dozens of fire trucks with flashing lights along the highway, and several helicopters hauling water from the river to the fire sites. Smoke blew across the highway and the bike and hiking trail beyond.

(Read the rest at SHIFT.)

(This is a work of fiction. The characters are invented, and build upon the characters in the stories Flywheel and Distracted. The painting is real, and awesome. And the fires were real. Fire photo by Courtney Schoenemann. Artwork “Burden of Guilt” is by Rogene Manas.)

September 20, 2014

Accepting That We Can’t Get There From Here: A Meditation

Filed under: Creative Works,How the World Really Works — Dave Pollard @ 10:26

In 2005, I wrote this little story. I think it’s held up quite well (I was smarter than I thought, back then), so I’m going to start this meditation with it.

MESSAGE FROM A MUSHROOM

mushrooms

photo by Inda at givnology.com

Good morning, Dave, and any other humans who are reading this message. It will be interesting to see how good a job this ‘software’ (we love that word!) does at translating our thoughts and feelings into a language that you can understand, that has some meaning to you. We are the collection of mushrooms under the Spruce trees in Dave’s back yard. This, to our knowledge, is the first attempt to capture our message in human-readable form.

The first thing you need to appreciate is that we are unable to use, in any meaningful sense, the first person singular ‘I’ in describing who we are or what we feel. We are collective, we are plural, in three senses.

First, we are simple and integral enough to recognize that we are a collection of cells, working in harmony to do our job, which manifests itself as one organism but is in fact more like a hive, a plural presence, a billion cells each aware of each other, and each cell in turn is a collection of its parts, its members, and so on infinitely.

Secondly, as a group of mushrooms, we are indivisible, our interest is collective. We are concerned with our survival, as a group, in this lovely damp dark place in this yard you call ‘yours’.

And thirdly, our collective interest is subordinate to the interest of this entire community, this ecos, so if the bunnies who live in that burrow over there come and eat us, that is just fine — we live on as a part of their consciousness and as part of this place. We are essentially of this place, that is what defines us, the mushrooms, the bunnies, the rock and the soil and the rain, the animate and the inanimate. We are this place.

This must be very difficult for you to understand, as we see that your species lives a very lonely, individual and detached life. You are in such conflict with other humans, all of you, and with us too, as your insensitive and destructive ways, your possessiveness, this need you have for ‘property’, to own things that can never really belong to you indicates, because, you see, although you seem to have lost the instinctive knowledge and the ‘sense’ to understand it, you are in fact a part of us. You are just lost, confused by the separateness that your minds have created for you, that frightening, alien and dissonant world inside your individual heads. Perhaps one day you will master this admirably complex machinery between your ears, and rejoin us. You cannot be happy, and cannot stop being insensitive and destructive, until you do.

All of this is easy for us to understand because we are not burdened with a complex brain with all the noise and the imaginings it seems able to conjure up. We have no choice but to live here, now, in the real world and in the moment. By all rights you should be much more ‘alive’ than the rest of ‘us’, yet somehow you seem not to be, you seem very dead to the world, and your brain looks as if it spends most of its time examining itself, lost and disconnected from the whole, and its purpose, your purpose, our purpose, which is to help Gaia — that is, to help the collective us — thrive on this amazing blue ball in the dark night of space (as the birds and insects describe it to us), thanks of course to the Sun, one of our other sacred things (or gods as you call them, or at least used to).

Look now, see there the sun peeking through the Spruce needles, and the droplets of dew dripping down from them onto us. Are these not wondrous to you, the epitome of joy, a reason to live and to fight to keep Gaia whole, prevent it from dying again in what you call an ‘extinction’? And look there, a tiny spider weaves her web, its lovely pattern caught in the rays of the morning sun — how can you not see this as sacred, how can you not see it, period?

We feel so badly for you, poor conflicted humans, so unhappy, so misguided, so dissatisfied. What can we do to show you that you are still welcome here, you are still part of us, though you have renounced your Gaia citizenship and lost the intuition and the sense to see it? All you need to do is come close, really see us, feel us, sense us, trust your instincts, listen, pay attention, stop thinking and just be, let go, and you will understand?

We are using your words, your language to try to explain to you what we feel and what we want for you, but still you do not seem to understand. Your language, far from being a vehicle for understanding, seems to us so poor in its capacity to communicate anything important, anything essential! Instead it seems to further isolate you, disconnect you from us, from your home, from where you belong. It is so abstract, so weak in vocabulary of the concepts that have real meaning to us, to all of us.

If only you still had the capacity to understand our language, this communication would be easy, effortless. But your software seems able to translate in this one direction, alas.

We don’t know what else we can tell you, beyond this great important truth of belonging, of paying attention, of seeing the sacred. Keep practicing, stay close to us, pay attention and in time it will, we hope, come back to you. We are waiting here to welcome you, joyously, home.

Now, is there something you would like to say to us, something we can learn from you, with that massive human brain of yours? For a start, we love your music, and we would like to know what it means. And, please tell us, why are you crying?

~~~~~

I want to save the world, and to change myself. It’s taken me decades to appreciate that I can do neither. If only I were there, I might know how to get there from here. But in the absence of that knowledge, there is no way.

It’s the nature of complex things, I see now. So many moving parts, so many unknowable truths. I am an emergent property, “the creative open source project of a trillion cells”. ‘I’ separately am nothing; a fiction, an invention. Even time is an illusion of my mind, and every instant those trillion cells cease to be and in another instant they are there again, but different, not the same.

So I am starting to accept that I can’t get there (to being-something-else) from here, and that we can’t get there (to a world not plunged headlong into the sixth great extinction of life) from here. To accept it, and to appreciate it. To stop fighting it. To just be who I inevitably am, in this world that is as it inevitably is, here, now.

Our language, it appears now, was designed for instruction and information dissemination, not for feeling or philosophy or expression of identity. Or of anything important outside of and greater than the context of the culture in which our minds are imprisoned, minds within which we are in turn imprisoned.

The Internet depends utterly on language, as do books, conversation and teaching, even in the form of videos and demonstration. We can’t know how to do something until we do it, try it, practice it. Copying may help, but doing something ourselves is a unique, personal experience. We can’t explain, in language, who we are or how we feel or how it feels, how it is to do something. No wonder human art has been around three times as long as human language — it’s a far more useful, meaningful artifact.

In its application to meditation or presence, Gary Weber has tried to convey this limitation of language in his short, free book Happiness Beyond Thought on meditation, confessing that what is supposed to take years of diligent practice should be possible in a moment, if only we knew how, if only we could see what we can’t see, if only we could experience what we’re trying to experience. He says people who have tried LSD or ayahuasca, experienced the disruption of our minds’ usual program, find it easier, as do those who can watch the changes in their brain waves on so-called fMRI machine displays as they do their ‘presence’ practice and notice what wave patterns are closest to the ones others produce in the pure connected meditative state. Sleights of mind to try to show us how to get there from here, when it can’t be explained in language. When you have to be ‘there’ to understand how to get there. When there is no ‘way’.

And it’s the same at a different scale when it comes to changing, or ‘saving’, our culture and ‘the world’. We still have this conceit that we’re in control, or at least someone’s in control of what the human species does. Every article advocating change contains something along the lines “we all need to…”, or “all we need to…”, or “if only we would all (just)…”, as if humanity were the Borg, or all the same, changeable with some magic formula the same simple way. It betrays an unwillingness to accept the staggering complexity and unknowingness of our selves, our culture, our planet and our universe, the unwillingness of idealists and salvationists and others that long for everything to be simple, fixable, made the way we want it, or think we do anyway.

Our culture, which is inadvertently precipitating its own collapse as well as that of our biosphere and all the life that depends on it, is, just as ‘we individuals’ are, an emergent property, the creative open source project of a trillion trillion cells. Like our ‘selves’, our culture is separately a nothing; a fiction, an invention. A map. A way of seeing things simply that are not at all simple.

Sometimes I despair that I will ever find ‘presence’; it’s certainly a long shot, and possibly a Quixotic search. And I despair the amount of suffering we are all  unintentionally inflicting on the world. It’s easy to be angry, sorrowful and fearful about these things, until we realize there is no use in being these things. Even then, it’s hard just to accept, and to appreciate our wounded, disconnected selves, and our terrible, battered world, for what they are.

So, my dear mushrooms, the meaning of our music, and the meaning of our tears, is the same: that we love, we care, and we grieve. It’s all we can do. It’s who we are.

There are no words for it.

August 28, 2014

Flywheel

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 01:30

Yoga-Couple smart living network diffuse glow

David Ehrenfeld, in Beginning Again (1994), describes our civilization as a ragged flywheel, over-built, patched and rusty, spinning faster and faster and beginning to rattle and moan as it comes apart:

There goes a chunk — the sick and aged along with the huge apparatus of doctors, social workers, hospitals, nursing homes, drug companies, and manufacturers of sophisticated medical equipment, which service their clients at enormous cost but don’t help them very much.

There go the college students along with the VPs, provosts, deans and professors who have not prepared them for life in a changing world after formal schooling is over. There go the high school and elementary school students, along with the parents, administrators and frustrated teachers who have turned the majority of schools into costly, stagnant and violent babysitting services.

There go the lawyers and their hapless clients in a dust cloud of the ten billion codes, rules and regulations that were produced to organize and control an increasingly intricate, unorganizable and uncontrollable society.

There go the economists with their worthless pretentious predictions and systems, along with the unemployed, the impoverished and the displaced who reaped the consequences of theories and schemes with faulty premises and indecent objectives. There go the engineers, designers and technologists, along with the people stuck with the deadly buildings, roads, power plants, dams and machinery that are the experts’ monuments.

There go the advertising hucksters with their consumer goods, and there go the consumers, consumed with their consumption. And there go the media pundits and pollsters, along with all those unfortunates who wasted precious time listening to them explain why the flywheel could never come apart, or tell how to patch it even while increasing its crazy rate of spin.

The most terrifying thing about this disintegration for a society that believes in prediction and control will be the randomness of its violent consequences. The chaotic violence will include not only desperate ruthless struggles over the wealth that remains, but the last great violation of nature. What will make it worse is that, at least at the beginning, it will take place under a cloud of denial and cynical reassurances.

“Remember ‘conservation’? Jimmy Carter said conservation was the most important part of any sustainable energy policy. Why don’t we ever hear about conservation anymore?”

Daria was doing sun salutations on the deck of their rented house as she asked the question. The sun was unresponsive.

Rafe wandered out with a mug of tea in each hand and replied “Because the military industrial complex was so aghast at anyone in authority suggesting consuming less, that they pulled out all the stops and elected Reagan to replace him. And that fucker and his party put the environmental movement on the defensive, where they’ve been ever since.”

Daria took a mug from him as he sat to watch her exercise. “I’m not sure conservation would have made any difference anyway”, she said. “Most of the world has essentially zero choice about what and from whom they can affordably buy what they need. People don’t want to buy junk that ends up in landfills — that’s all that’s available to them that they can afford. And they’re so stressed and exhausted you can’t fault them wanting to buy a few things just for fun and convenience.”

Rafe watched the sunrise. “It’s a paradox, isn’t it. We desperately want to believe we’re in control of our lives, that we have real choices, real options. So we act as if we do, as if recycling and hybrid cars and composting and buying organic makes a difference, when it doesn’t.”

Daria looked up from her down-dog position. “So who is making the decisions that really make a difference, d’ya think? Economists? Oil company CEOs? Presidents? Military leaders? Policy wonks?”

“Not the ones I know, that’s for sure”, he replied. “Oil company CEOs and Presidents are just trying to make decisions that please their shareholders and funders, but mostly they’re as incapacitated by the systems they have to work with as everyone else. We’re all unconsciously complicit, because we’ve all come to rely on these massively complex systems, but no one really is to blame.”

“Not sure I’d be that quick to let people off the hook”, Daria replied. “Let’s do a little accounting here: Industrial agriculture has destroyed our soils so we need to use oil fertilizers and cruel, giant-scale ‘confined animal farming’ processes to feed people. Industrial fishing and unregulated water pollution has eliminated 90% of marine life. GMO crops have replaced a self-perpetuating harvest with one that has to be replanted every year. Nuclear power plants, which are going through a massive construction boom, are time bombs that will have to be carefully and exhaustively managed for millions of years to avoid more catastrophic meltdowns. More and more urbanized places, like New Orleans and Detroit and the ‘brownfield’ zones everywhere, are simply being abandoned like giant toxic dump sites because the cost of making them work after a crisis is higher than the cost of just rebuilding somewhere, anywhere else. We’ve got governments in every one of the Anglo countries that are hell-bent on ramping up resource development at any cost. This is what Ehrenfeld was talking about when he predicted ‘the last great violation of nature’. We’re turning the planet from green and blue to brown and grey at an accelerating rate, starting with the most fertile areas. And you still think there’s no one really to blame for that?”

“Nope. No one to blame. All just doing our best, what we think is best for ourselves, our loved ones, our country and the world.” Rafe rolled his back across the giant purple pilates ball on the deck, and almost rolled off the edge. “Unfortunately the unintended consequence of this collective individual effort to maximize wellness and happiness is exactly ‘the last great violation of nature’. Seven and a half billion people doing their best can create a pretty awful mess between them. That would seem to be true no matter who’s in charge of them, or if nobody is in charge, which is pretty much how it now looks.”

Daria slid over her yoga mat to where a magazine lay open. “Let me read you something from this week’s New Yorker”, she said. “‘If you listen to Carter’s Oval Office addresses on inflation, energy, and the nation’s crisis of confidence, the level of honesty is shocking, and deflating. No President has ever spoken that way since. The lesson he taught all his successors was not to tell the American people hard truths’.”

“He was a pretty remarkable guy”, said Rafe. “Confessing the whole world’s sins to the whole world. No one wants to hear bad news unless they think there’s something that they can do about it, fix it quickly and easily, or unless it has no personal impact on them, like a shooting or a hurricane, so they feel better about themselves relative to the fallen and the miserable. Hence Reagan and the Entertainment News that now passes for information dissemination in the mainstream media. Hence what prevails on Facebook and Twitter — reposts of meaningless but clever-sounding witticisms, and the latest celebrity misconduct.”

“You have be alarmed, though”, Daria said, scowling at the image of a triumphant Reagan in the magazine. “Everything’s being ramped up at exactly the moment we should be curtailing production and consumption, and at least trying to mitigate what the next generation is going to have to face because of our stupidity.”

“Three spaces before the end of the chessboard,” Rafe replied. When he got a quizzical look from Daria, he explained: “The old Persian story about the inventor of chess asking for a prize from the king, consisting of 1 grain of wheat on the first square, 2 on the second, 4 on the third etc. until the board’s 64 squares were filled. The result is 4 times the total amount of wheat that existed on Earth at that time. But even on the third last square the amount required was only 1/2 of the world’s wheat production, and while delivering on that might seem a challenge, it doesn’t seem impossible, especially if you think you have enough control that you can ramp up production. Right now, we’re doubling consumption and production of just about everything every 20 years, at the 4% growth rate that’s prevailed for the last quarter century, despite the fact population has only been growing at 1% per year. So the 3 last spaces on the chessboard represent 60 years ahead. By that time, we’ll need 16 times more of everything than we have now. Most people still believe that technology will enable us to do that without destroying the planet in the process.”

Daria, in half-moon pose, said “Interesting story, but people can’t get their heads around exponential growth, even when you break it down that way. We’re still talking about maintaining production at current levels even as resources get exponentially more expensive and the purchasing power of most people to pay for them is declining. For the last 40 years the net worth of all but the richest 1% has stayed at essentially zero; they’ve just borrowed more to buy more, and it’s only artificially low interest rates keeping them from forfeiting on that debt. So there ain’t gonna be no ‘growth’ in the next 40. The only question is how much production and consumption will fall, and what that will do to all those who already have net zero.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Rafe agreed, abandoning the pilates ball. “My head hurts just thinking about all this. Even if the exponential curves flatten to hockey sticks, or even flatten out entirely, it’s such a huge shift, and so unequally distributed in its effect, that it’s impossible to visualize what it means, what life might become like for all the different segments of the world’s people. And that’s not even taking into account climate change and how it will affect life, which is still mysterious for me to imagine despite all that’s been written about it. Billions of people migrating? I’m not sure. I’d be more inclined to think most people will just be like the potato famine victims, just staying in the places they know, hoping for a miracle. It’ll be great for the god industry.”

“Hmmm,” Daria replied. “So let’s try a little ‘flywheel slowdown’ visualization exercise here. Suppose the world’s people are smart enough, as the Long Emergency gets more serious over the next decade, to reduce birth rates to half their current levels — i.e. to the current global replacement level, so that population peaks ten years from now at around 8 1/2 billion and then slowly starts to decline. And suppose that economic growth, and economic disparity, level off even faster, say in the next 5 years, as that growth in disparity becomes politically untenable. So we reach a steady state population and steady state economy quickly. Now suppose that the economists are right and that chronic deflation sets in globally, so new oil gets too expensive to find and reserves start to fall quickly, but not fast enough to immediately offset the decline in demand as the flywheel slows down and people, of necessity, just make do with less. What happens next, and how does this affect people in various economic strata and parts of the world?”

“Not that easy to put on the brakes,” said Rafe. “But supposing we could, and this smooth deceleration were possible: Stock markets and real estate prices would crash, back to their underlying ‘zero growth’ levels. Banks would either start to foreclose on homes and call in debts, which would spark riots among what’s left of the middle class and much of the working class as well. Or governments could step in and nationalize the banks, as they’ve done before in depressions, and continually mark down all debts to market values, at least keeping most of the world at zero net worth instead of impossibly negative net worth. The mostly paper wealth of the 1% would largely disappear, which would make them, and the politicians they own, very unhappy. It would also lead to the collapse of most large corporations and hence massive unemployment, the disappearance of international trade, and empty store shelves for just about everything. That could happen very quickly, as it nearly did in 2008 before the sleight-of-hand gang moved in and papered it over with newly printed currency. That won’t work this time. Those in affluent nations would still have a lot of stuff, but they would still owe it all to the banks, and they would have no jobs to make the payments on it. Those in struggling nations, especially in the cities, would find supplies of everything drying up, and the black market prices would be huge, so things could get pretty ugly there. Farmers everywhere would find the prices consumers could afford to pay less than the cost of their production, as usually happens in depressions, so they’d have no choice but to stop producing, so in affluent nations governments would have to step in and subsidize them almost entirely. That would mean, with declining tax revenues, they’d have to stop financing wars and eliminate massive security spending, and probably cut back education and health care to an absolute minimum. Pensions would all be gone, victims of the stock market collapse. In struggling nations, farmers would starve, the ultimate irony of a free-market economy in a prolonged depression. Not a pleasant picture.”

“Sad that the poor and sick would suffer the most, but not surprising, I guess.” Daria was now sitting cross-legged facing Rafe, holding his hands as they pondered what might be coming.

“Even sadder that they will also be the hardest hit by climate change over the same few decades”, added Rafe. “No Great Migration north to cooler climes for them. They won’t be able to move far enough or fast enough to escape the droughts, the heat waves, and the desertification. A grey and brown planet, down there. Not enough water even to fight over. Their life expectancy will drop a lot. The actual Water Wars will be in the more affluent temperate areas, where there won’t be enough, but there’ll be enough to fight over. Oh, Canada!”

They were quiet for a while, and then Daria said, pensively, “I keep thinking about Guy McPherson’s prediction that by 2100 Earth’s climate will resemble Venus’, unable to support any life as we know it. Part of me wants to believe he’s crazy, and that the economic collapse will reduce human activity, and therefore the extent of climate change, enough that human life can at least continue in small numbers near the poles. But another part of me almost wishes he were right, and that we’ll be fried before the economy completely falls apart, so at least we’ll go out quickly, with a bang. Kind of like pushing a giant reset button on life on Earth, setting things up so life could try again, without humans to fuck it up.”

“Yeah, except it was a long shot that the life that first appeared here enabled the atmosphere to stabilize enough to produce the profusion of life that it did. That probably won’t happen again, at least not here. If we kill life on Earth, then this solar system, maybe even this whole galaxy, might end up dead for as long as it matters, until the stars go nova. This is a one-shot wonder.” Rafe had laid back and lifted his feet into the air, and Daria was trying to balance her body on them.

She laughed as his knees buckled, but he straightened them again. “I’m all-life-on-Earth, Rafe, and you have to balance me, keep it all from collapsing. How long can we survive this way?”

He made a face at her. “It would be better if you balanced me. Both physically and mentally you’re more grounded and more flexible than I am. My root system’s pretty fragile. It should be the women, not the men, in charge of keeping the world from flying apart.”

“Damn right,” she replied, stretching her arms and legs, shifting her weight to make it easier for him to hold her up. Finally, his legs gave out and she collapsed into his arms. “If I’m going to fry, I want to fry with you,” she said, laughing. “We can burn up together. And if that’s not our fate, if a few humans do survive and live on in a changed Earth in some minor ecological niche, I want them to know we tried, we cared, we did our best to save what we could.”

“It will probably be a long time before post-collapse human societies, if there are any, re-evolve enough to study past human civilizations,” he replied. “But my guess is they’ll judge us by their own standards, and they’ll likely be far more charitable than the negative view of humanity that’s evolved with this civilization. They’ll likely believe we stoically faced some overwhelming climate change crisis the best we could, since there won’t be much evidence left by then, after the Next Great Forgetting, to pin that collapse on human foolishness.”

“Or maybe,” Daria said with a smile, “as a mostly oral culture their story about us will be one of being cast out of the garden after eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and they’ll blame collapse on the gods.”

“Such wise and foolish people they will be then,” Rafe replied. “Next time perhaps humans won’t be too smart and too fierce for their own good. And if there are no humans I hope the dragons will fare better at running the laboratory than the ego-stricken bald apes have been.”

“Well it’s been swell being part of the pre-conflagration party with you.”

He kissed her and slowly lifted her back up above him with his feet. He raised his hands and she grasped them to stabilize herself, and him. He looked up at her with a smile and asked “What do you call this pose, oh mysterious yogini?”

“It’s the flywheel pose,” replied Daria, smiling back. “To be performed only at end-of-times. The only question now is when, and with what grace we will welcome its coming apart.”

yoga image from Smart Living Network

August 1, 2014

The Opposite of Presence

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 22:14

meditation3

“Oh you know all the words, and you sing all the notes, but you never quite learned the song” — The Hedgehog Song, by The Incredible String Band

And so I read about how to meditate: I read Kabat-Zinn, Osho, Krishnamurti. I listened to guided meditations, focused on my breath a hundred different ways. Tried to silence the noise in my head. Practiced, a little each day. Until all I could hear was the heartbeat of the universe. Until the edges of me faded, crumbled, and vanished. Until I felt the cells in my body dancing, telling me what I had always known, except that now there was no ‘me’.

I tried to face my fears. Not with teeth clenched, but with acceptance, honest acknowledgement. I opened myself to the possibility that each fear was meaningless, an invention, unreal. And I realized that the only real fear is the fear of one’s ego — that the fear of being trapped, of suffering, of failure, of loss, were all fears of what might happen to my ego, that no-longer-and-never me, in the future, how ‘it’ might feel ‘then’. When in fact there is only now, and that no-longer-and-never me is a mere concoction, devised with the intent to protect me but not protecting me at all, merely holding me back from being really me. And I knew: Lose that imaginary friend the ego, lose the fear.

I slept outdoors, in the forest, at the ocean’s edge, in all weather, listening to the wild sounds and watching the stars, trying to commune, to reconnect. I awoke to the sound of my own breathing and found that it was the sound of the surf, the wind, and the dragonfly.

I let myself fall in love, or almost fall in love. I thought this might make me realize the folly of all the thinking and anxieties inside my head, move past them, be free of them. As I loved more and more I felt everything I believed, everything that depended on conception, on thinking, fall away, until there was only feeling, invulnerable, overpowering feeling. Until love became the only truth.

I explored different forms of yoga, different ways to exercise my body, loosen it up, tone it, get connected with it. I found that as my body began to open, so did my mind, my heart, my consciousness. And then one day in tree pose I became a tree, anchored yet soaring into the sky, needing nothing but the sun and the rain that would always be. And then in child’s pose I became a child — the child I always was.

I sat in stillness listening to Deva Premal for hours — hari om tat sat, om shanti shanti shanti om — by lamplight, by candlelight, by the light of the sun and the stars and the moon, at sunrise, at sunset, with the sound of waves, with the sound of wind blowing through trees dampened by the rain. And the music became the stillness, and the light became the breath and the voice of the universe.

I explored tantric sex, holding off, holding back, staying just at the edge of bliss for hours until everything was bliss and time stopped. And my love and I became one body, boundaryless, one pulsing organism of pleasure and purpose, a supernova sending fire to the ends of all creation.

I fasted. I ate only foods I had picked myself that day. I drank water from a forest stream brought by my own hands to my lips. I drank a glass of wine with a bouquet so pure and exquisite that I would have been content all evening just to smell it. I ate honey, nut butter, peach nectar, that I had drizzled on the body of a beautiful woman, licked and sucked it in using only my lips and tongue. Until I could hear the scent, see the taste, feel the colour, all blended into one perfect sensation. Until I became that sensation.

I spent an entire day at the top of a hill inhabited only by wild creatures, just watching the forest and the sea below, paying attention, through a morning rainshower, an afternoon of intense heat, an evening thunderstorm, watched the sky glow infinite shades of yellow, blue, orange, red, grey and purple, a trillion colours that appear on no painter’s palette. And I melted into that downpour, that rainbow, becoming its ocean of air and water flowing into the sea and the sky.

I tried living without language for two weeks — no reading, writing, listening to or speaking words. Only music that was wordless or whose language was a mystery. No medium between me and what was real. Until even the words in my own head ceased. And I ceased to be a creature of language. And then ‘I’ ceased to be.

I surrounded myself with beautiful things, beautiful places, beautiful people, gazed endlessly and wondered at that beauty, breathed it in, memorized it, gasped at its impossibility. Until I began to see beauty in everything, even the lines on my hands and the sadness in my eyes.

•^•^•

“That’s all crap”, said Kali, leaning back against me as I rested against a tree, beside the horses drinking at the stream. She drew my arms around her, kissed my hand. “People just write that stuff about presence, like all those wishful thinking self-help books, because people want to believe it, not because it’s really true. Eckart Tolle, all those guys, they’re just fairy tale writers, posers, trying to make a living with their unique form of fiction.”

She sang to me for a while, some songs she made up in the moment, and then she wrote this, surrounded by lovely giant swirling question marks, and passed it up to me with a smile:

How great is the power of intention,
and how inescapable the prison we have made for ourselves?

How desperate do we have to be, and how enlightened,
before we just let go of everything
and let ourselves be free, be present,
be who we really are?

And how fearful do we have to be
to dare not try, to be so terrified
of the potential disappointment and despair if we failed,
if all our practice, all our diligent intention and letting go didn’t work,
that we just keep true joy and liberation and self-realization as dreams,
tucked safely away to keep us going
in the comfortable unreality we’ve built inside our heads,
this tomb of maybe-good-enough-for-now,
best-that-we-could-really-hope-for artificial life,
the opposite of presence?

 image: from a video made by a fan of Deva Premal’s Moola Mantra, original source uncredited

July 27, 2014

How to Make Love Last

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 00:35

masks

I told her I loved her.
Your love is all about you, she replied;
it has nothing to do with me.
You love who you imagine me to be,
because no one can know who someone else really is.

I told her I would work to discover who she really was,
as much as possible, and love that person.
You can’t choose who you love, she replied;
your body chooses which bodies it loves,
and you’re just along for the ride.
Emotionally, any woman you perceive to be attractive,
energetic, fit, intelligent, creative,
thoughtful, independent, present — you’re going to love her.

I told her I would try to be more discerning,
more conscious of who I love, and love her more deliberately.
There are a thousand kinds of love, she replied;
you have them all conflated, mixed together
in one messy, undistinguished chemical blob.
Soon, the chemicals will stop flowing,
and all that will be left is your body wanting my body,
and then that will end and there will be nothing, only loss.

I told her I would study the works of Tom Robbins,
who said the only important question
is how to make love last.
Love is making you crazy, she replied;
you have important work to do, and these addictive feelings
are distracting you from it, making you foolish
and fearless and reckless and dangerous.

I told her it was the absence of love that makes me crazy;
When I’m not in love I’m disconnected, buried in my head,
and I don’t care enough about anything.
Then get a dog, she replied;
there are many kinds of love more grounded
and less exhausting than what you claim to feel for me.

I told her I loved her abundantly and unconditionally
and that I could also love other people, creatures,
places, music, ideas, activities. I had room for it all.
Then you don’t need me, she replied;
you are free.

Yes, I know, I told her. But I still love you.
Then there is no hope for you, she replied;
so go ahead and love me.

So I stopped telling her I loved her,
and showed her how I loved her instead.

One day she was talking with me, wandering along the beach,
telling me what she cared about,
what she was afraid of, what she loved doing,
what she craved and longed for and hoped for and mourned.

And I realized that, all along,
as she was telling me how she couldn’t love me,
she was showing me how much she did.

(image from a post by Nick Smith, believed to be from the collection of John Wareham, artist’s name unknown)

July 25, 2014

Them, You, Then, Now, Always

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 17:22

 

The latest edition of SHIFT Magazine is now online and available for download or purchase. It features a new interview with Noam Chomsky, and my latest short story, set long after Collapse, several millennia from now:

wallpaperstock.net  freeone.ru

 

THEM, YOU, THEN, NOW, ALWAYS

“50 blackbirds nest in a tree, congregating and socializing raucously each evening, the babies squawking for food. Then someone cuts the tree down, and the birds scatter. Collapse. The tree-killer sells the wood and the empty nests for profit. The birds circle and regroup, and in a few hours find a new tree and start building new nests. Three days later, for the birds, it is exactly as it was before the fall. They understand community, and resilience.” – story taken from the writings of Orlov|Dmitry, c. 2014 Old Calendar

Cultural Anthropology Visit, 6462 New Calendar: Notes

The Tsilga people cannot tell you their story. At least, not in words.

Like many of the survivors of the Sixth Extinction, now thriving all these millennia after the Great Burning of the Earth, they have no need for words. They have gestures and sounds for the important concepts to communicate: danger, love, joy, anger, pleasure, grief. What more is needed? Their faces will express more to you than you can imagine, or ever hope to say. If you visit them, they will not tell you about themselves; instead, they will show you.

(read the rest on SHIFT)

photo credits: left, photoshopped image from wallpaperstock.net; right, image of body painting by evgeniy freeone at freeone.ru

 

June 2, 2014

The Birds and the Bees

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 23:38

Sitting out on the back deck drinking tea and writing, and occasionally snapping photos of some of the birds and other flying creatures that stop by:

raven sm

Jacques, one of the Common Ravens that are very common on my rooftop

Band-Tailed Pigeon

Qoot, a Band-Tailed Pigeon

Bee

Bumble Bee checking out my deckside tent (my outdoor summer sleeping accommodations)

Zoomer, a Violet-Green Swallow nesting in my powder-room vent

Zoomer, a Violet-Green Swallow currently nesting in my powder-room vent

Gobble, one of many Turkey Vultures that prowl the area

Gobble, one of many Turkey Vultures that prowl the area

New visitor, a Great Blue Heron

New visitor, a Great Blue Heron

Other regular visitors are black-capped chickadees (my totem bird), double-crested cormorants, (murderous numbers of) crows, mourning doves, bald eagles, ‘happy-bird’ house finches, northern flickers (rattling on my eaves at 6am to attract mates), black-headed grosbeaks, a variety of gulls and hawks, geese and woodpeckers, sparrows and wrens, anna’s and rufous hummingbirds buzzing around like bees, steller’s jays, dark-eyed juncos, mallards on the ponds, barred owls (attacking my ponytail when I run in the park nearby), robins, swainson’s thrushes and cedar waxwings.

 

 

 

 

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