Friday, February 26, 2010

A Few Quick Notes

1. I have completed my event in the knitting Olympics and am giving myself an imaginary gold medal as we speak for successfully making felted slippers for the first time. It only took me a whole hour of nervously hovering over the washing machine pulling the slippers out to check on them every three minutes to get through it all. But they fit, and they're done, and I declare myself a Gold Medal winning Knitolympian.

2. I am departing for Australia in 8 hours! Updates for the next three weeks will come from Oz. I'll try my best to provide some commentary on my adventures Down Under.

Cats Can Spell--I'm Sure of It

I have this issue. And I think it means that I'm old, or getting old, or am already ancient or something. And the issue is--what in the world is up with lolcats? I see them everywhere with their weird, grammatically incorrect, misspelled headings and I have to wonder what the deal is. I get the anthropomorphizing thing. I get imagining what animals are thinking. I get the enjoyment that people derive from looking at funny pictures of animals. What I don't get is why people assume that if cats could speak they would do so in some weird, only semi-english, abbreviated, messed up way as if they've had a stroke and are trying to send a text message to the world. I for one think cats are more sophisticated than that. Anyone who has seen a cat give them the cold shoulder knows that cats, if they could speak, would do so in a prim and proper British accent with a twist of snarkiness.

So I would like to provide the following "lolcat" as an example with a revised caption:

 

What this cat is really saying is: (Please read in your most pretentious British Accent). "You think that you're so clever, you nasty scumbag human for photoshopping a taco over my body. I however, am not amused, and I will get sweet revenge later by gracefully depositing a hairball on your bedroom floor in the middle of the night. Placing it so perfectly that when put your precious little foot on the floor in the morning you will immediately feel that hairball squeezing out between your toes and be eternally disgusted. Oh yes, yes, it won't be long before you know who rules this house. Until then I will pretend that the entire world has NOT seen me Photoshopped into a taco and go about my business as usual."

Bottom line: people have made a major error about the nature of cats. I believe they can spell. And I also believe they have better grammar than many people out there.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Art and Motherhood

One of the bloggers that I follow and admire, Shona Cole,  has recently published a book called The Artistic Mother. If the quality of her blog is any indication I expect that this will be a really lovely book and certainly worth checking out if you're a mom, someone thinking about becoming a mom, or potentially just someone who wants to find balance between creating art and all the other aspects of life that keep us busy. Shona's story about how she came to write the book is quite inspiring as well:

Artistic Mother Part 1
Artistic Mother Part 2



If you're in Canada you can currently pre-order the book from Amazon.ca. If you're somewhere else you can find links to other sources on Shona's Blog.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Art of Breathing

Odd Buds

Image by Andrea K.P.

I was out walking with M. yesterday breathing in the early spring like someone afraid of drowning. The air was a physical thing--cool, swift, clear. I became suddenly aware of air as a medium, something with as much presence as water, something that is omnipresent and at the core of my ability to survive. Air is one of those odd things that we take for granted, and as I filled my lungs with air smelling of new grass and damp earth I began to contemplate the truly wondrous function of breathing (here M. accuses me of thinking too much).

"Breathing is bizarre!" I suddenly announced. M. gave me that, oh dear we're in for an off the wall philosophical analysis look (but he was smiling).

But I meant it. Think about it--breathing is truly a strange action. It's both voluntary and involuntary at the same time. It's not like the beating of your heart that will continue on at its own pace regardless of what you're doing. You can't elect to stop your heartbeat periodically, but you can hold your breath. You can breathe deeper, you can breathe consciously in meditation, or you can ignore it entirely and it happens all by itself. It happens while you sleep and while you walk and while you sit dreaming of other things. It is this automatic activity with, as M. said, a manual override.

I had this strange moment of awe as I watched my body breathe. Air has no substance--nothing that you can hold in your hand--and yet it is completely essential for survival. Somehow, our bodies manage to extract the oxygen and use it for cellular function. How does it do that?! It's like magic--taking something invisible and transforming it into life.

So I walked, with M. beside me and our borrowed dog (belonging to M's parents) rushing along in pure delight, and I breathed and thought what a privilege it was to be breathing this air, on this perfectly beautiful day, in this one magnificent moment.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Let the Mute Birds Sing

Glow

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Prothalamium as a song or poem written in celebration of a forthcoming wedding. With so many weddings coming up, including my own, and with Spring in full swing in Vancouver, this poem by Aaron Kramer vibrates with relevance to my present moment. I love it when a poem emerges (I found this one in Barbara Kingsolver's book Prodigal Summer) at exactly the right time and illuminates your immediate experience. As Spring enfolds us with lengthening days and the first hint of cherry blossoms it is indeed a time for taking stock, for examining the soul and sweeping away the detritus of winter, "sweeping out shadows" and "sweeping out our shame." The world is glowing with sweetness and life as I free myself of cobwebs and set out into the freshness of the day.

Prothalamium  
Fifth section of "Astoria" sequence
© Aaron Kramer

 
Come, all you who are not satisfied
as ruler in a lone, wallpapered room
full of mute birds, and flowers that falsely bloom,
and closets choked with dreams that long ago died!

Come, let us sweep the old streets--like a bride;
sweep out dead leaves with a relentless broom;
prepare for Spring, as though he were our groom
for whose light footstep eagerly we bide.

We'll sweep out shadows, where the rats long fed;
sweep out our shame--and in its place we'll make
a bower for love, a splendid marriage-bed
fragrant with flowers aquiver for the Spring.
And when he comes, our murdered dreams shall wake;
and when he comes, all the mute birds shall sing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Beginner's Mind

Knitting Olympics

First. Here's me downtown celebrating my participation in the knitting Olympics. Wasn't it nice of Vancouver to put up a sign encouraging all Canadian Knitters? I'm happy to announce that I'm having a great run so far. The slipper is mostly knit. And despite looking like a  mass of tangled yarn that does not in any way resemble a slipper, I have high hopes for a clean finish. My experience watching other people knit the slippers suggests that it's going to look like totally unwearable crap until I felt it. So I'm ploughing ahead with gusto.


And now...
I have just come to this startling and vaguely scary realization. And that realization is that I have no idea what I'm doing. And I'm not referring to anything specific, like I don't know how to play the bagpipes, or I don't know how to fix anything with an electrical component. No, what I mean is that pretty much every day I get up and go through the process of living, without having any clue how to do it in any way. This is coupled with the persistent impression that I'm really not old enough, or experienced enough to be allowed to do anything anyway, at least not without constant supervision. For instance, I'm getting married. Whoa...hold on. I don't know how to do that! I don't know how to plan a wedding, and yet plans are underway. I don't know what it means to be a wife, and yet I'm going to be one in under five months. I'm about to make this massive, life-long commitment to someone, without having any similar experience with huge, life-long commitments. See what I mean? I have no idea what I'm doing. 


Another example: I've been living in my own apartment with the man I'm going to marry for nearly two years now, which has meant paying bills, doing my own taxes, cooking my own meals, grocery shopping...and I seem to be managing to pull all these things off even though the truth of the matter is that I have NO IDEA what I'm doing. I don't know how to do taxes. I just plug all the numbers into the online software and it tells me I'm getting money back. I don't know how to cook. I'm just following recipes and hoping to god something edible emerges. I remember very distinctly a time when I was not old enough to use the stove--first not at all, and then not without supervision. That time seems like it was maybe six months ago. And due to this insane inability to judge the passage of time with accuracy I still feel very close to that smaller version of me who wasn't allowed to use the stove. And because I don't feel very far removed from that previous me I sometimes wonder why I'm suddenly allowed to use the stove. I mean, I could really screw something up. I could burn the house down. Who decided I was old enough and mature enough to do all this stuff alone? That six year old self stands beside me wishing with all her heart that she could be an adult, do adult things, have adult privileges, have adult knowledge of the world. But now, at 26, I look down at my six year old self hovering in the background of my mind, and say to her "I don't know anything more than you did." Perhaps I know different things, perhaps I have different skills, but I am not more advanced, just altered, shifted, and transformed. The more I learn, the more I realize what I don't know. And the amount of things I don't know is astounding. Leading me to the conclusion that I have no idea what I'm doing.


And yet I'm doing it anyway. I'm living this life one day at a time. Muddling my way through. Making everything up as I go along like some song that rises unbidden into my mind and emerges as random humming, and sometimes takes shape as a coherent and beautiful melody escaping my lips and floating into the world. And the fact of the matter is that no one else knows what they're doing either. And that's comforting. No one can possibly know what they're doing, because every day is new, every moment presents new challenges and situations that you have never encountered before and can't possibly be prepared for. You can read all the books, you can run through potential scenarios in your head, but you can't really be prepared for the uniqueness of every second.


The Buddhists have this exquisite idea about Beginner's Mind. This is a state in which you strive always to look at the world as a beginner. To have the inquisitive nature and open mind of someone who is looking at something for the first time. It's a way to see the entire world as if it was just born. It's a way to see things that you may have looked at a thousand times in a new light. What it means is that not having a freaking clue what you're doing is in fact a glorious state to be in, because it means that possibilities are endless and you get to be in that very exciting position of learning something brand new, something deeply exciting that you never knew before. 


So here I am, not having any idea what I'm doing, and thinking that perhaps that's okay. I can approach the world like an explorer, never knowing what's around the next bend but remaining receptive to whatever I might find. I can approach the world like a scientist, shaking up all the components of my days to see what might emerge. I can approach the world like a student, absorbing as much information as I can get my hands on and finding meaning within it. I can approach the world like an artist, finding the moments of heart breaking beauty in the mundane and recording them for future generations. I can approach the world like a child, revelling in the wonder of everything unfolding around me without making any attempt to change it or impose my will upon it. I have often thought that being a perpetual beginner will mean that I'm never an expert in anything, I'm never going to truly know what I'm doing. But maybe, just maybe, there's more joy in beginning than mastery. Consider this: a first kiss, the first day of school, seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time, discovering your potential for song, taking all your first stumbling steps into the unknown and not being afraid of what lies just beyond your line of sight.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Some Monday Inspiration

Since my Random Olympic Moment I have come to find out a bit more about Keith Martin, Torchbearer #74 through correspondace related to the photo I posted in my last entry. And as it turns out bearing the torch is the tip of the iceburg when it comes to Keith's life and acheivements. Diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy in 2005 Keith was faced with a challenge of body and mind, but he wasn't going to let it stop him from experiencing his life to the fullest. Out of incredible determination and drive to show that life wasn't going to grind to a halt after the diagnosis Keith decided to cycle across Canada. He brought four friends along for the ride and what started out as a crazy idea exploded into an incredible reality. The five, together with their family and friends, turned the trip into a fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy research. They found corporate sponsors, they started spreading the word about their goal, and they started riding bicycles! The five hardly had any cycling experience when they started, but they were determined to reach their goal of cycling from Vancouver Island to St. John's Newfoundland in the summer of 2008. And against the odds they did it and managed to raise over $150,000 for Muscular Dystrophy.

You can read about the trip on Keith's Blog:
Moving Muscles Ride

I've had a pretty good perusal of the blog now and have been deeply moved by the story. Something to think about the next time you feel like you can't go on, or when you need proof that ordinary people can make a difference.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Olympic Picture of the Day

Fireworks over BC Place at the opening ceremonies. I was able to see them out the window AND on TV at the same time. Yup, that's pretty cool.

Random Olympic Moment

On Thursday after work I met a few friends and we set out to watch the Olympic torch relay at UBC. There was a definite atmosphere of celebration as a huge crowd assembled at Wesbrook and University where the torch was slated to come through about 6:30 pm. It was raining steadily but there was something intense about standing outside in the horrible weather waiting to watch a tiny moment of history being made. We donned our official Red Mittens and claimed a spot on the median on University Boulevard. I didn't really know what to expect, but I found myself getting a little emotional as I was swept up in the contagious enthusiasm of the crowd. Despite all the negative things that have been associated with the Olympics--the commercial aspects, the sometimes ridiculous IOC crackdowns, the insane quantities of money spent, the occasionally disastrous building projects (ahem...athletes village)--these were the moments that held the promise, hope, and global community spirit that caused people in Vancouver to vote for the games in the first place. And I have to say that despite skepticism and hesitation as all of this unfolded over the past three years I'm pretty excited to be in Vancouver to see it all happen. So I stood there in the rain and watched the helicopters circle, and the security motorcycles come rolling up University, followed by a bus full of torch bearers, and eventually a person carrying the lit torch. It all flashed by in just a couple of minutes, and  yet somehow it was enthralling. I can't really pinpoint why but it was all just a little bit magical.

On Friday I had a further Olympic moment coming back from the gym. A torch bearer surrounded by family and friends had stopped with his torch (unlit now) to get some pictures in front of the student union building. I just happened to be there as they were looking for someone to take a picture for them and I was more than happy to volunteer. Afterwards they let me hold the torch and have my picture taken, which was extremely exciting even though I had absolutely no idea who the torch bearer I was stealing a photo op from was!

I later discovered that he was Keith Martin, torchbearer #74 on day 106 of the 2010 Olympic torch relay. His family very kindly emailed me a picture. So here I am with Keith holding the Olympic torch:


And also, here's a KNITTING OLYMPIC UPDATE:

I have finished the soles for both slippers so am happy to report that I'm off to a good start in my race to have felted slippers by February 26.

M. and I are headed downtown tomorrow, so I'll post pictures and updates. Hopefully we'll avoid run-ins with rioters and with any luck I'll get a picture knitting my slipper in front of the Olympic cauldron.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Torchbearer

Torchbearer III, originally uploaded by mgermani.

Countdown to the Olympics

In just over 3 hours the Olympic opening ceremonies will begin in Vancouver. The city is absolutely exploding with excitement. You can feel the energy surging through people everywhere as we all watch the torch relay unfolding and wait for the moment when the cauldron will be lit at BC Place tonight.

I don't have tickets to any Olympic events, but I'm not going to let that stop me from participating. Over the next two weeks I'll be posting about my Olympic experience, from watching the torch come through UBC, to participating in the Yarn Harlot's Knitting Olympics, to attending the Ukulele Games (with it's own Ukulele Torch!) and participating in the "Strangest Song Adapted for the Ukulele" competition, taking a photo trip downtown, and watching lots of hockey!

So first, the knitting Olympics. I have pledged to complete (and felt!) the French Press Felted Slippers. This will be a challenge to my knitterly abilities because I've never done washing machine felting before and am quite apprehensive about it.

And now...

The Knitting Olympics Athletes Pledge (By the Yarn Harlot)

I, a knitter of able hands and quick wits, to hereby swear that over the course of these Olympics I will uphold the highest standard of knitterly excellence.

I will be deft of hand and sure of pattern, I will overcome troubles of yarn overs and misplaced decreases. I will use the gifts of intelligence and persistence (as well as caffeine and chocolate) and I will execute my art to the highest form, carrying with me the hope for excellence known to every knitter.

I strive to win. To do my best, and to approach the needles with my own best effort in mind, without comparing myself to my fellow knitters, for they have challenges unique to them.

While I engage in this pursuit of excellence and my own personal, individual best, I also swear that I will continue to engage with my family in conversation, care for my pets, speak kindly with those who would ask me to do something other than knit, and above all, above every stitch thrown or picked, above every cable, every heel stitch, every change of colour, I swear this:

That I will remember that this is not the real Olympics, that I'm supposed to be having fun and that my happiness and self-worth ride not on my success....
but on my trying.

GO CANADA GO! (Athletes, knitters, and ukulele players!)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Love in Unexpected Places




Love? M. walked into the bathroom the other day and said, "you'd better come look at this." I was a bit concerned. I thought: overflowing toilet, rampant and aggressive mould, a spider the size of my head...but no. What we found was that our toothbrushes have been pursuing a secret romance while we weren't looking, and M. had finally caught them in a compromising position.


I'm all for free toothbrush-love, but I just hope they're using some sort of protection because I don't want a whole cup full of baby toothbrushes. But Valentine's Day is just around the corner so I don't begrudge them their little fling. I just hope chaos won't erupt when one of us has to replace our toothbrush. I'm not sure how monogamous toothbrushes are or how much heartbreak they might suffer if their relationship is forcibly ended.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Daily Bread

Having been gluten, egg, and dairy free for over a year now one of the things I miss the most is bread. Bread is one of those omnipresent comfort foods. Something so simple yet so fulfilling, bread speaks of home, of the most basic sustenance for the body. There is hardly a food more satisfying than a soft, thickly sliced piece of bread slathered in butter and drizzled with honey. Bread is essential, not just as a food but as a metaphor for life itself, for the human connection to the earth that we till to bring forth the crop that sustains us. As our most basic food it is a metonym for the entire process of feeding ourselves and surviving in the world with our labour producing that which will allow us to continue living--our daily bread.

Margaret Atwood writes the following incredible poem about bread, showing that bread is not just a food but the end product of a long and gritty cycle of life. Bread is symbolic of the interconnectedness of all life, of our dependence on the earth as a provider and of the relationships we forge with others through the sharing of food.

All Bread

All bread is made of wood,
cow dung, packed brown moss,
the bodies of dead animals, the teeth
and backbones, what is left
after the ravens. The dirt
flows through the stems into the grain,
into the arm, nine strokes
of the axe, skin from a tree
good water which is the first
gift, four hours.

Live burial under a moist cloth,
a silver dish, the row
of white famine bellies
swollen and taut in the oven,
lungfuls of warm breath stopped
in the heat from an old sun.

Good bread has the salt taste
of your hands after nine
strokes of the axe, the salt
taste of your mouth, it smells
of its own small death, of the deaths
before and after.

Lift these ashes
into your mouth, your blood;
to know what you devour
is to consecrate it,
almost. All bread must be broken
so it can be shared. Together
we eat this earth.

Perhaps then I have felt that being deprived of bread I am deprived not only of sandwiches but of a deeply rooted aspect of human life, of the metaphors that bread carries with it, the ritual that it represents. So I have been on a search for good bread to satisfy my physical craving as well as a somewhat spiritual one: to create bread is to participate in life.

So down to the less poetic particulars: I applaud companies for trying to come up with bread suitable for the gluten-intolerant. Kinnikinnick makes a passable rice bread that tastes decent but could never be used for a regular sandwich. If you don't toast the bread and toast it well it suffers from a hideous grainy texture, and when toasted it becomes more chewy than crisp. Other brands are just inedible.

But when I went home to Windsor this Christmas my Aunt had procured a loaf of gluten-free bread from a newly opened bakery that was absolutely divine. For one, it tasted like real bread. It had a rich multi-grain flavour, was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Butter actually soaked into its porous surface rather than just pooling up on top like so many breads I've tried in the past. I was amazed. And then inspired. I wanted to reproduce this bread for myself. I had thoughts of raiding the bakery late in the night and stealing the recipe, but instead I began to search the internet for recipes that sounded promising and at the same time didn't appear too daunting. I wanted something that used flours I could actually procure without much difficulty and something that wouldn't take me hours of work to produce.

In this searching I stumbled upon this recipe by Gluten-Free Goddess:

Multi-Grain Sandwich Bread

The recipe itself and the testimonials from other blog readers convinced me it was worth a shot, so I set out to bake my very first loaf of bread ever. I was able to get sorghum flour, millet flour, potato starch, and cornmeal from our local Choices Market. Everything was reasonably priced except for the millet flour which was an astounding $18 for a one kilogram bag! I was astonished but forked over the money in my desperation to give the recipe a try. Later I priced out all my ingredients and worked out how many loaves I could make. Ultimately it will cost me around $4 to produce a single loaf of bread,significantly less than the $6-$7 that we regularly pay for a sub-par loaf of store-bought rice bread. So even with the astronomical price of millet flour this bread is cost effective (assuming of course you don't factor in the price of labour). I figured that if the loaf was tastier than the store-bough variety then it would be worth the effort at the $4 price tag.

This bread was a joy to make. Since the resulting mix is definitely a batter not a real dough it doesn't require kneading. Next time I will probably let the bread rise before baking for at least 40 minutes to 1.5 hours rather than the 20 minutes recommended because my loaf came out a little bit flat. But other than the slight lack of rising, everything went smoothly. My apartment filled with the heavy, warm scent of baking bread with its undertones of yeast and seasame. If Home has a smell, it must be the smell of baking bread and I could hardly wait to slice off the first steaming piece.

The bread came out of the oven golden and lovely (though a bit on the stunted side). I waited a few minutes for it to cool and then cut into the loaf. I let a good pat of goat butter melt on the surface and then took a much anticipated bite, and I can tell you without any reservation that this is a marvellous bread. So marvellous that M. and I ate half the loaf in a single evening. Mainly plain with butter/margarine but also with jam. This bread is slightly dense like a good multi-grain wheat loaf, with a really pleasing depth that comes from the coarser corn meal. The flavours were rich unlike the bland taste of plain rice bread. This tasted like, dare I say it, REAL bread and I came near to weeping with gratitude. I put caraway seeds in this loaf under the recipe author's recommendations, but I think if I make this again I'll leave them out. They had a fairly strong flavour that wasn't unpleasant but didn't seem to compliment the cornmeal very well. If I make this again I may try adding walnuts and raisins. Walnut bread was one of my favourite offerings while I was living at Green College and I would love to try to reproduce it using this recipe.

I froze the rest of the loaf and had a few pieces toasted for breakfast this morning. The toasted bread held up extremely well. It didn't become hard at all and tasted almost as good as it did fresh. I'll definitely be making this again, though perhaps not too often for fear that I'll eat nothing but bread and end up malnourished.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Valentine's Preview

Lomo flowers

I've been on a poetry kick lately, and I keep stumbling upon amazing poems posted by other bloggers, artists, and writers on the web. Perhaps it has something to do with the fast approach of Valentine's Day, or with the fact that spring has made a ridiculously early appearance in Vancouver, but I find that my heart is bursting with creative energy and with words. Like the brave crocuses and snowdrops that began poking up through the earth in January this year I find I am attracted to courageous and beautiful words. Earthy words. Words that express something of the gritty parts of the world as well as the exquisite beauty that is to be found there. Words that rise slowly, organically, and thrust themselves forward even when winter ice should be holding them at bay. With the early spring this year has come spontaneous discoveries of life--from the ground, from the pulse of my everyday life, and from the smattering of poetry that I have been running into frequently in my perusal of the blogosphere.

The following poem was found on a really lovely blog:

Persisting Stars


If you're looking for some inspiration and a reason to go about your day with joy, I recommend taking a look.

I wanted to save this poem, let it "live darkly in my body" but instead I'm sharing it here, because the shiver of amazement that it gave me is something that I wanted to let out into the world. I present it  so that no one has to use "roses are red, violets are blue..." in their Valentine's cards this year.

I do not love you as if you were a salt rose, a topaz
or an arrow of carnations that spread fire:
I love you like certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

 
I love you like the plant that does not bloom
and carries in itself, hidden, the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love,
the tight aroma that arose from the earth lives darkly in my body.


I love you without knowing how, nor when, nor from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you this way because I know no other way to love,


only in this way in which I am not and you are not,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that it is your eyes which close when I fall to sleep.


~ pablo neruda ~

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Red Dress I

Red Dress I, originally uploaded by Jean Albus.

"What Do Women Want?" by Kim Addonizio

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I'm the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,
it'll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in. 

There is something about this poem and accompanying image that speaks to me--particularly the part about "choosing a body to carry me into this world." Here the body, and the manner in which it is adorned, becomes fluid. The physical body is always present, but changeable somehow. As if how we see our body and choose to present it becomes incorporated into the body itself. In the poem and image the dress is the body, the only representation of the narrator, a metaphor that is also tangible.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Creative Networks

I have a tendency to be suspicious of technology. I frequently wonder if all the advances in communications, in organizational tools like Blackberries, and in modern conveniences like microwaves and online shopping are really increasing our quality of life or simply creating information fatigue and an expectation to fit more and more into each day as new aids to productivity arise. Online networks are something that I am particularly skeptical of. I think a lot about the quantity vs. quality ratio of things like Facebook. Twitter and Facebook definitely provide a ton of communications, but these communications often lack depth, substance, and relevance. I've posted about this before, so I won't rehash my own thoughts here. However, a recent special report in the Economist magazine addresses online social networking and its explosion in popularity over the past decade, suggesting that communication is actually improved by these networks:
Until the mid-1990s [online social networks] were largely ghettos for geeks who hid behind online aliases. Thanks to easy-to-use interfaces and fine-grained privacy controls, social networks have been transformed into vast public spaces where millions of people now feel comfortable using their real identities online. ComScore, a market-research firm, reckons that last October big social-networking sites received over 800m visitors. “The social networks’ greatest achievement has been to bring humanity into a place that was once cold and technological,” says Charlene Li of the Altimeter Group, a consulting firm.

Their other great achievement has been to turn themselves into superb tools for mass communication. Simply by updating a personal page on Facebook or sending out a tweet, users can let their network of friends—and sometimes the world—know what is happening in their lives. Moreover, they can send out videos, pictures and lots of other content with just a few clicks of a mouse. “This represents a dramatic and permanent upgrade in people’s ability to communicate with one another,” says Marc Andreessen, a Silicon Valley veteran who has invested in Facebook, Twitter and Ning, an American firm that hosts almost 2m social networks for clients.

"A World of Connections."The Economist. January 28, 2010 Edition.

I'm uncertain about the proposed notion that being able to constantly let the world know what you're doing on a minute by minute basis constitutes a communication "upgrade." But the online social world is here to stay and I think that amidst the information overload there is some amazing potential for revolutionary communications. I agree more fully with Li's statement that "the social networks' greatest achievement has been to bring humanity into a place that was once cold and technological." The internet, with its networks of blogs, special interest forums, and media sharing sites has become oddly organic. Communities spring up around common interests--maybe someone starts a knitting blog and gains a number of followers who all share their knowledge and expertise through the blog's comment section. It's likely that some of the followers then go on to create their own blogs. Maybe about a slightly different topic, and so a new community is formed on the fringe of the first. Such blogs are dotted with images all with links back to photosharing sites like Flickr, where one can gain the latest information on Photoshop while simultaneously browsing hundreds of photostreams, many of which feature beautiful and highly original art. Bloggers feature other bloggers on their sites, deepening the sense of community and sharing. No matter who you are, you are likely to find a blog out there that speaks to your direct experience and provides inspiration in the form of photos, stories, poetry, and music. People are taking the time to share the wisdom they have amassed in this world and the result is almost Jungian--a collective unconscious full of swirling imagery that can be tapped into with the click of a mouse and just as easily contributed to. It is this potential for beauty, sharing, generosity, and inspiration that intrigues me most in the online world. And so I would like to share a few blogs that I think go some way to nurturing these ideals and "bringing humanity" into the technological world:

http://shuttersisters.com/

A photoblog and collection of inspirational meditations on life by a diverse selection of bloggers.

http://www.yarnharlot.ca

An extremely popular knitting blog that embodies the possibility for creating communities online.

http://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com

A blog that combines mouth-watering images, gluten free recipes, and inspirational writing. A great example of creating a pool of knowledge and advice for a special interest group.

There are tons of other amazing sites out there. These are just a few that I've been frequenting lately that have given me hope for the betterment of communication through online social networking.

A Sunny Spot

A Sunny Spot. 2009.