Truth be told, I did not want to go out tonight. My broken nose has hit me hard (no pun intended) and I felt crappy and I have a ton of STAR grants to read.
But we had tickets to Moonlit Walk Home, created by Nautilus (and Jenn and Christina Baldwin), directed by Ben Krywosz and composed by Daniel Ness, based on Jenn and Christina's mother's poems. We had seen bits and pieces tin workshops, and had meant to go when it opened, but there were circus shows, and covid, and...well, life just got in the way.
I love Nautilus, and Ben, and adore Jenn and Christina, and knew I would love it when we got there, so we went. And I could not have needed it more than I did.
For a little over an hour, we could sit in a world of beautiful, heartfelt thoughts. An evocative set. And some of the most beautiful music I have heard in a long time.
"... to abandon the style in favor of something more 'civilized' tells us about the evils of cultural erasure, but also about conformity more broadly. In much of the Western world, mullets have largely been seen as a thwarting, whether one celebrated or feared, of convention. Take David Bowie, who wore chalky white makeup, psychedelic jumpsuits and a coiffed orange mullet to debut his otherworldly alter ego Ziggy Stardust in 1972. Not long after this glamorous alien emerged came a more working-class punk subculture for which rebellion was a raison d’être. And as much as torn clothes, safety pins, chains and piercings — the stuff of 'confrontation dressing,' as Vivienne Westwood called it — the mullet played a large part in the aesthetics of the movement. For one, the ragged style was purposefully ugly.... Perhaps, the mullet elicited such strong reactions because it refuses to be any one thing, sitting at the midpoint between long and short, masculine and feminine and tasteful and tacky. But if an inability to categorize causes discomfort in some, this sort of in-betweenness is just what some are looking for, especially at a time when gender and taste both feel, rightfully and crucially, so fluid. No wonder, then, that over the last five years the mullet has experienced a relative resurgence."
Speaking of fluidity, the essay writer flowed from the concept of confrontational ugliness to the notion of "in-betweenness" and connecting the concept of being neither long nor short with the concept of being neither male nor female. I can see why in-betweenness can be unsettling to some people and why the refusal to commit to male or female can read as ugly — to some people — and feel confrontational.
It's almost possible to say, completely objectively, that a mullet is ugly. But it can look cool to wear something ugly if you can sell the idea that you're doing it on purpose and you love it. That it bothers fussy people is part of the energy you're absorbing and reflecting. That's another way of saying that if you don't like how other people are expressing themselves, you might want to deprive them of a reaction. Because — as my mother used to say — you'll only encourage them.
I was invited by Matt Plummer-Fernandez to be guest lecturer on the current Computational Art course at Camberwell College of Arts.
The students have just finished up a module on world building and have now moved on to their final work of the year – a site specific work/installation/performance. The theme is Solarpunk.
I already posted about this on my tumblr but I’m going to repeat myself for the main blog crowd. On Tuesday, we took the students to Wolves Lane Centre in Wood Green to meet Elki – the Cactus Man of London.
He is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. Channeling ancestral knowledge though ritual and music, Elki has become one of the foremost cacti growers in the UK. The cactus house is laid out like a body, with a womb, a heart and stepping stones representing the cardinal directions and the elements. He also explained how he ‘translocates’ (my word) Mexico City into London though the use of ritual materials.
In his adopted greenhouse in Wolves Land he is attempting to create the UK’s first edible Cacti farm. His life and back story is just amazing. Some of which is covered in the short documentary above.
The whole community at Wolves Lane centre is incredible. Other greenhouses are occupied by groups like Edible London who are tackling food poverty and revitalising grey urban areas by turning them into green accessible growing spaces.
The place is a GEM, in the heart of north London. The students I think, had their minds blown. (Some of them inspired enough to enquire about volunteering)
Whilst I was there I also met two permaculture market gardeners from California, we had long chats about the ins and outs of regenerative design patterns and how they translate from Mediterranean LA to the UK and Northern Europe.
We’re going back to the venue in less than 4 weeks to see the work the students make. Updates To Come.
In other news, I’m going on holiday next week.
So this week has been dedicated to getting ahead (podcast for next week is already scheduled), and crossing off outstanding commitments on the list of things to do before I leave.
We’re going to some all inclusive resort in Crete. My plans consist of eating huge buffet meals, drinking lots of brightly coloured cocktails, swimming, and reading at least a book a day by the pool. I may go visit Knossos, but as I’ve already indicated my schedule is already pretty full.
When I get back life will no doubt fall back into the usual weekly work rhythms, but It also marks the beginning of a huge writing project. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to find an extra hour a day to take myself off to the local coffeeshop and work.
Once I figure out my daily cadence or tempo I’m going to self impose some aggressive deadlines.
Spawning, a 21st century corollary to the 20th century process of sampling. If sampling afforded artists the ability to manipulate the artwork of others to collage together something new, spawning affords artists the ability to create entirely new artworks in the style of other people from AI systems trained on their work or likeness.
A few weeks later when I was summoned to the headteacher’s office. Mark’s parents had written a letter of complaint, not to the headteacher, not to the school governors, but to the County Education Officer himself. And what was the problem? The problem was knickers. Knickers were referred to in the book (Machine Gunners), not once, but several times and Mark had already been taking what his parents felt was an unhealthy interest in such matters, before a teacher, who should have known better, had recommended this appalling book to him.
Funnily enough they made no mention of the fact that on the very first page we learn that the girl from the greengrocer’s shop has been blown to pieces in an air raid.
So when someone comes calling from “realityland” with a list of questions, the mere fact of having their viewpoint interrogated represents an existential threat to the sacred viewpoint. They circle the wagons.
I’m still reading The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution.
I’ve just finished The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths. It was really good. English folklore wrapped around a murder mystery/police procedural.
Sam Gendel and Antonia Cytrynowicz didn’t set out to make a record – it just happened. LIVE A LITTLE, a collection of songs resulting from one late summer afternoon in Gendel’s Los Angeles home, is less an album and more a moment. The ten tracks here were recorded mostly in one sitting, fully improvised, in the order in which they appear. It was the first and last time the songs have been played – a snapshot of an idea, an artifact of inspiration, at once both a beginning and an end.
At the time of recording, Cytrynowicz was only eleven years old. The younger sister of Gendel’s significant other and creative partner Marcella, Cytrynowicz is an artist in her own way. She has no formal musical training, but is the product of a creative family and is someone who makes art the way many kids do – in the purest way, simply because they are moved to.
What unfolds on this album is a dreamy mix of weird and wonky electronic bleeps and bloops, and improvised wind instrumentation. Vocals float though through it all. They feel like channeled previously unheard and unknown Jazz standards. Wonderful album. Refreshing.
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This New Yorker piece by Cal Newport is an examination of GTD through its origins in the work of Peter Drucker, David Allen, and in particular Merlin Mann.
In the early two-thousands, Merlin Mann, a Web designer and avowed Macintosh enthusiast, was working as a freelance project manager for software companies. He had held similar roles for years, so he knew the ins and outs of the job; he was surprised, therefore, to find that he was overwhelmed—not by the intellectual aspects of his work but by the many small administrative tasks, such as scheduling conference calls, that bubbled up from a turbulent stream of e-mail messages. “I was in this batting cage, deluged with information,” he told me recently. “I went to college. I was smart. Why was I having such a hard time?”
Mann wasn’t alone in his frustration. In the nineteen-nineties, the spread of e-mail had transformed knowledge work. With nearly all friction removed from professional communication, anyone could bother anyone else at any time. Many e-mails brought obligations: to answer a question, look into a lead, arrange a meeting, or provide feedback. Work lives that had once been sequential—two or three blocks of work, broken up by meetings and phone calls—became frantic, improvisational, and impossibly overloaded. “E-mail is a ball of uncertainty that represents anxiety,” Mann said, reflecting on this period.
In 2003, he came across a book that seemed to address his frustrations. It was titled “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” and, for Mann, it changed everything. The time-management system it described, called G.T.D., had been developed by David Allen, a consultant turned entrepreneur who lived in the crunchy mountain town of Ojai, California. Allen combined ideas from Zen Buddhism with the strict organizational techniques he’d honed while advising corporate clients. He proposed a theory about how our minds work: when we try to keep track of obligations in our heads, we create “open loops” that make us anxious. That anxiety, in turn, reduces our ability to think effectively. If we could avoid worrying about what we were supposed to be doing, we could focus more fully on what we were actually doing, achieving what Allen called a “mind like water.”
I remember hearing about GTD first through interviews and podcast with Merlin Mann in the mid and late 2000s, although I didn’t get around to doing anything with it until the mid-2010s.
In hindsight, I’m glad that I didn’t get sucked in earlier, and that I didn’t get overly invested in the first few solutions I tried. As the article above notes, there’s no shortage of options for organising your life, but as Merlin Mann noted in his final blog post in 2011, ‘cranking’ is the problem not the solution. We’re putting the onus on individuals to fix issues that lie with organisation and society as a whole.
"... onto Salvador Pérez. Caught off guard, Pérez warned his fellow Venezuelan and close friend not to mess with him, punctuating his emotion with some colorful language in Spanish. Hours later, though, Pérez was far from bothered. He collected four hits that day and smelled great in the process. The mysterious substance in the bottle, from his point of view, had become a performance-enhancer: women’s perfume. 'From then on, I bought all the Victoria’s Secret there was,' Pérez recalled recently in Spanish.... 'If I don’t have perfume on, I feel strange,' said Seattle Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suárez, a Venezuelan.... Even though most players are often several dozen feet away from each other on the field, Suárez said he likes hearing that he smells good. Pérez said he can sometimes pick up the aroma of Luis Severino, a Dominican pitcher for the Yankees who uses a women’s body splash, despite Severino being 60 feet 6 inches away when facing him. 'I’m a catcher so I sweat a lot,' Pérez said, pointing to all his gear. 'So a little perfume helps. The umpires say, "Oh Salvy, you smell good." I say, "Thank you. Give me some strikes."'"
I don't know what the "colorful language in Spanish" was. Something not fit to print. But what was the Victoria's Secret perfume? I'm guessing Bombshell. But maybe it's Amber Romance perfume. I see something from 2019 about the LSU baseball team and their use of Amber Romance to repel gnats. (And, yes, I know there's an MLB team called The Gnats.)
“Facebook’s dream of the metaverse, a VR hellscape stuffed with annoying ads and screeching children, is as incoherent and confusing as ever after reading an 8,000 word essay by Nick Clegg, the president of global affairs at Facebook’s parent company Meta.” Honestly can’t believe I’m living in a reality where Nick Clegg of all people is in a position to describe the future.
“We analyzed Microsoft Bing’s autosuggestion system for censorship of the names of individuals, finding that, outside of names relating to eroticism, the second largest category of names censored from appearing in autosuggestions were those of Chinese party leaders, dissidents, and other persons considered politically sensitive in China.” Including here in the US.
“In an extremely cosmic-brain take, University of Rochester astrophysics professor Adam Frank suggests that a civilization could advance so much that it could eventually tinker with the fundamental laws of physics.”
“People say the effect is only on the mind. It is no such thing. The effect is on the body, too.”
“I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains,” the poetic neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote in the dawning years of the twenty-first century, “but I have seen in my patients the restorative and healing powers of nature and gardens, even for those who are deeply disabled neurologically.”
This, however, was not a novel idea. A century and a half before him, another visionary of what we flatly term medicine — the stewardship of that intersectional wonder transpiring between the human body and the human spirit — arrived at the same conclusion.
“No more childish things… No more marriage,” Florence Nightingale (May 12, 1820–August 13, 1910) resolved in her diary on her thirtieth birthday.
Within a decade, she had invented professional nursing, founded the world’s first non-religious nursing school, and revolutionized both healthcare and data science by demonstrating measurably the lifesaving power of standardized situation, which she and her team of 38 nurses had introduced in an Istanbul hospital during the Crimean War, reducing death rates in the ward by 99 percent. To communicate these revelatory results to a public illiterate of statistics, she devised a new type of pie chart, known today as the Nightingale rose diagram, which she sent to Queen Victoria and which ushered in a new age of data visualization, empowering generations of information designers and inspiring W.E.B. Du Bois to create the epoch-making diagrams of African American life he presented at the World’s Fair in the final years of Nightingale’s life.
But it was more than standardized sanitation she brought to those hospital wards and more than standardized sanitation that saved those human lives. Just as revolutionary was the type of patient care that made those wounded soldiers await “The Lady with the Lamp” as their “ministering angel” and prompted Emily Dickinson to celebrate her as “holy” across the Atlantic.
Years before Walt Whitman, while volunteering as a nurse in the American Civil War, attested to how “personal love, caresses, and the magnetic flood of sympathy and friendship [do] more good than all the medicine in the world,” Nightingale came to see compassion not as a flourish on medical care but as its most tonic offering and its primary instrument of healing. That her own life spanned more than double the life expectancy of her time and place is surely not unrelated to her uncommon insight into health, epochs ahead of her time in many ways — but most of all in her deep understanding of the dialogue between the body and the mind, in health and in healing.
When Nightingale’s pioneering nursing school at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London grew so successful that two new wards were built, the first thing she ordered for the grand opening were plants and flowers, knowing well that once “all the royalties are gone,” those lush blooming beauties would be “the main pleasure to the patients and nurses.”
Since her earliest days as a working nurse, a century and a half before immunologist Esther Sternberg demonstrated the link between emotional balance and susceptibility to disease, Nightingale witnessed patient after patient receive flowers “with rapture” — a brightening of spirit that very clearly uplifted their total state of being, allaying their physical suffering in measurable ways:
I shall never forget the rapture of fever patients over a bunch of bright-coloured flowers. I remember (in my own case) a nosegay of wild flowers being sent me, and from that moment recovery becoming more rapid.
She formalized these observations in the second edition of her revolutionary book Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not, published in 1860, of which this humble woman was so proud that she sent a copy to Queen Victoria. In it, under the heading “Flowers,” Nightingale admonishes against one of the commonest and gravest mistakes in healthcare:
The folly and ignorance which reign too often supreme over the sickroom cannot be better exemplified than by this: while the nurse will leave the patient stewing in a corrupting atmosphere, the best ingredient of which is carbonic acid [carbon dioxide], she will deny him, on the plea of unhealthiness, a glass of cut flowers or a growing plant. Now, no one ever saw “overcrowding” by plants in a room or ward. And the carbonic acid they give off at nights would not poison a fly. Nay, in overcrowded rooms, they actually absorb carbonic acid and give off oxygen. Cut flowers also decompose water and produce oxygen gas. It is true there are certain flowers, e.g., lilies, the smell of which is said to depress the nervous system. These are easily known by the smell and can be avoided.
People say the effect is only on the mind. It is no such thing. The effect is on the body, too. Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form, by colour and light, we do know this, that they have an actual physical effect.
Once again ahead of her time, she extends especial compassion to patients suffering from what we call mental illness, now classify along an increasingly elaborate spectrum of disorders, then crudely labeled as hysteria or melancholy or simply (and punitively) insanity — patients doubly anguished by their powerlessness to intercept their own dark spirals of thought, for which beauty and light provide such sanative interception. Noting that the sick “suffer to excess from mental as well as bodily pain,” Nightingale writes in her nursing manual:
Form, colour, will free your patient from his painful ideas better than any argument.
Writing at the dawn of self-help as we now know it, when the pseudoscience of “positive thinking” was just beginning to intoxicate the modern mind as the snake oil of our time, Nightingale inverts the premise and, anticipating William James’s landmark theory of how our bodies affect our feelings by a quarter century, writes:
Volumes are now written and spoken upon the effect of the mind upon the body. Much of it is true. But I wish a little more was thought of the effect of the body on the mind. You who believe yourselves overwhelmed with cares, but are able every day to walk up [the street], or out in the country… you little know much your anxieties are thereby lightened; you little know how intensified they become to those who can have no change, how the very walls of their sickrooms seem hung with their cares, how the ghosts of their troubles haunt their beds, how impossible it becomes for them to escape from some pursuing thought without some help from variety.
Devoting an entire section of the book to variety, Nightingale notes that longtime nurses and long-term patients share in knowing just how immensely “the nerves of the sick suffer from seeing the same walls, the same ceiling, the same surroundings” during long convalescence. She offers an antidote to the debilitating physical effects of monotony:
The superior cheerfulness of persons suffering severe paroxysms of pain over that of persons suffering from nervous debility has often been remarked upon, and attributed to the enjoyment of the former of their intervals of respite. I incline to think that the majority of cheerful cases is to be found among those patients who are not confined to one room, whatever their suffering, and that the majority of depressed cases will be seen among those subjected to a long monotony of objects about them.
The nervous frame really suffers as much from this as the digestive organs from long monotony of diet, as, e.g., the soldier from his twenty-one years’ “boiled beef.”
She makes a special case for the vivifying power of color, insisting that a patient’s craving for beauty is not a mere whim but both an indicator of their psychological inclination toward recovery and a very real physiological need signaled by the body along its trajectory of healing:
The effect in sickness of beautiful objects, of variety of objects, and especially of brilliancy of colour, is hardly at all appreciated. Such cravings are usually called the “fancies” of patients. And often doubtless patients have “fancies,” as, e.g., when they desire two contradictions. But, much more often, their (so-called) “fancies” are the most valuable indications of what is necessary for their recovery. And it would be well if nurses would watch these (so-called) “fancies” closely.
Half a century before Goethe devised his theory of color and emotion, Nightingale notes the invigoration produced by warm, bright colors and the wearying effects of long hours spent looking at deep, cool shades as she offers her remedy for nervous prostration and burnout:
This state of nerves is most frequently to be relieved by care in affording them a pleasant view, a judicious variety as to flowers and pretty things. (No one who has watched the sick can doubt the fact, that some feel stimulus from looking at scarlet flowers, exhaustion from looking at deep blue, etc.) Light by itself will often relieve it. The craving for “the return of the day,” which the sick so constantly evince, is generally nothing but the desire for light, the remembrance of the relief which a variety of objects before the eye affords to the harassed sick mind.
She continued elaborating on and advocating for these ideas for the remainder of her long life. In 1892, already one of England’s most prominent public figures, Nightingale was asked to contribute the entry on nursing for one of the era’s most popular encyclopedic dictionaries. Under the heading “NURSES, training of,” after detailing various essentials of the skilled healthcare practitioner ranging from hygiene to dress, she writes:
Second only to air is light as an essential for growth, health and recovery from sickness — not only daylight, but sunlight — and indeed fresh air must be sun-warmed, sun-penetrated air. This should be meant to include colour, pleasant and pretty sights for the patient’s eyes to rest on — variety of objects, flowers, pictures. People say the effect is on the mind. So it is, but the enlightened physician tells us it is on the body too. The sun is a sculptor as well as a painter. The Greeks were right as to their Apollo.
But my favorite of her reflections on the healing power of nature comes from a letter she penned shortly after her eightieth birthday, in the first year of the twentieth century, synthesizing her learnings about nursing and life. (What is it about eighty being the age at which great minds distill their life-advice?) Winkingly addressing the nursing staff at St. Thomas’ Hospital as her “dear children,” for they had affectionately called her their “mother-chief” throughout her long service, Nightingale writes:
There have been great, I may say, discoveries in nursing. A very remarkable doctor, a great friend of mine, now dead, introduced new ideas about consumption, which might then be called the curse of England. His own wife was what is called “consumptive,” i.e., she had tubercular disease in her lungs. He said to her: “now you have to choose: either you must spend the next six months in your room. Or you must garden every day” (they had a wretched little garden at the end of a street) “you must dig — get your feet wet every day.” She chose the latter, became the hardiest of women and lived to be old.
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I had to abandon work on Friday, after nearly passing out while in a discussion with a client. I’d been feeling none too great all morning. Went home and spent most of the remainder of the day in bed. A weekend of taking it easy and I feel largely back on track.
I think a couple of weeks of poor sleep, anxiety about various things, busyness at work and little to no breathing space in between all caught up on me.