Tag Archives: complex systems

The Story Writes the Writer

One of the powerful lessons our planet has to teach us (if only more would listen!) is the miracle of complex systems. Scientists are beginning to understand that our old paradigm of mechanistic reductionism does not honor how intricately and elegantly chemistry, geology, oceanography, paleontology, astrophysics and biology are woven together. Our most challenging and pressing issues are all connected: health and access to healthcare, diet, climate change, overshoot, pollution, education and resource access, to name but a few.

As I write this post, I’m crammed in a corner of my attic office. My partner is building me a bookcase in the middle of the room. There’s sawdust on the rug, piles of books all over the floor, tools and shims and clamps and screws on the floor and file cabinet. We’re chatting about nothing much as I write and he mutters to himself and runs power tools. I pause now and then to look out the window, where a frigid winter wind is blowing, and to run my eyes lovingly over the books heaped around my feet, waiting patiently for their new accommodations.

Several others have occupied this attic space before me. The house, after all, is almost 200 years old. The horsehair lath and plaster walls, covered with old-fashioned wallpaper; the slanting ceiling; and the wide planks of the floor, painted a light shade of grey-brown, have contained and witnessed many thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams.

When I moved in, I adjusted to the space and what was here, not only because I was overwhelmed and homesick for my place in Colorado, but also out of respect for the rooms, the house, and my partner and his memories and history in this place.

Now, nearly five years later, I have rooted firmly into my new life. I no longer feel like a visitor or a temporary roommate. These two adjoining attic rooms know me. I’ve slept here. I’ve pulled Tarot cards, burned candles and incense, cleaned, smudged, written countless words, cried, listened to music, exercised, danced, and nursed illness and injury here.

We humans have a tendency to consider ourselves Masters of the Universe. Between that assumption and the truth, that we are but one species among billions of other forms of life, some of which we remain ignorant of and many of which have lived on this planet millions of years longer than we have, yawns a chasm of ignorance, arrogance and self-destruction.

A study of complexity opens up a wider awareness, however. This space is not truly mine. I’m a temporary occupant, and I care for and about these little rooms, but they were here long before I was and may yet shelter other lives when I am through here. In fact, I wonder if I don’t belong as much to the space as it does to me.

That thought leads me to wondering if I’m shaping worlds, creating characters and writing stories, or if those worlds, characters and stories are shaping, creating and writing me.

We didn’t plan it, but somehow last weekend my partner and I found ourselves up here with tools and a crowbar, disassembling a largecounter, built by a previous occupant. I didn’t find it useful as anything but a bookshelf, and it took up a lot of space. I was beginning to think about removing it sometime in the future in favor of a couple of bookshelves. The stars unexpectedly aligned perfectly on this snowy, cold weekend, and we rolled up our sleeves and started making a mess.

Tearing out the counter damaged the wall. I spackled and sanded and began to think about paint. I tore a small sample of the old wallpaper out of a corner of the closet and took it to the paint store, where I picked out a buttery cream color (Cottage Cream—I love paint color names!) that toned with the wallpaper.

That’s why, this morning, I’m an island in a sea of books while my partner inches busily around one of my new bookshelves with tools and hardware in the middle of the room. In the adjoining room, the first coat of paint is drying. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I won’t be able to do a final coat before I leave for work. I hate living in chaos. On the other hand, it’s possible my shelves will be ready in time for me to get some of my books off the floor before I leave!

It was tempting to tell myself this morning that I couldn’t do any writing in such a mess. Instead, I decided to allow the temporary chaos around me to write this post, to shape this morning, and to mold me in this moment in time. At the same time, we, the current inhabitants of this house, are shaping a more usable and personalized space for me.

We humans are not graceful about being shaped by anyone or anything. We resent and resist. For some reason, we don’t feel as though we should have to deal with disagreement; inconvenience; difficult people, situations or feelings. We’re equally outraged if others complain about the impact of our behavior on them.

I see a different truth. Each individual life on earth is literally shaped by everything around it, both living and what we call nonliving. Our inability to discern a direct superhighway between ourselves and a total stranger on the other side of the world doesn’t diminish the power and reality of our interdependence. It just means we’re terribly and dangerously ignorant.

Those who came before me to this attic aerie chose wallpaper, paint, shelves, window coverings, and where to fasten things to the walls. Now I, in my turn, am molding the space to my needs and preferences, but the space itself is not passive. Sunlight, moonlight and draughts move through it in a particular way. The red bricks of the chimney rising through one of the rooms radiates heat. The floor dips, creaks and sways, dictating where I sit, sleep and exercise. The low, slanted ceiling does not accommodate some stretches and dance movements. The narrow, steep stairs limit what I can bring up in terms of furniture.

I am shaped, influenced, limited, challenged, rearranged, smoothed down and roughed up by my two little rooms, just as surely as I’m deconstructing, patching, sanding, painting, scrubbing and reconstructing my physical surroundings. Together, we create my life. We are partners. I am who I am because of my living space, and it is as it is because of me.

My whole life has shaped my writing, and in the last few years my writing has shaped my life. As I weave story and work with characters and other worlds, they enter my dreams and my thoughts. I carry their influence with me as I live. Because of Our Daily Crime, I ask more questions in the world, am more present with others, and listen more carefully. The discipline of posting weekly demands I find a way through discomfort, change and upheaval, and write anyway. I am not the Princess and the Pea. I can write even if my surroundings are not ideal.

Nobody but me could write my Webbd Wheel series or create the space I need. Perhaps no other story or living space in the world could have written this moment’s version of me.

Being written by the story. My daily crime.

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

Just Deserts

Sometimes the inside of my own head astonishes me. It’s amazing how much of our internal framework is undetected bullshit that runs our lives. For example, this is a belief I’ve always accepted without ever thinking about it:

I get what I deserve
I deserve what I get

I have it,
therefore I deserve it

I deserve it
because I have it.

You have not got it
therefore you do not deserve it

You do not deserve it
because you have not got it

You have not got it
because you do not deserve it

You do not deserve it
therefore you have not got it.
R.D. Laing, Knots

This piece of nonsense masquerades as a Universal Law, and I believed it!

So, what does it mean to deserve something?

Interestingly, the word “deserve” comes from the Latin word “deservire,” meaning “serve well or zealously” (Oxford online dictionary). Serve as in servant? Serve as in slave?

Serve, as in somebody else has the power to judge the value of our service, regardless of how we evaluate it?

Now, there’s a slippery slope of disempowerment!

The more I mull this over, the clearer it is to me that being judged as deserving or undeserving is a human construct. It’s not real. It collapses when I try to examine it. Do we really believe that we get exactly what we deserve? Children are starving because they deserve to? People die of cancer because they deserve it? One percent of the population has most of the financial resource because they deserve it and the rest of us don’t?

No. I don’t believe that.

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

My reading of current complex systems science (please see my Bookshelves page) has taught me that life is defined by living. Life wants to live, be it a bacterium, a fern, a woodpecker, or a human being. Life is persistent, adaptive, and depends on the passing on of genetic material and energy gradients. Life is solely occupied with meeting its needs for life, and most successful life teams up with other kinds of life in complex systems.

There is no deserve in all that. There is no implicit guarantee of rights or resource. Successful life often leads to population overshoot, at which point the successful species uses up its resource and predators of the overshoot population increase their population to take advantage of the abundant food and energy supply.

Photo by Manuel Barroso Parejo on Unsplash

I did nothing to deserve the circumstances of my birth as a white female in the United States. I’m no more or less deserving of life than a mycelium spore. If I die of some kind of drug-resistant organism, my death is nothing more or less than the inevitable consequence of my species being in overshoot.

We humans spend a lot of time fighting with one another, as any overcrowded population will. There’s current buzz about hate, oppression, immigration and white supremacy. My own view is that all those issues are not the root of the matter, but distractions. The real issue is our unconscious and false sense of ourselves as human supremacists, superior to the sacred cycles and processes of life and death. Most of us believe, behave, and act as though our needs are more important than the needs of other human beings, and certainly more important than the needs of all the other countless and magnificent forms of life with whom we inhabit this planet.

Photo by Seth Macey on Unsplash

We will discover—we are discovering—that we cannot stand alone, however. In fact, most life on the planet can do much better without us than we can do without it.

Life and death are the context in which all our experience is embedded. We’ve only begun to identify some of the laws that govern the way they work together. We’re only now realizing how interdependent all forms of life are, even as we actively destroy other species we depend upon for food and water.

As human beings, we have needs. If our needs don’t get met, we die. This is so for every form of life. We either live as part of a sustainable complex system or we die as a species. As individuals, we are born and live because of those who have died before us, and our inevitable death gives life to those who come after us. It’s really very simple. Debating whether we ourselves or any other form of life is deserving or not is an idiotic waste of time and energy.

The concept of deserving is one more piece of mental clutter, along with pleasing others and arguing with what is, that I’m joyfully letting go. For years I’ve hurt myself with it; it’s limited me and been a heavy burden to carry. Without it I feel lighter, freer, and I notice an increased sense of reverence and gratitude for my life and all the life around me. I am not supreme. I’m a child, a student, and one small life among many others, all of which have equal value to my own and much to share and teach, if I can set my human arrogance aside long enough to listen.

As Loren Eisley writes in All the Strange Hours: “Life, life for the purposes of life, and is that then so small?”

My daily crime.

Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

Love: No Animal Byproducts

 

Photo by Helena Yankovska on Unsplash

In the farmer’s market on Saturday morning, we stood in line to buy bread. We did not stand in line to buy a peach raspberry pie and bread, but that’s another story (with a happy ending. The pie was worth it.) Next to the baker’s display was a booth set up by a local businesswoman who specializes in unique homemade dog treats. As my mother is owned by a dear border collie and I’m always on the lookout for something they might like, I idly checked out the booth while my partner waited in line (to buy bread, not pie.)

I found rows of attractively-packaged, carefully labeled, very expensive bags of dog goodies, most of which were vegetable-based and proudly labeled as containing “no animal biproducts.”

Sometimes I feel pretty despairing about the world. I’m sure this businesswoman is a well-meaning and hard-working person trying to earn a living in central Maine who cares about dogs. However, it would be good to avoid spelling errors on her labels and dogs are not vegetarians or vegans.

There is, in fact, debate among veterinarians and scientists about whether dogs are omnivores or carnivores, but recent research based on physiology suggests dogs are indeed carnivores. Many wild canines are apex predators. Many perform the vital function of carrion eaters and scavengers. Dogs are not vegetarians.

There are a lot of dark monsters walking the streets right now. Rampant narcissists, greedy capitalists and fanatical ideologists are slowly consuming the world. There’s another ogre abroad, though, one bathed in blue light and wearing angel wings, and that is our willful ignorance and denial of the physical and biological realities we live and die with, our inability to work elegantly with complexity and shades of grey and the cult we’ve made out of love and peace.

Photo by Michael LaRosa on Unsplash

One of my favorite writers on Medium, Kay Bolden, recently wrote a piece entitled Love is a Warrior, Not a Saint. She is absolutely correct. Love is not a saint. Love sees things clearly. Restricting our dogs to a vegetarian diet is not love. It’s animal abuse. If we love our dogs, we appreciate them for the magnificent companions and colleagues they are, and dogs are not vegetarians. If we love our dogs, we give them a nice raw, bloody, meaty bone now and then and we do not force them to struggle on a grain or vegetable-based diet and handfuls of supplements in order to address their nutritional needs. Wild canines form packs and hunt. They kill birds, rodents, rabbits and even larger animals, tear them apart with their teeth and eat them raw. That’s what a dog’s ancestry isRefusing to accept that is not love.

Dogs have evolved with humans for thousands of years and have adapted to scavenge and forage amongst people. Most dog owners know that their pets will, if able, routinely eat all kinds of rubbish and frequently suffer digestive consequences. If humans are wiped out overnight in some kind of a plague, our dogs will consume our dead bodies, form packs, and begin hunting.

I despise what human beings have done to animals. Animal testing, the terrible practices of factory farming, our idiotic greed for things like rhino and elephant horns and furs, and our irresponsibility, cruelty, stupidity and malice have done no end of harm to the entire animal kingdom. We seem bent on destroying every habitat on the planet (often so that people can feel self-righteous about how peaceful and loving they are as vegans and vegetarians, never mind that Big Ag wipes out hundreds of thousands of organisms and poisons the soil in every field it monocrops, not part of the natural process of life and death) as quickly as possible, leaving nothing but sterile wastes behind us. We do this. People. Homo Sapiens.

Photo by Jamie Morris on Unsplash

Bleating about love and peace and refusing to recognize carnivores, herbivores, the extraordinary complex system of Planet Earth and the necessity and function of all parts of it is just as bad as clearcutting the rainforest. Mother Nature is about prey and predator. When it’s healthy, the natural system is a complicated, dynamic dance of life and death involving countless organisms. Carnivores hunting and eating meat is not an act of violence or hate. Predators hunting prey is the natural order of things. Life on earth depends on it.

Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost our innate wisdom and connection to life. The modern age is all about arrested development. We’re like small children in sunny nurseries having a tea party with our stuffed animals and dolls. We’ve distorted love and peace into something prim and sweet, entirely artificial and entirely one-dimensional. Peace and violence are mutually exclusive. Love is entirely peaceful. Death is entirely hateful and violent. Love and peace are pretty. Love and peace are nice. They’re tolerant. They contain no animal “biproducts.”

Photo by David Hofmann on Unsplash

What dangerous, infantile lies. Love is the face of the Divine, and the face of the Divine looks upon fire and flood, thunder and lightning, sand and ice and sea. The face of the Divine looks upon the musky violence of reproduction, the grinding bones and tearing tissue of birth, the vast cycles of predators and prey that encompass each layer of life from the smallest microbes to the largest animals. The face of the Divine orchestrates the checks and balances that ensure population control, which is often driven by disease, famine and drought. The Divine dances a passionate, sensual, joyful dance, knee-deep in blood, semen, bone, flesh, fat, hair, scales, feathers, rot, vomit and excrement.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

In the midst of this beautiful, intricate world it’s we alone who have the fantastic hubris to refuse to participate. It’s we who deny the very ground of our being, the substance and structure of flesh and bone and biology. We rant about inclusivity and equality while we steadily eradicate life on earth, self-destruct, and allow ourselves to be divided from one another, never pausing long enough in our fatal greed and grotesque need to win and be right to understand that life and death already are inclusive and equal. We all must eat and drink, successfully procreate if our genetic material is to survive, and die. We’re all part of the magnificent turning wheel of life, whether we like it or admit it or not. We’ve allowed our contemptible ideologies, our fears, our ignorance and our absurd desire for the higher moral ground to weaken us and we’ve become the most dangerous form of life on the planet, not only to ourselves but to every living thing around us. Then we project our madness onto the animals who depend upon us, reward the criminals who market vegetarian dog food and call that love. We call that being peaceful.

No. That’s not my love. My love and compassion are bigger and wider than that. I love the glorious cycle of life and death, even if it means I dip my hands in blood and endure the stench of decaying flesh.

I can love the glorious cycle of life and death, even if it means I dip my hands in blood and endure the stench of decaying flesh.

I muster the humility to learn about interconnectedness and how to participate elegantly in life and death. I love myself and others for what genetics, evolution and biology make us. I work for peace. I can wield the tool of violence if necessary. I respect and welcome death, recognizing it as a sacred consort to life.

I will give a dog a bone.

My daily crime.

Photo by Kevin Quezada on Unsplash

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Jennifer Rose
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