nationalism in the civilised present

The gathering was splendid.
The U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in Brussels is large, impressive, and immaculately tended. We arrived a few minutes early but were immediately ushered in to mingle in the hallways and anterooms, sipping wine, juice or water and munching delicious appetizers from trays replenished regularly by the constantly circulating staff. Conversation with the delightful company was light and entertaining; it was me being there that edged on the surreal. ๐Ÿ™‚
I did not get to shake hands with Ambassador Fox, although we had a prolonged moment of eye contact just as he was being summoned to introduce a short film on Belgian-U.S. relations. An Invisible Bridge is a well-crafted summary of a unique international relationship between two peoples – or, rather between the idea of two nationalities with a special bond. Susceptible as I am to musically-produced emotional tweakery, I teared up at the presentation of NATO’s heroic mission “to secure the future of Europe”, noticing that a Belgian acquaintance next to me was also surreptitiously wiping tears away. When I asked her, post-film, she confessed. Her emotion stemmed from grief at unity lost – the togetherness of a single nation being ripped at its seams along a language divide.
Ambassador Fox is quite proud of the film and the interest it has generated across Belgium. I understand why: the ethos of the film appeals to a human need to belong, to know one is connected with others, a part of something larger than ourselves. The desire for a group identification is, at core, tribal; its modern form is the nation.
I am not advocating an end to the nation (not necessarily, for sure not yet). We need better institutional structures and mechanisms for balancing out economic disparities, and the state is still the best tool for experimenting with various possibilities. My problem with the film is along the lines articulated by a friend who rejected its glorification of war. For me, I can’t say that I saw “glorification” per se. War is a tragedy, and its effects are still viscerally and personally real for many people in Europe: both those who lived through WWII (while so many died) and the children of people who lived/died during or because of the war. The tragedy of war is also etched in the beings of the millions of immigrants to Europe from regions of the world still swamped under the reign of violence.
What I witnessed in the film was an acknowledgment of war’s horrors, and gratitude to those who made attempts to alleviate suffering. The problematic implication for me was the implicit assumption that war is a human inevitability. The film makes no statement about ending war; indeed, by shoring up the borders of nationality the film cultivates the exclusive attitude of distinction that makes war possible.
Still, I appreciate what I learned:

  • Peter Minuit “bought Manhattan from the Indians” circa 1626. (The history obliterated by the neutral statement of fact nonetheless remains.)
  • Father Pierre-Jean De Smet helped negotiate “peace” (my quotation marks) with Sitting Bull
  • the Red Star Line carried millions of Eastern Europeans to the U.S. at the end of the 19th century
  • the WWI Belgian Relief program organized by President Herbert Hoover, Ernest Solvay, and other prominent Belgians.
  • rebuilding of the Library at the University of Leuven after its destruction during WWI
  • the organized escape routes, known as the Comet Line, created during WWII for Allied soldiers
  • the Battle of the Bulge occurred here, in the Ardennes mountain range

Here’s a testimonial of a US veteran of the Bulge returning in 1994:

The most memorable part of our tour to Belgium was the warmth and gratitude expressed to us by the people of Houffalize and Bastogne. As Ken Aran expressed it, “our localized reception was more like a family. It was an experience I shall always cherish.” One of many examples of Belgian warmth for us veterans was the parade at Bastogne in which the not-so-young veterans marched the length of Bastogne’s main street to the McAuliffe Square. As we march along down the Rue Savlon, many school children hurried out to grasp a veteran’s hand and marched along before approving and politely applauding crowds that lined the sidewalks. There were not always enough veterans’ hands to go around, but some children then clasped hands with kids who were already joined with veterans.

There is a huge emphasis on the sentiment of Belgians’ appreciation for the US military’s role in freeing Belgium from the occupation of the Nazi’s. Obviously this is a triumph and a matter of pride for soldiers and civilians who fought and won that war. There is no doubt that the gratitude of the persons and families affected is genuine; nor is there doubt that that war had to be fought. Because humanity (as a sociobiological species) is still riding a plateau of violence (war is collective, cooperative behavior), no doubt there will continue to be some wars that remain necessary. But not as many as we have, and certainly not the wars predicated on a competitive economic fight over the planet’s resources.
We can do better than that. So I am disappointed on an ideological level with An Invisible Bridge. The economic ties between Belgium and the US are substantive: 900 US companies in Belgium, 500 Belgian companies in the US.
Let not the ties between the peoples of these nations be based on pillars of war or greed, and neither motivated by fear.

“believe the data”

The U.S. Congress is working “to finalize the language of an agreement,” reports the NYTimes this morning, concerning “the bailout” of what has been called “the financial crisis” and/or “the economic crisis” in the United States. imagines “put[ting] Bruce Wayne in charge of the SEC.” Surrealism of The Dark Knight aside (compliance or complicity?), critique and background information (listen to Jim Crotty’s interview) has been issuing from my University for weeks. I admitted to a friend,

“I don’t know enough about macro-economics to argue [against the opinion that the bailout is the only option], and certainly have no idea regarding the other consequences (intended and not) that will rain down upon us little people if they do not bail out the banks, but letting people keep their homes seems good to me. Let the major players take the hit and figure out new, better rules.”

Perhaps a naive stance, but I want to bridge the harder science of physics with this soft science of economics. I missed most of last Friday’s live broadcast from CERN about the next operational steps for the Large Hadron Collider. When I did tune in, one of the scientists was responding to a concern that iron might bend against the steel floor (or some such) because certain experimental results differed from simulated results in an earlier test.
The point the responding scientist emphasized, was that the data is the information, not the simulation: “We won’t fit the data to the simulation,” he said (quoted from memory), “We will believe the data, as we always should.” Someone else argued: “We must do a risk versus benefit analysis for every intervention we imagine we want to make…. according to the Alara Principle – you must do it now” (in this case, install a pre-shower). The question CERN scientists are debating is:

What are the best priorities to get the best physics out of CMS?

The CERN debate regards when to determine priorities – now, or after some weeks of data has been secured? In another email, I wrote:

I believe [the critique emerging from my University and others] engage[s] the matter of the government tending to bail out the large investors and major institutions (even if the premises for their business are shaky – such as financing purchases that people cannot afford) instead of, or without also bailing out the individuals who suffer the most direct and dire consequences.

I do not want a debate between conservatives (keep traditional, established systems in place) and progressives (change everything), rather, I’d like to figure out ways to change our basis of comparison to long-term sustainability with evidence of gradual improvement for everyone: this is my understanding of U.S. banking policy after the Great Depression, and especially after WWII. Indeed – up through the 1960s, ALL social classes improved their status. Of course markets are more complicated now, but that is just an excuse for a lack of creativity and policy innovation.

Of course, it always matters which data one chooses to pay attention to, and there is always information left out. So illustrates another article in today’s NYTimes, describing the participation of Goldman Sachs in negotiations to save American International Group. Gretchen Morgenson explains that the housing collapse is often cited – i.e., framed – as the “cause” of the problem, but argues that A.I.G. is a better exemplar, much closer to – and indicative of – the root of the problem:

the virus exploded from a freewheeling little 377-person unit in London, and flourished in a climate of opulent pay, lax oversight and blind faith in financial risk models.

I am astonished at how easy it has been for the housing market as symptom to become the scapegoat for the problem.
“We have to commit [the bailout agreement] to paper so we can formally agree,” Nancy Pelosi is quoted in the NYTimes headline story quoted above. The language is the crux of the matter.
The BBC’s Newsnight reported (introduced with a dramatic actionflick score) on Friday’s imminent challenge to the U.S. Congress about dealing with the U.S. economy. This clip was shared with my academic department (Communication) with this intro:

“If you are interested in English humor, BBC-interview techniques and reporting, and want to learn a thing or two about the current ‘Wall Street’ crisis, which you may have missed in the [U.S.] mainstream media, watch [it].”

I learned a thing or three about the dynamic forces at play: financial interests, political imperatives, the role of the presidential campaign debate as a factor in Congress’ negotiations. Responses from Communication Department faculty included “Stephen Colbert’s razor sharp take on the financial crisis,” and a multilayered observation comparing British and U.S. modes of humor and reporting.
In addition to Colbert’s labeling of the (apparent) need for the U.S. to decide “in a panic” the largest financial overhaul in our lifetimes, is that while the BBC may have more of a history of engaging “troubling questions,” such difficult questions “are [being] posed of those proposing the bailout, questions that used to be hard to pose here [in the U.S.]. Now, though,” explains another faculty member, “they’re surfacing, e.g. on Rachel Maddow (weeknights, MSNBC, also mainstream).”
Maddow’s metaphor of kids in a candy store is excellent. Robert Reich also weighs in on the sugar high. Addiction. That is what this behavior reminds me of – junkies who will do anything in order to score the next hit. Addicts need treatment, and toxic substances (such as those emitting radiation) need careful, deliberate, and open handling. We need to weigh the financial and economic priorities at stake – those in potential as well as those at risk.

“shoot the horse, ride the cowboy”

Andy, in the tradition of Andy Warhol, Andy Kaufman, and Mahatma Andi, read & rapped his poetry to the sonorous sounds of a contrabass and various accompanying instruments, including electric guitar, flute, and vocal percussion.
Given the fact that Andy and The Androids deliver their art in Flemish, my interpretation is based upon the one in a thousand words I understood: periodic English terms dotted throughout, and/or phrases that my mind could hear as English, even if it wasn’t! I gleaned some things by the tenor of the music and the interplay of syncopation among/between instruments (including Andy’s voice) and the trio of artists.
The flavor I captured was dark and humourous: at turns optimistic (and-or-but activist optimism doesn’t seem to matter?), engaged with/against violence (superspastic, illustrated by the pro- and anti-taser brigades), or calling out the Serial Thing to Kill or was it the need for Serial Pain Killers? I enjoyed watching my friends laugh, yet also noticed disparate effects on the audience-as-a-whole. At times a laugh would ripple throughout in a spontaneous wave, other times the audience was carved into thirds: those attempting to suppress their amusement, those with quizzical expressions – apparently puzzled or processing, and those whose stiff blank visages suggested a deep unease or even disassociation. Countering the bursts of laughter, silence often echoed in the cozy, filled lobby of the cultuurcentra Antwerpen (Berchem).
I enjoyed the challenge of applying my closure skills: that particular leap of faith interpreters make as their best guess as to the meaning being attempted by a particular message right now. Andy jumps from one non-sequitur to the next; how else can Albania, the ozone layer, “lesbes in El Dorado,” “Income Walker,” kanker zo hip, and “nipples” appear in such close linguistic proximity?
Why has the burghermeister gone underground?
Who is wearing moonboots?
What is the title of the song of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s that was emulated? (I recognized the melody but my musical recall is pure lousy.) :-/
The moan of disappointment that shot through the crowd when Andy announced the last number, after the guitarist had just amended his earlier superspastic claim to a psychopathic fascination with degrading fruitcake sex with every girl, testified to the coherence of his unlikely combinations.
I am not sure if the last rap about Caesar referenced the political hate group here or some larger human entity (groups and/or institutions) seeking control, but what Andy is doing with language proves how supple, creative, empowering and membering our ways of speaking can be.

mere wild threshing?

Walking the chilly streets of Antwerp this morning, I did not feel alone. Sure, my friends went bowling without me (such nerve!), but they teased me about it – which is almost as good as being there. ๐Ÿ™‚
3rd elephant.jpg
While some of those pals (you’ll have to guess which ones), may have still been roaring (like Fran, the Trader from Haven), “Who wants another drink? I mean, besides me?” I was waiting in line . . .
line to register.jpg
No, not for a rock concert, but to make an appointment (three weeks out!) to register my guest residency for the next nine months. The other day, Houda and Quetzal set me up for the Logic Test that would determine my placement for Dutch language lessons, with a delay of less than twenty-four hours! Quite efficient, those two. ๐Ÿ™‚
I’m here during the elephant parade, which works for me (better than the cows that swept the artworld a few years back). I fancy myself a bit like Lathan Devers (who goes underground for The Foundation as a captive of The Empire), or Ambassador Spock, when he went underground to try and make peace with the Romulans. Although I do not mean to suggest that I am in enemy territory (the battlelines, as it were, are hardly so clear-cut), I would say that I am here in “the smallness . . . and the individuality; a relic of personal initiative in a Galaxy of mass life” (p. 107). Of course, in quoting Asimov I will also take issue with some of the claims infusing his representations. For instance, “relic” is not appropriate (at least not yet – don’t age me that quickly!). Asimov’s “psychohistory” is premised upon statistics as the base measure of truth and certainty. Without engaging the essential battle of qualitative vs quantitative research methodologies, let’s take his argument on its merit. Batya explains:

“The laws of history are as absolute as the laws of physics, and if the probabilities of error are greater, it is only because history does not deal with as many humans as physics does atoms, so that individual variations count for more…” (p. 112)

Work backwards with me according to this logic – Asimov’s mythical future involves quadrillions of human beings (maybe more, me and numerous zeros have little basis of understanding). Our relatively puny sample (current population of Earth) must be in some multiple of decimal points of a mere one percent, yes? In short, hardly enough to extrapolate much further than a few decades ahead, if even that, and only in terms of hugely broad trends – such as economic spits and backfires and, probably, worsening evidence of climate change. (No wonder the immediate occupies most people’s attention.) Again, I hope some of you with a better sense of scale will correct me if I’m way off here, but doesn’t this put us (as a mass) somewhere near the level of a quantum particle? Remember I’m operating within Asimov’s conjecture of the human conglomerate.
Which implies that the universe of possible futures is actually pretty wide open, eh?
Asimov would discount the machinations of individual efforts as “this wild threshing up of tiny ripples” (p. 96), however such ripples writ large compose the limits of such mathematical equations as he proposes may someday be possible. Just because we lack, as yet, the tools to turn our perceptions of these ripples into certain prediction, this hardly proves that the ripples, as such, are devoid of meaning or doomed to ineffectuality.
2 elephants.jpg
Most of what I sense, leaving Asimov for the moment, I am unable to articulate. For instance, there is a quality of sound – or lack therof – about this city that I cannot place. It must be in reference to the background noise of Amherst but what it is that is “missing” I cannot say. The cafes buzz (even if the vast majority lack internet, sigh), and music plays in most shops. There is a hum of traffic, too, although perhaps it is less consistent (no constant thrum of a major interstate nearby). The air is still – windy, yes (its bite precedes itself: a warning of fall and winter to come). Perhaps I project my own psychic state onto the environment, but the atmosphere gives a sense of suspension . . . as if there is action brewing, momentum building, some sweep of happenings either suppressed or swelling which will soon burst upon the scene.
Hmmm. A Seldon crisis? ๐Ÿ™‚ Of course not, we’ve not reached the mass eligible for that kind of mapping. Perhaps, however, a problematic moment, or a confluence of them – crises on small enough scales to be permeable to group relations theory, predictable in terms of general knowledge concerning group dynamics, and thus indicative of “a new turning” (p. 112), as crisis directs us on.
4th elephant egyptian.jpg

Cairn at the Crossroads

Om Mani Padmi Om.jpg
Some thirty stalwart spirits braved the edge of Hurricane Hannah to begin building “Belchertown’s own pyramid.” Sailing knots secured the tarp which – propped up by two ladders – withstood the night, protecting us from the downpour and thrilling us with sounds of rain and wind as we christened the cairn near midnight with Wrongo Dongo. Howls mixed with cheers in a cacophony of exuberance as we embraced the spirit of ritual, blending our voices with nature’s infinite chanting. I was asked for a convocation (see “Other Use“); all I could muster was Thank You. I felt calm and peaceful in our candlelit circle, humbled by and proud of my friends.

“Happiness is an elusive thing. It has
something to do with having beautiful shoes, but it is
about so much else . . . About having
friends like this.”

Blue Shoes and Happiness
Alexander McCall Smith
p. 217 (2006)
[past tense changed to present]

eyes of compassion.jpg
In all important respects, we gathered as we always do – indulging delicious food, drinking comfortably, talking, dancing, teasing, touching, teaching and calling each other into being. I learned so much, as I always do. ๐Ÿ™‚ Everyone oriented to the ceremonial element in their own way. Some recalled significant moments of shared interpersonal interaction, acknowledged difficult aspects of private histories and/or future challenges, and speculated on the symbolism of our individually swirling energies encapsulated by nature’s capacity for storm. Others lost themselves in dance, told tall tales, lampooned themselves and others, played tricks and carefully watched for the precise moment to deliver a perfect pun. Most of us did some of everything. We take our fun seriously, without letting fun completely overtake the serious.
balance & cat.jpg
There was power in our utterances last night and this morning. Dorothee educated me on linguistic minorities in France and the Belgian Flemish/French controversy (more on these later!), and Nick proposed jazz as a uniquely unreproducible medium. The confluence of these topics with my upcoming research woke me right up (or was it the Turkish coffee?!)
“Oh yea, that was in quotes,” Don said, walking by a few minutes later as Nick explained, “I don’t want my life to be an open book, I want people to question me.” We were talking about how online social networking could remove mystery from our lives by producing a vast field of ambient awareness (another longer-term side effect of ambient awareness could be the evolutionary loss of certain cognitive skills associated with fact-based memory). An iPhone provided entertainment for awhile, its accelerometer on display with Newton’s Cradle . This put me in mind of the results of a recent “mind map” of local and global trends affecting a particular organization’s anti-racism and social justice activities, in which nearly all trends were described in terms of increase (more more more and faster) instead of decrease.
How did we get from the accelerometer to air-conditioning? I cannot recall, but the comment reminded me of Christopher Dickey’s claim:

as air conditioning conquered the lethargy-inducing climate and Northerners by the millions abandoned the rust belt for the sun belt, the past wasn’t forgotten or forgiven so much as put aside while people got on with their lives and their business.

from Southern Discomfort, a Newsweek article
by (fyi) the son of the author of Deliverance)
about the U.S. presidential campaign and contemporary race relations

Somehow nostalgia for the “old days” of answering machines (when you received your telephone messages only when you got home at the end of the day) got intertwined with the luxuries of heating and cooling . . . The Chosen One mused, “we’ve had heat for a long time, it’s harder to make cold.” Indeed, air-conditioning as we know it today is a phenomenon of only the last century: for millenia humans have known how to keep ourselves warm, but only “yesterday” have we figured out how to make ourselves cool. (Uh oh. Global warming is here, now.)
When Brandon left is when it hit me. Some of these people I really may not see again. Dhara reminisced about meeting me at bowling her first year here. She and Henk had been the ones to unveil the group present. (Rumor Mill: going viral. First batch original orders for t-shirts and bumperstickers should be placed here.)
Yes and Raz snaps photos.jpg
The Nepalese mantra gracing the cairn is, as best I understand it to date, a kind of paean to precious knowledge and pure beauty. We have created physical evidence of passing this way; and less tangibly we have left our marks upon each other – bits of spirit inspiring compelling turning and calling us on, always with the invitation to return. “It’s good,” Franz said today, “to be a little bit bothered by each other.” Yes – such is the evidence of communal connections: they persist!
the book.jpg

I pledge my best to go as the water flows.

beyond disturbing

There is always so much going on.
Too much?
I’ve been trying to sort out some distinctions between “being spiritual” and “being religious” (after being tag-teamed by an Eastern European cynic and an Undertaker from India for the past six years, it seems I’ve finally cracked). ๐Ÿ˜‰ I know I become overwhelmed, often, trying to make sense of the whole – yet . . . the alternative doesn’t appeal. If we give up trying to grasp the whole, then what? Well, people carve out a niche for themselves, making intellectual, emotional, aesthetic choices and compromises and doing the best they can. Meanwhile, social forces twist and buckle the fabric of communities and our cross-cultural relations with each other.
When, I wonder, do we decide it is time to work together? And on what basis? At a community meeting yesterday, someone raised a concern with the erosion of constitutional rights, and someone else objected to the extremity of the claim. But world-class journalists are not supposed to get arrested in America. This occurred at the Republican National Convention, where riot police are keeping protesters as far as possible from the convention center. Since when did protests become such a problem in the land of free speech, the home of originary revolution?
Speaking of which, can you imagine the conversation in Governor Palin’s family? “Uh, mom, it’s great you just got selected to be the next Vice-President of the United States, but, uh, I’ve got to tell you something.” When does the generosity and understanding that we give our own children extend to other kids’ parents?
I was recently at a yoga center where hundreds of earnest persons went about their spiritual work. “Practice,” I thought to myself, “for being soon in another country.” All the anonymous people were nice enough: polite and indifferent. Don’t get me wrong, I was the same way: there to do what I came to do for me, open to engagement if it happened but not seeking interpersonal connection. It was a mild form of alienation. I “belonged” there as much as anyone else who had paid the fee. I look like 95% of the people who were there, and I behave similarly in culturally substantial ways. But I was bothered – it’s a commercial place from which collaborative social action might grow but (it seems) only on the basis of similarity.
In the U.S. (the one that I grew up in, have been shaped by, and currently worry about), the emphasis on individuality leads to the massive reproduction of independent spiritualists who – typically, usually – fail to commit to work together for any coherent social action. Even if people are atheists, that identity is defined in opposition to the notion of some kind of spiritual center. With secular yoga, the body has replaced god as the object of worship. In politics, the body is also central: “what” one looks like, and “how” one sounds become the basis for argumentation and persuasion.
Still . . . it is a measure of how far America has come that both candidates for President of the United States are members of multiracial families. (This point was also raised by a participant during that community meeting.) In my opinion, the most important thing Senator Obama said during the Democratic National Convention (quoted from memory) was to assert

“this is not about me; this is about you.”

We can continue to live as Americans without a common “religion,” or as Americans whose religion has become a narrowly-defined nationality, or we can find ways to build common cause with the very material of difference itself.

“This” – all of it – is about us. All of us.

space out of time

The first act of will is to decide that time does not matter.

The second is to surrender will to the rock.


Immersed in the presence of this new language, I forgot that I was here for a reason! “We know you love your metaphors,” Rachel teased before I came. The other roommate just laughed. ๐Ÿ™‚

Lauren described my fourth rock balance as “precarious.” Ah – momentarily I recognized myself. “Taut control,” said Andy Goldsworthy in an excerpt of a video we watched, “can be the death of our work.” As the workshop ended, during the closing circle, Rita recalled Lila’s introduction of Hermes, the god of boundaries and the travelers who cross them. (Hermes is also the god of thieves: what greater boundaries are there to cross than those imposed by custom and law? (shhhh!))

I had forgotten. Our teacher, Lila Higgins, spoke first in the closing circle, describing the cairn she’d built a few days earlier at the crossroads leading to our final rock balancing site,

Cairn at the Crossroads.jpg

and her delight in communion with the unknown balancer who had rebuilt it in the days since. Listening to her, my consciousness was nudged to remember: I was here to mark the current turn in the trajectory of my life. Then, after others including myself had spoken, Rita recalled Hermes. How had that god slipped my mind?! It seems I had achieved – if only for a short while – the intention expressed by another workshopper,

“to explore the present as a rock does.”


We watched videos of Bill Dan building rock balances, and also of George Quasha. My mind required time (exposure, continuity) to shift from its usual operational state-of-consciousness (ahem) to this altered perceptual state “charged with an air of contingency” in which time has no substance. For hours at a stretch, I experience only concentration and sensation: ripples of subdued emotion (annoyance, tenderness, impatience, resolve, fear of failure, renewed commitment) and yearning for that satisfying moment when the rock finds its place.


Will my intellectual work emanate a similar resonance? I hope so. ๐Ÿ™‚ I have felt similar types of ‘click moments‘ in the past. Trusting them has led me here – to this junction, where I discover conviction deepening without reducing uncertainty.


Carter Ratcliff introduces the artistic ethic of George Quasha (who is inspired by John Cage) with words that likewise describe the ethical center of my action research goal:

“…an axis is like an intention:
a force that, as it
generates possibilities, gives them a
provisional but
intelligible order.”


More photos of rock balancers and some rock balances produced during this workshop are on this page at Lila’s rockbalancer site.
See also hickoree, rebranca46 (Rocks Balancing), and bebalance (Super Balance: Birds, Bottle, Bricks, Birds Again…).

democracy and doubt

The problem with democracy – real democracy, in which everyone actually has a say – is that there is so much waiting. I am generalizing from recent revelations acquired while participating in a second tubing adventure with a bunch of friends. In particular, an exchange with LavaMan (an ideal male specimen) showed me something about myself that I suspect is not uncommon.
The first tubing adventure I had to work with suppressing frustration; the second time I thought I was prepared (indeed, I was). My emotional experience was fine – either because I had already ‘gone through’ the frustration previously (and managed it), or because some part of me was prepared for things to go ‘this way’ again … or (probably) a combination of both. I was not wrapped up in the struggle of decision-making either trip, just a recipient of the process and outcome. A bystander, I guess, but an observant one, aware of the implications of my passive participation.
At one point, standing around the parking lot waiting for the downstream vehicle delivery people to return, a pal suggested no one knew what was happening – which was accurate: none of us had the whole picture in mind (where everyone was, who was doing what, what – in total – needed doing, etc). And – we all knew what we were doing: going tubing! (How hard could that be?!)
A few leaders emerged (trying to organize the group in certain directions) but there was always a competing idea or suggestion, so implementation was slow. These dynamics are not new or unique; indeed, I design curriculum so that students have to encounter and engage these dynamics, in order for them to practice how to negotiate roles and identities in uncertain social circumstances.
The crucial learning moment for me came on the river a few hours later. I had realized a couple of guys were behind us, and one of them – a first time rafter – had been described as “struggling” by a friend just a short time before. So I thought, well, I’ll wait for them; they are the last two. I wondered about one other guy, who had been behind us earlier but I had an evanescent impression that he had floated on ahead of me at some point.

“Do we leave a man behind?”

The pair came by and informed me that Jake was still behind. I waited awhile longer. As the time stretched, my doubt grew. Surely he couldn’t be that far behind? He knows what he’s doing anyway, so I don’t need to worry, right? And, I did have that sense that he had passed me, hadn’t he? Eventually, I noticed the guys had pulled off – waiting – for me? I didn’t really want to hold up the show with my own stubbornness . . .

I caught up with them, and LavaMan insisted Jake was behind us. He engaged my questioning process calmly, as I worked through the arguments pro-staying (based only on a guess?) and con-staying (if he hasn’t come, he can’t – we’ll be better able to reach him from upstream; and he might be in front of us). “Let’s wait five more minutes,” the LavaMan proposed, “if he doesn’t come by then we’ll leave.”
I had a suspicion he was just angling for more time to flirt (!), but lo-and-behold . . . here came Jake.
Wow – what had I been thinking? Even though I was told, “I just saw him,” and “we passed him doing something on shore just before we saw you,” I was ready to up-and-leave on the much-less-certain perception of my own “knowledge.” Ouch! The implication is hard to escape, no? I didn’t trust someone else’s judgment – and not even over something that I was sure of, but something that I wasn’t actually convinced of myself! Why?
The doubt disturbs me: not only as a reflection on me and how I orient to others, but as an indicator of a cultural bias against waiting (in particular). The evidence abounds – I witness it during interpretation when participants complain about how long the communication process takes, I see it in the levels of impatience and frustration expressed by students while they adjust to alternative learning structures – and now I get to recognize it, so blatantly, within myself.
The impulse, it seems, is to hurry up and end the waiting. The solution is usually proposed that “a leader” is needed. Well, I think, “yes, and.” Yes, we need to agree to follow specific suggestions from particular people, and I’m not sure we have to take all the suggestions from only one person. At some point, in a healthy collective, we know each other well enough that we ought to be able to acknowledge who has skills in a given arena. Perhaps it is my imagination, but don’t we know each other well enough, by now, to have a good sense of who makes good decisions about various kinds of things?
The question, then, becomes not “who will lead,” but “when will I suppress my doubt“?

waving my light saber

Robin, Tim, Rachel, and Hari were unaware that we were celebrating an exertion of The Force, accomplished earlier today with the incomparable technical help of Brion.
My first Flash animation was added to Reflexivity, partly building upon an idea implanted by The Lord of the Sky, that I really should try to make my blogwriting more comprehensible – even going so far as to feature a weekly theme or some such. ๐Ÿ™‚
Since several friends (four, and one of them twice!) felt compelled (within the same week!) to give me feedback on my blogwriting, I thought to myself,

Self! Take notice!

Meanwhile, intuitions, intimations, and other hints of possible futures suggested this idea of a blog category dedicated to the parts of the dissertation that will never find their way in to the official dissertation, because

a) I will never know enough, by myself, to actually make the case, and
b) my committee’s job is to keep this effort within some bounds of reason.

Nonetheless (because what else is life for?!), I echo Mma Ramotswe:

I have found a feeling; I feel I know something.